Marjorie J. Thompson "Courage for Caregivers" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Our goal with these podcasts is to allow the wisdom, honesty, and encouragement found in the life and work of Henri Nouwen to speak to a world hungry for meaning. We invite you to share these podcasts with your friends and family. Because we’re new to the world of podcasts, taking time to give us a review or a thumbs-up will mean a great deal to us and will help us reach more people.
Now, let me take a moment to introduce today’s guest. Marjorie Thompson is an ordained Presbyterian minister. She has over 30 years’ experience in retreat work, teaching, and writing on spiritual formation. Author of the bestselling book. Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, Marjorie considers writing central to her calling.
We were so fortunate that Marjorie accepted our invitation to write the first book in our Henri Nouwen caregiving series, drawing from her decade of experience as a caregiver, firsthand, for aging parents, and then for her own husband. Marjorie wrote Courage for Caregivers: Sustenance for the Journey, in company with Henri J.M. Nouwen. Marjorie, when you penned this book, we did not see a pandemic on the horizon, but here we are, and we have something so valuable to share with our audiences. As you wrote Courage for Caregivers, what did you discover about Henri’s distinctive, maybe even unique perspectives on caregiving?
Marjorie Thompson: Henri brought forward some really distinctive perspectives on care that were just characteristic of his way of seeing reality through a spiritual frame. And I don’t know if all of these things that I consider distinctive to Henri were entirely unique to him, because I think, like all of us, Henri built on the insights of others. But at the same time, I don’t know any writer before Henri who, for example, distinguished between care and cure. There might have been, but I’m not aware of them, and I don’t think most other folks are. Maybe his most unique contribution, I think, is to highlight certain spiritual truths over and over in different ways through his many writings over time. My husband, John, who, as you know, worked with Henri for five years at Yale and really knew him quite well, used to say that Henri’s insights were like these little gems. And in different of his books, Henri would often take one of his basic ideas and lift up that gem and just kind of turn it this way and that way, to help us to see it through a new lens in this book, and then in another way in another book, so that we get to see the many facets of that gem in relation to various parts of our own lives. I think that was really part of Henri’s genius.
But, just to come to the sort of distinctive things, as I was writing this book on caregiving, I think Henri’s understanding of the meaning of care itself just really came alive for me in fresh ways. For him to point out that the Greek word for care is care, which really means to lament, to mourn, to share in another person’s pain. That is so foundational to Henri’s perspective on caring, that it’s not so much taking away another person’s suffering as entering into it, feeling their weakness, their powerlessness, their pain – feeling that with them. And that same understanding informs Henri’s teaching on compassion. So, moving from the Greek to the Latin, the Latin compassio literally means “to suffer with.” So, out of these two ancient language roots, we get a picture that all forms of care are essentially expressions of compassion. And I guess my own experience of caregiving really revealed how true this is. If we can’t feel the suffering of those we care for, then it’s a kind of limited and external expression of care. And I mean, I experience this. There are days when we can feel compassion and days when we can’t, and it’s really not helpful for us to expect constant compassion of ourselves, when we’re under great stress in caregiving day after day. I think we can acknowledge that only God’s compassion is perfectly consistent.
Karen Pascal: That is very insightful, actually. I feel in that almost a relief, because you’re right. There are times that you go, “I’m just so coldhearted in this,” you know, because it’s just actions. But it’s an interesting thing: I love the way Henri constantly kind of goes back to the root of some of these words. That’s his nature. He’ll take you back into the Latin or the Greek or whatever, because he finds a depth of meaning in them, and then unwraps it for us. I think that’s very helpful. Can I ask you: You mentioned care versus cure, that he drew that distinction. What exactly do you mean by that?
Marjorie Thompson: Well, I think what Henri meant by it was that our whole culture is so focused on cure. We’re just a culture of fixers. We really want to fix the problem. And that’s just kind of endemic to our Western cultural norms. So, you know, in the medical profession, the whole purpose of medical care is to cure people. And I think Henri understood really clearly that there’s a kind of trap in that. And of course, you know, if we can, we would like to be able to cure people. We’d like to be able to relieve pain and suffering. We all want that for ourselves and for others. But there are so many situations where we really can’t – we can’t cure and we can’t take away the suffering. We may be able to alleviate it, but we can’t really take it away.
