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Archive for the ‘affection’ Category

For many, Mother’s Day is bitter-sweet.

We try to avoid the fact that our mothers are gone or might be gone soon. We don’t like to say the word, “dead.”

 For many, Mother’s Day can be so painful that we do all we can to avoid it. That avoidance is part of grief, and it’s necessary for a while. Grief is like a good soldier, but there comes a time when you say “Thank you, you’ve served me well,” and you let that soldier be released from duty. 

After my mother died from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, I felt incredibly lost. I didn’t know what to do with myself. My arms felt unhinged and just hanging on by tendrils. I had been her daughter and her caregiver for so long and had invested so much time, energy, and heart into that role that other aspects of my life had withered away.

I missed my mother, how ironic. After months, if not years of longing for my freedom, of griping and complaining, all of it felt so trivial in comparison to my mother no longer being in my life.

I knew I had to get my bearings because I could feel myself spiraling downward. Who am I? What was I doing before caregiving? Do I go back to that–or move onto something else? I’m now the matriarch of the family…does that mean I’m…old? I’m the one butted up against eternity. There’s no one to buffer me.  No one to turn to. I’m the one others turn to–and that makes me want to run.

Feeling lost lasted awhile. I stumbled around and did whatever had to be done. I zoned out a lot. Not exactly a great conversationalist at that time in my life. But tentatively, I began to move beyond my grief. I began to grow hungry for life, for a routine, for something to sink my mind into. I returned to college. Someone else telling me what to do seemed to work. I started writing again.

An Excerpt from Mothering Mother:

I put Mother’s wallet and glasses in the top drawer of my dresser today. They’ve been sitting on top of it since she died four months ago. Mother kept Daddy’s wallet, pocketknife, comb, and a small Bible in a heart-shaped cedar box he gave her the second time they went on a date in 1925.  Something about these wallets left intact creates a sort of bubble holding time and memory in perfect stillness. Their licenses, credit cards, photos and slips of paper remind me that they had everyday lives.

This makes me question this whole “here, not here” mindset we have. Giving a friend a bit of humorous advice prefaced with “as my Mama always said…” is a way of keeping her here. Will there always be a bitter side of sweet?  Will death and dying burn away, so that I don’t have to run straight into them before retrieving a remembrance?

I hear Mother all the time and quote her daily. My friend Debbie’s teenage daughter asked her mother, “Don’t you trust me?” The age-old question every parent is eventually asked, the question we all secretly know the answer to. My southern mother answered that question when I asked it two decades ago, “ Honey, I don’t trust myself in the dark.” Hearing her words echo in my head was somehow comforting.

That first Mother’s Day was like a tender bruise. I didn’t want a lot of fuss. I needed a hug and a card, and then I needed it to not be Mother’s Day anymore.

Some time that week, I had a talk with my mother. Yes, out loud in the back yard. I thanked her for being my mother. For all we had learned. For all we had gone through.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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I’m not much for regrets. I don’t think we as individuals, family members, or caregivers should even strive to perfect. Our faults and foibles define us and teach us. Besides, have you ever been around someone who was trying too hard? It’s exhausting and annoying. I love the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi–the beauty found in imperfection.

I found this definition at Nobel Harbor, written by Tadao Ando, a Japanese architect. This essay on Wabi Sabi so touched me that I thought I’d share it–it’s how I strive to live my life.

Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.

But I do wish I had known back then what I know now.

In regard to caring for my mother, I tell myself I was busy. There was never enough of “me” to go around. I had to eek out my time and love in tiny drops just to give everybody a piece. That was true, and asking a caregiver to stop spinning in a maddening circle is asking them to do the impossible.

The  busy-ness (observation–busy-nessand business is not necessarily the same), franticness, never stop breakneck speed is a protective stance.

I had a the privilege of being a real part of my mother’s life the last 15 years she was on earth. Daddy had died, and I was her closest relative. Although I’m adopted, that doesn’t change anything in terms of family dynamics–they were my parents, and I was their daughter. If anything, adoption added a little extra cement to our bond. 

