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This is part two of a three part blog about the art of conversation.

If you haven’t read my first post, you might want to–click here.

The art of conversation starts with what you bring to the table.

The best conversationalists have a great sense of emotional intelligence, are easy, approachable, mix humor and poignancy, and can slide from subject to subject at a blink. It’s got a lot to do with a deep sense of confidence. There’s nothing sexier, more alluring, more satisfying than to be with someone who “sits deep in their own saddle.”

What the heck does that mean, you ask?

My middle daughter used to ride horses–and studied the art of dressage.

They call it horse ballet. It’s formal, in many ways, and when people compete at dressage, it’s very fancy–they dress in coat and tails–and a top hat. My daughter’s instructor used to tell my daughter to sit deep in the saddle (this is typically true for all types of horseback riding)–which meant literally to tilt her hips back and down, sink her heels as far down as possible, and plant herself in the saddle. I adopted this metaphor for my own life.

For me, it means to recenter myself, be present, own my own worth and where I am in life so I won’t get “bounced off” at every little bump in the road. 

Side note: Personal confidence has nothing to do with cockiness. Cockiness is a cheap knock-off. Confidence is elegant, generous, patient, and aware. A confident person can’t be easily threatened so they’re not coming from a fear based position. So giving a compliment is genuine, and letting someone else shine is a pleasure and doesn’t take away from their own worth. If you are privileged to be in a conversation with someone like that, then you leave feeling better about yourself–and you don’t even know why.

What’s this got to do with caregiving?

Everything.

When any of us feel our own worth, we attract goodness, and people treat us better because we exude grace and respect–for ourselves and others. My mother had this–she felt her own sense of worth that Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s couldn’t take from her.

How do you become a good conversationalist?

  • Take some slow, deep breaths before you enter a room or situation
  • Envision who you will be talking to
  • See the two of you at ease–engaged in a natural conversation
  • If it’s an important conversation, plan out 2-3 points–no more
  • Really listen. Pay attention to what they repeat, to their body language, to the way their face changes at certain thoughts
  • Don’t play psychologist–no one likes to be analyzed
  • If it’s a casual conversation–a dinner, get together with friends, then relax and be yourself. Don’t worry about every little word. Let others talk, but a little over-talking-interrupting is normal when things really get rolling. Forget how you look or trying to sound deep or witty and just trust your natural instincts.
  • Don’t play the “one up” game–that’s when they tell  story about being st or hurt–and then you “one up” them by telling a story about something worse that happened to you
  • Ask open ended questions–ones that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no”

But what about those difficult conversations–the one you need to have with your loved one?

Caregivers and family members have to eventually ask their loved ones some tough questions:

  • I think it’s time for us to plan for the time when you’ll no longer drive. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t still live at home or enjoy your same activities, but can we talk about some alternative transportation?
  • How do you feel about a living will? Do you know what that is? If not, I can explain it to you.
  • Have you thought about what you’ll do if you can’t continue to live in your own home? Have you made plans?
  • You remember we went to the doctor’s last week, and the doctor said you have Alzheimer’s. Have you thought about that? Do you have questions? I’d like to talk about how best to help care for you…
  • How do you feel about hospice? When the time comes, would you rather stay at home and have hospice here–or at a hospital?
  • Have you thought about your memorial service? I know it’s uncomfortable, but I’d like your thoughts–how you’d like to be remembered.

These are difficult conversations, and perhaps the most difficult part is just getting started. Think about what scares you the most. Are you afraid they’ll get mad? Shut down? Refuse to ever talk about it again? That you’ll hurt their feelings?

All that might be true, but some conversations need to take place regardless of how someone will take it.

You have to risk the fight, the pouting, the temper tantrum, the silent treatment that may come. If they get mad, let them. A few days later, ask again. Keep asking. Just act oblivious to the fact that they get upset. Contrary to popular belief, you will not die from being uncomfortable.

In the end, it’s better to deal with the few minutes, hours, days of hurt than to have to make decisions for someone else–and then feel guilt and resentment and forever wonder if you did the right thing.

