Gifts from the Frontlines...
For those who show up...however they can for love
Like a clueless Dorothy in the land of Oz, I found myself caregiving...
I was stuck there, having misplaced any wizard who might have gotten me back to my old life in San Francisco. I didn't like it; it was not part of my plans.
In that stuckness, I also chose to show up for my infirm loved one.
I argued with gravity for several years. I didn't win...
I tried to do them both—caregiving and the job. Like 44 million of us out there (in the USA alone), multi-tasking two lives. I didn't do either particularly well.
The Kaiser palliative RN symposium where I was speaking about resilience for pro caregivers...and my book...was easy (and went quite well) once I stopped reading my notes and spoke from my heart. I don't know how many times I need to learn this lesson—speaking with people, not at them.
It is so easy at bedside in hospice (or supporting my bereaved) to still my noisy mind, listen deeply and respond from that place...or let the space be empty. In good design, they call it "white space".
But... it feels so different when sixty-five palliative nurses are watching you, waiting for my amplified words to fill the gap between us—my words.
Oddly, it's not. As a chaplain and a woman of (growing all the time) faith, I agree with the radical French Jesuit theologian, paleontologist and geologist, Teilhard de Chardin, when he said:
"We are spiritual beings, having a human experience."
If that is true (and I have ample life, bedside and death bed evidence of this), then there is just one of us here, or at minimum we are nuclear family. My point about speaking up (and speeches) is that we are all among family—all the time.
Sweet, right? (And, it's a better tactic than imagining all of you/us naked...)
I am preparing a collaborative series of presentations around my new book and working with a dear friend to accomplish it. It is great (chaplain) fun to find common ground between the sacred wisdoms and with the highly actionable nature of neuroscience research.
Heart and head are powerful partners which change the planet...and certainly our lives.
This day long symposium is on resiliency in nursing.
These beautiful professional caregivers experience much of the same stress symptoms as their unpaid sisters and brothers on the front lines of love. But the opportunity to work with a true friend when doing this work (that matters...) is an exceptional thing.
My father was a wise man: John W. Hager
He is gone from this earth and has been for decades, but his words are alive in me. His saying about the quantity (of friends) that make one's life rich, flies in the social media's face. As a new author, I am validated by how many people sign up for messages from me (...and by all means, please sign up). Having said that, however, the magnitude of a nearby friend, one that shows up with treats when they hear a twitch in your best "I'm fine" survival voice, is measured on an earthquake scale.
The 4.8 earthquake (which woke me up last night) is felt by all. But only one more richter point and it is feared by all.
A true friend is a wonder...they gently turn post-traumatic-stress from disorder to order...and growth.
(or maybe even some fun.)
The amazing thing about being an author is to see the progress that your book is making. It is making its way into the world. It offers the notion that we can change how we do caregiving.
It's a big order... to care for yourself while you are caring for a loved one who has fallen ill. Most of us don't practice resilience but (with luck) restoration and reconstruction at the end of the day...or week or month.
It takes a toll. It's traumatic and it can make you resilient; post traumatic growth is possible. I offer my rules as gifts to you, those fourty-four million Americans who are trying to navigate this tricky shoreline.
Check it out on Amazon. (Search for EM Hager)
There are so many stories about the gifts from the frontlines of love. It's not just caregiving a beloved through illness, it may be of a gardener.
Here is a story from my Sunday volunteering with the Salvation Army in the NorCal wildfire devastation.
This one is from the Coffee Park Neighborhood in Santa Rosa about a man who loved trees and cared for a Chinese or Lacebark Elm for 35 years. That street tree was the cause of some friction with his wife. She encouraged him to cut it down for every one of those years but he love the tree. He cared for that tree...and it saved his life and the lives of his neighbors, too. It's October seed pods started burning up in the fire and those seeds rained down on him....thinking it was hail, he woke up...then he started banging on doors, waking up others...and saving them too.
Why One of the first questions I ask of any caregiver is:
Some evolutionary biologists are speculating that the purpose of sleep (a TedX talk by Jeff Iliff) is to take out the trash—to clean your brain of plaques. (Yes, that would be the same brain garbage which seems to be causing dementia…)
It's not our fault.
We are only trying to get ahead—like good Americans. We learned sleep deprivation early, as teenagers and still teach it now to our youth. The NY Times (9/14/2017 The Case for a Later Start to the School Day) reported that teens are sleep deprived and it has consequences. Several national studies have recommended a later start time for schools so the kids can get their 9 to 10 hours of recommended sleep. While it makes economic sense (would add $18K to each student's eventual lifetime earnings and $83 billion to the economy in ten years), it hasn’t happened and probably won’t. (Hey, their parents have to get to work…)
Real wealth is a good night's sleep, indeed.
The lack of even one night’s sleep makes us:
What to do? In the Upward Spiral by neuroscientist, Alex Korb we must
· 1. Improve ‘sleep hygiene’
· 2. Deal with our anxieties and stress
Stress we know about...caregiving gives you a black belt in stress. I recommend a spiritual practice of eight things which I will cover in the future blog posts (and the Field Guide which will be published in later 2017).
Its not even as bad a flossing. All you do is edit what potentially interferes with
Let your own senses guide you. As you age, your sleep needs are changing too – you don’t need as much sleep as you did as a teenager but the true measure is how do you feel?
Caregiving and sleep
You need sleep to caregive.
Did you get enough sleep? It is the best of questions to answer. It’s your life to be lived.
Helping incurs debt.
According to Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, helping is very different than serving. When you go all Florence Nightingale on your beloved, it is hard to take. You want to help but this help is not helping—or you could help so much more.
It's messier. It takes a bit more time but serving is infused with respect...and trust.
ASK them if what your doing, needs doing, or is it helpful? Asking gives them control. It turns into serving—as a peer and an equal. When I fix, I am telling them that they are broken.
"We serve life, not because it is broken, but because it is holy." —Mother Teresa
They are not broken...they are just ill.
Good medical care is changing in a similar manner. State-of-the-art hospital are instilling empathy into their employees. Check out this Cleveland Clinic video. It is about being in the moment...respecting the person with dignity. Unlearning Certainty is a rule that is essential for empathy—that you can use to heal.
Dr. Remen further explains good health (for everyone) is about collaborating:
"When I fix a person I perceive them as broken, and their brokenness requires me to act. When I fix I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of life within them. When I serve I see and trust that wholeness. It is what I am responding to and collaborating with." Noetic Sciences Review # 37
Fixing is a form of judgement and it creates disconnection... and that's the last thing we want with our loved one.
Healthier for us, too.
When we collaborate with our loved ones, we have a better shot at the gold standard of caregiving—healthy resilience—than if we try to fix.
The worst thing about caregiving is the isolation.
I thought I was alone, but I was thinking about it from the inside of my mental box. Don't let your walls box you in. If you are caregiving, and feel lonely, I invite you out of that box...by the most powerful force on Earth—the superpower of your own mind.
Put on your cape. Use that with x-ray vision...See it differently. Caregiving changes the planet...and (with perspective) it can change you, too—for the better. It happened to me that way...
This video is warm soup for a cold day...
Watch it and watch the separations melt away...reach out. There are other people just like you... Just like us. We show up. We care and it's powerful.