What To Do When There’s Caregiving Love in Your Heart, But Nowhere To Focus It?

What To Do When There’s Caregiving Love in Your Heart, But Nowhere To Focus It?

by Karen Bromberg
Introduction
 
Answer a question – Do you assume your caregiving ends when your care recipient either is no longer here or is being cared for by others?
 
As most of you know, my parents passed in late 2016; my mother in early November and my father in early December. But this isn’t just about what happens with caregivers when a care recipient dies.
 
It’s also about those caregivers who, until recently, have provided 24/7 care for their loved ones but have had to put them into an assisted living or a nursing home. It’s about those who have had to hire someone to come into the house even if it’s a couple of hours a week and it’s for those who have taken advantage of respite care even if only once every so often.
 
If you’re anything like me, the second the anxiety-fest subsides you don’t know what to do with yourself. You may feel a little lost, confused, maybe somewhat disoriented. I mean, there you were, so busy, no weekends, maybe no evenings, then, suddenly nothing.
 
When my parents passed it was a real challenge for me. I mean, I was functioning at such a fast pace, with so much adrenaline coursing through my system that it took me a while to throttle back.
 
I kept asking myself, “Okay, what needs to be done now? What needs to be done now?” It was like a broken record. Over and over again, the same question as when I was in the throes of caregiving.
 
But the truth was . . . nothing needed to be done.
 
For those still in the middle of their caregiving, let me just say that I get it. I know you’re probably thinking that I’m being ridiculous. Complaining about nothing, like those models who complain about being fat when they themselves are pencil thin.
 
You, who would like nothing more than a good night’s sleep. You, who would like nothing better than a weekend to call your own. You, who may be suffering from caregiver fatigue, caregiver stress, caregiver burnout and would like nothing better than to have a good rest, I want you to know that I totally understand your feelings.
 
That said, the question still remains. What do we do when we still have caregiving love in our hearts, but nowhere to focus it?
 
Tips and Strategies
 
To my mind, there are so many things we can do. The most obvious, of course, is to volunteer and for those so inclined (and who have the time and energy) there are many so opportunities. You can:
 

become a big brother or big sister,
volunteer at a soup kitchen,
read to the blind or
read to the elderly.

 
For many, being with others, helping others, seeing others grow and achieve is precisely what gives their lives meaning. For others, not so much and that’s perfectly okay. We’re all wired differently and as my father would say, “that’s what makes the world go ‘roud.”
 
In a previous blog post titled, “Being Our Own Best Caregiver” I pose the question, “what if instead of putting our needs last, we fold them into whatever we need to do for our loved one(s)? In essence, we become caregivers to ourselves as well.”
 
So, my question is, what if (whether we choose to volunteer or not, whether our loved one has passed or not) take up the mantle and become our own best caregivers? What if:
 

instead of focusing solely on Mom getting up, getting dressed and eating a good breakfast the way you always have in the past, you also made sure that you get up in time so that you can get dressed and have a good breakfast?

 

instead of focusing solely on Dad having people in his life that he can socialize with, you also made sure that you have people in your life that you can socialize and have a good laugh with?

 

instead of focusing solely on making sure that your spouse keeps his or her doctor’s appointments, that you also make sure that you keep yours?

 
You get the idea.
 
And if your loved one has passed, what if you took all that caregiver’s love that’s still in your heart and turn it toward yourself? I mean, who deserves it more?
 
That kindness, that caring and that concern that you so lovingly showered on your care recipient, how about sprinkling some of that on yourself? So much better than hiding it away, thinking it no longer is needed or pretending that it doesn’t exist.
 
Look, we all have the right to do as we see fit and that includes putting our caregiving selves on the shelf, once that part is not needed as much.
 
My suggestion is that we don’t.
 
 
Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. Feel free to contact her at staff@helpyouthru.com. Want more information about how you can make your caregiving journey easier? Join our mailing list.

