If Only: Caring for the Caregiver

hal_headshotAt Lotsa Helping Hands we are truly privileged to witness the best the human soul has to offer. Reading the unsolicited testimonials sent in by many of our 1.2 million community members is both an honor as well as a constant reminder of the humbling responsibility we all have to assist those in need.  While so many express their gratitude for the free service we provide, there is an underlying theme in each unique story of how family, friends, and neighbors came together to aid in caring for the caregiver.  But what about those other tens of millions of caregivers who feel isolated, often desperate as they struggle daily with the emotional, physical, and financial hardships confronting them? Too often a community member who has helped someone will conclude their testimonial with a comment to the effect “I only wish I’d known about this service years ago when I was caring for my ______.”

The Surprise of Community

Some write to us as the caregiver, marveling at the fact they didn’t realize how many people actually cared about them, certain that their spouse/parent/child would not have recovered without the incredible support from their “circles of community.”  Many others write as previously concerned friends or family – but now relieved – thankful for the opportunity to help without getting in the way of those they wish to support. It is clear to us at Lotsa Helping Hands that there is a pent-up need in our culture to (re)discover our basic instinct for a sense of community. Sharing each other’s lives, whether providing help when needed, or realizing the intimacy created when accepting other’s offers of help, is a significant activity that often brings a greater sense of meaning and purpose to our own lives.

“If Only…”

Which brings me back to those testimonials from people expressing a certain wistfulness that they didn’t know about Lotsa Helping Hands when they needed support during some previous challenge.  They know how great it would have been to have someone caring for the caregiver. My wife was a child caregiver, helping take care of her father who was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) when Debbie was only four years old.  By the time she was in middle school, Debbie was helping to feed and shave her father, juggling her schedule with her working mother, making sure someone was always around to assist her father.  As an adult she has often reflected on the gift of having this time with her father who died when she was only nineteen; but she has also lamented on a ‘lost’ childhood: frequently not being able to play with other children when she wanted to, sacrificing participation in many activities during high school, worrying not only about her father’s declining health but also concerned about her mother’s health and state of mind.  Certainly Debbie gained self-esteem and an emotional maturity far earlier than most children.  But she also had to deal with – way too early in life – the anger, anxiety, sacrifice, and guilt that plagues caregivers resentful of their plight.  Since Lotsa Helping Hands was launched, Debbie has mused more than once how radically different her childhood might have been if only there had been a way for her family to more easily harness the help within their own community at that time.

Our culture is inculcated in the idea of children being taken care of.  Rarely do we reflect on the fact that many children are in a reverse role, having the responsibility of taking care of someone else. The only national survey on this issue was in 2005 when the National Alliance for Caregiving reported that more than 1.3 million kids were looking after a parent or grandparent.

A Nation of Helping Hands

Perhaps you’re witnessing a family member or friend or neighbor struggling with the challenges of caring for a loved one. In recognition of November as National Family Caregivers Month, don’t just simply witness.  This month at Lotsa Helping Hands we are proclaiming 2013 as the “Year of Helping Hands”.  Visit our Promise Page and join the nation of helping hands by making a promise to start caring for the caregiver in 2013.

Hal Chapel is CEO and Co-Founder of Lotsa Helping Hands.