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The 3 Danger Signs of an Unhealthy Online or In Person Caregiver Support Group

The 3 Danger Signs of an Unhealthy Online or In Person Caregiver Support Group 

When you have a minute to catch your breath, you might have this thought run across your mind:

“If only I could __________.” And you fill in the blank with “have a hot meal, get a break to have a shower, or have someone take my loved one to their next appointment.”

It can easily be one of those little things that break the camel’s back and push you to feeling like running away.

Yet, things never seem to change and no one in your world really knows what you are going through. If you ever told them, you just know they’d never understand. Especially when you want to dump all those feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, disappointment and sadness. And for sure, you think they’d never forgive you for having times when you want to blame the person for whom you are caring, for the life you now have.   Nope. No one gets it. Except another caregiver.

A caregiver’s sanity can be saved by a supportive group of caregivers who know – just know – exactly how you are feeling. This has brought a rise in online support groups and forums that bring together those people who “get it.”   They understand the demands, lack of sleep and lack of respect and acknowledgement of what they do.   I belong to some wonderful and supportive online forums and Facebook groups.

What I caution against is using venting, especially if it is more on the bitching side, as a way to stay in your story. This tends to happen in groups where the members come together because of their uncomfortable emotions of a common experience.

What I’ve noticed in many of these types of groups, both in person and online, is that people feed off each other, and instead of feeling better after venting, they feel worse.

 

Here are 3 Danger Signs that will tell you if a group is one that will help you or hurt you:

Danger Sign #1: Comparing Your Experience to Someone Else’s Experience

There is a tendency for people to come away from “venting and bitching” groups believing they shouldn’t complain because someone is worse off than they are. On the other end of the scale, some come away feeling they aren’t understood because no one has it as bad as they do. The danger signal for this is when it seems like there is a competition of who has the “worst” story. An even more blatant danger sign is when someone tells you that their situation is worse than yours, and you might even feel disrespected.

Danger Sign #2: Self Righteousness

Another trap in these groups is that you receive validation and vindication for the depth and variety of your troubling emotions. The danger with this is it can leave you feeling self-righteous and you will tend to excuse your own unhealthy reactions. In other words, the anger, frustration and resentment gets stoked, which becomes seen outwardly as someone flying off the handle, yelling, screaming, or disengaging completely using the silent treatment. And you believe you have every right to these outbursts and it’s not your fault if anyone gets hurt in the crossfire. There is acceptance, perhaps even encouragement, for you to play the victim in your situation.

Danger Sign #3: Solutions and Positive Thinking are Frowned Upon

The wisdom of bringing caregivers together is important. Often the best solutions come from within the group. In an unhealthy group some members may make rude comments about solutions that have been offered. The other thing that happens is the statement “I’ve tried everything and nothing’s worked.”   In some groups I’ve seen attacks when someone posted a feel good type of meme. This group will have lots of venting and bitching in it, with little, if any, support with empathy or possible solutions.   I call this “dump and run.”   Most of the group is comprised of people who spew their problems, put up a brick wall to any suggestions on how to change things, and don’t offer any solutions to other people.

If you are involved with groups that have any of these danger signs you are at risk for taking on the role of victim and feeling helpless and hopeless that your life could be any better.

Your life has changed – yes.   You have lost dreams and possibly your future goals – yes. You can do nothing to improve your situation – that is a big myth.

Most likely you have felt the waves of anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness and resentment that are part of the caregiving world. It’s healthy to acknowledge and accept those feelings. Stuffing them inside is one of the worst things that you can do and I’m not suggesting you ignore these feelings   I teach many ways of accepting, allowing and releasing these kinds of feelings.

If you don’t find a healthy and supportive group of people, staying in the victim role will only fester the troubling emotions and perspective. It can be a downward spiral to depression, anxiety, and troubled family relationships.

What else can you do?

Bring back your sense of self. Life won’t be the same as it once was. That doesn’t mean you have to give up everything, including your hopes and dreams. The bridge is to discover how to keep one toe in the passion and excitement of your dreams, and the other toe in the reality of where you are in this present moment in time.

I know this from personal experience and from learning a very important system to making this come true in my life, and for the life of my husband. The last 3 years we had together were full of joy, peace, love and it wouldn’t have been that way if I hadn’t learned this information.

What made the difference is when we discovered what was important to each of us individually, and as a couple. We determined how we were going to get through this time in our life together and not give in to a pessimistic outlook. That would have been an easy thing to do.

The way I see it, you have a choice.

You can decide whether you will look in the mirror and not recognize who you have become because caregiving has infiltrated every ounce of your life and leaving you stripped of who you really are,

Or

You can find clarity on what is important to you now and flip it around – bring caregiving into your life, not have it be the only life you know. Find out what is important to you and your loved one and focus on that.

You are not a victim – you are a strong and compassionate person, with a big “job” to do that you weren’t expecting.

Surround yourself with people who will support you, are compassionate about your situation, and who will give real help for you to keep one toe in your dreams, goals and joy.

For information on workshops and coaching sessions where I share exactly what helped me and my husband get clarity on what was important to us in his final 3 years of life, and how we set it all into motion, please contact me at Lorna@TheCaregiversLighthouse.com, (403) 548-8437, or 1 -888-746-8130

Life with no regrets.   You can do it!

 

 

 

 

 

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Is Solitude All it’s Cracked Up to Be?

Solitude. A million dollars.  Which do you believe you have a better chance of getting this year?

I bet more than a few of you would raise your hand for the million dollars. To be fair, I am specifically talking about solitude – not being alone.

What’s the difference?

