Caregiving: Some Reflections

Caregiving: Some Reflections

Caregiving: Some Reflections

Caring for someone with a serious medical condition is not usually a role most people expect to adopt. Many people are blindsided when they learn that their spouse, mother, or father is ill. The experience of caregiving is hard to digest, especially if you find yourself bearing most of the costs of such a responsibility, and especially if you find yourself unprepared to fulfill this role. Despite the immense difficulties that come with caregiving, these experiences can offer periods of profound personal growth and transformation, most of which come through the challenges we confront and the relationships we build.

In the philosophical tradition of Existentialism, the notion of “Being-in-the-world” was pioneered by the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger. This notion entails that human beings are thrown into a world, i.e. an existence, for which they did not ask. That is to say, we did not have control when and where we were born, yet we have to accept and live with these conditions at every moment of our lives. Our existence in this world, however, is not a solitary one but takes shape alongside the existence of other people and the world around us. For example, the anthropologist, Michael Jackson, writes: “We are . . . not stable or set pieces, with established and immutable essences, destinies, or identities; we are constantly changing, formed and reformed, in the course of our relationships with others and our struggle for whatever helps us sustain and find fulfillment in life.”[1] Our lives, therefore, are influenced by others around us in our journey to make life meaningful. Our experiences and relationship with others, on the other hand, are not always easily navigated and can be full of tension and discord, much like the experience of becoming and being a family caregiver.

In keeping with the above ideas, becoming a family caregiver usually involves handling unfortunate and undesirable circumstances. We are thrown into this role and now have to endure a set of challenges and learn new skills. A component of these challenges may be processing the anxiety and fear that come with caregiving responsibilities, or the guilt that comes with feeling angry or resentful toward your loved one. These are all normal feelings to have. Additionally, your relationship with others may be challenged as you may confront differing opinions about how to care for your loved one. For example, your siblings or adult children may tell you what you are doing wrong or what you can be doing better. The friendships you have may strain or become stronger. Yet, all of these challenges and changes mold us into someone who we were not before. These experiences, however depressing, tiresome, or traumatic they may be, constantly have an impression on us. Conversely, we too have an influence on others and the world around us. We should then recognize the power we have to change the world around us when we may feel completely powerless. As a caregiver, you have the opportunity to make meaningful and beneficial changes in the world for your loved one through small acts of kindness or large amounts of compassion and patience.

These considerations are not meant to diminish the feelings and experiences you, as a caregiver, feel which can often take a toll on you and your wellbeing. Instead, these considerations are meant to contextualize your role and empower you within a broader experience that all people face, namely existing in a world that can often seem like a bizarre and dissatisfactory place. Each situation that you encounters is an opportunity to shape the world around you, by helping your loved one, communicating with close friends, seeking help from a counselor, cherishing moments of peace, and so on. The experiences you face can induce fear, but with that fear comes the potential to reshape yourself and the world around you.

[1] Jackson, Michael, Lifeworlds: Essays in Existential Anthropology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 5.

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