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Archive for the ‘biology’ Category

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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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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Mr. Spock said it r first. We all hope to live long and prosper.

But living long is an art–if you’re going to do it with finesse.

And prospering isn’t all about money–it’s about the wealth we acquire when we live good lives and take care of ourselves.

Great docs such as Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen of the book, Real Age have compiled all the latest health data that if followed, can literally add years to your life. I took this info, along with several known preventative methods to deter Alzheimer’s and compiled it into a list. I love Dr. Oz’s You on a Diet, and You the Owner’s Manual–just enough medicine talk to teach me a few things in a great format I don’t mind picking up again and again.

You might want to post this on your frig.

Don’t feel pressure to do it all–just pick 2-3 things that you can incorporate into your daily/weekly life. That’s enough for now. Later, you can add 2 more.

The Health List: (Ranked in importance to some degree)

  • Embrace a positive attitude. This is number one. Squash those negative thoughts. Redirect them. How? Catch yourself in the act. Turn the negative thought into a positive one and say it out loud. Flood your car and other places where you mind wanders with music, informational CDs, or healthy conversation–continually correct those down/derogatory thoughts until they’re crowded out by good ones.
  • When you can’t, laugh it off. Sometimes life just gets chaotic and absurd. When the crap just seems to pile up, then laugh about it. Ask yourself if this will matter one year, five years from now. Most of the time, it won’t. If it will, then take action and do what you can to fix it–if not–let go of life’s steering wheel and enjoy the ride.
  • Let go of hurts and resentments–most people don’t mean to hurt you, and for those who do, why give them power by dwelling on it?
  • Breathe! When stressed, stop, place your hand on the place on your body where you’re feeling the most tension–head, stomach, and take five slow deep breaths. Count if you need to, if your mind needs something to focus on–30 counts in, 30 counts out–breath in through your nose and really fill up those lungs, and breath out through your mouth and empty everything out in that breath. Do this at least three times a day–stress or not–it’ll change your life. It’s great for stress and anxiety.
  • While we’re on breath, you gotta give up smoking. If you haven’t so far, make an appointment and get into a doctor quick–there’s so many ways they can help you–meds, hypnotism–you’ve simply got to quit. Know that each time you try, you get closer. So don’t give up. I have lots of relatives who tried for years, and you know what? None of them smoke now. Many smoked for 20, 30 years–and now they’re clean. So it can be done!
  • Get enough sleep. I’m talking 8-10 hours. Sleep deprivation will take years off your life,damage your body, and make life miserable. Create a sanctuary in your bedroom–declutter, paint it in a soothing color, get great sheets–look forward to going to bed. Not sleeping enough is responsible for more car accidents than drunk driving and is directly linked to obesity.
  • When you can, nap for 20 minutes. It’s restorative and will aid in your mental sharpness and creativity.
  • Surround yourself with people you love–a spouse, friends, build relationships and community in which to be a part of.
  • Walk 30 minutes a day. Don’t stop. Keep a steady pace. Music helps. It aids in weight loss, stress, diabetes and heart disease prevention.
  • Music is a great mood enhancer. When you’re down, reach for the ipod instead of the pills/booze. It’s known to be effective in dealing with anxiety, depression, and lowers blood pressure.
  • Make love! With yourself and others–being sexual is good for you. (If it’s in a monogamous committed relationship). Create an environment where sex, cuddling and fooling around is easy and relaxing. If not, explore why you’ve shut down in this area–stress? Lack of sleep? Unresolved issues? Take a look.
  • Do some weight bearing exercise 2-3 times a week. Lift weights, work in the yard–move your muscles and stretch those ligaments. It’s even more important as we age.
  • Play! While exercise is important, face it, it’s boring. What sport or activity did you love as a child? I was a bicycler. Now, I bike almost every day. Swim, kayak, install a basketball goal in your driveway–even if you don’t have kids around any more.
  • Stretch–everyone can stretch–any age. 5-10 minutes a day–along with your breath work is something caregivers and their loved ones can do together. Yoga’sgreat too, and there are lots of DVDs and online classes if you can’t get out.
