Monday, December 15, 2008

Seasonal Comforts...

It's COLD in Vancouver. Or at least it's cold for Vancouver! There is an "arctic outflow", according to our meteorologist, causing cold air, frigid winds and intermittent snow and sunshine to shift from the interior to the coast for the next week.  

Although it wrecks havoc with our driving and causes strained backs and broken wrists, this severe weather also draws our attention back to the rhythms of the seasons and to the comforts and sustenance peculiar to each one. Spring, summer, fall and winter. Each has its own particularly comforting activities, activities that we can pursue to balance and refresh our busy lives.

In The Woman's Comfort Journal,  author, Jennifer Louden, suggests the following winter comforts:

1.  Curl up in flannel sheets with someone you love, human or animal.

2.  Sip hot tea and watch the rain.

3.  Make a snow angel.

4.  Have a snowball fight, then run indoors and sip hot mulled wine or apple cider by a roaring fire.

5.  Roast marshmallows in the fireplace.

6.  Make a steaming pot of soup or a hearty stew of root vegetables.

7.  Bake bread.

To this list I would add:

8.  Curl up in a large chair with your favourite afghan and a good book.

9.  Toast crumpets on the fire and eat them dripping with butter and raspberry jam and with a large mug of hot chocolate.

10. Knit long stripey socks in brilliant colours.

11. Take your camera cross country skiing or for a winter hike.

12. Take a walk around the garden or the neighbourhood and notice that, even in winter, new life is waiting to spring forth in buds and shoots.

13. Design a calendar for the new year and give copies to loved ones for holiday gifts.

14. Take naps - lots of naps - for winter is naturally the season for hibernation. A time to rest and to heal.

15. Play with children or play some games you used to enjoy as a child.

This is not an exhaustive list, rather, just a beginning.  Think of some other specifically winter activities - or non-activities - that restore your life balance. Ask others what they would place on their lists. Do one thing each day or each week throughout the winter. Notice the difference it makes to be in tune with the season and in tune with yourself.   

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Choices...

For exhausted family caregivers and over extended helping professionals, the holidays can feel like adding a 100 pound pack to the running of a marathon. The season of giving becomes one more burden to shoulder rather than the warm, peaceful celebration we all dream about.  If trying to maintain family obligations and holiday traditions is getting you down, try these three suggestions made by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staedheli in their popular book, Unplug the Christmas Machine.

1.  Take stock.  Ask yourself why you feel more wrung out and exhausted during the Christmas season.  Are you trying to see too many people?  Are you working extra shifts to pay for bigger gifts and better trimmings? (Is it worth it?)  Are you trying to spend time with people who don't understand your current situation or with those who are conflictual or badly behaved? Are you expecting yourself to carry on traditions that no longer fit for you and your family?  Or does a busy, crowded holiday just not fit with your values?  Once you have identified the sources of your exhaustion, you can start to do something about them.

2.  Look for practical solutions, even if it means breaking traditions.  When we see the causes of our seasonal tiredness, we can usually see very quickly what we would like to change.  We realize that once enjoyable traditions no longer fit our changed circumstances.

3.  Communicate your wishes to your family and friends.  If at all possible, talk to family members well ahead of time about any major changes and realize that it may take some people longer than others to get used to the fact that Christmas won't stay the same forever.  Don't try to make all your changes at the same time (-unless illness or injury forces your hand).  Planting a seed now can bear fruit for next year.  Most importantly, take the time to explain your feelings and ideas thoroughily and calmly, without blaming others or becoming defensive.  And remember that every change represents a loss so you will need the opportunity to grieve before moving on.

I have always loved Christmas and its traditions and when my husband became ill, I was loathe to give up any one of them.  I worked hard to deep the holidays unchanged not realizing that a change could be a wonderful gift.   The fourth year of his illness, we were forced to realize that we could no longer spend the night before Christmas in the company of loved ones at Midnight Mass.   We grieved in anticipation of our lonely Christmas Eve then made a conscious effort to "light a candle rather than cursing the darkness" and planned our own quiet service at home   It was one of the most beautiful Christmas eves I've ever spent.  Accompanied by one dear friend, we sat around a livingroom table in the soft candlelight and the glow of the Christmas tree listening to the gentle strains of carols as my husband celebrated a simple communion service . I remember the reflection of candles in the 100 year old chalice of an unknown Army chaplain, the simple and familiar prayers and the feelings of deep peace and intimacy.  If we hadn't broken with tradition, we would never have known the gift of that gracious Christmas Eve. 

Monday, December 1, 2008

World AIDS Day...

Today is World AIDS Day, a day set apart for those of us who have lost loved ones to this voracious disease to remember, to grieve, to celebrate, to renew our support and to look forward in hope.

There are more that 33 million people living with AIDS today, including 2.5 million children.  And there are at least as many caregivers, both family caregivers and helping professionals.  

Supporting someone through the roller coaster of any serious illness is difficult but to do so in the presence of ignorance, stigma and judgement is painful indeed.  Research tells us that caregiving within a community that shuns or denegrates the care recipient increases the risk of compassion fatigue in the caregiver.  Just like the Viet Nam vets in the 1970's, we all need support, understanding and appreciation as we fight on.

How can we support people living with AIDS and those who care for them?  Well, we can wear our red ribbons today as a sign of remembrance and solidarity and tomorrow we can take just one action in our local communities to help reduce the stigma and to improve the quality of life for PWA's and their caregivers.  Perhaps we could...

- Take some time to learn the facts - rather than the myths - of living with AIDS.

- Take a moment to write a note of encouragement to someone living with AIDS
or of appreciation to someone who works with people with AIDS.  

- Make a donation to a local AIDS service organization.  This Christmas,  
Loving Spoonful, an organization that improves the nutritional status of 
people with AIDS through free home delivery of nutritious meals and a baby
food program for babies of HIV(+) moms, is selling scarves through 
Vancouver's Capers Community Markets for $20.00.  Each purchase gifts
both the receiver and the families living with AIDS.  

- Volunteer some of our time and talents to local or international AIDS 

-  Call someone you know who is living with AIDS or who is a family caregiver
and offer a specific form of help.  A ride to a doctor's appointment.  Grocery
shopping.  Help in the garden.  Assistance with Christmas shopping or writing Christmas             cards or putting up a tree. Housework. Returning library books or videos. A chat over a cup       of tea.  If that form of assistance isn't needed, ask if there is anything else you can do.  
Barry and Jack, two dear friends who lived well with their illnesses until their last breaths, did much to counter AIDS prejudice, one in the teaching community and the other within his beloved church.  Both were talented, sensitive, passionate men who gave much to our community and I am grateful to have known them and their partners.