Feeling Blessed


img_1444Thanksgiving is more than the annual national holiday which celebrates a harvest festival. It is family time with an expression of gratitude. I love this holiday because it reminds me of the importance of giving thanks. It renews my goal to make every day a day of thanksgiving. Some days that’s harder than others, but even in the face of life’s challenges there is something to be thankful for.img_1446

This year I’m especially grateful for movement of my shoulder. I know it sounds silly, but when you go months without something and have to work hard to regain it you appreciate the simple movements that previously went unnoticed. I appreciate the education of doctors, nurses and therapists who have developed the skills to help heal and improve our health issues. I’m grateful for the hard work and progress Mark has made through his left hip surgery and therapy. I am thankful for life and realize every day is a bonus day and should not be taken for granted.

img_1448I’m grateful for our comfortable, wheelchair accessible home, which always gives me something to fix up or improve and the space I need to be able to work at home. I appreciate my employment in property management which enables me to pay for all the necessary things in life. I am fortunate to have wonderful bosses and friends in Steve and Rick. I appreciate all they do for me in our business as well as the support in my personal life. They were patient and caring as my shoulder healed and took on some of my responsibilities.

We are blessed to live with Mom and Dad. I am grateful for their continued love and support and thankful we can help each other in all things by living together.

I appreciate my children, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles, who I know I can count on for help at any time or in any situation. They are the foundation for everything we accomplish along with the love and support of neighbors and friends. Many people volunteer their precious time to help us. We are blessed by many people—family, friends and neighbors who love and give service to us.

If you are reading this, I’m thankful for you and your interest in my life.

Gratitude-unlovks-the-fullness-of-life-happy-Thanksgiving

What are you grateful for today?

The Advantages of Gratitude

Gratitude Unlocks.jpgLast Thursday I had the opportunity to speak to the caregivers of the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah support group. The title—Gratitude When You Don’t Feel Grateful.

I’ve been asked, “How long after the accident did it take you to feel grateful?”

gratitude-shortcutsOne of my first thoughts after I realized we had been hit and were pinned inside the wreckage of our car was, I’m grateful the kids aren’t with us. It was on a Saturday afternoon and we needed to make a final decision on which home to purchase. Fortunately, we left our two young children with my parents while we traveled to our three favorite homes one last time before making an offer. Looking at the back seat of the car makes it evident their chance of survival would have been near impossible. During the three months Mark was in a coma, I realized it could’ve been worse had our kids been with us.

I recognized the blessing right from the beginning, but that doesn’t mean I always see the positives and feel grateful. Sometimes my mind stumbles into a pity party where I’m entertaining thoughts of how Mark’s, mine and our children’s lives would have been if the accident never happened. Yes, at times I wish life could have turned out differently.

I suppose it’s human nature to feel this way, but before long I realized what a drag it is. When I recognize I’m staggering in self-pity, I remind myself what a waste of time and energy it is because all the wishing, worrying or feelings of regret do not change the situation. It only brings me down.

Some days are dark and worrisome, but the best way to pull myself out of discouragement and unhappiness is to turn my thoughts around by looking for the positives. Sometimes this is harder to do than other times, but I’ve learned it helps every time. When I consciously focus on the positive, I see the it in more situations. It gets easier with practice and before long my outlook on life changes for the better. I’ve learned I attract what I’m focused on.

As I recognize the positive interactions of family and friends, I can readily appreciate them for the love and support they give. The result is—they’re usually all the more helpful and loving. That isn’t the motivation for appreciating them, it’s just the way it works out.

gratitude-transformsWhen my kids were teenager’s I started a gratitude journal. It helped me get through a rough time. Every night I wrote down five things I was grateful for. Some nights it took a while to think of five things I appreciated. Knowing I needed five things to write each night encouraged me during the day to notice the positive in simple things and take mental note. This practice turned my discouragement into encouragement. It brought inner peace because I was focusing on the good instead of dwelling on the bad.

I don’t believe gratitude always comes naturally, which is another good reason to write down what we’re grateful for. In times of discouragement we can go back and read it. I found that remembrance really does help.

be-thankfulOne evening a few years ago, we were having a birthday celebration with my parents and siblings. The conversation centered on their travel destinations and the wonderful things their grandchildren were accomplishing—two things which are lacking from my life.

