Burden of Care

Emma Wilkins reflects on the term "burden of care" - and encourages a more expansive view that sees care as an honour and a way of life.

Some phrases are so pervasive we absorb them without thinking. In time, they might influence our thinking too.

The one on my mind is “burden of care”. We use it when talking about caring for the very old, the very young, the poor, the sick; and of the cost.

But there are many kinds of care. If we link “burden” to “care” compulsively, neglecting words like “honour”, words like “love”, we might eclipse a richer, more expansive view.

I think about scooping my four-year-old into my arms after a fall, of his hot wet cheeks and shuddering breaths. It’s not hard to offer comfort, to see his bottom lip recede, his smile return. It would be hard to turn away.

I think about a friend who’s struggling, who calls and then confides in me through tears. It’s strange to then be thanked or hear “I’m sorry that I burdened you”; it’s what friendship is for.

Even a stern manager, watching their subordinate, seeing something’s wrong, may prefer to offer help.

A very famous caregiver once told people who felt “heavy laden” to come to him because his burden was light. He expected those same people to love not just their friends but their enemies; to go the extra mile for those in need. How could such a burden be called “light”?

And yet, if you’ve ever been given a gift you didn’t expect or deserve, and felt so full of gratitude you were moved to give yourself, you might glimpse the shining possibility.

Caring can be burdensome, particularly if the goal is to tick a box or win approval, prove our worth or ease our guilt. But it can be a burden gladly borne or a gift gladly given; an honour; a way of life.