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?

 

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The Prince of Peace

This past week has been full of wonderful events. Our son, Christopher, who lives 650 miles away, was in town. We spent some time at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium seeing and learning about ocean life and other creatures we rarely get a chance to observe. Watching a movie there was a fun experience as our seats vibrated and we were sprayed with mist as animals swam towards us in the 4D theater, giving us a sea diving experience. The day truly was a festival of seas.

Chris VisitWe enjoyed Mexican food at a delicious restaurant together and another night we had my parents and siblings over for a buffet and visit with our kids. It was fitting for us to share this short time with those who helped us raise our children.

Spending time as a family is no longer taken for granted and feels like a luxury as it has been nearly a year since we’ve all been together. It also causes me to do a lot of reflecting. I remember the days when I’d wonder if my two children would ever grow up. The memory of many late hours rocking a sick baby or the endless diaper changing and laundry has ended. I’m finished wondering how to potty-train or get my kids to clean their rooms and do other household chores. Crazy arguments with teenagers have come to a conclusion, along with the constant question: Am I teaching my children how to be responsible and happy adults? I know I made plenty of mistakes, but the lack of trying to do what was best was not one of them. I’m astonished at how fast the children grew up and with admiration for both of them, I cherish every moment I now get with them.

The delightful week started last Sunday as I attended my daughter, Katie’s church to hear her speak. Her topic was finding peace through Jesus Christ. I’ve reflected all week on her brilliant and uplifting talk as I’m always striving to find peace in my own life. As a wife, mother, daughter, sister, neighbor, friend and employee, I want to spread peace, but I can’t give something I don’t have.

Now that our children are grown I struggle to let go. I wish I could rock their cares away, as I did so many years ago. My arms long to hold them tight and I miss being the person they come to for fixing their hurts. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the adults they are and the good that they are doing, but I can’t help missing my little children.

There are many distractions and opinions that can cause us confusion and turmoil and it’s easy to forget about what is most important. As I’ve spent time this week considering my life with our children and the choices I’ve made, I’m so grateful for the peace that I’ve found through Jesus Christ. He is the Prince of Peace, not because He ruled in an already peaceful world, but because He created peace in a noisy, distressed and fearful world. He reminds me there are no earthly problems that are permanent—that brings me peace.

The week ended with Christopher going back to his home in Portland, Oregon. My sad spirit was lifted when we attended the magnificent musical, The Forgotten Carols. The story is about a nurse, Connie, whose empty life is changed by a patient, John. He understands the meaning of Christmas and brings it to life through his stories and songs of the innkeeper, Joseph, the shepherd boy and the three kings. Connie’s life is filled with heartache and turmoil, but she feels peace through the stories and songs of these often forgotten characters of the original Christmas story. As the program continued, I too felt the peace through the characters stories and each song.

Since it had been a week full of reflection for me, I realized whenever I made the Savior part of my crazy life He gave me the gift of peace. No matter the circumstances or concerns, He calmed the winds and waves of the raging sea inside of me, which enabled me to ride out the storm.

In John 14:27 we read, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Please enjoy my favorite song from The Forgotten Carols. It reminds me that sometimes I may loose my way, but just as the three Kings found the Lord, so can I and peace always follows.

I hope you have a peaceful Christmas.

My Quest For Happiness

Serenity Prayer1I’ve been in a writer’s funk, not because I’m at a loss for words, but I’ve been feeling glum. Since the car accident, my birthday and wedding anniversaries cause me to reflect on life more as well as what I haven’t accomplished. I know I have a blessed life, but it isn’t anything like I’d expected. Many dreams have not become reality and life’s expectations go unfulfilled and it appears the clock is ticking faster and louder with each passing year. I’m realizing some of these wishes and goals may be unattainable under our circumstances. It’s hard to separate what’s worth striving for and what to give up on. I’m not getting any younger and Mark’s not getting any better. The realization of both sometimes overwhelms me to the point where I just want to hide under the covers until Mark can take care of himself. Some days are hard to face, but I make myself get out of bed and do it anyway.

I’d hoped that every year the adjustments would get easier. It did the first several years while Mark was progressing. Seven years after his traumatic brain injury he started having seizures, which brought new challenges. Every added year without the capacity to be physically active brings more difficulties.It appears we are getting older at a faster pace than most others our same age. The major health concern right now is Mark’s hips. I was able to put the worry aside for a few weeks while I focused on recovering from my hernia surgery. Now that’s behind me, it’s time to deal with the more serious matter.

