Over the holidays this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about birth, mortality and all that’s in between. I guess you’d say, I’ve been pondering the circle of life and my role in it. A week before Christmas, the wife of a lifelong friend gave birth to a perfectly beautifulContinue reading
A stranger asks, “What do you do?”. They really mean, ‘do you WORK?’. When you reply that you care for a loved one, they look past your shoulder, scanning the room for an escape route. At the grocery store, someone you used to know walks by…Continue reading
I am a caregiver who has never had a ‘proper’ job since Nicholas was born twenty-five years ago. I have certain sensitivities and sometimes, I take a chilly greeting personally. During the years when Nicholas was constantly in hospital and often in crisis, I would say this to the doctors: “I really need you to be nice to me. I mean it.” I did not know any other way to express the fact that a small slight, a critical gaze, or an unkind word could shatter what bit of resilience I had left to get through the day.
Eva Kittay recognises this chink in the armor of caregivers because she is one herself (when she is not teaching moral philosophy at SUNY Stony Brook). Eva describes the phenomenon of the ‘transparent self’ of the caregiver – “a self through whom the needs of another are discerned, a self that, when it looks to gauge its own needs, sees first the needs of another”. Kittay argues that the moral requirements of a dependency relationship make the transparent self indispensable. This labor of love is simultaneously responsive to the needs of others, exhibiting care – it cultivates intimacies and trust between humans. Both care and concern contribute to the sustainability and connectedness fundamental in dependency relationships, but it leaves the caregiver vulnerable. Prolonged transparency of the self can lead to clinical depression at the worst and the absence of empowerment to act on one’s own behalf at the least.
My clumsy response to being too transparent for too long was to beg those around to ‘be nice to me’.
Looking a caregiver straight in the eye with real interest (not sympathy) is tonic to the caregiver soul. Asking her (or his) opinion about a shared experience, even if it’s what she thinks about the color of the sky – demonstrates a respect for that part of the person which is not a caregiver.
I just love when I receive messages from strangers who share my interest in exploring ideas about caregiving. Last evening, the little red number ‘1’ appeared above the message symbol on my Facebook page (also called The Caregivers’ Living Room). A student wanted to know if I would share herContinue reading