PASSAGES IN CAREGIVING,Turning Chaos into Confidence, by Gail Sheehy

I never thought about becoming a caregiver. Most people probably don’t. It just happens. I told mom that I wouldn’t want to do this for anyone else.

In any case, when I realized what my new role was, I called upon Gail Sheehy to explain the ins and outs of the caregiving passage. Hers is my new favorite book, and it’s helping me to understand the game, put some of the challenges in perspective, and most important of all, realize that the caregiver needs to take care of HERSELF as well.

An important way to do that is to cultivate your social network:
-“Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.” (from a study by Rebecca Adams of the University of North Carolina).
-“The best antidote to preserve the brain is an extensive social network.”
-“It’s how many people one knows intimately and feels comfortable confiding in.” (Dr. David Bennett)

I’m getting a great deal of support from my two sisters, one who is here nearby, and the other who is in North Carolina. I confide in both of them almost daily by phone, and they understand the stresses and the joys of the job. They’ve both spent a lot more time living with Mom than I have.

But, I realize that although it’s been 5 weeks since I arrived here in Clearwater to live with my mother, I haven’t reached out yet to any of my friends from my previous life in Belgium, or Korea. I NEED to get started cultivating those relationships again, so I made a list today of the women I feel comfortable confiding in. I know making a little effort to write to them will bring me a lot of returns. First, I won’t have to open my email and see nothing there. That’s always so discouraging 😦

I’d like to write more about what I’m learning here, but I’ll have to save that for the next time. It’s way too late, and getting enough sleep is a high priority on a caregiver’s list of self-care. If you’re reading this and you’re a caregiver in need of support, check out this book. It’s full of ideas, and resources, and stories from people who have been there, and survived.

A Love That is Wild

I discovered Terry Tempest Williams recently, in a book my mother gave to me. It’s a wisdom book without a name, full of wonderful words and pictures. I asked her (my mother) to dedicate it to me, and she did, so now it is mine, and I will carry it with me from now on, until I too pass it on to a young and eager woman.

One of the passages in the book is the one below, taken from Terry’s journal entry about dissolving her marriage, and striking out on a path to discover the meaning of love. I hope I can find and read the rest of the story. She is still with her husband, and they have pioneered a path that might help to guide others.

Terry Tempest Williams
Terry Tempest Williams

October 13, 1990
I have been in the Adirondacks. I am tired and relieved to be home. As I walk off the plane, Brooke meets me. His stare is disarming. I kiss him and hand him my two bags.

“It’s not working,” he says.
“What?” I ask, startled by his focused intensity.
“What’s not working?”
“Marriage. I hate what it does to people. I hate what it’s doing to us.”

We begin a brisk walk down the terminal, side by side, my mind trying to accommodate what my husband has just said.We enter the current of individuals madly coming and going, brushing against one another as they run to catch or miss their planes.

“You want a divorce?” I ask as we step on to the moving sidewalk (a mechanical voice chants obvious instructions above us and I realize how much I detest the sterile world of airports). I lean against the black banister. Brooke passes me and continues walking. No breaks. I follow him.

“No, not a divorce,” he says. “I want new agreements.” He stops and looks straight into my eyes as people pass us on our left. “I’m tired of only getting bones.”

La Parisien is a small French cafe in Salt Lake City. Good food. Good wooden booths perfect for private conversations. It is a reliable establishment that does not impose itself on its clientele. We are among its loyal. I order chicken crepes. Brooke orders salmon. We sit across from one another in silence until our salads come.

I am not prepared for this. All I want to do is tell him about my walks in the Adirondacks, how glorious the autumn foliage was, how rich the light was, what birds I saw. I want to discuss ideas. I am too exhausted to talk about us.

The waitress brings a basket of garlic bread and places it on the table. My favorite.
“I want to dissolve our marriage,” Brooke says.
I look up at the waitress to see if she is listening to our conversation. She disappears.
“What do you mean?” I ask, breaking off a piece of bread.
“I mean I want to dissolve the marriage vows we made as kids, nineteen and twenty-three years old. They no longer work for me, and I don’t think they are working for you.”

I cannot eat the salad before me. The waitress returns to fill the water glasses.
I listen as my husband of fifteen years speaks eloquently of his yearning for a true partnership–where nothing is taken for granted.
“This is not about love,” he says. “This is about wanting more.”