Overwhelmed Caregiver: A Day In The Life

Overwhelmed Caregiver: A Day In The Life

By Michael Picucci
 
I remember the day we received the diagnosis at NYU hospital. While waiting in the solarium I watched the city lights glimmer against a darkening sky; a colorful sunset was nearly gone peered through the Manhattan skyline. I hadn’t even spoken with the doctor, yet there was a sense of being frozen in time. Charcoal clouds glided over office buildings. The room smelled of disinfectant and institutional food. Girls with red and white striped pinafores over starched white uniforms were carrying fiberglass trays.
 
All of my senses were heightened. It was like looking at the tiniest detail through a microscope. I noticed the girl’s caps and the pointy shape of their white collars. Yet, at the same time, I had completely lost touch with where I was.
 
I could feel my eyes were glazing and I nearly forgot my name.
 
Dr. Wallace, a self-assured specialist invited Sheila’s mom Olga and me into a small office space just off the solarium. We were told that Sheila needed to be admitted immediately.
 
“Sheila has a rare form of cancer in the leg bone,” he started, his expression earnest. “It’s called Ewing sarcoma” He took a pause and looked at each of us before saying, “We’re going to have to amputate Sheila’s leg above the knee. And we have to do the surgery as soon as possible.”
 
He shook my hand and continued to speak with Olga while I walked away. He could probably see that I was holding back an urge to just keel over. I’ve discovered that for most caregivers such a time exists, of feeling crushed. It’s a traumatic inability to face this kind of reckoning.
 
Until Sheila’s passing two years later I was consumed—sometimes consciously, mostly not—by a racy feeling emanating from my stomach then taking over my whole inner condition. She always wanted me, not Olga, to keep her company and to tend to her needs, which where expanding day by day: going through the amputation process, her often-hysterical terrors, being fitted for the prosthetic, phantom pains long after the leg was gone, the chemo, needing to be carried to the bathroom numerous times during the night.
 
Living in Two Realities, The Anguish
 
Simultaneous to all of this I was attending to my new job in advertising, a dream come true. I had to show up and do the best job I could. I would go home at lunchtime to see if I could get her to eat something, as only I was allowed this responsibility. My employer showed extraordinary compassion—the constant having to leave to go with Sheila to a doctor’s appointment or the intermittent crises I needed to attend to immediately.
 
I was living in two incompatible realities. Later I identified this as an often-overlooked suffering of the caregiver. One is the everyday personal existence—self-care, professional responsibilities, social engagement; the other is the intimate world of the sick and fragile loved one, with its ever-changing demands, along with full body/mind consumption.
 
I discovered that I could bounce between the two awkwardly, yet they never felt integrated. These two aspects of my being suffered greatly even at the thought of bringing them together.
 
But I learned how I could resource myself. To learn the techniques on how I did it, and how to resource yourself, please check out Resourcing Ourselves: Three Tangible Shifts.
 
 
Michael Picucci, PhD, SEP is in private practice in NYC and Ulster County, NY. Michael also passionately teaches Focalizing to individuals and groups, mostly with the Focalizing Institute Or you can reach Michael directly at http://www.michaelpicucci.com.
 
 
 