I spent hours and hours with my mother–driving her to doctor appointments, to the grocery store, and to the million errands she could concoct just to get out of the house. And in the end, my mother lived with my family and me–she became a part of the O’Dell household complete with two dogs, two cats, three teenagers, my husband and myself. Most of the time she didn’t think about being a part of anything–by then, life, she believed, evolved around her. It was my job to incorporate her, create balance to my home, and not let anyone yell “fire” and hog all the time and attention away from the delicate harmony of our home.

So there I was, always on the go. Always avoiding. Always, even when sitting perfectly still on the outside, whizzing around in my soul like a gyro-top. It was fueled by panic, fear, sorrow, loss, and the underlying thought, “I can’t do this–be responsible for my mother’s life, for my children–I can’t do all this.”

But now I know.

What’s more important than making every doctor’s appointment, than reading about Alzheimer’s, then cutting pill after pill, then the calls to Medicare and home health aides was this:

What my mother (and my husband, children, and friends) needed from me more than anything–was a good conversation.

There isn’t anything in the world as loving and respectful as someone who will sit with you, look you in the eye, listen to what you have to say–and contribute to the conversation. The easy banter of thoughts, hopes, fears, and chit-chat of life is deeply satisfying.

My mother didn’t move into my home just to have a list of needs met every day. Anyone could do that. On some level she was hoping we’d have a few minutes–to simply be. Not to agree with one another, not to be little clones spouting off the same agendas, but to sit as bookends, side-by-side observing life.

That’s what my mother needed. What I needed. I couldn’t do much to speed up or postpone death. We can’t change much about life in the big scheme of things–but what is within our capabilities is how we interact with one another. We can choose to create a time and space for real connection to happen. It can’t be forced or cajoled.

Having one genuine moment of understanding–a said or unsaid conversation is rare and most precious.

I remember a conversation my mother and I had when I was about eleven years old. We were in the car outside of church waiting for Daddy to get out of an elder meeting. Something big was going down–there were rumors that our pastor had had an affair. Even the kids knew about it. I was just old enough to know what that meant–and young enough to think that life was black–or white–nothing in between.

I was in the back seat, mother was in the front, filing her nails, as usual. We both stopped what we were doing and looked at the church.

“Why doesn’t his wife just leave him and the church just fire him.” I said, angry that this pastor I had looked up to had betrayed me as well.

“It’s not that easy, honey.”

That’s all Mother said. I laid my head on the ledge of the front seat, and she continued to look at the building in front of us, at the steeple that strained into a blue sky.

I learned a lot that day–by all that she didn’t say.

We’d have many conversations over the next almost 40 years. Many times we’d talk at each other, alienate each other, blast each other–but every once in a while, there would be that cord that stretched from her to me and back to her again.

I’ll spend the next few posts exploring what makes a good conversation, how to talk to someone we love–someone who is ill or aged, or someone we have issues with–thorns that make us wince at the thought of a meaningful conversation. I’ll write about how to talk–or be with someone you love who no longer can speak, or comprehend who you are.

There are lots of great sites on the Internet about families, caregiving, Alzheimer’s, elder-careparentsand children–but nothing is more important than quieting your thoughts, unwinding the pent-up soul, and taking a few moments to sit quietly–and talk.

~Carol O’Dell

I hope you’ll check out my book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir–on sale at Amazon, other online e-tailers, and in most bookstores.

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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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Alzheimer’s is a tough diagnosis.

Many people hear the word and instantly get an image of their loved one completely uncontrollable–who no longer knows who they are.

It’s worse than any horror movie.

Recently, at a caregiver’s conference I started my talk about my caregiving journey–and that my mom had Alzheimer’s. A woman jumped up out of her seat, let out a cry, and ran out of the room. The director followed her out the door.

Later, the director shared that the woman’s mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and this was the first event she had attended. This was the first time she was admitting to herself that her mother had Alzheimer’s.

Why is it so scary?

Because Alzheimer’s, like cancer has a ripple effect.

We’re afraid of what the end will be like.

We’re afraid our loved ones will suffer. We’re afraid of how bad it’ll get.

We’re afraid it might be in our genes, too.

Afraid, afraid, afraid.

People are afraid they’ll get Alzheimer’s, and then if they do get it, they’re afraid of what the end will be like. That’s a lot of fear. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to be mauled to death by a bear, then bring it on–cause worrying about it for two decades will kill me with an ulcer before I ever see a bear!

