Chronicles of a Chronically stressed out Caregiver. Meditations and Mindfulness Changed My Life. Mindfulness, Meditation and Me.
Let’s be honest. When you are sitting with a notepad in your lap, and the only thing on the paper are titles for the eBook (instead of actual writing), you know that you are in avoidance mode.
Damn, again? At my chronically gifted age one would assume that old trait of mine (avoidance) would have been ‘fixed’ years ago, but sadly, the only thing I do better today is actually notice when I am in avoidance. Thank you, mindfulness and meditation.
While writing another eBook, I find myself enjoying longer than normal walks, hours of playing in the dirt (gardening), and sitting on my freshly painted cobalt blue Adirondack that now matches the cobalt blue bird bath, while sketching my amazing garden. (I am entitled to call my garden ‘amazing’ because this little piece of heaven gives me peace and equanimity. And peace and equanimity is amazing.)
My dilemma is what do I give up so that I can write more?
I have plenty of time to do the things I like to do, but I keep adding to my list of “things to do that give me joy, or wisdom, or fill my curiosity” – I keep trying to cram more into my days.
I am so grateful for this time – no matter the season, or the day of the week, or the time of the day – life is good.
I choose to view life with rose-coloured glasses because I can. It’s that simple.
I learned that how we perceive life and how we co-create our lives is our choice, and that lesson I learned when I closed my children’s retail shop so that I could care and support my parents: my father had a dementia (most likely Alzheimer’s) and my mother was showing signs of a dementia-related disease, also. My life spiralled from an exciting one of fun-loving staff and customers, buying trips to the clothing marts, new encounters and learning possibilities every day, to one of stress, resentment, guilt and burn-out.
Instead of embracing each day filled with hope and gratitude, I dreaded each day as I faced endless chores and responsibilities, grief, and sadness.
Chronic stress nearly felled me, but I came through the challenge eventually as a different woman. I went into the experience with blinders on, and I came out wearing rose-coloured glasses.
I say rose-coloured glasses because my experience of caring for our parents changed my life; the experience changed me.
When my father died, both my sister and I felt that his disease, his dying and his death transformed us and gave us many gifts: wisdom, forgiveness, love, compassion, honesty, and Grace.
Wisdom to realize that self-care is integral to a purpose-filled and joy-filled life – we cannot care for another when we do not care for ourselves.
Forgiveness in the many times our parents would tell us stories of their childhood (those are the stories that are often intact when someone has Alzheimer’s) that shone a spotlight on challenging traits (things that they did that pissed us off) or events that happened (that pissed us off).
My mother would throw these (illuminating) stories out to us – the stories were like candy that she lobbed at us. We would excitedly jump up and gather them to our hearts. Those stories gave us meaning and understanding to her life, to our father’s life, and to ours.
Love and compassion grew as we spent so many hours with our parents, as we truly began to understand their lives, the hardships, their sacrifices, and the reasons why all of it was important – family! Our parents do what they do – for us. That knowledge lit something in us, and warmed our hearts.
Honesty grew. In the last days of disease, dying and death, we are our most vulnerable and authentic. Truth matters.
And Grace. There are many times in life that we know that we are surrounded by Grace, but I am always humbled and awed when Grace supports us at the bedside of our loved one who is dying. It is Grace that holds us up and whispers, “lean in” because when our bodies and minds move forward (instead of away), we learn and we expand. We grow.
These lessons have left me with a passion to help and support those who care for loved ones who have a dementia-related disease, to volunteer with residents in a long-term care home, and to advocate for change.
Like the families who have loved ones with dementia, I, too, fought my circumstances so I recognize that none of them accept their reality (they are still fighting with truth), and in my humble opinion, it is this conflict that causes the stress. We are not meant to fight; we are meant to lean in.
So today (Father’s Day) I am writing this blog as a tribute to my father (and my mother) who allowed me the privilege of caring for them – it changed my life.
I get to choose how I define my life (even if I don’t get to choose the crap that happens); I get to choose to live in gratitude, honouring the simple moments – the scent of lilies in the air, the sparrows and starlings squabbling within the hidden recesses of the viburnum, and the sun’s reflections – bands of white dancing to and fro – on the ceiling of the living room.
When we choose to define our lives from the lessons that we learn, we empower ourselves; we begin to trust ourselves, and we begin to recognize that all the answers to life are within us.
All the answers to life are within us. Thank you, Dad (and Mom) for that gem.