Tentative

Karen Karbo has written
The Stuff of Life:
A Daughter’s Memoir.
It’s about how she responded
when cancer begins to claim
her widowed father’s life.
She makes it clear right from the start:
she is not suited for the caregiver role
she’s been called upon to play.
“I have little patience,” she writes,
“for the necessary routines of caregiving.
I trust doctors as much
as I trust mechanics,
and I am a barf-o-phobe to boot.”
She readily confesses all this and more,
and still she writes,
“Even though I don’t know anyone
less temperamentally suited to play nurse than me,
I vow to be there for Dad.”
As I reached the last page of her book,
which is filled with honesty, poignancy, and humor,
I said to myself,
“Though it was a struggle for her,
though her caregiving skills were limited,
still, she kept her vow.”
She was there for her dad.

Some of us are not constitutionally equipped
to be caregivers.
For whatever reasons, for some of us the caregiving role
does not drape very well across our shoulders.
Where others naturally step forward,
some of us naturally shrink back.
Where others seem to know exactly
what to say and do without even thinking,
some of us feel at a complete loss.
What are the words we’re supposed to use?
What is it we’re supposed to do?
How are we supposed to act?
We may understand why we’re this way,
or we may not have a clue,
but either way the reality remains unchanged:
someone we know needs care,
whatever our predispositions.
If that’s the way we’re made,
then in our own ways,
and as our abilities allow,
we’re called to do what Karen Karbo did:
to make a vow to be there.
A vow not to hide, or walk away.
A vow not to think only of our own discomfort,
as great as it may be.
For those of us who are not natural caregivers,
we may look upon these struggling efforts
as much less than our most shining moments.
Yet these efforts of ours can shine in their own way,
certainly for the one who needs care,
and perhaps even for the one who offers it,
however tentatively, however awkwardly.
Indeed, that very awkwardness may communicate
the depth of our intention
better than anything else.

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