The caregiver/care receiver relationship can be one of the most intimate and impactful connections we experience in this life, yet is a relationship we seldom consider until faced with situations that require such support. Caregivers come in a myriad of forms, and from all walks of life. Many people have the good fortune of supportive family and friends who step in as caregiver: the devoted spouse, the loyal daughter or son, the distant relative or friend who suddenly find themselves showing up from thousands of miles away.
However, many also lack such warm family connections. When close relationships are strained or nonexistent, we must look for caregivers outside of one’s family system. In such situations, social support staff often dedicate hours of effort, searching for qualified caregivers that are a good fit. For some, receiving care from helpers outside the family system provides a layer of privacy and boundary that’s emotionally supportive. For others, receiving care from non-family members can be a difficult process of adjustment. However, as time progresses and trust gets established, caregivers that began their work as strangers can often end up becoming part of a client’s trusted inner circle, regardless of the initial circumstances that brought them together.
On the surface, caregiving can be described in terms of assistance provided with domestic and personal tasks. Yet in a deeper sense, caregiving is a commitment to lend one’s physical and mental agency to another human being, often in extremely specific terms. It’s always helpful when caregivers bring specific skill sets and training to their work with clients. However, in my experience, the best caregivers are simply those who are reliable, kind, communicative, and willing to sit in the unknown with their fellow human beings.
Over the past year I have gained an ever greater appreciation for the critical role played by caregivers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Many caregivers suddenly found themselves as part of a vulnerable person’s “pod” of trusted individuals. In addition to the regular tasks and responsibilities already undertaken, many caregivers were suddenly called upon to function as liaison between a world in the grips of a global pandemic, their vulnerable client in need of groceries and supplies. As vaccines have become more widely available in recent months, it is often the caregivers that help the most vulnerable among us access these treatments that are most needed.
As a palliative care social worker helping via telehealth, there are a huge number of assessments, interventions, and tools in my tool box. Access to medical staff, colleagues, and agency contacts can all be leveraged for patients in times of need. Yet for all of these awesome connections, they are useless for a person who is unable to click on a Zoom link or pick up the phone. Countless times, caregivers have served as the essential bridge, making it possible for telehealth doctors, nurses, social workers, and chaplains to do our jobs. When working across these digital and geographic divides, caregivers often play an essential role in communicating critical information about pain levels, changes in clients’ physical and mental capacities, and other challenges inside the home.
In essence, our pursuit to provide compassionate care to everyone, everywhere would often not be possible without the partnership with caregivers inside the home.
Bryan Kraus, MSW is a palliative care social worker with Resolution Care. When not caring for clients with life-limiting illnesses, Bryan can also be seen engaging with community through his music endeavors as guitarist in Humboldt County’s Grateful Getdown.