Do you see the world bathed in purple?

Purple wild geraniums photo by Benjamin PrattI think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.
Alice Walker,
The Color Purple

SPRING 2015Once again, I am a caregiver.
Full Time: Surgery, dressing slowly, assisting first steps, hauling out the crutches, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, sitting too many long hours in waiting rooms.
Life is focused.

But, feelings scatter and drain after a bitter, brittle gray winter.
All looks dead! Will life come back?

A caregiver’s eyes are trained to watch, search the ground, wherever we go, watching for signs of—
And as we scan the earth, the truth surprises us: It’s spring.
The grave of winter bursts in colors—all at once—mint green, porcelain white,
precious pink, radiant red, yummy yellow.
And then—
Purple.
When all seems dead and lost—
The earth gives back such a lavish lavender.
Just pours it out.

Where do I go, when the day is long, to find solace, strength, patience, hope, joy?
I like to walk out in spring.
So many of us have done that—just walked out into the world.
Whitman stepped out as he mourned the loss of his Captain 150 years ago—
and found the lilacs blooming in his dooryard once again.
Walker went with her favorite character—
and found that purple, too.
Where did I find it?
On the old bridge, a patch of oh so lavender wild geraniums.

I bathe in purple.
God’s good earth gives back to me, to all of us who walk out into the world and watch.
And then I can turn again to the day’s task—
Life lived with purpose: Love, gratitude, care.

And, where do you walk out and let your eyes scan the earth?
Where do you find it?
Your purple.

Purple wild geraniums second photo by Benjamin Pratt

Photographs by Benjamin Pratt.

 

BENJAMIN PRATT has worked for decades as a counselor. He is the author of three books and has contributed to other inspiring books, as well. You are welcome to share this column with friends—you can print it or even repost it, if you wish to spark conversations. If you’d like to enjoy Walt Whitman’s verse, we have his When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, as well.

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Do you speak Motherese? Could we learn Parentese?

Mom and baby by Ian DethOne joy of reading is discovering new words. Sometimes, I even remember them!

Motherese, a totally new word for me, made me ponder, even question, its appropriateness. Motherese describes the whispered communication between a mother and her baby that strengthens the familial bond. Some theorists suggest this whispered communication, cooing and humming, is the source of music in the long history of human evolution.

Certainly, I know that women have been the primary nurturers of children down through the ages but the place of fathers in the nurturing process has increased in our time. My immediate response was to talk back aloud to the book I’d been reading: “Shouldn’t the word be Parentese?”

I thought I might have hit on another new word, but a quick dip into Wikipedia revealed that I wasn’t the first to suggest Parentese as a more inclusive concept.

I want to underscore the importance of this reality but not in a way that diminishes the vital role of mothers. I want to reflect the presence and importance of mothers, fathers, even grandparents in strengthening the family bond. Fathers and mothers both have gifts to share with their offspring, but I want to especially voice the importance of fathers’ whispered communication to their young. Fathers and mothers both give warmth, tenderness, and gentle caring along with strength and competitive skills to children.

One of my sweetest, most tender memories as a young parent was the ritual of presence with my young daughters. When one of our infant daughters would awaken, especially during the night, I usually changed her diaper and then carried her to Judith for nursing. I often sat or lay next to them during nursing. When finished, it was my opportunity for whispered closeness. I would tuck my daughter’s tiny head under my chin, one hand holding her bottom, the other her back, and I would walk. I especially remember those nocturnal walks, the house dimly lit by street lights, when we would walk slowly around the house, up and down stairs, bouncing gently, while I hummed, sang, cooed and listened for the burp and the sleepy yawn. Even when sleep was assured, I sometimes continued the walk, treasuring those moments. Judith and I both shared our gift of whispered communication with our daughters.

Judith and I are blessed by being friends with some young families who have welcomed us as surrogate grandparents. I treasure watching the partnerships they nurture while rearing their children. We saw this with our own daughters and their husbands as they reared their families. It speaks well of marriage partnerships with neither parent dominant in setting boundaries and cherishing their children. Mutual love between partners and mutual role sharing with children are crucial. Love in action is a beauty to behold. Parentese is a loving word, a musical word, a spiritual word, reflecting the sacred in the midst of our daily lives.

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‘Establish the work of our hands …’

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations …
For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past …
We spend our years as a tale that is told …
So, establish the work of our hands—
O establish the work of our hands.

