CareGiver Guide

You can't care for another until you care for yourself…first!

Having: Compassion – Day 6

As Care Givers, our focus is on getting the job done. We believe that doing the tasks of care giving is what counts most.

From my experience and research, I have to come to know that having compassion is more important than what we are doing.

Having compassion is the essential energy of care giving.
The root of the word ‘Compassion’ is a Latin verb that means ‘to suffer with.’ The definition is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”

Paradoxically, learning compassion begins with ‘being friendly towards yourself.’ The Zen Buddhist term for being friendly towards your self is ‘maitri.’ If we are not friendly toward ourselves, if we  don’t love ourselves, how we can begin to love and then care for another?

When we begin caring for another before we have learned compassion, our actions will come from a place of obligation, duty, and even guilt. It will be difficult to sustain care giving over a long period of time without compassion. For we will be attempting to give what we ourselves don’t have.

Performing the tasks of care giving without first having compassion leads to burn-out. Burn out is the feeling that I can no longer do another thing for the person I am caring for.

Learning to have compassion is the necessary first step of becoming a Care Giver.

Doing Without An Agenda – Day 5

As a Care Giver, your role is to serve the person you are caring for (the CaredFor). You are there for that person. You are not there to accomplish a goal that is on your agenda.

For example, if you only have one day available to take the CaredFor to see the doctor, and there is more than one doctor to see, you might think it’s a good idea to schedule appointments to see both doctors on the same day. It appears to be a good use of your time.

But would that be too much of strain on the CaredFor to have to spend a whole day in waiting rooms and being probed by doctors?

This might be an obvious case of fitting care giving into your own agenda. Yet, there are other more subtle ways we deliver care which are really done to meet our agenda rather than the needs of the CaredFor.

The pace at which we prepare and eat a meal with the CaredFor is a good example. We may not realize it, but we may be rushing through meal times in order to get to other tasks we want to accomplish that day. While the pace may not seemed rushed to us, it may be for the CaredFor.

As Care Givers, we have  to watch whether we are approaching our care giving tasks with our own agenda in mind or are we in tune with the needs of the CaredFor.

Doing: Letting Go of Results – Day 4

The struggle I experienced during the time I was caring for my mother came from feeling that I wasn’t sure I was doing the right things, or that I wasn’t doing enough, or that I didn’t know what to do. The combination of these feelings made it difficult for me to just be with my mother.

Had I been willing to let go of wanting a specific result (wanting her to get better), I would have been more at ease caring for my mother.

Toward the end of our time together, I did finally let go of wanting her to get better. I moved toward making memories, not misery. In other words, I shifted my attention to what would be fun for us to do together rather than what would ‘fix’ the situation.

Developing an attitude of letting go of expected results will lighten the load of being a care giver.

The relationship of being, doing, and having: Day 3

As Care Givers we do things for the person we are caring for with the expectation that our actions will make a difference. Usually we are not conscious of the expectation we have for what we are doing. Yet, this expectation shapes what we do.

Before taking action, before ‘doing’, we need to be aware of who we are ‘being’ as a Care Giver. Are we being a healer? Are we being a servant? Are we being a manager? Are we being a companion? Are we being a friend?

For example, if we are being a Care Giver as a healer, there is an expectation that what we do will result in healing the person we are caring for. If we are being a manager, there is an expectation that what we do will control the environment.

How we are being as a Care Giver colors how we do the tasks of care giving. How we are being can cause us to have an attachment to the results of what we do. We do what we do to in order to change something.

The attitudes we have which we bring to care giving also shape how we do what we are doing. If we have an attitude of compassion, we can ‘suffer with’ ( the literal meaning of compassion) the person we are caring for. If we have an attitude of impatience, we will find it difficult to take the time necessary to complete the tasks of care giving.

As Care Givers, how we are being and the attitudes we have, will determine how we do the tasks of care giving.

Thus, it is important for Care Givers to become conscious of how they are ‘being’ and the attitudes they are ‘having’ as they go about ‘doing’ the tasks of care giving.

The spiritual approach is practical: day 2.

Yesterday, I announced the book I am writing: “The Spirituality of Care Giving: A Practical Guide for a Care Giver. I promised that over the next 90 days, I would explore in this blog what I mean by “the spirituality of care giving.” Today, Day 2, I am going to expand upon why the spiritual approach is practical.

Anyone who is or has been a Care Giver knows there are a lot of things “to do.” Reflecting on my own experience as a Care Giver, I remembered the times there were tasks I didn’t know how to do or I didn’t want to do. There were tasks I did do that I did with an ‘attitude.’ I performed those tasks with different attitudes ranging from feeling obligated to feeling excitement.

