Tag Archives: kindness

The 7 A’s of Dementia – Apraxia

Whatever you accept completely will take you to peace, including the acceptance that you cannot accept, that you are in resistance… E. Tolle (Stillness Speaks)

Apraxia is the loss of ability to initiate purposeful movement. Individuals with apraxia may also have trouble understanding terms such as back, front, up, down. As a result of these losses, it becomes difficult to do things such as tying shoelaces, doing up buttons and zippers, and any activity involving co-ordination. When we lose our abilities to remember the sequences and patterns of movement, it results in the eventual inability to co-ordinate hand and leg movement necessary for specific activities, such as driving.   Apraxia definition from http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/on/About-dementia/Dementias/what-is-dementia/Seven-A-s-of-dementia

There is a sequence when we complete a task or chore – a natural order. Unfortunately, persons with a dementia lose the ability to remember and to understand the sequence and order of things – they become unable to discern the steps or sequence of a task.

They also are unable to attend to the task because they lack focus. This lack of focus (and lack of understanding the steps or sequence when doing a task) will upset or anger the person with a dementia.  Frustration follows. Often the person will refuse to do the task or interrupt or walk away from the chore while in the middle of it, simply because of their frustration. Frustration sets in because they cannot understand why they cannot do the task or remember how to do it. Often the person with a dementia just wants to “save face,” so they walk away or they begin to exhibit aggression, combativeness, anger, etc. We wrongly assume (especially in the middle and later stages of dementia) that a person with Alzheimer’s doesn’t feel embarrassment when they make mistakes – wrong! They are embarrassed and often will feel shame. They are aware that something is wrong, but they do not recognize what is wrong or how to fix it. Often this is the underlying reason that they become aggressive or angry.

My mother would often rail at us when we tried to help her dress or brush her teeth. She would insist, loudly and persistently, “I can do it myself!” Many times when we took her to the bathroom, she argued that she didn’t need our help, when so many times, she clearly did!

In time we learned to step away  and just allow her space. Often she forgot in the middle of attempting to find her day clothes in the dresser, why she was rummaging through the drawers. She would move away from the dresser (and leave the drawer wide open) and begin to do something else. Other times I would put her jacket on the bed and she would just stare at me. She clearly was unsure of what to do with the jacket.

Or, we would take her into the bathroom and step aside –  she would turn the faucets on, let the water run, and run, and run. Without either brushing her teeth or washing her face, water still gushing, she would turn her wheelchair away from the sink and announce, “I’m ready.” Brain cell damage prevented her from following through these simple tasks. She would be completely unfocused.

Behaviour management strategies should include space and dignity, but unfortunately most staffs are too busy and short-handed to allow this. Instead, they hurry through their daily tasks and residents become anxious.  When we allow the resident with a dementia, time and space (without the sense of urgency), we allow the person to maintain his dignity. When the person with dementia becomes distracted or forgets the task, we simply step in and continue to complete it for them, without any judgment on our part.

When my sister and I cared for our parents, we learned many tricks to ease the day-to-day care. My parents shunned our help and support, especially with the daily tasks such as dressing and bathing. Instead of arguing each day over simple tasks, such as dressing, we tried to simplify things. We learned to arrange clothing items  in the order of getting dressed: underwear (first), top or sweater, pants,  socks; lastly, shoes or slippers placed next to the bed. Otherwise, you will notice that the person with a dementia will attempt to put on socks over the shoes, or simply not wear socks. Or, you might notice that they will put on slippers to go outside. Or, the shoes are on the wrong feet. Or, not wear a coat or warm clothing for cold weather.  We need to understand that someone who has apraxia may recognize the item, but really have no idea what to do with the item. I once gave my mother a Kleenex when she was sneezing, and she took it, stared at it blankly and then threw it up into the air and watched as it fell to the floor. She then continued to stare at it as if she had never seen a Kleenex before. (I remember watching her face with total fascination.)

So how can we help when we recognize our loved one is unsure of completing a task? Calmly (without any judgmental commentary, please) step in and begin to give how-to instructions – one step at a time. Slowly introduce the next step in sequence, but only once the previous step is completed. Keep in mind that persons with dementia can focus better in a calm, quiet space; therefore, distractions, noise, or too much chatter (your running commentary) are not helpful.

“Mom, here is your sweater…put one arm into this sleeve first.”

My mother liked to talk and would often become distracted as soon as a second person came into her room. It didn’t matter if she was drinking her beloved tea, eating a cookie, combing her hair or putting on a warmer sweater. The moment she noticed another person in her room, she reacted. She became curious and completely forgot what she was doing, or she became angry and confused,”Why is that person in my room?”

Before my father died, and while I cared for them both full-time, I once was in a grocery store with my mother, helping her shop. (This was before we realized that she had any dementia.) She did not have a shopping list. (That was a clue, my friends. It takes planning and thought to prepare a grocery list.) When we walked into the store, I explained that we would probably need fruit, vegetables, bread, rolls, and cereal.

