Lightening the Load: Six Lessons from a Tough Time

By Paula Kiger

July 25, 2017

Opportunities to express love present themselves in as many ways as there are stars in the perfect summer sky.

This summer has not been the stereotypical carefree summer for our family.

My son graduated from high school at the end of May, then the month of June was marked by the most intense phase of my father-in-law’s journey with terminal throat cancer. As a family, we were so focused on meeting his needs for medical assistance and personal comfort that everything else was abandoned; it was survival time.

Paula and her son Wayne volunteering at a MLK Day Celebration.

Our experiences during that difficult June month introduced us to new ways we can help in the future. Here are some of the takeaways.

  1. Take care of yourselves so you can serve others. The month of June called for us to contract our circle a bit rather to extend our reach outward. It can be easy to neglect self-care when excited by the thrill of helping others. But we help best when we ourselves are restored.
  2. Look for ways to re-purpose gifts you have been given. If you are given flowers for a funeral, pass them along to an assisted living facility or someplace that will give the individual buds extra life as they brighten patients’ days. We plan to share my father-in-law’s unused disposable undergarments, nutritional drinks, and flushable wipes with our local elder care agency.
  3. Always look for the “micro” opportunities to help—even when time is limited and your personal obligations feel restrictive. Living with an elderly person with balance issues, short-term memory loss and terminal cancer made us hyper-aware of others in public who “look” fine but are actually struggling. Hold the door for an elder. Keep an eye out to lend a stabilizing hand (with permission) to someone who looks close to losing their balance. Say hello in a friendly way. Repeat yourself, patiently, if an old person doesn’t hear you the first time.
  4. Support those who are supporting you. I lost count of the number of volunteers in and out of our house during my father-in-law’s illness. Give them a bottled water, make sure they have a place to sit, drop a note to their supervisor (or them) thanking them for their efforts.
  5. Write a letter. Our family sponsors children in Guatemala and El Salvador. Taking time to write them letters deepens our connection and reminds them they are loved.
  6. Accept help. I know I love to give. And give. It feels great! To be honest, it didn’t always feel great to receive. But remember the trajectory of goodwill is not a straight line; it is circular.

    Paula’s daughter Tenley play with Estela, a young girl the Kiger Family sponsors in Guatemala.

My friend Caitie Whelan, author of The Lightning Notes, wrote recently about one of her priorities: writing notes to people to remind them she cares about them. Explaining that she makes sure to keep stationery, a pen and stamps handy so she doesn’t have an excuse to postpone jotting off a note, she said, “I don’t want to lug around the regret of love unexpressed.”

Opportunities to express love present themselves in as many ways as there are stars in the perfect summer sky.

Our family has lugged around a heavy weight of worry and responsibility this summer. The best legacy we could leave my father-in-law, who passed away on July 2, is to lighten our loads by expressing some love. 


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Banner photo: Wayne Kiger, Paula’s Father-In-Law

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