How to Help a Caregiver at Christmas

CaregiveratChristmas

A Caregiver at Christmas Feels Double the Stress

Contrary to the song, Christmas is NOT “the most wonderful time of the year” for caregivers. It’s that time of year when all the ‘what ifs’ pile up in their brains as they silently mourn Christmases past and what to do in the present and the presents (and the traditions and coping with friends, family, Christmas cards and hanging stockings and everything else).

Pedro and the girls in front of the tree that transplant Christmas.

Pedro and the girls in front of the tree that transplant Christmas.

When my husband had cancer, the nicest thing someone did for me during the holidays was when my parents helped our young daughters by making sure an important family tradition stayed alive. They bought a U.S. Forest Service tree-cutting permit and took our girls on the annual tree hunt while Pedro and I were a thousand miles away worrying about the daily stem-cell collection count. They set the tree up and helped the girls decorate it so that when we got home three days before Christmas, it actually looked and smelled like Christmas.

How Can You Help a Caregiver at Christmas?

Tips for helping out a caregiver who cares for a housebound or neutropenic loved one:

  • Buy them a Christmas tree. Chances are, they don’t have the time or energy or money go tree hunting. Make sure you help them set it up, too.
  • If the caregiver has children, organize a group to buy and stuff stockings for the kids and deliver them to the caregiver far enough in advance that the caregiver doesn’t have to worry about doing it themselves.
  • Stuff a stocking with things a caregiver could use. Caregivers can always use hand lotion, germ killer, travel sizes of Kleenex, shampoo and conditioner—whatever you think might make the caregiver YOU care about feel loved.
  • Bake something healthy for them. Find out if the caregiver or the one they’re caring for has any health restrictions, and then bake some cookies (use whole-wheat flour instead of white, brown or raw sugar instead of white) or other treats (here’s a helpful link about patients with neutropenia and what they can eat: http://www.upmc.com/patients-visitors/education/cancer/Pages/neutropenic-diet.aspx).
  • Offer to put up Christmas lights outside the house. If you aren’t comfortable climbing ladders, decorate shrubbery or tree trunks—anything to let the caregiver know YOU care about their happiness.
  • Gift cards. Give gift cards that the caregiver can use or pass on to someone else as a Christmas gift. This will help ease the caregiver’s financial stress.
  • Offer to prepare a holiday meal for a caregiver and his or her family. Ask in advance, and check for dietary restrictions.

If the caregiver you care about celebrates Chanukah or Kwanza instead of Christmas, take the time to find out how you can help them through their holiday—what matters to caregivers is that somebody cares! (tweet this)

Andrew during his surprise Santa visit.

Andrew during his surprise Santa visit.

How have you helped a caregiver or, if you’re a caregiver, what help did you appreciate the most during the holidays?

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Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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