Your Help to a Caregiver is Far More Valuable than Well-Meaning Words
a yellow sunflower

“Yes, I know how difficult this can be.”

“I can see that your life will have changed dramatically.”

“I understand.”

When serving as a co-caregiver for both of my aging parents, I heard these, and many other similar statements routinely from others in my social and professional circles. While I was confident (and remain so) that these individuals were sincere and meant well, I have to question how much they truly understood the entire scope of what I was experiencing.

Caregiving can be a physically, mentally and emotionally draining job. Caregivers can be easily run ragged with new responsibilities. During a single day, a caregiver may meet with medical professionals, advocate on a senior’s behalf, provide transportation for an aging parent, cook meals, clean a senior’s home and/or arrange for homecare support.

At night, a caregiver’s mind does not shut off.

He or she may toss and turn in bed and be unable to sleep soundly due to worrying about a loved one’s condition. Insomnia becomes a caregiver’s worst enemy. With remembering my own caregiving experience, there were many days when I was continually on the go and trying my best to manage.

I believe the only people who truly understand what caregivers endure are the people that watch and hear of the work of caregivers (ex. healthcare workers; professional psychologists; counsellors) and, most especially, other caregivers.

If you have never walked in a caregiver’s shoes, how can you honestly say, “I understand”?

Don’t get me wrong – caregivers want and need support. I, for one, certainly appreciated all the help that came my way when Mom and Dad were alive. Even years after both my parent’s passing, I continue to believe that caregiving is not an individual endeavor but best achieved with many hands. Please, however, resist making broad generalizations with caregivers. Instead, consider how you can help – even on a smaller scale. A woman I know visits a blind woman on a weekly basis and reads her mail. This act may sound small, but the gesture goes a long ways as, without sight, the blind woman will have no idea of required payment amounts on her monthly bills. Perhaps you could offer to pick up groceries for a caregiver or shovel his/her sidewalks clear of snow? Or perhaps you could give a caregiver your undivided attention over a cup of coffee where you turn off your own cell phone and simply listen?

Considering our country’s demographics and rapidly-aging population, chances are high that you will become a caregiver yourself at some time in the future. It is likely then that you will best realize what a caregiver actually goes through. A sympathetic shoulder can be a great thing; however, saying “I understand” when you don’t will be only empty words.

Resist talking the talk until you have walked the walk.

Replace “I understand” and ask “How can I help you?” instead. It will be far more appreciated.

Written by Rick Lauber
Rick Lauber is a former co-caregiver, established freelance writer and author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians (Self-Counsel Press). Rick’s book is available for purchase at national Chapter’s bookstores and online.

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  1. I wish they would include caregivers that are parents of disable children. We are left out of the support loop a lot. Because everyone focuses on the caregivers of aged parents, but there is more than that. Even support programs and respite providers do not acknowledge us. We feel very invisible.

  2. Yes all of it is true. Not only for caring and providing a safe home for aging or elderly parents who are no longer self sufficient, but also for the person who has a life threatening illness. I am looking ahead to many years yet as my wife and I are relatively young in our mid fifties, but the people that touch my heart are the ones that step in and help and understand that sometimes I just need a place to relax. My best friend has been a caregiver in the past so he steps in without having to ask what I need and just does little things. It is huge in impact when he does that.


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