Posts Tagged ‘Caregiver’

Your life span is decreasing continuously.

You know, the Nine Contemplations are such an interesting phenomenon.

They are nothing that we don’t already know… but I don’t think we have a lived-sense or an embody-sense of their depth or truth.

I’ve sat with this contemplation for a while now… and so much has come up for me.

I think I wrote about this in a post not too long ago… about being at the age that I’m at and acutely aware of how much life I have lived in terms of days and years and how many decades are projected for me, given my age, where I live, my health, etc.

Our culture is really good at helping us hide from these thoughts.  But it is in our hiding that dis-ease can take place.  We cannot avoid these realizations because when we try, they go underground, unconscious and come out in ways that are often unhealthy.

Your life span is decreasing continuously.

Tick, tick, tick. . . do you hear it?  Once less inhalation.  One less exhalation.

For some, that might be fine.  They may be rooted in the belief that “this” is not all there is, that there is some greater reward or something more real out there.  And that’s great for someone to believe.

On the other hand, this might fill others with terror, if one believes that one’s last exhalation, that long, deep exhalation is all that there is.    That belief can be the very thing that keeps us up at night, worrying and fretting.  It can be the thing that makes us cling to the things and to others in our lives.  It can be the thing that makes us push away everything in our lives.

I sat in a Thai restaurant this afternoon and half-listened to three high school girls who were waiting to take food back to their dress rehearsal of some play going on in the tiny micro-town that I live in.

I listened to this kind of high-pitched, “and then he said… and then she said.. and can you believe… ” which really cracked me up because when I got to the restaurant, the wait staff was involved in a similar drama about someone who no longer works there…

And as I began to mentally roll my eyes, I took a big deep breath.  My workplace and my actions have been no different over the years. . . or just this week…   They weren’t young teen-boppers or twenty-somethings who didn’t know better… in our office, most of us in our 40s and we do the same nonsense rather than focus on what’s really important.  Is that really how we want to spend out time?

Your life span is decreasing continuously.

Probably even more than on the cushion, it is on the yoga mat where I am so keenly aware of this contemplation.

Corpse pose is a lot more comfortable than proud warrior and I need to do downward facing dog during the day to perk up and get my brain right.

I’m so fair that I don’t have gray’s coming yet, but there are certainly those moments, when they call for all staff to show up, and the younger ones go flying to make it to restraints quickly that I realize, I am no longer the youngest or most able at work and I really don’t want to (for physical as well as ethical reasons) be down on the floor, holding someone for 30 minutes or until they calm down.  I don’t want to feel stiff and sore for the next day any more than I feel regret that part of our job is to restrain people.

Your life span is decreasing continuously.

Work is also a very humbling place for me in that I am constantly an observer to how people in institutions are cared for and cared about.  There isn’t a day that goes by, despite my age, that I don’t think about living in a nursing home some day or having to be in a hospital for an extended period of time.

Someone telling me I can’t nap and I’ve always been a champion napper.

Someone medicating me because I’m up all night (and have always been a night person).

Not having the abilities to tend to the things I have learned to do throughout my life like turn a tv on and off, brush my teeth (hopefully I will still have some), or walk outside to see the full moon.

And what about personal care?  I see people with bibs and disposal briefs every day.  Somehow, I doubt that, even if I had argyle and paisley ones, would I be terribly thrilled about the prospect of either of these things in my life.

There are few of us who escape that existence, even if we are at home, in the care of our loving family, our bodies are of the nature to start to shut down over time and not work in the same way.

We move toward these places,

these instances,

with every breath.

I don’t think it is morbid to think about.  I think it reminds me of my edge. . .  what is at stake.

One day, my parents will be gone and I will have no family.

One day the sweet, soft kiss of my lover will be gone, as he takes his final breath and leaves me for the last time.

One day, I will be cold all the time, possibly unaware of time and place, and lost in a world of memories.  My hope is that when that day comes, I will remember to breathe and I will have created an interior world and a world of memories in which I want to be lost in.

Your life span is constantly decreasing.

Don’t be fooled into believing that with the right serum, pot brownie, relationship, work project, etc., all this will not come.  It has come for all sentient beings that have come before us and it will come for all of those who take our breath here and now.

Hold on to your edge and remember it as you decide if you will cautious walk through this life,

if you will meet everything head on with fury,

if you will accept what is,

or if you will walk from one relationship or experience to another with an open or armoured heart.

Your life span, my life span, is constantly decreasing.

With deep abiding compassion and love kindness,


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Rock tombstone, Old Ship Burying Ground, Old S...

Rock tombstone, Old Ship Burying Ground, Old Ship Church, Hingham, Massachusetts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our time to mourn, or time to grieve, isn’t just about going through old love letters, re-connecting with memories or friends we’ve lost touch with who come to comfort us,

it’s not just about boxing up memories, feeling our pain, having good cries wrapped up in soft blankets. . .

it’s not about being angry and throwing things or avoiding things. . .

it’s not just about the awful tuna casseroles…

There are very pragmatic things that we have to deal with after someone dies. . . and though I wish I could stop the world for you, tell the bill collectors to wait until the black clothes come off or the grave stone is seated, I cannot.

