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

50 YEARS LATER: IS MARRIAGE A WEAPON IN THE WAR ON POVERTY?

waronpovertyfail

If nothing else, after 50 years fighting poverty, one thing’s clear:  America hasn’t found the right WMD.

Poverty’s still the winner.

Among the most ill-advised social programs developed to counteract the effects of single parenthood on women is one that promoted marriage as an effective weapon.   While it’s true that a healthy, stable marriage between two committed people helps in the battle against hopelessness and helplessness, there may be a population not committed to marriage in the first place.   

Whoever conceptualized that encouraging the chronically ill-prepared to otherwise marry was delusional at best; a bureaucratic butt-kisser at worst.

What were they thinking?

Not in doubt is that solid relationships can be beacons, gateways to education, employment, mental and physical health.  The kicker is that such relationships can’t just be imagined, wished for, or expected without knowing how solid relationship works and passing it on, for at least 5 generations that adopt healthy marital functioning.

Marriage, itself, is a complicated construct that, in the hard sense, pre-exists poverty.  Lack of knowledge is a set-up to failure to anything (imagine wiring a house without knowledge of electricity), especially regarding something as profoundly complicated as building a better relationship.  Put bluntly, how can anyone expect that partners raised in dysfunctional families would, by dint only of wanting to, create a functional one?  That marriage is imbued with such magical powers that, by its very existence, an intricate human condition is untangled?  Or that the people who inhabit those relationships remain, generation after generation, committed to their marriages?

Welcome to the Magic Kingdom.

Children learn what they see.  Further, children seek more than anything to belong and to be loved.  When the cost of having that is withstanding an environment that is counter to family/relationship health — e.g. abusive, withdrawing, uncommitted, adulterous, enabling, permissive, angry, addicted or violent – children often choose unhealthy over healthy.  Immature brains learn that this is what marriage and family looks like.   Even people who strongly react against their upbringing stand the risk of riding the pendulum to the other extreme, becoming overly compliant, accommodating, permissive, rigid, pious, rule-bound.

The knottiness of relationship is that each of us brings a perspective on these experiences that are often different from our partner’s. Often explosive, this confluence paves the way for increasingly unhealthy negative behaviors for each partner as well as the relationship.

Marital success is promoted when partners participate in learning relationship skills.  Partial participation, which seems the rule, doesn’t count; it’s like being “sort of” dead.  Besides, when a parent is struggling to provide the basics of life, little, if any, focus is given to the hard work needed to sustain a healthy union during formal couples education, let alone past its end.

Abraham Maslow put it elegantly when describing what needs to be in place before someone can even minimally “become”.   The condition of being poor, pregnant and female plays out on a stage of basic needs where relationship improvement is trumped by paying the rent.  In the same way, one wonders if self-esteem can be extrinsically motivated in generations raised dysfunctionally.

Poverty in America is generations-old; institutionalized; a mind-set.  It would stand to reason that any upward movement on the psychosocioeconomic ladder would also be a lengthy process.  A multidimensional process.  And a difficult one.   As we see development of the New Poor, Americans’ marital behavior will be interesting to track.  Will there be a relinquishment of the values that inspire healthy relationship?  Will difficulty bind people closer together?  And what will happen to the trillions of dollars spent on social welfare programs that, fifty years out, have been unsuccessful in eliminating poverty?

That social success in other countries is not surprising given the unique social structure and size of the United States.  While a nation as small as Finland, for example, may be socialistic success in reducing the strife of single parenthood, Finland is not the United States. Not in vastness of size, diversity, political structure, and multiculturalism.  Even in the best of situations, marriage is no less multidimensional or difficult; with behavioral and attitudinal improvement also measured in generations.

While I offer no resolution to the multiple dimensions encompassing poverty (my magic wand is broken) better minds than mine have tried and failed.

I do know that a uni-dimensional solution to single mothers’ poverty through marriage insults the problem and ignores the complexity of the fix itself.

For more insights, read Julie Baumgardner’s response to the Council on Contemporary Marriages position on this subject.  Ms. Baumgardner is the Chair of the National Association for Relationship and Marriage Education.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in Colorado.  Over almost two decades, she has seen low percentages of middle-class couples who have engaged in relationship education continue to apply what they learn.  She calls the ones who have, like Adam and Leslie, “Super Stars” and their existence is cause for a smile every day.  For almost 30 years, Kathe and her husband, David, have been committed to each other and to their marriage.  As Jethro Tull once said, nothing is easy.  Read more about their programs for couples at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.
 
©2014, Being Heard, LLC

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 BUSINESS OF A TOGETHER BUSINESS

small business logo 1Coming on the exhausted heels of Black Friday, Saturday the 30th is Small Business Saturday®.