  • If you want to obsess about a body part, then concentrate on your waist size. Waist size reflects mid-section fat–the dangerous kind that’s close to your heart. Men should have a waist of no larger than 36 inches and women, 32 inches. So get out the tape measure and take deep breath…
  • Incorporate being active into your relationships. Meet with a friend for lunch–and then go for thirty minute walk. Sign you and your spouse up for tennis lessons or dance lessons. Shake things up. It’s easy to get sedentary in our relationships and build upon eachother’s bad habits.
  • Get out in nature. Nature’s benefits are endless. We are a part of this planet, and no matter where you live, there’s a dragonfly or cardinal waiting for you. Nature teaches us and heals us in ways we’ve yet to explore or understand. Do you know what prisoners miss the most? The sun–and being outside. Most of us can get up and go outside our front door. Do more than walk to your car.
  • Get your Vitamin D.How? By getting outside–remember I mentioned walking for 30 minutes? Do you know that your eyes and skin absorb just the right amount of Vitamin D in about 10-20 minutes and then it shuts off so you can’t overload? Vitamin D is crucial to your bones and is a real problem for the very young and the elderly–so even if you’re a caregiver–wheel your loved one outside and enjoy the flowers, dragonflies, and walk around the block.
  • Before you head out the door, slather on some sunscreen. No need to inflict damage to your skin, which isn’t pretty in the long run, or put yourself at risk for skin cancer. It’s way too easy to buy a moisturizer that has full spectrum sunblock and slather it on each day.
  • Speak up. When something is bothering you, begin to speak up. Say how you’re feeling. You can do this without blame, but stuffing your feelings is damaging and is known to cause lots of health problems. Speaking up is about taking care of yourself. It’s not always about fixing a problem, but voicing your hurts and concerns is beneficial for everyone. Risk the confrontation. Most people take it better than you think and it can be a great bridge to better communication.
  • Embrace faith. Whatever you believe, to whatever degree–embrace the sense of hope that faith embodies. It’s okay if it’s not the faith of your family or culture, it’s okay if it is–people who have some sense of life beyond, of purpose past self feel more at peace and more connected.
  • Look at your stress. Caregivers and those who are actively caring for others all hours of the day and night can really feel overwhelmed, but what is it that really gets to you? Everyone is different. Stress usually stems from a lack of control. For some, it’s the feeling of being trapped, of feeling like your life is put on hold, or maybe it’s the helplessness of seeing a loved one in pain. Is there one small thing about the stress that you could change? Ask for different pain meds? Try acupuncture? Take an online college class so that you feel like you’re doing something for you? Change doctors if yours won’t listen or communicate. One positive act can have a huge effect. You can’t fix it all, but knowing that you can do one thing can really help combat stress.
  • Learn something new. Learn a language, take a class at the rec center, learn to knit, take a computer course, do a tutorial of photo shop, learn how to make a great tiramasu–use that brain of yours!
  • Play games–in your downtime, reach for the crossword puzzle, chess set, or brain games. It beats re-runs of old tv shows and fires those neurons in your brain.
  • When is the last time you laughed? This is where friends come in handy. If you’re going to watch tv, then opt for funny because it does great things for your body and spirit. Make sure you have at least one “fun” friend who makes you laugh, and brings joy and play into your life.
  • Touch. Be affectionate. Hug, kiss, pet your dog. Touch is deeply important. It’s healing. Get a massage. Hold hands.
  • Practice smiling. If you haven’t smiled in a while, or you can’t remember if you have or haven’t, then start practicing. Smile in the car. Smile on the way to work. Smile in the shower. Smiling goes much deeper than just affecting the muscles in your face. Smiling and touching a part of your body is known as Qi Gong in Chinese medicine. It may sound silly, but you”ll feel better and sometimes we just get out of the practice.
  • Avoid the doctor! Whenever possible (not when you’re really/very sick) don’t reach for the anti-biotics. A cold will run its course. Getting in a medical mindset is unhealthy. Drug companies have corrupted American health care–and a pill isn’t always the answer. For simple things, go to the Internet, a health book and try the natural alternative. Now I’m not talking about cancer, heart attacks, etc.

