Webster’s Dictionary defines a caregiver as “A person who cares for someone who is sick or disabled.” A caretaker, by contrast, is “A person who is in charge of the maintenance of a building, estate, etc.” But Webster’s goes on to say, “A person who takes care of another.”
When I think of the word caretaker, I picture someone who meticulously trims hedges and weeds flower beds for a massive estate, a house that looks like Downton Abbey. He carries gardening gloves in his back pocket, and a pair of clippers in his hand. It’s always a man, never a woman.
The word caregiver, however, reminds me of Maria, the young woman who went to my parent’s condo two or three days a week for several hours. She helped my dad when he was no longer able to help himself. Maria was tiny, no physical match for my six-foot tall dad. But he followed her instructions as if she were his captain and he a lowly private.
She helped him bathe, shave, and get in and out of bed. Maria became part of our family. Her love for my mom and dad, and our love for her has lasted way beyond nurse and patient. We attended Maria’s graduation from nursing school, and we’re excited to go to her wedding in the Fall. She drove from Sacramento to San Jose just to make an appearance at my brother’s memorial service. Maria now works at a children’s hospital, a perfect fit for her loving, yet take-no-nonsense approach to caregiving.
I want my caregiving for my mother during her decline to be like Maria’s for my father.