And oftentimes in our caregiving of others, I’m thinking here of home caregiving situations, which is what I’m most familiar with. In my case, I was caring for my mother and my mother-in-law at the end stages of their lives. And there was no cure. It was just the natural progression of things. So, this might be true for a parent who’s taking care of a medically fragile child at home. There’s no cure, but as Henri put it, “Care is always possible, even when cure is not.” And to be able to move out of that mentality where we think it’s our responsibility to take away another person’s suffering. If we can’t do that, it becomes very frustrating. It becomes a psychological burden to us to imagine that we need to try to do that.
So, I think part of the beauty of what Henri does in making this distinction is to free us up from the idea that we always need to cure, that that even needs to be the goal. And that care can be a constant, and give us a kind of compass, if you will, a direction. So, we can always grow in our capacity to care for another. And I think when I said, “Oh, God’s compassion is perfectly consistent,” ours is not. And, you know, we just get weary, of course. But I think we can, over time, grow into a more mature compassion and care. And it really helps to see that it’s not up to us to take our care receivers’ pain away, when we can’t do that. We’re only asked to do what we can. And sometimes, the best we can offer is to just be present with another, with love and openness to whatever they’re experiencing, whatever they may need to talk about. Or just with understanding.
Karen Pascal: It’s interesting how, given the reality of the pandemic, we are hearing a great deal about caregivers, and we’re seeing people really pressed to the limit on the front line of caring for people with the COVID virus, and exhaustion and the vulnerability they’re facing, with the fact that they themselves can become sick. It’s really turned the focus towards caregivers in a fresh way, and we really see them as heroes. But some of the heroics are almost in a sense lost on those people that disappear into home caregiving situations, sometimes just overnight. Your spouse has a stroke; you’re dealing with an aging parent who has dementia; all sorts of different kinds of things can transform a person’s life overnight, and suddenly they no longer have a sense of the freedom of their life. They have a purpose, and it is a responsibility to care for somebody. And those people right now are continuing that job, and probably continuing it with a great sense of the vulnerability of the person they’re caring for, because they’re already needy. And then you are just hoping that they will not in any way be exposed to the COVID-19 virus, and be endangered by it.
I think it’s important, in a way, one of the things that Courage for Caregivers did as a book was speak to those home caregivers, speak to those people who, in a sense, are in the trenches and on the front lines of care that has consumed their lives. They’re not necessarily professionals in this situation. They’re just the person whose child or parent or spouse needs them full time. And they are now the person responsible. You have a lot of experience with that. You had a depth of experience with it. Tell us a little bit about the circumstances in your own life that brought you this hard-earned wisdom.
Marjorie Thompson: So, I ended up being deeply involved in the care of both my own mother and John’s mother, in our own home. The unexpected part was my mother coming to live with us, which we had not anticipated, because she was still married to my stepdad and we were trying to keep them together. But we had just gotten them moved into an assisted-care place, and my mother ended up being hospitalized twice within the first few months. It was very clear to us early on that she no longer had the physical energy or wellness to care for my stepdad. My mother had a COPD condition, which toward the end is very similar to, gosh, I can’t think. . . the condition is called bronchiectasis, and the lungs basically just deteriorate.
So, she had that, and also had had a heart attack just the year before we got her moved. So, she was physically just very, very frail. And my stepdad was kind of in the middle of a slow decline with dementia. So, she was having to communicate for him and with him, and it was just taking hours and hours of her time and energy, and she just didn’t have it. She was exhausted. So, she asked to come live with us. We were building a new home where we knew we’d be taking in John’s mother. We were basically building the house in order to create a living space for John’s mother, because we couldn’t find a house on the market that was adequate for that. And we ended up having both of our mothers. My mother was so physically fragile that as soon as she came to live with us, she needed a lot of time and attention and care right away.