THE FOOD LIST:

  • Eat well. Food is a celebration of life and culture. Eat what you love. You may think you love Fritos and Ding Dongs, but I bet you love other things too. Make your plate a work of art. Eat on a real plate, sitting down at a nice table. Eat with those you love. Surround yourself with beauty as you eat–a candle or a flower. Think about the food you’re eating. Turn off the tv and enjoy what’s going in your body.
  • Have an eating plan. If you know you’re going to be extremely busy, then take a sec and plan what you’re going to eat. There are almost always decent alternatives. You can eat decently from a quick stop, so no excuses. Stress eating leads to junk food eating. Create a fall-back plan for when life is crazy and incorporate at least a few healthy alternatives. Love salty? Go for salted nuts as opposed to chips. Love sweets? Go for Twizzlers or other candies with no fat–or a bag of grapes. Mindlessly eating? Grab a bag of carrots. Some gum, or popcorn. Know what it is you want–to chew, something creamy and homey–have those comfort foods on hand. They now make a Mac and Cheese with only 2% fat–and it doesn’t taste half bad. 
  • Know your weak spots. I know when I’m overworked and exhausted that I eat crappy. I’m working on a plan–foods that aren’t terrible for me, but I still find comforting in times of stress. I also know that during those mindless eating stress times I need to take a bath and put myself to bed. I’m not craving food as much as I am self-care and rest.
  • Cut way, way back on fried foods. Now I know you love them, but save them for truly special occasions–birthdays, anniversaries. If you need a fix, then consider oven frying your food at home–country fried steak, and fried chicken still taste good from the oven and it really cuts down on the fat.
  • Eat at home. It’s the only way to control your portions and calories–and quality. There are so many hidden variables in eating out it’s hard to know where to start. Make your home a place of serenity and beauty and take pride in the food you fix. It’s a much more satisfying experience. Learn to make one or two new dishes a month–and enjoy the experience.
  • Embrace fruits and veggies. You know you should–start with those you already like. If you grew up on green beans and corn, then start there and always have those on hand. Try a few more–see what you like. There’s a million ways to make a salad so get creative. The darker green the veggie, the better–the brighter the fruit, the better. Color rules!
  • Go green and buy those fruits and veggies from a local stand–you’ll not only help out your community, but you’ll get fresher produce.
  • Look at your palm. That’s the size and thickness a piece of meat needs to be. You only need one of two of these palms a day. Not enough food? Then pile on the veggies! Have a piece of fruit before your meal–or after.
  • Avoid white–white bread, white rice, have small portions of corn and potatoes. Choose grains instead–brown rice, wild rice, all different kinds of bread–seek out a local bakery. Potatoes and corn are good, but know that you don’t need a huge plateful.
  • Avoid the other white stuff–mayo, full calorie dressings, gravies–all should be used sparingly and the low-fat version is a better choice since we tend to over do it in these areas.
  • Dairy is okay for most people–especially women. Americans could eat more yogurt–the yogurt cultures contain acidophilus and is great for balancing our digestive tract.
  • Curb your appetite with a palmful of nuts. Keep lots of nuts on hand (raw is best, but just get used to eating them regularly at first). The best nuts for your brain are walnuts, almonds, and pecans. They’re great in salads too. It’s a good idea to eat a small handful before a meal–they curb your appetite, have a healthy amount of oils, and you’ll be less ravenous at your meal.
  • Know your super foods–not all food is created equal–here’s a list of the best of the best:
    • Beans
    • Blueberries
    • Broccoli
    • Oats
    • Oranges
    • Pumpkin
    • Salmon
    • Soy
    • Spinach
    • Tea (green or black)
    • Tomatoes
    • Turkey
    • Walnuts
    • Yogurt
  • Nix the plastic bottles of water and install a water filtration system on your faucet. Plastic isn’t good for you–fumes and all–and most city’s tap water is just as clean, if not cleaner than the stuff you’re paying for.
  • If you want notch it up, go for organic meats and eggs that haven’t been injected with hormones. It’s more expensive, but realize you need to eat less amounts of meat any way. We don’t need all those hormones and antibiotics.
  • Take a multi-vitamin–while research goes back and forth about supplements, if you’re eating well, you don’t need too much else. If you’;re dealing with a certain condition–UTIs, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, then this is the time to incorate a few more supplements. Some research indicates that Vitamin C and E helps stave off Alzheimer’s. A great source to know what to take for what disease/condition is at Dr. Weil’s site.                                       .
  • Enjoy a glass of wine! Ladies, on a day is enough. Red is better (although I’m a Riesling fan). Beer’s okay too.
  • Give up the Cokes/carbonated drinks. Nothing good is in any of them. Treat yourself to one occasionally–if you really like the way it tastes, but don’t keep them in your house. They actually suck oxygen out of your bones, has been linked to Parkinson’s, and new research says it might actually damage your cells. And have you seen what it does to your car battery? 
  • Have a cuppa coffee! This one made me particularly happy. Studies show that coffee’s good for your heart–and for Alzheimer’s. It opens up the blood vessels.
  • Give up the artificial sweeteners. They’re all scary. Go with steevia. I know, it’s hard for me too.
  • Go with real butter as opposed to the fake stuff–but a little dab’ll do ya.
  • Go with olive oil whenever you can. Other than desserts, you can cook with olive oil–and we already said that cakes and cookies are a splurge item.
  • Fish rules. Try to incorporate 2-3 fish dishes into your weekly diet. Salmon is great choice. So are all the white fishes–this is when white is good. Go local when you can. Broil or pan cooked fish only takes minutes to fix.
  • Desserts such as cakes should go with life’s celebrations. Enjoy them on birthdays,  anniversaries and holidays–as well as break ups and other life tragedies that only a cake can help. Other than that, have your glass of wine, dark chocolate and some cherries–not a bad way to end a day. If you love your icecream, then go with a low-fat frozen yogurt. Experiment and find your favorite kind.
  • One great dessert you can have it dark chocolate. I keep it at all times. Seriously. I have a small bar each day. I like Dove dark chocolates. I need it be a little creamy. Some of the European high cacoa varieties are too bitter to my liking. Four of their little squares makes me very, very happy. I also like Ritter–and they have one with hazelnuts that’s to die for. Dark chocolate has anti-oxidants which lowers blood pressure.
  • Incorporate flax seed or flax seed oil into your diet–a spoon of the oil can be added to soup, rice, or other dishes and isn’t even noticed. This gives the body Omega 3′s which is great for your heart and is also high in fiber.
  • Women and seniors probably need to take a calcium supplement. We just don’t get enough, and we don’t lift enough weights to offset gravity’s pull on the bones and spine.
  • Best spices are cinnamon (regulates blood levels and is good for diabetes), curry and cumin (heart and metabolic effects) and garlic (heart again). In fact, spices are great all the way around.

