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My Daddy died at the average age men die in the US (78 years old), from the most common disease men die from–heart disease. Yet, Daddy was anything but typical. He was a big teddy bear of a guy who made my world right again.

I was adopted at the age of four. My early years weren’t easy.

My birth mother suffered from schizophrenia (severely and eventually permanently hospitalized), and addiction to alcohol and gambling choked all the life out of my birth father. My sister and I lived with my father’s co-dependent/enabler grandmother and was abused by a boarder who lived in her house.

Not a great beginning.

I don’t share this with you to make you uncomfortable or to get sympathy points because my life didn’t stay that way. I was adopted and received layer after layer of personal healing and insights that allow me to incorporate this experience into my being.

Healing took a long, long time.

My adoptive Daddy was a big part of that. He was 54 and Mama was 50 when they adopted me. That’s taking a big chance–but it also shows what a void they had to fill.

He died when I was 23 years old. Too young for him to die–and too young for me. But he isn’t really gone.

He has become a part of me now–his songs, his stories, his gestures, his wisdom–I carry him every day.

I see him just like I did when I was six and playing baseball in the backyard–he was my “seated” lawn chair pitcher. I broke his garage window. Don’t know that he got too upset.

I remember the summer we had  a contest and ate 38 watermelons. He told me vines were going to shoot out my ears. I hoped they would. Every time my nose tickled, or I hiccuped, I got excited.

I remember when I was 12 and just starting to like boys–Daddy drove me to the skating rink each Saturday night and picked me up at 11:00. I know he really didn’t want to get dressed and traipse out that late, but he did. I remember when he asked me if that boy kissed me. I lied and said, “No, Daddy.” He knew. I knew. But I couldn’t say the words–not to my dad.

I remember when I brought home countless boyfriends and the disgusting look he’d hide behind his newspaper. No one was ever good enough for his little sweety-pie.

Eventually, one was, and I married him. He loves my dad as much as I do. That’s why we’re still married. He reminds me of that honorable man who changed my life and he’s the daddy to our three girls. His face lights up when his daughters just walk into the room. His face lights up when I walk into the room.

That’s why I keep him.

The power of a great dad changes a child’s life. And it keeps changing it. Even after our dads are no longer walking on this earth. Whispered wisdom, needed advice, family traditions and that sense of security never goes away.

I never got to be my dad’s caregiver the way I did with my mom. But I promised him we would take care of her. That promise got me through some rough times.

I hope you enjoy a short excerpt from my forthcoming book, SAID CHILD.

It’s about our night time ritual and coming home after church. (Being raised in church means I have many, many memories of life on the pew). Perhaps this excerpt will spark one of your own favorite memories.

The greatest thing we can do for our dads on Father’s Day is simply to remember.

Excerpt from SAID CHILD:

Daddy slid next to us after his usher and elder duties of collecting and counting the money were complete. We’d all squeeze into the pew making room and he’d have to pull on his coat a few times to get comfortable. He’d reach in his shirt pocket and in one continuous smooth move, a gold package of Butter Rum Life Savers appeared and the fleshy underbelly of my tongue salivated. I got one, he got one and he’d wink. Mama preferred peppermint. Peppermint reminded me of the nausea of backseat card rides.

I’d roll the butter rum disk around in my mouth and hold it vertical between my teeth, my tongue reading the raised letters as if in Braille. I’d lay my head against Daddy’s arm, recognizing the texture of his different suits, and then he’d put his arm around me and poke his finger in my ear. I brush it away and he’d smile without looking at me. I snuggled up waiting for my butter rum Life Saver to dissolve so I could get another one. As the preacher’s words droned on and on, I knew we’d never make it home in time to see the Sunday night Disney movie. We never did. Missing all my favorite TV shows was the worst part to me. I’d have to run a fever or throw-up to get to stay home.

Daddy covered my legs with his jacket and patted me until the sounds and lights muffled, dimming into soft shades of gold as I watched my eyelashes fold again and again, the world faded fuzzy, then black.

I barely remembered most of the car ride home on Sunday nights and Daddy would place me between the cool sheets long after I was too big to be carried, my lanky legs scraping the bed and the quilt slid in place. 

Daddy half-whispered, half-growled, “My baby done gone to sleep, Lord bless my little sweety-pie.”

He’d sing me to sleep and I’d always ask for Mr. Moon:  

Oh Mr. Moon, Moon, bright and shinin’ moon,

Oh won’t you please shine down on me.

For my life’s in danger and I’m scared to run,

There’s a man behind me with me with a big shot gun,

Oh Mr. Moon, Moon, bright and shinin’ moon, oh won’t you please shine down on me. Boom, boom, boom.

***

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

www.kunati.com, publishers

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Do you need to be needed?

Carl Jung called it, “The Wounded Healer.”

Caregivers, whether they come by it willingly or are drug into their caregivingroles, become accustomed to being needed. It’s comforting  and satisfying to know that you have a purpose.

But what do you mean when you say, “wounded healer?”  Is that a bad thing?

Wounded healer is an archetypal personality type that psychologist Carl Jung used to describe the relationship between analyst and patient–why a person might go into the psychology/counseling field.

No, it’s not a bad thing. I’m not sure there would be firemen, doctors, nurses, pastors, or teachers if there life experiences hadn’t given them a reason to step into these professions–to give back or make a difference.

I know good and well I wrote Mothering Mother out of a sense of need. I needed insight and direction. I needed to know how to step into this new role as a daughter who cares for her mother. I needed to examine aspects of the soul, my beliefs, and the ramifications on my relationships.

What would caregiving do to me?

I couldn’t find the answer, so I had to write my way through.