Excerpts of Psalm 90 adapted from the King James Version

HANDS

By BENJAMIN PRATT

It always comes on a slant
a glint of light
a tilt of my head
a twist, turn or torque of my hand—
but in a flash it is my father’s hand,
the way he tilted it or let it droop.
His hand.

A sweet warmth connects us across decades
bathed by this tender memory:
His hand gripping,
twisting as he torqued a baseball,
teaching me how to throw a curve,
or thread a fast ball in just above the knees.

His hands taught me arithmetic—
add, subtract, multiply and divide—
with a stub of pencil.
And patience.

I don’t recall his voice saying, “I love you.”
His hands said it.
He often asked me to stop by the garage,
especially after a big game the night before.
He’d crawl out from under a car,
wipe his greasy hands, light a cigarette.

“Come over here,” he’d say,
as he put his hand on my shoulder and introduce me as his son.
Maybe the only time he’d touch me.
Then he’d describe my playing ball the night before.
I’d get real quiet and red as he’d go on,
hand on my shoulder, feeling pride, swelling pride
in my playing the game he loved.

His hands were always stained—
two yellow fingers from too many cigs.
His nails were always black—too
much grease to wash away.

His hands were always kind, never cruel,
even when my mother insisted I had been so bad
I needed a good beating with the belt.
He’d call me into another room, slip out his belt,
pull the ends together, hold in both hands, push it into a loop
and snap it together to make a deafening crack.
I’d scream!
He’d yell, beat the bed, crack the belt, scare the hell out of me!
I’d cry and he’d tell me to respect my mother.
He’d leave me alone. Return to her.
I don’t think he ever hit me once.
Lucky me.

Then, his hands trembled when he aged.
Mine now tremble sometimes, too.

Once we went together to visit mother’s grave.
He suddenly said,
“All the grave stones on this side of the cemetery are flat,
on the other side, they are large monuments.
Your Mom and I are on the side where everyone is
equal.”

It happens seldom,
always on the slant.
We reconnect.
His hand
becomes my hand.

Three Generations of Hands photo from Susan Stitt

Three Generations of Hands. (a photo from Susan Stitt, used with permission)

 

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Touch Has a Memory

By BENJAMIN PRATT

Picture of the Communion Service at Prism the alternative Baptist Assembly strand 2008 Blackpool

Photo by Ian Britton, released for public use via Flickr and Creative Commons.

Some phrases grab me, hold me and stir me. I let them rummage around my soul forming images. Sometimes those images are formed into words. “Touch has a memory,” by poet John Keats is such a phrase. Three memories flash across my mind. The first is a memory of skiing with my daughters in Vermont when they were 6 and 8. The second is comforting my grandson when he was ill at 14 months. The third is  serving my mother communion for the first and only time.

As you read these three short passages, think about the many ways your hands touch others, perhaps on a daily basis as a caregiver. Why should we perform this service for another day? Over time, does anything we do really matter?

One answer: Touch has a memory.

1. Cold

From Saturday ’til Thursday
the thermometer never peaked
above zero.
Novice skiers were we,
undaunted by the cold,
squealing and chilling
as we rode the blanket-clad lifts.
Two runs down powdery perfect snow;
into the lodge with chattering teeth.
Off with gloves and boots.
Tears form as their chilled,
skinny bodies shake.
I rub and rub
their feet and hands,
even put their tiny feet
in my mouth
blowing back warm smiles.
A little hot chocolate,
then, “Dad, it’s so much fun.
Let’s go again.”

2. Wet

Temperature rising,
spitting up, cranky,
no longer his sweet talcum smell.
He can’t help himself.
I can’t comfort him.
I shed our clothes
and step into the shower.
Vomit down my back;
urine down my front.
The shower washes it away.
Then, it’s over.
He snuggles into my neck.
We rock in the gentle warmth
of healing water,
baptized in love.

3. Broken

I press communion bread
gently but firmly into her palm.
Hands so gnarled and twisted
by rheumatoid arthritis
they could not fully
close nor open.
“His body broken for you,”
I murmur.
She lifts her face.
Smiles.
Our eyes hold each other:
Mother and son.

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Caregivers need Sparks of Kindness, too

Sparks of Kindness materials from Facebook

COLORFUL FREE MATERIALS are provided by the Sparks of Kindness Facebook group. Click this image to visit the group.

By WAYNE BAKER

Sparks of Kindness are deliberate acts of generosity that makes life better for someone else—and that is so important in relationships involving caregivers.

There are 65 million men and women acting as caregivers nationwide, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services division called the Administration for Community Living (ACL) that encourages support for caregivers. It’s not an exaggeration to say: The well-being of caregivers is vital to the well-being of America.

