Are You a Caregiver or a Caretaker?

Photo by Cindy Hesterman

Are you a caregiver or a caretaker?  I was a caregiver for a while when my elderly mother became ill and eventually passed away.  I had some tough decisions to make, which were emotionally and mentally draining, even though I had outside help.  It was important to me to know that my mother was comfortable and in the best situation she could be, where people were there to comfort her and hold her hand when she needed it.  It’s hard to be alone and I could only imagine that I would want to have someone there for me who truly cared.

There was an amazing volunteer from hospice who would come and relieve me when I was caring for my mother at the end of her life.  He had been a hospice volunteer for over 26 years.  He had retired and had apparently earned enough that he didn’t need to earn an income any longer.  He decided that what he wanted to do was to volunteer with hospice.  He spent his days – long days – going from dying person to dying person, providing words of comfort, reading to them and holding their hand.  He also gave caregivers a break so they could go take care of themselves for a few hours each day.  He was such an amazing man.  My mom passed away on a Saturday morning after I had been doing an all-night vigil for 5 days and nights.  This man had come every day to stay for a few hours so I could get a shower, run errands, and get some exercise.  I knew that my mom was in good hands with him.  That Saturday morning when he arrived, he told me he could only stay for about an hour because he had to see 14 patients that day:  14 patients in multiple locations!  It was a Saturday and he had already worked a full week.  To realize that he was ending his volunteer workweek by visiting 14 different patients at multiple locations was amazing to me.  What an incredible, caring person – truly a caregiver!

I’ve met some leaders who seem more like caretakers.  A caretaker is someone who is employed to take care of a property, a cemetery, etc.  They make it look better by planting flowers, pulling weeds, and doing other things to maintain the appearance of the property.  Of course, appearances can be deceiving, and the property may be in much worse shape than it looks.  Caretakers are usually working with innate objects, while caregivers are usually working with human beings.

In your business, are you acting more like a caretaker or a caregiver?  Are you just touching the surface, making things look nice, but never really engaging with the people around you or making a true connection?  How much more of an impact could you have by really getting to know your employees and giving them your care and attention?

I’d suggest that we’d all be better off if more leaders were true caregivers like my friend at hospice – giving from our hearts.

 

6 thoughts on “Are You a Caregiver or a Caretaker?

  1. Excellent blog Cindy. Thank you. Particularly for those of us who are caring for aging parents and grandparents.

  2. Excellent story here that really brings true leadership to light. Leaders that are truly caregivers act selflessly and not selfishly. Caregivers put the well being of others in front of their own while caretakers simply scratch the surface.

  3. Very nice, Cindy. Well-written, evocative – those of us with elderly parents can relate.

    And your ending point is one all our members should ponder – I will be sharing this with them.

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