"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."
I'd like to share a story about struggle that was told to me years ago by a minister friend and mentor. It touched me deeply at the time and still resonates. It's a message of hope for anyone who is struggling, a ray of sunlight shining through the tiny hole in the cocoon: (Story of the Butterfly as adapted by Paul Coelho)
A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.
The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.
The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shrivelled wings, incapable of flight.
What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.
As a caregiver, are you stuck in the cocoon, struggling to burst forth as a butterly, but utterly unsure how to do that? Does the cocoon feel dark and scary and more suffocating than nurturing? It's important to remember that we all have "caterpillar" moments -- times when we simply cannot envision the transformation that needs to happen for us to fly free. Don't give up hope! There's a bit of sunlight shining through to guide you. Have faith that the struggle will be over, you will triumphantly emerge, stretch your beautiful butterfly wings and soar!
"There are four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers."
No matter which of the above four categories outlined by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter you may fall into, there is little doubt that your life has been affected by Alzheimer's -- either through a family member, friend or spouse. I won't bombard you with statistics, since they are all over the media airwaves, thankfully so! But I want to point out the there are over 65 million family caregivers in the US alone, mostly women, struggling along as the unsung heroes or sheroes, as the case may be, who deal with this disease or others, daily.
I want to let you know that they need your help. Yes, I'm talking to YOU! This is not a disease which will allow cheering from the sidelines. You're going to have to get down and dirty, and maybe take a few hard knocks for the team and almost definitely get out of your comfort zone. If you know anyone who is dealing with Alzheimer's, for heaven's sake, help them out!
Here are some things you can do:
1. Give them a huge hug and a warm, sincere "thank you" for their love and care. Let them know you acknowledge how tough it can be. It will make both of you feel better.
2. Offer practical help: a couple hours of respite care so they can go to a movie or shopping or take a nap. Do their laundry at your house and deliver it clean and folded. Take their children out for an afternoon of fun at the park or zoo to give those "sandwiched" between elder care and child care a break on one end of the caregiving spectrum. Find information about resources available in your local area for support, respite, help and give them to the caregiver with encouragement to help them follow through.
3. Take a walk to end Alzheimer's on Saturday, October 19, when the Alzheimer's Association is sponsoring a national fund-raising event. Click on the Alzheimer's Association link above to sign up. Get your company involved in matching donations raised (if you work for a company so inclined).
4. Help start a Memory Cafe in your community. Here's a "Toolkit" guide for this very worthwhile project and more information about how successful they are and how easy it is to bring better quality of life to those with dementia. There are currently about 80 Memory Cafes around the US, mostly grassroots local efforts, and so very helpful to caregivers and those with dementia. The concept is really taking off in the UK, with excellent support from the government. Here, unfortunately, we have to do it ourselves.
5. Be an advocate for creating dementia-friendly communities, so that caregivers can take their loved ones out to a restaurant, shop, church, or other public event without feeling the terrible stigma that tends to pervade uninformed environments. It isn't that people aren't willing to be dementia-friendly. They simply don't know how. Educate yourself, then educate others. See the excellent resource "Aging, Dementia, and the Faith Community: Continuing the Journey of Friendship" by John T. McFadden, M.Div., Chaplain at Appleton Health Care Center in Appleton, WI)
6. Practice the Mosquito Principle: "If you think you're too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito." So, go ahead and be annoying to the decision-makers who can help to fund the end of Alzheimer's. Bother everyone you can think of and be very persistent in your efforts to help caregivers at the end of their rope, dealing with Alzheimer's. You CAN make a difference. Practice being mosquito-like. It can actually be fun, once you get the buzz, er, whine of it!
7. Introduce folks to this website which has a depth of resources, links, tips, advice and sanity-saving humor to help caregivers maintain their own well-being. There are helpful ideas about using music, meditation, aromatherapy, self-care, inspiring books, personalized playlists on iPods with www.musicandmemory.org, and so much more at www.caregiverwellness.biz.
