Have you ever fantasized about being invisible . . . going about your day without being seen or noticed? Try being a caregiver.

Caregivers don’t make headlines; they perform their duties unnoticed, silently, imperceptible and voiceless to most of society. They are the quiet, unassuming heroes.

A portly gentleman in his mid-sixties collapses into bed each evening, exhausted and spent. His wife by his side, they are attached wrist to wrist with a cord, in case she tries to walk out of the apartment in the middle of the night. She suffers from early-onset dementia; she no longer recognizes the husband who devotes each day to looking after the woman he’s adored for over forty years. And—oh yes, there’s also a bell hooked up to the door, just in case the cord system malfunctions.

He dies suddenly of a heart attack

Some time later, she is admitted to a nursing home. He visits her daily, until one day, not long afterwards, his body succumbs to the years and stresses of caregiving. He dies suddenly of a heart attack.

A woman looking far older than her years makes her usual trek to her 93-year-old mother’s apartment. She takes her to her doctor’s appointments, checks up on her hygiene and eating habits. She reads the paper to her, and provides social stimulation, in order to help maintain her wellbeing. At first, no one notices when this mother of three, grandmother of four and widow of two years, absorbed in her thoughts about her duties that day, slips and falls on the ice not far from her mother’s building. Her first thoughts are: “If I’m hurt, who’ll take care of Mom?” Within minutes, someone notices that she is injured; she’s rushed to the hospital and admitted for a broken hip. It’s the first time in years that she will get attention and care for her own health.

There are millions of you juggling your responsibilities with both arms full while riding the unicycle of life, and praying that you have the strength to keep going. We may not see you, for you are inconspicuous by day, wearing a cloak of invisibility, scurrying about your homes, taking care of your loved ones, getting them to their appointments on time, cooking meals, running errands, looking after a busy household—and forgetting to look after yourself.

Yes, you’re invisible by day, maybe because you’re no longer out in the workforce earning wages.

At night, even if you’re fortunate enough to have someone tend to your loved one, you’re often too tired to go anywhere. Friends eventually give up trying to take you out, so you are left isolated, mentally and physically exhausted, frustrated and lonely.

I know you’re out there, because one of the things I used to do was run caregiver groups for people in the community who are walking, talking, living proof that you exist.

And now, I am a caregiver too. My dear mother has been living with us for a while now. My parenting/mothering skills, as well as my patience, are stretching far beyond what I thought I was capable of. I sleep poorly each night, because I’m constantly on the alert for any unusual sounds or problems coming from her room. Each week, I witness another slight change in her physical or mental health. My mourning is an ongoing process; I grieve as I watch her slipping away from me, yet I also feel extremely blessed to be the one looking after her, for I know that no one on this earth could do it better, and she is safe.

Nevertheless, I’m the one looking after my mother’s everyday needs

I fully appreciate and understand the issues which affect you in your everyday, full life. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a husband and children who care about me. Nevertheless, I’m the one ultimately looking after my mother’s everyday needs, needs which are increasing day by day.

I often come across insensitive people who have no comprehension of what it is like to do this full time. How do you explain to someone that a trip to the grocery store has now become an “exciting” event for me? A night out with my husband—well, I’m positively ecstatic.

We save the government tons of money by caregiving in our homes; yet when we ask for assistance with certain tasks, we are placed on a “waiting list” of a few months. A few months when it is assumed that we will continue to do a great job of tending to every possible need our loved ones may have. And we will do a great job, because most of us are devoted, caring, responsible people who understand that we must continue to provide the best possible environment for our loved ones, who face enormous health challenges and who count on us every single day. But sometimes, as exemplified by the scenarios described above, the cost of doing this unassisted is very high.

If you’re reading this and you are not a caregiver, but know of someone who could use a few minutes of your time, please help them. Here are a few suggestions. If you follow even one of them, it might make a significant difference in that person’s morale:

  • Offer to take him or her out for a cup of coffee. If it is impossible for them to leave the house, then suggest to go there.
  • Call as often as you can; let them know that you will provide an ear when they need to vent.
  • If feasible, offer an hour or two of your time to “sit” with the care receiver while the caregiver goes out for a break.
  • Inquire if they’ve seen a physician for their own health lately.
  • Assist the caregiver in obtaining phone numbers for community services geared to meet their needs.
  • If they give any indication of depression or suicidal thoughts, get them help immediately.
  • Please be patient and compassionate; caregivers desperately need understanding and gentle lovingkindness, not lectures or criticism.

Presents come in all packages. The one that G‑d wrapped up just for me will provide comfort and a sense of peace for the remainder of my days. And as I untie the ribbons and reveal the true beauty of this remarkable gift, I know that I will feel forever blessed.