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grief Archives - Danny van Leeuwen Health Hats

Receiving with Reckless Abandon

By | Caregiver, Clinician, Family man | No Comments

My boy, Mike, died 15 years ago today (sigh). Here’s a link to a video of an interview with Mike 4 months before he died. (11 minutes).

This anniversary and attending the National Caregiving Conference last week made me think about being a caree, someone who is being cared for. My grandmother, my mother, and Mike were carees. Mike accepted his mortality but didn’t want someone to have to wipe his butt. That was a point too far. As a Holocaust survivor, my mother craved being cared for all her life, yet was deeply ambivalent until her last days. She fought for control and felt deep gratitude for a warm, kind hand. My grandmother wanted more care than she needed (in my opinion, not hers). I mostly sensed fear. I’m only just tasting being a caree. Read More

caregivers hands

Caregivers Rule: National Caregiving Conference

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, Consumer, Family man | One Comment

I just got home from the 2nd Annual National Caregiving Conference in Chicago convened and hosted by Denise Brown and  NationalCaregiving.com. You know the drill – most health care anywhere in the world is provided by family caregivers and parents. The attendees, mostly active or recent caregivers, networked over their shared lived experience. Presentations about caring for elders with dementia was the most common thread and topic.  Occasionally I heard chatter about caring for children or depression. Sometimes the stories of frustration, exhaustion, and loneliness overwhelmed those of gratitude, survival, and inspiration. It’s hard for me to hear too many of the painful stories and maintain my pathological optimism.

I especially appreciated the session about surviving and blossoming as a couple while caregiving led by Frank and Lisa Riggi – heartfelt, practical, and humorous. 10 Activities to do With Your Spouse Every Year – 10!, Only 10? I ask many caregivers, “How goes your marriage/partnership?” Faces fall.  Cathy Sikorski‘s keynote, Preparation, Frustration, and Surrender…Boldness Throughout Caregiving was an intriguing combination of hands-on, funny, and legal. Imagine you’re talking to the Cable Company. Be Bold!

Did you know that a third of caregivers die before their caree? Crazy?  Not really. Caregiving wears you down, while caregivers put their caree before themselves. Self-care: I loves that theme. This crowd seemed to self-care better than many.

The entrepreneurial spirit shone. My favorites: Carla Macklin’s Adaptive Clothing; Mekhala Raghavan and Angie Creager’s bathing aids and fall prevention (Waiting for production of their vibrating neuro-responsive fall prevention mat and their wash and vacuum the water shower anywhere system. I’ll try anything for fall prevention for myself and narrow doorway bathrooms are endemic in older homes); Quikiks Hands-Free Shoes (I’m always looking for easy, safe, comfortable shoes); and Shirley Riga’s book, “Tools for the Exceptional Parent of a Chronically Ill Child” published by Strong Voices Publishing.  Check them out! I love to hear what works for people. Solutions from the trenches rule! (I receive no compensation from anyone mentioned here.)

I attended as a panelist for The Family Connection: Supporting Essential Care Partners as Patients Transition to Home, with Geri Lynn Baumblatt, Mary Anne Sterling, and Cathy Crookston. Most nightmares I heard at the conference involved transitions to or from medical care. I did hear one story of the transition done very, very well. It can be done. If you’re lucky it’s because one person made a difference.  It shouldn’t be luck. Caregiving is hard enough.

Caregivers: How do you manage your marriage? When has BOLD worked for you? What’s the best transition you’ve experienced?

Honor the caregivers. Help the helpers.

I am Not My Condition

By | ePatient | One Comment

I’m Disabled. Who labels themselves? Feels like crap. I applied for disability. Needed a psychological evaluation. Spent an hour with a psychologist. I spent that hour telling her about the effect MS has had on my life. MS is seriously annoying…. Came out feeling terrible.  “Oh man, I’m disabled. My life has been so disrupted. I can’t do what I once did. Woe is me.” Lost my pathological optimism for a day. I’ve had to train myself over the years to feel sorry for myself. “OK 5 min, feel sorry.” Enough of that. It’s too boring. When I feel sorry for myself my symptoms are worse. Direct correlation.

Lots of people have it worse than me, much worse.   Read More

The Personal Health Journey

By | Advocate, Caregiver, ePatient | No Comments

The metaphor, Personal Health Journey, works for me. We’re heading somewhere for health whether on purpose or not. We’re never actually there. It’s continual – until it isn’t. Sometimes we have a map, sometimes we don’t. Map or not, we’re still heading somewhere:  work, the grocery store, our in-laws, the beach. There’s always decisions to make on a journey: stop for gas, rest, sight see, go left, go right? Same with the health journey.