Let’s use my Friday evening as an example. I live alone.  I am alone – a lot.   Friday evening I was planning on having a massage.  Something unexpected happened and my massage therapist had to reschedule the appointment to the next day.  Now, it was later in the evening, and I was way past any good “thinking” time.  Yet I worked on a couple of things, and then, surfed Facebook.  Yup.  I was alone. I did not take advantage of enjoying any solitude.  In hindsight, I could have turned off the computer and taken advantage of the silence.  Asking myself about my next steps, is there anything I’d like to change in my life, is there something or someone I should connect with? I stayed alone.  I missed the chance to experience solitude.

Don’t get me wrong. Solitude doesn’t have to come with a big epiphany or life changing idea. It is just about taking time for you to think, to ponder, to ask your heart questions – and be quiet enough to hear the answer.

On Sunday, I took a few moments of solitude. It wasn’t a long time and it wasn’t any life altering “aha”.  Well, my neighbours might eventually feel that way!

I have not yet finished my front yard landscaping. I took a few moments to look out the front window, and dream about what I’d like to see there. I imagined the flowers in a flower bed next to the driveway, some hostas further up next to the sidewalk to the front door.  I imagined landscaping rock, a fountain and some small bushes that would add character, and, not block my view of the park across the street.

That was how I used my solitude time.

Those few minutes moved me further on the path to having the front yard landscaped than all those critical thoughts of “Oh – you just have to get that finished!” Or worse “What do your neighbours think?”

Still not sure about the difference between being alone and solitude?

Let’s have a look at the definitions.

Alone means by oneself, separate from others.

Solitude means the quality or state of being alone.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs. Here is my take on what the difference is, and why it matters.

I tend to think of being alone often as being lonely, maybe satisfied or comfortable, but not necessarily in a state of solitude.

Take the same situation, and add in a state of peace, calm and serenity, and I would suggest that it becomes a state of solitude.

Consider for a moment a busy mom who finally finds a few moments to herself. The kids are playing at the neighbour’s and she is alone in the house.

Or it might be the career professional who has said good bye to her youngest child as they leave for college. Every day she wakes up to the silence of being alone.

Then there’s the woman who couldn’t wait to get to mid-life to retire and enjoy all the freedom that was promised. Kids are gone, she may or may not have a spouse who is working, or who may also retired.  The promise of freedom means she is alone.

I would hazard to guess most moments each of these women feel more alone than the peace that solitude brings.

These examples could span 25- 30 years, or more of a woman’s life. And yet there is something in common.  When faced with being alone, why do they not find solitude?

This question popped into my head when I ready this quote by Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

“If women were convinced that a day off or an hour of solitude was a reasonable ambition, they would find a way of attaining it. As it is, they feel so unjustied in their demand that they rarely make this attempt.”

If I were to take a peek into the window of these women’s homes, I suspect I would see them adding to their “to do” lists, catching up on laundry, housework, and meal preparations. The younger moms may be checking homework assignments, school schedules and extracurricular activities.  The older moms may be going through whatever their kids left behind, looking for a course to take, or cleaning out the store room.  Maybe even going through the last 20 years of photographs and organizing them.

Not many would grab the book they’ve been waiting for weeks, months, or even years, to read. Or going to the park – with nothing to do but enjoy the nature in all its beauty.

This is what I think Anne Morrow Lindbergh meant when she talked about soliltude. It’s about being happy with ourselves in the present moment.  Being alone, in silence, so we can hear the whispers of our soul.

In our day to day life there is a lot of noise. Usually it is the wants, needs and expectations of others that is running our show.  Oh yes, we have expectations, too.  Usually they have something to do with living up to those other expectations and our extra super high expectations of ourselves.

Let’s interrupt your show. You can start with a small commercial break if want.

Find some alone time that includes a peaceful state of solitude.

When you are alone and sitting quietly, put your awareness on your heart. Imagine you are breathing in and out of your heart.

Ask your heart what it wants – and then listen. Sit in solitude as long as possible to hear as many answers as possible.

Trust that the answers you receive are the desires buried deep within you – the desires that will light up your life when you are in touch with them, and take steps toward living them.

Here’s the oxymoron part of this whole thing.

We don’t take moments of solitude because we think we don’t have time and that it isn’t all that important. Our family needs us.  Our friends need us.  Our work wouldn’t manage without us. So we give, and give and give.  Eventually we are unhappy and disconnected to what is important to us.  Our relationships suffer.  Especially the relationship with the person we see in the mirror.

By taking a few minutes every day, and even more on the weekend, you will get reconnected to your essence, the real you, and you will be happier, more content and once again be who you really are.

You will feel more fulfilled, happier and enjoy more loving relationships. You will be excited and proud of whom you see in the mirror.

Which life do you want?

A life of sacrifice to make others happy? Or a life where you are happy – and then others around you are happy?

You can take those moments, listen to your heart, rediscover yourself – and it won’t even cost a million dollars.

If you want to know more about you can discover those moments of solitude, peace, happiness and better relationships in your life, contact me at Lorna@TheCaregiversLIghthouse.com

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Summer Safety Tips to Stay Healthy in the Sun

 

After spending too many hours indoors in the winter it is tempting to be outside as much as possible at this time year. Just like icy sidewalks and wind chills of the winter, the summer weather brings its own dangers for the person you are caring for – and for you. Heat emergencies can seem to come on suddenly and they can be easily avoided.

It’s a good practice to confirm the weather before you head outside – and be prepared for the weather to change.

Put sunscreen on any part of your body that will be exposed to the sun.  Remember the ears, back of neck, nose, and top of your head. Even if you or who are caring for has some hair, it                    may be thinning, and not protecting the top of your head.  Remember your hat!

Drink lots of water. It is easy to get dehydrated when outside in the  warmer weather. We don’t get the signal we are thirsty until long past the  time dehydration has already set in.

Wear sunglasses and protect your eyes from damage from the sun. This is    especially important for those with diseases of the eye, for example,  macular degeneration.

