As I was getting ready to walk my dog Lucy, it dawned on me that I have never been healthier. I owe some of the credit for this to her. Lucy is part basset hound and German shepherd. She is one of the funniest looking dogs on the planet. She has front legs that are shorter than her back legs and she doesn’t walk; she hops. Everyone who sees her starts smiling and laughing almost immediately.
She urinates on my husband’s pillow when she gets angry with him (because he is the disciplinarian) , and one time she got so angry that she moved half his clothes out onto the deck through an open window. But, she is loving, always happy to see us, and she makes us laugh when we are sad. She puts her funny looking head in my lap whenever I am upset and I feel better. She also has a negative trait that has worked in my favor; she is incredibly demanding. I call her the entitlement princess, because she harasses me to take her on at least three walks a day. I have concluded that Lucy is good for my health.
Research confirms my conclusion. Studies have found that those who own a pet have lower blood pressure and less anxiety than non-pet owners. Dogs and cats improve feelings of loneliness and isolation. Pets decrease the chance that children will develop allergies and asthma, and they are a great way for people to get out and mingle. Alzheimer’s patients with pets are less likely to have anxious outbursts. Heart attack patients with pets live longer than those without pets.
If you are looking for a miracle treatment that will get you exercising, lower your blood pressure, calm your nerves and increase long-term survival you can find it at your local humane society. My miracle therapy is named Lucy. Check out the Humane Society and find yours!
As of last Friday, my dad has been gone for 7 years. Here are my thoughts:
As a baby boomer, I have joined the ranks of many of my brethren and can say I am part of the “sandwich” generation. I have children who are young adults and still needing support so they can eventually become independent. I had a parent that needed my help to fly and leave his nest as well.
On June 19, 2008 I lost my father. I would say that he died, but he wouldn’t let us use that term. He preferred that we say he “transitioned”. My father was an amazing man. He lived life with integrity and purpose. He was 84 years old and his mind was as sharp as ever. He had renal failure and had been on dialysis. His body was getting weaker and weaker and he finally decided to stop the dialysis. This allowed him to “transition” on his own terms. Once again his strength and dignity prevailed.
Having now gone through the experience of losing a parent and being there for the transition, it has caused me to look at how we see and experience death in our culture. I realize that each person needs to be allowed (whenever possible) to die on his or her own terms.
My father had expressed his wishes to my family and me well in advance and we were able to discuss them with him and understand what he wanted. He also put these wishes into a legal document known as a living will. In his, he put me in charge. At the time, I didn’t realize how important that was. But, when the time came, I had to act.
I felt like Shirley MacLaine in the movie “Terms of Endearment” when she was fighting for pain medications for her daughter who was dying. I had to scream for morphine for my father when his lungs started to fill up with fluid. Fortunately, after quite a bit of drama, he was able to get what he needed and I honored the promise that I made to him. His transition was peaceful and I am happy that he got what he wanted. In the wake of all this is a massive amount of grief, which is a natural part of life.
It happened several years ago, but the memory is still fresh. I share this story so that it will allow you to pause and think about whether you have a living will. Have you discussed the issues of death and dying with your loved ones? Although many of us live as if we will never die, that is one of those things that is inevitable for all of us.
Although death is never easy, knowing what my dad wanted and knowing that we were able to provide it both with the living will and details of his funeral that he planned ahead of time, made things better somehow.Death is a natural part of the cycle of life. It is okay to talk about it and to address it when it is staring you in the face. But, it is also important to say all the wonderful things you want to say and understand the wants and needs of others before an emergency situation develops.
Hug your children, your parents, your brothers and sisters and your friends. Tell them you love them as often as you can. That is what my father taught me. I am glad I was able to tell him that many times before his grand transition!
We are living in tumultuous times. We have so many things that tend to pop up and cause worry. Finances, health, emotional and family problems are all common issues. Many people start to get a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. This impacts their health causing pain, disease, fatigue and depression. I care for many patients where this is the case.
In trying to help them, I have found something that works. That thing is becoming a helper. It costs no money and it improves their health by boosting the immune system and improving brain function. Doing something for others is the key to feeling better.
Studies have found that those who give of themselves experience joy and happiness. It can be something as simple as volunteering for the SMART program and reading to children or working at a food bank. The hospitals and many clinics welcome volunteers. For those who want to donate money there are infinite worthy causes.
People who help others have been studied. Researchers have found that they experience a surge in their endorphins similar to the high that runners experience. Giving to others in need decreases the intensity and awareness of pain, relieves stress, and activates positive emotions. All these things help to improve health. The results of a study done in 2700 men in Michigan found that those men who worked as regular volunteers had a two and a half times lower death rate than those who did not.
Amazing things happen when one goes from being the one who is helped to being the helper. It is nothing short of a miracle. Over and over I see people heal and feel good about themselves and what they are doing. It is easy to get wrapped up in our lives and ourselves, but stepping out of it and realizing that we each have something valuable to give can be good for us as well as others.