Even though caregiving is a universal experience, we feel so alone

November is Family Caregivers’ Month. As we celebrate Thanksgiving and usher in a season of holidays from now to the new year, it’s important to recognize that this can be a tough time of year for family caregivers. We encourage families to draw upon community resources, like Community Caregivers, and to adjust family traditions to keep the holidays joyful and meaningful.  

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who has been a lifelong champion for family caregivers, stated: “There are only four kinds of people in the world — those who have been caregivers, those who are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”

Even though caregiving is a universal experience, we feel so alone. Families often try to cope without a lot of support.

And, primary caregivers often deny the need for help, thinking, “If I were just a better spouse (or daughter, or son), I could do this without ‘outside’ help.” However, caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint, so family caregivers need to pace themselves and guard their own mental and physical health.

And, believe it or not, for the person receiving care, socializing with someone outside the family can be refreshing and renew their interest in life.

In our local area, Community Caregivers has been supporting individuals, families, and caregivers for over two decades. Our caring volunteers offer respectful assistance.

Volunteers offer rides for those who do not drive; it’s a one-on-one service in a volunteer’s own car.  Many of our volunteers seek to connect with the older residents of the community, so they offer friendly visits and regular phone calls. And our volunteers do those practical things like grocery-store runs that make living at home possible.

Community Caregivers staff do the “matching” of older adults to volunteer services. Please call us; there is no obligation simply to check out what Community Caregivers offers. In fact, thanks to our volunteers, our services are offered without a charge.

Our holidays are also bolstered by family traditions and high expectations for the perfect time as epitomized in the Hallmark commercials. Yet as families change, traditions demand that we adapt.

I see this in my own family. Each Thanksgiving, I look forward to my mother’s apple pie at our holiday table. For the past several years, however, the pies would not be baked without my sister’s assistance. It’s still Mom’s apple pie and we honor whatever contribution she makes to their creation, even though she can no longer stand at a kitchen counter or take hot food from an oven.

Family members who assist our elders know about creating new routines and altering old ones to help their loved one live life to the fullest each day. This holiday season, it’s incumbent upon those family members who live at a distance and may not have seen Mom or Dad in months to understand that the local caregiving family member is doing his or her best.

No doubt it’s a long ways from perfect. It’s common that Mom or Dad reject assistance that clearly is needed. It’s difficult to graciously accept the help of others after a lifetime of independence.

So, for those of us gathering this holiday season, it’s vital to stay flexible, communicate with compassion, and — above all — keep a sense of humor. This year, as we savor a slice of Mom’s apple pie, we will enjoy each other’s company and our new family traditions that make the holidays work for everyone.

Happy Thanksgiving from Community Caregivers to you and your family.

Editor’s note: Linda Miller is  the Outreach and Education coordinator for community Caregivers.