Simple Gifts: Seeing opportunities to humbly help

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

WELCOME BACK the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt, author of the Guide for Caregivers. Today, Ben brings us another thought-provoking column about the challenges we all face in helping others. Recently, ReadTheSpirit published an in-depth interview with the famous teacher on compassion and peacemaking, Johann Christoph Arnold. In that Q&A, Arnold said that the key to happiness as we age is finding daily opportunities to help others. Today, in a free-verse poem, Ben simply captures a trio of such moments in a typical day. He starts by recalling the 1848 Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts, by Joseph Brackett:

When true simplicity is gain’d
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d
To turn, turn ‘twill be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Simple Gratitude for Simple Gifts

By BENJAMIN PRATT

I.
A Praying Mantis in the wildHe is old
uses a cane
bent over and slow
takes all he has to climb into the city bus
Takes the only seat left
Others fill the aisle—hanging from the loops
The bus jerks forward
He searches each pocket, jacket, pants, and shirt
His nose is running, now dripping—
but nothing to wipe it
Across the crowded aisle, I reach into my pocket
where I always carry napkins
I slide some toward him
across the aisle
between the legs of standers
He takes the napkins
wipes his nose—never looks my way
I know he’s grateful
if a bit ashamed
I know because I’ve been there.

II.
How she managed two shopping carts
we do not know
She loads the rear of her SUV
with food and drinks
Stuffs her small child in his car seat
Ready to go?
No!
Two carts to return with:
Child waiting. Car unlocked. Groceries piled.
My wife sees her predicament
“I’ll take your carts back.”
“Oh, thank you. Thank you!”
Relief
As she drives away,
she rolls down her window:
“Oh, thank you. Thank you!”

III.
She is hanging upside down
inside the window screen
She looks puzzled, trapped, chagrined—
her ET-like eyes
overwhelming her small head
bobbing on her long, slender, mint-green body
I’m certain she is a she—
her regal head contentedly nodding,
despite her obvious predicament
I slip a cupped white paper under her
The queen slowly steps forward
entering her carriage
“Welcome Madame.”
She is deferential to her new footman
I escort her outside
where she slowly exits her carriage
onto an hydrangea leaf
She pauses as she turns
and with the slightest nod of her head
she acknowledges her new footman.

.

(FEEL FREE to share this column with friends. You can do so by using the blue-“f” Facebook icons or the small envelope-shaped email icons. You also are free to reproduce or repost this poem, as long as you credit Benjamin Pratt and www.ReadTheSpirit.com)

CARE TO READ MORE FROM BENJAMIN PRATT?

The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a noted expert on compassionate care and is the author of Guide for Caregivers.

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Help your caregivers (and help yourself) with an Advance Care Directive

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Some of the toughest questions caregivers face arise when our loved ones are unable to talk with us in a meaningful way. The process known as Advance Care Planning (or “Advance Healthcare Directive”) helps us to talk about the kinds of medical procedures we want—and those we don’t want—as we near the end of life. If you are caring for a loved one, this is something you may want to undertake now. And, if you’re a veteran caregiver, then you know what can happen. You should complete one for yourself.

In 2014, we plan to share occasional short videos with our readers. Some excellent videos are being produced by healthcare providers, nonprofit groups and leading authors. We plan to bring you only the best we’ve spotted. You can help by recommending a good video. Stop by my Facebook page, where it’s easy to share ideas with me, anytime.

The hospital-system team that produced this video was coordinated by Drew Weil, a friend of our WeAreCaregivers project. When the video was recently released, Drew recommended it to us. He writes that his team felt compelled to make this particular video because, “A recent study by The Conversation Project found that most Americans know they should have a conversation about their healthcare—yet less than half of us have done so. When we do this, we leave decisions up to family members, loved ones, or doctors who may not know our wishes.”

CLICK THIS VIDEO SCREEN TO VIEW …

IF you don’t see a video screen in your version of this column, try clicking on the headline to reload the column. If that fails on your device, then you can watch the video by going directly to YouTube.

 

LEARN MORE …

The video provides a link to one website offering free materials for Advance Care Directives. Depending on where you are seeing today’s column, you will want to ask about this process in your own region. For our overseas readers: This Wikipedia article on Advance Care Directives explains some of the variation people find in these policies around the world.

Please share today’s column with friends! Use the blue-“f” Facebook buttons or the envelope-shaped email icons.

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Stuck in traffic? Have you thought about it like this …?

Photo of a traffic jam by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz. For public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of a traffic jam by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz. For public use via Wikimedia Commons.

