To Serve: A 29-Second Video Thought

January 20, 2016

Like Snow

January 26, 2015

Swerve Often

January 7, 2015

A Kind Word

November 13, 2014

A_kind_word_Thoughtful_PT_600

Beautiful Music: A Thought for Caregivers

November 13, 2014

Hero

October 30, 2008

Shannon has pancreatitis.
It was caused
by a genetic defect.
It started 6 years ago
when she was 27.
Always healthy and adventuresome
when she was younger,
her life has now taken an unwanted turn.
First there is the abdominal pain.
It strikes without warning, a couple of times a month,
lasting hours on end.
When it first happened,
she thought she was dying.
Now she knows she won’t die,
but sometimes she says she wishes she could—
the pain is that excruciating.
All she can do is increase her pain medication,
curl up in a ball, and wait it out.
Extreme nausea has become her way of life—
most every morning, most every evening.
Sometimes the nausea strikes unpredictably, embarrassingly,
wherever she is, whatever she’s doing.
Daily she must conserve her energy carefully.
Indeed, she will always have to—
she has been told her condition cannot improve.

Shannon has become a friend of mine.
I watch her carry on day after day
with true grit, with remarkable resilience,
with persistent courage.
Her efforts, every single day,
are nothing less than heroic.

In this space that’s dedicated to the issues
of being a caregiver to family or friends,
Shannon is an important reminder to us.
It’s true that caregiving can be demanding.
It’s true there may be something of the heroic
in how some of us caregivers live out our roles.
But we dare not forget that sometimes, if not often,
the one in our care is engaged in a battle
that is even more heroic.
They may grapple with unceasing pain,
or unnerving fear, or unrelenting depression.
They may be forced to deal with symptoms
that are fatiguing, or alarming, or humiliating.
They may be adjusting to diseases or conditions
that limit not only the quality of their lives
but even the length their lives.
Such individuals are examples of heroism personified.
We dare not forget that.

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Circle

October 16, 2008

A letter from me
is on page two
of Willowgreen’s catalog,
mailed last week.
It includes a photo
of four generations.
This is some of what I wrote:

“The image you see here holds many associations for me. The baby is Grayson James, my grandson and namesake. We waited years for him to arrive. We came close to thinking he would never come to be. My daughter Christen holds Grayson. She’s a hospice chaplain. Last year she co-authored Willowgreen’s small book This Time of Caregiving with me. The older man is my father. He lived with my wife and me for a while. Recently he was in and out of various levels of nursing home care between hospitalizations….
“Caregiving circles around and around in this picture. I cared for Dad extensively in his final years. During the same period I cared excitedly for Grayson in his early years. Christen and I both do professional caregiving among our other duties, while being caring with one another as occasions call for it. Last year I underwent surgery myself and most everyone in our family cared for me as I healed, including Dad.
“I believe our family is as ordinary as anyone’s, which means that caregiving commonly happens on and off through the years. Caregiving occurs between generations and within the same generation. It occurs at expected times and unexpected times, in ways we can plan for and in ways we could never predict. Oh, the experiences we’ve had in our family!”

I believe our family’s truth
is the truth of most families:
caregiving encircles us, endlessly.
While it may appear to start and stop,
from that larger perspective
it loops around and around,
tying us together in rings of love
and comfort and hope
and every feeling imaginable.
Caregiving was there long before us
and it will continue its orbit
long after us.
We are privileged to take our place
in that gigantic, looping, circling universe.
Fortunate are those who can sense that privilege
amidst whatever it is our caregiving
may ask of us.

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Halo

October 6, 2008

Vicki Graboys cares for
her busband, Tom.
He has an aggressive form
of Parkinson’s desease.
Life in the Balance
is the book he wrote
about their story.
He needed to write it promptly
before his dementia made it impossible
to pull his thoughts and memories together.
He included this about his wife,
whom he married just before he was diagnosed:
“I will try, often to excess, to express my gratitude and profess my love, which only makes her burden heavier, for it reinforces the unequal distribution of power in our marriage, power she doesn’t want and wears uncomfortably. I sometimes call her my angel, but she doesn’t want me to hang a halo on her. She feels she can’t—and doesn’t want to have to—live up to such lofty, unrealistic expectations.”

I find this to be a common feeling
among the caregivers with whom I speak.
They don’t see themselves as angels
or as saviors
and they don’t want to be seen
in that way by others.
They’re not do-gooders.
They’re simply loving family members and friends
who have risen to the occasion—
the occasion of doing what they can
to support, guide, and encourage,
to cook for and look after,
to walk with and sit beside,
to hold the other’s well-being
as a sacred trust.
Is what they do laudatory?
Yes, very.
Do they fulfill a role
that is life-giving, perhaps even life-saving?
Absolutely.
But do they wish to be stuck on a pedestal
for what they do?
Not really.
Most caregivers I know
are content with being recognized
from time to time,
and validated,
whatever the source of that validation.
But they’re not prepared
to serve as saints.
They have more important things to do.
Like give good care.

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