If we center our approach to care giving around ‘doing,’ at some point we’ll reach a state of burn out. Burn out is the point we reach when we feel like we can’t do another thing for the person we are caring for.

I believe that to be a competent care giver we have to know who we are being as a care giver and the attitudes we have as we go about doing the tasks of care giving. Without understanding the ‘being’ and ‘having’ aspects of care giving, it will be difficult to execute the ‘doing’ of care giving without eventually burning out.

It is understanding the relationship among the ‘being’ , ‘doing, and ‘having’ of care giving that I call the “spirituality of care giving.” Without this understanding, the practical work of care giving will remain a problem without a solution.

The Spirituality of Care Giving: A Practical Guide for Care Givers

What comes to mind when hear the word ‘spirituality’?

Ceremonies and rituals? Theological and theoretical discussions about whether or not there is a God? Someone saying “I’m spiritual, not religious?”

Relax. The “Spirituality of Care Giving” is not about any of the above. It is the title of a book I am writing that I intend as a practical guide for Care Givers. You probably don’t connect being spiritual with being practical.  The book will show how practical the spirituality of care giving can be.

Spirituality recognizes that human beings are more than a body and a mind (the activity of the brain). That something more is our spirit. “The Spirituality of CareGiving” will show how that ‘something more’ is essential for being a care giver.

You don’t have to believe this as you might believe some spiritual dogma. My experience caring for my mother as she dealt with of terminal liver disease, my interaction with patients as a hospice volunteer, and my work as a home care worker have shown me the practical value of the spiritual dimension of care giving.

I contend that learning the spirituality of care giving will reduce the stress level typically experienced by care givers.

Over the next 90 days, I will be unfolding “the spirituality of care giving.”  Stay tuned.

P.S. Over these same 90 days, I am committing to putting these thoughts into a book The Spirituality of Care Giving: A Practical Guide for Care Givers.

Another way to care for yourself

My tag line for this blog is that “You can’t take care of another until you take care of yourself…first!” The truism is that you can’t give what you don’t have.

How do you take care of yourself? The obvious ways are making sure you eat and sleep well. Add in regular exercise and meditation and you have covered a lot what is recognized as “taking care of yourself.”

There is another aspect of caring for yourself that I highly recommend to CareGivers: achieving success. Now, you may be saying to yourself, I’m a CareGiver. I have enough on my plate already. When do I have time to become successful? Besides, wouldn’t that be taking my focus away from care giving? Yes. And that is exactly the point. To reduce the stress of being a CareGiver, learning the balance between placing attention on the person you are caring for and yourself, is critical. You need time for yourself so you don’t begin to feel that all that there to life is a caring for your loved one.

Let’s take a look at success. One definition of success is the progressive realization of a stated goal. Define a goal, and do a little each day to move toward completing that goal. That’s success. It’s not necessarily about becoming financially independent or finding your soul mate. You can achieve success doing something as simple as planting basil seeds in a pot that you place on your window sill and nurturing it until it produces leaves big enough to spice your food.  You can define success as finally finishing reading that novel that’s been on your shelf for the past year.

Why is achieving success doing something simple essential to reducing the stress of being a CareGiver? Because it allows you to experience seeing the results of your actions in a task which has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Care giving is an open ended task that expands over time. While there is a beginning to care giving,  it difficult to know where’s the middle or when the end will  come. That lack of control over the process and uncertainty of the time frame are two factors that contribute to the stress of being a care giver.

When you can give yourself the gift of becoming successful doing something simple, you can draw on that experience for comfort when you face the chaotic, open-ended world of care giving.

The Flickering Flame & The Winter Solistice

Today is the Winter Solstice. In the northern hemisphere where we are, it is the day with the least amount of sunlight. The days grow longer from now until the Summer Solstice in June.

Early this morning I had an empowering experience involving light as I meditated. Normally, I just sit in a darkened room as I meditate. For the past days, I’ve kept my eyes open and fixed on the flame of a small votive candle. Lighting candles each day in this season leading up to Christmas is a tradition I decided to follow this year.

As I sat to meditate, I noticed the wax and wick in the votive candle were low. I wasn’t sure the flame could last through the entire meditation period.

I lit the candle anyway. Soon the flame was barely a flicker. I thought if I removed some of the melted wax, the flame might get a bit bigger as it did when I did this the day before. Then, I recalled that my meditation practice advises that once the period starts, neither move nor hold onto any thought. So, I let the candle alone. I just observed. I let go of desiring an outcome (having the flame last the entire session) or of doing something to extend the life of the candle. I let it be.

