Why is caregiving such a life altering
experience? Because in one fell swoop caregivers face physical stress,
emotional chaos and loss at every level of their lives. They face fears
and contradictions they never knew existed. They become completely
engulfed in the daily grind of care - the personal care, the
transferring, the worrying over medications and possibilities of a
fall. As one caregiver said: "It's a combination of hating the
situation I'm in and loving the person I'm caring for."
are constantly being torn between two solitudes; I call this state of
ambivalence the dichotomies of caregiving. Some examples: caregivers
constantly struggle between the need to maintain some degree of control
over their situation, and when all else fails permitting themselves to
ask for outside help; anger at the injustice of an illness vs.
acceptance of what they are forced to face; gratitude for small care
successes vs. envy of those who have personal freedom, time and peace -
distant memories for many caregivers; and blame vs. forgiveness:
fatigue and hopelessness allow tension-filled grudges against loved
ones to gain new proportion and importance, making forgiveness
extremely difficult. The desire and ability to release blame and
forgive are within us all - within our control. The hard part is
summoning up the courage and grace to forgive, to do the hard, hard
work that forgiveness demands.
be given this extraordinary chance to forgive, to heal. They learn to
become more tolerant and if there is one thing that caregivers can do
for this world it is to pass on the tolerance they have learned while
caring for others. We all need to work on repairing the world at this
most difficult time; and we can each do it in our own way as living
examples of tolerance and compassion.
discussion of caregiver emotions is complete without addressing the
concept of self- love vs. self- neglect. Shakespeare wrote: "Self-love
is not so vile a sin as self-neglect." How reversed these concepts are
in the minds of too many caregivers.
I was once told
that depression equals swallowed rage and I now realize how true those
words are. I swallowed my rage so many times caring for my Father that
I was no longer aware I was doing it. I was diagnosed with depression.
I had succumbed to the pressure and the worry even though I believed I
could rise above them. I became skilled at meeting my Father's needs
while becoming totally unable to meet my own. Self-neglect had won once
again. Until caregivers understand and accept the notion that they too
have lives and needs that deserve to be met they will never accept the
rightness of self- love. Cornelia Otis Skinner wrote: "Women keep a
special corner of their hearts for sins they have never committed." She
must have been writing about caregivers! If we commit any sin, it is
indeed the sin of self- neglect.