Communicating Care — Know Your Choices

2016 January 27

I know, I know…care is perhaps most powerful and influential when experienced face-to-face. I’ve written about the secret language of caregivers and the important benefits of in-person care. Yet, the scope of our caregiving responsibilities requires us to think about the different ways we can care—like a painter who begins with primary colors, but then finds beauty and possibility from mixing different colors with a variety of media from oil to acrylic to water.

The depth and breadth of our caring cannot be reducible to one medium, so it’s important to better recognize how our care choices affect the types of care we give and receive . . .


In person-care allows the sharing of time and space in a particular moment with another. In-person care means we need not have to say anything—our presence alone is sufficient as it invites the use of our full body and self to communicate the deepest form of care through a shared glance, the touch of a hand, or the sacred comfort of complete silence near someone we love. At the same time, in-person care presumes we can share the same space at the same time, a luxury that many of us may not be able to enjoy because of geographical distance, work obligations, and family responsibilities. Unlike other forms of care, face-to-face care requires complete presence and attention, even when we (and our loved one) may not have the energy or capacity to bring our full selves and bodies into the spontaneity of the moment.

Phone-based care is remarkable in its capacity to allow us direct access into the inner world of the person we love. It is so easy to pick up the phone and immediately hear the unique tenor of your loved one’s voice while filtering out the rest of the world as you and your loved one hear and respond in real time to one another. At the same time, phone care requires both parties to verbally express their thoughts. Sometimes, however, the obligation to put our thoughts into words may be too much for us and our loved ones. The phone does not allow for the benefits of mere presence as we do not call to hear silence, rather we expect the person on the other end of the line to be able to fully participate—hear, interpret, follow, respond—even though this type of mental and communicative dexterity may not always be possible.

Texting allows us to remind our loved ones that we are thinking of them when we are not physically present. Texting a picture sometimes eases the burden of having to put into exact words what we are thinking and feeling. Unlike the phone, texting allows access without demands—we can remind another we care and our loved one can choose to respond in his or her own time. Work conflicts, time zone differences, morning/night person disparities, etc., can be overcome because a text can be examined and responded to in the flow of our loved one’s schedule, not ours. At the same time, texting requires both parties to have a smart phone, know how to use the texting feature, and feel comfortable communicating in quick and informal exchanges (an 🙂 emoji or quick phrase) rather than in complete and grammatically correct sentences.

Letters and email allow us to transcend the individual moment and purposefully share thoughts and experiences that we may not feel comfortable nor know how to express in face-to-face encounters. While writing letters or emails allows us to share what we most want to get across without the challenges of the physical moment—embarrassment, stuttering, interruptions, distractions—they are also the most time-consuming of communication choices and requires the most forethought. And yet, this very forethought may be the letter/email’s greatest appeal as the effort it requires demonstrates our care and what is written remains permanent in ways that allow us to revisit and remember for years after.

We are multi-dimensional, so why would we expect our care to be the sole property of any one medium? Care is so complex and dynamic that it calls us to use whatever care medium is necessary. Like an artist, we need not become constrained by any one medium. Our care should always be guided by using the tools best suited to create the appropriate shade and hue and coloring and texture needed for the particular person we care for, given our specific situation and relationship, amidst the constraints and opportunities of our unfolding lives.

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