What Was The Most Helpful Surprise?

What Was The Most Helpful Surprise?

Capitol Reef National Park - Hickman Trail
Capitol Reef National Park – Hickman Trail. Picture taken by Judith Sands


The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a surprise as “an unexpected event, or the feeling caused by something unexpected happening.” Often the experiences of caregivers more closely match the Merriam-Webster definition of a surprise, “an attack made without warning.”  As a caregiver, too often the focus is on the unanticipated crisis or the unexpected decline of our loved one. At times, the attack without warning is the daily caregiving ritual.

Caregiving Toll

The caregiver is the project manager! The individual who has taken on the role of keeping the home going, tending to the loved ones physical and emotional needs, managing medications, treatments and supplies, paying the bills, doing the wash, and all the other unglamorous activities that must get done. The stress a caregiver endures while caregiving for a loved one has long term physical effects. As family and friends of caregivers, there are specific things that you can do to bring an unexpected smile, and relieve some of the caregiving stress.

The “Polite” Offer

Too often caregivers are asked: “What can I do to help?” Sometimes it is a genuine offer and other times it is perfunctory one; similar to “Let’s get together for lunch.” The lunch meeting never actually takes place since it was a “nice and hollow” gesture. Caregivers have too many decisions to make and it is not always easy to stop and run through the “wish list” and come up with an item that matches what the requestor likes or is able to do.

Genuine Assistance

Seasoned caregivers may have a task or laundry list for just such questions, it may resemble: Please help with the following:

  • Pick up the following from the supermarket
  • Take out the trash cans on garbage day
  • Mow the lawn
  • Take the car for an oil change
  • Fold a load of wash
  • Make a meatloaf (or another much-desired entrée)
  • Sit with my loved one while I go to the hairdresser

The Unexpected Surprise

I often ask caregivers what was an unexpected and welcomed surprise that made a difference for them. The overwhelming majority of responses related to not being “forgotten” by friends and family. Despite not being able to physically participate in their usual social activities, knowing that someone genuinely cares about them, and took the time to express their thoughts made the difference. Some caregiver responses included: getting a greeting card regularly, finding a meal or flowers at their doorstep. The fact that someone went out of their way to do that “act of assistance” without being asked made the difference.

Caregivers, please share “What was the most helpful surprise” that someone did for you. Friends and family of caregivers, take note and see how you can give a caregiver a wonderful and much-needed surprise.


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