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Archive for the ‘passion’ Category

Do you hear the tick, tick, tick of the death clock?

What’s the death clock you ask?

The death clock, is a website that calculates (with a little information you add in) the exact day you will die.

Sounds morbid, right?

I agree, but take this as a bit of fun and not too serious.

Playing with death–trying it on for size is one way humans deal with the tragedies of life–kind of like playing dress up with your mother’s high heels and your dad’s jacket.

So, I went to www.deathclock.com, (there’s also a few others– http://www.findyourfate.com/deathmeter/deathmtr.html, http://deathdate.info, http://www.death-clock.org/) and put in my numbers.

I didn’t really want to know when I’d die. But I have to admit, I was curious.

How can you not be curious?

I was raised in a uber-religious home and this sounded like fortune telling–something stricly forbidden to dabble in–which means it’s even more tempting, dangerous, and oh so fascinating…(yeah, I’ve got a bit of a rebellious streak in me, I can’t deny it).

So I typed in my info, and you know what? I feel better!

It says I’m going to live until I’m 100 years old.

Instead of feeling depressed about knowing my “D day,” I felt expanded.

100 feels pretty far away. I’m not quite half there. I still have a a whole lotta livin’ to do. 

I do take in account I could get hit by the proverbial bus at any time–that lightening could strike me for visiting that heathen site, (sorry, Mama!) or a myriad of other diseases and accidents could come barrel my way–but I’m not the type of person to be paralyzed by the “what ifs” of life. 

But I’ve seen the dark side of agin. I know what Alzheimer’s looks like, about the challenges that come with aging.

My dad died of heart disease at 78, and my mother lived with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and died at the age of 92 (they were my adoptive parents and older than most parents). I was her primary caregiver and she lived with my family and I the last three years of her life.

I wrote every day my mother lived with us.

I wrote what it’s like for her to live with this disease, what it was like for me, her daughter to struggle with the challenges of being a sandwich generation-er. I wrote about our fears, our fights, our hurts, our day-to-day challenges, and the truth about the guilt and resentment caregivers and families are afraid to say out loud.

Our story became a book, Mothering Mother and has been read by thousands.

The fact is, if you live long enough, you stand a real strong chance of getting Alzheimer’s.

Deal with it. Sounds cold, but what I mean is…do what you can now to take care of yourself.

Eat healthy, have a good attitude, walk every day. Forgive.

Those are the best ways I know of to stave off that dreaded disease.

And even if you get a diagnosis, don’t just crawl up and die. You still have time–love your family–leave a legacy. Don’t spend your precious time worrying.

I don’t know if you want to try the death clock–if it all seems like a bunch of hoo-haa.–but if you’re feeling brave, then take a twirl with the grim reaper and give it a try.

A few years ago, I wrote a “100 Things To Do in My Life” List.

I wrote it while we were on vacation. I wrote it around the margins of an old Rand McNally atlas we had in the car–apprapo, I guess.

I wrote things like:

  1. Go back to college and get my BFA
  2. Design and make a bronze sculpture
  3. Visit the Vincent Van Gogh Gallery in Amsterdam
  4. Publish books (plural)
  5. Take a cooking class in Napa
  6. Repaint all my favorite Van Goghs myself
  7. Create cool yard art–and sell it
  8. Be paid 500 bucks an hour to speak and inspire people
  9. Be on the board of a charity/organization and help make a difference
  10. Design an Italian garden
  11. Have a 30+year writing career
  12. Be a GREAT grandma
  13. Speak French, Italian and Spanish fluently
  14. Live in the South of France for several months
  15. Win a PEN award
  16. Stay married, stay healthy
  17. Forgive and not grow bitter

I wrote this in 1999. I was dreaming big,. I packed it away and didn’t look at it for more than five years. My heart and my words guided me intuitively.

There are 126 items on my master list.

Of the 16 I listed here, 11 have already come to fruition.

I have 53 years to achieve the rest.

A friend of mine said she saw The Bucket List this week and that she loved it, but a friend of hers said they wanted a list of all the things they didn’t want to do–a “Chuck It” list. I like that idea too.

Or you could do an “anti-list.”

Remember that edisode on Grey’s Anatomy when that guy found out he was dying and decided to video-taped himself chewing out all the people he hated/who had hurt and humiliated him? This is what he chose to do before he died.

How cleansing! To leave this world feeling like you said your peace. Perhaps is he had done this sooner, he wouldn’t be dying.

What would be on your anti-list?

I’d love to never ever have another root canal…how about you?

So maybe I should rename the Death Clock to the LIVE clock.

After all, I have a list that needs a whole lot more check marks. Instead of counting down the days until I die, I should count each day I’m living.

Instead of following the old cliche, “Live a little.” I think I’ll rewrite it:

Live A lot!”

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Kunati books, www.kunati.com/motheringmother

Family advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

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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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There’s a new kind of caregiver out there.

She (or he) is a savvy caregiver, isn’t a martyr, and doesn’t look defeated (all the time).

She (I use the feminine pronoun to apply to everyone) has her act together (in some respects) and isn’t going to let her life and her plans be completely derailed–and yet she loves her family, her elders, her children, and embraces the fact that she’s an integral part of their life.

How does she do it all?

It’s not about being perfect.

In part, it’s about being prepared, looking at the big picture, and then breaking down the day-to-day components into manageable bites.

It’s also about choosing to care-give.

This isn’t a passive thing–and yes, it may have come to you sideways, unexpected or by default, but you didn’t have to say yes. Everyday people place their family members in care facilities, sometimes out of necessity and sometimes by refusing to give them any level of care.

Realize that you are choosing to care-give. That sense of choice also provides you with purpose and direction. It means you’re not a victim.

