While the owners would not appreciate it, I hope no one purchases a lot and builds a home in the River Hill subdivision.  That undeveloped subdivision provided the setting for a wonderful meal of soul food tonight.

All of us need nourishment for the deepest part of ourselves, the place from which we draw strength for traveling through days that are sometimes filled with too much to do.  Often much of what fills our days does not nourish our souls but instead drains the life and strength and stamina from us.

While my days are not so full as they have been in the past, and Mary Ann’s and my time together is going pretty well, the need for feeding my soul remains.  Tonight it was fed.

Twila came to stay with Mary Ann.  They seemed to enjoy their time together.  There was progress made on a novel — a different one from Elaine’s Sunday morning book.  I headed out to that spot high on a hill, above and behind a new shopping area.  There is a new street that has been constructed, and I am sure the area has been platted with very expensive lots.  No one has bought a lot and built yet.

The spot has trees on both sides bordering the field of varied and colorful weeds that will probably one day be lawns and houses.  The view to the west is beyond description.  There are trees and fields and low rolling hills that extend all the way to the horizon many miles away.  A little area of the Kansas River is visible.  The railroad tracks run along side the tracks. Trains can often be seen and whistles heard as they move along those tracks.

Today, while Mary Ann was looking for a couple of books at the library, I noticed the shelves containing the Classical Music CD’s.  I picked a couple almost at random.  One is called “The Prayer Cycle” by Jonathan Elias.  Actually it both confused and intrigued me when I looked at it more carefully.  It is listed as a choral symphony in nine movements.  The confusing part was that those listed as performers included Alanis Morissette, James Taylor, the American Boychoir, John Williams, Linda Ronstadt, The English Chamber Orchestra and Chorus, and a number of people with names suggesting a variety of nationalities.

To describe the experience I need to borrow a Greek word.  Maybe having to take seven years of Greek is paying off.  The word I am borrowing is the word for compassion. The Greek word for compassion transliterated into English is splangknidzomai.  The first part of the word, splangkna, means viscera, innards, guts.  That is where the Ancient Greeks understood deep feelings to reside. Given the size of the antacid business, I suspect the Ancient Greeks were right. Tonight, the music on that CD combined with the sounds and sights of that remarkable setting to reach into the depths of my splangkna to stir and lift my spirit.

The sun was still a couple of hours from setting when I looked at it hanging in the west.  There were some thin and hazy clouds muting its brightness.  As it moved lower in the sky, it became less and less visible.  The cloudiness had no clear boundary, except that it sort of melted into a mist in the trees on the horizon.  There was just a powerful calming in the view from that hill.

The trees on one side in particular were quaking in the wind providing more power to the calming effect.  They were not the Quaking Aspen of Colorado, but another member of the family.  There were, of course, birds to be seen and heard.  One tiny bird sang a wonderfully complex melody so loudly that I could hear it over the music on the CD.

There was a hawk sailing around for a bit.  I am convinced that the hawk was as exhilarated by the currents under his wings lifting him as I was by the sights and sounds on that hill lifting my spirit.  There were some swallows that appeared to be dancing with one another in midair.  I realized that the dance was their way of catching food.  Without the dance, they would die.  I felt as if I was being surrounded by metaphors one after another filled with clues for living meaningfully.

One part of the scene was the intrusion of the relentless sound of tires on the pavement of a nearby Interstate.  That sound actually seemed to help balance the exhiliration of my lifted spirit with the practical realities of my daily experiences.

Then there was the music.  The music blended choral, instrumental and chant together in the same pieces.  The chant was odd.  It was certainly not Gregorian Chant.  One semester in the Seminary, I had a class in the Solemnes style of Gregorian Chant.  For three years I sang in a small chant ensemble that sang at weekly chapel services.  While this was not Gregorian, it was chant.  The chant and choral music was sung in a variety of languages, Hungarian, Mali, Swahili, Dwala, Tibetan, German, French, Urdu, Latin, English, Italian, Hebrew, and Spanish.  For some reason I had the odd feeling that this chant was a reverent, multilingual, classical style of Rap.

I was struck by the way rich chords and complex dissonances contrasted one another, each more beautiful because it was next to the other.  In the moments of silence between phrases in the music, the birds and the wind in the trees and the sounds of traffic folded more prominently into the experience.

With this feeble attempt at translating the sights and sounds of a moving, spirit lifting experience into words, I intend to say that a couple of hours well spent can feed the soul of a Caregiver whose days may be filled with activities that do not necessarily lift the spirit.  For me, it is the soul feeding experiences that help bring meaning to the daily tasks.  With a well-fed soul, the Caregiving itself can become soul food.

Eat heartily!

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.

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.