The poetry behind caregiving

Recently featured on FastCo Create, I read the great story of Caregifted, an organization that supports caregivers, people who spend decades, if not a lifetime looking after their relatives with  some form of disability like autism or Alzheimer’s. These unexpected conditions require family members to re-structure their lives around their relatives’ special needs, often leaving successful careers and personal goals behind in order to assist their relatives.

This Seattle-based organization gives, in the words of Caregifted, “respite in the form of all-expense paid getaways to full-time, lifelong caregivers of severely disabled family members.” People who are selected by this organization can spend some time away in different coastal locations like California, the Pacific Northwest, or Maine in order to rest, reflect and recover their much-needed strength to carry on.

Caregifted was founded by poet Heather McHugh, who used her McArthur genius grant to start this project. McHugh’s godson was found in a similar situation as his son was born with a rare condition that required him and his wife to change their careers, and move back to the US from Cambodia in order to give their baby the special medical attention he needed.

The decision to found Caregifted shows a lot of compassion on McHugh’s side toward her godson, and extends it to other families in similar conditions. It reminds me of Walt Whitman, also a poet, who spend many years visiting thousands of sick and wounded soldiers during the Civil War, listening to these anonymous young men and writing letters to their parents. You can read more about Whitman”s Civil War years here.

What struck me about Caregifted is the fact that it is using communication as a tool to bring awareness to caregivers. When travel grantees go on their vacations, they are asked to do some form of documentation of their time away. McHugh is partnering with filmmaker Adam Larsen, to help share the stories of these ”undersong heroes” during their retreat. Below is a trailer of their Undersung documentary.

The Takeaway

How can our efforts as designers and communicators inspire others to give a voice to those who typically don’t have a voice? Can our work be rooted on compassion? Let me know what you think.

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