Thankfully, in those two years that she lived with us, John’s mother was still quite well and fit and, you know, getting out for walks, and pretty independent in her little apartment connected to our house. So, that was an enormous help. But, yeah, talk about situations that just change really rapidly that you can’t anticipate. Certainly, having my mother come live with us as well as John’s mother, that all happened within one month, you know, our move and Mother’s moving in with us. And then John’s mother. . . it was a lot to handle at once.
Karen Pascal: I had the privilege of visiting your home, which was a beautiful log home in the midst of, quite far outside of Nashville. And I think you probably couldn’t get caregivers in to help. I’m sure you were quite isolated. I bet a lot fell onto your shoulders and onto John’s.
Marjorie Thompson: Well, it did. For a while it was really difficult to find anybody. And I realized because John and I were both working full time and commuting in and out from the community where we lived, which was half an hour – well, it was 30 miles west of Nashville. I did eventually find two people who were able to come in and help Mother during daytime hours while I was at work. But it was not ideal. It took a long time to find people that I could trust to do that. One of them lived fairly close. The other one was having to drive a bit of a distance. And then even, I think at first it was just three or four hours a day of help. And then it turned into more than that, so that she could get support really during all the hours I was at work.
But as soon as I got home, her care became my responsibility and then, you know, weekends as well. So, there was just a lot to handle. I would say, with my mother, the stress level was more the physical care, and the emotion that she was my own mother. But with Bab, with John’s mother, whose nickname was Bab, she lived with us a total of 11 years, and she was just about a hundred years old when she died. So, this was like the last decade of her life, all through her nineties, and her situation was much more up and down. She did break her hip; she recovered reasonably well, but spent a lot of time in a wheelchair and on a walker. And toward, in the last couple of years of her life, her memory was, I used to say, sort of like Swiss cheese: full of holes.
And some of those personality changes that you sometimes see with real memory loss – we didn’t get too much of that, thankfully. We were spared some of the hardest manifestations of that. But with Bab, she was a more difficult person for me, at least, to care for emotionally. She was a person full of deep anxieties. She kept emotional distance from us, suffered what I would call a fear of intimacy, had learning disabilities, you know, some ADD, was physically deaf and, I would say, emotionally deaf as well, you know, a lot of unconsciousness there. So, the challenges with her were more profound, in terms of long-term caregiving over the course of 11 years.
Karen Pascal: What were the most important spiritual lessons you’ve learned over those years? I mean, 10 years is a long time. I’m sure a lot of people go, “Well, I can maybe handle this for six months, maybe a year.” But 10 years, when it’s not all easy or comfortable? What were some of the spiritual lessons for you in this?
Marjorie Thompson: Yeah, well, there were plenty. And I think particularly because it was more demanding and more of a struggle, I actually grew more spiritually with her. She taught me a lot about myself, about my own judgements, my impatience, my assumptions and reactions, and my fears. I think she taught me the truth. This is a truth I sort of learned in my head from my friend Parker Palmer, who said, “Sometimes we live our way into new ways of thinking, instead of thinking our way into new ways of living.” And I actually learned that with Bab. At some point, maybe after seven or eight years of being with Bab, I realized that her emotional distance was really a signal of her emotional fears that grew out of a childhood of being deprived of real emotional intimacy with her own parents.
And some of that just had to do with the era in which she grew up. But I realized that she needed signs of physical love, and these were the very things that she tended to resist. By that, I mean, you know, in the early years, when I was just getting acquainted with Bab, she would come to visit us for four or five weeks out of a year, because she lived in Cyprus. I mean, the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean; she lived there until she was 89 years old. And then she came to live with us. So, when she came to visit, it would be for about a month or a little more than a month. And I just remember so clearly, she’d come to the door and I would go greet her. And when she first arrived, she would blow her kiss to me, or when she said goodnight to the two of us in the evening, she would blow her kiss from across the room.