My mind traveled to that depressing pity party, with thoughts turned to all the places I’ve never been nor could possibly go to with Mark. I lost focus on how blessed I am to have my siblings who all live nearby and both my parents still alive. For an evening, I forgot how fortunate I am for the love and support we all share with one another. Instead of enjoying with them their experiences, I let ungratefulness take over my heart and mind. grateful-happiness

I didn’t live in thanksgiving that night, yet I know I’m happiest when I do. I believe gratitude is the key to happiness. I remind myself often to count my blessings so I can feel peace and contentment in my life. It works every time.

What hidden advantages do you feel gratitude brings to your life?

 

Life Must Go On

With the tragedy of the car accident and Mark in a coma my life felt like it had stopped. One night Dad drove me to the grocery store to pick up some essential items. It was awkward to be amongst happy and carefree people who were walking up and down the aisles, chatting with another about what they needed to make delicious meals, or what they wanted as a treat. This common environment now seemed outlandish. Weren’t these people aware of the pain and trauma that was so prevalent at the hospital just a block away? I had become used to seeing individuals filled with worry and heartache; it seemed odd to be around healthy and happy people. I felt out of place.

I was grateful our children had school, homework, friends, and activities which kept them busy, yet it was difficult to support all their endeavors. Thankfully, I had family who helped. Near the last day of school there was a party for the children and parents which included dancing. I’ve always loved to dance, but now it took all the strength I could gather and to put a smile on my face a do a line dance with my child.

I bounced back and forth between a world full of tragedy, pain, illness and sorrow at the hospital to another full of pleasure, comfort, good health and happiness at home. I appreciated the reprieve from the hospital, yet it made me uncomfortable. It just didn’t feel right to be away from Mark.

My thirty-second birthday was six weeks after the accident. I wasn’t in the mood for celebrating, but it was a big day despite my feelings. At the hospital, Mark was lifted out of the floatation bed he was in due to a large blood clot in his right leg and strapped into a big white reclining wheelchair for the first time. His eyes were wide open with a terrified looked as they moved him from the bed. I thought he must be frightened by not having control over his body while being moved. He was upright for one hour three separate times that day, which felt like a giant step in the right direction. I even saw him move his fingers while he was sitting up, which brightened my day.

I came home to a kitchen decorated with balloons, cake and happy birthday signs made by the kids. After dinner and cake we were off to Christopher’s first Pinewood Derby Race. My dad had spent hours helping him make his car. I was grateful for the time he took to support and help make this race possible for Christopher. Two days before the accident Mark and I went to the Cub Scout meeting with Christopher where they passed out the pinewood box kit and talked about the race. Mark and Christopher were excited to work on the car together. While driving to Ogden that stormy tragic day, Mark told me all about the cars he’d made as a kid and how he looked forward to helping Christopher with his car. There was no doubt in my mind that Mark was as excited about this Pinewood Derby Race as our son was and the memory of our conversation hung over me like a dark cloud. I knew that if Mark was awake he’d be terribly disappointed he was missing out.

June 1991, Christopher & IExcitement filled the building as parents and children gathered for the big race. Despite the fact I was amongst family and friends, I felt as uncomfortable at the Pinewood Derby Race as I did at the grocery store or the school dance, but I knew life must go on and I didn’t want to deprive our kids of any happiness. I smiled and cheered for Christopher’s car as it zoomed down the track and beat every other car and finally took first place. I was thrilled for him, yet heart-broken for Mark. I watched Christopher get his trophy and we took smiling pictures, yet inside I was crying and I couldn’t help but wonder if Christopher was too. I was delighted that he won, yet grieving for his missing Dad. I felt torn between two different worlds causing opposites in emotions. It was a bitter sweet birthday with milestones happening in both the worlds I was living in. It was also the day I realized that no matter where I was life must go on.

Chris with Grandpa

Chris with Grandpa

Christopher’s winning smile

Christopher recieving 1st place

Receiving 1st place

 

Once again he wins the race.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All bragging set aside. The red car wins by a landslide.

