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Archive for the ‘seniors’ Category

Who is an invisible caregiver?

Millions of spouses, adult children and friends who are caring for someone they love–but having to “do it on the sly.” It’s a tough transition, to admit you need care. After decades of being the strong one, the provider, the professional, the hub of the family, admitting that you need help in and out of the bed, in and out of the car, or down the stairs because of a chronic illness, disease, or after surgery can feel like a blow to the ego.  And it’s not who they are. Call is pride, but there’s a time in a person’s life when they aren’t ready to admit they need care. Their worth goes far beyond their need for help.

I met a gal last week who is caring for her husband, but it’s not a label she gives to herself. He has MS and is in a wheelchair. He’s on disability and yet he strives to see himself as he always was–a competent businessman, father, friend and spouse. He is–all those things–but he needs a little help now and then.

They married last year and their devotion and honeymoon love is obvious. They look at each other with such tenderness. She walked into this relationship eyes open. His disability isn’t what she fell in love with–it’s his charm, his wit, and his generous spirit. But his disability is something they have to work around.

She helps him dress–on difficult days. She makes sure his meds are delivered on time and she helps him sort them and reminds him occasionally (wives tend to do that–some people call it nagging but it’s all in the interpretation). She washes his hair. She works her schedule around his so she can accompany him to doctor visits so she can help manage his care. And since he’s prone to infection, she takes extra care to keep their environment germ-free–and keeps masks available for when they’re out in public during flu season.

The other night, he had a fever and decided to sleep downstairs on the couch. He just didn’t have the strength to head upstairs, change clothes and do his normal bedtime routine. She slept in the recliner next to him and checked on him several times that night–to make sure his fever didn’t spike.

Yes, technically she’s a caregiver. But her husband is a young 50 years old,  and his disease takes such a toll on his life and health that she doesn’t want to see him as needing care. He wants to be seen first as a man. That’s how she chooses to see him as well.

There are times when naming something brings a sense of relief–so that’s what it is. The definition helps define us. And then there are times, as in this gal’s case when it changes the relationship. She’d rather be an “invisible caregiver.” She’d rather consider herself his wife, his companion, his confidant.

Caring for a spouse isn’t a role. It comes with “I do.” All the invisible caregivers out there–spouses, children or friends do it out of love and loyalty. They choose to camouflage the care they give in order to keep the emphasis on the relationship–to give their loved one the dignity and respect they deserve.

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In the U.S. today, more people are addicted to prescription meds than those who abuse heroin, meth, and cocaine–combined. It usually starts as a result of surgery, an accident, or a chronic pain condition that has become unbearable over time. The sad part is that it turns good people into mush. They lose their closest relationships, their homes, their children, their livelihood–all for a pill. For many, it’s also a part of their caregiving journey.

As a caregiver, it’s easy to fall into this trap. After all, you’re home all day–many times isolated–and you have access to lots of medications. You might be a tad depressed, your back hurts, you’re exhausted–and if you could just sleep, just not be in pain for a few hours…

Or your loved one finds themselves reaching too many times a day for something to alleviate the pain and loneliness, –maybe it’s your spouse or parent or child who is struggling with a prescription med addiction. It might start in college–the new craze is to take Ritalin or other drugs to help you study harder and longer and be extra alert during tests. It might be with a spouse who had back surgery and the pills “helped,” but now they have a hard time letting them go.

Oprah and Dr. Ozdid a special on this topic, and the people they interviewed were heartbreaking examples of how common this problem really is–people you wouldn’t expect. “Whether it’s Xanax, Vicodin, Valium or Percocet, Dr. Oz says more than 50 million Americans have admitted to trying prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons.”
 

Women, young women with children, older people, teens–all walks of life face this problem. As we well know, Betty Ford, President Gerald Ford’s wife struggled with this very problem and then opened the Betty Ford Clinic to help others battle addictions.

I watched this happen to an acquaintance. She was a young mother with three boys and a husband who traveled for his work. Rumors and concerns swarmed around her, and friends tried to intervene. She finally hit bottom and had to have a liver transplant. If anyone knows about organ transplants, then they know that it plunges you into a world of doctors, medicine, and a life-time of pills. I heard that sadly, she passed away about 5 years after her liver transplant. She had gone bad to abusing prescription drugs. Her boys no longer have their mother. Hers is ultimate warning: addictions can become so big and so consuming that it can literally consume your life.

