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Archive for the ‘psychologists’ Category

I have a magnet on my back door that reads, “Cherish this moment. This moment IS your life.”

As caregivers, we sometimes think we’re living for our loved ones. We’ve put our life “on hold,” and as soon as they’re better, or after that die, we’ll get our life back. Not a great way to look at caregiving–or your life. No wonder we feel resentment. No wonder we’re always agitated, gripey, or zone out–we’re constantly saying (whether we realize it or not, we’re giving out the message),  “I don’t want to be here.”

But what if “here” is all you’ve got? All you’re ever going to get?

Remember that great line in the movie As Good As It Gets?”

 Melvin Udall, played by Jack Nicholson is plagued so badly with OCD that his life is nothing but self-imposed rules. He can’t allow people or love into his life because they’ll make a mess, cause him to step on a crack in the sidewalk, or mess up his arrangement of silverware. He falls in love with a waitress who has a “messy” life. Not enough money, a sick child, living with her mom and waitressing for a living. (The quotes are so, so good from this movie, check out a few here)

After almost losing the love of his life because he’s so darn difficult, he decides he’s got to get better, he’s got to get help. He barges into his psychiatrist’s office and demands to be seen. He looks around and sees an office full of scared and miserable people. People waiting for their life to start. Waiting for their OCD to go away. Waiting.

He can’t wait any longer.

He blurts, “Wake up, people. What if this is as good as it gets?!”

So I ask you, what if your life right now, today, is as good as it gets?

Are you going to give up, go to bed and pull the covers over your head? Forever? No, you’re going to make it work. Sadly, the end of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is death. So yes, there’s a way out, just not a good one. But death is the way out for all of us, so don’t let that get you down.

I love a little book that came out a few years ago, “Do One Thing Different” and the concept really stuck with me. When you’re caregiving, much of your life is structured around meds, treatments, and rehab, so jumping into a full exercise routine or enrolling full-time in college really isn’t an option. But you can change one thing. One thing that takes, oh, ten minutes a day–or less. Don’t tell me you don’t have ten minutes. Everybody wastes ten minutes–on tv, over-cleaning, or chowing down on something that’s not even all that tasty.

For me, I’m concentrating on my waist. Sounds silly, but according to many health experts, your waist circumference determines how healthy you are. Women need to be under 35, and men under 40. Those are pretty generous numbers, (American size), and I’m fortunate to have a pear shape, but I figure that instead of going for a total body makeover I’d never achieve, I’d spend ten minutes a day doing exercises that focus just on my waist. Ten minutes. I’m not going crazy and saying I’m going to workout 2 hours a day when I’m know good and well  that’ll last about 2 days. I can coax myself into ten minutes working out in front of the tv instead of sitting in front of the tv.

The other thing I’m focusing on is brushing up on my Spanish. I may be spending time in South America this fall, and although I don’t want to fork out $400 for Rosetta Stone, I went online and found several YouTube and iTunes Spanish lessons for free. I’m also going to a used bookstore in town, trading in some old books and buying some children’s books in Spanish to read. So the way I look at it, these two small items allow me to exercise my body and my mind with little or no cash outlay needed.

When do I say, “That will have to wait until after my caregiving years are over.”

Really? Is there some small way you could jump start process?

Remember, everything that has come into creation was once just a thought. Jack Canfield wrote an amazing book, “The Success Principles,”in which he describes years ago when he was only hoping to be a sought after speaker and author how he wanted to go to Australia to speak. He had never been asked to speak internationally, so it was unlikely he’d get a call from “down under.” So he went to a travel store and bought a poster of Sydney’s famous opera house and hung it in his office. Within a year, he was speaking in Australia.

Take it down to your level. Maybe you’re dreaming of a vacation. Take out that seashell you picked up a few years ago and put it on your kitchen counter–just as reminder–and a way to lay claim to your own future. Check out a book from the library about where you’d like to go, or visit an online forum where other travelers have been there and suggest places to go and see. Daydreaming is great way to get your mind off the daily caregiving stress.

I know you can’t just get in your car and drive away (although that was one of my favorite fantasies–I was going to drive to Key West, and still might!) But you can start with one small change. Don’t put your entire life on hold–it won’t even make you a better caregiver, just a fussier one.

I hope you’ll take me up and drop me a line at writecarol@comcast.net or leave a comment and share what one small change you’ve made.

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Do you feel this is the last Christmas with your spouse or parent?

Perhaps you’re looking at a  cancer diagnosis, or you’re at the end stages of Alzheimer’s or heart disease.

This can put a cloud over the festivities. Everything drips with meaning. You’re standing in Wal Mart and feel weepy.

Or…you can’t seem to wedge your butt off the couch. Flipping channels has somehow become  your life.

 

You don’t know it, but this is the face of grief.

We start grieving long before death enters the picture.

The word grief means Deep mental anguish, as that arising from bereavement.

