Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Small Miracle of a New Year--Seven Things I can Do

I'm never very excited about New Year's.

Christmas is full of friends and family, fun and surprises, warm fuzzies and faith. New Year's is a flip of the calendar, high expectations to do better, and resolutions to make it so. "Happy New Year" echoes hollowly everywhere I go, and I think, "How will saying it mean this year is any happier?"

I am the grinch that stole New Year's.

The scary part of a new year is, there is much I have little control over. I can't make this year any better than last. I can't change what's happened; I can't take away the pain. The decisions of last year will affect this year, and I can't make it any different.

What can I do? This is my list, in no particular order.

1. I can be thankful. There is wrenching pain, loss and difficulty, but every day holds blessings. I will focus on these blessings, count them and thank God for them daily.

2. I can dream. When dreams have gone sour, it's tempting to say, "I will never dream again." I'm not doing that. I am a dreamer and I will dream and continue to work to make my dreams reality.

3. I can buy myself little treats. All my adult life, I have denied myself. It's usually for economic reasons, but it can become a habit, and not a nourishing one. Everything I have my eye on, is inexpensive and won't break the budget. A magazine. A pair of earrings. A piece of clothing. I've fallen into the thinking that if I spend the money on something that isn't absolutely necessary, disaster might occur before the next payday, and then what am I going to do? I will never go wild and crazy with my money, but I will allow myself to loosen up a little.

4. I can sing and pray and quote scripture to deal with fear. I can't say I won't be fearful and never worry. If I promised that, I would fail at one minute after midnight on January first. I'm a person who struggles constantly with fear, and worried thoughts hover in my brain. But I will fight back. "When I get really afraid, I come to You in trust." Ps. 56:3 The Message

5. I can encourage, praise and build up. There is a whole world of people out there who are constantly being put down and made to feel that they make no valuable contribution. I can work to convince the ones in my life that they are a special creation of God and a blessing. "Thank you for doing that."  "I appreciate your attitude." "You did a great job, thanks." Everyone needs to hear praise on a regular basis, and I can be the one to give it.

6. I can get excited. I've always been an enthusiastic person, but sometimes people, and even life, crush my enthusiasm. When it gets extinguished, I am embarrassed and sometimes decide I will keep my excitement to myself. I'm not doing it. I will be excited and anticipate and look forward with enthusiasm, no matter what the final outcome.

7. I can walk forward. I may have to refer to #4 constantly as I do so, but I will believe what God tells me. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans for a future and a hope." Jer. 29:11 I will trust in that plan.

I will do what I can do to be the person God wants me to be, today, tomorrow and throughout 2017. No matter what happens, I can and will walk with Him through each day. I won't do it perfectly, but when I fail, I will ask for forgiveness, forgive myself, and do what I can do the next day.

This is what I can do. And I can wish and pray for the best of the new year for you, my friend. Not necessarily happy, but blessed and hopeful and doing what you can do.

The Small Miracle of a New Year--Seven Things I can Do. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--The Antidote to Boredom

Routines. We all have them, and there are ways in which they sew the fragments of our days together. Here are some of mine:
·      Up at 5:00 a.m., shower, dress, make the bed.
·      One cup of hot lemon and honey, my pain pills, one coffee.
·      Make my breakfast smoothie, make my lunch.
·      Drive to the GO station, GO train to Kipling, subway to Christie, Christie bus to work.

Boring, huh? The thing is, I can do all this without much thinking. Once I get to work, there is little routine. Each minute is different and unpredictable. I might have a crisis to deal with before my coat is off and my bags are out of my hands. There might be a voicemail waiting for me, notes on my desk and emails needing my attention. There’s often a resident looking for me.

Routine and spontaneous. We need them both. On the rare morning when I fall asleep after the alarm goes off and wake even thirty minutes later, my whole morning is unsettled. I rush and stumble through my morning, catch a later train, get to work late and generally feel as if my life has been upended. I thrive on the routine of my weekday mornings.

I also thrive on the spontaneity of my life at work. In my early twenties, I worked for two years as a librarian’s assistant. I thought I would enjoy it because I loved books, but I discovered this job was entirely different and the opposite of spontaneous. This was before computers, and I spent my days typing library cards. Each period, space and letter had a rule about where it went, and my job was to follow those rules all day long. I hated it.

Institutional life is traditionally a set of rules and unquestioned patterns which must be followed each day. Residents get up at a certain time, whether they are ready or not. Meals are at specific times. If you are doing an activity and it’s your shower time, you must leave and have a shower. Life is planned by the convenience of the staff rather than the rhythms of the residents. There is no individuality.

“An elder-centred community imbues daily life with variety and spontaneity by creating an environment in which unexpected and unpredictable interactions and happenings can take place. This is the antidote to boredom.” 1

What does this look like?

Residents generally tend to get up at the same time, but their rhythms are respected. One lady is usually up at 4 a.m., so she has her shower and gets dressed then. When the nurse comes on at 7:00, they have a cup of tea and toast together. Another resident had his shower in the morning, but was falling asleep over breakfast. His shower time was changed to evenings, and he went to sleep immediately after. One resident sleeps in and eats her breakfast around 10:00 a.m. She doesn’t eat lunch, but has a few slices of sandwich mid-afternoon and has a good dinner.

