Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another. ~Thomas Merton
I want to share with you a couple funny stories about my Mom in the nursing home. They are proof that love never dies and is our true destiny, as Thomas Merton attests.
I arrived for a visit with Mom to find her sitting in the TV common area holding hands with the gentleman in the seat next to her. As I walked in and gave her a big hug and kiss, I asked how she was. She smiled a very sweet, slightly sly smile and glanced at the man beside her saying, "I'm doing fine. I've got a man!" I cracked up, since she was 91 at the time and because it reminded me so much of the Gershwin lyrics from the song I Got Rhythm: I've got my man, who could ask for anything more? She then expressed concern about whether I had a man of my own (I assured her quickly that I did, lest she suggest something I didn't want to contemplate).
Mom and this very kind man continued to be good friends and companions until death parted them, and it always warmed my heart to see them holding hands and smiling at each other fondly.
The second story happened earlier, soon after Mom arrived at the home and before she met her gentleman friend. I was at work, in a frantically busy office, when my cell phone vibrated, indicating a call from the nursing home. In a bit of a panic, fearing some kind of emergency, I grabbed the phone and rushed out to the parking lot to get a good signal, leaving a lobby full of people waiting, none too pleased about my disappearing act.
The social worker from the nursing home quickly allayed my fears and then told me she had an "incident" to report. Well, that sounded pretty ominous. An incident? She further relayed that while waiting for the dining room to open, my mother had been sitting in a small alcove watching TV when another resident, a man, kissed her. I think I laughed out loud at this point feeling very relieved and repeated, incredulously, "Kissed her? Do you mean a peck on the cheek kind of kiss or were tongues involved?", I questioned. She assured me that it was fairly innocuous, according to her interview of the two people involved and witnesses. She further reported my Mom did not seem distressed at all by the kissing "incident" and indeed could not recall it. Well, I've had kisses that were less than memorable, but I suspected it was Mom's Alzheimer's causing this lack of recall. As I breathed a sigh of relief, I explained to the harried woman that I was not upset by this breach of manners, and actually, if this were the worst "incident" that ever happened that would be excellent. In fact, I continued, "My Mom may have even been the kiss-er instead of the kiss-ee, in this case, given her propensity for flirting." Sometimes you just have to look at the lighter side of life and love.
With all the Valentine's Day hoopla yesterday so fresh in mind, it feels good to know that love can bring us joy at any age and in any circumstance. So get out there and hold hands with someone you love. And make your own kissing incident. Love is our destiny, indeed!
This prayer is written as a blessing to encourage and uplift all who strive to give their best in caring for a loved one.
God, grant me the tender, open-hearted love needed on the caregiving journey, the strength of body, serenity of mind, clarity of purpose and willingness of spirit to meet the extraordinary,
everyday constant changes and challenges of caregiving with a smile and good cheer.
And, please grant me the compassion and courage to choose the right path through the myriad decisions, making the very best choices for the highest good of my loved one, my family, and myself.
Allow me to know that I am enough, I do enough, and by giving of myself at the deepest soul level,
caring with diligence for my own health and well-being, also as priority, I will experience the beautiful rewards intrinsic to caring for another.
Let me seek, find, and accept help and loving support from family, friends, community and professionals for the journey of caring.
Let my loved one receive the gift of love from my heart and hands with gratitude and healing according to Your will.
Bless the hands, hearts and spirits of both giver and receiver in Your circle of light & life and keep us filled with gratitude and grace each day!
copyright 2012, Karen Bonnell
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I am reflecting on those people, events, blessings which have made life immeasurably richer -- family, friends, beloved pets, experiences that create moments of heart-soaring joy and spiritual transcendence -- for gifts great and small, blessings bright and beautiful, I give thanks!
One of the brightest blessings in my life was my mother, Ann. She passed away this year in January, and her 93rd birthday would have been next week, so I am feeling a very complicated mix of emotions. And it occurs to me that so many caregivers face these jumbled roller-coaster emotions pretty much all the time. I think being willing to be emotionally vulnerable is almost a prerequisite to taking on the role of caregiver. You somehow find a way to blend love, duty, a desire to give, to be compassionate, to let your hands and heart do the work needed to bring tender loving care to another. You have to find a balance in the juxtaposition of both opening the heart and shielding it to protect it from being crushed and shattered. It is not an easy task. And yet it is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have, in my opinion.
