Nurturing Relationships

Humans are social beings and no one is totally self-sufficient. As much as we strive to be independent and admire those who appear to be, it’s sobering to realize in order to accomplish some things we need help. When I read, listen or ponder on my own or other’s life experiences, I realized how much we need one another to succeed. As humbling as the fact is, it also encourages me to reach out and give back to others.

Greg & Laura LakeGreg and Laura are wonderful examples of giving back to others. They shared their story with us this past week. Laura talked about some of the mistakes she’d made by saying, “I am fiercely independent and a stubborn woman. In the beginning I turned family and friends away. I said, ‘don’t fly up here, I’m fine’. Then, ‘we don’t need meals, I’ve got this covered.’”

“By turning help down, I alienated the very people Greg and I needed the most. I felt neglected, isolated, abandoned, ignored, lonely, unsupported, disrespected and misunderstood. When I needed family and friends the most, they were all gone.”

How often do we turn away our friends and family because we don’t know how to accept help or because we want to appear stronger than we really are? It’s much more enjoyable to give rather than receive help. When our lives are out of control, it’s scary and we hope we can make it better by managing things on our own. We may not understand ourselves what we need or how others can help so we push the people we want in our lives away.

The words of John Donne (1572-1631) a Jacobean poet and preacher came to mind, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”

When tragedy happens it’s hard to think about how it’s affecting our family and friends. We may be so wrapped up in our own worry and grief we are blind to the distress it has on others. They may feel left out or don’t know what to do or say.  They may not know how to help if we’re not open and honest with them.

I appreciated Laura’s advice to let people into our lives by letting them help and also by reaching out to others. She said, “It will reward you and them at a time when they are lost as well.  It will strengthen your relationships, not erode them.  You need help – take it!  They need to help!  Give them the opportunity! I challenge you to SAY YES! Learn from our mistakes and say YES!  YES I need help.  YES I could use that dinner.  YES I would love to join that group or club!  YES I could use a ride to my Dr.’s office or therapy appointment.  YES I would love to go on a walk, or to have you push me while you go on a walk.  Take a chance on making a new friend or rebuilding a relationship. As you do, opportunities, love and warmth will envelope you and your human relationships will grow!”

Get Well CardsI learn so much from others and appreciate my own life experiences. Today, in church, I witnessed many people nurturing their relationship with my mother, who has been too sick with back and hip pain to attend church for four months. Under better health circumstances, she has given so much love and service and is a great example to me of building friendships by reaching out to others. Our neighbors and friends ask me often how she is doing and I try to relay their concern to her. Since we live in the same home and attend the same church, I was given many cards to give to her expressing their love and concern. The children also made a big get well poster for her and wrote notes and signed it in their primary class. My mother’s spirit Get Well Primaryis raised up by the thoughtfulness of so many. Seeing the love that others have for my mother also lifted my spirit. I’m grateful for all the wonderful examples I see and have felt in my own life of nurturing relationships. Today, I realized it can be as simple as writing a note to someone.

 

In your life what personal acts illustrate nurturing a relationship? What effect did it have on you when you were receiving or giving the nurturing?

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What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger, Part 2

I met Greg and Laura Nordfelt at the 2013 Brain Injury Conference, just two years after Greg’s motorcycle crash. I’ve enjoyed our friendship and watching this couple get stronger through their traumatic experience. They spoke last week at a combined Survivor and Caregivers Support Group sharing what they’ve learned.

Written by Laura Nordfelt

Greg & Laura-landing pad.pngThe medical helicopter which came to life-flight Greg was very old and small. In fact, half of his body was in the nose of the aircraft. The ventilator was broken and one of the paramedics was trying to bag Greg (it seemed sporadically) while trying to preform many other tasks. I mentioned to her I was an EMT and asked her if I could do the bagging for her. She agreed and I continued on every 4 seconds like I was trained to do in school. The flight seemed to take forever (I worried we were going to Canada!) and only looked out the window once or twice. When we started to land, all I saw was a “tough shed” structure on top of a roof.  Medical people ran out to get Greg and down an elevator we all went and into the Emergency Department. By the time I felt comfortable enough to leave his side, I asked, “Where are we?” When they told me Coeur d’Alene, ID, I told them I needed to take Greg to Salt Lake City, but the doctor told me he would not survive the flight. I slumped down against the wall and lost it.