Since the fresh produce was in the first aisle that we approached, we began to shop. I asked her what fruit did she want to buy. She didn’t answer. Instead, she perused the fruit bins, picking up item after item. After I realized that we had spent nearly five minutes in the store, and had yet to choose an item, I suggested bananas and peaches. She agreed. We went to the vegetable bins and she just stood there. I suggested a cabbage, some carrots, onions and lettuce. She agreed. This hesitancy continued in each aisle. Finally she announced she would like cereal and that she didn’t need my help, so I left her in the cereal aisle and continued shopping. After ten minutes I realized that she had not met me at the front of the store. I went looking for her and she was still in the cereal aisle – and had yet to make her choice.

Now that I know what I know (when you know better, you do better – Maya Angelou) I know that she wasn’t just fatigued or stressed (and that is why she took so long to make her decisions), but that my mother was showing one of the many early signs of dementia – lack of focus and inability to follow the steps or sequence of a task. She no longer made grocery lists because she couldn’t focus on how to complete them. She couldn’t make a decision, because that was a skill that she had lost.

Not all persons with Alzheimer’s exhibit all the seven A’s of dementia. In fact, without a brain scan, it is difficult to determine which areas of the brain are damaged.  Different areas of the brain cause different symptoms of the disease.

For me, I did not care if my mother exhibited any of the  A’s of dementia, as it only mattered how I reacted to her behaviours.  If I gave my mother her lipstick and she smeared lipstick across her cheek instead of her lips (which she did on multiple occasions), or if I handed her a hairbrush and she used it upside-down, well, I tried not to over-react and correct her actions. (I wanted to! God knows, the first time that she smeared lipstick (bright red!) across her face, I nearly gasped out loud.) Instead, I learned to calmly take the brush out of her hands, re-position it in her hands, and say, “Let’s try combing your hair this way.”

I tell you this story so that caregivers can understand that persons with dementia will exhibit different symptoms, but that these symptoms should not scare us.   Because in understanding their behaviours and the reasons behind their actions, we allow the seeds of compassion to take root. Compassion changes everything.

At the end of the day, when caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s or any dementia-related disease, we all need to let go of our need to control, and we need to let go of our expectations.

We all need to show more kindness and compassion and allow our loved ones to just be – allow them dignity and space.

I believe that compassion, dignity and space will transform our own personal energy because our energy will be based on acceptance. Persons with Alzheimer’s or a dementia-related disease will feel our loving energy, in spite of the disease, and they will understand that they matter to us, disease or not.

The disease may diminish their quality of life, but our actions and our reactions to this disease will determine how we (together) spend our remaining days.

Let our journey with our loved one be one of peace and acceptance, not struggle and judgement.

 

Apraxia definition is taken from http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/on/About-dementia/Dementias/what-is-dementia/Seven-A-s-of-dementia

 

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Share the road, people

During my morning walk, I passed a sign this morning that made me pause.

Share the Road

Is not our whole life’s journey about sharing the road?

Perhaps our politicians and world leaders need to take a pause and reflect on the mantra share the road.

As part of a cycling campaign to promote road safety and well-being for everyone – cyclists, motor vehicles, and pedestrians alike – not only do our roads become safer, but our communities and cities evolve when we cooperate and support each other.

When we become aware of the power of these three little words – share the road – their meaning or significance to our world’s health and well-being becomes central to our actions.

We share ourselves with others every day. We share our ideas, our creations, our kindness and compassion, and our love. And we share our energy. If we exude a peaceful or balanced energy, we share a peaceful presence; if we are angry, we share our anger.

Like road rage, toxic energy hurts all of us. Toxic energy lingers and when it settles in for the long stay, real harm occurs within our bodies, and later, spills into our families: our health suffers, as well as our circle of influence. An angry co-worker taints the workplace. An angry parent damages a child.

Many of us read blogs that motivate us to do better – writers share ideas, experience and expertise that teach us, expand us, and push our boundaries. In sharing, bloggers and writers share pieces of themselves in every post, article, column or book. As faithful (and interested) readers, we accumulate and expand our knowledge, our creativity, and our perceptions as we assimilate these new, and sometimes, provoking ideas and thoughts.

A shared idea or expertise is an opportunity to transform another being – that’s a pretty powerful thought.

From my experience, every day when I tune into another how-to paint video posted on-line, I am not only grateful for these gifts, I am truly motivated to share my joy of learning how to watercolour from these talented people. (Check out videos and tutorials on YouTube – watercolour painters, Peter Sheeler, Grahame Booth, Steve Mitchell, and Grant Fuller…the list is endless.)

We  significantly impact others when we share the road.

The verb share, I believe, is an exchange of energy – giving and receiving – an energy that reflects only one part of the bigger whole. One part. Share means partnership or a connection to another part. A connection.

One part. A connection.

