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.