He was just a teenager having fun.  He just didn’t know how shallow it was.  He did exactly the wrong thing, tucked his chin down and dove in.  That was twenty-five years ago.  He was eighteen years old when it happened.

By now he doesn’t really consider the life he might have had, who he might have been had that day so long ago gone differently.  He is who he is, and he doesn’t dwell on what might have been.

We attended our local Parkinson’s Disease Support Group meeting last evening.  Rod Kelley was the speaker.  He was in a manual wheelchair, with very limited use of his hands.  He drove to the meeting and spoke with honesty and confidence.  While his was the result of a diving injury (shattered C6), his journey contained elements that resonated with those gathered there.

Rod spoke of the wonderful cocoon of support that surrounded him after the accident and his return after many weeks of rehabilitation.  He was accepted back into his circle of friends.  If anything it was expanded as people came out to join in the project of helping him.

As time went by and others moved on with their lives, the reality of what was lost sunk in as he attempted to make a new life for himself, forced to take a different path from the one he was on before the accident.  At that point a bout of depression set in.  It was some straight truth from his Mother that broke through to the heart of his will to live life to the fullest refusing to be defeated by his uncooperative limbs.

What struck me as I listened to him was that the key to his choosing life was a simple acceptance of himself just as he was.  That acceptance freed him to grow and challenge the limitations.

He shared that often his speaking engagements are with Children and Youth.  Having worked with Youth for almost half of my ministry, I remember just how those I served struggled to find self-acceptance.  Many were terrified of not being accepted by others to whom they gave the power to determine their value.  Most sought to discover exactly what to say and do, what to wear, how to wear their hair, with whom to be seen, so that they would not become the object of derision, or worse yet, simply a cipher.

Rod’s message of finding self-acceptance in the body of a Quadriplegic seems to me to have potential for freeing those who see themselves as unacceptable for any reason.

Mary Ann has had to find a way to accept her value having lost many of the abilities that had provided a sense of worth.  In her case, the Parkinson’s provided the challenge to her self-acceptance.  She seems to have done remarkably well at moving through her days with a certain confidence about who she is.

When I retired, I began a journey toward a new understanding of myself that did not revolve around my profession.  The journey toward self-acceptance is not over.

Each of us as we move from one time to another in our lives, leave behind certain abilities, relationships, untraveled paths.  We all need to find the way to some level of self-acceptance to be free to live.

The courage of a Quadriplegic informs all of us as uncooperative limbs cease to define his worth and value.  He is what he is.  Knowing that, he has become more than he could have imagined.

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.

Someone recently wrote a vivid description of how she anticipated a social gathering going.  She lost her husband about a year and a half ago.  The pain is still almost overwhelming.  She is anticipating going to the social gathering and pretending to be fine.  She would act the part, bantering with the others there, appreciating what each other is wearing.  All the while she would be feeling the pain of that loss, trying not to reveal it. 

Why pretend?  Well, who would be interested in hearing her whine about it?  She should be over it, right?  It has been long enough to stop grieving, let go of the pain and enjoy life again?  If she didn’t pretend, if she let it all come out in that public setting, she would soon become a social pariah.

First of all, there is an absolute lie out there that anyone who has lost a spouse or a child knows is a lie.  The lie is that after a year, a person ought to be over the loss, be done grieving and be able to get on with life no longer disabled by the pain of that loss.  Sometimes acquaintances begin to get impatient with a person’s grieving just months after the loss. 

It just doesn’t work that way!  Grieving is so complex as not to allow any template defining its time frame and boundaries.  No one can decide for someone else how to grieve or how long to grieve.  Yes, grieving can turn into a pathology.  But sometimes one person’s pathology is another’s path to acceptance and good health.  Most of those who allowed me into their lives at a time of deep pain over a loss have needed reassurance more than diagnosis.  They needed to be reassured that it is all right for them to feel the pain, to be okay and then relapse, to cry too much or too little in the judgment of friends and acquaintances.  They needed to be allowed to keep their defensive denial in place as long as they needed it until they were ready to let the full force of the loss finally hit them. 

Those who had gone through a painful loss, needed a place to talk it through, a place where they had permission to go over the same territory over and over again until the intensity began to diminish.   They needed a place where there was no need to pretend. 