Talk to your medical team. Check with your doctor to see if you or your loved one have any health issues that can get worse is warmer weather. Also check with your pharmacist to see if the effectiveness of the medications are impacted when you are in the sun, or if there are any side effects that may become more prominent when you are in the sun

Know the signs of hyperthermia: body temperature higher than 40  degrees Celsius; a change of behavior (acting confused, agitated or grouchy), dry, flushed skin, nausea and vomiting, headache, heavy  breathing or rapid pulse, not sweating, even when you should be sweating, and fainting.

There are many great reasons for taking your caregiving time outside in the sun whenever you can be there. Don’t be shy about being outdoors. Keep safety in mind and enjoy your summer!

 

 

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It’s As Easy As Child’s Play

“Grandma, when can I have a sleep over at your house?”

I looked deep into the eyes of my 5-year-old grandson, Rowan, as he sat on his bike looking back at me, patiently waiting for an answer.

“On Saturday you can have a sleep over.”

“How far away is that?” he asked.

“5 more sleeps.’ I replied.

“OK,” he said, and rode off on his bike, satisfied and happy.

This conversation got me thinking.

Why can’t I be as forthright asking for what I want?

Rowan didn’t think twice about asking for he wanted. He asked as freely as he would ask for a glass of milk. He believed he would get what he wanted. OK. Maybe in that case it’s easier for him to believe that he’d have a sleep over at grandma’s house. It is grandma, after all.

I’ve seen situations where people have been offended by the boldness of a child’s request. They call it rude, inappropriate, and often the child is scolded or pushed aside for being upfront about their wants and needs.

That is why it’s hard for us to be forthright. A young child learns how to cope with disappointment when their request isn’t fulfilled. When they are encouraged to ask for what they want, they get enough yeses that the disappointments don’t have a big impact. When they get scolded, ridiculed or pushed aside, they feel hurt and might not even understand why they got that reaction to their question.

It is that pain we carry with us to adulthood. It is that pain that builds the brick wall and cements our belief that we can’t count on others and must be able to do everything ourselves.

It’s time to change.

When you are caregiving for a loved one, asking for what you want is a necessity, not a luxury. This lesson I learned the hard way when I didn’t ask for enough help earlier in my journey when I was caring for my husband, leading to 4 cracked teeth from the clenching my jaw for I don’t even know how long. It took a full year of massage therapy to unlock my clenched jaw. One. Full. Year.   That is pretty powerful evidence that I’d been holding stress. And that was the physical evidence. I have no idea what was going on inside my body.   Accepting help when I was caregiving for Callum would have decreased the stress and given me a chance to bring some regular stress management strategies in my life. I didn’t, and I paid for it.

Don’t let that happen to you.

Whether you are looking for someone to go with you to a movie, come to your place for tea, visit with your loved one or mow your grass, there are key points we can learn from Rowan.

Be clear on what you want.

Rowan knew exactly what he wanted – a sleepover with grandma.

If someone would come and give you a break, exactly what would you do?

Don’t worry about what other people think.

Rowan didn’t give it a second thought that his mom was standing right there, listening to our conversation.

You deserve to have what you want. Don’t worry about the opinions of other people. What other people think is none of your business.

 Believe you will get what you ask for.

Rowan asked as if he knew the answer would be yes. True, there was a better than good chance that he’d get a yes from grandma. By asking the question, he still invited the possibility of a no, or an answer he didn’t want to hear.

Don’t listen to the chirping monkeys in your brain, telling you that you can’t have what you want. There are many people in your life who are waiting to help you. You give them a gift by allowing them to help. It is true. Believe it.

Clarify what you want and negotiate.

Rowan clarified his request by asking when he could have the sleepover, and how far away it would be.

When you accept help, ask questions to be sure everyone has the same understanding of what you asked for and how/when they will help. Be willing to adjust your request when it still helps you get what you are asking for,

Confirm understanding.

My interaction with Rowan was quick. It was easy to confirm the understanding that the sleepover was on Saturday, 5 sleeps away.

When you have come to an agreement, review the details of the agreement to getting what you want and confirm the agreement with the other person.

There is nothing wrong – and everything right – about getting what you want and need. It is a necessity, not a luxury.

Children show wisdom that we can use as adults. Let’s follow their lead.

Comment below or send me an email to let me know the first thing you will ask for so you get what you want.   Lorna@TheCaregiversLighthouse.com

May you find peace, hope, and joy in every day.

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2 Things You Didn’t Know That Ruin Your Day and How to Stop Them in 10 Minutes or Less

Your mindset and attitude will make or break your day.

Too often, before we even get out of bed in the morning, our minds are cluttered with the things we have on the to do list. By the time we sit down for breakfast (do you take the time for breakfast?) we feel overwhelmed and can dread what the day holds in store for us.

Now, I can’t promise that doing the following two simple things will be life changing. I can say, if you choose to do them, it can change your day. What are these two mysterious, even magical things?

Making your bed and a clean and empty kitchen sink.

Keep reading! This may sound simple. Maybe even boring. The truth is, it is simple. Yet these two things are often left undone, and the impact to your day is huge.

Here’s why.

Many of the messages and thoughts we have every day go largely unnoticed by our conscious mind. The subconscious mind deals with a lot of what we say to ourselves. Some of these messages come from our environment. That’s why decluttering has become the latest rage. A clear environment helps decrease stress. An unmade bed and sink full of dirty dishes help add to the stress. Whether you are caregiving for aging parents, a spouse or other family members, doing, these two things alone can help set you up for a much brighter day.

I’ve experienced this myself. When I walk into my kitchen in the morning with a sink full of dirty dishes, I try to not look at them. It feels like another brick on the wall of things I’ll never have time to do. I feel much better and in control of my day when I take the time in the evening to put them in the dishwasher and wash up the rest and put them away. It really takes little time, even though I’ve talked myself out of it on many occasions.