Preparedness (Boy Scouts, move over) and How to Care-give Not to Kill Yourself

  • She’s (the healthy caregiver) gathered the necessary info and has it at her fingertips–Living Wills (The Five Wishes is the one I highly suggest) DNR orders, if necessary, insurance info and numbers, notes made about recent doctor appts. or hospitalizations, and medicine info.
  • She uses her calendar and to-do lists efficiently, but she’s not a robot. Some days you chuck it all and love on the person who needs it the most (that may be yourself).
  • She has her down days, her pajama days, and she knows that balance isn’t about doing a little every day–sometimes there are seasons–seasons of quiet, seasons of chaos, and seasons of grief.
  • She’s learned not to let every little thing rial her. She’s experienced enough in life to know what’s worth freaking out about (which is very little) and what isn’t (which is most everything else).
  • She listens, repeats back what is said (to a loved one or to a doctor) so that she understands clearly. She takes notes if it’s important or could be necessary later.
  • She can shut it all off and be a woman, get a mani-pedi, be silly and play Prince in the car and sing to the top of her lungs. She doesn’t get sucked into being an elder or being a teen just because she happens to spend a lot of time with either (or both).
  • She prioritizes. Sometimes a home-cooked meal is soothing and rattles her nerves. Sometimes it’s pizza night. She laid down the “shoulda’s, woulda’s, and coulda’s.”
  • She has a great support team–friends to call and gripe to, a gynecologist or family doctor who’s looking out for her, knows the stress she’s under and can monitor her well-being. She relies on her faith, her heart, her circle of support and doesn’t try to go it alone. She considers herself a part of a team and shows a heart of gratitude.
  • She asks for and accepts help. She isn’t interested in being super woman or perfectionist woman. She’s willing to get help and seeks out competent care.
  • She knows she’s vulnerable to stress, so she’s devised a meditation time and exercise time she can manage–it may be only a few minutes a day, but it keeps her sane.  She’s found her own spirituality.
  • She continues to improve her own life–she takes an on line class, a yoga class, is learning how to knit–something that keeps her mind active and learning.
  • She utilizes the internet, finds help, information, and forums that help support her and her caregiving experience.
  • She can see past tomorrow–she knows that caregiving isn’t forever–and she has her own personal plan to move on with her life.
  • She gives herself permission to “lose it” every once in a while–sometimes things just go in the crapper and that isn’t a reflection of her, it’s just life. If she bites someone’s head off, forgets an appointment, bounces a check, she admits her faux pas and lets it go.
  • She values her marriage/intimate relationship and allows sex and intimacy to heal her. Even when she’s exhausted, she finds and asks for ways to connect.
  • She enjoys caregiving–even with all its craziness, caring for a loved one is a privilege. She finds ways to incorporate everyday pleasures to share with her care partner–bird watching from a bedroom window, stopping for ice cream on the way back from the doctor.
  • She takes the time to hold hands.
  • She’s strong enough to make the touch choices, to not be popular, to figure out how to get a doctor, care staff to understand where she’s coming from–and she’s brave enough to know that when death comes, she may be asked to make critical end-of-life decisions, decisions others may disagree with.
  • She’s not afraid of Alzheimer’s or Parkinsons and doesn’t give up in the cruel face of whatever disease her loved ones face. If they forget who she is, she’ll remember for them. If they become uncontrollable, she gets help and doesn’t take it personal.
  • She knows that she may not always be able to do this–and she’s explored other options. She isn’t going to wreck her health or her marriage. She’s planning for those changes now.
  • She knows that caregiving will take her to the bitter edge, and she’s got to figure out how regain the parts of her that get lost in the mix. She knows how hard this is, or will become, but there’s a thread that’s pulling her along, a thread will lead her out and will allow her to continue her journey once caregiving is over.

The new kind of caregiver isn’t a super-mom or super-daughter (or super-son).

They’re real people loving their families. It’s realistic. It’s not martyristic.

The world may not understand the “sacrifices” as some might call them that caregivers (plain ole’ family) makes, but those who have been there understand the love and loyalty that comes in tow.

You don’t do all these things at once, so don’t try to measure up.

You don’t do them to impress anybody.

This is survival. This is how to care-give and not kill yourself in the process.

~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

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This June, my mother will celebrate her sixth anniversary “on the other side.”

I can hardly believe it’s been that long. I spent the first year in grief and rebuilding my life.

That’s normal, and you can’t rush it or fix it. It was more like two years, and that’s also “normal.”

That’s how long it takes to assimilate a death, process your emotions, and begin to incorporate your loved one into your being. Of course, averages are just numbers and each person’s process if different, but you really shouldn’t expect much from yourself during those first two years–at least that long. 

For me, that time was a mix of guilt, regret, longing, lostness, mania, and vacillating between lethargy and intensity. To the outside world, I might not have looked like I skipped a beat, but what choice did I have?

I was a sand-gener–I had daughters to finish raising, to get into college. I returned to college myself, lost 30 pounds, stayed married, wrote my book, wrote short stories, essays and articles–I looked busy. I was busy. But there was a whole lot going on under the surface.

But only in retrospect can we see the bigger picture.

Now, I can look back and see where I’ve been and what I’ve learned.

It’s a laundry list and I can’t say when I learned what.

There’s no order, only this is what I know–about caregiving, life, death, mothers, daughters, families, faith, and surviving.