Is Prescription Drug Abuse Common Among the Elderly? Yes.

According to DrugAbuse.gov, “Persons 65 years of age and above comprise only 13 percent of the population, yet account for approximately one-third of all medications prescribed in the United States. Older patients are more likely to be prescribed long-term and multiple prescriptions, which could lead to unintentional misuse.

How to Prevent or Cope With Prescription Meds Addiction:

  • Before you start to have a problem: get rid of the pain pills. If your surgery is long past, don’t leave them in your medicine cabinet. Toss them. Even if you think you would never be tempted, remove the temptation–for you and your family members.
  • Be a vigilant counter. Make sure you know how many pills your loved one needs, and be sure they stick to it. If you only have one prescription of pain pills and you count them out, then it’s easy to keep track and know if pills are missing.
  • If you’re not the only one picking up prescriptions, then be aware that many people who are addicted use multiple doctors and multiple pharmacies. Check the bottles, check the dates, check the doctors.
  • If you suspect a problem, then start paying attention. Check their purses, backpacks, bathroom cabinets, cars, and other hiding places. This is serious, you need to know what’s going on.
  • If you find a problem, start attending Al-Anon. As the support person, you need support and education. You need to create a game plan, and you need to know you’re not alone.
  • Know that this won’t’ be easy, especially if your loved one has a condition that really does include pain. Be willing to give them “tough love.” This could cost them their life, and I’d rather my spouse, child, or parent hate me than for them to die.
  • If your loved one is old-er, they may be obstinate (that of course, can come at any age) and they may refuse to attend Nar-Anon meetings (for those who abuse narcotics) but visit their website, become educated, and don’t give up.
  • Notify their doctors that prescription drugs are a problem, but realize that if they’re truly addicted, you may see agitated, even violent behavior as well as shakes, nausea, sleeplessness, and all kinds of antics.
  • Look at your own behavior: how have you contributed to this situation? Be honest with yourself. Don’t look at it as blame, treat yourself with the same compassion as you would your best friend. You were tired, you looked the other way, you made excuses, you needed to keep the peace. You can’t move forward until you admit there’s a problem, and that you’re somehow a part of this whole picture–but know that you’re also a part of the solution. Until you acknowledge the situation, it doesn’t have a chance to change.

You can’t control or “fix” anybody else. You’re only 100% responsible for you. Caregiving comes with many challenges, and the abuse of prescription drugs is a huge problem we have to start talking about. Don’t isolate yourself, make excuses, or feel you’re all alone. You’re not. There are others who have struggled with addictions, with being a family member of those addicted, and their insights and their example can help.

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Move over, Michelle Obama, cause Mama’s in the house.

That’s right, Michelle Obama’s mother is moving into the White House.

Marian Robinson quit her job 22 months ago to help care for the Obama girls while Michelle and Barack started campaigning. She’s now 71 and a retired secretary and she’s moving into the White House on a “trial basis” before giving up her home in Chicago. While the presidential campaign was underway, Ms. Robinson cooked the girl’s meals, shuffled them to their various activities, helped with homework and kissed them goodnight. That’s a big job, but it was for a big reason.

That’s something I admire–a family that figures out how to care for one another and when it’s the appropriate time to do so. I’m not too worried how she’ll be treated a few years from now when she needs elder-care or caregiving. She’s invested in her family, and love is almost always returned.

The White House will be full again, with a father, mother, two children, a grandmother, and a dog. I like the idea of those old rooms bustling with the sound of feet running up and down the halls, of a grandmother’s stern call to order and the yelp of a dog.

Multigenerational families aren’t new. People used to live together under one roof out of necessity–to run the farm, to continue the family business. In fact, it’s on the rise.

More than 3.6 million parents lived with adult children in 2007, according to census data. That number is up 67 percent from 2000. And in the new economic light, more and more families are choosing to “bunk up” to save on expenses, and as a necessity for those who have lost their jobs.

Somehow, we got away from that in my generation. We got independent, perhaps too independent thinking that money would be enough–or as my southern daddy would say, “We got too big for our britches.”

