Recently, I met Cynthia and her mother, Frances. I was so inspired by their story and I wanted to share it with you.
Some people steal away to a day spa so they can slow down and relax. Others take a vacation or immerse themselves in a meditation retreat. Cynthia Robinson, age 61, didn’t have time for any of those options. It was 2010, and as she was trying to build her consulting practice, she realized her 88-year-old mother, who lived alone, had memory problems. When Cynthia took her mother to a neurologist, the diagnosis was mild cognitive impairment, which for many is a precursor to Alzheimer’s.
Cynthia was thrust into the role of primary caregiver.
“Initially, I felt irritated and a little resentful,” she said. “I loved my mother but I didn’t want caring for her to take up so much of my time.”
Deciding What Was Most Important In Life
Cynthia had to decide what was most important. Was it taking care of her mother or building her business? She analyzed her situation; her husband was retired and they could get by on his income.
“I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take care of Mom,” she said. She had another reason: she felt she could be at risk for Alzheimer’s. “I wanted to model caring behavior so my daughters and husband would know how to act if I ever developed this disease,” she said.
Cynthia wanted to think of ways her mom could feel valuable and really loved and she experimented with these concepts:
She slowed down to her mother’s pace. She didn’t bring her computer over to her mom’s house; she didn’t talk on her cell phone or check her emails and texts. “I tried to patiently experience my mom’s world,” she said.
Listen Lovingly and Learn
Even though she sometimes bit her lip in frustration as her mom endlessly repeated the same story, Cynthia practiced really listening to her mom’s tales.
“Once I did this, I heard stories I’d never heard before,” she said. “ I learned some meaningful family history.”
Experience the Sensory Beauty of the Present
“I had never paid attention to the millions of shades of bright green,” Cynthia said. “But Mom notices sensory things and we talk about the colors, the flowers and the trees. She keeps me in the here and now.”
Seek Interesting Solutions
Normally, Cynthia’s mom would never wear a hat. But her long hair was thinning and Cynthia bought her a cute cap. Her mom was delighted by the gift and whenever she wore it, she received compliments.
Find New Common Ground
Cynthia installed birdfeeders at her mom’s house. Enjoying the ever-changing array of birds increased her mom’s quality of life and gave them a new topic of conversation.
Delighting in Her Mother’s Gifts
The more Cynthia slowed down and stayed in the present with her mom, the more she appreciated her mother’s wisdom and serenity. Her mother repeatedly told her, “People are about as cheerful as they make up their minds to be.”
“ My mother once guided me through the experience of being a parent,” Cynthia said. “Now, she’s guiding me in the experience of how to make the best of Alzheimer’s.”
**Who are your unexpected guides? What fascinating lessons are you learning on your journey?
All my life, I had admired owls in zoos and animal parks but I had never seen one in nature. This bird was resting on a branch of our giant oak tree only 15 feet away from me. I stared in awe as he lifted his claw and scratched the side of his face, then swiveled his head from side to side and ruffled his feathers. I ran upstairs to get my partner Ron and together we watched the owl like he was an award-winning documentary.
“I have to get back to work,” I told Ron and he nodded. We both returned to our home offices but it was hard to concentrate knowing such a powerful bird was nearby. We looked up owls on-line and learned they represent wisdom, intuition, and magic. One person wrote, “Owls give us the power to see that which is hidden to the naked eye.”
Drinking in Every Movement
Already, we were under the animal’s charismatic magic spell. Every 15 minutes I took a break to commune with the bird. Once a butterfly fluttered around the owl’s head and the owl followed its movements like a child would watch soap bubbles. Every movement was interesting to me. The owl slept; with its great eyes hooded its face seemed empty. Upon awakening, it stretched its wondrous wings (a wing-span of almost four feet, our bird book reported) and preened. I gazed at the owl and the owl stared at me as if looking deep inside my soul.
During the course of the day, several friends and neighbors came over to view the winged visitor. They were as excited, mystified and awestruck as we were.
As I marveled at the beautiful brown and white patterning on the owl’s chest, I remembered my first glimpse of such a creature: at a pottery store in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I was 14 when my family vacationed at a friend’s cabin in the Smoky Mountains. One day we went into town, ate at a fried chicken restaurant and toured the pottery factory. My brother and I were each allowed to select one item from the seconds’ table and I chose a small Barred Owl. I loved the whimsical, serene and profound look on the figurine’s face. Though I had saved very few things from my childhood that souvenir was still with me. Miraculously, I knew right where it was. I walked into the living room and took the small clay object off the mantel. I held it in both hands and closed my eyes, hoping for a profound insight or mystical moment.
None came; just the special joy I always feel in the presence of birds.
Appreciating the Beginning and the Ending
That evening, before we went out to meet friends, Ron and I peered through the kitchen window and said goodbye to our owl.
“We hope we see you tomorrow,” we said.
Early the next morning, I ran breathlessly to the kitchen. The tree was empty; the owl was gone. My sense of loss was quickly replaced by a feeling of gratitude. We had experienced the miracle of winged wisdom and I knew that owl would be with me for a long, long time.
The Daily Challenge For Caregivers and All of Us: Finding the Moments
That Friday it was easy to notice the perfect moments. Other days, it’s more complicated. Part of my creative challenge to myself is to notice the magic in every day, even a day that’s prone to mundanity or challenges.
How about you? How do you notice the gifts in each day? What are some of your perfect moments?