Archive for the tag “joy”

Judy Zehr Shares Her Journey With Her Mom

Blissful + Kind-Hearted, October 2013
(full version found at http://eepurl.com/GQ8Az)

Hello dear ones,

Autumn is change; dying back, cooling down, tuning within. Autumn is sky. Autumn is clouds.

My Mom passed away this Autumn. Her ashes were spread under the yellowing Maple leaves behind the church we attended as children, where my Mother and Father were married, where we kids were baptized, where I sang in the choir until I became too cool for church and family and singing hundred year old hymns.

My Mom had become ill with c.diff., a superbug created from our over-use of antibiotics. C. diff isn’t so bad for healthy folks, but it can kill infants and the elderly or people with compromised immune systems. Within 6 weeks my Mom went from walking, going out to lunch, shopping and laughing to wheelchair bound, mumbling, unable to lift her head or complete sentences. She could no longer feed herself, or use the restroom. 

I learned so much trying to help my Mom through this, and I don’t want to assume this will be interesting for all, so if you click on any of the linked blue words throughout this text, you will be able to read one of my lessons. That way, you can skip them or pick and choose what has interest for you. The whole list of lessons is at the bottom of this newsletter.

Of course it is the natural course of life to say goodbye to our parents. My Mother had Alzheimer’s, and she hadn’t really known my husband or children for over ten years. The last couple of years she only had a vague recollection of me. But none of that mattered at the end. Love and forgiveness. That’s one of my lessons, when it boils down to this transition, all you can feel is love and forgiveness. As blessed a transition as birth.

ButterfliesFamilyNature. Death is a great companion, a beautiful mediator, a most powerful guardian, a kiss-blowing spiritual sender- off.

When we experience death and loss we are facing, what we call in Emotional Brain Training (EBT),  an “essential pain” of life. When we face these essential pains, heart open, awake, feeling our real feelings and staying in our body (without numbing, avoiding, hiding, distracting, diverting, etc.) we begin to open up to the earned rewards, or silver linings of life. This is at the heart of spiritual and emotional growth, of our own development, of our personal journey.

I continue to be amazed at how helpful the EBT skills are in traveling through life’s challenges staying in relative balance, connection, and awareness. I found these skills  lifesavers in helping my Mom, family and self through this transition.

This season, I am offering an EBT and Beyondtele-group for advanced participants, and a beginning EBT tele-group for anyone new to the work. I am also offering an EBT providers-only tele-group too. If you are interested in more information or signing up, please email me

This too was one of my lessons, stay true to what you love, be real which means flawed, imperfect, broken. Cherish the falling apart, the aging, the dying. Feel, breathe, sing.

May your Autumn be filled with love, song and what’s real,

Judy

P.S. I found some very nurturing and supportive tools during this time that I’d like to share with you. Click here and you can see some of the books, meditations and practices that seemed to hold me through this transition.

My Lessons:

Clouds

My Mom was born and raised in the Midwest, as was I, right near Lake Michigan. There was something so compelling about the big sky, the big lake, and the glorious clouds that showed up season after season and seemed to prompt us to play, explore, believe. Here in Portland, the sky seems small as we have so many hills and huge trees.

If you are a cloud lover like me, and you haven’t seen this TED talk on clouds, please do so ASAP! What an amazing speaker and group dedicated to clouds. It’s title? Cloudy, with a chance of joy.

 Ashes

Both my parents were cremated and had purchased small “plots” under a “Remembrance Wall” behind the church they attended. One of the most difficult moments was seeing my brother put the ashes down into the ground. I’ve heard the same from friends who witnessed a body’s burial … the sinking of the casket into the ground, the first shovels of dirt dropped upon the casket ….the most devastating, breathless moments.

I realized that for me, there’s secret joy in death – the freedom from the body’s pain, the rising of the spirit, beyond the limits of our senses and perceptions. It seems that death is a great uplifting, and for me, spreading my ashes to the wind and sky feels more nurturing and joyful. Have you thought of your last moments, how you want to celebrate and let go?

