Caring for the Caregiver

I am a caregiver. You might think I’m speaking metaphorically, being a pastor and all, but no—I really am a solo caregiver for my father, who has dementia. Being a caregiver defines my days and often my nights. I get up early so I can dress and prepare for the day myself, then get Dad up, washed, dressed, medicated, fed, and prepared for his day before I leave for work. I come home every day at lunch to feed and medicate him again and change the TV, which he has forgotten how to do. At night I race home from work to feed him again and spend a couple of hours just being together before it’s time to reverse the morning’s activities in preparation for bed. After he’s safely tucked away, I can finally begin paying bills, washing dishes, or running out to the grocery store. I keep a baby monitor next to my bed in case Dad gets up at night and forgets his walker, or where he is, or what time it is, and I have to get up and help him. A few hours’ sleep, and I’m up the next day to do it all again.

I’m not telling you this for myself. I’m not looking for either pity or applause. I’m actually one of the lucky ones—I can safely leave Dad alone during the day while I work. No, the reason I’m telling you this is for all the other caregivers out there, the ones you may not know are also taking care of their elderly or infirm family members. For they are there. And they need your support.

It is challenging to be a caregiver. Caregivers are often called upon to build skills they never knew they’d need: nurses, counselors, housekeepers, launderers, cooks, accountants, medical record keepers, secretaries, playmates, chauffeurs, …the list goes on and on. And although caregivers in this country are disproportionately female, there are men, too, who give of themselves for spouses and children, parents and in-laws. Caregiving knows no limits.

The pandemic has been hard on caregivers. Finances weigh heavily. Opportunities for respite care, already far too difficult to find, became almost nonexistent. Medical appointments and hospitalizations became mazes that could only be navigated with confusing technology. Isolation, always a concern even in a healthy world, became the order of the day. It has driven many caregivers to the breaking point.

How can you help someone who is caregiving at home? Offer a listening ear to the caregiver who feels alone. Cook a meal they can eat or freeze for later. Volunteer to pick up groceries for them when you shop. Even better, offer to stay with their person so the caregiver can get out of the house for a little bit, to do something for themselves. Caregiving is both an enormous privilege and a responsibility from which there is little escape. Caregivers need you to see them…and care.