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Posted: July 28, 2008

Practical Caregiving

In Caregiving, Play the Hand You're Dealt ? and Play it Well

A few years ago, Bobby McFerrin wrote and performed a song that became a big hit. It’s called Don't Worry, Be Happy, and one of the verses goes like this: 

In every life we have some trouble

When you worry you make it double

Don't worry, be happy . . .


Last week, a Carnegie Mellon university professor, who became famous after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, died. He gave a lecture about life and its end to his students, who put it on the You Tube website. His attitude embraced the song McFerrin wrote. Randy Pausch gave what became known as “The Last Lecture.” He told everyone that he was going to enjoy every day he had left.


In September 2006, Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. On July 25, 2008, he died from complications of the pancreatic cancer. That’s less than two years, but he packed a lifetime of happiness into that time. I don’t know what his attitude was before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but after the diagnosis he was an example for all of us to follow. He did live each day with “gusto,” as my father used to say.


On September 18, 2007, Pausch gave the lecture that would become known as “The Last Lecture.” His cancer went into remission, then came back. The lecture was given a month after he found out about the recurrence of the cancer.


He talked about achieving childhood dreams such as becoming a professional football player. He shared his perspective of finding the good in people, working hard, overcoming adversity and of enjoying every day. "If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself," Pausch said. "The dreams will come to you."


“You can't control the cards you're dealt, just how you play the hand.” Randy Pausch played his hand well.


Randy was an example for all of us, but more to the point, he was an example for those of us who are taking care of an ill loved one. It’s so easy to get so caught up in our situation that we fail to look beyond our own frustrations. There are so many things we can enjoy in life, even when someone is facing death. Start looking for them today.


I learned that lesson a second time when Dad had a stroke and that meant I had to care for both my mother and him. (I learned it the first time when my daughter was born with heart problems. She is doing fine now.) Dad wasn’t sure he would ever travel again. Besides family, traveling was what he lived for. He built trailers when he couldn’t afford to buy one, and we traveled pulling those behind us. When I was small (and gas was cheap!), we stayed in the parking lots of little gas stations in the country half the time. People could be trusted then. Dad lived to travel.


When he had that stroke, Dad thought he might be relegated to never going anyplace again. He was so depressed. When I told him I would take care of Mom and him and not put them in a nursing home, he asked about traveling. I told him that as long as his health was okay, we could travel. His attitude changed immediately. If his health was okay, we could travel. When we went to Canada that summer, he insisted on stopping at every little place that sounded interesting. Dad had never done that before. When we went into the little shops, he was excited. He was seeing everything from fresh eyes. He may never see those things again, and he wanted to enjoy every experience he could. Dad taught me to enjoy every minute I have – and we both were playing the hand we were dealt.


Of course, that isn’t always the easiest thing to do. We are human. I can start out the day trying to enjoy everything, but then life gets in the way. Someone is unhappy. I’m late for work. I have a headache. There are a multitude of things that keep us from enjoying every minute of every day. That’s normal. What we can do is learn to enjoy what we can. Our day will be much better that way.


As the title of the song says, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” If we worry about what might happen, how can we enjoy what actually is happening? How can we enjoy our family? How can we enjoy the smile someone gave us? How can we enjoy living amongst the freedoms of the United States? Think of life in many other countries. We are so blessed here. Just don’t worry – and be happy. Try it.

© 2008 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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