Archive for the ‘Caregiving’ Category

When Our Responses Disenfranchise Others

November 13, 2017

It was a tiny incident, really. My wife Bernie and I were walking on the curving sidewalk behind the homes in our addition. A neighbor, let’s call him Matt, noticed us from his porch and asked, “Is this an anniversary? I saw a florist deliver flowers to your house earlier today.”

I looked at Bernie, who paused and then said, “No, not an anniversary. The bouquet was from our three grown children. I had emailed them this morning to give them the news: my retinologist just told me that my eyesight has become so compromised by my macular degeneration that I must now give up driving.”

Matt nodded, solemnly. “Oh,” he said, “but at least it’s not anything life-threatening.”

I know that Matt is a kind man. He would not intentionally do anything hurtful. And yet that’s what happened that afternoon. Bernie spoke her sad, fresh truth to him and he responded in a way that did not address the depth of what she was experiencing. She was in pain and he acted as if the pain wasn’t all that serious.

He made what I call a disenfranchising response.

The Old French word enfranchir means “to make free.” Put the negative prefix dis in front of it and it means “to make unfree.” When we disenfranchise someone, we deprive them, often unintentionally, of something that is rightfully and naturally theirs—in this case, a strong feeling.

Matt probably felt awkward that he was so mistaken about the reason for the flower delivery. He probably didn’t want to compound Bernie’s sadness by talking about it. He may have felt a certain helplessness, not knowing what to say that would make much difference. So he said, in effect, “Actually, this isn’t such a big deal; it isn’t life-threatening.”

We have all made disenfranchising responses through the years, probably more than we realize. Out of our awkwardness or ignorance or unintended insensitivity, we have downplayed another’s legitimate feelings. It happens all the time. When it does, people are not reinforced in their freedom to feel their natural feelings, whether those feelings are understood or not.

Knowing how easily this happens, I have put together a series of questions we can ask to help us determine if our responses are disenfranchising to a person who’s in a fragile or sad or painful situation.

Does my response invite comparison? In the freshness of the moment, one’s feelings are one’s feelings and no one else’s. To suggest quickly a comparison to a more dire situation, or a more unfortunate one, suggests that what the other feels is less important somehow, less valid.

Does my response refer only to the facts? Learning the particulars of a person’s situation can give that person the opportunity to tell their story, which can be helpful. Yet if the emphasis is only on the matters of who, what, when, where, and how, as a newspaper might report, then the significant issue of what’s going on inside, what this experience really means, is left unaddressed.

Does my response minimize feelings? The other person deserves to have their innermost self acknowledged and supported. Whatever they’re feeling, they deserve validation. They may have conflicting or unusual or inexplicable feelings—that’s okay. Feelings should be given their full due, not downplayed.

Does my response turn the attention back to me?   If the interchange concentrates on my story, my experiences, my advice, it leaves the other person feeling unattended. We may even subtly be encouraging the other person to give care to us.

Does my response change the subject? If the interchange is led in an entirely different direction, away from the person before us, they’re likely to feel left out in the cold. This may feel like a slap in the face.

Does my response rule out shared silence? Sometimes there are no words to say, at least not immediately. Sometimes our expression can say it all, or our tears, or our touch, or our embrace. When we are heart to heart or soul to soul, silence speaks eloquently.

Does my response try to delve too deeply? It’s best when we respond honestly and give the other person the opportunity to say whatever they wish in return. They may reveal a lot, or very little, or nothing. Yet to expect them to share personal details just for our own satisfaction or our own need to know is being less than sensitive to whatever is happening within them.

So how do I make an enfranchising response, a response that affirms this other person? I first listen carefully, using my eyes and heart and soul as well as my ears. I give the other person their time, not pushing them or rushing them. I do my best to understand what is going on within them, asking myself, “What’s it like to be inside their body, their mind, their heart right now?” Then I respond in a way that is most natural, sharing an honest feeling, validating their honest thoughts and/or feelings, and giving them the opportunity to say more, if they wish, while also being ready to take their cue if they have said all they wish. Then I remember them after this time together, carrying them inside.

In a sense being with others is simple to do, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to do. But it is doable. And it can make a great deal of difference in people’s lives.

Newest caregiver resource is reduced 60% in price

November 13, 2017

The idea behind “Daily Inspirations for Caregivers” is simple: we help family caregivers start every day well with beautifully-crafted messages that arrive by personalized email for one full year. It is a loving way to help yourself or a caregiver you know benefit from the empathy, encouragement, and support provided.

