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(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

My friend shared on Facebook how differently his life has turned out from the plans he had 30 years ago when graduating from college. Instead of becoming Mr. International-Business, he is back living in his childhood home, after choosing to be his parents’ full-time caregiver. His life is full of love and laughter, despite the tears and despite having to do hard tasks for his parents. He understands how to find joy in ordinary moments such as walking along the river, observing the patterns created while pushing a snow blower, or reveling in sharing memories with his mom and dad while their shaky hands slowly help decorate the Christmas tree. And yet, he is happy in the life he has.

That kind of happy is easy to be around because it’s not the kind of happy that comes from having, doing, and/or achieving. Instead, it’s the kind of happy that comes from being—and loving.

Today I sat in a radiology waiting room with a man so like the one my friend thought he would be all those years ago. This man was busy—and, as far as I could tell, happy with all that busyness. He made one call after another. “I’m not sharing this with anyone else yet.” “I won an award.” “Please change the flight for our nanny for the Hawaii trip.” “I’ll be in a conference call from 2:30 to 5:00.” Call after call, the man just kept going.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t trying to listen—I’m just sharing some of the snippets that kept intruding on my plan to read my book in relative silence—while, once again, waiting for someone I love who was at a medical appointment. I was looking for a quiet, peaceful moment when I could relax and try not to worry about the whys for our visit.

Most likely our visit was just a rule-out activity, but it’s not lost on me that for some people this is the place where what they never planned to experience is discovered.

From the cheerful banter and movement from one phone call after another by the other occupant of the waiting room, I got the impression the man was there for something such as a picture of an achy knee or some other sort of a hitch in his get-a-long—some body part that was slowing down his fast-paced life.

That’s why I was surprised when I heard his offhand tone as he said, “Oh, I’m just waiting to get a CT scan. They want to look at those blood clots in my lungs. They’re saying I might not be able to fly.” After a pause and a short laugh, he added, “Well, that won’t work. I have to be there, you know?”

Despite his almost frenetic activity, I really did get the impression it was no cover for fear. He just didn’t have time for that sort of thing (health difficulties) in his life—he had things to do, people to see, and places to go. Something like that just wasn’t going to slow him down.

I wish him well, but I just wanted to shake him and ask him if he’d heard himself. If nothing else, there are the people who rely on him at work or at the companies with which he deals, not to mention his wife and the two boys under his nanny’s care. Might taking a break from all his plans be better than letting everyone else figure out how to do without him permanently?

Nothing against the man—well, except for the fact it never seemed to occur to him that maybe I didn’t want to listen to all his phone calls—but I question his priorities. His body clearly has some problem, but he acted as if he thought he was just spending time waiting to check off another “to do” from his list.

If that’s the kind of person my friend had become, then we probably would have drifted into way different circles.

But long before his parents became ill, he recognized those original goals weren’t really his. He is a healer of a person, not a wheeler and dealer. I am blessed to know him—the him he was and the him he allowed himself to become. And truly the world would be a better place for us if more people such as he is were the wheelers and dealers of this world, but I don’t think that lifestyle would feed the healers of this world in the ways they need to be fed.

Blessed are those who feel blessed, even when they have few of the trappings of the world—for they know how to slow down and see God in the tiniest grain of sand or while experiencing a nano-second of joy.

Well done, oh good and faithful servant—you “get” it.

(c) 2011 Sherman Lambert

Might an empathetic bedside manner trump news delivered, softening blows because the patient feels heard?

Visit one, not requested by us but strongly suggested by the medical staff, started off in what is a typical way in our family: they got my daughter’s name wrong. Hey, I realize I named her a unique name, but after sixteen years at a practice, why is it so few of the staff get her name right? Is it possible they have a habit of not reading with attention?

Then the staff member proceeded to ask us why we were there—and then argue with us about our answers. We did not ask to come back so soon, but were told it was necessary for a specific reason—which had not been recorded the same way in the visit notes. Before we left without doing anything medically, three staff members were in the exam area, none willing to agree with the reason we said we were there while turning the conversation to what my daughter was not doing right—through information that had never been discussed at the previous appointment.

First of all they discounted what they had done and then turned the finger of blame on us. We were supposed to feel appeased with platitudes that it wasn’t a waste of time because they got to check out something else. Believe me, it isn’t whether they think something is a waste of time that matters—it’s what we, the patients—customers, if you will—think.

