In 2011, I wrote a blog post about the importance of regularly taking time away from caregiving, often referred to as “respite.”
At that time, I suggested that in every day, we should have a respite of at least 10 minutes or so, and in every week we should plan for an hour away, if at all possible.
Increasing stretches of time call for more time away… in a perfect world!
In the years since that post, I’ve had the privilege of presenting workshops about how to structure a mini-retreat, and I’ve continued to talk with care partners about how this method of respite works for them.
I’ve also learned from the latest brain science that even very small breaks, when given our full attention, can have a significant positive impact on our health and well-being!
Jennifer Louden’s “Woman’s Retreat Book: A Guide to Restoring, Rediscovering and Reawakening Your True Self –In a Moment, An Hour, Or a Weekend,” helps us think about what we hope to get from our retreat, and how to create one that will really work.
She reminds us that you don’t have to have a lot of time or money, nor do you have to actually leave town (or even the house) for a break to refresh and renew your mind, body, and spirit.
This is good news for care partners!
The basic elements for a retreat include the opening, the retreat itself, and the closing.
The opening of the retreat includes an act or ritual to indicate that you are stepping away from your usual day, and entering into a sacred or special space.
It might include a prayer or other reading, getting up from your desk, going to a corner of your home suitable for quiet contemplation, or ringing a bell.
Once inside this retreat space, which Ms. Louden calls the retreat container, you engage in an activity you’ve planned, and which fulfills or contributes to your intention for the retreat. If you’re feeling stressed, you’ll want to connect with a feeling of relaxation. If you’re tired, you may want to do something that will energize you!
This could be a few moments of silence, mindfully listening to your breath. It could be taking out your journal to write some lines about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking, at that very moment. If you like to draw, your retreat space could hold some art supplies for you to play with.
Perhaps 10 minutes of wild dancing will provide an energy (or attitude) adjustment. I used to do this with my daughters at the end of the school day, and we found it vented all sorts of cranky energy, and made us laugh. Really hard.
Ideally, a retreat will connect with all of the senses, so consider doing something for the body (breathe, stretch, or handle a cool, smooth stone); for the sense of smell (fresh flowers, cinnamon, eucalyptus, a vanilla or pine scented candle); your sense of hearing (the gentle tinkling of a bell, music, or silence); and vision (have something pleasant to look at).
The closing is often a mirror or reversal of the opening ceremony.
If you started with a bell, end the same way. If you lit a candle, blow it out. You are signaling the end of this special time, even when it’s only been ten minutes, and a return to routine.
These simple steps bring our awareness to a mental and physical space where we can renew our energies, manage stress, and keep fit for the Elder care journey.
Jennifer Louden’s book is a true treasure trove of ideas, providing important information on how to prepare for a retreat of any length, how to create emotional and physical containers for your experience, and consider what to do (and not do!) on your retreat.
You’ll want to have your own copy of this book; you can purchase it now on the Crossroads Counseling Bookstore by clicking HERE.
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How do you rest and renew yourself? What works best for you?
What will you try today?
Leave your comments and share your experience with others!
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Lisa Kendall is a geriatric social worker with a private counseling and consulting practice. She teaches, trains, and facilitates a variety of different retreats.
I recently splurged on a set of adorable Moroccan tea glasses, something to remind me of my favorite Philadelphia restaurant and the great meals I’ve shared there with my Sweety.
When one of them broke this week, I was surprised to find myself feeling happy about it, even satisfied.
Was that a strange response? Maybe, but here’s my thinking on it.
Like many people, I’ve had a tendency to set aside the “good dishes” (or fancy paper napkins, or special blouse), saving them for a special occasion.
Doing this means those precious items are rarely used and enjoyed, and more than once, waiting has meant that what was special has become ruined for some reason.
In the past few years I’ve developed a philosophy of using the things I love, even when it means risking wear, tear, and ultimately the end of the object.
It feels like I’m no longer depriving myself, and every day is graced with little reminders of the things that give me joy: a special color or pattern, the glimmer of crystal, wonderful memories.
I used to be a person who saved the cherry on a sundae for last.
Now I eat it right away, and I’m not above asking for two cherries!
Are you saving something for a special occasion? Today is special! Life is short and we should embrace every moment for the blessing and gift that it is.
Open those Christmas presents and enjoy them – now that’s a resolution you can live with!
Lisa Kendall is an expert in Elder Care and self-care for all members of the care partner team.
We wish you much Joy and many Blessings in the coming year!
I am thinking a lot in this season about loved ones who have passed, and in particular about my daughter, Diane, who died almost 17 years ago in a car accident.
Through much of the year I am able to stay busy with meaningful work and beloved family, but there is a bittersweet aura around the winter holidays that forces me to look at my loss and care for my broken heart.
