Caregiving changes us, and so does being cared for. In profound ways. I can feel the transformative experience of caregiving in different parts of my life. Devoting time to care for my mother, exchanging foot massages with her, after she lost her sight to an advancing brain tumour. The tenderness, replacing detached clinical-ness, in the doctor who lost his wife to cancer, while performing a routine physical exam. The intense gratitude I feel every time I recall how a friend stepped up, during my prolonged convalescence, to offer gentle massage and increased my healing tenfold.
How can there be gifts in being sick, or being around sickness? We’re talking serious, life-altering illness here. It must have something to do with experiencing life within its challenges, all of life. Letting it sink into us, because what other choice is there? In the throes of terror, not knowing the prognosis. Circling the abyss of our own emotional turmoil. Feeling the absolute gut-wrenching tear of grief, again and again, like the waves carrying us out to a bottomless sea. Fending off the fear that the sickness (fill in here with any multitude of scary things) will come back, and nurturing the trust that if it does, we will be able to handle it.
A good friend mused, it’s about finding our voice. Reminding me how I’ve always loved to sing. My mother’s encouragement ringing in my childhood ears, asking me to play guitar and sing whenever her friends visited. I used to write poetry as a young person, then again in my training as an Expressive Arts Therapist. Now, as I write this, I feel both a sense of strength and fragility in acknowledging life. The giving and receiving of care. Caregiving as a transformative experience. Through the act of carefully tending another’s vulnerability, we come face to face with our own. Building up and tearing down. Remembering and forgetting. Just…keep…breathing. For this too shall pass and the only constant is change.
My favourite lessons are ones I can hear in my mother’s words: “drink more water”… and, “I want him to be with someone after I’m gone, but he’ll never find another one like me”. I’m reminded too, that my mother was a nurse, and she had mastered the art of small talk. People often commented how comfortable she made them feel. Perhaps caregiving, for all its necessity and practicality, is an art, after all. I experienced caregiving as a truly transformative experience. One that has at its core both strength and vulnerability. The gifts that emerge from the sharing of experiences of human connection and loss. And I remember the pleasure it brought to both of us, when I sang to my mother after the loss of her sight. The strength it brought me to sing for her at her funeral. I have not lost my voice, it is a gift that carries me onward.
For information on Caring for the Caregiver, please refer to: https://creativeheartspsychotherapy.ca/caring-for-the-caregiver.php