Several people have asked me about the title of my book, Learning by Accident. “What exactly have you learned?” they ask. There’s no short answer, really, since I’m still processing many valuable lessons even now, eleven years out. Below is my feeble attempt to answer this question as best I can at this point in time. I invite other caregivers to contribute to the comment section of this post to tell me what you have learned along the way. I’m sure there will be many common threads as well as others that are unique to each of us.
What I’ve learned so far:
I can endure
Many people like to use the word “brave” or “strong” for caregivers, but I don’t think those words apply to me. What I did learn was that I could endure. I could wake up each day and put one foot in front of the other because I had to believe that better days were ahead.
I get what I give
I have learned that if I help others, they usually help me in return. When I love others sincerely, they often love me in return, and if I offer my trust, respect, encouragement, or hope, I receive them back (most of the time). I find great beauty and justice in this cycle of giving and receiving.
How to silence my inner critic and neurotic self
I’ve learned that I hold the power to quiet my own mind, but it takes practice. Redirecting or reframing my inner voice is worth practicing since I have a very loud brain!
To notice fear and step around it
I’ve learned that in almost every case, fear is more incapacitating than any injury or illness because it paralyzes me and keeps me from immersing myself in life as it unfolds moment to moment. I’ve come to see paralyzing fear as a form of slow death.
That anger is toxic
Anger is not worth the pain it causes me, and it usually does nothing to change a situation. Knowing this helps me to diffuse it.
Not to judge others
I’ve learned not to judge others harshly but to stop and wonder what makes people act the way they do. This way of thinking increases my compassion.
I’ve learned that practicing mindfulness works wonders when I feel myself jumping in too many directions at once.
Time and connections matter most
I’ve learned to value moments over things and connections over possessions, and to love others completely, even when I know I may lose them, because love makes my life infinitely richer.
Nothing is written in stone
I’ve learned that life is constantly changing and to quote my own book: “Life has no finish line. In fact, the racecourse can detour dramatically at any moment, so we better not become too attached to the familiar footpath.”
What have you learned from your caregiving experience?