The Privilege of Caregiving

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I had a life-changing experience a few weeks ago.

Providentially, I was given the opportunity to travel to Vancouver, BC to interview two incredible caregivers, Cathie Borrie, RN, BSN, MPH, LLB and James Houston, MA, BSc, DPhil.

What they had to say could very well change the paradigm of caregiving for all of us…for the better.

You see, both have a similar approach: caregiving is an honor, a calling…a privilege. Caring for another (and receiving care one’s self) is integral to the human condition, and helps to reveal our most elemental traits.

In immersing ourselves in the experience, we reinforce the identity of our care partner through relationship. This, in turn strengthens our own identity, and both care partners are validated in the experience.

There is strength in numbers. Two become one, one becomes two in a partnership of caring.

Dr. Houston brings a lifetime of scholarship and remarkable faith to the task. A member of C.S. Lewis’s inner circle and founding principal of Regent College in Vancouver, Dr. Houston speaks of his most recent challenge with an aura of tranquility that is awe-inspiring.

With a true and comforting delivery that I suspect is reminiscent of his mentor, Lewis’s, as he counseled young British troops headed off to battle in World War II, Dr. Houston remarks, “So I thank my Rita, and all those who give us the opportunity to provide care for them. In doing so, my life is brought to fruition…I am become fully human, in the best sense.”

Witnessing him in loving, affirming interaction with his dear wife, I am reminded of my favorite Houston quote from our first meeting a few years ago: “Indeed, life is about relationships.”

While sitting with her “Mum” after Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases took hold of the body and mind, Cathie Borrie caught precious glimpses of the spirit, initially jotting them on spare papers, but eventually crafting a beautiful story of them in The Long Hello: The Other Side of Alzheimer’s, and Looking into Your Voice: the Poetic and Eccentric Realities of Alzheimer’s.

Mum, not particularly poetic prior to her illness, became artfully expressive later. “How are you going to live out your days?” asks Cathie. Mum replies: “The same as what I’m doing over there only I’ll be better. I’ll be flying down the hill in my jacket!”

Cathie learned to live in and love the moments with Mum, cherishing each poignant word. “I love listening to you talk,” said Cathie. “Oh,” replied Mum, “I thought I heard you say, ‘I love looking into your voice.’” “I love that too,” Cathie reflected.

Looking into their voice, though it may sound unfamiliar at times. Making the most of relationship, moment by moment. Approaching caregiving as a privilege. Growing in humanity in the process.

These are lessons from our friends who walk the shores of Vancouver Harbor.

We would do well to join them there.

About the Author

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Daniel C. Potts, MD is a noted neurologist, author, educator, and champion of those with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. He was chosen by the American Academy of Neurology as the 2008 Donald M. Palatucci Advocate of the Year, serves as an AAN national media spokesperson for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and is a faculty member at both medical schools in his home state of Alabama. Inspired by his father’s transformation from saw miller to watercolor artist in the throes of Alzheimer's disease, Dr. Potts formed Cognitive Dynamics, a foundation dedicated to quality of life improvement through the arts. With his wife, Ellen W. Potts, he authored A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer's Care Giver.

Read more from Dr. Daniel C. Potts

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