And maybe we would have felt the visit had not wasted our time if they had even offered one sincere apology for the miscommunication. Perhaps they really do think we got it all wrong, but this is not the first time we have encountered such confusion at this practice after we had the apparent misfortune to see two different providers at two visits—either office politics or medical philosophy discrepancies are involved or the staff does not write good notes in the charts—or all of the above.

In fact, with all my years of watching over my mother’s and my kids’ care, I can tell you that this is not an area I get wrong often, if at all. I know when the appointments are and I know why they say we are supposed to be there. The more I deal with medical appointments and procedures, the more I realize that good patient care is about more than the medical aspect—it’s also about good listening and record-keeping.

So I can tell you that my daughter was very unhappy to go to an appointment elsewhere an hour later. Since we haven’t figured out who should be her primary care doctor now that she is nineteen, when she has an urgent general concern when she is at home, she still has to go the pediatric practice where she’s been seen her entire life.

First of all, they called her by her given name. Then the PA asked questions that showed she had read the most recent sections of her medical chart. And, get this, she didn’t question how she said she felt, but discussed it with an empathetic tone. Of course, then she sent me out after a few questions so she could treat my daughter like the adult she is. By the time the appointment had ended, this PA had suggested something that could explain so much about all these constant physical problems that have been so hard on my daughter’s emotional well-being. Not a one of the specialists had ever mentioned such a possibility but so often they didn’t appear to have read her medical history and/or did not listen enough to our explanations to ask such thorough questions.

The daughter who entered that practice ready to shutdown on the next medical person who discounted her experiences left peaceful, despite hearing that there might be an explanation for her health problems that would mean even more medical treatment.

I am convinced she calmed down all because she felt she had encountered a provider who tried to understand all she had experienced, by simply reading good notes and asking related questions to draw out more possible information as well as by listening to the answers.

In other words, she felt heard. And that may make all the difference in getting a good enough diagnosis so that true healing may begin.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

You know my messy table isn’t really the problem—it’s just an obvious sign that deep down all is not well with my soul.

This is one of those years when I can’t talk myself into seeing the happy endings—or at least the unhappy endings that lead to deeper understanding and long-term happier endings. No matter what I said about wanting to be done with talking about unhappy topics, I am not. I can’t will myself to come up with the neat and happy moral of the story that will tie up a less-than-hope-filled post.

Although I’m feeling a bit like George Bailey on the bridge, I’m not looking to jump into the river. No, I just want to take that suitcase I bought with happy travels in mind—and run—anywhere that isn’t where I’ve been.

You see, I know God is hearing my prayers, but I’m having a hard time saying them. The good thing about God is He hears the prayers that have sunk so deep within us that we can’t even use our voices to speak them—they become so much a part of us that they rise from our very pores.

If nothing else, perhaps He’ll send me a bumbling Clarence to show me a better path than the one I am on.

Sometimes no amount of research or any continued pursuit for new solutions can fix a problem. And you especially can’t make someone else choose to see the hope in their situation if they prefer to see only loss.

You’re probably thinking I must be talking about myself, right? See, that’s the irony, isn’t it? So easy to see how to solve someone else’s problem, but then you look in the mirror and realize that maybe you’re so busy trying to solve someone else’s problem because it makes it easy not to be responsible for solving your own problems.

The years of trying to help others with celiac disease, dementia, depression, and ADD have taken their toll on me. I’m fresh out of perky solutions that are always met with a big “but”—because after all I have no idea how bad it is for someone else.

Well, the truth is they don’t know how bad it has been for me to watch them suffer. If I could, I would wave a magic wand and remove the problem. Would be much better than searching for other possible solutions that will never be good enough because the only solution the person really wants is to wake up completely healed.

They also don’t know how much I’ve suffered watching them refuse to consider anything but Plan A when I would fight to find them Plan B through Plan Infinity to aid in their movements forward. This week I realize I’m done being the pep squad. All that energy spent helping those who at this point won’t help themselves is making me feel like a failure. I know I am not—I tried, as God is my witness, I tried. Maybe I tried so hard that they didn’t think they needed to do so. But in the end all any of us really can do is help ourselves.

And during all those times of caregiving, I did not help myself. In some ways it’s just not possible to take care of yourself in the midst of others’ crises, but in other ways you have to be careful not to see any results as the only proof that what you did mattered. Some problems can’t be fixed despite anyone’s best efforts.

