The Power of DEBILITY

Yes, it really does say that.  There is great power, on many levels, in being debilitated & in supporting someone who is.  If you want a good read on it, check out Ram Dass’, Still Here,  a book I was blessed to in tandem with Mom.

Thought about Mom during my morning ablutions (look it up!).  The effect it had on all three of us that a torn rotator cuff confined her to bed once she was tucked in.  The woman was independent, except for that pesky shoulder, which meant she was stuck in bed, couldn’t put on her stockings or put on/tie her shoes.  She needed us for that.

And we were honored.  That’s not just rosy-glow false memory.  John & I treated helping Mom with daily tasks – like getting out of bed to go to the loo – that we didn’t even give a thought.

During the night, Mom would ask John – whose studio was next to her bedroom – for an assist;  if he’d gone off to bed, she’d rattle her clappy hands noise maker & I’d come down to lend a hand – well, actually two, along with arms & back.

She’s always give me that sheepish smile & voice her regrets for bothering me at such a dreadful hour.  Especially if she’d already called me down from what she called the tower bower before.  I’d look at her & say, “It’s just an excuse for me to get a hug.”  Once she was back in bed & I’d tucked her blanket around her, instead of telling each other “Night, night,” we’d say, “Morning, morning.”

After writing yesterday’s post on the power of touch, am appreciating all over again those countless treks down stairs, sometimes two or even three a night – well over a thousand, I reckon.  And as tired as I was, as longing to stay in bed, snug next to John, I don’t recall ever thinking, “Oh my gosh, this again.”  I treated it as a love ritual & am so glad I – we – did.  All three of us.

Every night, John & I had the opportunity to hold a beloved elder in our arms, to lift her up & help set her on her feet, give her an arm to the bathroom, if needed, or, over her last year, to “Lamb” – her commode, which followed her wherever we went.  Every morning, we had the opportunity to literally kneel at her feet, helping put on & hook her stockings (Mom handed her girdle on her own), then her shoes.  Mom could handle putting on her slip, but needed help with her bra & with putting on a blouse.

They were little things that had a sense of the sacred in them.  It’s small wonder we related so strongly to Ram Dass’ book, which we read about six months before her final fall & adieu.  All three of us came to the situation with “right attitude” – with a sense of gratitude for the indescribable blessings it provided.  Am realizing for the first time that the reason the three of us could handle her last seven weeks, especially the last week here in hospice, so well, so naturally, was that it was simply an extension of what we already did.  Is it possible to change an incapacitated elder’s sanitary pad with a sense of appreciation on both sides?  Yes.

People who think of debility as a fate worse than death miss the treasures that are only revealed in moments of complete need & complete support.  I know that Mom would have been happy as all get out to NOT have a nasty torn rotator cuff, to not spend her last seven weeks paralyzed on one side.  Am just as sure she would not have given up the gifts that were given to all of us – gifts I still treasure – through those moments of need & loving giving.

There is great power in debility, on all sides, if we have the strength to let it light up our lives & tenderize our hearts.

The Power of TOUCH

I am blessed to have several dear-to-my-heart young friends who’ve recently welcomed their first baby.  Among the discussion points winging around over newborn playdates & on Facebook is an article written earlier this month on the importance of touch in infancy & beyond.

Let’s talk about that “beyond” – as in WAY beyond, as in the importance of touch & the elderly.  One of the greatest deprivations olders elders ancient face is skin deprivation, the gentle touch of another person’s hand.  Sadly, in today’s culture here in the USA, they get it less & less.

“Skin hunger” is a relatively new concept.  Up until fairly recently, we lived in family units.  One hundred years ago, America was still largely agrarian, with families typically living with a carriage or street car ride of each other.  As airplanes & interstates joined railroads in opening up the continent, people started moving not just across town but across the country.

Grandparents & older relatives, friends who’d once regularly embraced children & their offspring, been pulled into service to hold an infant, soothe a young one, babysit the family, found themselves making do with letters & phone calls.   The boy that felt an older man’s arm around his should as he learned to fish now lived in a city high rise.  The girl who’s aunt had guided her hands showing her how to use a sewing machine moved out to the coast.