What about daily life? Mid-morning, a group of Kindergarten children come in for their monthly visit. They are presented with a card that the residents made for them a few days ago. Later, a family member with their dog visits several residents, and the chaplain brings his infant grandson to each dining room at lunch. A care partner takes a selfie with a resident in the afternoon, and a group gather to sing just before dinner. Routines such as meal times are established, but flexible enough to accommodate each person’s need. Spontaneous visits and fun times are welcomed.

Routine is the slave, spontaneity and flexibility are the masters.

The bottom line is to remember why we are here. If our purpose is to perpetuate an institution we have established, then the routines and rules are imperative. If we are here to bring life, well-being and joy to elders, then let’s hold the rules with the loosest of grips.



Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--It Is More Blessed To Receive

Do you ever dream of having someone look after you?

After a particularly long and demanding day, I think about someone making me a cup of tea and giving me a foot rub. Maybe a neck rub, too. There’s usually a beach involved, with rhythmic, lapping waves, warm sun and a book in my hand. If I’m hungry, someone brings me delicious food to munch, and if I need a nap, I can take one without judgement.

Doesn’t that sound heavenly? The problem is, the novelty would wear off for me after a day. It’s great to relax, and a treat to be served, but if every day was like that, I’d get bored.

Is it any wonder our elders complain of boredom?

“An elder centred community creates opportunity to give as well as receive care. This is the antidote to helplessness.” 1

It makes sense. If everything is done for you, even the things you can do for yourself, then you stop trying to be independent. If you believe you have nothing to give, what is the purpose for your life?

But realistically, what can frail elderly people give?

·      Wisdom
·      Humour and laughter
·      Concern
·      Advice
·      Reassurance
·      Compliments
·      Share their stories
·      Love
·      Prayer
The list goes on.

I remember a time in my life when I was spiritually worn out. We’d just been through a church split, and we needed to be cared for. We went to a new church and attended a Sunday school class taught by a retired missionary, well into her 70s. The insights, wisdom and humour of that lady brought us back to spiritual health.

Then there was Pauline. Her steps faltered as she made her way down the hall. Dementia fogged her brain and her hearing was poor, but whenever she saw a staff member, she said, “You girls are so good to us old folks. It’s just like home here.” No matter how many times she said it, the sincerity in her voice warmed my heart.

Florence suffered from an anxiety disorder, and her large frame often shook as she tried to understand her world through the fog of dementia. I sat beside her as she lay on her bed and watched in satisfaction as her tense body relaxed. I held her hand and we talked, and for the moment, the demons she battled receded. "I feel safe with you," she said. Although this happened many years ago, it still warms my heart to remember it.

 Sometimes the issue is the mindset of those who give care. If care partners aren’t open to receiving, it won’t happen.

Open your heart and your mind to the elders around you. Listen, ask questions and look for opportunities to receive from them. You will be richer.



Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--Powerful Medicine

                                       Our beautiful Lucy

If a medication claimed to lower your risk of heart attack, and increase your chances of survival one year after a heart attack, would you consider taking it? If it lowered your blood pressure, improved your vital signs, and reduced the need for other medications, would you be interested? What about if it helped with depression and other stress-related disorders…

“Oh come on. This is a hoax, right? A miracle pill that does all those things? Right.”

I confess. I don’t have a medication that does all that.

I have something better. I have a dog.

“Loving companionship is the antidote to loneliness. Elders deserve easy access to human and animal companionship.” Eden Alternative principle #3. 1.

To those used to the heavily regulated medical world, it may seem like a radical idea, but animals enhance the lives of elders. Not a dog person? What about a cat, or birds, or fish? For years, animals were forbidden in the sterile world of long-term-care, or only allowed on a limited, strictly-monitored basis. I can remember when the procedure for being a visiting dog was so stringent, no one applied.

We were so short-sighted.

Every Monday at 3:00, Lucy hurries through the door, anxious to visit her friends. Her eager eyes search for her favourites—Anne, whose face lights up, Mary who invites her to sit with her, and Bob, who reaches out to her. There are many others, and Lucy loves them all. They snuggle and cuddle and pet and kiss. Lucy is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

                        Lucy, eager to begin visiting her friends

Cloe and Lily live in different neighbourhoods. Cloe loves to sun herself on her platform by the window, but also has claimed one of the resident’s beds as her own. Lily is shyer, but will lumber to the lounge when her food dish is filled. As much beloved cats, they are as much a part of the neighbourhood as the residents.

                                   Cloe sunning in the window

When I went for Eden training in Pennsylvania, we stayed at a facility that had been practicing the Eden alternative for seven years. When we walked in, I was enthralled with a floor to ceiling cabinet that occupied one entire wall.  Instead of watching television all day, those residents watched the birds that inhabited the beautiful walnut and glass enclosure. I remember them chuckling over their antics and remarking to each other. It’s one of my dreams to have a version of this at Christie.

Doctor’s offices have long known the calming effects of fish tanks. When my oldest daughter was born, I would place her chair by our fish tank, and the rhythmic bubbling of the water and lazy swimming of the fish put her to sleep in no time. Another of my dreams…

Wee Teddy

Finally, let me introduce you to Teddy. In this picture, he is just 1 ½ weeks old, but he will be coming to live with me sometime in early January. Did I say live with me? He’ll come home with me every night, but during the day, he’ll be coming to work with me. This puppy will be trained, and grow up living among our elders, and will give and receive plenty of love from them every day.

Is this a radical, new idea? Not at all. In 1859, Florence Nightingale wrote, “a small pet is often an excellent companion for the sick, for long chronic cases especially.” 2

Florence knew.

Care Partner Wednesday--Powerful Medicine