As most men will agree, the only thing more bracing than Black Friday shopping is more shopping. This isn’t big-name, big-box stuff.   Small Business Saturday® encourages consumers to SHOP SMALL®.   American Express developed the program as a way to help small businesses market themselves.  While the financial giant’s small biz bolstering is less than selfless, it’s still very cool to encourage spending of which 52% stays within the community.

If you’re a small business owner, like I am, it’s sometimes not so cool to be a business partner with the person who’s also a romantic partner.

1.  Wear another hat.  Lots of relationship problems arise from mixing what are two very distinct entities.  Keeping the purpose of each is absolutely necessary to keeping them both alive.  For example, a business can’t thrive when one partner is trying to undermine the other as a way of “getting back” after a fight.

2.  Keep clear goals.  Is it the purpose of the business to create loving, relaxed time together?  Hardly.  Likewise, it’s deadly to a romantic relationship to bring rude customers, money worries, or business planning into the bedroom.  A top agenda item needs to be agreement on what each of those relationships look like.  Especially who you will look like as a businessperson as opposed to a partner. Who gets to be on top?

3.  Don’t fight in front of customers.  You don’t have to actively argue in front of other people for them to know that something’s wrong. Want customers to walk out?  Bring tension into the room.  However, it’s easier said to keep from having animosity leak out your pores when you’re angry with each other.  For couples who work together having communication skills that work is essential.  If you don’t have ’em, get ’em.  To your accountant; investing in communication classes might even be a deductible business expense!

4.  Leave your children out of it.  It’s often convenient for small business owners to have their children around their business.   What’s especially off-putting is when those kids have roles within the business.  Personally, I don’t want the house cleaner’s eight-year-old doing the vacuuming or playing hopscotch on the tile floor.  Whenever there’s a personal face on your business, treat your customers professionally.

5.  Be professional, not personal.  There’s a line that some business owners cross when it comes to customer relations, especially when the relationship is with one of the business’ owners and not the other.  Giving discounts, freebies, sharing personal information, can set up tension among owners and customers to say nothing of how this kind of practice crosses business and home thresholds.

6.  Remember who you are.  Family expectations start early and run deep.  Both partners need to be absolutely clear about themselves: who they are; what they want for themselves, each other, and the family; and the relative role a family business plays in their lives.  If you inherited a business, be clear on whether you both want in or out.  I’ve counseled partners together and separately about the destructiveness that business can cause to togetherness.

I’m not kidding when I say that learning communication skills isn’t just for a marriage.  Make continuing conversation part of your business plan.  Success in one sphere is intimately tied to the other.  Separating the two will always challenge you.

Kathe & David Skinner have been business partners for the past 14 years, beholden to Being Heard, a business dedicated to teaching and coaching romantic relationships.  They were romantic partners first, married for over 27 years.  They’ve learned, through some prickly times, to keep the two relationships separate.  Kathe is also a Marriage & Family Therapist in addition to be a Certified Relationship Expert.

HEALTHY LOVE AT THE U.S. OPEN

The U.S. Open, the last of the tennis year’s four majors, is powering its way to the finals, and I’m psyched.

Tennis is an intense human drama that showcases the psychology of winning — belief in self, winning through intimidation, body language, gamesmanship, positive self-talk, courage, and reaching deep past pain and fatigue to tap the will to win.

It’s not surprising as a couples therapist I would remark on the irony of tennis’s scoring where zero (“love”) literally means “nothing”.  The phraseology’s origin is unclear.  Some cite the similarity of a zero’s shape to an egg (the French word is l’oeuf) while it’s also been said that “love of the game” or playing for love is what’s being referenced.

Apply tennis’ meaning of love to relationships’ meaning.  How incongruous to say that love is nothing!  That a feeling that surpasses everything, that defies explanation, and that transcends other emotions in its saving grace is nothing. Unlike tennis, healthy couples love doesn’t count winners or losers, nor does it strategize another’s defeat.

Love doesn’t take sides.  The best duos are dynamic for years, honing skills through practice practice practice, all the while getting closer and closer. Relationship longevity is the result.

The problem for many couples is knowing what to do to have things be better between them.  After all, what they’ve done so far often makes things worse.

Both partners absolutely need to learn the basic skills that account for fruitful communication.  Without it, a relationship’s foundation is incomplete, shaky, bound to crumble under the weight of all that happens in a couple’s life together. Couples have many choices when it comes learning communication skills.  Along the Denver/Colorado Springs corridor one example is the Couple Communication Workshop offered by Being Heard, a program unique in having a husband and wife team as instructors.

In a beguiling contrast to singles competition, partners in doubles — two partners competing against each other — is very much like romantic love.  Togetherness has great purpose and meaning; there’s a full and expressed range of emotional intensity that includes joy, disappointment, and frustration; and having your partner’s back is the way it’s supposed to be.

