Care for the Caregivers
One of the best volunteer programs I’ve seen and experienced myself was at Columbia Children’s Hospital.
Our weekly treatment
The group put on there thinking caps and reached out to manicurists, hairdressers, massage therapists, etc, They asked them to volunteer their time at the hospital. Once a week we were treated to an hour of self-care that we badly needed. The overhead for this program was minimal.
Doing something for ourselves
Moms and dads of all races, religions, and age groups came together for an hour away from their children to talk freely with one another about their situations. I can remember looking forward to this time with anticipation weekly. The volunteer and child life department stayed with the children so the parents felt safe to take the hour break. It was nice to have shiny new nails and someone to rub our backs but the real gift was time on our own doing something for ourselves. A minute to forget the situation we were in and to put our feet up and be taken care of instead of being the caretaker.
How can I help?
It was an environment that was not threatening with no monitors, machines to support life, no nurses, doctors, or patients. We often don’t know what to do for our loved ones when they are in difficult situations and need help. In so many cases, caregivers are in need of support and TLC but don’t recognize or acknowledge their needs because when you compare them to what the patient is going through it seems irrelevant.
Many people have asked me through the years how can I help? The thought was always the same (fix my baby). Other than that I had no idea what I needed. Looking back now I know one thing I craved was normalcy. A chance to clear my head and disengage from the trauma we were experiencing. We know we need a break but feel guilty to leave our loved one in fear of something terrible happening when we are gone. Our own personal care was last on our to-do lists. The hospital realized this and implemented another great program, tea time.
A chance to recharge
They set up a group of bakers who donated baked goods and teas once a week for a special treat. The goodies were served with a fancy tea set that transformed you if only for a short time into another place in time. The volunteers were not medical professionals but had a need to help families in any way they could. We were invited to sit at a table filled with lace and goodies it was a drastic change-up from the sterile ICU rooms we were living in.
Often it was the first thing we eat home-cooked in days. The volunteers stayed and chatted with us about, family, weather, the china and silverware we were eating on, and often the recipes they used to make our treats. It was a chance to recharge and have a conversation about things that had nothing to do with our current situation. A program like this would be a great asset to any hospital or agency that serves our community.
It's the small things
It’s not just patients who need this type of care. Many caregivers are in need of a time out and programs like those that I have described would fit nicely into many settings. Maybe you would like to try to establish a program like the ones I have mentioned or perhaps treat a friend in-need to a special manicure and facial in their home or hospital room. I’m sure they will welcome the change-up from caregiver to the person being cared for.
There are so many things we can do for people in this type of situation. I have found from being on both sides of the fence that in general, people just want to help but don’t know how. It’s often the small things that matter the most just like in life. It’s being looked after, even if your the caregiver, it’s giving up some of your time to free up some time for someone else, it’s showing love and support, it’s holding hands, a smile, and a piece of cake.
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