Gratitude, Humor and Compassion

Are your thoughts serving you? Give thanks for every experience in every moment as they bring you closer to the next. The more gratitude you express and feel, really feel (I’m talking about really looking within to the extent that you may have tears in your eyes with immense gratitude for whatever it is you are feeling in that moment), the more your thoughts really do help create your future. Make sure your thoughts serve you and all involved for the greater good. Remember, the more gratitude you have and share, the more the universe conspires to bring even MORE into your life for which to be grateful.

Every experience has the power we give it. Being in a state of gratitude is one way I have of keeping my balance and perspective. Humor is another incredibly powerful healing tool.   What do you do when it’s 6 a.m. and you’ve been up all night praying and waiting and your father wakes up for what would be a brief lucid time and asks where the coffee is? What do you do when it’s 11 p.m. and your father has asked you at least twenty times where he is and why his head hurts? What do you do when, int the middle of all this, your mother suddenly soils her clothes, her wheelchair and the hospital floor? You both laugh. Then you laugh some more. Then you laugh so hard you cry and almost need clean underwear yourself!  Having been through this situation many times together, we learned that laughing helps minimize embarrassment about otherwise uncomfortable situations. Maybe we were able to react this way because we had been through this so many times before. Maybe it was a lack of sleep. Maybe we simply found humor in the situation.

Compassion takes many forms. It can mean releasing judgments such as the feelings I had about how my parents chose to live in a way that manifested in declining health (my dad’s tragic car accident aside.) It can mean learning incredible patience with your parents when they ask the same thing twenty times a day or forget to relay important information to someone. It can mean forgiveness, and in my case, forgiving my father for moving us my 2nd semester of my senior year in high school, and forgiving myself for unhealthy eating habits and a second failed marriage…among other things.

I worked hard to ensure humor, gratitude and compassion were ever-present in my life. I maintained perspective on the most serious of situations and learned much in the process. When we take our lives and ourselves too seriously, our body physically aches. Laughter can be a therapeutic release. I learned that during the times I really reached for little things to be grateful for, such as having eyes to see the beautiful trees flowing in the wind. In those moments, I could truly see that sometimes it’s the little things that matter. When confronted with life and death decisions about my dad, I seized the opportunity to embrace compassion. I found making decisions with a compassionate heart brought peace with decisions I made and was vital for healing. With every surgery and complication that added to my dad’s declining health, and in experiencing the bond and closeness of our family, integrating humor was an effective release for all of us.

We recalled the time when Dad thought it would be okay to traipse around the house in his underwear. This, from a man who always wore shorts and undershirts around the house since I was born…maybe before I was born, too. When my kids had friends over to the house or my mom’s home health care nurses visited, it made things a bit uncomfortable at first. Then, one of us would say something to company like, “it’s okay, and he does this all the time since his accident.” I would think and sometimes say, “he won’t remember anyone seeing him like this tomorrow.”  We’d all laugh; including my dad. You see, my dad was always the one in the family to joke around with everyone; and I do mean everyone. Once he started laughing at himself and cracking jokes, we felt it was okay to join him and then it became a shared experience.

I remember discussing the pros and cons of one of his brain surgeries and one of us said, “Oh, why not, then he can traipse around outside in his underwear! Maybe the dogs can take him for a walk with his black socks and white underwear!” I’m sure the nurses thought we were odd at times, but using humor as a coping mechanism helped us keep things in perspective.

“Never be afraid to laugh at yourself. After all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century.”
– Dame Edna Everage

We were so fortunate that my dad consistently remembered my mom, my sister, my kids, his brother and me. He did not always remember who was there when. His parents had passed away and he still thought they were alive. He didn’t recognize pictures or names of others. He sometimes remembered his sister. When he wasn’t the  King of England, he thought he was in Texas, then Washington D.C., then California, then he thought he was the King of England again. It was fun listening to him give my kids all kinds of titles! He wondered why local news on the TV referenced Arizona and why England just didn’t look familiar when he looked out his hospital room window. But that didn’t stop him. He had a very logical and reasonable explanation for everything.

