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Sometimes I feel I’ve got to…runaway, I’ve to…runaway..from the pain that’s hurting me.

That’s a line to an old 80s song that rolled around in my head many of my caregiving days. I literally felt a panic inside: what was I thinking, moving my mom into my home. How long is she going to live? Do I have months, years…decades? She won’t leave me alone–I can’t take a bath or have a decent conversation with my husband (much less anything else). What choice do I have? She needs me, but how am I ever going to do this day after day. What about my life, my dreams?

On and on my internal monologue hounded me. Not only did I want to run away from my mother–I wanted to run away from me~!

I started collecting fantasies. How would I run away. Where would I go?

I imagined slipping out in the middle of the night. Me and the open road, guided by the moon. I’d roll the window down and howl. Free at last!

I imagined changing my name to Flo. Living in a run down house in Key West and waitressing. I’d fish for fun, check out books from the library and become a walking mystery.

I imagined inventing an adult play-pen and decorating it with things my mother loved. That way, I could exercise, cook, or take a bath without worrying–and maybe that Ronco guy would sell it on his high energy info-mercials.

I imagined strapping my mother to a wheelchair and taking her everywhere I long to go. Mom and me at the Grand Canyon. Mom and me at the Louvre. Mom and me taking art classes in Rome. Mom and me traipsing around New York City…hey, if you can’t get rid of them, bring ‘em along became my motto. We’ll become like a Where’s Waldo drawing–where will the dynamic duo go next? We’d write travel books for caregivers and their buddies.

If only my life was that exciting…and if you think I’m a bit odd, then you try living 24/7 with your mother who has Alzheimer’s–and was a hand full before that ever started!

Kidding aside, when my mom first moved in with us, I did feel like I wanted to bolt out the front door. It took a while for my brain and my body to get the hang of her being in such a close proximity. I had to learn how to not let her overshadow me at every turn. I also had to learn how to let her feel needed and appreciated. Our mother-daughter dance had to learn a few new steps.

I also had to give into my run away tendencies. If I didn’t, I knew I’d really hit the road. So I started running away–to my journal. I had to snatch and grab a few minutes here and there–but having a place to put my questions and my angst kept them from boiling over.

I had to learn to run away–to the back yard. Nature calms and heals me. Especially water. Just to slip out that back door and stand at the edge of the river, watch the Spanish moss sway in the trees, and pick up a stone to hold as I said a prayer changed everything. Yeah, I’d look back at the house and my feet felt encased in lead. How could I ever make myself go back in there? But I did.

I used to hide–in the pantry, in the linen closet, on the side of the glass front door where no one could see me. I’d slump down and just give myself a few minutes–but then, they’d find me. They’d always find me. I was a sandwich generation mom–I had my mom–and my kids and husband to deal with. Somebody always wanted to know where mom was.

I’d run away by using my biting sarcasm (mostly internally), but my quippy comebacks kept us on our toes and we’d usually wind up laughing about it.

Running away is about letting off a little steam. It’s a mini-stay-cay. You can’t actually book that plane ticket to visit Bhutan, the place that Michael J. Fox’s book, Always Looking Up says is the happiest place on earth. You can buy a Chinese gong. You can visit a Bhutan website. You can buy a table runner in that gorgeous orange the monks wear.

If you feel like running away, then do it. Figure out a way to let off a little steam. Go for a bike ride, get off your bike and pick a few wildflowers. Do a virtual vacation by visiting a few websites and take notes for a future trip. Slip out the back door, find a pebble and say a prayer. Also, consider checking out respite care. Who says you can’t have a weekend off now and then? Check your community resources, ask a family member, and give yourself a break. (I know how hard this is and I can hear your but, but’s…but if you don’t you’ll burn out!)

Feeling that urge to run away is normal. Fantasizing about it lets off a little steam. Laughing about it soothes the soul. You are already a good caregiver–and admitting that once in a while you’d sure like to step out of that role if only for a few minutes, means you’re human.

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’m a keeper. I didn’t know I would be, but I can’t imagine parting with Daddy’s jacket.

It’s brick-red suede, and has completely worn through at the edge of the sleeves. It no longer smells of him, but I keep it.

