I wrote this for my caregiver team, but I realized that it applies to more than just caregiving. This is also the secret to healthier living, "dieting", exercise, organizing your life:
" I read a short story about a woman that was old, worn out, used up, lived a tough life on the streets. She was in a hospital, with heart troubles, regretting her choices in life. Her husband was dead, children estranged, no one in her life. Her room mate in the hospital asked her if she'd like to go back. . .and suddenly the years melted away, and she was once again in her old home, the children fussing, the ugly furniture she hated surrounding her, her husband glowering.
Only this time, she saw all these things for their true value. The chores were no longer unbearable burdens, they were gifts of love, a joyous gift to family members well loved. The tasks of tending children each became like a form of worship, each moment a joy to be treasured. Because she knew that each moment was precious. They weren't tedious and boring, to be escaped as quickly as possible; they were gifts from God, a chance to interact with people she cared about, a brief window of interaction that would soon be past. She knew to treasure this time together, found the old ugly furniture now endearing. It got the job done, and showed signs of their life together. She realized that the important things in life weren't things at all, that the things she had found unendurable were really the priceless treasures. She got to see them through new eyes, a Christmas miracle indeed.
She could now appreciate the husband that worked hard to provide for them, it seemed so boring back then. She wanted 'excitement', not realizing that exciting was also unpredictable and often not safe. Her husband had been loving, reliable, caring, if not 'exciting'. And when she began to appreciate him for who he was, for what he did, loved him for all his good points, she fell in love with him all over again. Looked for the good instead of the bad, and found so much more than she ever dreamed of. She now realized what a treasure he really was. Same with the children, the more she treasured them, the more the relationship grew. Relationship made the difference.
As caregivers, we can get so tied up in caring for difficult patients, lack of sleep, lack of co-operation, dementia, special meals, medications, doctor's visits, everything done in s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n, etc., that we can lose sight of the wonderful miracle we are privileged to share. This Christmas was the one year anniversary of mom's passing. The seven years I spent as a full time caregiver went by in a blink, seeing it from hindsight. But they left me with priceless treasures: the time with mom, never to be repeated on this side of the veil, the example set for the next generation (yes, even the bedridden still are loved and valued, do you realize what a message of hope that is for a generation wondering if there is any meaning to life?), and the appreciation for the little things in life.
My life is richer because of the years I spent with mom. No, we couldn't take vacations, I didn't even get to live with my husband, who was tending the farm while I was gone tending mom. Many of the simple things in life we take for granted were taken away. Even things like a little trip a mile down the road for ice cream could become a major outing, getting mom at a time when she was in a good mood, getting her to the bathroom first, then dressed to go outside, like taking a toddler only you can't rush as easily! Then the daunting trip to the car, getting in, getting turned in the seat and buckled in. The repeated questions, the inability to choose, then repeating the ordeal to get back into the house, and finally the confusion when you finally got there! Yikes!
Yet, oh the precious things I learned in the process. To live in the moment, find things to be thankful for. To appreciate the abilites of the moment, they are like quicksilver, evaporating with the sands of time. Those things that drive you crazy now, you'll wish later for! First you fuss that they complain about the food, but later they may not even want to eat, or be able to eat. You fuss about them wandering around, getting into things, and then later wish they could get up at all. They get crabby playing games you've always played, but then the day comes they can't play anymore at all. And you realize you had a treasure and didn't appreciate it.
Smiles are priceless, laughter even more so. Enjoy what you have. The things will wait. So the floor is stained because children and the elderly spill, and all the chairs have special pads on them. Life is not made of chairs and floors. One day it will be pristine, and empty, and you'll realize what a treasure those stained spots represented.
We have some family antiques, ceramic bowls, put away, to keep them safe, being too "valuable" to risk. The value was really minimal, a few dollars, the cost of a meal out. The things are safe, but what good are they? They have no new family memories, my children have never seen them, let alone used them. And when I am gone, they will be tossed out as junk, with no meaning at all to them. How much better if grandma's mixing bowls had been used to make fruit salads from the orchard, salads from the garden, and homemade whole wheat pizza dough. If those bowls had represented love, and care, and the importance of family time together. They they really would be valuable, because they would be full of memories. Homegrown popcorn freshly shelled and popped over the fire, served with love in that bowl. . . .it's not the thing, it's the love, and care, and laughter and memories it represents. If the thing breaks, the memories will live on.
Do you have things you resent not being able to have? Are you tired of good furniture being ruined, spills on the floor, not having enough money, so much time spent on constant caregiving?. Do you feel like your life is being wasted?
I have good news! You are being let into a secret society, for the privileged few. Very few learn the secrets of life. The rigors of being a pledge are many, the initiation is admittedly difficult, but, oh, is it worth it! It takes being a caregiver to realize just how precious life really is. To see our many blessings we had taken for granted. We didn't realize before what a miracle it is to recognize someone, to be able to feed yourself, to get out of a chair on your own, to use the toilet instead of diapers, to be able to taste your food, to be able to follow simple directions, to be able to get into a car, to drive!
Every waking moment is a miracle, celebrate it! Laugh long and loud, sing silly songs, read a story together, recount happy memories. Do a jigsaw puzzle, paint a picture, play in the sand. Make a snowman, put metal cookie cutters on your griddle and serve your eggs as little hearts and flowers! Bring in forsythia branches to sprout and bloom on your windowsill, such simple things take no money, but make each moment special.
