Tonight's picture was taken in May of 2007 at Dutch Wonderland. Peter and I took Mattie to this theme park over Memorial Day weekend. It was an adventure for all of us. At the park, Mattie met Duke, one of the park's mascots. When I was Mattie's age I was scared out of my mind with any type of life sized character. If Duke had come up to me when I was Mattie's age I would have been screaming and running the other way. Not Mattie, he grabbed Duke's hand and posed for a picture! It was also at Dutch Wonderland that Mattie fell in love with roller coasters!
Quote of the day: What happens to a person is less significant than what happens within him. ~ Louis L. Mann
Though I appreciate tonight's quote, I would have to say that sometimes what happens "to a person" greatly influences what happens therefore "within" a person. I received a text message today from my friend Ann who noted that for the past two years I have and continue to battle all sorts of illnesses. That my health has not been the best. I suppose that notion could upset me or even perplex me, but it does not. It does not because thankfully all my years of counseling family caregivers and being very familiar with the research literature has paid off. As I joked with Ann today, I am now the classic case study that I used to read about.
There is a great deal of caregiver research out there that discusses how the stresses of managing this role can impact one's health and immunity. When I refer to a caregiver, I mean a person who is not paid for caring for the physical, financial, emotional, and psychological needs of an ill or impaired family member or friend. Chronic and long term caregiving is very debilitating, and though my caregiving of Mattie was only 14 months (the average caregiving stint is usually 5 or more years), it was a very intense form of providing care. Care that impacted my sleep (if I got any), when and if I could eat, and my mental sanity. It is hard to describe the way of life Peter and I led, unless you have lived for some time in a hospital setting. If you think you get rest and peace in a hospital room, I assure you, that you don't! People are coming in and out of your room 24 hours a day, there is NO privacy, and the noises within a unit can be terrifying at times. I remember hearing children on the floor dying in the rooms next to me, and the crying and wailing of families were deafening. Some nights I had to put a pillow over my head to drown out the noises!
The horrors of cancer maybe physically over for us, but the emotional wounds of childhood cancer remain within us always. One of my favorite studies that I recall was done by a team of researchers in Ohio. The Glasers compared the healing time of medical residents versus that of family caregivers. Both groups are perceived as living with HIGH stress levels. The Glasers gave participants of the study a minor puncture wound on their arms, and then assessed which group would heal faster. The thinking being that stress prevents rapid cell regeneration and repair. It turns out that family caregivers healed much slower than the medical residents and this was the first study of its kind to show the significance of family caregiver stress and the correlation between caregiver stress and direct physical health.
Recently I read an article entitled, "A loss like no other" in Counseling Today (which is a monthly publication by the American Counseling Association). The article caught my attention because I have found so many, even within my own profession, who do not understand grief. However, this article resonated with me because it made it clear that loss is universal, but every individual's grief process and experience are unique. In fact the article went on to say that "society often emphasizes getting over things and moving on, but in many situations of loss, the process of getting over it doesn't happen quickly, if ever. Grief is an ongoing process of adaptation. The idea of closure is no longer seen as being possible for most people. Rather it's, 'how do I adapt or integrate this loss into who I am and into everyday life.'"
I particularly appreciated learning about the "dual-process" model of loss, which looks at both loss-oriented stressors, which deal with thoughts and feelings related directly to the loss, and restoration oriented stressors, which refer in part to the life roles that have been changed after the loss." In fact, making meaning out of loss is quite complex. For we lost Mattie, but we also lost our parental identity, and our expectations for the future in this role.
I am feeling a bit better today, but still not myself. I have a full day tomorrow of meetings, so it is my hope I can pull it together to manage through the day.