Thursday, 31 January 2013

The small miracle of God's extravagence

It usually hits me in the fall. When the trees are robed in magnificent, brilliant colours, I try to fill my eyes and brain with the beauty. Each corner holds a surprise--an even more dazzling red, a deeper burgundy, and more intense yellow. I try to store all that colour and beauty for the stark winter ahead.

This weekend, we went dogsledding. It was beyond fun, and we had a blast. But like the brillance of fall, I was in awe of the beauty.

The extravagence of God.

God didn't have to ice each tiny limb of every tree with snow, so that it stood out from the one beside it. He didn't need to paint the sky such a luminous blue, or set the sun to glowing until our eyes hurt. The crisp cold and the sun made the ice crystals in the snow twinkle and glow. It was achingly beautiful.

He didn't have to do that. We would have had fun, and even admired the scenery, without so much.

He didn't have to, but He did.

And He does. Every day. We just have to see it.

                           Psalm 8

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?[c]
You have made them a little lower than the angels[e]
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Look around. Where do you see God's extravagence today?

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Caregiver Wednesdays- Why I am a Caregiver- pt. 3

When I started working with the elderly, I knew nothing.

I didn’t know much about older people. I am the youngest grandchild on both sides. With multiple siblings in both my parent’s families, there were many grandchildren, and by the time I came along, the grandparents were elderly and coping with their own issues. I had the best relationship with my Dad’s mother, but she lived out of town, and we didn’t see her much.

My one qualification was that my mother had Alzheimer’s, and I was starting in an Alzheimer’s unit. But as I said in previous posts, I was minimally helpful to my mother. I had two degrees, but no education in gerontology. It was pretty amazing that they hired me. It wouldn’t happen today.

Something else I didn’t know was how these incredible people would add to my life. Caregiving isn’t only about giving. I have learned and grown and been touched and blessed. My life would be skim milk without their influence.

Let me tell you about some of them. The names have been changed.

George was a member of a prestigious, well-known choir. He loved boats, and built his own at one time. He had Alzheimer’s and an anxiety disorder.

One of our Christmas traditions is for staff to carol throughout the house. By the time this happened, George had been non-verbal for months. As the staff walked by his room, he was standing in the doorway. Something in his body language indicated to me that he wanted to join us, and he linked arms with me in answer to my invitation. As we moved to another unit, I frowned with confusion. Where was that rich baritone coming from?  It was George. He was singing “Joy to the World.” Every word. I was convinced the angels were singing, too.

I met Myrtle when she was still living independently in an apartment. I popped into the store in our facility to purchase some forgotten item for the hot cross buns I was making with residents, and Myrtle was shopping as well. We had a conversation about hot cross bun recipes, and became fast friends. A few months later, she had a stroke, and after time in hospital and rehab, she moved into the care sections. She fought courageously to walk again, but was never able to do so independently, and eventually used her wheelchair exclusively. Although proud and private, she made the adjustments necessary to be gracious about receiving care every day. She had strong opinions about many subjects, and voiced them with clarity. When she smiled, the world lit up, and when she laughed, she snorted. I miss her every day.

Frances makes me laugh. I was wearing lacy tights, and because she is blind, she ran her hand up and down my leg to “see” them. “Oh, my! You should lift your dress more, so those can be seen better.”

“I think I should leave something to the imagination, don’t you?”

“You won’t get far doing that…” Frances is the best.

I am a caregiver, because every day, they add to my life.

If you are a caregiver, how has your loved one touched your life since you started in that role?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Caregiver Wednesdays--Why am I a Caregiver--pt.2

            Taken on our thirtieth anniversary, two months before Bill died

Have you ever looked at a beautiful clear sky, and noticed one wispy white cloud? The next day is a violent storm, and looking back, you realise it started with the innocent cloud.

Have you ever had that happen in life?

It started with a phone call.

I was visiting my sister in Winnipeg, when my husband called. Casually in conversation, he mentioned he'd been to the doctor. He'd had some shortness of breath, which was not unusual for him as a chronic asthmatic. However, the puffers weren't helping, so he checked it out. A leaky heart valve.

What did that mean?

Not much apparently. Medications, blood tests, a cardiologist appointment. Nothing that couldn't be managed.

For several years, the situation remained stable.The changes were so subtle that they became the new normal before we realised they were changes.

One of our frustrations was a GP and a cardiologist that didn't communicate. Through much prayer, a miracle and the intervention of a friend, we were able to get in with a wonderful GP at the same local hospital as the cardiologist. He was willing to talk with us and answer questions. Even the hard ones, like "What is this called?" and "What's the prognosis?"

It was called idopathic cardiac myopothy. Idopathic because they didn't know why Bill's heart had grown to several times normal size, and was now floppy and inefficient at doing what hearts do. (The doctor said the idopathic part meant, "It's because the doctors are idiots.")

The prognosis was death, without a heart transplant.

