Archive for the ‘The Possibilities’ Category

Imperfection

January 21, 2008

Lynn’s mother was,
in many ways, charming.
She was also,
in as many ways,
an accomplished perfectionist.
Not surprisingly,
she and Lynn had their difficulties
through the years.
When her mother became seriously ill,
Lynn arranged to spend extended periods
at her mother’s side, half a continent away.
At first things went well—
they were pleased to be together
after many years of being apart.
But eventually old patterns emerged.
Lynn felt she couldn’t do much that was right
in her role as a caregiver,
no matter how hard she tried.
Terribly frustrated and distraught,
Lynn went to see a counselor.
“I can’t measure up,” she said,
“to my mother’s sense of perfection.
I’m always falling short.”
The counselor asked, “What are your options?”
“As I see it, there are only two:
perfection and imperfection.
I can keep trying to be perfect,
or,” Lynn said, almost laughing,
“I can strive for imperfection.”
Said the counselor with a smiling nod,
“Bingo.”

Striving for imperfection is not at all
the same as settling for mediocrity
in our roles as caregivers.
To strive for imperfection means to let go
of pursuing impossibly high standards,
ones that no human being
can meet without fail.
Rather than working feverishly to achieve
the ideal of spotlessness,
might we not aim for allowing
a few spots to appear here and there?
Rather than imposing incessant orderliness,
why not endeavor to accept—
perhaps even to welcome—
some casual disorder now and then?
Rather than chasing flawlessness,
why not relax a bit and resolve to admit
a random flaw in how we do our work
without becoming horribly upset?
Rather than letting someone dictate
what’s impossible for us to achieve—
knowing that “someone” might be us—
why not let ourselves dabble
with our natural, God-given fallibility?
Why not sometimes favor inexactness
where exactness matters not at all?
Why not choose to be hopelessly human,
realizing that’s actually the same—
some would say perfectly the same—
as being hopefully, blissfully, genuinely human?

Click on this image to enlarge it. Then right click to print it, send it to another, or use as your desktop wallpaper.

Please select this LINK for a printable version of this image.

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.

Click on this image to enlarge it. Then right click to print it, send it to another, or use as your desktop wallpaper.

Please select this LINK for a printable version of this image.

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.

Click on this image to enlarge it. Then right click to print it, send it to another, or use as your desktop wallpaper.

Please select this LINK for a printable version of this image.

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.

Click on this image to enlarge it. Then right click to print it, send it to another, or use as your desktop wallpaper.

Please select this LINK for a printable version of this image.

Slowed Down

October 8, 2007

Martha Beck had two degrees
from Harvard University
and was ready for a third.
Then she and her husband
learned she had become
unexpectedly pregnant.
Next she learned her unborn child
had Down syndrome.
Ignoring the advice of Harvard colleagues,
Martha and John had the baby,
whom they named Adam.
In her book Expecting Adam, she writes,

“I was afraid Adam would slow me down, and he has. Not because he has required more care and time than a ‘normal’ boy, but because the immediacy and joy with which he lives his life makes rapacious achievement, Harvard-style, look a lot like quiet desperation. Adam has slowed me down to the point where I notice what is in front of me, its mystery and its beauty….”

Most of us do not enjoy being forced
to go slower than is our inclination.
That’s one of the reasons
caregiving can be frustrating—
the one in our care may operate
on a different internal clock
than the one we commonly use.
They may be limited physically
as to what they can do
and how quickly they can do it.
It’s possible their mental processes—
brought on by their disease or condition—
may be what slows them down
and therefore slows us down.
Whatever the cause,
Martha Beck wants us to consider a response
other than the customary one
(and very understandable one)
of impatience, of pushing to go faster.
Is it not possible that slowing down
has its benefits, its gifts?
If that is true, why not sample these?
Is it not possible that we might feel grateful—
at least a little, at least at times—
for what we then have the time
to see and hear, to touch and enjoy?
If that is true, what is stopping us?
Is it not possible that we might find ourselves
learning some things that our incessant busyness
may prevent us from learning?
If that is the case,
then will we open ourselves or not?
Can we not be willing to synchronize ourselves
with the one in our care,
rather than expecting them—
they who are our equals—
to move at the pace we dictate?

Click on this image to enlarge it. Then right click to print it, send it to another, or use as your desktop wallpaper.

Please select this LINK for a printable version of this image.

Blurred

September 26, 2007

My neighbor Kathy
cared for her parents
as they grew older.
They each died, she said,
quoting her father,
of “acute TMB”—
acute too many birthdays.
In their home, in her home,
and finally in the nursing home,
she did what she could to help.
Her caregiving had its real limits
because Kathy has degenerative joint disease.
She has had 30 surgeries through the years.
So as she cared for them as they aged,
they were caring for her,
their daughter who lived alone,
as she negotiated chronic illness.
When they couldn’t support her physically,
they were there psychologically and spiritually.
Kathy’s children grew up with her medical condition
and learned to provide care for her
in many everyday ways,
just as she cared for them
as only a mother knows how.
Today that continuum of family care
continues to unfold.
These weeks Kathy’s oldest child, Mary,
is doing heavy-duty caregiving
for her 3-year-old son, Ben,
who has undergone fairly radical surgery
for a birth defect.
He came home with five different tubes
protruding from his body.
It’s been quite a caregiver’s saga,
bordering some days on the traumatic.
So Kathy is now acting in the ways she can
as caregiver to Mary and Ben and their family,
knowing it will be a long haul.
At the same time she deals daily
with her own disabling condition,
which Mary does not forget either.

So often we make it sound
so simple, so clear-cut:
“He is the caregiver;
she is the care receiver.”
The reality is, however,
that we’re seldom just one or the other.
We move in and out of these roles,
almost in a fluid motion.
And we can be giver and receiver simultaneously,
caring for another as we’re able,
while they reach out to us
in the ways that they’re able.
This reality blurs the distinction
between who each of us is.
This blurred experience makes these relationships
all the more equal,
all the more human,
and, when we’re fortunate,
all the more lovely.
May we all know that fortune.

Click on this image to enlarge it. Then right click to print it, send it to another, or use as your desktop wallpaper.

Please select this LINK for a printable version of this image.

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.

Click on this image to enlarge it. Then right click to print it, send it to another, or use as your desktop wallpaper.

Please select this LINK for a printable version of this image.

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.

Click on this image to enlarge it. Then right click to print it, send it to another, or use as your desktop wallpaper.

Please select this LINK for a printable version of this image.