Tag Archives: caregiver support

Birthdays, Dementia, and a New Year

Busy holiday schedules have cheated my Mom of good birthday parties for most of her life. But this year we felt a strong need to observe the occasion. There’s no guarantee we’ll get another chance.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.by Lao Tzu

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
by Lao Tzu

Mom had no idea that yesterday was her birthday though she’d been reminded of it many times. When we produced a beautifully decorated cake and her favorite food (vanilla ice cream), she was genuinely surprised. Although she’s suffering from a nasty eye infection and relentless digestive problems, the “Happy Birthday” song brought her to tears (of joy!) She even danced with me while Adele and Perry Como provided our soundtrack.

It was tough to figure out what kind of gift Mom would actually enjoy. She can’t read or exercise — except for slow walking. Her closets bulge with more clothing than she can wear out in this lifetime. I finally bought her a very soft pink teddy bear that she named Charlie. It may sound childish, but you would not believe how much she loved it.

Her conversational motor winds down fast, so we have to keep thinking of questions to keep her engaged and awake. I asked, “Is there anything you want to do in the new year? Something special you’d like to see?” We prompted her through a list of possibilities: go dancing? hear music? take a trip? Nothing got caught her attention.

Finally she said, “I want to live!” Her statement came out with more enthusiasm than you might expect from a person so impaired by dementia.  She made us all laugh. But it reminded me of a quote I read last week about being alive. In the spirit of Mom’s declaration, here’s that quote, plus a few others that might help you as you reflect on the cares of 2012 and consider the possibilities of 2013.

  • “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” –Agatha Christie
  • “The Lord doesn’t like us to be dead. Be alive. Sometimes I dance to the glory of the Lord, because He said so.” –Mahalia Jackson
  • “We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.” –Joseph Campbell
  • “It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what  we are.”             –Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  • “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” –Howard Thurman
  • “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” –Marcus Aurelius

Life is a gift we don’t always understand. Take a moment to appreciate the full measure of who you are and all that you have done for others. Living through each day is a special kind of achievement for caregivers. Congratulations on being here.

The Fifteen Minute Caregiver Vacation

Two years ago, when I first became a caregiver to my Mom, I was a real mess. As everyone knows, caregiving is a job that demands all the emotional strength you have. Most of us are not prepared to manage the waves of conflicting feelings that come with our duties. At first, the only tool I had for managing stress was a basic yoga practice that helped me get exercise and a fleeting sense of calm that got me through challenging moments.

Then in March of 2012, I decided to follow my interest in yoga to a higher plane. I attended a three-day retreat where I learned more about how the regular practice of meditation, along with yoga, could help you cultivate more energy and inner strength. Sue Neufeld facilitated the retreat, which introduced me to the ideas of Rod Stryker. His book, The Four Desires, described the central concepts we explored at the retreat.

When I returned home, I began using something Stryker calls the “Healing the Heart Meditation” to help me get through my daily emotional struggles. I created a video format for the meditation and found that using it helped me better appreciate my time with Mom, despite the cruel influence dementia had on our relationship. Today, I decided to share  an adapted video version with readers so you can try it in your own home. [If the link doesn’t work here, try the one on the Facebook page for Between the Pond and the Woods.]

You can use the meditation any way you like, but it’s best if you set aside at least fifteen minutes of quiet time in a comfortable spot where you will not be interrupted. My adapted version of the meditation video was taped near the creek that passes our house. The soundscape includes birdsong and noise from passing airplanes. I left them in because I thought they added some sweetness to the track.

One warning: When I first tried to practice this meditation, I cried a lot. Buckets. Rivers. Oceans. But after doing it several times a week for six months, I no longer cry. I just feel relaxed. I’m really interested to know if you find any value in using this. As always, I send you wishes for moments of peace during times of high tide.