That was the point at which I became his caregiver. I worked full time, and he went on disability. Stability was a thing of the past, and it seemed that every few weeks we had a crisis. Hospital stays, new symptoms, appointments, appointments, appointments. The caregiver role is especially tricky when you have another role as well. I was still his wife, and trying to get answers and make decisions and get him to agree was a struggle.

Because his heart wasn't pumping well, it affected all of his organs. His kidneys began to fail, and his skin developed purple welts that required dressings. The most frightening for me was when the blood would not pump to his brain efficiently, causing dementia-like symptoms. Once, he phoned me at work. I was surprised to hear from him, as he was supposed to be in surgery at the time he called. I discovered that the surgery had been bumped, but he accused me of conspiring with the doctors to keep him in the hospital. He said he was going to leave the hospital and sit in the subway tunnel in his hospital gown. In a panic, I phoned my daughter, who was able to reason with him. He did come home from the hospital that day, but had forgotten about his conspiracy theory when he got home.

Another time, the visiting nurse phoned me at work, saying that he was close to cardiac failure, but had refused to go to allow her to phone an ambulance. (He hated hospitals by that time) I rushed home from work, and my daughter and her two-month-old baby met me at the station. I knew his response would be softened with the baby there. I told him as gently but firmly as I could what we needed to do. Somehow, we got him up the stairs and into the car. That was his last time at home.

Two weeks, five surgeries, fervent prayers and no new heart later, he died.

As I walked this difficult journey, I was helped by many people who emailed me, telling me they were praying for me, and encouraging me. Every night, after a full day of work and time at the hospital, I would open my email and be encouraged. I began to realise the encouragement wasn't reaching Bill, who was spending long days alone. I printed off all the emails and made a scrapbook that I took to the hospital each night. He was stunned by the support and love. We heard from people we hadn't talked to in 30 years! Knowing others who loved us were holding us up made it possible to continue the journey another day.

This time grew in me a compassion for family caregivers. It's a difficult road, with potholes everywhere.

Don't try to walk it alone.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The small miracle of God's original masterpiece

I was horrified when I saw her.

Sitting at the entrance to the subway, she was bundled in a coat, hat and mittens. She leaned against a post.  People streamed by her, and she looked at them with a hopeful expression. She probably hadn't seen 20 yet.

Propped against her legs was a sign. "Having a baby girl. Due Feb. 3." There was a cup beside her.

"Oh, Lord!" Like everyone passing by, I was rushing to work. I had a presentation to make that morning, and just enough time to get there and get residents to the room where we were meeting. There was no time to spare. I knew I had less than the price of a cup of coffee in my purse, because I had checked that morning. I had nothing to give.

"Oh, Lord! All I can do is pray."

"All, my child?"

"Lord, You know what I mean. I can't do anything."

"Praying isn't doing? My child, I put you there for that precise reason. How many of these people walking by her are going to pray for her?"

Humbled, I prayed for her, and have continued to do so. Her face haunts me. What circumstances brought her to the place where she had to beg in the subway for herself and her baby? Yes, I understand the whole thing could be a scam. I've been a commuter for 13 years, and I've seen plenty of those.

Still, the questions persist. What insecurities, what despair, what pain brought her to the subway on a Thursday morning. Does she know that she is God's original masterpiece?

Probably not.

If I could talk to her, I would tell her that I have struggled with insecurities all my life. My mind knows that I am "fearfully and wonderfully made" but my head often doen't believe it. When I mess up, I feel like the junk that I have heard God doesn't make.

I would show her this video, by the Skit Guys, that has had a profoundly touched me and done more to make me understand who I am to God that anything I have seen or read.

The girl in the subway is God's original masterpiece. So is her baby.

So are you.

If you are familiar with prayer, talk to the Father about her today. Ask Him to give her the physical supports she needs, and ask Him show her who she is.

You can change her life. And along the way, He might change yours.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Caregiver Wednesdays- Why I am a Caregiver- pt. 1

Not many sign up to be a caregiver.

When I was a young mom with two little girls, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. This was over thirty years ago, and I knew little about the disease. Neither did my dad, who was her primary caregiver. There were some supports available at the time, but nothing like today.  When the Alzheimer's Society was suggested to him, he declined, saying, "That's not going to help her." He didn't realize the help was for him. He would do things like take fuses out of the stove when he went out, and tell her it was broken. He got frustrated with how messy an eater she became, and that he had to do all the remembering of appointments and engagements. "Clean and tidy" were high on the virtue list when I was growing up, but now Mom left things everywhere so she could find them.

At the time, my role was minimal. I was busy with my young family, and had no real understanding of what my dad was coping with.

In preparation for a trip to Thunder Bay to visit my sister, my dad asked me to take Mom shopping. It was in the change room that I had a "slap-in-the-face" moment. Mom needed help to try on a camisole, and I realized the woman in front of me, who had sewn a winter coat for my niece a few years ago, couldn't dress herself.

My two year old could dress herself.

A forboding cloud of fear crawled up my skin. What did the future hold?

