In the closing paragraph of The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving, I say, “…this is what I know to be true. I really am okay. And you will be, too.”

Since writing the book, I’ve been spending more time exploring what “I’m okay” really means. Well, actually, what “I’m better than okay” really means. A lot of it focuses on rediscovering who I am after releasing long-held identities as a caregiver, and (yes, I’m that old) as an employee. Big stuff. BIG stuff.

Of course, this will be different for everyone, but, just like caregiving, there are always common threads that run through the experience. And also just like caregiving, this is a journey made richer by traveling with friends like you who find yourselves on the same road.

So, here’s the plan. We’re going to do some exploring, tap into our creative side, and gather up big handfuls of joy. Along the way, I’ll share my own low-budget journey of self-discovery, art and writing prompts that go deep, inspiring conversations with women just like us, and tons more goodness.

Of course, there’ll still be lots of support and encouragement for those still walking the caregiver path. You are, and always will be, my people. Just think of this as a mini-retreat where we open ourselves up to possibility, and embrace the potential for what comes next.

A Lesson in Vulnerability

Photo: Daddeo and me, circa 1956, Chicago

I recently gave an interview to NPR for an upcoming podcast on family caregiving. When asked to recall an event connected with my dad’s dementia, what immediately surfaced was the chaotic day I sent him to his room for a time-out, then locked myself in the bathroom for an hour, and cried into a towel – for me, for our family, and for my father, most of all.

Despite being described in my book, The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving, in far more detail, hearing that story spoken aloud made my stomach twist. Would people think me insensitive to my father’s needs? Would they view the telling as disrespectful to his memory? What would they think about an author who writes about dementia and deigns to offer advice?

Lucky for me, I reached out to a good friend and, honking into a Kleenex, asked her to talk me down from the lofty perch I had placed myself. She responded with, “You offered a moment of true vulnerability to listeners and that is scary. Think how it makes others feel, though, to know they’re not alone.”

Her wise words reminded me of something I always tell participants during talks and workshops. It has to do with the profound responsibilities of caregivers, and how we so often expect ourselves to respond flawlessly to every challenge this experience throws at us, even when feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Cripes – most of the time, we don’t even know what we need to know until it hits us upside the head.

So, here’s my advice whether you’re neck deep in the journey or processing it weeks, months or even years later, like me. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m not perfect, but I did my best.” When it comes to caregiving, one of the hardest lessons to learn is that we’re only human.

Follow Up: Ultimately, my interview was not used in the NPR podcast, but there are still some very helpful suggestions to be found. Link is:

https://www.npr.org/2019/07/11/740715027/how-to-be-a-better-caregiver-when-a-loved-one-gets-sick

For The Mother In All Of Us

I wanted to share this beautifully inclusive message, sent by a dear friend several years ago.

Happy Mother’s Day

A day for all of us who have loved

our own children, and the wonderful four

legged, winged and other creatures

who have graced our lives; for the students

and patients we have nurtured, and the people

in our lives we have gently loved and treasured,

giving our best when we often felt our worst

and feared we were empty… this is the grace

and strength of all women and men who

mother others… and who know how to hold

on and how to let go.

 

Patchwork Love

There’s a quote by author, Ray Bradbury, that has always resonated with me. “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched, some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.”

When my mom, a gifted artist, passed away in 2013, I carried home her supplies with no expectation of when or if they might ever be used again. In my grief, it simply made me feel better to see those well-worn brushes standing at hopeful attention in her favorite coffee mug, along with boxes of paints, fabric, and canvases.

Finally picking up one of her brushes in 2016, I focused on flowers, one of her favorite subjects, as well. Suspending judgment, I simply allowed myself to see what developed, and with each piece I came to understand more deeply how every creative act we engage in holds seeds of joy, and the power to help us heal.

Fast forward to now. Like me, my favorite jeans have begun showing signs of wear. Despite being tattered and frayed, though, they’re far too comfortable to toss aside. Instead, I’ve begun reinforcing the weak spots with leftover silk scraps from my mother’s batik paintings. Odd shapes, sizes and colors, one patch even contains her signature. My stitches are mismatched and irregular, but no matter.

Ray Bradbury had it right. I smile more now while wearing these crazy patchworked jeans, just knowing the story those slivers of fabric can tell – one of comfort, connection, and honoring my mom’s beautiful spirit.