All bragging set aside. The red car wins by a landslide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1991 Pinewood Derby  1st place trophy

1991 Pinewood Derby
1st place trophy

My favorite part of the pinewood derby experience is the next time Christopher saw his dad after the race, he took his prize car and trophy to the hospital and gave them to him. The car and trophy stayed on the nightstand next to Mark’s bed during the many months of his next recovery stage at the rehab hospital. When Mark came home from the rehab hospital, I asked Christopher if he wanted to keep the car and trophy in his room now. He said, “No, I gave them to Dad.” To this day, nearly twenty-four years later, the car and trophy are still on the nightstand next to Mark’s bed. This token of love from a remarkable eight-year-old boy is still appreciated and the memory of it will be cherished forever.

 

Anticipating the New Year

As a child, December was a long month of anticipation and wonder. The excitement in the air nearly took my breath away. I felt gloomy when the Christmas season and school break came to an end. The thought of having to wait another twelve long months or 365 days to feel that kind of joy and excitement was dreadful. Many Christmas’s have come and gone and the month no longer brings a school break, in fact it’s just the opposite.

As an adult, December can feel like a month of endurance. At work it’s a month of year-end bookkeeping and preparations for the new year. It would be a busy month all on its own, but throw in Christmas and all the beautiful decorations, sounds of terrific music, pleasure of parties, delicious baking and delightful shopping because everything is on sale. It’s no wonder we feel exhausted, overwhelmed and often get sick.

Forgive yourself

At the end of the year I always suffer with melancholy. As a child, it was because the Christmas season and break was coming to an end, as an adult it’s because I remember the year’s resolutions I didn’t achieve and other unfulfilled expectations. I’m plagued with wondering how I can better plan for the new year and actually complete my goals.

Don't Compare

 

I commit the sin to often  of comparing myself to others and what they have accomplished. I question why I can’t do better. The antidote to melancholy is optimism and I’m giving myself a healthy dose of it over the next week as I prepare for a new year, new beginnings and a better me.

Give ThanksA change of heart occurs when I reflect on the blessing of family, friends and experiences of the past year with grateful heart. When I’m thankful I find peace with my life and my relationships. This is what December and every other month should feel like—joy, peace, gratitude and goodwill to all mankind. If you are reading this, I thank you for being a part of my life’s journey.

I’d like to share with you my plans for the new year. In the past, Uniting Caregivers has had three categories: Sunday Stories, Tuesday Tips and Thursday Thoughts. I’ve decided to drop the day and have  categories of Stories, Tips and Thoughts. I still plan on posting three times a week, but without the days listed two stories may be posted in a week or two tips, or two thoughts depending on the inspiration that week. If a guest author has written two parts to their story it could be posted simultaneously on a Sunday and then on Tuesday. At least one inspirational story will be posted every week and the follow up tip may be shorter than in the past.

 

 

How to Live in Thanksgiving Daily

Give-Thanks2I’ve noticed people who have a gratitude attitude are the happiest kind of people in the world. It’s a quality which makes them more likable and at peace with themselves. Think about a happy person you know. I’d be willing to bet they are grateful for what they have, look for the best in all circumstances and are a joy to be around. They tend to make others feel better about themselves. Where there is an abundance of gratitude, there is happiness.

Now, think about an unhappy person. Are they resentful and bitter because life didn’t turn out the way they thought it should? You might hear them say something like, “If only I were smarter, had a new car, a college degree or a different job, spouse or parent, then I could be happy.” There are many good reasons for us not to be happy and it’s easy to blame our unhappiness on the things we lack in life. The more we focus on the things we don’t have, the more unhappy and more resentful we become. The lack of gratitude can make us miserable. I know from my own experience I am much happier when I appreciate what I do have rather than concentrating on what I don’t have.

My best example of someone who lives in thanksgiving daily is my husband, Mark. I don’t know of another person who is more grateful, happy and gives more joy to others. I also don’t know anyone who has more reason to be bitter, resentful, or has more cause for deep sadness due to loss of abilities, a beloved career and painful health issues. I know I am lucky to be a caregiver to one who has such a grateful heart. I know many caregivers who are not as fortunate. The inability to appreciate others causes criticism of efforts and does not allow one to acknowledge another’s contributions. My life with Mark is a happy one, largely because he lives in thanksgiving daily. Three ways he shows his appreciation are:

Says “Thank You” Often — Two simple words, yet they are so powerful! Hearing those words is a great payment for the care or deed that is done. Joy and appreciation is felt when I hear those words and it makes my efforts worthwhile.

