(Photo by Selma Komisky)
A Look Back at Lessons from Caregiving
By Sarah Komisky
10 years ago, my world was shattered. I’ll never forgot my mom’s blank look as she hung up the phone with the three words, “they found cancer.” These are the words you hear in movies. I’ve heard them from others, but when this reality hit my home, it was quite different. At the time I was in my early 20’s, just finished with Christmas, and days out of a long-standing relationship. Life seemed to be a blur. I had transferred into my dream school. Then, life happened. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.
In the Bible, there is a tiny four-chapter book called Ruth that is my absolute favorite for many reasons; one being that I can relate to Ruth as a caregiver so much. When we first meet this young adult woman, we enter her bleak world, devoid of her husband. Naomi, who also lost her husband and two sons, tells her daughter-in-laws (Oprah and Ruth) to go back to their homeland and remarry. Ruth and Orpah now at a crossroads have a choice: stand by the newly widowed Naomi or pursue their own goals.
I too was at that crossroads. The trajectory of my life had taken a massive turn. Like Ruth, I was newly single and in an emotional whirlwind. Many in this place choose to leave when things get hard. Like Orpah, they pack their bags when caregiving doesn’t fit into their plans, dreams, or goals. I’ve met people who have done this to fulfill their own wants. For me, that was never an option. I would do whatever necessary to help stand by my mom because I loved her. Like Naomi, my mom urged me that she was okay and to continue my schooling and not miss out. She wanted to see my dreams fulfilled, but like Ruth said, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go. I will go…” (Ruth 1:16). I willingly chose to not leave my mother’s side. So, I decided to finish off my semester the best I knew how and then take a year off of school to enter the school of servitude.
When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, you enter a new world where you have to learn a new language. Like Ruth, I went into a foreign land with my mom and in the process, saw blessing. I waited in surgical waiting rooms, learning some nursing skills to help in my mom’s recovery, flat ironed her hair when she couldn’t, and went market shopping when she wasn’t able. When it was time for treatment, we took nightly walks to build strength. I refined my culinary skills that, at the time, honestly wasn’t the best. Just like a tea bag in hot water, you discover what you’re made of in hard times.
Like Ruth, who jumped into caregiving for her mother-in-law by gleaning in the fields and figured out how to provide and best care for her family, I too was figuring things out along the way. I learned responsibility and overall what it means to self-sacrifice. Caregiving is not easy. At times, it’s heartbreaking, but overshadowing the pain is the joy. I had some of the most amazing and precious moments caring for my mom that I will cherish forever. I also met amazing people when I accompanied my mom to her cancer support group. Most of these people who were seriously ill were the most joyful people I encountered, and I learned so much about life spending time with them! Just like Ruth and Naomi who were in the thick of it, I experienced God’s provision, I witnessed incredible miracles and experienced sweet moments unlike any other time in my life. Also, my caregiving wasn’t a duty. It was a delight. Like Ruth who served out of love, I too served out of love.
In the world, the philosophy is to look out for yourself. Do what is right for you. Most of us want to care for ourselves, but do we want to make the investment of caring for others? Jesus said it like this; “Love your neighbor as yourself” as one of the greatest commandments next to loving God. When you sacrifice, others might oppose you or even try to convince you otherwise as if to say you’ll be “missing out” on life. I think it’s the opposite. I actually became enriched. Like Ruth, I had the opportunity to mold and develop my character with loyalty, compassion, humility, servitude, diligence, and faith. It was these qualities that made her such a stellar woman and one I would totally want to hang out with!
I am sure as Ruth was celebrating in that last chapter of this amazing book. Now married to a good guy named Boaz and cradling her baby boy in her arms, there wasn’t a regret in her mind. Looking back, I am almost positive that she saw it was for good. Looking back, I too can say the same thing. Giving myself for my mom’s sake was completely worth it if I could help her become the better version of herself. If I could take her farther, if I could support in any way in my singleness, it was totally worth it. The bonus was all the incredible life lessons I learned in the boiler room of life that I can see were proprietary and continue to be.
My mom’s stage of cancer put her in a category that writes people off. But God didn’t. Instead, my God transformed her into a survivor and remnant of grace. Today, cancer free and out of that difficult season in life, we know with God all things are possible. Just like Ruth and Naomi in that final chapter, we reflect, and we celebrate. This is why I call all you singles to not say no to something that would require you to take a risk and sacrifice for another. Put yourself aside for a bit (God’s got your dreams just like he did with Ruth) and serve. Even if it’s for a few hours, one a week, or maybe even a prolonged season like myself, you will not regret it. You’ll find the greatest joy is forged in giving, and the greatest lessons found in your darkest hours. If you want to go to grow, if you want to be the best possible you, say yes. I don’t know about you, but I am not satisfied being one dimensional. I don’t want to quit when the going gets tough. No, I want to learn how to navigate the storm and learn how to dance in the rain. You’ll discover that puddles are also to jump in, and that rain clouds can also clear. Let God write your story and when the clouds roll back, look back and thank Him for the beautiful things He did.