C. Diff.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/c-difficile/DS00736

“Illness from C. difficile most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in long-term care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications. However, studies show increasing rates of C. difficile infection among people traditionally not considered high risk, such as younger and healthy individuals without a history of antibiotic use or exposure to health care facilities. Each year, more than a half million people get sick from C. difficile, and in recent years, C. difficile infections have become more frequent, severe and difficult to treat”.

What to do about superbugs? My Mom went into the hospital with a simple UTI, and came out with this virulent bacteria. She never licked it, even after rounds of antibiotics.

One thing we learned, she was not given the strongest antibiotics at first. She was treated with several rounds of ineffective antibiotics, antibiotics that physicians said work in 75% of cases, and are cheaper, so are first defense. If my Mom had received the stronger antibiotic, the one that costs more money and is not the first line of treatment, would she have been able to survive this superbug? Who knows, but what we did learn, for certain, our elders need advocates. My Mom needed the stronger antibiotic. She was in the 25%. She didn’t get it for months, and by the time she got it, she was beyond repair.

Information and advocacy. We all need it, and need it even more as we age.

Help my Mom

Honestly, it’s my Mom that is and was helping me. At her service my brother, sister and I shared some of the stories, values and “Mother wisdom” passed down from my Mom. Here’s what I shared:

*********

How lucky we are to have grown up with a Mom with such a big heart and strong character.

One thing Mom and I shared was a love for Winnie the Pooh. In fact, she taught me to read with Pooh books. So when Mom was ill I pulled out my old books and started to read. It had been almost 50 years. You can imagine my surprise as I realized Mom and Pooh Bear had amazing similarities – their philosophy of life, their wit and their big heart.

I have four quotes, straight from Winnie the Pooh’s mouth, to show you what I mean:

1. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.

Mom lived in, and had a deep appreciation for, the present moment. In my generation, where I live, out west, people pay big bucks for fancy retreats to try to learn the Betty Zehr style of living – Be Here Now. Even as she aged and lost her memory, caregivers would tell us how much they loved our Mom, how she taught them to notice and appreciate the little things – the cherry tree blooming outside the window, or the pretty cloud in the sky, as if seeing these things for the first time. 

2. It’s more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “what about lunch?”

Mom had a simplicity about her. She didn’t like to analyze things, she didn’t like to get all bothered by ideas, politics, deep discussions. I remember Alison and Dad getting into arguments over politics, economics, society, almost everything, but Mom would always just shrug. She had a “que sera, sera – whatever will be, will be”, approach to life, asking everyone to please calm down, let’s look on the bright side, let’s not worry about that now.

… and what’s for lunch?

3. Love is taking a few steps backward, (maybe even more) … to give way to the happiness of the people you love.

Maybe this describes all Moms, all Dads, all Families. Mom was big on selflessness for the greater good, for family, for community, for nature and life. She put up with cigar smoke, non-stop football, four loud and busy kids, a smorgasbord of pets, I can’t tell you how many wild and other animals I brought home to try to rescue and she’d always help me find a box, or heating pad, or a little eyedropper to try to feed the baby bunny or bird or frog. She rarely raised her voice. She rarely became ruffled. She almost always took a few steps backward to give way to what we loved.

4. I have one more quote, and this final pooh quote really reflects everything I think we are all saying here, with so much love and gratitude for our Mom, and also for our Dad.

How lucky we are to have someone that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Say Goodbye

“Every life comes with a death sentence.”   – Walter White, Breaking Bad.

“I don’t know how you say good-bye to whom and what you love. I don’t know a painless way to do it, don’t know the words to capture a heart so full and a longing so intense.”  – Laura Weiss, The Way It Ends
 
Sigh, my simple lesson here is that there is no good goodbye. Perhaps you’ve experienced a perfect good bye where all words were said, all feelings felt and shared, all peaceful and whole. For me, I learned that expecting this is unreasonable. My goodbyes always feel inadequate, half baked, tongue tied, marginal.
 