Jung had some theories as to why people choose “needing” professions:

  • The wounded healing is consciously aware of his own personal wounds and can be empathetic toward the person in need. 
  • The care receiver/patient also possesses an “inner healer” he is unaware of, but it’s there to help guide him and lead him to wholeness. 
  • The care giver–and care receiver (wounded healer and patient) are a good fit for each other. They need each other, in many ways.
  • They intersect at that point of need and each derives something from their relationship or experience. 

Jung also noted that you have to be careful and make sure that this type of agreement or relationship remains a healthy exchange for both people. He referred tho this as depth psychology and cautioned that the caregiver could potentially have his old wounds reopened, or get caught in a vicious cycle. He also cautioned against the ego taking over and the caregiver getting hooked on the power or the needing and falling into an an inflated ego.

For most caregivers, I fear that you’ll wind up creating more and more “needing” scenarios and begin to only feel like yourself when someone is in need or crisis mode.

It’s a big let down after your loved ones passes or goes into a care facility. You feel useless. You thought you longed for freedom but you feel lost. Your days were defined for you and now…what do you do with yourself? Who are you if not someone who cares for others?

You like that you’re good at something. You’re proud of the fact that you’re a good organizer, that you can spout off medical jargon, that you’re the one everyone comes to for a diagnosis. You actually own your own copy of Grey’s Anatomy, and I don’t mean the DVD collection of McDreamy and McSteamy.

Jung derives the term “wounded healer” from the ancient Greek legend of Asclepius, a physician who in built a sanctuary at Epidaurus in order to treat others. Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen also wrote a book with the same title. The Greek Myth of Chiron is also used to illustrate the archetype of the Wounded Healer so this whole deal about being needed and what it does to you isn’t new.

Realize that you might have codependency tendencies.

What is codependency?

NIMH, the National Institute of Mental Health defines it as: “Co-dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.”

Oh, that’s not me. I’m not that bad. I’m not aiding an alcoholic or hiding an abuser.

Neither was I, but I did see aspects of control issues and “only I can make her happy” in my caregiving and even parenting years. A little of this stuff is toxic.

One book that changed millions of lives was Melodie Beattie’s Codependent No More. It brought this subject out of the counselor’s office and allowed lay people to analyze their behavior and seek help.

So how do you care give without taking it too far?

  • Be aware. Realize when you’ve tied your super-caregiver cape on, when you’re deriving more power or satisfaction out of your role than you probably should have–when you push others away or start to feel oddly territorial. Awareness is key.
  • Stop being so nice! Niceness is an illness. Do what’s right, not necessarily what’s nice.
  • Trust that what is right for you is right for those you love.
  • There is a time to extend yourself for others, but make sure there’s a cut off date.
  • If you are going to have to care giver for a long time, then make a plan so that your whole life and health and relationships aren’t derailed indefinitely.
  • Give up perfectionism. Allow others to help. Ask, demand help–and then accept it. If it’s difficult, then let one thing go at a time. Let one job be done by someone else for awhile–and go from there.
  • Ask a friend to be honest and let you know when you’re in “need to be needed mode.”
  • Laugh at yourself when you “do it again.” Don’t use this as another thing to feel guilty about. Break it down into manageable chunks.

It comes with the territory, but it’s not all bad news.

Recent studies on happiness says that people derive more joy out of being needed and having purpose than they do out of having money. Happiness seems to be based on treasured experiences, spirituality, a sense of family, and meaningful work. It’s also lowest during mid-life when you thought if you worked hard enough, made enough money, and raised decent kids, you’d be happy–suddenly you realize that while maybe you got some of that, much of life is beyond your control. You have to dig deeper, look beyond life’s trappings to find a deeper sense of joy.

So see? If you just don’t go crazy with this needing thing, it could actually be good for you. Caregiving certainly has aspects of experiences, purpose, family, and spirituality.

Balance, grasshopper. Balance.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Check out my book on Amazon: Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

www.mothering-mother.com

Syndicated blog at www.hopethrives.org

Family advisor at www.Caring.com

 

 

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Last night, the television show Boston Legal had one profound moment relating to Alzheimer’s.  

The premise is that one of their leading characters, Denny Crane (played by William Shatner) has early Alzheimer’s. He’s a brilliant attorney who has never lost a case–and he’s part owner in firm. The other law partners are hesitant for Denny to continue to litigate. Not only is he forgetful, he sometimes does or says bizarre things. Things Alzheimer’s patients might say or do.

Great scenario because I happen to know a great law professor from Yale who lives in my community who now has Alzheimer’s. You can be homeless and live under a bridge–and have Alzheimer’s, AIDS, or cancer–or you can be the president of the United States.

At one point, Alan, Denny’s best friend is having a conversation with Jerry, another lawyer in the firm, (who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome) about what a phenomenal job Denny did in court. Jerry blurts out, “Too bad Denny’s dying from Alzheimer’s.”

Alan is shocked. Insulted. He retorts:

“Denny’s not dying from Alzheimer’s. He’s living with it.”

There’s a great distinction here.

One of the drawbacks to early diagnosis is giving up too soon.

Early detection should mean that you receive proper medication, spend time with your loved ones, and make plans to live–not die.

In the case of Alzheimer’s, the average patient lives 8-10 years, and even longer depending on the age you contract this disease. Parkinson’s, ALS, MS, and other diseases can even offer a longer lifespan. Coincidentally, the average caregiver spend 4.3 years caregiving–leaving a bit of a discrepancy here.

The message is: don’t give up too soon.

Don’t hear a diagnosis and go home, draw the curtains, curl up in a fetal position and wither away.

As a family member or caregiver, it’s a blow to hear that your loved one has a terminal illness, but you still have to get up and face each day.

Michael J. Fox says that Parkinson’s is “the disease that keeps on taking.” He’s chosen to live with his disease. He’s chosen to do this for the millions who look to him and rely on him to raise money for research, for the difference he’s already made, but I’m sure he does this even more for his wife and his children.