By PAUL HILE

WHEN YOU become a caregiver you learn to let go. It’s not necessarily something you want to do—you have to do it. You realize, pretty quickly, that you don’t have any control. That’s a difficult pill to swallow because we all want control. But, when your mother falls and breaks her hip the day before Thanksgiving, or you get a phone call from your brother telling you he has cancer, or your husband suffers a stroke, it hits you:

You have no control. You’re just along for the ride. And sometimes you get stuck in traffic.

This has been a year of change for my wife and me: new jobs, new cities, new friends. It also has been a year of renewed health for my wife, who started a new treatment with success. But there was a period of time after our move where we hadn’t found a new doctor for her, and she had missed a treatment, and we needed to take action quickly. As it would happen, our best option was to drive to Chicago, a six-hour trip, for a two-hour appointment.

I am telling you all of this because nothing ever goes according to plan, and caregivers know this better than anyone. Forty-five minutes into our trip and we were stuck in traffic. This wasn’t stop-and-go traffic, only a minute’s inconvenience. This was three hours of nothing. No movement. No go, just stop.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that when I am driving on the highway and I pass major traffic in the opposing lanes, I think: Thank God that isn’t me. That’d be terrible! We’ve all done this, at least privately: We see someone going through a difficult time, suffering the loss of a spouse or child, or grieving a diagnosis of cancer in the family, and we think: Thank God that isn’t me. That’d be terrible! Of course we don’t celebrate in their agony, but we’re relieved that, this time, we weren’t the ones being held up.

But the truth is: Life doesn’t come equipped with Cruise Control. Sometimes the traffic jams aren’t in someone else’s lane. And, sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes the person you love is diagnosed with something dire, and there’s nothing you can do. We wait. And we try to help. We look for any opportunity to turn around or take an alternative route. As a caregiver and husband, I keep looking for that perfect thing that will cure my wife: a new diet, a new treatment, a new thing that will solve all of her problems. I keep thinking: If only I had checked the directions before the trip, we could have avoided this!

Have you whispered something like that to yourself? It’s so frustrating: If only …

But here’s the real question: Can we grab hold of all that anxiety, frustration and anger—and refocus on …

Well, let me tell you more about our recent traffic jam. We were on our way to Chiago—with my wife’s health in question—sitting in our little Volkswagen Jetta that my wife has dubbed “Alejandro,” parked in miles and miles of traffic. Only 50 minutes from our home! Not moving!

So, I turned to my wife and grabbed her hand. “Sometimes you’re just stuck in traffic,” I said.

She nodded her head and I knew she understood what I meant.

“But I’ll tell you this,” I continued.

“What’s that?”

“I wouldn’t want to be stuck in traffic with anyone else but you.”

CARE FOR MORE?

First, if you like this column by Paul Hile, please share it with friends via Facebook or Email. You’ll find icons with this column to help you with your sharing. Or use the “Print” button to print and share this with someone who needs to read it. If you’d like to read an earlier column by Paul, he also wrote “What We Talk about When We Talk about Entitlement.”

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Rodney Curtis: What I wish caregivers knew

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

All of us who know Rodney are thrilled that he has completed his trilogy of books, taking readers through his struggles with both unemployment—in Getting Laid (Off)—and cancer—in A “Cute” Leukemia. Millions face these dire challenges. Rodney shows us how to tackle it all with humor. Today, you can learn a lot more about Rodney’s life and work in an interview with ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm. You’ll find that Rodney isn’t just some goofy guy. He knows a whole lot about defeating cancer. So, today, I invited Rodney to write a guest column.

WHAT I WISH CAREGIVERS KNEW

By RODNEY CURTIS

Attitude.

That’s everything, really. The relationship between the person who needs the care and the person who is trying to give it: It all depends on attitude.

When I first learned that I had acute leukemia—and, then, all the way through my long stays in the hospital, losing my hair and eventually a bone-marrow transplant—I heard from people these words: “I can tell you’re going to make it through this. It’s in your attitude.”

And it was.

That's Rodney hugging a friend in the summer of 2010 in the midst of his leukemia.

That’s Rodney in the baseball cap hugging a friend in the summer of 2010 in the midst of his leukemia.

Remember, “attitude” works both ways. First, there is my attitude—my perception of what I was dealing with and how I would relate to the people around me.  I am a true believer that the way you approach this whole experience says a lot about the outcome you can expect on the other end. Heather Jose calls her memoir about becoming a “cancer thriver,” Every Day We Are Killing Cancer. When she was diagnosed, she wrote those words on a little sign and carried that sign with her as a kind of motto, wherever she went.

