Saturday, 26 September 2009

It's good to talk ...

I read my mother's copy of the book pictured here a couple of years before my father died. Hugh Marriott's The Selfish Pig's Guide to Caring is brutally honest and very well-written. The carer is encouraged to think of their own needs, to develop a"selfish pig" attitude. The person being cared for in the book is referred to for the most part as Person I Give Love and Endless Therapy to, or piglet for short.
The book is a debunk of sacrificial caring and tries to look at the caring paradigm from a very different angle. When one person in a family or couple is disabled or living with a chronic illness the whole family is affected.
One thing the book really encourages the carer (selfish pig) to do is to talk to whoever you happen to be in contact with in any situation - shop assistants, car park attendants, people in the street. It's a way of sharing the burden with wider society, which of course is keen to put a halo over your head as a carer but not so keen to try and help, listen or change things.
When I first read the book I was a bit shocked by some of it, but I understood why it spoke to my mother. For over 10 years at the end of his life my father was in a wheelchair because of his Parkinson's disease. Today, more than four year's after his death, she still has to have physiotherapy on her shoulder from the strain of lifting him several times a day. She often got to the end of her emotional and physical tether and didn't find it easy to talk about.
Wandering around the market today on my own I watched all sorts of people and saw two couples where one had Parkinson's disease. I could see and sense the isolation for these couples, but I also noticed how brilliant the market stall holders were in talking with and listening to both carer and cared for. I also know though that there will probably have been hours of preparation for carer and cared for just to get to these moments of interaction with wider society outside the home.
Be you a carer, be you cared for, be you alone or in a family group, communication with others is one of the things that makes us human. It's good to talk, to share the burden to feel part of something beyond ourselves.
I've had great conversations today with the woman in the cheese shop and with the waiter at the restaurant about how wonderful the north of France is. They were inconsequential in many ways, not deeply meaningful chats and yet reflecting on them makes me think that they were part of the essential interaction that makes life into life rather than just existing. So who have you been talking to today?


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Really interested in the way this keys into what Robin Skynner concluded in "Institutes and how to survive them" (nothing to do with Calvin!). He studied hospital staff and concluded that the ones who managed to be honest about meeting their own needs built a culture of generosity in the hospital, as opposed to those who pretended to be doing it all out of pure altruism, and resented the patients. To cut a long story short. Thanks for great post...

Jane said...

Alan thanks for your comment. I've been reading part of the Cleese and Skynner book for my course on international leadership with the Craighead institute. I think that generous as opposed to miserly organisational cultures do tend to be healthier places to work. what itnerests me is that the non-profit sector can often produce some of the least generous and healthy places for people to work - the health service as well of course. I often feel profoundly challenged by the fact that private companies sometimes know how to treat their staff better than soem churches do. Churches often have this rather weird judgemental / forgiveness dynamic that is not very healthy.