Caregiving Grace

How to tend to others without burning out

As I stack dirty dishes and pile papers on the table, I notice Mom's tiny, blue handwriting scrawled across a sticky note, reminding herself of an upcoming MRI. I wipe away a tear and glance over at her.

Her head is bowed as though praying as she sits in her blue chair, which is surrounded by plants and overlooks the pond. She has grade 2 astrocytoma, a brain tumor. The doctors don't know how long she has, and so I water her plants, change her diapers, cook her supper, and kiss her goodnight.

My son sits in his Bumbo watching me and watching his grandmother's head bob to the music on the stereo. Soon I'll hook her arms around my neck and we'll dance our way to the bathroom, her in her stretchy blue pants and me in my black leggings. My son will gurgle and I'll beg God for the strength to keep caring for those I love.

A woman's love is endless, but her energy is not. It's easy to want to care for others, while forgetting that we, ourselves, have needs. There are days when I crumble into my husband's arms and weep, and he kisses my hair and reminds me I am only human, something every woman needs to be reminded of. Otherwise, we tend toward a messiah-complex—the belief that we can save the world if we try hard enough.

This crumbling has taught me humility. It's taught me to pray. And it's taught me the secret to staying strong when others are weak.

The Stats

A recent poll by AARP revealed that approximately 34 million Americans serve as unpaid caregivers. Four to five million care for parents with long-term health problems. "Caregivers report having one or more chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, at nearly twice the rate of all Americans," Mindy Fetterman of USA Today writes in "Becoming 'Parent of Your Parent' an Emotionally Wrenching Process." "Of those who say their health has worsened because of caregiving, 91 percent report depression."

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