My adoptive mother grew up in a multigenerational house. She was surrounded by aunts and uncles (her mother was divorced and raising two children on her own in the 1910’s). My mother’s memories are good ones. A large table with lots of food and conversation. She said she felt as if she had many mothers, not just one–and it helped that her mother could work full time and her two children had someone at home.

Times haven’t changed that much. Marian Robinson is an example of millions of grandmother’s who are either raising or helping to raise grandchildren. We need each other. We need our mothers and fathers to be a part of their grandchidren’s lives. That’s how values and stories get passed down.

From all I’ve read, Marian Robinson is going to be a busy woman. She’s noted for her independence and will only stay if she’s needed. She may even purchase a home nearby just so she has some privacy and doesn’t have to deal with the day to day fuss life in politics entails. She’s no where near slowing down and has recentlycompeted in the Senior Games running the 50 and 100 yard dash. No matter where she chooses to sleep, she’ll be an active part of the Obama household and everyone will benefit from that.

It’s not that her value as a grandmother is in throwing in a load of laundry or chauffeuring the girls around, it’s that the children will be influenced by her wisdom and will have that sense of family and continuity that’s so important. It’s easy to caught up in the “doing” and not the “being.”  The most valuable gift our elders have to offer is simply who they are–a part of us. Their life, their experiences, their stories shape and define future generations.

I have seen families take advantage of their elders–used them as free babysitters–and that’s not healthy for anyone. Sometimes we have to say, “No, not tonight, I have plans.”

As my mother moved in with my husband, our daughters and myself, I knew I had to strike a balance. My mother had to fit into our home, and in return, I (we) needed to treat her with respect and privacy. These are the concerns multigenerational families face. You don’t know exactly what your issues are going to be until you’re there, all living together. One person becomes needy, another bossy–someone needs more privacy than another, and…somebody always gets jealous. It’s just human nature and no matter how old we are, we still get jealous or needy at times.

My mother was always a part of our lives, and I’m so grateful that even though she was an older grandmother (she was 74 when her first granddaughter was born), she got right to being an active grandmother. She used to come over and get our girls and take them for an overnight stay as soon as they were out of diapers. They remember going to eat breakfast at Shoney’s with my mom and how proud she was showing them off to anyone who walked by, and then going to K Mart to hold the dolls. She’d buy them something small and even though these times weren’t fancy, they were just enough to begin to build a relationship–and memories. Our daughters remember my mother’s songs, her prayers and Bible stories, her stories–and even her quirks, her humor, her fears–everything that made her a whole person. So when it came time for my mother to move in with us, they expected it. In many ways, she was already a part of our lives.

Just the other day, our 21 year old daughter said she was glad her grandmother lived with us. That’s saying a lot, because she was there through it all, the Alzheimer’s, the heart attacks, and the end of life. She’s now able to measure the whole of the experience and not just focus on a particularly dark time.

What I wish for the Obama’s is that everyone will be patient and understanding with one another during this time of change. My advice, if I may offer a little–be quick to forgive, laugh at your mistakes, value your togetherness, and respect each other’s differences.

Getting used to living together and under such scrutiny is bound to cause some nerves to be razzled. Just as with any family, it takes time to learn to live together. But it’s worth it. There are times when we need each other, and that’s the best definition of what makes a family that I can think of.

In the end, the Obama girls will be surrounded by family, by legacy, and by love.

I wish them (and all of us) the best.

~Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

Familly advisor at Caring.com

 

 

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Halloween is just for kids? Who says?

Our elders really get a kick out of Halloween. They love to see the kids dress up and enjoy handing out candy, or at least watching the parade of adorable angels, fairies, pirates, and ghosts walk by.

Easy Ways to Enjoy the Fall and Halloween Season:

