Hope for living, loving and caring with no regrets!

ep 131 caregiver warrior

Episode 145

Rayna Neises, your host, interviews Kari Bartkus. After seeing too many people go through hardship alone, Kari was determined to show up and be present with those around her who were hurting. She started the organization Love Does That where she serves as a spiritual director to hurting women. Kari uses a modern-day letter-writing approach for those drawn to quiet spaces and written words. She shares the following insights:

    • [3:00] Grief is any kind of loss that we are experiencing.
    • [5:00] The person receiving care is grieving too and they might not be aware of that.
    • [6:00] Processing is the act of slowing down and thinking about what is going on.
    • [10:26] A warning sign that you are not processing the grief is when you quickly turn your attention somewhere else.
    • [11:21] Grief will show up in your body.
    • [13:43] An outside perspective can help identify changes that have happened.
    • [17:23] Handling other people’s comments takes knowing where you are at and how you process.
    • [20:02] If you do not know, try different things, and just pay attention to what helps you and what does not.
    • [21:17] Grief changes over time.
    • [22:19] Download a free grief journal at LoveDoesThat.org/griefjournal.

Transcript

*Transcript is an actual recount of the live conversation

Kari Bartkus: 

I think a lot of times we do hear that word grief and we just automatically attach it to the death of a loved one. And yet when I think about the journey of a caregiver, you are caring for someone you love, whose health is slowly declining, most likely, and so you are watching lots of little losses happen along the way.

Rayna Neises: 

Welcome to A Season of Caring Podcast where there’s hope for living loving and caring with no regrets. This is Rayna Neises, your host and our podcast is brought to you by Content Magazine, a quarterly electronic magazine designed to help you find God in the midst of your caregiving season. I’m really excited about introducing you to our guest today. Kari Bartkus. Seeing far too many people going through hardship alone Kari Bartkus became determined to show up and be present with those around her who were hurting. Through her work at love does that she serves as a spiritual director to hurting women. But she uses a modern day letter writing approach, perfect for those drawn to quiet spaces and written words. You can learn more at www.love doesthat.org. Welcome, Kari. I’m so glad to have you here today.

Kari Bartkus: 

Yes. Thank you so much for having me.

Rayna Neises: 

So I have known Kari for a little while now, but one of the things that made my heart leap and think about inviting her to share with you guys today was just subject of grief. Grief is such a hard thing for everyone. None of us want the grief process to be what it is. We all want it to be over sooner, and those of us that are caregiving have a tendency to be in cyprical grief. Grief that’s small things that are reoccurring. Different things and it’s a long drawn out process. And so I think grief can be one of the most difficult things for us to handle as family caregivers. So when I saw your resource, Kari, I was just excited to be able to talk to you about it. So thank you for being willing to do that and to just kind of share a little bit about grief with us and. We’ve all known grief as mourning, or really just that physical death of a loved one. But how else do we see grief show up in our journeys of life?

Kari Bartkus: 

Yeah. As you said, I think a lot of times we do hear that word grief and we just automatically attach it to the death of a loved one. And yet when I think about the journey of a caregiver, you are caring for someone you love, whose health is slowly declining, most likely. And so you are watching lots of little losses happen along the way. And so when I think of grief yes, it includes the death of someone that you care so deeply about, but it also, it’s grief means loss. You are grieving something that you have lost. And so as you watch your loved one decline in their health, when they are no longer able to care for themselves, when they’re no longer able to feed themselves, when they can no longer see well enough to read their own book. Any of those things like each, each time something like that happens, it’s another little loss that not only is your loved one experiencing, but you’re experiencing too because you’re watching it happen. You’re being a witness to that. And so it’s a grief that you are experiencing. Not only that, not only is it the grief from your loved one, but it’s your own grief as well. And so when you become a caregiver, when you say, all right, I’m here for this. I’m gonna, I’m gonna take care of my loved one, I’m gonna walk ’em home, like you say. You have to also recognize your own losses in your own life. And so what does that mean when you say, I’m gonna be a caregiver? That means you might have to give up some commitments that you made at church or with your family, or it might mean that you no longer have enough time to see your friends right now because you’re caring for your loved one. Or it might mean that you have to give up this freedom or that. And so it’s also recognizing all of those losses too. And, and yes, some of those are voluntarily given up, but they’re still losses. You may not be able to make it to Bible study all the time. You might not be able to make it to your weekly girl’s lunch or whatever, whatever those things are for you. And so I think it’s really important for us to just recognize that yes, grief is the loss of a loved one, but grief is just any kind of loss that we are experiencing and being able to acknowledge that is huge.

