When is a caregiver not a caregiver?

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Care GiverIn today’s American culture, there is one virtue that seems to be held above all others as the one to be achieved at all costs. That is individual perseverance. And what is wrong with that, actually? After all, isn’t perseverance one of the things we are told we will learn as we go through trials? So, we welcome trials because we know we will get perseverance and, once we get that, we’ll stick to everything and we’ll get everything done possible. And, again, aren’t we told we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us?

But what if you can’t do everything? I mentioned that in yesterday’s post. There are times when you just can’t do everything and you need someone to come along and show you mercy. And, in my first article, I mentioned about how my family gathered around each other and supported each other in our grief and trials. But that goes counter to everything our society teaches us.

“Buck up!” “Stiff upper lip!” “You can do it!” “You don’t need anyone!” “Stand on your own two feet!” “Pick yourself up!” Subtly, constantly, our society teaches us that this is normal, this is virtuous. To ask for help, to even need help means that there is something wrong with you. This is part of the reason why caregivers, I believe, get the short end of the stick at times. Everything is focused on the person going through the struggles. They are the heroes. They are the ones that need the encouragement to get through, to pick up, to move on, to conquer. The power of one! Stick to it! You can do it!

But the caregiver, sitting in the background, has to keep the strength going and keep the power going. They are the ones that make it all possible, really. My wife has told me time and again that if it wasn’t for me, she would have despaired in her own cancer treatments. My wife wasn’t able to make it through alone. Did she fail? Of course not! She is still here. She and her doctors beat the cancer and now she’s back to her recovery. And I was the caregiver that also helped her through.

But when is a caregiver not a caregiver? The answer: when the caregiver needs care themselves. There were so many times when I was helping my wife through her treatments that I felt so utterly drained, so alone, so tired, that I felt I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was filled with intense grief, suffering, and pain of the heart. Yet, I had to keep on going. “Stiff upper lip!” and everything. But I couldn’t do it on my own.

You see, caregivers are people experiencing suffering and pain as well as the ones cared for. It isn’t the same, of course, as the people going through the illness. But they are certainly hurting. They need as much comfort, encouragement, and strength as the people fighting off the illness, because caregivers are fighting off the darkness of despair; they just cannot bear to watch their loved one in pain any more.

This is, really, why I wrote The Caregiver Beatitudes. I realized that I needed something other than myself to get through it. There was so much I was being asked to do, but I needed to know how to get through it. And I realized, as I was writing, that it was not something I could do on my own. I needed God to get through. And, as I found out, I needed a whole family and network of others as well. A caregiver needs their own caregivers. This is how we get through. And this is how, ultimately, we win the fight.