Saturday, February 17th is National Caregivers Day, and I am pleased to have a special guest post from CJ Golden that is so helpful for anyone in a caregiving role. And I think her assessment of being strong applies to many other life situations that challenge us.
I am also pleased that I am settling into my new house and I do now have a little more time to spend in my office writing. That feels so good, and I am ready to celebrate. Join me in a cup of coffee and some chocolate.
And now I’ll turn the blog over to CJ.
“Be strong,” I was told. Often. Ad infinitum. Almost ad nauseam.
The advice sounded fine and intelligent, but in light of the particular circumstances, just what exactly did it mean? I was not entering a weight-lifting competition, although the burdens recently placed upon my shoulders often seemed impossibly overwhelming. And I was most certainly not going into the business of moving concert grand pianos, albeit much heavy lifting was to be accomplished.
I was embarking upon the most difficult challenge I’d faced to date: that of being caregiver to my husband, Joe, after his cancer-induced strokes rendered him physically, mentally and emotionally incapable of caring for himself.
Does being strong refer to not crying? If that is the case, I most certainly was not consistently strong this past year.
Does being strong mean you have to do it all on your own: not reach out to others for help, advice, comfort, compassion? I certainly tried that and ultimately deteriorated into a useless mess, not only ineffective at being Joe’s caregiver, but also quite incapable of taking proper care of myself.
To be sure, telling a friend to be strong is a fine suggestion but only if the proper clarification follows those two words. Many well-meaning people share the platitude with folks who are going through a difficult life situation. Not enough of them can articulate—in my estimation— just what it takes to “be strong.”
So, it became my personal assignment to figure it out. I had to grasp how to be strong in the face of the adversity Joe and I faced since his strokes last year, and still deal with, to some degree, today.
Recently I found a wonderful quote that pretty much sums it up: “A strong person is not the one who doesn’t cry. A strong person is the one who is quiet and sheds tears for a moment, and then picks up the sword and fights again.”
Where were these wise words when I needed them?
Every time I had broken down into a sobbing puddle, I assumed I wasn’t being strong enough and chastised myself for failing. Each episode of overt anger made me feel that I’d broken an unwritten law—the one that said I had to remain tough or I wasn’t being an effective caregiver.
Yet, reflecting upon the past twelve months I now recognize that friends, medical personnel and family members were not berating me for breaking down into angry episodes or crying jags. Quite contrary to that, they had helped bolster me up until I found the reserve within myself to continue on the mission of caring for Joe. Those were the people who understood what “being strong” truly means, and they were sharing the wisdom of that quote with me. I just didn’t “get it”.
Without recognizing it, I was the one who did not grasp what those words meant. I was the one forcing myself to be stoic, assuming that was what defined a strong person.
As caregivers we are required to do so very much; learn medical jargon we never thought we’d need, interact with professionals in their chosen fields of therapy, share that which we absorbed with our loved ones as we continue to retain our lives, the ones we lived before the upheaval.
It’s a lot to put on one’s plate and hold steady. Sometimes, it may spill. Perhaps even crash and break.
But we are not the plate. And when we crash or fall apart, we can pick ourselves up and put ourselves back together and move forward.
That, my friends, is what “being strong” is. It has been a difficult lesson to learn – it is for all of us as we work our ways through previously personal uncharted territory. But it is one we must understand and realize lest our best intentions (and we) end up in a puddle on the floor, not capable of completing our tasks as caregiver to our loved ones. Or to ourselves.
CJ Golden may be a sweet, 70-something grandma-type; however, she is anything but typical. Golden’s voice is one of a kind that imparts wisdom while staying completely accessible to her audiences; like a spunky fairy-godmother with the occasionally red or green tipped hair. She is a shoulder to lean on and a ‘rock on’ motivator all in one. Her upcoming book, One Pedal at a Time: A Novice Caregiver and her Cyclist Husband Face their new Normal with Courage, Tenacity, and Abundant Love, follows the year-long journey of a long distance cyclist during and after cancer-induced strokes.
Find out more about CJ and her book at PR by the Book. There you will find all her social media links.
Presented in three parts, CJ Golden shares her accessible and honest experience – a balanced mix of somber reflections and light moments that highlight a very real passage in the lives of a husband and wife who love each other unequivocally. As caregiver, Golden holds nothing back because she wants others who are unexpectedly thrown into the role of caregiver to know they are not alone.
Visit CJ’s website for information on ordering signed copies of the book, and it is also available via Amazon.