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The Caregiver's Cairn: New Year, New Opportunities

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Greetings one and all...

Happy New Year and welcome back to The Caregiver’s Cairn. I am excited and honored to kick-off the fourth year of conversations related to the journey of caregiving. If you have been a frequent visitor to the blog in years past, please accept my heartfelt thanks. If you are stopping by for the first time—Welcome! The blog is designed to be a sustaining and empowering guide for caregivers and care receivers. Every month, I’ll encourage you to take a much needed break to reflect on the journey of caregiving. With that brief introduction to the blog, I invite you to pour a cup of coffee or hot tea, curl up in a cozy chair, and take a deep breath. It’s time to chat!

With the advent of a New Year, let’s chat about new beginnings. New beginnings usually excite me. I am energized and inspired by the opportunities afforded by the start of something new. The initiation of a new adventure compels me to lean into life—eager to peer around the next curve to see what life has to offer. Granted, there is a bit of trepidation associated with the unknown. But a little bit of mystery ignites my curiosity and quickens my pace. So, every year as the New Year approaches, I get revved up about the potential of the coming year despite the inherent mystery. New beginning. Clean slate. A promising opportunity.

However, if the new beginning proves to be a mega-mystery—such as the diagnosis of a serious illness—fear often supplants excitement, bringing the entire process to a screeching halt. Paralyzed by fear of the unknown, we are unable and/or unwilling to take the next step until forced to do so. Having served as a family caregiver numerous times, I have encountered some new beginnings I could have lived without. On several occasions, the new beginning was literally the beginning of the end—a diagnosis of terminal cancer for both my mom and my dad (17 years apart). However, in hindsight, I realize those fearsome new beginnings posed not only daunting challenges but amazing opportunities as well for everyone who companioned and cared for my parents. Those experiences were (and continue to be) THE formative moments of my life—informing who I am, who I am becoming, and how I choose to serve in this world.

Serving as a hospice chaplain and community educator for many years, I listened to the stories of countless family and professional caregivers. The hard-earned wisdom shared by those caregivers serves to substantiate my personal belief that the journey of caregiving offers life-enhancing opportunities by way of new beginnings. By courageously confronting the challenges of caregiving, we experience life in ways that test previously held assumptions, expectations, and attitudes. As a result, we grow and evolve in amazing ways. Consider the following opportunities that not only transform the caregiving experience but ultimately transform how we understand and engage life. Over the course of the caregiving journey, we have the opportunity to:

• Commit to care for another person
• Prepare to care for ourselves and our loved ones
• Strengthen and/or re-engage with spiritual practices and beliefs
• Seek and graciously receive help from others
• Discover strength unimagined to meet the challenges of caregiving
• Remain hopeful during times of despair
• Recognize the sacred in the ordinary
• Be patient—take one step at a time
• Live out of an attitude of gratitude
• Be present to the moment
• Assess and adjust our priorities in life
• Listen well
• Love deeply
• Live fully

Please know that I am in no way diminishing or discounting what is often an arduous journey. Serving as a caregiver for my family and friends is the hardest thing I have ever done or will ever do in this life. Regardless, caring for my parents—companioning them to the end of the road—was my sacred honor. In both instances, the journey proved to be an opportunity of a lifetime for which I am eternally thankful. In the New Year, may we all experience new beginnings—opportunities—that enrich, enlighten, and enhance our lives.

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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