Ending a Thanksgiving Month

This month has been hard, harder than usual. So another fitting title came to mind, Grateful This Month is Over. However, the word thanksgiving makes me smile, so it quickly became my preference.

Sammy

Sammy at 22 years old.

The first two days in November were uneventful, like the calm before the storm.  The cliché is most fitting due to the unseasonably nice and warm weather we were enjoying. On the third day, my month fell apart when our twenty-two-year-old cat, Sammy, disappeared. He seemed anxious that day, meowing and pacing the house. The weatherman predicted a storm coming and I assumed Sammy sensed it too and wanted to go outside to enjoy the nice weather while he could. I let him outside and took advantage of the empty house by vacuuming. When I finished, I opened the back door, but he wasn’t there. At this point I wasn’t too worried and thought he just ventured farther than usual. I went back inside to complete a few more chores. The wind started to howl and it was dark. He wasn’t there on my second check. I earnestly searched all his favorite outdoor spots to curl up, exploring every possible place in our yard and garage. When he wasn’t there I got in our van and searched the streets. No Sammy. Did he run away to die? For the past year I’ve joked he was in hospice care because last November I brought our outdoor cat inside, due to wounds he received in a cat fight.  I really didn’t expect he’d survive then, but wanted to make his last days comfortable and happy even though he often triggered my asthma. He was my irrigation buddy and kept me company every time I worked out in the yard. He was there for us when our children grew up and moved away. A portion of our garage became his apartment, which he could freely go in and out of during the day, but closed in at night. He was there for me every time I came home, which I appreciated, especially during the times Mark was hospitalized. We’ve put a cat down before and I wasn’t ready to do it again despite his old age. I hoped Sammy could pass naturally in our home with us by his side.

It’s hard not knowing what happened to Sammy. I feel cheated I didn’t get to give him a proper goodbye for all those years we’ve enjoyed his companionship. But I’m grateful for the memories made and I especially appreciate this past bonus year we’ve had with him.

Dad & Sammy

Dad with Sammy, Dec. 2016

Six days later, after I’d raked most of the leaves in our yard and moved every storage box in the garage looking for Sammy with no closure made, my dad had a heart attack. Heart disease is unfortunately prevalent in my family. Dad’s first heart procedure was in 1985 – a triple bypass surgery. Then he was only 57 years old. In 1995 he had an heart attack and they put a stent in to correct the blokage. For the past year I’ve been going with Dad to his cardiologist appointments treating his heart murmur, a-fib and congested heart failure. I worried his heart was a ticking time bomb and I fretted about the when and how it would go off. Luckily it was a mild heart attack and not the massive one I feared. Over the next 6 days he had many tests and two procedures to create the best treatment plan for his heart problems. A heart valve replacement and a pacemaker were the remedies given and he made it through the surgeries with only one complication. His heart rhythm was off, so they had to give him a shock treatment which corrected that problem. We were relieved and expected to bring him home in a few days. On discharge day his heart went out of rhythm again and despite medication, they couldn’t get his heart to slow down.

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Taking time to celebrate with my mom and my super siblings. I sure love this crazy bunch! We were missing Dad, so we took the cake and ice-cream to the hospital conference room to have with him. Nov. 2017

After two days another shock procedure became necessary. It did the trick and now we pray he can stay in rhythm. He is a miracle and we’re grateful for so many prayers which aided his recovery. Close calls like this make me realize how fortunate I am to have my parents. It renews my appreciation for their influence in my life and the foundation they set in building a strong family. I have wonderful siblings and collectively we support and unite, especially when one of us is in need. I’m blessed to go through life with them.

As if the above wasn’t enough stress, Mark’s severe bladder infection and elevated PSA level led to more tests, which found a lesion in his bladder and an enlarge prostate.  Surgery to fix both problems is scheduled the first week in December.

An unfortunate side effect of Mark’s traumatic brain injury is seizures and they are more numerous when he has any other health issue. This month the seizures have come abundantly.

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Nov. 2017 Mark and I

Mark is blessed with a great sense of humor and he uses it constantly to cope and to put others at ease with laughter. The other night after a seizure, I asked him how his head felt. He said, “Full of wisdom.”

“I’m not sure how that feels, but I assume it would feel pretty good,” I replied as my worries were lifted.

In the urologist’s office, after the doctor explained the upcoming procedure, he looked at Mark and asked him if he had any questions. Mark rubbed the top of his bald head and said, “How do you keep your hair?”

The doctor laughed and replied, “I have a hair Goddess. She blesses me with hair so I can cut it and donate it for wigs. Then she blesses me again.”

I‘m fortunate to have a man that works through hardships with comedy. He’s a joy to be with and knows just how to lessen my concerns.

