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Posted: December 16, 2005

Spousal Caregiving

Who Are The Good Samaritans In Your Life?

Bill Andrew

As spousal caregivers, we all run across people who can be considered the "good Samaritans" in our caregiving lives. These are the family, friends, relatives, neighbors, casual acquaintances, and strangers who go out of their way to provide assistance -- often without being asked -- as we provide care for our loved ones. They provide respite care, help us with our shopping, provide a "shoulder to cry on", visit with our loved ones, and provide other related support in order to make our caregiver lives more tolerable.

But who are these "good Samaritans" who help us, and where are the others in our lives who seem to "shun" the opportunity to be a "good Samaritan" when we need them? To answer that question, let us refer to this parable in the Bible (Luke 10:29-37):

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replied, "A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.

A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.

Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.

But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.

He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.

The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, 'Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.'

Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?"

He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy."

Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

What Does This Mean To You and Me?

"Who is my neighbor?" That was the question asked of Jesus in the parable above.  Do you have such "priests", "Levites," or "Samaritans" in your life as a spousal caregiver?  Most of us do.  Are they there to help you?  Or do they tend to ignore you and your spouse?  Are you and your spouse "neighbors" to them?

Who is your "neighbor?"  It is any man or woman with whom you come in contact.  Jesus taught that all men are our neighbors and that we have an obligation of love for our neighbors.  "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 19:19) is not just a Christian tradition.  In a negative form, it is found in the book of Tobit (4:16) as "See you never do to another what you would hate to have done to you by another."  It is one of the first principles of the moral law and not confined to Jews and Christians.  It was known, for example, to Confucius, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle as well.

The "neighbor" is not an abstraction and must not be identified with "the human race" or "mankind" -- the "neighbor" is always "the first person I see."  In that context, no person that I see (or don't see) can be excluded from the category of "neighbor."  When the rich young ruler, in the parable above, asked Jesus "Who is my neighbor", hoping thereby to exclude some people, Jesus refused to draw any such lines.  Instead, he told the story of the "good Samaritan" and, in the end, answered the young man's question by asking one of his own -- "Who showed himself to be a neighbor?"  The answer to that question was "the one who treated him with mercy."

The Priest, Levite, and Samaritan

The Priest was highly was highly revered in the Jewish community.  However, it would appear that many priests held themselves above the majority of the general community because of their status.  They would not stoop so low as to help a "commoner" who was in need.  Was this a lesson that Jesus was trying to convey to his listeners?  Are there people in your spousal caregiver life who resemble the priests in this story?  Do they "shun" you and your loved one?

The Levite was a member of the Hebrew tribe of Levi.  They were sacred ministers of the lowest rank among the Jews, assistants to the priests, and acted as special guardians of the tabernacle.  The higher Levites assisted the officiating priests, others had charge of the music during services, and still others acted as doorkeepers and overseers of the temple.  As such, they may well have considered themselves above the "commoner."  Are there people in your spousal caregiver life who resemble the Levites in this story?  Do they "shun" you and your loved one?

The Samaritan is the antithesis of the priests and Levites described above.  The inhabitants of Samaria were a mixed race, descended from the intermarriage of Israelites and Assyrian colonists.  The enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans was so great that travelers between Galilee and Judea often had to cross the Jordan River into Perea for safety.  Pilate was deposed because of his severity to the Samaritans.  Thus, the Samaritan in the story above did exactly the opposite of what the priest and Levite did -- he helped his neighbor.  Are there people in your spousal caregiver life who resemble the "good Samaritan?"  Are they there to help you and your spouse in a "neighborly" way?

Often, we spousal caregivers find that many of our family, friends, and neighbors turn out to be the "priests" and "Levites" as in the story above.  We described this dichotomy in a previous column Where Have All My Friends Gone? Sometimes, these folks find it difficult to accept that a person is ill -- especially, if that person has Alzheimer's disease. They do not offer to help you nor do they maintain the contact that they used to do. I have heard many stories from caregivers and care-recipients that when an initial diagnosis is made, everyone wants to help. However, as time passes and the disease progresses, "seldom is heard an encouraging word."

On the other hand, we often find that folks that we may have had an "arms length" relationship with in the past, even strangers, now step forward to provide the help and support that we need -- much like the "good Samaritan" in the story above. This becomes even more evident as caregivers attend and participate in support groups. Refer to the previous columns Can a Support Group Make You a Better Caregiver and My Personal Support Group Experience. Often, we find that folks in support groups "get the word out" and "good Samaritans" are there ready, willing, and able to help you. I know -- they have been there for me.
Be thankful for the "good Samaritans" in your spousal caregiver life. They can make a difference for both you and your spouse. Do you have any "good Samaritan" stories that you would like to share with other spousal caregivers? I would be grateful if you would share them with us at Thank you. 




"...You shall love your neighbor as yourself..."

Leviticus 19:18

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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