Caregiver Take Care… When to Begin?

Life is filled with beginnings.  Some beginnings are celebrated with great faCrape Myrtle flowers on campus July2,2012 006nfare and excitement.  Some beginnings are faced with feelings of determination and resolve.  Many beginnings simply occur… unnoticed. They do not present themselves as beginnings until we look back with the luxury of hind sight, then we realize that something new has crept into our lives and has brought about unexpected, unanticipated, unsolicited, change.  Most of us do not like change, especially when it happens to us without our input and beyond our control.

That being said, it can be very empowering for us to choose to begin something that will have a positive impact in our lives on a daily basis. Self-care…taking care of one’s self, is a necessity if we intend to take care of someone that we love.  The question is… when to begin?  The answer is… as soon as you can.  If you wait until you find a more convenient time to begin, you will most probably find that a more convenient time is hard to find.

That person that you care for needs your energy, your understanding, your commitment and most of all your love.  If you are going to have enough to offer them, you must begin to make the choices that will insure that you have enough to offer them.

For years I had toyed with the thought of pursuing chaplaincy certification so that I could become more involved in the hospice work that I love.  I had always looked at the time and effort involved in the process and always came to the same conclusion… now is not a good time to begin.  I put it off and put it off, waiting for things to fall into place.  In September of 2009 my wife discovered a lump in her breast and rather than everything falling into place, everything began to fall apart.  As we walked through the “valley of cancer” together, I realized that life was too short to put off doing those things you have a passion for. When I began my quest for chaplaincy credentials it was quite possibly the most inconvenient time in my life, but I knew that it was the right time. As I look back at that beginning, I think of a lesson that I learned that I want to share with you…

Today is a special gift.  Try not to waste it by waiting for tomorrow.

Take care of yourself caregiver and remember, the time to begin to do so is as soon as you can.



Caregiver… take care: The light in between

Questions, life is full of them.  Questions often begin with a: who, what,hospiceA5[1] when, where, why, or a how.  In the first installment of these mental meanderings we touched on a question that begins with the word who.  Who am I?  You are a caregiver.  You give care to someone who needs you to do so.  You are an important part of another person’s life.  You are brave, selfless, attentive, compassionate, and (more often than not) stretched to limits you did not know existed.  You are to be commended, not only for what you do, but for who you are.

The next question is: What can I do in order to be better at what I do?  My suggestion is: cultivate the desire to do so.  That may sound strange and perhaps a wee bit vague but think about it for a moment.  Desire is at the heart of many beginnings.  The truth of the matter is, in life desire almost always precedes effort, and effort is a necessary ingredient in realizing a preferred outcome.  Millions of dollars are spent on this principle by advertising/marketing firms all over the planet.  (Have you ever seen a golden brown French fry on TV?  I rest my case.) If we nurture the desire to be better at what we do, we will naturally be on the lookout for ways to improve.  Our imaginations will be constantly conjuring up ways we can incorporate new ideas into our daily routine.

One reason why we do not think about ways to be better is because we are so fixated on those things that hinder our progress and divert our attention.   Have you ever wondered what would happen if we spent as much time looking past the obstacles as we do looking at them?  Years ago I was sitting on my front porch taking in the sights and smells of a late spring day just after a rain shower.  The sun was setting in the west, the air was fresh, and tiny droplets of fresh rain water glistened.  Across the street was a thick stand of young sweetgum trees.  The green leaves were finely laced together to form a seemingly solid wall that swayed ever so gently in the evening breeze.

As I sat in my rocking chair, I took a slow deep breath in and just as slowly let it out.  This moment was special.  And then I noticed a pair of red birds frolicking in the afore mentioned foliage.  I watched them chase each other in the dense growth.  A hop here, a jump there, a flutter of wings, and then off they went flying so fast it was hard for me to keep my eyes from crossing.  It was at this point it occurred to me; I had never seen a bird hit a tree.  They fly in and out among limbs, sticks, leaves, pine needles, branches, brambles and such like all day long and not once have I ever seen a bird bounce off any of them.  I asked the question, why?  The answer is (in my humble opinion) because they do not focus on the obstacles, but rather they look to the light.   The leaves and limbs and other “stuff” that seem to form such a barrier to forward progress, are in fact little more than convenient places to rest from time to time.

