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Posts Tagged ‘caregiver’

This past couple of weeks has been nothing short of chaos.  Trying to get bulletins together, work on homilies, home communions, home visits, catching up with friends, scheduling medical appointments and surgical consultations.  And then there’s time needed for sleep.

This morning I drove to a community nearly an hour away.  I met a friend I had not seen in 10 years.  I wasn’t sure she would recognise me or that I would recognise her.  I was 15 minutes early and as I walked into the restaurant I saw her beautiful smile.  We hugged, she cried (she’s a crier) and were a flurry of hands and excited words…”been so long”…”how I’ve missed you”…”you look so good”…the poor server couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

We ordered our lunch, and continued talking. Yes, we did manage to eat while the food was hot, but more importantly, we reconnected, in a place where it seems we just pressed pause.  There was no awkwardness, there was no hesitation, we were simply two friends reconnecting after a decade.  Before we parted we set a date to meet again, in two months.  And on air I drove home. Through construction, ignorant drivers, road-blocks…none of it mattered.  Not even the migraine that had been plaguing me most of the day.

I got home and looked at the still unfinished pile of stuff on my dining room table.  And I turned my back on it.  I’m not afraid if the pile stays untouched.  I met my daughter-by-marriage as she got off the school bus and she chatted in 3 word sentences about her day.  “Didn’t do much”…”no homework, yeah!”…”where is Christmas?”  Every year my in-laws get together for a family Christmas.

Usually it’s held the first Saturday or Sunday in December, to coincide with Dutch Christmas and the coming of St. Nicholas and Black Peter.  I was in Florida so it has been rescheduled to this Sunday afternoon.  This Sunday is Advent IV.  There’s still so much to get ready for Christmas Eve.  But it will wait – I will not be afraid.

I went for a nap that ended up being 2 1/2 hours long.  My headache is not gone, but is much better. I decided to fold the bulletins for 4, 7, 11 pm Christmas Eve, for Christmas Day, our Boxing Day baptism and Christmas I.  They are folded and at the Church.  For the first time ever, I came to Church in my pajamas.  Now granted, I wear PJ’s for the Pajama Mass every Christmas Eve at 4:00, but tonight I am here with bedhead, in a ratty old sweatshirt and flannel PJ bottoms.  And I’m not afraid.

I changed the sign outside and used the short-form Xmas.  I know I’ll get at least one message on the Church phone that I have done wrong.  But I am not afraid.

Sensing a pattern here?

I wrote my article for the local paper today that will be published on Tuesday as Wednesday, the usual publication day, is Christmas Eve.  In the article I talked about the appearance of angels and how they always say “be not afraid” to whomever they encounter.  If you think about it, it makes sense.  The angels that appeared in scripture were grown men, with wings, suspended.  THAT would be terrifying!

Angels delivered messages, not all of them good.  The angels in the Christmas story appeared first to Mary to tell her she would conceive a bear a son who would be the Messiah.  They appeared to Joseph to tell him the Mary’s baby was God’s and he would raise the child as his own. They appeared then to the Shepherds, announcing the amazing arrival of the newborn baby who would save the world!  And so they ran to see this remarkable thing that had happened.

Angels appear in both the old and new testaments.  Arguably, the angels heralding the arrival of the Messiah are the most memorable.  And as they trumpeted glad tidings, and called on their choir, they said simply “Be not afraid”.

So with all the busy-ness of this season, my desk is a mess and so is my office.  I will not be afraid.  The living room and dining room at home look like a fur covered bomb went off…and I will not be afraid.

There will be time for cleaning, but there will also be time for friends and family.  And together, unafraid, we will heed the words of the angels who gathered to announce the arrival.  The angels never said “clean your house first”, they said “be not afraid, I’ve got something awesome for you to see!”

So be it.

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The last few weeks have been unbelievably busy.  Emotional roller-coasters as we grow the family of God through the rites of Baptism.  As we vigil with those who are dying.  As we journey with those who struggle in their faith.  As we celebrate with couples who are marrying; all the while engaging on a deep emotional family with the families in the congregation and the community as a whole.

Last week I spent some time each morning at a large hotel in the City, addressing the mass of 700 ladies who were gathered for their provincial convention.  The first day I gave them a blessing and made some comments (some humourous observations) on society as a whole.  On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I “warmed up” the room as those in charge were trying to get the last minute preparations in place.  When the leaders were ready to start, I said a prayer, invoking a benediction and went on my way.

Most mornings after the hotel I was back at the Church for study or at the hospital holding vigil with a family.  The struggles in not wanting a loved-one to die and yet knowing they are going to a better place, free of pain is so difficult.  My cell phone has been at my side on vibrate all week and I check it constantly, awaiting it ringing with an urgent call from the family.  That happened on Tuesday and I dropped everything to be there.

