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  • BIOETHICS FORUM ESSAY

A Letter to Tony Soprano, Family Caregiver

Dear Mr. Soprano,

We were very sorry to learn about the unfortunate incident that resulted in your hospitalization. We hope you have a speedy recovery. Gunshot accidents can happen to anyone, and we know your primary concern is not for yourself but for your beloved uncle, who must have thought he was shooting at a bird.

This crisis can be an opportunity to identify yourself as a family caregiver and join the millions of others who derive so much moral and spiritual growth from caring for a loved one, no matter how difficult it may seem at the time.

Although we have never met you, we learned about your story from one of your friends, who insisted that he remain anonymous. Actually he did not even give his name and seemed just a bit nervous talking about you.

We discussed your situation in our support group, and we feel that on balance it would have been better not to let your beloved uncle keep a loaded gun in his house. Some of our members disagreed, because in their view maintaining and promoting the loved one’s authentic personhood is just as important as safety. A man like your uncle, whose core identity has been synonymous with violence, should surely be able to retain his sense of self. On the other hand, the majority thought that an unloaded gun would have served the same purpose.

Even here, though, there was some disagreement, because it would have been necessary to shade the truth and say that the gun was really loaded – with invisible bullets, perhaps. At times adhering to principle is really tiresome.

We know from our informant – sorry, your anonymous friend – that you have a large, extended family. Our support group strongly believes in a broad definition of “family,” although we must admit, Tony (may we call you Tony?), that you have taken this to a new level. Perhaps at this crucial time it would be wise to encourage the men in your family to find ways to support themselves without your fond and appropriately stern guidance. After all, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. (Have you had a flu shot, Tony? We’re sure you can get one in the hospital.)

But, Tone (May we call you Tone?), sometimes you have to go outside the family to find the help you need. When you are back on your feet, we will give you a list of phone numbers to call. They will not actually provide you with any services, but they will give you more places to call, and this is often all you need. Just to know that others care so deeply about you will keep you going. Some of our members find that when they are finally referred back to the original source, the problem has miraculously disappeared.

Finally, Tone, you must be concerned about your wife. Did you know that she is at risk of dying because of the stress of your hospitalization? A recent study at Harvard found that the riskiest period is 30 days after the hospitalization, although given the specifics of your situation, maybe it would be more appropriate to focus on weeks – say, 12 – instead of days. And Sunday might be a particularly risky day for her.

Our support group would be delighted to have you as a member. We meet monthly and share our stories. We laugh, we cry, we hug. We look forward to your participation. We really want to learn more about you as a person, your family, and your job.

Sincerely,
The Family Bonding Institute*

*The Family Bonding Institute has no affiliation with any federal agency with the same initials.

Carol Levine

Published on: March 24, 2006
Published in: Caregiving, Children and Families

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