Caregivers and Harleys: The Art of Letting Go

I had lunch yesterday with a woman I had met while her husband was going through an extremely rough recovery from cancer. They were a young married couple when he was diagnosed and she had been there, right by his side, throughout the rigorous protocol that ultimately saved his life. We spent lunch comparing notes about what we had both gone through and learned during the medical crises that devastated our families’ lives. We talked most about letting go—moving from patient advocate, decision-maker, head of household, and holder of hope to a time when our caregiving was no longer needed. Her husband had recovered, though with some ongoing medical issues. My son was thankfully healthy and cancer free, but my husband had not survived. Karen (not her name) and I talked about how surprisingly difficult it had been to shift from caregiver superwoman to just mom or wife. Though we admitted that we had never wanted to assume that heroine role, we both found it tough to give up the outfit. With that cape, those cool boots, and a clearly marked “S” on our chests we had discovered new strengths, resilience, and “grit” that had never been completely claimed in the past. And then there was the admiration we got, every time we jumped out of the phone booth in the service of our guys. It was hard, gut wrenching, scary work—pushing back when a treatment didn’t seem in their best interests, or sometimes just curling up next to them, trying to bring some comfort. Having people recognize both the difficulty and bravery we had to call on to...

Going From Bad To Better, Part 1

In my last blog, “How to Avoid Going From Bad To Worse in a Crisis” I called out four actions that can make your current crisis even more dire than it already is. Now here are some ideas to that can make your situation more manageable: Get grounded before you make any decisions. Spend some time getting back in your body. Then solicit input and take some time thinking about all of the implications of the decisions that you are about to make. Unless an immediate, life threatening situation exists, there is usually time to sleep on a choice or get the perspective that a bit of distance or a second opinion can bring. For more ideas on how to get grounded, check out Six Ways To Find Firm Ground in a Crisis. Reach out and let others in. Find a way to connect with those people who will support you in the ways that you need during these tough times. And while you may have your own “first responders”–those people who are tuned into you and your life, ready and willing to help—spend some time thinking about what other skills, expertise, or counsel will be most helpful to you given the circumstances you are facing. For example, a client going through a divorce found that she needed more than just a lawyer and her usual circle of friends. Adelle found that a community of women who had survived and even thrived post divorce was also critical to her recovery. Once you’ve strategized about who you need, find a way to bring that into your life. How To Build...

Avoid Going From Bad to Worse in a Crisis

“No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse.” Randy Pausch But, as Randy, author of the book“The Last Lecture,” also pointed out, “at the same time, it is often within your power to make them better.” When things are going badly, what do people do that makes things worse? They move too quickly—Quick resolution of an issue can be a wonderful thing. Our cinema action heroes are known for their lightning fast responses to terrible situations. And while they rarely make situations worse in the movies, in real life making a decision when tired, overwhelmed, or scared often does. They isolate—Research on coping behaviors in a severe crisis points out the danger in retreating from support. In isolation, fears often grow as does depression and loneliness. While it is normal to pull in to process or deal with the flood of emotions and information that can come our way during a crisis, staying in that bunker of withdrawal can ultimately make the tough times even more difficult to navigate. They let the negative overwhelm everything else. When a disaster occurs in our lives, we can be engulfed by the emotions, logistics, and disruption—none of which is likely to feel positive. Yet spending our time thinking or talking about how unfair the situation is yields only more negative feelings. For several months, I had the improbable opportunity to take both my husband and son to their respective weekly chemotherapy treatments. As I sat in the waiting room with my husband, I noticed how rarely the adult cancer patients made contact with one another other than the barest of...

Angels Among Us

Oh I believe there are angels among us. Sent down to us from somewhere up above. They come to you and me in our darkest hours. To show us how to live, to teach us how to give. lyrics by Becky Hobbs, sung by the group Alabama. In August of 2004, I was invited to conduct a workshop in Shenzhen, China. The morning of the workshop, while breakfasting in the restaurant of my hotel, my purse was stolen. In it was my money, cell phone, credit cards, driver’s license and most important, my passport and visa. While the staff of the five-star hotel searched the hotel and restaurant premises, I stood in the restaurant, in shock, desperately trying to wake up from a traveler’s worst nightmare. My mind immediately began to create the list of what would have to be done to be able to leave two days later on my flight.It seemed almost impossible–particularly as I spoke exactly three words of Mandarin Chinese. Stories of Chinese bureaucracy and stereotypes of Asian indifference, along with a fear of disappointing my important clients curled through my brain. My stomach clinched, my anxiety escalated and I kept forgetting to breathe. It was in the midst of my panic that the first of many angels, Western and Chinese, appeared. Almost immediately the concierge—a wonderful young man named Paul–was assigned to accompany me through the logistical and legalistic labyrinth that leaving the country would require. Next, one of my clients opened his wallet and handed me the equivalent of $200 so that I had spending money on me. As I returned to my...

Five Ways to Cope When A Crisis First Happens

When you’ve been dumped unceremoniously into a crisis, it’s much like being thrown unexpectedly into an ocean. You sink for at least a few minutes into those dark, briny waters, disoriented and confused. Then, some instinct comes rushing in that causes you to fight your way back to the surface. You panic and thrash around before you remember again how to keep your head above the waves, and to breathe. How can you cope, or help someone else do so, those first few days after a tragedy or crisis has occurred? Find someone to hold on to: Call a friend, a loved one, a trusted advisor, or family member. Make sure that it is someone who you can count on for solid advice and assistance. You will want to build a team of helpers later(How To Build a Community of Support that Rocks) but right now, reach out to someone who will help you navigate those first scary hours or days. Process what you can when you can: When you receive a shock to your emotional, mental, or physical system, the brain and body go into survival mode—focusing the body on the three options our primitive brains had: fight, flight, or flee. You may find trying to understand complex or lengthy information almost impossibly hard until you regain some sense of equilibrium. Don’t be afraid to ask people to repeat the information or give you more time to digest it. Make only the decisions you have to: Particularly with serious medical diagnoses and other life-altering crises, there can be a multitude of determinations that you may be asked to...

Building a Community of Support that Rocks!

Support systems, necessary to our survival in normal situations, become essential during times of crisis. Most simply, when our world falls apart because of a job loss, divorce, life-threatening illness or other seismic events, we need 1) help getting things done, 2) particular kinds of knowledge or expertise that we do not have but is crucial to resolving the crisis, 3) emotional and 4) spiritual support. Yet finding and keeping the help we need to get through the crisis can be difficult. Here are some guidelines that can assist you in doing so: Gather your support thoughtfully and intentionally. Take a few moments to think about what support you really need. Make a to do list of what has to be done, without thinking about the “who” part of the equation. What is on there that you dread taking on? Where do you feel clueless? What are the problems that need to be solved or the decisions that need to be made? What kinds of expertise or knowledge will be critical in understanding the options–costs, benefits, and potential consequences? Is it expertise you don’t have, information you can’t get access to, a listening ear, or someone to remind you of who you are beneath the emotions and details you have to handle? Now determine who can provide what you need. Don’t try to find one person to fit all the needs; rather, make a list of people who have a portion of those qualities. Be responsible for shaping the support you get. One of the most valuable things you can do when pulling together a support team is to...
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