Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Taking Care of Caregivers

I simultaneously made a statement and asked a question this morning that are difficult for me to admit to but important to acknowledge:
Today, I'm tired of caregiving.
When is someone going to take care of me?

It's very difficult for me to admit to these thoughts, but being vulnerable in this instance, I hope, will bring to light what it means to attend to caregivers and their families, and what it means to do it well.  On a day where I feel done-in, tired, weak, and empty, it can be tempting to say that taking care of a caregiver means taking away the burden of care.  But, not only is it unrealistic to believe someone will ride in on a white horse equipped with the muscles to lift, a gentle touch to bathe and dress, and the kindness to give dignity at all times and in all circumstances--it's also not true to the redemptive work of Christ.  Caring for the caregiver is not about removing the physical burden, partly because sharing in the labor is only temporary and fails to address the deeper source of pain and weariness. (Though, trust me, any help is greatly appreciated!)  Plus, the physical requirements on any caregiver, especially when the recipient of care is a family member, are only a portion of one's emptying out on the behalf of the other.  There are emotions, good or bad, that are associated with doing for another person what people can typically do for themselves.  Then, there are the emotions of attachment between the caregive-ee and the caregiver, because no matter how healthily you handle the relationship, you have a situation where one person depends on another to help with the most mundane and necessary things for a dignified existence.  All of this can turn into the perfect storm when the needs of the person you care for call for more of yourself than you have to give.  Hence, mornings when I wake up despairing whether relief will ever come.

So, I must ask myself, what does caring for Lisa the Caregiver look like?  If I were to paint a picture of what caring for caregivers looks like, I would ask you to picture a place where people gather to be honest, not only with their words but also with their bodies.  A place where it is safe to be weary and quiet.  A place where it is safe to be stressed and anxious.  A place where weeping and wailing are accepted as much as silent tears or joyful smiles.  A place where an embrace lasts a long time and the look of someone who chooses to stand alongside you communicates as powerfully as a sermon.  A place that is calm, a place that is full of life, a place where love is communicated in the sharing of food and the contents of our hearts.  A place where the call to "Comfort, comfort ye my people..." means a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual in-breaking of mutual care and support. 

Most of all, I desire a place that fights the isolation of caregiving not with noise and activity, but with full and honest acknowledgement of me, with all my struggles, burdens, cares, joys, concerns, and passions.  I am more than a caregiver, but caregiving pervades my life in ways few other situations in life can.  There is only rest, only rejuvenation, only real care when me as caregiver and me as me are acknowledged, fully received and allowed to live in the tension that is inherent to my situation.  I don't want life to be fixed--I want it to be received, embraced, and encountered with tenderness and honesty.   

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."  Matthew 11:28-30