My father is a cowboy. And I mean that in the 1940s, Hank Williams- Lonesome Blues kinda way. I always had some sort of inkling of this truth, but I did not fully understand what it meant, until now. This moment. The moment in which I am his caregiver.
You see, I always sort of disengaged when my father started singing his songs. And there were many; whether it was Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash or Patsy Cline, my father was always singing a cowboy song. As a child, it was background music, as a teenager, it was annoyance bordering on embarrassment. Today, my dad’s songs have facilitated presence.
Marguerite Manteau-Rao, writing on mindfulness and caregiving, explains that for those who are caring for people suffering with dementia, there needs to be “no rushing, no outpacing, no talking over, no ignoring, no assuming” and the patient needs to be given the space to simply be (2011). She calls it ‘mindfulness by proxy’.
Now, my father does not have dementia, but with his illness and the drugs that he is on, he has developed a confusion and his grasp of reality has slowly been slipping away. Except when it comes to his cowboy songs. There is no confusion there. When my dad is listening to his cowboy songs, he is no longer fighting to hold on to what’s real and what is not. He is simply being with the music.
There’s no rushing or outpacing, no talking over, ignoring or assuming, there’s just singing and meeting one another eye to eye.
Don’t get me wrong. Throughout my father’s illness and the revolving door of visitors, there has been plenty of ‘talking over, outpacing, rushing, assuming’. I catch myself speaking about my father as if he was not in the room, I ask others to please allow him to speak, even though he is taking a long time to find the words, and my father has asked us repeatedly to slow down- one question at a time. It’s hard to get it right.
However, it has been through slowing down, through getting on my knees so that I am level with my father, looking him in the eye, repeating what he says, asking questions (one at a time and waiting for the answer, no matter how long it takes to arrive) and listening to his cowboy songs with him that I am able to simply ‘be’ with him. And in this way, he can ‘be’ with me.
So, my father is a cowboy. He always has been, whether I have liked it or not. However, now that I have been able to push these preferences aside, to meet him and his music for what they are and who he is, with the beginner’s eyes of a brand- new role: caregiver, I see the beauty and charm in his cowboy ways. And a deep love and admiration, that only acceptance can deliver, has blossomed like the lotus in the mud.
This week’s challenge is for all of you caregivers out there to find the common factor that connects, to slow down, to meet those who you care for with presence.
For those of you who are caregivers and would like to learn more about mindfulness and who would like to move towards bringing mindfulness into the workplace, sign up for our Level 1: Being Present course.