The majority of us will eventually be cared for by others, perhaps ourselves be caregivers, or both, at some time in our life’s journey. Yet caregiving gets little attention, until it’s our turn. This month, February 18, 2022 is National Caregivers Day. Ho-hum, you might say, unless you are one of those thousands of ordinary folks who have become caregivers because someone you care about needs your help.
Since Mary Ann is recovering from hip replacement surgery, I have had to demonstrate what I know about caregiving the last couple weeks. (That’s one of the reasons you have not seen any new BLOG entries for a while.) Our life has been challenging, but educational, too. I get to practice what I preach. It’s all the usual stuff, everything from fetching a glass of water, refilling her ice pack, or cooking dinner, to vacuuming, and maybe some stuff I won’t mention. Tending to her needs and doing things she normally would do could be distressing. But it pleases me to go out of my way, to stop what I might otherwise be doing in order to get her that glass of water. Besides helping in this way, I have also had to argue with her a little now and then to keep her from returning to household chores too soon.
This may sound self-congratulating. I hope not. It’s educational for me. A couple times in the past I have been the one with health problems, and then I have been the recipient of tender loving caregiving. It’s part of that “in sickness and in health” vow. But it is more. It is a way to become more of a human being, one who cares effectively. That’s why I wrote my book, Courage to Care, to help people dare to get involved.
I teach people how to be caring helpers, and become intentional caring people who go see their neighbor, friend, or church member who is in tough straits. That’s what caregiving is all about. It is showing up when someone needs encouragement. It is doing a task, an errand, or just sitting and talking. I have been training volunteers at one church at a time. It is an opportunity to be a caring person, one who is noticing others’ needs.
Many professional and paraprofessional caregivers do this for a living. Right now, however, I am thinking of you and me being intentional caregivers, people who are on the lookout, who notice when someone needs attention. It doesn’t need to be a big thing. It could be as simple as noticing a neighbor whose spouse is declining seriously, and who could benefit from a friendly neighbor who offers to pick up some groceries. Small things can be big things.
Most amateur or family caregivers are invisible, because they are out of sight. They are too busy to hang out at Starbucks, or come to an extra meeting of your favorite club. If you are wondering where to learn more about this, there’s a wonderful organization, The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers. For example, the RCIC, working together with Sharecare, recently announced a new app, Unwinding by Sharecare. This app is a mini course to help family caregivers cope with their stress and alleviate burnout. It is available free for the first year on the App Store, or Google Play.
One time an acquaintance told me about what happened as he experienced the end-of-life journey with his wife. They had enjoyed about 40 years together. But then that journey took a turn as she began to endure a debilitating disease that slowly progressed during their last years. Every day, he said, was another step in learning what his wife needed as changes occurred. He described how he slowly watched her decline, and tried to be ready for what came next. He served her every need, some of which he said he could not have imagined earlier in life. At the end of our hour-long conversation, he concluded in a way I’ve never forgotten. His voice deepened as he said that by the end of their journey he realized, “In our earlier years together, I suppose I thought love was romance, adventure, all those delightful things. But I think now I know what love really is.”
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:2 NIV
© 2022 Stanley Hagemeyer