To me, these 5 lessons that I learned through my journey of being a caregiver convey the profound simplicity of life.
1. There Are More Important Things
Being a caregiver to my wife, who has Leukemia, has influenced me to rethink what is really important in life. I used to think things like money, status, keeping mediocre relationships, pleasing others, getting out of debt, and petty complaints about things I couldn’t control were all of high importance in life, among other things.
When faced with a real risk of losing the one you love so dearly, all of those things fall to the wayside. Suddenly, all those things that you used to base all of your life decisions around aren’t all that important anymore. I can tell you this much, in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t worth ruffling your feathers over.
At the end of the day, all we ever want to feel in our lives are unconditional love, joy, and fulfillment. I was looking in the wrong direction my entire life up until I had this shift in perspective. I then realized I already had the recipe for unconditional love, joy, and fulfillment within me the entire time. It’s just like when you are looking everywhere for your sunglasses only to find out that you have been wearing them on top of your head the entire time.
2. Look For The Silver Lining
When I made a decision to start dating my current wife over 9 years ago, she already had Leukemia. In fact, she had Leukemia for 9 years prior to us starting to date. To think that this brush with cancer and potential death could pose a potential opportunity would have been absurd to me at the time, and borderline cruel.
I mean really, how could being a caregiver to the love of your life possibly present an opportunity? At the time, this would have sounded like positive thinking hocus pocus crap. Now? Not so much.
Over the years, I have learned to embrace the experience. I made a decision to use it as a catalyst that would eventually wake me up to more of who and what I really am. We are all equipped with an infinite well of innate wisdom and an inner genius just waiting to be tapped in to.
There is a silver lining within every experience, even within the worst tragedy you can possibly imagine. Time is going to pass regardless of what you do with it, we may as well look for the silver lining and use it to our advantage.
3. Be More Than Words
For numerous years at the beginning of our relationship, I just kept looking for those perfect words that would take my wife’s pain away. Words that would ease the suffering and despair. Words that would get her to know how much I love her and how much I care. There are no such words.
It’s who I am, how I show up, and the presence I bring to the table that has the power to transform. No words will ever match the potential impact that can have. When I’m radiating infinite energy of unconditional love and understanding in her presence, it provides her with a feeling of safety, love, and security that words had always failed to provide.
The next time you don’t know what to say to someone, say nothing, be more than the words you could not find. It is not the words you say that translate the feeling you desire them to feel, it is who you show up as.
4. It’s Not Personal
I walk in the door and pause for a second, waiting for my imagined dream to come true. Instead, there is dead silence, all is still. I hear some rustling in the kitchen so I take my shoes off to go and greet her. As I walk into the kitchen I receive a “hey” as she continues to do what she is doing.
“This is not what I had in mind”, I think to myself, “She is barely acknowledging my existence.” I retaliate by doing exactly as she is doing, my demeanour suddenly changes and I become her. I am now full of tension throughout my entire body while radiating negative energy. “What did I do to deserve this treatment?” I think to myself.
I am about to confront her regarding her attitude, which to me screams “I don’t care!” At this point, I’m thinking “alright, here we go again, this is not what I want to come home to nor is this what I deserve to come home to.”
With her back turned to me she muffles under her breath, “sorry if I’m not myself, my whole body is in pain and I have a terrible migraine.” Well…that sure changes things! I was just about to make this whole situation about me when it actually had nothing to do with me.
The more this happened, the more I realized that it was never about me, and it never is. It is always about the other person, they are either in physical or emotional pain. This pain is either caused by their biology and/or their thoughts. Neither of which am I the root cause of.
The next time someone says or does something that you are about to take personally, gently remind yourself that they are in pain. When you take it personally, you become them. When you don’t, you become a source of compassion that they so desperately need at the moment.
5. Blind to Gratitude
For the first several years of my wife and I being together, all I could focus on was what life would be like without her. What would it be like to go to bed at night and wake up each morning alone, without her. What it would be like to come home from work and she is not there to greet me. Because I put so much focus on a future that may actually never happen, I started treating her like she was already gone.
My wife said to me one day, “You’re treating me like I am already gone.” I thought about that statement for several seconds, I knew she was right. That was a tough pill to swallow for me because how she felt is the exact opposite of how I wanted her to feel.
Her statement hit home with me. It also influenced me to take a look at the rest of my life to see where I am also doing the exact same thing. My wife has been my greatest teacher for appreciating the small things in life and appreciating them NOW.
When we become so focused on what we don’t have, or on what we may end up losing in the future, we become blind to what we have right NOW. We will treat others as if they don’t even exist. We will treat your job like we have already lost it. We will treat ourselves with a lack of care for our future.
A great example of this that resonates with most people is when someone is about to eat something that is terrible for their health and attempt to justify it by saying, “Life is short.” In actuality, what they should really be saying is, “I’m making my life shorter.” The focus is on living a short life and now their decisions are in alignment with creating the future of living a shorter life by ingesting food that has been proven to cause disease.
Your decisions and actions will always be in alignment with your thoughts. Decide to be grateful for all that you are and all that you have right NOW and watch your decisions fall into alignment with what you’re grateful for. The best part? You will make better decisions RESISTANCE FREE.
Learn from all of your experiences, opportunities are everywhere.
Originally published on PsychCentral: https://psychcentral.com/lib/5-lessons-from-a-cancer-caregiver/