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the caregiver and the "caregiven": a unique relationship

by Judy
January 24, 2013 

As my mother is moving toward her 97th year, post-stroke, post pacemaker and post aortic valve replacement; she is still remarkably there.  No doubt senses are failing: eyesight, smell, taste and to some degree hearing, but at the same time her sense of touch and feel have become acutely sensitive. It’s as though there is only a thin membrane, much thinner than skin, between her inner and outer world. She is particularly sensitized to the touch, sound and feeling of other human beings. She notices and appreciates the tone of their voices, the feel of their hands, and most importantly, when it is present, their kindness and gentleness. And she still has a delightful sense of humor and now more than ever seeks out any chance to laugh with others. This same but new woman, quite frail and getting noticeably older by the weeks and months, treasures the simple human connection. As I spoke about in my last blog in praise of the caregiver, that in the end is what it always boils down to, the human connection: a shared laugh, a smile and above all else, a heart that cares.

 With regards to this, what I find so remarkable and moving is how my mom has opened to the gift of new relationships which at her age is fundamentally with her caregivers. This relationship between caregiver and “caregiven” is very unique. For it to work, both participants need to bring certain qualities – qualities of openness, respect and trust. As with any relationship, it’s a two way street; both people influencing the other which deepens over time. Although the two people are often from very different backgrounds, ideally it becomes a very intimate and close relationship. The caregiver has a specific role to play but it has to be played with authenticity or it won’t work. It can only work when the caregiver really cares and the “caregiven” allows oneself to be cared for, but to not be in any way diminished.

Pat, my mom’s primary caregiver, who has been with her for the last three plus years, truly cares about my mom. She cares hour after hour after hour. She does everything for my mom; from cooking, driving, shopping (when I’m not there), dressing and changing her diapers, transferring her from bed to wheelchair to exercising and massaging her every day. Pat is originally from Jamaica. She is a strong-minded woman with a strong arm and heart and gives it freely and generously.

I have no doubt that Pat would be caring with whomever she was with, but this dynamic dance between the caregiver and the “caregiven” is what I find so interesting. It’s not a one way street. The “caregiven” influences the caregiver and vice versa. How could it be any other way? My mom’s basic goodness and sweetness no doubt has had an influence on Pat and likewise Pat’s giving and strong nature has influenced my mom.  A relationship has grown between them based on mutual respect and trust. It is a relationship of give and take like any two people who are fundamentally living together. They both have had to accommodate the other. With the weight of time, they have a real relationship with its own particular flavor and color; shared stories and shared humor.  My mother feels absolutely comfortable and safe with Pat. Pat will “push” my mom at times to do things that are good for her and often my mom goes along with it, but sometimes she definitely doesn’t want to. Then Pat has to let her be and respect her wishes. As I said, it’s a give and take. Over the years I’ve noticed a deepening of trust, love and playful affection between them.

When both participants, the caregiver and the "caregiven" are willing to give and take in the way that I see with my mom and Pat and both are willing to be influenced by the other; then a relationship unfolds that has an effect on everyone around them. It brings an ease and quiet joy.

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