What I Learned:

  • I’m glad I didn’t know what was ahead–if I did, I would have never gone on this journey. 
  • Believe that caregiving has come into your life to heal you, show you things about yourself, give you a chance to work on old issues–and that in the end, you’ll emerge a better person.  
  • To accept myself and my mother and our relationship “as is.” It’s okay not to try and fix things.
  • Forgiveness are like small pebbles you pick up along the way–nothing big and monumental–just a gathering of what I choose to keep–and what I leave behind.
  • Doctors and nurses aren’t gods and I don’t have to do everything they say. I can speak up, ask for somehting different. I know my loved one much better than they do–and I have to make–and live with my decisions.
  • For the most part, going into the hospital in those last few years only made things worse. It wore me out, and there is a time to just accept that your loved one’s health is falling apart and let it.
  • Live with the chaos, the dishes, the laundry–sleep whenever I can–there are times to just get by.
  • Stop worrying about what my relatives or our neighbors think. Unless you’ve been a caregiver, youy can’t fathom what this is like.
  • To ask for more and more and more help. I tried to do too much alone and on my own.
  • Trust that I will bounce back from caregiving. Don’t drive my health to the absolute bitter edge (just almost), but then reclaim my health, my life, and my sanity and move on.
  • Guilt and resentment take up too much time and energy–stop giving my power away by mulling on things I can’t change.
  • You might not want to piss off all your doctors and nurses because you might eventually need them–so be savvy about how you deal with them.
  • If you’re forced choosing between your health, your marriage, your sanity, your children–and your elder–then choose your life to put first. Not theirs. As cold as that sounds, life moves forward. This doesn’t mean you ditch them on the side of the road, but in your mind and heart, put your life first.
  • Don’t just tolerate things you can’t stand. Stop being passive agressive and complaining about it later. Do something about it. Pitch a fit. Tell off your sibling. Fire a home health aide. Scream for help. Be a bitch. It probably isn’t the first time–nor will it be your last. You get what you tolerate, so stop tolerating so much. (I’m talking to myself, here)
  • No matter how religious a person may have been in their life, it doesn’t mean they aren’t fearful of death. Fear, or lack of, has more to do with a person’s psychological make up, and a way they’ve practiced seeing and responding to life–and this will determine how they handle death.
  • Realize that those last few years, months, or weeks may be more about semantics–that their spirit has already left this earth and the shell, their body, just hasn’t left yet. Be okay with taking care of that shell–but don’t make it hard, and don’t over think.
  • Understand that anger is sometimes a useful emotion–it’s a way we protect ourselves, but there’s also a time to lay anger down.
  • Laugh whenver you can–at whatever you can. Be irreverent, be snarky, other than downright cruelty, laughter is so good for you that you need to see the humor and crazyness of your situation.
  • For the most part, go with your gut. Do what feels most natural, particularly after your loved one passes and you’re grieving. Sleep, eat, cry, run a marathon, join thepeace corp–whatever is driving you, let it drive you–it’s part of your journey, and other than truly dangerous behavoir, you can’t screw up, so go for it.
  • You feel really lost after losing your mother. You wonder who you are without them to help define you. Later, you might even feel free-er, less confined.
  • Missing someone hurts, but sometimes it’s good to hurt.
  • It may take a few years, but eventually, let go of the exhaustion, resentment, guilt, and begin to enjoy your new relationship with your loved one. People “on the other side” still teach us, guide us, speak to us–and realize that they are now a part of who you are. You carry them with you.
  • Understand that you may have to care give again–a spouse, another parent, a sibling, who knows? Begin to think–how would you do it different?

Here I am, almost to June. Six years ago I was at my mother’s bedside.

It was grueling, and the weeks were dribbling by.

It rained every day, and my mother was in a coma. It felt like she’d never die. That may sound cruel, but I was beyond all human niceties. It also felt like I’d never live. Practically speaking, I knew I couldn’t fix Alzheimer’s. I knew her living would keep her in a place of perpetual lostness, and I didn’t want that for either of us.

I hated everybody–hospice, me, my mother–and then I let go and just allowed.

The barometric pressure felt off the chart. ‘

Death had to come, but when? Mother had quit eating and drinking, and I let her. That was an excruciating decision, but I chose to let her leave this world. I chose not to intebate her, to do a feeding tube. I knew that this decision would be one I would have to bear alone. I would have to sit there, every minute and see the ramifications of my choice. I did, and as hard as it was, as many times as I wanted to panic, jump up, run out, beg for intervention, I didn’t. I stayed firm.

My world grew calm, my movements quiet. We waited.

And here I am–six years forward. Blogging. I had no idea I would wind up blogging every day. I doubt I even knew what a blog was at the time.

My book, Mothering Mother has been out a year. I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of caregivers. I’ve been featured on CNN and other tv and radio programs. I’ve written a novel about Vincent Van Gogh, and finished my prequel, Said Child. I graduated from Jacksonville University and danced at my daughter’s wedding, and buried our beagle. Life is full. It swells and ebbs.

What I’ve learned is to accept each day, the power of now. Each season. To be alive with what is given to me at the time. To realize I’m not so much in control as I am in the flow. I am a part of what is happening, not orchestrating it.

Caregiving gave my life a deeper meaning. It revealed things about me, how I think, how I handle life–things I’m proud of and things I’d like to address.

One thing for sure, caregiving changes you in ways you can’t imagine.  

~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

Publisher: www.kunati.com

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We always think that happiness is “out there.”

When I get a new job, when I take vacation, when I lose 30 pounds, when…

Happiness is not that hard. We make it hard. Happiness is having new eyes. A fresh perspective.

After I moved my mother in with us to care for her, (she had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), she used to tell everybody–the postman, the grocery clerk, the pastor, the lawn guy, that she had given up everything to move in with me–her house, her car, her friends, her life.

Apparently she thought I had given up nothing.

I would stand next to her and smile and let her have her moment, get the sympathy she thought she deserved although most people had no idea what to say.

It reminded me of a precocious two-year old I knew who would run in from playing with a tiny scratch on her arm and pronounce to the entire room, “LOOK AT WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME!”

There were times as a caregiver (and other times in my life) that I wanted to do that, pronounce it to the world.

But somewhere along in my early adult life (after years of anger and hurt about being adopted and other very painful issues) I got tired of my own whining. I simply wore it out. I was tired of being known as the girl with the problems.