  • Pick up a pumpkin at the grocery store. Even if you don’t cut it, it’s still pretty sitting on the front porch.
  • Decorate your house with a few spooky bats. Use some black construction paper or even use some purple, red, or green wrapping paper–who says bats have to be black?
  • Hang a ghost from a tree–all you need is a sheet and two black eyes and some string.
  • Buy a witch’s hat at a discount store and walk around with a broom and cackle. Your mom or dad will perk up, I promise, if you greet them with their afternoon meds as a witch!
  • Splurge on a little Halloween candy. Get something your mom or dad can eat. A couple of marshmallow pumpkins won’t hurt anything. We all have a sweet tooth–at any age. My mom had a thing for Little Debbie snacks–and I couldn’t help but let her enjoy herself with a couple of swiss cake rolls every once in a while.
  • Plan ahead, bundle up your senior, and either sit outside or near the front door and pass out candy.
  • Light some candles or even string a few Christmas lights around your door–you can leave them up for the next two months and they give off a nice glow.
  • Make it a point to meet a few of your neighbors. If you don’t know your neighbors, you need to–and what better way to strike up a conversation than over a cup of hot cider or commenting on how cute their kids are.
  • Do you know that young couples miss their grandparents and would love a surrogate grandpa or grandmother for their kids to look up to?
  • Let your mom or dad be the candy passer-outer. That will allow them to see the children’s costumes and they’ll enjoy the festivities.
  • Consider renting a oldie–but goodie. How about the Bride of Frankenstein–or the old Dracula? If you mom or dad don’t seem to be up for being frightened, then try a little Planet Earth–the one about all the bats in the caves of Mexico scared me more than any scary movie ever could! For a G-rated film, try Charlie Brown’s Halloween Special.
  • Make a pot of veggie soup–or chili. Mix up some cornbread and enjoy the fall chill in the air.
  • If you’re near your grandkids, then consider going to their house and enjoying the fun. This is how you make family memories–and it’s worth the trouble.

I read this great short story once about a daughter who took her mom, who had Alzheimer’s, to a Halloween party. Her mom loved it–and totally got into the masks and charades and felt free–not to have to be one person or another–to be concerned with knowing someone, recognizing someone. For Halloween night, she could be anybody she wanted.

I have a favorite Halloween memory of my mom and me. It’s a bit unusual since I grew up in a strict religious household–my mom was a minister–so you don’t exactly think they’d buy into the whole Halloween thing, but she did. I’m glad she didn’t take it too serious because to this day, and I still love to dress up.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, SAID CHILD, which is the prequel to Mothering Mother. (SAID CHILD is about being adopted at age four, and my search for my birth family–and how I learned to love both my adoptive and birth family). 

 

               Daddy had been in the hospital for back surgery on Halloween when I was about eight or nine years old. It was an especially cold Georgia Halloween night and I fidgeted beside his hospital bed, tired of coloring and wanting to go home and get on my fairy costume and go trick-or-treating. By the time Mama and I kissed Daddy goodbye and we made it out of the hospital and hit the cold night air of the parking lot, I realized it was long since dark. The cold bit into my chest.

“Don’t worry, I have an idea,” she said as she walked a little faster.

We hurried home and I moped around, standing on the heater grate, curling my sock feet over the metal edges for warmth. Mama burst out of her bedroom,

“Count to one hundred, and then come knock on my bedroom door.”

What was she up to? I did as I was told.

“Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred.” Knock, knock.

Mama cracked open the bedroom door. She peeked out with a sheet over her head,

“Ohhh!” She moaned like a ghost. I squealed and giggled.

“I am a Halloween ghost!” she said in a low voice spooky voice. “Would you like some candy, little girl?”

I ran and got my orange plastic pumpkin bucket and thrust it toward the door. Mama dumped in a handful of Bit-O-Honey candies. She leaned down and whispered for me to count to one hundred again with my eyes closed, and then go to the bathroom door and knock. She motioned for me to turn away as she ran to the next room.

Mama opened the bathroom door wearing Daddy’s trench coat and hat and a mustache she must have drawn on with her eyebrow pencil. I laughed until I fell down and then held out my plastic pumpkin as she emptied Bazooka bubble gum into it.

We ran from room to room and each time Mama appeared as a new character—a maid with apron and spoon in the kitchen, a lady in a evening gown and fancy hat in the closet, a little girl with curlers in her hair and a teddy bear when she emerged from my room.

 

Mama wasn’t so boring after all. As regular as a clock, she kept my childhood in order. She made sure I scrubbed under my fingernails and practiced my times tables. But she was also a mother capable of a surprise or two–especially on Halloween. 

***

Have a Happy, Safe, and Fun Halloween!

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

Family Advisor at Caring.com  

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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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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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Today, I switch roles from the caregiver blogging perspective to that of the care receiver–

specifically, the aging parent.