Without going into all the reasons for our society’s current crisis with touch deprivation – hitting old & young alike – will just say that healthy displays of connection seem to get rarer every year.

The laying on of hands really does aid in restoring the troubled soul or soothing the sick.  Touch has been used as a therapeutic tool as long as creatures – not just humans – have roamed the earth.  Sadly, in our current day – especially over the past 10+ years – we’re touching less, even seeing each other less & less, unheard of in any previous time of our history.  What are we doing to our relationship-bound species?

We’re getting so used to it, it’s easy to overlook the reality that loss of contact has long been dreaded punishment, from a “time out” for an erring little one to solitary confinement for prisoners.  To pay back a friend for a perceived slight, we might be tempted to give them the “silent treatment.”  When some religious communities want to show displeasure with a congregant, they might shun the person.  Sends chills down my back just thinking about it!

Not that long ago, business people had regular contact with their clients & coworkers.  Now, even that connection is dwindling, as they rely more & more on using computers to do our research, make our client connection, handle problems.  Even eighteen years ago, when I worked at a financial services company, it was possible for me to receive a problem, resolve it & receive high praise from the client for my efforts – all without talking to someone on the phone, let alone face to face.  That’s scary.

Although John & I currently have a isolated lifestyle – no siblings eager for a visit, far distant nieces & nephews & cousins, good friends busy with their own families  – we have a very snuggly relationship.  Not just because we’re naturally affectionate, but because we understand the power & importance of touch.  With ourselves & others.  The other day, I was delighted to see John tearing back to a friend because he realized – totally on his own – that he’d forgotten to give her a parting hug.

It seems that everyone loves to coo at, get close to & touch babies.  We tousle the hair of toddlers & hug youngsters.  But interactions with the elderly, disabled & ill are another matter.  Some loved ones & friends worry that they are too fragile for a hug, or even shrink away because “Grandma looks so old.”  Instead of stepping back, we need to feed their need for touch, from letting an older hold a baby or set a child on his/her lap – or holding the little ones close if the elder can’t manage it independently –  to holding their hands, wrapping an arm around their shoulder, giving them a hug, talking with them, reading to them, interacting & connecting with them.

Olders elders ancients need more touch, not less, yet too many get too little.  We live in abnormal times when it comes to touch, holding, friendly intimacy.  There seem to be more barriers to caring touch than opportunities.  On every side, isolation seems more & more the norm, the expectation.

We need to turn things around or we as a species will be affected in ways we can’t even imagine.  As machines become more like people, people are in danger of becoming more like machines.  Touch is an essential factor in our humanity.  There is immense power in touch, not just for elders & babies – for all of us.

Diana Spencer was all about the power of touch.  She set the bar for members of the royal family by  NOT wearing gloves when holding hands with the disadvantaged, disabled & ill.  It sent shock waves through Buckingham Palace when she hugged people with AIDS, held their hands & stroked bare arms.  When Diana died, I took on her hugging duties, especially with olders elders ancients.

Help ease isolation – hug a loved one today.  Reach out & touch a distant friend by phone or write – yes, WRITE! – a letter so they can hold something that you’ve held, read words in your writing, that you wrote.

Stamp out isolation – it’s a killer, a culture crusher.

I touch people.  I think everyone needs that.  Placing a hand on a friend’s face means making contact.   – Diana, Princess of Wales –

The Power of ALLIES

Was reminded last night about something I’ve longed for all my life – a true ally.  Not just someone to have my back – I am blessed with wonderful friends who are there when I need them, who would hand me the keys to their car at 3:00 a.m. when I’ve awakened them from sound slumbers with a mother being whisked in an ambulance to the hospital & our car gas gauge registering fumes (Thanks, Gretchen & Andrew!).

Allies see not only your best face, they see a future self you sometimes can’t.  They nudge as well as nurture.  They will tell you that the shirt you love to pieces IS actually worn to pieces & needs to be retired.  They reflect back your best self & spurs you be more like that image.  They serve as a caring goad for better.