Family Caregivers and Caregiving: Then And Now

Family Caregivers and Caregiving: Then And Now

By Karen Bromberg
Introduction
Take a moment. I’d like you to think back to when you were a child. Hanging out with your friends. Riding your bike. Skating. Going to school. Doing homework. Relaxing at the beach during the summer.
In memory, everything seemed so easy and straightforward.
We knew what we had to do and what we weren’t allowed. We knew what was right and what was wrong was wrong and never the twain shall meet.
Dads went to work. Moms stayed home. Communities were more closely knit. Grandparents (sometimes great-grandparents) lived nearby and when they could no longer take care of themselves, they’d invariably move in with us.
It was hardly unusual for generations to live together. On my block alone, there were three houses that were multi-generational, mine being one.
Back then families “took care of their own.” Grandma and/or grandpa would get their own room, extra places would be set at the dinner table and life would go on as before. We kids may have gotten yelled at by either Mom or Dad, “kids, kids,” they say in a hushed scream, “grandma (and/or grandpa) is trying to rest” but that was about it.
Oh, there may have been a bump or two, a raised voice here or there, but for the most part, things seemed to flow. No muss. No fuss. Grandma (or Grandpa) just seemed to fold into the family.
Assisted Living facilities didn’t exist and nursing homes were places that no self-respecting son or daughter would ever relegate their parent(s) to.
There were no such things as blogs (heck, there wasn’t even an Internet back then, hard to believe!) or articles in magazines sporting titles such as “Five Relaxation Tips For Overwhelmed Caregivers” or “Ten Strategies For Overwhelmed Caregivers.”
From our vantage point as children, family caregiving seemed like the most natural thing in the world and from what we saw from our parents, caregiving was a family matter. Period.
Fast forward to 2018
Things are different . . . sizably different. The biggest difference, of course, is that now we are the adults. The problems we were once sheltered from are now the very things we’re dealing with and the issues we were protected from by our parents are now what we are protecting our children from.
But that’s not the only difference.
What was true and accepted when we were kids isn’t so much anymore. Men aren’t the sole breadwinners and women’s roles have expanded to include professions unheard of in our mother’s day: doctors, lawyers, managers, even astronauts.
According to a 2017 blog from U.S. Department of Labor,

“Seventy percentof mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent employed full-time.
Mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percentof households with children under 18 today, compared with 11 percent in 1960.”

Which mean that almost half the women working outside the home today aren’t do it for personal satisfaction, but for economic survival.
According to the same blog post, 45% of women are marketing and sales managers and 27% are chief executives, indicating again, what we already know, that women in this generation don’t just have jobs, they have careers and are not just working but are in positions of leadership.
That said, in Caregiving In The U.S., a 2015 report by AARP, ”The majority of caregivers are female (60%).” Roughly translated – family caregiving still defaults mostly to women even as women are more and more in the workplace (and in positions of power).
A generation ago, when grandma or grandpa needed someone to go with them to the doctor, for example, it would be no problem. If Mom worked, she’d simply call her boss and tell him that she needed the day off. It’s what my mother did when my grandmother had to go to the doctor. And no, the boss wasn’t happy about it but . . .
So what now?
It’s clear that the rules have changed. What worked for our mothers and grandmothers simply isn’t going to work for us. Not because we’re bad people and not because we’re selfish or uncaring. It’s simply because things have changed.
The problem, as I see it, is that while societal expectations and responsibilities have altered, the way we approach caregiving (the prism by which we view it) really hasn’t.
We remember the way our mothers approached it and try to do it the same way. For many of us, family caregiving is still considered a private matter. Oh, we may discuss, even complain about it, outside the family, but we still look for solutions within the family, turning to siblings or other relatives for help and guidance even though we know we’re likely not going to get it.
So, the question becomes how do we do this thing called caregiving in a way that honors who we are now, in this generation.
The first thing I think we need to do is not blame anyone. Not our sibling that won’t pitch in. Not the uncle who likes to tell us what we’re doing wrong. While they may infuriate us, we have to remember that they are as scared as we are and are doing the best they can even though from our perspective what they are offering is so incredibly not.
The second thing I think we have to focus on is how we’re going to find ways (save, sane and healthy ways) to care for our loved ones while still tending to all the things we have to tend to. It’s going to take creativity, patience, honesty and yes, even a little humor to find the answers that will meet our needs. But I have confidence that we will find them.
For some, it’ll mean that their loved one will stay in their own homes and be monitored by a visiting nurse. Maybe they’ll have a homecare attendant during the day or maybe as a live-in.
For others, assisted living or nursing home might be the best option. And I know that there’s a stigma about this whole idea of adult children placing their elderly parents into such facilities. I know it because I was on the receiving end of it when it was time for my parents to go into assisted living.
People seemed to feel so comfortable saying things. Hurtful things. Things that made me feel guilty. And even if they didn’t say anything, I could feel their disapproval. It wasn’t helpful. To be honest, it only made a difficult situation worse.
So, I’m actually the last person who will ever tell anyone what I think they should do. I do, however, think it’s important to shine a light on options.
Assisted Living
While I wouldn’t say that it’s the norm to have elderly parents or grandparents living in assisted living, I will say it’s far more common and getting more common all the time. According to an article on American Senior Communities’ website, “Currently, around one million Americans live in some type of senior living community, and that number is expected to double by the year 2030.”
Nursing homes
Thanks to the reforms in the 80s, nursing homes have gotten sizably better. That said, not all are good and family caregivers would do well to be vigilant to make sure that their loved ones are being properly cared for.
I was fortunate. The nursing home my parents were in was quite nice. It wasn’t perfect but my parents were well cared for.
While not all nursing homes are as good as the one my parents were in, we have to remember that they have to adhere to certain guidelines or risk penalty. Of course, with the easing of fines (NY Times 12/24/2017) we’re going to have to see how all this shakes out. My advice is for family caregivers to be extra special vigilant. Drop in when the staff is not expecting you. Enlist other family members and friends to visit. Get their opinion of how things are going.
It’s especially important because we are so busy as caregivers, employees, spouses, and parents, that we reach out to others (friends, a clergy person, a counselor, therapist or any other professional working with family caregivers) even before we feel like it’s getting too much. That way we can prevent that overwhelming feeling and avoid the risk of burnout.
It can be so helpful and healing to speak to someone who actually understands what it’s like and who knows what it’s like. And it could end being that they’ll have a simple solution to a problem you’re having but, because you’re in the middle of it, you can’t see.
We also have to allow ourselves the “luxury” of not being perfect and understand that because of the ways society has changed, no matter how much we may want to, we simply can’t be the way we remember our mothers being.
Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. Feel free to contact her, either by email at staff@helpyouthru.com or via phone 929-276-2109. Want to get more information about how you can make your caregiving journey easier, simply fill out the form below and join our mailing list.