Getting that dreaded diagnosis means your life as you know it is over.

Really?

Is it all or nothing?

Does your brain, your personality, your purpose and dreams all fall out of your head the second the doctor utters this terrible word?

NO.

You (or your loved one) have probably been living with Alzheimer’s/dementia for awhile.

Life’s been pretty good, right? Sure–some slippage–some “what’s that called, what’s his name”  moments–but hasn’t there also been some quality of life?  

Does it mean as a caregiver that you will never see your friends, go on vacation, or make love–ever again?

No, it doesn’t!

Yes, it’s scary to say the word.

It’s scary to know that “it’s” in there. Lurking.

But you do have time.

You do still have a life and people you love. Nothing has really changed since yesterday.

I’m not saying it’s a picnic, my mother had Alzheimer’s and lived with us the last almost three years of her life, so I’ve seen this disease up close. But now that there’s such an awareness of Alzheimer’s, there’s earlier diagnosis–which means people are getting treated earlier.

Drugs such as Aricept, Exelon, Cognex, and Razadyne work well on many people who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. You can take your meds, and still enjoy so much of life.

What can you do if you or your loved has Alzheimer’s?

(It depends on age, stage, and other existing illnesses)

Get up tomorrow morning and have the same breakfast you had today.

Watch The Price is Right or go to the store. Keep on living your life.

Yes, you can take a trip. Go to Greece. Go to Rome. Do those things you’ve always dreamed of–but also know that your ordinary every day life has value.

Don’t feel lke you can’t go with a friend, your spouse and take a tour. You can. Take your meds, don’t over do it, but go!  So what if you forget the busboy’s name on the cruise ship. So what if you and your wife walk everywhere together hand in hand.

Just remember that having coffee on your back porch while reading the morning paper is pretty darn great too.

Get together with friends. Talk about your diasnosis. Get it on out there. Let them ask questions.

Let’s educate our loved ones. Let’s get over the stigma. Let’s show them that life indeed does go on. Enjoy dinner, enjoy eating out–crack a joke and watch everybody bristle as to whether to laugh or not.

Go for a walk. Your legs aren’t broke, you know. You don’t have to become a couch potato. If your finger can flip channels, it can surf the ‘net. Raise money for Alzheimer’s research or blog and share your journey with others. That’s what Terry Prachett is doing. He’s a well-known writer who has Alzheimer’s and he’s donating monies and bring awareness to this disease. You might as well use it to do some good in the world.

There are no guarantees for anyone–so why not have the best Christmas ever? Get that toy train you’ve always wanted. Take that family portrait with the kids, grand kids and great grand kids. Wear a Santa suit and pass out presents.

This is the time to video or audio record your life, your memories, your songs and stories.

Life is precious. Memories are to be passed on and held dear. So find the time when you are rested and clear headed to go ahead and yack and yack and tell all the stories you can think of–about you, your career, your adventures, your sorrows and your victories.

What if you’re forgetting more than you’re remembering these days?

Then spend this tender time with those you love. Tell them you love them–now.

Ask them to remember for you. Create a system of post-it notes, alarm clocks, and every memory helper gadget you can find. But more importantly, sit with your sweety, play with your dog–and just be present.

What if the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s comes after there’s much memory loss?

Then know as a caregiver that while your loved one may at times feel agitated and scared–Alzheimer’s is not physically painful. There is some pain at the end of life (but that’s related to the shutting down or bodily systems). The hardest part regarding pain is that late stage Alzheimer’s patients can suffer pain from another ailment and not be able to communicate it (such as a bladder infection, toothache, heart condition, etc).

Yes, Alzheimer’s is confusing (and that falls under emotional pain), I”m not belittling the ramifications of this disease and its impact on families in any way.

What can I do as a caregiver/loved one to help?