John is an almost ally.  He reflects back my best self, believes in me 100% & wants only the best for me.  He is not a spur.  He thinks I’m terrific just the way I am.  He never hassles me to be a better housekeeper or a healthier cook.  Lets me know I should lose weight, but more as an aside than a concern.  Loves me to the moon & back, but it would never occur to him to help me figure out how to actually get there.  And he is precisely what I need as a husband partner friend.  An indirect ally.  But a butt kicker?  Never.

Allies kick butt.  They help you get out of difficult spots & reach unexpected heights.  They see the possible.

Friends are essential for our mental health, but allies are what help us see what we’re capable of doing, are there to badger & brow beat, to be the spur under our saddle that pushes us to more, to better.  There is awesome power in having one, in being one.

“There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally.  It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two.  But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.”   ~  G.K. Chesterton ~

 

Special delivery friendships

Excellent article over on Sixty & Me on how friendships matter as we grow older, how they help us stay connected to the world as well as to each other.  It makes the case for their impact of friendship on people “sixty & solo.”  Can feel Mom smiling – her  friendships, as much as family, kept her lively, saved her from cabin fever when she was house bound.

The article talks about the importance of face-to-face friendships.  Allow me a shout-out to letters as the next best thing.  E-mails & online face time have their place, ditto phone calls, while I think texting is anti-social, as weird as that may sound.  But letters…  They speak to the heart.

Ideally, they are hand written.  When a friend sees your handwriting, your face springs to mind.  They are composed with a thoughtfulness that’s harder to catch electronically.  They’re tactile, which is important to the whole experience.  They are personal & permanent.  You can read them standing by the sink when they first arrive, even by the mail box, ripping open the envelope as soon as you spot the writing.  You can reread them in nightgown & slippers or at waiting at the doctor’s.

Cards notes letters – each is assures us that someone remembers us enough to take the time to write, cares about & is interested in what we are doing.  Balm to the soul!

My generation doesn’t write letters like Mom’s.  We should start NOW.  When Mom was cooped up in the house over icy winter months, letters from around the world warmed her heart.  Mom cemented friendships made in her 70s 80s – in Bermuda & Florida, Los Angeles & Sydney – through notes tucked into Christmas cards & the occasional letter throughout the year.

In trying to explain what I hold so dear about letters, discovered a quote from Diane Lane that says it all – “I love the rebelliousness of snail mail…  There’s something about that person’s breath & hands on the letter.

Yes!  That is it!  When John would stride into the kitchen, all smiles, announcing, “You have a letter from Mim!” & handed it to me, I knew she’d held it in her hands, that she’d breathed on it as she wrote, that she carefully folded it, tucked it in the envelope & addressed it from her to me.  My sister & I did not do well face-to-face or even over the phone, but via the US Mail we did just fine.  I know exactly where my treasure trove of those cards & notes are tucked, each priceless to me, since there can be no more.  But whenever I see one, I am holding something she held.  Priceless connection.

I love the idea that you can put marks on a page & send it off, and two days later, someone laughs somewhere else in the world.   ~ David Nicholls ~

 

 

Muddling through

For decades, one of my dearest hopes was developing a tender relationship with my siblings.   It took 40+ years to accept it wasn’t going to be, many more to actually get okay with things being as they are instead how I want them to be.  And it felt WRONG.  That pain, that abject longing for things to be impossibly different. had become part of my being.  That was how it felt – like letting go of the issue would be akin to amputating part of ME.

The pain had been part of my life for so many years, felt woven into my identity.  It was an astonishing aha & woke me up to why people might shy away from doing deep personal work – – sacrificing the familiar for the healthy was a bone-deep HURT.

Was reminded of that reading Frank Ostaskeski’s, The Five Invitations – discovering what death can teach us about living.  “Our identification with old pain can feed an absence of forgiveness.  After carrying pain for so long, we wonder, who would we be without it?”  YES!  The very question that stopped me cold on the brink of a breakthrough.