What if when we share, we are connecting to another part of the whole – the whole being the Oneness of the universe?

What if when we share, we are connecting to the Oneness – of you and of me? Perhaps that connection to the Oneness of life is why we feel such satisfaction and joy when we do support others?

When I share my ideas or my creativity, I can feel the expansion within; that expansion comes from my inner self which is realizing (in part) my potential. When you share something of value – your ideas, thoughts, creativity, experience, expertise – begin to notice how you feel. Does it give you a sense of well-being, a sense of purpose, or joy? If the answer is yes, you are sharing (connecting) to a greater part of the Universe – you are impacting others, and your soul is loving it which is why it is so satisfying!

For those of us who volunteer, we already are aware of our impact – we share our time with others and benefit greatly from the interactions. Volunteers will tell you that it’s about sharing; sometimes, as volunteers, we feel selfish as we receive so many benefits, more than we give! It’s an exchange of energy that is like nothing else on earth. (And if you are not feeling it, then you are probably in the wrong kind of volunteer work.)

My daughter-in-law and my son are very creative people (art and musically inclined) and they are keen on weaving their careers, their home, and their passions with the care of the earth. Every decision is based on the sustenance and well-being of the environment. They buy in bulk and store beans and legumes, rice and staples in plain, glass jars with screw-top lids. When I offered to plant their front-yard garden with perennials from my garden, they gratefully received my offerings, as long as I allowed for plenty of space for home-grown vegetables. If last year is any example, peppers (all varieties), kale, spinach, cucumbers and squash will find homes in friends, neighbours, and fellow staff members’ kitchens. Old, past their prime shrubs, are pruned, instead of dug out and discarded. Every decision is based on a careful philosophy of reduce, re-use, recycle.

Their shared philosophy of environmental awareness has spilled over to our lives. Here’s the thing: their actions have influenced my own decisions. We are constantly re-thinking purchases: Do I really need this? (Don’t I already have a set of watercolour brushes?) Can I re-use these old shutters or give them to a vintage store? Do I really need to replace my worn cloth napkins?

I no longer buy cases of water bottles or coffee filters (a reusable one is just fine); we’ve reduced our weekly trash bags to one small bag; we’ve reduced our cleaning supplies to only those that are natural or home-made; soaps and shampoos are chemical-free; and we’ve reduced water to minimal usage (alas, my hydrangea are thirsty often).

Small actions, but as I mature, my actions grow, and so does my influence. Small actions are like seeds – they sprout.

Our philosophies impact others every day. I may not embrace everything that my son and his wife do, but their actions have taught me to pause before I act or commit.

We share the road from birth to our last dying moments. Surrounded by family and loved ones when we give birth,  the circle of life continues when our loved ones join us at our final good-bye.

When I sit with a resident who is dying at the long-term care home where I volunteer (and where my mother lived for two and a half years), I share many moments with either family or friends who drop in, or other residents who want to say goodbye.  Staff, and sometimes other volunteers from the palliative volunteer team, join me during our vigil.

And always I walk away from the experience with a humble, but wondrous feeling that I have shared in a transformative moment. In those hours (or days) of sharing, I am humbled by the gifts that the staff, and others, and I share – compassion, kindness, love, generosity, wisdom, and giving. Each of us has this capacity to give and share, even when someone is dying. Perhaps because someone is dying. Even at our most vulnerable, we share.

Even at our most vulnerable, we want to connect. When we share a piece of ourselves, we expose our vulnerabilities – and that is when we are our most honest and authentic. We connect with others because they sense (sometimes at a subconscious level) that we are sharing a piece of our true selves, and their vulnerability recognizes our vulnerability.

One thing I do know: that it is in the gift of sharing this road – that the transformation occurs. It is in the sharing that we meet our greater selves.

In awareness, let us move throughout our day and take note of how much we share the road. We cannot move through our lives without it. We cannot meet our potential without it. We cannot transform without it.

Share the road. Share yourself. And you will find yourself accepting an endless supply of gifts.

If only world leaders could learn this simple act. Just share the road.

 

 

 

You are amazing!

You are amazing!

When I open the card, it reads You are amazing!

My husband and I just celebrated another anniversary and we exchanged cards. And even though it’s been a few days since I received his card, I am still enjoying the afterglow. Ha!

Because a funny thing has happened since he gave me the card – I feel really amazing!

When he enjoyed the simple tomato sauce on his pasta that I had made last evening, I tell him well, I am amazing!

When I screwed something up during the day, and then fix it later, he says well, you are amazing. We laugh over the screw-up.

When I discover a box of half-eaten ice cream in the freezer, we both exclaim hey, I am amazing!

So while I am walking along the river this morning, trying not to leave rivers of sweat on the sidewalk (because it is so humid today), I remind myself well, sweat or not, I am amazing!

Hmmm. Apparently compliments – in writing – have a lasting effect. But only if we pay attention and give the words awareness. Because it is in the reflection of the words, I realize that we are all amazing beings.

