WHEN A CAREGIVER DIES

bigstock_Old_Couple_Holding_Hands_2041049     First published on Disability.gov

For 70 years she put up with his (sometimes volcanic) rumblings.  He doted on her with diamonds, and was a poorer father for it.

The youngest of 5 much older siblings, she was babied into being passive and timid.  He was a blustering bad boy who loved control; a lifelong natural at most things mechanical.  He took seriously his duties as a man, a spouse, and head of the household.  He didn’t brook anything that deviated from his definitions of right and wrong, a bigot in many ways.   A mother and military wife who could fend for herself and children when she needed to, she preferred being cared for . . .  and he liked it that way.

Both were fortunate:  for much of their lifetimes, neither was chronically ill or disabled.  Unless you count legal blindness, which he didn’t (though most who drove with him did).  And even though she developed macular degeneration, a disease of the eye that usually leads to blindness, she could sometimes see the world better than he did.

Several years ago her macular degeneration began to impact both of them.  By then, her hearing had deteriorated, too, and her world shrank.  Although she rarely admitted fears (not to us, anyway) he expressed his the only way he knew how:  he fixed as much as he could.  He cut her food, gently guided her through the dimly-lit places they avoided more and more, lent her his arm, and searched out gizmos and gadgets he found in catalogues.  He took care of her.

Last year, George left Kate.

True to his role, George had organized everything, including who his wife’s legal caregiver was to be — my husband. Now, almost a year later, Kate no longer plans on joining George in death right away and doesn’t cry for hours each night.  Not that she tells us, anyway.  As her vision deteriorates Kate, not surprisingly, adapts. David and his sisters do what they can from a distance of a thousand miles, mostly via phone calls and the occasional visit.  Immediate support comes from close friends and a kind and caring nursing home staff.

Today, it takes a dozen people to do what George did.  Even so, he can never be replaced.

None of us could live well if we spent too much time dwelling on the eventuality of death.  But some of us — the visibly or invisibly disabled or chronically ill — need to spend more time thinking about the profound changes a caregiver’s death brings.  Like David’s parents, my husband and I are fused by years, experiences, commitment and love.  Though I’m the one diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, in truth MS is something we both carry.

As we age and tire, slow and re-prioritize, both of us have to remember that though we plan to go out holding hands as star-crossed lovers, the truth is more mundane . . . and likely.  Whoever is left to mourn, cared-for or caregiver, what needs to happen is the same:

1.  Plan now.  The outcomes might look different, but the grief will be the same.

2.  Get your house in order.   You don’t have to be a survivalist in order to be prepared with legal, medical, financial, and personal concerns.

3.  Create your own family.  Gather together people who care, no matter what the will says.

4.  Get outside each other.  Get perspective from someone trustworthy and caring who’s outside the mix — minister, counselor, or therapist.

5.  Express yourself and your needs clearly, often, and appropriately.  Consider what to say and who you say it to.  Sometimes being blunt can be hurtful; at other times necessary.  Some people are better prepared to bring a casserole or help with housekeeping than to see you cry.  Try out your voice to a journal, or pay a therapist or counselor . . . they can be skilled and trustworthy allies.

6.  Keep in touch with others.  It’s unfair (and shortsighted) to place the burden only in one place — like with your son.

7.  Have someone to talk to, starting now.  Clergy, therapist, physician, friend, partner, family can help you sort out what to say and how to say it.  Think of yourself as a nuclear reactor.  Keeping it to you guarantees one of two outcomes:  shutting down or exploding.

8.  Join a group of those experiencing what you are.  There’s no substitute for having someone “get it”.  Don’t believe me?  Try talking to someone who doesn’t.

DSC_4482-K&DKathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Relationship Specialist     specializing working with couples, especially those for whom invisible disability is part of the mix.  She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years.  Kathe and her husband David hold Communication Workshops in Colorado Springs and are both Certified Instructors for Interpersonal Communication Systems.  Along with their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, they live along Colorado’s Front Range.  Find out more about Kathe and David at http://www.beingheardnow.com and read Kathe’s blogs, ilikebeingsickanddisabled.com and couplesbeingheardnow.com.

© 2014, BeingHeard LLC

THAT GIRL KEEPS FALLING ON HER BUTT

fall-down-stairs.jpgMy balance, isn’t.

So when I head straight toward the bushes at the entrance to my building it isn’t surprising.

Bushes are a trigger in picturing my first (and only) experience as a new MSer in an MS support group.   Recommended by my neurologist, the group experience was meant to help me cope with the way-past-due-diagnosis of my disease.

Instead, it freaked me out.

Walkers, wheelchairs, canes, crutches – and me, invisibly disabled, in high heels looking at a future unable to wear them.

Big time downer.

Especially when a guy lost his balance and landed on his butt in a bush. That he laughed it off was horrifying.

I understand, now, the reason he laughed.  Not only is laughing at the faux pas around the commonplace common, but situations that elicit that kind of response are also all too common.