This is part of confabulation. Dad’s brain was trying hard to fill in the gaps and put puzzle pieces together.  Then, he was paranoid and thought everyone was out to get him; except for those in a small family circle. Next, he thought he was part of military Special Forces and was in this ‘place’ on an undercover mission. Never mind the white board on the wall clearly stating where he was. Then, he thought mys sister Felicity brought him Icelandic shakes. When family left at the end of visits, he thought we were all leaving. It broke my heart to see the look on his face when we again reiterated where he was, why he was there and explained that he couldn’t come home with us. I felt so sad and had to fight back my own tears when telling him he was staying behind and Amanda or I would be back. One night, when a respiratory therapist came to his room and asked when he wanted his CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine session and my Dad told him he would turn it on in the car. Interesting, I didn’t know that CPAP machines had car chargers.

I truly feel this entire journey has given me more patience, compassion and love. I felt  my dad was our master teacher through all of this. He taught me all these things and more, and I don’t think he realized just how much we all learned from him. I am so eternally grateful for placing a higher value on humor; something my dad taught us through his actions. I was just too reserved as a young adult. Two years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to laugh at myself as comfortably as I do now. I’ve learned that if you can’t laugh at yourself, you are taking life way too seriously. I was never as patient with my kids (except my firstborn Amanda) as I became with my parents. I look forward to the day I have grandchildren and can pass these lessons on to them. My kids aren’t ‘done yet’ and my honed patience has definitely helped and manifested in greater closeness with my kids. We were close before and our entire family has been close. We’ve always looked out for each other. That’s what families do. Having the bond of our experiences with my mom and dad and our humor and love for each other has so strengthened our lives. The beauty of our growth as human beings is observed by all with whom we are associated.

One of my dad’s many hospital stays required nasal feeding tubes. This was definitely not my dad’s favorite thing. On this particular day, my dad got out of his wrist restraints and pulled the feeding tube out. Once the tube was back in and Felicity was visiting my dad, she stood next to his bed with her hands on her hips (in her work scrubs) saying that “he was being naughty.” The teacher in her came out! He smiled and the only thing that came out of his mouth that day was “Mmmm yummy” referring to the nurse giving him medication through the feeding tube.

As we were cleaning out my parents’ home, we found countless Folgers’ coffee cans. You know, the large cans with the plastic tops. Well, we counted so many of these cans, empty cans with nothing in them and we scratched our heads in amazement wondering what in the world he was saving all these cans for. One afternoon as we sat around his hospital bed talking about some of our discoveries at the house, Felicity said to him,  “Well, you said you wanted to be cremated. We can save money and use these coffee containers as urns. We could even decorate them.” Thinking at the time he wanted to be buried at the Arlington, VA, cemetery, I said, “you know, I wonder if TSA would allow us to carry his ashes on an airplane in a Folgers’ coffee tin. His ashes would definitely be safe but we weren’t sure if contents were visible through the airport x-ray machines.” Hmmm… we said, we’ll have to research that. We theorized that it would be okay to transport him this way as he would want us to get full use out of the damn empty coffee tins around the house! On a serious note, we were planning and researching options for what we thought was the inevitable.

One of our most meaningful experiences of compassion occurred about four (4) months after dad’s accident. We walked into a restaurant frequented by my parents. When  we arrived, everyone gathered around to see the miracle man. It had been a long day and we were all really hungry. Originally, I thought his friends would enjoy seeing him and vice versa. But, from the time we walked into the restaurant to the time we sat down, my dad declined from a level of 5/5 to a 1. He became incoherent and unable to speak.

We fed my dad dinner that night. We knew he needed food and were hopeful this would help him regain some functionality. Feeding him that evening was like feeding a baby. He took very little bites, spit out more than he digested and ended up refusing to eat more than about three (3) bites. We all looked at each other with deep sadness, feeling like he was slipping away from us and there was nothing we could do to stop it. Dinner talk around the table was painfully gloomy that night.