If we aren’t careful, as caregivers we can become so consumed by the things that seem to obstruct us that we fail to notice the light all around us.  Which brings us back to the question of the day, i.e. what can I do in order to be better at what I do?   It all begins with desire.  Allow that desire to guide your heart.   Along the journey, realize that there will always be “stuff”, but the “stuff” doesn’t have to stop you, if only you will remember to look to the light in between.

Later… Wes

Caregiver…Take Care.

When I was much younger I was quite the consumer of peanut butter sandwiches. I not only enjoyed the taste of the finished product (either plain, with jelly, jam or honey), I enjoyed the “making” of the sandwich.  It was a new adventure every time the lid was opened.  How full would the jar be?  Would I have to scrape the sides or would I be the lucky first to dip into the smooth top? And then there was the all-important spreading on the bread step. It was here that you had to be very careful because if you spread the peanut butter too thin and applied too much pressure you would rip the bread!

Caregiving is much like spreading peanut butter, if you do not take care, you’ll end up spreading yourself too thin and something ends up “ripping”.  You want to be alert to the possibility and gently proceed so that you can be your best for the one you love.

A caregiver is not necessarily the same as a health care professional. As a caregiver, your heart is involved in the process. Because of this, when you give care, you give of yourself… physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and even spiritually.  Care giving is: energy and effort held together by love and/or a sense of duty.  Again, with so much going out, it is highly recommended to make sure you don’t run out of what’s going out!

As you continue to access the peanut butter, take time to recognize how much is left in the jar and have an idea where you can go to get more before you run too low, or worse, you run out completely.  Find out/remember those things that fill you with energy and enthusiasm…soft music, loud music; familiar places, unfamiliar places; old movies, new movies…whatever it is that works for you. The key is not just recognizing what you need to do to take care of you, but being deliberate in doing what needs to be done.  It doesn’t have to take long.  You may have to settle for one spoonful at a time.  That is OK. Your goal is not to find the biggest jar on the shelf, but rather to make sure you have enough to make it through each moment of each day… without ripping the bread.

I’ll share a few more thoughts along these lines in the days ahead.  For now, I encourage you to take the time (even if it’s just a second or two) and think about you.  Caregiver…Take Care.Crape Myrtle flowers on campus July2,2012 006

Later… Wes

Wes Bynum, Bereavement Coordinator
Hospice of East Texas



Joe and Mary*, hupatients holding handssband and wife, and both patients of Hospice of East Texas, had managed in their own home for a while.  Their family, and the Hospice team, all wanted badly to respect their wishes to stay together in their last days, just as they had been together through their long lives.   At last it became apparent that both needed more care, and they were admitted to HomePlace with a very special accommodation: the private room was converted to a double room so that they could be together.  But that wasn’t quite close enough for Joe and Mary.  When the nurse asked if they would like their beds pushed together, both responded “Yes!”  This beautiful photo captured the moment when this precious, fragile couple reached out to grasp one another’s hand.  It wasn’t home, but it was HomePlace, and it was together.

*names changed to protect patient confidentiality

Quilts with meaning!

Since the first patient was cared for at HomePlace, the tradition has been to place a quilt on each patient bed.  This simple gesture is welcoming for patients and families, often reminding them of home and beloved family treasures that have comforted their loved ones.

Quilters guilds, chvolunteer quilturch groups and patient families donate quilts so that Hospice
of East Texas can continue this tradition of comfort.  Inspired by the giving spirit of her fellow Hospice of East Texas volunteers,
Sheila Odaker commissioned quilter Debbie Borski to create a quilt in their honor.  This stunning work of art will hang in the Meadows Conference Room of the Robert M. Rogers Hospice Center as a tribute to all the volunteers who contribute so meaningfully to the patients and families Hospice serves.

