Give a Caregiver a Bath

take a bath“November is National Caregivers Month. It is a time to acknowledge the important role that family, friends and neighbors play in caring for sick, elderly and disabled friends and relations.” From the Department of Health – Administration on Aging

It is also a time to support the men and women who are currently caring for a loved one at home. You may have offered to help many times only to be thanked politely for the thought and never taken up on your offer. Some of you may have started to wonder if she really wants help. Maybe she prefers to play the martyr and do it all herself and whine about how hard it is in order to make you feel guilty.

“Why should I keep offering if that’s the way it’s going to be?” you may have asked yourself.

The answer is, “Because she needs help. She wants help. If she doesn’t get help she is going to break under the pressure.” Often she doesn’t know what to ask for.

When my husband and I first announced we were bringing his ill father to live with us, many well meaning people assured us they would be there to help when needed, and they meant it. I remember saying, “We are going to need some time off once in a while so we can go on vacation or out to dinner. It will be great if I can call on you then.”

“Of course,” was the answer, and they meant it.
I didn’t know then that going out to dinner or taking a vacation would not be what I would come to need most. As my father-in-law’s illnesses progressed what I longed for was an hour to take a long hot shower or to soak in tub of water up to my chin until my fingers and toes turned pruney. I’d have done just about anything to stop listening for signs he was in distress or that he somehow knew I wasn’t paying attention and had decided to go down the stairs unattended, risking a fall. Even an uninterrupted ten minutes on the toilet would have been a gift on some days.

I remember one morning in particular. He’d had his breakfast and I had helped him wash and dress. I’d seen to it he had his medications and the TV was tuned to his favorite show. He should have been good for at least thirty minutes. I was about to start a load of laundry when my I felt the sudden urge to pee. I had just settled on the toilet when I heard him calling.
“Bobbi! Bobbi! Come quick, I need you!”

He sounded so frantic I was afraid of what I would discover when I got to him. I jumped up in mid stream, pulled my pants up, and ran up the stairs.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, ignoring the warmth running down my leg.
“The TV’s gone berserk. I can’t get any channels.”

I bit my tongue, fixed the TV, and went to my room for a quick wash up and change of clothes. Clearly it was going to be one of those days.
If anyone had asked what I needed that day the answer would have been quick and easy.

“I need a bath.”

November is National Caregivers Month. The gift of time is precious for those for whom every moment counts. When wondering what you can do to help, consider stopping by a caregiver’s home someday. Maybe she’s wishing for a bath too.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Give a Caregiver a Bath | The Schizophrenic Writer
  2. Linda Harris Sittig
    Nov 01, 2013 @ 13:38:43

    Wonderful words of wisdom for all of us who have felt frustration and desperation in caring for our loved ones when they needed us most.



  3. clarbojahn
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 17:03:04

    I am in such a situation where I offer to help my sister in law but my help is declined because I do’nt know Grandma’s ways. It makes me sad,, Knowing how much my sister in law could use time out to go to a movie or dinner with my brother but only her daughter can help out. It’s too much for one person. What should I do? OFfer to learn Grandma’s ways for several days? staying with Marie while she takes care of Grandma so I can learn from her? it seems so hard just to help out. a real sacrifice of time. but i can’t think of anything else. 🙂



  4. Bobbi Carducci
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 18:49:06

    Hi Clar,
    The situation you describe isn’t unusual. Often the level of care that is needed is complicated or the person needing care is very demanding and unwilling to work with anyone other than the usual caregiver. Perhaps the medications needed are so varied the caregiver is afraid to let anyone else try to cope with it all. That creates a bad situation for all involved and makes it hard for caring people like you to help.

    I suggest you start slow. Visit your sister-in-law and Grandma regularly, say once a month, for 30 minutes to an hour. Spend most of the time with Grandma listening to her talk or, if she isn’t up for that, simply sit quietly at her side. Once she gets used to you being there you can suggest that your sister-in-law take a short nap, take a brief walk in the fresh air, or as in my case, take a bath. Eventually you may be ready to do more but even if that’s all that ever comes of your offer, those short breaks are priceless.

    Thank you for being willing to help a caregiver and for commenting to my blog.



  5. Anne
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 09:09:27


  6. Anne
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 13:16:01

    Hi Clar,
    I’m a carer and I cannot stress how hard it can be for carers to ask for help. It took me a long time to accept that I wasn’t superwoman! Caring for the elderly can be isolating, and research shows that isolation can effect both self-esteem and personal communication. Carers are often overworked, and sometimes they get so used to being indispensable that they start believing that asking for help is a sign of weakness, or even worse, that an offer of help somehow implies a criticism of their skills or an indication that they are unable to fulfil their duty of care. Caring is their day job, and positive feedback is very important. Carers may also be worried that with their time consuming responsibilities they will be unable to return the favour.
    As Bobbi pointed out, carers may also be concerned about the impact on their client. They may need to weigh up whether or not the short term gain outweighs any long term consequences. Before you approach your sister-in-law you might want to read this excellent resource about supporting carers. Best of luck Clar.
    Thank you for your really inspiring blog Bobbi, I will definitely be taking a bath to celebrate Carers Month.



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