8. Lastly, practice outrageous acts of kindness and caring for the people you love, and maybe for strangers, too. Use the Pay it Forward concept. Reach out and offer your support in big and small ways. Be vocal, be an activist, be a pain in the patooti, but be involved. If we are not, who will be?
"It is in crisis that seeds of opportunity are planted."
I really believe that a crisis is an opportunity standing on its head to get your attention. I have had this proven to me in countless ways in my life, as, perhaps, have you. Many of those times occurred during my role as caregiver. There seemed to be an abundant number of crises available to test the theory at any moment of any day. I also recognize now, if not always during the actual crisis, that there was very little control I could exert over the particular crisis-of-the-moment, but there was always a choice in how I perceived it. I alone could determine how I "judged" or reacted to some urgent thing grabbing my attention.
So, having said that, did I always choose to view the crisis of the moment as a positive, as a blessing, as an opportunity for growth? Of course not. I have all the same human foibles anyone does -- actually, I may have more than the usual foible complement. But, I also have intelligence to examine, research and learn from what I encounter in life. I have a resilient spirit, which I nurture with good books, happy thoughts, humor, uplifting music, prayer, meditation and yoga on as regular a basis as I can manage. I have wonderful friends, family and community whom I can turn to when the going gets beyond tough into torture. So, I count myself very rich in goodness, even though, to an outside witness, my life might not appear to be so rich.
I want to share two books with you that have made a HUGE difference in helping me to find sanity, contentment, and insight so deep it kinda scares me! The two books are by one author, Alan Cohen, who is an incredibly gifted author, motivational speaker, life coach, and great human being. He has written 23 popular inspirational books (you'll find my four favorites below), been featured on Oprah.com and has a lively talk show called "Get Real" on HayHouseRadio.com. But, here's the thing. I think he transported via mental telepathy or something into my brain and came up with the exact stories & anecdotes, warmth & wit and spiritual nuggets of truth I needed and put them all in these two books. Really! I don't know how he did that! So, I think you should read them and let me know if you feel the same way.
His book, Enough Already: the Power of Radical Contentment, captured me right from the start with the subtitle - radical contentment - what an excellent concept! Perhaps this is what we all need to practice to counterbalance all the radical bad stuff in our world. His chapter titles are also priceless and funny: "Going Nowhere Faster, Desperation Repels, Where Few Have Gone Before, The Secret to Winning the Lottery". Are you intrigued yet? The book has the following blurb on the back cover: "In a world where fear, crisis, and insufficiency dominate the media and many personal lives, the notion of claiming contentment may seem fantastic or even heretical. Yet finding sufficiency right where you stand may be the answer to a world obsessed with lack. In his warm, down-to-earth, and believable style, Alan Cohen offers fresh, unique, and uplifting angles on coming to peace with what is before you." Hmmm. That's it in a nutshell - coming to peace with what is before you. Isn't that the magic key to a happier life? So, would you rather be happy or be sucked into seriousness? Would you rather see the opportunity or the crisis? Is finding a state of peace and contentment your goal or do you live in a world where struggle and lack are the only thing you can imagine?
If you answered "yes!" to the first part of the questions above, then this book is the radical, realistic, resounding roadmap to getting there. Find the opportunity in your crises and learn how to be "radically content". You won't be disappointed with this book, I promise!
The second of his titles which appealed greatly, is A Daily Dose of Sanity: A Five-Minute Soul Recharge for Every Day of the Year. Well, the title says it all. Who couldn't use a soul recharge that takes five minutes and leaves you feeling inspired, uplifted, lighter and a little bit more sane? I find the daily "doses" of humor, lively insights, anecdotes and quotes a perfect way to give me a needed boost, morning, noon or night. I refer to it often, and even find myself reading ahead (or behind) the actual day simply because I am intrigued by a title on the page. It's so wonderful to hear Alan's "take" on life through his lens of experience with guiding so many people to more empowering choices. How refreshing it is when something can open your heart and bring you clarity, insight, and a smile all at the same time? And in five minutes! Did I tell you this man is a miracle worker?
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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