• Often, when I speak at conferences and workshops, one of the other speakers is a hospice representative or program director. I always enjoy listening to these talks and I always learn something from them.

    Last spring, I spoke in Crookston, Minnesota. One of the other speakers was, of course, from hospice. The Rev. Jane Millikan , Spiritual Care Coordinator for Hospice of the Red River Valley, spoke ahead of me. She used props to tell her story. I was so impressed with the analogy, that I told her I would like to use it myself, giving credit, of course, to the source. She graciously said that this was fine. Below is a paraphrased, un-propped version of Rev. Jane’s story:
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    She had a bowl, so I’m asking you to imagine a nicely shaped bowl – one that you can comfortably hold in two hands. This bowl symbolizes you, the caregiver. Then, envision a pitcher of water. The water symbolizes the troubles of the person you are caring for; the pitcher is the person. Pour as much of the water into the bowl as it will hold.

    For awhile, the pitcher is relieved of some of the weight of the water, as your loved one is relieved of some of their burden when you are sharing it with them. You, the caregiver, are holding the troubles of your loved one for a time; lightening their load.

    Then you must, so that you can move on with your own life, pour the water back into the pitcher - giving your loved one back his or her life. You, the caregiver, have done all you can, for the moment, to share the pain of your loved one. You will have an empty bowl later, to once again help them bear their troubles. But in the end, the pain belongs to them, as your pain belongs to you. Nothing we do can change that. So you must give it back to its owner.

    Now, picture a sponge. The bowl is full of water – the troubles and pain of the person you are caring for. You are the sponge. You soak up water until you (the sponge) are soggy and dripping and can hold no more. You are weighed down, sagging under the strain of the water. You can soak up no more. You are now useless to everyone, even yourself. You must force out some water before you can absorb more – before you can become useful once again. The sponge can tear or break into pieces under the load. So can you.

    Which kind of caregiver are you? Are you a bowl? One who can help a person shoulder his or her pain, then leave it with them and move on to help another, or yourself? Or are you a sponge, absorbing everyone’s troubles until you render yourself resentful, ill and burned out?

    If you are a sponge, as I tended to be, maybe it’s time to gently squeeze out the water, pour it back into the pitcher, and air dry. Then practice being a bowl, where you can help your elder or the person you are caring for, do everything you can for them for that day, and then detach from their troubles – leaving them to live their life and you to live yours. I learned that, to some degree, as the years went on. If I hadn’t, I likely wwouldn’t be alive today. Each of us is a separate being, designed to interact and help one another. We do our best, but that doesn’t include absorbing the other person. They have their life, and you have yours.

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Published On: September 07, 2006