I decided to be the happiest person I knew.

Not a sappy Pollyanna happy type you just want to slap, but deep-down easy, not in your face joy.

It hasn’t been a linear path getting here, but I am pretty darn happy.

One day, while caring for my mom, she toodled into the kitchen, slapped her hand down on the counter and pronounced, “I’m not happy!”

As if I could bop her over the head with my fairy wand and “Voila!” instant happiness.

I looked at her, my mother who truly was a happy (in a self-centered, domineering, the entire world is here to serve me kind of way) person. It just wasn’t easy, and life isn’t always easy. She didn’t like having to leave her friends and move in with me. Her body was giving out and Parkinson’s had taken its toll, also, Alzheimer’s and depression are linked. Most days, she couldn’t toodle into my kitchen. She didn’t like that I had to divide my time away from her to take care of my children and my marriage. She didn’t like that her life was playing out and that sooner, rather than later, she’d die.

But I couldn’t fix any of that.

I just looked at her with this dawning revelation.

If only one of us could be happy, then I’d choose me.

Kind of the life raft theory. Who do you kick off the boat?

The one who most likely won’t make it any way.

Sounds terrible, I know, and I had truly, truly, truly tried to make her happy–and more than that, I had tried to take care of her, keep her safe, keep her alive.

But if the people around you simply choose not to be happy, then realize you can choose otherwise.

Choose joy.

My life is far, far from perfect, and I’ve been kicked in the teethquite a few times, but this morning, I rode my bike for five miles with my ipod on singing my heart out.

I have a new CD–Grey’s Anatomy’s Third Season, and I love the compilation of songs and artists. I belt it out, make figure 8s and circles with my wheels, and dance on the bike (be-boppin’ up and down) and I don’t care what anybody thinks.

Why should I? In the first place, hardly anyone’s home at 10am, and most people I know aren’t happy–or at least they don’t act happy, so why should I care if I’m known as the crazy bicycle singer?

My kids think I’m nuts, but they’re used to me by now.

My morning coffee, my journal, my glider, the sun, my bike, my ipod, my afternoon dark chocolate fix–the warm, strong hug of my husband–these are what I call give me my “happy fix.” They bring me immense daily joy. They cost very little, and I try not to run out or get so busy and stressed that I don’t do these things I love, the very things that sustain me.

Caregiving was grueling at times, and the end was really, really tough–but it taught me to love, to give, to stretch beyond myself, and it was for a season.

Since my mother’s passing, I’ve learned that life is pretty darn short and I better snatch all the sweetness and joy I can. Parts of my life are still crappy, and I’m not always this giddy–I tend to be more so in the spring and summer, so if I’m getting on your last nerve–sorry.

What I hope for you today is based off something I read this morning in Alan Cohen’s Daily Devotional book, A Deep Breath of Life,

April 14th entry:

I used to think I was a perfectionist.

I was constantly finding flaws and errors other people overlooked. If there were many aspects of a job that was done well, I would point out the one area that wasn’t.

But now I realize I was an imperfectionist.

If I was a perfectionist, I would have found perfection everywhere I looked.

***

That BLEW ME AWAY. I hope it did you too.

I plan to become a happyologist.

~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

 

 

 

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Different personalities handle life, death, and caregiving differently.

We all have gifts to offer the world and to offer as a caregiver. 

Stop trying to be something you’re not.

Stop trying to be your mother.

There are things you’re good at things you aren’t.

Accept this and let go of the guilt. 

By examining your basic personality traits, you can capitalize on your strengths and accept what you can–and can’t do.

There are several types of personality tests such as the Briggs-Meyers and Kiersey Temprement scale. 

Let’s start with a simple one first. It’s actually based on the four humors of Hippocrates and is called Personality Plus by author and speaker Florence Littauer.

Here’s an easy breakdown of the Four Basic Personality Types:

Choleric: This is the commander-type. Cholerics are dominant, strong, decisive, stubborn and even arrogant.

Melancholy: This is the mental-type. Their typical behaviour involves thinking, assessing, making lists, evaluating the positives and negatives, and general analysis of facts. ‘

Sanguine: This is the social-type. They enjoy fun, socialising, chatting, telling stories – and are fond of promising the world, because that’s the friendly thing to do.

Phlegmatic: This is the flat-type. They are easy going, laid back, nonchalant, unexcitable and relaxed. Desiring a peaceful environment above all else.

Positives and Negatives

None of these types is specifically described as positive or negative – each having upsides and downsides. The book makes it clear that the characteristics are for observing and identifying, rather than judging.

  • A Choleric is focused on getting things done, but can run rough-shod over others. They are decisive and stubborn, but are also natural leaders and like check lists and getting things done. They can also be charismatic and dynamic and tend to “take the air out of the room.”
  • A Melancholy is a planner, making sure things happen, although sometimes they can paralyze themselves with over-analysis. Lists and “doing things the right way” are characteristics of this personality type. While quiet, they are also strong and stay on task. They are the ponderers and can also be great artists and enjoy being alone. They tend to make their own happiness and are easy to get along with.
  • A Sanguine gets on well with people and can get others excited about issues, but cannot always be relied upon to get things done. They love interacting with others and play the role of the entertainer in group interactions. They have a tendency to over-promise and under-deliver. They are also inspiring and charasmatic and light up a room.
  • A Phlegmatic is neutral – they tend not to actively upset people, but their indifference may frustrate people. They try not to make decisions, and generally go for the status quo. Phlegmatics are peace lovers and bring a sense of calmness to situations. They avoid stress whenever possible and are great at coping skills and solving problems–if you seek them out because they’re not likely to assert themselves. They don’t like being the center of attention.

Do you see yourself anywhere?

I do. I’m a mix of sanguine and choleric and with a dash of melancholy.