 

So what do you do if you feel like this is your last Christmas together?
Do exactly what you feel like doing. Trust your gut, your heart, your intuition, your spirit…whatever you want to call it.
If you need to flip channels, then give in and flip. Are you missing something significant?
Could you really grasp “significant” right now? Even if it hit you on the side of the head?
I really do believe that after about 3 days, either you’d get sick of the same old “As Seen on TV” merchandise–or, you’d get carpel tunnel and you’d have to quit anyway. Be willing to give in and see where it takes you. I’ve learned that the best way to get over something  is sometimes to give in.
Even scientists have observed  this–they find that if a child is exposed to copious amounts of pizza, chips, cookies, and apples–they’ll eventually get the junk food crave out of their system and willingly choose the apple.
Grief isn’t something you can fight. Nor should you.
It’s natural, and for the most part, healthy.
But if you can, try not to jump time–don’t go to the future–to the time your loved one dies. Be present. That season isn’t here yet.
Also realize  that if you’ve been caregiving for several years, you may have hit the caregiver’swall–you may feel numb, exhausted, and zombie-llike.
Trust the process. If you go too far, you’ll know it–everyone else will know it.
If you do have the ability to rationalize and feel, then cherish this season. Don’t dread it or push it away.
Don’t make everything drip with meaning. That can get exhausting and annoying.
Your loved one won’t appreciate being inthe spotlight every second. Follow the moment.
When something touching, seweet, or poignant happens, you have a better  chance of recognizing it if you are ‘gently” alert.
If you get a few photographs or can jot down a few thoughts, then you’ll have something you can treasure for years.
If you can’t–or don’t–then let it go. I promise you, all you need is one moment–one glance, one gentle touch of the hand, one brush of the hair–somethig will rise to the top. You will have your moment. You will find the sweetness in the season. Just let it happen.
Our relationships–and the holidays–aren’t to be forced. 
Trust that this holiday will give you a gift–at the most unexpected turn.
~Carol O’Dell, and hope you’ll check out my book, Mothering Mother

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You don’t have to like your mother to love her.

Jess is a friend of mine. She’s in her mid-thirties, and like most young women she’s had a couple of decades of feeling like she had nothing whatsoever in common with her mother. Now, within the past few months I’ve noticed she talks about her mom differently.

Jess’s mother is flying in for her wedding shower and they’re going shopping all day at the outlet mall while she’s in town. She calls her mom several times a week as she’s driving home from work–just to chat. This wouldn’t have happened even three years ago.

Why the change?

The mother-daughter bond is resilient.

It’s not a warm, cuddly blanket, but a sinuous cord that connects us. At times, it’s the jet fuel we need to grow up and move on with our lives. We “use” our mothers. We hate them in order to love ourselves. We swear we will never be anything like them. We despise them when we don’t want to admit we despise ourselves. We lash out in words and actions knowing it cuts like a serrated knife. We think it will always be like this–us, way over here–them, way over there.

The resiliency of the mother-daughter relationship that grows stronger over time isn’t a surprise. Pennsylvania State University conducted a study of midlife daughters and their elderly mothers. Researcher Karen Fingerman, Ph.D., found that “despite conflicts and complicated emotions, the mother-daughter bond is so strong that 80 percent to 90 percent of women at midlife report good relationships with their mothers—though they wish it were better.”

Whodathought? After all those years of bickering, name calling, not calling at all…that we actually love each other underneath all that bravado. And…we actually want a better relationship with our mother! I never throught that day would come for me, but it did.

Suddenly, through birthing a daughter, a woman finds herself face to face not only with an infant, a little girl, a woman-to-be, but also with her own unresolved conflicts from the past and her hopes and dreams for the future…. As though experiencing an earthquake, mothers of daughters may find their lives shifted, their deep feelings unearthed, the balance struck in all relationships once again off kilter.

~Elizabeth Debold and Idelisse Malave

We need something to propel us into our own lives and identities and we push off of our mothers like they’re a springboard–the laws of physics at work in relationships. Our “you weren’t there for me’s,” and “why are you always so controlling” can take years to leave our systems. We stew in our own toxic venom.

Were they bad mothers? Perhaps. At times. But that doesn’t diminish their power or our need to have them in our lives. Even if for a few, our mothers are object lessons, they are still in our lives for a purpose.

Eventually, most of us learn to make at least a measure of peace with mothers–and mothers with their daughters. It’s not a conscience thing. It’s not an “I should.” It just is. It’s biological.

Mothers and daughters can fight, argue, cry, blame, and complain–and their bond gets stronger. You don’t even know it’s happening–you think you’re a million miles away. We can even ignore our mothers and go on with our busy adult lives, and that bond is still there. Genetics is one powerful pull.

I’ve seen it countless times–family members who have been hurt find a way to forgive. Daughters who are disgusted with their mother’s choices begin to understand why, and through their own poor choices, they offer a morsel of mercy.

Mothers who seemed hard, controlling, and fussy finally become real people to their daughters. Their daughters begin to realize the that their mothers have lives, dreams, and quiet heartbreaks no one knows about. Mothers loosen up over time and become somone their daughter confides in.

Again, why?

You can’t make peace with yourself, with who you are, with all that you’ve done that had made you ‘you,” until you can begin to accept your mother, your past. She is your key.

