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Archive for March, 2011

We have been discussing the idea of advance directives, end-of-life decisions, and living wills quite a bit recently here at Horizon and in my personal life.

I sat around a table with friends and wine last Friday night, and learned that there are strong opinions about this (which doesn’t surprise me). My friends in question were a newlywed couple, 30 years old, and the conversation started jokingly as they mentioned they’d discussed “legal guardians” for their pets if they should both die. Our other friends, slightly older and with children at home laughed and said it hadn’t occurred to them to name guardians for their pets. The conversation wore on, and went down the more serious path of who we as individuals would trust with our most personal wishes at the end of life. 

There is one stance that I hear often, and that is “my spouse knows me best, and will know what to do in the situation where I can’t speak for myself.” This was one of the cases on Friday. In theory, I understand this position, and find it amazing and wonderful that there is this kind of trust in a marriage. What worries me, is that I wonder if most couples have actually had the conversation. I mean, the details, like, if I’m laying in the hospital on a ventilator, brain-dead, I need you to stop the vent. Can you imagine your 30 year old spouse in that condition? Can you imagine making that decision? It worries me that these details aren’t actually discussed, but an assumption is made that the other partner will know what to do. 

I had another very interesting conversation recently with a young colleague regarding this issue. She has chosen her sister, rather than her spouse to be her health care power of attorney. Her reasoning: she doesn’t believe her spouse will be able to handle the emotions if such a situation did ever occur. She trusts her sister to be level-headed and respect her wishes during such an emotionally tumultuous time. 

All of these questions leave me in a bit of a pickle. Who can I trust to execute my wishes in such a situation? Who will really respect my wishes, and be able to adapt to a terrible circumstance if it does occur? This topic is worth some brain-time, even for young people. I hope that anyone who reads this will at least chew on the possibilities and will talk to someone about where they stand.

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Cover of "Quantum Wellness: A Practical a...

Cover via Amazon

There is a multi-billion dollar industry based on self-care in this country, yet so often we in this day and age are not able to make time for it. In the midst of our busy lives with jobs, homes, children, spouses, aging parents and other concerns, often we put ourselves last in order to care for everyone else. 

I am currently reading a book called Quantum Wellness by Kathy Freston. Now before I go much farther, I will tell you that there is an underlying agenda pertaining to veganism throughout the book. We all have our own thoughts and beliefs, and this is not what I’d like to highlight as the most helpful part of the book. However despite this agenda, I’ve found the book to be meaningful and a helpful guide to self-care. 

Kathy starts by talking about taking time for yourself and introducing small, positive changes into your life. She takes a “cross-training” approach to how you can create balance through various activities and practices. She doesn’t suggest jumping headfirst into each and every practice, but rather being aware of them all and slowly integrating them into your own life to provide better balance and wellness. Kathy’s “8 Pillars of Wellness” include:

  • Meditation
  • Visualization
  • Fun Activities
  • Conscious Eating
  • Exercise
  • Self-examination
  • Spiritual practice
  • Service

 I think the reason that I was able to engage with this book was the variety of things that she identifies as important. I have yet to figure out how to meditate. I just can’t sit still. I can’t get my mind to shut off. However I’ve found that I can visualize positive things and in doing so, create a kind of focus. I love that conscious eating and exercise are in here – this is not a diet or a weight-loss regime, this is just a suggestion to be thoughtful about how you care for your body. Self-examination and spiritual practice also tend to be tough ones for me, however I recognize the importance of them in creating balance with everything else. 

The two Pillars that I found most surprising were fun activities and service. They were also the ones I connected to most. As I mentioned at the start of this post, it seems to be our lifestyle today (and I would make the leap that it is especially true of women) to give and give and care for the many other people in our worlds. I often forget about the things that truly bring me joy. When you are in the rat-race, it’s easy to forget how doing good things for others can give you back those feelings of joy 100 times over. 

I’m recommending this book today because I think it takes a do-able approach to balancing ideas that will enrich our lives and help us create a feeling of total wellness. In this world, where we often struggle with boundaries and how to “do it all” a book like this can be a gentle reminder that we deserve to care for ourselves as well.