The heart so full, the longing so intense. Breathe. Maybe breathe together. Maybe curl up one last moment in a shared breath, a syncopated heartbeat. Touch warm skin. Breathe.

Alzheimer’s 

When my Mom began to lose her memory, first not remembering my husband, then her grandkids, and finally my brother, sister and me, I made the big mistake of following her lead and I began to lose my memory of her too. I know it is cliché, but I tended to become impatient, hurried when around her, focused on the “to do” list and slightly annoyed.
 
I didn’t pull out pictures and reminisce until she was very ill with the c.diff. Pulling out the pictures, making a slide show, sharing photos with my family, all brought my Mom back to life and began the extraordinary wave of love and forgiveness.
 
And that was my lesson. Pull out the photos of your elders and hold the memory, as they lose theirs. Just because they forget, doesn’t mean you have to. Remember the good, the moment of joy, and rejoice in the remembering. Relive it, and it will be a balm for an impatient and annoyed mind.

Love and Forgiveness 

I know we all have constraints on what we can give to and do for each other. But what I learned is that when I nudge myself to give more, to take a more selfless path if possible, the returns are immense. OK, yes, deep fatigue maybe. Maybe it will take a while to get back on my own track, but the love and forgiveness that comes from a bit more selfless path is so worth it.
 
It sounds so cliché, but “what can I give?” is a much more satisfying question than “what can I get?” And it’s that deep, rolling satisfaction that feels like swinging in the sun, laughing alongside a river, walking barefoot on soft grass.

Butterflies

What do you know to be true? What are you not certain about, but have a hunch? I was pondering this one morning as I walked to the hospital to visit my Mother. I realized that I’m not an atheist, but I’m also not a believer in a theistic universe as depicted in any religions I’ve studied. I’m not an agnostic, although I can empathize with that point of view. It’s studying science that fills me with so much wonder and mystery, so much longing and possibility, that I feel certain that there is something greater happening than the simple structures of our every day lives.  In other words, I was thinking about God.
 
Here is what happened. I was pondering all this, at 6 am on a beautiful summer morning, walking to the hospital. Suddenly, a very large black and blue butterfly flew out of a bush right toward me. I grew up in the Midwest, and I have never seen a butterfly like this before. It looked like it belonged in the Amazon. It flew right up to me, and then circled around me. I spun around watching its flight. Time seemed to stand still and it’s large glistening wings flapped in slow motion. I stood breathlessly still as it flew away, in a leisurely, curious way, as if to say ….what was it saying?
 
A butterfly, a symbol of transformation, of the struggle in change and loss and letting go and the stunning beauty, the lightheartedness, the joy of becoming.
 
So maybe it’s simple. May we move through this life becoming. May we welcome death as another transformation into more profound beauty and mystery.

And every common bush afire with God; 
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries

Family

A deeper love and devotion, a wider, more inclusive net. That’s all I can say.

Nature
 
Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.

                                    – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I know this sounds redundant and simplistic, but almost everyone I work with mentions the joy and comfort found in nature. Some people love walks in the forest. Others love the tides and drama of the ocean. Some love their pets, their backyard birds and gardens. When we ask, what brings you joy, almost everyone mentions some part of nature that they truly love.
 
My Mom loved nature. She had a passion for her garden, birds, rocks, water, trees. Once again I realize am nothing without this stunning green planet to hold me and carry me through. (Have you seen the movie, Gravity, yet?) Time to get off my couch and do what my Mom did, volunteer to support the planet and the nature I love, contribute to organizations that are honoring, saving and respecting nature, wake up and speak up — be a voice that will help make a difference for generations to come.

Companion

“This is how it is not. It is not that we have a meeting with death somewhere out in the future. But rather we are on a pilgrimage here on this planet and death is our great companero, our great companion. It was She who cradled and protected us as were being born from our mother’s thighs. She steps every step we step, sings every song we sing and weeps when we weep and it is She, death, the best friend, who will midwife us again in the second birth at the end of this life, the birth into the next world.”  – Clarissa Pinkola Estes, The Radiant Coat

EBT and Beyond Groups

EBT, Emotional Brain Training, is a comprehensive program which teaches you the skills to retrain your own brain: the way you process stress and the way you cope with challenges, your mood, behavior and focus. EBT was life saving for me, and transformational for so many of my clients. Why? We learn to move away from numbing, negative emotions and moods, addictions and excesses, and move toward feeling, expressing and experiencing life with joy and balance. Participants find results with all sorts of challenges: weight, depression, mood, anxiety, spending, clutter, relationship problems and addiction.
 