After carrying our pain for so long, we wonder, who would we be without it?  Our resentment, our self-righteousness, seeing ourselves only as casualties – these feelings, in spite of being a burden, become familiar.  We know, ‘This is how it feels.’ We would rather stay with what is known than unburden ourselves of the negativity.  This urge to cling to our sense of having been wronged in the past (or longing for the impossible) can last a lifetime.

The actual chapter is all about the first Invitation – Don’t Wait.  Even more specifically, the section considers The Heart of the Matterforgiveness.  “Forgiveness shakes loose the calcification that accumulates around our hearts.  Then love can flow more freely.”

It’s been way over ten years since I was stopped in my tracks by the unexpected fear of letting go of pain because it was familiar, old hat, cozy torment.  It DID feel woven into my being, a darn good excuse for walking away from the culminating work.  But it only FELT that way;  it wasn’t.

Frank Ostaskeski explained the intense pain that overwhelmed me once it was okay to let people just BE – – it was the calcification that had accumulated around my heart for 50+ years cracking, breaking apart, falling away.  My ego’s response was to scream, “Noooooooooooooooooo!”   My heart countered with YES. 

The forgiveness was multi-sided, forgiving others for not being what I wanted, myself for wanting them to be something they weren’t.

Confession:  I have no idea where I wanted to go with this posting.  Was gobswoggled to find a life experience spelled out in a book.  Made me think of people I’ve worked with, loved ones, older friends & their families, about people who shut themselves down & others who open themselves up.  Of people who embrace deep personal work & are blindsided by a strong attachment to pain. About ones who can’t let go of hurts that happened eons ago, those who harp on what they think happened when the reality is that even the most straightforward thing rarely is.  I want to make people feel better about how messed up we all are & feel dissatisfied with letting things ride.  I want them to forgive others – and especially themselves – for being human.  It’s muddled, but so is life.

The Power of EXCELLENCE

originally posted on Rx4Caregivers.wordpress.com

Two weeks after my mother died, following  an epic elderhood & a purpose-embracing dying, I was shown the door from the big-wig financial services company where I was ten months into being an Employee of the Year (think $1,000 check & a bauble from Tiffany!).  They were apparently none too happy that I’d used the Family & Medical Leave Act (FLMA), over the seven weeks between a fall & Mom’s passing.  Lesson learned – I didn’t know that all protections under the act are OFF once I reentered my workplace (well worth a separate post!).

Within three weeks, my mother/housemate/buddy/sidekick/wise elder died, my sibs dropped out of my life, the terrific friends that had been part of my life THROUGH Mom disappeared.  And, without warning, I lost my job.  Sounds horrific & it would have felt that way if I hadn’t been numb.

To the rescue –  the Universe totally had my back!  Within two weeks of my life spinning into oblivion, a pleasant acquaintance found herself without the data entry she’d lined up to input reams of time-sensitive material.  When I declined – data entry is NOT among my skill sets – she explained there would be no rush, but she had to get these statements logged in by February.  She didn’t want speed, she wanted someone she knew would show up every day until the job was done.  I accepted.

Which is how, from mid October 2001 – early February 2002, I ended up entering statements into a data base to be used as part of an astonishing program that nurtured women for leadership roles.  And the statements?  They were Statements of Excellence that each applicant to a prestigious year-long fellowship!  From the first moment to the last farewell, I knew the experience was filled with magic.

There I was, emotionally splat on my face, all my life supports – save John – knocked out from under me, the job I’d been praised for in November 2000 Xed out in October 2001.  I was just beginning to realize how isolated my post-Mom life was going to be.  Then, out of the blue, for 3 1/2 months every day found me at the most WOW data entry job on the planet – reading & inputting incredible statements on what astonishing women thought about excellence.  Hundreds & hundreds.  Magic!

What I learned is that when we’re down on our luck, knocked back on our heels, feeling at a loss for meaning ~OR~ feel stuck in a rut, like there is no way to be more than what & where we, a great revitalizing pick-me-up is to read about excellence.  It doesn’t matter if we are in a mega $$$$ career or trying to wedge in sleep between multiple jobs, if we are self-employed or maintain a home or able to get by without any job  – – aiming for excellence & backing it up with actions will always put you in a place where wonders can happen, where the zowie unimagined becomes your norm.

