Archive for August, 2007

Blessings

August 28, 2007

This is not exactly
a caregiver story.
But it’s worth telling anyway,
for several reasons.
My wife Bernie and I
were sitting on the back porch
evening before last,
enjoying the fading day.
In a quiet voice she said to me,
“Right now I am relishing hearing
the cicada sounds around us.
I’m loving this gentle breeze,
this perfect temperature,
this evening light.
I’m loving being here with you.”
I was touched by her sentiments.
I told her I felt similar lovings.
We sat in silence for a few moments.
Then I said, about as softly,
“It’s within reason, you know,
that our mood could have been
quite different this evening,
and right now I’m aware of that too.”
Bernie has had a few troubling symptoms—
symptoms that cannot help but remind us
of her experience with cancer sixteen years ago.
We’ve both been worried, each of us more
than we wanted the other to know.
An appointment with a specialist four days ago, however,
eased our fears considerably.
More tests are upcoming, but the doctor says
the likelihood of this being cancer is very low.
What I meant to say in that evening air,
without saying the exact words, was
“We could have been sitting here
facing some scary times—
times like we’ve known before.”
That’s what Bernie also heard,
without hearing the exact words.
After another moment of quietness,
Bernie looked at me and said,
“Even if that’s what we were facing this evening,
we would still have these cicada sounds.
We would still have this wonderful breeze,
this lovely light,
this perfect evening.
We would still have each other.”

Bernie’s truth is also ultimate truth.
Whatever is happening right now—
to any of us, to all of us—
we still have quiet graces
that are around us somewhere.
We still have moments that can bring us peace
and glimpses that can give us joy.
We still have someone we love
and someone who loves us.
We still have these gifted seconds, minutes, hours—
right here, right now—
that cannot be taken from us.
Yes, blessings abound.

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CDD

August 27, 2007

Dad had not been
out to eat in a while.
So I took him to Pizza Hut.
It was just the three of us—
Dad, me, and the wheelchair.
Getting through the double front doors
was a hassle, but we made it.
Maneuvering among the close tables in the crowded dining room
was another feat, but we succeeded.
Then, once seated, Dad needed the restroom.
More tight spaces,
more making others wait for us,
more looks from people around us.
Lunch was becoming one obstacle after another
and each time we were on our own.
I felt as if we weren’t supposed to be there.
Lunch done, we slowly made our way
to pay our bill and leave.
I eyed the tricky front doors again,
wondering how best to negotiate them this time.
At just that moment
a man stepped forward and held one door
while his young daughter held the second
and we sailed through with ease.
I was so grateful for their small act of kindness,
the only one we had experienced
through the unexpected ordeal of having lunch out,
that I wanted to hug them as we passed by.
I’m sure our thanks sufficed.

I’m learning, as I suppose you’re learning,
that some people want to help,
and are naturally inclined to help,
and what they do does help.
There are other people who are not made that way—
they stand back rather than reach forward,
or they ignore our plight or our hurt,
or they act impatient when we’re doing
the best we know how.
We cannot always predict who has the caregiver’s heart—
they come in all body types, all fashion styles,
all age groupings, all known genders.
Yet our experience teaches:
some “get” caregiving
and some just don’t.
And if they don’t, there’s not much reward
in trying to change them.
But we can show appreciation to those who are the caregivers,
and we can attempt acceptance for those others
who suffer from CDD—Caregiving Deficit Disorder.
Maybe they’ll get help some day.
In the meantime, we’ll keep enjoying one another—
loyal caregivers and thriving care receivers alike,
everyone who “gets” it and even those who don’t.
God bless us all.

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Trust

August 24, 2007

Kathy is a teacher.
Her husband Rich
has his MBA,
but he no longer works.
Twenty years ago
he was in an accident
and suffered a traumatic head injury,
followed by several brain surgeries.
His physical and mental capacities
have become noticeably compromised.
Recently Kathy told me about a memorable experience
related to being Rich’s caregiver
that influenced how she gives care today.
One night he did not return from the restaurant
where he had gone alone to eat.
As he drove home,
he became disoriented and got lost.
Worse, he was caught in a terrible storm
with strong winds and heavy rain.
He called Kathy on his cell phone,
saying he didn’t know where he was
and didn’t know what to do.
As he was talking,
his cell phone battery went dead.
Concerned and frightened,
Kathy drove around in the dark looking for him,
but it proved useless and she returned home.
As she sat alone, crying,
wondering what she could do,
she ended up on her knees, praying.
In essence her prayer went,
“God, I’ve done all I can.
You’re going to have to take care
of the rest.”
Her prayer said, she suddenly grew calmer.
She got up and prepared for bed.
Minutes later Rich called.
He had found his way to a bar,
someone told him where he was,
and Kathy was able to meet him there
and take him home.
She had told me this story in response
to my asking about the lessons
her caregiving had been teaching her.
She said,
“I learned that night that
I have to place some of this responsibility
in God’s hands.
I do what I can,
and the best I can.
But I cannot do all.
I have to entrust the rest.”