Friday afternoon there was a wedding rehearsal with a very anxious bride.  Things that could go wrong were going wrong, so I took her for a walk and helped her put things back in perspective.  By the end of the 15 minute walk, tears were dried, breathing was regular and we were ready to go.  They will have a beautiful day as T and J join together in holy matrimony.

And so today there is a flurry of activity in the Church as the group gathered prepares for Harvest Home and for a Parish Breakfast.  I’ve not yet even looked at the readings for tomorrow, and yet I trust the Holy Spirit will be with me as I stand before the Congregation and preach.  Perhaps it will be a homily about Thanksgiving, or Coming Home?  At this point I really don’t know.

But what I do know is I am wonderfully and fearfully made by a loving and gracious God.

And so are you.

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I recently celebrated my 7th anniversary with my current congregation.  As I look back I am surprised that I am celebrating such a milestone, while at the same time it doesn’t feel quite that long…strange.

Just after my arrival I met a man who was diagnosed with cancer.  We have shared quite a journey together over the past seven years.  He is back in hospital and learned recently that his cancer has spread to muscle.  For the past few years he, his wife and I have fallen into specific roles…his wife cries, I get angry and he accepts whatever is thrown at him.

A bit more than a year ago I asked if he wanted to discuss his celebration of life.  He politely but firmly told me that he wasn’t ready.  And I accepted that, telling him I would be ready whenever he is.  Last Sunday when he was readmitted to hospital he told his family that he wanted to talk to me, that it was time to have this conversation.  So I headed up, notebook in hand, to have, what we both knew, would be a difficult conversation.

He is a father and grandfather.  He is a devoted member of a local service club.  He is a tireless worker for the Church and is more on fire for the Lord than anyone I have ever seen.  Whenever I am shaking my fist in anger he takes my hand and tells me, “it is what it is”.  such wise words.

Today we celebrated communion around his hospital bed, with each of his daughters and his beloved wife.  It was a very emotional experience, as this is the first time we have all shared communion.  I was taken aback at the sacredness of this hospital room.  Portable xray machines and staff coming in and out of the room did not deter what we were gathering to do. There was a tremendous respect from the medical personnel who were tending to his room-mate.

We joined hands in prayer, offering prayers and praises to God, giving thanks for the joys and bounty of this life and asking for peace as my friend and parishioner reaches the end of his life.  I found myself saying words that we were all thinking but otherwise afraid to say aloud.  A sacred hush filled the room as we finished the Lord’s prayer, and each one of us had tears in our eyes.

At times like this I am reminded of the sacred journeys that we take as members of the body of Christ.  I am always astounded at the weight of the sacred when we stand together in the presence of our Creator.  We have shared so many moments of joy together, and many moments of loss.  Eventually we will have these moments only as memories, but I suspect these memories will be sacred.

When I was posted to this parish I was given only one instruction:  love them.  And I have.  This family has taken me into their own and welcomed me.  My parishioner was particularly wonderful when my father was dying and I was so very angry.  He sat and listened to me as I ranted and raved that it “wasn’t fair” that my father should have to suffer.  He gently and lovingly took my hand and said “it is what it is” with a shrug and a smile.  He wasn’t ignoring my feelings, rather he was reminding me that there are many things over which we have no control.  And he was right.

I shared with him today that he has taught me so much about patience and grace.  He has taught me about understanding and acceptance, whether I like the outcome or not.  As he begins his sacred journey back to his Creator, I am reminded of the incredible gift we are given as clergy.  We are taken into people’s homes, their lives and their souls, as members of the family.

I expect to have many more hospital visits with my parishioner.  Each and every one will be treated as a sacred moment in time, as it will never be repeated.  And eventually the visits will end.  My heart will break when the time comes that he returns home to God.  It will hurt as much as it did when my own Dad died.  And I know that God will give me the strength and the Holy Spirit will give me the peace I will need to say what needs to be said.  And to comfort those who need comfort.

When we can silence ourselves, in the midst of crazy busy-ness, then and only then can we turn to hear, to truly hear the voice of the one who loves us the most.  It is only when we truly surrender our power that we  can feel God’s love surrounding us.  There are some things that we are not meant to know.  We may not like it; I know I surely don’t; but we must learn to live in that tension.

Another lesson I learned from my parishioner.  In his wise words “it is what it is”.  Thanks be to God.