I look at the blond, blue-eyed man seated across the table from me and feel tears welling. I suddenly realize how long it has been since I have really seen him, heard him, been present with him. Bones. Leftovers.
He is right.

“We need a ritual,” I say, half smiling. I know I can always make Brooke laugh.
He shakes his head with predictable cynicism, realizing somethings will never change.
“What could that be?” I wonder aloud.

Our entrees are served. I straighten my plate. The waitress asks if there is anything else we need. Brooke casually replies yes, but not that she can provide. She fills our water glasses once again.
I dream of various acts of dissolution but nothing seems appropriate.
“I think we should burn our marriage certificate,” Brooke says.

I say nothing–say nothing, for a long time. Images from our wedding on June 2, 1975, wash over me in waves: the Mormon Temple ceremony, my father, my mother, my grandparents, Brooke’s family, our innocence, a garland of wildflowers in my hair, the faith of our friends.

“But what about our history, our families who sat with us in that holy room as we took sacred vows and made covenants before God as we said yes–yes, to a shared and devoted life?”
“And we are saying yes again–” Brooke answers, “only this time, we are saying yes to something new within a context of experience.”
“Which is?”
“I’m not sure,” he says. “But I think it has to do with evolution and not being invisible. It’s about improvising each day.”


Dawn, October 14, 1990.
Brooke and I are sitting on the shore of the Great Salt Lake. The morning is ethereal with a faint mist slowly rising from the water. All the pastels of an abalone shell are shimmering above us as the sun has not yet peaked over the Wasatch Mountains.

We lay our marriage certificate on the salt flats of the receding lake. Brooke strikes a match and ignites one corner. I light the other. I watch it curl with a single flame, a black burn racing, erasing, my father’s name, John Henry Tempest, III. Brooke’s father’s signature, Rex Winder Williams, Jr. disappears simultaneously. We have no witnesses before God as the small fire sweeps across the white parchment.

“. . . were by me joined together in the holy bonds of matrimony for time and all eternity, according to the ordinance of God and the laws of the state of Utah . . . signed, S. Dilworth Young, an Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints . . . “

The words vanish. The ornate border disappears, the engraved Gothic spires of the Salt Lake Temple with our names, Brooke Spencer Williams and Terry Lynn Tempest, go up in smoke as black ashes cartwheel across the sand.

Emotion swells in me. This piece of paper mattered. I look to Brooke for a similar response. His face shows sheer elation. It frightens me. I turn to the lake. Something catches my eye. Pink on blue, I squint with the morning glare. I squint again to be certain of what I see and then gently take Brooke’s hand and point to the flock of gulls feeding fifty yards ahead.

Brooke looks–crouches low and looks again. “A flamingo?”
I nod. “I can’t believe it either.” Pheonicopterus ruber, the Latin genus translates to ‘the Phoenix.’ “The firebird rising from the ashes.”
We stand. I take off my platinum wedding bands and hurl them into the Great Salt Lake. Brooke has brought an antique dinner plate, a souvenir from our wedding, and throws it like a skipping rock across the water. It shatters on contact.
We turn. We choose to follow the pink flamingo along the shore as it feeds on brine–a rose petal on the water.
Seldom or never does a marriage develop into an individual relationship smoothly without crisis. There is no birth of consciousness without pain. C. G. Jung

July 20, 1991
We have demolished our house. Total renovation. I stand in the middle of the living room with barefeet on concrete–remembering the contractor’s warning to never enter this workspace without shoes. Yet observing the wreckage around me (a gutted kitchen, broken and unpainted sheetrock, a border of carpet nails), I feel safe. I start to reimagine our home.

Where the sliding glass doors have been–I see a fireplace, a hearth, to warm the exposed winter days. A place to focus. Where a slit of glass has served as a window above the kitchen counter–I want to double its size and raise the sky, placing the sink down canyon with a view of he setting sun while I do dishes. I want a door that opens east for morning light. Wood floors. White walls. And floor to ceiling bookshelves in the study. I want things simple, spare, and clean. I want a house to protect my solitude like the marriage Rilke envisions, “. . . that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation . . “

Brooke enters the chaos with a roll of architechtural plans under his arm. My daydreaming ends. He is real, tangilbe, in body. No fantasies here. What I love about his man is his reliability and his insistence in shattering established forms, constructions of any kind.

