Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reflections from a Caregiver, part 2: Dependence

The first part of this essay was about the qualities and necessities of independence.  Thank you to everyone who read it in all its obviousness; of course independence is a positive thing.  What fascinates me far more is the idea of dependence and how it can be beneficial.

We all buck at the idea of dependence, and for a lot of good reasons.  It’s often seen as a sign of weakness; we all want to be able to survive on our own and we think there’s something wrong with us when we can’t.  It hurts our pride to think that we need others, but we all do.  Almost everything you do in life requires dependence on others, whether it be interacting with your loved ones or trusting that when you buy a sandwich it isn’t brimming with salmonella.  When you embrace this you can see a beautiful balance in the world.  You are an integral part of a giant web of interdependence, and that’s pretty neat.

The type of dependence I’m discussing today isn’t as grand, as glamorous.  What do you do if you can’t walk?  If you’re an adult but you can’t make your own personal or financial decisions?  If you can’t cook for yourself?  If you can’t go to the bathroom without assistance?  No one in their right mind is going to tell you any of those are a good position to be in; they all suck.  But their’s a beauty to them.

Dependence makes trust a necessity.  If a person is taking care of your most intimate needs, you need to be able to trust that they have your best interests in mind.  Unfortunately for a lot of people whose care is provided by agencies they don’t have an opportunity to choose who cares for them.  But what happens often in these cases is that you learn that most people are generally alright.  If you give them the benefit of the doubt they will rise to the occasion.  This is a truth that many of us who aren’t in a position of dependence are never confronted with.

That being said, there will always be people who take advantage of the weak.  We see this is in the news every day.  The fact is the world can be cruel.  No reasonable person would expect the same forces that put them in a wheelchair – be they God or fate or random luck – are going to protect them from further pain.  So what can be done to protect people strong enough to trust others?  Those who are good enough to be trusted must ensure the others are protected.

This brings me to the second positive quality of dependence – it fosters generosity.  There are a lot of people in the world who seek out opportunities to help those who can’t always help themselves.  I consider myself one of these people.  I’ve worked in group homes for four years and if I weren’t doing that I would want to do something else where I’m helping others, such as teaching or working for a charity.  And being around people in need only makes this desire stronger; the more you help others the more you want to help.  I met a woman today who for decades was a high ranking member in a corporation.  She is at retirement age and has enough money that she never needs to work another day in her life.  But she had a son with a cognitive disability who passed away a few years ago, and now she works in a group home making the same low wages that I do to make sure others receive the great care that her son did.

A companion of generosity is gratitude.  The people I work with are completely grateful for whatever I provide.  For the most part.  Interestingly enough I’ve noticed a divide in reactions among male and female clients I work with.  Some of the guys expect every little thing done immediately and will never thank you unless prompted.  The ladies I work with, however, will thank me constantly, to the point of ridiculousness.  If I make them dinner they thank me.  If I bring them a spoon to eat the dinner with they will thank me for that.  If I ask them if the food is okay they will thank me for asking.  It was actually these ladies and their gratitude that led me to think about independence vs. dependence in the first place.  I find the gender difference telling and fascinating, though I know my sample size is too small to indicate any real patterns.

In the past week or so I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on these topics and it has changed my outlook on things. 
Makes me more grateful for what I have, gives me more desire to thank those that I am dependant on (like it or not).  Hopefully it got you to take some time and appreciate what you can do in life and also the things others do for you that we sometimes forget to appreciate.

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