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Nancy, who lived close to her aging parents, began to notice that their forgetfulness and confusion were increasing to the point of being dangerous. They'd already had one car accident driving the wrong way on a one-way street, and sometimes when she visited she found gas burners on or the refrigerator door ajar. She called her brother Mike, and together they researched assisted living facilities. On the day they sat down with their parents to share their suggestions, their father said with fierce determination, "We've lived in this house for fifty years, and I've got news for both of you: we're not going anywhere." How were Nancy and Mike ever going to manage keeping their parents safe while at the same time honoring their dignity and independence?
In either case-slow or quick-caregiving can challenge our old patterns and disrupt our firmly held expectations. We sometimes find ourselves feeling lost in the confusion of figuring out how to adapt and provide. We are forced to make choices we hadn't even anticipated, much less prepared for. Sometimes, simply trying to make it through, we begin to feel pulled in too many directions, almost pulled apart. We exhaust ourselves, deplete our financial resources, or struggle to meet needs and demands that seem as though they'll never end.
Most often, we choose to be there for others because we love or care for them. Ironically, this can make our journey all the more difficult, because in such instances our sensitivity to their wants and needs is heightened, and our desire for their well-being intensified. We feel each challenge more acutely, and our desire to do well often includes a deep but hidden fear that if we don't, the loss will on some level be ours as well as theirs.
However, the very love that can make caregiving seem so painfully poignant is also, often, what can help us through it most of all. The very concern that seems to pull us in so many directions is also what has a true capacity to hold us intact if we learn how to work with it well. For giving care to those we love-no matter how hard it gets-is one of the greatest and richest of all human endeavors. Anyone who chooses to engage in it is not just providing something critically important to another human being, but also inviting into his or her own life an opportunity for profound spiritual growth and deepening of the heart.
Whoever said that the best things in life are easy?
At the core of virtually all religious traditions is a single injunction sometimes known as the "Perennial Philosophy," but no matter what we call it, it amounts to this: love those near to you.
In the Jewish and Christian traditions, this injunction is most commonly expressed in the phrase "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Islam, and even varieties of philosophy or secular humanism declare a strikingly similar message. This is because love for others is a universal human value. Some would even say it is what holds the world together.
The act of loving another human through caregiving may seem too commonplace, too insignificant in the grand scheme of things, to warrant much attention. Not so.
When Ann Bancroft prepared for a near-impossible expedition that would make her the first woman to reach the North Pole, her friends composed a song for her that began, "Every long journey begins with one step." By the same token, every situation that calls out for human love in action, whatever the scale-be it personal, nationwide, or even worldwide-begins with simple and steadfast gestures of care: one after the other, step by step, person to person. Caregiving is important!
Needless to say, it is easy to love someone else when they are doing well, when they are far away, or any time the conditions are calm and the sailing smooth. The challenge and true test of love is how to express care, how to show it and embody it in our own actions when difficulties arise, when needs increase, when resources are taxed, and when it would be easier to simply walk the other way.
If you're holding this book in your hands, you've probably already chosen to embody this latter version of love, the more challenging kind. Please give yourself some credit for that choice right off the bat. Not everyone has the courage to make it.
Perhaps right now you are thinking to yourself: Well, sure, I've made a choice to provide care, but how could I do otherwise? After all, she's my mother or he's my husband or that's my own child; how could I not?
I understand that it may not feel like a choice for you, but experience tells me that this is more about who you are than about whether the choice truly exists. Through my chaplaincy work in homeless shelters, public programs, and hospitals, I have seen countless individuals for whom there was no one willing to provide care. This is a world and culture in which people really do at times-for whatever reasons-abandon their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters, their children, to fend for themselves in the face of life's difficulties. If you are involved in a caregiving situation with a loved one, believe me, you are doing something valuable and something that is not a given with everyone else, no matter how much it may seem that way.
Even a cursory glimpse inside our shelters, public care facilities, and hospital emergency rooms will quickly show you otherwise.
|Way 1||Create Time Away||13|
|Way 2||Welcome All Your Emotions||25|
|Way 3||Pace Yourself||37|
|Way 4||Watch for Hidden Blessings||51|
|Way 5||Find Fellow Travelers||61|
|Way 6||Educate Yourself||73|
|Way 7||Be Open to the Gifts Your Loved One Has to Offer||85|
|Way 8||Learn to Say "No"||97|
|Way 9||Go With the Flow||107|
|Way 10||Be Gentle With Yourself||121|
|Way 11||Let Humor Heal You||133|
|Way 12||Remember the Future||145|