I remember when I was a child, riding with him to Sears on Saturday morning just to buy salted peanuts and look at the tools in the tool department. He wore that jacket. I was adopted and maybe that makes me more sentimental, I don’t know, but keeping my past is important to me.

I also have his Bible, his wallet, his watch, his glasses, and a yellow shirt I remember him in.

I have lots of items that was my mother’s–her mink coat, her Russian coat, purses, jewelry, a Sunday suit, and more Bibles. (My mother was a preacher, so trust me when I say she had lots of  Bibles).

I also have their photos, letters, recipes, Daddy’s old tool chest, the first gift he ever gave her when she was just 14–it’s a small cedar box that’s in the shape of a heart. If  my math is right, he gave it to her in 1925. I can tell the story of  how they met as if it were my own.

Why do we keep our loved one’s clothes?

Like a child’s ratty blanket, we hold on. Safety, security, identity.

Our momentos are in boxes, on shelves, in cabinets, and I know I keep way too much, but how do you let go of such things?

It’s all I have now, and I believe that by pulling out Daddy’s coat or by pinning on one of my mother’s broaches, I can see them clearer, remember better. 

I remember Daddy’s bushy eyebrows, the thickness of his fingers and how I could barely squeeze my child fingers through his. I remember that jacket and how he’d wear it when we went to see his family–his sister and brother every Sunday afternoon. His faithfulness amazed me then. His loyalty and tenderness is something I value in a man.

There are issues with keeping things. Psychologists might tell you that you’re not moving on, not making room for the new. I understand the logic. A friend recently visited my home. I hadn’t seen her since my mom was alive and she commented on how much my house had changed. My mom’s antiques are no longer on display. Some have been give to other family members, others sold.  This is a slow process–for me.

It no longer looks like my mother’s house. After moving my mother and her 40 years of not moving, her collections oozed out of every crevice.  I barely had room for “me.” My mother was one powerful woman. She had a way of taking over.  I let her reign, so to speak. As her daughter and in those last few years, caregiver, I learned how to hold my ground and still allow her to feel as if she had some independence. 

But now, I have a new couch, a new dining room table.  Her furniture has been divvied up among my daughters. I’ve reclaimed my throne, so to speak.

Ironically, I consider myself more of a futurist than a person who lives in the past. I lean toward modern/eclectic design and  and music and I’ve made a slew of six month, one year, five year, and then year plans, always writing my future. I’m a list maker–a list for the day, the week, the month, sometimes two a day. I like noting the little things I’ve accomplished. I’ll write something down I just thought of just to get the thrill of crossing it out.

But when it comes to my parents, I’m a keeper, but it no longer keeps me  in the past. I’ don’t think I fall iinto thecategory of  “not moving on.”

I like to think of their clothes and personal items as a cushion to my life. As if they somehow support me and connect me. Just one look at that jacket and I’m four again. No other Bible comforts me like Daddy’s. I don’t need to even open it to feel a sense of guidance.

It takes time to get to a place to let go of at least a few things.

After your loved one dies, part of grief is when you still try to live in your old life with old clothes and the way things used surrounding you. 

You weren’t ready for him to die. You don’t want to date, get a new job, or have to figure out what to do with yourself next Christmas. You don’t want to move on.

 Some people get rid of things too soon. Others, too late–it’s different for each person. Finally, you begin to make your own way. Reinvent yourself. Find who you are–now. They are in you, a part of you, but you are changed. You have to go on.

What’s the time frame? Varies. I know people who were clearing out closets before the funeral. I know others who open a closet ten years later–and there’s everything just as it was.  Of course, there’s always a chance of getting stuck and not being able to let go. You run that risk.

For many, somewhere around or after that first year mark, things shift–a little. You don’t have to make yourself do everything. Some things come a little easier. A little. For others, it’s two, three years before they can feel anything but blinding loss.

But somewhere along the line, you let go of a few things. You call up a family member and offer them a book or a knick-knack. You sell something, drop items off at Goodwill or another charity.

You live with the empty space for awhile before you figure out how to fill your life again. And  the items you keep become more intended, more precious. They go in top drawers and the chest that sits in the guest bedroom. You leave out a few photos, a book–a silver comb that sits on your dresser.