That trip to Thunder Bay changed all our lives. While driving just outside Kakabeka Falls, they had an accident, and my mother was killed. It devastated all of us, and there were ways in which my father never recovered.

From the perspective of many years, I now see God's mercy. Mom fell asleep in the car after lunch, and never woke up.

Fast forward many years. My children (three now) are growing, and my youngest was in high school. I was offered the opportunity to work with the elderly, in a unit dedicated to the care of people with Al;zheimer's and other dementias. At the time, I had no training, and the career move was radical and scary.

I thought of Mom. I hadn't been able to serve her well, but perhaps I could serve others in her memory.

Within a few weeks, I was sitting with a woman who had an anxiety disorder with her Alzheimer's. I talked softly with her, helping her explore her long term memory and return to happier times in her mind. "I feel safe with you." she said. At that moment, I knew I was where I should be. Her name was Florence, just like my mother's.

I am still there today.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Caregiver Wednesday- What is a caregiver?

Are you a caregiver?

Many of you might answer negatively, because you don't provide hands-on care, or get paid to give care. You don't live with someone who needs help with the activities of daily living, and you aren't related to the person needing care. That must mean you aren't a caregiver.

Google, Wikipedia and several other dictionaries would agree with you. They all talk of caregivers, paid or unpaid, as those who give hands-on care.

I paint this canvas with a much wider brush. Here is the Peachman Stewart definition.

A caregiver is anyone who provides physical, emotional or spiritual care (or any combination) to someone who needs that care to maintain quality of life.

For the sake of our discussions, we are going to focus on older people. Every mother is a caregiver, and the wonderful people who care for children, teens and adults with disabilites are as well. Medical people of all kinds--the list goes on. For our purposes, I am focusing on caregivers of the elderly, especially (although not exclusively) those dealthing with Alzheimer's Disease.

So, I ask again--are you a caregiver?

Do you shovel the walk, shop or take shopping, phone to cheer up and check on an elderly person?

Are you the wife/sister/daughter/son/cousin/friend etc. of someone with Alzheimer's?

Do you sometimes worry about your loved one?

Do you fear for their future?

Do you visit them in hosptial, their home or long term care and look for ways to give them joy?

Do you sometimes leave them and cry?

There are many more questions I could ask, but if you answered "yes" to even one of these, you are a caregiver. Probably you didn't sign up for this, and there may be times when you wonder if you can go on. If you are a caregiver, the one area you have in common with all other caregivers, is that you need support. You can't do this alone.

I hope these "Caregiver Wednesday" posts will be another weapon in your arsenal of coping mechanisma. Feel free to comment on the blog, as it will be a way for you to connect with others who are dealing with the same challenges.

I believe keeping your sense of humour is key to surviving in the caregiver role, so let me end with this. One of the pages I used when researching the definition of caregiver, ended with a list of words that rhymed with caregiver. (What that has to do with anything, I don't know.) One of them was chopped liver. Chopped liver?

May you feel blessed in your caregiver role today, and never feel like chopped liver.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The small miracle of new

There's someone new in our house, and he's turning it upside down. Literally.

Our new ten-week-old beagle puppy is energy, fun and affection personified. Yes, he's a lot of work, but so much joy, too. He's snuggled beside me as I write, making sleepy puppy noises (which sound so much like meows, they make me laugh.)

A new year, and new possibilities. I hate resolutions, which I consider a formula for failure, but goals and dreams are full of promise. The blog is going to have some "new", too.

In 2012, I took my third and final course with Christian Writer's Guild- the culmination of a journey I began four years ago to prepare myself to be a writer. When I started, I had no vision beyond the first course, which I dreamed of taking for 20 years. I hoped to get published again, and to improve my writing skills. Forty plus published articles later, a monthly opportunity to write for a missions organization, a novel in the works and an incredible year in the Craftsman course--God has done exceedingly abundantly!

In 2013, I want to finish my novel, with the goal of getting it published. The Trouble with Mom explores the relationships in a family dealing with Alzheimer's. Want a sneak preview? Here is my pitch:

Families aren’t always easy. The Trouble with Mom is about Marg’s dream of a close relationship with her caustic mother, and how it fades when Mom is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Marg becomes her caregiver. Her siblings are no help. Her older sister thinks she has all the answers, and her younger brother has troubles of his own. Marg’s husband believes she is obsessing, and her 12-year-old daughter is jealous of the attention Grandma is getting. Then the unthinkable turns Marg’s world upside down. The book will appeal to the ever-growing group of women in caregiver situations, as well as those dealing with difficult family dynamics

Because caregiving is a huge theme in the book, and because so many of us are caregivers in some form, I am beginning "Caregiver Wednesdays." I will be posting, every Wednesday, tips and encouragement for caregivers. (Not a caregiver? See my first Wednesday post--What is a caregiver? You might be surprised.)

I will continue to do other blog posts about various themes.

I hope you like our new look, too. 

Join me on this new adventure, and invite your friends. A few new followers would be awesome, too!