I think I am onto something here. I think we should begin to tell other people how amazing they are. Maybe we could distribute little cards – business cards – that just say, “You are amazing!”

We all know amazing people – my hairdresser who juggles a job and four children (whenever I see her she is smiling) – she is amazing! She has the funniest stories to tell about her children; I sit in her chair and belly laugh throughout the whole visit.

The woman who owns the tailor shop where I take my pants to be hemmed – we always have a nice chat. She is from Scotland and has interesting stories. We share a love of birds and birdsong – she reminds me to Google warblers and nightingales. I think she is amazing!

My neighbours on either side of our house – one is blind in one eye, and always tells me interesting facts about the weather, birds, squirrels and raccoons. He grew up on a farm where he watched the changing sky and birds come and go;  his weather predictions are so spot on – I have no need to turn to the weather forecast on television.  So is the family on the other side of our house – they are raising two children; their daughter has special needs. They are all amazing!

When I watch the personal support workers at the residence where I volunteer, I know they are amazing…their acts of kindness go above and beyond their daily routines. I once sat in a room with a resident and heard a personal support worker singing You Are My Sunshine to a resident who has Alzheimer’s. When I went into the hallway to see who was singing (and who the lucky resident was) I found them walking arm in arm. She is amazing (as is the resident)!

And I think my husband is pretty amazing – after all, he gave me the card. Ha.

No kidding…it takes attention and awareness to see the beauty within each of us. We have to begin to look beneath the superficial, to listen to the words and intonations, to become more insightful and understanding of others. In short, we have to stop and spend some time with people, instead of rushing by them without a glance. When we begin to spend our time enjoying people and their stories, that’s when we begin to live in the moment. And we’ll surely begin to see how each of us matters, how we are all interconnected, and that we are all  awesome.

In Neale Donald Walsch’s Communion With God he writes:

“Which snowflake is the most magnificent? Is it possible that they are all magnificent – and that, celebrating their magnificence together they create an awesome display?  They melt into each other, and in the Oneness. Yet they never go away. They never disappear. They never cease to be. Simply they change form. And not just once, but several times: from solid to liquid, from liquid to vapour, from the seen to the unseen, to rise again, and then again to return in new displays of breathtaking beauty and wonder. This is Life, nourishing Life.”

Let’s begin to appreciate one another for the simple pleasures and the simple gifts that we all hold. Whether we are loving parents or grandparents, creative artists, kind neighbours, inspiring teachers, helpful volunteers, cheerful postal workers, supportive counsellors… oh, the list is just endless…we all are unique, beautiful and amazing in what we do and who we are.

Let’s shout it out: You are amazing!

 

 

 

 

Compassion is the beginning.

Sun set on Lake Huron

“Compassion begins at home, and it is not how much we do but how much love we put in that action. Do not think that love has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.” Mother Theresa

Every week my sister drives one and a half hours to visit her meditation teacher who now lives in a long-term care facility. One and a half hours that my sister, Sue, does not begrudge because as Sue remarks to me, she is my meditation teacher, mentor, friend, spiritual guide and second mother.

Whenever Sue visits, she leaves with gifts – words of wisdom, inspirational quotes, encouragement and love.

Sue explains that her friend is coming to terms with the last stage of her life – her failing health and the losses that surround this stage.  But she tells Sue that the loss of independence is the deepest cut because it can lead to the loss of self.

My sister’s meditation teacher has no dementia. Now 86 years young, her body no longer obeys her commands; her aging body has begun to betray her, not her mind.  She needs support in many facets of her life now, including a wheel-chair and bed lift – all physical. Spiritually, she is still intact.

In spite of feeling frustration that her voice is not heard, and her suggestions for improvement within the facility are ignored, Sue’s friend is optimistic that she can facilitate change. Once a city councillor, yoga teacher, and meditation teacher (who trained other yoga teachers and meditation teachers), she is a woman of substance – a woman at the young age of 86 (her words, not mine) who feels that she can still contribute and make a worthy difference to other residents’ lives. So she continues to push her ideas for change. Her suggestions are mostly simple ones, but significant to those who live in the facility. One of the changes she thinks would make a difference is a slight tweaking of the mechanical lift that transfers a patient from a bed to a wheelchair or vice versa (and is used to transfer a resident from chair to bathtub). Apparently when Sue’s friend is transferred from the bed, the position of her body becomes quite uncomfortable and causes some pain. When her friend tells the staff about this problem, she is ignored because there is nothing we can do about it and well, it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else.

Now you and I know that these kinds of answers are patronizing at best and shouldn’t be tolerated. But think about this: You are at the last stage of your life, you own an imperfect body that is not working, and you are totally dependent on the staff for all your basic needs to be met. If the staff do not hear you, what then? Her daughters are now talking to management about the issue, but that is what irks Sue’s friend the most: I should be seen and heard, not my daughters. I live here. Not them. She’s astute enough to recognize that she is experiencing a loss that many of us are not even cognizant of – the loss of not being seen and heard – the loss of self.