Your loved one is now incorporated. Their clothes, their memories are a part of you, in your house so to speak–but they have a place and not like a box you trip over whenever you walk into a room. Anytime you need to, you can slide open a draw and remember. Find comfort.  

And now, there’s also room for something new. 

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

Carol is a Family Advisor at Caring.com

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I wrote these words during the early weeks after my mother moved in with us. It captures the concern, guilt, and trepidation we all felt on this new venture.

 

I didn’t feel I had a choice–about insisting my mother move in with my family and me. My mother’s Parkinson’s and early signs of dementia had grown to the point that I didn’t feel she was safe living alone, or that her care was something I could continue to farm out to paid care, extended family, church members and neighbors. She needed consistency. She needed me.

 

 

But it wasn’t easy on either of us.

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from my journals, and what later would become my book, Mothering Mother.

 

 

“I think Mother would just like to sit down and cry. She can’t figure out the layout of the house and says she doesn’t want to sleep downstairs. I explain that there isn’t a downstairs, but her apartment is on the opposite end of the house from my bedroom. It’s so far away that she must feel like it’s on a separate floor. She keeps saying she wants to sleep next to me. Not in the next room, but next to me. She walks around touching the walls as if they could collapse on her if she were to let her hands down. She sits in my dining room chair with nothing to do. I’ve made her breakfast, given her the paper and told her I need to unpack the kitchen, which she can see me do from where she’s sitting.

I feel as if I’ve taken everything from her, which she enjoys announcing to everyone, from the bank teller to the podiatrist. She makes sure to note that she’s selling her house, moving in with us, and giving up everything—her church, her friends, and her home. I stand beside her as she regales them with her sob story, wishing I could add what I am giving up—my freedom, my privacy, my mind, and that I’m not doing this to hurt her. I’m trying to help. Instead, I smile and pat her hand, hoping she’s receiving the sympathy and attention I can’t give.”

It took some time for all of us to get used to living together. I still had two teenage daughters at home. Along with “mother issues,” I had to contend with boyfriends, curfews, teen drivers, and the ever threatening emotional outburst from any of them–at any time. Mother was usually the first to blow.

 

“Mother, I want you, we all want you. Relax. You’re here now, and we’re all at home. This is our home. Please give us time to adjust.” I think of my own mother angst. I spent the first half of my life trying to get away from her and the second half trying to get back.

The cat walks by and rubs against her leg. I don’t know why that cat insists on cuddling up to the only person in the house who would like to throw it across the river. Mother pushes it away with her foot, gentler this time because she knows I’m watching. She looks disgusted. I try not to laugh.

“Go on now, scat!”

Great. Now I have to play referee between her, the kids and the pets.

 

 

 

 

For me, being an adult, a daughter, a wife, and a mother at the same time was challenging to say the least.

 

“We’re having to figure out how to stand next to one another in the kitchen, how to maneuver past each other in the hall, not just physically but even in our thoughts. No one fits every groove of our psyche, habits, or beliefs, and those knots and bumps rub us raw before we develop calluses. As hard as this is, I’m not in a hurry to get to the dying part. I want to face each day and glean whatever sweetness there may be, to truly be here, open my eyes wide and learn to stand next to her, neither one of us shoved to the side, each with a decent amount of space.”

 

 

 

 

I think women are particularly vulnerable into morphing into whatever and whoever someone needs them to be–to the point of losing a piece of themselves. We are the ultimate super-hero, we lose our identities in order to care for others.

 

 

Caregiving takes it even one step further. Your loved needs more. You are their protector, their provider. You are their lifeline.

 

My mother’s apartment was next to my kitchen and laundry room and was the parallel opposite to my bedroom.

 

I can remember evenings of helping my mother change into her gown, giving her the last of her medication, tucking her into bed, kissing her goodnight…and then walking through the kitchen and feeling myself “stripping” that caregiving/daughterly clothes and having to change into the next person I was to be–to help a daughter study for her SAT’s, or become a wife, my husband’s lover. All within moments…a new identity.

 

 

How do you keep your head and heart intact?

