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A Caregiver’s Lesson
By Iris Graville

(Page 2 of 2)

“You know what one of my pet peeves is?” David asked me on one of his good days. “When someone says, ‘Thank you,’ and the other person says, ‘Thank you’ back. You hear it on NPR all the time,” he went on, his usually hoarse voice getting stronger with each word. “The interviewer says, ‘Thank you’ to the person being interviewed, and then that person says, ‘Thank you.’ They’re intelligent people. Don’t they know when someone says, ‘Thank you’ you should respond with ‘You’re welcome’?”

I had noticed the thank you reply, too, and although it hadn’t risen to the level of a pet peeve for me, I shared David’s annoyance. However, up until then, I was as guilty as many of answering someone’s “Thank you” with “Thank you.”

That day as I was leaving, David, as he always did, said, “Thank you, Iris.”

“Thank, er, you’re welcome,” I said. We both smiled.

Every time after that conversation, David and I went through a ritual of saying, “Thank you” and “You’re welcome” amidst chuckles. Once I attempted to convince him that people were trying to express their gratitude and pleasure doing or giving something that someone else appreciated. He didn’t buy it. He remained peeved.

One chilly spring day, I couldn’t wait to tell David something I’d heard on the radio.

“David,” I said, as I pushed his wheelchair to a warm spot in front of the wood stove, “I heard a great interview on NPR with some archbishop today.”

“Yeah…”

“And at the end of the piece, the interviewer said, Thank you.”

“Mmmhmm…”

“And then the archbishop said, ‘You’re welcome,’” I announced triumphantly.

David smiled, nodded his head, and said, “I’m so glad you told me.”

As the days went on and David became less responsive, I missed his thank yous. But I knew he felt them. And even though I always said, “You’re welcome” to Barbara or one of the boys when they thanked me for spending time with David, inwardly I was saying, “Thank you.” Despite the weariness in my back and the ache in my heart when I left his house, I felt deep gratitude to be able to care for David and to be with him and his family during one of life’s most intimate experiences. Caring for him was a gift, and despite his insistence on good manners, I came to believe “Thank you” was the more accurate response to his appreciation for the care I gave him.

You’re welcome, David. And thank you.

Iris Graville is a former home health and hospice nurse and now a school nurse and writer. Her first book, Hands at Work—Portraits and Profiles of People Who Work with Their Hands, includes stories and photographs of caregivers as well as artisans, musicians, and others passionate about work with their hands (www.handsworking.com).

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