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.

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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?

 

Feeling Lucky

st-patricks-dayI appreciate Christine Scott sharing her story over the past five weeks of growing up with her mentally disabled sister and the challenges they faced as a family. It’s been insightful and very helpful for me while Mark has been recovering from his second total hip replacement.

We’ve been at the rehab center for the past seven weeks and we’re looking forward to returning home on Saturday. This second battle of recovery has been easier and harder. Easier because we knew what to expect and Mark was in better physical condition to start with.  Harder because we knew what lay ahead of us and right from the start we were still tired from the first surgery.

We were tempted to wait awhile until our vivid memory of the surgery and rehab had dimmed. We moved forward with the original plan because we were anxious to get it behind us and we didn’t want the therapists who worked with Mark on the first recovery to forget what they’d learned about him the first go around. We saw more pros than cons in doing it sooner rather than later, which meant there were six months in between the left and right hip surgeries.

It was a good decision. We’re glad to have it behind us and fortunate to have the same therapists. Their previous experience working with Mark and knowing his physical limitations and capabilities have proven to be beneficial. We’re leaving the rehab center after 52 days rather than the 60 days it took with the first rehabilitation.

We’re happy with his progress and the new range and mobility he now has with both hips done. Last August, I wrote an article, A Man with True Grit, which is my favorite way to describe Mark. He reconfirms his grit daily as he works hard through painful therapy. Since I’ve watched and encouraged Mark through rehabilitation for nearly twenty-five years, the pain is both heartbreaking and tiresome. It’s easy to wonder why it has to be so hard.

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Sam & Mark with their crazy hair hats

One of the benefits of being in a care facility is that we are surrounded by people with similar struggles. Most of the patients here are overcoming a knee, hip or shoulder replacement. A few have a more serious struggle like cancer or a stroke. As I get to know each patient, my heart goes out to them and I rejoice in their progress conquering their individual health challenges. We’re encircled by people with true grit and a few of them are still here from our first stay and feel like family now.

Mark wasn’t the perfect candidate for total hip replacements and we were told it would be a tough recovery for him. He had several tests to determine whether it was even a possibility. Every test revealed a new problem such as severe degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis and scoliosis of the spine. The results were discouraging and overwhelming. The bone density test revealed he was a high risk for a break.

The orthopedic surgeon gave Mark only a 50% chance of the surgery being successful. Mark replied, “I’ve beaten lesser odds,” and wanted to go through with the surgeries despite the risks. Mark’s continuing optimism and determination for betterment is one of the reasons why I love and support him so much. He’s taught me you don’t have to be a cowboy to be a man with true grit.

If you’re old enough, you may remember one of my favorite John Wayne movies made in the 1969, True Grit. The fearless, U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn, was hired by a determined young girl, Mattie Ross, to find the man who murdered her father and fled with the family savings. Rooster was cantankerous and drank too much, but his shooting ability was flawless. He was known as a man with true grit.

The scene that runs through my head as Mark valiantly works in therapy is the one where Rooster rides his horse into an open area and faces alone the gang of four outlaws he’s been tracking down for days.

One of the outlaws shouts, “What’s your intention Rooster? Do you think one against four is a dog-fall?”

Rooster hollers back with sincere determination.“I mean to kill you in one minute or see you hang in Fort Smith at Judge Barker’s convenience. Which one will it be?”

True GritThe gang unwilling to surrender to this one-eyed, pot-bellied marshal moves forward on horseback.

Rooster puts the horse’s bridle reins in his mouth, drawing his rifle in one hand and his shotgun in the other as he charges towards the four men, shooting with both guns.

Despite the unlikely odds and with one heart-stopping mishap, he does take all four gangsters down.

This comparison may seem a bit uncouth and a little irreverent, but it’s what goes through my mind as I watch Mark courageously combat rehab. He boldly confronts each challenge with every ability he has. He fearlessly fights for improvement and gives little thought to it taking him down. He may ride on top of a different kind of saddle, but he is indeed a man with true grit. However, I must add he’s much better looking than Rooster Cogburn and his language, manners and conduct are much nicer too.

