Ed heard the call coming from the bathroom.
“Papa! I need help!”
He made his way to the bathroom door and tentatively answered, “Yes? How can I help you?”
He was not really “Papa,” to Maggie, the elderly woman standing on the other side of the closed door. But she had come to call him by that name, which communicated her dependency on and affection for the younger man.
They began their relationship as neighbors years before, casually waving to one another or exchanging a few words of greeting when they happened upon one another outside. Eventually, Ed learned that Maggie was unable to care for herself in her home; and he offered to move her into his.
He took her to medical appointments, prepared her meals, and spent hours in conversation with her every day. He became her Papa.
“Maggie, you okay?” he asked gently through the door.
“I cannot get my panties up,” she cried.
“Okay, I’m going to come in and help you.” Tentatively opening the door, he looked directly into her eyes and saw anguish, fear, and embarrassment there. He paused and breathed deeply.
“Maggie,” he said kindly, “our relationship is about to change!”
Never before had there been a need for him to help with her most intimate dressing tasks, but it seemed that something had shifted and she could no longer perform this duty herself.
Ed explained slowly and gently, “I am going to close my eyes and pull your bloomers up, okay?”
They laughed their way through this uncomfortable encounter, which did, indeed, change their relationship.
But Ed’s approach to Maggie’s need that day enable that change in relationship to be one of opening and depth rather than collapsing and uneasiness.
In the midst of a situation that was frightening, Ed found a creative solution; and his creativity maintained Maggie’s sense of dignity and their friendship.
In carepartner relationships, creativity can be our most useful tool -- and it is one we so often forget to use.
When we have a need for caregiving from a professional caregiver or family member, this usually means that there is some serious condition, whether it is chronic or temporary. With any change in state, be it a terminal diagnosis or a severe case of the flu, we often experience chaos.
And chaos is the breeding ground for creativity. Creativity allows things to be broken down, rearranged, and reformed. Our relationships will go through these processes when we are caring for one another through challenging situations. We can bemoan these changes (and we do need to grieve many of them); we can pretend they are not happening. Or we can adapt to them creatively, like Ed chose to do in the bathroom that day.
Ed was able to be creative in his caregiving by utilizing three significant components of creativity: curiosity, fluidity, and humor.
When Maggie explained her dilemma, Ed became curious. He wondered: How might I approach this situation? What words and actions would help Maggie feel comfortable and respected? He chose to close his eyes as he inched her underpants up her legs. This method, although undoubtedly slower and more challenging than the way we pull our toddler’s pants up with a single quick, efficient gesture, provided a creative solution that was supportive to both Ed and Maggie.
Ed could have simply refused to help Maggie, deciding instead to remain in the role that he had been playing in her life until that point -- caring friend who did not help with intimate body care. He could have called a woman to fix the problem. He could have attempted to talk Maggie through the exercise from his safe side of the closed door. Instead, he allowed their habitual forms of interacting with one another to adapt. Fluidity with our relationships allows us to stay up to date with what is true right now, to respond to the present need, and to do all that creatively.
Ed’s sense of humor was a treasured resource that day. When he told Maggie, “Our relationship is about to change,” they both laughed. The tension of the situation eased with their chuckles. They were able to deepen their breathing, breathe in more oxygen, and approach the task with a lightness of spirit that had not been there before his joke. Creativity is almost always facilitated by humor.
How can you use creativity in your care relationships? Whether we receive or give care to another, curiosity, fluidity, and humor are vital tools to use.