What we are saying is: You have to approach this with your own passion, your own interests, your own personality behind it. Like Heather carried her sign—I carried my humor. I used a lot of humor, but that’s me: I love humor.

Maybe your thing is music—so you carry your music with you, wherever you go. I met a guy who decided his weeks in the hospital were his job and his hospital room was his office. Every day, his work—his job—was to get better. He thought of the nurses coming in for various reasons as co-workers coming into his office to help him do his job.

Second, the attitude of your caregivers is just as important as your own attitude. Get them on board with you. Because I loved humor, my caregivers loved to play along. I remember one day, the phone in my hospital room rang and it was a nurse, who was somewhere else at that time, laughing and saying: “Rodney Curtis! Turn on channel 7—STAT!” There was something funny on the TV that she wanted me to see. Because they knew my attitude, caregivers could become a part of that, too.

You’ve got to be honest and open.

If you suddenly find yourself needing help—let’s say you’ve just heard the diagnosis: “Cancer.” Well, I can tell you: It’s a mistake to step back from your friends and all the people who love you, if you can possibly avoid that. The best attitude includes reaching out to all the people around you. Use your connections. Use your social media. I mean, just think of all the tools and software and devices we have today to keep in touch! It’s brilliant.

And, in the first experiences you have in the role as a caregiver, you should be reaching out, too. Don’t be shy. Don’t pussy-foot around. Ask questions.

Here’s what happens all too often when someone is diagnosed with cancer: People hold back and are afraid to ask questions. They’re thinking: Ohhhh, Rodney’s got cancer. I shouldn’t ask him about it! But I’ll tell you: I’m sure that people imagine far more horrible things, if they don’t ask and don’t talk honestly with you—than anything I could tell them.

Then, if you want to help—step up and suggest something. Get specific. I know that people have different responses to this issue. From my own experience, I think it’s best when people who want to be good caregivers come up with real things they can do—and then offer to do these things, specifically.

Here’s an example: You can go up to a friend who needs help and you can say: “Hey, if there’s anything you need, just let me know.” And, yeah, that’s an OK expression of concern.

But I think it’s far better to say: “Can I make you dinner tomorrow night?” And then, “Is it OK if I make this for dinner?” Or, you could say: “Can I mow your lawn on Saturday?” Or, “Could my buddy and I come over and rake your leaves today?”

By offering specific suggestions, you’re telling the person what level of help you’re offering. You might hear back: “No, I really don’t need that.” Still, it gives that person who needs the help a good chance to say, “I don’t need that—but, I really could use this! How about doing this, instead?”

The real question is: Will we close ourselves off and back away from life and from other people? Will we become the patient in the bed? Will we give up our personalities? Or will we try, as best we can, to remain ourselves—and to help each other get through this.

To me, that’s attitude.

TAKE THAT NEXT STEP

VISIT RODNEY CURTIS’S AUTHOR PAGE IN OUR BOOKSTORE: Learn more about Rodney; read sample chapters—and use the easy links in our bookstore to buy copies of his book through Amazon, Barnes & Noble or other retailers. (Yes, you can buy print or e-editions.)

ENJOY RODNEY CURTIS’S LATEST COLUMNS: His department within ReadTheSpirit has been a favorite destination for our readers over many years.

CHECK OUT RODNEY CURTIS’S INTERVIEW: Our ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talks with Rodney about how he learned to laugh in the face of fear.

SHARE RODNEY WITH OTHERS: In addition to buying his books—which we recommend, of course—please share this column with friends by using the blue-“f” Facebook icons or the small envelope-shaped email icons.

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

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In his newest book, ‘The Art of Healing,’ Dr. Bernie Siegel says: ‘Laugh out loud! It’s healthy!’

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

WELCOME Dr. Bernie Siegel!

He’s the best-selling author, teacher and retired pediatric surgeon who has been helping us all rethink—and expand—the healing process for three decades. I’m especially thankful to Dr. Siegel for encouraging readers to get my memoir, Every Day We Are Killing Cancer. One of his major themes is the importance of doing everything we can to raise our spirits—and keep ourselves focused on happiness. That’s very much my message, too, in my writing and in my own workshops, Go Beyond Treatment. I know you’re going to enjoy this brief excerpt from Bernie’s new chapter called simply: Laugh Out Loud

LAUGH OUT LOUD

By DR. BERNIE SIEGEL

Click the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

(From his new book, The Art of Healing: Uncovering Your Inner Wisdom and Potential for Self-Healing)

LAUGHTER may be one of the purest of the healing arts. What I am telling you is that laughter is one of the best therapeutic activities Mother Nature provides us with, and it doesn’t cost a cent. True laughter is an outburst of expression of breath that involves the vocal cords and comes from deep in the belly. It’s caused by an irresistible urge to express surprise, mirth, joy and delight. Laughter stimulates the release of endorphins. These chemicals flood the body with a feel-good sensation that reaches every cell, delivering a message that says: Life is worth living, so do everything you can to survive.

