There is no true care without self-care
As a carer, it is not only important to know how to truly care for someone else but also how to truly care for yourself. I have learned a lot about caring and self-care over the last few years having cared for a good friend who had cancer until she passed over at home, caring for 2 other friends during their end of life and living myself with breast cancer.
We might think that we are doing something good for ourselves by eating ‘good’ and maybe organic food, being strong and fit with a ‘hard’ body from exercising and working hard – as women often working too hard physically. But without having a loving, caring and deeply connected and appreciative relationship with ourselves and our bodies it is not worth much.
Do you have coffee and sugar to keep going and not rest when your body needs to? Do you have a lot of food, sweets or alcohol to avoid feeling? Often, we disregard our bodies and get our self-worth from what we are doing. That is not a good foundation for true care. For true care our ‘doing’ is second to our ‘being’, meaning the quality of the energy with which we are ‘doing’ something is more important than the doing itself.
We need to respect, regard and listen to our body, be more loving and gentle with ourselves and more accepting and understanding, so that we can do the same with other people.
As I read as a teenager in one of Erich Fromm’s books ‘you can’t truly love someone else if you don’t love yourself’. I feel you always need to start with yourself first – to care, to love, accept, understand, respect, regard – to be able to truly give all that to someone else. This will be a good foundation for looking after someone else, essential really, especially when caring for someone sick or in the process of passing over.
Who says people who can hardly move anymore and do anything with their body, cannot care anymore? My friend was bedridden for quite a while yet she looked after everybody in her unconditional loving way. She would talk to everybody and ask how they were especially when she felt they were not feeling good within themselves. She would listen and tell them her truth in her ever so gentle way. She would care for me being her carer by asking me to sit with her for a while when she felt that I was in such a ‘doing’ momentum that I wasn’t listening to my body and resting.
Having also been cared for several times as a cancer patient myself, in hospital as well as at home, I felt how unpleasant it can be to be looked after by someone who is in an energy of stress, exhaustion or disregard or sympathy around you when you feel very vulnerable and sensitive.
You can’t bring your own emotional baggage when caring for someone. Whatever might come up, you need to work on it outside of your caring role so that you can truly care.
To truly care for someone who is dying, it is also helpful to understand the process the body goes through when dying, although that can be quite different with each person and from my experience, it is not essential with the right professional support of palliative care nurses and doctors.
I had no previous experience or education about dying and had never been around a dying or dead person. Was I able to truly care for my friend? I don’t know but I know that energetically and intentionally I did my best and all I could to give true care.
I was very blessed to have had our friend, a palliative care specialist, be there whenever needed to deal with the medical side of it. She knew what was happening in the body and would advise on any necessary action.
Since my dying friend’s needs and conditions changed all the time, whatever was needed next came easily to me on the very practical level. I might have had a different opinion or idea than my friend about something but I always accepted and supported my dying friend’s wishes. It was her body and her choices to make regarding medication, food, drinks, who she saw and what happened to her body.
True care is nurturing, supporting and loving without the carer imposing their own ideas, needs, attachments or judgements. Some people might feel they are caring but they are actually smothering the patient and not honouring that the patient can still use some existing capabilities, and the patient might feel like a total in-valid = non valid person. It is good to let them do still anything they are able to and want to do.
True care is doing what is needed; maybe sometimes a little more if it is welcomed and asked for, but not treating the person like a baby totally incapable of anything.
So, I learned that true care and palliative care at home starts with yourself and then caring for someone else comes naturally. What is needed next comes to you and you can give all the support that is necessary for dignified and loving care until the end with the help of professional medical and palliative care staff.
This article was first published on the Joy of Ageing website.