Five Rights Overwhelmed Caregivers Have (But May Not Realize)

Five Rights Overwhelmed Caregivers Have (But May Not Realize)

by Karen Bromberg
 
Introduction
 
When I think back to my days as an overwhelmed caregiver, the one thing that comes to mind was how stoically I went through my days. Oh, I complained. Just ask my friends. I complained about how tired I was and how frustrated I felt. You name it. I’d complain about it.
 
But when all was said and done (and I finally finished my complaining), the one thing I typically said was “ . . . all-in-all, I guess I’m doing as well as can be expected, given the circumstances.”
 
Of course, I wasn’t. Anyone who’s done family caregiving for more than five minutes knows that I wasn’t. But what was I going to do? Tell them that my heart was breaking? Tell them that I was in tears pretty much all the time and when I wasn’t in tears, I was so angry that it took all my self-control not to throw something?
 
How could I say that?
 
First of all, I felt that most people didn’t REALLY care. I mean, they asked but I felt as though they were doing it more out of social obligation than really wanting to know. (As I came to realize, in some cases, I was 100% correct.)
 
I also felt that I wouldn’t be understood and by extension, be judged. And of course, there was the guilt. There was always the guilt.
 
My years of being a caregiver to my parents are over now and what I’ve come to realize (even more now than before) is that caregiving is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard, requiring us to have grit and fortitude, wisdom and an internal strength that those who have never done caregiving can’t understand.
 
On a daily basis it requires us to look at our positive and negative qualities, our wants and desires then take them all and push them to the side in the service of another/others.
 
That said, I’ve also come to realize that caregivers also have certain rights.
 
We have the right to:
 

not want to be a caregiver.

But, of course, you do it. You care-give every day and really, you wouldn’t have it any other way. But let’s be honest, no one ever asked for it. I mean, it’s not like you woke up one day all bright eyed and bushy tailed, excited at the prospect, rubbing your hands together, saying to yourself, “oh boy, I think today I’ll be a caregiver.” No, it’s more like you were chugging along in your life, then one day – BOOM — the you-know-what hits the fan and there you are – a caregiver. Perhaps, your caregiving situation came up slowly. Perhaps you saw it coming. Even so, it probably still caught you by surprise because, really, no matter how much a person prepares, somehow caregiving ALWAYS manages to catch one off-guard.
 

to be angry.