Our society and our culture worships at the altar of youth and beauty – we have no time for people who are aging and past their prime (whatever that is). Oh sure, if someone is past retirement and yet still working, owns their own business, is a creative force in the art or literary world (think musicians that are older and still performing to sell-out crowds) – those lucky individuals are still worthy and deemed valuable to society. But once someone goes to a long-term care facility (or a retirement home), the perceptions of value begin to change.

So when Sue asked her friend what would she change in the facility if she had the power to alter her circumstances, her teacher simply replied:  I would only hire staff on the basis of compassion and loving kindness.

Sue asked her if she would make any other changes…perhaps the size of the room, the beds, the daily routine, the food, the activities?

Her friend shook her head. No, Sue. Just loving kindness and compassion. Loving acts and deeds of kindness are transformative because it is in the care and consideration that is shown that makes the true difference. She expanded further: Unless we have compassion, our encounters only fulfill the basic needs; as humans we need more.

The two of them spent their visit imagining a dream home for residents. They laughed aloud at how wonderful the homes would become: daily schedules would cater to the residents (not the efficiency of the system) – staff members would be allowed to spend long periods of time just talking and sitting with their residents, instead of a tight schedule that does not allow for companionship (facilities rely on family and volunteers for that); staff members would sense when a resident needed a good cry, a massage, a hug, or a good cuddle. Oh, the dream! The dream!

When Sue told me this story, I stared at her and said that according to the mission statements of most long-term care facilities (what can I say, Googling is a hobby), they are already resident-centered or resident-focused.  The intent is clear. But what about the delivery?

In long-term care residences, you will find most of the staff members who are caring individuals. In the residence where my mother lived (and where I now volunteer) nearly all of the staff are kind and compassionate. Yes, some personal support workers are not as nice as others; but on the whole, many are loving, beautiful human beings. Unfortunately, the ratio of carers to residents is usually too high and carers or staff are run ragged. That hurry-up energy begins to wear on the carer (I know because I lived it) and breaks down their resolve to be kind. Once frustration or burn-out occurs, a hardening of the heart begins to affect the carer. And we begin (as carers and staff) to only see and feel our own frustrations which blinds us to others.

When we do not understand what someone is experiencing or what they are going through, we do not understand their suffering. If we do not understand a person’s pain, we cannot experience and feel compassion for them. Yes, we can empathize; but compassion can only arise in us when we feel for them or we see them and we are moved to alleviate their suffering. Compassion moves us to want to make a difference.

“True compassion, is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

I once walked into a resident’s room and I found the resident and the personal support worker sitting on the bed, the personal support worker’s arms wrapped around the resident. She was rocking her back and forth, whispering words of comfort to her. I was moved to tears and slowly, silently retreated from the room. I stood in the hallway and honoured the moment. I, myself, have experienced those kinds of moments with my own mother when she was upset and I learned valuable lessons when those moments occurred. When my mother was brave enough to show me her vulnerability (she wept in my arms), my heart broke open – and we connected so strongly that it is difficult to even describe it. I can only write…Grace surrounded us and comforted us both.

It is the spark of recognition that we see our self in another human being that connects us, the recognition that we are all One. I think it is this spark (this Divine spark) that moves us to action.

And it is this spark that needs to be in every encounter for our compassion to arise. When a staff member takes a resident to the bathroom, does she hurry and make the resident feel that she doesn’t matter. Does she understand that the resident does not want to need help? When we ask a resident a question, and their dementia does not allow for a quick answer – do we answer for them, instead of pausing? Worse, do we ignore them? Or, when a resident is hurting, and we are on a tight schedule, do we completely miss all her signs of distress? Palliative nurses are trained in recognizing a patient’s signs of discomfort and pain. Is the person grimacing? Is her brow furrowed? Is she behaving differently? Has she lost an ability or skill and is now compensating for that loss? Palliative staff are trained to see! They understand that any change in behaviour may reflect pain. And more importantly, that pain can be seen – it’s reflected on their face.

“It matters not what you look at But what you see.”  Henry David Thoreau

When we begin to really see someone, we begin to notice their suffering. And this awareness allows for an opening or a softening of our hearts.

Compassion enters.

My sister’s meditation teacher is right: Loving kindness and compassion is the answer. At the very least, it’s the beginning.

 

 

The intention behind the dog-eared piece of paper

calligraphyWhen the Chinese man placed a long sheet of white paper onto the wooden table, I couldn’t help but notice that the paper was dog-eared and stained. The paper looked old; my first thought was that he was recycling the paper.

During our recent visit to China, we were asked if we would like to have a calligraphy lesson. Yes, please!

