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Posted: November 25, 2005

Spiritual Caregiving

From Trial and Tribulation Come Inspiration

(Editor’s Note: Spirituality & Health readers tend to be people who grow from their trials. Here is a sampling from our April 2005 article, "34 of Your Most Valuable Values," where people contributed "ethical wills" – sometimes hard-earned recipes for living well that they wished to pass on to others. We hope you find these inspiring.)


1. Hold tight

When hugging, be the last one to let go.

—Lisa Richey, Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina

2. Connect through touch

As a caregiver in nursing homes, I can tell you that often the only time these people are touched is during their daily hygiene. Touching these people on the shoulder as I pass by reminds me of the connection and love that we can pass on daily, if only for that moment.

—Lawrence P. McCormick, Seattle, Washington

3. Be happy for no reason at all

Recently, I had a dream in which I was just full of smiles. In the dream, my parents asked, "What are you so happy about?" I said, "I’ve learned how to be happy for no reason at all." I can’t say I always do this, but in my heart of hearts I know this value, and my dream was a vivid reminder and teacher.

—Susan Pitcairn, Eugene, Oregon

4. Thank everyone for everything

My grandmother died recently at 96 years of age. I was amazed at her unflagging courtesy and gratitude until the end. She thanked everyone for everything they did for her: helping her to eat, changing her bedclothes, giving her medicine, anything. Among her last words to me were, "Thank you for visiting me." As a result, everyone loved her and no one minded serving her.

—Sue Sweeney, Dearborn, Michigan

5. Listening is essential

I was fortunate enough to connect with a very special lady when I was growing up. When I would go over to her house, she would sit down and listen to all my stories as though she had no other concerns in the world. She gave me her undivided attention -- and those talks we shared conveyed to me just how essential it is to be able to listen to others as though your life depended on it.

—Jane Pederson, Rochester, Minnesota

6. Indignity can be a funny opportunity

After I had abdominal surgery to remove an invasive cancer, I had to wear a catheter for a month. I was very bummed at having to collect my urine in a bag outside my body. It seemed an added indignity. My husband sympathized with me, but later quipped, "Hey! One of your wishes just came true! You can finally pee off the deck like a boy!" My husband’s fresh and humorous perspective helped me see the perceived indignity as a funny opportunity to try something new. Whee!

—Karen Marie Christenson, River Falls, Wisconsin

7. Be a gray-maker

Resist the urge to oversimplify issues. It’s more work to embrace complexity than to see the world in terms of polar opposites and simple choices, but the truth is seldom as easy as black and white. Most of the people and ideas and problems we encounter are some shade of gray. When we appreciate that, we’re in a better position to be true peacemakers.

—Susan C. Brown, Lexington, Kentucky

8. Forgive yourself

Forgive yourself for failing after doing your best. And then it becomes a little easier to forgive others when they disappoint you.

—LeaRae Galarowicz, Madison, Wisconsin

9. Keep on playing

As a pediatric chaplain, I learn so much from the children. One boy living with a chronic illness and I were playing a board game. I kept drawing cards that put me back spaces. He said to me, "That’s the way it is in life. Sometimes you get dealt cards you don’t like, but you have to just keep on playing."

—Louise Shepard, Syracuse, New York

10. Confront gently

A friend recently told me that he would bring me his wounded heart and trust that I would never hurt him, but he could not trust that I would confront him when needed. I have seen and felt un-gentle confrontation leave lasting scars. But I have also seen non-confrontational relationships limited by inherent dishonesty and shallowness. I encourage myself to practice "gentle confrontation" (with equal emphasis on both words) as a way to open the door to real honesty and true relationship with God, our loved ones, and the world.

—Lynn Carlisle, Greenville, North Carolina

11. Focus on the love you can give

After a significant relationship ended painfully, I recognized that many people seek and enter relationships wanting to be loved. And being loved is, indeed, one of the best things that can happen. But I discovered that loving another person, and all the giving and caring that go along with loving, was far more important to me than being loved. All of my relationships have changed as a result, because I am now much more focused on the love that I can give.

—Ellen Rigor, Quincy, Illinois


You may also find inspiration for writing your own ethical will by taking a look at those others have written at For more tools to help you create an ethical will that is uniquely yours, see Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs & Blessings to Future Generations: Creating Your Own Spiritual-Ethical Will (Rachael Freed, Fairview Press, 2003) and The Ethical Will Writing Guide Workbook (Barry K. Baines, M.D., Josaba Ltd., 2001).

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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