If I gave her a hug, she would just stiffen up. She was so uncomfortable with signs of physical affection, but I realized that she was probably starved for exactly that. So, I just did something very simple; it was kind of an experiment on my part. I would go in and say goodnight to her and make sure she had everything she needed. This was before she became really dependent on me to help her undress and bathe and all of that. So, she would be sitting in front of the television watching TV, but I would come in and kind of make sure she had what she needed. And we might chat a little bit about the day. So, when I said goodnight to her, I would just bend over and give her a kiss on the cheek. Well, she was a little startled by that at first.
Karen Pascal: You were entering new territory for her, that’s for sure.
Marjorie Thompson: I was kind of right there in her space, doing something she didn’t expect and hadn’t asked for, but she didn’t resist it. And I just sort of kept on doing it. And I would say, “I love you, Bab,” when I gave her a kiss and she would say, “Love you, too,” or something like that. You know, it always just seemed like pro forma to me, those words. But what was really interesting to me was that after about two weeks of this, I remember there was one night where we were chatting away, and I sort of forgot. I was about to turn around and go, and she looked up at me and she takes her finger and taps her cheek right where I kissed it, just to say, “You’re forgetting something here.”
Karen Pascal: So, she was opening up to you and you were opening up to her. That’s beautiful. That’s cool.
Marjorie Thompson: It was, you know, and so that was just the beginning of a whole process of my learning that it was through my physical care for her, whether it was bathing her, or dressing her, or putting cream on her hands and legs after a bath – just, you know, a lot of the intimate care that happens there – that the physical care was the way I grew to love her, actually love her – to do that with gentleness, with good humor. See, one of my spiritual lessons was about halfway through these 11 years. It suddenly occurred to me that my care for Bab was my primary spiritual practice. It wasn’t an interruption of my spiritual practice. It was my primary spiritual practice. That was a big reframing of my way of seeing her care.
So, I had done a lot, you know. I teach spiritual practice. So, I had set apart practices like praying with scripture and journaling. But this was the rubber-hits-the-road of daily life practice. You know, this is what set-aside practices are all about. You pray with scripture or you journal, or you do those time-focused things in order to be able to bring God’s love into your daily life, with the people that you’re called to be with and to serve and to love. And so, I realized it was the quality of my presence, the orientation of my heart, and my ability to listen to her, to accept her, to love her as she was, that was my spiritual practice.
Karen Pascal: That’s profound. That is just profound. It’s interesting, because I want to tell audiences as they’re listening: We have some really good books. Marjorie has written Courage for Caregivers, and it is packed with stories of caregivers in the deep trenches of that task. And it’s full of wisdom and it’s full of spiritual insights. And I would encourage people to go to our website and get that book. There’s also a workbook, in case you want to do it as some sort of a study, perhaps in your church or in a small book group or whatever; there are the tools for that. We also have something called Hope for Caregivers, which is a 40-day devotional, really, especially for people who on a daily basis are involved in caregiving. There’s so many of you that would be listening and you know what this is about, and you can often feel isolated and locked away.
In fact, we discovered we wanted to do retreats for caregivers, and we quickly discovered this was really difficult, because for most caregivers, it’s hard to get away! It’s hard to get away from the person that you’re taking care of, and replace yourself in that role. And so, getting away for a retreat, although you’d love it, isn’t necessarily something that you have the opportunity to do. As a result, we’re now gathering a number of materials, and we’re looking forward to creating a web portal, which will offer wonderful stories and videos and teaching points and all sorts of resources for caregivers. We really want to offer what Henri has to offer. And Marjorie is very central to this. Marjorie is part of our team, because she is on the Henri Nouwen board, but she is also very much at the core of our caregiving initiative and of helping us shape this, because we really want to take what we’re learning and apply it or bring it out. Marjorie. I can’t help but wondering: What do you think Henri would have to say to caregivers in this time of COVID-19?