Kathy is right.
We caregivers cannot handle absolutely everything
for the one in our care.
Sometimes we must sleep.
Sometimes we must be away.
Sometimes we reach the limits of our knowledge,
or our ability, or our ingenuity.
When we’ve done our level best,
and all that can reasonably be asked,
then ours is to do that next thing:
to allow some of the responsibility
to fall somewhere else,
trusting in the eventual outcome.
That Trust will hold.

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Short View

August 22, 2007

English scholar John Bayley
wrote Elegy for Iris
about his last years
with his wife, the author
Dame Iris Murdoch.
When she developed Alzheimer’s,
he cared for her entirely on his own
for as long as he could.
He relates many episodes from their days together—
some humorous, some joyful,
some poignantly sad.
He leaves their story with a quotation
he had used midway in the book.
It’s by the nineteenth century clergyman and writer,
Rev. Sydney Smith, who once advised parishioners
who came to him feeling downhearted,
“Take short views of human life—
never further than dinner or tea.”

It’s clear that’s what John Bayley learned to do—
to take a short view as his wife’s caregiver:
a few hours at a time, one after another,
not much further ahead than dinner or tea.
That prescription does not work for all of life,
nor always for every caregiving situation.
But when caregiving becomes a long-range proposition,
when it consumes much of one’s daily energy,
then the reverend’s advice is worth considering.
Making our way through the coming few hours,
or the next half of a day,
is often enough for us to undertake
at any one time.
Not the whole month stretching before us.
Not all the seasons of the coming year.
Not what lies ahead unavoidably
at the very end of our time together.
Just these few morning hours
and whatever partial peace or quiet joy
or mutual understanding they may contain.
Just this afternoon interlude
and wherever an outdoor walk might take us,
and whatever experience of rest might refresh us,
this time of slipping into our accustomed routine
with its right amount of structure and comfort.
Just this evening that beckons,
carrying whatever it carries,
offering whatever it offers,
knowing we’ve done what we could,
aware we’ve received as well as given,
and now the rest is in the hands of Another.

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True Giving

August 20, 2007

When her mother
became an invalid,
Dorothy rented an apartment
for the two of them.
They lived together
for two years
until her mother died.
Dorothy kept house for them, and as she did so,
her mother taught her much about housekeeping
that Dorothy had never known.
Dorothy did all the hands-on kitchen work,
while her mother planned their menus,
provided recipes and shopping lists,
and helped her daughter become a better cook
and, more importantly, a healthier cook.
This was the period, Dorothy says,
when her 90-year-old mother finished raising her.
She told me recently,
“My mother did so much for me during those years
when I was her caregiver.
Today I still call upon that wisdom
she instilled in me during that time.
I ask you: who gave to whom?”

In most of our caregiving relationships,
we who are called the caregivers have much
we can receive from the one in our care.
However young or old, they have wisdom from which we can benefit.
Like Dorothy’s mother, they may have specific skills
they would love to pass on.
They have a perspective on life
that is different from ours—
one that may inform our own
and perhaps help round it out.
The possibilities are many.
What values can we be taught?
What ideals might we be given to carry?
What blessing might we receive?
What legacy might we be given to hold
before handing it off to another,
perhaps to someone who will one day
be doing exactly what we’re doing—
learning how true giving also involves receiving
and how true caring is a grace all its own.

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Who?

August 17, 2007

This is Brendan Halpin:
Public school teacher.
Young married man.
Father to a 4-year-old.
Caregiver to his wife
who is ill with cancer.
He tells their unfolding story
in his book It Takes a Worried Man,
which he composed like a personal journal.
At one point he confesses that he feels resentful.
He needs to take care of his wife,
because she is so ill.
He needs to take care of their daughter,
because she is so young.
All that, he admits, makes perfect sense,
and is something he ought to do,
something he wants to do.
Still, he writes, “Who’s taking care of me?
Who cares that I got less
than five hours sleep
and I have to go work a full day?
Who gives me a hug
when I am scared in the middle of the night?”