I have beginning and advanced telegroups available. Call or email if you have questions.

Sing

One of the things we did at my Mom’s bedside was sing to her. She seemed to recognize many of the old songs we all loved. If nothing else, we got great joy from singing together and sharing those moments of love and loss. We have begun to “sing our grind ins” in EBT, which means sing to ourselves our new expectations, positive, powerful thoughts, affirmations, new beliefs. Sing to ourselves our hopes, dreams and possibilities. Research suggests that we are more likely to remember, and be moved by, a song than simple words.
 
We had a bagpiper at my Mother’s funeral (she was very Scottish) and we had a guitarist play the Beatles song “Blackbird”. Here’s an audio version of this haunting song with lyrics. (covered by Sarah McLachlan). Enjoy.

Books, Meditations and Practices:

The Radiant Coat: Myths and Stories about the Crossing Between Life and Death – Clarissa Pinkola Estes  (borrowed from the wonderful Jeanne Tyler)
 
Reiki Relaxation by BronwenSteine — for some reason this was the only meditation CD that helped me feel better.

The Way To Love by The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello

5 Ways to Shake Up a Caregiving Rut

ducky

Are you feeling exhausted, stressed out, guilty or plain fed-up about caring for an elder? Often when a caregiver is frustrated, so is the elder. Stop doing what you are doing that isn’t working and consider SHAKING IT UP!

Time Together

Elder: As we age in to the oldest old years it becomes a time of loss. Elders lose friends, physical abilities, independence, dignity and seemingly anything resembling control. Everyone else thinks they know what’s best for them and often do not bother to ask for the elder’s opinion. Decisions from the unimportant issues like when they may want a bath or what they want to eat to the big life changes like taking away a driver’s license or deciding where they want to live. These choices become dependent on other’s availability or needs rather than the desires of the elder.  Often days are filled with an abundance of time to focus on not feeling well, medication concerns or side effects, next doctor’s appointments, boredom, and how to get some more attention from whom ever can fit you in to their busy schedules. It’s no wonder elders have a reputation for being cranky. Depression and suicide rates are high in the elderly. White males over 80 have the highest suicide rates in the elder population. National Institute Mental Health reports, “Depressive disorder is not a normal part of aging. Emotional experiences of sadness, grief, response to loss, and temporary “blue” moods are normal. Persistent depression that interferes significantly with ability to function is not.” The problem with negative feelings in the brain is when we dwell in negative thoughts we have more negative thoughts, so disruption in the situational sadness may help those with normal mood changes become more engaged.

 

Caregiver: Maybe you love the person you care for, maybe you don’t, but either way you are the one in the trenches doing the work. If you’re lucky you have support from other family and friends, but then again they may be causing a lot of the stress involved in caring for an elder. But still, each day you roll up your sleeves and do it all from errands and medical visits to cleaning backsides and dirty dishes, only to get up and do it all again tomorrow. If you are a long distance caregiver you spend twice as much money as a local caregiver trying to support your elder and panic every time the phone rings, not to mention the struggle with guilt that you want to be with your elder more; or guilt because you are happy to be with them less. You hear about self-care and how important it is, but you are baffled by who has time when your head is down and you are just trying to get through the day, week, and month! Possibly you are part of the sandwich group who have several generations you are caring for at home and another job outside the home.

Does any of this resemble what is unfolding for you in your caregiving journey? Well you are in a very large club. In 2012, 15.4 million family and friends provided 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias alone. Eighty percent of care provided in the community

is delivered by unpaid caregivers. and the majority of caregivers are women over 45. With numbers like these, being in a caregiver’s rut could be the next national health hazard!