But here is a short article that describes some of the things that need to be done after someone dies.  Although the title mentions those who are widowed, I would think that this would be just as appropriate for adult children to know. . . either to help a surviving parent or when your surviving parent is the one who dies.

My most helpful suggestion. . . give yourself time to deal with the affective and spiritual/existential as well as the pragmatic. . . we don’t live in just one mode and we can’t grieve in just one either. . . be gentle. . . use a calendar to help you keep deadlines, take time for your own respite, ask others for help. . . don’t forget to breathe!

Take a look. . . if you find that there were other things you needed to do, you figured out the hard way, please leave a comment and share here.

Peace, Jennifer


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“Contrary to popular belief, or perhaps from wishful thinking — because of our own discomfort with death — dying people know they are dying, even if no one else knows or has told them.  They attempt to share this information by using symbolic language to indicate preparation  for a journey or change soon to happen.  Travel is a clear metaphor often used to describe this need to go forth — to die.

Many accept this knowledge of their impending death without anxiety or fear, but may need validation or information about what the dying will be like.  Some experience apprehension, often due to deep concern that family and friends don’t accept this reality or may be unprepared for the finality of their leaving.”

Final Gifts, Maggie Callahan and Patricia Kelley.

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Script for Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  1. After finding a quiet place and several free minutes to practice, sit or lie down and make yourself comfortable.
  2. Begin by tensing all the muscles in your face…close eyes tightly, clench teeth, Hold until the count of 8
  3. Now exhale and relax completely.  Let your face go completely lax, as though you were sleeping.  Feel the tension leave your facial muscles.
  4. Next completely tense your neck, shoulders, again inhaling, count to 8, exhale and relax.
  5. Continue down the body … chest, abdomen, entire right arm, right forearm (make a fist), right hand, entire left arm, left forearm (make a fist), left hand, buttocks, entire right leg, lower right leg & foot, right foot, entire left leg, lower left leg & foot, left foot
  6. For less time, shortened version – face, then neck, shoulders, arms, abdomen & chest, buttocks, legs and feet
  7. Quickly focus on each group after another, you can relax your body like “liquid relaxation” poured on your head and it flowed down and completely covered you.  You can use this technique to quickly de-stress anytime.

Nothing option instead of progressive muscle relaxation is yoga nidra which I have a post about on my other blog…  http://mindfullyhealthy.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/yoga-nidra/

You can find audios of Yoga Nidra on youtube, Itunes, etc.  Check it out.  It’s been a wonderful practice for me.  It is similar to something I used to do when I gave myself regular Reiki treatments and it brings you to a lovely place, shifting your consciousness and your brainwaves.  Check it out, practice, and let us know what you think.

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“In that invulnerable inner place, we come to know

what it is in each of us that can never be lost,

and can never die….

We find the dwelling place of Love.”

~~John E. Welshons

Awakening from Grief:  Finding the way back to joy

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Here is a link to an incredible photo of Roshi Joan Halifax gracefully bowing:

Roshi bowing before painting: Upaya Zen Center, calligraphy retreat, Kaz Tanahashi

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed bowing while being with sangha.

It’s been several years since I was able to practice with my closest sangha or go on retreat.  I was too sick.

There is so much reverence — not just for life but for everything. . .

When was the last time you bowed to your recliner for holding you comfortably while you read or your car for running and keeping you safe from harm at mind-numbing speeds?  Have you ever bowed to your food with gratitude for it helping to sustain you?

Could you imagine bowing to your water bottle… not praying to it, but taking the time to be mindful of how you are interconnected.

I think about my daily work — can you imagine what it would be like for a technician to bow before tying a clothing protector on prior to a meal or checking someone’s adult diaper?


Would you need a plan to give attention as a reinforcer when a person had that kind of attention?

I’m not advocating for us to bow to our residents… the staff was trained in some humanizing ways of approaching residents and de-escalating situations and it became a big joke… people couldn’t imagine taking postures of non-threatening behavior in the midst of their terribly demanding jobs.  There was no context and no in the moment, on the floor modeling. . . why would anyone take it seriously?

The other morning as I finished my breakfast of yogurt and rice on retreat, a flash came to mind. . .

It was when I was a bereavement coordinator for a hospice and it was a quiet afternoon with most of the staff nurses making home calls.

Someone popped into my office and asked if I would go with my RN friend to the home.  I was happy to do it because I was probably working on the monthly newsletter and loved having face to face time with families.

By the time we arrived at the house, the gentleman had already died.

My friend lovingly asked the family if it would be okay if we bathed his body.  And she lovingly asked if I wanted to help.

What great reverence!

My brother had asked my dad and his home health nurse to wash his body and that was done before I got to the hospital after he died.  Mike had not wanted his “little sister” to be witness to the request.

But here I was, helping a nurse pay such loving attention to this man I had never met.  It was life-altering.

We took gentle care with him, taking our time, and being mindful (though not practicing mindfulness) with our last gift to him.

I think why this came up for me was because in our own hospice-way, we were bowing to this man, to his life, and to his family that loved him so.

I can’t think of a way to honor someone more than to just be present to them and shower them with loving attention.

