CareGiver Guide

You can't care for another until you care for yourself…first!

The Spirituality of Care Giving: A Practical Guide for Care Givers

What comes to mind when hear the word ‘spirituality’?

Ceremonies and rituals? Theological and theoretical discussions about whether or not there is a God? Someone saying “I’m spiritual, not religious?”

Relax. The “Spirituality of Care Giving” is not about any of the above. It is the title of a book I am writing that I intend as a practical guide for Care Givers. You probably don’t connect being spiritual with being practical.  The book will show how practical the spirituality of care giving can be.

Spirituality recognizes that human beings are more than a body and a mind (the activity of the brain). That something more is our spirit. “The Spirituality of CareGiving” will show how that ‘something more’ is essential for being a care giver.

You don’t have to believe this as you might believe some spiritual dogma. My experience caring for my mother as she dealt with of terminal liver disease, my interaction with patients as a hospice volunteer, and my work as a home care worker have shown me the practical value of the spiritual dimension of care giving.

I contend that learning the spirituality of care giving will reduce the stress level typically experienced by care givers.

Over the next 90 days, I will be unfolding “the spirituality of care giving.”  Stay tuned.

P.S. Over these same 90 days, I am committing to putting these thoughts into a book The Spirituality of Care Giving: A Practical Guide for Care Givers.

Another way to care for yourself

My tag line for this blog is that “You can’t take care of another until you take care of yourself…first!” The truism is that you can’t give what you don’t have.

How do you take care of yourself? The obvious ways are making sure you eat and sleep well. Add in regular exercise and meditation and you have covered a lot what is recognized as “taking care of yourself.”

There is another aspect of caring for yourself that I highly recommend to CareGivers: achieving success. Now, you may be saying to yourself, I’m a CareGiver. I have enough on my plate already. When do I have time to become successful? Besides, wouldn’t that be taking my focus away from care giving? Yes. And that is exactly the point. To reduce the stress of being a CareGiver, learning the balance between placing attention on the person you are caring for and yourself, is critical. You need time for yourself so you don’t begin to feel that all that there to life is a caring for your loved one.

Let’s take a look at success. One definition of success is the progressive realization of a stated goal. Define a goal, and do a little each day to move toward completing that goal. That’s success. It’s not necessarily about becoming financially independent or finding your soul mate. You can achieve success doing something as simple as planting basil seeds in a pot that you place on your window sill and nurturing it until it produces leaves big enough to spice your food.  You can define success as finally finishing reading that novel that’s been on your shelf for the past year.

Why is achieving success doing something simple essential to reducing the stress of being a CareGiver? Because it allows you to experience seeing the results of your actions in a task which has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Care giving is an open ended task that expands over time. While there is a beginning to care giving,  it difficult to know where’s the middle or when the end will  come. That lack of control over the process and uncertainty of the time frame are two factors that contribute to the stress of being a care giver.

When you can give yourself the gift of becoming successful doing something simple, you can draw on that experience for comfort when you face the chaotic, open-ended world of care giving.

The Flickering Flame & The Winter Solistice

Today is the Winter Solstice. In the northern hemisphere where we are, it is the day with the least amount of sunlight. The days grow longer from now until the Summer Solstice in June.

Early this morning I had an empowering experience involving light as I meditated. Normally, I just sit in a darkened room as I meditate. For the past days, I’ve kept my eyes open and fixed on the flame of a small votive candle. Lighting candles each day in this season leading up to Christmas is a tradition I decided to follow this year.

As I sat to meditate, I noticed the wax and wick in the votive candle were low. I wasn’t sure the flame could last through the entire meditation period.

I lit the candle anyway. Soon the flame was barely a flicker. I thought if I removed some of the melted wax, the flame might get a bit bigger as it did when I did this the day before. Then, I recalled that my meditation practice advises that once the period starts, neither move nor hold onto any thought. So, I let the candle alone. I just observed. I let go of desiring an outcome (having the flame last the entire session) or of doing something to extend the life of the candle. I let it be.

The flame continued to flicker faintly. At one point, the flame was so faint, I wasn’t sure it was still alive. Then, it did go out.  After it went out, my judgmental mind awoke and said, “See, the candle didn’t last.” No sooner had that thought entered my mind, when the bell to end the meditation session had rung. Without my doing anything, the flame had lasted.

What I experienced reminded me of what it was like to sit in the hospice room when my mother was in coma the day before she died. I so much wanted to do something to change what I knew was coming. Listening to her struggle to breathe was like watching the flame faintly flickering.

Unlike with my experience with the candle during meditation, I was not there when my mother drew her last breath. Unlike my experience with the candle, I did wish I could do something, I just didn’t know what. I struggled just to be there despite attempts to read, pray and meditate. Nothing I did made it any easier to be with her. Finally, having finished the book I was reading, I got up and left.

Now, all these years later, observing the candle has taught me a lesson of how to sit with someone who is dying. Be a compassionate presence. Let go and let it be. Suspend the desire to do — anything.

Enjoy the light as each day grows longer!

You can’t care for another until take care of yourself…first!

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13.

