All of us know the downside of caregiving and grieving.
We know the physical and emotional demands we face as caregivers, and the heaviness and dread that weigh down upon us when a loved one is ill, particularly when there is no hope of a cure.
We know about the pain and grief of losing a person we love and how much that loss diminishes our lives. But there’s also something good that can emerge from these difficult trials. We can become kinder and better people. I like to think I did, after twelve years of caregiving and three years of widowhood.
The kindness I extended to my husband became a habit that, over time, changed my response to others who were ill, incapacitated, or “different.” I became more attuned to the needs of others than I had been before. Knowing what it felt like to be different, as the ill and their caregivers inevitably are, I become more responsive to all sorts of marginalized people. I made a point of saying hello to those in wheel chairs or pushing walkers. I rushed to help a blind person cross the street.
You’re probably thinking, what’s so special about that? Most people would do the same.
This is, of course, true. These were things I’d done before, but now I did them with more vigor and determination than ever.
There’s a kind of club – far more encompassing than any support group we might join – that we are automatically enrolled in when we or someone we love is ill. Even when there’s no visible sign, we can often sniff out the other members of the club and reach out to them. When we lose a spouse, we can reach out to other widows and widowers with a fine-tuned sensitivity, something we could not have done as well before, despite the best of intentions.
One more thing – if we’ve been fortunate enough to have been on the receiving end of kindness, we’ve got role models who have set the bar high.
We want to pay back, and we know how to do it, not only because we’ve learned kindness as a result of our travails but also because we’re emulating those who helped us in our time of need.
About the Author
Joan Zlotnick, a retired professor of English, is the author of Portrait of an American City: The Novelists’ New York, numerous scholarly articles, and, most recently, an e-novel, Griefwriting. She has a blog on wordpress and has written for The Drabble and Seeds4Life.
Please See: Griefwriting
Visit Joan’s Blog: https://joanzlotnick.wordpress.com/
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This is so true. After a year of watching my mum spiral downhill and end up in a 24/7 cared facility I have found my own attitudes changing to those around me. Those old, frail, impaired people who can’t help themselves. There’s a certain empathy that we feel when our loved ones are dependent on us, a kindness that extends to everyone and it changes everything. A wonderful post.
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Thank you, Miriam.
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What you said here was true for me also, after losing my mom to a slow battle with cancer, and then my dad to diabetes and heart issues. But it can make you too soft also. I helped a woman dying of ALS and it was the worst experience of my life. The woman turned vicious; temper tantrums, screaming and crying overnight and worst of all (after we gave up our home to move in with her to care for her, went for months of never sleeping for more than ten minutes at a time because of her temper tantrums and verbal abuse) she then told her family that we weren’t handling her demands well enough. We literally went for weeks at a time with only one hour of sleep combined, total, because of her violent temper tantrums and fits… while trying to hold down jobs and she not only lied to us hurt someone I loved in the process.
Kindness, like any other behavior (or needing to be needed) has a down side also.
While I agree with most of what is said here, (the world coukd use some more compassion) remember that no matter what the circumstances are or how sick someone is, you do not have to put up with abuse from either that patient who is dying, or the clueless morons who don’t know what you are going through. And remember that Some people are made to appreciate your kindness – others will steal from you, take you for granted… or sometimes, much, much worse.
Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.
So funny, I had just read philosopher Jens Meiert’s http://meiert.com/en/blog/20160704/kindness/ where he says that “With (people) growing kinder and kinder, everyone else, in comparison, turned ruder and ruder”–how would you respond to that?