  • Be patient
  • Don’t get overly emotional–that’s scares them
  • Stay in charge–that makes them feel safe
  • Keep them safe
  • Take care of yourself, pace yourself–this could be along haul
  • Let them talk about deceased loved ones/careers/the war–and enjoy listening
  • Don’t get caught up in the million question game
  • Don’t take their outbursts seriously
  • Do what’s right and don’t let them manipulate you
  • Provide what they like as much as possible (likes will eventually fade)-food, music, art, sports
  • Introduce yourself and who you are–daughter, nurse, etc. every time you see them (If they’re forgetting who people are)
  • Don’t be offended when they forget who you are to them–even if you’re their wife of 50 years
  • Don’t take it personal if another person, animal, or inanimate object seems to make them happier than you do–it’s just this wacky disease
  • Know that they love you even when they can’t verbalize it
  • Remember for them. Write their stories, sing their songs, play the music they loved when they were dating
  • Keep a watchful eye on them in the hospital and care facilities–no one will pay attention and catch mistakes more than a loved one
  • When the end comes, give them your verbal permission to let go
  • Stay up beat. They need you more than ever

Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for falling apart, so you’ll need to fall apart every now and then.

But fall apart in the closet, in the shower, in the car. Scream, cry, beat the steering wheel. This is a mean son of…, and you have every right to be angry at this disease. That’s important.

Then go on. Occupy your thoughts with a song, a new recipe, the color you’ll paint your bedroom next month. Don’t abandon your marriage or your kids or all your hobbies. You need a life (however small it may seem to shrink).

Don’t dwell on this disease–that’s giving it way too much power.

It is what it is.

Eventually, you’ll reconcile yourself to Alzheimer’s. You will if it hangs around enough to absolutely wear you out. Reconciliation isn’t the same as giving up. It’s about allowing.

You can fight it–beat your chest and beg–but it won’t let go.

So laugh at the crazies, hug and hold hands as much as you can. Scream and cry when you need to.

Create your own village of support, and be “okay.”

I don’t know where you are–if your loved one just got the news and you’re still reeling.

Or maybe you’re in your tenth year and your mom’s in a care facility and she has absolutely no connection to reality.

No matter which case, you can’t get to any level of peace without going through the fire.

You will find your way. You will have a good moment, an allowing moment here and there–when life and your loved one–and all that you’re going through is ironically, “okay.”

Oh, and about the gal who ran out of the conference crying?

I met her–and her mom walking through the mall last Christmas. She introduced me to her mom–with tenderness and pride.

I’m Carol O’Dell, and I wrote Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir. It’s available on Amazon and in bookstores.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog and will visit again.

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

Well, parents can be pretty darn funny too.

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

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

Why is laughter so good for you?

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

Cool, huh?

So, what makes you laugh?

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

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

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

Make Your Own Funny List

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

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

The Benefits of Laughter

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

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

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

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

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

There is no better gift she could have given me.

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

Mark Twain said,

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Remote

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

 

“Hello. Hello?  Hello!”

 

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

 

“Hello!”

 

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

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

“They must have hung up,” she says.

I agree.

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

***

No Bacon?

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

 

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

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

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

“Yes, Mother.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can get ready in a jif.”

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

“Who’s gonna stay with me?”

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

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

***

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

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

That could really mess with your head!

***

One more story–(I have a million!)

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

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

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

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

***

So come on, share your stories!

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

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

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I spoke at Haven Hospice in Gainesville, Florida yesterday–and the speaker before me was Dr. Slayton who is also a caregiver to his 87 year old father. He spoke of the “Out of Town Hero Syndrome.”

Everyone knew what that was–it’s when out of town relatives swoop in town and begin to tell YOU how to care give.

They come once or twice a year (thank goodness, not more) and rearrange everything from your medicine cabinet to your car’s glove compartment while proceeding to tell you (in subtle and not so subtle back stabs) how you could, should give better care–to mom or dad.

You’re there 365 days a year. They’re there for 10.

You’re nice at first. Keep peace, you tell yourself…but by day three you’re about to blow a gasket.

If your loved one has to go to the doctor or is in the hospital or in hospice and it’s near the end–then it’s ten times worse. They run the show. The doctors and nurses speak to them. Especially if they’re an older sibling–then you’re really in for it.

By the time they leave you can barely find your own socks.

You’re angry, frustrated–and worse–your confidence has been undermined.

You start to doubt yourself.

You just want to quit. Fine then–take mom–take dad.

“Do it all yourself and I’ll come back this time next year and boss YOU around for ten days.”

That’s what you’d like to say.

On top of that–your mom or dad like them MORE.

