On Compassion for Caregivers ~ The Angels of Earth

 

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Access to a 15-minute video meditation towards the end of this post is available to you. It was created to help you find a greater sense of self-acceptance and love. For really, it is about you, the one who watches over another. You, the Angels of Earth who, in times of love and stress, continue to care for the young and the old, the ones who are ill and recovering, the ones who are moving on from this world, those who no longer can care for themselves. It is about finding hope and peace, resilience and space, to help lift you from despair. It is about your self-care. I know. I have been there.
Read on and thank you!

Dear One,

Unless you are in Arizona receiving my emails about the occasional meditation class, it has been well over a full year since I have put out a newsletter to my larger list, or even much of a blog post.

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Shopping at Target

It is not because I don’t think of  you, it’s finding the time or even thinking about what to write. You may or may not know that I live and watch over my mom full-time.

I have always preferred the word “watching over” my mom to being her “caregiver,” because, for me, caregiver does not tell the whole story or describe the fuller relationship to my mom, who is still very much my mom. I do not say she has become like my child. She is my mom and our relationship is deep, loving, and, at times, complex. But in this society, caregiver is the culturally accepted, universally understood term.

And so, as a “family caregiver” that is what my life is about at this time of my life. It has been close to eight years. The first four years I still got on the road six or seven weeks of the year with my one-woman shows, speaking and workshops. But most of the time I was here in Arizona. The last four years I have not been on the road at all.

“Put your own oxygen mask on first,” is the directive on the airplane. Meaning, take care of yourself first. But that’s difficult, if not oxymoronic, when caring for the needs of another.

I have spoken to many others who care for parents or for young children, and they say the same thing:

Recovery time? Non-existent.
Tired? Oh, yes!
Overwhelmed? Check!
A get-away to recover? Yeah, right!
To realize your layers of exhaustion? Exactly!
Help from others? Uh, sure, where!?
Beating yourself up that you aren’t enough —
Can’t be there enough —
Feeling guilty for even wanting to take time alone —
And there’s no one else to step in to to help? Yeah, Universal.
Feeling like you’re floating in outer-space with no rescue ship in sight? Yes.

By fate or grace or love, I have a mom who is my Angel and I am hers. She’s funny and witty as heck. Except for a bum knee and needing the walker, she is doing well. On her most recent eye check-up, her vision had “improved significantly.” So if you don’t think vision can be improved, my mom just proved that one wrong. Short-term memory can come and go. Yet, she is the most observant person I know.

She is beautiful. Strangers look in her eyes and see light. I treat her more like 74 than 94. We laugh a lot, we sing a lot, we meditate together. She is always up for going out or taking a ride. She is my great friend, my activity buddy, and closest spiritual partner on Earth. That’s a big plus even with the stressors and emotional toll that come with the territory. What are some of those stressors?

Watching your loved one in every aspect of their lives
Ongoing grief seeing them slow, knowing they will leave
Watching over the home and the yard, the bills and the pills
Family stressors
Financial stressors
Dealing with your own resentment at people you wish were helping more
or, at the very least, showing compassion on an ongoing basis
People you wish would listen better without advice giving

You deal with the roller-coaster of wanting to be there 24/7
which you already are— while failing miserably, in your own
mind, because of your own too-high expectations.
Losing patience when you’re dog-gone tired, and then beating
yourself up for that. And yet, in every second, no matter how it
looks, there is love.

You are there.
No one else is.
You showed up.
You stayed – for years.
It matters.
It’s love.

Watching over a loved one is hard work and grossly underestimated in its magnitude by everyone, unless they are doing it. Family caregivers are the unsung silent heroes and heroines. In 2009, it was reported that “More than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.” This does not include the care of children, those recovering from stroke, cancer, or a whole host of other maladies.

In these years, people have actually said to me, “What are you doing?” I know they don’t mean to offend or be so blithe, but really?!

The days slip by so fast and so slow that sometimes I have even made a list to see what I did during the day. To be astonished and dizzied by the list of things that were taken care of. Sometimes literally dizzy, and often forgetful of the thousands of details I take care of or the thousands of decisions I make alone. So, yes, I can be a bit over the moon when someone says to me, “What are you doing?”

Not to mention that life is so very tenuous. I experienced the sudden loss of two very close friends. Because of taking care of my mom, I wasn’t able to see my one friend, when my gut said he wasn’t well. And I wasn’t able to see my other friend before she died when she sat in a coma for two weeks, states away. It still aches at me, the most recent loss having been at the top of this year.

Life sucks sometimes. And still, there are the sweetnesses. The small things. Myrtle Archer shared how she got through the tough days of grief in her ever eloquent piece, “The Solace of the Wee of Life,” published in my book, Women Celebrate: The Gift in Every Moment. 