However, during this time at the restaurant, we discovered how my dad was truly saved by willing and humble heroes that day. We met the person who was a bystander at the accident and had run from the other side of the freeway to the median, evaluated the situation and realized he had to get my dad out of the car before he was consumed with smoke from the burning semis and cars around him. Risking smoke inhalation himself, he waved for a few other bystanders to get my 350-pound father out of his car to safety. This man didn’t want to be interviewed, he didn’t want to be considered a ‘hero’, and he didn’t want attention. He just wanted to know if my dad was OK. It was a moment of shared gratitude by all of us.

It’s important to be compassionate with yourself and to look for the ‘gratitude moments’ in everyday situations!  Some mornings it may be all you can do to get out of bed. There were times when I was half dressed getting to the car or would go outside without my top buttoned or my hair looking like I put my finger in an electric socket. But, I was thankful that I had gotten out of bed.  Some days, my mom and I both wore our pajamas to the doctor’s office for blood work or treatments. We were thankful to have medical insurance. I abhorred driving close to two (2) hours a day for my mom’s radiation treatments yet we were thankful to have a dependable car and amazing health insurance. I got frustrated (mostly when I was tired) with my dad when he asked the same thing over and over yet I’m so thankful for my time with him. I got tired of long 20 minute treks to the car with my parents but I’m thankful for the forced slower pace it provided me and my appreciation for my environment. I strongly dislike16 hour days with my bra and shoes on yet appreciate the fact that I have bras and shoes. During this time, I started a new habit which was recognized and laughed about by everyone in the house. When I got home from wherever it was, changed and took off my bra, I was done. No bra means I’m not going anywhere the rest of the day. Period. Now, my family doesn’t bother asking me to go anywhere when my bra is off. It isn’t happening!

Find things to laugh about. Find the humor in as many situations as possible. Share your experiences with others and share in the humor. Laughter is great medicine. To this day, we tell each other the Kardashians have got nothing on us! If we had a reality TV show, it would be a huge hit. It would be wildly successful because we are a real middle-class family struggling with real issues. I know the Kardashians have real life issues also. I just think that with 6, 7 and sometimes 8 people living in my 4 bedroom home at any given time without all the money, status, resources, planes, staff, etc… people can relate and connect more. People at banks, restaurants and doctor offices have told us we should have our own show, too. If we had our own show through all of this, I guarantee everyone watching would have had many belly wrenching laughs!

I found humor an effective release and it helped me realize I wasn’t going to change or control situations outside of my direct control. This thinking allowed me to minimize frustrations when they undoubtedly arose. One thing we did that was so cool was to take family pictures to the hospital and see what my dad remembered and all share the experience together. Due to his humorous nature, he would try cracking a joke and we would all laugh. I was incredibly grateful for the time we had together, hearing stories about different generations and important lessons learned that made my parents who they were. These experiences brought us closer and definitely taught me, firsthand, how humor heals.

When going through particularly difficult times, we held (and still hold) a gratitude practice among all family members present in the house or hospital at the time. We would go around the room and take turns saying what we were grateful for in that moment or that day. This higher level of energy and positivity heals. This I know for sure.

“Your thoughts and beliefs of the past have created this moment, and all the moments up to this moment. What you are now choosing to believe and think and say will create the next moment and the next day and the next month and the next year.”
– Louise Hay

 

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Tandy Elisala

Family Caregiver Coach, Cancer Empowerment Advocate and Chief Inspiration Officer at Center for Inspiring Greatness | Empowered Family Caregiver
Tandy Elisala is passionate about helping family caregivers go from being overwhelmed and stressed to empowered and calm. Tandy went through cancer four times and learned how to heal using conventional, complementary, and alternative therapy. Tandy left her corporate career to take care of both parents simultaneously while raising three kids as a single mom. She took care of both parents for 2 1/2 years until their respective deaths. Tandy now teaches what she learned on her journey. Tandy is a family caregiver coach, a multiple best-selling author, inspirational speaker and mom to three adult kids, one angel dog and one diva cat.

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