A Few Last Words:

Trust your body. If you’re craving lemons, then eat lots of lemons. If you’re sleeping ten hours a night, then tuck yourself in early.

Our bodies are incredibly intuitive. It knows what it needs. Also know that it’s about 3-6 months behind, so the stress you’re experiencing now (say, a bum knee or a heal spur) might be because of the stress and strain that was put on it months before–also know that your spirit works the same way.

If you’ve experienced a huge life change, then realize that your body and mind may be reacting to it months later. If you’re weepy, angry, mopey, it may be that your body needs to play catch up. Let it feel what it needs to feel and trust that it won’t last forever.

Get rid of negatives. Negative people and work situations can be difficult, if not downright impossible to overcome. If you’ve tried to remedy the situation–you’ve spoken up, offered solutions, tried to be amenable and it’s still not working–then consider a change. Money isn’t everything, and if your relationship is unhealthy, then choose to be alone and trust that if you ask the universe for something better–and then wait–it will come.

If you’re in a stressful situation–caregiving, the end of life, a messy divorce, recovering from a car accident, then be gentle on yourself. Life ebbs and flows and know that this difficult time will pass.

Sounds like a lot, huh?

Focus on one thing. If you try to be uber-good, it’ll back-fire and you’ll wind up overdosing on Ho-Ho’s in your car. One change is a good change.

If I’ve forgotten something important, then email me and I’ll add it to the list!

According to the death clock, I’m living to 100. Now, I’ve seen what 90-100 looks like for most folks, and I’m on a mission to improve my last decade. I plan on dancing at my great, great granddaughter’s wedding!

Live long–and prosper!

 Carol D. O’Dell

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com 

 

 

 

 

 

Syndicated Blog at www.OpentoHope.com

Kunati Publishers, www.kunati.com/mothering-mother-memoir-by-car/ – 95k

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Grieving is natural. It’s good for you. It’s necessary.

But can you take grief too far?

What is “too far?”

What’s right and necessary for one is dangerous for another.

I recently watched “Reign Over Me”about a man (played brilliantly by Adam Sandler–not his usual comedic role) who loses his wife and three daughters in the airplane crash of 9/11. The premise is that his best friend and college roommate (Don Cheadle, also brillant) recognizes him on the street, flags him down and they rekindle their friendship–only Charlie (Adam’s character) refuses to talk about his wife and children. When he’s confronted he panics and flips out. Both men ran prominent dental practices, but Charlie is no longer a dentist–his life had been altered by the death of his family.

This one of the most profound, thoughtful movies on grief I have ever seen. Whatever faults or unevenness it may have is due in part to the very difficult subject matter. It examines the role of friendship, how grief changes you, what you lose and what you gain, how you question everything, how everything and nothing has meaning, and how to ever so slowly begin again.

Charlie was not the same man after his family died. He couldn’t do the same things.

Is that you?

Also know that you begin to grieve even before your loved ones pass away. Caregivers, especially those who care for someone with Alzheimer’s and other long-term illnesses are grieving on so many levels. It can feel like you’ve been grieving for years before your loved one ever dies.

Some people can and need to go right back into their jobs and life after a tragedy. It makes them feel normal, safe, that life has some continuity and gives their life meaning. These are good reasons to keep on course, and if that’s what you need, what works for you, then don’t feel guilty or think you’re not showing the proper response of grief just because you can go on with you life.

No one should judge your grief.

I know people who don’t talk about their sorrows. Ever. Some, much, much later. Some show it in their actions. It varies, and that’s okay. Don’t think you’re heartless because you don’t “do it” in some expected way.

Grief is individual. Grief doesn’t have to look normal.

I won’t give the movie away (I do highly recommend it), but there comes a point in the movie when it implies, “Can you grieve too much?”

Does there come a point when it’s not healthy, or downright dangerous?

Yes. It can.

Depression, isolation, insomnia, drinking, and other risky behavior such as gambling, promiscuity, extreme and dangerous sports–you may experience any or all of these symptoms. It’s part of the process.

There is a biology to grief

Grief releases powerful chemicals in your body. The first, being shock. That’s to keep you alive during the event. That’s how people are able to survive car or plan accidents and get to a place of safety before their bodies begin to shut down. That’s how a mother can lift a car off her toddler even though she has a broken arm.

Grief also comes with many coping mechanisms. Sometimes we have to simply use every possible tool we have to get by–even when they’re not good for us. We have to exist before we can live again.

I’m not going to tell you because you can’t sleep without prescription meds that you’re grieving too much–or I’m not going to tell you just because you polish off a bottle of wine several nights a week that you’re ruining your life. At some point you might, but you may have to over-use, over-indulge to drown your pain–and you’ll have to find your way back out.

I asked a friend who had gone through a bad patch of grief and had done some pretty risky things why she thought she did them. They were out of character for her, and were downright unsafe.

She paused, and then said, ‘Because I could. Because I didn’t have anything to live for–so doing something dangerous or crazy didn’t matter.”