Each morning brings one of four kinds of inspirations:

  • •  A one- to two-minute video incorporating nature photography, original music, and Jim Miller’s voice.
  • •  A two- to three-minute audio by Jim offering a single positive caregiving message, often calling upon the wisdom of experienced family caregivers, many of them well-known.
  • •  A one-page writing by Jim about one aspect of caregiving that offers advice, encouragement, and support.
  • •  A photo-thought that incorporates one of Jim’s photographs with a memorable, affirming quotation.

Family caregivers report feeling better informed, more confident in their role, and hopeful about the way ahead. Recent feedback has included:

“Thank you for the words, the unpacking of those words, and the extraordinary photography to help illuminate the message. It is a tender and gentle gift to the heart.”
Janie C.
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“I think I have not come upon anyone who has written from the heart so thoroughly, quietly, and humbly. All the good and ill of your life you have kneaded together into the perfect life-giving loaf of Love.”
Dai-En B.

If you’re a professional in a healthcare practice or a health-related organization, you can provide “Daily Inspirations for Caregivers” as a way of encouraging and empowering family caregivers of the ill, the injured, or the incapacitated. As you enable the more positive spirits of caregivers and consequently their care receivers, you promote healing and health all the way around, including with your own staff members.

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Caring for Myself: A Short Memoir

October 17, 2017

Yes, there are times in all our lives when stress or fear or despair or injury can send us into a downward spiral. Something like that happened to me when I awakened the morning after the last presidential election.

I was in shock. “How could our country have chosen as president the type of person—as evidenced by his words and his actions—that it chose?” I couldn’t fathom it had actually happened. I felt almost traumatized.

After the first few hours of gathering the news, I stopped gathering the news. I stopped tuning in to radio and TV reports. I avoided relevant articles on the internet. I went into retreat. I didn’t announce I was doing this. I couldn’t quite explain my actions. I just knew that I needed to care for myself. I needed solace and quiet. I needed to be free of all the noise. I needed to take refuge, to find a sanctuary for myself away from all that was swirling around me.

How was I to do this? The answer came quickly: I would return to a favorite creative outlet—the design and creation of stained glass panels that hang in windows. So most evenings after dinner I’d settle into my studio in the lower level of our home. I played quiet music that soothed me. In time I played albums that spoke to my conscience; Peter, Paul, and Mary joined me down there often. Sometimes I simply worked in silence, concentrating on what I was doing with my hands.

I came up with designs I had never tried before. I wanted to make my own statements in glass that were a positive, alternative response to the many negative messages that began to emanate from Washington D.C.—divisive words about Muslims, Mexicans, LGBTQ people, women, the powerless and the poor.

Choosing the six bold colors associated with the Pride flag, I created pieces surrounded by white glass and framed in copper that communicated (as I visualized it) a message of “I believe in diversity and inclusivity, in human goodness and possibility.”

This is what I wrote to accompany these pieces:

Where others seek to build walls—

     walls related to nationality, race, religion, gender—

         I seek to make bridges.

Where others sow suspicion, even hate,

     I reach out in search of common bonds and shared hopes.

When others resort easily to fear,

     I turn intentionally toward love.

When others push away the different, the unfamiliar,

     I choose to celebrate the colors—all the colors.

Will you join with me?

Weeks turned into months. I cut glass and sanded glass and soldered copper foil and sawed copper framing. Twenty stained glass pieces of various shapes and sizes became forty, then sixty, then eighty. I gave some away. Others were sold at a city-wide event with all proceeds going to a progressive non-profit called The Center for Non-Violence. One very large panel, entitled “The Flowering of Pride,” was auctioned at an annual fund-raising event for the LGBTQ community.

In time I began creating panels with a whole different look: these were small landscapes and seascapes, done in such a way that they communicated hope. Bright yellows and oranges marked the bold rays of a morning sunrise over undulating hills or a horizon line of blue water.

As I write this, it’s been eleven months and the pieces keep coming. I go to my sanctuary less often these days but I still go there—I still feel the need to. I’m able to take in more of the news, even if much of it saddens me or angers me. I continue, as I have done all along, to sign petitions and attend rallies and write letters and make donations. I make my voice known in ways other than glass.

I still practice self-care with what I watch and listen to. I still make sure that I have adequate time to make art and to share this art as a part of making my life. I still grieve and I still hope.

My outlet is not for everyone. It may be for very few. But I hope that whenever you find yourself stressed or shaken, feeling bruised or traumatized, you’ll find your own ways to settle into a healing sanctuary, or to channel your positive energies in ways that suit you, or to make time to be with others who support you, or to unleash your own creative self, whatever that means for you.

By taking care of ourselves, we are taking steps toward taking care of the world around us. I could not believe that any more than I do.