If you’re a caregiver/son, daughter, please read this post.

You need to put yourself in their shoes.

But I don’t want to live with my adult children!

I don’t blame you. Me neither.

(And I wrote the book, Mothering Mother–and my mom lived with me the last (almost) three years of her life!) But that’s my point–my mother lived on her own–with Parkinson’s and early dementia until she was 89 years old!

We’ll all be in this predicament one day–if we live that long–so we need to be empathetic.

My kids are grown, responsible, and we all love each other–and I still don’t relish the thought of permanently living with them! I am a big proponent of family caregiving–but do it when the time is right.

No one wants to give up their independence.

We like things our way, our household “rules,” TV shows, and favorite laundry detergent. Things seemingly insignificant choices give us a sense of autonomy and joy to every day life.

I don’t want to be a burden. 

I hear this a lot. I feel it on a personal level, but know that when it’s necessary–cancer, end of life, when it’s really needed, then it’s not a burden. It’s a privilege–

Ad you still have much to give.

Encourgement, humor, appreciation, family togetherness is a rare and precious gift and should not be under-appreciated.

I feel privileged to have children. And I know if/when I have to, we would all do our best to make it work. I’m grateful I have the option if I needed it.

There are many people who do not have children. Or their children are not able or willing to help.

No time for a pity party. Get busy! Use this as a catalyst to get busy doing just that–planning your life–for quality and purpose.

If you don’t want to live in a care facility (prematurely, and hopefully never) or with someone else–family member or not, then I (and you) better have a plan.

Note: Decide today to be okay how your life turns out–either way. Who knows what wil happen? 

Have you heard of the aging in place movement?

This July AARP released a new report citing that 87% of people with disabilities age 50 and older want to receive long-term care (LTC) services in their own homes.

The National Aging in Place Organization is about collaboration and education to live at home as long as possible.

Aging in Place includes building/altering your home so that you can stay there safely as long as possible.

It might also include a ramp, ample doorways and bathrooms for wheelchair accommodation, safe flooring, and even a space for live-in care. It’s up to each individual to make these arrangements to suit (by anticipating) their needs. This term is also loosely used to help individuals begin to plan for their future in terms of how and where they want to live as life progresses.

Aging in place might even include moving so that you are living in an area where retirement and aging is not only enjoyable, but that you also have ample resources within your community for the care you might need.

Or…it might include living close enough to your adult children so that they can easily check on you and manage your care without having to live with you. ( I know of three families in our neighborhood whose mothers/parents also live in another house in the neighborhood).

Recently, after Tropical Storm Faye, I saw one of the son-in-laws picking up debris out of his mother-in-law’s yard. At least he didn’t have to drive an hour or two to do this little chore–or worry about someone charging her an exorbitant price for a job that took less than an hour.

How to Arrange Your Life So That You Can Live at Home Longer:

(consider one or more of the following suggestions)