That’s what grief, hurt and sorrow can do to you.

It’s not that I’m suggesting that you should. Trust me. I’m not judging you if you are.

Sure, there are healthier ways to grieve–walks, talking with friends, professional help, journaling, support groups–but let’s face it, we don’t always and consistently do what’s good for us.

Some people, like Charlie in the film have to radically change their life.

I know one woman who sold everything, moved across the country and started working for habitat for humanity. I know another who is spending a year (that’s the plan as of now) in Belize surfing and taking odd jobs. I know another who person who after 9/11, sold his business and lived on a sailboat in the Caribbean for two years. I know another who after losing a child, has had four children in four years.

There’s no one right way to handle grief.

When do you know if you’ve taken grief too far?

  • You need to work and you can’t–and you don’t have an alternative way to live–(homelessness)
  • Alcohol, drugs or even prescription drugs are consuming you
  • You have no initiative or purpose–for years–even though you want to–and it doesn’t feel like you’re coming out of your fog, just stuck
  • You’re completely cut off from everyone (for a very long time) and it’s not working for you, it’s not because you’re content
  • You have repeated thoughts or attempts of suicide
  • Nothing brings you joy or comfort–and it’s been years
  • Your health is now at risk–obesity, forgetting to eat, not taking needed meds have begun to take a serious toll
  • A fixation has taken over–perhaps a fixation of your loved one, of death, or trying to contact them–whatever the fixation, it’s bordering on dangerous and hindering every day activities such as eating or sleeping or getting out. It’s easy to fall into this. You don’t mean to, it just sort of happens–but it’s the kind of thing you might need help getting out of.

Any of these can occur and you can still be okay, not great, but okay–still dealing with grief on your own terms.

But there’s also a line of delineation–when it’s not okay, it’s not part of the process, it’s a never-ending vortex.

How do you move past grief?

  • With help–meet with a grief counselor, one that’s trained and has seen hundreds of people who have had to deal with real tragedies–the journey is different when cataclysmic things have happened.
  • Be willing to go on medication, if necessary, and make sure you take it consistently and are monitored–we all need a little help at times
  • Look into your past back to another time of great hardship–what got you through? You have the keys to your own healing within yourself
  • Call a hotline if you need to
  • Go online and visit some great grief organizations where you can reach out privately in your own home–day or night–the Open To Hope Foundation is a wonderful resource for all kinds of grief–those who have lost a child, a parent, a spouse, those impacted by suicide, drugs, or violence. 
  • As difficult as it might seem, become a part of a small community–a church, a volunteer organization, a group of friends who meet regularly, a support group–ask to be accountable to someone. Go even though you don’t feel like it, have a hangover, a cold, a headache.
  • Be patient. You’ve been through a lot. Guilt, regret, longing can eat away at your life and your heart and your life may seem broken beyond repair. It’s going to take some time to even begin to get on your feet again.
  • Know that the human spirit is amazingly resilient. Although you cannot fathom it, your life can have meaning and a measure of joy again.
  • Be willing to eventually open to love again. For now, willingness is all that matters

The bottom line is if you want your life to change, you’re ready to reach out, but you just don’t know how, it’s time to ask for help. We all need help at times.

I hope that something I’ve said will comfort you and offer light.

I offer this prayer–to all who feel lost.

May that small sliver of hope

slide between the folds of your heart

May a breeze catch you by surprize and remind you

you are not alone

May you once again feel the warmth of a hand, the brush of a shoulder

Trust. Trust beyond reason. Beyond today. Trust.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

www.Kunati.com, Publisher

 

 

        

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Rattles

Mother has what they call the death rattle.

Every time she takes a breath there’s a rattle. Technically it’s congestive heart failure—the fluid around her heart is building up and her body can’t process it, so it’s filling up in her lungs.

I remember when Mother said she had a little kitten in her chest when she’d get bronchitis. She always was funny.

I keep going back to this book, How We Die, by Dr. Sherwin Nuland. It’s been my Bible lately. He’s guided me these past few months with his insight and depth into not only the process of death but its ramifications for the living as well. There’s so little out there on how to do this. I need to know the physical side in order to grapple with the emotional and physical aspects of how to be with a loved one as she leaves this earth.

When I go to hold Mother’s hand or lift it, it’s lifeless. It may be warm, but it’s deflated the way Daddy’s was after he died. Dehydration has caused her skin to pucker and gather over blue and swollen veins. I wipe each hand with a warm cloth. I wipe her neck and chest, her cheeks and eyes, ears and hair.

It must feel good to her. It feels good to me.

No one’s here and that’s the way I like it, to be able to wander in and out as I need to, to pray, cry, talk, sing, and leave the room when I can’t take it any more. I turn on the TV and hope for something funny, anything funny. I ramble down to the river and write, but I’m too anxious to sit and go back in. I’m going to take a bath. I haven’t made any calls today. 

Everyone’s just going to have to wait. I’ve done quite a bit.

I just want to be quiet and let it happen, not make it happen.

