We made some pretty fierce friendships in Keene, NH. IN making our move to the West Coast, leaving our son behind (who chose to stay in Keene) was hard. And leaving these friendships ‘behind’ was hard, too. (Say what you will about Facebook, it’s been wonderful for small, constant contact with those people.)
Each person had a particular, unique way of showing up in our world, some special way of looking at the world that would amaze me, and support me, when I struggled with some life issue. I hesitate to even pull out one name, because there were others just as magnificient in my heart. But today is a little shout-out for Melinda.
In the context of my struggle to find peace with difficult people, with problematic family stuff, with my own journey as a human being on this planet, Melinda taught me much about forgiveness and love. About what was part of my journey, and what was part of someone else’s journey. She knows I don’t believe in God per se, but knew how to put it into context I could accept and hold. She could see when I was part of the problem. And she could see when the problem was not mine to ‘fix’. “That’s not between you and them,” she’d explain. “That’s between them and God.” (I could accept ‘God’ as what I would call ‘fate’ or ‘karma’ or ‘the universe’, and see the wisdom.)
One thing we talked about often was miracles. I struggled with the concept. I could see that in times of great distress and agony, when loved ones were in danger, when I felt hopeless and powerless (or rather, recognized how powerless I was to put things right), there were always little moments when something powerful happened. I would cross paths with someone who had exactly the right words I needed to hear, to get through that day. That person might be anyone: A perfect stranger, or a casual acquaintance or a good friend with a life experience I’d never known or imagined. Something in me would blurt out what was on my mind. And that person would have the wisdom, the insight, to help. Not the solution, not the ‘fix’. Just enough of ‘something’ for me to take the next step. (Or not to fall into the pit of despair.)
Melinda said that that’s what miracles are, if we are open to them: Tiny moments of grace that let us see the world differently, a small change in perception and perspective….if we are open to them.
Today I went to the flea market. When my soul is sore, sometimes hunter-gathering soothes it. Finding something that someone else has given up, tossed aside or left behind, or worse, the objects valued enough to hold on to, but cannot find room for in our lives until debt or death acts for us, the treasures of the auctioned storage locker…there’s something beautiful and poignant about even the ugliest and least meaningful (to me) objects.
Today I found a small pair of round-nose jewelry pliers, and pretty rocks–petrified wood, a small agate, a geode. A necklace I can reuse for the beads, and a small bookcase that might fit under the table in my studio.
And a small stuffed rabbit.
If you ever visited my studio in Keene, you know about my eclectic small doll collection, and my pebble collection, and my shells, and pottery shards, and my small boxes. And my menagerie of stuffed animals.
As I walked by, the vendor tried to stand it up on her table. It kept flopping over, so she stuffed it into the slot of a toaster.
I stopped and without thinking, cried, “Oh, no, don’t put him in the toaster!”
She stopped and looked uneasy. “I know, but I can’t make him stand up!” She caressed him hesitantly.
Impulsively, I asked, “How much?” She held up three fingers.
I shook my head, trying to be a grown-up. If it had been the holidays, I would have bought him to put in my little Christmas tree.
If I had more cash, I might have bought him to send to my friend Julie, who adores bunnies.
But….”You have enough little toys,” I told myself sternly, and turned away.
“Two dollar!” she piped. I hesitated. I couldn’t help but think how hard it is to bring all this stuff to the flea market, to stand there all day behind piles of….stuff. To hope someone will buy it, so you don’t have to drag it home again. Maybe make enough money to buy something more important.
I remembered the frantic distress of sorting through all our belongings in Keene, the endless scurry to get everything out of the house and gone, that horrible, horrible last hectic week, the precious objects I’d set aside to keep that ended up on our curb because there was simply no more room for them.
The friends who’d shown up to help, to wrap, to pack, to gently pull loved possessions from my hands, who let me cry, who hugged me, over and over and over again, until the very last day.
As I stood there thinking, a young mother and her little girl came up next to me to look, too. The child stooped over and picked up something small and round and bright green from the pavement.
I instinctively reached for her, but the tiny pellet fell from her mouth, just as her mother noticed her movement and, frantic with worry, cried, “What did you put in your mouth?! What is in your mouth?!”
“It’s okay! She spit it out! It’s gone!” I told her. She was relieved, but still anxious.
