‘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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Why caregiving is fuel for ‘church growth’

By the Rev. Dr. BENJAMIN PRATT
Author of The Guide for Caregivers

Benjamin Pratt cover Guide for Caregivers

CLICK the cover to visit the bookstore.

When I talk to groups of clergy and lay people, many of them are surprised to hear that expanding their caregiving ministries is in their own self interest. It’s true!

Most often, I’m talking to Christian groups, where “church growth” is always a No. 1 concern. But, the principles I share with groups (and in my book) are effective in fueling “congregational growth” in general. So take today’s column to heart, as well, if you are part of a synagogue, temple or mosque.

Here’s a prime example: On a recent Saturday morning, I helped to present a public forum drawing on my book, A Guide For Caregivers. A United Methodist congregation hosted the event and promoted it to the interfaith community and the general public. Weary caregivers from all parts of the community gratefully attended—and kept the interchange going more than an hour longer than planned! Tears and laughter flooded the room as we all shared our different stories.

Gratitude to the United Methodist church for hosting this event was effusive. Members of that congregation told me that they were getting involved in this kind of outreach because they realized they have been under-serving the needs of caregivers in their own community. They resolved to seek new and creative ways to support caregivers and care receivers.

Convince your congregation to get involved

For this special column, I invited friends to help me make the case that caregiving is, indeed, fuel for congregational growth.

ReadTheSpirit Editor DAVID CRUMM, this week, was the emcee of an annual one-day conference in southeast Michigan for religious and health-care leaders to hear from experts about the importance of collaborating on health and caregiving. One of the first questions David got from religious leaders was: How can we convince people that this is central to our religious mission?

United Methodist website on caregivers helping families of disabled veterans

CLICK this thumbnail image to visit a United Methodist website, where a recent article reports on the widespread needs of American families caring for disabled veterans. The denomination’s founder, John Wesley, taught that healthcare should be a high priority in congregational life.

David told the crowd …

“Anyone who tells you that our congregations aren’t in the business of health and wellness doesn’t know much about the history of the great Abrahamic faiths. Judaism and Islam have ancient codes for health and wellness. For Christians, Jesus spent more time on health concerns than almost any other issue. There wouldn’t be modern hospitals today without the mission of the Catholic church centuries ago. And United Methodists who hesitate to get involved? They should remember that their founder John Wesley (1703-1791) felt so strongly about meeting the health-care needs of parishioners that he wrote a medical handbook (published in 1747) to aid the countless families in his era who could not afford medical care.”

MARTIN DAVIS, a contributor to this online magazine and head of SLC: Sacred Language Communications, consults with congregations and often hears the objection: “I don’t have time for one more program!”

Martin sent these thoughts to share with you …

I hear that objection from overburdened church leaders, who are stressed and yet feel the pressure to add more ministries: feeding programs, energy programs, education programs, healthcare programs, music programs, outreach programs—and on and on. The problem comes when church leaders contemplate “programs” they must fund, support with volunteers and administer—rather than focusing on the core mission of their faith communities.

Health care is a prime example. The Parish Nursing movement is a good and powerful program that emerged in the 1970s that is today growing, especially among larger congregations with resources to hire parish nurses. But my message to congregations is: You don’t need to hire a parish nurse to provide care. Caregiving is as basic as “love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s that simple.

LDS Mormon website page on caregiving and disability resources

CLICK this thumbnail image to visit the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website covering a wide range of disability concerns to help caregivers within the Mormon church. Within this website, individual pages look at common issues in various kinds of physical and mental health.

And, yes, energizing your congregation to take caregiving seriously also is complicated. That is … if you want to provide effective care and really touch lives in your community.

Over the years, I have been impressed by the way the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) incorporates many levels of caregiving into daily life in Mormon congregations. They accomplish this through several smart policies: 1. They keep their congregations (called wards) small, so that people get to know one another. 2. They stress that we are God’s hands and feet on earth as much as they stress the life to come. 3. They embrace the practice of genuinely caring for one’s neighbors, from regular home visits to assistance with job placement and even emergency stocks of food.

If a family member loses a job, the community knows and rallies to support that person—and their family—to right the ship. And if illness strikes, the community is there to provide whatever support is required. And, they do this without professional clergy or paid staff. They do this out of a commitment to one another born of a deep faith in God.

