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Posted: August 04, 2005

Spousal Caregiving

Heroic Virtue: A Platform for Caregiving

Bill Andrew

Are you a "virtuous" spousal caregiver? Do you lead a "virtuous life" as a spousal caregiver? Are you a "heroic" caregiver? Do you practice "heroic virtue" as the foundation for your spousal caregiving? By definition, a spousal caregiver IS "heroic," undoubtedly practices "heroic virtue," and doesn't even know that they are doing it! But what are virtues and what is heroic virtue?

What Are Virtues?

According to its etymology (the study of the sources and development of words), the word virtue (Latin virtus) signifies manliness or courage. Taken in its widest sense, virtue means the excellence of perfection of a thing. As used by moral philosophers and theologians, it signifies a habit super-added to a faculty of the soul -- disposing it to elicit, with readiness, acts that conform to our rational nature. St. Augustine said that "virtue is a good habit consonant with our nature." St. Thomas defined virtue as "habitus operativus bonus" (an operative habit essentially good). Virtue disposes a determination to perform a designated activity -- specifically good acts in consonance with right reason.

The writers of the classical period developed various lists of virtues and divided them in different ways. For example, Aristotle divided all virtues into those that were moral (having to do with character) and those that were intellectual (having to do with the mind). St. Thomas Aquinas grouped four key virtues together as the Cardinal virtues: justice, wisdom (prudence), courage (fortitude), and moderation (temperance; self-control). These "natural" or cardinal virtues can be traced back to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. (The term cardinal comes from the Latin "cardo", a hinge, because all the other virtues hinged or pivoted on these four). St. Paul added the Theological virtues of faith, hope, and love (charity) -- which, in the Christian teaching, do not originate naturally in humanity but are, instead, imparted by God through Jesus Christ and then practiced by the believer. The Theological virtues came to be seen as the supreme virtues with the greatest of these being love (charity).

Consider the following definitions of virtue:

• Moral excellence and righteousness: goodness.

• A particularly efficacious, good, or beneficial quality.

• The quality of doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong.

• Conformity to a standard of what is right.

• Practical dispositions in conformity with standards of excellence or with principles of practical reason.

In this column, we will define virtue as "the habit of doing good." It is a habit because it is a firm attitude, it is a way of life, it governs our actions, and it guides our conduct by our thinking and our faith. We can also say that virtue brings joy, helps us govern ourselves, and brings comfort and peace. We can lead a virtuous life as a spousal caregiver by praying for specific virtues, by learning about these virtues, by practicing these virtues, by following through and sticking with it, and by not being a moral quitter.

Aristotle said "the greatest virtues are those that are most useful to other persons." And are not those the virtues -- the good habits -- that we spousal caregivers want to cultivate on behalf of our loved ones? We can sum up the above discussion as follows:

• Virtues are the essence of the human spirit and the content of our character.

• The essence of a virtuous life is the dynamic rooted in the reality of our respective natures and the moral life.

And as someone once said, "Virtues are what is good about us!"

Spousal Caregiving Virtues

There are many admirable virtues that we can discuss, but in this column I will only address those that specifically impact spousal caregiving as I have experienced them. This does not imply that I ignore the Cardinal and Theological virtues described above. Perhaps you have other virtues that you have experienced and practiced on behalf of your spouse.

Humility. St. Augustine said that "humility is the foundation of all the other virtues; hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist, there can not be any other virtue except in mere appearance."

Patience. It goes without saying that patience is critical to our success as spousal caregivers.

Trust. We must have an abiding faith in God and ourselves that we can provide the care required by our spouse.

Compassion. We must have sympathy and empathy for our spouse's suffering and we must demonstrate this every hour every day.

Commitment. Obviously, as a spousal caregiver, we have made a commitment to attend to the needs of our spouse.

Courage/fortitude. As spousal caregivers, we must often exhibit courage and fortitude in order to continue to provide the care required by our spouse because of the obstacles and difficulties which may occur.

