Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Father's Voice

My father, Jesse E. Stay, died a week and a half ago, a month shy of his 87th birthday. The funeral last week-end was a beautiful celebration of his life. He was a man who gave his life in service to his wife, his family, his country, his fellow man and his God. He was always moving, serving, and working around the house and the yard until he became too weak a few months ago. He loved to garden, but had to give up most of it a few years ago, though he still grew tomatoes. The fresh, ripe tomatoes were delicious all summer, and he made his famous tomato soup all winter from the tomatoes he canned. This picture was taken when he was 83, still a young man:-). He is holding an orange from his beloved orange tree, that he decided looked like him. He even put a sore on the "nose" celebrating the removal of a cancer from the end of his nose.

This last year had been difficult for him. My mother was very sick, and he waited on her hand and foot, tenderly caring for her when she wasn't able to do anything for herself. He did it lovingly, but he worried about her a lot. His mind was becoming old, and he began to forget a lot of things. When he was worried about Mom, his thought process became worse. Slowly she started improving, and then he started having his own physical health problems. But even to the end, when his mind was going, he would take care of Mom, do the dishes, take out the trash, and check on the tomatoes. When we were there caring for both of them, he would stand up and say, "I know I'm supposed to do something. I just can't remember what it is." We would tell him that everything was done, that he didn't need to worry about anything, and he would sit down again, still dissatisfied. He didn't know how to live life without working and serving. We were blessed that his dying process was relatively quick and very peaceful, with his wife and many of his children around him.

Each of his children were asked to take part in the funeral. Several of us were asked to share memories. There were so many memories that I had a difficult time deciding what I was going to talk about. Then I started hearing my father's voice. I started remembering all the things he had told me, had taught me, the sayings that were typical of him. Words like, "If you see something that needs doing, don't wait for someone else to do it, just do it yourself!" And "A mule would rather break his back with one trip than to take two." I remembered him teaching morse code while we did the dishes together. I remember him making his famous pancakes and saying "I don't hear any oohs and aahs." It was usually because our mouths were full, but we rapidly showed our appreciation for the featherlight, delicious taste in our mouths with dutiful oohs and aahs. And when I inched my way into the cold ocean as he rapidly dove into the waves, he would paraphrase Shakespeare: "A coward dies a thousand deaths but the brave die but once." So I talked on my memories of my father's words and how he assisted in shaping my life.

I've been considering the affect that the words we hear when we are very little have on us. I was very blessed to have the father I did. But when I was young, he was still learning how to be the best father, and he had a loud voice when we did something out of line. I don't remember being punished, though I know my mischievious little brothers received an occasional spanking reminder to be good. I do remember that sometimes I was afraid of him, just because I was small and he was big with a loud, sometimes angry voice. I don't blame him for anything, because I know he always was the best father he was able to be, and I have very little to complain about, but I wonder what affect his loud words had on me when I was tiny, and how that affected how I reacted later in life.

When we are born, our mind is open to every outside influence. We have no boundaries, and take in everything coming into us as our own. The emotions, words, actions of those around us, how those who care for us or who are in authority over us tell us we should act and what we should believe, all flow in without filtering and become part of our subconscious mind. We become programmed.

Throughout our lives, as we experience the world around us, those voices from the past become our own voice, telling us what is right and wrong, telling us how to be and how to act. If we were taught consistently with love and caring words, this can be a very positive influence. If we were taught with anger and criticism, we may find ourselves repeating that anger and criticism to ourselves whenever we make a mistake, or just beat ourselves up in general because those thoughts keep coming. Or we may find that the anger may come out and affect others. We may find ourselves repeating those words from the past to those we love, whether we want to or not.

I have found that when I have negative thoughts about myself or others, I get to take time and ponder where those thoughts are coming from. Are they the voices of the past, of parents or teachers, who in their best desires pointed out our shortcomings? Are they they words or feelings or limiting beliefs we picked up from those caring for us that they felt about themselves? Are they the voices of brothers and sisters, or the children, cruel at times in the schoolyard? I find that often my negative thoughts are not really my own, but voices from the past that I have made my own.

Once I realize this, a visualization serves me to begin to let these thoughts go. I visualize whomever I picked up these thoughts, feelings or limiting beliefs from standing in front of me. Then I tell them something like the following: "I appreciate all you have done for me in my life. However, at this time, these words (or feelings, or beliefs) that I picked up from you no longer serve me. I give them back to you, and ask God to bless you with them. I forgive you for any of these things that may have caused me harm. I know you loved me the best you were able to."

I then visualize the thoughts, feelings or beliefs as a color, and allow that color to gather and flow from me to that other person, until the color is gone. Then I send them the color I see as love flowing from my heart to their's, and I know that this connection never ends. It is a very peaceful and loving visualization, and has served me well in letting go of the things in my subconscious mind that do not serve me.

As you read this, you may find yourself feeling guilty because of what you may have created in your own children; what their open minds absorbed from us as they were little. We all do our best. We all make mistakes. I have done things that have created problems in my own children. Every child has mother and father issues. It's the way of life. I believe that if we chose our own families before we came to this earth, that we chose them as much for their weaknesses as for their strengths. It is learning from our own weaknesses and the weaknesses of those around us that allows us the greatest growth.

