Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ask, Seek, Knock and Write: My Journey from “Caregiver” to “Carer” by Pamela A. Moffatt

Sometimes real life gets in the way of our writing life, doesn't it? Is it possible to grab snatches of writing time when someone you love is chronically ill? Pamela A. Moffatt shares how a simple change in semantics helped her find a way to do both, well. ~ Angie
“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” ~ Jesus (Luke 11:9-10)
Caregiving for someone chronically or terminally ill, like caring for a newborn, subordinates our “writing” self to out “nurturing” self. If our loved one is gasping for air because their oxygen tube is twisted, untwisting that tube takes priority over wrestling with a synonym in our latest essay. Caregiving requires constant vigilance. The term “caregiver” itself indicates that if we don’t “give” the care won’t happen.

When I was a caregiver, if I sat down to write, within minutes I’d hear a crash, the sound of cereal spilling all over the kitchen linoleum or a cry for help. After rushing to serve and soothe, I’d sit down to write again. Then the kids would need my attention. I felt jinxed. It took years for me to ask God for help. I hesitated because He had so much to do—people massacring each other in Somalia or starving in North Korea, child sex-trafficking Thailand—my problems couldn’t compete.

Nevertheless, as Jesus advised above, I decided to dare to ask God for help. Next, I started to seek information in earnest within my local community, among friends, support groups and medical professionals. Finally, I made appointments to knock on doors, and meet with people to secure the help I needed.

Instead of a caregiver, I became a carer. Caregivers provide one-on-one attention to the loved one. Over time, it’s exhausting. Carers love and meet the needs of the person who is ill but may do so indirectly. Instead of always serving hands-on, carers may advocate on behalf of the loved one to receive help from others. By taking responsibility to manage care for their loved one, carers can receive help as well as give it. My life changed.

As a writer, I think in words. As I transformed from a “caregiver” to a “carer,” I expanded my relationship with my loved one. I found a supportive community to invite into our lives. I became “we”—a team emerged to help us solve problems. I had more energy for my kids. I still had plenty to do, but now I had opportunities to nurture myself, too.

Inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I set aside time daily for “morning pages” even if I didn’t get to them until afternoon or evening. I phoned a writing friend and we’d share weekly as we worked through Natalie Goldberg’s prompts in Writing Down the Bones. I found a writing group through Meetup.com and started attending monthly meetings.

By becoming a “carer,” I became the vessel rather than the source of what my loved one needed. Perhaps that is what Jesus meant all along.

Pamela A. Moffatt is a writer and editor living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with over a decade of caregiving experience. She writes poetry, essays and occasional fiction. She is working on her memoir. Her website is http://about.me/pamelamoffatt.


  1. Thank you so much for this, Pamela. Caring for my aging in-laws as well as homeschooling my daughters gave me little time for even the necessities of life, let alone the writing I felt called to do. My situation is a little different now and I have at least some predictable time I can devote to writing. Your words encourage me to distinguish what I'm called to do from the expectations I place upon myself. I'm going to set aside time for "morning pages" too. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

  2. Hi Mary Elizabeth, Thank you for writing. It's good to connect with fellow travelers on the journey. Often, it falls upon women to take up this cross and we must look beyond the current circumstances and imagine looking back upon ourselves a decade or more hence. What will have made the difference? What will have truly mattered in our lives? The act of writing can help us to put things into different perspectives, help us imagine new possibilities for creative problem solving. I hope you can continue to nurture yourself along with everyone else. <3 Pam


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