The Caregiver’s Validation

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When my eyes pop open and  my mind starts jabbering at 5:00 am I know it will be a Grief Reflection morning. I can’t go much past a week without pre-writing thoughts and narratives interrupting my thinking or work on other things. Writing has become a true habit for me. A year ago I would say I’m not “a journaler,” but now that has really changed! Never say never.

Writing is very powerful, but it still needs witness. Tuesday I attended a newly formed Caregiver’s Support group hosted by our hospice. From a business standpoint, getting caregivers around a table is tough because, by nature of the task, leaving a loved one for a few hours can be difficult – sometimes logistically, sometimes emotionally. It was small group but that doesn’t really matter. The human connection is what matters. Humans are social beings and caregiving can be isolating. This time period reminds me of being a “stay at home” mom for those first couple of years. The focus is so intent on bringing up baby that relating to other non-parental adults can be difficult. The mom brain has to shift, unless of course, you are with others at a “play date.” Because at a play date, all the parents can talk poop and snot and laugh about it. Caregivers need to find each other. Bereaved need to find each other. We need to find a way to talk about poop and snot and even laugh about it. We need to talk about death in a society that literally buries the conversation.

I can do all the writing and analysis in the world, yet to see someone nod in agreement and understanding, to acknowledge and share what I’ve learned aloud, to make someone else’s life a little easier (the reward for a caregiver), and to hear what others experience is validation.

Validation has become a keystone word in my vocabulary. Storytelling, narrative, memoirs, preserving memories…. The end result can take many forms across many emotions, but the take away is always validation.  Life matters  – yours and your loved one’s – beginning or end and everything in between. Human existence is about the connections to other humans and living beings. Validation of others validates self. It takes some focus and review to recognize.

Last year, for fun and out of curiosity, I had a private palm reading with a woman who appears at our Farmer’s Market and sets up 10 minute readings. She was extremely intuitive and spot on to my thoughts during that time. So, why not? She didn’t know me, my work, or any life circumstances. I purposefully didn’t offer any information. One thing she said (well, actually most) really stood out to me: “Sometimes you need to take it and hold it, tell a story to it, hear it’s story, give it form and embrace it.” I can see her holding and peering at the empty, intangible “it” as she spoke. Move what is inside to a place that is outside. Once “it” has its own life then a relationship develops. The “what” of that relationship is up to me.  OK, so this sounds very generic, but why would she remind me of the importance of story? In context, the revelation was validating on many levels.

I wonder now, could she see on the horizon this grief, this loss I’d be facing? She talked about my life line… could she see Dave’s disappear from my palm? Did she withhold this so I have to write my own story, we would have to write our story? There was plenty of grief in my life at the time without considering Dave’s death. I think in some ways we don’t want to know when a life will end. Yet, I can’t imagine not knowing and learning all that this path brings.

Sitting with others in the Caregiver’s Support group reminded me how frail life really is.  The scenarios of life and death play out over and over again for thousands of people each day, each hour. Families and friends gather in love and pain. Yet it is like the individual has to reinvent giving birth or standing with death each and every time. It is such a relief to find out how common and ordinary are these life passages, yet we must bask and tell stories of the extraordinary uniqueness to our personal lives. We must give the grief form and identify our relationship. To validate our grief is to validate our self.

There are more bullet points to my week that make me rise at 5:00 am, each clamoring for it’s own story:

  • Dave says he is starting to  “feel like he’s sick.”
  • Lucky dog also shows decline in his health. When? How to make decision about his health? Is he in pain? The thought of action overwhelms me and brings forth another onslaught of tears.
  • I must also take care of my own health as I chase down the off-balance symptoms I exhibit. In the last few weeks I’ve had to fit in visits to acupuncturist, ENT, neurology, scans and audiologist (I’m OK. My ears are not in sync. Fix it! I don’t have energy for this now.)
  • I am launching some exciting new elements on Navigating Grief, but this divides  my attention and I would  dearly love more hours devoted to to the development.
  • Love surrounds us. I can’t forget. Time is precious.

At precisely 5:30 pm on Tuesday our small group was told “time’s up.” Like the proverbial therapist’s end of session, check watch, time’s up. There was silence, no movement.  The stillness was evident. No one was really ready to walk out the door. It feels good to know you are not alone.

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