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Chuck Hinman: Everyone Needs To Excel At Something

He wasn't a born caregiver, but caring for another become his forte, he writes in this essay, not part of the It's Just Me Again series, Everyone Needs To Excel At Something: This Is My Area Of Excellence
The next earlier Chuch Hinman column - Chuck Hinman: 2nd chances - Guardian Angel driving home

By Chuck Hinman

I am not a psychologist but I am aware that possessing self-esteem is healthy. There are a lot of people who lead unfulfilled lives because they are "down" on themselves. Sometimes the culprit is a dreadful bipolar disorder. More often the problem is self-inflicted and fortunately treatable.

In order to reverse the way one views himself, psychiatrists often ask such a person to name five good things about themselves. They are encouraged to dwell or think about the things at which they excel. The problem is more complex than just thinking good thoughst about yourself, but that is a place for the treatment to begin.

I don't have a problem in the area of self-esteem. I feel good about myself. I say without shame or fear of ridicule that this is normal and healthy. Being equipped with self-esteem makes it possible for me to lead a healthy, happy, fulfilled life which is the norm rather than the exception.

An example of this comes to mind. I grew up on a Nebraska farm in the 1920-1930s era. We had work horses to pull farm equipment. Occasionally it was necessary for my Dad to "break" a new perky, smart-aleck young foal for work in a team. After putting the harness on the trembling young horse, the new "team" was hooked to a wagon for the breaking process. The team, with wagon attached was led to an open field for the wild ride. As wide-eyed kids looking for one of the thrills of farm life, we would beg Dad to let us go with him for the ride. My brother Bob and I would hang on to the sides of the wagon for dear life as Dad began the breaking process!

Yippy-ki-yo! Let the ride begin!!!! Dad's work was "cut-out" for him. He knew that he had to bring this foal's spirit under his control. But he wanted to be careful to not go overboard and destroy the horse's spirit.

I use this example to equate with the self-esteem of a person. Somewhere along the life of some people, their self-esteem has taken a "whuppin" and the loss is considerable.

Sometimes it took a lengthy wild ride, or a ride on another day, before you could sense the younger horse was beginning to get the "hang" of working as a team with the older horse. Once that was accomplished the foal with his spirit in tact became a valuable addition to the work horses in our stable. The whipper-snapper young horse understood how to work as a team when harnessed to another horse and farm equipment. Yet, if Dad did his job correctly the foal maintained his spirit and self-esteem.

Whoa! You say a horse has self-esteem. You better believe it. Ever heard of "horse sense"?

My Dad knew what he was doing and he understood a horse's mind.

The question for this essay is quite simply, "What am I good at doing?" "What do I do and do it exceptionally well?" Sound like a loaded question? Not really. Will I sound like an egotist if I honestly answer that question? Possibly. But look at it this way. What if I tell you that I have had countless people over a long period of time tell me that I am exceptional at doing THIS. Am I to conclude they didn't know what they were talking about? I think NOT. They knew exactly what they were saying and they were only reporting what was obvious.

Don't hold us in suspense -- what is THIS that you -- Chuck Hinman do (or did) -- that you did better than anyone else? The answer -- I was the best caregiver that I could be for my precious sweetie, Connie, my wife. Do I blush when I say that? Absolutely not.

Many of you have read or heard me tell of the "breaking" process of me becoming a top caregiver. I wasn't a born caregiver. When Connie, became a victim of Alzheimer's Disease in the mid-1980's I didn't immediately rush to her aid. For a long time, I resisted the thought that she couldn't help herself. I now know that I was in denial about her affliction and at a certain critical point in her life, I finally concluded that she really couldn't help herself. Her brain was systematically being destroyed and she needed help to function.

