Posted in after the diagnosis, art and healing, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

If Mary Chapin Carpenter Sang It; It Must Be True

I was in the car yesterday listening to NPR and there was a segment with Mary Chapin Carpenter, the fabulous musician.  The intro to the segment talked about the loss she had suffered in the past couple of years: a pulmonary embolism,  a divorce, and the death of her father.  She lived through enormous grief and took those experiences to the studio to create her new album.

I always keep a pad and pencil ready because inspiration and questions arise throughout the day.  When Mary Chapin Carpenter began to sing and reached the chorus I was hooked.  The song she was singing is titled, “Chasing What’s Already Gone”.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

I started to think about all the thousands of stories I’ve listened to over the years about how individuals and families survive an illness.  There are many, whether they realize it or not, who are chasing their life prior to their diagnosis.  Even if your health returns, you are not the same person.  Chasing the person you were is impossible.  These new experiences on your journey to health and healing have changed you forever.  It’s amazing how subtle the changes can be, but if you’re willing to be honest with yourself you’ll notice those internal shifts.

My concern is for those who are chasing what’s already gone; a life without illness.  There are people who will face chronic conditions, but are striving to be the person they were before the diagnosis; how is that getting in the way of your inner peace and happiness?  We’ve discussed creating a life with a new normal and that seems to reap the most rewards.  “Chasing What’s Already Gone” potentially seems like a bigger drain of personal resources than the health challenge.

My question for you is how can you chase what’s possible instead of what’s already gone?  How will you set yourself up for success instead of grief and strife?  If you’re looking for some extra support, feel free to email me at greg@survivingstrong.com.

Posted in Caregiving

This Isn’t How It Was Supposed to Be!

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

I’ve spoken about types of caregiving and the impact that caregiving has on your daily routine.  When I write about being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness I speak about the shock and the grief and I haven’t addressed that for you, the caregiver.  At the time of the patient’s diagnosis there is a period of shock and grief.  When we grieve or mourn there is a significant shift in our consciousness.  We begin to think about the impermanence of circumstances and of life itself.

For some reason we, those living in Western civilized nations, have an assumption that we will live to be old.  We expect to go through our early and middle adulthood following the normal stages of development, retire and live out our golden years until the time comes when the body begins to wear down.  The truth is we’re not guaranteed any length of life.  We aren’t guaranteed a life without illness as you know following the diagnosis of your loved one.  Grieving or mourning the loss of that expectation, that vision of what life would be like is part of the process, not only of caregiving, but of coping with all of life’s turbulence.

I know for me, the idea that I would be on medication for the rest of my life was a shock.  At the time of my diagnosis there was only a minimal amount of treatment options.  As I entered my early adulthood medical breakthroughs came out and continue to come out with new medications.  I’m tied to the pharmacy and my doctor for eternity (unless there’s a miracle).  On the caregiver end there needs to be a form of surrender that allows you to pry your grip off the life you believed you were supposed to have, and grasp the ring of life as it is.

We all wish that life would be free of illness, but that’s not a reality.  As a caregiver, mourning is part of the process.  It doesn’t mean you abandon hopes and dreams, just that they may be altered a bit.  It doesn’t mean you can’t carry out the visions and hopes you held prior to the diagnosis, just that they may need to be adapted to the current circumstance.  Grieving/mourning can apply to adaptation and revision of how you’ll live your life.  It’s part of the process and at times can be quite painful.  However, it also punctuates your resilience for living the best life possible.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Loss Is Inevitable…Suffering is Optional

When mental health professionals talk about grief they are usually talking about grief in response to death.   It’s the most common form of grief and the most widely acknowledged in our society.  Western culture doesn’t like to talk about death but following the death of a loved one the grief hits and takes center stage in the life of those still alive.

I’m thinking about grief as it relates to loss.  We all experience little deaths throughout our lives that don’t result in our ultimate death.  Loss is inevitable in our lives.  We experience loss from the moment we’re born.  At the time of our birth we leave the safety and warmth of the womb only to be brought into a world that is cold, loud, and overwhelming.  We begin experiencing loss in that moment.  When I think about the progression of life and how and when grief kicks our butt I think of a graph.  Loss is a constant in our lives.  We get hurt, we get sick, we fail a test, our friends move away, etc.  It’s when a major life event intersects with these daily losses that we experience grief.

