Discovering Patience

It’s when things go wrong that you can really tell what you need to know about a person. As I continue to learn from the people I meet through everyday life and work … it’s easy to be married when things are going well.

The real challenge is to figure out how to remain kind and respectful and compassionate to your partner when one or both of you are experiencing tough times, even if those times are momentary.

Patience is a virtue and an important attribute which enhances every relationship. When someone “loses” their patience, the damage can take its toll.

Good times together can suddenly turn sour when you or your partner lose patience. It can be something as mundane as waiting on line at the grocery store while someone ahead of you needs to exchange an item, or waiting for a parking attendant who is taking longer than you are comfortable with to find your car. In either case someone is making a very human mistake.

Losing your temper and your cool really isn’t very cool! And to be sure, if you are near children, they are watching and learning.

What are these children learning when we fly off the handle? That yelling at others is an acceptable way to deal with our own frustration? What are they absorbing about dealing with life’s unpredictable snags when the immediate reaction we model for them is demonstrating our anger by shouting at others?

Each of us has the capacity to learn to value the humanness in every person. One way we can do this is by being mindful of the situation and choosing our patience when we are stressed. It is true that some of us have “longer fuses ” than others, but we can lengthen a shorter fuse when we have the desire to do so.

Partners can be very helpful in reminding us of the value of developing patience for ourselves as well as for others.

How we learn to grieve

Lately, what has jogged my blog are the conversations I have had with a number of people who are grieving.  New losses trigger old losses.  That’s what happens.  We don’t expect it and we wonder what the heck is going on.

In the process of uncovering layers upon layers of sadness that has been locked away, we becoming sensitive to the connection between the way we handle grief and what we learned about grief as we were growing up.

As we allow ourselves to work through and understand grief that we have held for decades, we can trying to free ourselves from a form of grieving (or not grieving) that is often patterned after our parents and the way grief was handled in our family.

I have always been interested in loss.  My own mother and father experienced significant losses when they were very young parents.  They were awfully busy with the day to day of raising two very young children and starting a business so from what I gather, there wasn’t much time or energy given over to mourning.  I am sure one of the reasons I found my way to my profession was because I learned, at a very young age, that I was pretty good at taking care of people.

And then, early in my career working with families with children who had hearing losses, I saw the powerful way previous losses stay, and how they impact us as we experience new losses. Whether and how we allow ourselves to grieve is very much tied to what we witnessed early in our lives and what we felt was allowed regarding our own processing and expression of grief.

The loss could be the death of someone close to us, a significant breakup, retirement, divorce, or a change in our financial or social status.  When we understand the myriad ways that present loss triggers the re-experiencing of previous losses, and spend time exploring the meaning of what we have gone through, we can work through our anxiety, guilt, and sadness.  We become freer to go to places that had been “emotionally off limits.”

As part of this process, I believe it is helpful to think about the messages that were attached to grief as we were growing up.  Likely what we heard and saw and felt informed the way we do or don’t move through grief.  It is hard (impossible?) to grieve when the people around us are so uncomfortable with our grief.

Some of the things people say:
No child should come to a funeral.
Only the good die young.
Just move on.
You’ll find someone else.
Focus on your schoolwork.
Now you are on your own.
It’s for the best.
We know he took his own life but we’ll say he died of cancer.
Don’t ever tell anyone what really happened.
You are a big boy; I don’t want to see you cry.
You have mourned long enough.
Stop talking about her so much. You are stuck.
He is with God, in a much better place.
Don’t celebrate her birthday. She’s dead.

Perhaps your mom lost her mother when she was a child.  As a result she became responsible for the younger siblings.  It may be that her “not thinking about mama” may have been what got her through.  But at what cost?  How did that determine the way she dealt with loss throughout her life?  And what did she teach you about sitting with grief, forging ahead, not looking back, and so on?

Maybe your dad was a widower who removed the photographs of his deceased wife because it is too tough for him to see her image.  You and your siblings got the message that even talking about your mom upset him.  And, so you don’t.

