Jerry Schwartz, PhD, LMHC, has been working as an end-of-life counselor for the better part of a decade, having over 35 years’ experience in psychotherapy. In addition to being a college instructor and community educator, Dr. Schwartz has also trained in the non-denominational chaplaincy program at Beverly Hospital. Dr. Schwartz works at All Care Hospice as the Licensed Mental Health Counselor for patients, families, and caregivers facing life-limiting illness focusing heavily on the issues and challenges of self-care for the patient and caregiver.
The Hidden Beauty of Caregiving
Dr. Jerry Schwartz, PhD LMHC
It is estimated that there are over 100 million people caring for a loved one at home in the United States. This is either the person to your left or your right – or yourself – although the bubble of caregiving can shrink one’s life so that you feel like you are the only person on the planet at times. This isolation along with the 24 hour demands, the emotional, social, and financial stresses, and the often invisibility of the full time commitment you have made can result in the worst of self-care and self-esteem outcomes. Caregivers are notoriously awful at caring for themselves and often feel depressed, not understood, not valued, and not supported for the devotion they show their loved one each and every day for sometimes years after years.
Almost 35 years ago I was fortunate to learn the craft of wooden boat building at a long standing boatyard on the North Shore. I was a young man at the time and my mentors were many more years my elders. They took the requisite time to show the basics to me and then would continue to work on the projects they were involved with. As I got to understand both the anatomy of a wooden boat and the skills required to build such a craft of both beauty and function I became awed at what I began to witness day after day.
Down in the bilges, under the floor boards, soon to be filled with seawater and oil and fuel, and never to see the light of day again after leaving the boatyard, was the most beautiful joinery work one could imagine to insure the fit of the ribs to the keel. My young self-wondered why a more expedient and functional joint could not be fashioned instead of the time consuming and meticulous melding of two pieces of wood that was worthy of a finished fine piece of furniture. This joint was simply for the structural soundness of the boat not for its display of beauty and perfection.
The answer was simple and profound and a life lesson that I have always treasured. It was not the functionality that inspired the builders’ attention, it was the pride in knowing that he had given his fullest effort, his most refined skill, his dedication to the task at end. So that at the end of the day, at the launching of the boat, he would know that hidden under the bilges and the oily water was the beautiful caring and crafting he was capable of. He could take pride in the work he had done.
I have learned after meeting hundreds and thousands of dedicated caregivers that they too, each and every one, give their all. Their skill, experience, devotion and love to doing the best they can in their daily efforts to care for a loved one. Even if that will never be seen by anyone else outside their home. That is the incomparable hidden beauty of caregiving.