When I was young, I couldn’t figure out why it was necessary to make my bed in the morning when I was just going to mess it up at night. Now that I’m “all grown up” I notice how much better I feel all day when I’ve started it out with an accomplishment. In about 3 minutes the bed is made. Simple. Quick. And it kick starts my day into awesomeness! It’s also a reminder that I did accomplish something, especially later on in the day when I’m feeling dragged out or things aren’t going as I’d planned.

If you’d like to level up these activities, add gratitude into them. While you are making the bed, think about all the things that bring gratitude. Make it easy, say thank you for sheets, blankets, mattresses, pillows, nightstand, lights, flooring. Look around your room and say thanks to everything you see.

When you put the dishes away, give thanks for the dishes, the stove, the oven, the food, the fridge, and the counter. Say thanks for everything you see. Feeling genuinely grateful is a massive mindset changer.

There you have it. Take 3 minutes to make your bed. Take 10 minutes to put the dishes in the dishwasher. You can delegate each of those tasks. The goal is to have your bed made in the morning and the kitchen sink empty at night. How you make that happen is up to you.

This is my challenge to you – try this for at least 66 days. The new neurological research says it can take up to 66 days to form a new habit. See how it works for you.

Please leave me a comment on this challenge. Do you have tips to make this even easier?

How did the 66 day challenge work out for you?

Send me an email if you’d like to share or ask questions.

May you find peace, hope, and joy in every day.

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5 Resolutions for Caregivers Who Don’t Want to Make Resolutions

The topic of New Year’s Resolutions has got to bring on some of the most timeless and interesting debates of our time. You may or may not believe in resolutions. Fair enough. Keep reading. I share my thoughts on the different views of resolutions, and offer suggestions for 5 resolutions you might consider for 2017. These aren’t anything major and are easy to do. Their impact for you will be huge!

On one side, there are people who think making resolutions are silly and set people up for failure.

no new year resolutions

This does describe some people. When this happens, it’s usually because resolutions are made impulsively and without thought of how to carry them out. It’s almost more wishing, than resolving. These resolutions may be born out of a significant emotional pain, perhaps from ill health, broken relationships or financial losses. There are some people who hold the belief that it is just not helpful to make resolutions. There seems to be no pain or other reason for their opinion. It just is what they think.

 More recently I’ve noticed more people who use resolutions as a 1-year challenge to test out a new habit. For example, I know someone who loved candy and sweets. His resolution was to eat no candy for one full year. Honestly, I don’t remember if he made it through the whole year with no candy. He did make it through quite a few months candy-free! This is an interesting way to look at resolutions. It might be the way to try out a healthier habit, without feeling like you can never go back to the bad habit. A lot less pressure when you limit the time you commit instead of facing the rest of your life without whatever you want to change. There is no doubt this can help with making a permanent change and might be the tactic that works for you!

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 Another group of people are the ones who fully believe in making change starting in the new year. They are committed to reviewing what worked well, and what would have worked better in the past year. They thoughtfully and diligently plan the upcoming year. This may not be so much about making resolutions. I think many are true goal setters and know their success lies in reviewing their successes and areas of improvement. They see the value of being clear about what they want in the next year, writing down the goals and steps to take, and creating a plan. Even a “loose” plan can put you miles ahead of your family, friends and colleagues.

 As promised, here are some resolutions (if you call them that) for you to consider for 2017:

  •  Drink one more glass of water per day than you do now.

Dehydration causes all sorts of problems in your body without you knowing it. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Some symptoms that may surprise you are confusion and physical weakness. Without a properly hydrated body you may experience foggy thinking, have trouble concentrating and become very moody. Doing physical activities like gardening or housecleaning may start to tire you out sooner than they should. Extreme cases of dehydration become a medical emergency. The best way to prevent it is to drink water throughout the day. Fill up a water bottle in the morning and take it with you everywhere, refilling it when empty.  

vatna water bottle

  •  Get in an extra 100 steps a day.

Even though you may feel like you are running around all day, you likely aren’t getting in as many steps as you think. There is a lot of emotional exhaustion that takes a toll on you physically, and leaves you exhausted. Instead of trying to add 4 hours or more in workouts to your week, try a few steps at a time. Park at the far end of the row in a parking lot. Use the stairs instead of an elevator. Walk around the block on your lunch or coffee break. Walk from one room in your house to another an extra 10 times a day. You can fit it in.

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  •  Practice saying positive thoughts to yourself.

Write down these statements on a 5 x 7 card, or put them into your smartphone as a reminder. Read them 3 times a day, reading them out loud as often as possible. Add other statements that lift you up. Remember to start with the words “I am” and to make them positive.   Send me an email if you have any questions about this.

I am strong and courageous.

I am worthy.

I am doing the best that I can.

I am deserving of good things.

I am loved.  

This is also a great resource – then you don’t even have to think about it!  Power Thoughts 

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  •  Find a relaxation strategy or method that you can use to keep you calm, or for when you are overwhelmed and exhausted, and you want back in a state of calm.

Use whatever method works for you. You might try a few different ones to see which you like best. Get a guided relaxation here. (just enter your email and I’ll send it to you.)  You might like to write and you can pick up a journal or scribbler at the dollar store for $3 or less. If you don’t know how to get started writing, ask yourself a question: “How am I feeling right now?” “Why?” “How do I want to feel?” “Why?”   Make a playlist of music that soothes your soul. Listen to it often, even if you don’t think you “need” to.   Watch comedies. There are lots of old comedy sit-coms on YouTube. Do something that makes you laugh. Laughter yoga has been shown to be beneficial for many – learn more: scroll down to Episode 22.

  •  Practice gratitude.