I’m one step away from being a party-hardy, but I do have my contemplative side.

I also see myself, sad to say, not delivering on all of my promises. Mostly because I promise too much.

I can entertain a room and love telling stories, planning an event, and rallying a cause.

By  knowing this about myself, I’m able to recognize when I am, or I’m not at my best.

I was also able to assess my mother’s personality–not hard to do–choleric and then some.

I could see why we butted heads. Two extroverts, entertainers, both of us know-it-alls–under one roof. No wonder we had a few fireworks (cannons) go off. No wonder we needed to get out and be with other people–only caregiving and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s isn’t exactly a great mix for mingling in a crowd.

Still, I could watch my mother’s face light up whenever we had company.

I can still see her long, elegant hands (she always had great nails) expressing a point.

Even her natural speaking voice had a certain cadence to it. You listened when she talked.

She liked herself, and that makes others like you as well. Some people found this annoying, but perhaps they felt threatened by such a formidable woman. While I’m at it, I can’t fail to mention that she was BOSSY, irritating, and demanding! She wouldn’t mind me saying these things because she wouldn’t consider them a detriment. That’s how things get done, she’d say.

In the end, I have to believe that I was able to offer my mother the homecoming she desired. She died at home, with me by her side and with hospice to guide us.  I fought exhaustion and doubt because I have the personality to go and go–if I believe in something. We stuck together–through fights, medical setbacks, and long, dark nights.

Her memorial service had a presentation of her dynamic life–as a minister, mother, wife, radio and television evangelist, and I was able to give her this because I understood her and how she would want to be remembered. I used my gift to tell stories to remember her. That’s why I wrote Mothering Mother, to capture who she was, who we were.

Learning about your personality and others can help when things get rough.

When I get out of my element, I say that “my circuit breakers are popping.”

That’s when I’ve created or become a part of a too stressful situation and I begin to lose it.

I forget things, drop the ball, the house gets totally chaotic–I”m even later than usual, and I get fussy.

I mean really fussy. I’m usually a laid back, happy go lucky gal, and when I get mean–something’s off.

I know this about me, and it really helped in dealing with caregiving stress.

I knew what to watch out for. I knew what I could give my mother and my family–and what I couldn’t.

You can’t go changing yourself, so don’t try. Not that we shouldn’t improve, but don’t plan to go out and get a lobotamy.

You pretty much have to go with the Popeye motto, “I am what I am.”

So accept your basic personality and learn to make the most of it.

For us Sanguine’s and Cholerics–hey, we can throw a great party and get people involved in a cause. We can mmake people smile and laugh, make a room look gorgeous, a meal, sumptous, and call up an army in time of need. Those are good things. But don’t ask me to scrub the little square bathroom tiles cause it’s not happenin’~

What we can’t do for you is pay attention to every detail, plan for every pitfall, or deliver on our gazillion, hair-brained ideas. We do care when we let people down, at least I do.

What this means is that we need each other.

I need those quiet, consistent friends to help me stay on course.

I need a phlegmatic to calm me down when I get too worked up.

I need a melancholy daughter to ask me how I’m doing, what I need–and then take the time to hear me out. I need my choleric daughter to organize my office while I listen to her fume about the injustices of the world.

I need my phlegmatic husband to pay the bills, put money in our 401K and run my beautiful website he designed. Does he drive me crazy with his skepticism and practicalities? Sure does. But my kite-flying high ideas drive him bonkers too. Still, we make a good team.

Isn’t it wonderful how we can look around us and see how we all fit together?

Caregiving is tough, but no matter which personality type you have, you bring gifts to the table, to your relationship. It is no mistake that you are you mother’s daughter, your husband’s spouse, that your sister happens to be so opposite of you sometimes you want to scream–and then other times she balances you out, and smooths over situations in a way you couldn’t have.

By understanding better who you are, where your weak spots are, what you’re good at–you can offer your loved one something unique and just what they need.

Accept your personality and your relationships as they are meant to be.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Family Adviser, Caring.com

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

www.kunati.com

www.Caring.com

www.opentohope.com

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One of the biggest issues I had as a caregiver was no energy!

I knew I was doing a lot, caring for my mom (She had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and lived with us)  and raising three daughters, but I still felt like most of my work was at home, not terribly hard or fast-paced, so why did I  always feel as if I was swimming in peanut butter?

I had such big plans. I thought since I was basically under house arrest, I’d spring clean, write more, paint a room, take a French course on the Internet. Caregiving wasn’t going to defeat me!

Nada.

I couldn’t make myself do anything. My body and my mind had gone to mush. Each day was a monotony of pills, food trays, doctor appointments, laundry and dinner…the nights were roller-coaster as mother’s sundowning made her more alert and agitated as the night wore on.

I was caring for a lot of people, yes, but when I began to observe what was draining my energy, it was less physically related than I initially suspected.

5 Caregiving Energy Zappers

  1. Lack of sleep.
  2. Worry and Regret
  3. Control Issues/Boundary Issues
  4. Holding on too long/not letting go

Lack of sleep is obvious, and the most physical of the 5 zappers. It’s also perhaps the most detrimental effect of caregiving. You have to realize that interrupted sleep is even harder on your body. You walk in a zombie state. You eat more to compensate, you can’t concentrate. We know that lack of sleep effects job perfornance, driving (even more than alcohol some argue), and your overall health and how it can contribute to obesity.The lack of sleep, compounded with the enormous challenges and responsibilities of caregiving creates a recipe for disaster.

What to do?

Tough one. Not all caregivers have the option or want to place their loved one in a facility.

Couple of options: Do you have a friend or neighbor or relative who lives nearby that you could go and sleep in a guest bedroom once or twice a month? You need to be OUT of your house, so your body doesn’t have all those cues to wake up. Even if your spouse of someone is willing to take care of your mom/dad/loved one, it’ll still wake you. Go somewhere else. Even a night at the Motel 8 is a good use of your money. Trust me on this one.