The flame continued to flicker faintly. At one point, the flame was so faint, I wasn’t sure it was still alive. Then, it did go out.  After it went out, my judgmental mind awoke and said, “See, the candle didn’t last.” No sooner had that thought entered my mind, when the bell to end the meditation session had rung. Without my doing anything, the flame had lasted.

What I experienced reminded me of what it was like to sit in the hospice room when my mother was in coma the day before she died. I so much wanted to do something to change what I knew was coming. Listening to her struggle to breathe was like watching the flame faintly flickering.

Unlike with my experience with the candle during meditation, I was not there when my mother drew her last breath. Unlike my experience with the candle, I did wish I could do something, I just didn’t know what. I struggled just to be there despite attempts to read, pray and meditate. Nothing I did made it any easier to be with her. Finally, having finished the book I was reading, I got up and left.

Now, all these years later, observing the candle has taught me a lesson of how to sit with someone who is dying. Be a compassionate presence. Let go and let it be. Suspend the desire to do — anything.

Enjoy the light as each day grows longer!

You can’t care for another until take care of yourself…first!

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13.

As CareGivers, we indeed lay down our lives for a loved one or friend, the CaredFor. Whether we do so out of choice or obligation or guilt, we lay aside  major concerns of our own lives –  family, career, retirement, security – in order to care for another.

CareGivers then also lay aside another major concern: caring for themselves. Using some form of  a logic that defies common sense, the CareGiver believes that taking care of the CaredFor is a ‘prime directive’ to be accomplished at all costs. Slowly this translates into it’s OK not to care for myself as long as I am using my energy to care for the CaredFor.

What CareGivers fail to recognize is that you can’t give what you don’t have. If you are not well, how can you care well for another?

A recent study on teaching math showed that math teachers who were uncomfortable with math transferred that feeling to their students. Those students developed an aversion to math.

Similarly, if a CareGiver is uncomfortable with their role in taking care of another, it will transfer to the person they are caring for.

What I have learned in taking care of my mother and as a hospice volunteer is that I need to empty myself of any expectations before interacting as a care giver. Part of caring for myself is to become aware of my unexamined beliefs I hold about caring for another.

Am I aware that my attitudes affect how I do the tasks of care taking?

Am I aware that I expect my actions to produce an immediate result in the healing of the CaredFor? Is it any wonder then that I feel disappointed when I don’t see any immediate changes?

Am I aware that being present to the CaredFor, without expectations,  without an agenda, is the best gift I can give?

I have been told that listening to someone in way which allows that person to know they have been heard is the greatest gift one person can give to another.

CareGivers, it is selfish not to care for yourself first! When you don’t care for yourself first, eventually the care giving becomes about you as you attempt to give what you don’t have. When you are cared for, you can freely give. You can move attention away from yourself to focus on the CaredFor.

Peace & Joy



“Miracles happen in the space of forgiveness.”

In a workshop I attended over 25 years, I heard the words, “Miracles happen in the space of forgiveness.” This morning I shared that thought with a friend.  Based on what he had shared with me about his childhood and how his life was going now,  it seemed to me that there was something incomplete in his relationship with his father. I suggested he should have a conversation with his father during which he consider forgiving his father for what had happened.

My friend called me this afternoon after having  that conversation.  He told me he had some good news. After struggling for several weeks to resolve a problem, suddenly a piece of the solution showed up. From his point of view, it was a miracle.

As CareGivers, we see ourselves in a continuous struggle to provide the best care for the person we are caring for, the CaredFor.  At times, we feel as though we are losing that struggle. We become overwhelmed doing the day-to-day tasks of care giving. Often this leads to our becoming angry at having to be a care giver, angry at the disease that is wrecking the health of the CaredFor, and maybe becoming angry with the CaredFor.

At this point it would be wise to enter the ‘space of forgiveness.’ Who are we to forgive?

First, ourselves. Then, others. Forgiveness starts with ourselves.

What are we to forgive? Whatever in us that is causing to become angry. The anger starts to surface because we may be expecting more of ourselves than is realistic.  The anger starts to surface because we want to blame someone or something for the pain and suffering we are experiencing . The anger starts to surface because we feel the whole situation is unfair.

At this point –in the now — we can stop to look at our anger. We can forgive ourselves for not living up to our unrealistic expectations. We can forgive ourselves for wanting to strike out and blame someone. We can forgive ourselves for wanting it to be fair.

In other words, we are moving from wanting the world to be the way it is not and moving toward accepting what is going on now just the way it is. We are moving into the ‘space of forgiveness.’

It is here where we become open to miracles happening in our lives.


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