Oh the weather outside is frightful …

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Was it really news to any of us when the International Business Times reported, over the weekend, that this is one of the worst winters in recorded history for the northern U.S. states? This bitter, snowy season ranks up there with some truly dreadful winters in the 1870s, 1920s, 1940s and is close to that awful winter of 1995-96, according to the Times.

Headlines like that are popping up nationwide. A state official in Minnesota who is charged with tracking weather trends issues something called “The Misery Index” and, based on that Index, Minnesota is experiencing the most miserable winter in 30 years.

Snowy Winter DoldrumsBut we knew that, didn’t we? That is, the millions of us living north of the ever-shifting freeze lines in the U.S. knew it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love humming lines like: “Oh the weather outside is frightful …” But, only around Christmas.

By March, the appeal is gone. Here in Michigan we are setting records for cold and snowfall. It’s a struggle. I went grocery shopping yesterday and had to pull rather than push my cart to the car as it wouldn’t roll through the snow. By the time I got everything loaded my fingers were frozen.

I could have headlined this column: UGGGGH!

I try to stay positive, but it is easy to feel a little down in the dumps. Are you feeling that way too? What do you do to make yourself feel a little better?

There are a few things that I do to feel a little happier.

SUNLIGHT (real or artificial): Most mornings, I get up, sit in my chair, read my devotional, and turn on my sun light. I soak it up for 20 minutes. Ahhhh….

DARK SKY APP on my phone: Why? Because it gives the sunrise and sunset time for each day. And I can see that the days are getting longer.

I GET THE MAIL (once a week): I’m no fan of the mail. Our mailbox has been unreachable for months now so I pick it up at the post office. I’m considering it a gift that I only have to deal with it once a week instead of daily.

BUY FRUIT: Fresh fruit makes us all happier. It’s worth the cost.

WARM SOCKS: I hate cold feet. I want warmth. Good socks help.

For me, happiness really does spring from the little things. What are your little things? Will you share something that helps you get through? Add a comment here, or jump over to my Facebook page and drop me a note. I’d really like to hear about your favorite way to beat the winter doldrums.

Love & Loss bring a legacy of fond memories and grief

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

This week marks what would have been Dad’s 73rd birthday. He died last January after a long debilitating illness.

My family was all together in Disney World for his birthday last year, on a trip that was planned years in advance. We had no idea of the timing, but it was bittersweet as we all gathered there.

Disney World birthday treat for DadWe marked the day with a spirited round of Happy Birthday after a waiter had brought out a dessert with a candle for the occasion. I felt bad for Dad as he tried to identify who this special dish belonged to, but it was really nice of my brother to have ordered it to acknowledge the day.

We set it in the center and enjoyed it together.

A year later I am doing fine, but I have to say that grief is a strange thing. It sneaks up on me at random times, with seemingly no trigger. More often than not I simply long to have another conversation with him. Or just to ask his opinion about something. He always had an opinion.

There are many levels of grief and loss. This journey is different for everyone. I had a lot of time to prepare for Dad’s death and, at the end, he wasn’t the Dad I had known. I think that made it easier to let him go. In some ways, the end was a relief.

However, I never feel like I can say that without a bit of guilt.

It was a different story when a couple, who are friends with my mom, lost their adult son this year after caring for him since birth. He was in a wheelchair and while not expected to live through his teens—he lived to be 50. His parents cared for him every single day. It was a process that took hours. It was very physical work. They did it with love.

They had built their lives around him. The hole left in their lives is much bigger to fill as they try to find a new “normal” without him.

They say that sometimes the hardest thing is to face people. Since their son passed more than one person has told them: “It must be such a relief to not be providing all that care anymore.” But the truth is they would much rather be able to care for him each day.

The truth is I don’t have a lot of experience with death. I can see that we all grieve differently, and that time may relieve the pain but it doesn’t take away the loss. We try, in our own inadequate ways to comfort, but sometimes that makes it worse.

Gide for GriefI want to close by recommending the very helpful book on grief by my colleague the Rev. Dr. Rodger Murchison. His Guide for Grief includes both scientific research on grief as well as Rodger’s lifetime of pastoral wisdom in working with families. One of the central themes of his book is that we all should be compassionate toward friends and loved ones who grieve over what may seem like long periods of time.

