Protection

Grace, age five, fell
and broke her arm
in dancing class.
After surgery, strep infection
invaded her bloodstream—
a very serious situation.
Her mother, the writer Ann Hood,
did all she could for her daughter,
sleeping at night on the hospital floor.
But the infection could not be stopped
and, tragically, Grace died.
In a memoir Ann laments,
“Somehow I had let this horrible thing
come to her.
I had not done my job.
I had not protected her.”

There really wasn’t anything more
Ann could have done for Grace—
the story makes that clear.
Still the mother felt
she had failed her daughter, critically.
She had not prevented what happened.
Ann’s situation was extreme, to be sure.
But the feelings she had as a caregiver
are not all that unusual—
feelings of yearning to protect
while being unable to protect.
This is especially true if the one
in our care is a child,
or someone younger.
However, it can also happen
with anyone we love,
anyone we’re connected to,
whatever their age.
We want to protect.
We’re geared to protect.
More, we ought to protect—
it is our role.
And often some part of us believes
that we can protect,
no matter the circumstances.
But reality teaches us a lesson:
it is physically impossible for us always
to “be a cover in front of,”
which is the derivation of protect.
We cannot hold a screen against
every hurt, every accident, every illness.
We cannot serve as a shield
against anything ever going wrong
with someone we’re close to.
We cannot be a barrier
to another’s disappointments,
to all their sorrows.
We cannot stop natural aging,
natural weakening, and natural dying.
But that doesn’t mean we’re incapable
or that we’re failures in our role.
In fact, it is the capable caregivers
who understand the limits
of their ability to protect
and—however much they wish otherwise—
make their peace with those limits.

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