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The Book is Available Now!

10 Dec

I am excited to announce that you can now order Seasons of Letting Go on Amazon.com!

frontcover

From the time I began the blog that spawned this book, I had all of my large network of friends in mind as my audience. If you know me at all, whether through the travel industry, as a Facebook connection or as a friend, there is something for you in these 12 essays and 92 illustrated pages.

If you have experienced a loss, this book is especially for you. Yet, although it came to be through the event of a death, this book is about life and living it to the fullest. Happy Holidays!

Scrabble in the dark with Annie

2 Jun

Last September, I started a new job. I didn’t expect to get it; I didn’t even apply. It’s not 9-5; I’m on the clock for all three shifts, every day, 24/7. It’s hard, but it’s rewarding. And, thankfully, there are a lot of perks.

I’m caring for my mom, at home, by myself. She has congestive heart failure. Without going into medical details, what I am doing on the physical level is kind of like the first year with a newborn – meals every couple of hours, up several times during the night – except that in this case, what everyone is “looking forward to” is not growing up, but transitioning out of this life.

“So much of our anguish is created when we are in resistance. So much relief, release, and change are possible when we accept, simply accept.”
~ Melody Beattie

Every caregiving situation is different, with a myriad of complex nuances and ups and downs specific to the patient and the family; in our case, I am the only child, so all of the responsibility to meet my mom’s needs and communicate them to others rests with me. “The family caregiver is the backbone of our broken health-care system,” writes Gail Sheehy in her book “Passages in Caregiving.” We do it out of love, we do it because our parents did it for us, but make no mistake, it is work and it is a job.

Social acquaintances see me these days and say, “Wow, you look so tired. Don’t you have Hospice? And didn’t you hire someone to help you?” As if these make everything peachy keen.

Having Hospice is great; it allows me to keep Mom at home where she wants to be and make quick decisions about managing her care. A nurse visits once a week; someone can come if we have a crisis; most of Mom’s meds and other equipment like oxygen are provided. But Hospice does not physically help someone like me take care of an elderly person at home on a day-to-day basis. If I want help – with cleaning, with cooking, with everything! – that part is up to me to figure out.

Mom and I did hire a wonderful caregiving assistant a few months ago, and that does allow me to take some vital worry-free breaks. (Without the respite I have gotten thanks to Paula, I wouldn’t even be able to write this blog entry!) But even families who are well off are hard put to have people working round-the-clock in their homes; we have our caregiver between 12 and 24 hours a week, which is only a fraction of the time I’m on duty. So ultimately, I still have the three-shift job that has been compared to that of a combat soldier in terms of the amount of cortisol produced by the adrenal gland to cope with the stress of a typical day.

I do get to take naps whenever I can squeeze them in. They are usually cut much shorter than I would want – when I hear my mom stirring on the baby monitor – but they are a lifesaver. On Pauladays, I may get to take a walk before grocery shopping. About once a month, I try to get away for a weekend, which requires coordinating several sitters; and all such plans are subject to change if Mom is feeling especially bad. Sometimes by the time I get a break, I’m way too tired to enjoy a long hike or a concert; I just need rest.

HYDRANGEAS, GROSBEAKS AND BASEBALL

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.” ~ Albert Einstein

Before taking on this role, I was an “adventurer.” I lived to travel and have new experiences in exotic natural settings. Now, I am learning to see the adventures, even the miracles, unfolding before me right where I am. Like the amazing hydrangeas in our garden this year. I have given away at least a dozen arrangements of them, and every time I cut one, three more grow back in its place. Or the amazing two-week visitation to our yard of a group of migrating Rose-breasted Grosbeaks earlier this spring. What a gift it was for my mother to be able to sit on our screened-in back porch and enjoy these special birds. These are glorious adventures for me!

In the few years leading up to this acute stage of Mom’s illness, I was always subjected when visiting her to the incessant Cincinnati Red’s baseball games blaring at me over her radio. I resisted learning about the game and tolerated the noise without paying much attention to Mom’s commentary about her favorite sport. I took her to a game once a few years back, and I admit it was slightly more interesting to see the action live. When Mom got really sick last fall, I decided she needed to be able to see all the Reds games this year on television. We bought a package of some 200 cable channels just to get the ONE: Fox Sports Ohio. And now, guess who’s watching and cheering on the team every night right along with Ruthe, even though she can’t stay up for a whole game these days. I like to think it’s no accident they are ranked first in their division this year.

