Sunday, March 29, 2009

Learning to Trust When You Really Don't Know


The following article is an excerpt from my book The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving, available in my Etsy shop or by buying it from me directly. Even though this article was originally intended for people taking care of a loved one with a dementing illness like Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease or stroke, I think the ideas expressed in it are appropriate for all of us!

The future really isn't in cement and, even though as spiritual counselors Paul and I can often predict what is likely to happen if our clients don't make any changes, there are sometimes multiple factors -- all subject to change-- involved. Typically, we steer people away from psychic predictions and more towards personal empowerment. What's most important to you? What do you want to create? Now that xyz has happened, how can you make the best decisions for all concerned?

In the world of family caregiving, things tend to change on a regular basis. Rather than always trying to predict the future, developing a day-to-day foundation of faith -- trust in the process of life -- is a much better way to begin.
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Learning to Trust When You Really Don't Know

I saw a photograph in a funny book I really like called The Meaning Of Life by Bradley Trevor Greive that showed a happy goldfish in a goldfish bowl with plants and pretty rocks. The quote under the photo says something like, “Why do we try so hard to create our own little worlds so we have the illusion of being completely in control of our entire existence... “ The next page shows a cat peering into the goldfish bowl and the caption continues... “when we know with absolute certainty that we are not?”

So many of my clients want me to predict the future and tell them exactly what to do so that they are prepared for every inevitability. Now, truthfully, I far prefer the caregiving clients who want to be prepared in advance to the ones who don’t because it really is easier to put certain safeguards in place before the time a crisis hits. However, we never really can know for sure what’s coming next. Sometimes we go to great lengths to make things work out well and something we never expected, and could never have anticipated, happens and we have to scrap our perfectly designed plan and start over. People who fear this happening can waver back and forth between multiple options, going round and round in circles and putting off the decision for years. There are SO many factors! And they think they have to make the RIGHT decision because how could they ever forgive themselves if it didn’t work out? And on and on.

Yet others go with great uncertainty into the great unknown and something wonderful happens!

I’ve come to depend on the value of both options: planning ahead for the most likely scenarios, knowing how I want to respond to my greatest fears, and then assuming that I DON’T REALLY KNOW how it will turn out. I take a deep breath and ask, “What’s the best thing that could happen if I take this option? Is it worth a chance? Have I covered my bases so I know what to do if I hate how it turns out? Yes? OK, here we go!”

Do I make mistakes and have to reverse direction? Absolutely! Just ask anyone who has ever driven in a car with me! Do I hate it when I do this? Yes! Have the consequences ever been painful? Many times. And yet the learning and growth I experienced from these wrong turns has led to better decisions in the future and sometimes entirely new directions I never would have found otherwise. Great things have happened as a result! So, even though none of us really want to make mistakes, sometimes that’s part of the process that has to happen. That’s what Thomas Edison thought. Here’s what he said about how many times he failed at trying to invent something before getting it right: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Now I know that taking care of a loved one feels more wrought with anxiety than inventing a lightbulb and you certainly don’t want to make 10,000 wrong turns so call your family caregiving consultant or local social service center to help narrow down the choices. But, to tell you the truth, I very rarely hear about caregiver decisions that are a matter of life or death. Nine times out of ten, the worst that will happen if a wrong turn is made is a few weeks to a month of high emotion while the care receiver and the family get used to something new or have to reverse direction and try something else. It’s inconvenient and highly distressing but then things settle down and a new order to life appears. It’s often worth the pain and distress and, even when it isn’t, people rarely regret having taken a chance to try to do what they felt was right. At least, they’ll never have the regret of never trying to care for their loved one at home. At least, they’ll never regret that they didn’t use in-home or nursing home care when they needed it most. At least, they’ll never have to regret that they didn’t even try to do the thing that in their heart of hearts they most wanted to do.

The previous blog was an excerpt from The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving. Buy the book now by clicking here.

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