While I'm between chemotherapy treatments - G-d Willing they work - I go to the M.D. Anderson clinic twice a week to have blood drawn. That's how they monitor progress and reaction. The clinic nurses are very efficient. One doesn't have to wait long.
But while waiting in the waiting room, I've noticed not just the state of those undergoing treatment, but also their caretakers. Rarely is anyone there alone. The caretaker - whether a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling - looks focused, careworn, on alert. Not always: If the person being cared for is resting, the caretaker rests. But let the ill person stir, and the caretaker's full attention is turned to the patient.
When we talk about illness, we talk about those suffering and struggling, we talk about doctors and nurses - specialized caregivers, one might say - we talk about the system of healthcare, cost and delivery. Yet we often don't pay as much attention to the caregivers.
The caregivers have many roles - chauffeur, pharmacist, accountant, etc. Often the caregiver also has to stop working, or slow down. Many of the tasks the caregiver might not have done before. While the person battling the illness goes through a gamut of reactions, physical, emotional, etc. the caregiver also has to deal with emotional stress. But who does he or she talk to? Let's face it: it's hard watching a loved one suffer, especially when the help we give can sometimes seem so peripheral.
Disease, especially chronic disease, is debilitating and disruptive. What we see from caregivers is a tremendous amount of self-sacrifice, an incredible investment in another person, love at such a deep level that it's given-ness astounds.
Sometimes we take for granted that there are caregivers. We may not acknowledge the stress and strain they're under - how even caregivers need caregivers.The disruptiveness of disease, like the proverbial ripples, extends beyond the ones we see at the side of the patient.
Of course, and this is part of the main point, caregivers don't appear overnight. (Well, perhaps sometimes.) The intense level of investment, the rearranging of work, of home life, of so many routines, occurs because the groundwork, so to speak, has been done over the years. The relationship has been built deep and strong and with faith - layers of faith, really.
We should not make the mistake of thinking that caregiving is just a form of gratitude. There is gratitude, obviously, because in any relationship that lasts, gratitude to and for the other person helps the relationship both stabilize and grow. But caregiving is so much more than that.
In one sense, perhaps a spiritual sense, we are all caregivers. G-d has given us an environment, a part of the world over which we have influence. This includes physical objects, but also people we interact with. Not all caregiving is as intense, as raw, as what occurs when someone is sick, but the investment in the welfare of another is always under the surface of a relationship.
We hear a lot of talk about the so-called 'self-made man,' but such a person really had, and still has, many caregivers. Perhaps if we thought more about our role as caregivers, more about how we can ease the burden of others, how we can relieve some of the pressure, how we can simply be there to lend support or push a metaphoric wheelchair, there'd be a lot less arrogance, a lot less selfishness.
In emergencies and crises, we instinctively become caregivers. But life itself is a series of challenges that, if we listen, if we're sensitive, calls for the caregiver in us.
You may recall that Adam's task in the Garden was to be the caretaker - the caregiver - for creation. At first, that seems odd, since the Garden was initially a utopia. What did it need a caregiver for? But that looking out for others, that "providing for the general welfare," is one of our essential tasks.
Of course, caregiving can take many forms. But I think if you ask most caregivers why they are so dedicated to a spouse, parent, child, sibling (or friend), I suspect you'd get a look of incomprehension. What kind of question is that? There's just no choice.
That's the point. There is a choice, but this choice is so obvious, so much a part of one's nature, flows so naturally from the relationship, that it seems there is no choice.
So as I think about all the people waiting for treatment, and their caregivers who are, for a moment, just waiting but who in reality do so much, I want to do more than acknowledge the power and necessity of caregivers, mine in particular. I want to call to mind the caregiver in all of us. I want to issue a challenge of sorts: G-d has given us influence over a portion of the world, an opportunity to make things better, at some level - financial, physical, emotional, spiritual - for those around us. What are we doing to be caretakers? Can we do more?
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