Right now I’m surrounded not by cowboys, but warriors with true grit and I’m particularly fond of the one I’m married to. Just like Rooster, Mark has come out the winner thanks to his surgeon, Dr. Rasmussen and his staff, along with the great therapists at Rocky Mountain Care Center. The fight isn’t over yet, but the end of this ride is near and that’s why I’m feeling lucky. A bright rainbow is in sight!

How to Recognize Angels

AngelsIn Laura’s Story, Part 5, by Christine Scott, she remembers the angels in their lives who came to their aid after the death of her father. We often think of angels as beautiful beings with wings, but Christine was referring to family, friends and even strangers who helped them through a difficult time. A friend of her father sold equipment and hang gliders and put collection jars around town to raise money for their family. An aunt single-handedly packed up their belongings to help with the move and grandparents who welcomed them to live in their home.

These were angels who walked among them on earth—real people with mortal bodies. These wonderful people seemed to be sent from above and knew just what was needed at the moment. How can we recognize the angels in our lives? The answer is simple: acknowledge the kindness and help given to you. Those people who have made a positive impact in your life. I’ve been thinking about it and have listed a few.

  • Our biggest angels are parents. They brought you into the world and most of them sacrificed time and money for your care and well-being. They spent sleepless nights when you were sick or out too late. They were your advocates in sports, music and/or drama. They were your cheerleaders in school and other activities.
  • Our littlest angels are children. They are pure and wise beyond their years. Their innocence and curiosity gives us a new and delightful outlook on things which are often taken for granted.
  • Friends who are honest and loyal and lift you up when you’re feeling down.
  • Teachers who taught you how to read, write and do arithmetic. Most have angelic patience and without their help, you wouldn’t be able to read this right now.
  • Doctors and nurses who attend to your medical needs and help you feel better.
  • Therapists who help you overcome hardships and improve your abilities with their knowledge and encouragement.

We can all be angels by lending a helping hand. As we appreciate and recognize the good in others, more angels become apparent.  When I think of the angels in my life, I realize they all have at least two things in common. First of all they are thoughtful and caring and second, they don’t always seem like angels. But how can they? They are people with mortal bodies and not perfected yet.

It reminds me of a “standing joke” Mark and I have. When I help him stand up I often say, “Look up at my halo,” to encourage him upward. To that he replies, “Oh there it is, resting on top of your horns.”

It’s true, sometimes I’m sweet and sometimes I’m not. However, by recognizing and appreciating the helpfulness in others, it usually triggers more kindness.

Who are the angels in your life and why?

Everything Can Change

In a blink of an eyeI can relate to Christine Scott’s feelings and well written words in Laura’s Story, Part 4: “You should have some type of warning before your life unequivocally changes so you have the chance to do things differently—to take advantage of those last moments to say ‘I love you’ and ‘goodbye.’”

How easy it is to take for granted family, friends, life, health and abilities.

Today’s a great day to hug the ones we love and appreciate what we have. Remember, “in the blink of an eye everything can change.”

Part 5 of Laura’s Story will be published on Wednesday.

An Unforgettable Christmas

Christmas can be a magical time, when wishes become a reality. This was definitely the case for our family in 1991. Mark literally slept in a coma through Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and Father’s Day. He missed out on additional celebrations such as my birthday and our twelve year wedding anniversary. Although he was awake for Independence and Labor Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving, all those holidays were spent in the hospital. After eight months, our wish was for Mark to be home for Christmas.

The preparations started in October as we realized Mark was going to be wheelchair dependent. We knew some home modifications would be necessary. My oldest brother, Mick, designed an addition off the back of our home, complete with a ramp for the new back entrance. A large bedroom and bathroom was drawn up to accommodate Mark’s equipment and new needs for care. Fortunately for us, my dad and brothers who are experienced in construction were willing and capable to do the job. My dad, who is an excavating contractor said, “You can’t add a room without a basement.”

Top: Left - Don breaking ground. Right - Steve, Mick, Dad preparing for footings. Middle: Left- Dad. Right - Steve and Mick pouring the footings. Bottom: Left - Steve and Dad. Right - Mick, Steve and Dad pouring the cement floor.

