We are all caregivers

Originally published in the Deseret News.

After my mother passed away, a friend inquired about her death. Without meaning to jar me he asked, “Are you an orphan now?” I was taken aback by the question. I’d never thought of it that way. Since my father had died several years earlier, I responded, “I suppose I am.”

I don’t like the term orphan. It suggests you are someone who has lost support, care and supervision. That’s not me. I am rich in family and friends. But I am always keenly aware of how my parents cared for me, the example they set for me and the influence they continue to have on my actions. My parents are still a very real part of my life.

On family holidays such as Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving, I don’t stop by my parents’ home anymore. But I do ride my bike to their gravesite every Memorial Day. It’s a ritual for me. I select a spring flower from my yard, wrap it in a wet paper towel to keep it fresh during the ride, write a short note of gratitude on a card and pedal my bike several miles to the cemetery. I want them to know I still feel and long for their loving presence and influence. I’m not an orphan; I’m deeply involved with my parents, just in a different way.

My parents were extraordinary caregivers to me and really anyone else. They knew how to love. They were the embodiment of the beautiful phrase: “We give, to get, to give again.”

Having lived half a century now, I’m cognizant of growing old and what some refer to as the “ravages of time.” My brother told me the 60s are far harder than the 50s and the 70s are harder still. I’m certain people in their 80s and 90s feel an even greater sense of need. As we age, we long for companionship and need caregivers.

President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush are great examples of this. The 41st president reportedly held his wife’s hand the entire day before she passed on. This was no surprise for those of us who followed their public life; they had an abiding affection for one another.

Sticking with former first ladies for a moment, Rosalynn Carter made caregiving a focus of her public life. While in the White House she made mental health a national priority. After leaving Washington she formed a university center focused on care for individuals living with chronic illness and disabilities, limitations related to aging and other health concerns.

Rosalynn Carter made a profound observation about caregiving that relates to all of us. She said:

“There are four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers; those who currently are caregivers; those who will be caregivers; and those who will need caregivers.”

In other words, the act of caring and receiving care impacts every season of life.

Each day, 10,000 people turn the age of 65 in this nation. Lovingness in all its forms — serving, sharing suffering, feeling empathy and concern for others — has never been more needed. As we journey through life, if we do it well, we receive care, learn how to care, give care and eventually accept care.

Mother Teresa said, “Do small things with great love.” I don’t think she’d mind if we edited that to say, “Do small and large things with great love. Just love.”

And then there is our own local male form of Mother Teresa, the beloved Lowell Bennion. He shared sage wisdom when he said, “Learn to like what doesn’t cost much … reading, conversation, music, climbing hills, the songs of birds. Keep your wants simple and ask, how can I help?”

Whether you are a college student, newly crowned mother, busy work-a-day father, senior or orphan like me, make the act of caregiving part of your life. Hold someone’s hand. Grant a listening ear to someone who is suffering. Minister to those in need.