23 Nov The Caregiver’s Library: A Q&A with Michael Verde
The Caregiver’s Library is Memory Bridge’s newest initiative, and will be launching on December 1–in just under two weeks. This month, founder Michael Verde shared his inspiration and vision for the program.
There is no calling in which the personal growth of the professional is more important than it is in the profession of caregiving.
What is The Caregiver’s Library?
The Caregiver’s Library is a presentation, offered twice a month, on a book important to the personal development of those caring for people with dementia. I identify recently published books, occasionally a classic, that can nourish caregivers intellectually and spiritually. I read these books thoroughly, distill their essential insights, and communicate what I learn in a way that I hope inspires caregivers—again, not just professionally, but personally. I emphasize that because there is no calling in which the personal growth of the professional is more important than it is in the profession of caregiving.
What a caregiver gives to the one cared for is ultimately him or herself: her attention, her interest, and her affection. The very idea of person-centered care is based on this insight. The person of the carer is what supports and nourishes the person cared for.
The caregiver and the person with dementia do not meet in an I-Thou encounter as a “caregiver” and as “a person with dementia.” Those are roles that people assume; they are not people.
Tom Kitwood, who introduced the term “person-centered” into the dementia field, always explained the person-centered relationship between the caregiver and the person with dementia as the kind of relationship that Martin Buber defined as an “I-Thou” relationship. The essence of an I-Thou relationship, according to Buber and Kitwood, is a meeting between two people. It is an encounter of spirits, really. The encounter occurs at a level of our shared humanity that lies deeper than any classification scheme.
When the caregiver and the person with dementia meet in an I-Thou encounter, they do not meet in the roles of a “caregiver” and a “person with dementia.” They meet as two unique human beings, beyond all categories—all categories, even the categories of a “person with dementia” and a “person without dementia.” In an I-Thou encounter, we meet the other with all of our humanity. There is no purpose in this encounter other than to know the other, to open our whole being to the reality of his or her own being. There is no judgment in this encounter, and no trying to fix the other person, or solve some problem related to the other’s situation. Those forms of care are crucial to being a caregiver too. But they do not occur in an I-Thou encounter. Those things happen when we relate to each other in what Buber called the “I-It” mode.
In an I-Thou encounter, the other person is not a means to any end. He or she is an end in him- or herself.
In an I-It encounter, the other person is a means to some objective that we have—to assist the other person to breakfast, for instance, or to get the other person to participate in an activity, or to make sure he or she takes medication. It can be any interaction in which the final step, so to speak, is to get something done—accomplished.
In an I-Thou encounter, the other person is not a means to any end. He or she is an end in him- or herself. There is no objective to accomplish. That very way of thinking is I-It thinking.
It’s not bad to relate to others in that mode too. We have to do so to survive. However, every person needs to be related to as a Thou. We all desire to be recognized as valuable and meaningful as the unique person that we are, and not merely as a means to an end.
This need to be recognized and communicated with as a unique and worthy—indeed, beautiful—person is as primary of a need to us as food and water, and even oxygen. Without it, life is not human life at all. It is a kind of animal existence. It is biology without biography. Really, it would be more accurate to call person-centered care “person-to-person–centered care,” because it is the bridging of spirits that constitutes the great art and practice of the best caregivers.
What inspired you to create the Caregiver’s Library?
I was inspired to initiate this new Memory Bridge outreach by the response to our first webinar series, What Does Person-Centered Care Actually Mean? During and after that series, we heard from many people around the world expressing how much they learned from and were inspired by these webinars. So that suggested to me that there was a contribution niche here to be developed.
Specifically, I learned that there are many caregivers, professional and personal, who desire to educate themselves in the art and gift of caregiving but who are not in a place to return to school to do so, and who might not have the concentrated available leisure time to dive deeply into what is being published in the field.
One of the things we are learning is how much caregivers want to...be lifelong learners and students of the human spirit.
I see Memory Bridge as a learning organization. We learn from people who are learning from each other—specifically, people learning from each other how to relate to each other in mutually life-giving, and even life-changing, ways. And we bridge what we are learning from others to others.
One of the things we are learning is how much caregivers want to learn—to grow their understanding of this art called caregiving, to push their minds past the clichés and the platitudes of marketing brochures. To be lifelong learners and students of the human spirit.
So Memory Bridge will contribute to meeting this desire by bridging inspiring books to motivated learners. I see it as the meeting of two investments. Memory Bridge will invest the time reading, researching, reflecting, and designing the presentations to deliver concentrated learning experiences to people around the world who are investing their lives in caring for people with dementia.
For the Caregiver’s Library, I will select books that promise to offer intellectual, emotional, and spiritual nourishment to caregivers.
How do you select books for the Library? When you’re looking at a book, is there any particular quality that makes you think, “Wow, this one will be perfect?”
I read pretty much all the time. And what I most often read are books related to the spiritual needs of people with dementia—which, incidentally, turn out to be the spiritual needs of all people. I have been reading specifically in this area since 2003. So for the Caregiver’s Library, I will select books that promise to offer intellectual, emotional, and spiritual nourishment to caregivers.
In Memory Bridge, we say that you have to feed the feeders. By that we mean that organizations must care for those who care for others. The books in the Caregiver’s Library will be chosen carefully with the care of caregivers in mind. With the Library, Memory Bridge will bridge a banquet of books to caregivers hungry for ideas and insights that feed the spirit.
Excerpts from an email Q&A on November 1, 2020. Text has been lightly edited and condensed for concision and readability.
To learn more about The Caregiver’s Library, click here.