Brendan’s questions are valid and make real sense.
Whether we realize it or not,
questions like these are common
among family caregivers today.
“When I’ve done all the caring I can do,
who will in turn give care to me?”
“When my caregiving has exhausted me,
who will at least notice my exhaustion,
if not help in some way?”
“When I myself am hurting,
who will be there to soothe,
to listen, to encourage?”
Honest questions all.
Human, natural questions.
Questions that no committed caregiver
should feel ashamed for asking.
For we all have our limits,
and those limits vary.
We all have our needs,
and those needs are individualized.
We all will do well to have support in some form,
wherever that support comes from.
Our questions may not have easy answers,
or ready answers, or even sure answers,
but that should not stop us
from giving them voice.
For that is the only way
our voices can blend with other voices,
allowing us to know we are not alone,
which is at least a beginning.

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Same Care

August 15, 2007

Healing Lessons is the story
of how Andrea Winawer
dealt with her cancer.
It was written by her
physician husband, Sidney.
The book is equally
about his slow transition
from being a doctor specializing in cancer treatment
to being a caregiver of a loved one with cancer.
As her disease spread,
Andrea sought out alternative treatments,
ones her husband did not favor,
accustomed as he was to a medical intervention model.
Having always loved her husband’s rich voice,
Andrea asked him to read guided imageries aloud to her.
He did as she requested, he writes, “to humor her.”
As he continued his daily readings,
he realized how much this practice comforted her;
he could see it on her face.
Then he became aware of something else:
“I told myself for a while
I was doing it only for Andrea’s benefit.
Then I realized that I, too,
was feeling its effects.
I became calmer as I read to her
and we entered the new place [in the imagery].
I relaxed as I watched her relax.”

Isn’t it interesting how this happens?
We lead another through a guided imagery
and we are led to that same place ourselves.
We take the other for a walk outdoors,
believing that will help them,
and the next thing we know
we feel ourselves lifted and filled
by the sights and sounds all around us.
We think they will benefit from reminiscing
and when they’re done talking,
we sense we’ve benefited as much as they.
For their well-being we offer spoken prayers
and then we find ourselves comfortably cradled
by those very same heartfelt words.
Almost anything we do to help another—
if it’s done wisely, humbly, lovingly—
can circle around and help us, too,
without our ever intending that.
We share a piece of poetry,
a piece of scripture,
a piece of beauty,
a piece of ourselves,
and the support or encouragement we wanted to give them
comes gently, surely back to us
and we know ourselves to be
quite thoughtfully cared for.

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Joy

August 13, 2007

Day before yesterday
my sister Patty and I
were with our father
at the family homestead
on Chapman Lake.
While Dad now lives
at an assisted care facility ten miles away,
he sometimes spends daytime hours at the lake
when one of us children is available.
This place has been his heaven on earth for sixty years.
An unrepentant bluegill fisherman,
Dad has not been able to fish for over a year.
His walker, unsteady balance, and general weakness
make getting in and out of the fishing boat
a difficult, if not perilous, proposition.
But Dad loves his fishing,
especially on hot August days
when the fish have moved to deep water.
So Saturday Patty and I looked at one another
and said, “Let’s go for it.”
With plenty of extra assistance,
Dad made it safely into the old aluminum boat
and we headed to that favorite spot
where he has fished for half a century.
Seeing the bobber was not easy.
He hated to ask for help baiting his hook.
The noisy speedboats created large, rocking waves.
But all that mattered hardly a bit,
for Dad was in his element—he was fishing again.
We ribbed one another as we sat there,
just like we always had.
We told the family fishing stories we all knew by heart,
but that day we needed to tell them again.
We jerked our poles in the late afternoon sun
and it was all wonderful.
We couldn’t exactly see the joy on Dad’s face,
but we could sense it run throughout his body
as he held that worn pole in his weathered hands.
He caught two keepers, one more than I.
As we rowed back to shore,
it was hard to tell who was the happier:
Dad for having gone fishing
after he wondered if he ever would again,
or Patty and I for having been there with him,
witnessing and loving each moment.

Sometimes giving care simply means giving joy.
When that happens, the joy ricochets all around,
striking everything and everyone within its range.
It is then that caregiving is truly gift,
blessing giver and receiver in equal portions.

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