A recent example is Ted Kennedy’s diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor. He had a seizure and went into the hospital just last weekend. Yet today, he and his wife, Vicki went sailing. He loves sailing and the Boston Globe said he “finds renewal on the water.”

Ted Kennedy is actually teaching his family and others how to treat him. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Kennedy’s cancer is dire, not hopeless.”

It’s proven that prayers and good thoughts can impact people’s lives clear across the country–and we can create the atmosphere and attitude around us by how we handle our own bad news.

Maya Angelou says, “We teach people how to treat us.”

Yes, it’s natural to feel kicked in the gut.

It’s natural to take to the bed, cry, get angry, lash out or pull in. Don’t beat yourself up for going through this very natural stage.

But after that, it’s time to move on.

You (or your loved one) most likely won’t die tomorrow. Or the next day.

So you take your meds, maybe get physical or occupational therapy. Change things around in your home, hire a home health aide, buy a walker or scooter or whatever else you need. Life is different. I don’t doubt that. But life can still be good.

You can still find joy–and purpose.

Sometimes our purpose is nestled in our situation. Sometimes something–or someone arises in our midst and a window opens where a door shut.

Yet, there will come a time–hopefully in the distant future when the tide turns again.

You, or your loved one may die from this disease, I can’t promise you won’t. 

If not, from something else.

We have to eventually accept that as well. Another transition. Another acceptance. Another change.

But until then, live, live, live, live, live.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Check out her book, a day-to-day, intimate and honest look at caregiving…

Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

www.kunati.com/mothering

 

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The latest stats released by the Alzheimer’s Association paint a grim picture.

USA Today reported that ten million are expected to get Alzheimer’s over the next 2 decades.

Most boomers I know are a bit stunned. 1 in 8 will get Alzheimer’s.

I started bunching people I know in eights. Terrible, I know.

My husband has 8 siblings. Which one?

I mentally grouped my friends and imagined myself visiting them, trying to rouse the remnants of our relationship.

It was so much easier in my imagination for it to be somebody else other than me!

I felt like those people in the Titanic lifeboats. The boat’s too heavy, who’s going to get the ole’ heave ho! We always kid about poor Leo’s icy fingers being pried off one by one. My husband says he can see me doing that. I tell him I’ll sing him a Celine Delion song and wave to him as he sinks to the bottom of the Atlantic. Just kidding.

I walked around for days living too far into the future, speculating too much about whether or not I’d be the one in eight.

Then, I remembered the quote:

“To tell a man his future is to condemn him to one.”

That’s kind of what this news did. Maybe it didn’t mean to.

I assume their reasons for imparting this knowledge was to spar research, educate the masses, but I wonder if they know what they’ve done?

It doesn’t take long for the rebellious inner child to stand up and yell, “Hell no!” I’m not going without a fight.

I’ve already seen Alzheimer’s up close and personal with my mom. She had Parkinson’s for 15 years and Alzheimer’s for at least the last three years of her life. That’s when I brought her into my home, so I know how brutal it can get. What I’m not willing to face is a two, three, four decade old bully poking at me, taunting me, telling me over and over he’s gonna get me in the end.

Are you worried about getting Alzheimer’s too?

One thing I’ve done is to go ahead and play my own devil’s advocate.

So what if I get it? What will life be like?

Many scenarios here: I could be mean and belligerent. Doesn’t sound half bad, I’m kind of tired of being nice all the time.

If I just had one day where I told people what I really think…

It could be scary. That’s what I don’t want. To be on the edge. Nervous, agitated, restless to no end. Paranoid. Angry beyond consoling. To that, I say, drug me. Drug me in a stupor if you have to. By then, I promise you, I’ll have had a good life, and if it’s too awful for me or for you, then I give you permission to gork me out of my…mind. If the last couple of years are a throw away then so be it. If it’s painful to watch, then don’t.

Go live a big, bold, purpose-filled life. That’s the best way I can think of being honored.

I’ve told this to my husband and my girls and it’s going in the “important drawer.”

If you love me, then do something meaningful with your life–in my honor, if it makes you feel better.

But, if I’m just in la-la land, rambling around in the past, and I’m rather amiable, then let me enjoy it.

Don’t remind me who’s dead or that I’m nearly there myself. I don’t expect you to play along and mess up the delicate balance of reality you’ve scrambled for–just make me comfortable. If I think I’m sixteen, or twenty four, or forty-four, then let me enjoy it.

I learned the hard way with my mom that most people fear Alzheimer’s (both as caregivers and for themselves) because they can’t control it. It scares them, rattles their nerves. Their loved one acting “not like themselves,” angry, sexually explicit, fussy, playing in feces–it unnerves people. Is it really all that bad? My brain went kaflooey. It’s not a reflection of the kind of person I chose to be–we are in fact, what we choose. It’s not a reflection of our relationship or of you. It just happens.

Brains go haywire and you can’t control it any more than you can control your dreams, your nightmares, and all those random blips that you dare never admit or mention to anybody. It’s just random electrical spasms of disconnected thoughts and of all the other thoughts you’ve suppressed. We all have it inside us, don’t kid yourself. We have to eventually make peace with our humanity, and our lack of humanity.

We have to make peace with this base self, animalistic, driven, insatiable self.

This isn’t even the bad part.

Alzheimer’s does a lot more to the body and mind than simply making a person different or moody or playing in their poop. You think that’s your biggest hurdle at the time, it’s not.

The forgetting grows like a fertilized weed and it begins to invade a different part of the brain and a person’s life: recognizing not only those they love but even themselves and what it means to be here, recognizing objects like what to do with a spoon, what to do with the food someone placed in your mouth, or when your body forgets to take its next breath.