The key words about caregiving that come up repeatedly for me are compassion, vulnerability, stamina, and acceptance. You need them all in just about equal measure in order to keep your balance and not lose your own sense of self while caring for another. So, I picture these qualities as the legs on a table of caregiving -- if they are equal, the table top is evenly "balanced", strong and stable and it can bear a great deal of weight (and many blessings, too!). If not, things slip off and hit the floor, and shatter into a million pieces. Things like your sanity, peace of mind, self-esteem, health, and other really important stuff. Compassion and vulnerability are the "softer" emotions you need to draw upon to be loving and effective as a caregiver, while stamina and acceptance are strong qualities that you need to use in order to keep your own health and well-being intact. They all work together to create a good support for both you and your loved one.
So, how do you get your caregiving table in balance? I really wish there was a "one-size-fits-all" answer to this question, but, though there is a lot of advice out there, I think this is something each individual caregiver has to come to terms with in his or her own situation, with regard to the personalities and needs, relationships and responsibilities involved. From my own experience, I would encourage you to keep your heart open, even knowing the risks. Find ways to keep the softer qualities of compassion and vulnerability alive and prevent yourself from hardening as a defense mechanism. (Gratitude and remembering all the good in life, past and present help!) With some practice, this is similar to juggling and it becomes almost automatic. Sometimes it is simply keeping your attention on the balance aspect that is necessary to make it work. Other times, it is reaching out for help (there's vulnerability, again!) Keeping your own spirit strong and nurtured is crucial, and this website is full of ideas and information to help you do that through relieving stress, finding peace and comfort, balancing your own needs and care with that of your loved one.
So, to all the caregivers and to those they love: Wishes for a bountiful, beautiful, balanced table of blessings at Thanksgiving and the same for the caregiving table all year round!
"If you would lift me up, you must be on higher ground."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love."
I was just reading in the Alzheimer's Reading Room of a study done jointly by Johns Hopkins and the Utah State University on the topic of whether a close caregiver relationship slows the progression of Alzheimer's Disease. From personal experience as a daughter and long term caregiver for my mother, my resounding answer is YES! Emphatically, absolutely, positively YES! The answer they arrived at in the study was also yes, but it wasn't quite as emphatic as mine. I guess when you are measuring with the heart and intuition, it may be clearer than with scientific instruments. Through my own direct observations and those of medical professionals and Alzheimer's support experts, it was often noted how unusually gradual my mother's decline was over a period of 17 years. She actually set a record for length of attendance at the day care facility, and was their "poster child" for optimal functioning with the disease. I am fully and gratefully aware that a large part of the credit for my mother's gentle, slow progression had to do with the excellence of the whole team participating in her care. However, I remain convinced that the life-long closeness (well, with the notable exception of the hormone hell of my teenage years, when one of us would have had to be approaching sainthood in order to have a peaceful, loving, untroubled relationship!) of our mother-daughter relationship and daily expressions of love and caring also dramatically helped.
The study, conducted by Constantine Lyketsos, M.D., M.H.S., the Elizabeth Plank Althouse Professor in Alzheimer’s Disease Research and director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center and colleagues from Utah State, University of Washington, Duke University and Boston University examined 167 pairs of caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients. The pairs were recruited from the Cache County (Utah) Dementia Progression Study, which has tracked hundreds of people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia since 1994.
The monitoring assessments were done using the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) and Clinical Dementia Rating, with the tests given at six-month intervals, for a period of four years beginning in 2002. The caregivers were interviewed and questioned about their perception of the closeness of the relationship to the Alzheimer's patient -- not surprisingly, the caregivers who described a close relationship had partners with significantly slower measurable decline than those who did not have close relationships.
Love energy is some of the most potent, powerful and postive energy in our human experience and volumes have been written to honor both the bond between mother and child and the love between husband and wife. I would also add the special, unconditional love of a pet to the equation (usually a dog, sometimes a cat) which adds tremendously to the quality of life and perhaps to a slowing of disease, including Alzheimer's. If you want to get metaphysical about it, love is a high frequency of vibrational energy, and can lift a person out of disease, which is a lower vibrational frequency. So, in my admittedly unscientific conclusion, I believe that love can lift us up to higher ground, working its miracles healing human hearts and minds through its magic. I have all the proof I need in my own life experience. Maybe one day, the science will catch up :)
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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