Unlike the days when I was training as a physician, today we have studies documenting that cancer patients who laughed or practiced induced laughter several times a day lived longer than a control group who did not. Even so, in medical school doctors still aren’t taught the value of laughter as therapy. I certainly wasn’t in medical school; my patients were my teachers. They, the natives, taught me, the tourist.

I recall one day walking into the room of a patient, a lovely woman who I cared about, and she was dealing with a serious illness and several associated complications. I approached her room thinking about how I was going to help her and worrying about her treatment. When I entered her room she asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Why are you asking me that?” I responded.

“Your face and forehead are all wrinkled.”

“I am thinking about how to help you.”

“Think in the hallway, then,” she said. “I need you to smile when  you come in here.” She was right. I needed an attitude adjustment to be a better physician for her, and it was an adjustment I happily made. The best doctors learn from the critiques and coaching supplied by their patients, nurses and families.  I learned from all of these people that when I lightened up, encouraged laughter in others, and practiced it myself, everybody benefited.

Scientists have studied the effects of laughter on the body and identified a number of psychological benefits. Laughter increases activity in the immune system, giving “good” killer cells a boost, especially in their ability to target viruses, some tumors, and cancer cells. Measurements of immune system components show a lingering beneficial effect from laughter that lasts into the next day. Laughter appears to fight infection and abrasion or chemical insults to the upper tract of the respiratory system. Laughter is a natural muscle-relaxant; at the same time, it provides a good cardiac and diaphragm workout, improving the body’s capacity to use oxygen. This makes it an ideal activity for those whose ability to exercise is limited. Laughter also improves mood and decreases patients’ perception or awareness of pain. As in the case of appropriate exercise, there are no negative side effects to laughter.

So I recommend that you practice the expression of giggles and guffaws; become an artist, and fill your palette with laughter. Remember it’s not healthy to be serious and normal. Trying to be normal is only for those who feel inadequate. So be an infectious carrier. Spread joy and healing, and keep the artist within you alive.

CARE TO READ MORE?

OUR IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH DR. BERNIE SIEGEL: Read The Spirit Editor David Crumm talks at length with medical pioneer Dr. Bernie Siegel about his life’s work, his new book—and the importance of encouraging good humor.

OUR RESIDENT EXPERT IS RABBI BOB ALPER: Bob is the only active rabbi in the U.S. who also is a full-time standup comic. Millions enjoy his routines on satellite radio as well. His new book is Thanks. I Needed That. (Perfect for holiday gift giving in November and December!)

CAREGIVING EXPERT & AUTHOR BENJAMIN PRATT: Ben writes an entire chapter on the importance of laughter in his book A Guide for Caregivers. More recently, Benjamin wrote a column on Interactive Laughter.

COMEDIAN & INSPIRATIONAL AUTHOR SUSAN SPARKS: ReadTheSpirit interviewed Susan on her amazing career in ministry and humor, especially her book Laughing Your Way to Grace.

 

CATHOLIC WRITER JAMES MARTIN SJ: ReadTheSpirit’s David Crumm also interviewed the famous Catholic journalist Father James Martin about his book on “holy humor,” Between Heaven and Mirth.

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Tips for Caregivers: Keep Up vs. Catch Up

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

As readers, you’ve told us that you enjoy our useful tips. That’s why my column last week—about the point at which families must give up their “home”—included some inspiring quotes and tips from others. And, that’s why we collected that big list of fall-and-winter ideas for helping caregivers. Please remember: The invitation to add to those lists is wide open. Add Comments below, or email us at WeAreCaregivers@gmail.com with your ideas.

Today, I’ve invited Benjamin Pratt, author of the Guide for Caregivers, to share another of his tips. These columns are perfect to share with friends, or to discuss in your small group. Feel free to print them, email them, share them on Facebook or even repost an entire column. We hope you’ll get involved!

Let a SEAL be your guide: “Keep up!”

US Navy Seals face the waves

By BENJAMIN PRATT

U.S. Navy SEAL training is spiritually, intellectually and physically rigorous, rugged. SEALs have a saying about running, which they do as a group.

“It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.”