I suddenly saw my younger self in here. I remembered when some people were critical of my young ones, when they were small–Doug was crying, Robin was upset, me, frantic, wanting to be a good mother, and not knowing how–and how those people had let me know how annoying they found it all.
And I remembered all the people who showed me kindness and understanding, and smiled at me and said, “Oh, I remember those days!”
I hesitated–should I interfere? Would she see it as meddling?
“Would your little girl like this bunny?” I asked her.
Now she hesitated. “Yes…” and I could see…(but why was I giving them the bunny?) “Yes…” she said, and smiled.
In that second, I realized the little girl already had a lovey, a small white stuffed unicorn she clutched fiercely to her chest. “Robin (my daughter) loves unicorns,” I thought. I realized the child would like the bunny, but the unicorn was special. It would simply be a surfeit of stuffed toys.
Suddenly, the older brother appeared, about five. He saw my hand, hovering with a bunny. Something in his eyes…..
“Would your little boy like the bunny?” I asked her.
She hesitated, we both did. Boys are tough. It’s sometimes harder for a boy to show tenderness. You never know when a bunny is a ‘baby’ thing, especially with a younger sister present, when a fluffy toy will draw a sneer.
As I turned to the children, my hand still out with the bunny, his eyes caught the bunny–and his face lit up.
“Ohhhhh, a bunny!!!” he cried. My outstretched hands met his before either of us could think. He clutched the little toy to his chest and hugged it fiercely.
Mom and I looked at each other and smiled, and we all moved on. Best two dollars I ever spent.
I know now that I didn’t “leave Melinda behind”, nor Julie, nor Roma, nor others. Their friendships are sacred to me. It’s possible that Jessica will remain an acquaintance, even though, since her words once helped me make it through a hard day, she will always seem like more than that to me.
It may be our paths won’t ever cross again.
I also know there are new ‘angels’ here in Santa Rosa, and Petaluma, and Sebastopol. The scene at Atlas Coffee Company, next door to my studio in the arts district, is stinkin’ rich with angels and small miracles. There are old friends rediscovered in Benecia, and in Castro Valley, and Santa Rosa itself.But every day, they are all in my heart.
Make new friends. But keep the old. One is silver, and the other, gold.
And every one is a miracle to me.
My latest post for Fine Art Views helps you put everything into perspective about your art career. And, maybe, your life.
I spent three wonderful days last week, ‘helping’ on the lastest public art installation by mural artist Bud Snow (formerly of Santa Rosa, CA.)
I didn’t mean to. I just stopped by to say hello to this talented, amazing person, whose early work appears on a concrete ledge right outside my studio door. I was captivated the very first time I saw their images, on a grainary tower along Rte. 12, on storefronts and buildings, and this humble little ledge (which we saw the very first time we stopped in Santa Rosa at Atlas Coffee Company.)
We met, we fell in love with each other, and a wonderful friendship was born. And now Bud was back in town, painting a giant mandala about 100 feet from my front door (again!) in Santa Rosa’s beautiful, art-filled Julliard Park. My quick hello on Monday was met with, “Would you like to paint a bit?” “Would I?! Would I?!! Hell, yah!” I
shrieked said politely. And I painted for several hours. And again Tuesday (“I really can’t stay oh okay just for a few minutes”) for 6 hours. (I called Jon down to join me, and he said it was exhilarating, peaceful, therapeutic, and a million other good things.) And I was there for hours more on Wednesday, too.
This project was a little different for Bud. Usually the work is done high up, in otherwise inaccessible locations. Not much face time with the public, and they certainly can’t be a part of the process fifty feet off the ground. This was at ground level, in a popular park, near an elementary school, a small community of stores and shops and fancy restaurants, in the heart of Santa Rosa’s SOFA Arts District.
This meant people actually walked by the work-in-progress. It lay right at their feet! The responses were delightful to behold. Everybody–everybody— loved it. High school and college kids, longtime friends of Bud who stopped by to say hello, fellow artists, parents picking up their kids at the elementary school, people eating lunch, people walking home from work, people walking their dogs, people who hang out in the park who have no homes to go to, bicyclists, people using the bocce courts nearby, neighbors, passers-by, all ages, all genders, all races, all affiliations, all greeting the work with smiles and laughter.