ACL puts it this way: “Family caregivers juggle multiple commitments, including jobs and relationships with other family members, while at the same time going to extraordinary lengths to provide care to a family member or loved one. We know caregivers often sacrifice their own physical, financial, and emotional well-being.”

One source of ideas for giving caregivers a boost is Sparks of Kindness. As the creator of the OurValues project, I devoted an entire week to reporting on this idea. Sparks of Kindness is a social movement and Facebook group with lots of practical resources. In OurValues columns, I talked with readers about the wisdom of small experiments and big experiments, along with the paradox of generosity.

Today, in this WeAreCaregivers column, I want to expand on that series by telling you about the many ideas you’ll find at the Sparks of Kindness Facebook group. For caregivers, I have slightly adapted these tips from their long lists of ideas. You’ll quickly catch the idea and can generate your own Sparks.

Do any of these ideas … spark your interest this week?

  • Do your caregivers have a pet? Bring them a dog or cat treat they can share with their furry loved one.
  • Ask a child’s class to make drawings to thank caregivers.
  • Write an actual thank you letter. When is the last time you took out stationery or a nice card and wrote such a note?
  • Give flowers.
  • Take a caregiver to lunch—or take a tasty treat or lunch to a caregiver.
  • Bring a little care package the caregiver can use at any time. Perhaps include a popcorn packet they can microwave during a break in their day—or a packet of instant hot cocoa in winter months.
  • Get a fancy, new pen for a caregiver, since caregivers often need to jot things down all day long.
  • How about thank-you balloons?
  • Or, try this: Leave criticisms home for the day and give a caregiver a day of only pleasant conversation.

That last Spark is included on all of the Sparks of Kindness idea lists and that’s especially kind if your caregiver relationship is often characterized by problems, complaints and somber news.

Got a spark in mind?

Please, tell a friend about http://www.WeAreCaregivers.com

 

 

 

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The dishes are done, now what?

Dirty dishes on the counterBy PAUL HILE

My wife has been feeling good lately—healthy.

I write that with a smile on my face—then quickly knock on wood.

If you read the first article I ever wrote for WeAreCaregivers, you know that there haven’t been many times my wife has felt like this. Mainly, since her diagnosis with a rare autoimmune disorder in 2009, she’s wrestled with fatigue, exhaustion, pain and frustration.

Of course, there have been times when she’s felt better, when she hasn’t been as tired or sore, when her rash hasn’t been as predominant—but those periods haven’t lasted long, and they weren’t like this.

How is she feeling this summer?

She has been doing research in a university city in another part of our state, while I hold down the fort at our home. She’s on her own, taking care of everything. And that has me thinking about the roller-coaster that is caregiving. I am well aware that for some people caregiving isn’t a roller-coaster. There are no “up” periods. There isn’t any chance that the person they care for is going to start feeling better. But for many caregivers—if patients enjoy remission, their roles change and they’re no longer needed as they once were.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when your identity has become so wrapped up in providing love and care in one way, it can be difficult to accept that you’re no longer needed in that way anymore.

For me, it began with the dishes.

Dishes have just been one of my things. I started doing the dishes when each plate felt like a 10-pound brick in my wife’s hands. Since then, I’ve become one of the fastest, most thorough dishwashers east of the Mississippi. But when my wife started feeling better, she’d kindly do the dishes and for whatever reason it bothered me. It bothered me so much I’d make a point to get to the sink first after a meal.

Why? Because without the dishes—without providing care in this way, and other ways—the dynamic of our relationship changes however slightly.

Don’t misunderstand. I love my wife; I’m thrilled she is feeling well; I share her pride in the work she’s doing, now.

She’s conducting important research this summer with a scientist she profoundly respects. She’s living on her own. She doesn’t need me to do the dishes. And, the dynamic of our relationship has changed. Like a lot of caregivers whose intense routines suddenly evaporate—I’m disoriented. As happy and relieved as I am that she’s feeling better, I still feel awkward when she does something I would normally do; when I talk with her on the phone and she’s just finished cleaning her apartment, prepared dinner, handled some bills and caught up with our friends over the phone.

So here’s my question as a young, inexperienced caregiver: How do you ride this roller-coaster?

I’m looking for your guidance here, so don’t let me down! How do you transition after those intense periods of providing care, from doing everything (or practically everything)? How do you let go of those things? How do you still feel needed?

Please, leave a comment, share this column on Facebook or email me at WeAreCaregivers@gmail.com

I could certainly use the help.

