Caregiving Community

Not Another Lasagna, Thanks: Asking for the Help You Really Need

When my husband was about to come home from a four-month hospitalization following a difficult stem cell transplant, a friend at my gym asked if there was anything she could do to help. I hesitated for a minute; I didn’t know her all that well, and my first instinct was to either wave her off or point her to the Meal Train sign up another friend had kindly organized. But my freezer was full. What I really needed was less conventional: help with rearranging our guest room to accommodate Brad’s care needs from someone who I knew could deadlift.

“Actually,” I said, “would you have time to come over and help me move some furniture?” She said she’d be glad to, and with her aid I got that furniture moved without throwing out my back. I also learned the importance of asking for the specific, real help that would really give me a boost or a break during a long caregiving journey.

Our individualist, self-reliant culture often leads caregivers like me to demur in the face of vague offers (we’ve all heard “let me know if I can do anything,” right?), or to say yes to whatever is offered—even if it’s a superfluous lasagna. Asking someone to fill a gas tank or pick up laundry detergent on their Costco run instead can feel vulnerable. But overcoming our reluctance and making those requests can both meet our immediate needs and show us who’s got our back, ultimately building the community all caregivers need.

Recently, I had the chance to pay it forward to a caregiving friend, and I was delighted when she asked me to pick up the bakery muffins her sons like best, because I knew I could offer authentic support. Especially in the busy holiday season, asking for what you really need can be a gift not only to yourself but to those who truly want to give to you.

Kate Washington is the author of Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout In America (Beacon Press, 2021) and a speaker on the systemic challenges facing family caregivers. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, TIME, Eater, Catapult, and many other publications. She holds a Ph.D. in Victorian literature from Stanford University and lives in Sacramento with her husband and two daughters. Connect with her at or on Twitter @washingtonkate

Caregiving Community

Caregiver Survival During the Holidays

The holidays can be a delightful time of year. They can also be filled with anxiety.

Holidays often add stress, especially if you are a caregiver who is already feeling pulled in too many directions. The pressure of trying to make the perfect holiday can be immense, and quite frankly, who has those “Perfect Publix holiday commercial” holidays? Families coming together are not always the happiest of situations.

Here are five simple tips to make the holidays better for you, your loved one and your family.

  1. Simplify: When it comes to decorations, choose a few items that are most significant, have meaning for you and your loved ones. You might ask a friend to help decorate.
  2. Keep Meals Simple: Purchase all or part of meals at a local grocery store or restaurant — either fully cooked or ready for you to cook at home. If you prefer home cooked, share the cooking with other family members.
  3. Reduce the number of holiday activities: Limit your time away from home to match the comfort level of your loved one. Choose which events to attend based on which would be the simplest, least exhausting and most enjoyable for the person you care for — and for you.
  4. Visiting Family: You may need to prepare family members in advance for any changes or decline in your loved one’s physical or mental status. This will save many unnecessary “well meaning” discussions on the care you are providing. (Siblings and other family members tend to swoop in and have definite opinions when they may not have been involved.)
  5. Focus On the Meaning: When spending time with your loved ones, focus on celebrating the meaning of the holiday you observe. This is what really matters, and what you will remember in the future.

Do you exchange gifts? Let’s face it, most of us don’t really need more stuff. As a matter of fact, I hear so many of you saying the stuff just adds more stress!

This year, try something different. Create your own “Wish List” of gifts that you need. Here are some ideas that have come to my mind after listening to the needs of caregivers.

Coupon for Respite: How about creating a coupon booklet offering to stay with your loved one so you can get away? Offers to provide care, transportation, run errands, buy groceries, etc. can be added. If your family can’t do this, suggest they purchase a few hours of care from a home care agency or assisted living facility. Many assisted living facilities offer short term respite care.

House Cleaning Service: A gift certificate for a house cleaning service is a great gift.

Coupon for a Spa Day: A little pampering can go a long way to ease caregiver stress. A massage is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Go ahead, ask for these special gifts from your friends and loved ones! You will be glad you did.

I hope all of you will think about how to best care for yourselves during this frantic season. The ideas above should help with that.