Archive for the ‘The Possibilities’ Category

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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Make Do

August 8, 2007

Kathy calls me
her trashy neighbor.
That’s because I haul
her garbage cans
to the street most weeks.
For 23 years Kathy has had
a progressive degenerative joint disease.
She is in constant pain.
She walks with more difficulty than most.
She cannot climb stairs.
In recent years she was a primary caregiver
for her elderly parents who lived
in an apartment a few miles away—
a second-floor apartment.
This is how her visits would work:
Kathy would enter the building’s vestibule
where a stairway led up to her parents’ place.
Her mother would bring down two Cokes,
and the two of them would sit
on the bottom step and talk.
Sometimes Kathy’s father would converse briefly
from his wheelchair on the landing above.
That was how Kathy gave her care in person,
and how her parents received it in person.
She made do,
and so did they.

Sometimes our caregiving cannot go exactly as we wish.
Perhaps there are things we cannot physically do,
as in Kathy’s case.
Maybe something else creates unavoidable limits—
our other family responsibilities,
our need to produce an income,
our flagging emotional energy,
or our own health issues.
When that happens, ours is to decide how we’ll respond.
Will we redouble our efforts,
knowing that’s ultimately not a viable option?
Will we give ourselves to our guilt?
Or will we find a way to make do?
In this context, making do is not about settling for less.
It is about caring so much
that we do what we can,
given who we are,
given the situation we’re a part of,
and given the way the universe is made.
In the best of all possible worlds,
yes, we would do our caregiving differently.
But we have only this world,
this particular situation,
this body we’re in.
Like my friend Kathy,
our being willing to make do,
thoughtfully, resourcefully, lovingly
may be, in the end, just perfect.

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Benefit

July 23, 2007

On June 25th
I wrote about Paul Johnson
who cares for his wife, Barb.
Her physical condition
has improved with time,
but she still calls for
a great deal of attention.
He cannot leave her alone,
so he no longer has the personal freedom
he once took for granted.
Paul regrets this has happened,
yet he has a second response too.
“I used to be a procrastinator,” he told me.
“I could put off things with the best of them.
But nowadays I have to get more done in less time.
Anymore when I have the time or opportunity
to do a chore or run an errand,
I just do it.
I never know when I’ll next have that chance.
That I no longer procrastinate like I used to
gives me a sense of accomplishment.
I didn’t expect this benefit, but here it is.”

Caregiving changes our lives.
These responsibilities that become ours
may get in the way
of our normal patterns of living,
our traditional ways of working.
When that happens, what will we do?
In addition to any regret or frustration we may feel,
does anything else await us?
Might these changes that are required of us,
as unwanted and inconvenient as they may be,
help us in any way
forge something of benefit?
Like Paul, might we give up procrastinating?
Might we perhaps let go of needing to be perfect,
or needing to be always right,
or needing to be constantly in control?
Might we make use of this time
to become more patient,
or to grow more resilient,
or to develop greater empathy?
Is it not possible
that our caregiving may hold some benefit for us
even as it benefits the one in our care?

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Easy

July 20, 2007

My wife Bernie had
foot surgery last week.
She has been sporting
a huge wrapped bandage
and a stylish blue boot.
At first she was on a walker
and for a couple of days
she looked a little blue-green
around the gills.
This week she’s coming along nicely.
Yesterday a friend asked me,
“How’s the caregiving going?”
I replied, “It’s goin’ easy.”
And it is.
It’s felt like hardly an effort
to prepare whatever meals I’ve prepared,
to do whatever extra chores I’ve done,
to help her with the little things she needed help with.
In fact, I rather enjoyed our different routine,
this extra closeness we’ve shared.
It’s been easy.

Not all caregiving is like that,
as we’re all aware, sometimes painfully so.
Hard caregiving, demanding caregiving
is more the order of the day
for a very large number of us.
Still, for a moment here, I want to voice this truth:
some caregiving is a breeze.
Shorter-term caregiving, perhaps.
Caregiving that progresses toward a sure return to health.
Caregiving, as is our case this week,
that promises a relief from pain
that has plagued the other.
Caregiving that gives people who enjoy one another
the opportunity to enjoy one another some more.
There is also another reality.
In the midst of any trying and tiring caregiving,
sometimes there are easier days,
or more loving experiences,
or unusually fulfilling moments,
without any of that being programmed at all.
Whenever caregiving comes like this, naturally and lightly,
whatever the causes,
and however long the feeling lasts,
it’s worth our nodding and adding this quiet word:
“Yes.”

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More Than Managing

June 5, 2007

Renowned professor and author C. S. Lewis
was a satisfied bachelor when he met
the spirited poet Joy Gresham.
Their unlikely relationship grew first
into marriage and then into romance.
Unfortunately, she soon developed terminal cancer
and C. S. Lewis committed himself to care for her.
As their story unfolds in the movie Shadowlands,
he doesn’t want to talk about her illness and approaching death.
Joy says to him, “I’m going to die,
and I want to be there with you then, too.
The only way I can do that is
if I am able to talk to you about it now.”
He responds, “I’ll manage somehow. Don’t worry about me.”
She replies, “I think it can be better than that.
I think it can be better than just managing.”

Her words hold significant truth for us.
Even in the most difficult circumstances,
caregiving can be about much more than just managing.
Relationships can grow and deepen.
People can become more real to one another, more honest.
New strengths can emerge.
Unexpected joy can appear.
Unusual peace can settle in.
Moments can be lived more fully than ever.
Does that happen automatically?
Of course not.
But with our desire and willingness,
and sometimes even without it,
such things can happen.

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