Put On Your Running Shoes…
This story is about feeling supported.
I’ve never been a fan of metaphor. I perceive metaphor as requiring too much effort on my part. Not that I’m opposed to effort. I was raised by people almost Calvinistic in their work ethic. Sick? That’s odd, dear. I don’t see a bone protruding from your skin.
Unlike with higher-level mathematics, I don’t want to savor the mystery that comes with metaphor. Just spell it out, already! my brain screams. To almost-quote Selena Meyer (Veep), “Put on your running shoes and get to the point,” I think.
And then, last Saturday happened.
Wringing Out The Grief Sponge
Actually, let me back up a step. Before last Saturday happened, four weeks ago happened. That was the day I read my friend/talented healer Georgena Eggleston’s newsletter. I was hollering, “I want to be a shiny colander!” by the time I got to the end.
Her post, Are You a Grief Sponge or a Colander? was aimed at professionals like me, people whose clients are in a rough place. I know I don’t meet people on their best day; if everything was going well, they wouldn’t need to know me, right?
“Grief” probably isn’t the first word that pops into your mind when you think of what I do professionally, but that’s exactly what the client families I work with are going though. Most of the time, they have no idea. The professional geek-speak is “anticipatory grief.”
In plain English, it’s “This sucks and I feel awful and I’m exhausted and I’m frustrated and I don’t know what to do next and this is scary sometimes and I don’t know how I can keep doing this and this isn’t anything at all like what I thought it would be and this isn’t fair and it’s definitely not what I imagined this point of my life being like and my rotten brother won’t step up to help and why won’t my mother just admit she has dementia?”
Or something in that general neighborhood.
The main idea being, every client family I work with is grieving. They’re grieving what was, and they’re grieving what is, and they’re grieving what will never be. They exist in a time-space continuum loop of grief, mostly unaware that’s what it is. Most just feeling like they’ve got tire marks on their backs.
I Want To Be A (Supported) Shiny Colander!
Reading Georgena’s piece, I felt like she was speaking directly to me, her message clear: How can you serve your clients at your highest level if you’re soaking up their grief like a sponge, Christy? (Spoiler alert: I can’t, and neither can anyone else.)
I didn’t feel I was sponging up grief, exactly. At least, not like I did as a newbie, before I knew better. But I definitely felt a good wring-out was in order. And I loved the idea of transforming from a sponge to a shiny colander, letting others’ grief pass through me, yet still able to hold their “stuff,” and better able to serve them.
So I signed up to become a shiny colander. My first session was AH-mazing. I felt light, like I’d just had a spiritual shower.
Suffering Is Optional
And then, last Saturday happened.
I showed up for my second of three sessions. Three sessions makes it sounds like we’re having a bit of a fling, doesn’t it? Like I just can’t commit to a long-term relationship.
One of the many things Georgena says that resonates deeply with me is, “Why would we string it out when we can just fix the problem quickly?” She appeals to my need for speed, to my eternal rebellion against unnecessary suffering. (“Suffering is optional,” she confirms.)
The pivotal moment: when she revealed my foot pain was from lack of support–not because it wasn’t offered, but because I wouldn’t accept it. To be fair, Georgena asked if it was possible; she never made a pronouncement.
Further, although my foot pain was a metaphor, by the time she asked that question (“I’m curious: could it be…”) metaphor had devolved to a flashing neon sign. A burning bush. Writing on the wall. An annoying guy with an arrow sign, jumping up and down and flipping it round and round. (I’m curious: how could I be so oblivious?)
“I’m curious: how would it feel if you were supported?” this talented healer channeling the divine asked as she cradled my foot, supporting it in the loving hammock of her hands. “What would support feel like?”
Draggin’ The Dragon
Images flashed through my mind of all the support I’ve said NO! to. (Is it just me, or do we all need to frame something in a negative before we can cut through to the positive? What do I want to eat? Well, I’ll tell you, I’m really hungry right now! I’m so hungry, I could eat my own fingers, but there’s no way I’m having a baloney sandwich, because that’s just gross. And nothing with American cheese, obviously. Seafood is out of the question, of course. A Cobb salad? Ooh, that’s it, exactly!)
Good stories have multiple layers of meaning, I think. You can go back to them again and again and always pull out something new, consider an angle you hadn’t noticed before. (It’s NO ACCIDENT I find something new any time I pick up A Prayer for Owen Meany.)
On the surface, my right foot hurt. I could barely walk; I was dragging the foot along with me rather than using it to push off into a steady step-by-step rhythm.
Another layer revealed that, despite my protestations otherwise, I apparently *am* okay with saying “no”–even to my own detriment.
Georgena likens grief to a dragon, diving into a play on words: “Is grief draggin’ you around?” Interestingly, dragons are protectors, or fire-breathers, or creatures that require slaying…it all depends on your point of view.
If I want to lead others down a path, to sherpa them through the rough terrain that is dementia, how can I say NO! to support myself? How can I be dragging a foot behind me? If I’m draggin’ grief, can I be effective? How can I be led by the Grief Dragon?
Getting To Yes
Maybe it was time to turn hard NO!s into enthusiastic YESes?
Nah, that seemed like a bridge too far. But what about a little yes? A random yes? A rethinking of a no? That, I could do.
So, how would it feel if I were supported? Pretty amazing, I think! My mind quickly filled with all I could accomplish, all the ways I could help others. Visualizing how it would feel to be supported, I noticed I was feeling energized.
This week, I’m all about being aware of when I say yes or no to support. Are my actions in alignment with my desire? I say I want support, I know it’s energizing, but do I say YES when it comes my way? I think that’s my first step; the next is actively seeking support.
Leaving Room for The Miracle
Amazingly, miraculously, my foot pain dissolved in less than 24 hours. (No narcotics were involved in the making of this miracle.) Marianne Williamson says a miracle is a shift in our perception; that’s what leaves room for the miracle.
I didn’t understand that concept the first time I read it, some 25 years ago. And then I started using it myself, when I was showing client families that if they could shift their perception just a few degrees, they’d start to see miracles.
If they could shift from “Ugh, she’s having behaviors again!” to “What is she trying to tell me?” then things really could get better, dramatically. I couldn’t cure dementia, but I could be a miracle-worker all the same.
I’m Curious: How Would It Feel If…
With my shift in perception and unimpaired walking–and feeling energized–let me put on my running shoes and get to the point: Are you as supported as you could be? As supported as you want to be? Have you fallen into automatic no? Do you remember what it feels like to say YES? Are you seeing miracles with your loved one?
I’m curious: How would it feel if you were supported? How would support affect your energy level? What would you be able to accomplish with support? What would your relationship with your loved one be like if you were a (supported) shiny colander?
If you’re ready to be supported through the dementia journey, I invite you to contact me at Christy@DementiaSherpa.com with subject line SUPPORTED.
And if you’re ready to be a shiny colander, I encourage you to contact Georgena Eggleston at Beyond Your Grief.
Christy Turner is the founder of DementiaSherpa.com and has enjoyed the privilege of working with 1,123 people living with dementia and their families. Follow on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Content varies across platforms.