In memory of their father, Tommy Holcomb, two of his children, daughters Amy Moss quiltand Susan Salter donated this quilt to HomePlace.  Amy, the quilter, and Susan, designed the quilt with their father in mind, remembering his love of farming and working the land and the fact that he was the recipient of a Purple Heart.  With fabric depicting tractors and cows, the quilt will be just right for the bed of a man like Mr. Holcomb.

Sharon Gates Grooms’ mom, Barbara Gates, was a quilter, who had made quilts for Hospice of East Texas.  When Mrs. Gates  passed Sharon Gates Groomsaway, Sharon’s father gave her quilting supplies to Hospice, hoping we could find a group who would finish her quilt tops and donate them to Hospice.  Up stepped the East Texas Quilters Guild, who made several
lovely quilts from Mrs. Gates’ fabric.  Sharon’s father passed away unexpectedly without seeing the finished quilts, but Sharon came by to see these beautiful examples of her mother’s creativity and her father’s generosity.

The Watermelon Man

In December 2015, Hospice of East Texas board member, Jonna Fitzgerald, posted this note on her Facebook page:

                        Many of you have heard me share the story about the lengthy time we were at The Hospice of East Texas with Mom in early 2011…. there were many magical moments we experienced while there. This is one of them. Mom had not been eating and was asked if she could have anything she wanted to eat, what it would be. She responded that she would eat some watermelon. Mind you, this was April…not many watermelons around. It was just a couple hours later that a man walked into her room with a beautiful plate full of watermelon, from which he had meticulously removed every seed. Mom said it was the best watermelon she had ever eaten. Today, at a Hospice holiday gathering, I finally met the “watermelon man” — THANK YOU, Shane Lee, for such a precious gift to my mother and my family, and for all you do to make Hospice of East Texas the amazing place that it is!

An extraordinary opportunity…

to provide extraordinary care!dementia training 4

At the end of life, patients with dementia face many challenges, both
mentally and physically.  Because many of them are almost nonverbal and severely limited physically, they are often isolated and dismissed as “unresponsive”.  But not to Shannon Lutmer.

has a passion and a gift for reaching patients with dementia, and she is committed to sharing her passion and gift with others.  In focused training sessions with volunteers and staff, Shannon enthusiastically teaches the use of “sensory kits” customized to the patient’s lifelong preferences.  Soon, every dementia patient served by The Hospice of East Texas will be assigned a specially trained volunteer to communicate and connect with them and teach communication and calming techniques to their caregivers.
“Training and equipping our staff and volunteers in this highly specialized way is the first project funded by the Bobbie and Mel Lovelady Fund,” said Marjorie Ream, Hospice of East Texas President and CEO.  “This program will add significant additional benefits to the care our dementia patients receive.  We are deeply grateful to Pam and Thomas Smith for their inspirational gift and to all those whose contributions to the fund will enable us to grown our ability to provide the extraordinary care for which The Hospice of East Texas has always been known.”

Caregiver Take Care… Part 5

bereavement card pic onlyIt has come to the close of another year and it is time to finish these thoughts on taking care of one’s self as a caregiver.  Along the way I have pondered a few personal questions and tried to apply answers to the daily challenge of taking care of those who we take care of.  Who am I?  What can I do in order to be better at what I do?  When should I begin?  Where do I begin?  And now I encourage you to reflect on the question, why?  Why am I doing what I’m doing?

Every day you are giving of yourself; your time, your talents, your treasures.  As you give, take the time from time to time and reflect on the reason.  Put yourself in that place that causes you to remember why you began this journey in the first place.  Often all it takes for me to regain my focus and to find an answer to that “why” question is to intentionally look into the eyes of the people around me.   Not simply looking at their eyes but into their eyes.  Our eyes are truly the window to our souls and when we look with purpose, we can usually see far more than the color of an iris – we can see clues to heartfelt feelings.

