Let me suggest that we now have created a new life stage: that of Care-giver. For centuries we have had people who took care of others; friends, parents, children, etc. However, given the explosion of longevity that has come about at the same time as rapid advances in medical technology and you have a recipe for what so many of us are doing. We live in the age of the long term care-giver. This new life stage comes with a variety of issues; many perceived as negative (stress, re-adjusment of schedules, financial issues and the like), while some may be unintended positive consequences.
I speak of opportunities for our generation to reconcile previous parent-child issues, to see in those quiet moments of care a re-evaluation of relationships and, perhaps, an appreciation for what our loved one’s life really has meant. There is a spiritual quid-pro-quo it seems, that often takes place within a family dynamic. Perhpas it arises in a quiet moment when you are helping a parent in and out of a car and you come to realize that this once strong and proud mom or dad is now frail and depending on you, a dependancy that often goes unexpressed. At those moments, often unexpected by the way, a sense of quiet evolves. There is a moment when you realize that this natural order of things is meant to be and that maybe, these moments are actually a gift that will allow a transitioning of the traditional parent-child roles. And yes, these moments are often fleeting and often previous roles re-appear. But, for that briefest of moments, we become aware that the “rules” are changing.
Part of that realization is that, as a result of the care we give, we change as well. Perhaps in ways we never thought would be possible. These new realities, I suggest, are moments of spiritual growth. We can learn from them, not only how to care for others, but, if we are careful, how to care for ourselves. I hope to explore some of these spiritual moments in future columns and invite your response,
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.MIn