As CareGivers, we indeed lay down our lives for a loved one or friend, the CaredFor. Whether we do so out of choice or obligation or guilt, we lay aside  major concerns of our own lives –  family, career, retirement, security – in order to care for another.

CareGivers then also lay aside another major concern: caring for themselves. Using some form of  a logic that defies common sense, the CareGiver believes that taking care of the CaredFor is a ‘prime directive’ to be accomplished at all costs. Slowly this translates into it’s OK not to care for myself as long as I am using my energy to care for the CaredFor.

What CareGivers fail to recognize is that you can’t give what you don’t have. If you are not well, how can you care well for another?

A recent study on teaching math showed that math teachers who were uncomfortable with math transferred that feeling to their students. Those students developed an aversion to math.

Similarly, if a CareGiver is uncomfortable with their role in taking care of another, it will transfer to the person they are caring for.

What I have learned in taking care of my mother and as a hospice volunteer is that I need to empty myself of any expectations before interacting as a care giver. Part of caring for myself is to become aware of my unexamined beliefs I hold about caring for another.

Am I aware that my attitudes affect how I do the tasks of care taking?

Am I aware that I expect my actions to produce an immediate result in the healing of the CaredFor? Is it any wonder then that I feel disappointed when I don’t see any immediate changes?

Am I aware that being present to the CaredFor, without expectations,  without an agenda, is the best gift I can give?

I have been told that listening to someone in way which allows that person to know they have been heard is the greatest gift one person can give to another.

CareGivers, it is selfish not to care for yourself first! When you don’t care for yourself first, eventually the care giving becomes about you as you attempt to give what you don’t have. When you are cared for, you can freely give. You can move attention away from yourself to focus on the CaredFor.

Peace & Joy

Richard

 

“Miracles happen in the space of forgiveness.”

In a workshop I attended over 25 years, I heard the words, “Miracles happen in the space of forgiveness.” This morning I shared that thought with a friend.  Based on what he had shared with me about his childhood and how his life was going now,  it seemed to me that there was something incomplete in his relationship with his father. I suggested he should have a conversation with his father during which he consider forgiving his father for what had happened.

My friend called me this afternoon after having  that conversation.  He told me he had some good news. After struggling for several weeks to resolve a problem, suddenly a piece of the solution showed up. From his point of view, it was a miracle.

As CareGivers, we see ourselves in a continuous struggle to provide the best care for the person we are caring for, the CaredFor.  At times, we feel as though we are losing that struggle. We become overwhelmed doing the day-to-day tasks of care giving. Often this leads to our becoming angry at having to be a care giver, angry at the disease that is wrecking the health of the CaredFor, and maybe becoming angry with the CaredFor.

At this point it would be wise to enter the ‘space of forgiveness.’ Who are we to forgive?

First, ourselves. Then, others. Forgiveness starts with ourselves.

What are we to forgive? Whatever in us that is causing to become angry. The anger starts to surface because we may be expecting more of ourselves than is realistic.  The anger starts to surface because we want to blame someone or something for the pain and suffering we are experiencing . The anger starts to surface because we feel the whole situation is unfair.

At this point –in the now — we can stop to look at our anger. We can forgive ourselves for not living up to our unrealistic expectations. We can forgive ourselves for wanting to strike out and blame someone. We can forgive ourselves for wanting it to be fair.

In other words, we are moving from wanting the world to be the way it is not and moving toward accepting what is going on now just the way it is. We are moving into the ‘space of forgiveness.’

It is here where we become open to miracles happening in our lives.

 

Happy Birthday, Gloria!

Today is my sister, Gloria’s, 66th birthday. She was born on November 29, 1948.  According to my parents, on her second birthday she asked them for a brother.On August 30, 1951, I was born. Apparently, our parents did not waste any time fulfilling my sister’s birthday wish.

Growing up, we were close. I followed in my sister’s footsteps. We went to the same grammar school. We sometimes had the same teachers. When she started piano lessons, I started piano lessons a few months later. She studied French in high school. When I had to choose which foreign language to study, guess what I chose? French. She went  to college in New England. I went to college in New England.

In January of 1980 when the oncologist took my parents and me aside in the corridor of  Mother Cabrini Hospital to tell us that Gloria had cancer and had less than six months to live,  I cried.

Gloria survived for ten months. She died on Friday afternoon, August 10, 1981, 3 months shy of her 33rd birthday.  When my father called me at work that Friday afternoon to tell me that “the pigeon” had died, I didn’t cry. Pigeon was my father’s term of endearment for my sister.

I didn’t cry at the wake, nor at the funeral Mass, nor at her grave when she was buried. For those 10 months, I was numb to her struggle with adenocarcinoma, a cancer that develops in the glandular tissues of the body. I didn’t know what to do to help my sister.I was uneasy being around her, especially if I was alone with her.

Looking back, I noticed I never went to visit her in the hospital by myself. I only went to visit her with my parents or when I knew at least one of my parents would be there with her. We were still close at the time we got the news about her having cancer. Cancer came between me and Gloria. Not knowing what to do for her, I practically did nothing for her. Little did I know back then that she didn’t need me to do anything for her. What I could have given Gloria was my compassionate presence. I didn’t realize that until after she died.