Top:       Left – Don breaking ground.                    Right – Steve, Mick, Dad preparing for footings.
Middle: Left- Dad trying to escape.                        Right – Steve and Mick pouring the footings.
Bottom: Left – Steve and Dad w/cement floor.    Right – Mick, Steve and Dad w/cement floor.

Mark was far from better and still needed extensive therapy and care, so I worked on establishing a “day- patient” schedule where he’d be at Western Rehab all day for therapy and I’d be able to take him home to care for him every night. At the time he wasn’t able to feed himself or take care of any personal needs. Mark’s doctor, Joseph Vickroy, and the rehab team of speech, occupational and physical therapists, suggested that I spend several nights in an apartment-like room located in the center unit where Mark had been for six months. They felt it was important for me to understand the responsibility of caring for Mark before they released him.

I thought the request was trivial since I had spent every day with him and fed him most meals anyway; however, I understood their concern and agreed to do it. I spent several nights there and took complete responsibility for him. Our two children also spent a few nights there to understand what life would be like to have Dad at home.

Because my dad and brothers were building this addition after the hours of their normal work day, it was not completed in December as we’d hoped. Despite the unfinished construction, we wanted Mark home for Christmas. His care was physically difficult without the assessable bathroom, but well-worth all the effort to have him finally home. Since the new bedroom wasn’t finished and our regular bedroom wasn’t big enough for all the equipment now needed for Mark, our queen-sized bed had to be replaced with a single-sized hospital bed. At night, after I transferred him into bed, I would raise it as high as it could go and place an air mattress on the floor in the only space available — which meant my legs were tucked under the bed. Worried that Mark might forget I was there and use the controls to lower it, I would unplug the bed every night. This sleeping arrangement made for many jokes. I often said as I unplugged the bed, “You are now out of control.” With a smug look on his face, he teasingly exclaimed, “But, I’ve got the top.”

Our living quarters were especially cramped and difficult with the construction going on. The sounds of saws and hammers could be heard until late hours into the night, but with the excitement of having Mark home we hardly noticed. I am filled with gratitude for my dad and brothers who worked tirelessly to make our home fit our needs for our new circumstances.

Top: Left Don knocking out the brick wall into the new addition Bottom: Left - Chris, Katie, Dad and Mick nailing the top floor down. Right - Chris and Katie painting our the new room.

Top:       Left and Right – Don knocking out the brick wall into the new addition.
Bottom: Left – Chris, Katie, Dad and Mick nailing the top floor down.                                                                    Right – Chris and Katie painting our the new room.

 

Chris Chipping, a friend and former employer of Mark’s, did the electrical wiring for our new addition while another friend, Walt Fisher, did the plumbing. It was a crazy, busy and noisy home with construction going on for five months until the addition was completed. However, the acts of service and love from family and friends made the Christmas of 1991 unforgettable. Our world was turned upside down that year and after eight months of living in a hospital — it truly was the merriest of Christmases to have Mark finally home.

Finished room in March. Christopher, Mark and Katie.

Finished room in March. Christopher, Mark and Katie.

Our trials were lightened and my caregiving responsibilities were made easier once the new bedroom and bathroom were completed. We were blessed by many skilled hands and a lot of hard work who were definitely making our Christmas wish come true.

The Fullness of Life

Gratitude-unlovks-the-fullness-of-life-happy-ThanksgivingMy day has been filled with gratitude for all I have. I am thankful for life and realize every day is a bonus day and should not be taken for granted. 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 hip surgery and therapy.

I’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 such as Steve and Rick. I appreciate all they do for me in our business as well as my personal life. I am also blessed to live with Mom and Dad. I am grateful for their continued love and support and I’m 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. My need to give back is the driving force for writing our story and developing Uniting Caregivers. This passion has brought new friendships through writing and caregiver’s support groups, along with readers and participators of this blog. I have learned so much and have gained from their experiences. I am grateful for the influence of other writers and their encouragement in my own writing endeavors.

If you are reading this, I am grateful for you! I appreciate your feedback, whether it’s done with words or the click on the Like button. I hope what is written has helped you find hope and encouragement in your trials. I have truly been blessed in my life’s journey and writing about our experiences manifests those blessings to me.

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