For all of you who struggle
to find just the right words
for those you care about:
My hope is that you realize
that your presence, your smile,
and your kind touch
speak volumes.

That’s the dedication I wrote for my book, Caring Questions:  Sensitive and Fun Conversation Starters for Caregivers.  Through spending time…a lot of time…with my dear father-in-law during his cancer treatments, I realized that being at the cancer center was going to be taking up a significant part of our time together. 

So how were we going to spend that time? The thought of bad TV and old magazines was enough to motivate me to find something more…to find a way to maximize our minutes together, even if those minutes included nurses and i.v.’s. 

My father-in-law was a beautiful Italian man who would talk to you for two days about the old country or his dad’s garden, or his mama’s Sunday sauce.  But, he wasn’t as chatty if I tried to get him to open up about his emotions, or deep feelings associated with his diagnosis, treatment, and ultimately, his end of life journey.

In an effort to help him to become comfortable enough to share those kinds of important feelings, I made it a mission to spend that time at the cancer center talking and journaling with him.  We talked plently about the old country, and before long, that helped us to talk more openly about the new adventure we were experiencing together.

It wasn’t easy pushing through some of the hard questions but it got easier.  And, communicating in that way paved the way for an incredible gift. 

When Pap knew that he was getting close to making his transition from this world, he asked me to call our children into his room.  All five came bouncing in and gathered close to his bed. 

That beautiful Italian man…not known for being able to talk about his emotions…was able to look each of my kids in the eye, gesture to each one, and say, “I want each one of you to know that I’m going to go happy, beause you’re sending me happy.”  He went on to talk about specific things they had done to make him happy, and wishes he had for each of them.

I am crying writing this.  I cried as I stood against the wall in the back of the room that night, watching that incredible scene unfold. What a gift!  What an amazing life lesson he gave to our family with his beautiful words.

When communication at that level happens, there is peace.  There are no regrets.  Those of us left behind are able to go on in a stronger, more secure way knowing without a doubt that we did everything right.  That we cared, and it was felt, and appreciated.  Again, I have to say…what a gift!

I want that for each of you.  It’s one of the blessings of caregiving. 

So, to help you to find the words you need to maximize your minutes with your loved ones—even in the midst of difficult, scary times—every Wednesday I will share a caring question with you. Some will be funny, some will help you dig deeper into emotions, some will help you to gather pieces of family history that you will treasure. 

All are suggested with the hope that you use them to start conversations that will bring you even closer to those you love.

We’ll start with a question that will allow you both to smile:

What was the best thing anyone ever did for you?

And, if you have time, you can follow that up with:

What was the best thing you ever did for someone else?

Enjoy your time together this week!

j.

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