A number of my clients have recently been dealing with the decline of their elderly loved ones. Spouses transitioning from partners to patients... Parents who once changed their children's diapers and fed them by hand are now in need of the same.
I've observed as they've wrestled with how to balance their own lives with their family members' needs. Some have been able to create schedules that enable the fulfillment of both. Others have sold homes and shuttered careers in order to move and lend a hand. A tremendous amount of struggle and stress is common in both choices, and every choice in between.
While I'm blessed that both of my parents are still healthy, having a young child has allowed me to see the love and intense sacrifice it takes to care for another human being. Prior to Lucas's birth, conversations about this kind of commitment were just that; now, I am able to better resonate with clients and friends who have become late-stage caregivers with a level of understanding and compassion that my childless self couldn't have.
Here in the West, we long for independence and freedom, and often wrestle with the ties that bind us in service to others, including family members. Culturally, it seems that the two are contrary; that caring for another costs us the energy required to become and remain ourselves... that the time spent means time taken away from other more important personal and professional pursuits.
Certainly becoming a primary or even a secondary caregiver requires a dedication of resources- including time and energy- that might be otherwise spent elsewhere. Plans and money may need to be diverted. Projects might get delayed, or even shelved.
Yet most of the struggle I've observed- including in myself as a new mother- has had less to do with the responsibilities of caregiving, no matter how taxing, and more to do with our resisting them.
In every area of life, resistance is the supreme inhibitor of productivity and joy. When we struggle against the way things are, or fight against changes that most certainly will come, we find ourselves weakened, frustrated, and powerless. Only when we surrender to and accept our circumstances do we have the opportunity to find peace, and if we choose, to alter them.
The critical aspect of becoming a caregiver, therefore, is not deciding to take on the role, should we choose to do so. It is making the choice to care; accepting the responsibility, surrendering to it, and even embracing it as an opportunity.
When we make this powerful choice, we become privileged to experience the incredible gifts that accompany it. We gain a new perspective on what- and who- really matters. We witness ourselves becoming increasingly generous and kind. We develop previously unfathomable levels and layers of patience, compassion, and love.
Most of all, it is this profound love and connection with the people in our lives that is the true reward. When we're in the trenches, sacrificing completely and giving our all, we might not always see it this way. We may at times feel overwhelmed, tired, and frustrated. It may seem that we're missing out on more important things...
Yet when we pause and step back, the radiant and transcendent power of that love and connection become clear, as does its proper place in the scheme of what really matters.
Looking back at my own life, I know that I won't focus on the tough days and exhausting nights as hours lost or time wasted. I will see a life of dedication to the development of another human being, commitment to my family, and one day perhaps, having the honor of caring for my aging parents, as they for so long cared for me.
I will look back on my life, having learned that people, relationships, and love are what are most important. And that I was blessed to have lived a life committed to them.
Jennifer Hamady is a voice coach and psychotherapist specializing in technical and emotional issues that interfere with self-expression. You can learn more about her work, her books, and her approach at www.FindingYourVoice.com