The Tao Te Ching: Verse Sixty-Six

Rivers and oceans can be the kings of a hundred valleys
Because of their goodness in staying low
So they can be the kings of a hundred valleys
Thus if sages wish to be over people
They must speak humbly to them
If they wish to be in front of people
They must place themselves behind them
Thus the sages are positioned above
But the people do not feel burdened
They are positioned in front
But the people do not feel harmed
Thus the world is glad to push them forward without resentment
Because they do not contend
So the world cannot contend with them

                                                                                  Lao Tzu

It is not uncommon for family caregivers to find themselves forced into in a take charge role with little or no warning. This unexpected responsibility usually comes on the heels of a crisis. As a professional caregiver, I am always relieved to see a family member step up and be present for my patient. It takes a lot to be the go-to-person, to advocate, to find time, and rearrange your life. So many of my patients literally have no one or have no one who is willing to be that generous and compassionate. Being a good family caregiver is very much like being a good leader and while the words of Lao Tzu in this sixty-sixth verse of the Tao were intended to be contemplated by those in a formal leadership role; I believe that they have profound value for family caregivers as well. Those led should not feel burdened by the one leading.

So often I speak to a family caregiver who is in the primary caregiver role and listen as they explain how they manage. I ask how they are personally doing and I hear rhetorical answers such as, I just do it, It all works out, I’m fine, It’s not that I don’t want help, the help just isn’t there, If I don’t do it, it won’t get done, yes I have family but really it is just me and so on. In many, far too many instances this is indeed the reality of the situation. However, in many other cases, this sense of isolation is a perception that is not necessarily true; or perhaps more to the point, there is an underlying need for it to be the truth. How can one know the difference? The difference is measured in the caregiver’s willingness to accept help, delegate responsibility and share the care.

Family dynamics can be a thick veneer to strip away. The layers are sticky and seem to go on forever. It is painful to watch as members faceoff. One essentially says, you can’t do what I do and the response that follows is, but you won’t let me do anything. This is where the Leadership, as outline in the words of the Tao, needs to come in. My next words may sound harsh but they are offered with concern and respect.

The primary caregiver needs to take some quiet time to soul search their motivation for stepping into this role. They must be self-aware enough to see through the need to advocate and their own personal need for control or perhaps distraction from their own issues. They need to be respectful of their troops, team or in this case family. Not everyone possesses the same knowledge base or skill set but everyone can learn. Not everyone can do hands-on care but that does not mean that cannot contribute in a manner that is no less important. Leaders do not get caught up in the how (the process) but in the results (the outcome). The caregiving process can be an opportunity to foster/anchor relationships. It does not need to be the fuel that turns family ties into ashes.

Care-leaders find a way for everyone to contribute without being judgmental of that contribution but grateful for that expression of caring. Care-leaders accept people where they are at, support them as they try, empower others and never, ever let themselves become so fatigued that they confuse caring with fixing and allow resentment to set in. Thus the world is glad to push them forward (be grateful for their leadership) without resentment.

Share the Care:

How to Organize a Group to Share the Care of Someone Who is Seriously Ill

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