I’ve known Shelley
for twenty-five years.
She is very sweet,
very caring.
She has always been so.
So she surprised me
with her response when I asked her,
“Did you spend time with your father
this past week?”
Her father has emphysema.
He had an especially debilitating ten days—
he was on oxygen constantly, and mostly bedfast.
“No,” Shelley said, “I didn’t.”
I didn’t expect that response from her.
I knew that distance wasn’t an issue—
her parents live quite nearby.
I knew that she has always been good
about making time for them.
My face must have registered my surprise.
“He didn’t want me to see him that way,” she said.
“You know, lying around all day,
hooked up to an oxygen tank,
looking and sounding very weakened.
So I honored his wishes.”

Shelley’s father serves as a reminder
that not everyone who deserves care
wishes to be shown care.
In his case, he didn’t want his daughter
to witness firsthand the sight of him
as a man who was less than robust,
less than able to walk out the door
and play 36 holes of golf.
Some people are embarrassed
about the way they look or sound or act
when they’re ill or incapacitated.
Some don’t want to worry
their family members or friends,
or see the worry of those faces.
Some don’t want “to put other people out”—
they feel they don’t deserve the attention.
Some simply value their privacy
and want to protect their sense of independence,
even if it more or less isolates them.
Whatever the reasons given or not given,
we caregivers are called upon to remember
that our presence is not always wanted,
even if that is what we want.
And then we can show our care
by not showing our care,
at least in person.
That need not stop us from using the telephone,
or sending a note or gift,
or holding them in our thoughts,
or offering the most loving of prayers,
not just once but regularly.
If it is their wish,
we can be at our most caring
by not being there in body.
Mentally, emotionally, spiritually—
that’s a whole other matter, of course.

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One Response to “Away”

  1. Carol D. O'Dell Says:

    Love manifests itself in many ways, and this is a wonderful example as to why we shouldn’t judge others or their situation.
    Her love and acceptance of her dad’s situation was that of honor and respect. She was at peace and allowed him the dignity he needed.

    Loving someone isn’t giving them what we need. It’s giving them what they need.

    ~Carol D. O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother

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