One in five Americans is a caregiver, and about one fourth attend to more than one person, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving.
Because caregiving often occurs at home, this work is also not regularly witnessed by others, so caregivers can feel isolated, unnoticed, and unappreciated. The amount of effort and emotional intensity required to care for another is hard enough, but many caregivers also balance jobs, children, and other responsibilities. The result is that caregivers disproportionately experience exhaustion, depression, and varied health challenges. If you know a caregiver, and, with more than 53 million of them in the United States, it’s likely that you do, how can you offer some assistance? One way is through “Surprise a Caregiver Day,” a holiday I created last year in honor of my mother, who was born on May 16 and who I tended during a long illness.
Instead of restricting the holiday to just one day, “Surprise a Caregiver Day” occurs anytime in May, a month that to me is full of hope, spring flowers, and new growth. So, enliven your own world this month by surprising someone with a little love and encouragement.
Your gift can be as sweet as a coffee shop gift card or as thoughtful as an offer to take over one of their regular caregiving duties. If you’re stuck for ideas, here are some to inspire you:
1) Bring a Meal
While people tend to give food during big life changes, ranging from sudden illnesses to new births, they may not think of how comforting such gifts can be over the long haul, and caregiving tends to be a long haul. On average, caregivers spend about four years providing care for a loved one, but one in six spend more than ten years as a caregiver, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. So, pick a night, and tell your favorite caregiver than you want to treat them to dinner. Then bring them a meal, if that’s what they prefer, or take them out to eat. The delight that they experience will likely shine in their heart for years.
2) Look Around You
Chat with the cashiers at the grocery store. Take a moment with your bank clerk. See if you can ferret out a caregiver that might go unnoticed. When I cared for my husband for 6-1/2 years after a stroke left him paralyzed below the neck, a carpenter who worked at my home gave me a spa day. I was shocked to be appreciated and acknowledged by someone who wasn’t part of either my family or my normal circle of friends. I felt both touched and re-energized by this gift from out of the blue, and it was one of my inspirations for starting the Kathi Koll Foundation.
3) Give to a Stranger
If you don’t have a caregiver in your orbit, but you’d like to help one of the many who need someone to brighten their day, chat with friends and let them know that you want to surprise a caregiver. Someone is bound to know someone who would be delighted to receive a surprise gift from a stranger. If you have no luck, you could even reach out to the Foundation. We would be happy to surprise a caregiver on your behalf.
Also, remember, the happiness that the caregiver feels will also ricochet back to you. It is truly inspiring to bring someone else joy, so spread a little sunshine in the world. We all could use it!
We’d love to hear from you about your caregiver surprises this month or anytime throughout the year! Please send your stories and/or pictures to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for reading, please share with a friend, and be well. —KK
Please consider making a donation to the Kathi Koll Foundation so you can help make a difference in struggling family caregivers’ lives. Thank you!
“Tulips” © Pixabay
“Mom and I” © Kathi Koll Private Collection
“My mother, Nora Robinson” © Kathi Koll Private Collection