Imagine a Thanksgiving family dinner, in person or a virtual gathering, at which the oldest adult son calls for everyone's attention before sitting forward in his chair with wineglass in hand to toast his mother. “Mom,” he says, “thank you from the bottoms of our hearts for all you do for all of us, but especially our dad. You take such good care of him. We are eternally grateful for you.” Everyone else murmurs in agreement. There is raising of glasses all around. Mom blushes in embarrassment as Dad faintly smiles at her. “Let's start eating before everything gets cold,” Mom says. On cue, everyone starts digging into their thickly sliced turkey and buttery mashed potatoes with gusto.
Sounds like an ideal scene, right? A family caregiver is finally being recognized. But as Mom jumps up to head into the kitchen to get more cranberry sauce, it occurs to her she has heard this toast before, during the last two Thanksgiving dinners. She doesn't doubt its genuineness; she knows her oldest son means it. But she can't keep from remembering that this son has been so busy with a new job and caring for his own children that he hasn't helped her and his father much from one holiday season to the next. When she dropped hints months ago that Dad seemed sad and lonely and could use some friendly company, even if only by phone, her son seemed to ignore them. Mom isn't resentful — not exactly. But the yearly expression of thanks sounds a bit hollow to her when it isn't backed up with deeds of appreciation.
Is Mom being ungrateful — at Thanksgiving, no less — for her family's heartfelt acknowledgment of the many sacrifices she makes and the love and devotion she demonstrates year-round? No, she savors their kind words. But, like many family caregivers, she wishes for more. She doesn't need her own Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with marching bands and floats. Being admired on special occasions, though, doesn't do her that much good. On most days, she still feels isolated and forgotten, buried under arduous caregiving.
What are other ways for family members to give thanks to caregivers during the holiday season and the rest of the year? Here are some ideas:
Provide hands-on assistance
The saying “actions speak louder than words” is trite but true, especially when it comes to family caregiving. There is a long list of caregiving tasks to be completed each day for which helping hands would matter greatly. In the face of seemingly endless care-receiver need, thank-yous are nice but make less difference than would direct participation in care.