My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow

Posted on Apr 16, 2017 in Caregiving, Facing One's Own Death, Spousal/Partner Loss

Today’s post features a 2016 New York Times article, “My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow” by Lucy Kalanithi. I know it is now 2017, but I think it is important to hear Lucy’s voice before I introduce you to her husband, Paul.

When Lucy’s husband, a young and brilliant Stanford neurosurgeon, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, he moved within the world of medicine from physician to patient. Lucy, also a physician, became his caregiver and the mother of a daughter conceived after Paul’s diagnosis.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on his book When Breath Becomes Air. The book is beautifully written (not many physicians also have two degrees in English literature) and an inspiring memoir. It was named one of the best books of 2016 by the Washington Post, The New York Times and National Public Radio, and has 4.7 out of 5 stars from 6,265 readers on Amazon.

Janet Maslin from the NYT says: I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated. As he wrote to a friend: “It’s just tragic enough and just imaginable enough.” And I say just important enough to be unmissable.

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Inspiration from the Zen Hospice Project

Posted on Oct 24, 2015 in Caregiving, Facing One's Own Death, General Grief

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FRANK OSTASESKI & THE AIDS CRISIS

One of the straight men who cared for dying gay men

Frank Ostaseski founded the San Francisco Zen Hospice Project in 1987 during the AIDS Crisis. It was a time when much of the medical community was afraid of its patients, and families disowned their sons and brothers. Thankfully Frank was one of the straight men who created space and cared for the dying gay men.

Years later I was happy to see that Ostaseski was the keynote speaker for a Santa Clara University conference I was attending. Even though his appearance was the first since suffering a serious heart attack, his presence was strong and solid. When he finished I wanted to hear more, and registered for his annual Cultivating Presence retreat in Marin County, California. The week was a mix of workshop and silent retreat. On the last day Frank, a practicing Buddhist, introduced his Five Precepts for living, caring and healing. I think you will enjoy reading them.

Ostaseski’s Five Precepts

Part of you is here and part of you might have drifted away to the middle of nowhere… where there is no time… and there is no place… in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere is such a fine place to be because nowhere else can be so free. Later you may have to be somewhere, sometime, but not now. Now nowhere is fine.

This is a place you can visit often if you like. It is a place of healing.  Healing is different than curing. Healing comes from within—out.

And as you move forward there are five things you can do to keep the cycle of healing going.

  1. Accept everything and push away nothing.
    In welcoming everything you don’t have to like what’s arising. It’s actually not your job to approve or disapprove. It’s your task to trust, to listen, and to pay attention to your changing experience. When you do this at the deepest level, you are cultivating a kind of fearlessness. Since you are always entering new territory with no idea of how your journey will turn out, why not open to the mystery. And risk and forgive—constantly.
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Part Two: Grief Relief – Surviving the Death of a Bad Relationship

Posted on Feb 24, 2015 in Caregiving, General Grief

Liberating Losses - Part 2

In Part One of “relief grief” we talked about how the death of a child, sibling, parent or partner can bring relief to family members. However, such relief is most often hidden to escape community criticism. That said keeping quiet does nothing to help a family work through the emotional scars they have often inherited.

If you have experienced ongoing psychological and/or physical abuse, you need to keep a few things in mind:

  • You are entitled to accept and explore whatever you are feeling.
  • Forgiveness is pure gold, but don’t rush into it. At first just notice what takes place in your body when a memory creates a physical “charge.” Take some time to sit down, close your eyes, connect to your breath and allow your anger and/or fear to drain from your mind and body.
  • Accept that while you had little control over the deceased’s behavior, you do have control over how you interpret the affect of their behavior on your future.
  • Be wary of giving the experience so much power that you become a permanent victim.
  • Consider seeking professional help to work through your resentment.
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Not Everyone Grieves the Death of a Family Member

Posted on Jan 25, 2015 in Caregiving, General Grief, Spousal/Partner Loss

jan_2015Death ends a life—not a good or a bad relationship

The bereaved often find first-year support group sessions comforting because they are with others who also feel the pressure to hide their sorrow and pretend they aren’t disoriented, sleep-deprived and anxious. While it is common to hear people express relief that a loved one no longer has to suffer, seldom do individuals say they feel set free by a death.

The book Liberating Losses: When death brings relief by Jennifer Elison, EDD and Chris McFonigle, PhD opens up the subject of “relief grief” and supports those who live in silence for fear of being judged and ostracized.

Not every death is tragedy

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Caregiving and the Long Farewell – Part 2

Posted on Sep 27, 2014 in Caregiving

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Caregiving is a Lonely Exhausting Act of Love

We know that it takes courage to live and to die. What we don’t know is that it also takes courage to be a primary caregiver.

If you are currently caring for a loved one, you are likely struggling to accept the coming loss and frustrated that you have little influence over what is happening. The only thing you can seem to control is your quality of care – yet your best efforts often don’t seem to be good enough—which concerns you.

Actually you will provide better and more consistent care the sooner you accept your own limits and understand you can’t be a “perfect” caregiver. That said you will be surprised by your emotional and physical fortitude if you accept one critical caveat:

To take good care of another, you first have to take good care of yourself!

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Caregiving and the Long Farewell – Part 1

Posted on Aug 26, 2014 in Caregiving

 

 

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Most adult grief support group attendees have been primary caregivers for their parents or spouses. Generally they are physically and emotionally exhausted—and oddly disoriented because suddenly the 24/7 need for making lists and monitoring medications and meals is over.

I remember one woman in group saying “It’s like I was fired! Like I’ve lost my job! I don’t know what to do with all of the time.”

It is not unusual for caregivers to be more stressed than the person dying

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