Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gail Sheehy and Passages in Cargiving

Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence

   Harper Collins promotes Gail Sheehy's new book, "Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence" by pointing out the following: "Forty-four million Americans care for an ill or elderly person in their homes. Yet until now, there has not been a single resource they can turn to for direction, support, and inspiration to cope with this bewildering and complex new role. Adapting the appealing format of her phenomenal bestseller Passages, Sheehy identifies the nine crucial stages of caregiving and offers insight for adapting and successfully navigating each. With empathy and intelligence, backed by formidable research, and interspersed with the poignant story of her own experience, Passages in Caregiving addresses the needs of this enormous and growing group and is sure to become the touchstone for this challenging yet deeply rewarding period in our life journey."
   During an interview on the Today show Gail describes eight "turnings around the  labyrinth of caregiving" which are:

1. Shock and mobilization ("where time speeds up and you are working off adrenaline day and night... Your emotions run wild. You may wake to the first light of morning in a sweat, convinced you never slept.")

2. The New Normal (" You are living with a new uncertainty, and you are not going back to the old normal.")

3.  Boomerang ("Everything has settled down into a new normal routine...You're handling it, thinking OK, I can do this. And suddenly, BOOMERANG! A new crisis erupts.")

4. Playing God  ("By now you’ve become a seasoned caregiver.  You’re good at it... People say you are heroic, and you are beginning to believe it. You are Playing God.")

5. I can’t do this anymore!  (" day, a year or two or three later, you break into tears, totally fatigued. Same thing the next day. You’ve given up so much. You’re cracking.")

6. Coming back  ("This is the crucial turning. It now becomes clear that your loved one is not going to get well and will become more and more dependent and needy. You are approaching the center of the labyrinth... You may touch the depths of despair. is here that caregivers...begin the effort of coming back to life.")

7. The in-between stage ("This is a momentous turning point for those who care for the chronically ill. Your loved one cannot be cured...but he or she is not ready to die—and may live on for years."

8. The long good-bye ("This is the last turning. No one can answer your most burning question. How long? Inevitably, there will be times when you see your loved one suffering that you will likely feel: Why can’t you die? ...Then, of course, you’ll feel guilty for thinking such a thing.")

   As one of those forty-four million caregivers and as a fan of Sheehy, I'm looking forward to reading her book.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Getting Through Tough Times with Positive Psychology

Happiness: Lessons from a New Science   During this journey through my mother's lung cancer I am relying heavily on the concepts of positive psychology to help us get through. In "Happiness: Lessons From a New Science," Richard Layard wrote, "cultivate the sense of awe and wonder, savour the things of today; and look about you with the same interest as if you were watching a movie or taking a photo.  Engage with the world and with the people around you.  In one sense, as Leo Tolstoy said, the most important person in the world is the one in front of you now."
   We leave before sunrise each week day morning to make it for mom's radiation treatment on time.  Yesterday, while pulling out of the drive way I noticed how incredibly beautiful the full moon looked hanging in the pre dawn sky.  I pointed it out to my mother and we stopped the car and savoured it.  Within a few moments I began to feel my breathing deepen and my body relax as I allowed myself to drift toward the pull of the moon.  We hadn't needed to venture into the wilderness, or even stroll through a park, all we had to do was to simply pause and look up to be connected with something vast and beautiful and transcendent.  I reached out and took my mother's hand and allowed myself to fully take in the blessing of it all....    

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Love, Cancer, and Reclaiming Body and Soul


   For the past two weeks I've spent ten hour days at a major cancer center where I've been exposed to and touched by suffering, heartbreak, love and beauty on what often seems like a moment to moment basis. One moment I am sitting at a table of patients and artists beside a pale and exhausted looking teenager hooked up to an iv  who is working on an intricate and truly beautiful collage while completely ignoring the rest of us. On my other side is a fragile looking middle aged man with kind eyes who has dropped by the Arts in Medicine room before his chemo infusion.  When he begins to describe the puppy he is considering adopting and asks us what we think he should name her, the teenager looks up, takes us in for what seems like the first time, and suggests that he name the puppy, "Hope."

   The next day while sipping coffee in the radiation center waiting room I am joined by what is beginning to feel like a sisterhood of mostly bald headed women who huddle together for a few moments each morning to compare side effects, symptoms, laughter, and reassurances.  This capacity of shared trauma for so quickly fostering authenticity and intimacy is remarkable to me.

   That same afternoon while at the infusion center I notice a husband and wife sitting across from me and am struck by the fact that while the wife is the one receiving the chemo infusions, it's he who looks ill and absolutely terrified.  I smile at him reassuringly and He lifts a trembling hand to wave at me.  I very much doubt that this wan and stoop shouldered man has seen his thirtieth birthday yet.

   I see pain everywhere.  And I see love all around me.  And I see fear and courage and despair and hope.  This just may be the most terrible, beautiful, most real world I have ever landed in.  I've had several long and heart felt talks with complete strangers, and  ocassionally I ask them what they've discovered thus far that has surprised or encouraged them.  A common response to my question alludes to the acts of kindness cancer patients and their loves ones have experienced from strangers and how significant even the smallest gestures have felt to those who were feeling frightened and vulnerable.  "Maybe it is love that does the most healing," one breast cancer patient shared with me.

   In her book, "When the Heart Waits," Sue Monk Kidd observed that “…a split of the head from the heart is common in our culture. Along with this goes another painful splitting: the severing of our body from our soul. As we separate from our feelings, we tend to separate from our bodies as well.”  In this culture of cancer I have repeatedly heard stories that describe in one form or another a kind of reunion of body and soul.  They are never happy stories, instead they contain pain and suffering and fear, and yet, they are so often transformative.   Stories that begin with one person's abrupt and often savage introduction to a body that he or she had been living with for a life time and yet never known.  Dramas that present crisis and pathos and uncertainty, and encounters that cannot possibly be prepared for because they involve a confrontation with the wildness of one's very soul.  For days now I have sat saddened and spell bound by stories that throb with both pain and love and ultimately seem to lead to the 'awful grace' of a hard won and weary wisdom. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Failure, Imagination and J.K. Rowling

I hear a great deal about fear and failure these days from both adolescents and adults who come to me for support, reassurance, direction and (gulp) wisdom. I think when appropriate I'll begin referring them to J.K. Reynold's wonderful address to Harvard Graduates where she shared..."So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive..."

Failure, while always painful and never welcomed, is often a pathway to possibilities that we seldom recognize in the beginning.

I encourage you to watch her speech and enjoy the opportunity to both laugh and be inspired...