What became clear to me in four decades of ministry to people in pain is that while each is convinced that he/she is surrounded with people who are doing fine, while he/she is not, he/she is surrounded with others who are doing the very same thing.  When we are in pain, we look at others who appear to be normal, happy, well-adjusted, but are pretending just as we are. 

Those of us who are doing full time caregiving, whose world is filled with never ending responsibility for someone else’s well-being can decide that no one out there understands.  We can begin to isolate ourselves and then conclude that no one cares about us.  If they cared they would pay more attention to us.  The truth is, we are surrounded by others who are looking at us longing for a bit of our attention, a word of interest in their situation, maybe thinking we would not understand since we are normal, happy and well-adjusted.

When I looked out over the congregation in a worship service, it often struck me that people with similar problems might be sitting near one another with absolutely no clue that they were both in almost the same situation. 

The way to find the strength to deal with our own pain, is to turn away from it long enough to see someone else’s struggle and try to make a difference.  Allowing others to shed their pretenses with us, not only helps them find the strength to deal with their pain but puts our pain in perspective and allows the possibility of our pain becoming more bearable.  

When we open ourselves to see and hear the stories of other people’s struggles, we find that we are not alone, there are others who understand.  Not only that, we are challenged to live meaningfully with our problems.  Seeing and hearing other people tell us their stories takes from us our excuses for allowing the problem to rule our lives and interfere with finding joy and meaning in life. 

No we are not okay.  We are in pain.  We have suffered a loss.  We are just putting on a front.  No one else understands or cares.  They are all okay.  Sorry — not true!  Most of us have a load of pain to carry.  Most of us are not at all okay.  Maybe it is time to stop pretending we are the only ones hurting. Maybe it is time to actually pay attention to someone else, listen to them without explaining why our suffering is greater than theirs.  Maybe by removing the pretense we can support one another, draw strength from one another and steal from our pain the power to separate and isolate and rule our lives. 

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.

Her name is Kim.  Everyone should have the chance to know someone like Kim some time in their lives.  Kim is a vivacious mother of two school-aged boys.  The boys are both gifted, caring, thoughtful beyond their years, the sort any parents would be proud to call their own.  She is wife to a good man who cares deeply for her.  I suppose that description suggests that Kim has a picture perfect life.  Oddly, she would probably tell you that is precisely the life she has, picture perfect. 

Kim’s life took a dramatic turn only months ago.  An unexplained pain that turned out to be unrelated to the Cancer led to tests which led ultimately to a diagnosis of Breast Cancer.   As you might guess, that summary hardly contains all the dynamics of the journey from pain to diagnosis. 

Because of family history, Cancer in the lives of Kim’s Mother and Grandmother, Kim realized that she needed an aggressive treatment response to her diagnosis.  She has had the double Mastectomy and will have a hysterectomy.   The good news is that the surgery has gone well, and chemotherapy is not necessary since it would have minimal effect on the statistical risk of recurrence. 

The word Cancer has the power to bring the strongest to their knees.  At first mention of the word, thoughts move immediately to the worst possible outcome.  From the very first word of the diagnosis, Kim has not broken stride as she moved through each step into her and her family’s new perspective on life. 

In almost forty years of ministry, I have watched people travel the path of dealing with a life threatening diagnosis.  No matter how bravely the people receiving the diagnosis respond, those who love them are shaken to the core.  It is cliche to say it, but it is true.  It is often harder for those who love someone going through a devastating illness and the resulting pain, than it is for the person with the pain. 

There is a sense of helplessness for those who watch and care deeply for someone with a life threatening disease.  Those with the disease sometimes come to acceptance before those who love them.  It happened that way so often for those to whom I ministered over the years, that one of the first conversations we had when I visited was the one about just how much they would be called on to help others come to terms with what was happening to them 

Back to Kim.  Kim has a deep faith that provides her with a sense of security and the freedom to face what is happening each step along the way.  As a result, she can talk and reason and process each option without panic or pretense.  She has talked openly with the boys who share her faith.  Nothing is off the table in terms of talking about the facts of her situation and what each in the family is going through.  Kim, her husband and the boys have all through these past few months expanded their capacity to understand life in all its depth and breadth. 