This succinct, crisp phrase captures wisdom relevant for our lives in so many ways. Students know that it is easier to keep up with their studies than to languish through a term and race to catch up at the time of finals. It is easier to exercise regularly than catch up after years as a couch potato; easier to keep our bodies at a proper weight than catch up with endless diets; easier to limit our spending by restrained buying than recover from mounting debt. It is vibrant, necessary advice that promises us success in our primary relationships, our finances, our health and our life goals.

It is a basic life guideline.

Living by this sage advice is of inestimable value for caregivers. We caregivers can become so focused on serving our beloved that we ignore caring for ourselves. We isolate ourselves and do not run in a group as the SEALs do, thus making us vulnerable to a life of forever struggling to catch up.

We must care for ourselves by engaging in relationships where we can share our story, feel nurtured, experience the comfort and compassion of others while we extend the same to our care recipient. It is vital that we keep up with good food and adequate sleep and exercise to sustain body and soul. Our well-being requires soul-nurturing with humor, song, poetry, gratitude, prayer, manual labor and frequent respites.

Be a wise self-caregiver by running in community.

Don’t attempt the job alone.

Practice the good advice of the SEALs: “It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.”

Please, share this column with friends! Add Comments with your own tips.

Thanks go to Shane T. McCoy for today’s photo of US Navy Seals. He released it for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

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Print, share with friends: Caregivers Tips for Fall and Winter

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Thank you to all who contributed to our list as we prepare for the upcoming seasons. Feel free to print this set of tips; or, share this via Facebook, email it to friends, republish this in your congregation’s newsletter. We want to spread this collected wisdom. Many of these ideas will spark fresh excitement in your community.

Caregiver Tips
as Leaves, Snow and Year-End Holidays
Blow into Our Lives

Winter walk in the woodsGive the gift of time. Whether it is a social visit with the caregiver—or respite time, filling in for the caregiver, so they can get away a bit. Time is appreciated! If it’s possible, offer to take the one who requires care out for a while—so that the caregiver can have some time at home alone.

Plan a short fall color tour with an accessible bus for caregivers and the people for whom they care.

Test furnaces early. Start them and run them for a day to see if they’re in working order for the winter.

Organize volunteers in your community to check on wheelchair ramps at neighbors’ homes to ensure they’re in good repair for the months of leaves, ice and snow.

Survey caregivers in your area to see if leaf, ice and snow removal is arranged for fall and winter in the homes where they provide care. Consider organizing volunteers to help out where the caregiver is the one who’ll wind up having to rake leaves and push snow, if you don’t help.

Organize a volunteer crew to help caregivers winterize their vehicles. Got snow scrapers? Check windshield wiper blades? Want some teenagers to give the car a good vacuum inside? Busy caregivers often wind up with vehicles jammed with stuff that they never have time to clean up.

Tech Savvy? How about helping caregivers get setup with Skype or FaceTime or Google-Plus Hangout for the holiday season so that, if they can’t attend a gathering, they can still join in.

Plan a “thanks for the caregivers” Thanksgiving-theme meal in November complete with substitute caregivers to cover their responsibilities at home. This is a great way to get local caregivers in your area to meet and begin forming a support group of friends.

Plan now for just the right holiday gifts to give to the caregivers in your life. Buying local products is wonderful of course. Looking to sites such as NoMoreRack.com and EndOfRetail.com might help you stumble upon a bargain that can express appreciation without breaking the bank.

Organize respite care to give caregivers in your area a “day off” to shop for their own holiday gift giving.

Have a family caregiving arrangement? Consider putting together an album of photos so that the primary caregiver—and the person who they care for—can look through the images and reminisce.

If you are in a close-knit caregiving relationship in your family—and gatherings are planned over the holidays—offer to be the one who goes home early so the primary caregiver can enjoy the entire event. All too often, we simply assume that the usual caregiver will always be tethered to the schedule of the person who needs the care.

Plan a holiday-decorating party for caregivers and shut-ins, after checking on what is appropriate in each case. This can be a fun boost for the whole household and may help weary folks actually get a little decorating done, when they might never find the time.

Share fun holiday music with your community’s caregivers. The gift of music makes an uplifting addition to the environment in any home. Think of burning a mix-CD of music to give to caregivers.

Make a plan now so that caregivers can choose holiday services to attend and can have the time free. Christmas Eve services are extremely popular, yet caregivers rarely have a chance to find replacement caregivers. And, consider having a service in your community at which caregivers—and the men and women they care for—can attend. This may involve planning transportation and a sensitivity to the needs of everyone who gathers.

Thanks for these ideas go to many of our readers, including Suze and Jenny Brown of Chicago, Nance Edwards from San Diego, MaryAnne and Jake from New York, and Bob W from St. Petersburg, Florida.

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