Lessons from caregiving

During my friend Jim’s illness, we received many cards expressing care and concern; and then after his death, condolences. I recently came across one of the condolence cards. The message read:

I know Jim was/is a good man…a good friend and is sorely missed. But for you a great source of comfort must be what a friend you were to him.

 “What you do for the least of my brethren that you do unto me” really resonates—not that Jim could ever be considered the least but he was/is a beloved friend who needed help and you certainly gave it.

 You also deserve and I’m sure will have a high place in heaven when you meet again. Thank you for a wonderful lesson.

I had read this note six years ago, but reading it now, the last line caught my attention and I felt invited to a deeper understanding of my taking care of Jim.

For me, being a caregiver meant thinking of Jim first. When asked about anything else, I would say, “Right now, my focus is on Jim,” while gesturing with my hands to show my tunnel vision.God-caregiving-cancerI was committed to giving Jim as much independence as possible and letting him make as many decisions as possible.

I had learned this lesson from my mother. When I was a child, my Uncle Steve came to live with us when he got cancer; my mother cared for him until he died. The sacrifices she made for him, her brother-in-law, showed me what caregiving was all about.

Similarly, when my dad had a major stroke, my mother honored his wishes not to go to the hospital. We called in hospice, and my dad spent his last three months of life at home.God-caregiving-cancerSo, what I did for Jim was what my mother modeled for me. I was certainly not thinking of any lesson; I just did what I could for him. Only recently have I started to consider the magnitude of my caring for him.

The cancer in Jim’s brain weakened the right side of his body. Early on, he said, “I guess I have to become a lefty.” For most of the time he was sick, I was his right hand—bathing, dressing, shaving and feeding him. We walked up the stairs in tandem—his right foot resting on my left.

Jim was both very private and very proud. He did not want anyone else to help him. When he started to fall (one of the signs of end-stage brain cancer), it could take me up to forty-five minutes to get him up because he had so little strength to help. Once he was up, I would flex my biceps and joke that I was going to challenge Arnold Schwarzenegger to an arm-wrestling match.

Taking care of Jim was physically demanding; knowing that he was going to die soon was emotionally taxing; and putting his needs ahead of mine was spiritually enriching. So many lessons in one experience.God-caregiving-cancer


6 thoughts on “Lessons from caregiving

  1. Linda Heffernan

    Madeline, I will never forget the experience of “watching” how you cared for Jim, and I’m sure I understand only a small fraction of what it involved. I hope that I can do that for a loved one should that ever be needed. Terry, my “little sister-by-affection” just lost her mom to lung failure. She and her husband and kids had moved in with her mom over two years ago so that her mom could stay at home, and I know that Terry’s loving care gave her mom so much more quality of life and extended her life considerably. I believe that your care did that for Jim.

    Glorious spring day here with birds chirping and trees flowering everywhere. Nightmare day for allergy sufferers!

    Have a wonderful weekend.

    Love, Linda

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Madeline Bialecki Post author

      Thanks Linda. Sorry to hear of Terry’s loss. More and more, I see how much fear impacts one’s end of life–and how facing our fears and accepting the inevitability of death can make the end of life more meaningful. I am so deeply grateful for all the support Jim and I had–from you and Marty and many others.

  2. dslyon

    Physically demanding, emotionally taxing and spiritually enriching truly sums up the daily caretaking of my 95 year-old father. God meant what He said when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments, specifically “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long…” And I likewise refer to this as “daddy’s time,” as you did focusing on Jim. You did not do it to boast on yourself, but rather to “boast” on Jesus. Amen Madeline!

  3. Madeline Bialecki Post author

    Debbie Sue, What you are doing for your dad honors him and Jesus–and is also one of the best gifts you can give to yourself. I think it is so sad that our culture has turned caregiving into something to be avoided (because it is too hard, too demanding, etc.) rather than celebrate the gifts of it. Being sacrificial is difficult and taxing, but the rewards–in this life and the next–are so worth it. Thank you for your witness.


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