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Because caregivers, volunteer and professionals may have non-traditional schedules, select coaching and consulting engagements are for early morning, evening and weekends.
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Caring for others has been a constant theme in my life. As a child, I remember my mother caring for the six of us, my three brothers and two sisters, each with our individual needs. She cared for us when we were sick, or sad or when the rest of our world seemed too scary or harsh to navigate alone.
I remember my father, also a physician specializing in pathology, but more in his roles outside of work, caring for friends, family, neighbors who sought his advice. This often happened at odd hours like when a child had a fever on Christmas day, or in the grocery line when a young woman with three children approached him after she had received an unexpected and devastating diagnosis of advanced breast cancer.
My father had the mind of a physician but the hands of a healer--long tapered fingers that moved in perfect harmony together, and could do anything from tending rose bushes to repairing soapbox derby cars, to painting the beautiful pictures we still cherish now that he is gone, to healing and comforting those in pain.
And I remember wanting to be like my father and my mother--taking care of anyone and everyone who needed care whenever and wherever they needed it. I chose a career in medicine because of this passion.
My journey as a physician, nonprofit volunteer and as a caregiver has literally taken me around the globe. From my internship in San Francisco caring for AIDS patients in 1984--when and AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence--to present day in Haiti where I witness, and sometimes provide, much needed healthcare for individuals and communities with extremely limited resources.
My current perspective with creating Beyond Words Wellness Resources has also been informed by the different caregiver roles I’ve had. Nearly 20 years ago, my perspective as a new physician abruptly changed to frightened mother of a child with cancer. A few years later, along with my brothers and sisters, I clumsily orchestrated my parents final years in a skilled nursing facility. And a few years after that, we tragically accompanied my dear older brother during his declining struggle with heart disease and alcoholism.
More recently, I witnessed and briefly shared in caregiving experiences at the Pabalelong Hospice in Metsimotlhabe, Botswana. Pabalelong—meaning place of love and caring in Setswana—truly is a such a place. The compassionate caregivers at the Pabalelong Hospice, many with HIV, care for others at the end of their lives.
What struck me as a child, though I didn’t have the words to describe my feelings, and what continues to move me now, is the unique beauty and dignity present in all these caregiving situations.
This beauty and dignity develops through shared memories often brought forth in the caregiving relationship. These memories, are each individual’s life story, an affirmation of their accomplishments, hopes and fears and values. Claiming and sharing this legacy is important in lessening physical pain, and in strengthening our emotional and spiritual connections with one another. No doubt I became more acutely aware of this outside my professional role as a physician and in my role as a mother, daughter and through my experiences in international caregiving. I am grateful for being a part of these beautiful and meaningful relationships.
So why does my caregiver story continue with Beyond Words Wellness Resources?
As my parents’ health declined, as we lost my brother, as I came to terms with the awareness that the work we do as nonprofit advocates and as a healthcare professional is important, but likely will never be enough. I experienced more and more moments when I lost touch with my sense of joy with life, even my gratitude and compassion for others. While I continued to care for others and the causes I loved despite this, my own wellness suffered, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I have also seen these moments and loss of wellness in those around me--in the nonprofit world and in my community of family and friends. I have felt and seen others disconnect and at times, become destructive to the people and causes they love. I am convinced, and the studies support, that compassion fatigue is common, under-recognized and results in considerable harm to individuals, families and communities.
Gratefully, in the past few years, I have been able to reconnect with the joy, compassion and wellness in my life. And most days, the balanced wellness I feel in my life now is stronger than it has ever been. Yet I know that realizing compassionate, joyful wellness has been, and likely will be a process that continues as long as I am engaged in the caregiving community. A community I plan to be a part of for the rest of my life.
My path back to wellness required deep reflection and mindfulness. I was also fortunate to encounter several individuals who supported me during this journey—my family, a few dear friends and my coaching colleagues. The insights they helped me to uncover were all authentically mine and helped to reignite my sense of curiosity and call forth my creativity, my strengths and my sense of purpose and passion.
As part of my wellness journey, I also reaffirmed my connection with the natural world, which has been a source of joy, peace and healing for me throughout my life. Just as importantly, I learned to celebrate more often. For indeed, celebration is indeed the outward expression of our gratitude.
As a physician, public health professional, wellness coach, and as a mother, daughter and nonprofit advocate, I believe that individuals and nonprofit organizations who care for others provide an invaluable service for individuals, communities and society at large.
I also believe that many of us, experience compassion fatigue that limits our caring for ourselves and the people and causes we love. I am also convinced that the culture of our societies, those around us, our communities and the nonprofit sector has for too long encouraged and admired selfless caregiving.
I am heartened that this mindset is changing. We are beginning to recognize and advocate for the reality that caring for ourselves, maintaining balanced wellness--mind, body and spirit--is not selfish, but is essential to healthy families, communities and global societies.
Beyond Words Wellness Resources is committed to being part of this growing movement. A movement that celebrates the volunteer and professional caregivers of our world and supports wellness in those who care for others—one individual, one community, one nonprofit organization at a time!
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your journey to joyful, compassionate wellness!
Rosemary Hanrahan, MD, MPH
Beyond Words Wellness Resources, Founder