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The Caregiver’s Cairn: Called to Witness

Greetings one and all...

Welcome back to The Caregiver’s Cairn—an on-going conversation with caregivers and care receivers. It’s hard to believe that we are knee-deep into April. Time is flying by! So, I invite you to take a much needed break. Pour a cup of coffee or hot tea, curl up in a cozy chair, and unwind. Today, let’s consider what it means to be called to witness the journey of a family member or friend.

Last month I wrote about the power of presence—the importance of being with people through the trials of life. There are times when we can’t do anything to change the reality of a situation, but we can be present to the moment. I wrote—  “I can be present—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I can be the non-anxious, calming presence who listens without judging, critiquing, or questioning. I can be the compassionate, courageous witness who is willing to companion my family wherever the path may lead. I can be with my family through the highs and lows of life—and that is enough.” Little did I know when writing this reflection that I would be called to witness the end of my brother’s journey within a matter of days. The statements of  what I “can be” to my family then became questions of what I “would be” during a particularly challenging time.

My brother was diagnosed with a terminal illness in mid-March and died shortly thereafter. In the midst of teaching a class, I received notice of my brother’s rapid demise. Hospice staff advised all family members and friends to come as soon as possible. As you might imagine, I struggled to maintain my composure in order to complete the class. Additionally, I was torn between my professional and personal obligations and responsibilities. A rapid departure to be with my brother meant an abbreviated class. I agonized over what I should do.

Strangely enough, I recognized the mandatory nature of my call to witness later that day when presenting a program on death and dying (interesting timing, eh?). I heard myself instructing the class that companioning our loved ones to the end of the road is a sacred journey. Daunting, yes. But, an experience that should not be missed if at all possible. We are called to witness and to companion our loved ones to the end of the road—to be present physically, emotionally, and spiritually. By so doing, we are forever changed. Whether we choose to answer the call to witness or not is of paramount importance because we don’t get a “do over.” It is a once in a lifetime opportunity! Consider the call carefully. Have no regrets.

When those words flowed off my lips, I felt as if someone had punched me in the gut. In that instant, I knew not only what I must do, but also what I wanted and needed to do. I wanted and needed to be with my brother. I wanted and needed to answer the call to witness. And so, I did.

In the months to come, I will share how the call to witness served to enhance my appreciation of life and to refine my priorities. Being with my brother at the conclusion of his journey was one of the hardest things I have ever done…and one of the greatest blessings of my life. Perhaps my story will serve to remind you that some moments in life are not to be missed. That is certainly my fervent hope and the primary reason I shared this very personal, poignant story with you today.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. I invite you to share your perspective on the caregiving journey. Make suggestions. Pose questions. Provide resources. Share your story. Coming together and sharing, we will improve the process for one and all. I look forward to continuing the conversation next month. Til then, blessings to you and yours...Jane W. Barton

Do you have a question for Jane? Please email us at coaarp@aarp.org and we will be in touch soon!

 

Jane W. Barton, MTS, MASM, CSA is a passionate speaker, writer, and listener. Jane is the founder of Cardinal, LLC, a consulting firm that provides educational programs to assist people in confronting the daunting challenges posed by aging,  serious illness and disability. Jane is well-versed in the areas of grief and bereavement, caregiving, hospice and palliative care, change and transition, and spirituality and health. She presents innovative, transformational programs to community members, healthcare providers, pastoral caregivers, clergy, funeral service providers, and national audiences to improve the experience of people and families challenged by serious, advanced, or terminal illnesses. Previously, Jane served as Director of Education for a hospice and palliative care educational institution. She has also served as a hospice chaplain and bereavement facilitator in hospice and palliative care. Jane is a certified Spiritual Director as well as a Certified Senior Advisor. In a former life, she worked as a financial services representative and an exploration petroleum geologist and manager.  

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