Let's talk about the spiritual aspect of caregiving.

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A number of comments lately have mentioned or alluded to the hope of gaining something spiritually from the experience of caregiving. That idea always resonates with me, and I'd like to explore it a little more.

I've been a caregiver in a number of different situations - for a lover, two close friends, two siblings, and a parent. I have found deep satisfaction in all of those situations, EXCEPT for the most part in caring for my mother.

I think for many people, illness and dependency strips away artifice, and allow a person to allow himself/herself to be unusually vulnerable. For the caregiver, it allows you to connect very deeply with the person, to tend to their needs, shield their vulnerabilities, and soothe their pain and their fear. Being chosen by someone when they're most vulnerable and in need feels like a great honor, and being with them in their time of need feels like an amazing privilege. I cherish the memories I have, of a dear friend allowing me to shower her when she was disabled after surgery on her shoulder, of my sister calling me with the flu and saying right out "I need help. Will you help me?" I remember washing another friend's hair in her hospital bed when she was laid up from surgery. These are not interactions that we normally don't experience in everyday life, and they're very special.

Then there's my mother. I find it impossible to get much satisfaction out of helping her, and I think it's because of her overwhelming sense of entitlement and her need to control everything. I don't think she lets herself be vulnerable except as a manipulation, when she can't get away with outright demanding something. I think she can't stand to think of herself as needy (or think of anyone else as having any autonomy or choice), so she presents her needs as demands and expectation, and it's impossible to feel good about meeting them.

I keep thinking back to something the author M. Scott Peck said, about how love is the willingness to extend oneself for one's own or another person's spiritual growth. He also said that a loving person must be careful not to waste their love on those who are capable of benefitting spiritually. That's the situation I feel I'm in with my mother - wasting my love on someone who is incapable of benefitting spiritually. I can satisfy her material needs, but that doesn't satisfy me in any way. I want that deep closeness, that connection, and I think it's like electricity. Unless there's a complete circuit, it won't flow at all. That's my love for my mother, stopped at the source.

Sorry for the rambling. Maybe enough to spur others of you to share your thoughts?


This is something I'm also very interested in. I think there is much spiritual growth possible even when the spiritual bond to the person is not there. It is spiritual growth inside ourselves.

We are often asked here on the group that if things are not good, why don't we just leave. That is a very hard question for me to answer, mainly because I don't know. Sometimes there comes moments of clarity that let us know things about others and ourselves. The other morning I woke up and realized that I didn't leave because I am a responsible person who thinks of how my reactions will affect others around me. It was as simple as that. Realizing that was enlightening for some reason, since I had been feeling like something must be wrong with me for not leaving.

I know my mother well. I know that if I were to get pulverized by a truck in an accident, her thought would be who was going to buy groceries for her now. I don't seek love in a place where there is none. However, I am not that person. Will I miss her when she is gone? Probably not, because no bond ever formed between us. While she is here I will do the best I can to keep her semi-comfortable only if it is because I am responsible.

I could write a whole book on this, getting a lot deeper, but I think I'll leave it alone and let other people write things. It is hard to put things in words. It's a bit like trying to explain how something looks, tastes, or smells. We can experience things, but not be able to explain the feeling. I like those moments of clarity when the feelings put themselves into something that can be put in simple words.
I think it is hard to feel positive about the caregiver role if you never get any affirmative feedback. I'm sure your friend and your sister showed their appreciation for the help you gave them, and that validated your efforts and affirmed that what you were doing was good and valuable.
When we care for someone who has never been able to show appreciation, like you or Jessie, or someone like my mother whose dementia has stolen her ability to see the world outside herself, it is harder to know if there is any value to what we do. I've often lamented that even a newborn can smile with happiness, a dog will wag it's tail or a cat will purr, but my mother gives absolutely no feedback no matter what I do, so how do I know I am doing the right things?
So why do I do it? I look back at my life and I can clearly see the building blocks that gave me the ability to take on this role. I look at my mother as she once was and I know without question that I would never have abandoned that woman, so I continue to honour the mother, the woman, she used to be. And I hope that wherever the future takes me I will be able to look back at this time in my life as another building block that has helped me to grow into the person I need to be.
Carla, you've raised some very relevant issues. Having read yours, CW's and Jessie's posts, I find it hard to offer anything comments that are as insightful. In addition, I don't see spirituality in the sense of relation to religion, but rather as an element of living with the natural world.

This is a topic about which I need to think so that I can offer comments as eloquent as CW and Jessie.

Back later when my brain is functioning more clearly.
Jessie - you shared something that's a big part of my motivation too, maybe all of it. I am a person who shows up and steps up. I do it for my mother not out of love but because someone has to. The only motivation I feel to do it is the desire not to leave other people stuck with it.