While Kim appreciates fully what has happened in their lives, she is profoundly grateful for the good gifts this problem has given her and her family.  Of all things she feels privileged.  If I remember our conversation correctly, that is precisely the word she used — privileged.   

I can testify, that not all those who have gone through what Kim is going through (or some other problem like it) have felt privileged.  I have watched some become bitter, fall into despair, lash out at God and anyone else within reach, feel so sorry for themselves that the world shrinks to become solely about them and their struggles. 

Kim is not one of them.  In what could have destroyed her and her family she has found gifts of deep and lasting value.   Faith has revealed itself more powerfully, the quality of relationships grown.  She has become for others a bright beacon of reflected light — reflected because the brightness comes from the unconditional love of a God whom she knows well, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.  While those who read this blog need not share the faith that is the source of strength for Kim and for me, it is nonetheless our understanding of truth.  We cannot describe our experience without  reference to that faith.  If Kim were to agree that her life is picture perfect, it would not be because there is no pain, no fear, no struggling, but because there is a beauty that has become more visible than ever, the beauty of life with meaning, life well-lived, relationships that are real and deep, and hope that cannot be snuffed out. 

Almost five years ago, I did the funeral for a man named Tom.  Tom had a pain in his leg.  Two years later he died of the Cancer that had spread beyond the reach of the treatments available.  While it was hard for his wife to hear him say it, not long before he died he said that the last two years had been the most meaningful time in his life.  He found gifts that opened him to life more fully than ever, life with his wife and children.  Tom touched hundreds of lives as he traveled those last two years.  Tom drew strength from the same faith.

I have written before in the post on this blog some of the gifts that have been given to us in these twenty-two years with Parkinson’s traveling with us.  I would not presume to speak for Mary Ann on this matter.  I have seen pe0ple cluster around and come to know her and respect her and love her as friend — people who came at first to help her, and were ultimately helped by being with her.  She has revealed to all who know her and know of her, great courage and strength and endurance as she has taken so many hits and gotten up again after each.

I have learned more about what it means to love than I suspect I ever would have without the struggles we have encountered.  I cannot know what life would have been without the struggles, but I am grateful for what I have been taught by them.  Our Children and their spouses have revealed to us great strength of character, wisdom, love drawn out by the struggles they have helped us through.  Mary Ann and I have the joy of seeing three Granddaughters reveal a deep love and concern and caring that has been given the chance to be expressed in age appropriate ways. 

Kim would not have chosen the Cancer.   Tom would not have chosen to leave so soon.  Neither Mary Ann nor I would have chosen the Parkinson’s, but all of us have been given gifts of a value too great to be measured.  We have been privileged to find a quality, a meaning in life that cannot be learned from a book or a lecture or a DVD or a blog. 

Problems sometimes give good gifts!  For those of you who are midstream in the struggles, look for the gifts, open them, play with them.  They are more valuable than can be measured.

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.

As a retired Pastor, I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone say to me that they had no use for churches since church folks are a bunch of hypocrites.   It is certainly true, churches are full of hypocrites, but so is every other place that has people in it.  I am here to suggest that being a hypocrite isn’t necessarily all bad. 

This post is not about churches, it is about Caregivers.  I am convinced that the only way to be an effective Caregiver is to be a hypocrite. 

First of all, there is certainly hypocrisy that is unhealthy.  Debilitating  hypocrisy is the creation of a false image of yourself.  It is the pretense that you are something you are not.  That sort of hypocrisy gets in the way of honest communication.  It hinders growth.  It promotes a kind of denial that blocks the ability to see the truth. 

I have what seems to me to be a fairly realistic view of people.  I expect people to act in their own interest.  As a result, I am often suspect when someone presents himself or herself as a wonderful, selfless, noble bearer of goodness, caring only for the welfare of others.  Let me add immediately that while I am suspect, I do not rule out the possibility that some are exactly that self-giving and noble.  I just don’t expect it.  Most of us are not. 

Those of us who are Caregivers have probably heard others wonder out loud how we do it.  Sometimes we are embarrassed by people affirming our goodness.  I think it is a good thing to accept those words of affirmation, and appreciate that we may very well be doing a good thing.  The problem comes when we begin to believe that we are just plain wonderful and noble.  The problem comes when we allow a false image of ourselves to develop.  That is a kind of hypocrisy that is destructive.  It hinders growth because it is not real.

