Caregiving...A Way To Give And To Receive

Below is a piece that I wrote for myself during my grieving process following my father-in-law's death this past May. It helped me so much to write out my feelings, memories and all that I had learned from him in such a short time. In the process of launching our Seniors Helping Seniors business here in Lake County, I realize that Grandpa Karl was a driving force in starting this business. Our company motto, "a way to give and to receive" is one that I clearly understand after my experience caring for him. My experience giving to him and receiving from him is the main reason why I believe in this business and am passionate about the potential goodness and love that this company will bring to so many seniors in our community. Here is my story and tribute to Grandpa Karl:

My handsome, loving, kind father-in-law, passed away from this world on May 28, 2018. I have always had a loving relationship with him over the past 11 years of visiting him at his home in Chalmers, IN. We created many fond memories. It wasn’t until this January 2018, however, when my 2 sons and I drove to pick him up one sunny, snowy afternoon to come and live with us, that our lives changed, and a deep, loving relationship began.

“Grandpa Karl” was simple in the most beautiful way. He simply loved, simply lived and was simply present, always. While living with us, he never got too anxious or unnerved with anything. It wasn’t easy for him. There was plenty of change and difficulty that challenged him every day. He had experienced struggles financially, with healthcare and insurance hassles as well as physical discomfort and limitations. Although he struggled with pain in his body much of the time and carpel tunnel in both of his hands, he only spoke of it when asked. He never wanted to be a burden. He always wanted to help, and he did help us in any way that we asked, whenever we asked.

Grandpa taught me beautiful lessons and I wanted to reflect and define them here. The main lesson that I learned was that it is never too late for change and growth.

  • LOVE - We go through life doing the best we can with the knowledge that we have at the time. Like all of us, Grandpa wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes with people that he loved in his life. He was selfish at times and, in certain circumstances, he could have given more to those around him. While living with us, however, I saw an easy effort as he gave love freely. He accepted hugs and verbal affections and reciprocated. He gave his time and his service to help me and our family in our daily lives to make things easier for us. I know this was his way of saying “thank you”, but also, and more so, his way of showing his love. He reached out to friends and family and spent quality time with them. He shared the successes of his newfound health in hopes to spread them toward any, and all, that would listen.  He wanted to mend the cracks that had been formed in relationships with his loved ones, and especially his sons. He wanted them to know that he was sorry for not being “more” earlier on. He wanted them to know that he loved them and in these last 5 months, showing that love, did mend broken hearts. Don’t wait to love. Love now and love hard. Don’t ever hold back on love.

 

