Written by our Founder and CEO, our Celebrations Pulse Sunday Letters aim to engage with our community. From sharing stories to welcoming your ideas, we want to help you to express, connect, and celebrate the important people in your life.
More than 50 million Americans provide care and medical assistance to their parents, children, siblings, or other loved ones. Often without any fanfare or compensation, these family caregivers sacrifice for others while trying to work regular jobs and raise their own families.
Caregiving can be mentally and physically taxing. It’s also often isolating, especially if the caregiver doesn’t seek help from others. In fact, many people who become caregivers feel alone because they don’t realize that millions of other people are quietly facing similar challenges and similar levels of stress.
November is National Family Caregivers Month, and it’s an opportunity to draw attention to everything that caregivers do for communities and see the challenges they face. No caregiver should ever feel like they’re alone. Let’s break this cycle of isolation and loneliness!
This month, use your power to connect with a caregiver, whether it’s a family member, sibling, neighbor, or co-worker. Chances are, they don’t talk a lot about what they do, so you might have to look for evidence. They may be leaving work early or skipping evening events to care for an elderly parent. They might complain of feeling exhausted because of vague personal issues. They might say they’re sad or depressed.
You have the power to change their lives. Make time this month to chat in person or via phone call, text, ecard, or email. Just let them know you are grateful for everything they do. Most of all, listen to them. We promise that your words and thoughtfulness will make their day – and yours.
A spotlight on unsung heroes
Every U.S. president since 1997 has proclaimed November as Family Caregiver Month to help bring attention to the sacrifices and the role that caregivers play in ensuring the health and dignity of their family members. As President Biden said in his proclamation:
Family caregivers are the backbone of our Nation’s long-term care system, doing essential work with devotion, often at great emotional and financial cost. We owe them. It is time to bring their service out of the shadows and celebrate and support them in living their own happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.
One way to bring their service “out of the shadows” is to tell their stories and celebrate their contributions. Their stories serve another important purpose: They let other caregivers know that they’re not alone.
Are you a family caregiver or know someone who is? Share your story with us and we’ll include it in an upcoming edition of Celebrations Pulse.
Caring for caregivers
We’re constantly reminded that gifts from our brands are being used to help people express gratitude to caregivers. As we read through the heartfelt comments sent along with the gifts, we’re humbled that our company is playing a small role in caring for caregivers.
Our friends at Harry & David are going a step further. They’ve recognized that the brand’s mantra – “Life is a gift. Share more.” – easily extends into caregiving. After all, caregiving is a special type of sharing – the sharing of one’s time.
The team has embraced the support and appreciation of caregivers while providing useful information for those providing and receiving care. The work prompted many people to think about the caregivers they’ve seen in their lives.
About a month ago, Julie Fletcher on the marketing team told us about a childhood friend whose life has been defined by caring for others. “She’s full of personality and inspirational for me and others,” Julie said. We reached out to learn more.
A lifetime of caregiving
Julie Wilson Kilbarger started caregiving while she was in high school, when she started visiting an elderly woman who lived across the street.
She was in her 80s, and I believe she had been a banker in our town and was very well known. I just started going over to talk to her on her front porch and slowly became more and more of a caregiver to her. I would make sure she had groceries and clean for her. She talked to me about boys, school, our Catholic faith, and genuine love. Clara gave me love and the true meaning of kindness, and I learned to be selfless.
Their friendship grew, and Julie provided care for her friend until junior high, when Clara passed away. “I actually named my daughter Claire after Clara, because she had no children and I just loved her so much,” Julie says. “Her heart was so beautiful and faithful. I’m sure I needed her more than she needed me.”
After she graduated from college and married, Julie became a caregiver professionally and then at home when her youngest son Andrew was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. “It’s been a wonderful journey, taking care of him and watching him grow into this amazing young man.”
For Julie, caregiving and selflessness seem to never end. Julie’s parents moved close to her when Andrew was diagnosed so they could help the family. Years later, though, illness made living on their own impossible, so they moved in with Julie.
I watched my dad and his siblings keep his mom at home as long as he could, and I watched my mom take care of her mother at our home as long as possible. And I just knew that I wanted to do that for my parents and be the one to take care of them and comfort them and love them and coddle them and care for them, because I’ve watched it and that’s what I love doing.
Adding to Julie’s tough life was the heartbreaking loss in January 2022 when her fiancé, Scott, collapsed and died at their home. “He was my shoulder to cry on when the doctor appointments were not the best with Andrew,” she says.
Caring for a caregiver
Julie also takes comfort in the fact that she can turn to her daughter Claire for help and for some much-needed R&R. Claire says she admires her mom, “because she is the type of person who drops what she’s doing to help another person. I could call her asking her if she can help me with something and she goes above and beyond to help me or anyone else.”
For that reason, Claire provides her mom companionship to pursue some of her favorite activities.
When my mom and I get to relax, she always loves to watch 2000s romantic comedies as a way to get some peace and quiet. Another activity that we like to do together is going shopping. It doesn’t really sound like unwinding but any time she can go out and do what she wants it’s one of her versions of relaxing. My mom isn’t the type that can sit for too long before she just wants to be on her feet doing something!
Julie has dealt with so much pain, grief, and suffering, and yet she remains happy. What an important lesson in selflessness and caring for other caregivers and those of us who watch in awe. We send our love and thanks to all those who devote their lives to others.
All the best,
Chris & Jim