(Excerpt from Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir) 

This is what it’s like at the end. You don’t fight when the death rattles come. It sounds like an old-fashioned, out-of-date term, but it fits.

When I first heard of the death rattles, it was probably from some scary movie and it conjured up all kinds of terrible things. It wasn’t easy, sitting there, not “doing” anything. It was a time of being. Not doing.

In some ways, it’s a good sign. It’s a sign to let go. It’s a sign to stop fighting. To sit quiet, to kiss, ask forgiveness, and say good-bye. 

It’s nothing to be afraid of. When it comes, it comes. When it’s here, you’ll know what to do.

 I cleaned out mother’s room–made it less cluttered. Called her relatives and told them it would be soon. I began to make plans for her memorial. Gather pictures to make into a collage and presentation. I was over fighting death. It was time to allow the transition.

The death rattle also refers to a gurgling sound that comes with the last breaths, or even the sounds after death that the body produces–it’s the fluids that have built up in the lungs, throat and body cavities. It’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s just biology. We as a modern society know so little about death and dying and grieving that we’ve made things scarier than they need to be. We have so little experience being human–and sharing in this most sacred event.

Nothing and no one can prepare you for this day. You think you’ll panic or run, but you won’t. You’ll be too tired and too numb to get too worked up. You’ll also know it’s time and you’ll want to be there. If you have to run, that’s okay. No one should judge you. This isn’t a bravery contest.

The machines are usually turned off at this point, food and meds have stopped and those who need to say good-bye have come and gone–or stayed. All the fuss is over.

 It’s not about giving up as much as it’s a time of giving in.

 You’ll be grateful that your loved one’s suffering is almost over.

You’ll be grateful that as heart wrenching as it is, that you’re there–witnessing this most holy event. 

~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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Different personalities handle life, death, and caregiving differently.

We all have gifts to offer the world and to offer as a caregiver. 

Stop trying to be something you’re not.

Stop trying to be your mother.

There are things you’re good at things you aren’t.

Accept this and let go of the guilt. 

By examining your basic personality traits, you can capitalize on your strengths and accept what you can–and can’t do.

There are several types of personality tests such as the Briggs-Meyers and Kiersey Temprement scale. 

Let’s start with a simple one first. It’s actually based on the four humors of Hippocrates and is called Personality Plus by author and speaker Florence Littauer.

Here’s an easy breakdown of the Four Basic Personality Types:

Choleric: This is the commander-type. Cholerics are dominant, strong, decisive, stubborn and even arrogant.

Melancholy: This is the mental-type. Their typical behaviour involves thinking, assessing, making lists, evaluating the positives and negatives, and general analysis of facts. ‘

Sanguine: This is the social-type. They enjoy fun, socialising, chatting, telling stories – and are fond of promising the world, because that’s the friendly thing to do.

Phlegmatic: This is the flat-type. They are easy going, laid back, nonchalant, unexcitable and relaxed. Desiring a peaceful environment above all else.

Positives and Negatives

None of these types is specifically described as positive or negative – each having upsides and downsides. The book makes it clear that the characteristics are for observing and identifying, rather than judging.

  • A Choleric is focused on getting things done, but can run rough-shod over others. They are decisive and stubborn, but are also natural leaders and like check lists and getting things done. They can also be charismatic and dynamic and tend to “take the air out of the room.”
  • A Melancholy is a planner, making sure things happen, although sometimes they can paralyze themselves with over-analysis. Lists and “doing things the right way” are characteristics of this personality type. While quiet, they are also strong and stay on task. They are the ponderers and can also be great artists and enjoy being alone. They tend to make their own happiness and are easy to get along with.
  • A Sanguine gets on well with people and can get others excited about issues, but cannot always be relied upon to get things done. They love interacting with others and play the role of the entertainer in group interactions. They have a tendency to over-promise and under-deliver. They are also inspiring and charasmatic and light up a room.
  • A Phlegmatic is neutral – they tend not to actively upset people, but their indifference may frustrate people. They try not to make decisions, and generally go for the status quo. Phlegmatics are peace lovers and bring a sense of calmness to situations. They avoid stress whenever possible and are great at coping skills and solving problems–if you seek them out because they’re not likely to assert themselves. They don’t like being the center of attention.

Do you see yourself anywhere?

I do. I’m a mix of sanguine and choleric and with a dash of melancholy.

I’m one step away from being a party-hardy, but I do have my contemplative side.

I also see myself, sad to say, not delivering on all of my promises. Mostly because I promise too much.

I can entertain a room and love telling stories, planning an event, and rallying a cause.

By  knowing this about myself, I’m able to recognize when I am, or I’m not at my best.

I was also able to assess my mother’s personality–not hard to do–choleric and then some.

I could see why we butted heads. Two extroverts, entertainers, both of us know-it-alls–under one roof. No wonder we had a few fireworks (cannons) go off. No wonder we needed to get out and be with other people–only caregiving and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s isn’t exactly a great mix for mingling in a crowd.

Still, I could watch my mother’s face light up whenever we had company.

I can still see her long, elegant hands (she always had great nails) expressing a point.