Having said that, there's an opportunity cost, in terms of not being available for other, more important, life experiences. I was able to be with my sister when she died, because my sister lived only a few blocks away from my mother. But, a few years ago, an old friend of mine died in New York while I was stuck in Florida with my mother, and I wasn't able to be there for her at all or even say goodbye to her. I feel such deep regret about that. I'm sure my mother's confident that she is and should be top priority, but she's not. The fact that caregiving for my mother not only has no meaning for me but deprives me of experiences that would have great meaning, that's really hard to take.
Caregiving is a humbling experience. Today I did a bad thing. I was talking about leaving a tip for the valets next week for Christmas. I've been tipping the valets each week for five years now because they help me so much when I take Mom to church. Mom started talking about how I should do the tip and breaking it down, turning a simple matter into a complex problem. Then she started in on how I didn't know how to do these things. I reminded her I was 65 and not 14, but she wouldn't let it go. I am so ashamed to say that I told her she didn't have enough sense to come out of the rain, so I would handle it. I felt terrible saying that. Then I felt silly feeling terrible, since I had just listened to 10-15 minutes of her belittling remarks at me. The truth is I feel like she can say all kinds of bad things to me, but I have to treat her with respect every minute. Oh boy, if I ever did finally say all the things I was really thinking. I feel bad that I even said one thing. I'll try not to do that again, since it was a bad thing I did... for both of us.

Not having the sense to come out of the rain. Ha! I must remember that one. Yesterday my MIL told me she "went" to physical therapy (being wheeled downstairs in her wheelchair and hoisted on some apparatus) and was displeased because her "trainer" wouldn't let her use the vibration machine. This woman can't even stand up anymore but thinks she should train like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I told her she should wear a helmet and she gave me a nasty look.
JessieBelle - I sure relate to the spouting off and the regret afterwards. Some people bring out the worst in us and controlling mothers are right at the top of that list. My ex-husband brought out the worst in me too, but him I could divorce. (Notice the word "ex-") All I can say is don't beat yourself up about it. You're only human, and you're in a very stressful situation with not much opportunity for relief. Sigh....
Wonderful electricity analogy and I think you could apply that to any endeavor.
This thread reminds me of a dream I had the other day. There was a wounded tiger pacing around with an arrow in its side. It didn't roar, but said meow as it paced. When I woke up I knew that wounded tiger was my spirit. It was no longer fearsome, but meek. I don't think caregiving put the arrow in the tiger, but life altogether did. So many small things happening can make our spirits small and easily controlled. Parents, siblings, spouses, religion, events all work on us so we can never really know our full spiritual self except in dreams, and even then they can be wounded.
What Jess said "there is much spiritual growth possible even when the spiritual bond to the person is not there. It is spiritual growth inside ourselves" is very deep and relevant.

I think it is also as CWillie says, "I think it is hard to feel positive about the caregiver role if you never get any affirmative feedback".
Also Cwillie makes a good point in allowing things to "be" rather than rationalizing the arguments relating to caregiving value. For example, she mentions how dementia has stolen her mother's ability to see the world outside herself.

To be honest, I believe we are never prepared enough - not to the degree in which we often find ourselves weighing the merit of our contribution. Because, as a caregiver if you have no experience in this role to a tough degree, it is hard to imagine the depth at which we struggle to challenge ourselves for answers. In other words, we have to go through it to go through it. While many books offer some insight, I think it is impossible to know all the situations particular to each person. All of us have different coping skills and varied relationship experiences. I am not totally the person I want to become, so throw that into the mix and it's a tough grind. Maybe that is the lesson. I have no clue.

I do know that I ended up asking myself a lot of questions I may not have vexed myself with before. Deep spiritual questions about consistency, showing up every day, spirituality and getting to know myself above all else. It has been a sort of maturation into myself and applying these lessons (after I fight them!) to become closer to what I want to develop into.

I feel damned if I do or don't when I have to choose between my kids and my parents. Especially around the holidays. It can drop me to bended knee asking what is the best course of action. Divorce can make relationships with our children tought, too so it is not like I am always chosing the best as it were...and then the parents negativity and deep isolation I find myself u against in trying to get them to connect is equally as rough. If I were to be honest, I would say I want to go out to see the northern lights in a freakin teepee in Canada after dog sledding all day and drinking hot cocoa. That is what I would do if I could. But I have to choose and neither feel so hot right now. But the relationships with these people are not what I had hoped and I want to pick the next thing I would or might enjoy - which is what I just shared.

The net effect is knowing what I might like to do one day and can do one day - its planning for things - which I had not really done much of before. And since those relationships are not so good, I can commit to doing the alone if need be.

I would consider this part of spirituality. To myself and how I want to live better in my head and dreams. For a long time even thinking about such folly was off the menu. I am reintroducing the notion that I don't have to live this way forever and that if they should pass before I do, I will know I did the best I could in that moment with what I had. I know there are ties I am heart weary and depressed and I cannot drive myself to be more for the - but I am human and I hurt when they hurt. I know their dreams are tings they seem to have given up on. I cannot rouse them to dream or hope again though I have tried. LIving this with them is hard.

I don't have the answers. Maybe hope and faith is enough. And to live this moment as best I can and not pin it all on SOME DAY because today has got to be good enough. Anything can happen tomorrow.

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