I went from one side of the spectrum to the other regarding the amount of involvement I needed to represent in her daily life. My "wild breaking night" was the night when I found Connie lying in her excrement on the kitchen floor, helpless, not knowing who she was or where she was. I didn't break easily -- I still scolded her during the four hour ordeal of getting her and the mess cleaned up. The thing that brought me into total submission, was when at dawn, I tucked her cleaned body, with shampooed scented hair into a clean bed, and she drew her arms around my head and mumbled to me with reddened eyes ...... I ... l.o.v.e ... y.o.u. I was broken -- but good! It wasn't without a terrific struggle but it was COMPLETE.

The days that followed were the happiest days of my life. I realized for the first time what the vows I recited at our wedding "...for richer or poorer, in sickness and health..." really meant -- and not just something you mouth in a beautiful ceremony before you kiss your bride. Here's where the rubber hits the road and it's time to "put-up or shut-up"!

I understood after a hard ride that Connie would never be able to join me in my world -- ever! Those days were in the past. KAPUT! Get used to it -- Chuck Hinman! Easy? No. I found the hard way, YOU HAVE TO WORK AT IT.

I made a decision on my "breaking night" that I would do everything necessary to live where she was -- in her world so to speak. It wasn't a difficult decision, I knew in my guts that she was worth whatever it took! But the effort has its wonderful rewards. You fall in love all over again and start doing what you should have been doing all along -- living in another person's shoes, putting their needs above your own. I NEVER KNEW WHAT REAL LOVE WAS UNTIL I BECAME A CAREGIVER. Isn't that a strange statement. Isn't it incongruous that my wife was in the throes of Alzheimer's Disease before I knew what being in love was all about. I should have had a caregiver's heart all along -- not a weird description of a good husband.

An example. I was a terrible cook and as a result -- Connie and I ate a lot of meals at Luby's cafeteria where Connie had a myriad of friends and supporters. I dressed her and groomed her to where she was a "knock-out." Speaking of self-esteem, I feel that a caregiver that is worth his salt has to keep this in the forefront of his thinking. A WOMAN IS A WOMAN AND SHE IS DIFFERENT. You, as caregiver need to get in her mind and know what makes her tick, what makes her happy, what lights her lights. Sound goofy? Not if you are serious about the role of caregiver. I think I made big headway in that area and that was a big part of my success as a caregiver. I tried to think on her level. I loved Connie and I loved the challenge of trying to walk in her shoes, think as she thought.

For years, there was a large poster at the Luby's entrance to the mall. It was a very large picture of five kids. I don't remember what they advertised but Connie found the kids in that picture adorable. Every time we walked by that poster either going to Luby's or going home, Connie would see the picture and literally tug on me to go with her as she went closer so she could ogle those adorable kids.

Obviously, to her mind they appeared as real kids and the motherly or grandmotherly instinct in her aroused the desire to pat each on the cheek and say something only a doting mother understands. I was aware that this was an important ritual to her and I adapted and joined her in her world, as well as I could. Remember I am an eager learner.

Many people who are doing less than an adequate job as caregiver stumble over this problem. They still persist in trying to make their mate come back and live in a world that doesn't exist for them. They won't see the kids in the picture as real kids and talk to them and pat their cheeks. I knew that people seated in the cafeteria eating next to the window had seen Connie go through this ritual many times. If they observed closely they noticed that I joined her in her adulation. I am aware that many mates, no matter how supportive, would have backed off at this point.

In the later years of our lives, when Connie's mind was totally destroyed, I found through experiment that the only way she responded was through touching -- a process which I was just beginning to understand and explore from her viewpoint, when the Lord chose to take her home.

My many days and years as her loving caregiver reached a climax when a young couple at our church who I barely knew, handed me a card at the Sunday service after Connie's funeral in which the young lady wrote that she and her husband had been inspired in their young married life by our example.

Am I gloating over that remark? NO WAY! Those many hours of care giving after I was "broken" (like our foals on the farm) were some of the happiest days of my life and I wouldn't trade them for anything.

I am so grateful for those who encouraged me in what they may not have understood was a wonderful ride for me! I am glad I was "broken" to become a superb caregiver!

Written by Chuck Hinman, May 12, 2004, ImPeruvians Writing Club ___________________________

This story was posted on 2012-08-26 07:28:39
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