If after your parents’ divorce, one of your parents remarried and helped to raise you and your sisters, I am certain it wasn’t long before you and your siblings picked up what is appropriate and inappropriate regarding what you did with your feelings of sadness, anger, confusion, and abandonment.

Think of the messages you heard as a child and try to have compassion for the people who delivered those messages.  Given their experience, culture, or any number of factors, they were doing the best they could.  Now it is your turn to, if necessary, revisit the losses that you could not approach at the time.  You can understand the reasons as you allow yourself to experience the grief and “sit with it and then walk through it” without judgement, and with an open heart for your grieving self…no matter how long ago you experienced the loss.

What we need to do when someone shares their loss with us is to be with them.  Even when we do not feel comfortable doing so, that is our role and purpose.  As tough as it is, our role is to be with people where they are.

Perfection at the Holidays

In order to not only get through the holidays but to enjoy them, we need to focus on what we would like to have as our experience for the holidays.  We can ask ourselves what are the most important aspects of this holiday?  A “perfect” table and dinner?  Having everyone together, enjoying board games, football, a holiday movie, and sharing stories while sipping hot chocolate?

Take care of yourself.   Be sure to “mind your own health” at this time of year.  Remember how important it is to exercise (even if you do 1/2 of your normal routine), drink water, eat consciously (save the desserts for the parties instead of for late night snacking) and breathe deeply.

Breathe mindfully, visualize people smiling and enjoying themselves, move your body and stretch, which helps you to “be flexible” (in mind and body).  Play MUSIC to help you get into the “spirit” of the holiday.  SOAK in a hot bath.

Make time for the cuddling and “hot chocolate” moments with kids and listening to music you love with family and friends.  Each night before the holidays arrive, as you fall asleep, recount the things you are grateful for and spend time reflecting on each one.  When we focus on gratitude (maybe write down what you are thankful for) you are training your brain to be more open to the positive in your life.  This simple act helps to “tone down” the need for everything to be perfect.  Expressing what you’re thankful for is an effective way to channel the good of the occasion or event and opens your mind to thinking in a healthy way.  Noticing the good and focusing on what is going right can soften a harsh, critical perspective (only noticing the one thing that is out of place on what others all see as a beautiful table).

Whether you need to have the perfect decorations in your home, buy the perfect gifts, serve the perfect meal, host the perfect family party, or show off your perfect children, if taken too far, the desire for “holiday perfection” can be not only exhausting, but quite harmful to your mental and physical health.   Having high standards is great; having excessively high standards that can never be met isn’t so great.  To be sure, getting through the holidays can be a challenge.  Lots to do while working against a clock that seems to be ticking faster than ever before.  For many of us, we just pile on what needs to be done while still expecting to do everything else we normally do and for many of us, our plates are already spilling over.  We somehow believe that we can do it all, whether selecting, buying and wrapping presents (sometimes for more people than we expected), decorating our homes, traveling to relatives, attending holiday parties, or planning a delicious and creative meal where we have considered everyone’s allergies!

The keys to get through the holidays include planning, flexibility, seeking and accepting help (even at the last minute), “lightening up” and seeing the humor in mostly everything.  And when the unexpected happens (and it WILL happen) allowing yourself to be flexible. Understand that SOMEONE will be late, SOMEONE may have too much to drink, SOMEONE may be in a bad mood, SOMEONE will bring up a taboo subject, SOMEONE will disapprove of something, and YOUR ATTITUDE will determine whether or not everything will be okay if you are determined not to get yourself in a tizzy.  Tell yourself that there may be lumps in the gravy, or not enough stuffing, or that someone isn’t going to like their gift, but that the whole idea of getting together is…to be together and make memories.  So ask yourself, what are the memories you want to help make?

Consider what is really important to you.  Is it being with family, decorating the house, cooking an amazing meal, socializing with friends?  Be sure you choose activities that will most likely bring you and your family joy.  Keep this as your priority when you set boundaries and prioritize so what you take on is reasonable and fits your desire.

Make a plan. You may be a person who really likes to have control.  Feeling that you have some control helps you to feel calm so don’t expect yourself to forfeit that control…make a workable plan to get a handle on the many things that have to get done to help you get through and enjoy the holidays.  You can only do so much!  A goal is to not going overboard with too many commitments.  You can always control your attitude and your reaction even if you cannot control what happens.