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As a depressive I was shocked and saddened at the death of Robin Williams.  I was disgusted with a lot of the media coverage and especially of the term “commit suicide”.  To use the phrase “commit suicide” is to incur that a crime was committed.  He didn’t break the law.  Robin Williams died from side effects of deep depression.  I read a great deal of articles that talked about how “selfish” he was, because he took his own life.

There is no doubt in my mind that Robin Williams was loved.  He was loved by his wife and family, his co-workers and his fans. The fact that he struggled with depression and addiction all of his adult life meant that he found it difficult to love himself.

What most people don’t understand is that depressives are often great actors.  We force ourselves to clean ourselves up, pull ourselves together and face the world with a smile.  The saddest part of Robin Williams suicide is that he is, in some cases, being vilified after his death.  And that is repugnant.

He suicided, because he could no longer find the strength to pretend.  Chances are, when he made the decision to suicide his behaviour changed.  He appeared to be “better”.  He appeared happier, more like his “old self”.  This happens when someone who has been in such pain for so long has decided how they will escape that pain.  A great burden is released, a weight lifted and there is finally relief.

Some articles suggested that he had it all.  While that may be true, he, most likely, did not feel deserving.  He had an incredible gift; the gift to help people escape the misery of everyday life and laugh.  He knew he was loved by so many people but he could not love himself.

When depression appears it is usually unexpected, and it can feel like staring into a deep, dark precipice.  It can feel like a dark cloud descending, smothering the light and all air.  It can start slowly, like a long, slow dive.  It can be a sudden shock, like a trip, stumble and fall.  Regardless, depression is not something that you can “snap out of” or “think happy thoughts” and be instantly better.

You don’t have to go far to hear platitudes that all we need to do is to love one another.  I am a big believer that love can change the world.  In my heart, I believe that if we each did our part and started from a place of love we would solve many of the world’s conflicts.  Robin Williams was loved.  He loved many people.  Just not himself.

In his case, and in the case of many depressives, when things are bad, at their darkest, it is then that hopelessness takes over.  How can I love my neighbour as myself, when I don’t love myself?  How can I be a Christian when I cannot follow the basic tenet of Jesus?  Sometimes we cannot love ourselves.  And the worst part is, no-one can do it for us.

We do the best we can with the gifts that God has given us.  And occasionally we stumble and fall.  Sometimes we need to stay down for awhile, but we cannot unpack and take up residence there.  At times like this it is imperative to seek help, and yet, it is counterintuitive to reach out because every ounce of energy is being used up staying upright and breathing.

There are days when it feels like the sun will never shine again.  There are times when it feels like you will never smile again.  These are the times when we should reach out and trust, but the disease can be so crippling that it renders us completely immobile.

I believe, in my heart, that Robin Williams is now in paradise.  He is in a place where there is no such thing as depression. He is free of the demons that haunted him and ultimately led him to die.

My prayer is that we who are depressives find the strength, somehow, to reach out when we are hurting.  My prayer is that those who know a depressive will recognise the signs when they are on a downward slope, and reach out.  You don’t have to say anything.  Advice will likely not be heard.  All you can do is be present, listen and remain in the silence.  Words won’t fix depression.  There are treatments, but there is no cure.

If you are reading this and feeling the darkness descend, take a moment and reach out.  Text, email or call a friend.  Tell them you need them.  And they will come.  

If someone reads this and reaches out to you because they are frightened and vulnerable, go to them.  Be calm, be non-anxious, and non-judgmental.  It took an inordinate amount of energy to reach out.  Respect the incredible gift of trust that has been bestowed upon you.  Be prepared for silence…for anger…for frustration.

When someone is hurting, sometimes love does not seem to be enough.  Robin Williams could not love himself enough to stay.  He suicided because he felt there was no point in continuing.  He was not selfish or self-centred.  He was not seeking attention.  He could no longer handle the pain of the disease.  And so he ended it.  The world mourns the loss of a comedic legend.  Please do not let his death be in vain.

If you are someone who struggles with depression, find a person who you trust, that can support you.  When things start to get bad, reach out.  Be open and honest.  And receive the love they will give you with grace.

If you know or love someone who is depressive, learn their cycles and emotional swings.  If you see them struggling, reach out to them.  Be reassuring.  Remind them you love them.  Ask nothing in return.  Sit in silence, become comfortable in that silence.  And know you are not alone in supporting them.  Know that you are loved.  And so are they.  By the one who created us, died for us and loves us unconditionally. God. 

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All my life I have struggled with naming my emotions. As a child I was not allowed to be angry. Raised voices were a “no-no” in my house. We were to be bright, happy yet silent as children, an interesting combination.

As a child I learned to be a pleaser, and if my Mam or Dad were angry/upset, I would do everything I could to make them happy; overachiever, overworking, entertaining, being the clown, etc.