The reality he must’ve experienced then is one I now share.  Today I laugh, too.  Because it’s truly comical at times and also because laughter is socially reassuring.  “It’s alright, folks.  I’m alright.  Nothing to see here, move along.”

Knock wood, I’ve yet to experience anything dire in my navigational mistakes.  Embarrassment to be impaired in public is what hurts. Most of us don’t know what to do in a situation like that.  I put lots of effort into looking unimpaired, but when I catch sight of myself in a shop mirror, the reality of how I walk, for example, isn’t normal at all. 

When I use an assistive device, a rollator in my case, parents scold their children for staring.  I’ve yet to hear mommy or daddy use the opportunity as a teaching moment to talk about disability; rather it’s “don’t stare” before hurrying away.  No wonder society hasn’t made much progress in accepting the disabled community who, except to children, remain largely invisible.

Recently, Disability.gov blogged an article about steps to take when being newly disabled.

It’s worth a read, especially if you’re not.

Specializing in couples work, Kathe Skinner is a Colorado Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Specialist.  She works especially those couples where invisible disability is present.   For over 10 years, she and husband, David, have been Certified Instructors for Interpersonal Communication Programs .  Find the schedule for their next Couple Communication Workshop at http://www.beingheardnow.com© 2014 Being Heard

NASA’S PHOTO: PROOF OF GOD’S EXISTENCE?

NASA/JPL-Caltech/McGill

NASA/JPL-Caltech/McGill

What’s a hand doing in deep space?

And what’s it attached to?

Is God just a big hand?

Wait a minute.  Is that a hand at all?

The so-called “Hand of God” is the result of a combination of NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuStar, combined with Chandra X-ray Observatory’s imaging.   God (and Superman) only knows what that pulsaristic, X-ray, and magnetic energy stuff’s about.

That we humans jump quickly to proof of what we so desperately want proof of is telling.

When familiar objects are seen in otherwise vague ways, a phenomenon known as pareidolia is at work.  Examples include seeing the face of Jesus in an apple core or your neighbor’s poodle in a cloud.  When the need to believe is strong enough, we “see” what reinforces what we believe.  Those who are especially adept at recognizing and interpreting such “signs” are attributed with magical abilities that enable them to  understand the past, explain the present, and foresee the future.  They’re called shamans, therapists, or witches, and every culture has them.

Anyone who holds the hand of God is powerful indeed.

Our fervency at making a disconnected connection can be seen everywhere in our lives, not just in questions about transcendence. When we’re always looking for signs, signs are always found.  For some of us, magical thinking beats realism every time:  I’m always a bit miffed when my husband can “explain scientifically” what tingles to believe.  Like yeti or synchronicity.

A peek at the animal kingdom demonstrates how natural it is to go for  glitzy — brightly colored and smiling is more alluring than earth-toned and frowning.  If you still aren’t convinced, go to Vegas.  Shake its pockets and the likely fallout will be all manner of charms, amulets and carved stones.  If you’ve ever played anniversary or birth dates in the lotto, you’re exercising the same belief in magical power.

How powerful is it to “know”?

People have been hung or burned alive for failing to share explanations we want, figure they have, but would rather die than tell. Curiously, we never fault our dysfunctional thinking when plague continues after we’ve roasted all the cats.

Distressed couples or the chronically ill may get caught up in the myths of “other reasons”, blaming themselves or those around them for what is ultimately ours to carry, even when understanding is absent.  Better communication in marriage or the development of chronic illness are examples.

Nevertheless, many of us feel helpless when comprehension fails.  So far-reaching is our need to know that we look outside ourselves for a “magic cure”, “quick fix”, or to blame.  It’s as if we were cognitively incapable of apprehending knowledge by ourselves, alone.

Facing the Great Unknown is frightening.

We call for help that protects, soothes, and explains.

And that’s as good a reason as any to search out the Hand of God.  

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Relationship Specialist.   She’s especially keen on working with couples whose relationship includes invisible disability (e.g., cancer, lupus, hearing loss, depression).  Kathe and her husband, David, live in Colorado with their two cats, Petey and Lucy.  They know that holding the hand of god is as easy as adopting a pet.    
 
©BeingHeard LLC, 2014

READ IN 92 COUNTRIES!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,500 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 58 trips to carry that many people.

Wowee zowie!

There’s still a long way to go in making people aware of invisible disabilities.  And that so many of us experience them.

Of course, ILIKEBEINGSICKANDDISABLED is about much more than invisible disability.  That’s as it should be because our lives are so much more than how we feel or what chronicity label we carry.

If you read my blog because of my sly humor or because something has touched you , made you laugh or think or angry, I’m happy for that.  I challenge you to share with someone you know who might appreciate something I’ve said.  Oh…and please let me know what you think about something I think.

Thank you, readers, for putting on a smile on the face of the last day of 2013.

