Resentment can be a regular companion for many caregivers. A deep-seated feeling of obligation can cause caregivers to drive themselves mercilessly with such internal commands such as “I have to, I must, I’m supposed to, I need to.” In addition, many caregivers permit others to reinforce these beliefs, allowing themselves to be emotional punching bags for family, friends, loved ones and even the medical community. It can often seem that everyone in a caregiver’s circle feels a need to critique a caregiver’s job performance—and, sadly, the most vocal critics rarely help at all.
Is it any wonder that so many caring for the sickest among us feel beaten down and discouraged? These negative feelings cannot be suppressed or contained and will come out—usually in the form of resentment. At flash points when caregivers feel presumed upon, undervalued and unappreciated, that resentment forces its way to the surface. Once there, it creates an emotional mess that can cripple the caregiver far more than it negatively affects others.
During my own caregiving journey with my wife, a teachable moment presented itself in an unusual place. As a pianist for even longer than my three decades as a caregiver, I often find myself at the keyboard working out the kinks in my soul. But sitting at the piano, I have discovered that the music won’t come if my fists remain clenched with resentment. Something beautiful can flow from my hands and heart only when I open both—and when I allow myself to let go of resentment.
Each time my hands open to play, it permits and encourages my heart to release grudges, slights and bitterness. While maintaining healthy boundaries between my heart and those who either inadvertently or intentionally trample it, I can let go of the resentments. It’s not easy, but the music flowing from that decision is soothing and healing to my soul—as well as to listeners.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that a slight is unimportant. And sometimes we harbor the most resentment towards ourselves—when we cruelly demean our own hearts either for allowing us to get into this situation or for staying in it. Regardless of the targets of our resentment, it only eats at our own peace of mind and well-being. We serve ourselves (and others) better when we live in a calmer and healthier manner, free of resentments and bitterness.
We all possess the ability to make and enjoy beautiful music and art in our own ways. As caregivers, that beauty is not limited by the harsh circumstances we face and carry; rather, it’s limited only by our unwillingness to let go of resentment.
While there’s no way to know if I’ll outlive my wife and ensure she and our sons aren’t left to deal with her massive medical challenges without me, I can do my best to live a healthy life. Part of that means avoiding carrying resentment. If the time someday comes, I don’t want to stand at my wife’s grave with clenched fists and resentment.
Sitting at the piano I’ve played for a lifetime, I discovered that letting go of resentments often starts with the simple act of opening one’s hands. The heart will follow.