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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do we keep our loved one’s clothes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

Carol is a Family Advisor at Caring.com

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New Year’s is a time of hope. Wipe the slate clean. Begin again.

I was on a walk the other day, thinking about resolutions. Thinking about the word, resolve.

To re-solve. To solve something again–that it was once solved. So a resolution is a re-solution.

That means that once upon a time it wasn’t a problem.

That’s true.

We weren’t always overweight. We didn’t always drink too much, smoke, spend to much, or see our loved one’s too little. 

So, a resolution is just getting back to that former state.

Think back, when was it that you weren’t overweight?

Perhaps your teens? Before kids? For some of us, we have to think back even younger.

But there was probably a time. You didn’t think about food all the time. You rode your bike. Played little league.

Your body remembers this. In sports, they call this muscle memory. If your body (or mind) has ever done it once, it remembers–and can do it again.

This works for more than just weight.

So I thought about it–I used to spend copious hours on my bike as a kid. I can bike now. I used  to sing for the heck of it. I can sing in my car. I used to draw. I think I’ll go outside and draw that live oak tree in my back yard.

Sometimes we make things so big and so hard. Simple pleasures are deeply satisfying.

We buy too much, eat too much, smoke and gossip because we’re trying to fill a hole.

 We have to (at least I know I have to, I have no right to speak for anyone else) learn how to be with ourselves–and be content. 

To be content is to have content. (Sorry, I’m a word-nerd)

To have content is to have substance–something meaningful that fills up space.
I love the word contentment. To be deep in joy–to belong–to not want to be anywhere else or with anyone else.

 

According to GoalGuy.com, here are the top ten resolutions: (every site I researched had a similar list, so it’s pretty much a given)

 

Top Ten New Year Resolutions

 

                1. Lose Weight and Get in Better Physical Shape

2. Stick to a Budget

3. Debt Reduction

4. Enjoy More Quality Time with Family & Friends

5. Find My Soul Mate

6. Quit Smoking

7. Find a Better Job

8. Learn Something New

9. Volunteer and Help Others

10. Get Organized

This list tells me we’re all pretty much alike. There’s things we need to stop doing–other things we need to start. Push and Pull.

 

So, just for fun, I propose a Top Ten Caregiver’s Resolution List:

1. Sleep. Sleep more. Sleep any where, any time, any how. Dream of uninterrupted sleep.

2. Not totally blow my top at any one–a nurse, my loved one, the pharmacist…this could be tough (especially when you’re dealing with Alzheimer’s)  

3. Not eat my way into oblivion–food is not my best friend (repeat 10 times a day)

4. Remember where I’m driving–zoning out is dangerous–I may need a loud buzzer horn or taser. Stess causes zoning out, I’m sure.

5. Walk every day. Even if it’s just to the mailbox. Walking is good. Sun is good. I need this.

6. Get out and meet people. Normal people not in the health care/elder care profession. There’s a great big world out there and I need to see it once in a while.

7. To actually want sex and intimacy and do something about it. Sex drive? Is that like, four wheel drive? Yes, i remember….vaguely.

8. To get dressed in something other than a jogging suit–something NOT with an elastic waistband. This relates to not eating a whole frozen pizza and walking to the mailbox, doesn’t it?

9. Do something for me, just me. People do that? Lunch with a friend, getting my nails done, putzing through an antique shop–caring for me is actually part of caregiving…who knew?

10. Ask for help. Pray, cry, meditate, journal, scream, go to a support group, go to church, ask for respite care, pay for care for an afternoon off, try adult day care for my loved one. Ask, ask, ask–caregiving is not a lone sport. It takes a village.

Bonus–

11. Not be afraid–of caregiving, cancer, Alzheimer’s, ALS, or death.

Fear is a big woolly monster trying to gobble up your precious days. Turn around and face  it–yell big and loud–“I’m not afriad. I can do this.”

12. Attitude of gratitude. Each night before I go to sleep, I ask myself, “what was the  best part of  the day? Usually, it’s a dragonfly who stopped right in front of me–or a neighbor who gives me a big smile when she sees me. It’s the small moments that stick. Being grateful in a time in your life when so much is beyond your control is a way of turning the tables in your favor. The more you’re grateful, the more you have to be grateful for–it’s like a fan that keeps expanding.