I made mistakes. I am fiercely independent and a stubborn woman. In the beginning I turned family and friends away. I said “don’t fly up here, I’m fine”. Then, “we don’t need meals, I’ve got this covered.” Not only did I watch him crash, but I kept him alive for 45 minutes until the paramedics arrived. I was a mess! I had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and I was in a cocoon as much as Greg was in a coma.

An Executive Vice President from Greg’s work came to the hospital to visit and I cut her off down the hall and visited with her. There’s no way I was going to let her see the condition Greg was in. I was so worried that he was going to lose his job. I posted a sign “Family Only” on Greg’s door at the hospital. Visitors had to check with me or the nurse before entering his room. I took the phone off the wall and put it in a drawer and took his cell phone away from him. He wanted to call his office to “check on things” all the time. I was worried he’d say something inappropriate.

Greg & Laura-tableWhen Greg left the hospital, I sent out a message on Facebook telling our friends that Greg needed time to rehab and recover so if they could wait to visit, that would be much appreciated. I really only meant it for acquaintances, thinking our close friends wouldn’t take it to heart. A few months down the road some dear friends of ours called and asked if they could bring dinner and come for a visit. I was thrilled! Frankly I had wondered why they hadn’t called sooner.

While we were setting up dinner, she told me they would have come sooner, but wanted to respect my wishes of giving us our space. I said, “Oh, I didn’t mean you guys!” I realized then that I had alienated the very people Greg and I needed the most. Greg’s co-workers later expressed the same emotions. If only they’d known what to do. They wanted to help in any way, but we pushed them away.

I own a business and I needed someone to sit with Greg or run him to therapy appointments, but I said “NO, I’m fine”. I really wasn’t fine, but I wanted to be and I didn’t know how to let them help. Most of it was my fault, but some of it was not.  Caregivers leave the hospital with their tool bags pretty much empty. I had to earn my hammer, saw and screwdriver the hard way. I felt neglected, isolated, abandoned, ignored, lonely, unsupported, disrespected and misunderstood. When I needed family and friends the most, they were all gone.

Greg & Laura-walkIn order to heal, I had to get outside of myself. I started the first ever Caregiver Group in Utah as a survival mechanism. As much as I wanted to give back to the community, I needed other caregivers. As I spent time listening to their stories, I felt not so overcome by my own problems. I felt empathy and compassion. When “in the moment” of caring for caregivers and survivors, their hurdles felt more important than my own. When we get caught up in these “feel good” experiences, we don’t need anything in return. I also joined the Board of the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah. This is my passion now!

Another way I healed is a couple of years ago a friend asked me to join her book club. I love to read, but I was scared at first because I only knew her and no one else. I went one time and almost did not go back, but forced myself to hang in there. These women are now very near and dear to my heart. I’ve read many wonderful books which I never would have picked up on my own. The social setting has its benefits as well. We trade off hosting dinner so I’m learning new recipes. I work on my listening skills and forget my problems for a few hours. By the very nature of getting together with women, it forces me to get out of my pajamas. Therefore, I get semi-dressed up, put on my makeup and lipstick and wear my fun jewelry. All of this is very good for my soul!

Thank you, Laura, for sharing your experiences and what you’ve learned. Friedrich Nietzsche was right, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  I see that in Greg and Laura’s life and hope you see that truth in your own life.

