Archive for December, 2007

Clouded: The Depression Series IV

December 5, 2007

Our friend Patty cared
for her husband Walt
until he died of cancer.
I can still remember
how Patty looked
during those long months.
Sadness clouded her eyes,
replacing what had been a twinkle.
Her voice lost its inflection and energy.
“This is so depressing,” she said.
“I know,” I said, nodding,
not knowing what else to say.

Patty was depressed
as she cared for Walt so valiantly,
yet also so helplessly.
Their retirement plans were dashed.
Their long marriage was ending.
Walt was suffering on some days.
Who wouldn’t be depressed?
That’s what I told her:
“Your depression makes sense.”
Another time I said,
“Hang in and ride it out.
Things will eventually look different.”

We’re inclined to push away dark times.
We don’t see value in them.
We think there is something wrong
about being depressed.
But I wonder.
Is it wrong?
To be clear: I would never advocate
that anyone seek depression.
Yet it seems to me
that when depression accompanies a time
of suffering or loss or helplessness,
it comes with some reason behind it,
some meaning attached.
It comes with a message:
“This is sad and unfortunate;
this does hurt.”
There are times when that message
is the unavoidable truth.
When that is the case,
then avoiding truth means avoiding life.
So if we move toward the depression,
if only a little,
rather than running from it,
what might happen?
Might we come in time
to an honest and compassionate acceptance
of our natural human limits?
Might we come eventually
to a more serene understanding
of life’s inevitable realities?
Might we someday arrive at
a surer awareness that we are held in love,
even when we wonder?
Might we come to realize
that depression need not hold
the final word—
that joy may hold it,
or perhaps peacefulness,
or deep, deep gratitude?

By the way,
the twinkle has returned to Patty’s eyes,
though it’s a little more radiant.

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Caregiver Care

December 3, 2007

Audrey’s husband has
long-standing health problems.
He’s been near death
more than once.
Now her daughter,
who lives by herself,
has been diagnosed with an arterial blood clot.
The prognosis is uncertain,
both short-term and long-term.
Audrey’s daughter-in-law, who lives nearby,
is struggling with her father’s impending death,
as is that whole family.
So fear and anxiety fill Audrey’s days.
She is on caregiver overload.

My wife Bernie and Audrey are friends.
So Bernie invited Audrey over Friday morning.
She prepared special muffins
and coffee in holiday cups.
She started a fire in the fireplace,
lit candles around the living room,
and put on quiet background music.
When Audrey arrived, they sat on the couch,
watched the fire, and talked at length.
Bernie mostly listened and empathized.
Audrey spun out her feelings and concerns.
But after awhile she also spoke about
the everyday events of her life—
her quilting, Christmas plans, other friends.
The warm atmosphere and the set-aside time
worked together to create a space
that Audrey could make her own
and do with as she pleased.
That’s exactly what she did.
By the time she left,
nothing had changed about Audrey’s situation,
but she had changed a little.
She was a little more relaxed,
a little more refreshed,
a little more ready to return to her life.
Audrey had been on the receiving end
of Bernie’s restorative care.

When we think of giving care to others,
we often think of the ill, the disabled, the dying.
Sometimes those who need our caregiving
are other caregivers themselves.
Who will encourage those around us
who strive so hard to encourage others?
Who will care for those
who deserve and need such care
as much as they’re hesitant to ask for it?
We can.
We who have been where they have been,
and understand.
We who have, at the moment,
the time and freedom to do that,
or we can make both of those.
We who know that caring for caregivers
is tremendously important,
and easily overlooked,
and beneficial beyond words.

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