Of course, you do! There you were: being a parent, being a spouse, an employee, a daughter (or son) then all of a sudden you became a caregiver. No preparation. No instruction booklet. And now, here you are on the front-line: dealing with the medical community, dealing with the insurance company, dealing with Medicare or Medicaid. All while the person you love so much is sick or injured. You feel the pressure, having it all in your lap. Having to deal with it day in and day out. Oh, sometimes a relative or friend will step up to help you out, but for the most part, it’s all on YOU. And you get angry. Not at the person you’re caring for necessarily but at the situation itself.
 

to feel resentful.

You look at others: going out to the movies, going out to dinner, going away on vacation, and see them laughing and having a good time the way you used to. Enjoying life. You feel the knot in your gut as you remember doing all the things you used to do and long to do them again. Then there are the times when you find yourself on a bus or in a grocery store or at the newspaper stand and happen to overhear folks either behind you or ahead of you online complaining about their co-workers or their boss, whining about how tough their life is. You feel the grip in your belly. You want to tell them, “Tough . . . you think your life is tough? Try not sleeping for a week because you mother keeps you up at night. Try worrying about how you are going to keep it all together because your boss is getting down on you for all the time you’ve had to take off caring for your Dad. Try figuring out how you are going to do retirement because five years ago you had to quit your job to take care of your dying wife, now that she’s gone no one wants to hire you. Try that out for size then come back and tell me how tough your life is.” Except you don’t. You bite your tongue and move on.
 
Conclusion
 
As caregivers, we so often have to navigate situations and feelings similar to the ones above. We do it so often that we can think that’s all there is. Oh, we remember better times and we may even look forward to having them again sometime in the distant future, but we assume that in the present slogging through our days is all there is.
 
Now, to be clear, not everybody is going to go through all of these at the same time – at least I hope not – but if you do, if you find that your appetite or sleep pattern is being affected by the stress caused by your caregiving responsibilities, if you find you’re dragging through the day, if you find no pleasure in the things that you used to like doing please, please, please, I beg you, seek out professional help and support.
 
Remember, while you have the right to feel all your feelings, you don’t want them getting in the way of your day-to-day life. Remember, too, that even though you are busy caregiving, you have the right to feel joy and excitement, love and a sense of wellbeing.
 
You also have the right to
 
:: ask others for help.
Now, I know this takes courage. Picking up the phone. Making that call. Asking. It sounds easy but in fact, it can be one of the hardest yet bravest things you can do. Being vulnerable. But you might be surprised. People want to help. They just may not know how. Let’s face it, not everybody is equipped to do everything. Your sister might not be comfortable cooking dinner for Mom but she might be perfectly willing, even happy, to take her to her doctor’s appointment. Your brother might not want to change Dad’s Depends but is thrilled to be able to spend one-on-one time with him while feeding him. Ideally, the best thing is to have something akin to “a committee” of people to call on; different people for different tasks. Of course, if this is not possible (because most of the time it isn’t), finding those two or three people who are willing to pitch in, then asking when you need it, can make such a big difference.
 
Not just that, you also have the right to
 
:: receive.
By nature caregivers give. It’s just who we are. It’s what we do. And it’s how we’re comfortable going through life. But giving and giving all the time can lead to our “our cups” being empty which makes it that much harder to give. If it becomes hard to give, we risk burnout. We become burnt-out, we risk becoming less effective caregivers. I know, for those of us wired to give, it takes practice to be able to receive, but it is SOOOO worth it! As the old TV commercial used to say, “Try it, you’ll like it.”
 
Any comments? I’d love to hear it.
 
 
Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. Feel free to contact her, either by email at staff@helpyouthru.com or via phone 929-276-2109. Want to get more information about how you can make your caregiving journey easier, simply fill out the form below and join our mailing list.

