"The most important hour is always the present. The most significant person is precisely the one sitting across from you right now. The most necessary work is always love."
Caregiving is an act of love. One of the most powerful tools we have as humans caring for other humans is the gift of our attention. To be completely in the present moment with your loved one through eye contact, touch, facial expression -- is a sacred and special experience, deepening joy through connection.
I encourage all caregivers, whether professional or family, to find ways to be fully present by sharing an event or activity with this very intentional, conscious focus. It can be as simple as watching a sunset, playing with a kitten, eating a treat together. The quality of the experience and the satisfaction inherent comes from engaging all the senses with attention. If the present moment shared is good, life is good!
"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."
Throughout my life, I have come to know a deep spiritual truth: We are all connected. According to Chief Seattle, "Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together, All things connect".
To me, this connection called the web of life means that every action we take (or avoid taking) has an impact somewhere, either within our own lives, on other life forms, or upon our environment. This idea has been reiterated by many wise poets, writers, philosophers and theologians, so it is not new. However, I think it applies even more strongly to the relationship of caregiver to care receiver. I'm speaking here of the quality of our caregiving experience, from both sides of the equation.
I've written in this blog of some of the negative consequences caregiving can have, in terms of the caregiver's health, happiness and sense of balance in life. All true. But I want to give some time also to the beautiful compensations, those incredibly precious moments of connection at the soul level, that can be a part of caregiving as well.
Every person and situation is as unique as a fingerprint or snowflake, so generalizing is risky. But I think this is a crucial part of creating a more serene, beneficial experience, so I am willing to go out on this limb.
In caring for my mother, I learned (sometimes the hard way!) that we were incredibly connected -- whether that was judged a good or bad thing was up to me and the perspective I chose. She responded to me on an almost psychic level at times, picking up on emotions and reactions of which I might be totally unaware. She often understood that something was upsetting me, even before I knew it! Though she could not always ferret out the correct reasons, she still related to me from this knowing. I soon realized I could not "fool" her into believing everything was fine if it wasn't. So, I had to clear my own mind and heart before approaching her. I could not hide behind a pretense or falseness. Mom spotted that immediately! She was like a dolphin whose echo-location scanned below the surface, all the way through my innermost self, and saw truth. It reminded me of times as a child when I believed Mom could tell if I was fibbing by looking into my eyes. Perhaps she could -- a mother's own type of radar or a truth-seeking missile.
There were several activities we did to nurture and connect us: music was a powerful device for this. We often sang together, watched musicals on DVD that were her favorites, and listened to hymns or songs by Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and other "crooners" from Mom's era. I wish that I'd known about the iPod Project (www.musicandmemory.org and on this site click here) in time to use that with my Mom. But, alas, I learned of it too late.
Another connection was found through flowers, specifically roses -- that lovely flower was Mom's talisman, since she grew a beautiful rose garden which she shared with her friends to uplift and bless them all her life, so it was perfect for reminiscing.
And, lastly, perhaps the most potent of all: simple loving touch. I used gentle, soothing touch with Mom every day -- putting lotion on her skin, gently rubbing her back at bedtime, using aromatherapy oils on her hands and arms, hugging her several times a day, touching her arm or hand as we walked, reaching over to pat her knee as we watched TV or in the car. I used touch along with giving her reassuring words, and loving eye contact. It was this that most often sparked a spontaneous "I love you", or "You're a little sweetheart" (her favorite term of endearment).
Now, in the interest of being completely candid, I must report that I am not a saint. There were days when exhaustion, lack of sleep, worries, distractions, stress or any number of other things got in the way of my being the best caregiver I could be. There were days I didn't much like myself for being tired, short-tempered, upset. I've had to figure out how to forgive myself for not being perfect, for not always knowing how to approach this huge job of being completely responsible for another life. Most days I can do that. I'm still working on it.
I wanted to share this, from my heart, because I know that the one thing caregivers often find in short supply is hope. Hope for a loving positive experience in caring for one they love. My advice is to create that hope and joy one moment at a time. Make this moment count. Use all your creativity and passion to connect through all the senses -- sound, touch, smell, sight and taste. Be present as a healing, loving being right now. Let the next moments and days take care of themselves as much as you can. And find the peace and grace of those beautiful compensations of caring -- one moment at a time.
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
"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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