Recently, I shared reflections of my father-in-law’s last 13 days before his passing at 97 – a long, loved life dedicated to improving people’s lives by focusing on their emotional and physical wellbeing. Burt Giges, MD, was a gifted physician and therapist, inspiring teacher and beloved husband, father and grandfather. One of the complex tasks of children – albeit adults – is to sort through the deceased’s papers, photos and possessions. In this sad task, many gems – treasures –were found.
Throughout the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, Burt remained engaged with students and colleagues. He taught by Zoom and held a Springfield College ID that was current through the last year of his life. When a department colleague mentioned their impending retirement, My father-in-law at age 97, said he might retire in May 2022. Although Burt did not make it to his target retirement date, he dedicated much of his life to enjoying close relationships with his students – future therapists dedicated to supporting competitive athletes to achieve their fullest potential.
Among Burt’s papers, this typed note to his graduate students was found focusing on “self-care.” Burt, a dual-board certified internist (infectious disease specialist) and psychiatrist, author and gifted speaker, was interested in why illness – mental or physical – exists and how people can intervene to prevent despair and disease. Here are his wise words left to us:
“Graduate students have many calls for their attention and energy. When self-care is viewed as an alternative to working, a dichotomy is created that presents the dilemma. ‘Either I attend to myself or I attend to work.” If the concept of self-care were broadened to include devoting my energy to attend to all my needs, wants, thoughts and feelings, the either/or dilemma might recede.
“Here’s how that would work:
“in my daily life, it is important to me to take care of my physical needs (exercise, nutrition, relaxation), psychological needs (self-worth, self-acceptance, autonomy, etc.), and social needs (relationships). It is also important to me to have enjoyment and fun, as well as to feel good about myself and satisfied with the work that I do.
“When I devote time and effort to any of these elements, it counts as taking care of myself. Therefore, when I decide to work, I am taking care of myself by feeling the satisfaction of work well done.
“How much time and energy are devoted to each element is a decision that will vary with the circumstances. Choosing an activity that is fun is not self-sacrificing the quality of work; it is attending to another need. Allowing your choice to attend to any of the needs or wants is an important aspect of healthy adjustment. It does require a non-judgmental perspective to enable free movement from one choice to the next.
“So my advice to students is to include them all. Then, all you need to do is decide how much of each is enough for now.”
(signed) Burt Giges