 That’s when you wish for your fiesty loved one to return to you–memory intact or not. We have to come to terms with this too, and this is much harder and deeper. This is when chaos collapses in on itself. This is when as a loved one, you get quiet. You stop talking about it all, complaining. You’ve shed so many tears you don’t have any left. 

This is Alzheimer’s.

I kidded with my girls on Easter Sunday. I told them if I have mild dementia or Alzheimer’s, that I want a dress-up box–with a fireman’s hat like I had as a child, and French beret (we always had a dress-up box when they were little) I want a boa, and lots of make up, and a yellow rain slicker and golashes. I want a cat, I’ve always had a kitty. I want paints and crafty things. I want my room filled with Van Goghs. I want to work in a garden. I want to dance. A lot. I want loud music and me in my boa and fireman hat clutching a bouquet of forget-me-nots and a kitty in a windowsill looking thoroughly disgusted with it all.

We laughed. They said they would. Then they argued as to who would get me. They said they all took their turns with Nanny (my mother). I told them if I had known that would do them in, (trust me, I was the primary caregiver, not them), then I’d have let her fend for herself (joke, we’re quite a facetious bunch).

Each of my daughters have their attributes. At my youngest daughter’s house, I’ll be a fashionista–coach purses and Italian scarves. She promised me we’d make tents in the living room out of sheets and blankets.

At my middle daughter’s house, she’ll clean out my ears and under my nails. My clothes will be folded neatly–neater than they’ve ever been folded. We’ll color a lot there, and I’ll finally be on time wherever she takes me.

My oldest daughter will feed me anything I want. She’s a candy-aholic. We’ll stay in our pjs and watch movies, and she will kick butt with doctors, let me tell you.

While all this is “play talk,” it’s a good way for families to start easing into the more serious conversations.

I do this on purpose. To open the doors. To make everything not seem so ominous.

We all have living wills. We kid about what we want, but we also have the serious stuff in writing–about sustaining life, feeding tubes, and issues no person should have to make for another.

Am I worried about getting Alzheimer’s? Sure, but I fight it.

Are you? It’s only natural, but I hope you find your own ways to work through some of the fears.

I hope you turn the light on the bully monster in the closet and let him know you don’t plan on being intimidated for the rest of your life.

As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, I know what to do to prevent it as best I can–but life’s still a crap shoot.

I think I’m better off concentrating on having some big adventures, some wild tales and daring feats.

If I’m going to eventually forget everything, I plan on having a lot to forget.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

www.kunati.com

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Today is my mother’s birthday. Day after the first day of spring.

I never forget it. Or Daddy’s. I never forget their anniversary, it’s as much a part of me as my children’s birth dates (and I was there for that!). It’s programmed into my psyche. My heart, body and spirit remembers before my mind does.

Our body clocks, muscle memories, childhood remembrances collide on special days. Both sweet and painful, we remember our loved ones and the days we celebrated with cakes, presents, balloons and hugs. Celebrations are important. It’s our way of honoring the passage of time and impact someone has on our life. Seasons revitalize us. Renew us.

My adoptive parents are no longer here, on this earth. But they are here–with me.

It’s important to keep on remembering, celebrating. We can’t just let that void sit there. Nature abhors a vacumn. It’s still “their” day.

 I interviewed a young mother for an article this week who had lost her two-year old son in an accident four years ago.

Her remembering is finally turning sweet. Her son’s pictures of him playing at a park line their living room walls along with a Picasso of line drawing of mother and child. She has to celebrate his life. She has to remember, to declare he was here, he is still here–that his life had a purpose.  

I have another friend who lost her husband suddenly a few years back. The first few holidays were spent doing what they had always done–and it was excruciating. Not until she smothered the old memory with a new memory did it become bearable. Since then, she’s taken cruises, worked at shelters and now she has a new grandchild. She still remembers, but she needed something to accompany it during the transitional period when it was still more than she could bear.

When spring comes and the wisteria drips from trellises and weeping willow branches bud green, I remember and the whole world turns pastel Easter colors, I remember my mother’s birthday.

Like others, the first few years of grieving were twinged with loss. Now, the sweet comes before the bitter. 

I told my daughters it was Nanny’s birthday. They said, “It is, isn’t it?”

And then we said nothing, just an extra gaze into each other’s eyes.

That’s all it takes to connect with those we love–a few extra seconds. 

Caregivers feel birthdays, special days, holidays with a heightened sense of awareness. If their loved one is still here, it’s not the same kind of celebration they used to have, and it becomes toward the end, a day of grieving in some respect. If their loved one is gone, then it makes you feel particularly vulnerable on those days. You see-saw between tender, funny, celebratory times and the void now left in its place.

To commemorate my mother’s birthday I bought myself a present.

Mother was always buying herself presents, so I think I should keep up the tradition.

She knew Daddy wouldn’t get it right. They adored one another, but she always made sure to take care of herself and the older I get the more I admire that. She’d buy herself presents, (books, perfume, a new pair of shoes, and always–chocolate), she’d wrap them and open them and act all surprised even though we all knew. Daddy didn’t mind.

I bought myself some of those fancy new walking shoes, the kind where everything that can be is cut out. It’s like a sandal but it has the buoyancy of a running shoe. I bought my middle daughter a matching pair in paprika red, and when we got home we went for a walk. 

Walking with your daughter is like walking next to your former self.

Trim, taut, life straining out of every pore, spunky, ready to tackle the world.

None of this, I’m-tired,-I-think-I’ll-sit-down crap I catch myself saying. When did I start whining about a vigorous walk? I huff it to keep up, match her pace and feel me beside me in that out-of-body way, listening to her worries and complaints, the same ones I had in my twenties. I hear myself console her, tell her it’s normal and that it’ll pass.