And at the same time, wow… we do this for the dying or someone who has died…

Do we have to wait for a death to occur before we bath someone in the light of our attention, our focus, our mindful intent?

Can we practice “bowing” to the patient with dementia that we are working with, or the autistic resident that cannot speak, or the aging family member that we may have unresolved issues with. . .

Can you imagine if THIS was what health care reform was. . . the mindful intention and attention to those who are present before us, in loving service and deep respect for them allowing us to help them when they are so vulnerable.

Can you imagine bowing to the Buddha within?

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“Recognizing our intereconnectedness is the heart of giving no fear. . . Life connects us to one another, as do suffering, joy, death, and enlightment. . . Our unconditional goodness connects us. . .”

Roshi Joan Halifax, Being with Dying

Roshi Joan Halifax

Roshi Joan Halifax (Photo credit: Mari Smith)

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“No matter how busy we are, we can bring simple contemplative elements into our caregiving practice that will help us to follow the dying person’s lead and to give no fear.  Sharing practice or prayer, silence and presence, with a dying person also services the caregiver’s well-being.  When you find yourself caught up in the events around you or in your own hope and fear, slow down.  Even stop.  Cultivate the habit of attending to the breath continually; use the breath to stabilize and concentrate the mind.”

~~ Roshi Joan Halifax, Being with Dying

No matter how long you practice, there are times that your breath gets caught… sometimes we find ourselves gasping, sometimes holding our breath… we forget how stabilizing our breath is and how it is the “stuff” of life.

I find myself at work, shoulders scrunched up, after counting data and updating excel spreadsheets for hours.  I realize several things…

I’ve not seen another human for a while.

I’ve not seen anything green for some time.

I’m slumped over and my heart is contracted.

I’m barely breathing.

At that time, I don’t need a chime to go off.  It’s too late and just the right time. It time to let my shoulders drop.  Let my heart open up.

Close my eyes… walk away from the graphs and spreadsheets and do something in like child’s pose or downward facing dog to bring myself back to my center.

It’s time to pick up one of the two Dharma books on my desk and read a sentence or two and remind myself that this moment is a gift.  It is the only thing that matters and I can let it pass by mindlessly or I can attend to it.

Knowing that we only have so many moments in each of our lifetimes, do we really want to let one go by without savoring it with a deep, slow breath?

As caregivers, we often forget ourselves … we’re not always 100% present to the one before us but maybe we are caught up in all of the tasks that are required… caregiving is hard work… but if spirituality is about chopping wood, carrying water, and washing dishes, than what a great gift caregiving is to us… to attend to “the baby buddha” that is within the person who we are caring for…

And if the person before us is a buddha, how do we want to meet the Buddha?  Too busy to say hello as we walk in the door?  Too busy looking for the pail to empty?  Or do we want to meet heart to heart, breath after breath, at the deepest level that we will allow ourselves and they will allow us to meet at?

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Neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks at the 200...

Neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is an amazing clip of Oliver Sacks from Elephant Journal… it is PHENOMENAL!!!!!!


Thank you elephant journal for this awesome post!

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“I saw with her, and when she held my hand she said, “You have such warm hands.  I hope you are going to be with me when I get colder and colder.”  She smiled knowingly.  She knew and I knew that at this moment she had dropped her denial.  She was able to think about talk about her own death and she asked for just a little comfort of companionship and a final stage without too much hunger.”

~~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying

So after I picked the title, I wondered, which “D-word” was I referring to… death or denial.

And I wonder why we have to have things our way?  Well, I know why… I guess I just wonder why we have to make people die the way we want them to. . .

As an end-of-life care professional, I have preached to not use euphemisms and to say the words dying, dead, death, cancer, AIDS, etc. but whose issue is that?  If it is an adult, do we really have the right to rob someone of the ways they are trying to take care of themselves on their journey?

Tonight I am thinking about this the way I am about the article I wrote not too long ago entitled stop all the self-help.    Is there a subtle aggression when we tell people how to do things like their dying or healing and is this an area that we need to have self-compassion and compassion for those we are with?

I think it’s an interesting idea.

When I hear conversations about someone I know with dementia, I often think, who are we to try to pull them back into our reality and tell them their world-view is wrong?

Maybe as helping professionals, loved ones, caregivers, etc we should look at those we are with in the same manner.

What does it do for us to have some not be “in denial” of a situation like their dying?

Don’t we know that on some level, whatever level that is, the person who has an illness and is dying almost always knows before the doctor’s appointment, before the lab results, what is going on..

And of course, there is the whole balance between “denial” and “hope”… and I am sure that will be a post for the future.

But for now, can we practice some acceptance?

Elisabeth’s patient knew that the end was coming at some point. . . isn’t it more important that she trusted Elisabeth enough to want her to share in the end, than to say the words, “yes, i know I am dying?”


Note:  I will be away on retreat for the next week.  I wish you all well and I hope you enjoy the articles that I have left in my stead.

May sorrow show us the way to compassion

May I realize grace in the midst of suffering

May I be peaceful and let go of expectations.

May I receive the love and compassion of others.

With love and deep gratitude, Jennifer

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