Friday, November 25, 2016

Gratitude Is an Attitude

"Gratitude is one of the sweet shortcuts to finding peace of mind and happiness inside.  No matter what is going on outside of us, there's always something we could be grateful for."

~Barry Nell Kaufman

It was an unusual Thanksgiving for the two of us, the first time in our 33 years of marriage that we celebrated alone. Had to cancel meeting old friends for our tradition of a marvelous buffet near Zion - can't risk being in large gatherings anymore. Had to decline the warm offer of sharing dinner with a friend and her family -- couldn't risk passing our debilitating head colds to her elderly relatives. 

Each year at Thanksgiving we take turns expressing what we are most grateful for. This year, as you might expect, the list was significant - having each other in this fight for John's life, our doctors, the wonderful hospitals we have at our disposal, modern medicine, the safe community in which we live, the remarkable network of support, my loving siblings, sufficient resources, the strengthening of our already strong relationship, our home. 

As we acknowledged one blessing after another, our lagging spirits definitely lifted. In the hours since, I've turned my thoughts to other, more personal gratitudes and the list is somewhat overwhelming. 

  • homemade soups and biscotti delivered by friends who know I don't enjoy cooking
  • a particularly thoughtful gift - a king-sized flat sheet because I can't fight with fitted sheets right now
  • photos via the Internet by friends who suspect we may be feeling isolated
  • the clinic office manager who heard my frustration and rectified a problem immediately and without attitude
  • e-mails that have brought laughter and tears
  • unexpected calls just to see how we're doing
  • Robitussin and NyQuil, cough drops and throat sprays
  • retirement - how do people who have to work find the time and energy for such a battle?
  • the last Henry Fonda roses of the year
  • jigsaw puzzles and adult coloring books, my meditation practices of choice
  • afternoon naps induced by a few pages of a good mystery
  • jokes John forwards, often outrageous, always fun
  • and seeing that this blog is being read in Portugal and France, Germany and the Ukraine, amazing, humbling
My list is actually much longer than this.  A good reminder that in spite of John's disease, in spite of an election outcome I did not want and still fear, in spite of head colds and being alone at Thanksgiving, there is always something to be grateful for.  Some things, many things to be grateful for. Just need to remember.

Friday, November 11, 2016

I Digress...

"In any society where the mores are strong, laws are not needed.  In any society where the mores are not strong, laws are not enough."
~ unknown

I have searched for the origin of this quote, one I have referenced for the last couple decades.  The closest I have found is "When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable."       ~ Emile Durkheim, 19th Century French sociologist.   

Mores, as defined in my Oxford American Dictionary, are the "essential or characteristic customs and conventions of a community."  And this is why I digress from sharing about our personal challenge, for I see a much larger challenge in the months and years ahead.  The threads of compassionate and generous mores that I thought I could see developing over my lifetime have unraveled in mere months.  The venom and hatred, the legitimizing of White Supremacy horror is something I fear will not and cannot be repaired in the rest of my lifetime.  

When did it become all right to mock a handicapped person, to call any woman, let alone a public figure a, a c...t, a sk...k?  I cannot bear to print the entire words. When did it become ok to openly and gleefully threaten revenge?  When did it become ok to even hint that someone should be beaten up for opposing you?  It seems like an eternity ago when Senator McCain had the decency to stop hateful comments about Barack Obama, and those comments pale in comparison to what we heard these past months.  Yet many people were willing to overlook all of this and put the man who said these things in the position to elevate this to a new norm.  I am beyond confused.

I am of the generation that remembers when we sent brothers and fathers and sons and husbands to battle Fascism.  I remember when the swaztika was feared and hated, not painted in our public places.  I remember when we grieved over the assassination of a president.  I remember when families were torn apart over differences of political belief.  I remember the Chicago Seven, and Kent State.  I remember a time when the support of a Russian dictator would have sent chills up one's spine.  I remember a president forced to resign for political shenanigans that seem like child's play compared to what has transpired over this past campaign.

Now, these new demonstrations.  Again, anger and fear and frustration unleashed.  And the very people who were so willing to overlook the constant and inappropriate display of anger these past months, even rationalized it as understandable (or applauded it), are now upset with this reaction. I can only imagine what they would have done had their candidate lost.  

I am not condoning either.  But I am also appalled by the hypocrisy.  People who are now asking me and others to suck it up and respect the office of the president are among those who blatantly disrespected it when this sitting president occupied it.  I am appalled by the hypocrisy.  Or is it merely that hypocrisy is another new norm that we are being asked to accept.

I recognize that people with whom my distress will register are most likely singing the same tune.  Others may dismiss my and others' distress as mere whining and being poor losers. To these folks I would say, I am indeed a poor loser.  But not because a Republican won. What I fear is that what we are losing is the underlying belief that we are and should be a decent and responsible people.  That we see education as the gateway to opportunity, that we value hard work and welcome the "tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free."  

In his commentary in the New York Times on Wednesday, David Brooks said it much better than I can..."This campaign has been an education in how societies come apart.  The Trump campaign has been like a flash flood that sweeps away the topsoil and both reveals and widens the chasms, crevices and cracks below."  And the man who led the attack now will sit in the White House.

I can only hope that "this too shall pass."  That the silver lining in these clouds is that a new commitment to a caring and compassionate country is also coalescing. I am sorry that my only contribution will be in writing and in encouraging others who will take, and  already are taking, up the fight to protect the gains we have made in the past.  I have other priorities that, as my sister wisely reminded me, must occupy my mind and heart, my energy and commitments.  Best wishes to all of us.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Caring for the Caregiver

"Secure your own face mask first before helping others."~ Airline Safety Instructions

Another week of daily lessons.  This week, John's second chemo series, was more challenging than the week of his first series.  He has developed plantar's fasciitis, so experienced unexpected foot pain.  He's had a few bouts of nausea and also required two transfusions, his first since leaving Houston.  Last Friday evening, we faced our first fever, mild, yet a concern.  Fortunately, we had a doctor's appointment earlier that day when we reviewed the warning signs (a fever of only 100.4) and had an emergency number for assistance, which we ultimately consulted.A more challenging week for both of us, during which I had plenty of opportunity to observe my caregiving m.o.  I research first, get all the information I can, evaluate my options, go into action and then deal with the emotional and physical fallout later.  Pretty effective in the moment, but not so hot in the long run.  Adequate for our time in Houston eleven years ago with professional assistance nearby 24/7.   But, I clearly recognize, calling for some serious tweaking for this challenge.Ultimately, I believe the caregiver has to take responsibility for caring for herself or himself.  That can mean, among other things, setting responsible boundaries, managing  stress levels, learning to ask for help, or in my case taking better care of my own health.  So, for the first time in a long time, I'm exercising regularly - light weights, and exercises to improve my balance to start with.  I'm drinking more water than ever before and limiting sugar and salt.  This may not seem like a lot to a true health aficionado, but it's a start.  And for those of you who know me well, who know how much I can live in my head, for me this is a lot!  Next step, Tai Chi!It's not that I believe I have to do it all. I know I am one blessed caregiver.  I have a breadth and depth of support that continues to touch me every day with an outpouring of care and compassion.  From e-mails and telephone calls, cards and photos, unexpected gifts and offers of service, I am reminded how important and valuable a network of support is, especially in times of crisis. These wonderful people have buoyed me up emotionally and physically. Have let both of us know we are not alone. I am not reluctant to ask them for help. But they cannot be with us every moment of every day. They cannot make the decisions I need to make to take better care of myself so that I can take better care of John.  They cannot change my behavior.