Growing up, if I was presented with an angry or upset person my first instinct was to make it better for them. Recently, I’ve found myself feeling a heightened sense of outrage at the injustice I see around me. I am experiencing emotions, without really understanding what they are.

For example, this morning I was driving in the village and as I approached one of the two intersections with traffic lights, I had the green light, so continued through the intersection. At that exact moment an elderly man was making a right hand turn against the red light. He did not see me. Thankfully I was able to stop before we collided.

As I sat in the intersection he gave me a disgusted look, yelled “bloody women drivers” and waved me through. I had stalled my car on an incline, so it took me a few seconds to get the car running again. Instead of waiting for me, he continued on his way, making a sharp right turn at the next street.

I was fuming, and felt that I had every right to be angry. But it wasn’t until several hours later that I could actually name the emotion of anger. I had every right to be angry. But I also had every right to be grateful that we did not collide and nobody was injured…other than egos and pride.

Lately I am realising that the predominant emotion I am feeling is anger…almost to the point of rage. By nature I am a caring person. I take satisfaction in doing for other people. It is in my vocation to give emotionally, spiritually, etc.

I believe part of the reason I am now on a medical leave is because I am feeling such great anger and frustration. I feel that many of the people in my life, especially in my immediate family, are taking much more than they are giving. Instead of seeing that I am doing for them because I want to, I am feeling anger that they are not reciprocating and/or they are not appreciative.

I am not supposed to do things to receive thanks. And yet, right now, it is something I need.

Why is that?

I am, by nature, an optimistic, balanced, happy person. But not lately. I’ve been surly, miserable and downright snarly. I raise my voice much more often, I feel an emptiness inside and I’m looking for something to fill it. Most often, it’s chocolate. But the thing is, the chocolate isn’t filling the void. It’s expanding my waistline.

Slowly it is dawning on me that I am looking for everyone else to make me happy, instead of seeking to make myself happy. I want everyone to behave the way I feel they should; instead of accepting them for who they are.

One of the most destructive enabling behaviours is the phrase “It’s just the way s/he is”. There is a parishioner who is a bully. He shouts, insults, bangs his fist on the table, in order to be heard and to get what he wants. It is hard work to deal with him. And when I challenge him on his bullying behaviour I am taken aside and told “It’s the just the way he is”, or “he’s much better than he used to be”. Neither of which are acceptable.

I believe that everyone should be held accountable for their behaviour and that everyone should do their best to understand how the other person is feeling. Seldom is this behaviour extended to me and, I have to admit, it upsets me.

Slowly but surely I am realising that there are very few things I can control. The only emotions I control are my own, especially once I name them and own them.

The Canadian Mental Health Association came out with this great chart meant for children, to identify what it is they are feeling. I think I need one for my office, so I can identify what I am feeling. It’s strange to be 46 years old and unable to identify basic emotions.

Life is a learning curve and lately the curve has been steep.

If I were to make a list of the things that make me happy they would include taking a bike ride through the village; walking the dogs; doing yoga outside; yoga inside; dancing around the house like a fool; writing letters to friends; reading a novel; writing in my journal; taking a warm, soothing bath with epsom salts and baking soda; blogging.

As I look at this list, I realise I don’t do any of these things as often as I should.

I will do more things on that list on a more regular basis.

Starting now.

Some realisations that have come to me are: My happiness does not depend on anyone other than me.
I have every right to be angry and express that emotion. Further, I can express anger without guilt. I can disagree with someone without being a bad person. And if that person thinks I am a bad person, that is their emotion to own; not mine.

I do not have to be held hostage by a crippling fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. It never stopped Jesus. And aside from the crucifixion, it worked out alright for him (in the end).

I have been mired up in anxiety, angst, frustration, anger and rage. It’s time to do, say and live in a way that makes me happy.

That’s not selfish; it’s self-care, and self-loving.

So that will be what I focus on for the rest of 2014…and perhaps longer than that.

Starting now.

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I have just come home from an 8 day retreat in the eastern part of the province where I live. The weather was extremely cold. We had an ice storm that kept us indoors for an entire day and that was alright. While I was away I did a lot of resting, praying, meditating, some journalling, some cooking and generally, trying to rid myself of the anxiety and stress of the past few months.

I came home to a disaster area of a house. The kitchen was a mess, laundry in the dryer, bedroom floor covered in detritus, bathrooms a mess. I was not a happy camper. I am frustrated that I work to keep the house clean and tidy. I cook healthy meals as often as I can and I care for my family. When I go away all that goes out the window. Nothing gets put away, there’s a trail of crumbs and flour on every surface.

