Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ode on Our Caregivers

Fair Ones, Young Ones, Old Ones, Passable Ones
Who come into our home to care for us,
Who teach us with their patience, serenity, grace,
Some of whom have come to our shores from shores far away,
Have left their loved ones to care for my loved one,
Whose good humor reigns, or sometimes doesn’t,
Who deal with things pleasant and unpleasant
And with people pleasant and unpleasant:
What brings you to this work?
What other jobs did you consider, before selecting this?

Our experience with people like you is so recent,
Just six months of our journey has been spent in your company.
I had heard of your sort, in good tones and bad,
From others with knowledge and experience.
And from those tales, told around the support group table,
I can only conclude: We have been blessed.
Our encounters have been mostly good, occasionally comical,
And sometimes, oh sometimes, heartrendingly tender.
Why do we deserve your care, your concern?
What have we done to reap the benefit of your company?

When you came to our door for the first time, did you feel a tremor?
Did anxiety play havoc with your pulse?
Or did you come in confidence, knowing that you have the skill and patience
To weather whatever storm you may encounter with us?
Some of you have come with a warm heart, first concerned with your charge,
Yet with room in your heart also for the spouse.
And so you say, “What else can I do to help?” and “Would you like me to…”
And the blank is filled in with many and mundane tasks that normally fall to the wife.
Laundry, dishes, dusting, cleaning spots from carpet, plumping pillows.
Sometimes the mistress says yes, sometimes no. But always gratefully.

Some of you have come with a focus on the job, not the person;
Have interrupted when I attempt to introduce ourselves
To give you an idea of who we are, of what backgrounds we have
In order to give you a frame of reference in which to work.
But you have interrupted with questions about tasks.
That list will come in a moment; may I help you understand us, first? No?
Happily for all concerned, after a few evenings with us,
Other circumstances prevented you from coming back,
And we can hope that your next situation was a better fit for you
And for the person under your care.

O Caregiver Agency! What a valuable service you provide,
And yet, how much angst you have in your power to create!
Last minute changes, communicated moments before the doorbell rings,
That our familiar caregiver won’t be there, and instead, a stranger.
And a seeming reluctance to come out with the real reasons behind the changes,
Which we inadvertently find out from the unwitting caregiver,
Who explains that the other person has a new job (isn’t sick).
Unexplained switches in schedules, which bewilder us as well as the caregiver.
And still, we are grateful for your service, flawed as it sometimes is,
For it has brought us one of the most special people we know.

Our dearest friend, small and gentle, wise and witty,
You are a precious gift in our lives.
You inspire the mistress with your patience, your willingness to say to G,
“I’m sorry,” when it wasn’t your fault but his.
Noted! The mistress attempts to emulate.
You left your family and went far away to work on a kibbutz in Israel
To provide the money for university tuition for your children
When earning enough for them was not possible in your homeland.
Because when you were university age, there was not enough for you to reach your dream.
“What would you have studied,” I ask. “Chemistry, perhaps,” you reply.

We talk, sometimes, about choices and alternatives.
Decisions made, good and bad, and consequences, good and bad.
The law of unintended consequences was on our minds last night.
The university education you provided your children has not only enriched their lives,
It has also enriched the lives of so many more.
Because some of your children chose careers in healthcare
And emigrated to this land, to nurse the sick in hospitals,
Or to provide therapy to those recovering from accident and illness.
The ripples made when you dropped your stones into the water
Continue to spread and spread, reaching out with goodness to so many.


  1. Thank you for writing this. My parents have recently reached the point where a caregiver is necessary and it has been a very bumpy journey for all. (They live in California, and most of us their children live far away in other states). Do you mind if I ask whether this is a Medicare covered item for your loved one? My parents have hired privately so of course it's not covered at all (although we are very happy with their choice).

    I can't imagine how hard it would be to learn to admit someone, or several someones, into your home, to do what has always before been within the abilities of you and your loved one. And to do it graciously and without resentment. (Or how hard it would be to be that someone who enters the home of another as helper.)

    So again, thank you for writing this. I especially appreciate the bit about emulating the patience that others have with our loved ones.

  2. P.S. Thanks for identifying the red twig dogwood! I have admired it for years and never bothered to find out its name.

  3. Hi, Mrs. Micawber (couldn't find your email address, so I'll reply here). I don't mind your asking - it is not covered by Medicare, unfortunately. We purchased a long term care insurance policy many years ago, because my parents did, and my dad is a great one for researching stuff - so we just signed up for the same program they did. It's one of those things, like car insurance, on which you always hope you lose the bet and have spent your money on the premium for nothing. I'm so glad we bought the insurance when we did, because if we had waited until G got sick, he wouldn't have been eligible for it.

    I'm happy I could i.d. the red twig dogwood for you, Sue! I just took a picture of ours for a later posting.

  4. What a wonderful essay! You write so well and tell such a wonderful story. Even though I have not needed a caregiver (yet!) I, too, am doing my best to emulate the calm, selfless patience that I have witnessed in one of the people that has helped you.

  5. Beautifully expressed, Ginnie. I'll be reading this again.

  6. What a beautiful post. My mother, who had dementia, had caregivers the last 2 years of her life. You so eloquently describe how important it is for the caregivers to know who we are. We were blessed with many caregivers who did care about who my mother was in addition to the tasks they performed.


Thank you!