This might help kick-start a difficult conversation:

I’ve actually done this–if you know you have an uncomfortable/difficult conversation coming up–do a dry run. The next time you get in your car, talk out loud and practice your conversation.

Say it all verbatim–exactly as you would if they were in the car with you. You can even add in their part–play out different scenarios–one where they argue with you, whine, cry, pitch a fit…and one where they listen to you, hesitate, but don’t completely discount what you’re trying to say.

Do this dry run several times until you get used to your own words. You need to hear yourself say it. You need the practice–and it really helps!

Get used to talking–about everything. It’s okay to have differing views. It doesn’t mean you can’t love each other–even democrats and republicans have been known to get along–under the same roof.

The art of conversation can benefit your life in so many ways.

Nothing feels better than to leave someone’s house or restaurant after having a good talk–laughter, tears, banter, stories, memories…this is what binds us to those we love.

My next blog post will focus on the hardest of all conversations–communicating with our loved ones when they have Alzheimer’s or dementia or Lewy Body, or a brain injury, or having that last conversation with those we love in their final hours.

I’m Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon. I hope you’ll join in the conversation.

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

most dreaded times in a person’s life.

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

I know you don’t think you will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s it like? That first month?

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

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

What is shock?

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

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

WebMD desribes shock as this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust your gut, your shock will get you through.

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

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

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

You might also:

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

Practical Things You Typically Do The First Month:

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

Emotionally You’ll Have To:

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

For most people, the first month is a blur.

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

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

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

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

Your body is protecting you. Let it. J

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

Just breathe.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Carol is a family advisor at www.Caring.com

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Have you really put your foot in your mouth lately?
Were you cruel, sarcastic, bitter–or snarky?
Do you feel like you deeply hurt someone you love?
Sometimes, caregivers snap.
They’re tired, stressed, sleep-deprived, and fed up.
And unfortunately, their loved one–
their care receiver can be in the direct line of fire.
It happens.
But what’s worse is the guilt and regret you carry around with you–
and for some, even after their loved one passes, they just keep
beating themselves up.
Caregivers are notoriously hard on themselves.
I know, I was my own worst judge.
Remember, caregiving isn’t easy.
It’s relentless, and you can’t get it all “right.”
If you lost your cool on one day, you get a fresh start the next.
Jack Canfield recommends in his book, The Success Principles,
 to have a “redo” each night.
Think of something you wish you had said or done differently.
Then “redo” it in your mind. Say the right thing–do the right thing.
Then let it go and go to sleep.
By “practicing” the right thing, even saying it out loud, you’ll be
more likely to make a better choice the next time.
Get in the habit of saying, “I’m sorry.”
Say it immediately and follow it with a hug.
We all screw up, and the more stress out we are,
the more we blow our tops.

How to Stop Saying Mean Things:

  • Get to where you stop in mid-thought/mid-sentence
  • and choose a different direction.
  • If you’re yelling–stop. If you’re being sarcastic–stop.
  • Just stop talking. Quit. Don’t even finish what you’re saying.
  • Wear a rubber band and each time you start to say a mean thing, snap the hell out of yourself!
  • Make yourself call and apologize for any nasty remark–
  • Call the bank teller, call the pharmacist–make yourself ‘fess up. The uncomfortableness of having to own up will keep you from doing it again.
  • Go on a word fast. If you’re really having ugly thoughts, then stop talking for a day.
  • Sometimes we just spew venom into the atmosphere, and Lord knows, the world has enough cruelty already. Shut down. put on music or your ipod–drown out those negative thoughts.
  • Have one person you can vent to and call them.
  • Set a timer and give yourself 5 minutes to rant, and then tell your friend to make you shut up–even it if means hanging up on yourself.
  • Go old-fashioned and wash your mouth out with soap. That may sound strange for one grown person to tell another grown person, but if you’re talking like a mean little kid, then treat yourself like one. I guarantee you, you’ll not want to have to do that more than once.
  • If you’ve been on a roll lately (one despicable thought/word/action after another, then it’s time to backtrack and find the root cause.
  • Has your stress levels increased dramatically lately?
  • Are you doing something you really don’t want to do? Resent doing?
  • Who are you mad at? What’s the underlying hurt?
  • Do you feel taken for granted? Are you scared? Scared death is gaining ground?