  • Move your bedroom on the first/main floor
  • Do a computer search or call your council on aging and get a list of all your community’s resources now. Don’t wait until you need help to start this process.
  • Consider redoing your main bath to accommodate a wheelchair/walker–and make your shower easy to get in and out of
  • If your spouse has passed away, consider a roommate. Finish a garage or basement if you’d like it to be more private and separate. This $10-20,000 investment (if it’s done well) could give you added years at home–you could even trade rent for care.
  • Be sure that if you choose to do this that you both sign a contract for renting, you get driver’s license info, run a background check and never ever give them access or personal/financial information.
  • Even though there are risks involved, having someone live with you or on your property can provide a certain sense of security, companionship, and allow you to stay home much longer than living alone.
  • Consider an alarm system if you feel you live in an area where you’re vulnerable to break-ins. Check with your local police to see if this is a common occurrence. Elders can be targets for easy crimes.
  • Don’t blab to every cable and lawn guy that you live alone. Always act like your son/nephew is in the house, coming home, on the phone. Even if you don’t have one–never let others think you’re always alone. Don’t be an easy target!
  • Consider “the button,” a monitoring device you wear in case you fall. There are systems that will call and check on you morning and night (of course, you pay extra for this), but it might give you and those who love you a peace of mind to know that you can call for help at any time.
  • Wear the thing! My mom was terrible about leaving it on a piece of clothing she wasn’t wearing, forgetting where it was–and caregivers, family members–if your loved one has memory loss, this may not help them. They won’t necessarily remember they have “the button” on, or even what it’s for!
  • Get rid of clutter now! Clutter can cause you to fall and gets to be a real hassle for those caring for you. Don’t leave this to your family to do later–give those sentimental items to your family members now so that you can see the joy on their face when they use their grandmother’s dishes or wear a family heirloom piece of jewelry
  • Gather all your important documents–insurance info, cards, prescriptions, life insurance, house insurance and living will. Place these items in a portable box and let your loved ones know where it is–for easy access. 
  • Do that living will now–don’t make your loved ones have to guess or fight over whether you’d want to be put on a ventilator or not. Be clear. Make several copies and give them to all the important peopel–one for you, your main doctor, the hospital you’re likely to go to, and one or two loved ones/guardians who would get to you quickly in times of emergency.
  • Get a recliner chair that can lift you out easily (consider this your next purchase when the current chair needs to be replaced)
  • Eventually consider a bed that is motorized–this added expense really helps if you have back problems and can sometimes be covered on insurance
  • Place tread on any slick floors inside or outside your house to avoid slipping
  • Remove any throw rugs that might trip you–(you may need to do this later or if you tend to shuffle)
  • Begin to think about your options if/when you can no longer drive–is there a senior van in your area? Friends/neighbors who you can ride with or will pick up a few items for you? Even consider a taxi–most areas have taxis (even if you’ve never used one in your area before, they’re probably there). Don’t sit at home and waste away–even if your eyes or your coordination begin to wane, you can still get out and enjoy life.
  • Continue to be a part of your local church/temple. Make friends–you need them, and they need you! Churches and community organizations are there to help. Let them. Helping others make us feel good–don’t be so stubborn and independent that you don’t allow someone else to give and feel good. If someone is willing to pick you up to take you to Sunday School or choir practice–let them~ You still get to go to an activity (which is good for you), and they feel like they’ve helped someone. Win-win.
  • Get to know your neighbors. You can all keep an eye on each other. Be nice to the kids in your neighborhood–they can rake your leaves or bring you the mail. Most children and even teens long for a grandparent and don’t get to see theirs enough. Wave! Smile, get to know their moms and dads so they trust you. Bake a cake and take it to them. Cultivate relationships. Old-fashioned neighborliness and friendship never grows old and is never out of style.
  • Choose where you want to pass away. Hospice offers you the choice to spend your last few months/weeks/days at home and can offer palliative care (pain management). Most people choose to be in their own home and to surrounded by those they love. Let people know now–most areas of the country have access to hospice. The diagnosis is that you have a life-limiting condition with a diagnosis or a year or less to live.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute–ask for hospice. Anyone can refer you to hospice (including yourself or your physician). Also know that many cities have more than one hospice with varying levels of care and options. Check them out to see what’s available to you.

Bottom line:

Plan now. If you’re over 50, then you better start planning. Having a 401K isn’t enough. It doesn’t take care of the details and quality of life–and money won’t fix everything.

Adapt your house to suit your aging needs.

If it’s not too late, and you need to, move closer to family so that it’s not hard for them to drop by and check on you.

And…or…live in a community that is “elder friendly,” with lots of resources.

Stay involved with people. Accept their help. Give back any way you can. A smile, a hug, homemade cookies will get you lots of friends. Neighbors are important. Do more than wave. You might need them one day.

Stay/get involved in church and other community activities. The more plugged in you are, the more people you have in your life, the more your mind/body stays active. Staying active will keep you at home.

No longer driving is not the end of the world. Figure out how to make it work–taxi, community van, church members/neighbors.

Consider a roommate or a family member living arrangement. Just be safe, sign a contract, and do a background check. ( I know of several nieces/nephews who are young and starting out in life by sharing a house with an aunt or grandmother).

Get help when you need it–hiring day-time care is cheaper than a care facility. There are many great companies such as Comfort Keepers who are licensed, bonded, flexible and reasonable–usually less than $20.00 an hour.

Wherever you are and whatever life throws at you–continue to smile, see the good, and find ways to give and receive love.

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, other online stores and in bookstores. Kunati Publishing

I’m a family advisor on Caring.com, and my syndicated blog appears on www.opentohope.com.

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