A STEP BEYOND WORDS
Back about November, a friend turned me on to Words With Friends, an online version of Scrabble I can play on my iPhone with Facebook friends. This became a wonderful stress reliever, especially while sitting up with mom during difficulties in the night. I soon found myself playing lots of games with Annie, a friend from high school that I never got to know very well. We made a good match, enjoying some very close games. When we started chatting, I learned that she, too, was caregiving for her mother, who had the same disease as mine. Like me, Annie found the game a great diversion. We had lunch, caught up and shared our caregiver woes, some similar and some very different. Every night, when things would finally settle down at home, I’d look forward to making my plays in my four or so games with Annie, either in the dark of my mom’s room as I watched over her, or in my own bed just before falling asleep.

A few weeks ago, I was super busy with watering the gardens, friends visiting, getting out for a rare hike in the gorge… and in the back of my mind I kept thinking that I hadn’t seen Annie make a play for several days. When things calmed down, I checked her Facebook page and found that what I feared was true. Annie’s mom had died.

Immediately I began to cry really hard… for Annie, and for me, too. It was one of those rare times, during the hectic day-to-day business of this caregiving job, that I realized fully what is coming, and how completely unready for it I will always be.

I fled to the garden, unable to really see through the tears, and cut all my favorite hydrangeas for Annie; this was the most important step I could take at that moment. I called her later and heard some of her story, feeling new pain because I knew that many of the symptoms her mom had to endure, my mom has also. The next day, I left the flowers on her porch. She wrote and told me that the hardest time is waking up in the morning, and so she has the hydrangeas by her bed so she will see them first thing, and remember that life goes on. A few days later, when I checked my Scrabble games, there was Annie, constant as the northern star.

“Your entire life journey ultimately consists of the step you are taking at this moment. There is always only this one step, and so you give it your fullest attention. This doesn’t mean you don’t know where you are going; it just means this step is primary, the destination secondary. And what you encounter at your destination once you get there depends on the quality of this one step.”
~ Eckhart Tolle

Virtual Meditation Retreat December 26 to January 6

26 Dec

I have been yearning of late to renew my meditation practice. Simultaneously, I noticed that several friends were taking a hiatus from Facebook to focus on family and other interests during the holidays. When I put these two thoughts together, the idea that most readily presented itself was to take time off from Facebook and use that time rather to cultivate my practice.

Further reflection brought to mind the fact that even when I have done meditation regularly at home, I always feel more encouraged and inspired in a retreat setting. But, given the constraints of my current caretaking role, participating in a retreat at some physical place like Furnace Mountain Zen Retreat Center is not feasible. Then I recalled that once I participated in a “virtual retreat” that was really successful and helpful.

The premise behind the virtual retreat is that participants in various locations agree to meditate for certain amounts of time each day for a period of days or weeks. To bring solidarity and morale to the practice together, there is a host who facilitates the virtual communication about the retreat (this was done via e-mail in the one I did years ago), and with whom participants check in daily to report the times of their participation.

So I asked my partner, Nate, who lives two states away, if he would like to participate with me in a virtual retreat for the next 12 days. He embraced the opportunity to support each other in our practice, and agreed. We joked that I should make it a Facebook event, which was funny given that the initial thought was to replace social media time with meditation time.

But upon greater consideration, I do see a great deal of merit in using Facebook as a hosting tool to open this retreat to anyone, anywhere, who would like to be involved. I suspect that the encouragement of a virtual community of others committed to a 12-day renewal of practice could be helpful to many.

If you would like to join us, simply go to my Facebook page and sign up by commenting on the link to this blog or posting on my wall. Then, starting today, you pick your own time and place for sitting. When you sit is totally flexible and up to you. The amount of time you are committing to per day is very small, and increases incrementally every three days, according to this schedule:

Dec. 26, 27, 28 – 15 minutes

Dec. 29, 30, 31 – 20 minutes

Jan. 1, 2, 3 – 25 minutes

Jan. 4, 5, 6 – 30 minutes

Each morning on my Facebook page, I will put up a wall post that reads “Virtual Meditation Retreat Sitting Time Check-in.” After you do your daily sit, any time in the 24-hour period, just comment under that day’s post what your time period was (i.e. 8:45-9 a.m.) as a way of showing your participation and encouraging the rest of the group in their practice. You may also write a short comment if you like.

I will also create a discussion group for anyone participating who would like to talk about meditation, and decide together on intentions we may wish to focus on as a group in our daily practice. Involvement in the discussion group is optional.

If you miss the first day of the retreat, today, please join in whenever you like. If you miss a day along the way, do not worry and feel free to stay with the group when you can. If you have to drop off before the ending date, that is fine too.

Nate and I are going to coordinate our sitting to be simultaneous. If you would like to do this with us or with a close friend, that would be great. If you already have a daily practice, and would like to show support for this group by joining, please do! It will help us all.