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Caregiving Reality

Providing hope and encouragement to those facing the reality of caregiving

Support for Caregivers

Rundy Purdy speaking

Rundy Purdy, author of The Sea is Wide: A Memoir of Caregiving is an experienced caregiver and gifted speaker. With compassion and gentleness, he touches audiences by sharing his journey of hope through hard experiences. In his presentation he leads caregivers and their families through the often emotional and difficult subject of caregiving to bring out a fresh perspective. If you are interested in having him share his experience of caregiving along with a message of encouragement, perseverance, and love, then please go to: http://caregivingreality.com/speaking/

If you would like further updates on Rundy’s writing, speaking, and further caregiving support, sign up for our newsletter. Bonus: Everyone who signs up for the newsletter will receive a pdf of the first three chapters of the book absolutely free!

Photo by juan pablo rodriguez on Unsplash

Although there are many kinds of caregivers, some of them more visible than others. We all recognize professional caregivers such as nurses and aides who spend their time caring for the sick. Most of us are also aware of the typical family caregivers–parents caring for their little children, or an adult child caring for an aging parent. All of these people are caregivers and are fulfilling important roles, roles which are difficult and come with many stresses and struggles. It is good to recognize and value the work these people do–but there are other kinds of caregivers who often go unnoticed.

People around the country whom we would not typically expect to be caregivers are filling the role–often unnoticed by their community and unappreciated. Because they are not the typical caregiver they often don’t have the normal support structures or resources. Because their local communities do not recognize that they are caregivers the people around them may not realize they are struggling and need help.

Who are these people? They might be grandparents who through difficult life events have become the primary caregivers for their grandchildren. Or perhaps someone who is caring for an ill friend. We often fail to recognize how much someone gives up when they take on the duty of caring for a friend; it is a role which can often feel like a very thankless task.

Another example would be an elderly widowed mother caring for her adult son who is a disabled veteran. In old age most people look forward to the typical retirement dream–relaxing and having less responsibility. They expect that when poor health finally does come, other people will be caring for them. So when society thinks of an older woman they don’t expect this woman to be the caregiver for her adult son. If it isn’t expected, it often isn’t seen.

I recently met this very caregiver. The experience of seeing an elderly woman unselfishly living out the latter years of her life caring for a son who had once been healthy but now is disabled for the rest of his life was a stark reminder to me of all the unusual caregiving situations which are hidden around us. It is a journey that not very many people must take, and it is one that we as a society often overlook.

So today I’m asking you to consider the invisible caregivers you have in your life and around you in your community. Look a little closer. You might see caregivers where you didn’t expect them, people who are overlooked and need support. Don’t let them slip by unnoticed. What can you do for them?

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

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Frailty

Photo Credit: Bob Travis

If I say the word “Frailty” what comes to your mind? Maybe it is the image of an old person stooped over a walker, with thin wrists and bony knuckles clutching at the handles. That is a picture of frailty. We know how easily a stumble can happen, and how suddenly a fall comes–then the broken bone. A broken bone can bring the shattering of the rest of that person’s life. The elderly are frail, and life is fragile.

We commonly think that frailty is limited to an elderly person, but that is not true. We are all frail, and that is something we would do well to remember. Personal confession: I recently had a painful reminder of this truth. Consider this post a reminder for you.

I am still in my mid-thirties and have managed to maintain a healthy, fit, and strong body which allows me to pursue an active lifestyle. Someone meeting me for the first time would probably think I embody the opposite of frailty. But how painful it is to learn the lesson of how weak and untrustworthy our bodies truly are!

Through a series of minor events at the end of May I ended up developing a severe muscle spasm in my back. Perhaps you have had one of those occasions where life was going along just fine and then you were flat on your back. This muscle spasm was the worst I have ever experienced in my life. I went from being able to lift objects that weighed several hundred pounds to being unable to lift myself. Moving caused excruciating pain. In the space of a day–just like that–I was rendered helpless. I couldn’t even use the bathroom by myself.

Thankfully, though my injury was painful it was not serious. With some pain medication, a bit of prescribed muscle relaxants, some therapy, and a bit of stretching I was able to quickly recover. I couldn’t work out in the yard for a few days, but soon enough I was back to my normal physical activity. This was a story with a happy ending, but the episode was a stark reminder for me of how frail we all are. Last year I hiked one of the high peaks in the Adirondacks with my wife, and did it without difficulty. We’re going back for more this summer. Every week I take bike rides and lift hundreds of pounds of weights. I’m healthy. I can do things without even thinking about it. And yet somehow in the space of hours I can go from being able to climb a mountain to being unable to climb out of bed.