Rayna Neises: 

I agree, and I think most of us don’t acknowledge it. First of all, our life is so busy, we’re just always taking care and doing and moving from one thing to the next. All those to-do lists that sometimes we don’t even realize where the sadness is coming from. And like you said, I love the example you gave of giving up things even, not necessarily on purpose, but allowing them to get squeezed out of our life. That lunch with friends or the Bible study time because there’s an emergency with our loved one we have to go deal with. It begins to get squeezed out and we don’t even start to recognize that we have given it up. Or that we’ve allowed it to be moved out even though it’s not something we wanted to allow to be moved out. So I think that intentionality comes in and is so important to pay attention when we start to have these feelings that, are negative or overwhelming. You know, what, what has changed? What is going on? Are they the changes I want or are they just things that have happened? and they also can be kind of cumulative. I think

Kari Bartkus: 

Yes.

Rayna Neises: 

they can really build up and especially the small one. And I also love the point you said, you know, the person we’re caring for is grieving too and they might not be aware of that. We have our own griefs, but we also grieve for them and for their grief. So it can be a pretty complicated, complex thing. So tell us a little bit about what processing grief looks like, cuz I think all of us have heard of the stages and all of that, but really, it’s more than that, we can’t just think we’re gonna walk this straight path and we’re done. That was, that was great. You know, finally, I’m out of it. Right. It’s not really that, it’s a process. So tell us about processing.

Kari Bartkus: 

Yeah, it is a process and I would say it’s probably a lifelong process. Like we never really let that grief go. I do wanna distinguish here because I was talking with someone else this morning and we were talking about the difference between processing and coping with our grief. And as you say, as a caregiver, you know, there’s some things that you just have to do right away. Whether or not you decide you wanna do it, you don’t have time to process it. You just gotta go and do. And that’s, that I think is a lot of the coping. Like you’re responding right away, you’re doing what you have to do. But processing is really that act of slowing down and thinking about what’s going on. And so it’s being willing to name it, being able and willing to acknowledge what’s going on instead of just going on about your life and being active and doing this and doing that. And so when I think about processing, most of the time I find that it happens when I don’t want it to happen. Like when I’m laying in bed at night trying to go to sleep, my mind, my mind just starts working and I’m processing what’s going on that day and things like that. But it’s, it’s just those moments where something kind of hits you and you just take a moment and you, you stop and you name it and you think about it and then you kind of just let it go. And so it could be something as simple as, you know what, today I’m sad. And you just kind of name that to yourself, to God, to those around you, whatever, whatever that looks like for you. Today I’m sad. Today I hurt. Today I don’t wanna go to the hospital. Just a simple sentence like that is a, it’s a way to get that processing kind of started. You’re just naming it and you don’t necessarily have to do anything with it at the moment. It’s just, You’re naming it. And so whether that’s journaling it out for those that like to write or whether that’s talking to your spouse about it or going to a support group, whatever, being willing to name it is a lot of what the processing looks like. And I also think that you really have to know what works for you as you process. And so for me, I’m a huge introvert. And so though I find great value in hearing the stories of others, like I process a lot on my own. And so if you try to get me in a counselor’s office to talk about my grief in front of them, like that’s just, it’s not gonna go well. And I know that because I’m not gonna have the words to say, they’re gonna ask me questions and I’m just gonna stare at ’em like, I don’t know, like others. Others need that verbal. Processing. They need to sit in front of someone. They need someone’s loving presence there next to them and that safe space just to kind of talk it all out and say what they need to say. And so it’s really important to know what’s helping you process and what’s not helping you process. And so whether that’s talking it out, writing it out, taking walks. When you’re willing to be around others, when you wanna be by yourself, like all those things, you have to be really aware and just pay attention to. You know, I tried to be around these people today, but I just, it, it wasn’t good for me to do that. I wasn’t ready yet. And so maybe next time you’re like, okay, like just being aware of those things can help you process a lot, I think.

Rayna Neises: 

I agree. I think so many times we hear, what worked for someone else? And we just try to do the same thing and then it doesn’t work for us so we think something’s wrong with us And so realizing that we’re all different and honestly even seasons of life are

Kari Bartkus: 

Mm-hmm.

Rayna Neises: 

I had a season of life where I journaled all the time. There was so much grief, there was so much processing that writing it down really was helpful. But I have other seasons where it’s not, it feels like a chore. It’s not something that really has helped me. So that’s where having a coach has really helped me be able to verbally process through it and think through. So I do think it’s so important to really kind of figure out, you know, what, Working now. And what else can I try when nothing’s working? So that kind of brings me to the next question of, you know, what might be some warning signs or indicators that are showing that it’s not working, we’re not processing that grief. We maybe, maybe we know we’re just ignoring it. Stuffing it, and, and really not recognizing that it’s It’s present.