Think of the day our were diagnosed with your illness.  The intersection of the diagnosis along with all the other stresses creates an emotional and spiritual tsunami.  Our interpretation of the event is what creates the suffering.  It’s our attachment to something we believe we had and deserved that causes our attachment to something that was fleeting all along.

We live lives that are filled with loss.  How we learn to befriend those losses is what determines our level of spiritual stamina.  It’s our ability to understand that loss is part of life and doesn’t detract from all the good things in your life.  The problem comes when we keep trying to fill the holes created by the loss and it’s like filling a hole that has no bottom. 

How do you handle loss?  Are you prone to suffering?  Would you like to change that world view?  Check out the website for more information…http://www.survivingstrong.com

Posted in Uncategorized

Those Left Behind

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

I speak a lot about the trials and tribulations of being the caregiver/wellness partner to someone you love.  I focus a lot on how to keep yourself sane during these period in your life and how to come out the other side with your sanity and a sense of self.  I’ve tried to offer solace for those of you giving of yourself without question in hopes of making the life of another easier and more fulfilled.  If nothing else I’ve tried to emphasize the importance of letting the other person know they are loved.

It is with a heavy heart that I share with you the death of my father-in-law.  Following open heart surgery twenty years ago he had a massive stroke in the recovery room.  If he hadn’t been in the hospital he wouldn’t have lived, but technology saved his life. He would often question how beneficial it was to have survived the stroke because the life he was living was compromised.  Eventually after ten years of being cared for by his devoted wife the family made the choice to place him in a care facility.  For the past ten years his welfare, well-being and care were of constant concern.

Two weeks ago he was placed in the hospital for skin infections that couldn’t be tamed.  Unbeknownst to us, he had a massive heart attack and over the next five days his body deteriorated and he died on Monday.  So what does this have to do with Caregiver Friday?  I would hope it would be obvious.  His family have been holding him near and dear to their hearts for twenty years.  Every day was spent considering what was in his best interest.  His care took up tremendous space in everyone’s heart and head.

With his death that leaves a lot of space that has opened up in the family’s psyche.  Of course the grief process will consume some of that space.  Whether or not the family had daily meetings about his care, his comfort and health were always a concern.  Just because you don’t talk about something doesn’t mean it doesn’t weigh heavy on your soul.  Caregivers should win Olympic Gold Medals for weight lifting since they hold the world on their shoulders; only Atlas could have accomplished such a task.

The family has shouldered this resp0nsibility for twenty years with dignity and compassion.  They are the survivors and now that space has opened up in their hearts and their heads you have to wonder how will they fill the space?  What will fill in the space previously devoted to caring for the man who was a husband, father, grandfather, brother (youngest of 17 children), athlete, carpenter, musician and man with many opinions.

My hats off to him for raising a great family, instilling great values and creating a family that knows, understands and exhibits the true meaning of family.  Conrad, you’ll be missed!

Posted in art and healing, Emotional Health, Having a Voice

Artist as Healer

Like so many artists it was easy at first to believe that I create art for its beauty.  Over time and based on the work I was creating I came to understand that, for me, the art was the process.  The amazing thing about art is that it is truly a two step process, the creation and the viewing.  Yesterday I wrote about Amber Augustin and today I’m here to tell you that she’s not only an artist but a true healer.  The amazing thing is that art is truly a universal language; we just don’t get enough practice speaking it.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect on Amber’s work I’ve come to certain conclusions about why the art she creates for these parents facing difficult times is so healing.  Amber’s photos are respectful and intimate.  She honors not only the child who is truly defenseless at the moment of birth, but she serves as the child’s protector by watching over the child with the healing energy of an angel.  She’s able to capture the intimacy we know exists between a parent and child within the parameters of a hospital, the NICU to be more specific which is often impersonal, loud and intimidating.  Finally, she allows the child, whether the child lives as her son did or not, to have a legacy.

Think about those viewing the photos.  Extreme Makeover Home Edition set up a gallery and invited the families touched by Amber Augustin’s generosity and eye for the miracle of the child.  Their appreciation for the work was inspiring.  Their capacity to hold the pain with grace speaks to each family’s spiritual and emotional stamina.   Amber helps to build a community so no one is left out in the cold.

We all need angels in our lives like Amber Augustin.  If you have been touched by art for your own healing process I hope you’ll share your story with us.  I know that artists are angels.