Besides the pain, Mark no longer is capable of bending his hips at ninety degrees, which is the optimal bend for sitting. It makes sense to me that this inability to sit properly is causing his poor posture, which results in low back and neck pain every time he changes positions.

Twenty-two years ago, Mark had extra calcium buildup in both of his hip joints scrape out. We don’t regret that surgery because it gave him years of improved hip function, but now he has arthritis and lots of scar tissue, which is part of the problem. The only hope for possible improvement now is for two total hip replacements. Unfortunately, he’s not a great candidate for this surgery. Twenty-four years of physical inactivity and little weight-bearing ability are making his bones soft and brittle. There’s a worry of them breaking and the muscles being strong enough to hold the hip replacements. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place. In order to make the right decision, which the responsibility to do so weighs heavily on my mind, we need more information. This means more doctor’s appointments and opinions.

You may wonder how a hip replacement can be beneficial for someone who doesn’t walk. Besides the sitting concern, which I’ve already explained and believe is contributing to his low back and neck pain; there is the issue of difficulty in transferring from one position to another. Getting him moved from his chair into bed, standing frame or shower/commode chair is tough because his hips don’t easily move. My cue for Mark before most transfers is, “nose over toes,” meaning lean forward because it makes the transfer so much easier. I didn’t realize until just recently that his hips will not allow him to bend forward. Think about the body mechanics of getting out of a chair. Usually, my hips bend about 120 degrees before standing. At best, Mark’s hips only have the ability to bend at eighty degrees, which means it’s a hard pull forward to get him up. A more recent problem is that after sitting for hours his hips don’t want to straighten up, which results in a second pull. Adding balance issues means he is a hard transfer and needs complete assistance to get from one spot to another.

I’ve been upset in the past because hospital nurses and aides are afraid of transferring Mark. I do it with little thought and haven’t realized how hard it is for someone who isn’t use to handling him. A few weeks ago, Mark’s shower/commode aide who was scheduled to come for six weeks during my recovery time, quit after nine visits. I’m still learning how hard it is to be a caregiver.

Nothing can drag me down faster than health worries. Sometimes I think it would be nice if someone else could live my life and take over my responsibilities. Maybe they would make better choices and do a better job. Since that’s not possible, there’s only one thing to do: press forward every day and do my best to find happiness along the way.

Happiness defined by Dictionary.com is “the quality or state of being happy; good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.” My good fortune is faith, family and friends. The love and support I feel from all three, brings me pleasure and contentment. What brings your happiness may differ from mine, but if we recognize what affects our joy and hold onto it by putting it first in our lives, we can more easily weather the storms.

I was reminded in church today that happiness is found by concentrating on what matters most. I made a list of what I thought makes me happy. It included a clean house, laundry completed, an organized desk, beautiful yard, exercise, a healthy diet and a well maintained vehicle. While looking at my list I realized these things bring peace of mind when they are done, but not lasting happiness. Then I noticed I didn’t list any recreational vehicles, or vacation spots. I thought, how strange, these things are dreams, which I’ve always imagined the beauty and enjoyable time bringing me happiness. It occurred to me it isn’t the places I go, or the toys I have that brings joy. It’s the people I’m with that matters the most. My good fortune is definitely family and friends. By recognizing and appreciating what I do have and giving love and care to the people who matter most, I can feel peace and contentment in my not-so-perfect life, finding true happiness.

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.

 

 

The Receiving End of Caregiving, Part 2

Thank you, Ann, for sharing the rest of your rewarding experience of being on the receiving end of caregiving, which is good reminder for the professionals, as well as friends and family, on what is important to the ones receiving care.

Written by, Ann McDougall

Ann & Liam in bed

I knew I was in the best place while I was in the hospital. It was where I needed to be at the time and that’s just how it needed to be. I accepted my situation and felt at peace with it. I was lucky enough to have an end in sight because a lot of people with health problems do not.  Every now and then I allowed myself to have a hard day, a down moment, or a good cry (in the bathroom so no one would walk in and see me).  Sometimes I’d feel angry, but then I’d to go back to having a good attitude, because a bad one wouldn’t get me far. I chose how I reacted to my situation. Yes, it was difficult at times, but I knew it didn’t help me to think miserable thoughts.

