Tag Archives: weakness

God-caregiving-cancer

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

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weakness-strength-vulnerability

Through weakness to strength

“… sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” ~Jean Vanier

Safe spaces can be our comfort zones, those places that can give us a sense of control and security. Safe spaces can also describe the people we can trust with our deepest selves.

I recently read a book written by a friend about her volunteer work at a hospice. She wrote about some of the other people involved in the program—the Catholic sisters who ran the hospice, other volunteers and those who were dying. She wrote of the poverty of those dying, and she shared that this volunteer work had touched her and changed her.

What she did not describe, though, was what specifically had been touched in her by those who were dying—what inner poverty or brokenness connected with the poverty and brokenness of those who were dying.

Putting words to our wounds can be difficult, and it can make us feel vulnerable. We get plenty of practice saying, “I’m fine,” and much less practice admitting when we are not. Finding safe spaces where we can share openly and honestly can be a challenge.

As a young adult, I mistakenly shared my story with people who were not trustworthy and who used it against me. Then I retreated into my safe space where I shared with no one.

But at some point I realized that what I was calling a safe space was really just a place of fear, and staying there kept me from facing my wounds and allowing God’s love to heal me.

I was fortunate to find a therapist who helped me see that by staying locked in on myself I was neither safe nor free. I needed to step out of that space and start finding true safe spaces where I could name my weaknesses and difficulties.

Attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) meetings helped a great deal. Sitting among others who had similar backgrounds created a foundation of trust. Once the foundation was established, trusting and sharing became easier.

weakness-strength-vulnerability

Living in l’Arche helped, too. I had gone there thinking I was going to help others, but God showed me that I was called me there to receive help more than to give it. The invitation of the Beatitudes and of l’Arche was to reveal my poverty—to myself as much as to others—and be blessed by it. By acknowledging my weakness, I came to understand that I was totally dependent on God.

God continues to invite me into deeper relationship so I can know my broken places, hidden crevices that are awaiting God’s healing touch. That touch releases me from my fear of being judged and allows me to speak of my vulnerability.

Like my friend who wrote the book, I went to l’Arche to help others but realized I was the one who was to be helped. My brokenness is my blessing and allowing others to see it is my healing.

weakness-strength-vulnerability