What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger, part 1

A German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, actually said it more eloquently: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” I thought this title was fitting for the couple I’m highlighting this week. I met Greg and Laura Nordfelt at the 2013 Brain Injury Conference, just two years after Greg’s motorcycle crash. I’ve enjoyed our friendship and watching this couple get stronger through their traumatic experience

Written by Greg Nordfelt

Greg headshotI am a three time Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor (TBI). By looking at my picture, you’ve already noticed I have a huge forehead. Many have told me I could rent space out on it as a billboard. Well it’s also a magnet to immovable objects. That’s why I’ve had three TBI’s. The first was in high school when I was skiing at Alta. I fell on a mogul run and hit the post of a sign that ironically said, “SLOW SKIING”. I hit it head on with the left side on my forehead. The second time I was racing heavy bicycles in England downhill on the wrong side of the road. I didn’t make the turn at the bottom and my front tire hit the guard rail. I hit a lamp post head first, again with the left side of my forehead. The third time I crashed my motorcycle into a bed of Lava Rocks and, again, I hit them, you guessed it, with the left side of my forehead. I am an adrenaline junky, but unfortunately my forehead had a crazy attraction to all of those immovable objects which eventually caught up to me.

Last August was our 5 year anniversary of my accident. We drove to Coeur d’Alene, this time in a car, to meet with Kootenai Health’s executives, two surgeons, and the critical care team that save my life. This was my first time to meet them consciously. I wanted to thank them individually, face to face, and hug them so they would know how grateful I am for what they did for me and my family!

Greg & Laura-Gala

2016 Greg & Laura, Festival of Trees

The press showed up and articles were written. We were on the cover of magazines. They asked us to be their “Spokespeople” for their Festival of Trees. It’s a black tie fund raising Gala.  They asked us and we agreed to help them set a donation record. They were expanding their Emergency Department and Operating Room, the two areas that saved my life. They called us the “talent”. Put us in wardrobe and makeup. They ran out of spray for my face and said I’m “Ruddy” and “Scaly”! I’ve crashed into too many immovable objects and my “talent” and “cover” days are over! We helped them set the record they asked for and raised over half a million dollars!

My primary focus after I got home from the hospital was keeping my marriage with Laura because the TBI divorce rate is huge at 70%. My second focus was keeping my family together. Everything else I had was intently driven into relearning how to speak, read, write and walk again in Neuro Rehab. I worked harder than they asked me to so I could get my job back!

Unfortunately, I lost most of my friends and communities. They became the casualties of brain injury. As a survivor, I ruminate, isolate, avoid loud noise, bright colors, confusion, strangers and crowds. I fatigue easily.

As a result, I was no longer the late night party animal I used to be. I wasn’t as apt to go on long road trips on a whim. I avoided situations where I would get over stimulated and fatigued – the exact opposite of my old self.

I woke up one day after fighting to recover and realized I was a newer version of my old self and I had lost the human connections I once had. The good news is our neuro rehab physicians and therapists not only helped me remap my brain, but gave me tools which helped me nurture my most valuable relationships. Now it was up to me to reach out to friends and family and hold fast to the human connections that were dear to me.
On my second outpatient speech therapy session I learned my biggest lesson after my accident and it had nothing to do with learning how to talk again.  It had everything to do with being taught how to nurture the most important relationship I had – my marriage! I showed up complaining about having my first disagreement with Laura since the accident.  Remember I didn’t have my wits about me yet and could barely speak, so disagreement was a huge stretch!  I sat down across the table from Kim with a huff.

Greg & Laura-landing pad.png

2016, Greg & Laura Coeur d’Alene Hospital Landing Pad

“What’s wrong?” Kim asked. I tried to explain what happened the night before with Laura. After a few minutes she said, “Greg I’ve heard enough. Where’s Laura?”

“In the car,” I said.

“You need to stand back up in your walker, walk to your car and ask her nicely to come and stand next to you.” Then say these words to Laura.  I’m sorry.  I love you.  Thank you for all you are doing every day to take care of me and then HUG her.

