Q: I wanted to drop off a meal for a caregiver, but she said never mind. Would it be rude to just drop off the meal anyway? She is caring for a close friend, and I really want to offer caregiver support but I don't want to cause her more stress.

I commend you for wanting to offer caregiver support - people don't always think of this person who is often behind the scenes, and it's someone who is frequently stretched thin, exhausted and focused on others.

What I hear you saying is, “I’m offering her something, why doesn’t she accept it?” So, is this about it being accepted or it being necessary? You may be needing for your offer to be accepted, and that’s natural. We all want to help. But you aren't listening.

She has turned you down. She may be overwhelmed, you may be one of fifty people asking to drop off a dish. Gifts of food can quickly fill the refrigerator with a stash impossible to eat no matter how tasty they are. I call it the “casserole attack” - when someone has a crisis, everyone brings over a casserole.It’s a heartfelt gesture. People are trying to figure out how to support someone they care about. Food has always been a traditional way to welcome, connect and bond with each other in a community. So, it’s really more about the gesture than about the baked spaghetti.

I encourage you to think beyond the casserole. Think instead about self-care for the caregiver. That’s true caregiver support.

How about giving her a gift card to a nearby restaurant? That way she can have a night out with no dirty dishes. Think about a gift card to an ice cream shop, or movie tickets if she has a family with young kids, so the family can have a fun outing. A gift certificate for a massage or mani-pedi is another great idea.

What I would not recommend is saying, “If you need anything let me know.” Honestly, that’s just one more responsibility for an already overtaxed person. Giving a gift card or a service is more thoughtful, more specific, and it can be applied whenever that person needs or wants it. It’s a resource they can use on their terms, without having to reach out and ask for help.

For example, I worked with a young woman whose husband died. She was left with three small children and a house and yard to manage. Six months after the death, her neighbor slipped a card in her mailbox with the dates he had scheduled lawn care service for her, and a note saying simply, “Always here to support you.” He was really paying attention, and he noticed it was something she was struggling with. His thoughtful gift helped her have one less thing to worry about.

Ultimately, that’s your goal for caregiver support - to give her one less thing to worry about.

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