The ART of Caregiving and the Fear of Indifference

November, we are told, is a month set aside to honor caregivers. For those of us who have walked this walk, a month hardly seems enough! Caregiving, this new “life stage”, has so many aspects to it that it is, or can be, overwhelming. It is a family systems issue that impacts multi-generations and is compounded by the progreess of medical technology, distance, family histories and our own internal psycho-spiritual issues. It is often done in splendid isolation and can demand physical and emotional and spiritual resources that are, all too often, depleted over time. It is easy to loose one’s self in the fulfillment of this most poweful of mitzvot. It is also a time for quiet heroism. It is also a time where the utter power of love shines through in ways that bring honor to all concerned.

Recently I was part of a family that had to make some of “those” decisions regarding the end of life of a father. The journey has been long and two adult children finally faced the realities of the limits of care. The stresses and strains of months and months of intense involvement showed on their faces, especially on the daughter who had primary responsibility due to proximity. We gathered finally in a hospice room as evening fell outside, to share thoughts, prayers and viddui. The “call” from hospice came but a few hours later. The tumult of clamor of sounds was calmed.

At the funeral, the eldest daughter read a eulogy. It encapsulated the life of her dad in a most beautiful way. In the end, she quoted a passage from Elie Wiesel, who had been a friend of her dad. The passage spoke to her dad’s passion for social justice work, and, in truth, spoke to so much of what we are living through today. I asked her for her Ok to share it on our site and was given the permission. Read these words and remember them, for they speak to our age in so many ways.

In a way to be indifferent to suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a poem, a great symphony. One does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it.

But indifference elicits no response. Indifference is nota response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always a friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor–never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees–not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denyng their humanity, we betray our own. Indifference is not onlya sin, it is a punishment.

Maybe the message from this eulogy is that caregiving extends not only to our loved ones, but to those in need, those who fall through the cracks of society and whose story is left off the front pages or the nightly news. If we allow the plight of those in need to fall into to well of indifference, that what are we, and, to channel our tradition, “if not now…when?”

Z’L: Rabbi Jonathan Philo Kendall. Baruch Dayan Ha Emet


Rabbi Richard F Address


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