Why is it that I quietly and carefully choose to provide well-intentioned, but surface-level caring for friends struggling to cope with a loved one’s debilitating illness like Parkinson’s, rheumatoid arthritis, or dementia? Am I fearful of entering in to another’s realm of hurting, of being vulnerable? Is it just me, or is this distancing an all too common and human means to buffer ourselves from feeling the all too visceral pain and anguish and suffering of another?
Caring is near universal; it’s how we convey our concern, support, encouragement, and assistance. It’s ubiquitous in advertising and promotions: “we care”, “caring for you”, etc. Like many of us born from “greatest generation” parents, we’re seldom reticent to share our latest ailment, affliction or condition, oftentimes receiving care or caring words in return, and we need and enjoy such coffee shop or grocery store conversations with friends. But behind our conversational curtains, we’re choosing to not see or hear or enter into the pain, separateness and anguish of a caregiver enveloped and consumed by caring for a loved one. And we’re not acknowledging that at some point in our lives, we too will become a caregiver.
“The friend that means the most to us often is the one who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief . . . who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing . . . that is a friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen, Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian
Caring is heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul. It’s deep understanding. It’s willingness to enter in to the suffering human-ness of a loved one. It requires a life-affirming commitment to be authentic and vulnerable.
With my advancing years, I’ve found there’s a similar advance in the number of friends and loved ones on that difficult caregiver journey. In ‘caring’ for an oftentimes exhausted and frustrated caregiver, I’ve come up with affirming words that help guide my thoughts and actions, and keep me focused on being authentic.
Listening: openly, honestly, quietly; heart-ily and mind-fully
Being: intentional, fully present, in the moment; other focused; selfless
Respecting: quiet acceptance, non-judgmental,
Sharing: authentic, vulnerable, personal, thought-full
Knowing & Accepting: . . . there, but for the grace of God, go I.
More from Henri Nouwen. “It’s important to realize you can’t get a PhD in caring. It can’t be delegated to or by specialists, and that therefore, nobody can be excused from caring. I now see that the hands that forgive, console, heal and offer a festive meal must become my own.”
Dare to care for the caregivers in your life.