What the daughter does, the mother did.  ~Jewish Proverb

Our mothers, our daughters define us. We are who we are because of them–good or bad. We look into their faces and we see ourselves–past and future.

We forgive, tolerate, and accept things our mothers or daughters have done. We know them, bear their secrets, absorb their transgressions, and even speak our truths into their lives no matter how tough and gritty it is.

Caregiving comes into play in regard to the mother-daughter bond. When our loved ones need us–really need us–we come back. We help out. We lay down our grievances and rally to the cause. But it’s more than that–caregiving gives us a reason to make up, to let go, to “get over it.” As our mothers need us, we return and answer the call.

Whether our relationship is strained or easy, hostile or amiable, we need our mother if only in memory …
to conjugate our history, validate ourfemaleness and guide our way.

~ Victoria Secunda

Something happens when our mothers lives begin to grow smaller either physically, emotionally, or financially–a power shift occurs. We (the daughters) gain strength and power–and this time to “be on top,” allows us to feel less threatened–and when we’re not threatened–we can be generous with our love.

Eventually, the scales balance.

After years of our mother’s having dominance over our lives (the childhood years), we’ve built up resentment, and finally, as time rolls along, we come into our own, we tower above our mothers for a short time, and that isn’t as fun as it sounds. If we’re lucky, and our mothers live a little longer, we become equal bookends, each of us strong in the broken places and worthy of respect.

And then, just when we make peace, our mothers die. It surprises us. It shocks us. This is too soon, we cry.

We realize how ironically close we really were–all along–even when we thought we weren’t. We realize we loved them in a deep-bone way. We lose ourselves in grief. We just found ourselves in and through and mothers, and then they leave us. We feel abandoned, lost, maybe even angry.

Looking back, I realize I’ve lost two mothers four times.

My birth mother had schizophrenia and I was taken from her as an infant when the voices told her to hurt herself and her children. I lost her again when I was adopted at the age of four. I didn’t know it would be forever. I lost her again when I was 23, and found my birth family only for them to tell me that my mother was dead–she had died one year before I found them. I cried that day, that week, that year–I cried for the mother I would never know.

I lost my adoptive mother to Alzheimer’s before death took her. To look into the face of someone you know so well–someone who you’ve screamed at, cried and fought with, only to have a disease eat away at her brain like battery acid–and to know that she doesn’t know you, remember you, you hold no emotion, no connection. You might as well we a cardboard box. It ravages your soul and all you believe.

And then death came. In a way, a welcome relief to the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s. I knew it would never give me my mother back.

Why now? Why do we lose our mothers just at the point when we can sit beside them and feel at ease, a give and take? Just when we can be ourselves in the presence of our most formidable foes, our most dependable ally, we lose them.

I have no answer for this. The only solace I can give you is that my mother’s life is now my example, her stories, her “ways” ripple through my own life. I don’t idolize her or think she was perfect. That would be an insult to such a great woman. I see her as complex and confounding as ever–but that’s what I like about her, about me.

In a bigger sense, I haven’t lost her, or lost me. We sit side-by-side. Equals. I hear her so much more clearly these days. I feel her respect. I listen.

And now, I have three grown daughters. The torch has been passed. They rail against me at times.

I let them. I know the journey they must take to get to their own place of acceptance and strength. I’ll be here. Waiting.

The woman who bore me is no longer alive, but I seem to be her daughter in increasingly profound ways.  ~Johnnetta Betsch Cole

I’m Carol D. O’Dell, the author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon. I explore the adult daughter-mother relatiohnsip in my book, and I hope you’ll check it out.

 

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Every day, a child’s mother, father, grandmother, grandfather or sibling dies.

Experiencing death while still a child is common, but that in no way makes it less difficult.

There are ways to help a child deal with grief.

When a child loses a loved one to death, that loss can have a profound effect that can even last a lifetime.

Emotional, psychological and physical trauma can occur and effect how a child views the world.

If grief is talked about and a child is given the proper coping tools, is surrounded by love and support, then the negative impact can be lessened.

But too often, adults are at a loss. They’re grieving themselves, and they don’t know what to say or do to comfort a child.

They don’t know how to tell a child that someone they love has died.

They don’t know how much to share with them–they either tell too much or too little.

Adults can simply “freeze” and stop communicating, and the child is left to grapple with their sorrow alone.

They can also insist that the child be happy and move on–because it makes them feel less guilty. They try to live life through their child–but children also have their ups and downs when it comes to grief. They can’t be puppets that we demand to be “okay,” because we need them to be.

Many people expect and demand that children are expected to go on with their lives.

They want them to hurry and go back to school. They don’t want them to get behind. How sad. Something as profound as a parent, sibling, or grandparent dying is so much more significant than an A in algebra.

Just days or even hours after a grandparent dies, many children are expected to return to school, sports and activities. Adults someone need the child to be busy so that they can deal with “adult” matters of business and details, but the child has his own grieving process to go through.

Children have so many issues to deal with–growing up, adolescence, fitting in, weight issues, pressure to smoke or smoke pot, divorce, family issues, academic and social issues–and it starts at a very young age.

