By Jim Towey
At a time when it seems that “never is heard an encouraging word,” caregivers bring hope to the world. They remind us of the beauty of human life. Every day in America there are legions of caregivers who are “loving until it hurts, giving until it hurts,” as Mother Teresa exhorted. She once said, “A life not lived for others is not worth living,” and caregivers are living examples of this truth:
- Someone caring for his or her spouse who has wandered into the fog of Alzheimer’s disease and is seemingly no longer “there.”
- An aging parent of a Down’s Syndrome adult.
- Moms who juggle caring for their kids with meeting the needs of their infirm parents.
- Nurses working double shifts as vacancies go unfilled.
- Certified professionals in nursing homes caring for the bedridden and incapacitated.
- Day care workers shepherding little ones for little pay.
- Parents supporting their adult children suffering with mental health or substance abuse problems because few publicly funded programs are available to help.
- Workers at those programs.
- Foster parents, guardians ad litem, respite caregivers, grandmothers raising grandkids.
- Volunteers at pregnancy life centers who help poor or abandoned women choose life.
- Employees at homes for the developmentally disabled who bear backbreaking responsibilities that never relent and are seldom appreciated.
The list goes on and on.
Hidden throughout our land are people who respond with love and compassion to the needs of others. They bring out the best in America. They are too busy to toot their own horns. They seek no recognition. Their service is its own reward. Their lives are worth living, and they reveal to those dependent upon them that theirs are, too.
Administering kindness, affirming dignity
Caregivers can be spouses, parents, children, grandparents, foster parents, family friends, and faith-based volunteers. They are paid nothing. They not only meet the material needs of their charges for food, shelter, bathing, and clothing, but more important, they administer kindness, instill hope, affirm human dignity, and accompany the lonely, suffering, frightened, anxious, and those afraid of death or terrified by what lies ahead.
Caregivers don’t think of themselves as special, much less heroes. They do what is humanly possible, day in and day out, because they are human and what they do is possible – although at times seemingly impossible. In the presence of suffering and anguish, they do not flee – they accompany.
On our website and last week in our newsletter, Leslie Piet, a former Board member of Aging with Dignity, shared her experiences as a nurse-turned-patient as she faced the health challenges of Stage Four metastatic breast cancer that also traveled to the lung. A friend of mine recently echoed Leslie’s experience. She also is a nurse, and yet as a patient, she said, “I experienced being on the other ‘side’ as the patient. Much different world. Still anxiety producing and apprehensive. Even though you ‘know,’ you need that caring compassionate conversation with a provider, not a piece of paper. Hope is personal.”
The human touch vs. assisted suicide
No robot, no telemedicine conversation can substitute for a fellow human being looking you in the eye and holding your hand. When that is absent, arguments in favor of legalizing assisted suicide flourish. Already in America 10 states permit and facilitate suicide by a person. Seven more states are considering permitting it. The social engineering that is needed by these advocates to destigmatize suicide – remember, assisted suicide was universally considered a crime until recently – depends on the verbal engineering that precedes it. So the “s”-word is banished and the debate is framed as “medical aid in dying.” Assisted suicide by any other name is still suicide.
Unfortunately, the assisted suicide movement is now joined to the increased reliance in health care upon algorithms and artificial intelligence. Taken together, they represent a potent force, a movement, in favor of a less human, less humane world. Advocates for promoting suicide and euthanasia hold up worst case examples of people in intractable pain or suffering grave illness as a justification for changes in the law. In so doing, they wash their hands of responsibility for the positively inevitable consequences of their advocacy and these changes – the systematic denial of compassion and care to the poor, disabled and mentally ill.
In sharp contrast to these voices is the eloquence of America’s caregivers. They accompany the dying and disabled and assure them that their lives are gifts, not burdens. They bring hope to the hopeless because, after all, hope is personal.