Be the Bertha’s of the world: caregiving from a place of love

by Family Councils Ontario

As a child growing up in Markham it seemed we always had someone in our house that my Mother was looking after. It was never a question if someone needed care, Mom always said yes without hesitation. It was watching Bertha, my Mom, care for her mother, my grandmother, that impacted me the most.

Grandma came to Canada from Holland in the early 1900’s. She arrived with my grandfather and five daughters and pregnant with my mother. Life was severe for them and the experiences they had in this new country seemed to harden my grandmother’s heart so much so that each of her daughters left home as soon as they could. They wanted to escape from the strict unfeeling home they grew up in.

My grandmother came to live with us when I was about eleven years old. I was always intimidated by her because she was so very severe and her English, even after all her years living here, was not great. To be honest I was afraid of her. When she came to us she needed constant care and my Mom stepped up to help her.

“It feels “goot” but your hands are so ugly Bertha” my Grandmother said loudly in her Dutch accented English as Bertha massaged my grandmother’s legs. Grandma never said nice things to my Mother, never thank you, never words of endearment to her youngest daughter. My gentle mother was always patient and kind, and tended lovingly to Grandma’s needs, it did not matter to her that her own mother was so fierce and cantankerous. Bertha was happy doing this; it was not something that resulted in resentment. My wise mother knew how to find joy; she also knew how to care for herself and knew when to ask for help. Bertha was the caregiver we all want to have when we need care.

This unconditional care I saw as a child has made me reflect deeply on what it takes to care for people who are in Long-Term Care and who have various forms of cognitive impairments. Recent media reports have alarmed us all about the care in Long-Term Care Homes. One doesn’t hear about the thousands of workers who do care and are committed to BE in the moment with folk who can no longer express themselves. The “Bertha’s” of the Long-Term Care world are never written about.

My mother is an example for me of what it takes to care and embody love for someone no matter what. People’s behaviour is beyond the scope of legislation. One cannot legislate kindness and love. We want people caring for our elders to not just be trained and regulated we also want them to love what they do.

There is no certainty that more regulations will result in better care. So much depends on the person delivering the care and the manner with which it is delivered. What we want are “Bertha’s”. We want people who embody care no matter what.

I think as families, who are also caregivers, we must embody the behaviours and care we long to see for Long-Term Care residents in our own relationships and life. We must BE the Bertha’s of the world. It begins with me.

- Lorraine

Print This Page