Recognize what you can manage.  Figure out what you can and cannot manage.  For example, when you attend a party that you are obliged to attend, try focusing on a new person or a few people who matter and explore or deepen those relationships instead of trying to “work” the entire room.

Keep your expectations reasonable.  Don’t expect what you cannot deliver.  If someone you cared for died, you WILL miss them at the holiday.  If you don’t have the money you want, you will buy fewer or different presents.  Keep your expectations in synch with your reality.  If you have a realistic picture in your mind of what the holiday will be like you will feel more calm.  Tell yourself: “I know I will miss not having Joe here this year.” “I know this year will not be about buying a lot of gifts.”

Manage commitments by delegating and sharing tasks.  These tasks take up your time, so do them together with friends or family members (someone to help cook, pick up house guests, or set up a party).  This can help you let go without feeling you are losing a sense of control.  Just because you believe that everything has to be perfect  doesn’t mean that is true!  Usually there are one or two or more people among your family and friends who want to contribute in some way.  So give them a job and let them help to reduce the pressure off you so you can spend more time socializing.  When allowing friends and family to bring parts of the meal, or contribute in some way, you not only give yourself a break, you also give others a chance to feel a part of the celebration in meaningful ways.

When you are flexible in the way you do things, you give yourself a chance to learn to be more comfortable with minor imperfections and unexpected changes to your plans.

Join the Club

For many of us, the thought of becoming a member of a club involves anticipation, applications, interviews, assessments, dues, and a fair amount of socializing in order to join.  For some the process is enjoyable; for others, there is some dread associated with it, wondering if they will be “accepted” by the group they want to become a part of.

Having neither applied for nor joined a club, I have not experienced the “club world” first hand but I remember laughing at the now infamous Groucho Marx comment, “I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION.  I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.”

But what happens when you become a member of a club you never wanted to join?
Never submitted a membership application?  Never wanted to be or see yourself among its ranks?  Yet something happens in your life, and bingo, you are a member of a club you had no idea existed or had no desire, or maybe even feared, joining.

Within an instant you become a (reluctant) member of the orphan club, the breast cancer survivor club, the young widow or widower club, the parent of a child with special needs club, the divorce club, the partner of someone who has Alzheimer’s club, the battered woman club, the sexual abuse survivor club, the spinal chord injury club, the parent of a dead child club, and countless others.

Not only did you not want to join, you never thought it possible that this new position would define you.  Before you may be ready to identify as a member, others either enlist you for membership or refer to you as a member.  You may feel stripped of the rest of your personhood–your identity–other roles and functions you assume.

Yet when we experience life to the fullest, being present during our journeys, we see that we are, indeed, members of many clubs.  Those we make an effort to join and those we had hoped to avoid.  Initially, despite the way we entered the club, we may believe our personhood is defined by our membership; that our status is enhanced or diminished by that membership.  In fact, it is neither elevated nor reduced.  It just is.

Belonging to clubs where others have experienced similar life challenges can be comforting in unexpected ways.  We feel an association with people we may never, otherwise, have met.  We feel we share nothing in common, except this one, deep connection, which others in the clubs we worked so hard to get into, may not be able to relate to, or may even avoid referencing when in our company.  Asking, “how ya doing?” for awhile but then, over time, for any number of reasons, moving on and praying that we do too.

Being a member of the club we never wanted to join can help us immeasurably during tough times, knowing we are not alone; that others have survived the “unthinkable” and they are there for us to observe, learn from, lean on, emulate, rail against, challenge, get through, perhaps transform as a result of knowing they did it…are doing it.

It helps as well as allows us to stay a part of the other clubs, the ones we tried so hard to join, if we want to.  Because in the end, we are the sum of all of our experiences and we have many aspects.  We integrate it all and go on.  Sometimes we need to go to the movies or participate in life without focusing on our loss, and feel “normal” even though we are in the midst of trying to get our minds and arms around what will be a “new normal.”   We don’t expect members in one club to give us what the members in the other club can give us and we don’t resent them because they cannot or will not.  We must determine how we get what we need and when we stand back and look, we may be able get what we need from both…the ability to live our life fully.