And Bud met all of them with grace, and generosity, and an open heart. And asking them if they’d like to paint a bit. (Almost everyone said yes.)
It was magic.
And as people painted and chatted, the magic continued. Stories, musings, and wisdom were shared, unknown connections were revealed (some going back two or three generations, and across the country, and into Canada and Mexico.) Synchronicity abounded, resulting in gasps of breath and regular rounds of laughter.
Synchronicity involves authenticity, and Bud Snow has that in abundance. Pure creative spirit creates powerful connections, and the resulting art creates powerful connection, something we’ve practiced as a species even before the powerful and mysterious cave paintings were made tens of thousands of years ago.
This, to me, was the ultimate public art project. Because not only did the art beautify the space, and enriched those who see it, it brought together a mini-community of people to participate in the process. All of us who contributed even a brushstroke, or shared a story, or brought a gift (coffee, snacks, and other goodies) will feel part of this mandala for years to come. And because it’s a functional piece as well (you can actually walk this meditative piece), it will enrich others for decades to come.
Actually, this is even more incredible when you figure in the problematic consequences of this. Engaging constantly with the public, encouraging people to participate (very few said no!), setting them up to paint, and adding to the touch-up work needed to cover errant footprints (people, dogs), drips, and scuffs (because the design was complex, and mistakes were made) was also monumentally time-consuming. What was supposed to be a two-day project stretched to double, almost triple the time. Bud agonized about being over-budget and over-time. And yet Bud never let that show, not once. Bud was just as gracious and engaging to the people who showed up as we were trying to clean up, as the sun set, as the first visitors of the day. (A homeless man held a flashlight for us as we cleaned up the work station, and used his pocket knife to scrape away some of the more stubborn paint drips. SO EFFIN’ SWEET.)
I’m sharing one such gift today, courtesy of Tara Thompson, arts coordinator for the City of Santa Rosa, who showed up with many gifts (including painting!)
Tara showed up with items from a previous outreach/marketing project in Santa Rosa, called Out There in the Middle of Everything (Santa Rosa), a collaborative project with Santa Rosa residents to promote the overt and hidden wonders of Santa Rosa. She brought t-shirts and small booklets designed by Bud, and gave them to Bud.
My favorite was this t-shirt, a sort of treasure hunt for Santa Rosa:
Now, at first glance, I couldn’t read the ‘code’. And then…I could.
Oh! There’s SOFA! That’s the art district! And tool library–I knew what that was, too.
I knew two of the ‘secrets’ of Santa Rosa!
My friend Cory explained a few more that I actually knew, too. “Goat mornings” was having coffee at another popular coffee shop, The Flying Goat. “Snoopy E’rywhere”? The sculptures of characters from the comic strip PEANUTS, by Santa Rosa resident Charles Schulz, which you’ll find all over town.
Jon looked and said, “Hey, the Pen Guy! Is that the guy who’s glued Sharpie markers all over his car? I took a picture of that!” It was.
And here’s the biggest wonderful aspect of Bud Snow’s work:
I instantly felt a part of, a citizen of, Santa Rosa.
Jon and I moved a lot before we settled down in Keene, New Hampshire 28 years ago. I’m extremely aware of how much time can pass before you feel “at home” in a new place, before you feel yourself to be a real citizen of that place.
This t-shirt created that feeling, that connection in me immediately, after 18 months. (Keene took three years.)
I want Bud Snow to do this for other towns and communities. (I know, anyone could do it. But Bud created this, help an artist out here. There will be the distinctive flair of Bud Snow’s art and talent.)
Bud didn’t see the deep magic in this at first. “They asked me to make something that showed how special this city is,” Bud said. “I just listed a bunch of my favorite places in town. It’s no big deal!”
But it is.
In twenty minutes, half a dozen people connected, with their long (or brief) history in this city, with each other, with Bud. Another intimate, powerful, connective work of art, doing its job, doing it right.
Thank you, Tara Thompson, for the perfect gift, for Bud Snow, for all of us there that day. I’ve already bought two t-shirts from the city site’s online store. I’ll be buying a lot more in the years to come.
Thank you, Bud Snow, for being you. You are more than you know.
And thank you, Santa Rosa, our new home.