Caregivers care about ourselves.  There is self-interest folded into our caregiving.  I guess I need to speak for myself rather than for all Caregivers.  The rest of you are probably more noble than am I.  I love Mary Ann.  It makes me feel good to take care of her.  I get more out of it than she does.  I want other people to respect me.  I care about my image with others.  There is a self-serving element to what I do to care for Mary Ann.  I find meaning in doing the care.  I want to have meaning in my life.  This task offers me the opportunity to find that meaning. 

Then there is the harsh truth that I am not always very nice.  I get grumpy.  I sometimes say things that do not build her up but rather simply vent my frustrations.  There will come a post at a later time on Caregiver’s guilt.  In the matter of hypocrisy, it is far healthier to be painfully honest with ourselves as Caregivers, without creating some false image of who we are and what we are doing.

Then what on earth can be good about hypocrisy when caring for someone else who needs your help?  The etymology of the word is helpful.  It has to do with actors and acting.  If I remember correctly from all those years of Greek, the word’s roots are in the use of masks in the pretense of acting.  How can acting be a good thing when caring for someone who needs your care? 

Good hypocrisy is acting in a way that is good and caring and loving and kind, even when you don’t feel good and caring and loving and kind.  Good hypocrisy is not waiting until your insides are spontaneously producing good behavior but instead, just going ahead and doing the good behavior. 

If I were to wait until I am pure and good and wonderful and noble before doing good things for Mary Ann, there would not be very many good things done.  Good hypocrisy is refusing to allow grumpiness and resentment and frustration to decide every behavior.  Good hypocrisy is choosing good when you don’t feel like being good. 

It is very tempting to use the respected trait of honesty as excuse for bad behavior.  “I was just being honest with you when I said those harsh words!”  “It would be hypocritical of me to be kind to you when I don’t feel like it!”

When counseling with couples about to be married, one of the things that seemed to me to be important to say concerned the nature of commitment, duty to one another.    My counsel was to treat each other in a loving and caring and affirming way during those times in their marriage when they did not like each other.   I was convinced that unless they learned to do that, a marriage of any length was unlikely.  The good news is that when they got through one of those times in their relationship, their relationship would be stronger than ever, stronger than it could have been without going through that time.  Mary Ann and I have been married well over forty-three years now.   We have had a pretty normal life together.  There have been times we were enthralled with each other and times we didn’t much like each other.  We chose to love each other anyway (one of our favorite phrases).

The wonder of it is that when we choose good behavior in our caregiving even when we don’t feel like it, we can actually be changed by the good behavior we have chosen.   Just as good behavior can emerge from good feelings, good feelings can emerge from good behavior. 

Maybe hypocrisy isn’t always a bad thing.  Being honest enough to admit to ourselves our selfish motives and unloving feelings frees us to face them down and refuse to let them rule.  Having the courage to be good when we don’t feel like being good allows us to grow into more than we could have been otherwise. 

It seems to me that good health for Caregivers demands enough honesty to face the reality of our own selfish motives and resentments and less than noble thoughts.  Healthy caregiving demands the courage to face all that and still do the right thing, still act with kindness and concern and gentleness.

Maybe a little hypocrisy can be a good thing. 

 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.

We made it!!!  Last evening we returned from Kentucky traveling 10.5 hours — under overcast skies dropping periodic showers on us as we traveled — all 10.5 hours.  Then, two miles from our home, the sun broke through.   Traveling can be wonderful, thrilling, entertaining, full of comfort with family that is loved very much, and still, coming home feels good. 

Then there was the mail to be opened.  Two pieces of mail in particular dampened my enthusiasm to be home more than the showers had dampened our travel that day.   Both were Caregiver irritants.  The first was another in the seemingly endless array of medical insurance claims denied because someone had a wrong code or a wrong insurance ID number or hadn’t communicated information in the left hand to the right hand or because this Caregiver didn’t get the right information to the right person at the right time.

The second piece of mail that dampened my spirits was what appeared to be a summons for Mary Ann to serve on a jury.  The form to be filled out looked as if someone had printed some sort of printer test page with bar codes and fonts both tiny and bold. 

