History’s Omission – Caregivers

History isn’t only written by the victors. It’s also written by the unmindful. At least if you are a caregiver. Historians have consigned who they are and what they do to nothingness.

Can you imagine discovering, inventing, negotiating, politicking, conquering, deal-making and innovating without the assurance and security that someone is tending to your children, your aging parents, your sick relatives? Or looking after you during illness, injury or bad luck? Or making sure your water is clean? Or providing healthy food for your table? Or holding your family together during troubled times?

Impossible to imagine, except if you take history at face value.

This disregard of caregivers and caregiving continues. I see it in the attitudes towards parents who have children with disability, towards families who care for relatives with long term illnesses and towards people who make their neighbourhoods safer and healthier. I also see it in the social innovation world where gatherings, conferences and funding ignore the creative caregiving geniuses who keep our society functioning through thick and thin.

Two women who are doing something to correct this omission are Donna Thomson and Vickie Cammack. They have just published, Recognizing the Worth of Natural Caregivers in the journal, Policy Options.  

From Vickie and Donna we learn that:

  • Eighty per cent of care is provided freely and lovingly by family, friends and neighbours. And that the twenty per cent that is paid-for-care attracts most of the resources and policy attention.
  • The financial sustainability of our formal care systems is completely dependent upon natural caregivers. After a person leaves the doctor’s office or hospital with a prescription in hand, it is the practical support of family and friends that enable healing. Family caregivers are firmly embedded with professionals in the circle of care. But often the only people who recognize that reality are the caregivers themselves.
  • The natural web of caring that so many of us take for granted is at risk of unraveling because of government cutbacks, increasing numbers of older people and smaller families.
  • Our consumer and achievement-oriented society has no place for public discussions of frailty or mortality. Society’s reverence for the ethic of personal independence makes vulnerability, dependence and physical decline a taboo subject outside of home and family.
  • What is needed is a robust social movement that values the deeply personal and broad societal benefits of caring for one another without hiding the difficulties.

I would add one more reason for society’s neglect which Donna and Vickie are too polite to mention. The excessive coverage and fascination with political drama perpetuates the belief that the only way to deal with society’s ethical challenges is by fighting fire with fire. Vickie and Donna are revealing an alternative – embracing fire with a caring heart. I’m with them. Electoral reform, climate change, reconciliation, abuse, misogyny, poverty and so on can’t be resolved without the caring hearts of caregivers.

Donna and Vickie write a regular column for weekly newspapers on natural caregiving and are earnest tweeters/bloggers on the topic as well.

More of Vickie’s articles can be accessed through Tamarack’s website.

Donna’s through her marvelous website.


Now, I see volunteers as a sort of network of fungus growing beneath the forest that act as a link between different sets of roots, allowing for mutual nourishment and resulting, hopefully, in fewer trees suffering alone in the shadows. (Martin Chabbert, Exeko volunteer)

Musical accompaniment this post is Thank You by John Mann. John’s song is a personal appreciation of caregiving. He also fronts Spirit of the West. Support John’s music here.


Jean Vanier – Bearer of the Beams of Love

Tend to Your Garden of Values

Caring Makes the World Go Round

Salt, Seed and Taking Care

Caring is the Common Ground of Democracy

The Truth About Vulnerable

The Hidden Geniuses Who Always Figure Things Out

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