Even her natural speaking voice had a certain cadence to it. You listened when she talked.

She liked herself, and that makes others like you as well. Some people found this annoying, but perhaps they felt threatened by such a formidable woman. While I’m at it, I can’t fail to mention that she was BOSSY, irritating, and demanding! She wouldn’t mind me saying these things because she wouldn’t consider them a detriment. That’s how things get done, she’d say.

In the end, I have to believe that I was able to offer my mother the homecoming she desired. She died at home, with me by her side and with hospice to guide us.  I fought exhaustion and doubt because I have the personality to go and go–if I believe in something. We stuck together–through fights, medical setbacks, and long, dark nights.

Her memorial service had a presentation of her dynamic life–as a minister, mother, wife, radio and television evangelist, and I was able to give her this because I understood her and how she would want to be remembered. I used my gift to tell stories to remember her. That’s why I wrote Mothering Mother, to capture who she was, who we were.

Learning about your personality and others can help when things get rough.

When I get out of my element, I say that “my circuit breakers are popping.”

That’s when I’ve created or become a part of a too stressful situation and I begin to lose it.

I forget things, drop the ball, the house gets totally chaotic–I”m even later than usual, and I get fussy.

I mean really fussy. I’m usually a laid back, happy go lucky gal, and when I get mean–something’s off.

I know this about me, and it really helped in dealing with caregiving stress.

I knew what to watch out for. I knew what I could give my mother and my family–and what I couldn’t.

You can’t go changing yourself, so don’t try. Not that we shouldn’t improve, but don’t plan to go out and get a lobotamy.

You pretty much have to go with the Popeye motto, “I am what I am.”

So accept your basic personality and learn to make the most of it.

For us Sanguine’s and Cholerics–hey, we can throw a great party and get people involved in a cause. We can mmake people smile and laugh, make a room look gorgeous, a meal, sumptous, and call up an army in time of need. Those are good things. But don’t ask me to scrub the little square bathroom tiles cause it’s not happenin’~

What we can’t do for you is pay attention to every detail, plan for every pitfall, or deliver on our gazillion, hair-brained ideas. We do care when we let people down, at least I do.

What this means is that we need each other.

I need those quiet, consistent friends to help me stay on course.

I need a phlegmatic to calm me down when I get too worked up.

I need a melancholy daughter to ask me how I’m doing, what I need–and then take the time to hear me out. I need my choleric daughter to organize my office while I listen to her fume about the injustices of the world.

I need my phlegmatic husband to pay the bills, put money in our 401K and run my beautiful website he designed. Does he drive me crazy with his skepticism and practicalities? Sure does. But my kite-flying high ideas drive him bonkers too. Still, we make a good team.

Isn’t it wonderful how we can look around us and see how we all fit together?

Caregiving is tough, but no matter which personality type you have, you bring gifts to the table, to your relationship. It is no mistake that you are you mother’s daughter, your husband’s spouse, that your sister happens to be so opposite of you sometimes you want to scream–and then other times she balances you out, and smooths over situations in a way you couldn’t have.

By understanding better who you are, where your weak spots are, what you’re good at–you can offer your loved one something unique and just what they need.

Accept your personality and your relationships as they are meant to be.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Family Adviser, Caring.com

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

www.kunati.com

www.Caring.com

www.opentohope.com

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You think your doctor will tell you when your loved one needs hospice?

They should know, right?

Not always the case.

 

 Three signs That Indicate Your Loved One is Ready for Hospice:

1.  The disease has progressed to the point that there’s no cure, and you’ve (and your loved one) has decided to manage the pain and be comfortable and not actively seek to treat the disease.

2.  You and your loved one chooses to forego any further testing of hospitalizations–by this choice, you allow the dying process to happen naturally. Body functions/organs may begin to diminish.

3.  You’re ready to begin to let go, say good-bye and follow the oath of hospice, which is to “neither hinder, not hasten death.”

Visit www.nhpco.org, website for National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization for more information.

I knew my mother was ready for hospice before any of her medical team suggested it.

I had asked my mother’s doctor about hospice (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) months beforehand and was “poo-pooed” away. Mother had a great way of rallying herself together for doctor visits, but I lived with her, cared for her 24/7, and I was beginning to see a shift.

I knew my mother had taken a turn. I knew that both of us were over the tests, treatments, and hospital rigmarole. I knew, in essence, that she had given up the will to live.

 

Whether your loved one has cancer, Parkinson’s, heart disease or dementia, whether they’re young–or old–it’s hard to let go. Even when you know they’re suffering and you want them at peace, it’s hard to let go.

What’s the difference in hospice and palliative care?  

First, the working definition of hospice or palliative care is: your loved one has a “life limiting condition.” Their words, not mine. While it’s technically correct, and I can’t think of a better way to say it, it still sounds odd.

In layman’s terms, most people think it means your loved one has a diagnosis of less than six months to live, and with some hospice situations, a year. While that’s technically true, some people receive hospice or palliative services for much longer.