Mother walks beside me (metaphorically speaking) listening to my heart, to my worries and complaints.

She compliments me on my shoes and tells me that all the stuff that bothers me, all my worries–will pass.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

www.mothering-mother.com

www.kunati.com

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Caregiving is complex.

Many family situations are a continuation of a long, tangled history.

There are stubborn siblings, financial headaches, cantankerous parents, emotional memories kicked back up, frustrating home heath aides, and confusing health insurance concerns. This is just the surface–throw in worries like a naked, wandering Alzheimer’s loved one, your mother feels cheated on (or is cheating) while her husband is in a facility and no longer remembers any of you, your home health aide stole your wedding ring (you suspect), you lost your health insurance and have to go back to work, but how? Or maybe your mother is like mine and kicks your cat or your partner says caregiving is killing you and insists you give them attention too.

I know how hard it is to find safe, how challenging it is to find reliable help, or you get into a big fight with your dad (and your neighbor) because he ran over your neighbor’s dog and he still refuses to give up driving. Some questions go even deeper–you’ve become hooked on pain meds to compensate for your back from all the lifting and you’re fighting depression, or just how bone-deep scary it is to think that you have to decide whether or not to stop life support and you’re afraid all your family will blame you for not doing enough…the list goes on.

I”m now a “Family Advisor” on www.Caring.com, and these are just some of the types of issues families write about.

It’s not that I’m a know-it-all or that questions always have neat little answers, but I’ll do my research and offer suggestions that are not just technically correct but delve into the heart of the matter. Relationships are not cut and dry, and it’s not easy to just make a decision and carry it out–not when there are other family members involved who may not agree with you–and not when even the decisions that you have to make aren’t easy to deal with emotionally.

Life can’t always be “fixed,” but I’ll do everything I can to offer some valid help and direction as well as support you, the caregiver/spouse/friend. It won’t be cut and dry either. Humor, spunk, and tenacity are great weapons people forget they have, and sometimes we have to use guerrilla tactics to get anything done, but when integrated with love and commitment serendipity can occur.  I won’t sugar coat caregiving either, or wrap it up and slap a bow on it, or belittle the guilt or everyday stresses can just get under your skin.

I know how all this eats away at what fragile hope you have remaining.

By writing a question (even anonymously), you are asking not only Caring.com for advice, you open the window for opportunity. I firmly believe that by simply asking the question you start to attract the answers/solutions. By verbalizing your fears, frustrations and concerns, you can then begin to visualize how this can be solved or at least some of the tension relieved.

You’ll feel less alone. You have options.

If you know of anyone who is in an emotional or ethical quandry consider suggesting Caring.com.

They have sections for all types of care–mental illness, cancer, MS, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and many other points of connection.

Caregivers need every resource they can get their hands on–in their community and on the Internet.

I hope that my book, my blog, and now this family advisor column will help you feel less isolated and show you that you’re not alone. You’re surrounded by people who care.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

www.kunati.com

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Four million people in the US have Alzheimer’s today, and according to a new study printed in the USA Today Health Section on March 17, 14 million boomers are expected to get Alzheimer’s.

Astronomical growth rate, but unless there’s a cure, that will be the new reality in 20-25 years. After the age of 65, your chances of getting Alzheimer’s doubles every five years.  Add onto this the fact that many boomers chose not to have children or to have much smaller families than their parents did.

Today, 70% of all families care for loved ones at home–in a combination of either their home, their parents, and with the aid of home health care, adult day-cares, and other less than full-time/in house care. Will this kind of family caregiving even be possible in the future? With the inevitable fact that we’re all going to have to work longer than ever before, who will be available to care for our elders?

If you think facilities and health care services are going to make up for this gap, all I can say is they have a long way to go.

You can’t just throw some long-term health insurance at this problem and expect it to be solved. Society has a whole has to come to terms with this situation, and it has to be done with heart.

Alzheimer’s demands for us to be humane. It can, in it ugliest form, be anything but humane. It can bring out the best and worst in those who care of them. It asks just as much of the caregivers and families and health community as it takes from those wracked with the disease.

We must meet this beast on our terms and take back our loved ones with dignity, planning, foresight, intellect, compassion, and wisdom. Yes, we need a cure, but we need a lot more than that to even make a dent.

Since I am one of those boomers, I feel it my responsibility to communicate with my children, to make those “what if” plans, and more than that, begin the heart work needed to leave not only my affairs in order, but my “life” in order. This is not done with a chicken little mentality, but done with love so that my daughters don’t feel sideswiped, and also don’t have a list of expectations and demands that will overtax their lives and only cause strife. This is a messy disease you better be ready to  wrestle an octopus just to stay in the fight.

Here is the article from USA Today, and also, my response I posted on their comments board.

About 14 million, or roughly 18%, of the USA’s 79 million baby boomers can expect to develop Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia in their lifetime, a newly released report shows.

Americans are developing Alzheimer’s at an accelerating rate, says Stephen McConnell, vice president of public policy for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Medical advances have allowed people to beat cancer and heart disease. But with longer life comes the added risk of Alzheimer’s, a progressive brain disease that causes severe memory loss and confusion.

The oldest baby boomers are turning 62 this year and are by definition entering the risk zone. Age is the single biggest risk factor for the disease: The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after age 65.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Medicare | Alzheimer | Association | Aging | Figures | UCLA Center

“What we’re faced with here is the boomer population coming of age,” says Gary Small, director of the UCLA Center on Aging. “There are going to be a lot more people at risk.”

The report, “2008 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures,” states that one out of eight boomers will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia, at some point. If no cure for Alzheimer’s is found, the nation will be faced with a half-million new cases of Alzheimer’s in 2010 and nearly a million a year by the middle of the century.

