From One Caregiver to Another

A recent headline stopped me cold: “For those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, burnout is rampant.”  

The more I publicly share our family’s story, the more caregivers are on my mind. Their role and needs often are overwhelmed by the needs of their loved one. Whether they are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or some other disabling crisis that threatens the fabric of their family’s existence.

We caregivers carry a dark secret: We often feel that we’re failing both the loved one we’re caring for and our families. We too often feel that we’re failures. And we don’t want to discuss it. Yet we can’t afford to keep this secret hidden away. For buying into such feelings can lead a caregiver to quick and complete burnout. 

This being Thanksgiving Day, it seems appropriate to share a different kind of post. It’s a song about being grateful despite any sense of failure. So it’s to fellow caregivers who’ve known such pain that I’m sharing this Leonard Cohen classic, Hallelujah. And it’s also to you who are helping care for your caregiver friends and their loved ones. And for you who want to understand your friend’s needs.

This song elicits the memory of burnout threat I experienced over 17 years, yet its message of hope, despite all, touches me even more. The threat of burnout may not be a memory for you; it may be a clear and present danger instead. If so, may Cohen stir you as he does me with Hallelujah.  

As I listen to Cohen’s Hallelujah, memories of what our young family lost long ago rekindle. Memories of perceived failures reignite. Memories of hope extinguished ice my heart.  


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Yet throughout the last two decades, a voice kept rising, kept calling me forward. It kept lifting me up, dusting me off, all the while whispering, “You’re doing good, Carlen. Let me carry you. Let me carry this. You are loved, Carlen. Be gentle on yourself.”    

Sometimes this voice went silent. But the memory of its encouragement was enough to get me through. Not unlike the way “hallelujah” carries Cohen through his success and his failure until he stands in the presence of his “Lord of Song,” offering the only thing he has to offer. 

This voice is what echoes in my memory as I let this song breathe through me, a song in which no amount of failure can choke the seed of joy, in which no amount of failure can silence the heart’s tongue from whispering in the dark, “Hallelujah.”

So this is my Thanksgiving gift to you … you who know of the pain I speak, whether it stems from Alzheimer’s or some other crisis. And if you find yourself crying as you let Cohen’s words stream through you, then cry fully. This song can be cathartic at the deepest level. It is for me as I also cry.

 Click here to listen > LEONARD COHEN'S 'HALLELUJAH'
(To read without watching and listening to Cohen can lose much of the meaning)

I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah


Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Now, maybe there’s a God above
As for me all that I've ever learned from love
Is how to shoot someone who outdrew you
But it's not a cry that you hear at night,
And it is not some pilgrim who claims to have seen the light
No, it's a cold and it’s a very broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Oh, people, I've been here before
I know this room, and I've walked this floor
This is … as you stood on it alone before I met you.
And I've seen your flag on the marble arch,
But your love is not some kind of victory march,
No, it's a cold and it is a very broken Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time, you let me know
What's really going on below,
But now, now you never even show it to me, do you?
I remember when I moved in you,
And the Holy God was moving through,
And every single breath that we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I’ve done my best, I know it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I learned to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come here just to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand right here before the Lord of Song
With nothing, nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Have a good Thanksgiving today.


P.S. If you’d like to see my recent interview on a local PBS-TV station in which I share some of our family’s story, you can catch it here…

P.S.2 As usual, feel free to forward this post to your friends and family. If you’d like to sign up for my blog, it’s free; just click here.

P.S.3 My book A Path Revealed: How Hope, Love, and Joy Found Us Deep in a Maze Called Alzheimer’s can be ordered from any bookstore or found on Amazon.

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