I have always had a tender heart toward others’ feelings. My next-door neighbor in high school was an elderly widow who I visited after school. During those same years, I also worked as a dietary aide in a nursing home. I would serve the residents their meals and talk as I placed their trays in front of them. I loved to listen to their stories of a bygone era—they were living history for me.
I continued to develop the skills of caregiving as a home health aide, visiting the elderly in their homes. One memorable patient suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis disease. She allowed me to care for her and never critiqued how I fixed her hair or made a meal, but she thanked me with her sweet smile.
Since I was young and ambitious, I decided to attend nursing school. I was strong, and I felt invincible. My time as a CNA was the beginning of a 20-year career as an RN through three hospital systems across two states. I have cared for many people throughout my years as a caregiver. What have I learned?
Number 1: You can take care of someone, or you can be their caregiver. One way or another, it is the same work, but you decide what your attitude is about it. When you feel called to this kind of work, you are a caregiver. As you do this work, the strength to do it seems to come not only from your physical self but from your spiritual self. This strengthens you to perform the care excellently and care for the person exquisitely.
Number 2: Go to work each day with the true heartfelt intention to do good for others. Many have stated this sentiment over the centuries. Jesus said, “Love one another” (John 13: 34) and “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8). The Buddha taught, “Radiate boundless love towards the entire world” (Karaniya Metta Sutta). Mahatma Gandhi taught, “The real love is to love them that hate you, to love your neighbor even though you distrust him.” The prophet Muhammad said, “You will never enter paradise until you have faith, and you will not have faith until you love one another” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 54). No matter the culture, we are of the same earthly tribe of human beings. It may be said in different ways, but these concepts are universal.
Number 3: It is essential to take time away from caring for others to care for oneself. When you lift the burden of another, you help the greater good. That greater good rises from within your heart, and there is a warm glow that fills your soul. That is the joy of serving your fellow beings. That feeling is life-giving and sustaining for the caregiver. That glow fuels the desire to do good, to do right, and to do it well. When you feel the warm glow waning, that is a warning sign that you are not giving proper care to yourself. To genuinely love others, one must love themselves—this means taking the time to show that love to yourself. It is essential to recharge mentally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.
To walk into a total stranger’s life and care for them in an intimately personal manner takes a special kind of someone. Someone who sees beyond the physical limitations of the person but sees them for who they truly are. That is the true heart of a caregiver.
This story originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Arizona Nurse publication with excerpts reprinted courtesy of the alumna. Sonia is a registered nurse for Sunland Home Care in Mesa, Arizona.