Most of us have been housebound now for a few weeks. Nothing like stating the obvious, right? There are folks around the world lamenting their “stuckness”, others who are trying to share a positive outlook with those who have lost theirs, parents who are homeschooling for the first time and marketing folks who are discovering new ways to get some facetime with clients and prospects. Weddings are being postponed, funerals aren’t being attended, medical professionals are risking their health for the rest of us and people are starting to truly appreciate the work done everyday by truckers, grocery store employees and delivery drivers. The list goes on and on and on. On the upside, there are a lot of very very happy pets!
However, for some family Caregivers, life really hasn’t changed all that much.
Take a moment and let that really, REALLY sink in.
There are family Caregivers who have been living the life of a house-bound human for a long time. So for those of you non-Caregivers, who are going through this for the first time, I simply ask that you remember this experience – your frustrations, your little victories, your sense of isolation from meaningful person-to-person connections – and, once this crisis is over and life is closer to what we knew as “normal”, reach out to a Caregiver and offer to sit with their loved one for a while so they can get out of the house.
For Caregivers of a loved one with severe dementia, going out can sometimes be so challenging that they just don’t anymore.
For Caregivers of a loved one who has a compromised immune system, they already limit exposure to the outside world, wash their hands (a lot!) and watch for any symptoms of a new illness.
For Caregivers of a loved one who is bed-bound and needs constant oversight, they are not going anywhere unless someone else steps up to help, they pay for care or they guiltily try to sneak to the grocery store while their loved one takes a nap.
For family members in a multi-generational Caregiving household, everyone already knows how to self-isolate because the risk of spreading anything is too high. And if the primary Caregiver gets sick, well, the world truly does stop spinning.
My husband took over primary Caregiver responsibilities for his dad about two years ago when I went to back to work after being the primary Caregiver for his folks for nearly four years. He spends a lot of time in the house with just his dad, who now requires 24/7 oversight. With the rest of us now house-bound (myself, one college kid and two high-schoolers), we are kicking him out of the house regularly to at least go for a bike ride. With the restrictions that are in place, he can’t go meet a friend for coffee and isn’t supposed to go for a ride in the mountains, but at least he has the opportunity to leave the house during the day. Before COVID-19, he would get out of the house in the evenings when I was home from work and picking up kids from activities. If there was a quiet Saturday when kids didn’t need to be carted around town, he could take the day to run away. But now, with me being home all the time, he can get out of the house on a weekday when the sun is up! Crazy, right?
So, in the coming weeks (or months) as you start regaining your freedom and are, as Southwest Airlines puts it, “free to move about the country“, remember those family Caregivers whose lives never changed much in the first place and won’t be changing to a life of freedom to roam like yours will. Now that you have a better appreciation for what it means to feel stuck in your house, be gracious with your freedom and share it with a family Caregiver.
Here are some ideas:
If you aren’t comfortable sitting with their loved one on your own, offer to pick up coffee and bring it to their home where you can sit and chat with them for a meaningful conversation. I can’t tell you how extraordinarily satisfying it was to have a conversation with someone outside of my house and who I knew would remember the conversation the next day.
Offer to bring a meal, pick up a pizza or a pint of ice cream and watch a movie at their place. No judging the state of their home, the dishes in the sink, the unfolded laundry or the sweats & t-shirt ensemble (in fact, wear your own!). Just come to laugh or cry together at a Hollywood-generated alternate reality. A little escapism can be healthy for Caregivers!
Consider taking their loved one for a scenic drive so your friend can run errands, clean the house or take a nap. Seriously, being able to clean an empty house was truly a blessing. I love my family, but if they could all just be out of the house at the same time for a couple of hours, I can get SO much more accomplished. Making that happen when you are a Caregiver is complicated, to say the least.
Give up one of your evenings so that the whole Caregiving family can do something together. Seriously, our family of five really doesn’t do anything outside of the house together anymore since one of us always has to be home. At this point, with the kids being older, that would be hard to coordinate anyway, but when they were younger, it was a super special treat to be able to go out to dinner and/or a movie without bringing my in-laws along. We needed that family bonding time to reconnect without the pressure of Caregiving for a few hours.
There are lots of ways to step up and be helpful to a family Caregiver and I’m guessing that as you are starting to miss the freedoms you used to take for granted, you can come up with some creative ways to support a Caregiver you know. In the meantime, take care of yourself, your family and maybe give that Caregiver you know a call today. They may have some wisdom for how to cope with being stuck at home and you can be honest with them about how many days in a row you’ve worn the same sweatpants. 😉