Second option: call you local council on aging and find out about respite services in your area. Or call a large church and ask for an adult sitter–or take your loved one to an adult day care. Insist they go. If they’re pouty, oh well. You have to take care of your health. You have to nap. You have to sleep! Without sleep, your body doesn’t repair itself. You could have a car accident, give your loved one the wrong dosage. You have to address this. Sleep deprivation is a serious problem that leads to many other problems.

Worry and regret: These are two hound dogs that won’t give up. They bullies and they’ll taunt you, pick at you, needle at you until you do what you have to do to all bullies, bears, lions and tigers.

How to face your inner bullies:

Stop running. Turn around. Take a deep breath.

PUFF UP. That’s what they tell you if you’re in the woods and are attacked by a bear.

Yell, bang pots, scream NO! Throw your arms around appear big and large and menacing and prove to that bully (and yourself) that you’re not running any more.

Worry is looking forward, living in fear of a future that isn’t even here yet. What if…?

Regret is looking back, beating yourself up for what’s already done. Why did I?

Both are not living in the present.

I just finished Eckhart Tolle’s book, The New EarthOprah’s bookclub pick. Get it on CD (his voice is about as flat as Stephen Hawking’s voice synthesizer, but the book’s so heady, it’s easier to listen to than read) His insights into living in this present moment, and why that brings peace, purpose and joy was refreshing really rang deep within my bones.

Worry and regret are just borrowing trouble, and trouble multiplies. They will eat at your mind, your heart and your life and will never stop. There’s always something to worry about, always something to regret.

What to do? Again, stop,  turn around, face this bully and say “NO.”

I suggest wearing one of those wrist bands (one of those rubber band/bracelet things). and every time you start to worry or regret, snap it real hard. Say out loud, STOP. Choose a good thought to replace it with. Have 2-3 fall back thoughts to replace the negative ones with–or put on music but stop the cycle.

Control Issues/ Boundary issues: You’re either one way or the other. You have to control everything–or you dont’ know how to say no.

It comes with the territory, and let’s face it, caregivers are bossy. Either by nature or by default, we’re used to running things. We know how mom likes her eggs, how to get her to take her pills, how we like the bed made, and on and on…. We don’t ask for help because we want things done our way.

Caregivers are all people pleasers. We like being needed, but the problem is, it mounts and mounts, and we simply can’t do it all. Stage left, in comes worry and regret. We need help, We need to give up our perfectionism and realize that we don’t always have to be busy–control thrives off of busyness, and after a while, caregivers forget how to do anything other than care give! We sit in front of the tv with our families and feel we should fold laundry, make next week’s list. We don’t know how to just relax any more because we’re in uber-mode.

How to stop? Breathe. One deep breath at at time. Ask for help, and then tell yourself that no one has to do it your way. Find small 5 minute relaxers–a bath, a walk, and try not to think ahead, plan, or organize your thoughts. Just be. Each time you feel your nerves building. Stop, Breathe. Fill every ounce of your lungs. Do it three times. The world can wait. Breathing is a great stress reducer.

Grieving: Those of us who have a loved one with a “life limiting illness or disease” as hospice says, knows that our time with our loved one is running out. Alzheimer’s, ALS, Lewy Body can take our loved one from us long before they leave this earth. We still have all the physical care, but without the reward of the relationship with our loved one. They might not know who we are, might not be appreciative or even be capable of talking.

We’re already grieving. Our hearts ache, and yet we have to keep on. Grieving is hard, necessary work, but it’s still work and it takes an enormous amount of energy to grieve.

If this is where you are in your life, first, recognize it.

Second, be easy on yourself. 

No wonder you don’t have energy. Just get through. Grieve as only you can. Does that mean sleeping, flipping channels? crying? Do whatever you can to get through.

Look for ways to soothe your soul–journal, pray or meditate, go out in nature and just sit. Talk if that helps, or be silent. This is a part of the process and we have to honor grief. When we do, when we don’t fight it but let it naturally occur, then it’s healing and cathartic–and it doesn’t last forever. As hard as it is, trust that joy and energy will return.

Letting go: Holding up a cardboard box isn’t difficult, right? It’s not heavy, but stand there long enough and that cardboard box starts feeling like a boulder. Not letting go is the same way. You can’t get your mother back from Alzheimer’s. I’m sorry. I really am. But you can’t. You have to let go that she doesn’t know you. You can’t get an ex husband back who’s already married again. You can only move on with your life. You can’t regret you didn’t finish college. You can go now, but regretting the past is useless.

Holding on is subtle and can go undetected. We think we have. We don’t pay attention to the snippets of thoughts in our heads, that running dialogue. We don’t realize we’re holding hurts and grudges, that we want things to be the way they were even though we know that life has changed. We’ve changed.

When my nephew, Charles was about three years old, his mother came to the back door and offered him and his older sister a cupcake. Charles had a matchbox car in one hand, and a palmetto bug (big roach!) in the other. He looked at the cupcake, looked at his car, looked at the big, and couldn’t decide.

Then he popped the roach in his mouth and grabbed the cupcake!

Lesson here: Let go of the “cock roaches” in your life, and take the cupcake!

I ask you, what are you holding onto? What do you need to grieve? What are you going to have to let go of and then hold out your empty hands and trust that something or someone new will come into your life. I can’t promise that you’re not going to have to sit with that void for awhile, and that’s what we’re all afraid of–but I can promise you this:

Until you let go, you’re hindering all the good out there that’s waiting to come into your life.

Energy zappers keep us from our joy and purpose. They make us exhausted, grumpy and lost in a fog.

By identifying our nemesis, our energy zapper–we can stop, turn, look at it for what it is, and make better choices.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

www.kunati.com

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 If you’re below the age of 65, you may worry about Alzheimer’s, but most likely, you’re not affected yet. 