The lesson is that our own bodies can betray us at any moment. This human frailty ought to teach us to be humble. It doesn’t matter if you are fifteen, twenty-give, thirty-five, fifty-five, or seventy-five–we are all frail. You may think relying on other people is something only the elderly must do–but watch out! It doesn’t take much to make any one of us dependent on help from others. We shouldn’t assume that we have the guarantee of going through life with the ability to live independently when accident or ailment can render us utterly dependent at any age.

My brief stint as a complete cripple has made me a little more grateful for the health I have, and a little more mindful of how easily I might lose it. If you are a caregiver, remember that it is not just the person in your care who is frail, you also live in a fragile body. Know your limits, accept help, and remember that as today you are helping someone else, the day will come when you also will need help. It is part of being human, being fragile, and if we accept the state of our existence well then we will have a little better humility for it and a little more peace living in it.

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Photo Credit: Matthew Keefe

There is something new in the wind. I mean, the air waves. Caregiver SOS is an hour-long weekly radio show devoted to caregivers and their needs. It airs 6 p.m. Sundays on NewsTalk 930 (AM) KLUP in the Greater San Antonio region. The show is hosted by nationally recognized gerontologist Carol Zernial and veteran broadcaster Ron Aaron. It has been going on for a number of years, so that isn’t what’s new. What is new is that I was asked to be a reoccurring guest on the Take 10 segment of the show.

Take 10 is a ten-minute segment in the hour long show where a guest is asked to share some thoughts on an issue facing caregivers. Dr. James Huysman was the regular contributor on the show but as his schedule became more busy they needed someone to fill in when he wasn’t available. Since I had worked with Carol and Ron previously at a caregiver conference in 2016 they thought I would be a good fit to fill this spot when necessary, and I was thrilled for the opportunity.

If you are local to the San Antonio area you can listen Sundays at 6PM on your radio. If you are not local, you can listen live via the online radio player at the station website. If you are not able to listen live there are podcasts available for old shows. However, the podcasts are about a month behind so since I started about mid-April the shows on which I have appeared are not yet available as podcasts. Check back at the podcasts in a couple of weeks and you should find the latest with Rundy on Take 10.

Never thought I would be a guest on a radio show. Life is strange.

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Photo Credit: Unsplash

When Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times and the worst of times” he was secretly telling you what his writing process was like. Few activities are capable of moving a person from the smile of inspiration to the groan of despair so quickly. There are days when two minutes ago I thought everything was going great and now I’m convinced I’ll never finish writing a book again.

I say this by way of introducing the fact that I am working on my next book. Since I have not yet reached the halfway point on the first draft, I am still decidedly in the early stages. Things are just starting to solidify. The vision for the final result is far from clear, but it’s coming into focus. This is, by turns, slightly exhilarating and utterly terrifying. Possible failure looms largest if I stop to think too much, which is why it is better for me to write and not think.

The book I am working on is about my time caring for my grandmother. Because that time in my life followed the period chronicled in The Sea is Wide it can be considered a sequel of sorts. I think of it more as a companion story since the narratives overlap to some degree.

It is still too early in the process for the manuscript to have a definitive title, but I have been referring to it under the moniker, A Hole in Her Heart. Maybe that will stick, maybe not. The working title is factual (if nothing else) since a hole in the heart is exactly what happened to Grandma as as her illness worsened. (Medically–technically–it was a pseudo aneurysm in her left ventricle, but the doctor simplified the language to “hole in the heart.”)

My dream is that the book will tell an honest story about the living of life and the facing of death. Ideally, it would provoke readers to think about how they live and love and face hard things. Finding the right words to share these things is really, really, hard.

I won’t venture to say how long it will take me to finish this book. If I did, I would be wrong. So, it will be done when it is done. But when the book does finally come together I will be looking for some early readers for feedback. If you would like to be one of those test readers, stick around. Maybe you’ll get a chance.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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Today at 11AM Central Time I was invited to give a presentation to a teleconfderence sponsored by the WellMed Charitable Foundation. Thanks to everyone who tuned in for the tele-conference, it was wonderful to have a chance to share with you all. At the end of the call I mentioned there was a video on my website of a full talk I had given. As it so happens it was the talk I gave at the Caregiver Summit hosted by the WellMed Foundation last November You can find it here: http://caregivingreality.com/videos-podcasts/wellmed-caregiver-summit-2016/

Drop me a comment if you would like!

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Magnolia Hall

In the week of February 20th – 24th I made a long overdue trip to South Carolina in the larger Hilton Head area. I say “long overdue” because the trip was originally scheduled for this past October until an ill-timed hurricane changed my plans. This time around the weather was wonderfully balmy. Coming from the snow-covered north, the warm temperature and gentle breezes felt almost unreal.

Two talks were scheduled for this trip: one at the Greater Beaufort Alzheimer’s Support Group, and the other hosted by Sun City, which is a massive gated community for those fifty-five and older. Coming down to South Carolina to talk was very exciting. When I first published my book and began traveling for speaking events I never could have hoped to see so much of the country as I have in the last twelve months, or to reach so many people. Every new trip reminds me of how grateful I should be for these opportunities.