I had some wonderful nurses in the hospital. They did their best to make sure I felt at home by allowing me to have many comforts, like my own pillow and pictures of my family. My son, niece and nephews would often color pictures and tape them all over my walls and the nurses would comment when they saw a new one.  I appreciated the nurses who took the time to talk to me about my personal life and share a bit about their own instead of just asking the usual medical questions. One nurse, Michelle, sat with me on Pioneer Day and watched fireworks from my window because my family was not able to be there with me.  I loved it when nurses would come into my room just to say hi to me even if I wasn’t their patient that shift. It made me feel important and not forgotten. They were considerate of our family time. My husband, David and son, Liam would usually come to visit in the evenings and if a nurse came in to take my vitals, they always asked if they should come back later. Their kindness made me feel like a person, not just another patient. They celebrated with me each day I stayed pregnant because every day was a big accomplishment. I had a white board across from my bed where we kept track of how far along I was and each morning as we’d change the number, they would congratulate me on making it another day. They called our baby, Ariana by name when checking her heart beat twice a day. They made me feel like I was carrying a precious little one; it wasn’t just another pregnancy.

Meeting others in a similar situation helped me cope. There were a few other ladies who were on hospital bed rest and we were able to meet for lunch once a week to visit with each other in our rooms. It was therapeutic to talk with each other about our struggles and situations. They could empathize with the hardship of being stuck in a hospital bed, leaving our husbands and children at home without us, afraid for our unborn child’s life.

 

Most people like to be busy doing something productive, to feel like they have a purpose. It’s hard to feel productive and purposeful when you are completely relying on others to take care of you. I found it important to find something to focus on, some little thing to do to keep busy. While in the hospital I learned how to crochet. I made many things for our baby, our son and other people, which helped me feel important and needed. It gave my mind a distraction and my hands busy when I couldn’t do many other things I wanted to do.

Ann & LiamI had a lot of time for thought and reflection. I feel like I came home from the hospital ready to be a better parent. I have more patience with my son. I appreciate my husband more than ever. He has always been a great dad, but he showed me how extra ordinary he is by being an even better one. He took care of our house, did the grocery shopping, paid the bills, and took care of the pets while working full time. I was worried about how he would do it all, but he did just fine. He was so thoughtful and loving to me. On occasion he would stop by before work to say hi and surprise me. He did his very best to visit every single day and made sure our son came just as often. We were even able to arrange for our son to sleep over with someone else so that my husband could sleep at the hospital with me every now and then. The time together was important for our relationship.

Ann's kidsI have been blessed by seeing how many people were willing to serve my family. I was able to focus on the pregnancy and not worry so much about if things at home were being taken care of. I was humbled by how much my family was there for me. I knew they loved me, but they showed just how much by all the things they did for me. I loved it when my dad would stop by on his lunch breaks or my sister-in-law would bring her kids by to see me. They all came on Father’s Day and had dinner with me. I’m sure they would have rather been home, but it meant so much they brought the party to me. I have learned I can rely on my family and I hope they know how much I appreciate and love them.

 

 

Gratitude Is The Key To Happiness

GratitudeAfter I posted the article What To Do With The “What Ifs”,  I was asked, “How long after the accident did it take you to start counting your blessings? I started typing a long reply to the question and thought I should make it a Tuesday Tip.

My first thought after I realized we had been hit and were pinned inside the wreckage of our car was, I’m glad the kid’s aren’t with us. So I would have to say I counted my blessings, or recognized the positive, right from the beginning. However, that doesn’t mean I always see the positives and feel grateful. Sometimes I find myself in a pity party—wishing things would have turned out differently. I suppose it’s human nature. Yet when I’m feeling discouraged, 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.

The best way for me to pull myself out of discouragement and unhappiness is to turn my thoughts around by looking for the positives, which creates a gratitude attitude. Sometimes this is harder to do than other times, but I’ve learned it helps every time. Some days are dark and worrisome, but when I start looking for the positives, more positives appear and my outlook on life changes for the better. I attract what I am focused on.

When I am focused on the positive interactions of family and friends, I can appreciate and recognize them for the love and support they give. The result is—they are usually all the more helpful and loving. That isn’t my motivation for appreciating them, it’s just the way if seems to work.

I don’t believe gratitude always comes naturally, but I try to make it a habit by having a positive attitude. When my kids were teenagers I started a gratitude journal. It really helped me get through a rough time. Every night I wrote down five things I was grateful for. Some nights it took a while for me to think of five things I appreciated, but it turned my discouragement into encouragement. It also brought inner peace because I was focusing on the good instead of dwelling on the bad. Another great aspect of writing in a gratitude journal or keeping a list of things I’m grateful for is that I can go back and read it in times of discouragement.  It really does help.

Gratitude makes what I have enough which brings peace and contentment, the key to happiness. I believe in and remind myself often to count my blessings and name them one by one.