 

So how do we shake it up, find the silver linings or just simply do it different? Let’s begin with deconstructing the pattern…

 

  1. Dialogue ~ look at the routine you have when talking with an elder. Is it utilitarian habit or are you engaged in meaningful conversations? Do you talk to them as a petulant child or cower every time they raise their opinion? Communication tools can go a long way here. If the elder you care for has cognitive disorders, watch some of Teepa Snow’s http://teepasnow.com/wp/ training videos on communication skills for elders with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease or catch one of her talks locally (see her website for details). Some very basic changes can make a world of difference. For mentally healthy elders, communication tools are still very useful. Lifelong patterns over the family life course can make it difficult to change patterns but there are tools to help. Activities that create new ways of talking can be around the elder’s need to share stories. Engage in storytelling tools and activities at a level the person can handle. From computers, journaling, genealogy research or simply inquisitively chatting over a bath or over the phone can make a mundane activity more of an adventure. Elders have a need to tell their stories over and over as a way of processing their lives as time here grows shorter. This is where the details of life live and this rich activity will yield pearls for you as well as the elder.
  2. Outings ~ A friend recently told me that upon visiting her parents a few months ago in another state she took them out for a drive. Her father barely ambulatory and her mother prone to falls were thrilled to be going out. On this journey she surprised them and took them to their favorite Jazz Club where they went when they were younger. She enlisted the help of a waiter and got them situated in the back of the room. As the music played on she said she could see the years melt away and their younger selves emerge. For 3 hours they enjoyed a part of life that had been lost to them. They have a code name now for when she comes to visit so that other family members do not know what they are up to on these outings. How empowering! This could not have been an easy outing for my friend, but it gave her immense pleasure and changed her parent’s outlook completely. If this is too adventurous for your elder perhaps just a drive around town; or closer to home set up a Skype session with an old friend, do some snail mail letter writing or perhaps engage in a beloved hobby like baking where they can sit close by and “teach” you a favorite recipe. If your elder has cognitive issues, setting the table, walking through the garden, folding laundry, or dancing all become enjoyable new adventures. Don’t give into the usual routine; Shake It Up so it is fun for you as well. Portland has a beautiful Alzheimer’s memory garden where you can take your elder (http://www.portlandmemorygarden.org/PMG/Welcome.html).
  3. Self Care ~ OK we are diving in the deep end now. Funds are low, time is scarce and what is self care anyway? Simply put it is a change of environment to recharge your batteries. Connect with the spiritual side by gardening, taking a labyrinth walk, attending church or joining a choir or painting class. Identify something that brings personal joy and fulfillment for a few minutes a day and a few hours a week and a few days a month. No one will give you permission to enjoy something without regard for others, so you must be strong enough to go for it without permission from anyone but yourself. Typically caregivers put themselves last, which makes you the worst advocate for your own selfcare. By putting yourself last, you will likely have less patience and unlikely to find joy in your caregiving role. Magical things happen when you practice self care. Perhaps your biggest challenge is getting a good night’s sleep. If you can afford it, hire a professional caregiver to come in 2 nights a week so you know you will get some relief. If you are long distance, hire a Geriatric Care Manager to pop in and check on your elder and/or his care givers every week or month. If funds are tight, barter with friends to come spend the night in exchange for a homemade pie or watching their elder or child during the day. Get creative and reach out to local support groups and social services that will allow you the time you need when you need it. If you schedule it on the calendar it will happen. There are some ways to combine self care with your care giving activities. Give your elder a sacred foot massage and make a ritual of lighting a candle and using lotion or oil with a scent like lavender or chamomile. Then if the elder is able have them do the same to you. If you can afford to have someone come in and give you both foot massages then make it a weekly or monthly routine. There are many massage therapists who will come to your home. My favorites are Sister Emma at the Franciscan Center in Milwaukie, Oregon (503-794-8542) or Sister Delores at St. Mary’s in Beaverton (503- 944-9641). The important thing is to schedule the time and make sure it happens. Have someone come in for one day a week and you decide what you feel like doing that day. The answer may be nothing or a nap. That is OK! Learning to ask for help is the biggest challenge for caregivers. Do it, you will be surprised where the help comes from. You will be surprised once a routine is in place how your relationship with your elder improves. They may protest at first or even always when you leave them, but the benefits will come.
  4. Empowerment ~ it can be exhausting making decisions for another human being. Too often feelings of guilt or inadequacy flood in even when you are doing just fine. Know that nothing in the world is perfect and you simply being there is an amazing gift. The rest is all gravy. To help cope with the times it can be emotionally overwhelming, try learning a few mindfulness techniques. Our local psycho-therapist Donald Altman (http://www.mindfulpractices.com/) has some great tools for breathing and meditation that can help when things get stressful for you or if your elder is in a funk. Space cannot always be achieved physically, so having techniques to navigate through these times is priceless. These tools can be used by your elder as well. One of the best methods to decreasing your decision fatigue is by giving back some of the responsibility to the elder. Depending on your situation, the answer may be a modified version, but honoring their level of ability to give an opinion can go along way for both of you. Give your elder decision making power whenever possible. You are there to keep them safe. There are also local classes available designed by Legacy Health for Caregiver Help. This course is offered in many places from senior centers, hospitals, and even at the Franciscan Spiritual Center. The course is designed to teach you about community resources, care strategies, support group and self care. All great ideas to Shake Up your current routine.
  5. The Unexpected ~ If you haven’t already, begin building a support network: Online, in-person or host a weekly meeting in your home. Whatever you have to do to be with others going through the same important work you are doing. It is too common to become isolated with an elder. This is not good for you or them. Have some social activities in the home even if your elder does not engage. The presence of others can be soothing or annoying, so be aware of the best format for your situation. Online could be a great way to support long distance caregivers, start a facebook group and open it up for members. As life unfolds with your elder health challenges may increase, a need for hospice may arrive, or a medical need for a move into a nursing home or rehab center may happen. All of these situations can create crisis and stress for the caregiver and elder alike. Having medical, social, and caregiver support nets in-place can make the transitions easier. Our Geriatric Care Manager services can also be part of this safety net, there to pull the resources together to make sure the decisions for your elder are coordinated and serve the elder’s best interest through advocacy and care planning. Our website also offers tools and resources to help with these transitions www.FiresideCMG.com

