Archive for the ‘Caregiving’ Category

Wisdom

January 10, 2008

Our father, almost 88,
has been rather ill
this past week.
Contagion is an issue
so the facility’s staff
discouraged our visits.
We four siblings have been unsure—
what should we do?
Hospitalize Dad?
Get him to a doctor,
even weak as he is?
Let the illness run its course?
Arrange physical therapy
to help rebuild his strength?
Patty, Tony, Mike, and I shared our thoughts
in circling succession of emails.
Mike reminded us of the difficulties involved
with the last doctor appointment.
Patty weighed in about physical therapy—
regulations, restrictions, availability.
Back and forth we communicated
until a plan of action became clear.
Together we now know what to do.
Our collective wisdom is better
than our individual ponderings.

The Roman playwright Titus Plautus
had it right:
“No one is wise by oneself.”
However much we know as caregivers,
there is much we do not know,
much we cannot know.
However perceptive we are,
there are always things
we do not see.
Moreover, we’ll probably not see
how much we’re not seeing.
However clear our thinking,
another’s perspective can help—
help clarify,
help confirm,
help correct.
We caregivers are not wise
entirely by ourselves.
Who can help increase that wisdom?
Family, friends, colleagues.
Healthcare professionals.
Fellow caregivers.
Sometimes complete strangers.
And we dare not forget
perhaps the best source of all—
those who are in our care.
They may well be the most knowing
of everyone.

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Decision

January 9, 2008

Last spring, after coming up with the idea of creating The Thoughtful Caregiver on the web, I decided I’d do new writings and photographs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It’s been an interesting and enjoyable experience carrying out those plans. I’m glad I started this venture and I intend to keep it going.
Three learnings, however, are encouraging me to re-evaluate this self-imposed schedule as the new year begins.
First, planning, researching, and executing these writings along with the accompanying photography has come to require more of my time than I initially anticipated. Each entry takes several hours. “Three entries” multiplied by “several hours” equals “a healthy chunk of one’s week.”
Second, I’ve been a little surprised how many weeks of the year, when you get right down to it, have Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in them. Quite a few, I’ve noticed. It makes for a steady stream of deadlines.
Third, while I’m grateful that there are those of you who find meaning in reading The Thoughtful Caregiver regularly, I’m also aware that readership is fairly limited, even after hundreds of personal contacts and many thousands of mailings. There are times when the result of one’s work needs to be evaluated against the amount of labor involved.
For these reasons, I’ve decided that I’ll go from three to two writings a week. Mondays and Thursdays will be the days.
I’ll continue to do my best to make Thoughtful a meaningful unfolding of ideas and images. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for how this work might develop in the future. Your feedback is very valuable to me.

Whole

January 7, 2008

Dame Cicely Saunders
was the founder
of modern hospice care.
She used to tell
of a cancer patient
she once cared for.
He was forty years old,
a survivor of World War II
and the Warsaw Ghetto.
The two of them sometimes spoke
of his life and his sufferings,
as well as his limited future.
Once she asked him,
“What do you want of me
as your caregiver?”
This was his reply:
“I want only
what is in your mind
and in your heart.”
She never forgot his request,
as she invested her life caring for others
and teaching others how to care.

“I want only what is in your mind
and in your heart.”
Our becoming present and staying present
is important, of course.
Our hands-on care is irreplaceable.
But almost always something more
is asked of us,
whether or not words are used.
“I want to know your thoughts too,
and your feelings no less.”
Those in our care want more
than physical contact.
They want to know something
of our inward nature,
our inner spirit.
They want to sense
that it’s a whole human being
who meets them in these acts of care.
“I want only the complete you,
including the vulnerable you,
the imperfect you.”
Those in our care want
not us playing a role
but us living out our authenticity.
They want us to bring
the fullness of who we are
so we can meet the fullness
of who they are.
They’re aware that their own wholeness
responds best in relationship
to the wholeness of others,
to the wholeness of us.
Wholeness is good.
It is healing.
It is life-giving, life-sharing.

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Joy

December 24, 2007

May you and the one in your care
not just see blessings,
but experience blessings,
not just share blessings,
but be blessings.
May the encouragement
of Ralph Waldo Emerson
invite us all:

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Rewarding

December 21, 2007

Not long ago
Caring Today magazine
conducted a study.
500 family caregivers
were asked about
their experiences.
As we all know,
studies like these often point out
the difficulties and dangers of this work.
The likelihood of increased stress.
The danger of depression.
The low levels of self-care.
So I studied the tabulations of their answers
with particular interest.
First, there was the issue of expectations.
46% of the 500 respondents
said they anticipated they would enjoy
the tasks associated with their caregiving.
How many actually did enjoy
doing what they did?
69%.
Isn’t that interesting?
They were also asked if they expected
to find their caregiving rewarding.
60% said they imagined they would.
How many really did find this true?
79%.
The other issue related to lifestyle.
When asked what feelings or actions
had increased as a result
of their becoming caregivers,
respondents reported the following:
33% said they felt more focused in life.
41% said they had become more organized.
And well over half—59% to be exact—
said the quality of the relationship
with the one in their care
had increased.
These findings in no way deny
the inherent strains and risks
associated with becoming a caregiver.
But they do force us to look at
other aspects of this work too.
Maybe the figures above
confirm our own experience.
Or maybe we’re among those
who experience less enjoyment
and less reward.
Either way, we can know two things:
We are not alone in our feelings.
And the possibility of increased closeness
and deepened meaning
unquestionably exists.

