Finding joy in caregiving

One of the cool things about bringing programs to our library is that I get to choose the topics and speakers, and I get to attend! I have learned so much over the last two years about squirrels, birds, writing, songwriting, democracy, art, travel, and much more.

Last week I had a new author in, John Eric Baugher, to talk about his book Contemplative Caregiving: Finding Healing, Compassion, and Spiritual Growth Through End-of-Life Care. Here are seven things I learned from John’s 25+ years of working in hospice that every end-of-life caregiver should know.

And honestly, I’m posting these today because they’re great advice for all of us no matter what we’re tasked with.

  1. The power of not knowing. When you or someone you know is sick, you want to know what’s wrong. You run tests. You wait to hear back from your doctor. There’s suffering in that waiting that pulls energy you can only sustain for so long. There is a freedom in letting go – in trusting that you’ll know when you know. Let curiosity win out over fear.
  2. We all have the power to be compassionate when someone is suffering. If you’re helping someone who is dying or suffering, you may not feel up to it. John guarantees that you can do it as long as you don’t feel that your task is to solve the problem. You’re not going to be able to measure what you’re doing this time. You just have to show up and be kind.
  3. “Be the mystic you were meant to be.” Helping out in a hospice situation naturally leads you to be mystical. Find time for reflection with meditation, prayer, or deep thinking so you can process what you’re going through.
  4. Accept the imperfection of the moment. Your care isn’t always going to be perfect. How can it be? Do your best and know that you’re in a very difficult spot. John calls this the “generosity of interpretation.” I love that.
  5. Grief is part of life. There’s no getting around grief. And there’s no “getting over it.” Instead, let grief transform you knowing there’s no “getting back to normal.”
  6. Connect with a sense of the lineage of compassion. People going back generation after generation have gone through this. We’re part of a much larger whole, just one drop of water in a deep, wide ocean. When Maya Angelou was in a difficult spot, she asked everyone who had ever been kind to her in this lifetime to be with her now. You are not alone. Bring others from your past with you to care giving.
  7. Be open to mystery. When you approach death with curiosity and a sense of wonder, you understand that it’s both universal and deeply personal.

I hope you find some words-of-wisdom from John that apply to any part of your life where you’re struggling.

FYI: John says that when most people hear about his hospice work, they think it’s noble – and bizarre. The world is a better place because people like John volunteer to do this difficult work. And find joy in it. Bizarre, right? In such a good way.

Happy end-of-May! Spring is running a little late in Maine this year, but we’re getting there!

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