When are they supposed to feel safe and free to open up and talk?

When can they express how much their miss their grandad?

How Do You Tell a Child That a Loved One Has Died?

Keep it simple. Use “died”, not “He is sleeping.”

Allow your child to express raw feelings freely or ask questions.

Answer questions honestly and simply. Do not go into detail, unless asked.

If the death was due to a violent crime, explain that they are safe now, nd you will do all you can to make sure they stay safe. 

Offer a comfort object–blanket, doll, teddy bear. Even if they’re “older,” something cuddly can reduce anxiety.

If the body is suitable for viewing, allow the child to see your deceased loved one, if requested. Prepare the child for what he or she will see.

Tell your child what will be happening in the next few days.

Give your child choices in what to do. Some children want to go to school the day of the death–it’s comforting and feels “normal.” Give them a choice. Whenever they return, inform the school of the death before your child returns.This makes their teachers and classmates more sensitive. Most schools have a school counselor that can also assist and be made aware of the situation.

Reassure your child that he or she will be cared for and explain the plan.

Children sometimes open up easier if they’re doing something with their hands–playing cars or helping bake cookies–it can take awhile for them to feel safe–and they feel less on the spot if they don’t have to look at you but can pretend to be “busy” with their hands.

 Don’t Know How to Talk To Your Child: Here’s some Easy Conversation Starters: 

 I’m sorry your grandmother/papa/mom/dad/sister died.

 What was your dad/mom/brother like?

Tell me about your__________. 

What was his favorite food/book/thing you did together?

 What do you miss the most? What is the hardest time of day for you?

I cannot know how you feel, but I remember how I felt when my __________ died.

 Whenever you want to talk about it, I’m here.

I’m thinking about you especially today because I’m aware that today is your mother’s birthday (anniversary of the death, your birthday, etc). 

If you don’t want to talk, we can still spend time together.

 

WORDS THAT CAN HURT:

I know just how you feel. I know just how you feel…my dog died last year. Lick your wounds and move on. You’ll get over it. It will be okay. Don’t think about it. You are better off without him. Don’t cry. It’s your fault. God took him so he wouldn’t be in pain. Tears won’t bring her back. Be strong. Forget about it. You are the man/woman of the house now. You should feel ….(proud, relieved, happy, sad, etc.)

Children May Express Grief Differently Tnan Adults:

Their emotions may experience highs and lows. They may laugh inappropriately–even at the memorial service. Don’t think this is because they don’t care. It’s difficult for a child to figure out how to handle their emotions. They may avoid sleep–or a teen may sleep all the time. They may zone out and not seem to hear anyone talking to them.

Become clingy and panic if you’re not home on time or don’t pick them up on time. Act rough or violent toward a sibling or friend. Defiantly disobey.

Teens may become daredevils–drive fast, extreme sports, breaking and entering–anything to feel “alive”

They may even try to “test” your love.

When Do You Seek Professional Help?

When the symptoms (lack of sleep, depression, agression) continue for weeks or months and grow in intensity.

When they can no longer function in school or around other people

When they isolate themselves for too long

When they become dangerous to themselves or others

They fixate on death, experiment on animals, or are exhibiting cruel behavoir

What do you do if you suspect your child or teen is not handling grief well?

Talk to the school counselor, your pediatrician, or clergy

Get a recommendation for a therapist who has helped children through grief.

Don’t settle for just a prescription. Talking and expressing their emotions is crucial to the healing process.

Don’t go just one or two times and think your child is “better.” Follow through and be consistent.

The Best Advice?

Be patient. Expect some some highs and lows. Share your own grief journey. Listen. Reassure. Be there. Provide help if or when it’s needed. Let them know it’s okay not to be able to handle this all by yourself–we all need each other. 

 

In the United States, approximately 4.8 million children under 18

are grieving the death loss of a parent.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Helpful sites:

www.opentohopefoundation.com

www.beyondindigo.com/children

www.griefnet.org

www.childrensgriefnet.org

www.kidsaid.com

I’m Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon. I hope you’ll visit my blog again.

www.mothering-mother.com

 

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The first month after your loved one dies is perhaps one of the scariest,

most dreaded times in a person’s life.

Losing a spouse, a parent, a child is devastating. But somehow, you will get through.

I know you don’t think you will.

But there’s this little thing called breathing. Your body does it whether you want it to or not.

Your heart can be breaking, your gut wrenched, and you can feel as if you will truly lose your mind–and your body will continue to take its next breath. There will be times when you don’t want to breathe. You don’t want to live–the pain is so intense. Just let your body get your through for now.

It’s a divine design–to keep our heart and lungs on automatic.

I’m sure I would have either forgotten or opted not to breathe, not to allow my heart to pump if I had any say in the matter. But this sheer involuntary response is the only way to go on during those early days of grief.

Death comes in many forms–by way of an accident, or after a long agonizing illness–it’s never easy.

Even when you’ve been caregiving for years and you know your loved one is no longer suffering, almost everyone has a difficult time letting go.

Why? Why is it so difficult to watch death take those we love–even after pain and suffering, and even old age?