I know others are grieving too. Perhaps you’ve lost a parent, sibling, or child, or know someone who has. Most of us have lost friends. Perhaps you are caring for a loved one whose illness triggers feelings akin to grief.
While we encourage people to celebrate the joys around them, hold fast to memories, and embrace what is present in our ill loved ones’ lives, this is a time to also honor those who have gone before and those who love them.
Every year I remind folks about the Worldwide Candle Lighting hosted by The Compassionate Friends, an organization that offers peer support groups for bereaved parents, siblings, and grandparents.
The Compassionate Friends group in Binghamton, NY probably saved my life after Diane’s accident.
I encourage you to visit their website at www.compassionatefriends.org, and to participate with me in lighting a candle for our children who have died.
This annual ceremony starts at 7 p.m. on the second Sunday evening in December, and by lighting a candle in your time zone, wherever you are, we create a wave of light that ripples around the world for 24 hours.
This year’s Candle Lighting is on Sunday, December 8th.
Thank you to all who have supported me with their encouragement, prayers, and good wishes.
Thank you to all who are doing the hard work of caring for ill loved ones.
It helps to know we do not walk alone.
Thanksgiving is a very special American holiday that carries many memories and not a little nostalgia for the past.
I remember riding in our family car with my sisters to visit Grandparents for Thanksgiving, and singing “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go!” It’s a warm memory, infused with laughter and excitement.
Memories are at the heart of this holiday, which is focused on gratitude.
This year for Thanksgiving, you may want to consider a shift in your traditional way of looking at your Loved One who is living with dementia, and the ways they contribute to your family.
Consider your Elder’s strengths, and the gifts they offer, and actively express your Gratitude for them.
Instead of just remembering with sadness the grand meals your Elder used to make, be sure to experience gratitude for the memories, the recipes, and the ways your Loved One contributes to this years’ experience. It will give her great pleasure to “teach” her favorite dishes to the younger set, and to help at whatever level she can and in a way that ensures success.
Instead of focusing on illness, have the family create a list of gifts your Elder has given over the years and continues to give. For example, a grandchild might write “I am grateful for the way Grandma has helped me with college, and for her encouragement in my studies.”
Share this list with the Elder in a packet of notes, so she can refer back to them. This will make the moment last!
Focus on Laughter; it’s the greatest gift we can share among family and friends.
Consider a smaller group to cut down on noise and confusion for your Loved One. Your Elder’s strength might now be to enjoy more intimate gatherings.
Provide a place for the Elder to step back and rest whenever she feels the need. This might be a comfortable room where she can nap, or a second living space, such as a family room or den, located away from the bustle of dinner preparations or rowdy football games.
Remember the other care partners in your Elder’s life, and show your gratitude for them. A card of thanks is a valuable gift to home health aides or the neighbor who keeps the walks cleared in the winter.
Stimulate memories and conversations by starting a story with, “I remember when we (did such and such…) It was always fun to be with the cousins,” instead of asking the Elder “do you remember…?” The former is more likely to generate shared stories, while the latter can lead to frustration and increased confusion.
Seat your Elder next to someone who knows them well and is patient and kind. They can watch for needs the Elder may have difficulty expressing, such as “pass the rolls, please!” or “may I be excused from the table.” They can slow the conversation down so the Elder can participate. Sometimes a little more time is all that’s needed.
Perhaps different family members can take turns attending closely to Grandmother or Grandfather, 30 minutes or an hour at a time. This ensures that no one feels left out of that rowdy football game!
Some family holidays are day-long affairs. Is this what works best for your older Loved One now, or should she come for the part of the day that is most meaningful and manageable for her?
Speaking of “meaning,” a guideline to help you decide what and how much to do for the holiday should be to ask what is meaningful for you, your Elder, and your family. Stretching yourself to do extra cleaning or make everything from scratch might leave you feeling too tired to enjoy the gathering.
Where can you cut back on work, or delegate tasks, while keeping the most meaningful parts of your time together intact? Is there a ritual your family does for Thanksgiving that you want to honor? Figure out how your Elder can participate easily.
For example, a family who has always had each member read a verse or passage at the table might shift the custom to showcase the teens or the younger kids. If your Elder’s reading is good, but recall is poor, she may be OK with reading something rather than reciting from memory.
What ideas do YOU have for enjoying Thanksgiving with your family, and for adapting to the needs of a Loved One who is living with dementia?
Please share your comments below, and have a Blessed Holiday.
Hi, All -
I’m sorry there has been so much confusion about the talk on Care Partnership I’ll be doing at Lifelong in Ithaca next Monday, November 18th.
Lifelong has let me know that the course is FREE of charge, but registration is requested.
Please call Lifelong at (607) 273-1511 for more information or to register.
Thank you for your patience!
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