Eight Ridiculously Easy Relaxation Tips Overwhelmed Caregivers Can Do To Make 2018 A Less Stressful Year

Eight Ridiculously Easy Relaxation Tips Overwhelmed Caregivers Can Do To Make 2018 A Less Stressful Year

by Karen Bromberg
 
Introduction
 
So, it’s 2018. Can you believe it?
If you’re anything like me, you look upon this time of year with excitement, hope, relief (yes, you actually survived 2017!) and even a little bit of dread, gazing upon your care recipients, remembering with fondness what they were able to do last year (two years ago, three years ago, five and ten years ago) at this time.
You try not to think about it, but can’t help yourself yet the more you think about it, the worse you feel. 
But, there is good news and no, it has nothing to do with turning back the hand of time. It does, however, have to do with making small changes that can reap great benefits.
Needless to say, the exercise that I go over below should not be done while driving or in a public place. To that end, I recommend finding a quiet place in your home to do them.
 
SUGGESTIONS FOR REDUCING STRESS
 

Spend five minutes (more if you can) every morning in meditation. Meditation is great. It allows the mind to be quiet and the body to relax. Feel free to sit up in bed, back resting against the headboard, or in a chair with feet on the floor. You can even lie down (though you may end up falling asleep). The main thing is to have a quiet environment where you feel safe (both physically and mentally), close your eyes then once your eyes are closed, focus on your breath. Repeat an uplifting phrase. No, it doesn’t have to be “OM,” but something that works for you.

 

Spend at least five minutes (more if you can) in meditation before going to bed. As stated above meditation can be done sitting or lying in bed. In my experience, quieting the mind and relaxing the body before sleep allows for a far more restful slumber.

 

Sit for a few minutes every day doing nothing but focusing on the breath. The inhalations. The exhalations. Feeling the cool air going into your nostrils. The warm air releasing from them. You’ll notice that the mind will be less active and your body will feel less stressed.

 

Do a grounding exercise once a day. Sit comfortably, feet on the floor, and slowly look around. That’s all it takes. Look in front of you, behind you, to your left, to your right. Look up and look down. But just don’t look. Really look. See what’s there. The objects in the room. The walls. The floor. The lighting fixtures. The patterns in the linoleum. Examine any pictures that may be in the room. Tell yourself, “I am here. This is 2018 and I am sitting in my home. I am performing this grounding exercise and in this moment everything is okay.” By scanning your environment you take yourself out of your head and the scary future and ground yourself in the immediate present.

 

Eat properly. I know, we’ve heard it a million times. If we don’t fuel the body well, how can we expect it to perform? But think about it. If we don’t feed it well, we force it to work harder. We force it to work harder, it becomes stressed. It becomes stressed, we end up feeling the stress. Now I’m no dietician, but the argument seems to make sense to me. If we feed the body well and fuel it properly then we’re just better able to navigate the world. But, the question is how do we do it when we have NO time? My thoughts . . . Batch kitchen tasks.

 
                                 :: Cut up all the veggies you’ll need for the week at the same time.
                                 :: Marinate all the meats you’ll be cooking for the week at the same time.
                                 :: Cook several meals at once. This is especially easy when you prepare stews or soups.
 

It’s well known that exercise relieves stress. If going to a gym is not possible then do it at home. Look on the Internet, on YouTube, find something that will be fun. Put on some music and dance around your living room. You can even buy a piece of equipment and if space is an issue, no worries, there are really small ones. I have a mini elliptical which stores away in my closet. If you don’t have time, then exercise for five minutes, ten minutes, anything is better than nothing but make sure to check with your physician first, before starting any exercise program or before ramping up whatever exercise you are currently doing. Seriously. It’s important.

 

Laugh everyday day. Do it even if you don’t feel like it, even if there seems to be nothing to laugh about. Get on the phone and talk to a “funny” friend. Stream a funny movie or TV show. Laughter increases serotonin (the “feel-good” chemical) in the brain, which, in turn, relaxes the body.