Alzheimer’s is rare at that stage of life, affecting about 1 person in 1000 in the general population, but over the age of 65 it affects about 1 in 20. 

And the odds increase with age.

According to the very latest research found in the journal of neuroepidemology, that if you live to the golden age of 85 nearly 1 in 2 will have the disease. (Alzheimer’s currently makes up about 70% of the broader category known as dementia) Vascular dementia is the second highest form of dementia and about 10 percent of Americans aged 71 and up, or 2.4 million people, have Alzheimer’s disease and 1 million more have some other form of dementia

Here’s what a “brain on Alzheimer’s” looks like:

Women have a slightly greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s than men. Two factors of Alzheimer’s are plaque and tangled neurons. Both cause the brain to “shrink” and not make the proper connections. Memory, judgement, disorientation and logical and rational thinking are affected. Alzheimer’s can occur as early as in your 40s whereas dementia doesn’t usually strike before your 70s and is more of a gradual process.

Yikes. Makes me consider opening an extreme sports company and call it “When I’m Eighty-Four.” (named after McCartney’s “When I’m 64″) 

I’d rather go out bungee jumping, hang gliding, or mountain climbing.

I’d rather everyone stand around at my funeral saying, “You’ll never believe how she went!”

Remember the movie, Second Hand Lionsand the airplane through the barn? Sounds exhilerating to me.

But the fact is, we have very little say-so about whether we get Alzheimer’s or not.

It’s not like the connection between lung cancer and smoking. All we can do is make good personal, psychological, emotional and physical choices today–and then do a lot of hoping. (aka praying)

There’s very little you can do to avoid Alzheimer’s. There’s been some speculation with aluminum, but that’s still up for debate, and the experts also suggest to avoid getting hit on the head, but then again, they’re neurologists. What else are they going to say?  If both parents get Alzheimer’s, well, don’t try to think about that. Bottom line is, we know very little about this baffling disease.

 So here’s my personal guide to avoiding Alzheimer’s:

  • Maintain a good attitude about myself and others (my mother had a theme song, “I love me, I love me, I’m wild about myself…)
  • Forgive and let go on a daily basis (this is truly my mantra, to become a sieve and let all the anger and hurt and disappointments of life to flow through me)
  • Drink a little wine and celebrate life every chance you get (Salute!)
  • Eat dark chocolate often (I’m game)
  • Make love and maintain a loving long-term relationship (I’m assuming they mean with your long-term relationship partner)
  • Have friends and enjoy lively conversations, even debates (Hey, it’s an election year, surely you’ve got something to debate about!)
  • Learn new things: a new language, how to wire your ceiling fan, how to program your remote control (will someone please please teach me how to use my universal remote?)
  • Dance! This is a great way to avoid Parkinson’s, too. (That’s it. I’m signing up for those ballroom lessons I keep putting off!)
  • Surround yourself with beauty. Research has shown that the taste a person has in art or music is still there after they have Alzheimer’s. (In other words, if you’re like me and love Van Gogh, his work will still move you even if you can’t remember what a telephone is)
  • Take trips. Research has proven that taking trips is a great way to de-stress and a satisfying use of money. (I plan to see fill my heart and my brain with as much of the world’s beauty as I can cram in there)
  • Value sleep and don’t skimp on it. (I try not to wake to an alarm clock and I’ve created a sanctuary of a bedroom that’s glorious to fall asleep–or wake up in)
  • Get a dog, pet the dog, walk the dog–30 minutes a day (mine’s asleep under my chair right now)
  • Eat real food–veggies, fruits, lean meats, avoid processed foods–and cook in cast iron (I still have my mother’s)
  • In downtime, play soduku and chess and crossword puzzles–things that keep the ole’ brain fetching information (I hope blogging counts)
  • When you retire, get involved and stay involved with life–teach a class, start a second career, volunteer.  Don’t let your brain or your heart think your life has no purpose. Your body is smart, and if it thinks its usefulness is over, then it’ll begin to shut down. (Remember? I’m opening that extreme sports company)
  • Make plans now. Say what it is you want–do that living will and five wishes–don’t be afriad to talk.
  • Say ALL YOUR I LOVE YOU’s NOW and KEEP SAYING THEM

    Get a sense of humor! Humor heals. Watch funny movies, buy a joke book/ Get bawdy, humor is the sign of higher intelligence (I knew that, that’s why I’m so funny….looking)

If you get Alzheimer’s, take your meds and trust that your family will take care of you the best they can.

Tell them they’ll have to love and remember for the two of you.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

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I had this huge personal revelation that was a part of a deep belief system–and I realized that I did this very “thing” during caregiving–and if I did this, other caregivers might be doing it too.

This is the “thing” I’m talking about.

Paying for what you’ve done.

Example: You know how when you’re a kid and you’re supposed to get to go do something fun–like say, to go a birthday party–your parents tell you that to be able to go you have to clean your room, cut the grass, and when you get back you also have to do all your homework for the week?

In other words, you have to pay for having the good time.

And of course, you really had to PAY if you were ever bad–came home late, got in trouble (they called it punishment)

Well, I realized that I was (and am) still doing this to myself.

If I went out of town or went out to dinner with girlfriends, I’ve always made sure the house was clean, there was extra dogfood–and if I was gone a few days, I’d make sure there was a roast in the crock pot, a lasagna in the freezer…in other words, PAYMENT.

I couldn’t ever just believe I deserved something good.

Not just a gift–a gift is given sometimes to the UNdeserving.

I mean, believing deep down that I deserved something good–with no need to pay for it in any way.

Remember the old Puritan Ethic?

Work hard and God will reward you.

 I twisted it even further…Work hard or God won’t reward you.