The report doesn’t minimize the burden on the population today, noting that 5.2 million people now have the disease, which can take more than 10 years to destroy the mind. That figure includes a small group of people struggling with the disease in the prime of life. The report says as many as 500,000 Americans are diagnosed before the age of 65.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 70% of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias live at home, where friends and family members pitch in to help them, often at great cost. The report notes:

•In 2007, nearly 10 million Americans ages 18 and older provided 8.4 billion hours of unpaid care to Alzheimer’s patients — care valued at about $89 billion.

•A quarter of a million children ages 8 to 18 are providing care to loved ones with Alzheimer’s. The care provided by young people ranges from companionship to more taxing duties such as helping an elderly relative get dressed, McConnell says.

•There are up to 1.4 million long-distance caregivers in the USA. About 1 million live more than two hours away, and an additional 400,000 live at least an hour away from their loved ones.

The coming Alzheimer’s epidemic will, if left unchecked, put a huge strain on the health care system, including Medicare. In 2005, Medicare spent $91 billion on Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and spending could jump to $160 billion by 2010 and $189 billion by 2015.

If researchers developed treatments that simply delayed the age of onset for Alzheimer’s, that alone could save Medicare billions.

“We don’t need to cure this disease,” McConnell says. “If we could just make a dent in it, the savings would be huge.”

MotheringMother wrote: <1m ago

Caring for someone will Alzheimer’s is not easy. I know, I cared for my mother who had Alzheimer’s the last three years of her life. It was a physically, emotional and spiritual journey for me and my family, and it took all of us plus her church, our community, and many health care professionals to do this. Multiply this scenario by 14 million and needless to say, these statistics are staggering.

Are we as a society ready for 14 million people with Alzheimer’s? This isn’t just a matter of building facilities and training workers. Alzheimer’s has ramifications that ripple out to all who know them. It does something to your head and heart to grapple with this sometimes vicious disease. We can’t just throw money at it and make it go away or make it behave itself.

Many of these boomers do not have children, and most of their children by far, work, have families of their own, and will not be exactly “young” when this epidemic hits. Alzheimer’s is not something you can weather alone, and while there are many good care facilities, most people prefer to stay in their own homes or with their families as long as possible.

Corporate and pharmaceutical eyes seeing dollar signs, and yes, there are products and services that are a must–but communities, city planners, churches, social services need to make long term plans to prepare for this. Sadly, I’d say we were more panicked and more prepared to deal with Y2K than with the onslaught of Alzheimer’s.

As challenging, frustrating, and heartbreaking as it was, my mother’s condition drew out my family’s strength and commitment. I got to see what we were made of, and I can only hope that society is clear-headed, compassionate, and engaged enough to begin to not only diligently seek cures and medications, but even more so begin to build a comprehensive plan to care for our elders.

We have quite a mission ahead of us.

~Carol D. O’Dell
Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir
available on Amazon
www.mothering-mother.com

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Know that old country song, “She’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes….?”

That’s how I feel.

I’ve been buying flowers. Flats of flowers, tubs of flowers, roots and bulbs and vines.

Doesn’t sound like a big deal but it is to me, this year especially.

I didn’t garden much when I was a full-time caregiver.

I had enough of anything that needed constant weeding, feeding, and watering , thank you very much.

But I missed it. What do you miss?

I’ve been a gardener for as long as I can remember.

My adoptive Daddy and I practically lived outside. I helped him with our 25 rose bushes, stepped on dozens of yellow jackets feasting on fallen pears. My toes looked like little red sausages. I’d swing for a good hour, climb the top of my swing set (mother’s nightmare) while gorging myself from a plum bush I could actually reach if I pumped my legs hard enough. Then, I’d jump off and grab a warm fig and then shimmy up the dogwood tree and nestle my bottom in a comfy crook and make up some story in my head about me being a spy or a princess hidden in a tower. Ah, childhood!

No wonder I love being outside. I equate it to freedom, peace, and make believe.

So, when I stop gardening, I stop being me–in part, anyway. That’s one way I can tell I’ve lost my joy.

Joy is crucial. Not constant, but crucial.

It’s not that I blame caregiving.

I see now that my garden, my constant pruning was my writing.

I planted the seeds of Mothering Mother every day.

I think caregivers simply have to choose which “seeds” to nurture. Reep and ye shall sow. Law of attraction. Same-same.

Last spring, my book came out and I was too busy for digging in the dirt. Booksignings every weekend, talks, radio, television–it was great fun! I still get to do a lot of it and it’s still fun, and more than that, I do know that I’m reaching other caregivers. I receive emails and cards every week, heartfelt notes that let me know I did what I set out to do–to help other caregivers laugh, release a sigh of relief that they’re not the only one thinking those less-than-nice (okay, quasi-dangerous) thoughts–to know they’re not alone.

But buying my latest flat of impatiens made me realize I’ve come back ’round my mountain.

We all have treks to take. Frodo-like treks that take us up steep mountains and into dark caves.

Caregiving tested every ounce of me–my  integrity, my marriage, my capacity to give and accept forgiveness.

I had to open the door and allow death to take up residence in my home.

I had to learn to stand up for myself, for my mother, to demand proper care, demand to be heard.

Caregiving tested my body, my spirit, my beliefs, and I’d say maybe, I got a B+, and I’m being generous.

I say throw out your highs, the moments where you’re so sweet and so good you’re sappy–and throw out your lows, when you’re downright rabid and squirrely–and average the rest.

That’s your caregiving score. Your life score.

You’re not your very, very best, and you’re certainly not your momentary, dispicable worst.

You can’t do it all, not while caregiving. Make peace with that.

I took another dip in the last few months. Lost my way a bit.

Guess that’s life.

