I cleaned the kitchen floor two days ago.  I got out the Swiffer WetJet with the little button on the handle that squirts some cleaning liquid on the floor to be wiped with the pad at the end of the mop handle.  It is not rocket science.  I didn’t break a sweat.  The floor looked nice afterward. 

I have an earned doctorate; at one time I could read with limited proficiency five languages (English, of course, plus Latin, Greek, Hebrew and German).  At this point I can barely handle English.  I will not bore you with the details of the work that I have done in my career.  Suffice it to say, I could complain that cleaning the kitchen floor with our Swiffer WetJet was hardly important enough to be very satisfying. 

There was something satisfying about sweeping the dirt off the floor (I tracked in some dirt earlier in the day), then squirting and rubbing until the spots were removed.  My days are mostly filled with pretty simple and mundane tasks.  I get Mary Ann to the bathroom, to the table, bring her pills and juice and yogurt and Cheerios or Special K or Cinnamon Toast or a banana or a granola bar for breakfast.  I clean out the commode from the night before, make the beds, get Mary Ann dressed, maybe wash her hair.  I put wash in the washer, switch it to the dryer, fold it and put it away.  I fill the dishwasher, run it and then empty it. 

There are very simple meals to be made for lunch and for supper.   We sometimes head out to get something to eat at one of our regular spots.  I feed the birds and read emails while Mary Ann watches television.  I suspect I will not be nominated for one of the Nobel prizes for notable accomplishments in household care.

The role of Caregiver does not bring with it great public recognition, although the article Linda wrote on our situation did give us a moment of notariety in our local paper.    Each of the things I do during the day seems to have little importance, little value in the grand scheme of things. 

Within the history of the spiritual journeys of leaders in many religious traditions, there is a certain approach to doing each task, important or not by external standards, in a way that recognizes its inherent value.  The Rule of St. Benedict provides great attention to detail. urging all to work at menial tasks no matter their status.  Celtic Spirituality emphasizes focusing full attention single-mindedly on the task at hand, no matter what it is. 

I was in a committee meeting one evening.  The group was a fairly congenial crew, at least most of the time.  We were gathered to evaluate candidates for an opening at the Elementary school sponsored by three congregations.  I am not sure what triggered the interaction, but somehow the matter of the need to multi-task came up.  One of the women in the group immediately said that recent studies of the brain had revealed that women’s brains were hardwired for multi-tasking, and men’s brains were not.  Now I have no idea of the validity of the information.  I did however have a wonderfully annoying reply.  I said that may be true, but men do one thing at a time and do it well.  After the laughter subsided we went on with the meeting.  I still don’t know what was so funny about that.  Actually, I couldn’t even complete the sentence about men doing one thing at a time and doing it well since I was laughing so hard myself. 

There is something to be said for doing one thing at a time and doing it well.  Another way to say it is that it is good to focus full attention on the task at hand, to immerse yourself in it, heart and soul, to avoid distractions as much as possible. 

It seems as if much of what we do is done as quickly as possible to get on to the next thing or the really important stuff.  There is a sense in which we simply miss a good portion of the life we are living day by day, in anticipation of what will come later in the day or tomorrow or later in the week. 

Rather than measuring the importance of each task by what importance it has to others, or how much value it has in the marketplace,  how about paying attention to the task itself.   A priest named Ed Hayes has written some great tools for learning to pay attention to every task, big or little.  A couple of his books are Pray All Ways and Secular Sanctity. 

Whether a person has a spiritual understanding of reality or not, being present with each task while doing it provides an opportunity to recognize the importance, value, meaning, purpose of even the simplest of activities.  It is calming and satisfying to do one thing at a time and do it well, or do it with intentionality. 

When I listen to music, I usually do not use it as accompaniment for something else.  I listen to it.  The music sometimes becomes very powerful in touching me deeply when it could not if I was doing something else at the same time.  When I wash Mary Ann’s hair, it gets my full attention.  When I make the beds, the doing of it creates a feeling of order to my day.  Feeding the birds provides a meaningful intersection with a world outstide the walls of our house. 

Being present with whatever we are doing does not demand searching for some sort of deep meaning.  I suspect in the world of sports it is sort of like being in the game.  

The speed with which life comes hardly seems to allow the possibility of doing one thing at a time, being fully engaged in a single task.  I think it is fair to ask the question, does multitasking actually get more done, or does it just get less done on each of more things?  How much safer would the roads be if drivers did one thing, drive the car.  How many fewer errors in operating rooms would there be if the doctors, nurses, technicians all gave exclusive attention to what they are there to do.   

Rather than treating the simple daily tasks as throw-aways of little value, engage each one fully, experiencing every dimension of it, soaking in the sounds and smells and sights and textures and maybe even tastes.  Rather than measuring its importance by some external standard, allow its inherrant value to emerge, from the inside of the task. 