So we found ourselves in the middle of a hutong (a cluster of homes in winding, narrow alleys) at a round kitchen table, surrounded by would-be calligraphers. Our teacher sits within us and paints the Chinese characters onto the paper – his strokes are quick: some end with flourishes, and other strokes end with whispers of ink. I am in heaven.

There are many things that give me joy, and watching an artist create is clearly at the top of my list. (I think that when we create, it is really the best of us. That thought gives me joy.) Our calligrapher’s hand is upright as the interpreter explains that one holds the brush perpendicular to the paper. Fully upright! The exact opposite of how a Westerner would hold a brush or pen. His five fingers are grasping the brush as he dips the brush into the ink bowl.

He starts at the top and brushes downwards. He moves from the left side to the right side. Oh, wait. He moves down the centre of the paper and draws a line, but now he surrounds it with two flourishes – one on the left and the other on the right side of the downward stroke. When he draws two boxes – one inside the other, he completes the inside box before he makes the final stroke of the outside box. (Will he give us instructions when we leave? A how-to book? Guidelines? A YouTube site that we can visit?)

The strong black strokes and trailing feathery lines on the white paper contrast greatly, and I know immediately that I am going home to learn this ancient art. I find it beautiful and exquisite.

I’d already bought calligraphy brushes in a beautiful box and now realize that the intended recipient of the souvenir was never going to see them. I knew that I would keep them for my own personal use.

Before I went to China, I had looked on YouTube for videos of calligraphy painting and was rewarded with a prolific number of sites exhibiting the beautifully skilled artists. I also knew that Westerners call the white paper, rice paper, which is not what the artists use. The paper they write on is called Shuan (Xuan) paper. It is rather expensive, so beginners do not usually use it. (My hunch is that our own teacher is using cheaper paper.)

Our interpreter, our own Chinese guide, told us that the calligrapher calls his tools, The Four National Treasures: ink, ink stone, paper and brush.

Wherever we visited one of the many ancient sites in China, my sister and I were always looking for works of calligraphy. Often tables were set up among the vendors and artists were working. Sometimes scrolls were used and the writer would dab at the paint to ensure it doesn’t smear; the painted scrolls were then flung over  string hung from tree to tree, or wooden dowels used as a drying rack. We spent many of our few, precious minutes allowed for shopping, just watching the artists.

Calligraphy prints drying out

Calligraphy prints drying out

Painter selling his art

We noticed that the artists differed in their techniques and I learned when I returned home, that there are five different styles: Seal (Zuan), Clerical (Li), Running (Tsao), Walking (Hsin), and Standard (Kai). I also learned that beginners usually employ the Kai Shu style or Li Shu style.

I read that the success of a piece or the value of a work of a calligrapher is measured by the strength of the stroke or the power within the stroke. In other words, how the calligrapher holds the brush and makes the stroke (where the pressure on the paper is made, or when the brush is lifted) expresses the uniqueness of each piece. And, those strokes and the power within the stroke or the subtlety of the stroke is what differentiates the masters from the others.

Calligraphy

Our own Chinese teacher ignores most of our questions, as he is intent on painting each of us a personal keepsake, or gift.

I ask our Chinese guide if I may receive a piece of paper with the word Longevity inscribed on it as I know immediately that I am going to give my gift to my friend who has cancer when I return to Canada.

When the artist drew the characters onto the piece of paper, I can see that he is pleased to be asked to write that particular word: longevity.

The Chinese are very superstitious, and therefore, many of the Chinese calligraphy works that we have seen translate into prosperity, love, fortune, abundance, long life and health. Not taking any chances, the Chinese surround themselves with tokens that symbolize the good life, the healthy life; hence, works of calligraphy are revered by all.

The broad strokes symbolize different words… short and long sweeps of ink, short flourishes, long flourishes, boxes, dabs, dabs with smears…each denotes part of an object or a thought. Some of the strokes make sense to me – three strokes denotes the number three. (One stroke means the number one; two strokes – two.) One word looks like a pictogram that looks familiar – a tree. Then, he draws two trees, side by side. The one tree does denote the word tree. But the pictogram of two trees actually denotes forest. (Hey, I wrongly assume, isn’t the Chinese language difficult to learn? This is easy.)

Then he draws so many strokes within other strokes, that I am confused and cannot distinguish the end from the beginning. I shake my head. I’ll stick to learning and drawing one, two, three. (Because the number four is not four strokes.)

Finally our calligrapher hands over to me a torn, dog-eared piece of paper and I am grinning from ear to ear when I realize that the beautiful black strokes spell Longevity because I believe everything (especially old, dog-eared pieces of paper) have an energy and I am certain my keepsake is pulsating with the energy of all of us squeezed into that small room: the excitement and appreciation of our group, the ancient history of the art, the knowledge and experience (and gifts) of the artist, himself; the superstition of the Chinese people, along with their well-wishes, and their pride and honour in teaching us something about their country – all these positive energies are stirred together with curiosity, openness, and hope. Each of these energies is powerful when alone; mixed together – super powerful.