Sometimes I feel like a broken record when I say this because I say it so often. It is just that important. If it’s hard to feel grateful right now, try writing down one thing you are grateful for each day.   After a week, make it 3 things a day you are grateful for. After another week, write down 5 things you are grateful for. Then keep doing this every day. You can always write down more than 5. Commit to at least 5. When you are stuck, use some of these:

 I am grateful I woke up today.

I am grateful for what I had to eat today.

I am grateful for my bed.

I am grateful for running water.

I am grateful for sunshine.

I am grateful for my car.

I am grateful for my neighbours.

I am grateful for my mom (or dad, sister, brother, daughter, son, etc)

I am grateful for the minute I had all to myself.

 There is a lot of research and science behind the benefits of gratitude. Go here and click on Episode 16 and find out more about some research studies.

This is the journal I first used when starting to write my daily gratitudes.  The Gratitude Journal

gratitude journal

 Whether you call these things resolutions, goals or habits doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you choose at least one suggestion, if not all 5, and try them out. You decide what you want to call them, and whether or not you want to make a permanent habit change or want to try them out for a limited time. I encourage you to try them for at least 30 days, preferably 60 days.   It took more than 60 days to get you where are today, it’s worth a 60 day commitment to something that will transform how you feel about you, and your life.

 There are 2 books I highly recommend for going deeper into getting clarity about what you do want, and steps to take to start moving towards what you want. They are

The Success Principles

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 The Passion Test.

the passion test

I am a certified facilitator in both methods and can help you if you have any questions. These are the strategies and systems that are the foundation of my work with clients, both one on one and in workshops.

 I wish you all the best in 2017.  

 May you find peace, hope, and joy in every day.

 Lorna

P.S. Did you get your free copy of my book Walking the Journey Together … Alone? Get it here.   Share with everyone you know who is caring for a loved one with a terminal of long term illness.

P.P.S. There are some exciting changes coming from The Caregiver’s Lighthouse in 2017. Keep your eyes peeled!

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Christmas and the Holidays: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Opening my Christmas stocking at Grandma’s, coping with the first Christmas after the death of my brother, reliving the squeals of joy as my grandson’s exclaim “this is the best present ever!’ when they open every gift. These are the memories of Christmas.   Some haunt us. Some make us laugh. Some remind of us that pieces of our heart have been taken as loved ones are no longer with us, either from the effects of serious health conditions, or because they have passed away. And some memories are of a time when things were “normal” – so far from what they are today.

I’ve been thinking about some of the Christmas’s of my past 55 years and a few memories, happy and sad, stand out. Maybe my memories will help you remember some of your most cherished Christmases, and that when some didn’t go as well as you planned, you were able to find the silver lining.

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 “All times are good, if you know what the times are good for.” Kathleen Seeley, The Seeley Group

 

So, here goes.   What I learned from over 50 Christmases – the good, the bad and the ugly.

When I was growing up one of our traditions was that as soon as we woke up, we could take our stockings and look through them. It was exciting to see what I’d get and when I came to the nuts, Christmas candy and orange in the foot and toe of the stocking, I knew that was the end of the stocking fun. Except for being able to eat candy early in the morning! Now, that was fun.

The rest of the gifts weren’t opened until after we had our big Christmas dinner. One year, as everyone else was in the kitchen, deciding where to sit, I quietly and carefully picked up my gift and lifted up the taped end to peek at it. I was super excited to get fingerpaints! I was also immensely disappointed to not have the excitement and joy of being surprised when opening the gift later. I still shake and man-handle my gifts. I never open them early.

One year the big surprise was a trip to Disneyland in Los Angeles. And surprise it was. I was 9 and this was a wonderful trip. No snow or cold for Christmas, we got to open our presents early, and Disneyland and Universal Studios made it a trip to remember. Great memories for me. For my parents, it was their way to cope with the first Christmas following the death of my brother. You see, it isn’t all bad or all good. It’s what you do with the bad, to find some good, which matters.z

Christmas at my parents’ house often included friends and family. If there was anyone who was alone, and my parents knew about it, they instantly became family and joined us for dinner. It didn’t matter how squished we were around the table. We had “the kids’ table” to make extra room when the kitchen table was overflowing.

The last Christmas with my dad was special. He had been in hospital and acute care for over 4 months and just placed in long term care a few days before Christmas. Thank goodness for handi-transit that worked on Christmas Day because he could be home for our holiday celebration. It just wasn’t enough time for me. I was working in emergency dispatch and worked until 6 pm.   (or was it 4? Did someone come in early for me? Perhaps). Still, when he passed away 3 weeks later, I wished I had been able to spend more of that Christmas with him.

Christmas Day in emergency services is no picnic.   We miss our families and some fun. We are there for the people whose lives are sadly impacted by a crisis. It’s never a good feeling when the 9-1-1 line goes off any day, and especially on Christmas Day.

December 25, 1998, I was sitting in my chair, plugged into my 9-1-1 console by 6 a.m. By 7 am my crew had sent out 5 ambulances. I’d taken hundreds, if not thousands, of 9-1-1 calls during the previous 2 years. That morning, I took one for a response I’d never taken before, and I never took again.

“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?” I asked. The first thing I heard was screams.

The next thing I heard was “The baby’s coming, the baby’s coming!”

Among the 5 people who sadly passed away that day, I was thrilled to be the dispatcher who helped bring a new life into the world. It was a crazy call, full of screams from grandma, screams from mom and the squeal of a new life as she was born. I treasure my pink stork pin as a reminder of the wonder of that moment.

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The call even gave me my 15 minutes of fame. I was featured in an article in my local newspaper and in the May 1999 edition of Readers Digest(Canadian Edition.)

It’s not all bad and it’s not all good. It’s what you can take from the bad and make it good.

