Since my three-year stint as my
father’s caregiver I wrestle with socially unacceptable
urges to comfort, feed, and water just about anybody.
I do not have to know you personally
to offer you a cough drop when you choke. I say “Bless
you” before you finish sneezing, and my right hand will
automatically fidget for an Aloe-enriched,
After your third sneeze, I will tell
you the names of cold products you need although these
medicines are not what I think truly promote healing.
Sick people need to go to bed and rest and drink plenty
of fluids and be waited on by people like me.
I am ready to do that. I am a
recovering caregiver always on the lookout for someone
who needs caregiving--me. And I know that my attentions
mostly wear on people’s nerves.
My teenage niece is tired of
hearing me say, “Button up. Buckle up. Wash your
hands.” Sometimes I tire of hearing myself, but I
cannot stop. It is cold outside, accidents do happen,
and illness-bearing germs should be washed away.
This type of other-oriented watchful
vigilance is not confined to only matters of wellness.
Recently stuck in a bad traffic jam on the interstate, I
opened my car trunk where I store some caregiving
supplies and walked up and down the asphalt giving away
free bottles of water to other stuck drivers. It was a
very satisfying experience—so many thirsty people, and
me with so much water.
That caregiver urge!—I overflow with
On an idling airport shuttle bus the
other day, the driver asked the already seated
passengers if we would be responsible to not let another
person on if he left the doors open so we could have
Other passengers nodded politely. I
got excited for no one believes in the benefits of fresh
air more than a recovering caregiver. I watched hard.
Two people got on. I asked the lady beside me, “What
are we supposed to do now?”
“It’s not our job to guard that
door,” she said, shrugging.
My jaw dropped. I was envious of
that shrug for I have lost track of the boundaries of
socially acceptable helpfulness, and I know it. I am
labeled by others as codependent, hypervigilent, and
addicted--one of those suckers born every minute.
But I wasn’t born in a minute. My
condition evolved over time while I handled medical
emergencies for a dying man and forgot who I was, except
as a caregiver. I have emerged from that experience in
hyper-helpful mode. I watch. I warn. I offer. I am
a recovering caregiver and there’s no twelve-step
program to rehabilitate me.
But you could. And you could help
others like me or who may become like me. First, you
have to see caregivers. They live and move among you,
but are very adept at being invisible.
To find one, simply look beside a
person suffering from age-related disorders or a
debilitating disease. Beside a chronic patient is a
barely alive, almost invisible caregiver. See that
caregiver? Speak to him. To her. Speak these words
slowly: “How are you?”
If she replies, “Fine,” smile
reassuringly. Send fresh fruit to her house anyway. Or
maybe a fresh flower. Drop off fresh milk. Fresh
bread. Her life is mostly stale, and she can’t easily
drive to a store for fresh stuff. You get the idea.
Does it seem like a small idea and,
therefore, unnecessary? Think again.
Any gesture or gift of care for a
current caregiver who has forgotten her own needs will
become a potent memory that will surface later like
medicine from a dissolving gel capsule that releases a
healing dose of self-recognition and the restorative
message: It’s okay to accept help rather than only give
But don’t over-react. If a
recovering caregiver you know is already loose and
roaming around compulsively offering Band-aids, water,
cough drops, and tissues, don’t resist them. Instead,
simply accept everything a former caregiver offers, and
say, “Thank you!” Caregivers haven’t heard those words
Rather than feed an addiction for
approval which some experts warn is what makes
caregivers who they are, that expression of simple
courtesy will help a caregiver exhale and finally say to
someone, “You’re so very welcome.”
The job is done then. See? She
is finished. He can let go. Say good-bye.
I know. Every time I say those
words, I say good-bye to my old caregiver self and
breathe hello to the people who live in the world where
I can imagine being on a shuttle bus sitting near a
just-about-to-sneeze, almost-gonna-cough, possibly
thirsty person, and--oh, bliss--simply shrug.
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