Even after you’ve been rewarded, STILL work hard because you probably haven’t worked hard enough! In other words…work, work, work!

Did I hardly ever give myself a break (in part) as a caregiver? Not too much because I believed I had to PAY for past transgressions. I told myself I couldn’t find good help (in part, true), or that mother wouldn’t adjust (also true) or…the list went on. I know now that I thought I had to pay for my own good health, or pay if I were to even think about having a good time. 

Sick, I know. 

I’m hoping someone out there will step up and tell me

I’m not the only one who does this.

Recently, as most of you know, I published a book, Mothering Mother.I’ve spent months and months at caregiving talks, book signings, TV and radio spots. I’ve gotten lots of attention–something adults don’t like to talk about. I’ve received “fan” mail from wonderful caregivers and readers, I’ve received roses at special events…been on CNN, and it’s been hard, hard work, but it’s also been a whole lotta fun!

I’m suited for this. I love the juxtaposition of thought and quiet and contemplation and creating something on the page–and then I LOVE dressing up, “performing” mom and me in my little one act plays where I do both of us–I love making people laugh and cry. I love signing books! I could do it all day! I love knowing that I’ve touched someone’s lives. I even love the drives, the bookstores, the blogs.

Yikes. Does part of me believe that because I love it so, so much that I should have to “pay” for all this fun?

Now, a little bit of the hullabaloo has worn off and I realize that I’ve lapsed into this “I need to pay my family back for all that.” I’ve taken time away, stayed overnight, spent copious hours online and in bookstores. They’ve been patient and proud, but I’m sure it gets old.

It’s not that they asked or demanded anything.

But I see that I’ve been in drudgery mode lately–working hard with no joy. Taking jobs that are clearly not me. I thought I had to. I had so much to pay back.

I once had this great therapist who said the magic words that

changed my life…

“It’s a new day!”

So, I ask you–is there some part of you that took on the role of primary caregiver, or hardly ever lets yourself take a break because you believe you have to pay something back? Am I attracting this because I believe I need to pay? Do I feel guilty that my loved one is sick/dying?

Do I need to pay?

For being that black sheep?

For that adventure in college?

For screwing up my finances?

For taking off and letting my siblings deal with mom and dad for a while?

Because I enjoy good health and financial security?

Let it go. (I says to me-self)

Look at the sky and say, “Thanks!” That’s it. 

A heart of gratitude is all that’s asked. That’s The Secret.

Make a list of what you deserve:

I deserve to have daily joy.

I deserve to view myself with tenderness and compassion.

I deserve to be appreciated.

I deserve regular breaks.

I deserve help on a consistent basis.

I deserve a real vacation every year.

I deserve to caregive out choice and heart of love.

I deserve for my siblings/family to contribute.

I deserve for my thoughts and opinons to be respected.

As for caregiving, yeah, you may still want to and need to give care–but this could be the revelation that changes everything–and open up new opportunities.

It’s a new day.

~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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Lions, tigers, and support groups, oh my!

I have to admit, I didn’t attend a monthly caregiver’s support group while I cared for my mom. Why?

I guess you can chalk it up to my preacher’s kid background, but I’m about meeting’ed out. I was a notorious school skipper in high school and I still have problems sitting through events where one person talks and everyone else has to listen, stand up, sit down, and clap on que. (Unless I’m the one doing the talking…and even then, I’m sensitive to people’s time and attention spans).

For some reason, I’m either the slacker in the back of the room doodling on her notebook and making snide comments about everyone in the class–or I’m the front-row suck-up nerd hogging all the teacher’s attention. One or the other–on any given day.

I hate meeting rooms. They look like cages to me. Cages to pace in, to plot my breakout and lunge at innocent gawkers. I’m more of a “Born Free” kind of lion. (remember that old song, boomers?)

I start hyperventilating at the sight of a banquet table and metal chairs placed around it, or worse, a “sharing circle” lit by a flourescent light and tired looking folks staring at one another–I want to go screaming out into the sunlight, find the nearest park, beach, or river and take a walk, that or go buy a triple expresso and power shop.

It’s not that I don’t realize that sharing your experience and working through the stresses, frustraitons, questions, and heartaches of caregiving isn’t important. I know it is, but as my southern Mama always said:

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

Remember the Dr. Suess book, If I Ran the Zoo? Well, I guess I’ve always wanted to be a zoo-keeper.

So, here’s how I would run a support group. (dream scenario)

There would be couches, not metal chairs.
There would always be food and drink–and not just grocery store bought cookies.
There would be beautiful artwork.
There would be fresh flowers.
There would be music playing (sometimes jazz, sometimes, oldies, sometimes classical).

Stickers would be given out for doing things for yourself–making a phonecall, signing up for a class, etc. You would get to stand up, announce what you did for you, and get claps and/or hugs.

There would be show and tell–your latest photograph of your garden, a drawing, mom’s broach, Dad’s WWII medals, etc.

We’d share our favorite poems, books, recipes, and movie suggestons. Conversation would free flow. There would be laughter.

We’d have a gripe session and start off with cues such as:
“You wanna know what bugs me?!”
We’d throw eachother a potato to keep it going and anger would get a clap–we need to use our frustrations as energy so they won’t implode on us.

We’d have guest speakers occasionally–but not all doctors and elder-care based. We’d have life coaches, a juggler who would teach us how to juggle, a policeman teaching us safety practices, a wardrobe consultant for you and your loved one…

We’d plan events–like a mother-daughter fashion show, or a vintage car show and ride through town. We’d raise money for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s–or to sponsor a road trip!

We’d finish each session with either yoga or a walk or dancing. Movement is vital!

If I’m going to have to live at the zoo (aka, a caregiver’s life), then give me a comfy cage, and lots of play room.

Carol D. O’Dell
Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir,
available on Amazon

 http://www.mothering-mother.com

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