Surviving as a full time caregiver is hard. Nothing prepares you for it and there are very limited resources to help you navigate this new world. There are no books that describe the daily struggle. There is nothing that shows you how to adapt to your new normal. It is mostly trial and error and error and error and then ohhhhhh that’s how it works.
Having good people around you makes a world of difference. We were so lucky. We were constantly being visited by friends, firemen and family. We had a ton of support and I still do. I can’t imagine what our journey would have looked like had we not be surrounded by these people who were willing to jump in and do anything we needed – anything!
Even though we had all these amazing people around us offering to help I never asked. I hated feeling like I wasn’t capable of doing it alone. Hated feeling like I wasn’t doing a “good job”, feeling like I was disappointing people and not living up to what a real caregiver was. It’s a mind boggling experience.
People always ask me what they can do to help their friends, siblings, neighbors … any one struggling through caregiving. I always say the same thing – show up. The main thing is to show up. Actually SHOW UP. That means, you grab your bag, get in your car, drive over to their house and show up. You don’t call and ask what they need, because more than likely they’ll tell you nothing. You show up and you do. You show up and you listen. You show up and you hug them. You show up and you sit with them, sometimes in silence.
When I look back at my experience these are some of things that really helped me, when people just showed up.
- Food and Drinks. If you know them you know what they like. Bring food. Drop off food. Don’t always expect to stay but if you do, help serve and clean up. Cooking for guests is an added stress that a caregiver doesn’t need. I was very lucky. We were surrounded by people who brought food and came into our home and cooked for us, fed us and cleaned up. Food is something our people are very good at. (If you bring food – also bring disposable plates, cups, silver wear and napkins. – No one wants to clean up when they have a belly full of great food).
- Walk The Dog. Grab the leash and take the dog out. Pets are also struggling during this time. The family dynamic has changed and they are just as affected by the new normal. They appreciate the walk around the block. And I know I appreciated it too. It gave me a minute to clean up the dog hair and I loved knowing that Buddy was getting some fresh air and doing his favorite thing.
- Take the vacuum for a spin. Seriously don’t worry about offending them. The floor needs to be vacuumed and swept and mopped. Cleaning the floors is at the bottom of the list for a caregiver, there are so many other things that need to be done that actually matter – the floors are last. (Just make sure no one is sleeping when you whip the vacuum out).
- Wash their car. Such a silly little thing. Something we all take for granted. Our car got so dirty. We went every where with Buddy, our dog, I fed Duane in the car, we carried boat parts, his wheelchair, extra clothes, supplies. It was always a mes. I never left the house with out him, so there was no chance to do it then. I couldn’t maneuver him and out just for a car wash and where we lived we weren’t allowed to wash at home (water restrictions – but there was no time anyway). So when people asked for my keys and brought me back a clean car I couldn’t have been happier. The car was my safe place. I could make my phone calls and cry and let it all out in the safety of those four doors. Having my safe place clean allowed me to sit and let it all out with out worrying about one more thing I needed to do.
- Take the kids to the park. I don’t have kids. But I’m guessing it would be amazing. Just 30 minutes to have to yourself and to also let them burn off some energy. Caregiving is stressful for the whole family and I have seen families where the children take on some of the caregiving duties and I can only imagine it’s nice or them to sometimes forget about all the responsibilities and just climb and play and be a kid, even for 30 minutes.
I’ll probably revisit this list an make some adjustments as we near the holidays. Are you a caregiver? What have people done that you appreciate? What do you wish people would do to help?
Let me know if you have any questions or need anything!
– xoxo Victoria