It’s humbling to need help, particularly when the help you need is with things that are so basic and have been so easy for decades. Getting up from a chair. Picking something up off the floor.
As I’m writing this I am thinking about a surgery that I am having soon, and the recommended 6-weeks of recovery time. No stairs, no unloading the dishwasher, no walks with my dog. As I prepare, I feel guilty asking my husband and children to fill in for me on the things I know I shouldn’t do if I want a full recovery. I feel less of who I am.
My family assures me that it will be fine. They will step up. I may have to be okay with the way they do things, but the things will get done. The sun will rise and set; the earth will spin, the dog will be fed and laundry will be put away. Just wait...trust us...it will be fine.
And a little bit more of my self worth flakes off. As warming as the idea of being cared for can be, it’s humbling to think that I won’t be needed. That my contributions are easily disseminated amongst others to take care of.
Add to that the guilt of not wanting to be taken care of, resenting that I even need help, much less need to ask for it and then be happy with the package and result it’s delivered in. My pride demands to be the most dominant emotion. I’m quickly humbled by the reality that if I don’t allow my body to repair, it will be a lifetime of needing help.
Which leads to the thought of what my days will look like, albeit for only 6 weeks, stretched out in front of me. The inability to do many of the things I like to do because my body needs rest...again, it erodes my self identity.
For all the focus in my life on caring for our aging and ailing loved ones by empowering those who can and want to care for them, it only just occurred to me that these are their raw, everyday feelings, too. And it’s not just a 6 week sentence for them.
For as many times that I’ve previously written “it’s humbling”, the truth is that this fact is the most humbling of all.
It makes me rethink so many things...how to approach those I care for with suggestions on how I might better support them. I mean, shouldn’t it begin with asking them if they want my help rather than assuming they’ll be grateful to receive it?
Taking a step back, how would it feel to have someone point out that it looks like you could use some help...that would be worse than humbling; it would be embarrassing.
While he’s been gone 4 years, I can vividly predict the response my Dad would have given me were I to start helping him button his shirt. He would have waved me off, reminded me that I was making a fuss, and that it would be a cold day in hell when he can’t button his own damned shirt.
It would have been humbling to him to have someone he was responsible for, his child, see him in a different light, because his fingers were losing the dexterity to dress himself. He would make a mental note to not do buttons or tie laces in front of me. A layer of the trust that had been built between us over decades, swept away.
His response, both physical and interpersonal would have irritated me. Why couldn’t he just let me help him with something so simple? Why does it feel like he’s not telling me the truth when I ask if he’s getting on okay?
For all the time, energy and emotion I’ve poured into developing a solution to help those of us giving care to know what care was right, when...for all the advice to talk to our loved ones, to put them at the center of every decision...I hadn’t actually put myself in that center role.
Recognizing this, as the luxury it is, goes beyond humbling to outright questioning myself. Where I’ve landed after doing so is encouraging.
I am able to layer in a depth of emotion that hadn’t been there previously on the rightness of setting aside the term caregiver and becoming emphatic in our usage of care partner.
The exchange between give and take, caregiver and care recipient, underscores the imbalance. We must equalize the terms of the relationship and one of the best ways to do that is with words.
I’m reminded of a news story I read following a summer in which there were a number of instances in which individuals had been sent to hospital, even dying, after being hit with one punch. We were living in Australia at the time and the term given to the act was “King Hit”. In The States it’s referred to as a “Sucker Punch”; the Aussie press began to refer to it as something similar.
While I’m not sure there is scientific evidence that supports that changing the term for this type of act resulted in a decrease in their occurrence, my intuition tells me that it has.
Obviously there is a dramatic emotional difference behind the words “King” and “Sucker”. I’d argue the difference is the same for “Give” and “Take”.
For me, as I look to 6 weeks of taking care, (...even that phrase gives me pause…) as I look toward a period of time in which my life will be confined by physical limitation, I know that I’d feel more comfortable knowing my family are partners in my care, not bestowers of it. And that the gratitude I will feel toward them is not derived from guilt, but from comfort.
For those of you who are “caregivers”, I am curious if you feel differently when referring to yourself as a care partner. And if you think your loved one would relate to you differently were you to talk about being a partner to them.
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