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).
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.
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.