They get the smiles, holding hands, pleasantries you haven’t seen in months–they sit at the table and gab like you do this every night and you feel like such a hypocrite. They’re all in the livingroom talking after dinner–and where are you?

Loading the dishwasher.

I didn’t have siblings, but I experienced this with several relatives who came into see mom–twice–once each in more than two years.

I went off for the day to give them time alone and when I had come home this person (no names) had reorganized my pantry and all my kitchen cabinets. She took me in there by the hand and showed me everything she had done and explained why her system should work better. I had to stand there like a ten year old in trouble and agree, yes, her system was better and I was a piece of …well, you know.

I was so stressed, angry and nervous by the time she left I thought I’d collapse in a heap on the floor when she pulled out of the driveway. On top of that, I knew my mother had complained her head off about me–not taking her to church, drinking wine (my mother was a fundamentalist minister), watching movies with curse words, letting my daughters wear those short shorts…you name it.

The next time this happened was with a good friend of mine. My mother ate her up like she was homemade vanilla ice cream. They chatted and laughed–my friend washed my mother’s hair and did her nails.

Made me sick.

I had asked my friend to come down to help me and this felt like betrayal. I know she didn’t mean to but that’s how it felt.

I felt judged–and poorly lacking.

Mother hadn’t said a kind word to me in weeks and now she was a geyser of compliments.

Then I heard them whispering. Mother was crying (fake crying) and saying she wished I were sweeter, kinder, more patient, that she didn’t know what she had done to make me act so cold to her.

My friend came out and a very concerned voice told me I needed to make up with my mother and forgive her.

I thought my head would split open. I felt betrayed by everyone.

Mother was up to her old manipulation tricks–and I knew this full well having experienced it countless time in forty years.

I told my friend she really had no idea what was really going on here and that I needed her to respect and trust me.

Later, she apologized. Her father got Alzheimer’s and she dealt with her own family issues. She really didn’t have anything to apologize for. I knew how mother had played her, but I understood.

I share all this with you to say this about relatives in town or out who make you question yourself:

Know deep inside you are a good person–a good daughter, son, spouse–and let no one shake you on this

Stop worrying about what other people think about you and your caregiving.

It’s none of your business what others think of you. (How freeing is that?!?)

You’re care giving because you believe it’s the right thing to do. You have to give care the way you can–the way you can be consistent, they way that’s right for you and your loved one.

Stand firm on this and don’t listen to other’s opinions. 

Unless they have done this for as long as you have, they can’t possibly comprehend the level of sacrifice, committment, love, tenacity, and exhaustion you’ve endured. Caregiving is a marathon not a sprint.

You may feel yourself pulling away from people.

That’s part of caregiving.

You’ll naturally pull in–for good and not so good reasons.

You’ll get tired of explaining yourself.

You’ll get tired of trying to be nice to people.

You’ll get tired of feeling that everything you do is up for scrutiny.

You’ll get strong and stop needing others to validate you or what you’re doing.

That’s the bottom line.

Your relatives, friends and neighbors will intimidate you just so far and then you’ll find your backbone and stand your ground.

This is one of the best lessons of caregiving that can change you and how you deal with others for the rest of your life.

You will become strong, independent, and do what you need to do and you won’t give a rip what others think. They have no idea.

The anger and hurt will dissapte. In time.

These situations and people that threaten you will give you a gift–you’ll find your own confidence.

You’ll be in your own quiet center.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Kunati Publishing, www.kunati.com/caroldodell

Family Advisor on www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog on www.OpentoHope.com

 

 

 

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Anniversaries that mark the day our loved one’s passed away can be tough days, but with a little bit of forethought, it can also be a sweet-tender day.

Your body seems to remember even before your mind.

Athletes call this muscle memory

“Muscle memory can best be described as a type of movement with which the muscles become familiar over time. For instance, newborns don’t have muscle memory for activities like crawling, scooting or walking. The only way for the muscles to become accustomed to these activities is for the baby to learn how to do these things and then practice them with a great deal of trial and error..”