For making this trip a reality two people deserve special mention, and a big shout-out of thanks. Because of their generosity, Rob O’Keefe and Lynn Ann Casey made my appearances in South Carolina happen. If you had the chance to hear me speak and you benefited then you have them to thank. I can’t say enough about how much they did in facilitating this trip.

The two talks in South Carolina were very different. The first presentation was on Wednesday the 22nd and was at the Alzheimer’s support group. It was a small and intimate setting–as a support group should be. The second event was on Thursday and took place in a large auditorium called Magnolia Hall (see the picture at the beginning of the article). This venue often functions as a movie theater or location for other programs, but for the afternoon I was the only show. At that event we had around 100 people in attendance. There are different things I enjoy about both the small intimate and the large events, but this was the first time I had both types of events back-to-back. It is a bit disorienting to switch venue sizes so drastically in the space of a day.

I was very thankful that my wife Debbie was able to come along for this trip. Not only is it much more fun to have her along, but at Magnolia Hall I really needed the extra help handling book sales. (I have learned I can’t talk, sign books, and handle monetary transactions at the same time.) I hope Debbie and I have more opportunities to go as a team!

When I come back from these events I always want to share stories because that feels like the most meaningful part. But I think the best stories are the ones I will never know–those stories are hidden in faces that stare out at me from the audience with so much understanding in their eyes. I know even without them speaking that they are walking the familiar hard road.

But there are also the people who come and speak with me afterward in soft voices that sometimes quaver and lips that sometimes tremble with the hurt they have known. I don’t really know how to give adequate words to their struggles. The vulnerability that people can share in this short time is unlike almost any other public interaction. Sometimes it is as if for this small window of time the normal social walls are down and people can speak about some of the rawest parts of their life with a complete stranger. It is a privilege that can be a bit overwhelming.

Then there are the people who send meandering emails to me after the event, sharing about their loved one. This is the silent telling of their story as a catharsis they couldn’t manage in person. There is the man’s wife of fifty-five years, born in France but now never able to go back again. There is such fondness in what he shares, but also an unspoken sadness over all that was and is slipping away.

I hope to come back to South Carolina again. There are many places to see, but–even more importantly–many people to reach. We’ll see what the future holds.

audience at sun city

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Photo Credit: Stanley Sagov

Caregiving is incredibly difficult. The hardness could be described like this: Lonely, Depressing, Exhausting. There is a lot more to caregiving than just those hard things, but those three words do a pretty good job summarizing what is hard about caregiving.

There are ways to alleviate all three of those difficult aspects to caregiving. I’m here today to give you a little tip for the issue of loneliness.

Hint: You are not alone.

Though there are days in caregiving when you feel utterly alone, there are hundreds, even thousands of people going through exactly the same sort of things you are dealing with.

And you can connect with them online. There are online communities for caregivers in general, and also groups formed for specific diseases. No one place is better than all the others. There are many different group formats, sizes, and each has its own atmosphere. You might not fit in one place, but fit in great another.

If you are feeling lonely as a caregiver, take a look around at the online community that can support you.

There are many places where you can meet other caregivers in the digital world, but as an introduction I will highlight two.

  • An Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Support Group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1661835794070386/ This is a private group so you must join before you can see what people have written or post yourself. Don’t let this requirement deter you. This is an active group with a lot of members. Sometimes the sheer number of people and posts can feel overwhelming, but the other side of the coin is that if you’re dealing with some issue as an Alzheimer’s caregiver somebody else in this group has probably dealt with it too. The environment is very supportive.
  • TheCaregiverSpace.org: This second website is geared toward caregivers of all types: http://thecaregiverspace.org/about/ I link to the about page because there you get a quick overview of what the site is about. I found this website notable for how many articles it has from different caregivers. This provides a much broader exposure to the difference aspects and perspectives on caregiving. The website is very slick and makes it easy to discover content. There are forums where you can chat with other caregivers but it isn’t as large (or active) as the Facebook group for Alzheimer’s caregivers.

Those two places are only a few drops in the large sea of other caregivers you can meet online. So if you’re feeling lonely in your caregiving journey, consider stepping out to meet some fellow travelers.

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The old year has slipped away and the new is still fresh as a baby. The last week of 2016 provided me with some much needed time away from the normal bustle of life, but now I am refreshed and back to work. It is easy to leap straight into all the planning for the new year, but I think it is good to spend a bit of time reflecting on what was just left behind.