This was the most important thing I learned in all of my therapy, by far!  It was an awakening moment for me. I learned that day I was a traumatic brain injury survivor and others were working their butts off to take care of me.  And, I need to thank them – often.

Thank you Greg for sharing and to your therapist, Kim, who told you what caregivers need to hear often. You are an inspiration and definitely stronger by your experience!

Greg had a 35 year career with Zions Bank and was Senior Vice President before the accident. Now he is a motivational speaker and a professional member of the National Speakers Association. The year 2016 was a big year for Greg as he was the Utah Speech and Hearing Association’s (USHA) Ambassador was awarded Survivor of the Year by the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah (BAIU) in October. He is a mentor and volunteer with Neuro Rehab patients and caregivers at IMC and is writing a Memoir expected to be published in 2018.

 To see Greg’s website visit: www.gregnordfelt.com

On Wednesday, Laura’s will share her perspective.

Where to Find Support

Support gearsWhen Mark was in a coma twenty-six years ago, the hospital provided a class once a week to discuss the effects of traumatic brain injury. Hating the position I was in and the information I now needed, I continued to drag my overwhelmed self into class every week. I wasn’t ready for the information, but I continued to go to the class and read the material they provided because I knew I had to know what might be ahead of us. I felt like I was just going through the motions, but it helped prepare me. Being with others who were in a comparable frightened state brought solace. Through our similar feelings and circumstances, empathy was found.

Months later at the rehab center there was a monthly support group, which Mark and I attended together. I felt comfort associating with others who were experiencing like situations. There is consolation when you realize you’re not isolated from society.

In the past, I hadn’t heard of a support group especially for caregivers, nor did I feel I had the time to participate in one. I knew there was a need, but finding the time is difficult if not impossible for some caregivers. That’s why I started Uniting Caregivers, which includes stories, tips and thoughts for online support.

My good friend, Laura Nordfelt, had a different vision. She saw the need to actually meet and strengthen each other by sharing experiences. She started Caring for the Caregiver shortly after I started Uniting Caregivers in October 2013. They meet monthly at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah and she’s done a marvelous job picking topics for caregivers. Laura asked me several times during the past three years to join forces since we are both passionate about supporting caregivers. I’ve given a few presentations to the group, but really didn’t know how I could add another item on my overloaded plate, even though it looked delicious and tempting to so.

This group meets at the same time the survivors do so I didn’t have to worry about Mark while I was at another meeting. I also belong to two writing groups; I enjoy the encouragement and information shared amongst authors. Support groups enhance my life and meeting face-to-face deepens relationships.

I decided it was time to juggle my schedule and join forces with Laura last November. I’m excited about the New Year and the presenters we have lined up and will share more of that information in upcoming newsletters.

Support-Stronger TogetherI still realize how hard it is for some caregivers to make time for a support group meeting. Since my mission is to encourage and help others realize they are part of a special society, I’ve decided to write monthly newsletters. I’ll share information and notes from the support group meetings I attend and list others around the Salt Lake Valley. I will include this newsletter on Uniting Caregivers. If you’d like to follow the blog, enter your email address on the website and receive notifications of new posts by email.

If you prefer just a monthly newsletter, please email Barbara@UnitingCaregivers.com. Type “subscribe to newsletter” in the subject line and you will receive a monthly newsletter with upcoming events and information on support groups.

March 2017 Newsletter <<<Click for PDF

What has been your experience with support groups?

 

My Broken Habit

writingloveI can’t believe it’s been over three months since I’ve written on Uniting Caregivers. I’ve missed it and the therapeutic nature writing is for me, but as with any good habit, they are hard to start and easy to break. Why is the opposite true with bad habits? They’re too easy to start and hard to break. Now that I’ve broken my writing habit, I’m struggling to know where and how to restart.

