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"Don't Make a Straight Line Crooked"

Classic McConaughey. As in Matthew McConaughey.

I read his memoir, Greenlights, which is chalk full of lines like this. If you like McConaughey, you'll like his book. In his words:

I’ve been in this life for 50 years, been trying to work out its riddle for 42, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last 35. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me.

I liked his book.

As we approach the end of National Family Caregivers Month and Thanksgiving, I was reminded of McConaughey's book. Over the past week I travelled 1200 miles in what amounted to 24 total driving hours. Lots of time to reflect on "how to have meaning in life" and "how to be more me."

Personally, this time of year has always been complicated. Changing the clocks resulted in less daylight, but another type of darkness existed. As a kid and young adult, I spent a lot of time alone on Beers Ave. My mom lived in South Boston, and on weekends, Dad would spend most weekend nights at his longtime partner's house.

My brothers and I celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas surrounded by family, yet the holidays subconsciously reminded me of what was missing in my life: belonging. After I had children of my own and we created our own family holiday traditions, the darkness began to fade; but it was only after my dad got Alzheimer's and I became his caregiver that I finally felt a sense of belonging—with my dad, my family, and within myself.

I don't like riddles and I don't believe life is one of them, like McConaughey. Yet there's something so simple and straightforward (pardon the pun) about the phrase, "Don't make a straight line crooked." But that's exactly what we do, isn't it? You could say the simple definition of anxiety is worrying about things that are out of our control. I'm not talking about clinical anxiety but, rather, everyday worries and fears about what could happen.

The unknown. The possible outcomes. The what ifs.

For the everyday caregiver, there often isn't time to dwell on such thoughts. We're too engrossed in the day-to-day tasks and challenges of caring for a loved one. Cleaning up messes. Administering meds. Dealing with the healthcare system. Being present for our care recipient. Don't misunderstand—we absolutely think about the eventual outcome—it's impossible not to—but we can't let it consume all our time and energy.

When talking in front of groups about Ten Days With Dad, I describe my role as caregiver for my dad as the greatest burden yet greatest blessing of my life. I share how my priorities and perspectives shifted and the changes I made as a result of his diagnosis and subsequent death. One of the biggest changes I made in my life was trying meditation.

Our last family trip to Hawaii didn't begin well. Here's an excerpt from Ten Days With Dad.

More than 10,000 flights were canceled over a span of five days surrounding our trip. Not because of passenger safety but because too many airline staff were getting COVID and had to call in sick. A flight attendant on our first flight to Las Vegas was included among the sick, which delayed our flight for two hours. We had a long layover in Vegas before the next segment of our trip, so we had more than enough time to catch our next flight to Maui.
That was until the pilot announced that we had to stop and refuel the plane in Denver before getting to Las Vegas. WTF, seriously? I have flown to Las Vegas probably a dozen or more times and never heard of such a thing. Why would JetBlue use a plane that couldn’t make it all the way to Nevada? Suddenly, our four-hour layover in Vegas before the flight to Maui was causing some panic. Are we going to make it?
We missed the flight to Hawaii by two minutes. No joke. Hawaiian Air had a firm cutoff for receiving luggage at the terminal counter, or so they said, and would not let us check our luggage at the gate, unlike every other airline in the world. The next flight was at 9:45 a.m., so we spent the next eight hours in uncomfortable chairs. outside security at McCarran International Airport.

We had a lot going on in our lives prior to the trip, with my daily trips to see Dad in Assisted Living and the near-constant threat of getting Covid and missing the trip altogether. It was not the start we had envisioned for the trip.

After unpacking, we headed straight for the beach. I rolled out my towel, stared at the ocean, and then meditated. My head melted into the sand and for the next thirty minutes, I drifted in and out of meditation and sleep. It was glorious.

I'm not picky about where or how I meditate. At the beach, lake, on the couch, in the car, at the airport, in the middle of the living room while people are talking. Wherever and whenever. I'm also not strict about my posture or positioning.

What I can tell you with certainty, with absolute conviction, is that daily meditation has been the most effective and positive personal health decision in my life. It makes me worry less. It keeps me more focused and calmer. It helps me put things into perspective. It relaxes me. It energizes me. It makes me feel good.

It prevents me from making a straight line crooked.

Meditation is the first thing I recommend to overwhelmed and burdened caregivers. Then, sleep as much as you can (take it when you can get it), eat as healthy as you can (caregiving isn't an excuse to eat junk food), exercise (walk 20 minutes a day), and lastly, don't stop caring for yourself (don't put off your own medical appointments and checkups).

The Greatest Burden The Greatest Blessing isn't a guidebook or manual on caregiving. But helpful advice and insights are ever-present throughout the book. If you're currently serving as a caregiver, you should check out Matt Perrin's weekly newsletter on caregiving, THREE THING THURSDAY: on caregiving.

As for meditation, perhaps start here. As with any new habit or skill, start small but start.

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