Sunday, May 27, 2012

Love and Caregiving

Recently, Denise M. Brown, the founder of, posed a question to her followers on Twitter: Which is the more powerful emotion... love or loss? While it’s not possible to live without experiencing loss, we can often count on love to get us through. 

Caregivers actually experience two kinds of love while looking after their loved one. Affective love is the profound and heartfelt feeling we associate with that singular word. We experience this form of love as an outpouring of generosity, inspiration and compassion. St. Paul referred to this expression of love as “greater” than either faith or hope, because it is immeasurable: deeper than the sea, higher than the sky. When we can summon this form of bottomless affection, our caregiving easily shifts into joyfulness, even delight. Joseph Campbell says: “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”

Effective love is a more mundane, but an equally important form of love. It entails the caregiving work we do on a day-day basis. Primarily, it is a giving of ourselves to meet a need, rather than an expression of tenderness and devotion.  When we set-up appointments, drive our loved one to the doctor, buy groceries, cook, clean and administer medicine, we engage in effective love.  We certainly can feel affectionate toward our love one in our everyday caregiving activities. Task-centered caregiving has a narrower focus than affective love, though, as it enables us to get things done.

Some caregivers may feel guilty when they can’t constantly muster tender and compassionate feelings for their loved one. They want to cultivate joy on a 24/7 basis, but find the workload and myriad details of caregiving too exhausting. “I haven’t any energy left after I’ve finished my day.” Or they may say: “I’m doing everything I can for his comfort and care, but that’s about all I have left to give.” To offset any negative self-talk, you can simply think of caregiving as a loving presence and stay heart-centered. Then it’s possible to accomplish both: added measures of joy along with completing your caregiving duties.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Gifts of Caregiving, Part 2... Getting in Touch with Our Emotions

Hands-on caregivers—you who provide the day-in, day-out physical, financial, emotional and social functions that keep your loved one going—may rarely reflect on emotions, much less consider them gifts. For instance, we think of anger, fear, sadness and grief as dangerous, unwelcome guests in the daily flow of care. Instead, we silence ourselves, squelching our feelings, pushing away worries and fears, and vow to “get in control.” But, here’s why emotions are a special gift for caregivers.

Emotions are energy with a purpose, pure and simple. They carry information that’s vital to doing our best job as caregivers. Let’s look at the purpose of four red hot emotions caregivers often feel: anger, fear, sadness and grief.

Healthy anger is a protective device that restores our boundaries or creates new ones.  When you encounter medical or nursing home staff who treat you or your loved one disrespectfully, you can let them know they’ve crossed the line.  Injustices of all kinds deserve our attention. Anger warns us it’s time to act.

Free-flowing fear is a focusing, intuitive and action emotion.  Avoid the immobilizing fear of anxiety or the nonproductive worry state. Instead, when you experience an outpouring of fear, it tells you to slow down, test the waters, be cautious. This lifesaving energy is deeply invested in our security and our need for affection, as well as our power and control issues.  Paying close attention to fear can save your life and that of your loved one.

Sadness is the release and rejuvenation emotion. It’s the signal that something desperately needs releasing. It’s time to let go. It’s so easy to get stuck in our sadness as we watch our loved one decline. But this compounds our burden and contributes to feelings of despair—a no-no for caregivers. Instead, have a good cry, take in nature on a walk and count your blessings.

Grief is the immersion emotion. It arises when death occurs—whether an actual death or the death of profound attachments, ideas or relationships. Grief can make us feel inconsolable, but stay with it. Carla McLaren says that grief drops a person into the “river of all souls,” the deepest place we will ever be. Grief asks us to become quiet, so take that dive into the depths and restore yourself in the healing currents.

Embrace the gift of your emotions. Know that they serve your highest and best good.