A lot has happened in the past few months. December is always a crazy month with it being the end of the year and the holidays thrown in the mix with related parties. It’s joyful and stressful all wrapped up at the same time. This year my mom, who is the supreme organizer and chief executive of all our family gatherings, was not feeling well so my siblings and I tried to step up to the task. We enjoyed our time together, but nobody can fill my mother’s shoes.

Arthritis and a bad hip are keeping my mother in constant pain and making it very difficult for her to move. Using a walker has been a hard recommendation for her to follow, but for safety sake’s she reluctantly agreed. My mother has always been the ultimate caregiver to those around her, yet it’s difficult for her to accept help from others. Switching roles is a hard transition for all of us, but there isn’t a better alternative than to accept health problems and make the best out of life challenges. Therapy and cortisone shots are her best hope now and she’s doing both.

Dad works hard to keep up with his new household responsibilities in addition to all his old ones. Assisting Mom with cooking meals and doing laundry along with driving to every doctor and therapy appointment can be strenuous. Living in the same household with them has been a blessing and I help as much as I can along with four wonderful siblings who all live nearby. Unfortunately, Dad recently developed pneumonia. We’ve all stepped up a little more to help out and as our family works together, our love and appreciation grows stronger.

Caregiving comes in all sorts of intensity sizes and experiences. Soon after Thanksgiving, our twenty-year-old, outdoor cat became very sick. I love all animals and have had many in my lifetime. Several years ago I started suffering with asthma and my complete dependence on breathing and the adverse impact that animals have on my airways made it necessary for me to love them at a distance. What I wish could be indoors had to be outdoors and as our beloved pets passed on, we haven’t replaced them.

Sammy

Sammy, February 2017

Sammy is a beautiful Siamese cat with more than nine lives. He has stayed with us longer than either of our two children, who both left home at eighteen years. He isn’t cherished more than our children, but still cherished for being a loyal friend day in and day out for a very long time. When I pulled our van into the garage, which is also Sammy’s apartment and he didn’t come out to greet us, I was worried. I found him in a corner looking distraught and unloved with his matted hair. I grabbed his hairbrush and with the first gentle brush stroke he nearly fell over. I put him in his bed and brought it in the house. He lay motionless for most of the night, which I know because I tried to sleep on the couch by his bed with one eye continually on him. I expected him to die that night.

I don’t know for sure what happened to Sammy, there was no blood or noticeable injury, but I suspected a cat fight. There had been a black cat hanging around, which Mark named Spook Impostor after a similar adored black cat we had thirty-five years ago. This particular night we saw him leaving the yard as we drove in.

The next day Katie helped me give Sammy a bath and we inspected his body for wounds. We did find a couple of puncture wounds by his right shoulder, but they didn’t appear to be bad. Days went by where he only woke up to eat and to use the litter box. I continued daily breathing treatments and shed many tears because I didn’t expect he’d live much longer and it would be the end of the pet era of my life.

Some family and friends suggested I put him down. I had to do that eight years ago with our cat, Figaro and that tied my stomach up in knots along with giving me a bad asthma attack from the vets office and all the animal dander in the air. Since Sammy didn’t seem to be suffering in pain, I wanted him to go naturally.

Nearly four months later, I continue to give Sammy hospice care. He’s had a cyst fill with infection, drain and heal, then come back four times now. He has gained weight and strength, only to lose it again. It’s a roller-coaster ride, but I want to care for him as an expression of my appreciation for his long-time companionship.

Dad &amp; Sammy

Dad with Sammy December 2016

Amazingly, my asthma is doing better. I rarely need breathing treatments now. We did get an air purifier, which I’m sure has helped my allergies, along with hypoallergenic wipes I use on him almost daily. I’m enjoying this time with Sammy and he is the perfect house cat. He’s too old to jump up on furniture or counters. I know his days are numbered and I enjoy every day we have with him.

Aging in any life is hard. As I try to help and support my loved ones through it, my life is enriched. So as much as I enjoy writing, providing for the needs and cares of my family will come first while I try to mend my broken writing habit.