How About A Mini Break?

Over time, it seems that some of our most profound lessons come from being there for people in ways we never imagined. During six years of helping my parents, every day taught me something new about myself, my family, my friends, or just human nature, in general. Of course, the fact that it wasn’t always pretty would be an understatement.

I discovered that being brave can mean just getting up in the morning; that being stubborn is actually a strength when you’re dealing with a flawed medical system; and that feeling resentful sometimes is perfectly normal because, guess what – we’re only human.

The responsibilities of caregivers are so profound, yet we often hold ourselves up to impossible standards while ignoring the valuable gifts that each of us bring to the table. So, how about taking a break from the holiday hustle to spend a few minutes exploring a prompt I gave my writer’s group for caregivers earlier this year; one that turned into a much-needed affirmation for all of them.

Jot down two or three words that describe you best. Here’s a link if you need help coming up with some traits: https://bit.ly/2RuGKKG. Consider how each of these qualities has shaped your experience of providing care, and write a sentence or two about each one.

Below are a few examples from my own list, and if you’re open to it, please share what you’ve written.

Wishing everyone moments of peace this holiday season.


Humorous: Finding the funny during tough times has often saved me and the people I love, when nothing else could. That was never more clear to me than when I spent a morning planning my mom’s funeral with her help, and a little Barbara Streisand music.

Outspoken: Pretty much what you “see” is what you get with me. A mouthy straight-talker, I believe that caregiving is hard work, even when performed with great love, and we need to speak openly about the challenges as well as the joys.

Self-Care Through Journaling

My cup runneth over with friends who have recently become authors! Well, today I’m delighted to talk with Elizabeth Miller of Happy Healthy Caregiver about her new book, “Just for You: A Daily Self Care Journal. You are going to want it!

Elizabeth, your book has such a warm and welcoming energy to it, and that polka dot cover just makes me smile. Would you share an overview of what the book is about?

I’d love to! Thank you for spotlighting my book on your blog. The Just for You: a Daily Self Care Journal blends 365 days of writing prompts with monthly ‘fun’ activity pages. Each page includes a complimenting illustration just begging to be colored. This journal encourages writers to personalize the pages by adding splashes of color and creativity. The daily lined pages allow for one or multiple years of responses – it just depends on how much the writer wants to share about the prompt.

So, it’s multi-functional! You can get in some coloring time and some writing time combined! Share some of the other goodness this book offers.

Ultimately this is a creative tool to boost and inspire the recipient to live their best life by focusing on integrating health and happiness into each day. My sincere hope is that this journal guides the writer on a journey of self-discovery while intentionally exploring the seasons of life. With that said, wouldn’t it be amazing to have a completed journal from your grandma, aunt or mother, too? What a family treasure for future generations!

Also, I love your idea of using the book in writing groups where everyone could have fun discovering and sharing the journal prompts and amplifying the importance of self-care. I hope they’d invite me to attend!

Yes, using the book’s prompts in a writing group setting was the first thing I thought of after seeing some of the questions, and what a great idea to work through the journal with an older family member to create a keepsake for everyone to enjoy.  Will you tell us a little bit about how this book came about?

I have a few books in me but this one felt like the easiest and most fun one to start writing. My overall mission through the work I do and the resources I create with Happy Healthy Caregiver is to help family caregivers integrate self-care into their busy lives. I often say that waiting for a girl’s night out or weekend away is not the self-care solution. Rather, self-care is the tiny intentional activities we do for ourselves in the nooks and crannies of our crazy days. This mindset is what I believe will truly help energize all of us physically and mentally. While the book is aligned with the work I do with family caregivers through Happy Healthy Caregiver, it’s really a book for everyone.

Wow, I love your definition of self care. “…the tiny intentional activities we do for ourselves in the nooks and crannies of our crazy days.” Can you share some of the prompts readers and writers will find in the journal? 

I had a lot of fun creating and compiling the questions. You can click here for a sneak-peek video tour of the book, and below are some additional examples of the 365 daily  prompts:

Listing the things you’re ridiculously good at is such a great question. Ok, we’re in, Elizabeth. Where can folks buy a journal for themselves or as a gift for someone they care about?

