On a cloudy, chilly November day in Northern California, when I was in the fifth grade, the school bell rang for recess. I stood up from my desk, along with my classmates, and headed toward the door as was the routine. What made this particular day stand out in my memory for over fifty years is something I want to address as it relates to those who are dependent on someone else for care.
As we made our way to the door the teacher stopped me and pointed out, in front of all the other children, that I was wearing sandals. My feet, in clean little white socks with the top folded down neatly in white buckled leather sandals were suddenly the focus of all my classmates attention. “Patricia, you need to be wearing Winter shoes,” she said. “Sandals are not appropriate this time of year.” It was an order, an instruction, as if it was the homework assignment for the night. I was ten years old, I didn’t have control over what shoes I could wear.
As is typical of me to this day, when I don’t know how best to react, in order to maintain my dignity, I said nothing and prepared to follow the other children out the door. However, the feeling of humiliation was deep. I remember wanting to disappear right on the spot and make it all go away.
I was a shy little girl, considered well behaved. I couldn’t tell my teacher that my family was in a bad financial position just then. That would have embarrassed my mother and father. My father had been in bed for nearly two months healing, after falling on his back from two stories up in the cannery where he worked. My 27 year old mother (who had a ninth grade education) with four daughters and my dad to take care of, suddenly had to find a full time job and figure out how her family would survive. She couldn’t afford to buy three of us school shoes that September if we were going to have food on the table.
All that information passed through my mind as I stood in shock. I never mentioned it to my mother. There was nothing she could have done. I understood the need for maintaining dignity in that moment. I, also, understood the lack of AWARENESS and SENSITIVITY my otherwise kind and pleasant teacher was demonstrating.
As I write this, I can see that many readers may not find my experience all that devastating. Especially when compared to so much more truly humiliating experiences others have suffered. That actually may make my point.
We’re all a little different, age, circumstances and other factors influence our individual responses to the actions and insensitivity of others. The feeling of humiliation is a primary human emotion. Deepak Chopra, in his excellent book, “REINVENTING THE BODY, RESURRECTING THE SOUL,” states that, “Someone who has been severely humiliated, especially in childhood, will be listless, unresponsive, and withdrawn; the body will feel chronically weak and helpless.” This will be the extreme, I’m sure. But, as Caregivers we need to be AWARE and SENSITIVE to the feelings of those whose lives are in our care. The vulnerable need to feel safe and secure that we’re looking out for their emotional well being along with their physical needs. We need to protect their privacy both physically and in conversation. We need to be ALERT to changes in mood and behavior and do our best to understand what may have triggered the change instead taking the easy way out and dismissing it. We need to protect the personal items and belongings of one who cannot protect their own things.
It’s complicated. Caregiving is a huge, often under appreciated responsibility. The more we understand the ramifications of other people’s behavior toward the ones in our care, the more COMPASSION we can show our loved ones. That compassion is LOVE in its purest form. LOVE is everything and comes back to us like a boomerang when we come from the heart. My COMPASSION for Caregivers is deep and personal. I wish I had known more when I was caring for my dear friend with Alzheimer’s, my husband and then my dad. I hope this information helps you be the best Caregiver you can be and makes your life a little lovelier.