 

  • Believe you can do this. You were meant to do this–wife, mother, daughter, friend, co-worker. You have lots of experience already. Life never comes to us orderly. You have to be able to unload the dishwasher, talk to your best friend, pack your kid’s lunch, kiss your hubby goodbye for the day, and hand your mother a bowl of oatmeal–oh, and don’t forget to feed the cat.

 

  • Having your mother move in with you–or you with her–isn’t the worst thing in the world. Not having a mother is far worse. Yes, you’ll have a few squabbles, at least I hope you will. Your mother will teach your more about yourself than ten shrinks ever will.
  • Becoming your parent’s parent is the hardest, fastest, best way to really grow up. Whatever residual crap you had left over about your childhood (or adulthood) issues, you will finally either forgive or give up. It just gets too hard to stay angry and do everything else you’ve got to do.
  • Put yourself in your mother’s place. One day, you will–so take a moment to consider how vulnerable they feel. Their bossiness, negativeness, or fussiness is just a cover up. It helps to remember that it’s much easier to be the one in charge than the one in need.
  • Speak up. Set boundaries. Don’t give anyone–your kids, your husband, or your mother all your time and energy. Save some for you. Be alone every day–for ten minutes. I don’t care if you have to lock yourself in the closet, go to the mailbox and stand by it for ten minutes pretending to read the mail–be alone. Take long baths. Drink your coffee on the back porch. You do not have to be at anyone’s beck and call every second of the day. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for them.
  • If you don’t pray or meditate–start. You’ll need it. Find your center of strength. Ask for help, guidance, and wisdom.
  • You might not like it, but you’re probably a lot like your mother. The quicker you learn how to love her, the quicker you’ll love you.
  • Don’t let every little comment get to you. So what if she thinks you’re a slob, wear your shorts too short and can’t cook. There’s no better way to get over what people think of you than to practicce with your own relatives. Smile and be content with being just who, and just how you are.
  • Our minds, bodies and spirits are meant to love a lot of people. You can do it. You can find the patience and perserverance to do this. You will surprise yourself with how much you can love.
  • Caregiving is stressful, I won’t try to water it down in the least. You will have to be on your game almost all of the time. You will lose your cool, cry, curse, and at times, fall apart. But you are resilient. You will rebound.
  • This won’t last forever. I promise. It won’t. Parents die and kids grow up. My mother’s gone now–and what seemed like an eternity is now a memory. And I miss her.
  • Being a part of a family and caring for someone intimately is a priviledge. It’s messy, heartbreaking, hair tearing, and scary–but the alternative is orderly loneliness.

When it’s over, let go.

You will most likely grieve, feel secretly relieved, guilty, resentful, and scared all the way through and especially after it’s over. But this will pass. Your parent will become a part of you–in a cosmic, spiritual, and even on a biological level.

It will then be time to recreate who you are again.

Trust that all you need to know you already know.

You will find your way.

 

 

~Carol O’Dell

Family Advisor at Caring.com

Mothering Mother is available at Amazon

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Let’s face it–there’s just too much to do during the holiday season–and if you’re caregiving or a sandwich gen-er–you’re really feeling it by now. 

Sure, it’s all good–the tree, the gifts, the home baked cookies, the parties, the family gatherings, the lights…

Every one of those holiday components can be truly wonderful–the fresh smell of the tree, the wonder of what’s in that big, sparkly-wrapped box…

But then the proverbial “soup pot” boils over and the cookies burn, you don’t want to go to one more red-sweater party (or there are no parties and you feel empty), and the whipped cream on top of the hot chocolate–someone says/does something really ugly…I mean you feel like your head’s going to explode you’re so mad.

Not exactly what you had planned, huh?

It’s all too much.

If you want a good laugh, the Thanksgiving segment of Boston Legal will make you snicker (you can watch it online).

Around the holiday table is Denny Crane, (played by William Shatner) who has Alzheimer’s, so he”s always good for a few inappropriate remarks, Alan Shore, his best friend (played by James Spader--he could read to me alll night) decides to deliver a lawyerly rampage on American politics…and the other players all pitch in their own prejudices, stereotypes, and funny banter that will make you WISH your family was this witty in their all too familiar digs. 