See? It’s not just caregiving that sends you on a wild goose chase.

Don’t think you won’t have headaches, problems, lows, moments of panic, moments of dire frustration after caregiving ceases. You will. (You can’t blame everything on caregiving:) I used to. I used to have thoughts like, “After mother…” I hated to say the words, but part of me longed to look over the fence. It’s not so different, if that makes sense.

I think of my recent posts and know I’m giving myself away–losing myself and finding me again, what do you think you deserve, and what are you attracting? You see where my head has been.

Where’s your head been?

Think of your words, your ruminating thoughts, look at the items you’ve bought recently–you’ll begin to see a pattern.

You might find out where you are. I used to have a pastor that said if you want to know what you love, look at your checkbook, it’ll tell you.

I watched Oprah’s Big Give the other night, and I realized that this one team wasn’t dreaming big enough.

She thought she had done a phenomenal job, but even I could see that she could do so much more–but her basket wasn’t big enough.

I recently read that life  gives you only enough to fill up your basket.

I thought, “I’d better get a bigger basket.” (Reminds me of Jaws, “We better get a bigger boat!”

As I type this blog, my nails are caked with dirt. I’ve got a smudge on one of my calves. My nose is pink and it’s still March.

Bulbs are nestled below ground and pink geraniums sit under my office window.

I’m a sun-hoochie in the spring. I can’t get enough. I don’t come in until the sun goes down.

It feels good to be back.

I hope you find your way around your mountain.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

www.kunati.com

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As an author, and speaker on caregiving issues, one of the great things I get to do is meet other caregivers at conferences, seminars, and booksignings. I have gathered a collection of hilarious stories, and one of the best ones (and this isn’t an urban legend, I actually talked to the wife myself) is about her mother-in-law who lives with her and her husband (the mother’s son).

The son has a home-based business, so he’s in charge of watching his mom all day.  He and “mom” eat breakfast, go for a walk, and then she scoots up her chair and sits beside him all day as he works on the computer and makes calls. He gives her little jobs to do, so she feels quite useful.

The problem is….when his wife gets home at night.

His mother thinks his wife is the “other woman.”

She can’t stand her, calls her names, tell her that she should just leave, and “how could she come to their home?”

She even steals from her purse, hides her keys and puts pen marks on her clothes. They have to sneak back to the bedroom at night after “mom” has gone to sleep and make sure not to be affectionate in front of her. 

The wife was pretty cool about it all. She smiled and laughed and shook her head.

I asked if their dog’s name was Oedipus.

While that’s a cute story, it would be pretty stressful to live with.

Jealousy comes in many forms, and it isn’t just for the middle-schooler who wishes she were a cheerleader, or the college guy in love with the girl who won’t return his affections. Adults don’t like to admit to jealousy, but we still harbor it.

My mom was jealous of our fourteen-year old daughter.

Rather, she was jealous of the attention I paid her, the clothes we bought, my taking her to swim practice, or helping her with homework. But I think more than the things I did, it was the way I looked at my daughters with such deep love and hope for the future–something I couldn’t and wouldn’t hide or deny.

I “caught” my mom on the phone one time (early on when she could still dial and still knew what a phone was) complaining to her best friend about that “snippy teen girl I like better, and how that  girl never helps out, is lazy and selfish.”

I have to admit, it hurt. My daughters  were and are such a joy in my life. They infused our home with joy, color, laughter, friends, activities–all the things I so needed to be reminded of. And there was my snarly mother talking behind my back! I tried to dote on my mother as well, reminded her of her beautiful long legs, her elegant “piano hands” and her infectious smile. She would have let me go on all day.

Now, I have to admit on having more than one (to say the least) conversations with girlfriends about my mother…I understand the need to gripe, whine, and make someone the bad guy because life is bad enough and you need  bulls-eye to focus all your pain, frustrations and disappointments on. Being a sandwich generation-er, I had to be careful not to complain about my mother and my kids!

But it still hurt.

I understand already what it feels like to look at the “younger” generation with a bit of melancholy and jealousy.  Their bodies, their strength, their freedom, their bravado–all the things that begin to diminish over time.

But I’ve seen how ugly jealousy makes me, how ugly it is to observe in someone else–and knowing that it’s pure toxins in my system.

I’ve observed women’s cruelties to  each other–how some older women are downright mean and judgemental of the younger set. How sad! We need each other so much–there’s such wisdom, humor, and insight to give each other.

I don’t want t be like that. I lived my 20s, 30s, and now, almost all of my 40s. I seized a few moments, squandered others. That’s life. But I don’t want to be bitter, always comparing, always needy.

Needy is creepy.

I hurt that my mother couldn’t enjoy our daughter’s youth–fiddle with their hair and clothing, listen to their stories of dates, proms, and job interviews with sweet remembrance. I wanted us to be “girls” together.

All I can do is make different choices for myself.

When it comes to being jealous, and of course, I feel it too–I remind myself I’m getting out of “my skin,” and into someone else’s. I can only live my life and make it meaningful and joyous–and that is a conscious decision. I have to shore up my walls and choose “not to go there.”

In dealing with jealousy of our elders, I’m not sure all  of them will have the strength to monitor their thoughts and emotions–not toward the end of life, or when diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s enters the picture. anyway. Reassure them of your love, remind them of the good life they’ve had, give them appropriate attention and deserved respect–and then let it go–get their mind off it.

Reward good behaviour in yourself and others.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Kunati Publishing

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This week, I’ve blogged about the Law of Attraction.

It took me a while to comprehend how we can attract the negative into our life by saying we don’t want something–don’t want to be poor, don’t want to be sick, don’t want to get a divorce…

But then, last week I attended this awesome Alzheimer’s conference, and I learned something very important.

(Might I note here that I’m a school skipper from way back. It’s a wonder I ever graduated.