Now, I am a reasonably intelligent person.  I graduated eighth out of three hundred twenty-five in my high school class.  I tied one other student with the highest numbers on my college entrance exams.  I got a 31 composite score on my ACT and a 34 (out of 36) on the quantitative portion of the test.  I spent eight years in college and seminary, learning to read Hebrew, Greek, Latin and German.  I went back to school and got a Doctor of Ministry degree after ten years of working.  Why am I so intimidated by health insurance forms and jury summons and keeping track of pills in their little plastic holders and making sure that prescriptions are obtained or renewed before the pills run out. 

Why is it that little things seem to have so much power to ruffle my feathers.  So the person who got my order for two pieces of white meat sent me home with a thigh and a wing instead of a breast and a wing.  I actually called and complained (got a free meal out of it).  Things that are of no account in the grand scheme of the universe seem so huge and frustrating.  I have dealt with tough issues hundreds of times over the years, helped families through major crises, worked through substantial budgets, been through crises myself more than once.  Why should I now be undone by chocolate squished in Mary Ann’s hands and on clothes that can easily be Spray and Washed. 

Whether it is verifiable scientifically or not, I am convinced that people have just so much coping capability.   As Caregivers, we live in a chaotic world in which things can change in moments.  We have absolutely nothing to say about what happens to us.  We can do everything it makes sense to do so that there will be a certain outcome.  We actually have no say in what outcome results.  Every time something happens that throws that truth in our face, every time events take an unforseen turn, we are forced to use up some of our coping skills. 

Any of us who have been caring for a Loved One for some time understands that we have pretty much nothing to say about what happens.  Parkinson’s in particular is unpredictable in how it will present itself and how it will proceed.  Lewy Body Dementia is especially insidious in that dramatic changes can take place for the better or for the worse (mostly the worse) at any time, at any pace.  Other diseases have different patterns but no less power to use up a Caregiver’s coping ability. 

So, what can we do in the face of the harsh reality that we are out of control, we are completely powerless to order our world?  We live in total chaos. 

If it is little things that can now undo us, since we have used up all our coping ability on the big things, how about trying to beat this powerlessness at its own game?  If little things can undo us, why not use little things to create some semblance of order in our lives?  Why not create little pockets of control in our lives to suggest to our insides that we actually can survive the chaos — we can refuse to give it the power to unravel us completely.

Here is how I fight the chaos, the feelings of powerlessness.  This will sound stupid and silly, but it helps me survive.  I clean the commode every morning.  I make the beds and fold the corners so that they will not trip Mary Ann when she walks around the foot of the bed.  I fold the chuk that was under the commode, move the clean commode to the foot of my bed.  I roll the lift from the living room where it spends the night into the bedroom to the foot of my bed.  I get Mary Ann’s pills which, every Saturday, I put in the little compartments in which they always go.  I set the pill timers.  I change Mary Ann’s night time pad (like Depends) for a day time pad (each holds a different quantity of liquid).  I get her dressed, velcro shoes for when we are out, making bathroom changes of pads go more quickly.  And so it goes. 

If we can’t control the big things, we can control some things.  When people came in struggling with mild depression (I referred those in deep depression), one suggestion I made was to make a list of just two or three simple things that they could easily do, tiny things.  I suggested making the list and checking off those silly little items when they were done.  Depression seems to come when we have the sensation that we are powerless to do anything about our situation.  My goal was to help them re-train their thinking, their gut, so that some small sense of control returned.

Most people who talked with me about problems that were overwhelming them heard the same suggestion.  Make a list of all the pieces of the problem that seems so overwhelming — usually there were multiple problems converging.  Then take the list and divide it into two lists. In one column, put the things you don’t have the power to control or change.  In the other column list the things that you can actually affect in some way.   The first list for those whose view of reality gives this weight, is the prayer list.  For those who don’t find that a meaningful option, it is the list of things to take off your plate of things to do.  Any energy spent on them is wasted.  If you had the power to change them you would have long ago.  Let them go! 

The second list is the “to do” list.  Take all the time and energy that has been wasted on things over which you have no control, get off your butt and do one of the things on the second list.  If it is too big to do, do something, anything, any part of the thing that is too big. 