Marjorie Thompson: Well, I suspect he’d have a lot to share. I actually would like to come back to another key piece, something that I think is really distinctive to Henri’s perspective about caring, and that is the mutuality of caregiving. I think this is probably something Henri would really want to say to caregivers in this time, because of this enforced isolation. If you are at home caring for a spouse or a child with high needs, or one of your elders, it can be hard sometimes to see the gifts. This is one thing we did discover when we were doing caregiving retreats based on the book, which is that a lot of caregivers were sort of surprised to even think about the gift side of caregiving: what we receive from our care-receivers.
And this has to do with what Henri calls the “mutuality of caregiving.” One of my favorite Henri quotes is this one: He says, “In the very act of caring for another, you and I possess a great treasure. Caregiving carries with it an opportunity for inner healing, liberation, and transformation for the one being cared for, and for the one who cares.” It goes both ways, and I think this is something to pay attention to in a time when we may be in enforced isolation and kind of thrust into caregiving, if you’re doing this at home, in an even more intense way without help from others coming in from outside, perhaps. To pay attention to where the mutuality is, what gifts you are receiving, even as you’re giving, because that helps to nourish your own heart, if you can recognize it.
Karen Pascal: Give me an example of what you mean with that, because that’s really rich.
Marjorie Thompson: Well, I think, you know, for Henri himself, he learned it through his care relationship with Adam, who was the most severely disabled person at the L’Arche Daybreak community when Henri got there. Adam could not walk or talk or dress or feed himself. And I think what Henri caught in that relationship with Adam is the reality that every human relationship goes deep into the mysteries of the spirit. The mutuality can be quite subtle, but it’s no less real. So, Henri experienced Adam as a listening presence to him. Adam could listen and be present to Henri, and Henri experienced that as a profound ministry. So, I certainly experienced mutuality with both my mother – it was maybe a little easier to see with my mom – but I experienced it with Bab, too. And I think sometimes I needed Bab. When you receive care and you’re feeling weak and powerless, and you can’t do the things that you used to be able to do, you start to feel useless and just like a burden and only like a burden. And so, you know, one of the things that I used to have to remind Bab is how many ways she had already contributed to our family life in so many ways. She used to cook meals for us when she was healthy, and she enjoyed cooking. And that was a real help to us when we were both working full time and coming home tired. And she would have a meal all prepared for us. It was a huge help. Sometimes it was just a matter of reminding her she had done that, and that those gifts to our family life were still valid. We still valued and treasured all the things that she had given to us. And then, I could just talk with her about the day and the struggles of the day, or maybe what we had accomplished together.
Something like, you know, getting her checkbook sorted out – something that simple – and just celebrate it, or kind of have a good laugh. In the bathroom, I remember one thing that particularly tickled Bab: I would take her pajamas in the wintertime, and turn her pajama bottoms upside down over the air vents, which were in the floor, to warm them up before I put them on her. And of course, she was a big woman. So, these pajama bottoms would just balloon out with the air and she would just get laughing. We would both just get hysterical with giggles about this. And, you know, it’s such a gift to share humor, particularly when things are difficult and painful. And those are some of the mutual gifts that we experience and can experience. Just to be aware of where those little simple gifts of the day are and to be able to name them and celebrate them is so important.
Karen Pascal: Now, you must have had times of utter exhaustion. You must have had times of going, “This is more than I can handle.” How did you get through those times, Marjorie?
Marjorie Thompson: Oh, not always with a great deal of grace. I do remember the last six months of my mother’s life, just feeling like I was hanging on by my fingernails, literally. I just didn’t know how I was going to get from one day to the next. It could actually be a help to me to go to work and just have my mind on other things before I came home and had to immerse myself again in all the small daily tasks of caregiving for someone who was getting physically weaker and weaker. I relied on John a lot. I needed his wisdom and strength. And sometimes, you know, all I could do was just sort of collapse into his arms and just let him hold me, which he was always prepared to do. But we don’t all have that, the gift of someone like that at home. It is not easy. I really think it’s just so important for us to have someone outside the home, if possible, maybe an extended family member or a friend or two that we can call on and just talk to, and kind of release the pressure valve. We need to be able to talk about the experience. And one of the practices I found really helpful was to write a psalm of lament, just write my own psalm of lament. The Psalms give us permission to express all of our feelings, the positive and the negative. And sometimes we just need to get it out of us that way, to cry out and remember that God is the one who’s compassionate with us, who suffers with us.