I know I should be grateful for a family at home and food in the fridge. And I am. But to me, it’s disrespectful to not clean up after yourself…especially when you know that the person coming home will clean it up.

I know I should leave the mess for the ones who created it, but I can’t stand the mess. So far today, although struggling with a migraine, I have swept the bedroom floor and made the bed. Have done two sinks full of dishes and cleaned up half the kitchen. I still need to finish the kitchen, then the dining room and the bathrooms will wait for tomorrow afternoon.

My whole life I’ve lived by the rules. I’ve changed myself to be who people want me to be. I am tired of always being the one to bend and stretch. I want to have my needs respected and honoured. And a clean house, in my humble opinion, is not that big a deal. To me, it would be a lovely way to welcome me home. A clean kitchen, the bed made, laundry put away. That would make me happy.

My beloved teases me that I’m the only person he knows who insists on cleaning the house before I go away. When I was single, I would leave the house clean and tidy so when I came home it was the same way. It’s more difficult to do when you’re married, but really, does it have to be?

So now that I’ve had a chance to vent, I will make myself a cup of tea and clean off the dining room table. It will be grand once it’s done, but it does bug me that it has to be me that’s doing it.

I feel like stamping my feet and shouting “It’s not fair”. But of course, I can’t do that…can I?

The good news is my homily is nearly ready for tomorrow. It’s the Baptism of the Lord. One of my favourite holy days in the Church. The message will be simple, but hopefully profound.

And after Church I will bring my house back in order. it might not be fair, but it’s life.

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Today we gathered to celebrate the life of a truly awesome 89-year-old lady. She raised five children, taught school in a one room schoolhouse and after her husband was left a paraplegic after a work accident she cared for him. For nearly 30 years. She never complained. Not once. Or never out loud.

She always had a smile on her face and she would always find the positive in the situation. The last visit we had together in hospital was to put the finishing touches on her memorial service. We had talked in broad brushstrokes prior to her having surgery, but now it was time to be a little more specific. I asked her what readings she wanted and she replied “Isn’t that why we pay you?” I laughed and agreed that she was likely right. She requested the 23rd psalm, the rest was left up to me.

I asked her about hymns. Keep in mind that R wore two hearing aids and for whatever reason she did not have them in while in hospital. So I had to shout my questions. The lady in the next bed was suffering with dementia and answered the questions I asked R, and quite loudly. The exchange went something like this:

Me: What kind of hymns would you like?
R: Pardon? I can’t hear you?
Me: (shouting) What kind of hymns would you like for your memorial service?
Roommate: (from the other side of the curtain) Rock of Ages
R: No! I hate that one.
Me: Do you have any suggestions?
Roommate: The Old Rugged Cross!
R: No! I hate that one too.

The daughter of the lady in the bed opposite came over waving apologies. I mimed her writing down her mother’s choices, which she did.

Eventually R. did choose two – Amazing Grace and What a Friend we Have in Jesus. We added Precious Lord, Take my Hand to round things out.

The church was full to capacity on a blistering hot day. The service took as long as it needed to take, and everyone who was there accepted the heat with aplomb and with thoughts of R.

It was difficult to watch the hearse drive away with her in the casket. She will be cremated and her remains will be buried in the next week or so.

On Saturday I am baptising a two month old baby boy. He is beautiful. His parents were married in his grandparent’s backyard almost two years ago to the day of his baptism. It will be a very special and poignant day. His grandmother has been diagnosed with an incurable illness which will greatly affect her mobility and has left her almost completely house-bound. They will be building a barrier free home closer to their daughter and grandson.

There will be laughter and tears on Saturday, as there were laughter and tears for R.

It seems the longer I stay in this community, the closer I get to the community. I am blessed beyond measure and humbled to no end with the trust I have been given by the community of the Church and the wider community. When I look out in the pews on a Sunday morning I not only see the ones who have braved the heat or cold to be with us. I also see the ones who have left the congregation to move into retirement living or have passed away. And the view I see is of a full church.

The Church needs to change as an institution. It needs to diversify and grow. It needs new ideas and new people. But it also needs to know its history. It needs to know on whose backs the Church was built and whose legacy we remember. To Renew ourselves is not about throwing out the old, but learning from, examining, growing and moving forward. The past and the future need to work together for a brighter future.

And so tomorrow I will change the Church sign. I have made a commitment to ensuring every week the sign says something about love. Last week it was “Keep calm and love each other”. This week it will say “Where there is love, there is life” Gandhi.

So as we move through our own life cycles we are reminded of those who have gone before us; we savour those who are with us; and we long for those whom will join us.

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