If you are as a child of the 1950s like I am, you might be unaware that we Boomers owe a debt of gratitude to Lunsford Richardson. Although I never knew him, it is because of him I enjoy some of my most powerful, sensory childhood memories.
Richardson was a North Carolina pharmacist who, in 1890, developed a then exotic salve of menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil, cedar leaf oil, nutmeg oil and turpentine oil. He put it into a ‘Smurf’ colored jar and used it to treat his three young children during respiratory bouts.
He called it Vicks Vapor Rub.
The single most vivid memory that springs back to mind (and nostrils) with the scent of Vicks is that of tender caregiving. Mom would gently massage the balm into my congested chest and cover it with an oven-warmed washcloth (it was long before microwaves were in use). She’d put a bit under my nose and a dab into the humidifier. The sensation was instantaneous; heady and aromatic. The combination of the Vicks, and my mother’s caregiving made me feel immediately better, warm and safe.
As we celebrate November and the Color of Cancer Caregiver Awareness, we look to the purple ribbon to recognize the sacrifices and achievements of our caregivers.
Statistically, the over 4 million caregivers in the United States are caring for an aging loved one. They are mostly female (60%), have a full time job (34%), care for one person who is either living within 20 minutes of the caregiver (82%), and provide at least 21 hours of care per week (32%).
But I contend the purple ribbon should not be singly assigned to those who provide for the needs of the chronically ill or elderly. It should be universally worn with the understanding that caregivers are everywhere and present in every aspect of our daily lives. I believe it is inherent in our DNA and an unavoidable aspect of life itself. We are all our ‘brother’s keepers’ and put upon this earth to take care of one another.
Caregivers come in all roles and destinies although you may not recognize them as ‘caregivers’. Think about your parents and the miracles they worked caring for and feeding your family. My folks did wonders with stretching a budget, paying for Catholic school tuition and lovingly raising three daughters.
How about those notable teachers who cared enough about your evolution to properly educate and inspire you. I think often of Mrs. Worsham who would be proud that I can type as fast as I do and still remember a spattering of my Gregg Shorthand. It has served me well.
Are you one of those rescue people who put yourself in jeopardy rescuing a stray from the highway? If you’ve ever vaccinated and chipped your pets or concealed a pill inside of a piece of cheese, then you, too, are a caregiver.
My favorite caregiver role is to be a friend. There is nothing quite as rewarding as being part of a loving friendship; evidenced in the Ghatourey quote which says “True friends are those who care without hesitation, who remember without limitation, who forgive without explanation and who trust without communication”.
I would hope that every workplace, where we spend so much of our time, would be an environment of support, care and collaboration. When people care about the people they work with, things get done faster. People will go the extra mile; they will take ownership of a job, a decision or problem and work through it.
Finally, and as mentioned earlier, the most perceived definition of a caregiver is that of caring for someone we love. It has been said that to care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors. Having been a caregiver to our aging and infirmed parents in their final years was just that. It was also hard; really hard. But it was also an experience I would never exchange and will always cherish.
So to all the caregivers in our good city, however you are defined, I suggest you don your purple ribbon, keep your sense of humor, drink your daily allotment of water, set and honor your boundaries and find joy in everyday life. Lives vacant of joy can lead to illness.
But even if that should happen, open up a jar of Vicks, take a deep sniff, and take good care of yourself.
Rio Grande Cancer Foundation
Patty Tiscareño is the Executive Director of the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation, a local, non-profit organization which serves all the colors of cancer. www.rgcf.org