Click here to see the complete report.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach in private practice.  Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years she’s like many who experience invisible illness — most of what happens in her life is not directly attributable to being disabled.  With her long-suffering husband (that doesn’t have anything to do with illness, either), they’ve been married almost 28 years, sharing their Colorado home with two resourceful hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy.   Read more about the Skinners at http://www.beingheardnow.com

© 2013 Being Heard, LLC

THE RORSCHACH WENCH.

the-aestate-color-rorschach-inkblot-ink-blot-green-acid-art-print-painting

I keep a book in my office and if I had a coffee table, it would be on it.

It’s red, with a coffee spill down the front that’s dried into a Rorschach-kind of thing.  Nifty for it to be in a therapist’s office.

Inside, dozens of clients have written their “should’s”.

It’s not instructive to describe what they said; more than likely, their self-flagellations are the same as  yours.  What catches the new subscribers is how similar their self-flagellations are.  Put another way, there’s nothing special in their dysfunctional thinking.

Back when I was exploring how should’s get perpetuated, I was stunned and amazed to find myself described in the exact words I’d always used in describing my neuroses (notice I used the plural).  Admittedly, there was disappointment in seeing myself laid out like some common Rorschach wench.   I suspect that others, too, hold their depression, anxiety, mania, whatever, as a sort of badge of differentiation from others.

For others, as it was for me, depression is powerful; it was the coin of my realm and the way I bought into the realm I inhabited growing up.  Depression can get attention, especially when nothing else seems to.  That can be true in a  marriage where one partner exists with an invisible disability.   And just like for the kid who acts out, it’s attention of some kind, even if it bears a high price.

Being a therapist, consequently, has been double-edged: one edge cuts through the dysfunctional thinking, the should’s, the irrespective unfairnesses; while the other is sad to see those defenses so cut down.  What I do in my office forces me to be embarrassed at my own mental laziness.  Being depressed is hard; so is being anxious or manic.

But hey, it’s hard even when you’re not.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  She comes by depression naturally as well as artificially and has recently added anxiety, for which she can thank multiple sclerosis.  Petey and Lucy, the two hooligan cats Kathe and David share their lives with, are too annoying to let depression settle too quietly in their home.  Kathe and David get out of the house by teaching partners the communication skills their relationships need.

WOMEN’S LIB IS A LIE

Speaking from a disabled woman’s point of view, living the “lib lie” in relationship simply doesn’t work.

The “lib lie” I’m talking about is putting career before relationship, being damned if I’ll make cacciatore, or being complimented for how I look.

Where was my head all these years.  I’ll tell you where: in the conference room, the kitchen, and in front of the mirror.

Truth be told, I like making cacciatore — and being appreciated for it.  The same as anybody would, including guysfishy.  Liberation doesn’t stop at individual freedom; its true worth is in how liberated our partnership is.  Oh, stop — I’m not talking about three ways.  See, if one partner realizes cultural or family baggage enough to detach a bit from it and the other partner is clueless, the relationship’s pretty lopsided.  But hey, some partners like their partners a tad underdone.

Clueless for real or clueless pretended, either path leads right back to a problem that’s repeated itself for generations.

Sherod Miller, co-founder of Interpersonal Communication Programs, defines a healthy relationship as the collaboration of two strong people “bridging” to each other across a committed lifetime.  Paula Derrow, writing in The New York TImes, calls it “leaning in together”.  Writing recently about her marriage in The New York Times, Paula describes a marriage right out of Home Depot.

A do-it-yourselfer, her marriage to another do-it-yourselfer spanned two states.   Their finances were separate, and so was ownership of their separate homes.  Except for weekends, each lived a separate life.

Talk about distancing.

When Paula was laid off from her job as a writer, she had reason to need her husband in very real ways, one assumes for the first time. Lying awake, the writer struggled with questions about her independence, whether she could afford to continue living separately, and whether her husband was encouraging and supportive only as a way to get her to come live with him and cook up a cacciatore.

I won’t say where Paula Derrow’s head was, but to come to the realization that her marriage was about the two of them together, not separately, is, to put it charitably, wrong-thinking.

More than most, those of us with disabilities, invisible or not, have had to come to terms with the lie that we can make it on our own.

The poor state of the world economy has left millions out of work, stressing personal worth and identity.   With so many jobless, you’d think social perception about being unemployed would’ve changed; it hasn’t.  Role expectations die hard.

Changes in the social order are happening all around us; role-turbulence is no longer reserved for the disabled or marginalized others.

These days, anyone can become marginalized.

Relationship’s great test is how to be together without losing oneself; how to get from one place to another while travelling together.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach specializing in work with couples whose relationship is affected by invisible disability.  Like most of her generation, she has been powerfully affected by the Women’s Movement of the 1960s and 1970s and has had trouble integrating that independence with the sometimes-limitations of multiple sclerosis.   She and her husband David live in Colorado where they teach couples to collobate their way to happier relationships.  Read more about she and David’s Communication Workshops at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.