  • LIFE - You don’t get to choose the day that you die, but you do get to choose the days that you live. We are all absorbed in our own lives, our own “problems”. We become so absorbed that we lose ourselves in these thoughts and we miss the present moment. I have spent so much of my time in thought about the past or worrying about the future, that I have missed the now, the only thing that is real. Grandpa didn’t dwell on the past or the future. He was up for anything. A drive to the store? “Sure”! Headed to a soccer game for the kids …. wanna come? “Sure”! The kids would ask him to play a game of Malefiz or have a Nerf-gun-battle – “sure”. Do you want to try a smoothie with wheat grass and spirulina, or a dinner tonight with veggies and tempeh (fermented tofu) – “sure”! Whatever series or show that I wanted us all to watch at night – “sure”. We asked him to pick up the kids, do the dishes, grocery shop, fix something, babysit – “sure”, “sure”, “sure”, “sure”, “sure”. Dad, do you want a shake? (a delicious chocolate and peanut butter homemade vegan milkshake that my husband, Karl would make us every night) “OH SURE”!!!!! In the time that he lived with us, he truly lived each moment to the fullest. He was here and now, and we can all choose that whenever we like. Decide to live!
  • HEALTH - Grandpa smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol, and ate a lot of greasy, unhealthy foods over the course of his life. When he moved in, he was overweight, suffered from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and had just had one of his fingers amputated (due to an injury and then an infection). As mentioned before, he had carpal tunnel in both wrists which resulted in a lot of pain and discomfort and limited feeling and ability with daily tasks. At night, because of the pain and night terrors, he rarely slept a full night. The day we picked up Grandpa, he stopped smoking and drinking. He began eating a clean, vegan (no animal products/no meat/no dairy/no eggs) diet with little processed food.  He began exercising by taking walks, riding the exercise bike, lifting weights, and walking on the treadmill that he had in his room. He even started meditating using an app on his phone that allowed him to lie down and just listen. The guided meditations allowed him to relax into a nap or back to sleep at night when he woke. Since January, he lost 40 pounds. His lab results in the last few months showed that his blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars were all low and within healthy range. His hands, which looked terrible when he arrived (cuts and wounds that weren’t healing, flaking and calloused), healed. He could not bend his fingers in the beginning and, yet, at the end, he could make a fist with both hands. He felt the best that he had felt in decades. He felt so proud of himself for his dedication and for taking responsibility every day toward health. He did the work and he earned the results. He wanted to share his success with friends and family and he wanted others to know that they could promote health and wellness in their own lives. Many would think that they have lived a certain way for too long, that they are too old, they are too sick to change, but Grandpa proved that none of that is true. You can always introduce health into your life and make a difference, at any age, under any circumstance. Choose health. Move your body, fuel your body with natural and colorful foods and water, and fuel your soul with a spiritual connection.

 

  • SERVICE -  We all need a purpose. Being needed by another gives our lives meaning and validates our existence. In the year before we picked up Grandpa, he was, much of the time, alone. He was lonely. He felt that he had little to offer and this collapsed his spirit. It did not take long after he moved in that he started to give what he could. Grandpa was not a rich man, but he always gave his dollars and coins to his grandkids and enjoyed watching their faces light up with joy and excitement. They thought he was RICH and therefore, he was. He took on many household chores for me as I became busy starting a new business. This comforted me and allowed me time that I would not have had otherwise; time to spend with kids, my husband, and him. Chores were not easy for him with his pain and carpal tunnel, but he never used this as an excuse. He did all of the laundry for our family of 7 (him included) as well as all the dishes every day and usually, multiple times a day! He swept the floor, grocery shopped, took care of our dog and our kids whenever we asked. He helped us each, and every, day and I truly appreciated that help. He was giving, and he knew that his presence and service provided our family with an enormous sense of comfort and security. He was needed and wanted and very noticed for his efforts. Humankind is a species that operates through connection with one another, our environment and all creatures. Money is nice to give if you have it, but giving your time, your attention, your compassion and your service offers the most value. Connection is what we all seek in this lifetime. When you offer service to those around you, it is fulfilling because it is in our innate design to give. Seeing Grandpa’s lonely spirit uplift and transform into a shining light proved this to be true. Grandpa felt right, and he felt good because he did right by us and he did good for us. Step out of yourself and give to others and your heart will always lie on the receiving end. When we said “good-bye” to Grandpa yesterday, my 8-year-old son, “little Karl” turned to me with tears in his eyes and told me that he was so sad to not have Grandpa with us every day because when Grandpa was here, “he crushed his soul and heart with happiness”. Every one of us can offer love and service to another. Those are the true riches that we can spend and should be sharing throughout our lives.

When I said “goodbye” to Grandpa’s body, I placed my hands on his heart. I thanked him for these gifts and these lessons that he gave to me. For months I have told everyone that, although I thought I was picking him up this January to help him, it was, in actuality, the other way around. It was me that needed the help. He was committed from day 1 to change and be better. He never wavered. He was living proof there is strength in goodness and love. I am forever grateful for having the opportunity to see him flourish and grow and to just try to keep up with him. Even though he is not with us in body, I will never forget these important lessons. I plan to keep him alive every day with beautiful memories and by living in the groove of virtue that he carved out for us.