In yesterday’s post, I shared what is–has been–a huge part of my life: The blender. A constant buzz and swirl of chatter in my head. Even as a child, I mulled and ruminated. (Odd. Both of those can also be food words.) Hashing and rehashing events, issues, questions, worries. I’ve always felt like a blender!
I know that’s part of the human condition. In our modern world, especially for most of us who have….enough (even when it doesn’t seem like it), our little buzzy brains are always busy. Evolved over millennia to watch for lions, tigers, and bears, now we imagine danger (and worse, humiliation) in every shadow and behind every corner. (Unless you are a sociopath or a narcissist, in which case you have a lot less buzz. But people don’t like you very much.)
Let’s add another string bean to the blender: I’ve had tinnitus my entire life. I thought everybody had a ringing chord in their brain. I thought I was hearing electricity, that the power lines connecting our houses were thrumming with it. I was six when I realized only I could hear it.
It’s never gone away, and probably never will.
So a week ago, I began my blender meditation.
Wednesday morning: I imagine a blender. I put in some water, some ice, oil. A few peas. (Peas, Quinn? Why??) A strawberry. Some food coloring. In my mind I turned it on, I watched, I waited. And then I turned it off, just as the alarm on my timer went off, too.
I wrote one word in my journal: Yuck. (It made me queasy.)
Thursday a.m. I put something different in the blender: Rocks. Small pebbles, sand, silt. Leaf litter and debris. Water. Sediment layers!! (I love geology!) And some floaty plastic bead things. I’d been using one of those hot/cold gel pads on my cat bites (a story for another day), and they obviously intrigued me to the point where they got stuck in my head.
I thought this was a great visualization, because I’ve done this before (without a blender), and marveled at how well the ingredients settle out. And each layer has a potential purpose. Gravel can pave a path. Small grit can be used in concrete. We can use one layer to make clay for pottery. We can drink the water. The debris? Compost!
I also realized it was the sound of the blender (that high-pitched grating whine) that made me feel queasy.
And I thought of my tinnitus, because sometimes it, too, sounds whiney.
But what if that whine had layers, too? Sometimes I can ‘hear’ it as a chord, a blend of many tones. Sometimes I imagine it as the noise of my own body (one theory about lifelong tinnitus)
What if I were actually hearing….the steady tone of the universe??
I raised my open hands to that achey place, and held them there. I felt comforted.
Then the alarm went off. I wrote all these thoughts down.
On Friday, I worried about my rock smoothie. What if the rocks broke the blender?! What a mess, right? So instead of rocks and dirt, I realized I could put shoulda/coulda/woulda into the blender. All the second guessing, all the remorse, all the replays of the bad moments of my life, the fears (“I could do that! But wait….what if….??”), the self-doubt, the self-recriminations….
As the whine grew louder in my head, there suddenly came a flash of insight:
I could add “I shall” and “I will” to the blender. And…I could add “maybe”.
As in, “Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t.” As in, “I don’t have to make a decision. In fact, I can decide not to decide.”
Again, I put my hands to that achey place, and felt comforted.
The blender wavered. And then the alarm went off. I wrote all these thoughts down.
On Saturday I got all caught up in the details. Rocks? I could, too, pick them up with wet hands! (Part of Quinn’s metaphor about the uselessness of trying to corral those thoughts.) (Yet another aspect of the human brain. We love to rebut.)
I decided to go back to the peas and strawberries, etc.
Then I thought of Quinn’s comment: “I see you circling the ‘problem’ with your back to it.” I imagined what that would look like. I immediately thought of Mike Birbiglia’s comedy routine, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend”, and his description of the amusement park ride, The Scrambler. (Later in his routine, he actually spins and wheels across the stage to demonstrate, but I can’t find that bit.)
I laughed out loud. And the timer went off.
On Sunday, it was about the noise again. The blender was whining. Jon was outside with our new weed-whacker. The refrigerator hummed. My tinnitus was ringing. Noise! The noise was unbearable.
And suddenly, I saw the noise as something different.
Everything is doing what it’s supposed to do.
My body is alive–heart pumping, blood flowing, ears listening, brain processing the wonder of all this, even as I sit quietly in my chair. The fridge is keeping our food cool and safe. The weed-whacker is whacking weeds. The universe doing its universing thing.
My brain is doing what it’s supposed to do. Overdoing it, perhaps. But it’s not a bad brain. It’s just busy, acquiring information, assessing each bit for danger, for possibility and usefulness.