The journey is different if we’re well, acutely ill, chronically ill or dying. Our aspirations are different.  When we’re well we either don’t think about our health or we want to stay well. When we’re acutely ill (now we’re a patient), we want to get over it. When we’re chronically ill we want to live the best life possible. When we’re dying we want to live as long as possible or live as best as possible OR both. The journey is different, too. For the well it’s Inertia or Select Personal Health Goals-> Act and Track->Deal with symptoms when they arise. For the acutely ill it’s Symptom->Diagnosis->Treatment->Recovery->Back to Well or on to Chronically Ill (thanks to John Mitchell at Applied Marketing Science).  For the chronically ill it’s Disbelief->Grief->Get help (care and treatment)->Recalibrate->Maintain->Give back->Relapse (and back again). Read More

Penny Whistle for Father

By | Family man, Musician | 2 Comments

Who knew he loved penny whistles?  The pianist who accompanied his cello-playing friend on piano for years told a story yesterday at his funeral. At Christmas last year, this father who I knew as awkward, serious, unemotional, religious, conservative, classical music-loving, got the church choir penny whistles and led them in a performance of Good King Wenceslaus. While the story was told, the priest pulled a penny whistle out from the pulpit and tweeted a few notes.  “It’s there to keep me humble.”

I consider myself a good read of people. 50-75% of the time I’m spot on (That’s 25-50% spot off).  It leads me to an occasional empathy-challenged state. A penny whistle can tip the balance.

Happy Father’s Day all you fathers.  I love the father in my sons. Here’s to you, Cliff, a faithful reader of this blog. You’ll be missed!

Coalition for Compassionate Care of California

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Leader, Researcher | One Comment


I attended the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California Conference (#CCCC17) in Sacramento this week as an ePatient Scholar. Exhilarating, informative, warm, curious, inspiring, and tiring. I hoped to leave with one novel (for me) insight into palliative care; hear patient, caregiver, and clinician stories about their experiences; to hear how clinicians receive education about end-of-life conversations; to add to my network of patient/caregiver experts; and leave with a sharper focus for my #careplanning work. Amazing! I accomplished all five. I hoped to accomplish three of five (I habitually set myself up to exceed expectations). Read More

Thoughts on FATIgue

By | Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Family man | 8 Comments

Exploit the relative dry spots in the wet blanket of fatigue.

Sadness and fatigue are kissing cousins.

So are chronic illness and fatigue.

Close your eyes, give in to fatigue.

When fatigued, turn off the news.

Passion finds and expands the cracks in fatigue.

Bone-tired fatigue? Take 2 deep breaths. Move something, anything.

Belly laughs exhaust fatigue.

Trump fatigue. #IamAMuslim.

A lethal stew: worry, annoyance, bitterness, and fatigue.

Fatigued? Love yourself. Whatever you do today is enough.

Fatigue loves hugs.

Superpower: Opening our hearts

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, Consumer, ePatient, Family man, Leader, Musician | 5 Comments

I’m scared but not shocked. The level of disappointment so many people feel about their lives profoundly saddens me. I should have more. I would have more if it weren’t for others – all sorts of others. Feelings of injustice can power so much. I don’t pretend to understand all the righteousness, anger, and meanness that erupt when disappointment builds. But it feels as familiar as the human condition throughout the planet and over the ages. It’s like earthquakes from fracking.  I’m thankful that my mother, a Holocaust survivor, is no longer alive. She would be apoplectic and inconsolable.  What’s going to happen now? How should I act? As when grieving, I will mindfully minimize controllable stress – exercise, rest, listen to and play more music, spend more time with friends and family. I will continue to give thanks for all I have in my first world life. I will continue to pursue my passion for maximizing the experience of people at the center of care. I pray for the physical and spiritual strength to speak up, stand up, and act when the moments seems right. I’ll need strength to take the high road in this low road time. More than anything I’ll pray for unexpected open hearts. The community needs it. Our grandchildren need it.  The unborn need it. Onward.

Experiences, experiments, reflection, action

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Consumer, ePatient, Leader, Researcher | No Comments

This week people told me stories about a moment in their health journey – Symptoms, people, relationships, procedures, thresholds, feelings.  Completely fascinating, inspiring, and gut wrenching windows into life’s challenges and tragedies. I heard,  I’m worried, the surgery worked, I can’t find a clinician who listens to me, my condition recurred – worse, my family’s supportive and grieving, how will I manage my job, I fell, my mother went into assisted living  (all from different people). Other people told me about work they’re doing – research, businesses, experiments.  I heard, let me tell you about the study I’ve been doing about multiple sclerosis, I’ve learned a lot about the stages that a person goes through as they gather information about chronic illness, I’m helping people succeed in their startup, I’ve found 5 people who have had the same success managing their chronic fatigue.  I read studies this week about reducing opioid use,  predicting resource use in chronic illness,  and improving the ability of individuals and clinicians to communicate and set mutual health goals.

Actually, this is a normal week. Experiences, experiments, reflection, action. All tie together. Each necessary, none sufficient.

Last Post, New Year

By | Caregiver, Clinician, Consumer, ePatient, Family man, Leader, Musician | 2 Comments

Last post of 2015. Reviewing the year in 51 blog posts, we discussed:

  • Death and Dying
  • Give Me My Dam Data
  • Values
  • Leadership
  • Work/Life balance
  • Grace
  • Ignorance, Uncertainty, Research
  • Music
  • Caregivers
  • Experience of People at the Center
  • And more

I’m looking forward to the adventure of the new year: Maintaining my health, contributing to the experience of we people at the center, playing the blues, watching my grandkids grow, hearing from you.

From Mark Twain:

  • All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.