It took me years to get over the guilt I felt because I wasn’t there for my sister. I didn’t go to visit her grave.

One evening about 6 years after she died, I was driving home from New York City. That’s where Gloria and I grew up and where she died. At that time I was living near Princeton, New Jersey.  On that ride home, I started to think about Gloria. I had just gotten onto the New Jersey Turnpike, when I began to cry. I cried until I got off the turnpike 30 minutes later. All the pent up emotions I had about her dying came up: the guilt about not being there for her, the sorrow of missing her in my life. It all came out.

For many years afterward, I would still cry when I thought about Gloria. Gloria has been dead for more years than she had been alive. Today, I can finally say I feel complete about her dying. I still miss her. I still feel a little sad when I think about her. But now I can begin to think about her with gratitude and joy.

Happy Birthday, Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shifting the paradigm of the CareGiver

It is time to shift the paradigm of the CareGiver from being about one who fixes problems to one who is a compassionate presence and a listener. A paradigm is a set of habits and beliefs which our parents, teachers, culture have instilled in us. Many of those beliefs remain unexamined in our unconsciousness.

Today, the focus of care giving and CareGivers is on fixing problems: death, disease, and the dying. That’s the paradigm of care giving we see in our institutions and in our homes

Death is not a problem to fix — death is part of life.

Disease is not a problem to fix — disease  is something to prevent.

The dying person is not a problem to fix — the dying person is someone to cherish while still alive.

Developing an attitude of compassion, literally a capacity to  suffering with another, is essential to being a CareGiver. Compassion opens a space in the heart of the CareGiver to hold the suffering of the person being cared for.

The person with the disease, the CaredFor, needs to know that there is someone there for her or him.  Twice during the time I spent as my mother’s CareGiver, she told me with tears running down her checks, “Richard, I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here.” While she was appreciate of what I did for her, the problems “I fixed” for her,  she never commented on what I did. She did comment on my being there for her.

Compassion is what gives the CareGiver the capacity to be there for another. Compassion allows the CareGiver to listen to the concerns, the needs, the fears of the CaredFor from the point of view of the CaredFor.

 

Dare to Be Different

Dare to be different!

Dare to follow your heart.

Whether your life seems to be

coming together

Or, falling apart.

 

You are here to learn

to love

God, others, and you,

to increase in grace and wisdom.

This is your guide for all that you do.

 

Each present moment is a gift,

not something you’re owed

nor something you’ve earned.

 

Your response is to be grateful,

to become conscious and aware.

Then, you may discover

all the beauty hidden there.

 

Richard Anastasi,

March 7, 2004

New York City

The Successful CareGiver

What does it mean to be a successful CareGiver?

From the time we are young children to the time we are grow up, we are taught to measure our success by external standards. How many months did it take before you learned to walk? How many A’s did you bring home on your report card? Did your team win its division title? Did you get promoted to the top position in your department or company? How big is your paycheck, your bank account, your portfolio? How many square feet is your house? Did you graduate from a top rated school?

What do all these ‘measures of success’ have in common? They are all based on what you do in comparison to an externally defined standard.

We rarely measure our success by the way we are being as we are doing whatever we are doing.

As we fought our way up the corporate ladder, did we spend so much time at work that we had little time to be in love with our spouse or to show our children how much we love them? Did we work so hard in competing for a trophy in our favorite sport that we could not lift the trophy because of an injury we got competing?

As a CareGiver we may hold the belief that we are successful if the person we are caring for ‘gets better.’ Or if that person, the CaredFor, has a so-called incurable disease, we are successful if we kept the CaredFor from ‘suffering.’ As CareGivers , we may hold onto to many measures of success, most of which are about what we do for the CaredFor.

I contend that measuring the success of being a CareGiver is absurd. Success or failure in CareGiving only makes sense if you believe ‘death is a problem to fix.’ If you keep the person from dying, you are successful. If not, you’re not. We all die. There’s nothing we can do to prevent us from dying.

If you were to measure the success of being a CareGiver, look at how the CareGiver is being. My mother taught me the essence of being a CareGiver as I was caring for her as she succumbed to an incurable liver disease. She told at two different times,  with tears streaming down her face, “Richard, I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here.”

The essence of CareGiver is being a compassionate presence.

If I were to define  what it is to be a successful CareGiver, I would say it is someone who can be present to and for the CaredFor without having an agenda (wanting a cure, wanting it to be over, not wanting it to be other than the way it is). A successful CareGiver listens to what the CaredFor says and does not say.

The essence of CareGiving is to be found in being, not doing.

Death is not a problem to fix

Death is not a problem to fix,
Nor a puzzle to solve.

Death is not

what you think

Death is.

Death is not the end

of you

unless you think

you are just your body.

Death marks the end

of your mind

If the mind is just the

activity of your brain.

Death is the end

of pain and pleasure

as both require a body to feel.

“No death, no fear.*”

No death, no tears.

If you fear death,

You will fear

For your life.

*Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Richard Anastasi

August 2, 2014

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