Reminiscing of Christmas’s past has brought me laughter, joy, sadness and amazement with my persistence at times.   The worries I had that Santa wouldn’t find me at Grandma’s were all for naught, as I found my stocking Christmas morning, nuts, candies, orange and exactly what I asked for from Santa. Memories of having such a limited budget that my teen son, Jamie, asked for Air Jordan shoes, which he got for Christmas. Each shoe was wrapped in it’s own box so he’d have 2 gifts to open. Asking my sister to buy a My Little Pony castle in her city, 2 provinces and 500 miles away, and ship it to me so I could give my daughter, Vanessa, the exact gift she wanted from Santa. I did Christmas shopping in October and November. Not because I was organized and wanted it done. It was the only way I knew to be able to afford it. I would buy everything I could and put it on layaway. Then I’d make monthly payments and pick it up in December when it was paid off. No credit charges. I was also guaranteed to get the hottest toy of the year because I bought it early. Except for the My Little Pony castle and a table hockey game – not sure how I missed getting those early!

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I remember one Christmas we were sitting down to our meal. Everyone was happy and excited. As my mom said grace, her lip started to tremble, there was a quiver in her voice, and soon the tears rolled down both cheeks. She said an extra prayer for my cousin who recently had been in a automobile accident, was paralyzed and still in serious condition in hospital. It was a serious moment and one for us to remember there is always room for gratitude, and each of us was grateful my cousin was still alive.

One of the most heartfelt Christmases was in 2008. My husband, Callum, was still dealing with the effects of 2 different types of brain radiation, which kept him tired, and not feeling well. It was also 3 months after hearing from the oncologist that with the spread of cancer to the brain, he could expect to live only another 6 – 12 months. His health appeared to be so poor my biggest hope was that he would still be alive on Christmas Day. Our family pulled together to make this last Christmas the best it could be.

I was behind the video camera, trying to capture as many memories as possible when I noticed my son-in-law Stuart nudge my daughter, Vanessa. They stopped what they were doing to watch Callum open up the gift he had in his lap. Soon everyone had all eyes on Callum as he unwrapped the gift. He held the gift in one hand, and held his head in the other as he sobbed. He lifted up his head, looked at Vanessa and asked “You’re pregnant?”

“Yes,” she said, as the tears rolled down her face.

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It was surreal. Callum had given up hope that he would live long enough to be a Grandad. This news renewed his will to live long enough to hold his first grandchild. On July 7th, 2009, he stayed up all night so he could hold Cade in his arms. Not only did that little dapper give Callum the will to live to see him born, he lived to see his 2nd birthday.

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It’s not all bad and it’s not all good. It’s what you can take from the bad and make it good.

Honour your feelings.

When you feel happy – be happy. You may be surrounded by sadness because your loved one is terminally ill or has long term illness that is taking its toll on them – and you. It’s OK to feel happy and joyful. It’s OK to laugh and savour those moments, however few, of the wonderment and love of the season.

When the sadness creeps in, or washes over you, honour it. Life is not as you knew it, nor is as you ever thought it would be. It’s OK to cry, to wish things could be like they were, to have your loved one back in your life in the way you want them and that you aren’t exhausted from everything you are doing.

The secret is to not “live” in either state when the other one shows up. Resisting what you are truly feeling just puts more pressure on you. It’s far from perfect and nowhere near the lovey dovey, unreal expectations of Christmas without pain. It is what it is, and you have the courage and strength to get through it.

It’s not all bad and it’s not all good. It’s what you can take from the bad and make it good.

I leave you with this Christmas Prayer:

May the spirit of this season…

Harmony, Love, and Understanding…

Become a way of life,

And may the coming year bring

Hope and Peace to all mankind

Merry Christmas,

Lorna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When Reality and Hope Collide: 3 Top Strategies for Caregivers to Make “The Last Christmas” Full of Joy and Cherished Memories.

Thud! Your body is so heavy it’s like instant paralysis. It feels like an out of body experience. Disbelief. Heartbreak. The day you find out your spouse, child, sibling or parent had been diagnosed with a terminal illness is one, if not the most, devastating day in your life.

Up until that point, your “what if’s” likely centered around cars that might break down, whether your furnace will make it through another winter, and possibly even whether or not to take a new job.

Up until that point, you never wondered:

“What if this is the last Christmas with my loved one?”

And

“What if they are too sick to enjoy their last Christmas?”

After we found out the cancer metastasized after Callum had held it at bay for 2 years, our ‘what if’s” jumped from one extreme to another.

One minute we faced reality “What if things don’t go as well as expected? Maybe we should sell our house and move back to Medicine Hat for the last few months we have left together?”

The next minute we jumped into hope “What if the treatment works and they are wrong about how much time is left?”

Learning to live with a terminal disease that consumes your life is like hopscotch on steroids. Jump here, no there, now this way, one foot, two feet. Every moment can bring strong emotions, gut wrenching worry, optimistic hope and a desire to enter your personal amazing race and do everything you can as fast as you can because you don’t know when time will run out.

Here are the top 3 strategies you can use to make this Christmas and holiday season joyful and filled with memories you can treasure for the rest of your life.

bird     Bring Out the Joy

You might be tempted to scale back celebrations and have a more solemn and somber holiday time with family and friends. You have good reason to not go overboard with social events and celebrations. You may wonder if your loved one is well enough for visitors, holiday fun and if they can eat what is laid on the table for holiday food. Your mind goes back to “What if” and all the bad things that could happen jump into your mind. I encourage you to flip that around and start to think about doing as much of your regular holiday celebrations as possible.

