The Myths of ‘Giving’ Care

2011 August 8

Care is one of the most revered social gifts that we can give others. To give care means to comfort another. To give someone peace of mind. A peace that allows someone to close his or her eyes and rest, knowing that when they awaken, they will not be alone. That they are loved. Considered. And worthy of sacrifice.

Although care is so precious and seemingly self-explanatory, most believe that care is so common that it merits no further explanation.  I disagree. Because care is so vital to our well being and the well being of those we love, it’s important we dispel harmful myths of care that might get in the way of our authentic and sustainable care.

  • Myth #1: Care means cure. Hospice understands how we often confuse these two issues that it’s very mission, “care, not cure” makes this important distinction. Care doesn’t necessarily mean someone will be cured. Care can restore a relationship, it can make someone feel better, it can bring you closer to another human being, it can inject purpose into everyday life, and it can even improve someone’s health. But to reduce care to a cure means that care is reduced to an outcome. Care is a commitment to another human being despite or in spite of what will happen. Care is a response to moments between people, not end results.
  • Myth #2: Care can be reduced to an act. Acts of care like going to the grocery store, mowing the lawn, and picking up much-needed medication can be easily observed by others.  But care can’t be reduced to acts of service. Care doesn’t cease once you take your loved one to a doctor or sit by their bedside for hours on end. Care is a way of being in the world that involves acts of service, but it begins way before the acts of service can be seen by others and lingers long after you get groceries or clean the house for your love done.  Deep care can’t be easily observed nor easily communicated to outsiders. It happens in the silent spaces between you and your loved one. It imprints itself on you. It changes you. It changes your relationship with your loved one. And it changes how you relate to others.
  • Myth #3: Care can be turned off. Care can’t be compartmentalized. You can’t go “do care” and then leave, like going to a gym to work out. It follows you home. It stays with you all day. And it may even keep you up all night.  When you get close enough to another to truly care, you will see things others are unable or unwilling to see. You will be close enough to hear the needs of your loved one that others may refuse to hear. You may find yourself exhausted morning and night, unable to point to a specific reason why you aren’t acting “like yourself.”  Care stays with you as you drive to the airport after a visit with your loved one, it is next to you as you think about your loved one when you are thousands of miles away, and yes, it goes with you to work as you paste on your smile to others at work when someone asks, “how are you?”
  • Myth #4: Care can accomplish anything. This part of care is almost never discussed. But those who truly care for another feel the boundaries of their care in profound ways that most others don’t. When you hang up the phone, thousands of miles removed from a loved one, you feel more helpless and alone than before you called. When you intimately care for another, you too, feel pain and suffering. Not physical suffering as much as the suffering that comes from knowing that you can’t necessarily do anything to make it all better. You can’t necessarily make another’s pain disappear. You can’t necessarily make another’s sadness evaporate. And you can’t necessarily make everything like it used to be. Yet, despite these limits, you know that authentic care happens when you focus on what happens between you and your loved one, especially when everyone else in the world seems not to be paying attention. That’s care.
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