Taking Care

When is volunteerism avoidance?

I remember clearly my gritchy response when my father praised an older sister for her visible presence in Kiwanis. “She does great volunteer work,” he bragged.

“Big deal,” I snarled. “She won’t even visit her own mother.”

Well, there’s always more to the story, isn’t there? But for me at that time, when I was leaving my own business to travel 300+ miles to help another sister care for my mother, I didn’t care about the back story. I saw it all in black and white.

The older I get the more I see shades of gray. However, there is one thing that is very clear to me; if I criticize anyone for behavior I will surely be faced with a similar situation with a hard decision that has no clear answer.

Another thing I know for sure?  It is simpler to buy groceries for a housebound person that to invite a couple of bat-shit crazy relatives to lunch in the garden on a late-summer day. That it is easier to read to a stranger for an hour than to haul one’s baggage to visit a troublesome relative or to take on the responsibility of long-term care.

And sadly, our social structure gives more accolades to the volunteer than to the son who takes time off from work to make sure his mother has someone with her at the doctor’s office. Or the daughter who misses time her grandson’s game because her aging mother can’t be left alone. We empathize with the exhaustion of the great-grandmother who is responsible for a three-year-old  four days a week, but her contribution doesn’t carry the cachet of spending time rocking babies in the pediatric ward.

Rather than plaques and certificates caregivers are awarded a certain amount of pity sprinkled with a little disbelief and conjecture as to motives.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking volunteerism. It is a worthy and admirable avocation which will become more and more valuable in our global aging population. It’s just that I can feel that inner sneer when I am happier to talk about devoting time to hospice than I am to make a commitment to friends and family who may need me.

I’m questioning myself. (And, perhaps, our system.)




  1. My siblings and their spouses were unanimous in not wanting to take in our father when our step mother passed away and his step children did not want to bear the load of responsibility of looking after him despite his having spent more than 2/3rd of his life caring for them. I decided on the insistence of my late wife to take him in despite my siblings calling me an idiot for doing that, I do not blame them for their action nor myself for getting into that knowing fully well that it would be unpleasant to say the least.

    Our system, what little there is, is heavily dependent on family giving care to their elders and in my father’s case, had he moved into an assisted living facility, he would have been kicked out in short order not too long into his stay there. I would have then had to go to his rescue anyway!

    Some of us are blessed to be able to do volunteer work while not really caring for our own. It is there prerogative and I do not envy them that,


    • I am in your corner, Ramana. In the world of caregiving, volunteering to take care of one’s own is high on the list for me. I think there are many cases where institutions are the only choice. And in that case, vigilance and family/friend is just as necessary to insure good care.


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