We do many things for our elders in the caregiving years: We rush them to the hospital in the middle of the night; we spend countless hours making telephone calls and cleaning up; we make sure they take their medications properly; we listen to them complain; and we wonder if we’ve done all we can to make things right.
Caregiving is full of surprises. One minute our elders are fine and the next moment we are searching for solutions to unexpected challenges. That’s when my thoughts begin to race: Why is this happening? I don’t understand why God is letting him suffer like this? It’s now in God’s hands. And while my heart may be breaking and there’s no hope in sight, the search for making sense out of what is happening intensifies.
The truth is, people hate illness or at least resent it; yet illness is here to stay. Where do I find wisdom and courage when there are no rational answers? And where do I turn for strength when my world is falling apart? I turn to my spiritual life. In spite of 47 years’ worth of eldercare experiences behind me, nothing works better than seeking spiritual nourishment in order for me to continue to give.
While not everyone is religious, in the sense of sharing a communal faith system, everyone is spiritual. There are numerous ways to become spiritually refreshed, whether you seek it in a faith community, in nature, in art and music, in gardening, or wherever it finds you.
Here are a few ways to pursue a more satisfying spiritual life. Do what feels natural to you:
Pray. Rejoin a faith community, participate in a prayer group or simply pray on your own. Learn ways to dialogue with yourself and with your higher power (whatever you conceive It to be).
Learn meditation. Meditation will allow your racing mind to slow, find a calm and positive connection with yourself and take back control of excessive thinking. Regular meditators report leading healthier and more productive lives. There are many different ways to meditate, and the “best” style of meditation is the one that feels right for you.
Take time for joy. Does making homemade bread make you happy? How about painting a picture, gardening, taking photographs or knitting a sweater? A good laugh, a break in the weather, or the realization that things could be worse may also lighten your load. Identify activities that make you feel good and let little bursts of happiness seep into your daily life.
Listen to the music. Songs are the soundtracks to our lives. Some take us back to childhood memories and others are the perfect vehicle to express ourselves today. Songs make us smile and dance, and can also make us weepy. Let the music sing to your soul.
Write about it. Keeping a personal journal is a confidante, a creativity tool, and a way of finding clarity. Sorting things out in writing may help prepare you for talking things out with someone else. Journals also offer a safe place to express yourself and offer the most authentic evidence of your point of view at the various stages of your caregiving life.
Talk to the animals. Pet a dog. Stroke a cat. Listen to the birds in the early morning.
Seek nature. Walking in the park, listening to the songs of birds, planting flowers, visiting gardens, listening to the sounds of waterfalls and waves -- a walk in nature is often comforting.
Visit spiritual places. Throughout the world there are shrines, churches, synagogues, birth places of spiritual leaders, and other places that speak to being united with the divine.
Let your body move you. Body work and a practice of purposeful movements such as Tai Chi, massage, yoga, reflexology, and others contribute to healing in soulful ways.
Hire a spiritual director. No need to look any further than my own spiritual director, Kathryn Cunningham. She is amazing and has literally helped me turn my life around for the better. Website: www.atravelersview.org. Kathryn’s email: KC@atravelersview.org. Tell her Joy sent you.
I wish you well.