Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth

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High Flight
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

This poem is posted on the wall in Ralph and Martha's hallway. As I watch the Colonel slipping away day by day, I often think of these words. They are surly, the bonds that he seeks to retain. Connecting him to a world which holds pain, and a seemingly never-ending cycle of waking, eating, vomiting, sleeping...
I wanted to share a resource for other Caregivers, and to tell you how I practice what the resource teaches.

The first thing Ralph asked for when he woke up this morning was a shower. This is a huge production, and I end up nearly as wet as he does! But this is also a gentle bonding time, in which I can nurture his spirit and care for his body with dignity. Yesterday was one of the hardest days he has had so far, but last night was great. This morning I took the opportunity to very gently apply lotion to his legs and feet, after the shower. "Compassionate Touch" is the technique, and is worth learning. It's sort of the secret to the sense of wellbeing the person has after what might have been an embarassing or awkward time of washing, dressing, etc. Every touch is delivered with powerful mental messages of worth, esteem, and care. Putting lotion on the legs, the thoughts go like this "I am honored to serve you. You are a person of great value. You deserve grace and dignity." If you look up into the face of the person to whom you are delivering this touch, you see the expression of relaxed enjoyment. Putting on the tee shirt, pulling up the Depends, all have the same effect. "I honor you. I care for you. You are not a burden." I don't know how, but the message is delivered. You must be very present with the person for this to "work". You cannot be putting lotion on withered hands and consider what you'll be cooking for dinner. If you do that, all that is received is moisturizer. Hold their frail hands gently in both of yours, and slowly rub lotion into the delicate skin. "You mean so much to so many. You've lived and served well, and it is your turn to receive this care." Even pulling the tee shirt over slivery gray hair, the message is sent. This is why, every single day, I hear "When you're here, I know everything will be alright." It's the message conveyed in every touch. It can be instinctive, however it's also good to learn. Anyone can do this. If you're a caregiver, take a moment to see if this might help you.
Here's the resource page: Until he slips the 'surly bonds of earth', he will know there is deep care on that earth, just for him.


Everytime I read your posts,I think of my dad and cry.We had one compassionate caregiver and she was pure gold. She had the attitude you have. You are a real treasure and I know the colonel and his wife know how lucky they are to have you.
Ruth, what a beautiful post. Thank you for this "Christmas gift".
It's so good to be reminded of how every interaction we have with our cared-for loved one is precious.
Thank you to everyone who commented. Writing about my experiences with Caregiving is my therapy! :-) I see the link was removed from my original post. I had tried to link to a compassionate touch organization website. This is cost-free, and the information is valuable. Oh well! I'm falling asleep at the computer after a 36-hour shift. The Colonel seems to be slipping away. His feet, hands, nose and ears are cold to the touch, and changing color. He eats almost nothing, and sleeps much of the day. Very sad to see. But I still get that little sparkle in the eye when he anticipates a good teasing.
I read your post this had me in tears Ilost mymother December 10, i wa my mother s care giver for 1 year idid ever yhting for her Imiss her so much. my mom was in a nusrsing home for about 3 weeks not even a month I miss taking careofher she was challangeing I missher.
Fabulous, Ruth. Thank you !!!

I have been off for 6 days, with a nasty cold. I go back to my Colonel and his Mrs. tomorrow. Yes, he's still hanging on to those "surly bonds" - but just barely. I'm told he has stopped eating or drinking anything, and is 100% bedridden. I was warned that seeing him will be shocking after 6 days. They say by this weekend he should have taken flight.
I know what I will do tomorrow.
I will go to his bedside and be sure he knows it's me, and kiss his cheek. He loves it when I kiss his cheek, and often stretches out his neck, and points at his cheek to order up a kiss. I will sing to him "our" song... "Button up your overcoat, when the wind is free. Take good care of yourself, you belong to me." He loves that silly song. I sing it, or used to, when I would button up his pajama top.
And I will love on Mrs. Colonel tomorrow. Oh, Martha. How you've suffered so bravely.
I'm steeling myself for a long twelve hours. But I know that what I bring to their home I must bring tomorrow. Laughing and music and fun. Even in the face of death, somehow there has to be fun, or they wouldn't know it was me.
I love them.
I've learned so much about life and patience and family and age.
This is my first full caregiving assignment. I'll never be the same. Little things just don't annoy like they used to. Life seems shorter. Family seems more important.
And you, family caregivers, are my heros.

To sleep now, so I can have energy to give my Colonel and his lovely lady.

Good night.
I pray for you tomorrow. It will be hard to see him that way but cargivers are stong:) I love and share your outlook. They are lucky to have you. Be strong miss ruth xoxo
Thank you, allshesgot. I didn't sing - couldn't do it. I did give those kisses, and in a voice not his own, the first thing he said to me was "I love you." Several times when I asked "What can I do to make you more comfortable?" he lifted his arms like a child to be held, so that's what I did. "You smell good" he said one time.
It was very hard. I held it together pretty well, but it wasn't easy, especially with family gathering and crying... seeing big strong guys cry just stabs my heart.
Two other caregivers have quit - they can't stand to see him go. Interesting. I'm one of the least experienced. But I'm filling in some gaps which will be taxing, but probably not for too long.
If I get the honor of attending his death, I will be thankful.
When I left Tuesday night I told him "Night shift is here. I will be back Thursday. You are my favorite Colonel."
Oh, and I gave his wife a manicure and did her hair. We also watched Jeopardy together and I fixed her a special chicken dinner. She was very pleased. And we cried together.
Ahh glad you got that time. You are a patient person, and have more compassion than most, that's why you are able to stay. You. Will be such a comfort to his wife. Hang in there. Its so hard for people like us to not get attached:) praying for you.
"Oh, Martha, I think he's gone" I said to her at about 10:20pm on the 20th of February. The monitor I kept on him at all times had suddenly grown quiet. I was reading the Hospice and Care notes from the previous shift, and I was not at his side. My only regret is that I did not sit by his side that evening, and hold his hand as he crossed over into eternity. Of course, who's to say that he wanted company? I had only been out of his room for one hour when the monitor went silent. I had let him know I was there, I had given him some of the comfort medications to ease his breathing and let him stay relaxed, and I had given him his nightly kiss on the forehead. And then suddenly he was just gone.
Seeing his son deal with this reality was so hard, but together we dressed "Dad" in one of his best shirts. It was a night of little sleep, of course.
They took his body away at 2am. His hair was neatly brushed; and as I told his wife "I knew I better brush his hair, or deal with his wrath!" She laughed. There is a beautiful sound to the laugh which comes in the middle of sorrow.
The poem at the start of this post was read at his funeral. There were full military honors.
I feel as if a family member has died. He was a big man, in a small little frame at the end.
He sure did put up a fight!

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