Kari Bartkus: 

Yeah. So if we’re not processing the grief and, and sometimes this comes because we are just so busy handling the day to day activities, we don’t have time to stop and, and think about what’s going on. But when we do have time, I think one of the signs that we’re not processing it or we’re not dealing with it is that we just, when we feel something kind of bubble up inside of us that I’m sad, I’m hurt. All those statements that we kind of talked about before, when one of those kind of bubbles up inside of us instead of naming it. We either ignore it or like we shove it down or we distract ourselves. Like we’re really good at distracting ourselves because we don’t wanna deal with it. Or we think we don’t have the time to deal with it. And so we find something to do to take our, our attention and our mind off of that. And so I think that’s probably one of the biggest ones is that just we so quickly turn our attention somewhere else because we don’t wanna deal with it. I think another trigger or a warning sign could be just our physical bodies. Our bodies, carry our grief whether we wanna acknowledge it or not. And so if we start recognizing that our bodies are showing signs of grief, that we’re experiencing headaches that we’ve never had before, if we’re carrying tension in our shoulders or in our neck or in our calves or whatever, like if we start noticing some of these different things in ingestion, maybe we’re not hungry anymore. Maybe we’re super hungry or whatever. Like if something changes with our body. That didn’t used to be there before. That can often be a sign that we’re not dealing with our grief. And again, it doesn’t have to be a whole, a whole big thing about processing. It’s just we’re not even acknowledging that our grief is there. And so it will show up in our bodies somehow. And so if you can pay attention to that, I think it will show us, you know, our griefs there and we need to, we need to do something so that we can acknowledge.

Rayna Neises: 

It’s such a good point because I think I found in my caregiving season, I drove that 220 miles so I had three and a half hours on my way home to think about what had happened, how my week went, and I learned to ask myself some of those questions, and I think that was something that I had this set time to stop and to process the good, the bad, the ugly, all of those things every week when I was leaving my dad. But when we live with it 24 7, which many of the people listening do, we don’t have a built in space, and I’m always encouraging those that I work with can you just bring a caregiver in for four hours every Thursday and you go to dinner with friends or you do something for you, which I think is so important. But one of the things you should be doing is checking in because there is a never ending to-do list, and we can completely shove all of our feelings away, especially our grief, because I think, I know, I felt like at times this grief is going to overwhelm me.

Kari Bartkus: 

Yeah. Yeah

Rayna Neises: 

And I’m gonna end up a puddle on the ground, and I don’t frankly have time for that. And so, I think being aware, like you said, of not sleeping or body aches or any of those things are all warning signs that, okay, we haven’t done this enough. And so I answer everything with let’s make it a routine. Let’s make it a part of our schedule. Cause that works for me. If I stop and schedule it, I’m more likely to do it than if I don’t. But I think that’s important to really be aware of those signs, because another one to me would be, how long has it been since you stopped to think about it?

Kari Bartkus: 

Yeah. Yeah.

Rayna Neises: 

Because if it’s been a long time, you probably built up some losses in there that you really need to acknowledge and name and, and really be aware of, and it’s okay to shed tears.

Kari Bartkus: 

Yeah.

Rayna Neises: 

Just because we cry for a while doesn’t mean we have to stay there forever. And sometimes I think that’s a fear that we have is that we’re just gonna let it overwhelm.

Kari Bartkus: 

I think another thing could be like even just when someone else mentions, like if you’re with your loved one all the time and maybe you don’t pick up on something that has changed and someone else comes in, they’re like, oh, like he didn’t button a shirt today. Or like, he couldn’t, he was having a hard time with that. And you just, you kind of stop and you realize that’s a, there’s another loss. You know? I think those can be kind. Almost like a small, like wake up moment of, oh, okay, like I need to slow down, pay more attention to what’s going on here. Because if you’re missing some of that as you’re caring for your loved one, like that’s, you wanna make sure that you’re doing your, your own kind of heart work and your grief work so that you can care for your loved one and the best way possible. Because again, if you’re ignoring it, then as they walk through it themselves, like you want them to be able to grieve too, as you said, as much as they’re able to just be aware of what’s going on and grieve together with them.