Writes Thank You Notes — Letters of appreciation are a keepsake and tangible evidence of gratitude for what has been given or done. I have hundreds of such notes written on regular lined paper in three ring binders, which I treasure.

Compliments — He notices the work that goes into a good meal and lets me know how much he enjoyed it. He tells me when he thinks I look nice or likes my haircut or outfit. He is constantly looking for and stating the positive.

I’ve learned from Mark that expressing appreciation brings happiness not only to yourself, but those you are grateful for. It also lessens stress and anger, which makes you a healthier person. When we focus on our blessings, we see more blessings because our attention has been turned in a positive direction.

thanksgivingdailyfinishTry making a gratitude list and read it when you’re sad and feeling ungrateful. Some general ideas to help you get started:

  • List people
  • Physical abilities
  • Material possessions
  • Spiritual gifts
  • Nature
  • Things about today
  • Places on earth
  • Modern-day inventions
  • Foods you are grateful for.

How long can you make your list?

How would your life improve if you lived in thanksgiving daily?

The Benefits of Support Groups and Conferences

BIAU Conference

Photo from Brian Injury Alliance of Utah Newsletter BIAU 2013 Conference

I haven’t forgotten the first time I was encouraged to attend a class on understanding brain injury at the hospital. I thought, no way. I’m overwhelmed as it is and I don’t need one more thing to do. Besides I’m dealing with the effects of brain injury on a daily basis and this is not a class I want to sign up for.

I went to my first class kicking and screaming inside, I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to deal with this injury nor do I want my husband to have it. All the wishing it wasn’t so and disliking the situation didn’t change the fact that Mark had a traumatic brain injury and I had to learn to deal with it. I came to the conclusion I’d better learn all I could to help prepare me for the time he woke up from his coma. I wish I could say the things I learned in those classes made it less frightening, but I don’t think it did. However, I did find comfort in being in a room with others who were dealing with the same devastation I was and the information was helpful.

Over the past twenty-three years Mark and I have continued to go to support groups and the annual conferences. We haven’t gone every year, but when we do go we benefit from other peoples’ experiences and knowledge, as well as the resources that are shared. Now days it’s easy to look up information on the internet, but then you’re missing out on connecting with real people. Whatever health issue you or your loved one is dealing with, I hope there is a support group, classes and conferences that relate to the problem. The human experience plus the information and resources I’ve gained through these avenues has made the time invested worthwhile.

As an example, the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah had their annual family and professional conference on October 24, 2014. This year it was held at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center. The conference was full of information, with two sessions offering four classes to choose from. It began at 8 am with registration and a light breakfast. There was an hour to eat, look at exhibits from the sponsors and pick up information from the resource tables. Always a favorite is the silent auction. There were tables full of homemade items, books signed by the author and even airline tickets to bid on. The silent auction and resource tables last throughout the day and can be viewed and bid on between the sessions, with the final bidding after the second session.

This year’s conference theme was Life Will Go On. Every year the theme is different and after breakfast a keynote speaker bases their talk on the theme before breaking up into the first session of classes. After the first session there was a delicious lunch and recognition awards given to five individuals for their contribution to the brain injury community. The categories were: Survivor of Brain Injury, Family Member, Educator, Professional and Lifetime contribution.

After lunch and the awards, the second session begins. Afterwards, the final bids are collected for the silent auction. This is a favorite at the conference and all of the raised funds from the auction go to serving the Utah brain injured community.

Last, but not least, there is a panel discussion. Many people do not stay for this last hour, however, I have always found it to be very informative and I enjoy the interaction of the discussion. The panel usually consists of four to six people who sometimes are all professionals or family members to discuss the conference theme. I’m grateful for the knowledge shared by their experience and take away so much good information. I leave with renewed hope and support from the conference. On a daily basis I can be consumed with worry and overwhelmed with responsibility and my world can become inward and small. It’s helpful to get out and see others in a related situation and it always builds a desire within to reach out and help another. There is strength in numbers and encouragement that comes from being with others who are dealing with the same chronic illness or injury.

