The Caregiver's Promise
As you act on the sacred promises you have made to care for others, remember the Caregiver's Promise.
Promise to remember that you have a life of your own. Being a caregiver is one part of that life, but it's not the entirety of your life. Mother Teresa you are not: Promise to remember that you are simply an ordinary human being, although you may spend your days and nights doing extraordinary things.
Promise to remember that taking care of yourself is not the same as being selfish. That you won't somehow be struck down if you go out and buy yourself something pretty and special. Even if no one notices but you, promise yourself you will notice.
Promise to take yourself to a movie now and then, if you can stay awake long enough to watch it. And when you can't, promise to take a nap or sleep an extra hour. And when you're so weary that the thought of taking a nap is outside your comprehension, promise that you will pick up the phone and ask someone for help. When they agree, promise not to beat yourself up for accepting their offer.
Promise to find some time for yourself each and every day, and hold that time sacred. For walking in the woods. For swimming. For sewing. For prayer. For having lunch with a friend who loves you. For whatever deeply nourishes you, regardless of what anyone thinks. Promise, Oh, Promise! not to let guilt or shame invade that time. Promise to laugh, especially when it seems there's absolutely nothing to laugh about. Promise, too, to let yourself cry long and hard and loud if you need to. When anger and resentment rear their heads, promise to let yourself feel the feelings, and then find safe ways to channel the powerful energy they contain.
Promise to remember that no task is insignificant. The shared smile, the washcloth on the chin, the bedtime story, the games of checkers or peek-a-boo, the simple touch, the sitting in silence. Each is a priceless treasure, as is each and every human being.
Let this be your promise to yourself: to choose love over fear, compassion over judgment, empathy over self-righteousness. Remember that to give is to live, and give first to yourself so that you can then freely give to others.
Even though you may be surrounded by illness or struggle or death, promise not to forget that you are still very much alive. When you look at your weary face in the mirror, promise to remember that before you were a caregiver, you were an interesting and attractive woman. Promise not to forget that you still are.
Promise to remember what truly matters. Promise that no matter how much you give and how frustrated you may sometimes feel, that you will remember that you, too, are receiving something glorious in return. Promise to let yourself receive, and to be grateful.
Promise to remember that life is a never-ending circle, and that sometimes we are the caring and sometimes we are the cared-for. Last but not least, promise that someday, when you need a caregiver, you will do everything in your power to find someone at least half as caring as you.
(The Caregiver's Promise originally appeared in The Women's Times, January 1999.)