Yes, there's still exhaustion, and hard work, and scary times. But balance it with the joy that each moment is a gift. Live like there's no tomorrow, plan as if you have an eternity. Hope for the best, plan for the worst, enjoy the present.
It's why children love Christmas. It's a time of special magic. A miracle. Children get that. They enjoy it, think about it, look forward to it, savor each moment. Adults get so frustrated making sure all the right Christmas cards went to the right people with the right message. That the presents are all bought and the special foods for the meal are all planned for, the house is cleaned, the decorations found, the right tree put out at the right time and decorated the right way. . .The adults are so busy doing THINGS, that they totally miss the wonder, the magic, the gift of a babe in a manger. The mystery and magic of being PART of a miracle.
YOU are part of a miracle. Every morning you wake up to a new adventure. (Yes, some days just getting out of bed can be quite an adventure!) Look at this day with a child's eyes, a child's sense of wonder. The elderly become more childlike often, instead of bemoaning the fact, embrace it! See life through their eyes, sing them a silly song they used to sing, hold hands, play with the bread dough. Make funny rolls with faces, whole wheat can still be fun!
Have a color meal, just for fun (pick one color, like yellow mac and cheese with a yellow veggie and yellow cornbread, yellow lemonade, a salad with wax beans and yellow tomatoes and yellow squash, maybe those cute yellow carrot sticks, lemon jello, hard boiled eggs. . . .) It's silly, but fun to figure out what you could use. Or better yet, rainbow meals. Salads with colored tiny tomatoes, several colors of carrots, red lettuce. . .sweet corn comes in red as well as white and yellow. . .potatoes come in purple, red, white and yellow flesh, and several skin colors as well. . .make it bright and cheery, make it an adventure!
Life can become such a drudge, that we make it even more so, by making the tasks dull. I remember when my oldest son was a little boy, he hated the daily vacuuming ritual. So, we made it a game. The little bits on the floor were the bad guys, and he was the sheriff coming to round them up. Suddenly, vacuuming brought on fits of giggles instead of complaints. OK, so the floor was vacuumed in a weird pattern, with chases across the floor sometimes, instead of a neat, economical pattern. Maybe it took longer. But it became a memorable time instead of a dreaded chore.
Chores done with smiles are a lot more pleasant for everyone, than chores done with grumps and mutters. Makes me think of Philippians 2:
" 1 Are you cheerful because you belong to Christ? Does his love comfort you? Is the Holy Spirit your companion? Has Christ been gentle and loving toward you? 2 Then make my joy complete by agreeing with each other. Have the same love. Be one in spirit and purpose.
3 Don't do anything only to get ahead. Don't do it because you are proud. Instead, be free of pride. Think of others as better than yourselves.
4 None of you should look out just for your own good. You should also look out for the good of others. 5 You should think in the same way Christ Jesus does. 6 In his very nature he was God.
But he did not think that being equal with God was something he should hold on to.
7 Instead, he made himself nothing.
He took on the very nature of a servant.
He was made in human form.
8 He appeared as a man.
He came down to the lowest level.
He obeyed God completely, even though it led to his death.
In fact, he died on a cross.
9 So God lifted him up to the highest place.
He gave him the name that is above every name. . . .
14 Do everything without finding fault or arguing. 15 Then you will be pure and without blame. You will be children of God without fault in a sinful and evil world. Among the people of the world you shine like stars in the heavens. 16 You shine as you hold out to them the word of life. "
You see, we are ambassadors for a new way of looking at life. Stars of hope shining forth in a dark world. Where people have value, for who they are, not for what they can do (and especially not just for what they can do FOR you.) Knowing that things are just things, we don't need to panic when something gets ruined. People are treasures, things are just things. We can have peace instead of freaking out.
When we are asked the same question for the tenth time (or hundredth), we can still answer calmly as if it were the first time we've heard it. Why? Because inside we realize that speech is a treasure, and are thankful they can still speak. Because we know they are asking because they are confused, and a harsh answer will only make them more confused, and even more difficult. And because this time is short, we can treasure it. We can more than endure, more than survive, we can thrive.
Our lives have slowed down, things take longer to accomplish. We're impatient, want to get up, run here, do that, get this, accomplish that. . .Members of our secret society are learning the secrets of patience. To slow down, enjoy the moment. It's amazing how much of the stuff the just HAS to be done, isn't really necessary. Take away the computer, the cell phone, the radio, the television, back to life the way our parents saw it. Take away the distractions, and be amazed at the difference. People gravitate together, they tell stories, make music, play games, all while doing the work that needed done. It became a bonding time, work made fun by relationship.
Remember when children couldn't wait to be able to help? When being able to use a broom or the sink or help cook food or work in the garden was something special? Why? It was special because they saw it that way. Your day can be special, because you choose (and yes, it is a conscious choice, not just a feeling, feelings come later often.)
That is one of my goals this year, to remember the miracle, and make each day count. Take time to laugh, to make memories, to be silly, to smile, to enjoy the journey. Life is not in attaining the goal, it's in the journey that gets you there. Make it one to remember. Same with "dieting", and food in general, and exercise, and getting your life together. It's not a drudge to be endured for a season and then forgotten, that's why diets don't work.
Make this new life fun, make it a challenge, but an interesting one. This is not a time to be endured, but cherished, as we share in the journey towards better health, better families, better relationships. This time is a gift, a treasure, enjoy it!