As he unrolls the drawings on the floor, I realize the courage it takes to love, especially to love in a way that defies tradition–tearing down the walls, opening up the rooms, letting the wind blow through windows and doors to keep things fresh, and what a little fire in the center of a home can do to regenerate heat, the heat of a passionate and comfortable life.

Brooke and I go over the blueprints carefully. He is watching cost, mindful of our budget. I am watching aesthetics, aware that beauty is not optional. After rigorous discussions, we are not so far apart in our vision of what we want our home to be.

The painter walks in. We look up. Brooke lets the plans roll back on themselves.

“Mrs. Williams, you want white walls, Dover white, I believe? And I need to know if you have decided what color you want to paint the outside doors?”

“Why not white like the rest of the house?” Brooke interjects.

The painter looks at me. I look at my husband.

“I would like them red,” I say. “Red doors to protect and celebrate a love that is wild.”



I love you, body~
Thank you
for serving me faithfully all these many years,
for never deserting me, even when I thought badly of you~
that you were ugly…
or shameful.

I love you, body~
I’m sorry
I forgot about you so often
and treated you so carelessly
as if I had another stashed somewhere behind…

I love you, body!
Please forgive me
for taking you for granted,
for not appreciating just how wonderful and precious you are
and how amazing and unbelievably perfect you are!

I love you, body!

How beautiful and strong you are.
How soft and supple you are.
How amazing it is that you and I are here together….

Thank you for everything.
I love you just the way you are.

Body Beautiful.
I love you ♥

Feelin’ My Way Through the Darkness

Writing 101 ~ Day 3: Write about your favorite song

“Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beatin’ heart
I can’t say where the journey will end
But I know where it starts.”

I love this song by Avicii. So do 448 million other people. It’s called WAKE ME UP. I remember when I first heard it. We were biking with Gerard through part of Flanders, and had stopped exhausted to refuel ourselves at a little tavern. The music was what revived me. That was 8 months ago. Several months later I was in Venice and stopped to talk to a group of young people waiting for the same bus. When I asked them, ‘What’s your favorite English music?’ they answered, ‘AVICII!!’
‘Who? What song do they sing?’
‘Hey Brother! Wake Me Up.’
It wasn’t til I got home that I found out who it was, and why those kids were so excited.

“So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I’ve been finding myself
and I didn’t know I was lost.”

When I don’t like the words of a song, I always feel at liberty to change them to suit my situation. I agreed with my daughter when she said she doesn’t like the refrain, “Wake me up when it’s all over.” I don’t like the idea of sleeping through a storm. I mean, how will one get wiser if one isn’t even awake to experience going through the difficulty? However, I can think about it differently: sometimes we need a breather, an escape valve, a little distance.

I did change the words to the next part:

“Don’t tell me I’m too young or old to understand
Or to be caught up in a dream
Life will pass us by if we don’t open up our eyes
and now it’s time to see!”

Part of waking up is SEEING. This summer I thought I was at Barrytown College for a media workshop. It turns out that was only the bait to get me there. Guided by a beating heart, I kept passing the chaplain in the hallway, and every time I saw him he was smiling at me, and saying, “Come see me!” I finally did. I’d been feeling my way through the darkness, and he held the light to show me my next step.

“So wake me up BEFORE it’s over!
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I’ve been finding myself
and I didn’t know I was lost!”

Thank you, Kone!


Writing 101: A Room with a View

Today’s assignment: “If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now? The twist~ organize your post around the description of a setting.”

The "office"

The “office”

I love the room I’m sitting in right now…I’m in the full sun, watching the clouds roll around in the sky above the treetops and rooftops across our street. The sound of children laughing in the park below; The occasional car starting or stopping; the distant hum of traffic on the main road…signs of life. I’ve never been a glutton for silence, or total darkness.

I look around at the furniture, and how gracefully it has been arranged. The mirror on the wall has a black leather frame that matches the trim on the ceiling; the drapes are pulled back to let in the maximum light (they’re never drawn if I can help it) and frame the large picture windows that stretch all the way across the room. The accent colors are red and orange~ the cushions on the desk chair, the picture frame on the wall, my paper art-work above the couch~ never fail to lift my heart a bit when I see them. The wicker chair and footstool always look warm and friendly; The couch is deep and wide and full of pillows to lay against, or to prop your legs up on if you’re like me; I think of Lia when I see them. This was her furniture before it became ours. Her leaving and our finding a new apartment couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.