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A few months ago I found this beautiful video on youtube. It really touched my heart, and again recently, it brought me some personal solace. It occurred to me today (in the shower of course) that people are alone for many reasons. I’ve had years to learn to be alone – from my childhood as an only-child, to moving away from my family and friends, to being single as an adult and having to learn to be enough. I wonder, how must it feel to lose someone suddenly, and have to learn to be alone without all of the practice I’ve had?

I’m posting this video as a step-by-step guide for those who might be suffering a loss. Over my years, I’ve found most of this advice to be true – start small, and safe. Become bolder when you feel comfortable. Learn to be well in your own head, because no one else can make it “better”. And finally, some day, when you least expect it, you will be peaceful on your own, without even thinking about it.

I hope you can appreciate “How to Be Alone” as much as I do.

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dog in Ljubljana

Image via Wikipedia

The Grief Resource Center Newsletter will be coming out in a month or so, and this edition has a very interesting theme: how animals can influence our health and wellbeing. I’m giving our blog readers a sneak-peek into one of the upcoming articles. I had the opportunity last week to interview Laura Hey, a certified Animal-Assisted Therapist who will be bringing her skills to the Horizon Hospice In-Patient Unit at Columbia St. Mary’s Ozaukee Hospital on a weekly basis, beginning in March. Laura is a very interesting and talented lady with a passion for helping people. Her business is called Health Heelers and I know she is going to bring a new level of expertise and care to our patients. 

Laura is a certified Animal-Assisted Therapist with a background in health care, and her therapy teams (dogs and their handlers who will join us at the Unit) are specially trained and are registered through a national therapy pet organization called the Delta Society (www.deltasociety.org). Animals and their trainers are tested as a team and must excel in a number of areas, including obedience, safety, temperament, and social skills. 

Animal Assisted Therapy is used in many situations and with many types of clients to decrease stress and anxiety, and to provide social and emotional support. It is Horizon’s hope that it will provide an added sense of peace, and help our patients and families feel even more at home while they stay with us at the In-Patient Unit. 

You will hear more about this program in the future, but for today I encourage you to remember how therapeutic your own pet might be – if you’re feeling down or hopeless, spend some quality time with your dog or cat – their influence may surprise you. 

For more information on Health Heelers, visit their website at www.healthheelers.com.

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The G Force roller coaster

Image via Wikipedia

I often get asked—which loss is worse: one that you know is coming due to an illness or a sudden unexpected loss? The truth is that they are both difficult losses and one is not easier to deal with than the other. 

Even when dealing with an illness for a long time, the death still comes as a shock because you can never fully imagine what life is going to be like without that person. One can not fully anticipate and plan for all of the ways in which their life is going to change without them. And if you were the caregiver you now have a ton of time on your hands and you may have lost your purpose, which was to care for your loved one. Lastly, many people have an expectation that they will have deep profound conversations with their loved one prior to their death, just like they do in the movies, but this doesn’t happen the majority of the time. This leaves unsaid communications. 

When a loss is sudden, the death is a shock and life changes instantaneously, in ways you may never have thought about before. There are probably many things that have been left unsaid because you thought you had time to get closure on those topics. 

The two losses that I think are more difficult to grieve are a death by suicide or homicide because both of these losses leave many unanswered questions and can bring about embarrassment or shame, which makes them more difficult to talk about. It can be helpful to find a support group for these specific losses so that you know you are not alone and others can relate to your unique experiences of grief. 

For all others, the feelings of loss are similar and intense. Grief feels like a roller coaster. It is helpful to talk about your feelings in order to release the intensity of them. If you feel that you can’t talk about them, write about them. Find support either through close friends and relatives or through a support group. Grief can make you feel as if you are going crazy and sometimes your friends and family stop wanting to hear about your grief. A support group can let you know that you are not crazy and that you are not alone. Read about grief so that you gain tips from others who have gone before you on how to cope with your loss. And remember that grief takes a lot of energy and is very stressful. Take good care of yourself—easier said that done, I know, but well worth the effort.

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