LXIV. The Caregiver Gift

Tuesday, March 20, 2011 — The role of caregiver is a gift, say many caregivers, to have the ability, opportunity and love within to care for one unable to care for oneself. These caregivers regard the experience as humbling, allowing them to perform a spiritual gift for others. Indeed, some of these caregivers have helped many persons in need and would do it again. To be given the role of caregiver is an honor and a blessing, they say.

One woman caregiver to her mother pointed out that only her mother had given lifelong care to her, and that giving care to her mother was short term. Another, caring for her mother, has children with additional needs and wondered if caregivers “are given this responsibility because they trust us to keep the promise we made to them sometime, somewhere.”

Is being a caregiver easy? No, not at all, many say. And many say they would not do it again. Yet, even they believe caregiving is a gift, and most find that they can do it.

One member of the discussion group, a man, a spiritual teacher perhaps, and possibly not a caregiver – I have asked him and he has not responded – said that, for those of us who think caregiving is taking us away from our lives as we expected to live them so to fulfill who we think we are, that what we are doing now is our enjoyment of life, not what we think we should be doing. It is difficult, he said, to see the whole picture when we are caught up in a situation. Most of us have a hard time accepting things as they really are “rather than the inheritance of our own conditioning.” And, “Life is beautiful,” he continues. “Don’t jeopardize these precious moments. They will not come back.”

True. But I didn’t arrive at this realization without being dragged kicking and screaming. My initial reaction to this premise reminds me of Jonathan Livingston Seagull author Richard Bach’s 1977 book Illusions – The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, wherein the old messiah has designated Richard, a barnstormer, to become the new messiah. No way, says Richard. I am NOT going to become a messiah. Well, he has to, and he’s a bit of a bumbler at first, but he finds his way through. Soon after Illusions was published, I visited a friend and spotted this little volume on his bookshelf. “Here, take it,” he said. “It is yours.” A friend had given it to him. Inside, interspersed throughout, are maxims from The Messiah’s Handbook. My favorite, which I recite often these days is, There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts. Often I wonder, what did I do to deserve this gift?

This man in my discussion group goes on to remind us to think positive and from that the good will come. He says that stress and drain do not exist; they are creations of our minds.

Well, let me tell you … he’s right, I believe. But, I have not reached that level of spiritual evolution where I can say, “Oh, it’s stress: well, I can just let that go,” and skip off whistling into the night. No. I have reached the stage, though, where I can acknowledge that I am stressed, know that it is a creation of my mind, accept that I am stressed, giving myself compassion; and understand that this awareness frees me to take the next evolutionary step. I also know that taking that step is not easy and that I will likely stumble, like a toddler taking its first steps. Possibly orthopedic shoes would help in my case.

Emma has been my lifelong teacher; this is her continuing gift to me.

The gifts come in the doing and thereby the learning, in my experience.

One of the greatest gifts given me through caring for Emma is learning about facing stress and dealing with it without wanting to actually blow someone’s head off. Besides, it’s messy and as my friend Jean said, “Ya gotta have a drop cloth,” and I don’t have one. Oh, I don’t know … maybe on Amazon—

This gift came to me from Emma’s Dr. Patel. It has taken me a year to recognize this gift. Last March when he called to make an appointment for his first visit with us, he wanted to come at dinnertime. I told him he couldn’t, that it would throw Emma’s schedule all off, that she would be eating dinner too late, therefore, consequently be too tired to eat. “People with dementia need to be kept on their schedules. You’re a doctor; you ought to know that,” I told him.

“But I have to work at the hospital until five,” he said, quite unassumingly. And then we hung up.

He called back the next day and said they told him he had to come. Medicare requires the Hospice doctor to visit every 60 days.

So, he came, and just when the doorbell rang I had the oven door open, with a pat of butter in my hand basting a turkey breast and Emma had escaped upstairs.

I got to the front door and opened it. He introduced himself, greeting me professionally and respectfully. I, in turn, without offering him a seat or to take his coat, told him that I had to go get Emma: “I don’t have time to cook dinner, chase after Emma, and chase you, too,” I said. He sat very peacefully in the blue chair in the living room until I brought Emma downstairs. He then went over to her on the loveseat where she always sat, pulled up a footstool, sat down beside her, greeted her softly, asked her how she felt and talked with her a few minutes. Had he carried a flute rather than a stethoscope, I would have thought he was Lord Krishna.

He consistently conducts himself in this manner, no matter the measure of chaos around us.

My brain got charged with a whole new bank of lit up lightbulbs yesterday when Tess, our Hospice nurse, said simply, “He doesn’t add to the stress; he moves through it.”


No wonder my encounters with him feel like meeting an oasis of the mind. I knew that our first encounter had spun me around and changed my life somehow, but I didn’t fully understand what it was I was supposed to be learning from that until yesterday.

—Samantha Mozart

“You are never given a wish without being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.” —Richard Bach, Illusions