By: Malcolm Herman

One day I’ll write the definitive best-selling book about caregiving (yes, another one!) full of helpful tips, like take care of yourself, accept offers of help, eat your veggies, and so forth. But after thinking about the subject one way or another for 25 years, I have come to realize that there is no simple definition of “caregiver.” Or to put it another way, there are so many people of all ages fulfilling some kind of caregiving role in our society—for parents, children, siblings, spouses, partners, and so forth—that the term really has no single meaning.

The first time I was labeled a “caregiver” was when my lovely wife, Gwenn, who had suffered from chronic pain since being injured in an automobile accident in 1995, dragged me to a chronic pain symposium. As I saw it, my principal function was to carry our suitcases and get us safely to the hotel, which I accomplished without too much difficulty.

While there, I was amazed to encounter people of all ages from all walks of life with a multiplicity of pain conditions. I had been living in a cocoon. It was a real eye-opener. The biggest surprise was to be called to the stage to receive a certificate of “Best Caregiver.” I had never thought of myself as a caregiver. I was a husband and a father just doing what I have to do.

There lies the conundrum that I have never resolved. It seems many caregivers are in the same position — we don’t see ourselves as doing anything extraordinary, only what is necessary. But does that ambivalence cause us as “caregivers” to overlook the unique nature of the role we’ve taken on, as well as its challenges and frustrations? Do we overlook our own needs or struggles…to our detriment, and to our loved ones?

Recently, I was “volunteered” by my wife, who leads Pain Connection and its network of support groups, to spearhead a group specifically for caregivers of people with chronic pain. So here I am again, forced to return to this basic conundrum that has dogged me for 25 years.

So the question is: who is a caregiver? If I am to write the definitive best-selling book on the subject, I have to resolve the basic conundrum and answer this question. Otherwise, I will never get past chapter one. What are your thoughts? Who is a caregiver?

Please email your ideas to [email protected].

About Malcolm Herman

Malcolm Herman worked as an attorney in Maryland for 25 years. After his wife, Gwenn, was injured in an automobile accident, Malcolm became active in the chronic pain community and assisted Gwenn as she created Pain Connection, a nonprofit in Maryland, which is now part of U.S. Pain Foundation. Malcolm previously served as a director of Pain Connection and is now director of the National Coalition of Chronic Pain Providers and Professionals (NCCPPP), a program of U.S. Pain Foundation. He and Jennine Watson will be launching a specialized support group for caregivers and care partners in January through Pain Connection.