Which brings me to James Clear’s excellent article on Sir Richard Branson, who dropped out of school in his teens, followed his dreams instead of someone else’s game plan, makes billions & is still having unabashed fun doing it.

Sad but true – can’t count all the times I’ve talked to brilliant caregivers who shrugged off where they could take their awesome talents.  All the “don’ts” & “can’ts” & “I never…” come out.  And I have been just as guilty, quietly holding myself back with “I’m tech incompetent” & “I’m a poor delegator” & “I’m don’t have the money.”  Versions of the same woe – “I’m not ready.”

As one of my guardian angels would say – “Get over yourself.”  Richard Branson didn’t wait until he was ready – he just plunged into things he enjoyed doing.  He dropped out of school & started a magazine FOR students, making money through advertising.  He sold mail order records as a way of growing magazine readership – the marketing ploy turned into a brick & mortar store which turned into Virgin Records which evolved into a recording studio & his own record label.  He started Virgin Airlines because he was with a beautiful woman & the flight to their island paradise was canceled. He became one of the wealthiest me on the planet by following his interests & having fun.  I’m pretty sure that not once did he ask himself, “Am I ready?”

It drives me nuts how talented people with plenty to offer label themselves as UN whatever it is that calls out for them to be.  We are called to be excellent, yet sell ourselves short.

Inputting all those Statements of Excellence was ideal – dare I say, excellent –  grounding for my new reality.  I’d love to say that it helped me bounce right back, take on the world, usher in a bright new tomorrow filled with rainbow days & star-drenched nights.  In truth, I went through a year of personal oblivion, another of struggling back up on my feet, a whole bunch of simply trying to stay upright.  Hey, I’d lost my almost everything that had identified life!  But I was fueled by all those thoughts on what excellence meant to stupendously gifted & brilliant women.

Novelist John Gardner noted, “Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”  It doesn’t matter which side of the care partnership equation someone is on, doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way will always lead us to greatness.  It might be recognized by others, it might never be noticed.  My mother never failed, even in hospice, to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways, from big things like answering e-mails from a local college’s Psych 101 students to maintaining a positive attitude as John & I changed her sanitary pad.  John showed it in his smiles & sunny disposition, his tenderness toward his m-i-l & his never-failing kindness to me.  As for moi…  you’d have to ask them.

There is incredible power in excellence, wherever you are on the care partner equation.  Am leaving the last word on the matter to Plato, who nails what I’ve tried to say – “Excellence is not a gift, but a skill that takes practice. We do not act rightly because we are excellent; in fact, we achieve excellence by acting rightly.” 

The Power of GENEROSITY

An article in Next Avenue focuses on generosity as a key factor in successful marriages.  Amen & hallelujah!  And I would extend that to ALL relationships, particularly between parents & children.

Last week, John & I tagged up with a young woman we admire for cocktails & gab;  she mentioned the rough week she’d been having, that kicking back with us was a tonic for her blues.  I don’t think it was our devotion to each other or the undercurrent of play – it was the emotional generosity we show each other.  Although the article focuses on it in marriage, it comes primarily into our relationship because it matters to both of us to do our best to be considerate of others, aware of their feelings & that their wants might be different than ours & our needs might occasionally clash.

John is the same with me as he is with everyone, only on a deeper, more intimate level.  And I don’t mean sex – a deeper connection.  For some people, sex is their only connection, but ideally it is a venue to a deeper bonding that continues to grow richer even when the wild tempestuous love riots have become less frequent & the intensely sexy snugs & huggles amp up.

People who are generous are actually more likely to have ab fab sex lives to the end of their days because they aren’t looking for repetition of younger years & can add the spice of humor & good will to their love making.