I can’t blame Sammy for taking off. There have been days this month I wish I could crawl under a bush somewhere and not be found. I wonder if he sensed a different kind of turmoil than the weather storm that was brewing the night he left. I speculate he thought he’d do me a favor by leaving and give me one less thing to tend to.  If this was he thought, he didn’t realize the hole in my heart he’d leave.

The month of November encourages me to have a gratitude attitude. This month I’m thankful that despite the hardships and worries experienced, I still have a lot to appreciate!

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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?

 

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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How to Keep Thanksgiving

give thanks-candleA perfect picture of Thanksgiving is sitting at my parent’s large dining room table, beautifully decorated with an autumn tablecloth, centerpiece, nice plates, glasses and silverware, surrounded by wonderful family and friends.

I was in this type of scene a few nights ago, however it wasn’t a Thanksgiving dinner, but rather a birthday celebration. My mother still enjoys gathering her five children and their spouses home for a feast three or four times a year to celebrate birthdays. Lots of laughter is heard while we enjoy each other’s company. This is a happy table, yet I came to it feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. I tried to mask the weight of my daily tasks and worries about Mark’s health. When the conversation turned to past vacations my siblings had taken and the possibilities of future trips, I forgot all my many blessings and had to leave the table. Instead of feeling joyful for their experiences, distress set in. I was no longer focused on how lucky I am to have all my siblings live close by and both my parents still alive. For a moment, I forgot how fortunate I am for the love and support we all share with one another. Unfortunately my thoughts turned to all the places I’ve never been nor could possibly go to. I wasn’t living in thanksgiving, yet I know I’m happiest when I do.

Thanksgiving is more than the annual national holiday which commemorates a harvest festival. It is an expression of gratitude, especially to God. I appreciate this time of year which reminds us the importance of giving thanks, however, every day should be a day of thanksgiving. But it’s hard to give thanks in all things.

Life with Mark is a happy one, largely because he knows how to keep thanksgiving. He appreciates everything, including his adversities. He is cheerful and content and loves to bring joy to others. However, he has reason to be bitter, resentful or has 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. Three of my favorite ways he shows his appreciation daily 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 around you. 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.

Recently in one of my writing groups we were given a blank piece of paper to write as many positive characteristics about ourselves in five minutes. The goal was to fill the page. I enjoyed the assignment and kept it to read when I’m feeling low.

thanksgivingdailyfinishLikewise, making a gratitude list to read when you’re feeling like you’ve missed out in life, maybe another good idea. Some general ideas to help you get started:

  • 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?

A Gratitude Attitude

Gratitude1Neils’ story, Dancing with Class reminded me of the benefits in looking back and remembering how smitten we were with our loved ones from the start. Beneath the surface of the caregiving responsibilities, it’s the beacon of love that motivates us in our journey. Taking a step back can rejuvenate our efforts.

I loved Judith’s beautifully written editorial comment, “When our eyes locked I smiled mostly in wonder because I could see love, a physical manifestation, as a light with many colors streaming from his face. I knew that we were together, united and I was safe, as I had never before been safe.”

This expresses perfectly how I hope to make Mark feel—together, united and safe. I imagine that’s the goal of most caregivers. If your loved one isn’t able to communicate their love and appreciation for you, imagine Judith’s wonderfully expressed words. Caregiving is a physical manifestation of our love and hopefully our loved ones see it and feel it too.

We often take our loved ones for granted and don’t appreciate or even realize many of their accomplishments until they either leave us or are severely injured. I related to Neil’s words, “I did not, until that moment, know how well loved and respected she was.”

I love the month of November and the Thanksgiving celebration, which reminds us to be grateful for what we have and the people in our lives. Taking time to reflect on our blessings and the positive traits of our loved ones brings joy and contentment in an otherwise noisy and hectic life.

What resonated the most with me from Neils story was, “The physical issues were not unlike that of a newborn baby. The changes in body functions required frequent attention. Preparing meals, bathing and nurturing were not unfamiliar, but the intensity of it was.”

Our individual lives are chaotic enough, but when another person is relying on us for the most basic needs of daily living, responsibility and pressure are added from sun up to sun down. It’s no wonder exhaustion and doubts creep in concerning our ability to be a good caregiver.

It’s been a tiring year for Mark and I. Tests, surgeries, therapy and too many needed doctor visits, which have nearly depleted all my energy. However, “no matter what’s going on outside of us, there is always something we could be grateful for.” I appreciate the connection and inspiration I get from other caregivers, which fill me up. I’m looking forward to the rest of Neils’ story and a Thanksgiving month, which continually reminds me to take time to count my many blessings.

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?