Let's talk about the spiritual aspect of caregiving.
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?