At Callum’s 50th birthday party I was so worried about his health, about him overdoing it, and that he wouldn’t take the time to rest. I even had family move his recliner to the venue where we had the party so he could be comfortable. He never used it. He was so thrilled to see people and visit that he propped himself up on his crutches nearly all day. I couldn’t believe he could go so long without a nap. What I’m trying to say is that sometimes, especially those really precious moments, we can allow a lot of joy into the moment when we let go, let our loved one take the lead, and allow it to happen. Was he tired for the next week? Absolutely. Did it really impact his health? Not at all. It was worth it for him to have those memories for the time he had left. It has been worth it for our family to have those memories of his smile, his gratitude, and his love.

Your action step is to decide what you think is reasonable for your Christmas and holiday celebrations. Then ask yourself “If I could do 5% more to increase our joy, I would do _______________.” Then do it.

 

bird   Don’t Do It Alone

Caregivers deserve help. You deserve help. This strategy includes the practical help like asking someone to look after making the main holiday dinner; doing the decorating for you; helping with the shopping and gift wrapping, etc.   These are great ways to save you time, some money and keep you sane through the holidays.

There are some other things people can help you make this a memorable holiday when you are going through all the emotional turmoil of facing the likelihood that this is the last Christmas with your loved one.

The first thing to do is to have a conversation with your loved one about what each of you wants during holiday celebrations. A common mistake families make is to not pay attention to their own wants, and focus only on what your ill loved one wants. Your wants are important. This is a delicate negotiating-type conversation. You want to have memories that you will cherish throughout the rest of your life, after your loved one has passed.

Talk with the rest of your immediate (and extended family if that pertains to you) family about their wishes for the holiday season. They most likely have some special moments in mind that they would like to share.

Schedule your down time for at least every second day during December. Even investing 15 minutes to an hour of quiet time, away from the hustle and bustle will help you get through the marathon of the season, and help you get to the new year in a healthier state.

Once you have a general idea of what your holiday time will look like, make a list as many details as you can. Next to each thing on the list, put one or two names of someone who can help with this. You might be able to delegate all of it, and at least quite a bit of it.

 

bird  Memory Planning

This is a spot where reality collides with hope. First of all, keep your hope alive. Our family had 3 “last” Christmases. It might happen for you. Reality will tell you to be prepared that this is the last Christmas with your loved one. What do you want to remember about this holiday season? As Stephen Covey says in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People says, “Start with the end in mind.”

 

Here are some things to consider that other caregivers have missed, and then had regrets later.

  • Take photographs/video (make sure you get some with you in them!)
  • Have a professional family photo done
  • Who do you/your loved one absolutely want to visit?
  • Grocery shopping/delivery
  • Gift wrapping
  • Helping your loved one with sending their cards
  • Helping your loved one make telephone calls to people who they might not see during the holidays
  • Keep a scrapbook/journal of favourite sayings, jokes, and enjoyable moments during the holidays
  • Invite friends, family and colleagues to email Christmas messages to your loved one – and you.

This time of year is stressful for many people, and especially overwhelming when you are faced with losing a loved one. To help reduce holiday stress for you, I created a Holiday Survival Guide, which you can get here.

Please comment below with your biggest challenge or worry for this holiday season. I will answer and give suggestions for you in upcoming blogs.

May you find peace, hope, and joy in every day.

Lorna

 

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Top 10 Ways For Less Stress of Holiday Shopping

A guest post written by Elizabeth Miller of HappyHealthyCaregiver.com

As family caregivers, we are already overwhelmed by all we have to do. Time and energy is something we would all probably put on our holiday wish lists (along with a personal chef!). We definitely WANT to enjoy the upcoming holidays but it can often feel like the holidays just bring even more for us to do.

We want the holidays to be for our families the way it was for us growing up. I have fond family memories of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. I want to pass on these traditions and create happy memories for my family. That creates a lot of added pressure!

An Alternative to Shop to You Drop

One of the first activities most of us start to do around now is to start shopping for those we love. Holiday shopping can be super stressful, if we allow for it to be that way. But, holiday shopping can be made simpler and it can even be fun!

Over the years, I’ve tried to simplify the hustle and bustle of the holidays and get back to what is meaningful and memorable. Below are ten suggestions for how you can minimize the stress of holiday shopping:

  1. When my children were young, I’d ask them to write their letters to Santa around Thanksgiving. I let them know they could ask for three things in their letters (and live animals weren’t allowed because Santa couldn’t travel with them!). I equated the ‘3 things’ with the fact that Jesus received three gifts from each of the wise man. We put the letter in the mail and once it was in route to Santa, it couldn’t be changed. One year Jacob wrote the letter and sealed it so I couldn’t see it, he said it was a test to ensure ‘we’ weren’t Santa. Luckily he has an older sister who was my sweet elf with the big ears that year.

 

  1. Once you know what ‘THE’ gifts are – buy them ASAP! As a family caregiver, I think we are all required to have an Amazon Prime account. Order the must haves and have them shipped to your door. Consider paying the few extra dollars to have these items gift-wrapped.

 

  1. Talk with your siblings about how you want to handle gifts for each other’s family. I have siblings with kids and without kids. We all want to minimize stress over the holidays and keep more money in our wallets so…we just talked openly about it several years back. We agreed that unless you are physically with a family member, you don’t need to buy a gift. We honor this for birthdays as well. For my husband’s family, we usually buy one family gift like a cookie tower, popcorn tin, family game, or DVD. These group gifts go right from the online store to the recipient wrapped and ready to be received.

 

  1. Exchange names! When my entire family lived in Atlanta and we all weren’t children anymore, we opted to exchange names to help minimize the work for mom. Some of the most fun years are when we exchanged names and stuffed a stocking for that person with a $100 budget. This made Christmas morning more fun for my mom too since she didn’t know what everything was that was being unwrapped. Now that my kids are teenagers, we exchange names among ourselves. My kids really enjoy being a part of the process (with our cash in their pockets to purchase of course).

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  1. Start shopping now and designate a gift wrapping station in your home so you can wrap as you shop.

