Consider Keeping Acts of Service in the Family

Pegi, who cares for her husband, enjoys a special moment with her mom.

Pegi, who cares for her husband, enjoys a special moment with her mom. Want to understand more about what a family caregiver does in a day? Visit our Caregiving Day in Photos.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday, as we observe our federal holiday, Martin Luther King Day, we’re encouraged to answer a national call to give a day of service–a “day on, not a day off.” The MLK Day of Service, part of President Obama’s initiative called United We Serve, encourages Americans to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. The MLK Day of Service hopes to bring us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.”

I love the idea of acts of service–what greater purpose can we provide than lending a helping hand?

As individuals consider their acts of services, I’d like to suggest two acts of service–one in the community and one in the family. In the community, help a local non-profit or school or program.

In the family, help your family’s family caregiver.

Your family’s family caregiver is your sibling or cousin or parent who answers a call to serve every day. Your family’s family caregiver does what appears to be those simple tasks, like organizing the day’s medications every morning for his or her caree. Your family’s family caregiver completes those tougher tasks, like moving into a hospital room so a caree gets the required medical care and wakes to the comfort of a familiar face. Your family’s family caregiver gets up every day–Sunday through Saturday–to do God’s work.

It’s a lonely job–that of your family’s family caregiver. According to our 2012 Annual Family Caregiver Survey, only 23% of respondents have help from other family members a few times a week. Almost 40% don’t have any help from other family members. It’s perhaps your family’s most pressing problem.

Which is why your act of service can make a huge difference right in your own family.

Not sure how to help? It’s easy. Just ask your family’s family caregiver what you can do for him or her.

Or, simply offer to:

1. Install grab bars in the caree’s bathroom.
2. Add no-skid backing on all throw rugs.
3. Clean out the refrigerator.
4. Make, and freeze, enough meals to last a week.
5. Re-paint areas on walls marked up by wheelchair traffic.
6. Give the caree’s bedroom a deep cleaning.
7. Clean the car that the family caregiver and caree use.
8. Get caught up on laundry.
9. Mop floors.
10. Organize closets.
11. Re-arrange furniture to best accommodate care needs.
12. Remove stains on furniture and in carpeting.
13. Make a phone call to your family’s caree (the individual receiving care) to chat, even if the chat only takes place for a few minutes.

Do you live out-of-town? You can still provide acts of service for a family caregiver and caree. Here’s how:

1. Buy your family’s family caregiver a regular break (once a quarter, once a month, once a week–whatever you can afford) by purchasing the services of a home health agency. An agency provides a companion or home health who helps a caree so a family caregiver can leave the house. You can search for agencies here.

2. Keep a family caregiver engaged in interests he or she loves. Send gift cards to Amazon.com for books, to Michaels for crafts and Lowe’s for tools.

3. Call the family caregiver regularly to simply listen and express your gratitude. You don’t have to fix or solve; you merely have to support with words of encouragement and thanks.

4. Offer to pay a monthly bill, either for utilities or cable or Netflix. You don’t have to break your break–just removing one task and one bill can be a day-changer for a family caregiver.

5. Purchase regular help for the family caregiver, like house cleaning or lawn care or snow removal. Taking care of a responsibility removes some of the weight on the family caregiver’s shoulder.

6. Plan a regular trip to visit the family caregiver and caree, with the intention of performing the acts of service listed above. Even an annual visit for three days can make a difference.

Finally, your acts of service can last beyond one day. We sponsor an initiative called First Fridays and Last Saturdays. On the first Friday of every month, we ask individuals to share dinner with (or buy a meal for) a family caregiver and caree. On the last Saturday, we ask others to help a family caregiver around the house.

The cost to you for these acts of service is a few bucks and a few hours. What you’ll gain will leave you in a sense of wonder.

(Are you the family caregiver in your family? Please feel free to forward this post to your family, friends and social networks.)

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About Denise Brown

I began working with family caregivers in 1990 and launched CareGiving.com in 1996 to help and support them. Through my blog, I share words of comfort and offer coping strategies and tips. I also write opinion pieces about recent research, community programs and media coverage of caregiving issues. I've written several caregiving books, including "The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey," "Take Comfort, Reflections of Hope for Caregivers" and "After Caregiving Ends, A Guide to Beginning Again." You can purchase my books and schedule a coaching call with me in our store.

2 thoughts on “Consider Keeping Acts of Service in the Family

  1. Avatar of Sunshine=Sometimes

    Hi Denise,
    I am going to forward this article to each of my two sisters. Maybe – just maybe? – it’ll mean something to them. :)

    Reply
  2. Tony Rovere

    Denise, I believe you are right in this and that over time we could have a pressing problem among charities looking for volunteers.

    As time goes on and our population ages, many people will not be able to devote time to volunteer service and will instead be spending more of their time with family and for many of them that will be in their capacity as a caregiver.

    In addition, as the commentor above states there are many caregivers who are performing 99% or more of the caregiving in the family, and some of the ideas you gave for respite care and sharing the burden would be welcomed in this regard.

    Reply

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