(An Excerpt from Leaning Into Sharp Points). Change is analogous to a large boulder balanced on a precipice. It looks like it could tumble off the cliff if just a little pressure were applied. But despite your great effort, it won’t budge. The weight and inertia of the boulder prevent it from moving. And just as with the boulder, inertia prevents us and our loved ones from changing a behavior that’s been with us for a long time.
There is a story told of a dog lying on the front porch of a house and moaning loudly. Next to him sat an old man in a rocking chair, impassively whittling a piece of wood. A stranger came by and was amazed by the scene. He walked up to the porch to see what the problem was with the dog.
“Howdy,” he said to the old man.
“Howdy,” the old man responded, barely looking up from the piece of wood he was carving.
“I was wondering why your hound is yelping.”
“He’s lying on a nail,” the old man said, taking a puff on his corncob pipe.
“How long’s he been doing that?” the stranger asked.
“Oh, I reckon about eight hours.”
“Eight hours!” the shocked stranger said.
“Well why doesn’t he get off of it?”
The old man stopped whittling, took another puff on his pipe, and stroked his beard as if in deep thought. Then after a moment he looked up at the stranger. “I guess he forgot what it feels like not lying on it.”
We are all resistant to change, even when we say we are not. And just like that old hound dog, we fear change’s double-edged sword: giving up the known while simultaneously accepting the unknown. As a caregiver, change may be difficult for you and the loved one you’re caring for.
Your loved one is moving from independence to dependence, from health to illness, and from being in control to having little of it. You are about to give up significant parts of your life and substitute activities you never would have chosen if your loved one were healthier.
Both of you are moving from A to B: from what you were to what you are becoming. It’s a rootless psychological state that inevitably causes anxiety. There is discomfort in most transitions, sometimes even fear. You and your loved one will be moving from something you both know to something unknown to either of you. The discomfort can be reduced by holding on a little less tightly to what is familiar. Assume that many things in your and your loved one’s “pre-illness” life will lose their permanence and letting go of them may be the best way to keep what is important to you.
You can read more about the problems of change in Leaning Into Sharp Points: Practical Guidance and Nurturing Support for Caregivers.
You are so incrediblely insightful. As always I learn a different perspective in reading your blog.
Thanks as always for your kind words Patricia
I have found that I apply a concept called a “just noticeable difference” or JND It can be small or large. If what you notice is each and every lost hair, a very small JND, then you will have some anguish every day. If your JND is very large, then you won’t pay any attention until you are essentially bald. Then there is but one day of possible anguish. Ideally [for the Spiritual Master] there will be at most one JND you take note of — you’re dead. And even that is not such a big deal either. So I work each day to pay no particular attention to what could be otherwise a noticeable difference.
I have of course a long way to go on this pathway.
A very interesting way of looking at change.And something that makes sense if we’re looking at tiny incremental jumps (e.g., loss of a few strands of hair out of hundreds of thousands on one’s head). But in many of the caregiving situations I’ve been involved, the jumps are so rapid and large that it’s difficult for a caregiver to easily accept them (e.g., a financially competent husband to one who can’t handle money, self-care to being unable to toilet independently, etc.). I do hope you keep your hair and stay with us for a long time.
This is such a poignant piece, Stan. Change is the biggest challenge, I think, for caregivers and letting go of control. When we learn to move and “be” in the flow of the journey through caregiving, life becomes even more magical. As always, I love your writings.
Thanks for your kind words Cindy. I’m leaving tomorrow for an international nursing conference in Taiwan where I’ll be giving the keynote address. Guess what will be the central theme? The difficulty of change, especially with an aging caregiver population.
Thank you for this recent article…It is re-assuring and much needed.I will also follow up on the other items you have mentioned and spend a good deal of time reading…
Thank you Maureen.
Stan, you have a gift for the right words. This so describes what has occurred in our home. My wife of 59 years has difficulty walking any distance and no longer able to go up or down stairs. Installed a powered stairway chair lift so she can get up/down to our bedroom, but our laundry room is in the basement. I am now the launder/dryer, cook, food purchaser, kitchen clean-up person, and have taken on most all the needs that my wife once took care of. Since I am also pretty much my own caregiver for my own ailments, this has been quite the challenge. But I look at it in a different manner than I might have in the past; I see the “to death us do part” as a reality that I willingly accept, and I look at each day for both of us on this earth as another day to give thanks that we are still alive and together and can enjoy our grown children, and their children, and their children. Our days are numbered – as they have always been – but now those numbers appear more realistic than when younger. I so appreciate much more each day than I ever did in the past. Thank you for your words on the subject on caregiving.
Thank you for your kind words. But the words that I use can’t come close to the poignant thoughts he expressed in your comments. If more people thought and felt as you do, there would be no need for my words.