Care for the Caregiver

If you have ever had to care for a parent, spouse or child, you may find that as they become the focus of friends and family, you become less visible. Their attention and concern just naturally falls to the one who is ill. This is to be expected, but what happens to the one who has the burden of caring for that person over the days, months and sometimes years? We often do not think of it, but most family caregivers do not ask for the job and probably would not volunteer for it. They are often thrust into the role of being the primary care giver because other relationship and their willingness to help.

As a caregiver we tend to experience feelings of resentment when a sick loved one receives so much attention and sympathy while we feel neglected. For some reason, other family members and friends assume that we have superhuman strength and can pick up all of the duties or responsibilities of the patient while maintaining our own obligations without a hitch. As nice as a pat on the back and a compliment are, they do not relieve the burden that is being carried day after day.

Most of us are probably familiar with caring for a child or parent for a few days or even a week, but when you are faced with caring for someone with terminal illness that may drag on for months; you begin to tire emotionally, before you tire physically. A spouse caring for a spouse struggles with thoughts about a future without the love of their life. An adult child caring for a parent faces the loss of someone they have known all their lives. It is at these times when the family-at-large needs to pull together in helping the primary care giver in whatever way they need help.

How can I help?

First, ask them what you can specifically do to lighten their load. Your best intentions may not be what they need.

Here is a sampling of what you can do for any family caregiver:

  • Sit with the patient for an hour or more while your family member gets some rest or goes out for a while. If at all possible, provide an entire day off each week so they can keep from "burning out". A number of family members can take shifts in order to make this happen. As much as you need a day or two off from work, the caregiver needs as much. Their job is a 24 hour, 7 day a week challenge that they often feel inadequate in doing. They know that if the patient needs something in the middle of the night, they will have to get up and help them.
  • Prepare a meal
  • Load and unload the dishwasher
  • Clean the kitchen
  • Vacuum the house
  • Do a load of laundry
  • Run an errand (i.e. grocery shopping, going to the bank, taking the car in for an oil change, etc.) 

Applying the Golden Rule will help you in your sacrificial service to the patient and caregiver.  Doing unto them as you would have them do unto you in a similar situation will be a tremendous source of strength to the caregiver and help to insure that your patient, sibling or child is receiving good care at home.