I believe because there’s something in us that deeply believes in the eternal.

Our brains do not compute that life is simply cut off. I’m not basing this on any particular religion or theology–I’m basing this on biology–we cannot comprehend that someone we know and love was here yesterday–and is not here today. Those who look at this purely scientific would say that it’s mere habit–but something in me feels that it’s more.

Why, after practicing a lifetime of faith, and believing with all our hearts that we will see our loved one again–is it still so hard to stand next to their lifeless, breathless body and kiss them goodbye?

The same reason a toddler cries for his/her mother. We don’t like separation.

And those early days of separation are very, very difficult.

What’s it like? That first month?

Experiencing a death of someone we love–at any age, and for any reason, usually means that we go into shock. Not only have I experienced the death of several loved ones, like you, I have many family and friends who have also experience grief and loss.

By looking at these first few days and weeks, we can begin to see a pattern–in ourselves and others. It’s less scary to know that we’re not alone, and that our bizarre thoughts and actions are something others experience as well.

What is shock?

It’s our body’s response to trauma or pain.

Physically, speaking, shock is when the body isn’t getting enough oxygen. It can occur after an injury when the body shuts down (the blood stays close to the heart to preserve life at its core level–or it can occur after a severe emotional trauma.

WebMD desribes shock as this:

  1. A sudden physical or biochemical disturbance that results in inadequate blood flow and oxygenation of an animal’s vital organs.
  2. A state of profound mental and physical depression consequent to severe physical injury or to emotional disturbance.

If you’ve ever experienced shock (yourself or by witnessing it in another person), one of its prime characteristics is that you’re probably not reacting to pain (physically or emotionally) as you would expect.

Car accident victims can walk around with a head wound or internal injury–and only after minutes or even hours does the body “compute” the damage and begin to react. This may give the person time to rescue a child or get out of a fire.

Emotional trauma shock can present with similar symptoms–the person may talk or act rather normal, even when you would expect them to cry or scream or fall apart. They might eventually do all those things–but it may be weeks or months later. The mind has the ability to stay “in shock” much longer than the body–and it will usually only allow the person to really feel and experience the deepest levels of grief when it’s safe.

The movie, Reign Over Me is a great example of emotional shock.

Adam Sandlerplays a man who lost his wife and children during 9/11. He spends years in “shock,” and the exploration of how this man deals with grief in an unconventional way–and the arguments that the social and mental health community make to try to “fix” him, is interesting.

Every person’s journey with grief and loss is different. Honor yours.

Trust your gut, your shock will get you through.

During the first month you might: (no two people are the same)

  • Be able to plan an elaborate funeral or memorial service
  • Hold yourself together–be courteous, thoughtful and polite
  • Look healthy and strong
  • Go back to work days or weeks after your loved one passes
  • Feel euphoric–an urgency to get on with life
  • Plan a trip, go shopping, or other ordinary things
  • Go off with friends and do things you haven’t been able to do in a long time

But…if you observe grief and shock a little closer, you’ll notice things aren’t quite what they appear on the surface.

You might also:

  • Feel high strung, nervous, agitated
  • Can’t pay attention, get bored or antsy with people
  • Suffer from insomnia
  • Have a panic or anxiety attack when you’re out in public
  • Zone out and not remember where you are
  • Feel guilty and think you caused your loved one to die (by taking them to the hospital, or not taking them, or a myriad of other decisions you had to make)
  • Forget things–your keys locked in the car, your wallet at the gas station
  • Avoid falling apart or crying because you may feel like once you start, you won’t be able to stop
  • Have nightmares, even scary dreams of your loved one coming back alive–but not alive
  • Become obsessed with something–putting your affairs in order, doing something your loved one nagged you about but you put off–but now you’re doing it to excess
  • Do something, anything to feel alive–gamble, go to Vegas, visit online chat rooms, shop too much, eat too much
  • You may start to snap at people–or cling–can’t let yourself be alone
  • Your emotional pendulum keeps swinging wider and wider

Practical Things You Typically Do The First Month:

  • File for and receive the death certificate (that’s tough)
  • Contact your life insurance
  • Decide when or if to go back to work
  • Comfort others around you–children, friends, even when you don’t feel like it
  • Cancel credit cards and put your house or car in your name only
  • Pay the bills associated with your loved one’s passing–funeral expenses, etc.
  • Decide to buy or sell certain items
  • Figure out how to pay the bills or deal with repairs–whatever your spouse/loved one did that you now must do
  • Catch up with your lfe–if your loved one was ill, there may be many things that need your attention now
  • Write thank you notes and figure out how to handle your relationships with this new change

Emotionally You’ll Have To:

  • Make calls and let businesses know your loved one has passed
  • Talk to many family and friends–and some of them will be awkward and say the “wrong” thing
  • Walk back in your house, your bedroom, drive his car–feel his/her presence and be faced with your loss
  • Sleep in the bed he’s/she’s no longer in
  • Deal with clothes, cars and other personal items–even if you don’t start sorting and deciding what you keep, they are with you–in your house and your life
  • Allow your brain and heart to assimilate that your loved one’s not here for you to call–to talk to
  • Wake up and think he’s/she’s still there
  • Feel alone and lost even when you’re busy
  • Figure out who you are now and what to do with your time and energy
  • Think about that “first” that is to come–first birthday without him, holiday without her–and make a plan
  • Literally survive the best you can

For most people, the first month is a blur.