Rodger writes that noted experts on grief warn: “We should be suspicious of any full resolution of grief that takes under a year.” For many people, the pain of grief lasts more than two years—in other words, even beyond a couple of cycles of annual “anniversaries” without our loved one. And, in some cases, the pain of grief can last much longer.

“No one welcomes grief,” Rodger writes, but “grief itself is not the enemy. The definition of grief is our response to loss. People grieve for all kinds of reasons: loss of a loved one to death, loss of health, loss of job, loss of relationships, infertility, separation, infidelity, divorce, spiritual crisis, retirement—on and on. Grief is like breathing air and drinking water. If you are going to live—then you are going to grieve.”

What is your experience with grief? Do you have suggestions or a story to share? Leave a Comment here or visit me on Facebook.

And, please, do a good deed this week and share this column with a friend. You can do that easily by using the blue-“f” Facebook icons or the tiny envelope-shaped email icons.

From the Earth to the Moon: Look up! What do YOU see?

Big Moon photo by Jose Cabajar via Wikimedia Commons

LOOK UP!

We just passed through the full moon this weekend—and it’s still pretty big right now.

What do you see?

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

I always dread a full moon. Not dread in the same way I dread taxes or being sick, but a general dislike all the same. I don’t sleep as well during a full moon, I’m sure of it. Having worked in schools and nursing homes I have heard many people swear that full moons affect behavior. I have said it myself.

So just for my own entertainment, with that great big full moon shining down on us, I decided to see what I could find out about full moons affecting behavior. When I looked it up on Google I found many articles but nothing that really substantiated my thought. Wikipedia itself serves up a very mixed bag of reports on lunar effects.

Then, I ran across Dr. Eric Chudler, who teaches at the University of Washington in Seattle and is the executive director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering. His expertise is in psychology and he has collected a lot of data in a website he calls “Moonstruck!

We’re certainly going to be hearing a whole lot about the Moon over the coming year. In January, National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm hosted a program about space exploration, including a plan for developing property rights on the Moon by Bigelow Aerospace (a manufacturer of modules for survival in outer space). This summer is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Next year is the 150th anniversary of the novel that touched off the modern era of space exploration: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon.

TODAY, I’m inviting you—our readers, especially the caregivers among us—to comment below or to share your thoughts with me on my Facebook page.

Caregivers are on the front lines of human behavior. What have you seen?

Do you think there’s something to lunar effects? To the influence of the Full Moon?

Come on! LOOK UP! What do you see?

Earth and Sun from the Moon perspective

IMAGES TODAY: At top is a beautiful photo of the moon by photographer Jose B. Cabajar, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons. The second photo comes from the imagery created for the 1968 movie by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Heather Jose: ‘The greatest gift cancer gave to me …’

Heather Jose

Heather Jose

A note from your host: “This week, a lot of readers have been talking about a photo I shared on my Facebook account of my adopted son as we celebrated his 13th birthday. Along with the photo, I wrote: “The greatest gift cancer gave to me was the opportunity to adopt.” The moment I posted that line, friends began asking for more of the story. So, today, here is the story of how we got Ty.”

“Would you consider adopting a baby boy from India?”

This question led me to my son. I had sent an inquiry to several adoption agencies asking them if they would work with me given my status as a breast-cancer survivor. I got many responses, but this one sparked my interest.

Once I had finally talked my husband into adopting, I started exploring countries. India hadn’t really been on my list, but after a few conversations I was hooked.

In 2001, India had a low incidence of drug and alcohol use. The orphanages were generally very well staffed and children were paired with ayahs so that they could bond. And, because of concerns about caste and religion, many Indian families would not consider adopting even a perfect child.

We began our search in January 2001 with all of the paperwork and home studies. By spring we were moving right along and ready to be matched. Then the government in India shut down all of the adoptions in the Southern part of the country due to corruption. Fast forward to September 2001—does that ring a bell? The world became a whole lot smaller and the feud between India and Pakistan intensified.

Ty age 18 months within the first week that he was homeFortunately, in January of 2002 my agency established relations with a small orphanage in Pune and we were matched with a little boy. He was the first boy they had had in a long time. His birthday was January 22, 2001, right about the time we starting praying for him.

The adoption process was delayed until summer by red tape—then more red tape. My mom and I arrived in Mumbai during a monsoon. My husband stayed home, partly because we didn’t know when we would travel and partly because we didn’t want to bring our daughter Sydney. Ty and I met the next day at the orphanage. We were brought there by a social worker. Upon our arrival we were introduced to the person in charge and ushered in to an outdoor space to have a warm Coke. I remember thinking, “how fast can I drink this so I can meet him?”

