The man was 70 or so.
He and his wife lived
in a modern home
overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
She was bedfast, dying of cancer.
He and I spoke as a hospice nurse made her visit.
I learned he provided
around-the-clock care for his wife,
without any family nearby,
with only limited support from others.
As we talked, I validated all he was doing in this tiring role,
a role that had begun a year before.
“Oh, I’m not a real caregiver,” he said.
“I’m just an amateur.”

Whether or not these exact words are used,
many, maybe most, family caregivers feel as if
we’re hardly more than amateurs.
“I have no training for this work,” we may say,
“so I’m not truly qualified to be considered a real caregiver.”
Our feelings may be strengthened
when someone with a specialized degree sends us this message,
perhaps even unintentionally:
“I am a professional caregiver,
therefore I am the one in the know.”
I believe it’s worth reminding family and volunteer caregivers
what the word “amateur” has always stood for.
It’s made up of two Latin words that mean “one who loves.”
Caregivers like us are those who do this work not for pay but for love.
We amateurs often invest a larger portion of our days in this work
than do those who are regarded as the professionals—
evenings as well as daytimes,
weekends and holidays without fail.
Our immersion in what we do enables us to see and hear
what those who are less immersed in our own situation may not.
Consequently, we can gain an understanding of the one in our care
that these others may lack the opportunity to gain.
And, of course, we bring a strong emotional connection,
deeper even that those truly committed professionals,
that is at the center of all true caregiving,
as well as at the center of all true healing.

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