Health & Wellness

The Epiphany of Caring

We say we’ve had an epiphany when we suddenly understand something in a new way. It’s not so much that out of the blue we get a brilliant idea as that we see something we’ve been staring at for a long time in a new light.

In the Christian tradition, Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi to Jesus. It’s worth noting that most scholars believe the visit actually occurred almost two years after Jesus was born. When the Magi followed the star to find the one they believed would be their Messiah, they were expecting a royal palace and a king. Instead, they found a dirt shack and a grubby little toddler. In the face of such disappointment they would have been entirely justified in throwing down their walking sticks and going home. But we are told that they were overcome with great joy. They saw something in the mundane simplicity of Jesus and his situation that spoke to them of hope and joy.

Would that we could all react to disappointment that way — that we could find in dashed expectations reasons to rejoice.

My five children are, for the most part, off on their own. The only person who remains dependent is my 98-year-old mother.

Not long ago I took my mom to visit a friend of hers who was living an hour away. It was a bit of a production: I packed a snack, a drink, a change of clothes – including undergarments – wipes, tissues and a wheelchair. It was eerily familiar; for what seemed decades, I packed strollers, snacks, sippy cups, wipes and diapers just to go to playgroup.

Fifteen minutes after we arrived for what I had anticipated would be a two-hour visit, my mother whispered to me, “I think we should go.” That was really familiar! How many times was I disappointed and embarrassed by my kids’ reluctance to be sociable with their friends?

When my mom kept raising her eyebrows and looking at the door, I acquiesced, packed up, made apologies to our host and took her home.

Sitting in her apartment at the assisted living facility where she lives, mum said, “That was very nice; I’m glad we went. Thank you, darling, for taking me.”

There was a time when I assumed I’d grow out of the elemental caregiver role; that the phase of waiting on children hand and foot would pass. It now occurs to me – in somewhat of an epiphany – that I am actually growing into it, that raising children is training for caring for one’s parents. This is the more challenging job because our charges don’t get more independent and capable; they get more feeble and needy. Joy rests not in the future, but in the present moment of service. No wonder it takes a lifetime to refine.

When the time comes that my children are taking care of me, I hope I will have learned to accept help as graciously as my own mother does every day.

This commentary by Susan Cooke Kittredge was written for Vermont Public Radio and aired on January 4, 2011.  You can find more commentaries by Susan Cooke Kittredge at

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