Winters in New England are generally cold, snowy, and/or rainy. This year, we’ve got it all, plus a pretty severe flu season.
Have you ever had the flu caused by the influenza virus? https://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm. If you have, I’m sure you remember it. I was a teenager the last time I caught it and it was a long week flat in bed, dozing off, with occasional comfort food and lots of warm tea with honey. I also recall that it was after Christmas Break and that my grandmother was still visiting with us in Paris. She was in her mid-60s, going on 70 at the time, and she caught it while caring for me. She was severely ill, and for much longer than I had been.
I don’t remember how we exactly comforted each other then, but I have warm memories of her fun stories, her love, our connection in such times of vulnerability. Thankfully, she lived for another 25 years, and we had many more opportunities to connect and laugh together. Our last encounter was very special and beautiful. It was after her stroke, and although she could not move or talk easily anymore, I managed to get one more “Je t’aime” out of her. She worked so hard at it, it was exhausting, but her succeeding brought her such relief and peace, that I’ve been carrying her last present within me ever since.
Although it was not obvious to me for a long time, that special grandmother-granddaughter connection has greatly influenced my path. Just as she used to kiss my forehead and put her warm hands on my check when I was sick, I do it now as a way to connect with my patients, and it creates the same amazing response, every time: generally a smile, a deep sigh of contentment, eyes opening and either more smiles or a thank you loaded with so much gratitude.
It is often when we are the most vulnerable that we feel the need for warmth. Our bodies do not function at their best, metabolism decreases, the heart starts pumping more slowly. How to maintain our body temperature? My neighbor Mary Wade Home has just written a neat blog about the dangers of staying cold in the winter: https://marywade.org/uploads/files/Why%20is%20Grandma%20always%20cold%20MW%20Whitepaper%20Vol1%20Jan%202018.pdf. It’s certainly worth reading, but what can be done to bring the warmth I am talking about? Here are a few ideas.
A warm cup of tea: As often as I can, I love to sit down with people I meet around a warm cup of tea or coffee: it helps us relax, it breaks the ice, unties the tongues, and keeps our hands warm. It just feels good. I have gone through “tea periods”, where I would go to shop for tea next to the French consulate in New York and bring back for my loved ones Jasmine flowers or amazing combinations of white or green tea with subtle scents. Simple exploratory experiences that stay with us forever.
A sweet treat: Croissants or fruit tarts from Marjolaine and paleo cookies from Katarina’s (New Haven) have always been among my favorites treats to get for friends. When my first granddaughter was really young, I would go get the best vegan carrot cake muffins in town at Katarina’s and I would watch everyone smack their lips and lick their fingers. That's a nice way to make nutrition an engaging experience -Yes, it is true, I am all about educational adventures; I am wired that way.
Humor and laughter: Humor is the most difficult thing to understand and adapt to in other cultures. I had a hard time with American humor when I first moved to this country, but working with people from all over the world and working with all sorts of people of this country has certainly helped and, just as with tea and sweets, I try to pick the best and most appropriate humor for my friends or patients. It’s still a delicate exercise for me but the results I get are sometimes out of this world.
Handmade colorful quilts: We all know how children love textures and colors and how important they are to development. Well, it turns out the benefits of touch and colors have a huge impact on us as adults – especially when we are sick. I have met other volunteers for Seasons’s Hospice and Palliative Care, and discovered that every year the CT-based Quilts That Care charitable organization makes many dozens if not hundreds of beautiful handmade quilts for cancer patients! http://quiltsthatcare.org/. I also noticed that at Christmas time in local nursing homes, patients were receiving warm covers of various textures. Having helped many patients open their presents, I can tell you that they ALL responded positively to these gifts. Keep that in mind when you go visit Grandma or Auntie!
Music: I have witnessed extraordinary effects of music on people. There too, you’ll have to pick the moment, music type and person/recording. Some would prefer to be in a room full of people and performers, others would prefer a more intimate setting. I would not want anyone playing the trombone while I’m in my sick bed, but I could see myself falling asleep or meditating under the charming voice of a young music therapy volunteer. I’ve recently discussed with a patient the importance of music in her life and was able to direct to her bedside, two music volunteers who had never played together and who improvised. It was wonderful to observe the trio – two musicians and my patient – getting in sync.
You can also read my last blog (https://www.agentlerparting.com/single-post/2017/12/15/What-my-hospice-patients-cant-tell-you).
In brief, there are many ways to stay warm this winter, add the real power of compassion, presence and connections and feel the difference. Remember in these times of healthcare reform that emotional and social isolation has become an epidemic in this country. So what I do as a Doula is create connection in times of vulnerability. I meet my clients where they are and bring them to a place of warmth and peace. When we feel the warmth, it means we are alive, and where there is life, there is hope that peace of mind can truly be found.