As we work hard to heal our own hearts, it is easier for us not to react from those voices, feelings and beliefs of the past. Then we create less problems for those around us. And as we begin to heal, it creates a healing energy that opens doors for those around us to heal as well.

I was blessed to have the father I did. His loud, sometimes angry words of my early childhood eventually changed to loving and uplifting words as I was a teenager. He worked continually on being a better person, and he was successful. As we seek, we shall find. That is a promise.

Until we meet again,
Dr. Judi

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Sandwich Generation

This image was taken at Chuck E. Cheese in Encinitas, California, where we were having a birthday party for my darling granddaughter Avery, the grand age of two years old. Her mother was suffering from severe morning sickness, and her daddy had a broken ankle, so I got the privilege of spending time playing with her for a couple of long weekends.

I remember long car trips as a child. My father was in the Air Force, and we moved a lot, and at times lived on the other side of the country from where my parents' families lived, so we often were in the car for days at a time. The children would fight over who got to sit in front, so my mother would often sacrifice and take the current baby and sit in the back seat of our station wagon, where no one else wanted to sit. She would have the cooler on one side and the baby on the other, and it seemed she would spend all day making sandwiches for us, sandwiched there in the back seat between baby and cooler.

The Baby Boomer women are now being called "The Sandwich Generation." With life expectancy increasing we have aged parents that often need our time, attention and care. And with the difficulty economy, increased prices of homes, increase in divorces, and normal trials of life, we often find ourselves caring for and supporting our children and grandchildren.

This blog was put on hold for awhile because I was fulfilling my own "Sandwich Generation" duties. Between a heavy work schedule, caring for the needs of ailing parents, problems of adult children and caring for grandchildren, I didn't find time for other things, like cleaning my house and writing blogs. Life just does that to you sometimes. What is more important than our relationships, anyway?

Women tend to take on the caregiver role for invalid parents and in-laws, husbands with a chronic illness, children who can't seem to make it independently, grandchildren who are left by working or non-functioning children, even friends and neighbors who are in need. The nurturing trait in women often brings a sincere desire to help, and we may have the feeling that if we don't do it, who will? Or, no one loves them as much as I do, so no one will give them the kind of care I will give them.

Too often, however, a caring woman becomes exhausted trying to do it all, and starts resenting her lot in life, those she cares for, and/or those who could also be helping but aren't. The duties and chores become overwhelming and her own physical and emotional health starts to suffer. She feels trapped in an unending cycle of duties and can't see any way out. The people she is caring for may seem ungrateful or even antagonistic at times. Often, because of the stress, she begins to experience severe fatigue, aches and pains, hormonal imbalances and depressive episodes. I often see caretaker women in my office in this state. Are relationships worth all of this?

Yes, they usually are, but there are always an infinite number of possibilities to bring greater balance into our lives so that we don't allow our own health to suffer because of our caretaking duties. I will give several suggestions here, but I encourage you to write in the comments section with your own experiences and suggestions, so that we can all learn from each other.

  1. Let go of doing it perfectly. We often want to show our love by doing for others what they can't do for themselves, and we want to do it the very best way we can. But usually we can cut back in the time and effort needed if we are able to let go of the need to it perfectly. In all actuality, most of those we care for don't notice the difference when we go the extra mile, and they are just as happy with our "second best" as with our "best."
  2. If you are caring for someone with a chronic illness, exhaust every resource for extra care. Most insurances won't volunteer what they will cover until asked. Get the doctor to write a prescription for an evaluation by a home health care company. They will be able to determine what the insurance will cover, and often it is more than you might believe. It may save you trips to the doctor, physical therapist, etc.
  3. Take at least one day off from your caretaker role every week. Use another willing relative (often we don't realize how much help others will give until we ask), hire a babysitter (no, they won't do as good a job as you do, but your loved one will manage), ask for assistance from your church, call the senior center to find what support they can give, or hire a professional caretaker (sometimes they are not as expensive as you might have believed). We hired a professional caretaker to care for my parents five days a week, and my sister comes in two days a week. That was less expensive than an assisted living center, and my parents are more comfortable in their own home.
  4. Enroll others into assisting with your other responsibilities: shopping, housecleaning, food preparation, washing clothes, etc. Often stores will deliver free or for a small fee when you shop for groceries online. It's ok to spend a little to hire someone to do deep cleaning once a week. Just look at it as an investment in your health.
  5. Know your limits. If you are reaching the end of your rope, it may be time for someone else to take over, or to place them in a nursing home (there are good ones out there, if you keep looking). There may come a time when your children will have to find another babysitter for your beloved grandchildren. Know when to let go, which can be the hardest task of all. It's ok to say no, even when you love them.

We are each here to learn life's lessons. Sometimes we love the most by letting our loved ones deal with things on their own, and work through their own problems and issues, rather than rescuing them every time. I continually have to remind myself of this. I tend to be a rescuer. I find that asking the simple question, each time I am faced with another way to take care of someone, "What is for the highest good?", that usually I can care for them in a balanced and responsible way.

I encourage and welcome any other comments and suggestions. Now, back to making sandwiches :)

Until we meet again,

Dr. Judi