A Lot

Young mother Julia Glass
struggled with side effects
of her chemotherapy
after breast cancer surgery.
Some nights she sat up
in bed, unable to sleep,
her bones aching.
Her husband would sit beside her,
sometimes feeding their baby.
“My body really, really hurts,” she’d moan.
“I wish I could do something,” he’d say.
Just touching her, however,
caused her even more pain.
So he’d lean against the pillows beside her
in the darkness, often in silence,
holding the baby,
accepting whatever his wife wanted to say,
whatever she needed to do.
Julia makes an important point about this
in the book An Uncertain Inheritance:
What I didn’t tell him, but should have, was that he was doing something just by being awake with me. I began to understand that taking care of someone doesn’t always mean doing something for that person; there isn’t always a hot toddy or a water bottle or an ointment to soothe. Being is just as important as doing. Being awake. Being present in the next chair. Being funny. Being smart in a surprising, useful way. Being sympathetically perplexed. Being a mirror for the expression of pain.

Julia knows.
So do legions of other care receivers.
You and I do a lot as caregivers,
helpless as we may feel,
when we remain awake,
listening in the darkness.
When we nod our heads,
showing that we’ve heard,
that we understand as well as we’re able.
When we look them full in the face,
letting them see our face too.
When we remain close,
sensing that’s what they need.
When we give them their space,
if we sense that’s what they need.
When we still our bodies,
so that we’re not fidgeting,
not creating a distraction.
When we willingly witness their tears,
without showing discomfort or alarm.
When we smile,
just because.
We can be doing something very important,
something that makes a real difference,
when it doesn’t appear
we’re doing anything at all.
Maybe we’ll be told about that difference,
and maybe not.
But the difference is real,
whether the message comes back to us
or it’s kept inside.
The difference itself is what ultimately matters.

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