And so, I need a Clarence to come show me how I helped even if I could not beat back the demons of the diseases. I need to know that without me this place would have become a Potterville. Maybe I have a bit of a savior complex, but, by God, I’d like to know that sacrificing my potential trips around the world made some difference to others.

But short of that, the only thing I can control is the direction of my own footsteps in the future. A future where I stop trying to find solutions for everyone else and start looking for my own regardless of who is coming along with me on the trip.

Clarence, are you ready to earn your wings? Then help me climb down from this bridge so I can pack my suitcase for the trip of my lifetime.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Here’s a warning: I’m not going to respect the metaphor today. My friend Dawn always said to be careful about mixing metaphors and yet here I am talking about walking and sailing in the same blog post. But in the earliest days of Spring and during the windy month of March, wind is associated with both land and sea in my mind. No respect at all, I tell you.

Yesterday I stepped onto the labyrinth at our church, Bethany Lutheran, prepared to stick with one word in my mind and to let God guide that path. Calling or vocare or however you want to define being called to a profession. What is to be the next turn on my journey now that I am no longer a caregiver?

Of course, my mind being mine, I couldn’t stick with one word—just as I can’t seem to stick with one metaphor. Maybe it’s because I have taken so little time to be contemplative over the last few months.

Oh, it would appear that the busyness of the past few years is over and that I could take time to just be. To sit and listen for what comes next.

But so far that hasn’t happened—I don’t know if that is about to change or if I keep myself from slowing down. There have been so many tasks in these past two months since Mom has been gone. True I have the time I used to spend visiting or doing paperwork—plus I sleep better. My nights have become more restful now that I am no longer being asked to make multiple decisions for someone else or waiting for a call that will tell me things are worse or that the worst has happened.

Nonetheless, I have had tasks associated with the before and after of her services, such as the planning for the services and handling memorial donations and our expressions of gratitude. And a look around our house will tell you that I am still dealing with additional physical items that are not my own, be they for donation, preservation, or disposal. Despite my having given several large bags of clothing to ARC last month, more donations remain. Then there are the photos and papers—to stay or to go—either to someone else or in the trash.

I won’t even discuss the storage unit.

See, I could make up a boatload of excuses for not getting on with my own life, but why do I want to stay in this harbor of uncertainty? I was called to provide care over the last several years, but I feel certain God didn’t put me on this earth to be a full-time caregiver. I just wonder how and when he’s going to give me more directions on how to pull away from the dock in order to go toward other horizons.

(Here’s where I must take care with this metaphor, as I am no sailor though Sherman is. What little I know comes from movies like Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean and a few sails across reservoirs in Nebraska where I was so not in charge—not being in charge is the part of sailing I truly understand! And, that’s how I’m going to “respect the metaphor” in this writing.)

In the meantime I start uncoiling the ropes: I work on a financial plan, search for a puppy, and train for instructing Zumba® fitness. My cleared desk leaves room to focus on the writing work I accepted with the caveat that first I leave home to bid farewell to my mother.

And, so I wonder, can I be a dancing writer who works at home enough to raise a new canine-friend by her feet?

Not knowing, yesterday I took those feet on the path, walking and talking, despite not being still—in the end, my stillness is best achieved while moving.

Today this harbor is calm, but I am at the ready for the wind to pick up, fill the sails on my ship, and guide me out to sea.

My captain (my captain!)—unlike the one in Walt Whitman’s poem—still breathes: Come, Holy Spirit, come.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Do you suppose the bean counters at the Census Bureau will be scratching their heads over how it is a woman with a master’s degree counts her only paid income from doing snow removal? It had to be this year they asked me to fill out the form . . .

But there was no “let me explain” section to that long form, the one that made me glad my kids were away at college, if only because we didn’t have to fill out any “Person 3” and “Person 4” sections.

Instead the form shows me as a middle-aged woman of high education and reasonable health (at least I did not admit to any infirmities on the survey) who has no children in the home, yet has worked only removing snow in the past year.

Such is life in the sandwich.

It doesn’t add much to my lifelong social security contributions. And somehow I doubt there’s a grant available in gratitude for doing what I can to keep my mother off the Medicaid rolls or for trying to coordinate the billing and payments between our former insurance company and the provider so that we don’t get dinged for expenses that aren’t ours on what was already a very painful and costly experience helping our daughter back to health.

