Home > family relationships, General > Gifting away control

Gifting away control

Last week Noreen, a long-time friend who is also an oldest daughter,  told me about an incident that happened while she was volunteering at a local hospice center.

She had walked into a patient’s room and was about to touch the woman’s arm to indicate caring and compassion.  But that’s when it occurred to her that the frail woman might not be comfortable with such a personal gesture. So instead of doing what comes naturally to her, my friend asked, “Would it be all right with you if I hold your hand?”  The patient nodded and seemed to appreciate the question.  A little later Noreen, who is also a former nurse, decided she’d try again.  “Does anything on your lunch tray look good? Would you like some help eating?” The woman responded affirmatively to  both.  Later, the patient was overheard telling the nurse in charge  she hoped “that volunteer” would come back again.

As I listened to this story, I realized my friend had given this person who is in the last stages of life a gift not usually thought of: the gift of control. Over how/if she would allow someone to touch her.  Over whether/what she wanted to eat.  Control.  It’s something obviously important to us from the time we protest at age two, “I do it myself.”  But a sense of control becomes even more important — and often scarce — for those among us who are emotionally, physically, or financially vulnerable.

We, as our families’ first-born females, are certainly familiar with the concept.  Growing up we were often charged with being in control of younger siblings.   As adults, we’ve often found ourselves being asked to take — or simply taking– control as caregivers or  leaders in various activities.  Sometimes (horrors!) we’ve even heard ourselves or oldest daughters, in general, described by colleagues and spouses as controllers.  Another word for bossy.

So what my friend did struck me as something we might take a lesson from.  Suppose we thoughtfully and voluntarily gave  more control to those with whom we share our lives — instead of automatically assuming we know what’s best for them or the best way to do whatever. Might there be both unexpected benefits and beneficiaries?

  1. Lanti Riederer
    March 22, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    love this

  2. March 22, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    Absolutely wonderful message, something I needed to hear. THANKS!

  3. Kristin Russell
    March 26, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Always a good reminder!

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