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Posted: January 24, 2008

Spousal Caregiving

Humility: A Spousal Family Caregiver Virtue

Bill Andrew

Humility is the foundation of faith-based family caregiving. Being a family caregiver for a loved one -- a spouse, a parent, a child, or other family member -- can be considered a "work of mercy." To provide the support needed for a loved one, a family caregiver must be humble -- or must humble himself or herself -- in order to handle the dirty work that a family caregiver must provide on occasion for that loved one.

I know; I have been a spousal family caregiver for my wife Carol for more than 13 years. Carol, my wife of more than 56 years, has late-stage Alzheimer's disease and is totally dependent upon me for everything. I have learned how to be humble -- often the hard way -- and I wanted to share some thoughts with you about humility.

Humility has been defined as that supernatural virtue which, through the knowledge of God and of self that it imparts, enables us to estimate ourselves at our true worth and to live, accordingly, in complete submission to the will of God. Through humility, we are enabled to control that exaggerated sense of self-importance which is so deeply rooted in our fallen human nature. Humility is a virtue that is uniquely Christian, something quite unknown in pagan cultures where the term connotes weakness, vileness, abjectness.

As a matter of fact, humility is the indispensable foundation of all faith-based life. God wished to impress upon us this truth by the Incarnation when He "emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave -- humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross" (Phil. 2:7-8). Christ's teaching confirmed this stronger influence of His example. For lest we merely admire His humility while fearing or hesitating to imitate it, He said to all: "Learn from me -- for I am meek and humble of Heart" (Matt. 11:29).

The virtue of humility is often misunderstood by many good "believers." There is nothing weak or spineless about humility; its practice requires great courage. Humility contains that innate tendency that we all have to estimate and evaluate ourselves as greater than we are. The latter is the vice of pride which seems to be the root of most sins. Humility, rooted in justice and truth, keeps us in our place. It keeps us clearly aware of the limited nature of our human freedom and the all-embracing rights of God over all that He has created.

Humility becomes perfected when we become increasingly aware of our supreme and absolute dependence on the mercy of God. It inclines us to attribute all good that we find in ourselves to the Divine Goodness -- and all evil to ourselves. It leads us to truly despise ourselves -- to forget ourselves -- to work solely for the accomplishment of God's holy will. And isn't that what being a spousal family caregiver for a loved one is all about, forgetting ourselves and doing what we have to do for our loved one regardless of the consequences? That is true humility!

In the book of Sirach from the Old Testament (Sirach 3:17-19), it is said: "My son, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God. For great is the power of God; by the humble, He is glorified." In St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:1-2), he says: "…live in a worthy manner of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love…"

The bottom line: to be a good family caregiver for your loved one, you must be humble!

Please e-mail me at with your comments and/or reactions. I will include them in a future column with your permission. Provide your full name and address. In the column, I will only use your first name and the initial of your last name as well as your city and state. Thank you.


"Life is a long lesson in humility."

James M. Barrie (1860-1937)

Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at

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