the caregiver’s promise

At the tail end of the 20th Century, I wrote a slightly revised version of this piece for The Women’s Times, a monthly magazine based in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Founded by my dear friend Eugenie Sills, The Women’s Times just celebrated its 15th birthday (but alas, no website yet).

"Great Compassion Mantra" by Cathy Woo
"Great Compassion Mantra" by Cathy Woo

The Caregiver’s Promise

I promise to remember always that “I” rests at the center of the word “caregiver,” and so I promise first to care for myself. For only then, can I care for others from a true place of giving.

I promise to remember that it’s okay for me to have a hot fudge sundae with whipped cream and nuts, or a long, hot luxurious bath, even when he can’t or she shouldn’t, or they just won’t. What’s more, I promise to remember that it’s okay for me to enjoy every delicious moment.

I promise to remember that I have a life of my own, and that being a caregiver is but one part of that life. Mother Teresa I am not, and I promise to remember that I am simply an ordinary human being, although I may spend my days and nights doing extraordinary things.

I promise to remember that taking care of myself is not the same as being selfish — and I promise to repeat that promise often and with conviction.

I promise to take myself to a movie now and then, if I can stay awake long enough to watch it. And when I can’t, I promise to take a nap or sleep an extra hour. And when I’m so weary that the thought of taking a nap is outside my comprehension, I promise to pick up the phone and ask someone for help. When they agree, I promise not to beat myself up for accepting.

I promise to find some time for myself each and every day, and to hold that time sacred. For walking in the woods. For swimming. For music. For prayer. For having tea with a friend who understands. For whatever deeply nourishes me, regardless of what anyone else thinks. I promise, Oh, how I promise!, not to let guilt or shame invade that time.

I promise to laugh, especially when it seems there’s absolutely nothing to laugh about. And I promise, too, to let myself cry long and hard and loud when I need to. If anger and resentment rear their ugly heads, I promise to let myself feel the feelings and find safe ways to channel the powerful healing energy they contain.

"Surveying The Cords of Compassion" by Sheri Bakes
"Surveying The Cords of Compassion" by Canadian artist Sheri Bakes

I promise to remember that no task is insignificant. The shared smile, the washcloth on the chin, the bedtime story, the game of checkers or peek-a-boo, the simple touch, the sitting in silence. Each is a priceless treasure, as is each and every human being.

Let this be my promise to myself: To choose love over fear, compassion over judgment, empathy over self-righteousness. Let my actions reflect my choices more often than not.

Even though I may be surrounded by illness or struggle or dying, I promise not to forget that I am still very much alive. When I look at my tired face in the mirror, I promise to remember that before I was a caregiver, I was an interesting and attractive person. I promise not to forget that I still am.

I promise to remember what truly matters. I promise that no matter how much I give and how frustrated I might sometimes feel, I will remember that I, too, am receiving something glorious in return. I promise to let myself receive, and to be grateful.

I promise to remember that life is a never-ending circle, and that sometimes we are the caring and sometimes we are the cared for. Last but not least, I promise that someday, when I need a caregiver, I will find someone at least half as caring as me.

9 thoughts

  1. I stumbled upon this from a blog I was linked to a day or two ago, and I just wanted to say thank you for this. My mother just had a stroke about a month ago, and she’ll be home a week tomorrow and I already feel like I’m forgetting to take care of myself. How am I to take care of her if I can’t take care of myself, and I so needed this tonight. Thank you very much.


  2. poeticgrin,

    I heartily endorse hot fudge sundaes in the bath. Shower, maybe not so much. And by all means, satisfy that urge and send the piece to your mother (as well as several hundred of your closest friends)!


  3. What a soothing piece. I read this on my break at work and it slowed me down and made me breathe. Important words; a crucial reminder. And you know what? I want a bubble bath AND a hot fudge sundae. At the same time.

    I have the urge to send this to my mother.


  4. Thanks, shasha and cathy for stopping by and linking up! I will definitely go and see the art of the Seattle Cathy Woo, and I have added to my blogroll. It seems most in tune with the readers who end up here, shasha, and it’s a portal for anyone who also wants to take a bite of freshscoops. Be well…


  5. I have posted your link on my blog:
    I am not the Cathy Woo who did the painting in your post. I am another artist/Cathy Woo living in Seattle. I am looking forward to going through your blog…I found out about it because I get Google alerts every time somebody links to “Cathy Woo.” I so enjoy Dr. CAtherine Yi-yu Cho Woo’s work as well. It’s a small world! Have a great day!


  6. hello rachel! thanks for visiting my site at wordprompts. I also added your very inspiring blog on my blogroll. As you might’ve noticed I’ve been spending less time with Wordprompts (but I’ll try to update it soon promise) because of my new blog at wordpress. I hope you can also add this to your blogroll here. It’s at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s