Diving into the Compassion of Caregiving


Sometimes in the caregiving for our elderly parents, we can get bogged down in the details and forget the essence of what caring for another is all compassion, caregivingabout. I know I do. My Outlook calendar often looks like this: Tuesday- Mom’s knee doctor; Thursday: mom’s heart doctor and breakfast with mom and her friends; Sunday Mass, lunch, movie. Then I fill in. Friday: make dinners to freeze for Sunday. Monday: Check out those alarm systems for seniors. In all the planning and orchestrating my life at home with two teens and my life and the rushing to get to my mom, I sometimes lose sight of the most important factor that should be driving my mission: compassion.

Yesterday, I had a gentle reminder. I was honored to be invited to a picnic sponsored by a non-profit group called Diveheart that helps veterans, children and adults with disabilities build confidence and independence through the adventure of scuba diving. For a moment, they forget their limitations and are liberated with fun. “Scuba is just a tool that we hope helps create a paradigm shift in their lives so that they can focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t do,” says founder Jim Elliott.

What they can do, instead of what they can’t is definitely part of the mission I want to carry into helping my own aging mother. But, beyond that, what I witnessed yesterday spoke profoundly about the true meaning of compassion and caring for another.

One of the first time divers was Ericka, a 45-year-old blind and deaf single mom of three who was being guided by her boyfriend Rick Olson, a 58-year-old Vietnam vet who lost his sight in mid-life and who is the president of The Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Edward Hines Jr. V.A. Hospital in Hines, IL. He was hand-signing with her, while the team of three scuba instructors flanked her side and communicated with her via Rick’s instructions through a transmitter embedded in their facemasks.

Courage. Trust. Caring. Fear (my own more than anyone else’s). Those were just some of the words and feelings I had watching this wet-suit clad team navigate en masse into the water and begin their instruction. But what jumped out most was compassion, the compassion and caring not only from her boyfriend who held her hands as he signed each new instruction to her, but also of the entire team.

It was exhilarating and inspiring to witness as Ericka and her team emerged triumphant from the depths of the quarry. But more importantly, the experience reminded me that the depths of my caring for my father in his last years, and now my mom, needs to come from a deep place in me. It’s not so much about checking off a to-do list. It is about diving deep into a well inside of me and emerging with the compassion to care, even on days when I have to dredge the bottom of my heart to surface it.

I will carry the image of Ericka and Rick and their team, and this quote with me as my new guide for the journey of caregiving ahead: “Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.” – Frederick Buechner.

Do you have an experience that helped remind you about what the essence of caregiving for our elderly parents is all about? Please share with a comment here.

--Mary Beth Sammons