It all winds up (after a really big fight) in the kitchen with Denny thoroughly confused. Christmas, time, memories, love–it’s all too much. The small moment winds up being a long hug between two old friends.

But of course, you can’t just leave it like that–on a sweet note–no!

Just like at your house, (or mine)–someone has to take it too far and someone really does get their feelings hurt.

It happens. We’re human, and no one, no one can push that exact right button to make you go off than someone who shares your same DNA.

My other Christmas funny movie is the classic “Christmas Vacation” with Chevy Chase. We still kid about his aunt wrapping up the cat and trying to give it as a gift–and then she sings the National Anthem instead of offering a blessing. My mother actually did that once–so we all went with it–hands on our hearts and belted out our national pride.

All you can do is spike the egg nog and go with it. Christmas and the holidays can bring out the beast in all of us. But if we look really close and think small, we might find something of value

My only advice is survive. Any way you can. Just envision that Last of the Mohican’s guy about to jump into the waterfall and telling the love of his life. “No matter what, I will find you. Survive!” This is what I tell myself when I’m really stressed. (FYI guys, All and I do mean ALL girls love that scene).

Choose one thing–whether it’s riding around looking at lights or baking Italian wedding cookies from your great aunt Sophia’s recipe–pick one thing that means Christmas to you–and do it. Don’t get hung up on what doesn’t get done, and what gets screwed up.

The perfect Christmas/Chanukah/holiday is  really more than the human race is capable of.

Zero in on what is most sacred, most precious to  you. That’s all that matters.

One small thing. 

For me, it’s going to hear the Edward Water’s choir sing. They’re amazing, and sitting in a tiny chapel with warm wood walls and stained glass windows while 20+ college students belt out the Carols with soul and spice is the perfect way for me to celebrate the season. I attended last year, and tears streamed down my face–I clapped and sang and felt more in touch with the season that I had in years.

Each of us have to find our own way, what touches our heart and lifts our spirits.

If you’re caregiving, think really small. Hot tea and a cookie while sitting in front of a fire might be just right.

~Carol O’Dell, author of Motheirng Mother

Family Advisor at 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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It doesn’t matter your cultural or religious background–it doesn’t matter if you’re wealthy or just barely getting by, there are three concerns at the end of life most people share.

They’re heard by chaplains, hospice workers and volunteers, and by family members who gather around those they love and try to make the last weeks, days, and hours of a person’s life as comfortable and as meaningful as possible.

 

Here are the three biggest concerns at the end of life:

  • I don’t want to be a burden
  • I don’t want to be in pain
  • I don’t want to lose control over what’s done to me

I don’t want to be a burden.

As a speaker/facilitator in the field of caregiving, I hear this concern all the time–and it starts long before the end of life.

In fact, I heard it from my 25 year-old daughter. She said she’d rather go into a care facility when she’s older because she doesn’t want to be a burden. It’s a sad reflection on society to think that growing older or needing help to get around is equated with being a burden. (I didn’t teach her this, by the way :))

There’s a lot not being said here:

I don’t want to be dependent. I don’t want to be vulnerable.  I don’t like others telling me what to do. I don’t want to be in the way. I don’t want people to resent caring for me. I’ve dealt with the elderly and infirmed and I don’t want someone to have to do, to sacrifice what I did. I’m scared. I

But what if you’re not a burden?

What if caring for you is viewed as a privilege?

What if you plan enough ahead of time and arrange for the added/needed help so that family members do less physical work and can simply “be” with you–enjoy your company?

What if you do all that you can do now–health wise–to be strong and mobile and live longer in good health? (there are no guarantees on that one).

What if you have something valuable to offer–even in your last years and months?

What if even your dying is considered sacred and something to treasure?  (even if it is hard)

What if, by allowing us to witness your end of life, we learn how to handle our own?

Who else will teach us?

I don’t want to be in pain.

No one does. Certain diseases cause more pain than others.

I can’t promise you that you won’t be in pain.

