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  • Writer's pictureMs. Linda Barrett

Caring Enough to Listen with the Heart

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

Have you ever experienced speaking to someone only for the person to ignore you?  You:  “I’m really upset.  I care about you deeply, and wish we could sit down and talk about this”.  Him/Her: “I don’t have time for this right now!  You can feel however you want to….”!

Sometimes a day of caregiving should be largely about exercising our listening skills.  German born American Philosopher and Theologian, Phil Tillich, said, “The first duty of love is to listen”. Ecclesiastes 3:7 puts it this way:  “….a time to keep silence, and a time to speak”.          

Feeling as though you are not heard can leave a stinging, lonely feeling “in your gut”.  We consider it rude when another person is talking all the time, and won’t listen or care about what we have to say. 

One option may even be to “shut down” and decide to let the person talk (talk…, until she finally runs out of air or energy.  Sometimes she won’t even realize she has dominated the

interaction, and may even feel it was a good “conversation”. 

I’ve heard it said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason — we should listen more and talk less.  Yes, caregivers often need to ask questions, give answers, and negotiate on behalf of their loved one.  But, listening skills are undervalued and underused.   

An elder who is increasingly frail may question her purpose in life, but may or may not voice that.   A middle-aged person with disabilities may be extremely frustrated having gone from gainfully employed to feeling he has lost his significance.  He may not say so, but all the non-verbals are screaming, “I feel desperate”.   A child with disabilities may become angry that she cannot run and play outside with her friends.  She may have a burst of anger, and need reassurance and acknowledgement. 

Caregiving should involve caring about your loved one enough to listen with the heart, controlling the need to provide a constant list of instructions on any given day.  Yes; you may have to help with the daily exercises.  Yes; it may be shower day, and you have to say “be careful sitting down or standing

up”.  But, focusing on providing a listening ear may be “just what the doctor ordered” at certain times. 

If I’m honest with myself after years of caregiving, I’ll admit I wish I had listened more.  Maybe I could have exhibited an even higher level of care — “heart on” and “hands off” at certain times.  I could have reassured more.  I could have captured more life lessons.  I could have heard and treasured more “pearls of wisdom”.  

Having a degree in “Speech Communication”, I am sure I was quite capable of talking to healthcare professionals, working out medical challenges and viable treatment options.  I was always ready to give specific instructions on what dietary restrictions the doctor had suggested, or explain how to do a particular exercise without falling.  I could sit down and effectively discuss the latest financial

decision that needed to be made.  But, listening…. Did I hear and communicate from the heart?  I hope so. 

Educational seminars often promote “the Art of Listening”.  Let’s become better artists.  Perhaps if we listen more; others will listen more when we speak.

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