The best place to purchase is from the Happy Healthy Caregiver website. When you purchase your copies there, you receive free shipping and signed copies.

You can also hear how my guests have responded to prompts during the Caregiver Spotlight episodes of the Happy Healthy Caregiver podcast. Check out this example from a show I did with Susanne White, who cared for her mom during a four year period: https://happyhealthycaregiver.com/podcast/susanne-white/. 

How cool! Well, thanks, Elizabeth, for taking part in this interview, and for all you do as an advocate for caregivers. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to hit your book and start writing!!

A Great Book For The New Year

For me, happiness is watching friends reach a goal they’ve worked hard to attain. So, I asked Colleen Kavanaugh of The Longest Dance to share the inside scoop on an inspiring new workbook she has recently written with co-author, Deb Kelsey-Davis, of the Nourish for Caregivers community.

Colleen, I know this has been a labor of love. Can you share an overview of what the book is about? Thanks for spreading the word, Judith! My Grit, Grace + Gratitude is a 192-page journaling workbook bursting with color and fun and designed to bring more strength, worth, energy, joy, meaning, growth, blessings, grace, abundance, freedom, perspective, and awareness into our lives. You can work through the prompts monthly, weekly, or whenever the spirit moves you; go it solo, or grab a friend and use the book as a catalyst for connection and conversation.

I like the idea of an option to work alone or with a friend, knowing the prompts will be there whenever you have a few moments. Can you tell us how the book actually come about? It was created out of our personal experiences as family caregivers after we realized the common traits of Grit, Grace + Gratitude that exist in each of us when we are faced with challenging times. By bringing our attention to these three characteristics, we can quickly tap into whichever element we need at any given moment.

While the book was inspired by and for family caregivers, it is not specifically designed for any group in particular. We are more than one thing at a time, and definitions that define us often confine us. This is a book that you can pop into at any moment and reflect on what’s working (and not working) in your life, take notice of the people who are helping (or hurting) you, create boundaries that will save your sanity, and bring more awareness and presence to your daily life whatever the circumstances.

Sounds like this book can help readers get more in touch with their thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to do without a supportive community, but you have a solution!

Yes, what’s unique about the workbook is that we host quarterly virtual meet-ups to go over the content and connect with other like-minded individuals. The first one will be on January 9, 2019. When you sign up on My Grit Grace and Gratitude you’ll receive the details to join the call.

That’s a great reassurance – knowing you’re not alone out there. So, now that we understand the foundation of the book, I want to thank you for sending a few sample pages to give readers an idea of the treat in store for them.  Below are two that resonated with me.

This first one is “grab some grit and give yourself a badge.” I particularly appreciated the one that says, “I said NO to something.” That is so hard to do sometimes!  

The second sample is reassuring, because when we’re tapped out and need to replenish, it sometimes feels like too big a task. You’ve offered the possibility of a 5 minute refresher. That definitely seems doable. 

I think this book is a great gift to start the new year with. For more information or to purchase, check out the Resource page on Colleen’s website, The Longest Dance  where she’s offering free shipping on her book right now, or you can order through the My Grit Grace and Gratitude site as print-on-demand, and also sign up for the first quarterly meet-up. Happy writing, everyone, and Colleen – you go girl!

We Were Never The Waltons

The holidays are almost upon us, and what’s supposed to be an occasion for good cheer and family bonding can often turn into added stress for caregivers.

At those times, I think we expect even more from ourselves and from other family members – creating the picture-perfect meal with everyone smiling around the table and getting along. I don’t know about you, but my family was never the Walton’s, even before my folks became ill.

What often saved me was trying to stay in the moment, and let go of the need to have everything just right, including those sibling relationships that became strained over time.

The year my mother was in a rehab facility during Thanksgiving was a perfect example. Our family was fractured, but one of my siblings and I took the meal to her in a mountain of Tupperware containers. The plates were chipped; the napkins were paper; the flowers were wilted; and the tablecloth had seen better days. But there was laughter, shared memories and gratitude for the time we spent together, and that’s really what Thanksgiving is all about.

Wishing you all some much-needed peace this holiday.

Plates In The Air

I’ve been doing a lot of creative work these days, and this piece came out of my deep affection and connection with caregivers, everywhere. You are the stitch that holds everything together, and I’m honored to be part of your community.