 

Finally, allow the people in your life to help you. It’s hard, I know. Letting others do for you when you are far more comfortable doing for others. But think about it, wouldn’t it be relaxing to have someone take care of you once in a while?

 
Conclusion
The key here is to start small –  one thing at a time – and build slowly. Be gentle with yourself and remember only you know whether something is working for you or not. If it’s not, then forget it and move on.
I want to wish you the happiest of new years!
 
 
 
Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. Feel free to contact her, either by email at staff@helpyouthru.com or via phone 929-276-2109.

My Number One, Best Relaxation Tip For Overwhelmed Caregivers

My Number One, Best Relaxation Tip For Overwhelmed Caregivers

by Karen Bromberg
 
Introduction
 
I want to share a little story.
This happened many years ago. My husband and I were at this concert. No, not a Bruce Springsteen concert. Not a Madonna concert. Not even a James Taylor concert (though we did see James Taylor with Carole King at Madison Square Garden several years later).
This concert was with Paul Winter, a renowned saxophonist, with more than 40 albums, and his band, The Paul Winter Consort. It was his annual “Winter Solstice Concert” that takes place at St. John the Divine on New York’s Upper West Side.
It’s an amazing concert in an amazing space. St. John the Divine is big and cavernous, it’s “the largest cathedral in the world, making it a global landmark.” If you’ve never been, I highly recommend a visit, but I digress.
It was during the concert, specifically as Paul Winter was introducing one of his signature pieces, that this occurred. He said something that’s always stayed with me. He was talking about the significance of light in the celebration of the winter holidays (religious history and significance aside) and about how, during the darkest time of the year, we use the light from candles and bulbs, which “are kin to the fiery rites of old, which celebrated the miracle of earth’s renewal.”
Blew my mind.
But what does it have to do with caregivers? And overwhelmed caregivers at that?
Wait. Keep reading. I think you’re gonna like this.
 
Darkness vs Light
 
Every year, right around this time, I remember what Paul Winter said during that concert, and yes, no doubt, it’s likely because with the sun rising around 7:15 am and setting around 4:30 pm, where I am, I’m a little light deprived.
But I have to say, it’s actually much more.
If you are anything like me, there’s a hopelessness and fear inherent in darkness. We walk down streets a little faster. Maybe look over our shoulders more often without even realizing it. We hunker down and hibernate. True, it’s partly because of the cold but if we think about it, it’s also partly because of the darkness. 
Yet every time I look at Christmas lights or at the flame at the tip of Chanukkah and Kwanzaa candles, I feel better. My spirits are lifted and I feel more hopeful and joyful. Perhaps it’s because, as Paul Winter says, they symbolize renewal and the return of the sun.
It’s this interplay between the darkness and the light, the duality of them, that was just so evident for me this year with the passing of my parents. Each time I fell into a crying jag a friend or family member invariably would remind me of my memories, and (in my father’s case, being that he passed after my mother), how “they are now together.”
Without realizing it, my family and friends were reminding me of the light.
It’s so easy for us to fall into the darkness in our lives. With so much to do day-in and day-out – we put our heads down, we stick blinders on and we focus on the task at hand, the one goal being to get to the end of the day – that we forget to occasionally let in the light. But what if we did? What if we take the glasses with the dark lenses in them off and replace them with a pair that lets in the light? What would that be like?
Maybe instead of seeing only despair, we could also see the joy? Maybe instead of only seeing the sadness that’s around us, we could also appreciate the happiness? Maybe instead of feeling hopeless at things we obviously can’t control, we can also see some possibilities? 
Imagine how different our days, weeks and months might be if we could do that? Even a teeny tiny bit. 
So okay, you’ve guessed it, my number one best relaxation tip for overwhelmed caregivers is (drum roll, please), to focus on the light. 
I want to take this opportunity to wish all of you the very best this holiday season but most of all, I want to take this opportunity to wish you love and light.
 
 
Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. Feel free to contact her, either by email at staff@helpyouthru.com or via phone 929-276-2109.