Twenty-five years ago, I became immersed in a significant period of being a caregiver. It wasn't my first round of being a caregiver. Twenty years before that, I had helped a little with care for my wife's grandmother who was suffering with dementia. That was followed by being a caregiver for my mother after she had a major stroke and then a second, fatal stroke three months later. Starting with my mother's first stroke, my wife and I became caregivers for my maternal grandmother who lived with us for five years as she was deteriorating from dementia, before spending her last year in a nursing home.
A couple of years later my father-in-law began having to deal with a variety of health issues that were getting more serious, and my wife and I were very involved in helping my mother-in-law care for him. Three years into all of this, a dear friend of ours suddenly became very ill, and I became deeply involved in caring for her, along with her husband and several other people. I'll return to this period of caregiving in a moment.
A few years later, my mother-in-law began deteriorating from Alzheimer's, so we moved her in with us and cared for her until she passed on at home with us. Another six years went by, and then my wife began deteriorating from Alzheimer's, just as her mother had, so my daughter, grandson and I cared for her at home for about four years until she died.
Mixed in with the caregiving experiences I've just mentioned, I also helped on a much less significant scale to provide some care for a couple of other family members of close friends. Both were for older folks who were dealing with dementia. One involved doing a little custom computer programming, and the other involved taking a lot of long nature walks.
I've shared all of this just for some overall context. I've done a lot of caregiving, and I've also gotten a lot of experience dealing with dementia. I've had a lot of opportunity to contemplate on all levels what is involved in being of service to another person, and to also apply in a very practical way, what I have come to know and understand. But, I now want to return to the period beginning twenty-five years ago, because this is the time and experience during which I came to much more clearly see and understand what is involved in compassionate caregiving and in applying the Golden Rule in very practical ways.
Caregiving for both my father-in-law and our dear friend was essentially a more than full-time commitment. Besides just being present when and where I was needed, I learned, from a doctor and other medical staff, to perform various home medical procedures on a regular and ongoing basis, as did my friend's husband. Although various other people helped in numerous ways, her husband and I were pretty much alternating duty around the clock, not for days, not for weeks, but for many months. There were times when things got pretty intense, with ups and downs in my friend's condition and needs. Along with all of this, I was self-employed and still also trying to work a little to keep earning some money and keep my clients happy, and they were fortunately very understanding and forgiving.
As you might correctly surmise, I wasn't getting a whole lot of sleep, nor was I getting much time to myself. Very seldom was I getting to spend time in my own space or to sleep in my own bed. Sometimes I would sleep at my friend's house, sometimes at my in-law's, depending on where I happened to be when I could close my eyes for a few hours. Sometimes I would suddenly get awakened to help deal with some new situation.
Understandably, some of my friends were getting quite concerned about how I was doing through all of this. As a matter of fact, though, I was actually doing very well. I didn't feel sleep deprived. I wasn't getting exhausted. I was sleeping very well whenever I was able to sleep, and I always felt very rested afterward. In fact, I was feeling quite energized, clear-minded, enthusiastic, cheerful, efficient, and effective. I was actually feeling just the opposite of getting burned out.
As a person who has mostly lived a rather contemplative and meditative lifestyle, I actually managed to even continue doing this. And this led me to some significant insights and understanding which ultimately helped me do even better. This is all relevant here, in the context of various things that I have already mentioned in these blogs, regarding Love, going with the flow, having an open mind and an open heart, being attentive, being kind and caring, and compassionate.
I've previously mentioned my insight about how Love flows ubiquitously through the Universe and that Love in various manifestations draws together and unites, that everything is Love, and that we can make a choice to go with the flow of Love, and to do even more than that: to actively participate in the flow of Love. As I contemplated all of this, in the context of the intense experiences of caregiving I was immersed in, I suddenly envisioned a model to help explain, for myself and to others, how this was all working for me, and how I was working within it all.
Think of the Sun, the light, the warmth, and think of a glass lens. Think of how a lens can be held to focus the sunlight onto a piece of paper or wood. It makes a tiny and very bright spot of light and intense heat. In fact, it can produce so much heat that it will cause the paper or wood to start to burn. But this explanation isn't quite accurate. The lens itself doesn't produce any heat, nor does it cause anything to burn. All the lens does is exist, by itself, in a particular place – it doesn't produce or give anything of itself, other than its clear presence. And, because of its characteristics and qualities, sunlight and sun heat are bent and focused to become highly intensified in a particular spot where the concentrated light and heat of the Sun produce the intense brightness as well as the high heat that then initiates combustion.
Now think of the Love flowing through the Universe, and think of a lens that might direct, focus and concentrate this diffuse flow of Love. A lens that can do this is the human heart – an open heart, directed by its own knowing and wisdom, aided by an open mind functioning in service to the heart. This system provides an amazing mechanism that can direct, focus and concentrate the warmth and power of Love wherever it is especially needed, perhaps for another human being who needs help to function better and to heal.
A human being, a human heart serving as a lens to direct, focus and concentrate Love doesn't need to produce or give anything of itself, other than its attentive presence, as directed by the knowing wisdom of the heart-mind. This knowing wisdom determines what is needed, where it is needed, how it is needed, and when it is needed. And as I've previously shared from Richard Moss: "The greatest gift you can give is the purity of your attention."This is the purity, the clarity of the lens through which you direct, focus, and concentrate the flow of Love to wherever it is needed.
This is what I was doing, as best as I was able to in the moment, at any given moment. And the quality of moments varied, for sure – I certainly didn't do all of this perfectly. Yet I had fully and completely immersed myself in the caregiving I had chosen to do, and overall I did very well in multiple ways. And I enjoyed doing it. And it was all quite amazing in many ways. And because I was so open to Love flowing through me for those in my care, I was also able to experience a tremendous amount of Love flowing through me, and it energized me; it helped me stay open and focused and very pure in my intention and attention. It actually felt healing to me, as well as to my father-in-law and to my friend, and even to others around me. I did not become at all depleted, I did not experience compassion fatigue, because I wasn't giving my Love from myself, I was simply being present and allowing Love to flow through me.
Through all of this caregiving, I always tried to apply the essence of the Golden Rule: I always tried to treat the person I was providing care for with respect, just as I would like to be treated with respect if I were in the position of needing to be cared for. And, yes, I have been in that position a few times.
In those situations, I've always tried to treat my caregivers with respect, just as I like to be treated with respect when I am the caregiver.
There's so much more that can still be said about such experiences, and about how to actively participate in the flow of Love …. next time. May you be with Love and may you be well.