Having a loved one who needs care can be filled with noisy, scary moments. Our loved one may scream or cry with pain, frustration, or confusion. They may use aggression to get their point across. Unfortunately, one mode of expression that may be lacking is their gratitude. How do we let go of our need for it?
The big payoff for many things in life is the appreciation we receive in return. We give up so much of ourselves as caregivers and the one thing that we desperately want is to be known by our loved one. If they could know how much we are giving of ourselves it would make the painful sacrifices easier.
Often in Autism, Alzheimers, and Palliative Care this recognition does not come. Our loved one may not be able to turn to us and pour out gratitude for our labor and sacrifice. Sometimes there is wailing or nonsense speak. Sometimes there is only silence.
The longing for our loved one’s approbation can set us up for depletion. How do we replenish our spirits without an occasional “thank you”, or a smile?
Silence is scary and foreign to many people. In our modern world its presence is almost extinct. There is usually noise and most often we create it.
Friends and family may shun our loved one for this very reason. It is too painful for them to be around someone who pays no attention to them, or who doesn’t recognize them any longer. Their reaction is based on how the quiet makes them feel. They are uncomfortable because they have no experience with silence.
Contemplative practices teach us to go deep into the quiet. We meet stillness and silence and work to stay with them in the present moment. Fear will come up. Note it and let it pass. Anger will well up too. Note it. Let it go. Do not judge any of the emotions that come up in the quiet. You are more than brave to go there at all.
You are in training on your mat, your cushion, your kneeler, in the woods. You are training in the silence and learning how to be with it. Your weapon may be your breath, tree pose, your Rosary, Mala beads, or hiking boots. Whatever modes of practice speak uniquely to you will become your arsenal. Your contemplative work is both respite and boot camp for the soldiering of caregiving.
When the quiet comes up in our caregiving we will be prepared for it through our practice. We can meet our loved one there with compassion. The quiet will seem less overwhelming because of the work we have done there. We are fortified and prepared. Our actions becomes less dependent on recognition when we are able to have them met by silence. They become sacred by the suffering we are trying to alleviate.
I use the word “trying” because often we cannot make the pain stop. Our loved one’s suffering continues despite our most valiant efforts. There might be a thank you trapped inside our loved ones body that doesn’t work. They may be screaming their “I love you” in silence. We may never know. In this sacred work of caregiving we must recognize and honor our intention. It matters that we stay with them, beside them in sounds of anguish and also in the silence.
It matters that we try.