I can’t promise you that the end will come quick or be sweet–or even meaningful in the sense that sometimes we romanticize certain events and imagine them in a glowing, fuzzy cinematic light with all of our loved ones gathered and all getting along and tears and smiles and kisses and we can be coherent and see them all and hold this wonderful moment for all eternity…and it isn’t always like that.

I can tell you that hospice in particular will do everything they can to keep you pain free.

Palliative care is better than ever–there are all over salves that numb you, take away the aches, meds to reduce fever and chills–but many of these medicines will gork you out. You may sleep a lot. You may not be fully aware of time or of your loved ones coming and going. You might be pain free, but there might be a trade off.

All I can say is that by knowing this now, you can come to some level of acceptance. That’s all I can offer you–or me. I can’t say how I’m going to go–whether it will be many years from now or any day.

I can’t say whether the end of my life will be peaceful or tragic. I just have to trust–and do all I can to attract peace.

But I do know that whatever I believe about the hereafter, eternity, heaven…it will be that I will not be in pain. I will be in peace. I will not carry the pains, hurts, and sorrows of this world onto the next. And that brings me comfort.

I don’t want to lose control over what’s done to me.

Isn’t it amazing that one of the last questions/concerns we have before we leave this earth is about trust?

This teaches me one thing–I better get to dealing with my trust issues now.

Trust is the underlying factor that determines the success of any relationship–marriage, friendships, communities–it all boils down to, “Can I trust you?”

The answer isn’t “Yes, I can,” or “No, I can’t.”

Trust isn’t about finding people who won’t ever let you down.

Trust is knowing they will–in some way or another–and being okay with that.

Loving them any way. Trusting any way.

Choosing and then living in trust. Not trust in others. Perhaps it’s trust in yourself.

Trust that you’ll be okay. Trust that you don’t always have to be in control.

It’s also about trust in something bigger than you–in God, faith, the universe, the good–whatever you choose to call it. Trusting that goodness will come your way. Trusting that the universe is out to help you.

In the end, we all know that death will come. Perhaps there will be pain. Perhaps I won’t be able to say when it will happen, where I’ll be, who will be around me, what care I will or won’t get. And that somehow I can still believe that it will be all be okay.

 

But there is one more lesson here…

There is a lot you can say about the end of your life–but you better say it now. Talk to your loved ones. Write your ethical will. Fill out that living will. Say what it is you want. Appoint that guardian or family member to speak for you when or if you can’t.

Say all the I love you’s now. Go on those dream trips. Make memories. Laugh, cry, make love, sing, dance.

You want to not be a burden?

Start now. Invest in your relationships. Call your loved ones and listen to their day to day problems. Spoil them with your time. Go for walks and hold hands. Tell them how very proud you are of them, of the kind, good people they’ve become–then they won’t think you’re a burden.

You want not to be in pain?

Don’t dwell on pain now–physical or emotional. Live “pain-free” by practicing forgiveness, letting go and laying old issues down. Pain thrives off tenseness, tightness, and focus. Pain therapists use many techniques to help their clients manage pain–laughter therapy, engaging the mind on something bigger, more interesting, acupuncture, yoga…by letting go of pain today, we don’t attract it tomorrow.

You want to not be hung up on control?

Start trusting today. Take a risk. Fail. Laugh it off and try again. When you feel like a knotted fist inside your gut, recognize it and choose to trust. Give someone a chance. Give them a second chance. Give yourself a chance. The person we least trust is ourselves. We mistrust our own goodness. We are our own worst critiques, our own biggest doubters. Start with small affirmations–say them out loud in the car or in front of the mirror:

“I trust my own good heart.”

The biggest concerns of life are no surprise–they’re our biggest concerns every day–when you come to think about it. Every day, we’re given a chance to face our fears–to see our own good–and the goodness around us.

If you’re a caregiver, and you’re with a loved one who is coming toward the end, reassure them–let them know repeatedly that they are loved, that you will do all they can to make sure they’re not in pain, that you will honor their wishes, you will be there–steadfast. They will not be alone. Each time you say this to someone else, you say it to yourself.

I know as a caregiver this time is scary.

You don’t know how. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve faced death in an intimate way–with a family member this close. I was just like you–my dad died in hospital–and I was facing the death of my mother in my own home. I worried if I’d be okay–if I could handle it–emotionally.

