Although there are many kinds of caregivers, some of them more visible than others. We all recognize professional caregivers such as nurses and aides who spend their time caring for the sick. Most of us are also aware of the typical family caregivers–parents caring for their little children, or an adult child caring for an aging parent. All of these people are caregivers and are fulfilling important roles, roles which are difficult and come with many stresses and struggles. It is good to recognize and value the work these people do–but there are other kinds of caregivers who often go unnoticed.
People around the country whom we would not typically expect to be caregivers are filling the role–often unnoticed by their community and unappreciated. Because they are not the typical caregiver they often don’t have the normal support structures or resources. Because their local communities do not recognize that they are caregivers the people around them may not realize they are struggling and need help.
Who are these people? They might be grandparents who through difficult life events have become the primary caregivers for their grandchildren. Or perhaps someone who is caring for an ill friend. We often fail to recognize how much someone gives up when they take on the duty of caring for a friend; it is a role which can often feel like a very thankless task.
Another example would be an elderly widowed mother caring for her adult son who is a disabled veteran. In old age most people look forward to the typical retirement dream–relaxing and having less responsibility. They expect that when poor health finally does come, other people will be caring for them. So when society thinks of an older woman they don’t expect this woman to be the caregiver for her adult son. If it isn’t expected, it often isn’t seen.
I recently met this very caregiver. The experience of seeing an elderly woman unselfishly living out the latter years of her life caring for a son who had once been healthy but now is disabled for the rest of his life was a stark reminder to me of all the unusual caregiving situations which are hidden around us. It is a journey that not very many people must take, and it is one that we as a society often overlook.
So today I’m asking you to consider the invisible caregivers you have in your life and around you in your community. Look a little closer. You might see caregivers where you didn’t expect them, people who are overlooked and need support. Don’t let them slip by unnoticed. What can you do for them?