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I Am Here: The Healing Journey of Caregiving

I Am Here: The Healing Journey of Caregiving
by Kevin Sharpe
Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2012
80 pages
Reviewed by David M. Denny

In a few clear, quiet, insightful pages, Kevin Sharpe describes his experience of caring for his dying father for twelve hours a day over fifteen months. In I Am Here: The Healing Journey of Caregiving, he shares the fundamental gift he received from this season: tenderness. Not a raw wound that needs healing, but a paradoxical tenderness that is strong and feels full and whole, becoming, as he says, “the ground of my inner landscape” (9).

Sharpe does not gloss over the exhaustion, the grind, or the feeling of being physically and emotionally overwhelmed by the marathon of caregiving. But through it all, he comes to deep insights and devotes a chapter to each. He notes the caregiver’s relative strength and capacity to give and the receiver’s need. Increasingly, this may involve sheer physical strength and endurance. Sharpe counsels caregivers to take a breath and note the inner landscape that, if ignored, may rise up later to overwhelm them.

Next, Sharpe notes the feelings he has once he is “off the clock” at home. He is never really “off the clock.” He has to leave the light on beside his bed; he cannot endure darkness. But he finds a truth below the truth of his exhaustion: acceptance of the reality of his situation. He doesn’t have to like it, but he must allow all vestiges of denial to dissolve. He moves from a beleaguered compliance with the demands of his life to a liberating choice: he embraces this grievous season.

He is there not only for his father, but for himself. He has little choice about what he must do, but he can choose how to be as he soldiers on. Sharpe learns to create an atmosphere of safety, a compassionate, silent listening presence. He learns to be “here with” his father, nothing more, as his father expresses distress at his condition.

Sharpe notes that it can become overwhelming here at the edge of empathy where the caregiver feels he or she may tumble into an abyss of grief. In this case, it is fine to step back from that cliff-like edge and return to the practical, the physical, simple services of feeding or clothing the loved one.

As Sharpe’s father’s health further declines, he begins hallucinating. His behavior becomes threatening. Sharpe wants his father back, and it is not going to happen. He needs to get help from his brother and he needs to allow himself to feel the maelstrom of grief, fear, and loss.

Sharpe walks us through the final minutes leading up to his father’s death and describes the threshold experience in which the whole world changes in a moment, a “moment” that is beyond or between chronological seconds, minutes, or hours.

One of the greatest strengths of this book is its brevity. Caregivers are often exhausted and in no mood to sit down for a long read. But one can pick this book up, read a chapter in minutes, and find oneself in very good, wise company. Spiritual directors may recommend this book to caregivers. It may be healing in itself and will encourage healing conversation.

Father David M. Denny is executive codirector of the Desert Foundation, a nonprofit organization and informal circle of friends exploring the wisdom of the world’s deserts with a special focus on peace, respect, and reconciliation among the three Abrahamic traditions. He is also an Outreach Preacher for Cross International Catholic Outreach.

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