16 June 2011


I saw an ad on the subway this morning for a Caregiver Hotline.  The ad said, "What do you do if your mother starts repeating herself?  What do you do if your mother starts repeating herself?"

My answer:  All mothers repeat themselves.  Get over it.  Give her a hug and tell her how much you love hearing that story.

Seriously, though, the ad got me thinking about the word "caregiver."  I think it's a pretty recent addition to the common lexicon.  It seems to refer to the person who is hired to care for children while the parents are at work, or the person - a family member or otherwise - who cares for a sickly elder.  I never heard this word when I was a child.

The person who cared for us kids was referred to as Mom, Grandma, Mrs. (insert the name of the mom of the friend at whose house we were playing), or Susan or Eddie, neighborhood teenagers who frequently babysat.  Susan, whom I still see now and then, would laugh if I referred to her as our caregiver.  She was just the daughter of my dad's best buddy, slightly older than us, and she came over and colored and watched TV with us when Mom, Dad and Grandma had an evening out.

The person who cared for Grandma during her final illness was called Mom.  Mom had help in the form of Dad and Us Kids (and, at the very end, when medical expertise was required, some visiting nurses).  We were not caregivers.  We were just people who cared.  It's what you did for people you were close to who needed help.  You cared, so you helped.

Maybe that's the problem I have with the word.  Since when did care become something that we give?  Care used to be an intransitive verb.  (Side note for my kids:  that's a verb that doesn't usually take a direct object.  "Shut" is a transitive verb because it needs an object - you need to shut something, like a door or a mouth.  But you don't "care" something.  You just "care."  Intransitive.)

You could care "for" something, of course.  We cared for our pets, and I didn't particularly care for lima beans.  And you could certainly care "about" something.  I cared about my grades, my friends, and my clothes to some extent.  But I didn't give care to anyone.  I just cared about them, or for them, so I did what naturally follows when you care.

There is a widow on my street.  I care about her, so I get the neighborhood kids to shovel her snow.  When my neighbor's father passed away, I cared, because she's a nice person who has lived across the street from me for almost twenty years.  I sent over a dessert to help feed all the visitors at her house.  Sometimes I feel like I am the only person in our house who cares for (and about) the last surviving fish in our living room aquarium.  I feed him, and I clean his home, and I look out in a general sense for his health and comfort.  However, I would not call myself a fish caregiver.  I just care, and then I do what follows.  The reverse is also true, and more common.  If I don't care, I do nothing.

So, back to the caregiver.  Someone who gives care.  Someone who cares for and, hopefully, about.  Because so many parents work, and because so many older people are living with illness that requires support, there are a lot of caregivers out there.  They have their own hotline.

Whatever you call them, here's to the caregivers.  Here's to the caregivers.  Here's to the caregivers.  Oops, there I go, repeating myself again.

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