We’re honored to meet amazing Daughters on a daily basis who have danced the caregiving dance. This week we’re featuring Colleen Kavanaugh, known to many in cyber space as The Longest Dance. Colleen is one of those ‘salt of the earth people’ who you know you can trust the instant you meet her. She’s ‘been there and done that’ and has a wealth of insight and wisdom to share. Daughters, meet Colleen! And don’t miss the special gift she created for you at the end of this blog!
Colleen, tell us about The Longest Dance.
The Longest Dance is my business name, and I offer one-on-one consulting sessions with family caregivers, host workshops, and speak to large and small groups. I empower family caregivers to manipulate the challenges of caregiving into opportunities for profound personal growth.
I named my business, ‘The Longest Dance’ because music was a constant and instant connection with my dad who had Alzheimer’s. He was happiest when he was on a dance floor at a wedding or party. When someone you love suffers from a terminal illness, you want the band to play forever and stretch the happy moments out forever even though you know it’s not a realistic or sustainable wish. And like in dancing, there are some songs and moments you love and others you wish would hurry up and end. Caregiving is a constant balance of happy and sad and you can’t leave the dance floor until the party is over.
What are a few of the most important lessons caring for your parents has taught you about yourself?
Where do I even start? As with any circumstance in life that we weren’t anticipating, there were so many lessons.
The biggest lesson for me, and I don’t mean this to come off as self-centered, was that I can do anything. I imagine other family caregivers understand this statement. The bulk of what was required of me as a family caregiver in my 30’s was nothing I was trained or prepared for. I had to learn by doing and never had the chance to say no to a stitch of it. There was no deciding if tasks, like cleaning post-surgery drain tubes, incontinence care, or shopping for hospice were out of my comfort zone or skill level. The only option was figuring out how to do them. I now know that whatever comes my way in life I’ll be able to handle it.
I also now firmly believe that each day is a gift and is ours to live as fully as possible. And, I believe the universe brings us to where we’re meant to be – and sometimes we don’t realize that until after the fact.
What made you decide to become a CaringGiving.com Certified Caregiving Consultant?
I had learned about so many new things when I was caregiving it truly felt like I was getting my Master’s degree in care. When my father died, it was as if the job I was training for suddenly became obsolete. I had all this knowledge and nowhere to apply it. C’est la vie, I figured.
So, I told myself I would go back to my “old life” as a product designer. It would not involve life and death decisions and be stress-free. A logical decision, all things considered. What I didn’t logically consider was how much being a caregiver for a decade changed me. I was unable to do what now felt like to me, shallow work that did not involve life and death matters. Oh, the irony of perspective!
If you had told me while I was actively caregiving that I would one day help others in similar situations, I would have said you were crazy. I thought I never wanted anything to do with caring for another family member until I wasn’t caring for another family member. Helping people in meaningful ways was now officially part of my DNA.
What can a client expect when engaging you as their coach?
First and foremost, they get someone who has walked in their shoes and found them just as uncomfortable! There is a unique bond amongst current and family caregivers that creates a sort of shorthand when speaking to one another.
Clients get to work with a person who is not emotionally involved in the situation and can recognize patterns and share an objective voice.
I love showing how our perceptions of the challenges before us determine how we handle them – and teaching techniques to change our views. Once perceptions change, clients become more adept at managing and processing the unavoidable daily worries.
Then, when clients gain a sense of the power within their own skill sets, I love helping them to proactively prepare for the futures of both themselves and their loved one.
These things all add up to the client accepting their role with love and grace.
In what ways do you weave your gift as a designer into your coaching?
I believe that anything in our lives can be changed and consequently designed to fit our needs. I love looking for solutions on how things can be better. It’s almost like a game or a challenge. So when I am invited to help
others change perspectives on their own circumstances, it is immensely fulfilling for me. Then, my love of design and color is expressed in creating my website and social media posts – so that is a joy, rather than a drag.
My life as a family caregiver to my parents, in addition to working and raising a family, placed my time (and my health) at a premium. It seemed as though I had no time for anything. I had no time to join a gym, revamp my nutrition or think perpetually happy thoughts. But I did have time to add and subtract small things within my day that collectively equated to big differences in my health and perspective. Download my SWAP THIS FOR THAT list here to find out more.
I’d love to know what you think and learn about your swaps!Thanks, Colleen for sharing a snippet of your journey and the awesome download! To learn more about Colleen visit www.thelongestdance.com and be sure to follow her amazing posts on Facebook and Instagram.