Friday, 1 November 2019

The Cost of Silencing Yourself

Yesterday I was driving home from a hospital clinic appointment for our son (it was routine and went fine) and as usual, I was listening to the radio. I began to listen intently to the story of Leah Hager Cohen, a 50 year old Canadian who made a silent vow to donate a kidney as a personal act of altruism. When Cohen finally broke the news to her partner, she had already been accepted to the hospital donation program. He was deeply hurt that his life partner had not shared this decision and the couple is still working through that breech of trust. 

What interested me was Cohen's reason for not sharing her choice with anyone. She said that all her life, she had been a natural caregiver. She is a teacher, a mother and a wife. She has been blessed with good health (something that she felt was a random and somewhat undeserved blessing). But here's the thing - she also said "All my life, I have forced my values and choices to align with others' in order to make them happy and as evidence of my caring. I wanted to do this and own the decision. I wasn't afraid of what my partner would say, I was afraid of MYSELF - of my own inability to stay true to my choice." 

I found myself reflecting on whether aligning decisions and choices with the needs and preferences of others is necessary to the happiness of caregivers and their families. Or, is it just that women are less good at negotiating hard but respectfully for the things that they really want or need? What about Cohen's husband and his role as a caregiver after Cohen's surgery? He didn't have a choice about that, but he did it. 

Does our ability to negotiate personal choice erode after years of caring because it's just easier not to rock the boat? And then, is it acceptable to break the habit of capitulation no matter the cost to our relationships? What can we learn from Cohen's experience? Maybe it's just to think through what is most important to us and then talk about it first with someone who is trusted and non-judgemental. Bravery and determination in communicating the choices we make is necessary but so is respect and the consideration of others' realities. It's a tricky balance.

1 comment:

Unprepared Caregiver said...

This is such a powerful post Donna. This line is one that is working its way through me as it resonates in so many ways the caregiver experience and orientation to others. I keep re-reading the last paragraph because it highlights the ongoing disclosure tensions in the care-based relationship. Thank you for these wise and profound thoughts.