Three Faces of Widowhood

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This past year, three dear friends became members of the secret order of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood called WIDOWHOOD.  They didn’t take a blood oath or swear undying loyalty—their husbands died prematurely and left them to pick up the pieces.

None of us know when the Grim Reaper will select our lottery ticket. For Jayne (63) and Bob (59) it occurred after a 13 year battle with a rare form of cancer, in a palliative care bed in St. Albert, Saskatchewan. Jayne tenderly performed his final bed bath and savored each stroke as she lotioned his body for the last time. In the end Jayne made the final call to ‘pull the plug.’ If you knew all the facts, that decision was easier than the discordant disruption of life she was living now.

Sandi (64) and Trent (64) had just pulled into the parking lot of Starbucks in Calgary, Alberta. Sandi could smell the strong aroma of the heady coffee, as Trent’s head suddenly took a dive into the steering wheel. Sandi thinks that he succumbed to the perfect storm of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight and worry—as he supported Sandi through her colon cancer treatments. Sandi didn’t get to say good-bye and it continues to trouble her as she journeys on the road to recovery.

Having just moved from Waterloo, Ontario to Moncton, New Brunswick to be closer to their grandchildren, Monica (66) and Don (69) spent their first night in their new townhome. Suddenly at 2:00 A.M Don shot up in bed with excruciating chest pain. Four hours later in an unknown hospital, in an unknown city Monica was quietly told that Don had surrendered to the cardiac assault. Monica could not accept that she would never hold Don again and tentatively went to his bedside, asked that all tubes be removed and slipped under the covers to hold him, smell him and touch him one last time. Three hours later she reluctantly agreed to let him be.

It has now been between 6 and 11 months since Jayne, Sandi and Monica were anointed with their new status as widows. Grief invaded their worlds and left them feeling numb, fearful, helpless and hopeless. Through the process of grieving, they now feel less like road kill and more like being on a road trip, with no destination in sight. Tune in next week to glimpse into their unique and singular journeys of loss, recovery and re-birth.

Are you a member of this esteemed society of sisters?

Intimacy and Family Caregiving

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I had a great time as the guest of Doctor Gordon Atherley, on Voice America (internet radio show) – Family Caregiver’s Unite!

For the full radio show plug this address into your browser: http://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/79749/intimacy-and-family-caregivers

It’s easy to lose perspective when you’re a family caregiver. There’s so much to do and so little time to do it. That’s why it’s important to take care of yourself—when one’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs are met, you will be able to better care for a loved one.

What is intimacy?   Generally intimacy is a close, affectionate and emotional connection. It can refer to sexual intimacy as part of a personal relationship with a spouse or partner; it can also be the loving heartfelt caring of a loved one; and it can also mean the unflinchingly honest look at oneself.

Intimacy is a very personal subject and intimacy means different things to different people. Everyone is somewhere on the continuum of sexual health, love and intimacy. There is no right or wrong place to be:  to some couples it is anything from holding hands, cuddling on the couch or reading in bed together; for other couples it’s going on a date night or planning future trips together; and to others it is enjoying sexual intercourse or other sexual activities that fulfills your sense of desire and satisfaction. I’ve also found that honest communication plays a huge role in maintaining intimacy and often fosters an even deeper level of love and appreciation.

When you’re a family caregiver it’s normal that exhaustion, lack of sleep and multi-tasking takes a toll on a relationship – sometimes just trying to get enough sleep is the most important priority. We can usually cope with a change in our routines for short periods of time but when these responsibilities become a burden and there is no hope in sight that it can cause immense stress in a relationship.

To stay strong and healthy think about what I call the 3 R’S of Caregiving – respect, realistic expectations and respite.

RESPECT– is closely linked to admiration, esteem and reverence – these are words used to describe YOU. You deserve to be held in high opinion of yourself. When you respect yourself, you ensure that your body, mind and spirit remain whole so that you can carry on the tasks of being a family caregiver.

REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS – this is a tough one – and when one is new to caregiving you often try to do it all – and ignore your own personal needs. Sometimes you just need to say NO when expectations are unrealistic. Don’t forget to accept offers of help – it can really help with time management and planning ahead.

RESPITE – means taking a break or finding a breathing space on a regular basis. Sometimes it is silence – how often do we have the luxury of being alone and embracing the silence – time to reflect on you, time to make sense of it all or consider your spirituality. It means rest – easing your mind, body, spirit and finding peace within.

Good Sex and Good Health

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Did you know that good health contributes to good sex and that sex contributes to good health? According to The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada the following are some of the benefits of being sexually active as you get older:

  • Sex burns fat and boosts your immune system
  • Sex causes the brain to release endorphins – the body’s natural pain relievers
  • Sex relieves stress and makes you feel good
  • Sexually active people have higher levels of naturally produced sex hormones – in other words use it or lose it!
  • If you keep sexually active throughout your life, the physical changes that come with aging may be less pronounced and sexuality is usually less affected
  • There is more to sex than penetration. There are many ways to be physically intimate, and they all contribute to your health and well-being
  • Having sex takes up about as much energy as walking up two flights of stairs so sex is rarely dangerous. But if you have any health-related concerns, consult your physician or healthcare professional
  • Being active contributes to physical and emotional health. But remember, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) know no age boundary; so if you are sexually active always practice safe sex.

Sex is an antidote to aging – so here are some additional reasons to get your mojo going:

  • Minimizes risk of incontinence
  • Helps you sleep by easing the body and lulling the mind and spirit
  • Lowers the risk of prostate cancer
  • Decreases blood pressure by opening and relaxation of the blood vessels
  • Releases human growth hormone which along with the discharge of some estrogen and testosterone are key factors in keeping your skin elastic, reducing wrinkles, firming muscles, shines up the skin and makes your hair softer
  • Diminishes atrophy or shrinkage of the prostate and vagina and other muscles and ligaments in the nether region

What about emotional and spiritual well-being? Sex floods our brain with endorphins and oxytocin which improves mood and attitude and helps us to feel younger.  I think the above, provides enough evidence that we better use it or we’ll lose. So get down and dirty and get your sexy on!