Yes, I am a list maker.  Yes, I have put something on the list after I did it so that I could check it off.  Do whatever works for you to help you find some level of control in the face of things over which you have no control. 

Caregivers feel powerless because we are powerless — but not completely powerless.  Our job is to figure out what we can and can’t do, then do what we can and let go of what we can’t.  What is surpising to me is how often it turns out that the little things I could actually do did make a difference — more difference than I thought possible.  

 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.

A comment on a post I wrote a couple of nights ago raised an issue that is significant for many Caregivers who are doing full time caregiving all day long every day.  The writer mentioned that she often uses the time after her Loved One goes to bed to try communicate with others, since the opportunity for adult conversation is limited.

For many of us conversation that was a routine part of our daily lives with our Loved One and with others has pretty much ceased.  Especially those caring for someone with a form of Dementia find it tough to converse meaningfully.  A number of recent emails from others who are caring for spouses with Dementia have included reflections on the challenge of dealing with the lack of meaningful conversation and the loneliness that sometimes settles in.

Until I retired a number of months ago, I was active in a profession that involved lots of meetings, visiting with people, counseling folks struggling with problems, speaking in front of groups, and many hours each day communicating electronically (email).  All of that came to a halt pretty much the day I retired.  Emails ceased, phone calls stopped, meetings ended, there were no more visits to be made, no more speaking in front of groups.

Now there is one person stuck with me twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, someone who has never really been a talker and now after twenty-two years of Parkinson’s has taken its toll finds great difficulty getting thoughts into words and sustaining conversation.  She has struggled with the challenge of having me there constantly, so I can hardly complain.  She tired long ago of listening to my voice as it drones on and on.

One comment in an email I read tonight provided an image of the Caregiver in need of communication.  She mentioned that when she was at the dentist getting her teeth cleaned, every time the Hygienist took her hands out of her mouth she started talking immediately, not stopping until the instruments were back in her mouth.

I find myself starting conversations in with strangers in line at the store, or making conversation with the person at the register. Anyone who dares cross our threshold is likely to be fully engaged in conversation by the time their second foot has landed inside.

Anyone who reads this blog has certainly noticed the length of the posts.  When I write I imagine that there are people actually reading this with whom I am having conversation.

Living in a world of silence other than the sound of the television, can certainly produce a deep sense of loneliness.  I suspect there are lonely Caregivers by the tens of thousands out there.  It seems to me very likely that lots of them, probably a majority, are not computer users who have the option of going online and relating to others regularly. If the Caregivers are lonely, imagine how lonely and bored those who need the care must be.

There are no simple solutions to the loneliness and isolation, the boredom and lack of conversation that comes with the Caregiver and Carereceiver territory.  For me the battle with loneliness starts with developing a rich inner life that experiences each moment fully and fills my thoughts with wonderful images from my environment, from reading, from the lives of others I have encountered, from my own story, from a head filled with unfinished business, from intellectual and spiritual curiousity.

While I have never been a writer, the exercise of writing these posts is safisfying and fulfilling.  Reading emails and occasionally responding to those who are caring for spouses with Lewy Body Dementia is engaging.  When Volunteers come to stay with Mary Ann to give her a break from my constant presence, it takes me a long time to get out the door as I engage them in conversation.  I find myself on the phone with brothers and sisters more often than ever before in my life.  Trips to the coffee shop to get a cup of coffee take a little longer. When we attend the Parkinson’s Support Group meetings, I am not shy in speaking up.

Since I am not good at all at small talk, I know very little about sports and I am completely uninterested in debating politics, conversation just for the sake of talking is not all that satisfying.  I suppose I can talk about the weather with the best.  I do have a genuine interest in people’s stories, so given the opportunity, I will find out what you do and what you like and dislike about it, where you have lived, what challenges you have faced and how you are coping with them.  The problem when homebound by the Caregiving task, or the chronic illness, is that the opportunities for such meaningful conversations are limited.

While it helps, electronic communication is not fully satisfying to me since I thrive on the non-verbal elements of communication as well as the actual words themselves. Getting out of the house with the one for whom you are caring is worth the effort.  Go anywhere.  Do anything.  Put yourselves out there where the chance for human interaction and verbal interchange is possible.

