Ever have one of those signs that reminds you of what is important in life? This one hangs in my office: “Throw kindness around like confetti,” a reminder to spread kindness by just being ourselves.

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time for us to lift up those who are putting a loved one’s needs at the forefront.

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, 53 million Americans are providing unpaid care for a loved one, with 16 million caring for people with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, for an annual 18.6 billion hours (Alzheimer’s Association).   

And yet, despite being a growing phenomenon, this fact is overlooked by the general population because it makes us feel uncomfortable, and makes us look at our mortality. These feelings are valid because it can be overwhelming to “go there.”

However, acknowledging caregivers provides an opportunity for light, love, growth, joy and being part of the fabric of humanity. The hope that comes is real when a hand is extended.

Did you know the role of a caregiver begins at diagnosis? A sense of separation is automatic. At first, there is shock and denial, a sense of numbness to block the fear. Then, a sense of “before” and “after” the illness. The caregiver slides into a role of heightened awareness – tracking changes, sleeping with one ear open, researching treatments, and taking on more responsibilities.

While the head is focusing on detail management, the heart is wrapping in grief. Caregivers often do not realize this is happening because they are focused on the afflicted. A secondary illness of loneliness sets in.

The relationship is changing. Husbands and wives are no longer on equal ground. Roles reverse between parents and adult children. Time is moving faster than one’s mental, emotional and physical pace because stressors must be quickly processed

Caregivers are grieving – for their ailing loved one, the changing relationship, a loss of independence, dreams, and for who they were before taking on this role. As more focus needs to be maintained on the caregiver, they are often receiving less.

Well, here is the good news, the secret! This is the perfect opportunity to be a friend without fixing a single thing. You don’t have to swoop in and save the day. Listen without judgment, acknowledge they are in a tough place, and grant space and grace to be exactly where they are.

Let’s punch that smartphone button and ask our caregiving friends how they are doing. Find a funny joke or Carol Burnett video clip to share – it’s so healthy to laugh!  Just extend a hand. That’s it. That’s the secret. 

Here’s a tip: Caregivers fear being a burden, so they wait for us to contact them, not wanting to “bring us down.” But when you come from a place of kindness, it’s so easy to connect.

Call (or text or email or mail a card to) a caregiver in your life today. Sprinkle kindness like confetti. You won’t be sorry.

Ashley Gruber, LPC, NCC is the counseling director, a memory care specialist, and certified grief specialist at Memory Matters. mymemorymatters.org or Ashley@mymemorymatters.org.