During this time of year, much is discussed about how the holiday season can bring about feelings of exhaustion and stress for family caregivers. What is not often mentioned, however, is the loneliness that family caregivers can experience because of the responsibilities that come with the caregiving role.
For many family caregivers, especially primary caregivers, partaking in family traditions and/or festivities during the holiday season is extremely challenging. Attending the office holiday party, family gatherings or even doing some gift shopping generally have to be sacrificed. As a result, a family caregiver can feel left out, lonely and unimportant.
So, what can be done to minimize the potential for family caregivers to experience such feelings? Below are a few suggestions for both family caregivers and non-family caregivers.
Ask, ask and ask again!
If there is an event you would like to attend, don't automatically assume you cannot go because no one will help out. First, try asking a relative or trusted friend to help. If they can't, proceed to go down your list of reliable people. If you don't have one or there is no one left, consider reaching out to local community agencies for respite care. Doing so may give you a chance to escape for an evening dinner or a day shopping spree.
Think outside of the box. Maybe having your traditional gathering on a specific day is impossible this year, but that doesn't mean you can't plan it for another day. Start a new tradition by having a holiday lunch instead of a holiday dinner. If mornings are better for your loved one, then have a holiday breakfast. Being flexible with plans can give you the opportunity to still partake in certain family rituals and potentially open the door to new ones.
If you are being invited somewhere and can't attend, be honest with your reason why. Don't just assume that the person will know why you are unable to attend. Tell them something like "I would love to attend but I have to go home and make sure my mother takes her medication." By doing so, you are not only providing insight into your World, but are also taking a stance for yourself, other caregivers and leaving the door open for an offer for assistance.
Ask and Offer
If a someone you know turns down an invitation for a holiday drink, dinner or party because of caregiving responsibilities, consider offering the opportunity to go out another time. Even if the caregiver turns down your second offer, the fact that you are willing to work with their schedule may be enough to show you care and possibly leave the caregiver feeling less isolated.
Simply asking "Is there anything I can do?", in many cases won't generate an adequate or true response. Be specific and ask a family caregiver if they need any assistance with holiday shopping (i.e. a gift card from a specific store, wrapping paper, holiday cards, postage stamps, etc.). Depending on your abilities you may even want offer to cook a holiday dish, bake a dessert or assist with household chores.
Don't be scared
While you may not want to seem intrusive, you cannot let fear prevent you from helping out another person - especially a close friend, relative or neighbor. All too often I hear stories about friends and families who seem to disappear whenever caregiving presents itself. The reason often given by many "non-caregivers" is "I wasn't sure what to say?" or "I call in every so often to see how she is doing and she tells me she's fine." While such reasons can be valid, they really don't offer the support and assistance family caregivers need. Instead, try to follow the suggestions above; They can go a long way to reducing feelings of isolation.
Remember, one of the points of this holiday season is to share it with family and friends. While celebrating a holiday on its actual day is ideal, family caregivers often have to switch things around. This can mean celebrating Christmas in July or having a Thanksgiving breakfast instead of dinner. Be flexible, be honest and be open to all types of assistance and offers.
Do you have other suggestions for family caregivers and non-caregivers? If so, please share them below.
Christine M. Valentin
As a licensed clinical social worker, I help individuals caring for a loved one reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. This blog is meant to share with you, many of the suggestions I recommend to many family caregivers. Sign up to receive them directly.