Do each task as if it is important.  It will become so, and with it meaning and purpose and value will be added to each day.  Caregivers’ lives are filled with mundane tasks, mundane, but important. 

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

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I got back earlier today from doing something that was a part of my job before I retired.  I remembered.  I remembered what it is like to have to get someplace and do something required by a paying job, while at the same time having a more important responsibility tugging against that job, responding to the needs of the one for whom  you are caring.  The chances are the income from that work is necessary for putting food on the table and keeping a roof overhead.  You are likely to be the sole sustainer of the environment in which you do the Caregiving. 

What can complicate it even more for those who are working full time and doing full time care for a Loved One, is, should it be so, that job being something deeply satisfying and fulfilling, something that gives meaning and purpose to your days, something for which there is not only the tangible affirmation of being paid for it, but sincere words of affirmation from those being served through your work. 

I remembered.  I remember the feelings of being so tired that it hurt, it just hurt.  I remember seeing no way to survive the next week or day or hour or minute.  I remember the panic of knowing there was an absolutely necessary commitment being threatened by a last minute major need in the life of the one loved deeply who needs you a that same moment.  I remember heading off for a day so full of intensely demanding activities as to be more that could be handled when rested — that day being faced after the third night of very little, sometimes no sleep.

Help!!  Some of you who happen upon this post are at your wit’s end, the end of your strength and stamina.  I have read emails from folks who work and care for someone far into Lewy Body Dementia.  I have known well a number of folks who have cared for someone with Alzheimer’s Dementia.  I have walked alongside many who have cared for someone dying of one or another form of Cancer, ALS.  Most of them have had to somehow manage to maintain a livelihood, a career, a job of some sort, while their heart and mind and attention were dominated by the needs of the one they left when they went off to work each day.

When I was working full time and doing full time care when not at work, sometimes people would say, “I don’t know how you do it!”   My answer was usually something like, “It is just what I do.  Everybody has something to deal with.  This is just our particular challenge.”  Now that I am retired and doing full time Caregiving only, I don’t know how I worked full time and cared for Mary Ann when I was at home. 

I have no simple solutions to the problem of balancing work and caregiving in a way that keeps the Caregiver able to function at both tasks.  As I reflect on those years, there are some things I remember doing to keep from being reduced to a heap of quivering flesh. 

I started with having a career that is deeply fulfilling.  It was stimulating, creative, energizing, brought me into some of the most intimate moments in people’s lives.  Finding purpose in work helps the work become a tool for survival.  Even if the job sometimes seems to you to be such a small part of some institutional activity as to be virtually meaningless, think for a moment.  Of what is your job a part?  Who depends on you doing your part of the whole task?  Finally, there is some reason that you are being paid to do whatever it is you do.  Someone needs the product or service that is the end point, no matter where what you do falls in the process or how tiny a part it may seem to be.   Yes, there may be people in that workplace who seem bent on making your life miserable.  Yes, there may be a culture that diminishes the value of what you do.  Don’t give away the power to decide for you what value you find in what you do.

Lot’s of folks I know bring a healthy lunch with them to work, along with some walking shoes and head out with a friend or two for a mid-day dose of exercise and the concomitant endorphin rush (a legal high).   Sometimes a two minute visit to an online site that has beautiful pictures and music can provide a moment’s retreat and help provide some balance in the day.  Exercises at the chair, or walking the stairs instead of using the elevator, or parking a long way from the door can provide some help in managing the impossible load. 

When returning to the house from work, the needs for my help were always immediate.  There was never any decompression time, transitional time, a moment to catch a breath before the accumulated needs had to be fulfilled.  I have heard some say that they arranged for whoever had been staying with their Loved One (whether paid or volunteer) to stay an additional length of time to give them a change to get their bearings.  That never worked at our house.   There was always an expectation that I would give immediate attention. 

While at home, having a list in mind (or written down) of things that take very little time to do, whether household tasks or activities that provide a moment’s break or some activity that includes a bit of renewal or personal satisfaction can allow a touch of balance.  Instead of wasting precious time immersed in frustration and feelings of powerlessness, be very intentional about creating and taking moments for yourself.  In  my case those moments would be used immersed in my own thoughts, reframing what I had just been doing in a way that allowed a sense of accmoplishment or purpose.  I sought moments of distraction engaging the elements of the day, sun, rain, clouds, birds, flowers, trees, fresh air, the feel of the breeze.   A trip to my favorite spot for soaking in a Kansas view can be done in twenty minutes including travel time.   Two night, three day, trips to the Spiritual Renewal center in Oklahoma happened twice a year when I was working.  The time in the car was retreat time as CD’s of my favorite music calmed my spirit. 

While those moments of reflection, of engaging my senses worked best for me, what has worked for you?  The challenge is to find things that can be done in the moments in between caregiving tasks.  How are you managing to survive both working and caregiving?  How do you keep from unraveling completely?

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.