As I write this, you should know: I’m not Mormon myself and I’m not suggesting the LDS church is better than all others. But, I am suggesting that their orientation is solid: Faith in God animates action in this life, because we are the feet and hands of God on this earth.

Is caregiving fuel for “church growth”? Just look at the statistics on growth in the LDS church!

Care to read more?

KEEP IN TOUCH WITH WE ARE CAREGIVERS: Our online magazine regularly reports on caregiving issues, sharing ideas and inspiration from various authors and experts. Click on the link in the upper right corner for “updates by email” and be sure you are receiving our free email alerts to new stories. Among the past We Are Caregivers columns you’ll find useful:

BEST-SELLING AUTHORS URGE CONGREGATIONS TO GET INVOLVED: While you’re signing up for our email newsletters, be sure to get our weekly ReadTheSpirit newsletter, sent out each Monday afternoon. That way you won’t miss our trademark author interviews, which often touch on caregiving. Among our most popular author interviews on this subject:

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

 

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Changing the Tune at the ‘Organ Recital’

By THE REV. DR. BENJAMIN PRATT, author of ‘Guide for Caregivers.’

Pipe Organ consoleHelen, my mother-in-law, died seven years ago at age 94. One of my delightful memories of her was her chortles when she recounted the evening gathering of folks for dinner at her retirement home. Someone might share an interesting memory or event of the day. But most often each person would share an update on chronic ailments involving any number of body parts.

“We’re starting the Organ Recital,” Helen would laugh.

You might be chuckling, too, assuming that these recitals are limited to the aging, but I observe them among all groups.
Something in us wants to tell our stories. It is absolutely fascinating to me how the discussion starter dramatically changes the tone of an experience.

I’ve sat through my share of Organ Recitals, haven’t you? Sometimes it’s a healthy sharing of concerns in the forefront of our daily living. Of course, it works best if everyone gets to participate—and the listening is genuinely supportive rather than prone to advice.

But consider this, if you’d rather change the program in your group.

Tired of all that focus on organs? I’ve found that a single question tossed up in the group, like the opening coin toss at the start of a game, can have considerable effect. It can be as simple as asking about how the plants are doing in someone’s apartment, or a remark about flowers viewed through the window, what birds have been observed around the grounds—or who visited recently. This is the stuff that connects and binds us and dispels fear and isolation.

A close friend recently told me, “I got a circle of folks in my parents’ assisted-living home to start talking about Finnish saunas the other day. We had an old Finn in the circle and, before we knew it, we were rip roaring along about saunas, beloved trips, the woods, wood gathering, starting fires—on and on. We danced verbally around a crackling fire and formed community by sharing stories.”

Just yesterday a Home Depot employee came to our house to inspect some work. We ended up telling each other stories. He told me he was the only person of color in the school when, as a teenager, his family moved to Pittsburgh. One student constantly picked on him, and he finally confronted the bully, telling him to meet on the football field at lunchtime to settle this matter.

The bully was a member of the football team, and the captain of the team attempted to keep the “rumble” from happening. Students “from the other side of the tracks” gathered behind the one person of color while the football team supported the bully. A truce was reached without a fight when the bully, forced by my new acquaintance and his football buddies, got on his knees and apologized.

I was suddenly shaking hands and congratulating a man for his courage, a man I had only met 20 minutes earlier. We knew each other through that story. A bridge was built while standing on it.

Something deep in us wants to sit around the literal or verbal campfire or dinner table and tell stories or listen to others. We become members of the long train of story-telling families. We know ourselves and each other by our stories.

th Carrie Newcomer Quaker singer songwriterAs I was finishing this column, I discovered a kindred soul in singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer in a new ReadTheSpirit magazine interview. Talking about the power of personal stories, Carrie says:

“I love how we’re different, as people. In our whole country there’s no place like Ann Arbor, Michigan, there’s no place like Minneapolis, no place like Asheville, North Carolina—and there’s no place just like Bloomington, Indiana. Places are so rich and diverse.

“Yet, at the same time, everywhere I go—every single place I go—if I sing a song about love, about family, about kindness—simple human kindness—or if I sing a song about hope—and not Hallmark card hope but the kind of hope where you wake up in the morning and you get up and really do try to make the world a better place—then my song is immediately recognizable in any community where I’m singing all around this world.

While Organ Recitals have their place, perhaps there are ideas in this column that will help you change the program in your circle.

We all can start singing a wider range of tunes.

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