IYou will find your strength and resolve.

You will keep your loved one safe–and honor their life and their death.

You will give them the dignity they deserve.

Even though you may feel like running, you will be brave. You will be there for your loved one–and it will change how you perceive life–and death.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

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Creating a bedtime ritual is good for the body and soul.

Parents do this for their children–read them a book, sing a song, say a prayer. Why do we ever stop?

Everything from brushing your teeth to the way you fluff your pillow gives cues to your body to begin to relax and let go. It’s a great way to ward off insomnia and over-thinking/worrying.

 

I always ask myself two questions at the end of each day:

What was the best part of my day?

What am I looking forward to tomorrow?

As I ask myself the first question, I almost always get a visual, and about 85% of the time the best part of my day had something to do with nature. Not about me achieving my goals–and believe me, I’m very goal driven. It’s not about a royalty check reflecting how many books I’ve sold or some other personal achievement (sometimes it is, but it has to be something I feel I’ve earned or dreamed about for a long time).

The first question allows me reflect upon the day.

It’s about the double-winged dragonfly that zipped past me while I was biking. Or the blue heron that stood still and let me get really close. Or the field of wild rabbits I came up on. No matter where you live–New York City or Kalamazoo, there’s more nature around you than you think. It’s there for a reason–it sustains you in so many ways.

 

Nature gets me outside myself. It connects me with all living things. It’s exquisite,  exotic, powerful, and surprising. Sometimes I relive these moments–the feel of my hair lifting off my shoulders as I bike, the buoyancy of the waves as I body surf–reliving those moments at the end of my day is living life twice.

Occasionally, it’s about an old friend that called, a recognition I’m particularly honored to receive, but more times than not–it’s not about me.

This one question has also changed my day. What will I have to tell myself at the end of the day if I don’t get outside and give opportunity for those “best parts of my day” to present themselves?

It’s heightened my awareness. I step out my front door expecting a miracle, or at the very least, a gift.  When that hummingbird appears, that deer looks me in the eye, I’m acutely aware–and grateful. I tuck in my memory like a pebble in my pocket knowing I’ll get to enjoy it again as I lay my head on my pillow.

The second question links me to the new day in front of me.

This one I heard from Dr. Phil.Now I’m not crazy about the direction he’s taken with his Jerry Springer-esque tv show, but I heard that he asks his sons this question each night so that they would end the day on a note of hope.

No matter our age or circumstance of life–we all need something to look forward to tomorrow.

Whether it’s meeting a friend for lunch or the next day’s walk, we need to go to sleep with the thought that tomorrow is waiting for us.

It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to cost money. It’s about creating a life of meaning.

Even our elders those we are caregiving need to look forward to the next day.

This again, causes us to create our days, make plans, and focus.

Create a morning ritual as well. 

List 5 things you’re grateful for before you get up.

Again, we’re talking simple.

Here’s today’s morning list for me:

I’m grateful for–

  • a bike ride (I go on one every morning)
  • my dog Rupert and his he sits nudged under my desk as I write
  • cherries that are in season–and the bowl that awaits me when I get up
  • my favorite pillow–gushy
  • my newly painted office that is lipstick red with white trim–and has a whole wall painted in chalkboard paint so I can literally write on the walls

Nothing earth shattering, but as my feet hit the ground each morning, I do what was suggested in the book, The Secret. Each step I take on my way to the bathroom–I say, “thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” Out loud. I

‘m smiling by the time I glance into the mirror.

This sure is better than beating myself up for saying something stupid that day, or mulling over a pile of bills, or rehasing a disagreement. There is a time to deal with those things, but that time isn’t the last thing at night or the first thing in the morning.

Protect this sacred time. Gather the best, look forward to tomorrow–

and fill your heart with gratitude.

 

I’m Carol O’Dell, and this is my blog, Mothering Mother and More, found at caroldodell.wordpress.com/

Carol is the author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir.

It’s a collection of stories and thoughts for families and caregivers written in real time as she cared for her mother who suffered with Alzheimer’ and Parkinson’s.

Mothering Mother is available at Amazon and can be requested at any bookstore or library.

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