At times, you’re in bone crushing grief alternting with an odd euphoric gotta-get-out feeling.

You can bite someone’s head off or not even care if the shoes on your feet were on fire.

There’s a lot to do, and that list of wrapping things up and starting anew at least keeps your keep moving. The good news is: you probably won’t remember most of this.

Shock does a whammy on the brain. You may feel like you’ve put your skin on inside out–and your nerve endings are exploding–but later, there will be many things you can’t recall.

Your body is protecting you. Let it. J

As crazy, lost, alone, scattered, numb, and frantic as you feel in those first months, know that as hard as it is to believe, it won’t last forever.

Just breathe.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Carol is a family advisor at www.Caring.com

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Remember the old Art Linkletter show? About kids saying funny things?

Well, parents can be pretty darn funny too.

My mom may have had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and a heart condition, but she could still say and do the craziest things.

It’s okay to laugh. We have to. If we don’t, we’ll just dissolve into a puddle on the floor.

Why is laughter so good for you?

“The old saying that ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart,” says Michael Miller, M.D., F.A.C.C., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack,” says Dr. Miller who is also an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Cool, huh?

So, what makes you laugh?

Think about the movies where you’d laughed out loud.

I just saw Tropic Thunder–and laughed until my sides hurt.

I warn you–it’s raunchy from the beginning to the end (and I’m not usually a raunchy humor kind of gal–not a big Austin Powers fan). But it’s also well-written and sharp.

Make Your Own Funny List

  • Funny movies
  • Funny friends
  • Great jokes
  • Funny songs or rhymes
  • Funny or ironic moments in your own life
  • Funny, sharp, witty turns of phrases
  • Funny books or authors

Begin to see the “funny” in each day. Start looking for it.

The Benefits of Laughter

Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California have been studying the effects of laughter on the immune system. Published studies have shown that laughing has the following benefits:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Rreduces stress hormones
  • Increases muscle flexion
  • Boosts immune function by raising levels of infection (fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies)
  • Triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being

Wow! Too bad the pharmaceutical companies haven’t caught on. I wish they’d include a complimentary Saturday Night Live video with each of their prescriptions!

I’ve laughed my head off at an indecisive squirrel who just can’t seem to make it across the road. I’ve laughed at my dog eating peanut butter–I’ve laughed at my ability to trip walking down a flat sidewalk!

Recently, I was at a caregiver’s conference, and after my talk–in which I do a one-act play of my mother and I having an arguement about me refusing to wear a slip–a woman in the audience whispered in my ear, “It’s probably been over a year since I laughed. I laughed today.”

There is no better gift she could have given me.

We caregivers can get too darn serious. Sure, we’re dealing with disease and end-of-life issues–but the absurdities and incongruities of life are even more ironic, more funny when there’s so much at stake.

Mark Twain said,

Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.
– Following the Equator, by Mark Twain

 

 

Finding the funny in caregiving kept me alive. I had to write about all the crazy, irreverent, whoopsy-daisy moments caregiving brought into my life. Sometimes I wrote about it with biting sarcasm, other times, it’s tinged with sorrow. You can’t separate it–caring for our loved ones is bitter sweet. I’m grateful that my mother could laugh at herself–at us. When I was a child (she was my adoptive mother and 50 years older than me), we’d watch Jack Benny together and Red Skelton. We’d laugh and laugh. I’d stack their stand up routine against today’s finest–and they’d still trump these guys (and gals!)

Mother had a gillion sayings. She knew she was funny–and she could wait for a punch line.

I’m so grateful to have been brought up in a house where we could laugh.

Here are a couple of excerpts from Mothering Mother when my mother was at her finest!

Remote

Mother can’t figure out all this “high-falutin’ machinery,” as she calls it. The phone rings, 

 

“Hello. Hello?  Hello!”

 

She doesn’t know she’s picked up the remote control.

 

“Hello!”

 

No one answers. She sets it on the table, thinking she’s hung up the phone, but somehow she’s knocked the real phone off the hook. It starts making that noise. I reach over and hang it up.

I look at her but don’t say a thing. I’m trying not to laugh.

“They must have hung up,” she says.

I agree.

“Yes, mother. Someone has definitely hung up.”

***

No Bacon?

I need to go to church. I need to get out this house, wear a dress and sit on a pew and sing a hymn and pray. I desperately need to know I’m not just out here on my own.

 

I dress and hurry to fix Mother some breakfast. I place cereal, toast, coffee and cut-up bites of cantaloupe in front of her, then hand her the little silver tray of pills, the same silver tray she always handed to Daddy, and give her some water to take her medicine with.

You can’t hurry Mother anymore. She’s worse than a preschooler meandering down the sidewalk, pausing to examine a ladybug on a blade of grass and pocketing every pebble.