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Hope

December 17, 2007

My wife and I
were to make
the hour-long trip
to see Dad yesterday.
A snow storm
had other plans.
I called Dad to tell him
we weren’t coming.
“Are you sure you can’t make it?” he asked.
I started to explain about
the strong winds and drifting snow.
Then I heard him chuckling.
“Son, I was kidding you,” he said.
“You stay off those roads today.”
It felt good to receive his humor,
which I wasn’t expecting.
Before hanging up I joked back.
“Better fire up your snow blower
to make sure it’s ready for winter.
That’s a big parking lot you have
at your assisted care facility.”
Dad had always kept all his engines
ready for the upcoming seasons.
He chuckled again.
“Probably not.
I believe those days are behind me.”
And he spoke those words
not with regret or disappointment,
but with quiet acceptance,
if not a certain contentment.
Those had been good days for him.
Now these days, despite their restrictions,
are good in a different way.

A piece in The New York Times last week
reported on research led by Dr. Peter Ubel,
a physician at the University of Michigan.
What helps people acclimate themselves
to unwanted changes, to life’s adversities?
Interestingly, people who cling to hope
may experience less life satisfaction afterward.
Why would that be?
It relates to whether we see such a change
as temporary or permanent.
As Dr. Ubel explains,
“If your condition is temporary, you’re thinking,
‘I can’t wait until I get rid of this.'”
Ubel believes such thinking keeps one
from moving on with life
and focusing on the good that remains.

I believe that once Dad let go
of hoping he’d return to his former abilities,
he could begin to settle in
with what life now holds for him.
He has an acceptance and peacefulness
I didn’t understand at first.
But Dr. Ubel’s findings make sense
in light of what I see in Dad.
I’m a firm believer in hope,
but I’m also aware that
hope has its legitimate limits.
In some cases reigning in one’s hope
can lead to greater happiness,
as contradictory as that may seem.

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Mundane

December 10, 2007

This entry doesn’t really
have a theme.
All I have is
a tiny story.
I spent Saturday
with my father.
He lives in an assisted living apartment
an hour away.
We ran some errands
and ate at his favorite spot, Bob Evans.
In the afternoon he lay on his bed
while I set up an ironing board
in his small living room.
He napped and I ironed.
The staff there does his laundry weekly
but they don’t do ironing.
Nice clothes were never a priority for him,
but I’ve become aware that nowadays
his pants look more wrinkled,
and his shirts have more soiled spots.
Dad’s eyesight is so diminished
that he can’t see the difference.
But I can.
Others can.
So I stood there, cleaning spots
and pressing out wrinkles.
Before long I had two realizations.
First: “I’m happy doing this.”
Second: “This is meaningful to me.”
I was performing this very mundane task
with great contentment
because it was for Dad.
His hands couldn’t do it
and mine could,
so it was perfect that mine did.
He couldn’t see the results
but he deserves being clothed in this way,
so I ironed very attentively,
taking special care.
He didn’t expect this act at all,
but he had cared for me
in so many ways through the years,
and now I could care for him
in a tiny, personal way.
There was nothing more I wanted
to be doing while he slept.
Nothing more I desired
when later he sat in his chair
and we chatted and reminisced
while I stood opposite, iron in hand.
It doesn’t happen all the time,
but sometimes caregiving is so simple,
so basic, so tactile, so natural,
such a minor expression of a major love,
that one feels,
“This is just right!”
And it is.

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Limits

December 7, 2007

Andrew Solomon has written
“Notes on Accepting Care”
in the new anthology
An Uncertain Inheritance.
He describes a time
when he was clinically depressed.
Even getting up and taking a morning shower
was more than he could handle,
so he would stay in bed all day.
His mother had recently died,
so it fell to his father to care for
this unmarried adult son.
Andrew depicts what it’s like
to be on the receiving end of care
as a very depressed person.
He makes two points (among others):
“A depressed person cannot be drawn
out of his misery with love.”
Love alone will not do it,
however hard we try as caregivers,
however much we care.
A truly depressed person
may not believe that love,
or be able to accept,
or know how to respond to it—
that’s beyond them.
The second and related point is,
“You cannot undepress another person.”
As people who want to help,
we may not wish to read Andrew’s words.
They seem to call into question
our ability to make a difference.
But that’s not the case, really.
For his complete sentence reads,
“You can’t undepress another person,
but don’t leave.”
Choosing not to leave—
that what we can do.
As trying as it may be, we can stay,
refusing to desert them.
We can sit with them in their woeful place,
so they’re not left entirely alone.
We don’t have to talk—
in fact, talking may get in the way.
We don’t need to hover—
in fact, waiting around the corner
may be what works best at times.
We can resolutely remain within reach,
performing small everyday acts of care,
while believing and hoping
and patiently continuing to love.
And those acts of ours
can help make a real difference,
in the fullness of time,
as other factors come into play,
as healing comes to work its magic.
We cannot undepress another person,
but we can accept them as they are
in their bleak darkness.
We can wait with them there,
holding a light that glows
more than it penetrates,
believing that their own light
can one day return.

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