It was 2 summers ago that I was walking through my library and happened to see a title that caught my eye: Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. Picked it up, read it in 2 days and my brain went into overdrive with goal setting and ideas for my "what's next?" question that I'd started pondering after leaving full-time teaching. Then September hit along with the official founding of my nonprofit organization: The Right Relief Inc.
The same thing happened a few weeks ago, but this time the title was Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout in America with a big piece of burnt toast taking up the whole cover. Seeing as I've had caregivers on my brain for the last 18+ months, it grabbed my attention. Also, what an intriguing picture to have on the cover of a book ;)
It is written by Kate Washington who tells the very personal story of caring for her husband who has cancer. She doesn't hold much back and really paints a picture of what it looks like to be in the day-to-day grind of caregiving. They had two young children as well, so Kate describes herself as a "sandwiched caregiver" because she was in the middle of caring for her husband and her kids. I know this is the reality for many caregivers we provide meals for too.
Washington came up with the title for the book based on a "quiz" she took on the Internet. She'd been Googling "caregiver support" but before she could type the word support, the word burnout came up as a suggestion. There was a quiz to determine what "level" of burnout the caregiver was at and she received the "already toast" level. To go from desperately hoping for some support and then to come up with this result had to have been shocking, but not surprising, and it definitely didn't provide what she'd been looking for. She wrote the book to try and give other caregivers support and the peace of mind that they aren't alone. At The Right Relief Inc, our aim is similar: we don't want caregivers "going it alone." There is a fantastic compilation of resources for caregivers on Washington's website here: https://www.kawashington.com/already-toast.html I will also be sharing on @The Right Relief Inc social media pages as many caregivers now follow our page.
As many times as I use the terms #Caregiver or #caringforcaregivers in social media posts, I've never heard the definition quite like Washington lays out. She, being a writer, researched the origin of the word care and discovered this: "it comes from the Old English carian, to grieve, to feel anxious or solicitous, and from the Old High German charon, to call out or lament." (pg 8-9 Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout in America). I thought this was interesting because I associate caring with loving & nurturing but in reality it has a more sorrowful history. She goes on to define giving as "an act of willing generosity" (pg 9) and continues with this eye opening confession, "I offered that tenderness less freely over time. I had no meaningful choice in giving care" (pg 9). She, along with so many, are burnt out caregivers. After caring for so many months or years, caregiving can sometimes feel like an obligation. What a harsh reality.
There are 2 stats from the book I want to share:
AARP estimated that 53 million Americans served as unpaid family caregivers in 2020 which was up from 43.5 million in 2015 (pg 4).
93% of family members caring for an elder said they've never been taught how to be a caregiver (pg 29).
These stood out to me not only because the numbers are a bit staggering but because of the little word unpaid. Caregivers often have to take leaves of absence from work or quit jobs all together to care for their loved ones. This just doesn't seem right! In my opinion, there should be some compensation model for caregivers!!! Washington discusses this growing American problem in detail in the book. I was also shocked at the level of medical care she had to provide to her husband, with 0 training. She went to college to become a writer!!! She didn't take a single course in nursing but was expected to perform the same tasks that were a skilled nurse's responsibility when her husband was inpatient. Crazy!
So, you are probably asking, What is the solution? In the conclusion of the book Washington honestly says "I don't have a single answer, but I wrote this book... to help bring this ever more pressing issue into public view" (pg 179). She again gives some stats and info about states who have begun the big job of putting policies in place for getting caregivers support they need. She gives simple solutions you can do today to help a caregiver you know. She even gives the example of asking a caregiver, "Hey, I'm going to Target, can I pick something up for you?" (pg 179) which is what I did for my friend Leah when she was at the hospital with her son for a week. Such a simple thing that, as Washington puts it, "helps to lessen the isolation of caregiving and build-up the more community-minded, connected ethos we need if real changes in care are ever to come." (pg 179)
I feel humbled to be a part of the #ReliefSquad community that has developed over the last almost two years. We are helping bring awareness to caregivers' hard work in the way we know how... through food. Is there a better way - :)
I recommend this book for caregivers current & past. While it's not the "happiest" or "easiest" read, it is eye opening and relatable. I urge you to check out the resources on Kate Washington's website too. I did reach out to her to thank her for her work with this book and I will keep you updated on a response!