Karen Pascal: Oh, Marjorie, I find myself thinking about the people who are facing home caregiving now, and the added issues of you may be taking care of your children at the same time, or just experiencing all the limitations of the pandemic. What do you think Henri has to say right now into this crisis, before us and around us?
Marjorie Thompson: You know, I really think Henri was always so attuned to the most vulnerable people in our world. And part of that was because of his own vulnerability. He understood vulnerability from within himself. And I think he would really pick up on the notion of – I think this is so interesting: We’re now using the language of essential workers in our economy. And maybe, we’ve noticed that most of these workers are not the ones our society generally consider so central. You know, trash collectors, bus drivers, farm laborers, childcare workers, or home caregivers who come in, paid home caregivers who come and help. These are people we don’t pay much attention to. And we certainly don’t compensate them very well for their services. But in this pandemic, they turn out to be essential to the functioning of our social order.
And I think Henri would want to really draw that out and say this is revealing something important about how we see ourselves in our society and maybe help us see ways in which we could make changes, how we perceive and treat those who are often marginalized. And I think an awful lot of folks who are at home caregiving feel pretty marginalized and pretty invisible as well as exhausted. And Henri always wanted to see and hear the stories of the vulnerable ones among us who were so often the focus of Jesus’ ministry. So, I think he would want to say, “Caregivers are now being seen as essential workers,” you know?
Karen Pascal: And there’s a lot of people who felt sidelined in that role.
Marjorie Thompson: So, and I find myself wondering if the value, maybe our society can wake up to just how critical caregivers are, whether home caregivers or professional caregivers, including home aides, nurses, social workers, therapists, chaplains, and parents caring for and educating children at home now. I wonder if the value of care for the most vulnerable people in our society, whether they’re young or old, disabled or sick, might finally come more to the center of how we value and compensate people. I don’t know, but I think Henri would really want to lift that up.
And then I think, you know, he would also want to talk about particularly – well, I think he would want to say to all you caregivers out there, “You are deeply important to all of us, and the pandemic is just revealing how essential your labor of care really is physically, emotionally and spiritually. You know, as human societies, we need your compassion, your heart for others, your willingness to give yourself, your witness to what is most deeply human in us,” which I think Henri would say is also what is most divine in us. What is most deeply human is most deeply divine. And that’s what Jesus combines. It’s what he shows us. What’s most deeply human in us. And that is divine love that can be embodied in our own lives.
So, I think Henri would also want to say, and I want to really reinforce this: This whole situation with the pandemic is probably the greatest crisis we’ve faced in several generations, if not a hundred years. It’s adding stress to already stressful caregiving that folks are engaged in. So, the abnormality of life is straining our mental health. And so, self-care is more important now than ever, especially with the enforced social isolation that so many of us are experiencing. So, it may be the person you care for is the only other person you see face-to-face now. That’s certainly a possibility and again, to be sustained, you need others in your support community.
So, I think Henri would be saying: Take advantage of your telephone, your computer if you have one, to reach out and talk and hopefully, if you have a way to do this, to connect by video, so you can see the faces of other family or friends or colleague. Really don’t minimize your own need for support, your need for self-care in the midst of this. Try to maintain some form of exercise, some practice of prayer or meditation to stay centered spiritually, because these things also are essential. They’re essential to your wellbeing as a caregiver, so that you can continue to care for others.
Karen Pascal: I think, too, in saying that, Marjorie, we who may know of people who are caregiving right now, especially those kind of locked away in home caregiving situations, it’s also our responsibility to reach out and say, “You’re not forgotten. And how can I be there for you? Let’s just talk, get a cup of tea and let’s talk on the phone.” Or as you said, you know, on your computer; thank goodness for Zoom and all the different possible ways we can get to see people. It does mean a lot to see faces. It does mean a lot to have that little visit and not feel forgotten. So, I would really encourage those . . . as you’re listening to this, and you’re thinking about that reality. And maybe this isn’t the circumstances of your life now, but maybe there’s somebody in your circle that you could remember right now that would probably really love to have a sounding board, a place they could just take their sense of being fatigued to the max or overwhelmed or whatever they’re feeling. And you can be that place, you can be a listening post for them. I think that’s really important. I really do.