Concentric Circles of Caregiving

A large focus of my work and mission revolves around helping caregivers understand the value of self care, and to guide them toward positive and helpful ways to take care of themselves.  This caring for the caregiver idea is significantly more layered than most of us realize.

Taking care of yourself while focusing on the care of someone else has as much to do with understanding what your own caregiving looks like as it does with recognizing and acting on when you need to step back, ask for help, rest, exercise, speak to a friend, or meditate.  If you don’t, your mind and body will respond to the stress in ways you may choose to ignore, but believe me, you cannot ignore it forever.

Now I am thinking about the Concentric Circles of Caregiving.  I appreciate much more that we need to be aware of the needs of those who are not always seen as direct caregivers.  When someone is acutely or chronically ill, both inner and outer caregiving circles are affected.  People who help the caregiver, particularly in crisis situations, are far from immune from stress, fear, and worry, and they need to take care of themselves.

These people often serve as “back up.”  They are relied upon for significant help, sometimes scheduled, sometimes last minute.  But because they are not always on the “front lines” they and others may not appreciate the potentially deleterious effects the stress has on them.  I think of this as “stress creep.”

The stress on caregivers and on the Concentric Circles of Caregivers who are a bit further removed, isn’t something to be afraid of or to avoid.  Helping others, even when it creates stress on us, is part of the beauty and goodness of being human.  We want to do it.  Indeed, it is a gift to be allowed to do it.  It connects us to those we love and care for more deeply.

And, it is stressful.  That’s okay.  We just need to acknowledge that it is stressful and do what we need to do so we can retain our health.  When we are careless about our own health, we are at risk of being unable to help anyone, and that would be stressful, indeed.

Whether or not others recognize it (because their focus is on the person who is ill), these Concentric Circle Caregivers, or “back up helpers,” must pay attention to managing their stress.  Those who are members of the Concentric Caregiving Circles  are taking care of the caregivers as well as the person who is ill and their extended family members, while trying to keep their lives functioning normally during difficult times.  And these Concentric Circle Caregivers are vital to the process.  But because they are “a bit removed” they may not appreciate that they, too, have a potential health risk and need to proactively protect their own health.

Feeling a bit “off”

It seems that wherever I go, people are coughing.  Tis the season.

At a recent doctor’s visit I was greeted by a delightful receptionist who had a terrible cough.  I felt so bad for her, especially since she was greeting sick people and she had clearly joined the ranks of those who feel awful.  Fortunately, for her and for everyone else, she was consistently sanitizing her hands.

Ever think about how much a “coughing fit” takes out of you?  Your eyes water, it’s hard to catch a breath, and your whole body feels as though it has been run over by a truck.

And just when you find a calm moment, the pre-cough tickle returns and there you go again.

Yes, grandma’s recipe for lemon-ginger-honey tea soothes, especially when sipped while snug under an afghan.  But most of the time the coughing masses are coughing while trying to function in their lives!

Just think of what it’s like being overcome while driving.  Or sitting on a crowded bus.  Or walking to work.  Or giving a presentation.  Or helping a customer.  Or preparing dinner.  Or taking care of the kids.

As we enter the holiday season, in close proximity to people who are sick and well, we all need to take extra care of ourselves to try to prevent getting sick and at the same time, offer the person who is overcome by a coughing fit that you feel for them.

Self-Respect and Responsibility

A few days ago I spoke with a woman whose college freshman son shared his concern about what appears to be the prevailing weekend activity at school.  He characterized it as:

“Everybody gets drunk and then everybody gets laid.”

He shared with his mother that he was with a VERY DRUNK young woman.  “I could have taken advantage of her but I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself…and aside from that, we know you and dad would have killed me.”

Several of the guys teased him about his “missed” opportunity.

Somewhere along the way this young man learned the value of respecting yourself as well as another person.  He “got” that each of us shares responsibility when we are faced with the choice of taking advantage of another person who may or may not be acting responsibly.

The other guys have the concept of “missed opportunity” backwards.