To help assuage her grief after her father-in-law shot and killed her mother-in-law, a victim of Alzheimers, and then killed himself, in a murder-suicide, she observed the wee of life …

Her neighbor said to Myrtle, “When life gets almost too much to bear, I turn to the wee of life. I find that’s a Grand Canyon in help. So many heartaches in life we can do nothing about but accept them … and once I’m certain of that, I turn to the wee of life—for comfort, when all else fails.”

“The symmetry of one cloverleaf entranced me as did a grain of salt in purest white on the yolk of my brekfast egg … Gradually I shifted my mind from the wee to the larger. I contemplated the whole rose bush without anguish, studied the sweep of sky and clouds. Then adrift in the sense of the wonder of life, acceptance crept in.” 

I have referenced her piece often through the years. I think of it again as my mom and I witness the small joys of nature outside our windows, and I marvel at the big wonder that I still have my mom.

Several years ago, I asked my mom what it was about me that she liked to have around, that I cooked for her? (Though more recently I have taken to buying prepared food!) She smiled and shook her head half-chuckling. She got very quiet and looked long and sweetly at me, then softly said, “No. Physical and spiritual goodness. Physical and spiritual presence.” I floated. It was me, just me. It wasn’t anything that I did. But that was then. Now I do everything.

But through these years, I discovered that even when I am the sourpuss, she thinks I am the sweetie pie. Even the days when I had what I would have considered close to a nervous breakdowns, she was my rock. Her eyes are tinged with Venus, she is all love. If I had one job I discovered for myself now, it was to find self-love.

Self-compassion and empathy for who I am, for all that I am, for all that I feel in any one given moment or day, without thinking I am being selfish or a monster. No, I am simply human, and it has become part of the fabric of my life to discover compassion for what has been, for what is and what will be – for me! While I had been compassionate for others through my life since childhood, what about the forgotten me? Having first understood the needs of others so well, I had been left out of the equation.

I forget that all the time though, exhausting myself trying to do too much! The fourth wisdom in my work of “The Four Wisdoms of Creativity” is “Do as little as possible,” because too much is an illness.

Our best times will probably forever be when we do much of nothing. My mom and I watch the sunsets together, marvel at the sky, watch the baby quails in the yard marching by, excitedly watching the planes and witnessing the stars as we muse and talk about the mystery lights we see. We talk in our secret fun language, and laugh wildly at my new slippers that I make talk, too. We sing together often, and have wicked bathroom humor as families do. And when I lie on her bed, we just exist and breathe. Later watch TV, listen and tap to music, make words up to songs, or marvel at the sky again, talking about the smallest things in our lives or about our dreams.

But it doesn’t erase that there are things to do, garbage to be tossed, calls to be made, appointments to be scheduled, canceled and rescheduled, bills to be paid, pills to be taken, taxes to be done, bathrooms to be cleaned, showers to be had, reminders and more reminders, miscommunications, hearing flubs, hypervigilance where she walks, when she eats, moving rugs, getting reliable help in the house, Depends to be ordered, depending on helpers who show and then don’t … leaving you at your wits end, again. And that’s only a very small part of it.

What do I do? This is my life. This is what I do. And in the external outer world and in the news, where things can be harsh and there is much suffering, I am beyond grateful that my mom, for right now, is my world. She lifts me up.

And I know I am not alone. Caregivers—or Angels Watching Over—are not just immediate family members, they are also neighbors and friends and relatives watching over aunts and uncles, sisters, brothers and grandparents, children, people who are ill and recovering, people with short and long-term disabilities, people with strokes and brain injuries, people on the precipice of this world. Family caregivers comprise a huge population and often have no ongoing resources or support. No validation, no incoming love to sustain them.

So, if you are one of the silent watchers, watching after someone in your life more than watching after your own, I am with you more than you know. If you are one of the unsung heroes with no outlet, no one to sing your praise or appreciate you every single day, I am with you. I see you. I know you. I recognize you.

As I cannot get on the road with my work at this time, I started creating a video series on journaling and more recently video meditations. Simple easy meditations can be especially good for those who are watching over others, for those who are at their wits end multi-tasking, for women with too much on their plates, and for men raising children. Just breathe, is the axiom. Just breathe, for the first video is here of an upcoming seven-part series. To stay apprised of when this series becomes available, and to receive access to this first, very special 15-minute video meditation for free, please subscribe to: Creative Compassion.

So, now I have something to ask you.

If you know of others in need, let them know about this video.
If this subject interests you: meditation, caregiving, let me know.
If you have an interest in marketing or spreading the word, let me know.
If you have resources and can contribute financially to a larger project on this subject, let me know.

To receive meditations, stories & art, sign up for Creative Compassion here.

My focus will continue being on creativity, on self-expression, on meditation, laughter & peace.

Many thanks for YOU!
In peace and with love,
Elizabeth & her Cathy-mom

October 27, 2017

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