Typical short-term promises include: “I’ll call you right back,” or “I’ll give you an answer tomorrow,” or “I’ll send it right in,” or “I’ll drop off it off by Thursday,” or . . .
It’s easy to feel annoyed when someone we’ve promised to help reminds us of the project we’ve not completed — or have not completed well.
But wait!.The someone suffers a double whammy. Help hasn’t come and now he or she, by pointing that out, risks the scourge of our ill-will.
Here’s a nightmare many are living: You are suddenly and completely dependent on a caregiver who is too busy to care for you well — or who simply doesn’t like you.
Visualize yourself practicing what to say to that person, both to get the result you’re looking for and to protect yourself from the ill-will. A lot of thinking, most likely — and much gut-wrenching fear.
Yet you don’t give up. Still, you yearn.
What you’re waiting for your caregiver to accomplish on your behalf — as inconsequential as that accomplishment might seem to him or her or to many — would soothe and nourish you in your newly beleaguered state, beyond anyone’s ability to imagine.
Picture this . . .
You are eighty-seven and live alone. Once you were a teacher. You happily served your community. Now you feel your life shrinking.
Your husband died recently following a long illness which exhausted your savings. Your daughter lives in California. She calls once in awhile but is mainly concerned with her own life. Your beloved cat is your only company and friend.
You don’t need social services. You drive yourself everywhere and enjoy the outdoors. You volunteer. You read.
Then eye troubles slow you down — first at night, now nearly all the time. You can’t easily research online anymore or even send emails.
A neighbor drives you to the market in your own car. And she uses your car to drive you to appointments. When she’s late you miss seeing your doctor, usually an appointment you’ve been waiting for, for weeks. Or maybe at the last minute, your doctor reschedules your appointment to a time when your neighbor isn’t available.
On your behalf, your neighbor contacts the doctor’s office to resolve the scheduling conflict. But something in her voice tells you she won’t be happy doing that forever, or even sometimes.
Yesterday on the way home from the market, your car broke down. You don’t have money to fix it. (You barely had money for food.)Your neighbor phoned a garage to get your car towed. She called her son to pick her up and drive you home. You don’t know when or how you’ll see your car again.
When your daughter returns to California from a vacation, she promises she’ll send you money. You’re not sure she’ll do that. With every fiber of your being, you try not to think badly of her, or to feel sorry for yourself.
It’s harder to recognize voices on the phone or make out what someone’s saying — your hearing aid’s not working well.
You feel silly when you ask callers to repeat themselves. You even feel silly asking friends to do that — they are old, too, and far from you. Your only contact is by phone.
Whoever calls, you worry they won’t call again. Even a wrong number sustains you.
Out of the blue, and at last, a social worker phones to tell you your daughter’s been in touch with her. The social worker speaks slowly and clearly. You’re relieved, nearly to tears, to be able to understand her.
Step-by-step, week-by-week, the social worker sees to your concerns. She even sees to your car.
Now you have food. You have an appointment with an eye doctor — and a hearing-aid specialist. You’ve been promised rides to their offices.
In large print on a sheet of paper you’ve tacked to your bulletin board, you’ve printed the name and number of another neighbor you can call in an emergency. The neighbor is not strong, physically, but willing to help when he can.
Every time the social worker visits, you talk too much — you’re that lonely. Each time she leaves, though she promises she’ll check in often, you’re frightened but you say you’re fine. You don’t want her thinking you’re too demanding, and stay away.
Each time she drives off, you begin marking time until she visits again and wonder if she will visit again. (She could get sick. She could take a new job in a fancy hospital. She could get tired of your old stories and all your needs.)
Truth is, there’s even more that frightens you.
- What if your new neighbor helper is busy the day your cat needs to go to the vet?
- What if he forgets to pick up her cat food, even though he’s promised to — since your husband died, your cat counts on you for everything.
- What if there’s a storm and the power goes out and you can’t cook or stay warm? What if food spoils you can’t afford to replace? — What if there’s no water?
- What if your overhead kitchen light goes out — the light’s flickering — and you cut yourself slicing carrots? .
- What if you can’t get out of your apartment in winter? Sometimes snow piles up outside both doors, and freezes.
- What if you can’t make it to your yard this summer? You’re more unsteady on your feet and can’t manage the steps. Weeks ago, the manager of your apartment building promised to install a railing, but hasn’t done that.
Each day, you eat a bit, watch and listen to the television best you can, cook a little and clean a little, sleep a lot . . . and wait.
We are thoughtful when we call folks who are waiting for us — especially vulnerable folks — to let them know we’ve been delayed. We’re even more thoughtful to call them the night before we’re scheduled to see them or to do something for them so they won’t be afraid we’ve forgotten them.
If we must move to a new city or town, the smallest consideration — a phone-call, a visit, a card, a promise to keep in touch — combined with a genuine desire to ease a person we’ve been caring for regularly, helps that person feel less like a toy we’ve grown tired of and more like someone we’ll be pleased to remember.
For you or for me, a change of plans might mean our having to juggle our day. To those whose lives turn on our presence, a change of plans — an absence — means more. Someone we care for may be only a minor part of our world. We, on the other hand, might be that person’s shining star.
This post was inspired by a section from my book, Caring In Remembered Ways: The Fruit of Seeing Deeply.
Caring In Remembered Ways and my website celebrate compassion as a way of life, as do I, every day.
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