Simply observing it at work is a marvel. Our minds are a gift. My life is a gift.
I suddenly realized, my brain is simply trying, in its own way, to take care of me. It’s busy evaluating each possibility, examining the potential of each thought, even the ones I cannot control, the ones I have absolutely no power over.
And if I can keep out of the process, just for a moment, I realize it will all settle out on its own, into the layers that I can contemplate later at my leisure: Hmmmm, no, that one is not a danger I have to act on. That one is interesting, but not actionable right now. That one is a possibility, but I don’t have to decide right now.
My responsibility? To let that gift do what’s supposed to do. Let it expand. Let it sift. But don’t lose sight of what’s important.
I am meant to grow. To learn, to expand.
I am meant to to sift. To let go of what does not serve me: Fretting, mulling, worrying.
I am meant to forgive, myself and others, to take the lessons learned and move on.
I am meant to share what I am, what I make. I share what I make with my hands, sometimes by selling, but also by exchanging, by writing about it, by giving it away. In its own time, at its own pace.
I thought of the ache in my chest (I never think of my ‘heart’ as the source except metaphorically. It’s always at the top of my chest, for some reason.) I raised my open hands to that ache, to comfort it. I felt peace. Love. Relief.
And the timer went off.
On Monday, the blender started. And I thought of the video, We Came to Dance.
The words, “We learned there were rules to being human…” (shame, guilt, feel of humiliation if we don’t do it right.) “We stopped listening to the humming in our veins…” (My tinnitus! One theory of tinnitus is that the sound is in every one of us, but most have learned to ‘screen it out’…) With the beating of my heart, and the chord of music I carry everywhere, even the odd musical note that is the blender of my brain, is music.
I thought about dancing. What would dancing to that music be like?
Suddenly, the noise of the blender receded, even before I turned the blender off.
In its place I heard the thrum of traffic, more noticeable because many trees lost their leaves and so don’t muffle the noise. But spring is here, and the leaves are coming back.
I heard the cherk of saucy jays, and the tiny pips of unknown birds (new to me) that I call ‘pipkins’ (until I learn their proper name.) I heard the voices of children playing in the neighborhood. (School holiday?) I heard the clock ticking, measuring time in its sometimes helpful, sometimes annoying way. I heard the timer’s alarm.
And I felt peace in my heart.
Today was Tuesday. And I only wrote down two phrases:
Tardigrade, aka ‘water bears’. (Google it, it’s weird.) (Should I be freaked out??)
And 4-7-8, the new “guaranteed-to-help-you-sleep’ breath count. Which I’ve tried, and feel like I’m suffocating. (Am I doing it wrong??)
I laugh. And get ready to start my day, with a little peace in my heart.
What’s the problem I’m circling with my back to it? I still have no idea.
But I know Quinn will be there to help me sort it out. I know Sheri will be back in a week. My kids are visiting later this month, and my daughter has assured me the too-tiny fold out sofa bed will be fine.
All I have to do is trust my process. And enjoy the day.
Did you find that helpful? Part of me worries that you won’t.
But mostly I did what I do: Shared it with you, to help you on your journey, wherever the ripples take you.
And that’s all I have to do, today.
p.s. Oh, and clean the cat litter. And make the bed. And go work out. And go to the studio. And maybe go grocery shopping. And put the too-tiny sofa bed together. And clean the bathrooms, kitchen, back hallway, and basement. And everything else. And not worry about galleries, publicity, sales, exhibit opportunities, volunteering, staying in touch with friends and family, how to create the perfect visit for my kids, how to take care of loved ones, etc., etc., etc.
But somehow, it all looks a little more manageable.
We love our new lives in California. But sometimes all the ‘new’ is overwhelming.
Even small things, like not recognizing the ‘ordinary’ birds out here, remind us daily of what we don’t know about California. (There are at least TWO kinds of jays here in Santa Rosa.) (And what are the ones that go, “pip”. “Pip.”)
Then there’s been the big stuff: A knee surgery for me, within two months of moving here, for me, double hip replacement surgery for Jon less than six months ago. Rebuilding our careers, missing our kids, our friends, our resources…. Did I say missing our kids?