With the coke gone, I was able to meet my son.

He was beautiful. He was terrified.

They put him in my arms and he kept looking away. His ayah kept pointing to me and saying something akin to momma. I just shushed and rocked him. Next, there was a little ceremony involving flowers, sweets, and bindis. And then we were off!

They had given us a banana in case he was hungry and we left in a hired car. He loved the car. Since we didn’t have a car seat Ty stood on my lap and held on to the handle above the door. The social worker stopped and helped us get a few groceries that Ty might like and we returned to the hotel.

We spent the next couple of days doing nothing at the hotel. It was great. Ty was wary at first but within 24 hours he called me “Mama.” We played with the toys I had brought and spent a lot of time looking out of the window that overlooked a busy street. At any given moment you could see oxen, cars, rickshaws, children in school uniforms, or women in beautiful saris. My mom would reach her arms out to Ty and say, “Up?”

Soon he was calling her “Up”!

After Pune we traveled by plane to Delhi where we visited the embassy. We were the first people to come through for an adoption since 9/11 with our specific guide. We tried to do a little sightseeing, but I quickly decided against it given the 108-degree heat with an 18-month-old who was still getting to know me. I enjoyed our time in the hotel room bowling with water bottles and answering the phone endlessly.

The trip home took forever. I may have not gone through labor to have Ty in my arms, but 18 hours on a plane was no picnic. We arrived in Detroit out of diapers  and completely exhausted.Facebook photo of Ty by Heather Jose

My husband was at the airport to meet us along with our daughter and in-laws. Ty was even more terrified of my husband. He hadn’t met many men in India. He wouldn’t let Larry near him.

Fortunately, Ty adjusted amazingly well. He hit the ground running. After getting over his fear of Larry he became Larry’s shadow. I have no doubt that Ty was meant to be with us.

Now, about that line I typed into Facebook recently: I would never say that cancer is a “gift,” but cancer did change the path of my life and because of it I have had experiences that never would have been. I can honestly say that I had never thought about adoption prior to cancer.

Now, I can’t imagine my life without Ty.

Help your caregivers (and help yourself) with an Advance Care Directive

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Some of the toughest questions caregivers face arise when our loved ones are unable to talk with us in a meaningful way. The process known as Advance Care Planning (or “Advance Healthcare Directive”) helps us to talk about the kinds of medical procedures we want—and those we don’t want—as we near the end of life. If you are caring for a loved one, this is something you may want to undertake now. And, if you’re a veteran caregiver, then you know what can happen. You should complete one for yourself.

In 2014, we plan to share occasional short videos with our readers. Some excellent videos are being produced by healthcare providers, nonprofit groups and leading authors. We plan to bring you only the best we’ve spotted. You can help by recommending a good video. Stop by my Facebook page, where it’s easy to share ideas with me, anytime.

The hospital-system team that produced this video was coordinated by Drew Weil, a friend of our WeAreCaregivers project. When the video was recently released, Drew recommended it to us. He writes that his team felt compelled to make this particular video because, “A recent study by The Conversation Project found that most Americans know they should have a conversation about their healthcare—yet less than half of us have done so. When we do this, we leave decisions up to family members, loved ones, or doctors who may not know our wishes.”

CLICK THIS VIDEO SCREEN TO VIEW …

IF you don’t see a video screen in your version of this column, try clicking on the headline to reload the column. If that fails on your device, then you can watch the video by going directly to YouTube.

 

LEARN MORE …

The video provides a link to one website offering free materials for Advance Care Directives. Depending on where you are seeing today’s column, you will want to ask about this process in your own region. For our overseas readers: This Wikipedia article on Advance Care Directives explains some of the variation people find in these policies around the world.

Please share today’s column with friends! Use the blue-“f” Facebook buttons or the envelope-shaped email icons.

“Wait! Before you say that …”

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

As 2014 begins across ReadTheSpirit magazine, writers are helping us rethink our relationships. They are reminding us that compassion and hospitality—core strengths of caregivers—are universal goals. Last week, poet Judith Valente published a very helpful column called “10 Steps Toward Peace” that is right in line with my column today, especially in her advice about stopping to think before we speak. I hope you will help us to continue this discussion. It’s important.