“Are you sure I take this purple pill now?” Mother stares at the silver tray as if I’m trying to poison her.

“Yes, Mother.”

“Where’s the yellow one? I need to take the yellow one.” She dumps the pills from the tray into her hand.

“No, Mother, that’s with lunch. You take these with breakfast.”

Is it breakfast time?  I thought it was late afternoon.”

“Yes, honey, it’s breakfast. Swallow these pills and then you can eat.”

“Where are you going?” She looks around the room, tilts her hand, and drops the purple pill onto the floor. I find it on the carpet.

“Church, and I need to hurry.” I put the pill on her tongue.

“Is it Sunday?  I need to go to church, too.” The pill drops out of her mouth.

“No, Mother, you’re not strong enough today, sweetie. Phillip is staying home with you today.” I pick it back up.

“I can get ready in a jif.”

“Mother, take these pills. I need to go.”

Aw, you’d wait for me.” She reaches in her house robe pocket and pulls out a long strand of pearls then puts them on over her housecoat.

 

I rub my face to keep from chuckling at her attire or screaming at how long this is taking.

I think of what she’s really like, of the Sunday mornings of my childhood and our intricate dance of preparation. The ironing that commenced on Saturday afternoon, the cleaning out of her purse, the polishing of everyone’s shoes, the check of the nylon hose for runs, the dab of clear fingernail polish… on and on… late into the night, beginning again early on Sunday morning, culminating in southern perfection.

 

Now, it’s a sling of the beads over a well-worn housecoat and she’s good to go. This isn’t like her.

“No, I can’t wait for you, honey. Maybe you can go next Sunday, but you can’t make it today.” I don’t like the sound of my own voice, the hurry inside me.

“Who’s gonna stay with me?”

“Phillip. Now take these pills and sit down and eat.” Five minutes later, I’ve scooted her from the bed to the chair and put the tray in front of her. She surveys it, scanning the food as if she’s a New York food critic, flicking a cantaloupe chunk onto its side with her fingernails. I turn on the television to a preacher I know she likes and take a step back, sneaking out of the room the way I did when my girls were babies so they wouldn’t cry.

“What?” She looks around on her plate. “No bacon?”

***

I’ve heard some of the greatest stories by families and caregivers around the country.

One story I can share is about a man who works at home and takes care of his mom who has Alzheimer’s. She “goes to work” with him–sits right beside him at the computer. When the man’s wife comes home from work, the man’s mother goes ballistic. She sees his wife as “the other woman.” She hides her purse, pinches her under the table, and tells her “to leave her man alone.”

That could really mess with your head!

***

One more story–(I have a million!)

A friend of mine was placing her 91 year-old mother in a care facility (falling/memory loss). She and her sister were cleaning out her mom’s house and consolidating things. She found a rather bright pink Las Vegas type dress–kind of ballroomy with lots of sequins. They decided to donate it to Goodwill and couldn’t imagine who the dress even belonged to–surely not their mother!

A month later their mother asks her daughter’s, “Did you all see that pink dress I had in the back closet? I want to be buried in that dress.”

The two daughters looked at each other–tried not to laugh–and said of course, that would be perfect.

They spent the next 2 months trying to track down the dress. Sequins and all.  

***

So come on, share your stories!

Let’s laugh to the point of tears–not laugh at each other but at life and all it throws our way.

Carol O’Dell is the author of Mothering Mother, available at Amazon

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I’m Carol D. O’Dell, and I hope you’ll check out my book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon

Caregiver Depression is Very Real and Very Dangerous.

Why?

It Doesn’t Always Look like Depression.

That means it can go undiagnosed for a very long time.

Caregivers can’t (or don’t) stop. They don’t lock themselves in darkened bedrooms for days on end. They don’t necessarily cry or stop eating. They keep on caring for their loved ones. They suffer in silence.

So, what does caregiver depression look like? It can be tricky. It doesn’t manifest itself in the same way other people display depression.

What caregiver has the time to fall apart?

Conservative stats put caregiver depression 20%. That’s very conservative. I’d say it’s closer to 50%. It comes with the job. We’re dealing with disease, pain, and the end-of-life. Depression doesn’t have to consume you, but I doubt there is one caregiver out there who isn’t touched by it.

Am I Depressed? Ask Yourself These Questions:

When is the last time you got your hair cut?

Have you gained more than ten or fifteen pounds this year?

Have you stopped calling friends? Do you think they’re sick of hearing you complain and what else do you have to talk about anyway?

Are you so antsy, so anxious that you can hardly stay still? You stay on your feet, clean, talk, eat–all to avoid something you can’t even name?

Do you feel like all your energy has been drained out your big toe? Seriously, do your legs feel like they’re in cement?

Do you do nothing other than care give?

Fill in the blank: I used to ___________, but I just don’t want to, have the energy, or care about things like that any more.

Have you stopped decorating for the holidays or celebrating birthdays or other special days? Why bother, it’s just more work for me–attitude?

Do you find yourself zoning out–all the time? Can you not think anything through?

Do you get on crying jags and just can’t stop?