I personally think everyone should graduate at sixteen, that Jr. College should be paid by the state (or technical school), and that everyone should turn 18 with either their AA degree, or a skill. (sorry, opinions jump subjects at will)

What I mean is that something has to be really, really good to make me stay in the room, be alert, and take notes–and at this conference, I did all three….

Here’s what the presenter said (specialist in Alz)

BAN “DON’T ” FROM YOUR VOCABULARY WHEN DEALING WITH

ALZHEIMER’S AND DEMENTIA PATIENTS.

Why? Because when you say, “Don’t sit own yet.”

They don’t hear the don’t.

It’s just one word, at the beginning of the sentence, their brain doesn’t pick up on it. We even say the word lower in tone, and they simply don’t comprehend it. They do the thing you told them not to. Too many words, and that one matters the least.

Wow.

Why do we think our brains, our lives, or anything else is any different?

We drop the don’t, and attract the rest.

Why? Because it’s not what you say, it’s what you fixate on.

Ohhhhh….now that I get.

It’s like saying, “Don’t think about a purple elephant cooking eggs in your kitchen.”

Can you think/imagine anything else? Of course not!

I planted the image in your brain.

So, how are you attracting the good things into your life?

Are you thinking of those? Are you saying those things out loud?

As a caregiver, or a person who is struggling with a disease such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Diabetes, Cancer, MS…joy is sometimes a difficult commodity to come by.

Joy is supposed to be about happiness, right?

And what do I have to be happy about?

Losing my job? Going on two hours sleep?

Dealing with my cantankerous mom? Fighting with doctors and insurance?

Knowing this disease is only going to get worse?

Knowing that caregiving ends with losing my loved one?

Joy is about finding life’s goodness–everywhere. In the small things.

Simple pleasure. Sweet moments. Quiet, deep peace. Allowing.

Trusting. Resting.

I have a new mantra–to hold me over during the time I know what I want or need and actually achieving it:
(it’s on a post-it note on my monitor now)

Trust, Wait, Anticipate.

Trust that good will come my way.

Wait, by finding joy and staying busy.

Anticipate, imagine, and expect the good to show up.

Here are the last of my questions I asked Linda Merlino, author of Belly of the Whale, coming out in April. (check back posts for the premise of this book) Hope you’ve enjoyed my guest blogger, Linda. I’ve enjoyed our Q&A–only thing better would have been if it were face to face and involved coffee.

(I’m the questioner–Linda is the answeree)

Q: Your character becomes proactive, in terms of psychologically. She begins to face her fear. Is this autobiographical in some way? How does facing our fear—whether it’s a gunman, breast cancer, or anything else—change a person? As I said before this is not autobiographical in regard to the breast cancer experience, but beyond that we all have are own fears. I read somewhere that there are only two significant emotions: love and fear.

Fear is paralyzing. Hudson Catalina loses her mother when she is fourteen years old.

Emotionally she becomes immobilized. On the surface she carries on, graduates from high school, goes to college, becomes a teacher, gets married, has children and not until her daughter is born and then her diagnosis does she begin to face the suppressed emotions of her youth. Life often bumps along allowing us to bury significant experiences and generally we do not deal with them until there is a collision, a forced head-on crash of some kind. When the moment arrives that any one of us faces our fears, like Hudson in Belly of the Whale, there is a shift into change. As an example, in an excerpt from Belly of the Whale, Hudson Catalina in regard to her cancer and the killer, Buddy Baker:

“Breast cancer and Buddy Baker were one and the same, both trying to suck me down. Yesterday, I gave in to cancer, gave myself over to a disease that had taken me into the bowels of despair, into the belly of hell; a disease that had no sympathy, no compassion and no purpose other than to kill me. Now I was confronted by Buddy, a black-hooded murderer, another kind of killer who had taken me hostage, who had no mercy, no kindness and no other purpose than to take my life. Buddy and cancer wanted a sign, wanted me to concede my battle with each, to fly the flag of defeat.I glared at him. I would not surrender to either.”

Q: There’s a lot of talk about The Law of Attraction these days. I’ve read some of the prominent writers and speakers in the field, and I’ve heard them say that we attract everything—even violence or illness. We attract it for two reasons: 1) in order to learn from it, and 2) we attract it because we have unhealthy patterns/beliefs, and don’t realize we are attracting such negativity.

This sort of thinking goes against the old adage: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

While I don’t feel that you—or I—need to make a definitive stand for or against the Law of Attraction, how do you feel about it, in terms of someone who contracts cancer, such as your character, and then winds up in a dangerous, life threatening situation?What can other people who are in real life traumas and dramas glean from this? A: The Law of Attraction is just another name for fear. If a person is negative then negative happens. Why- me-God people can not see the flip side…the glass half full. Why do some people take on this kind of behavior? I believe it is out of fear. Fear becomes their protection, the negativity of their attitude is the barrier created against life. Inevitably, I believe this kind of person attracts the very things they fear.

Now, what of the “good” people the ones that die young, the ones that suffer, the ones that are taken from us too soon? I have no answer; I believe there is no answer, only that there is a reason, a higher purpose to everything and that we are players on the stage of life and we do not write the script. Perhaps the good folk who attract illness or violence are role models. They are the teachers. We, like Hudson Catalina, learn from them. We learn how to die, we learn how to live. In a final excerpt from Belly of the Whale speaking of Willy Wu and Ruby Desmond:“Ruby Desmond and Willy Wu were teachers, the kind of teachers that cross paths and impact lives forever.” ~Linda Merlino

I hope you too, ban “don’t” from your vocabulary.

May you attract joy and find sweetness in each day.

~Carol D. O’Dell

author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir,

available on Amazon and in most bookstores

Kunati Publishing

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