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.

What Makes Herbs & People Grow

You can take the girl out of caregiving, but you can’t take caregiving out of the girl. Right now, there are nine different herbs planted in pots on my back porch. They have names like Rosy, Cilia, and Dilly – all decidedly female, even Reggie One and Reggie Two, the oreganos. I talk to these gal pals throughout the day, giving them reassuring little leaf rubs, keeping them hydrated, looking out for leaf blight, and offering lots of reassurance. This, of course, could be considered either crazy or endearing, depending on whether you embrace a bit of woo-woo in your life. The thing is, they look like they’re smiling, and that delights me.  This, coming from the person who, years ago, told new plants, “I hope you stick around, but there are plenty more where you came from.”

Digging deeper, I’m figuring out this goodness stems from being open to embracing new ideas and practices that inspire and sustain me. Exactly what I want for YOU, beginning with this essential truth. Whether currently a caregiver or a perennial – you, me, and the thriving plants on my deck have something in common. Like them, we can grow. We can bloom. We can flourish. What it takes is our encouragement, our attention, and our kindness to each other.

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What or who inspires you?

Is there a creative activity you’d like to try out, or get back into?

What is your favorite thing to do when you have a little time?

(If it’s “sleep,” I suspect you’re in caregiver mode.)

 

From Caregiver to Perennial

Welcome! If you’re visiting my little patch of virtual soil, it’s probably safe to say that you’re a Caregiver. And because your identity is securely tethered to that role, it’s hard to keep the parts of yourself alive that have nothing to do with caregiving. You know – the painter, the quilter, the photographer, the writer, the crafter, the gardener – to name a few.

Well, now we’re going to explore a second possibility, as well – that you’ve come through caregiving, or another kind of soul-changing experience, and are wondering who you are or who you want to be in this new life of yours. You are what I call a Perennial. Someone strong enough to survive the winters of your life, and blossom with each new spring and summer, and in the fall – ready to reflect on the past and sow your hopes for the future.

No matter which of these descriptions resonate with your amazing self, you’ve come to the right place.

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 will always be lots of support and encouragement for those walking the caregiver path, because nothing will ever change the fact that You. Are. My. People. Just think of this as a mini-retreat where we open ourselves up to possibility, and embrace the potential of what comes next.

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Still not sure? Here’s a little Q & A to help you decide.

Will it be mouthy and good-humored? Uh, hello, it’s me.

Open and honest? Still me.

Positive and hopeful? Yes, more please.

Fun, yet practical? As a bohemian soul with a bean-counter’s brain, count on it.

 

Are you the bug, or the windshield, today?

worn old truck gratis

As the Mary Chapin-Carpenter song goes, “Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes you’re the bug.” While there’s simply no way to steer clear of the many challenges this caregiving journey brings, we can learn so much from them. Here are just a few things I discovered along the way.

In addition to constantly multi-tasking, you’re also dealing with a multitude of conflicting emotions. Caregiving is damn hard work, and if you don’t explode once in awhile, someone needs to take your pulse. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel, without judgement. Sit down with a cup of hot tea or a glass of wine, grab a journal, and write it out.  Venting on paper offers an opportunity to safely process all that we’re going through, and the realizations that are often unearthed can be very powerful.

When the planets align and things go according to plan, that’s usually due to one person who’s willing to go the extra mile (in addition to you, of course). Maybe it’s the doctor’s receptionist who slides your dad in for an appointment on a day you can be there; or the nurse’s aide at your mom’s rehab facility who always treats her with such respect. To acknowledge such kindness, I maintain a stash of thank you cards and inexpensive gifts like pretty notepads, hand-made soaps from a local artisan, $5 gift cards from Starbucks. Small gestures like this can can have a big impact, because they’re so unexpected. The caveat is that you have to do it for yourself, as well. For me, a small reward was heading to a favorite thrift store for a $3 treasure, or 15 minutes of quiet with a good cup of coffee from my favorite cafe.

Reach out to a support group, either close to home or online. You may think you don’t need this, but the reality is that caregiving takes a village. Isolation is a very real concern that can affect your mental and physical health. These communities are a way to make friends, receive support and encouragement, and gather helpful strategies from people who are living the tough stuff every day. Many focus on special needs like caring for a loved one with dementia (check out Brenda Avadian’s site, The Caregiver’s Voice), or working daughters caring for aging parents (Liz O’Donnell of WorkingDaughter.com has a site that offers great advice and support, and a FaceBook group that offers the same.)

Accept help early on, while people are most likely to offer, even if you think everything’s under control. The reality is that the longer you go on doing it all yourself, the less people tend to believe you need assistance. Be specific. Maybe it’s asking someone to bring a meal; or having a friend sit with the family member you’re caring for, so you can take a break for a few hours. Make a list that includes daily, weekly or monthly chores that others can perform, and when someone says, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” be ready with, “Well, actually there is. How about……” Believe me, this points out who you can count on pretty quick.

Maintaining a sense of humor while caregiving isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. Laughter, even the dark kind, allows your body to relax during stressful times. But, did you know it can also keep you from being crushed by emotion? It saved me countless times, especially the last day I spent with my father at the hospital, simply holding his hand. When the nurse asked if I wanted someone from the clergy to visit, I asked for a rabbi. As he entered the room, I couldn’t help thinking that he didn’t look like a member of my tribe. Reading my mind, this lovely man said, with an apologetic smile, “I’m not Jewish, but will an Episcopalian do?” In that instant, I laughed. Not a nervous titter, but a loud, life-affirming sound that provided me with what I needed most – release and relief.

I once read that, “If only” is the saddest phrase in the English language. Don’t become a prisoner of regret after a parent is gone. Be generous now with some simple, yet powerful phrases. “I love you.” Thank you. I forgive you. Please forgive me.” You would be amazed at their ability to bring about positive change in a relationship. A great book on this subject is Ira Byock’s, The Four Things That Matter Most.”

What I continue to realize is that we are all in this together, and sharing our experiences is how we begin to change things for the better. Why not take a minute and offer up some of your own hard-earned wisdom?

A Caregiver Valentine

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I just finished reading a little book entitled, “Congratulations, by the way.”

The author, George Saunders, speaking to a graduating class, describes what he’s regretted most in his life. Turns out, it was a failure of kindness. Those moments when he hesitated to offer someone a word, a touch, or a smile to make them feel valued and understood.

I see this often, but with a twist. In caregiver communities, people reach out to each other daily with warmth and compassion, yet they don’t extend that same empathy to themselves.  Instead, there is only a litany of should’s:

I should be stronger. I should be able to handle all this. I should be doing a better job.

The thing is, what you are doing is often an exhausting, all-consuming, roller-coaster ride in the dark, and there are times of questioning your sanity and the ability to continue. Yet, despite all this, you keep on going. And that needs to be honored.

So, here’s to you on Valentine’s Day.  Nothing fancy. No roses or gooey sentiments. Just a good, strong, get-the-job-done cup of coffee that speaks to some of your finest qualities.

As George Saunders says, “Try to be kinder.” And I would say to caregivers everywhere, “Begin with yourself.”