When someone finds out that I had cancer and the next thing they say is, “Let me tell you about …” Many times the story about their relative or friend is fine—but often the story ends with the person dying. How many times has this kind of thing happened to you?

Have you been in my shoes, hearing such a grim story? Or, have you been in the role of the storyteller? You need to know: Such stories are not helpful. More often than not, I walk away from such a story thinking: Why did she tell me that!?!

As I write this column, I’m thinking about a woman who I met at a speaking event who just found out that her cancer has returned. I don’t know her well, but we do interact often on Facebook. My heart hurts for her right now. Not necessarily because of the cancer itself—from what I know, she will get past that—but for the draining emotional struggle of managing her emotions while being bombarded by others.

If you know that you’ve been guilty of rushing to tell such unhelpful stories—I realize that the impulse doesn’t come from ill intent. The stories spill out of us because we don’t stop to think before speaking. And I admit, there is no Emily Post guide to caregiving conversations. So, in the spirit of Judith Valente’s steps toward more peaceful and compassionate living, I’m going to offer my own set of tips. Let’s call this …

“Wait! Before you say that …”

Photo by Pomona, shared for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Pomona, shared for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

When you’re visiting someone going through a challenge as tough as a new cancer diagnosis, consider these six tips:

1. Whatever the diagnosis might be, never tell a story about someone who has died of that disorder.

2. Don’t pretend nothing is different. Life has changed dramatically for this person. Think carefully before you speak.

3. You don’t suddenly have the right to ask personal questions that you wouldn’t normally ask—just because of a diagnosis.

4. Unsolicited advice is still unsolicited advice.

5. This is not about you. There is a time and place for nearly everything and this may not be the time for your agenda.

6. Back off. Wait. Listen. Think before you speak or act. The person may need some time to process this major life change. It is overwhelming to keep everyone “in the loop,” so don’t pepper the person with questions and stories. If you must find out what is going on, then track down a friend or family member. Down the road, there may be many important ways you can help.

Do some of these tips sound harsh? I’m sorry, but sometimes I need to point out the obvious because—unless you’ve been the recipient of a well-meaning flood of responses—you may not realize the impact some of the stories and questions can have.

Help us share this conversation

Please, add a comment below about your own experiences or tips. Use the blue-“f” Facebook icon or the envelope-shaped email icon to share this with friends. Or, use the green “print” icon to make a copy of this column and discuss it in your small group. I don’t regard my six tips today as the final word in this discussion. Please, tell us what you think.

Pour a warm cup … and focus on Contentment

Photo today is by 'Cyclone Bill' shared for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Pour a cuP.

I’ve told you, in earlier columns, that one of the simple pleasures in my daily life is drinking coffee from a real mug. You may be a tea drinker, or even a cocoa sipper in mid-winter. Whatever your comfort-beverage of choice—pour a cup.

My point today involves a simple, yet powerful, truth. I am usually someone who loves the New Year, setting new goals and resolving to make changes. But this year I am changing it up.

That’s partly because I’ve learned some hard lessons about this season. January has been rough. The last two years have started off with a loss in our family—my husband and I each have lost a parent. Though not entirely unexpected, these deaths still were hard. We certainly didn’t have a feeling of a new start to the new year.

Rather than make a list of goals with the bar set high, in the opening days of 2014, I am focusing on: Contentment.

This is the thing—I have a good life filled with big and small joys as well as challenges. I don’t want to change everything and strive for perfection. I want to live the life I have; I want to appreciate all that is in it. I want to take advantage of the moments that might be overlooked otherwise, spend a little more time without a device in front of me, and give myself a little leeway to just … be.

I want to work hard on my passions, be efficient in the daily tasks of life, and let go of the time suckers that do nothing more than take my time.

With this focus on contentment I expect great things will happen. As I clear my life and brain, fresh ideas come my way. I can finally hear, and respond to, the conversations that really matter. I stumble upon things that make me laugh out loud and moments that I will cherish forever. They happen in everyday life—if we see them.

As caregivers we are often very much involved in day-to-day moments. But as James Taylor sings, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” Not all of the moments will be enjoyable, but certainly there are glimpses each day to hold on to.

So this year, my resolution is this. To enjoy the passage of time.

I’ve poured my cup, so please excuse me. I’m going to go sit for a while and look at the snow.

I’m content.

How about you?

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(Photo today is by ‘Cyclone Bill,’ shared for public use via Wikimedia Commons.)