Remember–Super Heroes Are NOT Real People

The gradual losses experienced by caregivers can lead to sadness, depression, anger, guilt, sleeplessness and other physical and emotional problems. Family Caregiver Alliance Site

Caregivers are frequently referred to as heroes, even super-heroes. But, they aren’t. Caregivers are not super-human or intended to be heroes. They are simply human beings doing their best to take care of someone they love whose brain is not working properly. Perhaps they may wish they had super powers or mystical abilities but to stay sane they must acknowledge that they can’t fix all the challenges that accompany a dementia diagnosis.

The Family Caregiver Alliance recommends that a caregiver identify her losses, her feelings about the losses, and her corresponding grief. The Alliance also recommends keeping a journal, attending a support group, and doing relaxation exercises. If you’re a caregiver, my heart goes out to you as you deal with the challenges you face.

Affirmation: I take care of myself as I take care of another.

Coaching questions: Whether you are a caregiver or not, in what ways do you try to be a super-hero? How’s that working for you? If you are a caregiver, what do you do to take care of yourself? What else do you need to do to remain healthy?

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Photo by Paul Stickman on Unsplash

Do No Harm

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trail and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Helen Keller

It breaks my heart to read the posts of women in motherless daughters’ groups telling a woman who is in despair over having just lost her mother that “it doesn’t get any better.” I shout out at my computer screen, “For Heaven’s sake, give the poor grieving woman some hope!” Most of us, if we’re over forty, have suffered at least one significant loss. If all of us never recovered, we would all be walking around like the Zombies we were that first week.

Even Helen Keller, with no sight, hearing or voice, offered a message of hope for those who are suffering and in distress. I believe it’s important to acknowledge a person’s grief, be with her in the reality of the moment, offer no platitudes like “she’s better off now” or “you’ll be fine.” Saying nothing is always good. Your presence is what matters. Reminisce with her about her loved one. But please, please, don’t take away hope for her future. Hope may be the only thread attaching her to this Earth—sometimes, literally.

Affirmation: I will be a healer and do no harm.  

Coaching questions: What helped you most in times of despair? What words or presence brought you the most comfort? How do you show up for your friends and family in times of distress?

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Have a Funeral In Your Heart

The few trees still upright were stripped of their branches, lonely flagpoles without a nation to claim them. Mike Mullin, author

More than three hundred twisters have wrecked havoc across the midwestern US states over the last two weeks alone. This is in addition to the unprecedented flooding across several states. People are in mourning for their possessions, their way of life, and the idea of life being the way they wanted it to be. 

In Asian philosophy, this mourning of the loss of how we thought life would be is called Ego Death. I profoundly experienced this when I was divorced over twenty-five years ago. I mourned the loss of a nuclear family and how I thought my life would be. Those who have lost their homes, possessions, livelihood, or their way of life must be willing to have a funeral in their heart. Grieving the loss of our expectations, as well as possessions or even loved ones, is an important step towards recovery. There is no way around grief. To move forward, the path is straight ahead. 

Affirmation: I accept the importance of grieving no matter what the loss.

Coaching question and request: What have you lost that you have yet to grieve? This could be something less profound than a parent, child, or spouse. Perhaps it is your innocence about the world. The loss of a friend, your most prized possession, or your way of life. Take a moment to think about your unfinished business around grief. Then do the work of having a funeral in your heart. 

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Photo by Nikolas Noonan on Unsplash

Will Your Life Be Filled With Lemons or Will You Make Lemonade?

You either get bitter or you get better. It’s that simple. You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate. It belongs to YOU. Josh Shipp, youth motivational speaker

Of course, the natural and appropriate response to loss is sadness and grief. However, it’s been my experience that when the focus remains on the one you lost, there is less despair and depression than when the focus remains on yourself. When we get stuck in saying or thinking, “Why me? It’s not fair. How can I possibly cope?” we stymie our ability to move forward. So much depends on how we respond to our experience. 

The motherless daughters I interviewed who moved forward with their lives, frequently talked about all their mothers gave them, even if their time with them was short, rather than all they lost because of her death. Both conversations are appropriate but focusing on the former seemed to lead to more joy. 

Affirmation: I choose to get better.

Coaching questions: What is your response to loss? Is it working for you? What will help you focus more on the lost loved one and less on yourself?

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On Openness and Honesty

Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything. C.S. Lewis, author

Death and dying are difficult topics to discuss but honest discussion is critical for our well being. As I interviewed women who had lost their mothers, one of the most important recovery factors was honesty from the father and other caregivers. Secret-keeping was one of the most destructive. 

 Darcy Krause, Executive Director at Uplift Center for Grieving Children, writes, “Clinicians consistently emphasize the importance of relaying accurate, honest information to a child about a parent or loved one’s illness in terms the child can understand developmentally. This lays the groundwork for the child’s healthy grief processing.” 

Perhaps you experienced the damaging affects of secret-keeping. Now, it’s your turn. You can change this destructive family dynamic and have open dialogue with your loved ones on this important topic.

Affirmation: I speak opening about death and dying.

Coaching questions: What’s your experience around death and dying discussions? How were/are you affected? What do you want to change (if anything)? How might open dialogue make a difference in your family? 

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Photo by Abi Lewis on Unsplash

Energy Versus Time

Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.  Oprah Winfrey, American media executive, actress, talk show host, philanthropist. 

With nineteen grandchildren and four great-grands, I start my Christmas shopping early. I’ve also started party planning, making treats for the freezer, and decorating ideas. ’Tis the season!

I learned long ago that it is more important for me to manage my energy than it is my time. We all have 24 hours in a day but energy….there’s the rub. As I’ve aged, my energy has declined so I must use it well. I still wake up most mornings raring to go but the exuberance doesn’t last. If you are in the throes of grief, expect lower than usual energy. Notice when you are most energized and use the time well. Even a few minutes can yield big results when you’re working on all four cylinders and love what you’re doing. 

Affirmation: I manage my energy well.

Coaching questions: What’s your best time of the day? What energizes you? What do you need to do now to manage your time and energy during this busy season? 

Three Steps to Grief Recovery

When you throw your bread out on the waters of life, it comes back buttered. Rev. Stanley Weems, Presbyterian Pastor

As I spoke with daughters who had experienced profound mother loss, I heard three things that seemed to be universal in their grief recovery.

  1. Focusing on others while moving away from your own troubled and grief-stricken mind, is a key to recovery. Nearly every  daughter with whom I spoke, felt a revival of their spirits when they began to reach out to others. 
  2. Gratitude is a key. As we look at the glass half full, expressing gratitude for the time we had with our loved one, gratitude for the inheritance we received, gratitude for the comfort that came our way, grief begins to dissipate.
  3. Seek professional help if you need it. All daughters who sought help said it made a profound difference in their recovery. Life is short. Don’t wait too long to seek help if you need it.

Whether we are generous with our stories, our empathy, our talents or time, the flow of energy into the world enables it to return in abundance.

Affirmation: I can recover.

Coaching questions: If you are struggling with grief, what one step can you take to move toward recovery? Do you want to move forward? If not, in what way is grief serving you?