Good Life

Novelist Helen Schulman’s father
required significant caregiving
for the ten years
before he died.
He had many acute illnesses,
ending up nearly paralyzed.
It was very hard on everyone involved.
In the first chapter of a new anthology,
An Uncertain Inheritance:
Writers on Caring for Family,
Ms. Schulman tells of her brother asking,
as he ended a visit to their father,
“What can I do for you, Dad?”
The old man, a former physician,
bedfast and terribly uncomfortable, said,
“Have a good life.”

What a remarkable response!
What can I do for you, Dad?
How can I help you, Mom?
What will assist, my Dear One so ill?
And the words come back to us,
“This is what will help me:
please have a good life.”
That’s not what we expect to hear,
yet it’s such a freeing reply.
“It will do me good to know
that you’re making sure your life
is going just as well as it can.”
I believe that, deep inside,
that’s what almost all care receivers want—
they want their caregivers to live fully,
to know happiness,
to experience fulfillment.
The earmarks of such a life
will be different for each of us.
Within our routines as caregivers,
and especially beyond those roles,
we have questions to ask ourselves
as we take seriously the other’s desire—
and our own desire—
that we have a good life.
What does bring us genuine happiness,
and what are the ways we can encourage that,
here and now?
What does give our days meaning,
and how can we make sure
we savor that meaning, and preserve it?
Where, and how,
do we experience beauty in our days,
and can we find it more consistently,
if not more often?
How do we fulfill that God-given potential
that is uniquely ours and no one else’s?
Truly, how do we live a good life
while honoring all those around us,
especially the one in our care?
I believe it is our responsibility
as thoughtful caregivers
to live our way lovingly
into all those answers.

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