A Reciprocal Approach to Caregiving and Care Receiving in the Complexities of Aging, Illness, or Disability

Caresharing: A Reciprocal Approach to Caregiving and Care Receiving in the Complexities of Aging, Illness, or Disability. By Marty Richards. Skylight Paths (2009).

Book review by Robert Harnish. Robert Harnish is a retired minister and chaplain living in Eureka, Illinois.


Caresharing approaches the complexities of aging, illness, or disability with an emphasis on mutual sharing of care, interdependence, affirmation, loving-kindness, and understanding.

“Providing care is not a solitary journey, but a relational one,” the author asserts in the introduction. Giving and receiving care offer an “opportunity to recognize what is most deeply human—and most deeply divine—in the other. You both have a chance to give and receive, to honor and learn from each other" (p. xiii).

Richards encourages reciprocal care between caregiver and receiver as well as others providing support. This approach she calls caresharing. When readers accept Richards’ invitation to shift from caregiving to caresharing, she suggests, they will feel less alone, more connected, and more hopeful.

Chapter titles include:

  • The Dance of Sharing Care
  • Sharing Wisdom: What the Frail Teach the Well
  • Families Sharing the Care: Reinventing the Roles and Rules
  • Sharing "Soul to Soul": A Special Relationship with People with Cognitive Limits
  • Sharing Grief: Coping with the "Large" and the "Little" Losses
  • Sharing Forgiveness: A Key Spiritual Journey in Caresharing
  • Sharing Hope: An Active Process One Step at a Time

The book has shown me that my experiences of caring for my wife are meaningful and part of the universal human experience of caring. For the about ten years, I cared for my wife Ruth, who is 86 and lives with Alzheimer’s, at home, mostly on my own. Since moving her to the nursing care facility across from my cottage a year ago, I continue to spend most of the day with her; enjoying her, feeding her at mealtimes, and eating beside her. We are experiencing the reality of caresharing each day. My wife and I work together with the health care staff and residents as a community. I highly recommend this hopeful book to anyone caring for a loved one.

Ruth and Bob HarnishRobert and Ruth Harnish

You have NOT failed when you have chosen to take your loved one to a long term care facility. You still have each other to meet real family needs, both spiritual and emotional (p. 33).

Respond to what is alive in the other person (p. 38).

My wife Ruth is alive when she is singing. Her smile welcomes others. Her joyous smile and singing inspired the King Brothers to compose the song titled, "Maybe She'll Remember Me." This song won second place in a Branson, Missouri, music competition.

Learn the value of thankfulness towards each other (p. 42).

Ruth and I often share a prayer time before going to bed. I thank God for her---that she is a wonderful mother and the best wife in the world. She gently smiles and shows appreciation.

Learn how to be gracefully dependent. Learn to trust when frail. Learn the value of love (p. 44).

I am dependent on Ruth when I need a big hug. Ruth trusts Jan, her nurses aide, and tells her "I love you." Jan replies, "I love you." Both smile. Jan has learned to be most gracious and asks Ruth for help in getting ready to be put on the lift. Both work together. I have learned that kindness and support are one language that everybody understands

Consider how you can reinforce what your care partner can still do (p. 50).

My wife is not able to discuss things but she comes alive when we sit together and sing the old hymns. She often knows all of the verses.

Family members can maintain the honor and the importance of a frail member (p. 67).

Until recently, my wife, who could barely speak, was still able to lead the song, "We Thank You Lord for This Our Food." Our family always sings this as a prayer before meals. Ruth could not help prepare the food as she used to, but she could still lead this prayer with enthusiasm and a beautiful smile.

Family members each have a role (p. 60).

My wife and I have five children. Each lives in a different state. We stay in touch by phone or Skype. Each helps me as a caregiver. I get a medical perspective from my son-in-law who is a medical doctor, and my daughter who is a nurse. My oldest son calls eveyr day. Another son lives nearby and frequently helps out. I have another son and daughter who are always available by phone.

Memory loss in the care receiver is one of the most difficult challenges. These people have much to teach us, soul to soul. Be present with them. (p.84)

Cognitive changes are always in flux. People do not stay in one static place as illness progresses (p. 85).

Be consistent with actions and words. Remember that laughter is the shortest distance between two people (p. 99).

People with dementia are whole people. Don't treat them as nothing. They still have much to offer (p. 101-102).

Buy from publisher​​

 Related topics

 Opening Doors