Nursing Those We Love

This week I became a nurse. No, I didn’t complete a degreed or certificated program, I simply assumed the duties of being my wife’s post-surgical caregiver.

She had very serious knee surgery, which will require her to place no weight at all on her right leg for at least a month and a half. This first week she’s required an escort and assistance for virtually everything. And I’ve offered this service gladly, and lovingly . . . even when it’s interrupted my sleep apnea crippled rest.

Obviously, over three and a half decades of marriage, she has needed modest nursing in the past. But this is more serious. It is sustained. She has seen me through a number of serious illnesses and surgeries, but then she (like so many other women I’ve been privileged to know) is a natural nurse and caregiver.

C.S. Lewis was a man not vastly different from me. He was not terribly comfortable when placed in such a role . . . yet he too discovered great meaning in caring for the needs of his wife during her illness. His precious Joy was dying, so the intensity of his labors, and their corresponding emotional investment dwarf my own. And yet the “framework” of our circumstances bears a marked similarity.

In his wonderful book Lenten Lands, Lewis’ son Douglas Gresham relates how Lewis and his brother Warnie provided exceptional care to his mother during her illness. He writes:

[Lewis] spent most of each day with [Joy] at the hospital, but they both agreed Mother should be brought home to The Kilns to die—in Jack’s home—her husband’s home—with him at her side. The “common room” was converted to a hospital ward, complete with a system of bells by which Mother would summon a nurse, or later Jack, if she needed help, as she often did.

I’ll make a confession. Although most men can adequately perform familial nursing duties when there is no alternative caregiver, most of us are quite content to step aside and let our wives or sisters attend to whatever nursing procedures are called for. Actually, I was quite gifted at removing slivers, but when it comes to bodily discharges, I’m no sexist to admit I and most of my gender display a serious weakness.

And yet, even in these cases, when changing the soiled diaper of an infant (or someone old enough to feel shame for having such needs) . . . even such unpleasant acts are possible for us to do for those we love. So the key to being able to care for others is not to pinch our nose and do it as quickly as humanly possible. The key, instead, is to learn to love those placed in our care.

In our grandparents day, it wasn’t uncommon for an elderly great-grandparent to reside with the family of one of their children. My father, for example, grew up with his blind grandfather as a member of their household. Similarly, my mother enjoyed the daily presence of her grandmother in her own home throughout her life. Not only was it expected that children would “take in” their elderly parents, it was natural. After all, they were family.

But, how does one transfer this familial affection to the stranger? After all, as Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (John 6).

Mother Teresa and the many thousands of saints throughout history who have cared for the leper, the outcasts, and the dying know this truth. They do everything as though they were caring for the Lord himself, just as he asked his disciples to do. Medicines are not their only balms—nor their most important. Their compassionate touch and tender encouragements are often far more healing.

When I compare myself to these caregivers, I realize just how inadequate a nurse I am. As a pastor, a core aspect of my vocation has been to bind the injuries of the sheep entrusted to my care. But I do this in a “spiritual” manner, and it has been rare to ever help one of them replace a bloodied bandage. Spiritual, emotional and social wounds are those that most pastors feel comfortable treating. Providing for the “baser” physical needs of the diseased is quite another matter.

And this brings us to the end of today’s reflection. When next I write, I’ll carry this final thought a bit farther forward.

13 thoughts on “Nursing Those We Love

  1. Rob, my prayers are with you and, especially, your wife. May she have a good and speedy recovery.

    My son broke the bone just above the knee when he was 14 and had to have 2 pins put into it. He also had to keep off it for months, but he healed really well and only has a large scar to show for it now (some 10 years later). God can, and does, help even these poor bodies to heal, in the meantime continue to learn these good lessons!

    God bless.

  2. Hope your wife has a speedy recovery and I know she’s blessed to have you helping her. Through the years I’ve seen many thrown into the role of caregiver and fortunately they have usually stepped up to the plate. I’m glad as one of the things that saddens me most is to see elderly or others with serious health problems with little to no family support. I’m a nurse and have been a family caregiver for years. Caregiving can be very trying in more than just physical ways, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  3. What a nice post.
    Time like these are the true measure of many things. (sounds like you doing admirably)
    There are words like “you are your brother’s keeper” and something like “what ever you do for the least of these, you do for me” While so many repeat the words for years – when faced with the experience, they can’t do it. Just an observation – not criticizing. Caretaking is difficult emotionally and physically. It sometimes brings up unpleasant memories or feelings of mortality.
    Bless those who have the will and backbone – and compassion to do what is needed
    Hope your wife heals well and both of you get rest.

    1. Yes, it can be exhausting, and there’s been a lot of literature written in recent years recognizing the reality of “compassion fatigue.” We need to remain vigilant in monitoring our own health too.

  4. I too recently became a nurse without a degree. (You can read about it at under the post “I’m an URN”.) Congratulations, you are an unregistered nurse now too!
    I don’t have the natural ability most women have for nursing and for several years when my boys were little, the instinct seemed to be all but missing. Recently though, I felt God calling me to go on a medical mission. So I obeyed and worked at a hospital the 3rd week in July in a Mayan colony in the Yucatan. I fell in love and cared for strangers and did many things I would never have been able to stomach in the past. All because He first loved me. You are correct, it is about much more than medicine, all I had was compassion and I used it lavishly. I think you are on your way and I look forward to your next post on this subject.

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Whether I am the “nurse” for I am the one who needs the “nurse” – those are the times when I remember this C.S. Lewis quote: “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

  6. readplaydream

    Wow, this is something to think about. I’ve never imagined myself physically nursing another person to health – be it a family member or even my future wife – because all the while I’m expecting somebody else to do it for me. I can’t even change a kid’s diaper. But like you said, “even such unpleasant acts are possible for us to do for those we love.” I hope I can find love of such degree to break down any hang-ups I have. Thanks for the insight, Rob.

  7. I take care of my 37 year old, terminally ill daughter. I agree, it is truly a labour of love. Sometimes we get tired but tomorrow is always another (and hopefully) a better day. Good luck! Nice post thank you!

    1. Tersia, what a challenging task. I respect the demands of not only caring for someone you love so deeply, but also dealing with the profound sorrow that her days will be brief. May God bless you with more good days than bad, and comfort you with the promise of the resurrection and ultimate healing.

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