In the interest of full disclosure, I find the article’s opening paragraph to be… jarring.
The author is watching an older couple sitting together in a doctor’s waiting room.  One of them leans over with a question, looking directly into the other’s eyes, who smiles, pats her knee.  The woman got him a cup of water, picked out a magazine for him to read.  “He looked surprised and delighted.”  What impressed the writer “was the series of small acts of emotional generosity the couple made within a few minutes.”  It didn’t say the husband was in a wheelchair or unable to move, which would explain why the  generosity was all on the wife’s side – the husband smiled & patted her knee, was “surprised & delighted,” but didn’t DO anything in return.  Weird message to send.

For day-to-day & emotional generosity to be a powerful force within a marriage, it has to be reciprocal.  It’s only “one of the best marital life insurance policies” when it’s mutual.  I want to howl at the moon reading “When you act generously toward your spouse on a consistent basis, it keeps your marriage strong and vibrant over the long haul.”  Only when the two of you are doing it for each other – and – for others.

I have the immense good fortune to be married to one of the most emotionally generous humans on this or any other planet.  He never goes out of his way to be kind because it IS his WAY.  He never talks poorly about other people, including ones he thinks have done me dirt, which is something I hold dear.  When I told him, early in our marriage, that I was feeling taken for granted, he zinged straight to my heart with, “Don’t feel taken for granted – feel taken for loved.”

He designs his own Christmas present tags, which I love more than the gifts, and he makes the bed every night before we toddle up the wooden hill.  But our marriage is strengthened because I return the thoughtfulness in ways that matter to John.

And we don’t limit our generosity to ourselves.  We extend it outwards.  Which doesn’t make us all great & good, but it sure does help us have a swell time.  When a waitress asked us to fill out an online survey about her service, we made sure to do it as soon as we got home.  We’re known to turn around in order to be on the right side of the road for a lemonade stand.  I attended my niece’s school plays & my nephew’s baseball games, even though they were 90+ minutes away, because it mattered to their Dad.  It was emotional generosity – on ALL sides – that made it possible for Mom to live with us, for it to be an enriching growth experience for all.

Yes, generosity is essential in crafting a fulfilling marriage, but it starts with our earliest relationships & extends to our last.  When we are emotionally available, everyone wins.

We mustn’t forget a key person who needs our everyday & emotional generosity, the one most easy to overlook – our self.  We need lots of self-consideration, self-loving, self-care, all connected to generosity.

 

Another “Are you kidding?” moment in the article, which I really do strongly recommend everyone read, was her surprise that research revealed that men “need and crave these gestures” more than women.  I am not at all surprised that women are able to get past not getting “acts of emotional generosity” from a beloved.  Men are more vulnerable to needing reassurance, so it makes total sense to me that they are more likely to be content & fulfilled when they feel “affirmed, cared for and admired.”

Whatever you think about our current president, there is no getting past his apparent profound lack of a generous spirit.  This morning, when asked on NATIONAL television what he’d gotten Melania for her birthday, he laughed & said, ” Well, I better not get into that ’cause I may get in trouble. Maybe I didn’t get her so much.”  He went onto say he’d gotten her a beautiful card & sent beautiful flowers, which might be all they normally do, but he made it clear – to the world – that after all she’d done to make his first State banquet a beautiful success, he didn’t take the time to say – on her birthday – how lucky he was to have her for his wife.  Saying “You know, I am very busy being president” on his wife’s birthday, immediately after she performed her First Lady duties to apparent perfection – – emotionally Ungenerous.  I bring it up because it just happened this morning, goes beyond my imagination in laying out worst practices, in illustrating emotional deprivation.  DON’T  GO  THERE!

As you read the article, remember that the steps they suggest to secure the blessings that generosity bestows – show gratitude, express love/affection/appreciation, even share small endearments (see “show appreciation”) – are true for ALL relationships.

It’s never too early or too late to begin nurturing generosity within all our connections, including work & play.  Personally, I believe that our reason for being in this life is to develop a healthy sense of relationship – with others, with our self, ultimately with the Divine.  Generosity plays a powerful invaluable irreplaceable role in making that happen.

“It takes generosity to discover the whole through others.  If you realize you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert.”  — Jacques-Yves Cousteau –