Archive | Caregiving

Caregiving, Rhetorical Questions, Compassion, and… Curiosity


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In which the Universe says, “Oh, you’re ready to start talking about Caregiving? Great, here’s another chance…”

My last blog post was about Caregiving, and soon after I published it I found myself plunged into another Caregiving situation.

For one of my cats.

And I was amazed – appalled, actually – at the impact it had on me.

I made decisions, I gave her medicine and did all the things the vet told me to do, and I did the other things that needed doing. And yet…

I was a wreck. I was on the verge of tears much of the time. I had trouble concentrating. I worried – What if I had to put her to sleep? How much was this going to cost? Should I postpone my trip to Seattle? Was I giving her good enough care? Was I neglecting my other cat?

And I wondered…

How did I ever manage to be caregiver to my late husband and work full-time and maintain some semblance of composure and concentration, and professionalism at work?

Maybe, I thought, my composure and concentration at the time weren’t as good as I thought. I remember sobbing in the shower before going to work. I remember praying for help, for strength, for patience, for guidance. I remember feeling like I could never do enough, never do it well enough.

I talked to a friend

I talked to a friend of mine about this, a friend who happens to be a licensed therapist and a coach. She also, it turns out, has done Bereavement Counseling. She asked if she could tell me what she thought.

I said yes. (And I appreciated that she asked.)

She said that when I was caring for Bruce, I was probably in Emergency Mode. I did what had to be done. With Abby, the stakes are different. (I also had time to prepare, in Bruce’s case, like the metaphor about the frog in hot water.)

She also said that there may be an element of Post Traumatic Stress, and that this situation is triggering reactions from when Bruce was sick, reactions I often didn’t let myself feel at the time.

Pretty smart, isn’t she?

I lightened up on myself

So I lightened up on myself. It didn’t change the emotions I was feeling, or the trouble I was having concentrating, but I started allowing myself to feel it without judging myself for it. Not beating myself up for not being perfectly composed and competent.

I remembered something I already knew

And in thinking about the questions I’ve been asking myself and the universe, I realized something. Or remembered something I already knew, but now understand in a different way:

There are productive questions and unproductive questions.

Rhetorical questions like “Why can’t you…” and “How could you…” are whips.

Asking rhetorical questions is not practicing Curiosity, it is whipping.

Asking why something is happening is curiosity if I am really looking for the answer and not beating myself (or someone else) up with a belief.

Rhetorical questions are not born of curiosity.

Rhetorical questions are not really questions at all, as they are not looking for an answer, they provide an excuse to state an answer that is usually a belief – and is frequently a negative one.

Sometimes the wording is important, but more often the intent and the emphasis are key.

For example…

Rhetorical Question: How did I EVER manage to be a competent caregiver to my husband when I am such a wreck about a cat?

Answer: Ha, you only thought you were competent caregiver. You really suck at caregiving – for people and cats.

Curious Question: How DID I ever manage to be a competent caregiver to my husband when I am such a wreck about a cat?

Answer: That’s a good question. You rose to the occasion, and even though you cried and you prayed and you felt like you floundered through uncharted territory, you did what needed to be done. Maybe not perfectly, but well. Well enough. Maybe it only feels worse because it also brings up memories from before.

Hmmm. Curiosity not only honestly seeks an answer, but it holds hands with compassion.

I thought I knew that, but I guess I forgot.

Or maybe some lessons in this (hopefully upward) spiral of life are learned over and over.

And so I offer you this: When the voices in your head are asking you questions, hit the Pause button and ask yourself whether they think they already know the answer, or are they honestly looking for an answer? Are they open to a different answer?

And if you find yourself asking questions of other people, hit the pause button. Do you really want to find an answer? Or are you just trying to make a point?

Applying curiosity to the issue, and to our behavior, can change everything.

Note: Abby is recovering and I am regaining (?) my sanity. She is scheduled to have her stitches removed tomorrow, and hopefully life will return to some semblance of normalcy.


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Curiosity and CareGiving?


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The Backstory

A friend of mine has recently found herself being thrust into the role of Caregiver and, as we have chatted about it, I have been able to share some of what I learned from my own experiences as caregiver to my late husband.

At the end of one of our chats, she suggested I write a blog post about Curiosity and Caregiving.

