The invitation was for a "A Care Shower."

"Let's honor and mark the passage into care for Anne Basting. We'll play games, make cards and share our best wisdom and bafflement at how to be a caregiver."

There were decorations in soft blues and greens with Pinterest-worthy frosted cookies to match. And just like at a bridal or baby shower, organizers kicked off the event with a game to break the ice. Called "spill-the-pills," it had contestants racing to drop Tic Tacs into weekly pill organizers.

The event, held in St. Paul last month, was a piece of performance art grounded in reality. It was also part of a budding social movement.

Basting is a Wisconsin artist and MacArthur "genius grant" fellow whose creative focus is elder care. In real life, she's helping her mother navigate living with dementia. But no one actually threw her a care shower. That's because they don't exist. At least not yet.

Basting and fellow University of Wisconsin Milwaukee faculty member and artist Jessica Meuninck-Ganger are trying to "culture hack" the idea into existence. They believe a ritual like a shower to mark someone's transition into caring for an adult or elder is needed.

That's why they're tweaking the familiar shower celebration to make space for a new one. Shame, stigma and secrecy often come along with the caregiving role, they say. A care shower could counteract that by recognizing, honoring and supporting a caregiver instead.

"I think we need to create pop culture, so we start de-stigmatizing this," said Basting. "We wanted the showers to honor the humor and the joy and how hard it is."

The idea began months earlier in Milwaukee, when Meuninck-Ganger was providing hospice care for her mother around the clock and Basting's mom was just moving into memory care.

The two friends and colleagues were catching up during a visit and both wondered: Why wasn't there a way to come together to support caregivers, share wisdom about and honor this moment in life?

So they threw a care shower for Basting as an art project. They "hosted" it in July, after Meuninck-Ganger's mom had passed away, at a Madison, Wis., gallery as part of a traveling art exhibit called Aesthetics of Loss. Curated by Meuninck-Ganger and two other artists, the show includes prints, fiber art, ceramics, paintings, photo and videos about losing loved ones.

By acting out a care shower, they could "create and release" the idea out into the world, Meuninck-Ganger said. They modeled it, "so more people can bring it forward and integrate it in their lives," she said.

Modeled in Minnesota

Before their event, they researched how showers got started and evolved. It turns out that showers, as we know them today, really took off after World War II. They wanted to figure out how to mirror all of the rituals' typical elements — such as a theme, well-crafted invitations, games and gift registries — in just the right way.

"That's how I do my work in community engaged arts," Basting said. "You study the structures that are in place, and then you slip right in on top of them and then you expand their meaning. You open up a space for something else, for transformation, and meaning-making."

Basting pored over all the baby shower resources she could find, from Pinterest to a website created by Pampers, and started snapping photos of greeting card displays at Target and Meijer, texting them to Meuninck-Ganger. In between "get well" and "sympathy," there should be a whole new category of cards, the artists realized.

When the Aesthetics of Loss exhibit, which sparked their first Caregiver Shower performance, traveled to Minnesota's St. Catherine University this fall, they decided to throw another care shower.

They invited friends and family members in the Twin Cities as well as people they thought would be interested in the idea. People like Savita Harjani, the Minneapolis author of "Postcards From Within," a memoir about caring for her mother.

Harjani was captivated by the experience.

"It was so creative. It was so needed. It was so inspiring," she said. "Because when the community sees that somebody is stepping into that role, they can come together and bring humor and inspiration. They can bring support, so that the person who's starting out doesn't suddenly feel isolated," she said.

Making care showers real

At the mock showers, Basting and Meuninck-Ganger had everyone create their own care cards. Some stamped and drew their own designs, while others used tape and markers to redesign baby and wedding shower cards with the appropriate sentiments.

The artists also encouraged attendees to share their own care stories. Harjani appreciated hearing so many different perspectives and caregiving journeys.

"In a bridal shower or in a baby shower, both occasions are joyous. So you set people off on their journeys and to carry on, but in this particular journey you need to sort of walk with them a little bit," she said. "Because this is a tough journey. And it's a journey toward an exit."

Now, Basting and Meuninck-Ganger are encouraging people to hold their own care showers — whether among book club friends, at the workplace or for family. They created a website,, complete with a blog and how-to planning instructions.

They are also encouraging people to reach out to companies like Evite, Target and home health product shop Carewell to request the templates, services and registry options that would go along with hosting a care shower.

And, someday, just maybe, care showers will become a thing after all.