Just like the other list–things to stop doing, other things to start. Push. Pull.

New Years is a magical time. Resolutions represent hope. Hope for change. You already know how to do this. After all, it’s just a re-solution.

 

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother–available on Amazon

 

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

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

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

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

Not exactly what you had planned, huh?

It’s all too much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One small thing. 

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

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

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

~Carol O’Dell, author of Motheirng Mother

Family Advisor at Caring.com

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People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ~Abraham Lincoln

I find it pretty amazing that this quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

He didn’t exactly have a cushy life.

His mother died when he was nine, and although his family could barely survive, young Lincoln gave up hunting after watching a turkey suffer after he shot the bird(the bird thing is a side note, but I found it interesting).

He didn’t just become president over night–he was a lawyer, then tried for congress (twice) but was defeated by Stephen Douglas–over the issue of abolition.

He married Mary Todd, and three of their four children would die before adulthood. This left Mary, who already suffered with depression, even more mentally unstable. As Abraham Lincoln’s life began to evolve more and more around politics, his marriage suffered.

President Lincoln was under great stress to try to hold our country together in perhaps its most challenging time. He did so, but with great personal sacrifice. He was assasinated when he as only 56 years old.

According to today’s standards of what qualifies as a “good life,” Abraham Lincoln’s journey would not be considered an easy one–then or now.

(Other great quotes by Lincoln )

And yet, we all owe him a great debt. He held America together and changed the course of  history. His words and example still inspire us today.

He doesn’t exactly seem like a person who would focus much on the meaning of happiness–but who better than someone who knew, but did not give into sadness/

Happiness is a lot about choice. It’s a state of mind and way of looking at things. It doesn’t change the facts. If your mom has Alzheimer’s, if your dad fell and broke his hip, that’s a fact–but how you deal with it–that’s up to you.

There were many times in Mr. Lincoln’s  life when I’m sure he had to choose to simply go on, breathe in and out, and keep on doing the task at hand.  Sometimes happy isn’t about being happy, but choosing not to be unhappy (aka miserable).  Caregivers know this well.

According to the Princeton online dictionary, happiness  means:

  • state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy
  • emotions experienced when in a state of well-being

Where did the word  “happy” come from?

It dates back to 1340, from the waord, “hap,” which was connected to chance or fortune.

(From  Etymology.com)
1340, “lucky,” from hap “chance, fortune” (see haphazard), sense of “very glad” first recorded c.1390. Ousted O.E. eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesælig, which has become silly. O.E. bliðe “happy” survives as blithe. From Gk. to Ir., a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.” Used in World War II and after as a suffix (e.g. bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing “dazed or frazzled from stress.” Happiness is first recorded 1530. Happy hour“early evening period of discount drinks and free hors-d’oeuvres at a bar” is first recorded 1961. Happy-go-lucky is from 1672. Happy as a clam (1636) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tide, when it can’t be dug up and eaten.

How does it relate to caregiving?

Much of caregiving doesn’t fall under the category of “happy.” While parts might be necessary, needed, serve a purpose, and at times, appreciated–as a caregiver  I found that I had to fight or choose to be happy. Let me tell you, I know how it feels to push that rock up hill. There were some days when a Volkswagen Bug full of 50 clowns wouldn’t have gotten my mother to crack a smile! Caregiving taught me how little I could control, and writing Mothering Mother helped me to reflect on my journey.

I had to look for the good, the funny, the crazy and ironic. I had to let go, give up, give in, and simply trust. So much was so way beyond anything I could have prepared for that it was in away, left up to luck, to chance–to hope. And maybe that’s where the happy part comes in. When you can’t control it, you might as well choose to see the good, any good that comes your way.

The smallest of good/happy moments could make my day–a cardinal dipping past my window–I love how they fly–dip, dip, dip–their bright wings in defiance of a winter morning.

Bottom line, if Abe Lincoln can choose to be happy, then so can I.

Happy for no reason. Let luck and chance blow in like a surprising summer rain. Trust that it’s all meant for the good.

Right now, with all the economic challenges we face individually and collectively, I feel like I don’t have a choice–either crawl in the bed and pull up the covers (indefinitely), or keep an eye out for bright red birds and all the amazing small wonders that surround us.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

Family Advisor at Caring.com

www.caroldodell.com

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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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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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