Are you stuck in negative thoughts, berating yourself mentally–for hours on end?

Are you waking yourself up with copious amounts of caffeine–or pills–and then forcing yourself to sleep with even more pills?

Do you feel (and look) 15 years or more older than you really are?

Do you feel hopeless? Do you feel you have zero options in your life–you can’t stop caregiving even if you wanted to?

Do you not even want to think about life after caregiving–because you don’t even know what you’d do with yourself?

Is sex a ridiculous concept and even the thought of it takes way too much energy?

Do you flip channels endlessly but never rent a movie or read a book all the way through?

Would a work colleague or old friend even recognize you now?

Are you an insomniac–after years of caregiving, sundowning, and middle-of-the night emergencies, do you find your sleep patterns all out of whack?

Have you ever thought about taking yourself–and your loved one “out of this world?”

***

If you don’t answer “yes” to at least a few of these questions, I’d be surprised.

Caregiving is hard on the body, spirit, and relationships. These signs of stress and depression are common–for anyone, but especially for caregivers. But it’s the severity in which you experience these symptoms. Every day, all day long, the vortex of negative thoughts never ending…

Men are vulnerable in different ways.

They don’t always have the friends and support system that would allow them to let off steam.

They relied on their wives and family members to talk to, feel close to, and if their wife is the person who needs their care, is no longer their companion in the sense the person they communicate with the most–then these men are truly isolated. They may drink too much, flip channels, pull in to the point to where no one knows how bad it is.

Some men take it too far–if their loved one is dying (or they perceive they are), or in sever pain, they might come to the conclusion that it would be best if they both “leave this world” at the same time.

The statistics for elder murder-suicide are startling.

Florida has the highest incident, and one all too common situation is that of the husband whose wife has Alzheimer’s, and he can’t continue to care for her. There’s usually a gun involved.

This is a tragedy–for families and for society. We have to find a way to reach people, to let them know they’re not alone. There are options.

How do you know if the stress and depression has gone too far?

You probably know in your gut. You know how much you’re fooling others. You know how much weight you’ve gained or lost, how little sleep you’re getting, the last time you talked to anyone outside the house. You know how many times you’ve reached for that bottle.

Are drugs the only answer?

In today’s pharmaceutical world, the first thing a doctor is going to recommend is an anti-depressant.

But know that anti-depressants come with some risk.

These are helpful, and when needed, a god-send. But it won’t address the root of the problem.

You need friends, a community, a network. Caregiver supports groups can be a life-line.

You may need a professional to talk to–someone who will listen and ask questions, who will help you make a plan. This may be in conjunction with medications.

If anti-depressants are a good choice for you and your situation, then take them properly and give them time to work. Also, think of this as a part of your health plan, and keep in mind that you will eventually want to wean yourself off these power medications.

Lots of Ideas to Help Ease Depression: 

  • Get the junk food out of the house–sugar highs and lows can really whack you out
  • Get the guns out of the house! Why risk it? Sell the thing, donate it to the local police.
  • If you’re having a problem with alcohol, get rid of it. You can live without it if it’s proving to be a detriment.
  • Join a caregiver support group. Get into a healthy one–a place where people can share openly, but also a place that is positive
  • Get out of the house just for you! Plan one outing this month–go to the zoo, call an old friend, make a hair appointment. Start small.
  • Journal, meditate, stretch–give outlet to those thoughts
  • Walk. Nothing is more healing and takes less time and equipment for phenomenal results. Start with a 15, 20 minute walk. Do it religiously. Don’t wait until you feel like it. Do it like you’re taking a pill. Force yourself if you have to. Don’t worry about walking fast at first, or dressing right, just get out the front door and shuffle down the street. You can leave your loved one locked in the house for 15 minutes. If you can’t, ask a neighbor to come watch TV in your house for that long.
  • Wean off the sleeping aids. This may take awhile. Go slow, take less, but at least monitor that you’re not increasing the dosage.
  • Get angry! Depression is oftentimes anger imploded. Go outside and throw some old glasses against the side of your house. See if it feels good. Go out to your car, shut the doors, roll up the windows and scream your head off.
  • Go to the doctor and get a prescription if you really need it–then take it–get rechecked and make sure you’re taking something that’s working for you. It may take you a couple of months to hit upon the right dosage/medication.
  • If you’re having dangerous thoughts, tell someone. People will understand. You will find compassion.
  • Watch out for physical signs. We can so ignore our health needs that we have a real physical condition we’ve ignored. You might not be depressed–you might be sick! The good news is, you can get well–so check with your doctor and at least get that over-due physical.

Important to Consider:

It’s okay if you can’t be a full-time caregiver any more.

Quit. Place your loved one in a care facility. God will not hate you, and if your loved ones hate you, then tell them to come do some non-stop, full-time caregiving!

Sometimes we just hit a brick wall. Cry, and then let go. It’s okay.

As dark and scary as depression can be, it’s our heart’s and body’s way of asking us to deal with something.

Depression can be an ironic gift that leads you to help and healing.

~Carol O’Dell

Family Advisor at Caring.com

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