In 2009 I looked into the eyes of my wife as she came out of the bathroom on a Saturday morning.  She had found a lump in her breast and the look in her eyes proved to be the beginning of my journey into a whole new world of caregiving.  I had been the kind of person that had always been prone to help people.  I had been the one the family called on for support.  As a minister, I was the one most familiar with hospital protocol.  Having been married to a nurse for close to 30 years, I had a pretty good sense of what the clinical world was like…or so I thought.  I began to realize that everything I had experienced in life was merely prep work for what I would experience in the weeks and months ahead.  I was challenged mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  My world changed forever.  The change didn’t start two years later on the Sunday morning she died, it started that Saturday morning I looked into her eyes and saw that a dreaded intruder had come into our lives.  It was that look that brought me to a fork in life’s road that led me to new opportunities, to touch lives in ways that would have been out of the question before.

Now, whenever I find myself running a little low on emotional and/or physical energy, whenever I begin to wonder if I am making a difference, I pull away from my computer and the stack of “stuff” on my desk.  I close my calendar.  I turn my back on my “to- do list” and I go to where the people are.  I find family and friends, co-workers and patients; people that are a part of my life, and I look into their eyes and am reminded of why I am doing what I’m doing.

I’m doing what I’m doing because of …LOVE… My guess is love has something to do with why you’re doing what you’re doing to.  Remember that and Caregiver, Take Care…

Wes Bynum, Bereavement Coordinator

Where do I begin?

030It has been a while since I have carved out some time to sit down and reflect on the subject at hand.  Have you ever noticed that just because you know to do something doesn’t necessarily translate to you doing what you know to do?  For instance, most of us have a general idea of what it means to eat healthy and yet…enough said right?  Habits, especially old habits, provide us with such an easy and familiar path to follow.  It takes quite a bit of insight and energy to break free from established patterns of life.  Doing things that are new things, breaking the old mold, staying off the well-worn trails, these things are challenges for each of us and particularly for those of us who are caregivers.

The question I present today is… Where Do I Begin?  Where do I go? Where do I need to get to before I can change directions? The answer is (in my opinion) you begin right where you are.  So often we get our mind set on a “place” we want to get to so that we can start something new.  We want to have a certain amount of money in our bank account before we begin to invest and save our money.  We want to enjoy one more piece of cake and one more scoop of ice cream before we begin that new diet.  We want to take care of any number of small details that are often connected to any number of other people, before we begin to take care of ourselves.  Begin to make the changes in your life… Today!  Start where you are, working with what you have to work with today.  Before you can break a habit, you have to recognize that it is a habit that needs to be broken.  Before you can make an adjustment in who you are, you must first realize who you are and right now you are a caregiver.

As I have written in these articles, the best way to be the best caregiver you can is to take time to take care of yourself.  As you move forward remember; it is the little things in life that are the great things in life.  In other words, don’t sweat what you don’t have or what you can’t do.  Try not to worry about getting to some far off, down the road destination before you begin.  Today is what you have.  Today is where “someday” begins.  Where you are is the best place to start.  The tools you have are the best tools you have to work with.

In my office I have a beautiful picture above my desk.  It is a scene of a mountain and forest and an eagle flying above the mist.  Next to the picture is an old beat up 3” paint brush.  I keep things in this juxtaposition on purpose.  Every time I look up and see them I am reminded that that beautiful picture was not painted by that paint brush.  That picture required more than a few strokes from a wide brush.  It required thousands of small touches using a much smaller tool.

So often we approach complexities in life with the biggest and widest brush we can find.  We want to “paint over” our problems as quickly as possible.  We want to do something really big in order to achieve what we hope will be a lasting change.  In the process we often overlook the importance of the really small things.  And, yes, we want to “be” somewhere else before we begin to do what we know to do.  May I suggest instead that you simply begin where you are?  Caregiver, take care.

Later… J Wes