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    When Do You Shower?

    Monetary compensation is not what caregivers long for.

    By Rebekah Curtis

    November 14, 2021
    • Mario scorziello

      Thank you for the article. How difficult it has become in our frantic world to see the needs of those around. How much i need the Lord Jesus to open my eyes.

    • Susan Nachazel

      That article was BEAUTIFUL. Having been there at one time, it was somewhat heart-wrenching, also. Thank you for putting it into words, and helping me more aware of the needs of others.

    • MG Hodgin

      Thank you for all the wonderful insights in this article. This is more powerful than you know and I for one want to say thanks again. As the main caregiver for a 96 year old mother in law with dementia and her mentally disabled 62 years old ( “going on 5”) daughter, I am grateful for all the things they can, at this moment, still do for themselves, like eating. But I see a near term day even that ability will leave. So, I too appreciate the opportunity to shower! Thanks again for the insightful article.

    Not long before the world shut down, I went to visit a friend in home hospice. The nurse on duty was her niece, who showed me to my friend’s room, and then asked, “Do you mind if I shower while you’re here?” I did not mind. My visit surely gave me more than it gave my friend who lay at the threshold of heaven. On my way out, I ran into the niece again. “Thank you,” she said, “I hope that wasn’t too weird for me to ask.”

    The dichotomy of bathing has become axiomatic to understanding the collars of the labor force. White-collar workers shower before work. Blue-collar workers shower when they get home. Whites must arrive clean; blues must leave dirty. But there is another class of showerers: those who can only shower when another person can take over for a few minutes. These opportunity-showerers are those whose work does not include breaks by law or by nature. They are those for whom a moment of inattention could be catastrophic. They are those whose duty is vigilance, and whose compensation may be little more than not having failed. The opportunity-showerers are volunteer caregivers.


    Photograph by Jevgenija Sorokina

    I am no stranger to showering in the middle of the night, the minute a guest arrives, and under other absurd contrivances of opportunity. Our household is populated by eight children born within sixteen years of each other. Often safety did not allow an adult to be less than immediately available. So I didn’t find my friend’s niece request to shower while I was there weird. Sometimes I have found showering to be a diagnostic tool for evaluating tenuous caregiving situations. A friend approached me to ask how often was normal for a mother with several small children to shower; she was worried about an acquaintance whose health seemed compromised. The friend was so short on support that she had gone five days without showering.

    Norms ruling showering are, of course, strongly cultural, but culture matters. Opportunity-showering can be demoralizing. The caregiver finally has ten minutes to herself, and she must use them to shower. She must return the freedom of the person who has given her these ten minutes, or attend to other duties that can only be accomplished when she is not giving care, or sleeping. Showering feels simultaneously selfish and draining, inexorably demanded and yet gained by begging. Showering takes too long, and is also nowhere near long enough, for a person whose scarcest resource is personal time.

    There is a class of showerers who can only shower when another person can take over for a few minutes.

    The problem of showering for caregivers has not been solved by the industrial revolution, feminism, capitalism, or any other societal paradigm shift. It will not be solved by public policy or by attempting to universally impose a new set of values; neither does it need to be. Caring for caregivers is the duty and privilege of those around them. What is needed for the system to operate effectively is a mutual understanding of vocation and neighborhood. It is so simple as to sound simplistic: “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:25–26).

    What do those who provide respite to a caregiver learn from her need to shower? That caregiving is a real, time-consuming task; that freedom from worrying about those in her care comes from another’s willing reception of that duty; that the freedom to shower any time is a gift. It is not wrong to appreciate such a freedom. It is also no virtue to be stingy in making this comfort available to a person whose life is short on comfort.

    A happy caregiver is one who receives the same kind of care she gives.

    Calls for caregiver support generally assume that aid will be monetary. Perhaps the forces of history will see fit to begin writing checks to families that choose in-home care for their young, their disabled, their ill, and their old. Even so, a pro-family policy or a tax-funded check cannot provide full compensation, for her work is also validated by the willingness of others who support her in carrying out her work diligently. How many caregivers would see that check turned into fifteen minutes they didn’t have before? The nature of volunteer work is to absorb costs, not to generate them. An infusion of cash will not necessarily mean carryout, babysitters, and housekeeping services for a modest household with a care provider. It would more likely go toward improving the quality of unavoidable expenses: the kids might get better shoes, the car might get replaced this year instead of next.

    A happy caregiver is one who receives the same kind of care she gives: immediate, personal, and attentive to the needs of the moment. She does not want less of her work; far less does she want to outsource it to a hired hand. In that regard, a material benefit would surely be valuable to any household with a volunteer caregiver. However, many households already exist without such support. This demonstrates that they operate under a very different economic ethos than those in which no members function primarily as volunteers. The extra breathing room of better shoes and an expedited car upgrade may not relieve much of the caregiver’s “shower insecurity.”

    The contemporary American household effectively has two preferred kinds of members: moneymakers and school-goers. The moneymakers’ function is obvious, and the school-goers’ function is to become moneymakers. During the day, moneymakers and school-goers are so busy that opportunities for cooperative support of the household are limited. Still, such opportunities for incorporation into a functioning body can be found. The one who makes the best toast, the one whose smile is brightest, the one who can defuse harsh words, the one who remembers the lyrics – each of these make the body a body rather than a pile of knees and future knees.

    The presence of a member who cannot participate in the two preferred memberships – a baby, for example, or someone bedridden – helps a household become more truly incorporated. This person teaches us the blessing of a toast expert, an outstanding smile, a gentle answer, a whole song. And the main caregiver will be the first to notice these things. She will ponder them in her heart, and help them to grow and flourish. Maybe see if she’s had a chance to shower today.

    Contributed By

    Rebekah Curtis is a church lady and at-home mom. She has written for a number of websites, magazines, and books, and is co-author of LadyLike (Concordia Publishing).

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