 

As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the

difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed.

                                                                           – Vincent van Gogh

 

Grasshoppers Took the Sunshine Away

Image

While visiting my 87-year old Uncle and going through boxes of old pictures, we came across a letter that my Great Uncle Adolph dictated to his daughter, my mother’s niece. The letter spoke of their trials and tribulations and the hope and promise of migrating from Germany to Nebraska.

He spoke of trading one set of hardships for another. In Germany they were poor and had little hope of improving. In Nebraska, they had more opportunity to improve their lives but times in the 1930’s were tough. There was famine, poverty and for a while, the grasshoppers ruined the small crops that had survived.  He told his niece, “The grasshoppers took the sunshine away”—a poignant comment that stuck with me because it says much about the overall state of the struggles we all face in this life.  There are desperate, dark days when we think we will never see the sun again.

I think that aging for many is one of the toughest trials we face. The good news is that nearly all of us have survived and learned from a lifetime of difficult and sometimes devastating times. These challenges may be painful but they do leave us with tremendous coping skills that will serve us well when the going gets tough as we lose some of our independence through cognitive or physical loss.

Last week I met a woman in an assisted living facility who was confined to a wheel chair and her sight was nearly gone. Her hearing was marginal.  Yet she was a joyful, lovely person. I asked her what brought meaning and purpose to her at different times during her life and she said, “Oh it doesn’t change. I may not be able to dance a jig but my purpose was never about how I looked or what I did. It’s about enjoying every day the Lord gives me and realizing the beauty of this world.”

I pray that I that I use all my gifts and skills to help me age as gracefully as she is aging.  I doubt if the grasshoppers blocked her sunshine for any length of time!

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