The Caregiver’s Promise (Audio 6:03)

Hungarian Village Idyll (Ungarische Dorfidylle) August von Pettenkofen, c. 1850-1860

Because I wrote this piece in the 20th-century,
some of it may seem a bit out-of-step with today.

*********************

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 beyond my imagination,
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. For swimming.
For music. For dance.
For prayer.
For having tea with a friend.

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.

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 precious 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.


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