All of this accompanied me home when I rolled up my paper and tucked it into my suitcase.

In Canada, my friend accepted my gift in the spirit in which it was given – she overlooked the stains on the paper and only saw the intent of the inscription. And the intent of the artist. And my intent.

Giving and receiving. Both are gifts. And they exist everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing leads to peace and contentment

When I write, I process my world. And I know that most writers write because that’s what they do. And it is through this process that I figure out what really matters to me. It’s as if my writing pares down my life; as if my writing gets rid of the stuff that no longer matters to me, or serves me, or feeds me.

So I write about the things that matter to me: self-care, caring for our loved ones, compassion, love, awareness, acceptance, creativity, expansion, nature, joy, my spiritual journey, Grace, Oneness, and gifts from the Universe.

Pare down or detach. What remains? What matters to you? I’m guessing that most of us care about our families, love, contentment and happiness, health, our pets, our homes, and how we spend our time here on earth – jobs, careers, occupations, service to others, our purpose or life’s work.

Fulfilling our life’s  purpose or destiny is what really matters to many of us. But in a strange twist or irony, I find that letting go or detaching from this pursuit of finding my life’s purpose has taken me to a place of contentment and peace within myself.

When we focus too much on our need to find our life`s purpose, we forget that just in living our daily lives, that is – to live in the Now and appreciate each moment; to become aware of the beauty that surrounds us in all things; to fully appreciate our activities and the people that we meet each day; to listen to others and respond from our hearts, authentically; to accept our reality and let go of control and the need to orchestrate our day; to just flow with the Universe – this is how we live our life’s purpose.

Our life’s purpose is to just be. Doesn’t that sound simple? Well, it is. To just be is authentic and honest. Each of us will just be differently…and that’s why when we accept this humble, so simple act of just being (our best that we offer) that the light bulb turns on! Wait a minute. If I am enough just as I am, then that means that you and you and you are also enough (just as you are!). Whew. That’s mind-blowing. We no longer have to compete against each other. We can let go of the need to be smarter than others, richer than others, or thinner than others. We can let go of the fallacy that we are meant to be the best or to outdo everyone else because the reality is that we are already perfect – we are enough (just as we are).

And since we are enough just as we are, then clearly we are already fulfilling our life’s destiny. We are already on the path. We are clearly doing what we are supposed to be doing. Today I am writing about what matters to me. I am supposed to be writing – I know this because I found my writing passion while caring for my parents who had Alzheimer’s. It was one of many gifts that I received (and now share) during that challenging journey.

It’s why I remind people when they are caring for loved ones, that they are on a journey of discovery – yes, today it is difficult; but tomorrow will be full of possibilities and gifts – all ready to be learned (and then shared) because of the journey that you walk today. I remind them that they were meant to be on this journey of caregiving and I know this because of one simple fact: They are on this journey. It is their reality. The Universe makes no mistakes.

When I looked after my father and then my mother, and when I now volunteer at the long-term care facility where she lived, I know that my simple acts of kindness are directly related to my fulfilling my life’s destiny. I am meant to be there – with my peeps. (My sister’s term when she refers to the residents.) I know this without a doubt for one simple reason – I am truly happy when I visit my peeps. I feel such peace and contentment within.  This is the gift that I receive each time that I visit them.

Whether you are laughing with your loved ones, reading a book to your beloved child or grandchild, teaching students, showing someone how to fix a broken object, telling someone a joke so that they will smile, running an errand for a neighbour…it matters not what you do…but how does it make you feel?

When you are feeling joy well up within or you are grinning from ear to ear (and you don’t even know why) or you are feeling so peaceful, then I am pretty certain that you are fulfilling your life’s destiny.

Ah, the sweet gifts that come from writing: recognition, awareness, attention. All gifts.

 

 

 

 

 

It is too easy to become self-absorbed when we are caring for our parents.

During the journey of caring for our parents, it is very easy to become self-absorbed. Yup. Self-absorbed.

Isn’t that impossible? We are spending our days caring and tending to someone else’s life – making sure that they eat nourishing meals, making sure that they get to the doctor’s office, ensuring that they take their vitamins (supplements, too) and prescriptions at regular times, allowing outdoor time (walks, exercise), ensuring they are washed, showered, clean, combed, dressed, and yes, toileted. We even do our best to get them in bed early enough so that everyone will enjoy a restful sleep, without interruption (s).

So, if we are supporting our loved one on a full-time, daily basis, how the heck can we become self-absorbed?

Because sooner or later, the fatigue, fear, stress and imbalance in our life (and in our own health – body, mind, spirit) will overwhelm us, and because of the fatigue, we will no longer make careful and caring decisions – for ourselves! Instead, we begin to live in our thoughts (and they are full of fear).