Rayna Neises: 

So those outside perspectives definitely help us to see those things. And there are so many griefs that we don’t think about that are impacted and sometimes we’re taking care of someone who will get better. You know, it’s been an accident and there’s going to be a recovery period. But even during those times, we don’t know. We don’t know when the last time something’s going to be and if they’re going to recover that or not. So it is important to stop and think. One of the things that came to mind that hit me really hard later was I couldn’t remember the last time my dad said my name. And it was, I don’t even know how long it had been since I had heard it. When I suddenly realized, as I was just thinking through and processing where we were and how things had changed. I thought to myself, I don’t, I can’t remember if he’s, you know, called me by name in a long time. So there’s some of those things when you’re taking care of people that will slide under the radar but are still there. And so it is important to be aware of.

Kari Bartkus: 

mm-hmm.

Rayna Neises: 

So part of having others influence us or give us feedback on what they’re seeing can also bring judgment possibly. What do we do when someone doesn’t really understand or really think that we’re doing it right, or that we maybe sitting too long in our grief or not acknowledging it. I mean, I think sometimes people expect us to be better sooner than we actually are, but I also think there’s times that people think we haven’t grieved enough. You know? So what do we do with all that ickiness of other people’s opinions?

Kari Bartkus: 

This is a hard one because often it will be people that we care very much about who are willing enough to speak into our lives to say, Hey, are you dealing with this? Okay. Like, are you actually taking the time you need to process it, or I. Or, or making comments about why you seem to be over that pretty fast, like, you know, whatever the comment is. Either way, like it can be, it can be really hard to hear those kinds of things. And I think that’s kind of where we have to be really aware of what’s going on inside of us and really knowing what is helpful and where we’re at. And so, again, for me, I’m a very big introvert and so I honestly, I would need a lot of time on my own to process. And so maybe someone might comment to me while you’re, you’re spending an awful lot of time by yourself. You should come to this. Group where you should join us for supper or you should do this. And you know what? I could say yes and go there and be miserable the whole time, and it wouldn’t be any fun for them, and it wouldn’t be any fun for me. And it is, it’s not helpful. And so if you know, like, if you know that, you know, that, you know that you’re not ready yet. I think it’s, it’s good and it’s brave and it’s right to say, you know what, I really appreciate that invitation, but it’s, I can’t do it. Then maybe offer a suggestion like, you know, I’m not up for being around a bunch of people right now. Maybe, maybe tomorrow you could come over to my house and we’ll, you and I can chat or offering something like that so that you let them know that you’re okay. That, yeah, you’re grieving and you’re acknowledging your loss and you’re self processing, but what they suggested is not the best thing for you right now. And so it’s just, it’s really knowing where you’re at now, if you’re on the other side of that, if you’re more extroverted, if you need to talk it all out. Maybe they’re getting on you about that. And so you have to say, no, this is just, it’s how I process. And so it, it’s knowing yourself and how you process and what’s helpful and what’s not. And when someone kind of speaks against that, you’re loving, but you’re a firm of, I really appreciate that. This is where I’m at and I’m okay. And this is. It’s where I need to be right now. And I think a big thing with the holidays coming up is that everyone’s gonna have their own ideas, especially if it’s the first holiday without your loved one. Like someone’s gonna wanna have it completely like normal because that’s gonna be what feels safe and good for them. And someone else is gonna be like, I don’t wanna go there at all. I don’t feel like celebrating. And so it’s. It’s okay because we’re all on these different grief journeys and we all process differently. And it might be different from year to year. Like you said, some years you might feel like celebrating and some years you might not. And it’s just everyone’s different. And so being loving and firm enough to, to just say, this is where I’m at, and I’m okay. And that’s where you’re at and that’s okay. It’s hard to do, but it’s, that’s really the best thing that you can do. Just be aware and say that, and if they can accept that, then you just have to be like, I mean, you just have to be able to do what’s it’s really best for you in that moment.

Rayna Neises: 

So wise. I think two things stood out to me there. First of all, it’s okay for everybody to be different, and that though the experience is the same as far as my sister and I both lost my dad, but her grief journey is different than my grief journey, and I can extend her grace to do what she needs, and I need her to extend me grace to do what I need. But the other piece of it is knowing yourself well enough to know what you need. And if you’re just now starting that and you’re in the thick of grief, you’re probably in trouble because it’s gonna be hard to know how to figure that out in the thickness of, I call it grief brain, but just kind of that fog that comes with grief. It makes it difficult to see anything much less to even see yourself and understand yourself. So if you’re not there, Let’s go ahead and spend some time figuring out who you are and what you need and how you process. But if you are in the thick of it, you know that’s okay too. To try different ways and different things to, to just walk that journey and to honor it for what works for you.