Every job has its good points and its bad points.  The trick is to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” as the lyrics to an old song say.  Celebrate what is good that the Caregiving experience brings into your life.  Refuse to give the negative more power than it is due in ruling, in defining your life. I know that is far easier said than done.

Caregiver loneliness — Are you?  What are you doing about it?  What works for you?

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As I traveled in the car coming back from my Renewal Retreat, I thought about how the transition back to my role as the full time Caregiver would go.  Having done retreats before, I knew that once I was in the door, there would be little chance to ease back into the demands.   Having realistic expectations about the transition back to Caregiving duties has helped me very much in the last years. 

It is actually unreasonable to expect the person who has been left at home to be anxious to celebrate the wonderful experience you have had away from him/her.  As Caregivers it is important for us to try to put ourselves in the place of our Carereceiver who does not have the luxury of going on a retreat and enjoying some solitude, doing things for the sake of renewal, things they can no longer do. 

Sometimes the very things we do to help maintain our equilibrium so that we can continue to be good Caregivers make our Loved One’s jealous.  How could it be otherwise.  We are the people closest to them.  We are the ones they depend on for all their needs.  They would love to be able to take care of themselves.  They would love to take some time to do the things that used to bring them joy.  They would love to get away on their own just to enjoy themselves.  They can’t any longer.  Our freedom, however limited we may feel it to be, can be for them a painful reminder of the freedom they have lost. 

As a result, sometimes Caregivers don’t hear the words of appreciation for all they do, words they would like to hear.  Sometimes Caregivers receive some passive aggressive indications that they are not appreciated.  Sometimes Caregivers feel as if their Loved Ones resent them instead of appreciate them.  Sometimes they do resent us, whether it is fair or not for them to do so.

I have taken over the kitchen duties from Mary Ann.  Her way of responding if anyone asks about cooking is to say, “Theywon’t let me in the kitchen any more.”  She says it with a tone that sounds blaming.  It is the way she expresses her frustration that she has lost one of her most meaningful activities, one from which she got lots a positive feedback and satisfaction.

When the Grandchilren come and visit, there are hugs and kisses for both Grandma and Grandpa, but I am the one who can respond to the Grandchilren, who can talk with them and read to them and play with them.  The attention they give me is hard for Mary Ann to see.  It is another reminder to her of what she has lost. 

When people visit for any reason, her words are few or barely audible due to the progression of the Parkinson’s Disease.  I am the one who engages in conversation.  She has always been the entertaining one who had the smart-aleck comments to make.   She still has that wicked sense of humor and will get you when you least expect it.  Those who know her well still enjoy her sense of humor.  Now, her thoughts don’t always translate into audible words quickly enough to keep up with many conversations.   Of course, she gets frustrated and a little jealous.   

Caregivers are the ones who are the most accessible when Carereceivers need to vent their frustrations.  Their limitations are highlighted by anything we do, especially anything that was in their territory before the chronic illness took its toll. 

We feel hurt that we are doing so much for them but are not appreciated adequately for it.   One of the tasks that comes with caring for someone we love is to allow them to express their frustration, yes, even at us.  We are only human, so it does hurt when it happens.  The real culprit here is the chronic disease, in our case, the Parkinson’s.  While resentment and hurt feelings are a part of the Caregiver/Carereceiver relationship, it is the third member of the relationship, the chronic disease that is the source of the frustrations. 

In our best moments, we can talk about the frustrations and the jealousies and the hurt feelings and the lost freedoms.  My goal in keeping my equilibrium in the face of what the Parkinson’s has tried to steal from us is to match expectations with reality.  If I am constantly expecting Mary Ann to behave in a way that caresses my ego as a noble Caregiver, when she does not, my feelings are hurt, I am disappointed, and even more frustrated by all the difficult tasks associated with that Caregiving.  When I remember what has been taken from her, how hard it is for her to accept that she cannot do almost all of the things that formerly brought her satisfaction, when I remember what she has lost, it is easier to accept the times her frustrations come my way. 

It isn’t fair, it is just what it is.   Yes, there are sometimes hurt feelings and misplaced frustrations.  It comes with the territory.   The goal is to recognize the real culprit and refuse to allow that culprit to damage our relationship.

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.