TODAY, we welcome the author of A Guide for Caregivers: Keeping Your Spirit Healthy When Your Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities Are Dragging You Down for a ReadTheSpirit author interview …
DAVID: You’re an expert on these challenges affecting at least 65 million caregivers, plus millions more—the loved ones these caregivers are helping. You’re a professional, a scholar in this field—but the truth is:
This is personal for you, right?
BENJAMIN: Yes, for 30 years, I was a pastoral counselor in the D.C. and Virginia area. Because of many men and women I came to know through my practice, I have to admit that I get angry now when I hear politicians taking cheap shots at government workers. I have worked with a lot of men and women in our military, in government service, in Congress, in the courts—and I can tell you that they are a very hard-working group of people. In fact, they’re so dedicated that they are prone to burnout.That’s why I first gained so much insight into burnout—which is one of the big challenges for caregivers today.
Then, I became a caregiver for my wife for an eight-year period. She was struck with debilitating issues in her early 60s and, despite the best medical care, this meant she was in pain often around the clock. That was true for one 18-month period in particular. I don’t know how many times I took her to emergency rooms. We saw specialists. We tried alternative approaches. We tried every way possible to relieve her constant pain. For me, this was so hard, as her caregiver, that I struggled with depression myself. I had to go for counseling myself. So, I understand the enormity of what people are going through on a daily basis. Yes, this is very personal to me.
Finally, in researching this book, I met so many caregivers, spent time with them and took their wisdom to heart. The original idea for this book came from a pastor friend of mine who told me that I should do a book with a title like: When Parenting Never Ends. His adult son had been hospitalized with mental illness and he was feeling the pain and helplessness of being a parent who had huge responsibilities for his son. That pastor asked me to lead a small group of parents and grandparents who were caring for children of all ages and conditions. That’s where this whole pilgrimage began.
DAVID: From your years, you have truly assembled a tested-and-true collection of tips, inspirational ideas and techniques! People surely will find something to help them with their spiritual challenges.
BENJAMIN: In the Acknowledgments section of this book, I thank many individuals and groups who shared their lives with me. To protect their privacy, I did not name them all. But, for example, two adult women with cerebral palsy, who live with caregivers, made a very important contribution to this book. Early in the planning stage, they looked me in the eye and said: “Keep it short! Remember—people in most caregiving relationships don’t have time to read much at any given moment.” I heard that advice from many others, too, and this book is designed with short, easy-to-read segments. You can enjoy some of these helpful pieces is less than a minute.
CAREGIVING TIP: SONGS TO REMEMBER OUR HOPE
DAVID: You could almost flip this book open anywhere. You’ve got one section that I know readers already are responding to in large numbers. It’s about the music you sing or play throughout the day. Music can have an enormous influence on our spiritual well-being. You explain a bit about how this works. Then, you’ve found a whole series of inspiring quotations about music—drawing from a rock star to Beethoven. But, the best part of this section of the book is your invitation for readers to share online their own favorite music.
Even before your book was launched today, we asked readers nationwide to send in these musical suggestions. We call this growing list “Songs to Remember Our Hope.” Not a day goes by that we don’t get more recommendations from readers. Now that the book is launched, I’m sure we will get a steady stream. This will be fun to check out on a regular basis, right?
BENJAMIN: I’ve added a few of my own favorites to the list now, but the whole point is for readers to share their ideas. I really hope readers will visit that page and send in more suggestions. More importantly, I hope they will get the book and read the whole section on music and singing.
DAVID: We should point out that this Caregivers project is big! It will expand through 2012, so eventually there will be as many as six books in this series—and lots of new web content is coming throughout this winter. So, stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit—and order these books as they become available. Just last month, we published the first book in this Caregivers series: Guide for Grief.
At first glance, these topics may seem distinctively different, but the big uniting principle is that reaching out to caregivers—and people receiving care—is the greatest spiritual challenge of this decade in America.
GREATEST SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE OF THE DECADE
BENJAMIN: Being a caregiver myself—and working on this book—these experiences have brought me a number of insights. One very important insight is the difference between religion and spirituality. In the past, like many, I enjoyed splitting hairs about the big religious questions: the nature of God, beliefs about heaven and hell and so on. As a caregiver, though, that no longer interested me. I needed to live my life in a way that gave me a reason to wake up each morning with energy for a new day—and to go to bed each night feeling that I had been a blessing and had been blessed in the way I cared for my wife. So, while I was caring for her so intensively, I wanted to live as if God was being revealed in my life through my journey of seeking compassion and concern for my spouse.
As they say in AA, “Religion is for those who want to stay out of Hell; Spirituality is for those who have already been there.” What we have in the pages of this Guide for Caregivers are the spiritual practices I find valuable to maintain a healthy spirit when your caregiver duties and responsibilities are dragging you down.
THE BOND WITH LESSONS FROM BOND
DAVID: And that final phrase is now the subtitle of the book. Of course, many of our readers know that this is your second book in three years. You published Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins & 007’s Moral Compass in 2008. Now you are releasing A Guide For Caregivers. Some folks are already commenting that you couldn’t have chosen two more different subjects. I’m sure you’ll beg to differ, right?
BENJAMIN: At first blink this may look like two completely different subjects, but actually reading these two books reveals at least one major unifying theme in both books. What got me really interested in the James Bond novels was the number of times that the actual word accidie (often spelled acedia) appears as a motivator of Bond and his most evil enemies. Accidie is one of the traditional deadly sins that describes a loss of faith in the goodness of God, a spiritual dryness, a loss of joy in life, lethargy, boredom, cynicism about life and relationships. That Fleming made this a central descriptor of his most evil characters is what set me on the trail of discovering his oft missed purpose in writing the adventure tales of James Bond. But, examine the description of accidie above and you have the unfortunate condition of the spirit of countless caregivers, too. I have attempted in both books to help folks understand and counter accidie in our lives. Accidie is a spiritual issue and needs spiritual practices to combat it.
Care to read more on Caregiving?
Guide for Caregivers: Learn about this very helpful book and online project.
Guide for Caregivers: Songs to remember our hope—including songs you can hear right now.
Guide for Grief: Help in Surviving the Stages of Grief and Bereavement after a Loss.
Check out Caregivers on Facebook.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.