Living Whole: The Way of Gratitude

by Maggie French

This was a challenging article to write. The theme sat clear before me, the winding story a blur, a clear case of writer's block.

As I sat at my breakfast counter, my husband overheard my quiet frustration and asked me what was the bother. I explained I had a holiday article to write, and while the season calls for writing about gratitude and new beginnings, I felt a calling to write of acceptance as the way to gratitude; and trust, new beginnings. What was frustrating me was that the Muse was silent as to how to write of this feeling.

As men are want to do - provide THE answer - he nonchalantly says, "Write about your mother and father." Nothing more, simply THE answer, and walked away taking the trash to the garage. Slowly a spark smoldered and a way began to unfold.

My mother has dementia. The kind, how it began, superfluous to the effect it has had on her, my father, and their relationship.

For years longer than I can remember, I watched my father change from breadwinner to caregiver, consumed with meeting her needs that, as the disease progressed, became more difficult for her to articulate. The marriage of over 50 years shifted from partnership to dependency, to that point so many families reach, where decisions needed to be made for other support before we lost Dad to exhaustion for the 24-hour care.

Even with five children, all women, the road was difficult to assist in her care so that her one wish to remain home could be honored.

No matter who came to help for a day, a week, or a month, it was my father she looked to for care and security. With home and husband her core yearning, gaining the outside help and the inevitable long-term care she truly needed seemed insurmountable. We waded in this pool for quite some time, until her condition and his exhaustion collided and a nursing home because the only solution.

This December it will be a year and a half that my mother has been cared for by loving strangers, who as of this writing are no longer strangers.

It has been a bumpy road for them both as neither was accepting of the situation. Mom felt betrayed, for her core wish of home and husband was not being honored. Dad felt disloyal because his own needs of health and balance required attention he felt due my mother.

For months they danced through this "mind field" of betrayal, disappointment, rejection. Dad spending every day with Mom in the nursing home, as often as possible bringing her home for a day, overnight, a weekend, both focused on all that was "wrong" with the situation. Oh, both spoke of gratitude, especially that first holiday season. Gratitude for the quality of the staff, the facility and care where Mom was "recuperating." Gratitude for the home Dad was able to maintain so Mom could come home periodically.

That first holiday season they both spoke enthusiastically of new beginnings once they were both rested and spring arrived. Mom would be well enough, and Dad strong enough, for her to return home. With a little help, they could live out their lives at home as husband and wife.

Trust as New Beginnings

January came, and the winter was not to be a time of rejuvenation, spring rebirth, and a return to their partnership relationship. Mom began to have more difficulty walking and holding conversations. Dad, while stronger, was still frailer than before, his energies sufficient only for himself. The struggle continued to seethe underneath, between what was their present and what once had been their life.

As the New Year became simply the year, something shifted, slowly at first. Both my parents began to quiet and flow, acceptant of where they were. The rolling boil of wishes unfulfilled ebbed away. Mom began to see the comfort and caring that others provided. The attendant, Josephine, with her quirky quips during the morning reading of the newspaper. The aide, Norman, in his gentle movement of her from wheelchair to bed.

Dad began to trust he had partners who cared for her well-being as he did. Slowly this all was no longer a separate part of their life together. They began to feel this was the way for them to be a married couple again.

As their acceptance grew, their gratitude expanded. They saw the nursing home and the staff honor my mother's wish of home, because where she is now is home; and her yearning of a partner was returned, for now Dad's time with her is as a husband.

As they approach this second holiday season, the nursing home surroundings are now entwined in all that is their life. They are thankful for another year together, and they look forward to opportunities to be together.

The New Year brings them into their 60th year as husband and wife, the first birthday of their third great grandchild, the high school graduation of a grandson.

Through this storytelling and my mother's acceptance, I find that gratitude becomes possible through acceptance of where we are in our present moment. And that gratitude brings thanksgiving, warm and sheltering. From my father, I have learned that trust allows the fears of what if and what was fall away such that new beginnings become possible and opportunities abound.

Happy Holidays to you all.

What Is Your Question of Balance?

"The holidays come and go so quickly. I never seem to be able to stop and enjoy the season.
Jamie, Hyannis

The Cookie Jar

So many people share in your challenge. Many articles are written this time of year on slowing down, being aware, making time.

Here is something you can set up at the beginning of the season and share with your family throughout the month of December.
Find a jar with a lid.

Get some paper and pens.

Thanksgiving Day after dinner and before everyone falls asleep, sit together and think of things you like to do between Thanksgiving and the New Year, e.g. ride around the neighborhood looking at the lights, make cookies together, go to HJT presentation of "A Christmas Carole," etc. Write each thought on a single piece of paper.

Fill the jar.

Once a week reach into the jar, grab a "cookie," and do what the cookie asks.

You may just start a holiday tradition.

Do you have a question on how to sustain your balance? How to live whole?

Email your questions to and together let's search for an answer.

All Photographs Courtesy of Maggie French

A whole life is about finding your balance.

Living Whole Coaching's focus is to assist you in identifying what creates your stability.

What do you value?
What is your reason for being?
What do you want to accomplish?

Living Whole Coaching has individual and workshop offerings for the exploration of the answers to these and other questions that will bring harmony into your living and the means to live whole.

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A Complimentary Consultation is an opportunity for a 1-to-1 personal consultation to experience the power of coaching to bring personal growth and balance to your life.

In a consultation three things happen:

  • We will talk about how things are going and I will learn about you, your goals, dreams, what is working and not working for you;
  • You will learn about me and how our working together will benefit you; and,
  • You will experience the coaching process and gain value from the coaching.

Have you ever said…

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Maggie French is a certified, ICF-credentialed coach. She specializes in work/life coaching, because "If you want to makes improvements in one, there will be effects in the other."

Maggie collaborates with several organizations on the Cape including WE CAN, the Harwich Chamber of Commerce and the Cape Cod Chapter of ABWA.

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