Starting over….I knew it would take time to rebuild an audience for my art, time to grow a new audience, here on the other coast. I know that takes patience. (Not my forte, btw, patience. Er….could you tell?)
But it’s the constant second-guessing that’s killing me. Not knowing what is an opportunity, and what’s a distraction. What’s the next step? What should hold on to, and what do I let go of. When to wait, and when to act. And my studio–is it a workspace? A store? A blessed space, a sanctuary? Yet another place to fill with stuff?? Finished goods overrunning the space, a constant reminder that it’s not selling??? All of the above???!!
It boggles the mind. MY mind, daily.
Last month, I had a healing, enlightening, expanding session with a new friend here, Sheri Gaynor of Creative Awakenings. It was healing with horses, something I’ve encountered (and will always treasure) just before I left New Hampshire, at HorseTenders Mustang Foundation. I highly recommend both Sheri and the HorseTenders programs.
Of course, the new vision frightened me. And of course, being me, I immediately when into ‘contraction state’ (Who, me?? I can’t do that!!) and right through to planning mode. (What does that look like? How does it work? How to I monetize it? Should I monetize it??)
“Call Sheri!” my fevered brain begged. So I did. Ack!! Sheri is on a sabbatical in Costa Rica, for her own much-needed retreat, respite, and restoration of heart and soul.
The song from Ghostbusters ran through my head…”Who ya gonna call??”
And then it occured to me who I could call: My friend and mentor Quinn McDonald of Quinn Creative. (I love her tagline: “Clarity starts here.”)
I had a coaching session with Quinn years ago, in the middle of another professional turmoil/quandry. (Okay, I have them every
month day 20 minutes, if you must know.)
She asked if I were a perfectionist, and I said yes. Who doesn’t want to always do their best??
“The trouble with being a perfectionist,” she said, “is that you are full of ‘knowing’. And when you are full of knowing, nothing new can come in.”
Let me repeat that amazing, seemingly-simple little sentence….
When you are full of ‘knowing’, nothing new can come in.
That phrase lit up my life for the next six years. Still does. And so I turned to Quinn to walk me through my latest crisis of heart.
After listening to me
whine describe what I was going through, Quinn created a metaphor for a brief, daily meditation, an image to capture what I was going through and what it felt like–and what to do about it.
It’s a blender.
“Imagine a blender. Throw some ice cubes, some water, a little oil, a couple of peas, maybe a strawberry. And some food coloring!” she said. “Then turn it on.”
My life has been a blender the past few years, she said. All of that stuff, the good, the awesomely good, the bad, the really bad, the scary bad, the good in the bad, everything, is whirling around, being chopped into tinier and tinier pieces. “And you’re trying to pick up those pieces as they fly by, with wet hands.”
Boy, did I get it.
“So life is not supposed to be a smoothie,” I mused. Right, said Quinn.
Hence the meditation. She described the steps, ending with “turn off the blender.” (whew!) Then, “Write down what comes up, after”, she said. “Even a word or two. Keep a written record for the next week or two. We’ll talk more about that later.”
Now, knowing me, you KNOW I wrote down more than a word or two.
And no, I actually don’t like smoothies. A milkshake, yes. No veggies, please, nor fruit.
And in tomorrow’s post, I’ll share what came up, and where I’m going with this.
Til then: Turn off the blender!
There’s a big difference between the “lies” that heal, and the truths that hurt.
I have a friend who took care of her husband, who had Alzheimer’s, until he died a year ago. It was very hard for her, especially since both of them worked closely with families who experience loss, death, and devastation.
You can gain a lot of insight working with others on this hard, sometimes lonely, journey at the end of life. But you don’t get a free pass just because you’ve witnessed this journey with others. In fact, it seems like it’s even harder, if you’re ‘in the field’, when it happens to you. Maybe we feel like we should know how to ‘do it perfectly’. But when it happens to us, there’s no such thing as ‘doing it perfectly’. There is just ‘getting through’.
Caring for a person with Alzheimers, and other cognitive issues, is especially difficult. Their view of the world, their resources for dealing with it, are changed drastically. The old method was to constantly fight for reality–yours! Maybe, with enough reinforcement, we could ‘force’ them back into our world. Tell them the same thing over and over and over, and eventually, they’ll get it.