I didn’t see the connection

Curiosity and Caregiving?

Quite honestly, I didn’t see it at first.

But the more I thought about my experiences, and about what we had been discussing, the more I saw a connection. I had simply been too close to it to notice it before.


She got me curious about the connection between curiosity and caregiving!

A different type of curiosity

Was curiosity involved when I was a Caregiver? Not the lighthearted, childlike quality we usually associate with curiosity. But I certainly did a lot of questioning and wondering, and these are definitely central to curiosity.

Not the railing-at-the-universe kind of questioning (Why me? Why Bruce?); that’s just not part of my vocabulary.

Searching for tools

But as his health began to deteriorate, I began searching for information. Thank Heaven for the internet, which made it possible for me to research Bruce’s condition and possible treatments, and to look for resources for myself. They say “knowledge is power,” and my need for information, my curiosity, drove me to search for knowledge that helped me to not feel powerless in the situation.

Is being desperate for answers curiosity? Yes, I suppose so. One type, anyway.

Searching for causes

As his health began to deteriorate, it also began to affect his personality. And I certainly had lots of questions about that. Why was he becoming so short-tempered (which was totally unlike him)? Was it me? Did he not love me anymore? I didn’t really believe that was the case. But I wondered, I questioned, and I came to several theories.

One theory was that his normally high pain tolerance wasn’t high enough anymore, and his pain level was exceeding his ability to cope with it. And the methods he had learned for coping with chronic pain were no longer working. For example, he told me long ago that he had learned to focus his attention on something exterior to him and send the pain to that; I suspected that melting doorknobs wasn’t working any longer.

Second, I began to suspect that, in addition to the physical pain he was in, part of what I was seeing was possibly related to some form of dementia. The research I had been doing kept turning up articles on coping with angry outbursts in people with dementia, and they described what I had been observing. This helped me to not be surprised when Bruce told me he was concerned about early-onset Alzheimer’s. I was almost relieved when he shared his concerns with me and told me about an episode that had particularly frightened him.

What did surprise me was when he told me he was afraid I would leave him now that I knew. And I realized that this fear was part of what was driving the behaviors that were part of a Bruce I didn’t recognize.

So when my friend came to me in great pain and frustration with the rude behavior of a friend for whom she has become a caregiver, I was able to help her wonder whether fear might be at the base of that behavior – fear of abandonment, fear about her deteriorating condition, fear of, well, everything.

Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t make bad behavior acceptable. But it does make it easier to understand, and this can make it easier to deal with.

Searching for new approaches

This is another area where curiosity is important in caregiving: Wondering what is happening with the other person, rather than judging them (“Oh, they’re just ______”) or taking it personally. Being willing to walk in their shoes for a moment.

And this is where curiosity and compassion go hand in hand. Curiosity must be non-judgmental and compassionate so that, as a caregiver, I can wonder, “Is s/he afraid? I probably would be. Maybe it would help set him/her at ease if I tried this.” And sometimes the this is just asking rather than assuming.

Curiosity, Tools and Compassion

Being a caregiver for my husband was both wonderful and horrible. And, in retrospect, curiosity did help me through it. By utilizing my curiosity to find information and resources, I was able to do (at least some of the time) what they tell in you in the airline safety talks: Put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help the person next to you.

It also gave me tools to give good care and be a better advocate with the medical professionals we encountered.

Perhaps most importantly, curiosity, coupled with compassion, also helped me to walk in Bruce’s shoes at times and to adjust my words and actions and pay attention to whether that helped or not. It also helped me to be compassionate with myself when I was tired or frustrated or scared or felt unappreciated or didn’t live up to my own expectations.


Funny, but until my friend asked me about it, I had not drawn a connection between curiosity and caregiving. It sheds some new light on my experience, and if you are in a caregiving situation, I hope it sheds some light on yours as well.

Whether you are the caregiver for an aging parent, a spouse, a sibling, child, or friend, be gentle with yourself as well as with them. Look at the situation through the lens of curiosity; it can help you find resources, and it may help you to shift the dynamics of a difficult situation. Looking back on it now, I can say that it did for me.

=>Here is a link to a resource I found tremendously helpful when I was in need of resources: http://www.caregiver.com

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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