Kari Bartkus: 

Yeah, I was actually gonna say, if you don’t know yet, I mean it is a lot of trial and error. So try something, try going to a support group, try going back to church, try writing it out. Try, try all these different things and just pay attention to what helps you and what doesn’t. Because you don’t know until you try. And if you find that something’s not working, you can always go like, oh, well I wasn’t quite ready for that yet, or That wasn’t a good fit for me. And you just step back and you try something else. But you really do need to keep trying until you find something that works. You know, what does taking a walk every day help you? Just kind of work that grief out of your body, even if you don’t think anything, don’t say anything. You’re going for a walk, whatever that is. I think being willing to try. Being okay. Saying, okay, well that didn’t work. Let’s try something else. I mean, it’s, it’s hard to do in the moment cuz you’re like, I just want it to be over like, I wanna be through it. But finding what works best for you is it’s really important.

Rayna Neises: 

it was interesting. I read a quote on Facebook the other day that said something about Time doesn’t heal all wounds, it just passes.

Kari Bartkus: 

Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Rayna Neises: 

And I think time’s gonna go no matter what. We’re not stopping the time, but just because it’s been two years. Doesn’t mean that your grief process has happened if you haven’t been intentional about processing it.

Kari Bartkus: 

Yeah. And as the years go by, there’s gonna be different layers. I mean, it changes over time. Some years will be really hard and some years will be a little bit lighter, but it’s still gonna be there in some way. And so just being able to kind of ride that rollercoaster up and down as goes around and just it’s, it’s gonna be there.

Rayna Neises: 

Yeah, I think that’s a good point too, in that people think that eventually we’re going to arrive where it doesn’t hurt so bad. I don’t miss them or whatever the word is. I think it doesn’t hurt so bad. Probably is true in, in realizing, overall the pain that you experience. The day that they’re gone from 10 years from now will be different, but it will still be always a part of your, of your story. That loss is a part of it. So processing. It’s really important, but it doesn’t just erase it. Kari, thank you so much for your time today. I want to make sure that my audience can connect with you. I know that you have a great journal, so share a little bit about that and how they can connect with.

Kari Bartkus: 

Sure. I have a grief journal download that you can get for free at www.Lovedoesthat.org/griefjournal. It’s a PDF of a lot of different grief journal prompts, and it is, they’re all just listed out, but then they’re also kind of split up into like a daily grief journal spread and then like a weekly one. And so there’s just different questions on you on there for you to think about as you process your own grief. If you have a hard time kind of just thinking through that, here’s some questions that can help you kind of realize, well, like one of ’em is what place is it hard for me to go right now? Because you know what? If you just lost the one that you cared about and you went to a restaurant all the time, it might be really hard for you to go to that restaurant right now. Things like that. Just things that help you name some of your losses and your grief, some of your joys even. Because we don’t wanna lose out on those joys because we can hold joy and grief together at the same time. It feels weird, but we can do both. And so just acknowledging where all those happen. And so the grief journal just helps you name some of those things and you can write ’em down or you can just think ’em in your head or you can say ’em to someone else or talk about ’em. But it’s really just there as a way to help you process grief.

Rayna Neises: 

Thank you, and again, you can download that at www.LoveDoesThat.org/griefjournal So be sure to check that out because I do think that this whole journey has those grief moments that we need to spend the time processing through and don’t just think we’re doing the best we can and it’ll be okay. Thank you again for your time, Kari I appreciate.

Kari Bartkus: 

Yes. Thank you so much.

Rayna Neises: 

Thank you for joining us. A Season Caring Podcast has been created for the encouragement of family caregivers. If you have financial, legal, or medical questions, be sure to consult your local professionals and take heart in your season of caring.

Kari Bartkus

Kari Bartkus

Spiritual Director

Seeing far too many people go through hardship alone, Kari Bartkus became determined to show up and be present when those around her were hurting. Through her work at Love Does That, she serves as a spiritual director to hurting Christian women, but she uses a modern-day letter writing approach perfect for those drawn to quiet spaces and written words. Learn more at http://www.lovedoesthat.org.

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Meet Your Host

Rayna Neises

Rayna Neises, ACC

Author of No Regrets: Hope for Your Caregiving Season, ICF Certified Coach, Speaker, Podcast Host, & Positive Approach to Care® Independent Trainer offering encouragement, support, and resources to those who are in a Season of Caring for Aging Parents.

Her passion is for those caring and their parents, that they might be seen, not forgotten & cared for, not neglected

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