 

  1. Have a white elephant gift exchange with your friends, co-workers, or family. You can either wrap up something ‘gently used’ or set a budget for a new gift. We’ve had white elephant parties with my family (especially when there are lots of people traveling in town) where we all bought one $50 – $100 unisex gift. I’ve done low budget exchanges at work where you wrap up something you already own. You can do this type of swap with your book club and exchange books. We even had a pre-teen holiday party one year where the kids exchanged DVDs. At the party, count the total gifts, number the slips of paper (i.e. so you have one for each gift), and ask everyone who brought a gift to draw a number. Whoever drew #1 goes first and picks a present to unwrap. Then, #2 goes and can either steal #1’s unwrapped gift or pick a new one to unwrap. Usually a gift can only be stolen 3 times and can’t be stolen back by the person who just lost it. Some white elephant exchanges play that #1 gets to go again at the very end. Just decide the rules up front before you play.

 

  1. Maybe this year you do a local family activity or take a trip instead of using the holiday budget on traditional holiday gifts. I’ve written a few previous posts about this hereand here.

 

  1. Minimize and simplify the circle of people for whom you buy gifts. Teacher gifts can be gift cards. Neighbor and work gifts are optional. Remember, you are in a season of your life where you probably have more responsibilities than any one person should have – something has to give.

 

  1. If someone asks you to participate in a group gift, the answer is always ‘Yes, that would be great!’

 

  1. Give back to your community in place of gift buying. Volunteer as a family or group at a soup kitchen, adopt a family, collect items for a local shelter or visit those who may be alone at an assisted living community. Doing something for others will make you feel less stressed and more thankful for everything you have.

Take Action

Which suggestions are you going to try this year? If you have a holiday shopping tip that is missing, please add it to the comments below. I hope that your holiday season is filled with special moments for you and your family, that you find your inner voice allowing you to ask for help from those around you, and that you take just a few minutes in each of the busy days ahead to take care of your own mental and physical health because you are certainly worth it.

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Top 5 Tips for Getting Through a Difficult Caregiving Day

Family caregiving is not for the faint of heart. On a good day it can involve injections, meal preparation, feeding, and dressing. On a bad day it can mean trips to the emergency room, not having home care show up, serious reactions to medication and anger and frustration thrown your way from your loved one.

It’s a lot to handle. And you do it anyway.

What do you do when it gets too much, when you feel like you just can’t take it anymore?

It’s not if, it’s when, you are going to feel that way. When it happens, you might want to grab your shoes and coat and run away. I did that once. Well, I didn’t run away. I did go for a drive. I couldn’t stay in that room one second more with my husband yelling at me about my poor attitude. I was doing my best, I really was. I’d hit my tipping point when I had a run-in with my boss, had been working late putting together a funding proposal, trying to keep up with all the medical appointments and treatment schedules, and cope with the worry and fear about my husband dying. It got to me, it really got to me. And then he had the nerve to say I had a bad attitude.

I had to get out of there before I said or did something I would really regret. So I drove to the Toys R Us and bought a playpen for soon-to-be-born grandchild. I cried all the way there, and all the way home. There had to be better ways to cope than running away.

Since then I’ve learned a lot in my own personal development, and even more from the caregivers I’ve helped. Here are what I consider the Top 5 Tips for Getting Through a Difficult Day.

 Write

Many caregivers have found it both helpful and cathartic to write. Some write about how they are feeling so they can get it out of their system. Some will write whatever comes to mind, or even write a fiction story. There are many caregiver blogs – it is healing.

Music

I rave about the healing nature of music and believe it’s the answer to just about problem. When you are really frantic and worried, listening to some calming, spa-like music will help. If you are angry and frustrating some loud rock might get you rid of the energy building up. There’s nothing like a sad country song to help you cry. Tears heal. Don’t be afraid of them.

 Talking it Out

That saying “phone a friend” rings true here. Sometimes you need that shoulder to cry on – or at least vent. You will want to have someone with a good listening ear to help you through some of these difficult days. It helps you release a lot of pent up energy, and they might offer some comforting words. You don’t have to go through this alone.

Pound the pillow

There is nothing like having a good, safe, scream and pounding session. First make sure you aren’t going to alarm anyone with the noice they may here. Find your safe place, grab a pillow, and pound and yell as much as you can, for as long as you can. A lot of times it’s the energy raging through our body that keeps us in such a stressed state. There is a lot of emotion released in one of these sessions. You will likely feel both physically and emotionally exhausted. That is fine. You will also find your mind to be clearer and you will be able to continue with what needs to be done. Be sure to get some rest and drink lots of water.

Gratitude

I’ve saved the best for last. I believe moving into a state of gratitude is the quickest and most effective way to deal with a difficult day. Don’t confuse this with patronizing or magical “positive thinking..” I’m talking about true, heartfelt gratitude. Take a moment to pretend “breathe” in and out of your heart, and draw to your mind something that your are really grateful for. Something, or someone, that makes your heart sing. For me, it’s my two grandsons. When you have that feeling in your heart, write down 3 – 5 that you are grateful for. That should help you feel more calm and grounded.

I hope you don’t experience many of those really difficult days. When you do, try one or more of these tips.

These don’t work for you? Leave a comment and let me know what you do when you feel like running away from it all. I appreciate learning more tips to share with the caregivers I help.

There is always something to learn about family caregiving and how we can get through this journey with peace, grace and knowing we’ve done out best.

There is a wonderful event that is coming to you – wherever you are when you are onine. It’s Today’s Caregiver, a Virtual Summit and it starts November 14th. There are 14 speakers covering many key things you want to know. You can even watch this in your pyjamas! Yay!

Don’t miss this great opportunity to discover new things and get free gifts.

Sign up here: Today’s Caregiver – A Virtual Summit