Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Some Good Words for Your Aging Parent at Easter

What does your aging parent want and need at Easter?  Hint:  it's not a chocolate bunny, or a brightly colored egg.  It's not even an Easter lily, as gorgeous as that seems. 

It's love.  But what does love look like, to any of us, at any age?  Christian author Philip Yancey in "Vanishing Grace" writes of being asked the question, "When do you feel loved?"

Here's how he answered.

I feel loved when...
  • Someone listens attentively.
  • Someone makes me feel important.
  • Someone encourages and even challenges me.
  • Someone cares for me when I'm hurting.
  • When someone gives me an unexpected gift.
These expressions of love aren't bought, generally.  They're demonstrated.  And within each of these categories, we can find examples of "gifts" we can give our aging parent.

In a related quote, also in Yancey's book, Pastor Mark Rutland cited a survey which asked Americans which words they most liked to hear.  The survey came out this way:

In first place: I love you.

In second place:  I forgive you.

In third place:  Supper's ready.

Don't these sound like Easter words?  As you gather around the table, pass the ham or sweet potatoes,  enjoy your aging parent, and the love that binds you together.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Caregivers Carry the Weight of Grief; We Can Lighten the Load

If you or your aging parent is caring for a loved one, you know about stress.  It may seem like your middle name.  It sends your heart racing and your stomach aching. But what about grief?  That set of emotions that we usually connect with death actually comes much sooner.

"Grief starts when the person who takes care of a loved one begins to experience loss," says Carilyn Ellis, PhD, in a seminar for Certified Senior Advisors entitled "The Long Goodbye:  Grief and Caregiver Stress in End of Life Care."

Losses mount over time, Ellis says.  And these impact body, mind and soul. Often a caregiver will experience idiopathic (physical) symptoms such as headaches, backaches or insomnia that seem to spring up suddenly without any apparent reason.  Grief does numbers on our physical bodies.

That's not all.  Caregivers, whether you or your parent, tend to lose social networks as the caregiving role spirals and encroaches into every waking minute. 

Other losses are spiritual in nature.  Often caregivers ask the "Why" questions:  "Why is this. happening? Where are the sources of comfort?"   Grief has psychological implications, as well, as the caregiver experiences sadness and anger.

Caregivers must process the various stages of grief at specific losses:  for example, the loss of roles the ill person played in the family; and the loss of companionship that this phase of life often brings.

"This 'anticipatory' grief is an ongoing process," Ellis says.  "It's grief after grief."

How can we help the caregiver (either ourselves or loved ones)?  Ellis gives the following advice:

ASSESS.  Discover the caregiver's beliefs, values, fears, concerns. 

Ask how the caregiver is feeling:
  • Physically.
  • Emotionally.
  • Socially
NORMALIZE.  Talk about the fact that these feelings of anger, guilt, frustration, etc. are normal and that others feel this way.  And the physical feelings of fatigue, aches and difficulty sleeping are also shared by many people in grief. 

VALIDATE.  Listening is one of the best gifts the caregiver can receive. 

ENCOURAGE SELF-CARE through support groups and supportive friends.

What is your experience with anticipatory grief? 
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