Meanwhile … I think I’ll go wash the dishes.

PAUL HILE is a writer, editor and social-media expert with ReadTheSpirit online magazine. His columns—written from the perspective of millions of younger caregivers—occasionally appear in this WeAreCaregivers section of our magazine. CLICK HERE to read all of Paul Hile’s columns on caregiving.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Lou Gehrig: The stricken hero was ‘The Luckiest Man …’

By BENJAMIN PRATT

THIS WEEK, as millions of us celebrate Independence Day—Americans also are remembering an inspiring moment that happened 75 years ago in New York City, when a man stricken with a disorder that eventually would kill him declared himself, “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth.” As I am publishing this column, fresh news stories about this anniversary are popping up in newspapers nationwide—from the Wall Street Journal to Newsday.

Once rivals, on July 4, 1939, Babe Ruth enthusiastically hugged Lou Gehrig, who had announced he was dying and at the same time declared himself "The Luckiest Man."

Once rivals, on July 4, 1939, Babe Ruth enthusiastically hugged Lou Gehrig, who had announced he was dying and at the same time declared himself “The Luckiest Man.”

The man who made that declaration was Lou Gehrig, “The Iron Horse”—first baseman for the Yankees in the 1920s and 1930s, when baseball was by far the most popular sport in America. He earned his nickname for the strength and endurance he showed throughout his career. Gehrig played 2,130 games in a row from 1925 to 1939. He had a .340 career batting average with 493 home runs. He drove in more than 100 runs in 13 consecutive seasons.

In 1939, at age 36, everything changed for Lou Gehrig. In the spring he lacked energy, looked thinner and less confident at first base and in the batter’s box. His performance was so poor that he removed himself from the Yankee lineup. He went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where he was diagnosed with amyotropic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the rare, debilitating disease that attacks the body’s nervous system. It was eventually called Lou Gehrig’s disease. So Gehrig, one of our country’s most revered sportsmen, knew he would become more and more helpless.

That summer, Gehrig agreed to go public with his diagnosis. His fans clamored for a way to show their love for him. That groundswell led to the July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day and a special program between the first and second games of a double header. Gehrig was surrounded by his Yankee teammates, including his former rival Babe Ruth. They were joined by their friends once known as “Murderers’ Row”—for the ruthless power that Yankees lineup showed in the 1927 World Series. The festivities included the retirement of Gehrig’s Number 4.

When Gehrig himself stood before the microphones, he began:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”

Gehrig turned to thank his many friends in baseball, concluding: “Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky.”

But then Gehrig did something unusual. He talked about his family—the people who would become his circle of caregivers. He started by poking fun at his wife and mother-in-law: “When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter—that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body—it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed—that’s the finest I know.”

He ended his brief talk this way: “I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”

The crowd applauded for two minutes!

Many friends rushed to offer Gehrig new roles that this great star might fill in his waning years. The only one Gehrig accepted was an appointment by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to serve in a special post granting parole to some of the city’s more deserving prisoners. Gehrig refused to allow any media coverage of his work, in this role, but he did pay many visits to correctional facilities to help prisoners who might deserve paroles.

He never complained. “Don’t think I am depressed or pessimistic about my condition,” he said at one point.

Then, just shy of two years after his Appreciation Day, on June 2, 1941, Gehrig was gone.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM ‘THE LUCKIEST MAN’?

Benjamin Pratt cover Guide for CaregiversNo, none of us is Lou Gehrig. No one could be. But consider this …

When I was interviewing for my book, Guide For Caregivers, I constantly heard from caregivers about the remarkable people they were serving—and about the sense of purpose and courage they shared in facing tough odds. Many caregivers across our nation understand the kind of attitude Lou Gehrig expressed 75 years ago.

One of the most moving statements I heard, in my research, was from the father of his disabled son, who came home wounded from his military service. Here are just a few of that father’s words to me:

“Since my son got wounded I have often thought how I wish we could get our life back—you know, as it was—comfortable, simple, and familiar. And, I often felt angry or jealous, as well as guilty, for thinking I wanted my life back. …

“But, the unexpected just happens to us and we are coping. We are on the front line—in the trenches—all day—every day. This is our life … and our lives have to be lived as best we can. Our son was doing his job when that damn bomb went off. None of us will ever get back to the life we had.

“One thing feels pretty strange to me now—I’ve never felt more like I have a reason to stay alive than I do now.”

No, this proud father never called himself the world’s “luckiest man.” But I do know that he is deeply grateful and his life is full of purpose.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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