Kathe Skinner specializes in couples work as a psychotherapist in private practice.  These days the only tennis ball in her life belongs to the dog next door. Married for 29 years to David, another fan of “love”, they live in Colorado Springs with two hooligans cats who couldn’t tell a Venus from a Serena.

Copyright, 2015

Being Heard, LLC

5 WAYS TO SOOTHE VERBAL BLUNDERS

Open mouth, insert foot.  It’s the verbal version of walking through the restaurant with toilet paper on your shoe.  We’ve all  experienced the mortification of poor verbal choices.  Sometimes, embarrassing stuff just happens.  Letting those blunders happen  more often than       not, though, is a problem that goes beyond stuff that sometimes happens.  woman holds breath

In fact, as I describe on my website www.BeingHeardNow.,com, verbal pratfalls reflect how good your communication skills are overall.  Luckily, preventing verbal embarrassment is surprisingly easy.

1.  Slow Down:  I’m reminded of reading only the first part of a test question only to have it turn out that the actual question was in the part I didn’t take time to read.  Being impatient diminishes the amount of information you have at hand, which leads to uninformed or ill-informed comments. You haven’t demonstrated complete interest in someone else; you’ve taken over control of their  speech.  You’re seen as self-centered, rude, brainless and uncaring.  Men report that women talk too much, citing that as the reason they don’t listen.  Whatever the cause, look for the speaker to  shut down and become disinterested in you as a conversation partner.

2.  Pay Attention:  It is nothing short of insulting when the listener doesn’t appear to be listening.  The oops can be verbal or non-verbal:  eyes looking elsewhere instead of making contact with the speaker; paying attention to your own task while saying you’re listening; saying something irrelevant to the conversation.  Some of my worst oopses have come from replacing the speaker’s reality with my own. The result is that I’m left behind and the speaker knows it’s because I’ve broken a cardinal rule of good communication: I haven’t paid attention.   I cringe every time I look at a picture taken at a business function where one of the guys I’m talking to is looking around the room, not at me.  When that happens to you pay attention to how you feel; I guarantee you won’t do it to anyone else.

2.  Stop Assuming:  Unless your crystal-ball is in good working order, acknowledge you don’t know everything.   Take in what your environment is really about; those who assume don’t.  The result includes finishing other peoples” sentences, interrupting with comments that go in the wrong direction, misinterpreting what’s really being said.  Women pull out their crystal balls when they complain that their partners don’t talk to them, or even listen in the first place.  The assumption is that a partner’s thoughts, and especially feelings, are being purposely withheld.  The result can lead to a rift that is about far more than what the topic of conversation was.  Want a clue?   Look for a surprised or confused look from the speaker.

3.  When in Doubt:  People are generally uncomfortable with dead air.  If you doubt that’s true, pay attention to your comfort level when the radio or t.v. looses sound.  In fact, there is no rule that says that the air must be filled with someone always saying something.  For some of us, the tendency to chatter takes hold, resulting in poor or unconsidered statements.    When in doubt, zip it.

4.  Apologize Sincerely:  There are times when everything you’ve done has turned out wrong.  Your enthusiasm leads to interruptions, perhaps because of identifying so much with the speaker’s topic  you take over.  Other times your disinterest may show.  Or you may fail to edit yourself: what comes up, comes out.   There are so many examples, I’m sure everyone can think of a cringe-worthy moment.  Whether or not you’re responsible, tune immediately into the speaker.  Be truly sincere when you say how sorry you are you’ve caused confusion or distress.   People generally react warmly to someone who really cares how they feel.  Don’t make it long and drawn out and be light-hearted if you can.  Whatever you do, don’t put blame out there somewhere.  Accept responsibility and be sincere about it.

5.  Know Yourself:  I’m an inveterate talker because I’m so curious.  I know, too, that when I get nervous I talk too much.  Two thousand feet down in the Molly Kathleen gold mine, you couldn’t shut me up; the tour guide finally stopped acknowledging me at all and my husband pretended like he didn’t know me. When I tuned in to their non-verbal responses to me, I knew to be quiet.

Truth is that sometimes goofs happen.  Part of what makes us endearing is having flaws and being vulnerable because of them.  Pay attention to basic communication skills; you’ll benefit from not crossing the line into mean, and your oopses will be quickly forgiven.

Kathe Skinner is a Colorado Springs Relationship Coach with a sub-specialty working with couples whose relationship has been impacted by invisible disability.  She herself has MS.  Kathe and her husband, David, teach Couples Communication Classes along the Front Range of Colorado.   Personal experience makes them believers that good communication skills are necessary for a successful relationship.