These activities are real examples of how many of us employed, underemployed, and unemployed spend our time in the middle years of our lives. Taking care of our loved ones and what we do have is how we help society stay strong.

But as a certain president says while discussing this country’s own difficult challenges, “let me perfectly clear” that there are productivity losses, both individual and nationwide, in the realm of paid employment because many of us cannot always direct our attention to holding full-time jobs without neglecting the personal needs of our family members or our jobs. So far I haven’t figured out a way to balance both concerns and do justice to each.

It is my sincere hope that, with my children away at college, I can work back into more suitable (to my skills!) paid productivity, either through writing projects and/or working for an outside company. However, weeks like the last one remind me that my need for flexibility makes me seem like a less than a reliable worker, at least to those who don’t already have a working relationship with me.

When the ambulance took my mother to the hospital, I had to go meet her there, even if I didn’t stay there round-the-clock. Even with my frequent presence, in my absences my mom still ran higher risks of falls, infections, and skin wounds, problems that would only increase her discomfort and lead her closer to needing that government assistance that the taxes on my little snow removal jobs don’t come close to providing.

I take care of my own because it’s the right thing to do—and that’s what so many others are also doing right now. People like me who have chosen to work reduced hours have to remind ourselves of that when faced with surveys or forms that seem to indicate that what we do isn’t part of the economic formula for our nation.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

We are a demographic, too. Know that without our unpaid labor, so much of what needs to get done in our society would either be done less well, need to be paid for by some other funding source, or just wouldn’t get done at all.

I’ll continue to do that unpaid labor because it needs to be done, but know that if the only paid work I do is removing snow, I will work hard to make sure that snow is removed well and in a timely manner so other people can get to their own paying jobs. Whatever I do, I do with the best of my abilities. It’s helped me graduate at the top of my classes, it’s helped me fight for what my loved ones need, and, by gum, it’s helped me get through snow that’s too deep for my equipment because that snow needed to be removed.

I do what needs to be done . . . including filling out *&^%# census forms that appear to diminish what I do.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

I like to help people, but deep down I’m a chicken. I prefer to help people from a distance, mostly by providing them with resources or getting some sort of task done for them that helps them with something in their everyday lives.

Truly, I like hiding behind my computer—behind words, numbers, etc.—not because I’m cold, but because I have a hard time forgetting others’ problems. I can imagine things well without having experienced them myself. Maybe that stems from the voracious reading I’ve done since I first learned to pick out words for myself. Or maybe that’s just how I came into this world since movies, songs, and visual pieces such as paintings and photos can reach me in the same way.

That’s why going to a support group can be a double-edged sword for me—sometimes I have to work not to feel overwhelmed. I love that I might be able to offer some information that might relieve someone else’s burdens, but often I find myself wanting to run away from the emotions that arise in such a group.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t run the Race for the Cure for several years. For anyone who has participated in the Race for the Cure, it’s not just the visual cues from the survivors’ pink hats or the heartfelt signs pinned to participants’ backs that make the event such a powerful emotional experience. I admit that cowardice has made me want to run away to avoid the race course’s tunnel—in such an enclosed space I know I am not able to escape from the emotions exuding from the crush of other women running so close to me. It’s as if fear, loss, anger, sadness, and whatever else are released from the sweat of those running and/or walking the course route—which is how it should be.

At this week’s Alzheimer support group I rather felt as if I were in that tunnel when the session started with a couple members in tears from deep loss—even as I looked to them with compassion in my eyes, I just wanted to bolt from that room and forget that anyone had to suffer through living with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s.

But at the end of the evening a couple people who come solely to provide support—who have lost their loved ones—validated what it is we can give one another. The truth is most of us didn’t ask to know anything about this disease and how it affects people, but had to learn from the School of Hard Knocks.

There are so many of us out there—wherever I go I meet people who are dealing with loved ones with dementia and I do reach out to them in those spontaneous encounters —whether I have anything new to offer them or not or whether I’m just a fellow traveler on a similar journey.

My urge to run tends to occur more often when I’m in formal situations where people come together to share their burdens. However, running from others’ emotions is all about taking care of myself but not at all about helping others. In the end, others need me to help them in person, as much as I am able. I’ll never be that extremely warm person who always reaches out to others but I’ve come a long way. When you’re face to face with someone in pain, it’s pretty much impossible to retreat and think it’s good enough to give them help from a distance.

