Monday, May 16, 2011

The Awesome Gift of Grateful Heart...

This past week has been one of synchronicity with three seemingly unrelated experiences coming together to remind me that, even in the toughest circumstances, there are gifts and joys for which we can be grateful if only we can keep our minds and hearts open to perceive them.

When we teach ourselves to become more aware of these gifts, we begin to develop an 'attitude of gratitude' that can balance or offset some of the more negative impacts of our caregiving.

The three experiences that reminded me to look for the gifts among the hardships were:

1. Taking two friends to a clinic and doctor's appointment at a large downtown teaching hospital where they would receive some important test results. We were all anxious about the results and about how my friend, who was very ill, would manage getting from the "full" second level underground parking garage to the clinic on the sixth floor without collapsing. (They had applied for, but not yet received, their disabled parking sticker.) As we drove into the garage, we found that the "full" sign had been speaking the truth but, wonder of wonders, just as we rounded a corner to reach the tower entrance, there sat a single empty parking spot right beside the door.

My friends stayed in the car while I went into the hospital to look for a wheelchair (a commodity rarer than gold at 1 pm on a clinic day). And, what were the chances? I stepped into the elevator and met the one care aide who had been assigned to do a wheelchair roundup and who, therefore, had a stash of wheelchairs and, better yet, a key to unlock them! Come with me," she said, with a smile. "I 've just collected a few but they're all locked together." Within minutes, we had loaded my friend into a chair and were on our way to the sixth floor, wondering at our good fortune.

Even though the news we received that day was not the best, we will always be grateful for the not-so-small gifts that helped us along the way.

2. Coming across Sara Ban Breathnach's best seller, Simple Abundance, while culling my office bookshelves. In it was a quotation from Melody Beattie:

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns
what we have into enough and more. It turns
denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion
to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house
into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude
makes sense of our past, brings peace for today,
and creates a vision for tomorrow.

It was the quotation that had helped motivate my decision to begin a gratitude journal and finding it again this week served as a reminder to begin the practice again.

3. Discovering Neil Pasricha's website, books and TED Talk on things that are awesome. I don't know where I've been, but I hadn't yet heard of this young man's creative response to the hardships in life.

The son of immigrants from developing countries who had taught him to appreciate the small things we can take for granted, Neil started a website called 1000 Awesome Things during a painful period in his life. He was as surprised as anyone when his readership hit the millions and the book deals started to roll in. The result was two books, The Book of Awesome and The Book of (Even More) Awesome, and a TED Talk, The 3 A's of Awesome.

The books are "awesome" (with the exception of a few pieces of adolescent male humour that could have been excluded) and the talk is genuine and heartfelt with the reminders that if we live life with the attitude that we can grieve then face the future in baby steps, with the awareness of a 3 year old seeing life for the first time, and with the authenticity of our true selves, we will be much happier human beings.

So, this week has re-taught me the importance of focusing on the joys and gifts of life (especially the tiny ones) - not to the exclusion of the pain (because that doesn't work), but in an effort to provide more balance and comfort to our caregiving days.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Blessing of the Hands ...

May 9th is the beginning of National Nurses Week in Canada. Across the continent, as part of their annual celebrations, many nurses will be experiencing the acknowledgement, affirmation, empowerment and appreciation that come through a ritual called the Blessing of the Hands.

John O'Donohue, author of To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, defines a blessing as a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, heal, and strengthen. In this case, nurses' hands are blessed as a symbol of healing, wellness and strength.

Blessing of the Hands is offered in different ways in different settings, often by the chaplaincy department within the organization, and it is received within the context of each person's faith tradition. In Australia, a dean of nursing joins instructors in blessing the hands of students; in Cape Coral, Florida the hospital chaplain anoints each nurse's hands, palms up, with oil; and at Johns Hopkins Medical Centre hands are ritually washed before anointing with scented oil.

Whatever the actual ceremony, the ritual is brief, lasting only a moment or two, and the service is interfaith with all traditions welcome. In many cases, the blessings are individualized to recognize the specific work done by the hands in each area.

These blessings may be greeted with skepticism or discomfort the first time offered, but staff are generally so touched by observing or participating in the experience that numbers tend to rise exponentially in the following years. Some organizations, recognizing that not everyone can leave a unit to attend a service, now send teams around to each ward, unit and clinic where all who wish a blessing are included.

While I am no longer a practicing nurse, I was moved to the point of tears when I first heard of this blessing ritual. Many others find it to be "the best part of Nurses Week". I hope that many of you will have the opportunity, this year, to receive the healing, affirmation and renewal that are at the heart of this blessing experience.

I'll leave you, today, with the words of Blessing of the Hands adapted from Diann Neu's writings in Waterwheel, Winter, 1989:

Blessed be these hands that have touched life and felt pain.
Blessed be these hands that have embraced others with compassion

Blessed be these hands that have been clenched in anger.
Blessed be these hands that have withdrawn in fear.

Blessed be these hands that have given and taken away.
Blessed be these hands that have assisted those in need.

Blessed be these hands that have anointed the sick and suffering.
Blessed be these hands that have comforted the dying.
Blessed be these hands that have prepared the dead.

Blessed be these hands that may grow stiff with age.
Blessed be these hands, for they are the hands of the Holy One.

Pastoral Care Services
The Johns Hopkins Hospital