Gentleness. We must deliver the care for our spouse with gentleness which often invokes patience that may be hard to come by.

Perseverance. We must persist and be determined in the pursuit of our caregiving commitment despite the obstacles or difficulties which may occur.

Prayerfulness. Prayer is often the only "lifeline" that many spousal caregivers have and is often the last resort when things get tough.

Discipline. In order to be a successful spousal caregiver, I would submit that you must be very disciplined -- especially in times of great stress and difficulty.

Faithfulness/fidelity. That is, we must be steadfast in our loyalty and devotion to our spouse and in performing our caregiver duties.

Forgiveness. Often during the day, our patience may be tested, and we can say and do things that we regret. You must have the disposition and willingness to forgive -- and to ask for forgiveness.

Kindness. You must be kind to your spouse and to yourself -- that is, you must be gentle, considerate, and friendly in everything that you do for your spouse.

Joyfulness. Joy is a strong feeling of happiness or delight arising from the good that we are doing for our spouse. We rejoice in being able to provide that care as a result of our love for our spouse.

Diligence. We must be attentive and persistent in pursuit of our caregiving responsibilities.

Enthusiasm. A good spousal caregiver is enthusiastic -- that is, they pursue their caregiving responsibilities with an ardor and zeal that overcomes any obstacles that may occur.

Respectfulness. We must always be respectful of the fact that our spouse is a human person and deserves to be treated as such. "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

Excellence. The care that we provide for our spouse should be done with excellence -- that is, the very best quality that we can deliver.

Love. In my opinion, if humility is the foundation of all virtue, then love is the capstone. Love overshadows everything that we do for our spouse. My motto is "Loving is giving . . . giving is loving."

How many of these virtues have you practiced over the course of your spousal caregiving activity? Are there other virtues that you would include in the above list? If so, please e-mail me at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

What Is Heroic Virtue?

"Heroic virtue" can be defined as a habit of good conduct that has become second nature. It is a new motive power that is stronger than all corresponding inborn inclinations. It is capable of making it easy to perform a series of acts, each of which for the ordinary man would be beset with very great, if not insurmountable, difficulties. While the above has been defined within the context of Christian virtues, it applies as well to performance of all virtues -- including those that we have defined as spousal caregiver virtues.

Some of the hallmarks of heroic virtue in spousal caregivers include the following:

Consistent practice. All of the defined virtues are so habitual that it becomes the lifestyle of the spousal caregiver.

Perfection and intensity. All of the defined virtues are performed with great intensity and perfection.

Promptness. All of the defined virtues are acted upon promptly and without procrastination.

Habitual. It seems very easy to practice all of the defined virtues in ALL situations that may be encountered by the spousal caregiver.

These criteria would apply to all of the above-defined spousal caregiving virtues. Essentially, the spousal caregiver would be "living a life of love." Some would identify such a spousal caregiver as a "saint" -- I would suggest that we spousal caregivers should all strive to attain these "habits of good conduct" and perhaps we may achieve that status in the future.

Thomas Paine once said, "Virtues are acquired through endeavor which rests totally upon yourself. Therefore, to praise others for their virtues can but encourage one's own efforts." If we can recognize the virtues in other spousal caregivers, and compliment them on their efforts, perhaps we can then achieve what we all desire as spousal caregivers -- a "virtuous life." Obviously, this will take a lot of work and commitment on our part. As we said earlier, we can lead a virtuous life as a spousal caregiver by praying for specific virtues, by learning about these virtues, by practicing these virtues, by following through and sticking with it, and by not being a moral quitter.

Are you ready and willing to give this platform a try?

If you would like to share your spousal caregiving experiences with other readers of this column, please e-mail me at ASKBill@caregivershome.com. You can also ask any questions that concern you -- however, I can only share my personal experiences with you and can not provide any advice that would require specific licensure.

WORDS TO CARE BY . . .

"For this very reason,

make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue. . ."

(2 Peter 1:5)


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 ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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