I can’t take away the main reason for other people’s pain and they can’t take away mine, but for a few moments side-by-side we can share one another’s burdens—and feel some weight lift from our shoulders before we leave to go back and do the hard work of helping our own loved ones through the long goodbye.

I’m so glad that last night people reminded me—again—why it’s so important for me to stop doing the stupid chicken dance and just stick around and be there in person for someone else.

(c) 2010, Christiana Lambert

Jackson’s tutor always says something to the effect that if Nature gives great abilities in one area, it’s going to take it away in another area. In other words, people don’t tend to be good at everything. His tutor even goes so far to say that Nature tends to try to kill off those who really are good at everything. Hey, I can’t quote his scientific references—I’m just putting out his theory.

I guess I should be glad I’m flawed!

But that doesn’t mean that being reminded of those flaws doesn’t cut me to my core—especially when they have been a lifelong struggle. Our true areas of weakness begin adding to our baggage from our earliest days. The sentences and phrases spoken to me about this weakness replay in my brain. I see pictures of how often I failed—at different ages in different rooms in different houses.

I don’t know where to put things. I know now that’s part of my ADD and also part of how I was raised. My mother, who had a brain injury and who most likely also had ADD, was not able to model for me or train me.

It’s a good thing I was good in school, just as she was. She and I are a perfect example of the tutor’s theory. We were at the top of our classes in learning and most likely near the bottom of our classes in putting things away and other various domestic arts.

Knowledge can set you free, so I’ve been learning about ADD for almost a decade now. I’ve studied techniques for how to work well with my kind of brain. I feel better in control of how I approach organizing, thanks to realizing I have to do things in a way that makes sense to my brain, not in ways that make sense to the naturally organized person.

However, the truth is I can only work with my brain, not control it completely. Sometimes I just have to cut myself a little slack. And I definitely cannot control other people’s actions or some of the events in my life that have added to the quantity of “stuff” in my home.

One of the gifts of ADD is that I can punt when I have to do so. When faced with my mother’s needs and my kids’ needs, I can figure out how to do what’s most necessary: be there for them to help them deal with their difficult times, find resources for them, and get them to outside help when necessary.

There is no denying that taking care of others in their crises changes priorities. Time available does not increase just because more tasks are added into a day. Care-giving has pushed me squarely into areas of my weaknesses. I have had to turn my focus to time and detail management. I have been the one to schedule appointments and see that everyone gets to those appointments. I have been the one to contact providers, insurance companies, financial companies, etc. to make sure all the pieces fall into place—especially when those who are supposed manage those details do not.

But while the time spent managing details is quantifiable, how much time does it take to console others in pain and to confront your own emotional responses to conflict and loss?

When life is hard, it becomes even harder to do those things that are difficult on a good day.

In addition to all the extra paperwork, appointments, and phone calls that have been part of my life over the past two years, add four moves for my mother—two of them with no more than a few days’ notice. Moving and figuring out what to do with things are pretty much at the bottom of my competency scale—note I haven’t moved myself for almost 22 years.

The best way to handle my lack of competency is not to move and not to bring extra items into my home. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a say in those areas recently.

So what I don’t need right now is criticism. What I’ve needed for a long time now is help. With all the unpaid work I’ve done over the past few years, I have lost my own sources of income—I can’t afford to pay someone else to help me—especially with burdens that are not entirely my own creation.

I have done the hard work of not abandoning my loved ones, even when they weren’t at their most lovable. I have kept up with the needed appointments and payments. I have not lost my faith, mind, or ability to treat people well.

But, no, my patio is not cleared. And trust me, I really do want it cleared, both for our upcoming graduation celebration and so I can enjoy sitting there—if I ever have time to do so. I want to be able to relax enough to enjoy our company and to have the beauty of our recent home improvements show through when our guests arrive.

Without a little help, it’s highly likely I won’t even get enough of the “stuff” put away to make it to the middle of the class in home organization. Rather than focus on that area where I remain at the bottom of the class, I need to turn my focus to what matters most: that we are all still here together.

Please, welcome to my home, and for God’s sake, stop minding the dust.

Jackson & Christiana, May 2010

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