Occasional “losing it” is okay–stop trying to be nice all the time.
It’s okay to mouth off every once in awhile. If you give yourself a break on the little things or the occasional slip-ups, then maybe you’ll circumvent the Mount Vesuvius moments when you’re exploding hot lava all over those you love–and those who don’t even know it’s coming!
Once you ask forgiveness–from yourself or someone else–accept it.
***If you’re really mad or hurt, then say it and don’t apologize.
But choose your words wisely and then stand behind them.

Saying you’re sorry and meaning it (and trying not to repeat that exact offense) is enough.
No more beating yourself up.
Did you know that this can be a form of attention-getting?
An actual kind of ego-stroking? Wierd, I know, but ask yourself why are you holding onto this?
Don’t chew on regret like an old dog with a dirty, nasty worn-out bone.
And last, laugh at yourself!

Sometimes, what you say or do in hurt, frustration or spite can be diffused by simply laughing!
Nothing takes the sting out of our faux pas better than realizing that everybody has a dark side–
a Dr. Jekyll we try to keep from bludgeoning those we love.
Say you’re sorry, mean it, and move on. 
(I’m repeating myself on purpose)
Have you ever been around someone who apologizes over and over? It’s annoying!
And for those of us whose moms or dads or spouses have died, know that the last thing our loved ones would want is for us to keep beating ourselves up for something that happend so long ago.
The best way to honor our relationships is by remembering the good and letting go of the rest.

author of Mothering Mother

available on Amazon and in most bookstores.

Carol is a family advisor at www.Caring.com.

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“I could go at any time.”

My mother said that line for a good 15 years.

It got old.

I knew she said it for attention, but did she really want negative attention?

Was she afraid of dying or just wanted us to reassure her she wasn’t?

Is your parent or spouse negative all or most of the time and is it driving you crazy?

It’s bad enough on the occasional visit, but if your caregiving responsibilities have increased, and you may be even living with them, then the negativity might be getting to you.

I know it got to me. And this isn’t the only kind mother engaged in.

“Why don’t your children like me?”

“Are you really going to wear that? Women your age shouldn’t wear mini-skirts” (It was barely above the knee)

“This chicken is rubbery.”

“You’re not as spiritual as you used to be.”

And my favorite…

“I don’t know why the good Lord just doesn’t come on and take me.”

***

I won’t tell you all the snide and irreverent comments I had for each of those, but I bet you can guess.

Basically, being grumpy and talking negative is a bad habit.

It’s meant to draw attention, to gain back power, or to make a jab at all the resentments that are building.

Basically, it’s saying something mean instead of having an honest discussion–and/or it’s a bad habit and thought pattern that’s been there for years.

HOW TO STOP NEGATIVE TALK:

  • Call their bluff–‘I know you’re trying to get my attention, but there are better ways to do it. How about…” Or, “You want to run by the funeral home?  You said you wanted to go…” (sounds mean, but it just might get your point across)
  • Shift their attention–offer something better in its place. Turn on some music, change the conversation, make an excuse and leave the room. Get the point across that this is no longer working.
  • Say, “STOP!” Say it firm and with eye contact. If it continues, say it louder and firmer.
  • Be a good example. Stop yourself when you hear it. Stop mid-sentence. Say, “STOP!” to yourself. Correct what you just said with a positive spin.
  • Be consistent. Just like with a child, if they sense a your defenses might crumble, they’ll hit harder and more manipulative the next time.

Negativity leads to depression and depression leads to all sorts of ailments.

Besides, who wants to live with, drive with, or work with someone who always negative and complaining?

Will someone who is in their 80s or 90s and has been this way for years really change?

They can. Especially if there’s simply no tolerating. They may still think it, whine it under their breath, but you as a daughter, son, spouse, caregiver set the mood and tone of your household and all those who are around you. You have the right and the obligation to keep things on an even, pleasant keel. It’s best for everyone, so suck up the fact that it may take a confrontation and do it. You’ll be glad you did.

