We recently had the opportunity to chat with the gracious, insightful, and oh-so-smart Kate Washington to talk about caregiving, support and community, following the publication of her new memoir, Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout in America.
Already Toast provides a raw look at Washington’s grueling experiences as an unpaid family caregiver in the United States. She tells the tale of personal trauma, professional sacrifices, societal expectations, and the never-ending juggling acts she endured to stay afloat while caring for her critically ill husband and at the same time raising two young children. It is an eye-opening read.
The book drives home the importance of supporting the caregivers, in addition to the care recipients in our lives. Washington calls for policy changes, such as paid family leave, to make family caregiving a more sustainable, fair and effective undertaking.
“There is no wrong person to step up,” remarked Washington when asked about advice for people who may feel tentative about reaching out to a caregiver outside their inner circle of family and friends. “I especially appreciated the people who I didn’t know that well, who cared enough to jump in there and offer specific help.”
Washington shared anecdotes about a lifting partner from her gym helping her rearrange her furniture to make space for medical equipment prior to her husband’s return home from the hospital, and the acquaintances and even strangers who provided meals for her family over the course of her time as a primary caregiver. “It’s not only emotionally meaningful, but also practically helpful,” she notes.
If you are considering whether and when to reach out to a caregiver, Washington suggests waiting until a few weeks after the initial diagnosis, loss, or life event has occurred, and the initial “avalanche” of support has quieted down, but needs still persist. She also offers excellent advice for how to support caregivers, which boils down to making specific offers that are easy for the caregiver to accept. We’ve summarized our favorites below.
How to Help Caregivers
- Recruit friends to a “care network” and maintain the spreadsheet for it
- Organize meal deliveries or gift cards for grocery deliveries
- Offer specific errands, with a text like, “Hey, I’m going to Target, can I pick something up for you?”
- Take their car for an oil change
- Pick up dry cleaning
- Take their kids to a movie (or a park!)
- From far way, offer to make administrative phone calls or phone-tree needed information to others
In Already Toast, we see Washington patch together professional and supplementary family support where and when she can, but ultimately pay a heavy price as her husband’s caregiver. And she has it easier than most, given her race (White), socio-economic status, her husband’s supportive employer and generous insurance benefits.
“Patchwork” writes Washington, “is an especially apt metaphor for care systems, referencing as it does, that ultimate symbol for care and love: the quilt.” Quiltlove was founded on the concept of quilts as the ultimate symbol of love, made even more meaningful through a group gift giving model.
Wouldn’t it be lovely to wrap a caregiver in a patchwork quilt, as a sign of comfort, support and connection as they care for others? For the month of May, we will be offering four free squares when you organize a Caregiver Support Quilt. Simply choose this option in our occasion list when organizing your quilt and we will send you an artwork template for four free squares.
Today, Washington is doing better. Her husband is currently able to handle much of his own care independently, which in turn, positively impacts her well-being. It was her hope in writing her book that caregivers would be a little more seen and validated in the world. We see you Kate Washington and we see the caregivers in our lives!
Quiltlove Caregiver Support Quilt offer is valid through May 31, 2021. Each Caregiver Support Quilt comes with 4 free custom squares. 15 squares must be purchased for the quilt to be sewn. May not be combined with other offers.