Helping Others can be Healing

For the last few years, I have been making Rice Krispies treats and giving them to others. Although I am a pretty good cook, I have been drawn to make these easy cereal and marshmallow treats with rice cereal or corn flakes, and mold them into seasonal shapes. (They are, after all, gluten free!)

For the Super Bowl, I make footballs. There will be flowers for Spring, Autumn pumpkins, candy corn shapes for Halloween, wreaths for Christmas, and right now, I am trying to design something that looks like a ground hog for our annual Ground Hog Day celebration. I have posted pictures of my creations on social media. My sister teases that my fixation with these sweet creations is an “addiction” and suggests I need an intervention because I “can’t stop anytime I want to.”

But she made me think: "Why am I doing this?" I enjoy a treat with a cup of coffee now and then, and they are so easy to make. (I can whip out four dozen in a couple of hours with my perfected technique of Pam-sprayed, disposable medical examination gloves and food coloring!)

I think the reason I make them is as a way to remember others. Sometimes I give a couple to someone who is sick. Other times, I give them to co-workers or neighbors. They are nothing big, but often a person’s day seems better simply because they were thought of, and remembered. I focus on others in a small way by including a little note along with the homemade treat. It is a simple, spiritual activity for me.

Focusing outside of ourselves can be healing. Facing an illness like MS brings its own challenges, such as getting to doctor’s appointments, managing our medications and doing physical therapy.  Even our simple daily tasks can overwhelm us: getting up in the morning, paying our bills, doing laundry and cooking meals. Emotionally, we can be overwhelmed by all we need to do and our anxiety of our future.

But we can all benefit from giving back, from thinking of others, from volunteering –  even if we have health challenges. According to a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteers live longer, have higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease. Looking outside of our personal healthcare and health setbacks can be a tremendous way to heal ourselves.

An occupational therapist friend of mine feels that volunteering, “gives people who are ill a reason to get up in the morning: Looking outward takes a person’s awareness away from his or her condition.  Patients who see a purpose in their life usually fare better.” Caregivers often report that some of the “healthiest” patients are those who were able to move from self-absorption to thinking of others. 

Even something small will do. Volunteering for a non-profit organization by making phone calls or stuffing envelopes can be a great place to start. It does not have to be a huge task, but something that shifts our awareness and energy to other people or other causes.

Even those who cannot get out of their homes can also do good by acknowledging their caregivers or healthcare professionals. Maybe it’s thanking a family member or friend who always calls or drops by for a cup of coffee. A simple phone call, a hug, or just saying, “Thanks, I appreciate all you do for me,” goes a long way. A written note, a flower, a bag of tea or a candy bar given to a caregiver can be a touching gift. Everyone needs to be affirmed and loved. Being healthy is a two-way street. The person receiving care needs to be of service, too.

The words of poet Emily Dickinson, are motivating to me:  “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not die in vain.” 

Tags Caregiving      12 Appreciate this

Karen Zielinski, OSF

Sister Karen Zielinski was the Director of Communications for the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio, from 1991 to 2008. She is now director of Canticle Studio, a creative office of products which focus on spirituality and health. She holds a BA in education and a master’s in music. She is a monthly columnist for several magazines, including St. Anthony Messenger, and is regularly published in other journals. She lectures on chronic disease and coping strategies. Karen has lived with multiple sclerosis since 1975.