Four Ways to Care for Caregivers

Person bringing groceries For Neighbor
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Do you know someone who serves as a primary caregiver? Here are four ways you can immediately bless them with practical assistance:

Give Us a Break

When I am not at work, I’m with Mom. I try to occupy her time in the evenings. I assist with her bedtime routine. I get up with her (sometimes multiple times) at night. Without respite care, my time is never my own. I’ve had to abandon many of the pursuits I love simply because they can’t be done with Mom at my side. Because I’m already bearing Mom’s financial burden for everything else (including daytime care), I can’t afford professional respite care.

Yet breaks are necessary for me to rest, have fun, accomplish tasks and simply get some time away from the monotony of caregiving. When someone asks, “When can I spend time with your mom so you can get away?” I pretty much want to burst into tears; it’s like being handed a lifeline.

Caregivers are like anyone else: We hate asking for help. Being proactive in offering respite goes a long way. Instead of saying, “Let me know if you’re ever in a bind,” try to offer something specific like, “I want to come over and sit with Dorothy for an afternoon one Saturday each month. Let’s start putting dates on the calendar.”

This lets the caregiver know what you’re willing to do and what she can plan for. If you can help on a consistent basis, that saves the caregiver from having to circle back repeatedly with additional requests.

In most situations, providing respite isn’t about being a trained nurse, occupational therapist or professional entertainer. When someone gives me a break, I always remind them, “You’re providing supervision and companionship for Mom while I’m gone. If, when I get back, she’s still in one piece, you will have succeeded.”

They inevitably breathe a sigh of relief. For Mom, a book, a Hallmark movie and a bowl of ice cream are the ingredients for a winning day or evening. Not a bad gig.

Meet Our Practical Needs

Life is busy for all of us these days. The difference with caregivers is that we are trying to squeeze in everyday tasks in addition to maintaining dignity and quality of life for our loved one. In light of this, it’s easy to compromise in other areas, like cooking, cleaning and self-care.

Offering practical assistance, or even something flat-out fun, tells a caregiver that she matters. A gift card for groceries, a favorite restaurant or coffee shop – even a massage or manicure – can brighten any caregiver’s day.

Bring a caregiver a meal. Take her car in for an oil change or shop for some needed groceries. Mow the lawn. Coordinate with others to give the caregiver an evening or weekend away. Everything helps when it comes to easing the burden of overwhelming responsibility.

Offer Us Encouragement

I began my caregiving journey believing that the apostle Paul’s mandate in 1 Timothy 5:4 to care for family members, especially widows, applies literally and directly to those of us who call Christ Lord. But boy is it easier when others encourage me along the way!

Commit to praying regularly for a caregiver you know, and let her know that you’re praying. Write a note of encouragement. Feed her with Scripture. If you’ve walked the road of caregiving, share from your experience. Let a caregiver know she’s loved and that her efforts are not unseen.

Include Us in Your Life

I mentioned that caregiving is a thankless job. In light of this, it’s easy for caregivers to feel invisible. Some days I feel like caregiving is all that defines me – that I’m valuable for nothing more than feeding, showering and getting Mom from point A to point B.

It’s easy to ask, “Is this really worth it?” Of course it is, and believing otherwise is to believe a lie of Satan. But helping a caregiver find herself beyond her role as a caregiver is a gift. How do you do this? By affirming her personhood apart from what she does. By including her in the rhythm of life and community outside her daily routine.

Invite your caregiving friend over for dinner. Talk about shared hobbies, future hopes and dreams. Laugh. Ask her opinion on something. Do what it takes to make her feel included, valued and invested in. If she’s missing out (again) on something fun, bring the fun to her. Pop over with a meal and a favorite movie to watch together. Play some Scrabble, listen to music or simply enjoy catching up.

It’s easy to avoid your caregiving friend out of fear that you won’t have anything to talk about, or that it’ll be too hard to coordinate your schedules. Try. Try very hard. Every effort matters.

Lisa Anderson is director of young adults and Boundless.org at Focus on the Family, and host of “The Boundless Show.” She’s the author of The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage With Purpose.