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.

“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.)

Tips for Caregivers: Keep Up vs. Catch Up

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

As readers, you’ve told us that you enjoy our useful tips. That’s why my column last week—about the point at which families must give up their “home”—included some inspiring quotes and tips from others. And, that’s why we collected that big list of fall-and-winter ideas for helping caregivers. Please remember: The invitation to add to those lists is wide open. Add Comments below, or email us at [email protected] with your ideas.

Today, I’ve invited Benjamin Pratt, author of the Guide for Caregivers, to share another of his tips. These columns are perfect to share with friends, or to discuss in your small group. Feel free to print them, email them, share them on Facebook or even repost an entire column. We hope you’ll get involved!

Let a SEAL be your guide: “Keep up!”

US Navy Seals face the waves

By BENJAMIN PRATT

U.S. Navy SEAL training is spiritually, intellectually and physically rigorous, rugged. SEALs have a saying about running, which they do as a group.

“It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.”

This succinct, crisp phrase captures wisdom relevant for our lives in so many ways. Students know that it is easier to keep up with their studies than to languish through a term and race to catch up at the time of finals. It is easier to exercise regularly than catch up after years as a couch potato; easier to keep our bodies at a proper weight than catch up with endless diets; easier to limit our spending by restrained buying than recover from mounting debt. It is vibrant, necessary advice that promises us success in our primary relationships, our finances, our health and our life goals.

It is a basic life guideline.

Living by this sage advice is of inestimable value for caregivers. We caregivers can become so focused on serving our beloved that we ignore caring for ourselves. We isolate ourselves and do not run in a group as the SEALs do, thus making us vulnerable to a life of forever struggling to catch up.

We must care for ourselves by engaging in relationships where we can share our story, feel nurtured, experience the comfort and compassion of others while we extend the same to our care recipient. It is vital that we keep up with good food and adequate sleep and exercise to sustain body and soul. Our well-being requires soul-nurturing with humor, song, poetry, gratitude, prayer, manual labor and frequent respites.

Be a wise self-caregiver by running in community.

Don’t attempt the job alone.

Practice the good advice of the SEALs: “It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.”

Please, share this column with friends! Add Comments with your own tips.

Thanks go to Shane T. McCoy for today’s photo of US Navy Seals. He released it for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Print, share with friends: Caregivers Tips for Fall and Winter

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Thank you to all who contributed to our list as we prepare for the upcoming seasons. Feel free to print this set of tips; or, share this via Facebook, email it to friends, republish this in your congregation’s newsletter. We want to spread this collected wisdom. Many of these ideas will spark fresh excitement in your community.

Caregiver Tips
as Leaves, Snow and Year-End Holidays
Blow into Our Lives

Winter walk in the woodsGive the gift of time. Whether it is a social visit with the caregiver—or respite time, filling in for the caregiver, so they can get away a bit. Time is appreciated! If it’s possible, offer to take the one who requires care out for a while—so that the caregiver can have some time at home alone.

Plan a short fall color tour with an accessible bus for caregivers and the people for whom they care.

Test furnaces early. Start them and run them for a day to see if they’re in working order for the winter.

Organize volunteers in your community to check on wheelchair ramps at neighbors’ homes to ensure they’re in good repair for the months of leaves, ice and snow.

Survey caregivers in your area to see if leaf, ice and snow removal is arranged for fall and winter in the homes where they provide care. Consider organizing volunteers to help out where the caregiver is the one who’ll wind up having to rake leaves and push snow, if you don’t help.

Organize a volunteer crew to help caregivers winterize their vehicles. Got snow scrapers? Check windshield wiper blades? Want some teenagers to give the car a good vacuum inside? Busy caregivers often wind up with vehicles jammed with stuff that they never have time to clean up.

Tech Savvy? How about helping caregivers get setup with Skype or FaceTime or Google-Plus Hangout for the holiday season so that, if they can’t attend a gathering, they can still join in.

Plan a “thanks for the caregivers” Thanksgiving-theme meal in November complete with substitute caregivers to cover their responsibilities at home. This is a great way to get local caregivers in your area to meet and begin forming a support group of friends.

Plan now for just the right holiday gifts to give to the caregivers in your life. Buying local products is wonderful of course. Looking to sites such as NoMoreRack.com and EndOfRetail.com might help you stumble upon a bargain that can express appreciation without breaking the bank.

Organize respite care to give caregivers in your area a “day off” to shop for their own holiday gift giving.

Have a family caregiving arrangement? Consider putting together an album of photos so that the primary caregiver—and the person who they care for—can look through the images and reminisce.

If you are in a close-knit caregiving relationship in your family—and gatherings are planned over the holidays—offer to be the one who goes home early so the primary caregiver can enjoy the entire event. All too often, we simply assume that the usual caregiver will always be tethered to the schedule of the person who needs the care.

Plan a holiday-decorating party for caregivers and shut-ins, after checking on what is appropriate in each case. This can be a fun boost for the whole household and may help weary folks actually get a little decorating done, when they might never find the time.

Share fun holiday music with your community’s caregivers. The gift of music makes an uplifting addition to the environment in any home. Think of burning a mix-CD of music to give to caregivers.

Make a plan now so that caregivers can choose holiday services to attend and can have the time free. Christmas Eve services are extremely popular, yet caregivers rarely have a chance to find replacement caregivers. And, consider having a service in your community at which caregivers—and the men and women they care for—can attend. This may involve planning transportation and a sensitivity to the needs of everyone who gathers.

Thanks for these ideas go to many of our readers, including Suze and Jenny Brown of Chicago, Nance Edwards from San Diego, MaryAnne and Jake from New York, and Bob W from St. Petersburg, Florida.

Worried? Got an empty jar? Remind yourself of this truth …

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

A note of thanks: Before I start today’s column—and the wonderful video that goes with it—I want to thank Kathy Macdonald for the four-part series on her journey as a cancer thriver. I also want to thank our growing readership for pitching in. As we move into the fall season of We Are Caregivers, please help us to reach new readers. If you have not done so already, get our free weekly email by clicking on the green “Subscribe” button, above. You can share favorite columns by clicking on the blue-“f” Facebook icon or the envelope-shaped email icon. Millions of Americans are full-time caregivers. Let’s help!

By HEATHER JOSE

Mason glass jar with lidThere is nothing like a little time spent lying on a scanning machine to help me reevaluate my priorities. Acutely aware of the fact that the results of the scan could send my life spiraling off in a direction I prefer it not go, I assess everything.

What do you think about in the midst of such check ups?

I think: “I could have done a better job eating, working out, or spending time with God.”

Then the wagering begins: “If the results come back ‘clear’—I will do better. I promise.”

A few hours later—when I’ve hear the outcome and know that things still are going well, so no immediate changes are required—I reflect once again. It occurs to me that the way I spend my time is more important than anything else in my life. Time is irreplaceable.

What if the results had been different? I am quite sure that I wouldn’t have found myself saying: “I wish I had spent more time on things that are unfulfilling, on people who are negative, or in situations that don’t matter.”

No, I want to think about time differently.

On the evening after my scan, I went for a jog—which I don’t really enjoy—but even that jog held a new meaning. I was grateful that I could do it. Sure it was hard, but I was pain free and able.

All of this reminded me of the Lesson of the Jar. I found a YouTube version that I can share with you.

Hope you enjoy it!

NOTE: The person who posted this video did place a brief advertisement in the video. It’s short, you can click an “X” to close it—and frankly this is such a great version of the story that I recommend watching it. If you don’t see a video screen in your version of this story, try clicking the headline to reload this column.