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.

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