You Raise Me Up

You Raise Me Up

April 27, 1991

Shortly after the dreaded phone calls, my brother, Don, and sister, Rosanne, arrived at the hospital carrying a folding chaise lounge. Always thinking ahead and being the protective big sister, Rosanne came prepared with something for me to sleep on if needed. Appreciating how lucky I am to have all my family live close by me and able to rearrange their Saturday evening plans to be with me, I felt loved, supported and secure with them uniting around me.

We got permission for all seven of us to go into Mark’s room together that evening. Tears were shed by each family member at the sight of a young man, who at the beginning of the day was full of life and excitement for a new job and the adventure of moving to a different city. Now he lay comatose, entangled in tubes that were connected to the equipment keeping him alive. Dad and my three brothers laid their hands on Mark’s head and gave him a blessing. Dad’s words were soothing and the spirit I felt was calming. I remember many of the words spoken, but most vividly I recall the love, concern and the comfort I felt. With Mark’s rotating bed stilled for the blessing, the pumping noises of the other equipment and strange I.C.U. smells seemed to disappear from the room.  In the midst of my darkest hours arose tender mercies. Surrounded by my family, the room became my sanctuary.

McKay-Dee Hospital was wonderful to us. They offered a room for us to sleep in at the Ronald McDonald House close by the hospital. My parents and I stayed in a room with a queen size bed and recliner chair. With my broken collarbone I couldn’t breathe lying down anyway so I slept in the recliner. My sister took back her chaise lounge realizing we had adequate sleeping arrangements and my siblings went home for the evening.

Like a wild fire, the word was spreading, leaving a painful scorch on all of our loved one’s hearts. The next day, being Sunday, many neighbors, friends, cousins, aunts and uncles gathered at the hospital. They were not allowed in the Intensive Care Unit so they shared their love and support with me in the waiting room. Mark’s Mom and Uncle Glynn flew in from Arkansas on Monday and his sister’s, Karen and Jerrie, flew in from Washington. They stayed a few days at the Ronald McDonald house with us. I was in awe at the number of people who came. Each person’s love and support lifted me up and added light to my days. They helped bring me out of the dark and deep hole I had fallen into, which gave me purpose and encouragement to move on and look upward.

I thought Mark would want me to go to his new employer, Robertson Electric, personally to let them know about the car accident and his condition. Dad and Steve went to the junkyard on Sunday to retrieve Mark’s tools and clipboard from the car. I looked in the clipboard to find his time card and the address of the office. Early Monday morning Dad drove me there and I met Mark’s employer for the first time. I explained that due to Mark’s condition, I didn’t know when he would be back to this new job he was so excited about. Mr. Robertson was kind and compassionate about the situation and told me not to worry. The job would still be there whenever Mark was well enough to work. I handed him Mark’s clipboard and he told me if there was anything he could do to help not to hesitate to call. For the next several weeks they called the hospital to check on Mark’s condition and sent him flowers.

The critical twenty-four hours turned into forty-eight and then seventy-two. As the days turned into weeks, my family devised a plan to encourage and enable me to go home on weeknights to be with our children, Christopher and Katie. Each brother and my brother-in-law, Klint, took an assigned night Monday through Thursday to stay overnight with Mark. They drove over sixty miles to go to the hospital right after work and in the morning they’d drive right back to their various workplaces. After I got the kids off to school, Mom would drive me to the hospital. She spent nearly every day there with me and then drove me home in the afternoon. Friday through Sunday I spent the days and nights there alone with Mark while the kids stayed at my parent’s home. Sunday Mom and Dad would bring the kids to the hospital for a visit then Sunday night, Dad stayed with Mark while Mom drove the kids and I home. Without a car and because of my broken collarbone I wasn’t able to drive for six weeks so I was totally dependent on my parents for transportation.

Every family member pitched in to help me as well as the children through this strenuous time. Friends and extended family drove many miles to see us while others flew from places too far to drive. People from different churches prayed for us. I felt the love and support of many and learned how caring and kind even strangers are. “You raised me up: to more than I can be” and I am forever grateful for you.