Our friends will invite us to lunch, and we will decline because we are too tired.  Our friends suggest coffee at our convenience but we decline that, too. Our own physician’s office will call and inform us that we have neglected our annual check-up – we are long overdue, but we will not make an appointment because we tell them that we are too busy caring after our loved one’s health. We put our own health concerns on hold which really reflects that we have designated our own health as secondary; worse, insignificant.

Our partner, companion, husband or wife will plan a surprise dinner for us – we are not surprised or happy. Instead, we are upset with them because we are too stressed to sit down and eat a meal…don’t they get it? We ignore the effort that they have made – we are just pissed at them (and we don’t even understand why).

When we look into the mirror, we see someone who is a stranger – a tired, old stranger! Who is she? When did we become her? But in spite of recognizing that we need a hair cut, or that our nails need to be manicured, we will not make follow-up appointments. We would rather complain. It’s become so much more comfortable.

Under stress, we are so self-absorbed (living in our thoughts) that we cannot see what is truly happening to us – we are not living in the present; we are not living in the Now; we are not accepting our reality.  We are absorbed in our story and drama.

We push our friends away, we deny ourselves their support and friendship, and we are often oblivious to the real needs of our loved one who has dementia – they want to be validated and know that they matter still. When our hearts and minds are too absorbed with our drama of caregiving, we forget to sit down and hold their hands, to read them the daily newspaper – perhaps with inflections in our voices, making our loved one laugh or smile. We forget that being is more important than doing.

When I wrote my ebook on caring for parents with Alzheimer’s I dedicated a whole chapter to self-care and self-compassion.  Just so you know: self-compassion is the opposite of self-absorption. (It’s about love versus fear.)

I know the fatigue and the stress of caring for parents: they were my sole companions for some years.

When I look back on those years, I am grateful and thankful for the many lessons and gifts that I received from those years, but I recognize how difficult that time was and I am now passionate about reminding others to take care – of themselves!

I believe that I allowed myself to become self-absorbed. I played the poor me martyr role well. Even when my friends told me what a wonderful job that I was doing (always with the postscript: I don’t know how you do it), I always felt like a fraud. And I know this because my caregiving did not come from a place of acceptance – it came from a place of need.

Caregiver fatigue has many symptoms: fatigue, sleep deprivation, anxiety, stress, and what I call the terrible trio: resentment, anger and guilt. Once we recognize and then accept these emotions, then (and only then) can we transform them. How do we transform them? We learn to accept that we have these emotions and we give them attention. We learn to ask ourselves some deep questions: Why am I angry? Why am I feeling such resentment? Why do I feel guilt? Then, you forgive yourself.

If we don’t pay attention to these questions, we will never move forward. We need to face the emotions and dig deep. Once we recognize that our anger or guilt is real (of course it’s real! you’re feeling them….therefore, they are real!) and we stop pretending that we are okay (We are clearly not!), the attention or spot-light on the emotion slowly begins to dissolve the emotion.

When we practice the art of paying attention to our emotions, we practice acceptance. In acceptance of my emotions, I learned some big truths about myself: that I could let go and allow others to help me; that I was safe (I am okay) even when I made mistakes and was imperfect; that I shared a common and universal bond with other people  – I was sad and mourned the loss of my father and that I mourned watching my mother’s mind decline, too. As adults, we are thrown off kilter to recognize how truly sad it is to lose our parents to a dementia. We are not prepared for it.

But another Truth I learned was that no matter how sad or depressed, or angry or resentful…I am enough, just as I am…and that insight, itself, brings great love for oneself. And love for oneself leads to love for others. Once we open ourselves up to love – deep compassion, kindness, gratitude and joy enter!

When we learn to accept our reality and our emotions, we can make small, but significant changes. We can ask for support; we can have more meaningful conversations with our family members; we can make better, more informed decisions (instead of knee-jerk reactions). Perhaps we can forgive ourselves that we cannot continue this journey of caregiving alone – perhaps, we need to search for alternative options. These thoughtful decisions can be life-changing for your loved one who has a dementia, but these decisions are also about our lives and our happiness, too. When we are too stressed or self-absorbed in our misery, we are incapable of making sound decisions because we come from a tight, constricted space, not an open and loving space.

In true acceptance, we accept that our loved one needs more help than we can give them. Or, we accept that it is a loving act to ask for daily help and support from an outside agency. In this state of acceptance of our reality, we learn to come to terms that our loved one is ill and we give ourselves permission to grieve – even when he is still here. We grieve for their loss and our own loss.

In true acceptance, we learn to set aside both the past, and the thoughts about the future. We try to live in the present and enjoy our time with our loved one – today. And it is in these moments (whether brief or not), we feel joy well up. We feel love surround us. We feel forgiveness, too. We feel the joy that can only come up from our spirit, validating that this is enough…just as it is. And we accept that. And we feel true compassion (because compassion is love for another’s well-being) and we feel a connection to all.

In acceptance, I learned that my life was still filled with love, faith, hope, resilience and joy. Joy.

All gifts.