Caregiving as Meditation

What is the role of mindfulness while caregiving? —And what steps did Patricia Hoolihan take when raising her son to be a more caring man? 

Health

Written by: Kelly Fisher

11.02.2021

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Photo by: Dingzeyu Li

What is the role of mindfulness while caregiving? —And what steps did Patricia Hoolihan take when raising her son to be a more caring man?

Patricia Hoolihan’s latest book Hands and Hearts Together, a meditation book for caregivers, hopes to be that extra support caregivers often need. Caregiving is a timely and important topic especially during our Covid-19 reality, yet often is tough and underappreciated work.

What is a caregiver? 

Defining caregiving can be tricky since it can look so different and take on many different forms, but as Patricia commented, “What it really boils down to is that caregiving is a role that someone takes on to help somebody else get through a period of vulnerability.” Caregiving is often performed for a family member or loved one, but it can also happen between a wide range of people in different kinds of relationships. Caregiving is something many people are engaged in; in the U.S. it is estimated that there are 53 million people in caregiving roles, which is about 21% of the population.

The Book She Wished She Had

Patricia’s own motivation for writing the book was based upon her own personal experiences. While she played a role in caregiving for several of her aunts and uncles, it was when she cared for her mother during the last four years of her life that she felt really plugged into the role of a caregiver. This role was intense, made even more intense by the fact that was working and being a mother at the same time.

Often caregiving work is intimate and highly rewarding, but it can also be draining. Patricia read meditation books throughout her own time as a caregiver to try and find solace or insight, but felt none captured what she was going through. This inspired her to write this book, and for it to the be one she wished she had while caregiving.

Photo of author Patricia Hoolihan by Judy Griesedieck,

Meditations and Mindfulness

The book is written as a daily meditation book with 366 different meditations. Patricia, who has published several other meditation books, finds this a good format for meditation books. “The format is tried and true, there is a quote, following the quote, two paragraphs on the subject, with a closing thought for the day which is meant to help someone reflect on the day.” One of the things that is key to this book is that each daily meditation is only a page. It is quick and accessible, which is important for caregivers since they usually have so much going on and are balancing so many other things.

These meditations are also written to help achieve a degree of mindfulness in what is often intense work as a caregiver. “In caregiving you are dealing with huge issues, and there are lots of worries, concerns, and uncertainties. Often you don’t have much control over the situation, but what you can control is trying to be the most present you possibly can be with this person, during that specific moment.”

One of the other draining and challenging parts of caregiving is that it is day in, day out work, which you do for weeks, months, or even years. The book is also written to be that extra boost and motivation, to hopefully remind those who are doing this work that it matters what they do, and that it is appreciated. This is especially important since caregiving isn’t always very visible, or celebrated.

Undervalued

The type of value put on caregiving work varies from country to country. But in the case of the U.S., and many other countries as well, this work is undervalued, and for those paid professionals doing it, underpaid. Covid-19 has flipped our world upside down in many ways, but one of those is that it has revealed how reliant our society is on care-giving work.

Patricia finds some hope in that. “Covid-19 has helped to distill down the importance of relationships and caring for one another. So I do think there has been an increased appreciation and awareness around that.” There is further evidence of this appreciation from a governmental level in the U.S., with Biden outlining a special funding plan to expand funding and access for caregiving work.

Photo of Patricia and her son Kelly. Photo: Private.

Another challenge with the future of caregiving is that it is divided among gendered lines; where in the U.S. you have 60% of caregivers are women. Being a man who would willingly step into caregiving, I asked my mom Patricia how she raised me to be more comfortable with this type of caring. “How we tried to model this for you was key as parents. From how we looked out for our neighbors during tough times, to bringing you along when we visited your grandmother at the nursing home, and exposing you to this type of caring.”

I know that when my day comes to be a caregiver I will reach for this book as a resource, and if you know any people in your community navigating this tricky work, order a copy for them here.