Sadly, this approach does not work. In fact, it creates more stress, more anxiety, in the person. People often still have an emotional/social self–they sense they are ‘doing it wrong’. When they are constantly reminded of this, things go downhill pretty fast. Anxiety leads to agitation, anger, and even agression.
Current strategy is to ‘go along’ with the client. “I’m supposed to be at work!” they exclaim. “I have to get ready!” You may choose to ‘go along’–“Sure! But we have to have breakfast first.” “Or, “Sure, we could do that! What would you like to wear to work today? Let’s get dressed. OH…you might want to take a shower first!” “Or you gently ‘remind’ them that today is a work holiday. So maybe they’d like to go for a drive in the country instead?”
This can be difficult, though, because it doesn’t feel ‘honest’. The hardest part of caring for clients with cognitive issues? “The lies!” my friend exclaimed. “Our relationship was based on trust, and respect, and honesty. And then, to keep him calm and at ease, I had to lie to him, over and over and over, every single day!” She felt she had worn away the last thing that connected them, by lying to him.
The best advice I can share with you today is to point you to a person who embraced this situation himself, and wrote about it. For insight into these strategies, I highly recommend the website Alzheimer’s Reading Room. Bob DeMarco went there and back again, into the world of Alzheimer’s while caring for his mother.
His insights are filled with integrity, insight, and simplicity. He stresses that to create a new, rich relationship with your loved one living with cognitive issues, you need to go to their world. We need to look at their point of view, and understand where they’re coming from. The person we used to know is changed, due to major changes in their brain and cognition. We cannot hold them to who they once were, to what they could have been. We have to work with who they are, and what they’re doing now.
We tend to think in terms of absolutes: Good and evil. Right and wrong. Truth and lies. Even the grey areas of white lies and fibs can feel overwhelming when you have to practice it over and over, day after day after day.
Alzheimer’s is not a world of absolutes. For a person in this world, it is a place of ever-changing reality, as memories fade, as dreams flood into waking time, as it gets harder and harder to understand what’s what.
DeMarco says, over and over: You have to go to their world. You have to see through their eyes, understand through their experience, work with their fears and anxiety.
I was going to go into a big long spiel about lying vs. going to Alzheimer’s world, and kids and Santa Claus/Easter Bunny/Flying Spaghetti Monster, but there’s just this: When we talk to kids about death and dying, sickness, bad accidents, we frame it so it meets them where they are. A four-year-old grieving for a dead pet needs something different than a 12-year-old, etc. The same when we are caring for/living with/working with people with cognitive issues.
A friend told me how she struggled what to tell her dad, who had dementia, about her mom/his wife, who had just died. “When he asks where she is, do I tell him the truth”, she agonized. “Then he reels with the shock and weeps. Two hours later, he asks me again. I don’t want to lie, but telling him the truth is like torturing him with harsh sorrow, over and over, and over again. It’s new to him every time.”
Eventually, when he asked, she told him she (her mom, his wife) was ‘away’. No, no one was sure just when she’d be back, but she was okay, and sent her love, and they would see her again ‘in awhile’. This reassured him, until the next time he asked.
This went on for months, until one day, he asked her hesitantly, “I have a feeling Mom isn’t coming back. Am I right?” She then told him yes, but again, gently, simply agreeing. And reassuring him that she (the mom) was okay, they would be okay, and that she (the daughter) was there for him. He wept, but was not devastated. The question faded gradually away.
Understand they can no longer be in our world, but we can visit them in theirs. Have compassion. Understand there is a difference between lying to manipulate, to gain something you don’t deserve, or to avoid consequences of your actions–and meeting them where they are, with love, with patience, with respect and kindness, in their world.
If your religion believes that God would never give someone more hardship than they can handle, then understand a person with dementia cannot handle hardship like they used to. Accommodate them.
It’s not easy–it never is. The role of the caregiver can be lonely, and already so very, very hard. So please don’t agonize over having to ‘lie’. What you are really doing is not hurting someone who cannot understand, or process, the hurt. The ‘lie’ you tell to create peace in someone’s heart who has no way to heal–to avoid giving them pain they cannot protect themselves from–that ‘lie’ is actually kind, compassionate, and healing.
So be kind to yourself, too. The only people who would judge you, just don’t know. (Yet.) The ones who know? Believe me, they understand. And they are supporting you in spirit, every step of the way.