Rosalynn Carter's Caregiver Legacy
Acknowledging caregiving and caregivers may have been her greatest gift to all of us
Forget politics. Let's think about love.
The world could use more love — actually a lot more.
Many people have become horribly divisive, snarky, judgemental, cruel even to their own family members who don't agree with them on issues or view life differently because of their age.
People don't want to discuss or deal. They certainly don't want to seek common ground. So they don't.
We live in a world filled with bickering, insulting and gossiping. Whoever can fire a verbal shot or write a social media insult the fastest wins. People stay defensive and will argue and snap over anything — pumpkin pies, dogs, even eight-inch grass — these days.
Selfishness and hatefulness rule. With those two attributes as the core for most people's attitudes, people lose sight of whats important like helping their neighbors or checking on friends or family even if they only live a few miles up the road.
Planet Earth in 2023 is cold and selfish.
Rosalyn Carter, who passed away Sunday afternoon at age 96, was not from the 21st century.
She offered a genteel kindness that extended to her homestate of Georgia, the United States and the world. She embraced — literally — people from all walks of life. She also gave unconditional love to her husband of 77 years, and he returned it.
Former President Jimmy Carter, the country's oldest living president at 98, said, “Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” former President Jimmy Carter said in a statement on Sunday. “She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me.”
You have no heart or soul if that statement doesn't make tears dance on the rims of your eyes.
The Carters’ love was a romance for the ages. They supported each other in good times and bad. And in politics, there are plenty of bad times.
Where Jimmy was, Rosalynn was, too, usually. They respected and honored each other. They had faith. They beat to their own drum of doing what's right and calling out what's wrong.
People are lucky, blessed, call it what you will, to find that in life much less these days with couples broadcasting every personal tidbit about their relationships on social media. Few of them are out building houses for others like the Carters did year after year around the world even when they seemingly seemed too old to be holding hammers and saws. But they did it, and that's probably what kept them going into their nineties.
But aside from President Carter, Mrs. Carter — it simply seems dishonorable to call her Rosalynn — was her own woman in the White House and long after she left.
She tackled mental health issues when no one else dared because of the subject's stigma. She kept the issue alive, realizing people can't be healthy if they aren't healthy wholly.
But I most admire Mrs. Carter for her work on the issue of caregiving.
In 1987, Mrs. Carter founded Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers (RCI) “to support the unique needs of caregivers those who selflessly cared for family and friends; and build on her belief that everyone is a caregiver now, has been a caregiver, or will either be or need a caregiver in the future. Over the last 36 years, RCI has grown to support all unpaid caregivers, which number more than 53 million people in the United States.”
Mrs. Carter once said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world — those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
As a caregiver for my dad with the help of my mom and then as the sole caregiver for my mom at home as she battled COPD and then four brutal months of lung cancer, I learned quite a bit about caregiving. More than I ever thought I would know and certainly more than I ever wanted to know.
Caregiving is the hardest job a person will ever do. A lot of people don’t do it. They pay someone else to do it. Those very people who toss loved ones off to someone's care may one day need help themselves.
But for those who take the challenge, caregiving is the saddest, loneliest, and most stressful job ever, caring for someone you love, watching them struggle, dealing with doctors and nurses, hoping the next day is better but knowing constantly that may not be the case. A never-ending rollercoaster of emotion and exhaustion.
Caregiving is also the most rewarding job and one you will never regret when it finally ends. You will wear those caregiving scars with pride, and hopefully will help others do the same.
I have no regrets knowing what I did for my parents, especially my mom — the woman who birthed me and for whom I could pay back at the end of her life for all the sacrifices she made for me. The long lonely terrifying nights, listening to her breath, wondering if it was her last one, the laughter among a lot of tears, her last breath while I stood by her side. Zero regrets.
It's poignant that Mrs. Carter died the week leading into Thanksgiving, a time of reflection and gratefulness. You have an opportunity to lend a helping hand and share something — a slice of pie, a cup of coffee or just your voice on the other end of the phone — with those who are alone, and perhaps grieving silently, because no one bothers to care about them.
You can also help caregivers. Text them. Take a plate of food to them. Offer to give them a break for an hour. Just say hello on the phone. A human voice goes a long way.
Caregivers are the strongest among us, but often forgotten. They can always use support and love, every day but especially around the holidays.
In Mrs. Carter’s memory this week be a bright torch for those caregivers who are weary and worried. Offer hope. Reach out to someone who may need a simple “How are you?” to keep hanging on another day.
And remember Mrs. Carter's words:
“There are only four kinds of people in the world — those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
Chances are you were a caregiver at one point, you are one now, you will be one in the future or you will need one. You never know what boat you will be rowing at any point in life.
Carry a legacy like Mrs. Carter. Be a beacon whenever and wherever you can.
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