When I look back on 2016 I feel a deep sense of thankfulness for what I was enabled to do in reaching and helping caregivers. In the beginning of January 2016 I couldn’t have guessed what was coming in the rest of the year. My gratitude list is very long, but here are a few highlights:

  • Keynote address at the Alzheimer’s Association Spring Conference in Oneont, NY. This started my speaking events for the year with a bang–and the request for me to speak was as unexpected as it was a great success. If there was one lesson for me from 2016 is that the greatest successes often come from the places we least expect–and where we can’t take the credit. But we can be thankful when doors open, and I am.
  • Clarion County’s Area Agency on Aging’s Senior Wellness Council in Clarion, PA. This was the event where I had the most unexpectedly large audience. I thought I was going to speak in front of a modest number of senior citizens, but when I arrived at the event I found myself in a large (and very full) parking lot before walking into a banquet hall filled with tables and people. It was the largest audience I have spoken in front of to date.
  • Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments Area Agency on Aging’s Caregiver College, Hunstville, Alabama. This event was the first speaking engagement which required that I book a flight to attend. The air travel went remarkably well, and I was able to experience some southern hospitality while sharing my story as one of the presenters at the event. Long distance traveling does introduce a new element of stress into speaking engagements, but I am glad I finally opened that door. I anticipate doing more in the future.
  • WellMed Charitable Foundation Caregiver Summit, San Antonio, TX. I thought I had to travel far for my event in Alabama, but then this caregiver summit took me nearly to the Mexican border. It was a great crowd to speak with, and I had the privilege to hear some prominent speakers in the field while there, as well.
  • Alzheimer’s Association Fall Conference in Wilkes-Barre, PA. I capped off the year with a second Alzheimer’s Association conference presentation. I made a lot of good connections in Wilkes-Barre and hope to work with the Association more in the coming year.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of my events for 2016, but it is some highlights to give you a sense of how grateful I am for the opportunities that were sent my way. In is incredibly fulfilling to reach so many people. I hope 2017 is as richly full as the year past.

So what about the future? Well, I certainly shouldn’t count my chickens (or speaking events) before they are hatched, but I will work hard to do my part to make the coming year even better as far as reaching more people. But I am also all the more aware of how the opportunities of speaking are so much beyond my control. I plan to simply continue giving my best and waiting to see what comes.

That said, I am also thinking about what I can do beyond speaking events in the coming year. I have plenty of writing projects I would like to embark on, but I can’t tackle them all. Besides, it is likely that any book length project I start in this year will probably not be finished before December rolls to its close in twelve months. I have two other distinct ideas about how I would like to reach more people with my message in ways beyond speaking at events and writing books–but the ideas are still early enough in their development that I don’t want to say anything more definite at the present. Stay tuned here for more details when the appropriate time arrives.

If you have any suggestions, please drop me a note.

Between one thing and another I’ll be very busy in 2017, but I hope to see you around!

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A Trip of Firsts

Looking out the window

On the 9th of November, I flew out with my wife to the WellMD Caregiver Summit hosted in San Antonio, TX. Carol Zernial, the director of the WellMD charitable foundation, had asked me to be one of the speakers at the conference. The event had been in the works since early in the year, but now at long last we were on our way. It was a trip of firsts. A few of them, as follows:

  • This was my first time to Texas. Alas, I did not get to see very much of the state, but I hope to come back sometime.
  • On the flight down it was my first time to get a window seat in an airplane. I admit I probably would have enjoyed this sooner if I had been brave enough to try out the online seat selector before. Not all window seats on all airplanes are equally good–and there are advantages to sitting in the aisle–but it was nice to finally have a chance to properly enjoy the clouds from the upper side. Soaring over an ever changing pattern of clouds, I was struck by the wish that I had first experienced this as a child. As an adult I could say it was pretty, and interesting, but I could remember enough of my former self to recognize that as a boy of eight it would have been an experience to blow my mind.
  • The evening of our arrival we were taken out to dinner by Carol, where we joined the other speakers at the event. This was the first time I had eaten with so many prestigious people at once. I think I remembered my manners pretty well…
  • It was the first time I spoke to over three hundred people at once.
  • It was the first time I sold out all the books I brought with me to an event.

Needless to say the trip was quite a success! Traveling by plane always adds an extra level of stress beyond other speaking events, so it is always a big encouragement when the work invested has such good results.

A video was taken of my presentation; once WellMD posts it I will share it with all of you. Some photos were also taken at the event, which I will see if I can find online so I can share them as well.

Until then, you can enjoy this photo of the clouds.

Clouds to the horizion

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I had the privilege of taking part in a fantastic Caregiving Summit held in San Antonio Texas and hosted by the WellMD Foundation. I was asked to be one of the speakers, and attendees have the opportunity to purchase a copy of my book The Sea is Wide: A Memoir of Caregiving. Unfortunately, I sold out all the copies I brought before everyone had a chance to purchase a copy. So I told those who hadn’t got a copy that I would provide them with the opportunity to order a signed copy online.

And you can too.

Order an author signed paperback copy here: http://caregivingreality.com/store/

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