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.
We have written several times about caregivers, the millions of people who oversee the well-being of family, friends, and loved ones. After each letter, our inboxes filled up with stories from both grateful care recipients and caregivers themselves.
The emails paint a story of challenges and love. Though each situation is unique, they all touch on common themes: The work is often difficult and often layered on top of career and other family responsibilities, and it’s usually done amid a growing sense of loneliness and isolation.
But, without exception, everyone who shared a story said they would not do anything differently. The sacrifice of caregivers is all about caring for another human being. They are giving the greatest gifts of all – their time, their love, and their lives.
A caring community
Our colleagues at Harry & David last year proposed that we work closely with the caregiving community. They had noticed the thousands of messages that accompany gifts thanking people who had lent a supportive and helping hand to those in need.
The team also pointed to some sobering statistics. The number of caregivers in our midst is rapidly expanding as baby boomers age. According to AARP, more than 34 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult aged 50 or older.
These stats and our community’s stories got us thinking: What can we do – as individuals and business leaders – to support these fearless caregivers and understand their needs?
An insightful conference
Our journey started last fall, when team member Rhonda Klug attended the Care Colloquium, a caregiving conference in Roanoke, Virginia. Her mission was to listen and report back on what she learned. She returned to the office with a whole new understanding of the caregiver community – and her role in it.
Her most eye-opening moment occurred when she heard that many people providing care to family members do not recognize themselves as caregivers. As she listened and spoke to panelists, Rhonda was reminded of her own life that involved taking care of aging parents and finding creative ways to balance demands at the office.
“I walked in with my business hat on and out with a whole new perspective on what caregiving means, both personally and professionally,” Rhonda told us.
Conference organizers and attendees assured her that her realization was not unusual.
“It’s our biggest challenge in reaching caregivers because they say, ‘That’s not me. I’m just taking my mom to a doctor’s appointment, helping my neighbor mow their grass, doing some grocery shopping for someone,’” said Amy Goyer, an author and consultant specializing in aging and families. “That is all caregiving!”
Lending a helping hand
Why is it important to identify caregivers? Because many of them find themselves isolated and increasingly stressed without any access to resources that could help them and the person they are caring for, explained Kimberly Whiter, creator of the Care Colloquium and owner of Elder Care Solutions.
“As humans, we tend to compartmentalize our lives,” she said. “We have work time and family time. But caregiving doesn’t fall into any one of the compartments. When you’re the primary caregiver to a loved one, it infiltrates everything in your life. There isn’t specific time allotted for caregiving, which is why it’s so stressful, and why there might be no time for anyone else.”
Rhonda pointed out that companies also have an important role to play. Managers and human resources departments need to be understanding and flexible when employees are providing care to a loved one.
“What caregivers want the most is flexibility, whether that’s working from home, or from their loved one’s home, and it’s also important for businesses to recognize caregivers who might be customers or clients,” says Gary Barg, editor-in-chief of Today’s Caregiver magazine, and the founder of the website caregiver.com.
The power of connection
Above all, caregivers need to meet and discuss their issues with other caregivers, says Barg, whose company gives caregivers much-needed tools and resources, as well as hosts “Fearless Caregiver,” an annual in-person conference that unites caregivers.
“There was one panel where someone said they had a hard time keeping their mother from driving while she was on her medications, but she was only driving around the neighborhood,” Barg recalls. “And four or five people stood up and started explaining how they handle that situation — one son said he gets in the car, another says she tells them it’s in the shop. It’s the kind of advice you only get from other caregivers.”
Caregivers not only need support from each other but also from all of us. Everyone has a special power to connect with caregivers and make their lives easier. All it takes is a simple phone call, email, or text message to ask if there is anything you can do to help.
All the best,
Chris & Jim