Negativity rubs off and can damper an entire household or place of work.

But being positive is contagious too. You don’t have to be annoyingly, overly giddy, but being pleasant, helpful, and easy to get along with is something all of us aspire to.

“Folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

–Abraham Lincoln

~Carol D. O’Dell, Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

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Do over 100 booksignings/events in less than six months and you start to notice who’s buying your book.

Who Buys/Who Needs Mothering Mother?

Majority: Women (guys do too, but more need to since 44% of all caregivers are males)

Age: 40-65 typically (the “average’ caregiver is 47 years old and will caregiver for 4.5 years)

Ethnicity: Mixed–caregiving is common, accepted and expected among many ethnic communities such as African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Indian–just to name a few.

Boomers and Sandwich Generationers–lots. Even young people with family members–parents, siblings and others who suffer with mental illness. Caregiving covers a wide array.

Diseases: The usual suspects–Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, cancer, heart disease, and mental illness top the list.

I’ve also noticed the caregivers (oftentimes, daughters) tend  not to buy the book if mom is with them.

Many caregivers “circle” me. They’re not ready to buy my book at first. They tell themselves they don’t need it–yet.. They might take my card. Many do come back–and talk to me, for minutes, sometimes a half hour. I hear lots of family stories–and I’m glad I do. I actually enjoy this and feel that they need a listener ,and I’m glad to be one.  I’ve had them not buy my book that day, and then order it–only to email me with tender words.

I’ve learned that many people buy my book who has already lost mom or dad–and find my words, my stories cathartic. Others almost run from me–still in pain–in griever’s pain. I understand.

And the other person who buys my books are mothers. Wise mothers who want to read my story and share it with their daughters. They want their daughters to know and understand what’s up ahead–they want to open a dialogue. I’m proud of these women–of their openness and bravery.

See? See why I do what I do? See what I’ll stand in bookstores for hours? They need me. I know, I was one  of them. I so would have clung to “me,” read “me.” Needed “me” to listen. That’s why I do what I do.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of MOTHERING MOTHER: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon and in most bookstores, Kunati Publishing

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I heard a great analogy today that pertains to everyone, but especially caregivers. Boomers and sandwich generation-ers need to hear it too.

We never have to offer our good health to someone else (who is sick) because there’s not enough good health to go around. We don’t have to give that up. I can be well, and they can be well at the same time. By wishing them well, you give them everything and take nothing from yourself.

Wow.

Caregivers have this little nagging voice inside their heads that tell them that the things they desire most (sleep, eating without interruption, a day off, hell, a vacation) is selfish.

Selfish, selfish, selfish.

That’s what they think–and believe–and it’s so strong a belief that they’re so ashamed that they rarely admit to it. They just do more. Why? Guilt. Guilt for having such horrible thoughts (guilt that they might even fantasize they’re loved one is gone so they can just have a night out at the movies). Guilt is a mean buggar. It needles in and makes you sick. Makes you not talk, not “fess up,” not ask for help. Then comes resentment….and if you’re not careful….apathy. Apathy is another blog in and of itself.

So, I ask you. Who takes takes of you? Who’s in your corner. Who reminds you to slow down, take a breath, put your feet up. Who brings you take out Chinese, rents a movie, tells you you’re amazing. I know, I know, it’s not about you–it’s about your loved one with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, or multiple sclerosis. Yes, it is about them, but it’s about you too. It being about you doesn’t take away from them, that’s what I want you to get! That’s what took me so very long to get!

I hope you have someone. Whether it’s a neighbor, a sister, a daughter (my daughters often reached out to me and I couldn’t have given such care to my mother if it weren’t for their care for me), my encouraging calls from my friend–and most of all, my husband. I had quite a support team and needed everyone of them.

I hope by the time to read this blog that someone comes to mind. Call them. Say thanks. Gratitude is like cardio–it makes the heart stronger.

~Carol D. O’Dell

MOTHERING MOTHER:A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

Kunati Publishing

Available on Amazon and in most bookstores

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