Ways to Celebrate Your Loved Ones Passing:

  • Have a celebration gathering. Funerals are for the most part sad. Illness, accidents–it’s hard to remember all the sweet times when you’re hurting. Six months or a year later gather your family and friends and tell all those great-funny stories. It’s okay to laugh, cry, and remember. Do something unique–serve their favorite foods, host a football party, go ice skating or fishing …something they loved.
  • Create a memory box. Craft stores sell wood boxes with glass lids. Collect Dad’s baseball cap, ticket stubs, signed baseball, a photograph of the two of you at the game and create a memory you’ll always cherish.
  • Write them a letter. Tell your loved one where you are, that it’s still hard but you’re doing a bit better–or you hope to soon. Write them letters on your birthday, their birthday, their passing day–any time you want and need to talk to them–and keep these letters together. You’ll feel as if in some way they’re still with you.
  • Have a place to go and talk to them. Many families choose cremation, which is a valid option–and even those who bury their loved ones in a cemetary have the issue of trying to get back to the place to visit them. Why not donate a bench to a local park and engrave a plaque with your loved one’s name on it? That way not only will you have a place to go to talk with your loved one–other people can enjoy it as well.

Know that grief takes time. Lots of time–and it’s different for every person.

I think there’s a grief memory as well.

Our bodies store everything that’s ever happened to us, and something as profound as grief cycles though our minds, bodies and spirits. We find ourselves a year later experiencing many of the same overwhelming emotions–as if no time has passed at all. Unless we teach our spirits–literally replace the painful memories with new memories, we can circle this mountain again and again.

A dear friend of mine has a very difficult few weeks leading up to the anniversary of her father’s passing. He committed suicide and also killed his wife–her step-mother. It was needless to say, a horrendous shock and tragedy. We were talking this morning and she was weepy, feeling lost–and I reminded her that this weekend was the anniversary of my mother’s passing. Then it hit her–her father’s passing date will be in a few days. Her body remembered long before she looked at a calendar.

But knowing that this happens helps.

Each year, each cycle, we can choose a path of healing–in some small way we can begin to remember with sweetness and peace instead of turmoil and panic.

This year, I spent the day I remember my mother’s passing quite differently than before.

I danced this day.

Why?

We celebrated two family weddings this past weekend–one on Friday, another on Saturday (different sides of the family). I spent all weekend at rehearsal dinners, on the beach, toasting with champagne, hugs, hugs, and more hugs. Both sides of the family are generous, sweet, affectionate people, and both sides had lost a dear loved one this year so they knew how precious a day of celebration was.

It was also the right time for me. Enough time has passed that this was the right thing to do. There is a time to mourn, to ache, but there is a time to rebuild our lives.

It’s important to celebrate every chance we get.

Life is hard enough. Death comes and taps each of us on the shoulder.

Everyone’s been touched by cancer, heart disease, car accidents, Alzheimer’s–do you know anyone who has not experienced at least one or more of these?

Life comes in packages–life-death, babies–old age. We cannot open our arms to one and reject the other. We must somehow, learn to embrace both.

If this is the first or second year after your loved one’s passing, it is most likely a very difficult day. Be easy on yourself. Do whatever you need to do, whatever way you can get by. For some, this is a day to visit a graveside–for others, it’s a day to go parasailing–to do something so big and over the top to remind themselves they are alive and outrunning death’s grip. Some can barely get out of bed.

Do what feels right and natural, even if that means feeling sad and overwhelmed with grief–right now. Know that it won’t always hurt like it does now. It will get better in time. 

I was on a boat with a friend once. We were facing the wind, our hair going wild. We were smiling and laughing and watching flocks of birds lift out of the marsh and take off in flight, the spray of water surprising us–and my friend said,

“If sorrows and tragedies can literally make us age, then can’t good times, celebrations make us younger?

Yes, it can.

Scientists and physicians including Dr. Michael Roizen, author of Real Age has proven this.

You can be younger than your chronological age by how you take care of yourself physically, and by your mental outlook on life.

I missed my mom this year.

Thinking about the day she left this world will no doubt always hurt–but as I danced with my husband, my nieces and nephews, my mother-in-law, babies and toddlers–as I hugged and kissed and cried and toasted–I knew that this was the very, very best way I could honor my mother’s life–and her passing.

To dance.

It was time to place a new memory on top of the old one. It doesn’t diminish it.

Perhaps this is why people started placing flowers on graves.

Life and rebirth trumps death every time.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

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