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.

BFF’s Shouldn’t “Caregive” Alone

Just had to share this experience with  you all.

A Dutiful Daughter reader contacted me a few weeks ago to place another order. A close friend was beginning her own caregiving journey, and she thought my book would help pave the way.  Happy to oblige, I mailed her gal pal a signed gift-wrapped copy with a personal note, and this is the lovely response I received in return. What a ray of light! It’s the reason writers write, and for me, true food for the soul. 

“My bff was thrilled with her book and read it carefully in  a day and a half. She dog eared many pages and sat down with her parents to go over some things. You did an outstanding job Judith and it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Thank you again for everything special you did for my best friend. She was very touched.”

Art and Writing Worlds Collide

On Wednesday, I went to the Post Office to ship a copy of my book to a customer. When asked how the package should be sent, I replied without even thinking, “Mixed media mail, please…. “

If you’re interested in seeing where life has taken me post-caregiving, come visit my art and writing site – JudithHenryCreative.com. I’m collaging, painting, and stitching because it brings me joy, and each new piece will be offered on the website.  I’m also writing and posting about my low-budget journey of self-discovery; personal observations (some funny, some not so much); spot-on quotes and poems; creative art/writing prompts that go deep; and tons more goodness, including a line of Caregiver Postcards and Caregiver Collages I’m currently working on.

Who knows – you may even find yourself inspired to begin a creative practice. I know self-care is hard for caregivers, but even a half-hour once or twice a week can give your tired brain and body a big mental and physical boost. In addition, it’s a powerful tool, along with writing, to answer the“Who Am I/What Now” questions once caregiving comes to an end. 

Strong hugs to you all,

Judith

 

Resistance is Futile

Going through old photos of my folks, and this dawned on me. Resistance is futile, so here goes. From my mother, I get my “tell it like it is” mindset, and my creativity. We also share a preference for a certain swear word. Like my dad, I don’t suffer fools gladly, and am a passionate life-long learner. I also curse a lot while driving, just like him. 🙂  What about you?

An Act of Love and Laughter

If you’re familiar with my book, The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving, you’ve probably read the chapter called, Planning Mom’s Funeral With Barbra Streisand’s Help. My blog post of the same name touched a cord with caregivers everywhere and has been shared numerous times, and posted on other blogs, since the book came out in 2015.

I was recently invited to record an audio version of that story as a service of our public library system. It’s just a few minutes long, and, as I state in the introduction, it was my way of initiating a difficult conversation by reframing it as an act of love and laughter.

I hope you enjoy it.

Time For A Caregiver’s Mantra?

earth and plants

I’ll remind myself, and others, that I’m simply human.

I’ll stop feeling responsible for everything that happens.

I’ll treat myself with kindness and compassion.

I won’t beat myself up for sometimes wanting this to be over.

I’ll accept that I can’t always make things right for the person I’m caring for.

I’ll give myself permission to curse or cry when needed.

I won’t criticize myself when things happen that are beyond my control.

I’ll nix the guilt for sometimes wanting to return the gift of caregiving for something that fits me better.

I’ll consider “me-time” as a legitimate reason to step away  from caregiving, when needed.

If no one else tells me: I am freaking awesome.

What else would you add??

 

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.