Marjorie, you have so much to give. I want to encourage people, if you have felt that this somehow touches your heart and the needs you face, or you think of others, please take a look at these resources we have on the Henri Nouwen website. We have, as I said, Hope for Caregivers and we have Courage for Caregivers, and also now Healthy Caregiving. We didn’t see the pandemic coming, but here we are in the midst of it with some really vital tools. And I remember saying to everybody, we’re not the people who put the band-aid on, you know. I’m not out there trying to solve what will be the vaccine, but we know we can offer spiritual nurturing. And I think, Marjorie, I think you do it with such wisdom and authority, and I’m so grateful for that. Have you got one last word you’d like to share with those caregivers that are facing this in their home situations or as professionals?
Marjorie Thompson: I’d love to actually just give the last word to Henri. And there’s another quote on mutuality that really speaks to me. It spoke to me in my condition, because I was caring for elders and he’s writing this about the aged, but I think it applies to every kind of caregiving situation, in a sense, and just speaks so beautifully to the power of God’s spirit in all human relationships. I mean, relationship just by virtue of the definition of that word, the meaning of that word, involves mutuality. And I think it’s so helpful for us to see that mutuality, and to look for it and to lift it up when we experience it, because it can help to nurture us even in our isolation. So, here’s the quote and just try to sort of apply it to more than the aged, but Henri says, “Our weakness and old age call people to surround us and support us [in] any situation where we ourselves are vulnerable and need help.”
And I would say, as caregivers right now, we have our own vulnerabilities and need help. Even our medical professionals and doctors and nurses; we’re beginning to see how vulnerable they are in the midst of a time like this, where they’re so over overwhelmed. So, think of it in those terms, however we experience our vulnerability and need, that calls people to surround and support us by – so now, Henri’s words again – “by not resisting our weakness, by gratefully receiving another’s care, we call forth community and provide our caregivers – or let’s say, those who support us – an opportunity to give their own gifts of compassion, care, love, and service. As we are given into their hands, others are blessed and enriched by caring for us. So, our weakness bears fruit in their lives.”
This is coming back to Henri’s distinctive voice. This is just an extraordinary perspective that shows so clearly the spiritual opportunity given to us by those we serve with our care, and the ways we, when we are feeling vulnerable and in need of the care and support of others, we’re giving them a chance to enliven and deepen their own compassion and love and service.
This is the mutuality of human relationships. So, I just find that perspective so profound and helpful in a time like this, and hope that those of us who are feeling our own exhaustion and vulnerability will acknowledge that we need others to reach out and kind of support and help care for us while we are caregiving for others. It’s all part of this beautiful mutual circle, the circles and circles and spirals of human relationship that Henri could see so clearly. And it’s just at the heart of how the Spirit works in our lives.
Karen Pascal: Lovely. Thank you so much, Marjorie.
Marjorie Thompson: It’s been a pleasure talking with you, Karen, really.
Karen Pascal: Marjorie, thank you so much for this. I really appreciate having the opportunity to talk with you today. You are a fountain of knowledge about this. You learned the hard things by being challenged by it in your own life. Home caregiving became a reality for you for 10 years and out of it came some treasures, some understanding, and certainly a beautiful book. Thank you for that.
Marjorie Thompson: Thank you so much, Karen. You take care now.
Karen Pascal: If you enjoyed today’s podcast, we’d be so grateful if you’d take time to give it a stellar review or a thumbs-up and share it with your friends and family. As well, you’ll find links in the show notes for our website and any content resources or books discussed in this episode. There’s even a link to books to get you started, in case you’re new to the writings of Henri Nouwen.
Thanks for listening. Until next time.
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