The Inner Sanctum

The Inner Sanctum


However, no amount of nice furniture can really make up for her absence, or the absence of the kitty we left behind when we moved from a street-level house to a 3rd floor apartment, or other friends who have gone, or who are too far away to share it with. Maybe one of the reasons that this room feels so good to me right now is that I’m preparing to leave it soon as well.

For me, the perfect space is not so much about the physical location, or the type of furniture. It’s about the people, and the connections that make life worthwhile day to day. I think I often took those things for granted. Sometimes you don’t know how precious the light is until it goes out. Here, often alone, I have come to appreciate the simple sounds of daily life, the comings and goings, and the words of encouragement and welcome in between. Silence is good on occasion, but not as a steady diet. The ideal for me is to live with people, AND to have a private space to retreat to.

I like a full house. I like the hustle and bustle of friends coming and going, and when they come, I like the time spent over food or coffee, catching up, laughing, sharing the simple daily joys and problems.

So, a room with a view: it’s a room with friends and lovers; it’s a room in constant motion with comings and goings and ins and outs. It’s a room where the heart has found a home.

Saying Goodbye to Liege

I’ve been saying goodbye to Liege today.

I had soup with a good friend, and we talked about the changes going on in our lives; It’s good to be on a parallel journey with someone. She’s leaving for Brussels, I’m leaving for the US, but we’ll be connected wherever we go, fellow travelers and seekers after the life we know we were meant to live.

Telling myself that I don’t want to see the inside of any more department stores, I took the river road home, avoiding the shops, and saw the sun glistening on the Meuse, the tree-lined park, and the bridges crossing the water. From up on the bike, I couldn’t smell the urine on the sidewalk. When I noticed it while we were walking, she said, “It’s the smell of LIege!” I never noticed it before today.

I stopped at the Quick for a coffee and a beignet, and thought, “This might be the last time I sit out here. How strange. How nice!”

At the corner SPAR, I greeted the manager, and told her I’m leaving. She told me she is tired, and wants to get out of the grocery business with her brother, but hasn’t found a way yet. We smiled at each other, and she took my card. “You’ll do well. I have a good feeling.” “You, too. Let’s keep in touch!”

My little village of Angleur. Jean fits here, but I don’t.
Life isn’t always what you expect it will be. I wonder where we’ll be in two years, or five?

Today I’ve been saying goodbye to Liege, and packing up my things. It will have been 2 years, 8 months, and 21 days since I arrived here. It feels longer, and at the same time hard to believe that so much time has passed.

I have to ask myself, “What is the lesson here for me? What have I done, and what have I learned?” It’s better than I think, but longer than I wanted.

I round the corner and ride up our street. The sun is bright and the day is warm. Belgium, showing off it’s best self in honor of my leaving? Maybe. Or trying to entice me to stay? Too late for that.

I take off my scarf, and look at the road in front of me. Our apartment is a good place for Jean. I’m happy that he is near the woods where he loves to run, and near his father’s house, where he often visits. Our windows face the path running up into the trees, and look out over the park. We’re on a street that doesn’t go through, so it’s always quiet~ except for the trains. I love the way they sound at night. They remind me that there are places to go. We can stop treading water, and jump on.

I’m saying goodbye to Liege, and I’m glad I’m still alive, and that I have somewhere I want to go. My mother is counting the days until I arrive. She has cleared out her other closet, and emptied half of her drawers to make space for the things I bring. She is waiting with anticipation. She’s getting old now, and tired. I can hear it in her voice. I am glad to have someone who is longing for my return, and to have the time to be there for her. We have many things to share~ two adult women, getting to know each other again.

What else should I write? I still have people to say goodbye to. To embrace and wish well. I saw another friend last week. We met in her front yard, her two small boys excited about their first day of school. She clasped my hand and sighed. Yes, she understood. Japan is her hometown and she is dreaming, too.

I still have an open suitcase staring at me on the floor, but my heart has already started moving. It’s pulling out of the station. A little rusty from having stood still for so long, but I can feel an engine revving somewhere…

I’m wondering if I can still fly…

Let me arrive, safely, with my body, mind, and heart intact.
Let me be ready to discover my SELF on this journey called LIFE.

Goodbye Liege. Thank you, and I wish you well!