How Caregiving Brings out Your Best Self

We were really moved by this video segment from the PBS Newshour where Tracy Grant, Managing Editor of the Washington Post, describes how caregiving for her husband made her a better person.  Before his diagnosis with terminal cancer, she and her husband were busy leading their lives and caring for their sons.  After he became ill, she realized, “nothing would matter more than this.” 

Eventually, as Tracy says, “I could train myself to perceive more beauty than bother.”  She has some distance and perspective as her husband passed away more than a decade ago.

She says her experience made her more compassionate, and it made her a better mother, friend, and colleague.  As Bill’s health declined, she was able to stay focused on the essence of their relationship. Her kindness and love is truly a model for making your loved one’s last days count. 

Looking back on my personal experiences with caregiving for my mother and father, it’s often little things that can make a big difference.  For my Dad, it was stopping at the McDonald’s drive thru for a regular cheeseburger or two to take to him in the nursing home.  He loved that simple treat, and he loved that he could eat it without putting his teeth in!

After Mom had her stroke at 89, we were able to give her hospice care at home, as I detailed in this post.  When the aides came to bathe her, I would often warm the towels in the dryer because she enjoyed the feeling of the warm towels.

Years later, I had an aha moment:  I probably thought of warming the towels for Mom because she had done it for me when I was a child. 

This is small stuff, but they’re fond memories.  Like Tracy, I remember these moments as some of the most important details of my parents’ care.  Be compassionate.  Do your best to make your loved one’s final days warm and loving and fun.

Sometimes it’s difficult to believe that caregiving can bring out your best self. When you’re exhausted by your own emotions, it’s easy to get cranky.    There is always more on the to-do list, like that stack of confusing hospital and doctor bills to tackle.  I certainly felt that way sometimes.  But what comes back to me now, and gladdens my heart, are the memories of the small kindnesses I was able to give. 

They made a difference.  To me and to my parents.  Because I was able to be my best self, or at least my better and more compassionate self.  The memories are alive today, long after the caregiving has ended.  I feel blessed, like Tracy, who says, “I am a better person for having been Bill’s caregiver.  It was his last, best gift to me.” 

Read Tracy’s story in the Washington Post here:

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