The difference in hospice and palliative care is that palliative care specializes in the relief of the pain, symptoms and stress of serious illness.

Hospice care can provide palliative care if your loved one needs it.

 

Hospice focuses on terminally ill people who no longer seek treatments to cure them and who are expected to live for a year or less.

 

“Anyone can inquire about hospice services. You or your loved one may call a local hospice and request services. The hospice staff will then contact your physician to determine if a referral to hospice is appropriate. Another way to inquire about hospice is to talk with your physician, and he or she can make a referral to hospice.Hospice can begin as soon as a ‘referral’ is made by the person’s doctor.” (from the National Hospice Foundation)
 

 The hospice staff will then contact the person referred to set up an initial meeting to review the services the hospice will offer and sign the necessary consent forms for care to begin. Usually, care is ready to begin within a day or two of a referral. However, in urgent situations, service may begin sooner. 

  When is the right time to ask about hospice?

Now is the best time to learn more about hospice care and ask questions about what to expect. Although end-of-life care may be difficult to discuss, it is best for loved ones and family members to share their wishes long before it becomes a concern. This can greatly reduce stress when the time for hospice becomes apparent.
 

When is the right time to ask about hospice?
Now is the best time to learn more about hospice care and ask questions about what to expect. Although end-of-life care may be difficult to discuss, it is best for loved ones and family members to share their wishes long before it becomes a concern. This can greatly reduce stress when the time for hospice becomes apparent.

 

Even the medical community denies and avoids death. Accepting that the end is near, that you will begin to have to let go, to sit quietly by a loved one’s bedside, to not go into “heroics” and throw on the paddles or rush to the ER is very, very difficult.

 The last month of my own mother’s life was in many ways one of the most peaceful times of my life. It was also excruciating. As a society, we’re no longer taught to sit with death.

 We’re no longer taught to let nature take its course, to relinquish our control. Learning to do this, to hear the clock tick, to let my family come and go as I sat by my mother’s bed and wiped her brow–

It was a finishing of something I had begun.

It was bone deep and cathartic, and gave me time to think and process.

 I began to see the whole of my mother’s life. I understood that both of us need to let go.

 

Hospice isn’t about giving up. It’s about giving in.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

 

 

 

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Today, I’ll continue my conversation with author, Linda Merlino.

Her book, Belly of the Whale will be released in April and is about a woman who finds that cancer isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person.

Hudson Catalina finds herself a hostage of a killer, held in a gas station as violence unfolds. She thought cancer would kill her. Then, a bullet. And then, she decided to fight.  

I’d pick this book up with this premise in a heartbeat.

So, what’s it got to do with caregiving? Death and dying? Everything.

It’s just like life to throw one catastrophe at us and then wallop us from the side with another. Only then, after our self-wallowing whining and being knocked around a few times do we find that we get mad, and get up. Psychologists say humans (and most animals) have a fight or flight mechanism. I say we also have a fight or die one too.  

I know if I get pushed down (and I have, many times), I collapse, cry, grow quiet, too quiet, doubt myself, and then….I get mad. I get back up. I’ve seen myself do this in an almost out of body experience (observation–observing that I’m observing) I hate to see me cower. God, I hate that. I hate bullies, but man, do they teach good lessons.

Where I got this from, I don’t know. I’ve always been stubborn—and rebellious.

What’s your default? How can you use your “bad” qualities for the good? I’ve learned I have to, they’re like a good old pack of dogs always laying under my feet and following me wherever I go. Faithful to a fault. I have to put my “bad side” to work–give it something to do. Make it play fetch.

Even before I was adopted, I’ve been told that my grandmother would tell me the opposite thing to do in order to get me to do the thing she wanted. And I was only four!  Now, I try to use it for the good.  

Linda’s character, Hudson, has gone into “the belly of the whale,” the dark night of the soul, the fear of death and suffering…and that got me wondering…

where does the “will to live” come from?  

Some caregivers are passive. They let life happen to them, and then caregivingcame along and “just happened.” But many times, caregiving will cause us to face our own fears and reflect on our own lives.  

Some people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or cancer (not to mention ALS, MS, and other debilitating diseases) succumb to the sorrow and seemingly give up. Others fight like hell. Why? Personality? Life events? What causes a person to get to the point to either lay down—or stand up—to life?   So I asked Linda:  

Q: When it comes to life and death, how much do you feel is “will” or just a person’s time to go? A: You can will things to happen.  I believe that; even death.  I believe also, that there is a time and a purpose in all of what life brings to us.  We do not know when we will run out of summers.  In “Belly of the Whale”, Hudson Catalina feels her time to go is imminent.  The beast she’s been running away from since she was fourteen has finally caught up with her and although she appeared to be fighting the fight, at heart, she probably never believed she would win against cancer. People of extraordinary faith, whether it is old time religion or simple spirituality, can defy the odds.  Even if death finds them through illness, accident or tragedy, rather than old age, these faith-driven folk teach us all a lesson.  

Here is an excerpt from “Belly of the Whale”: 

Ruby Desmond to Hudson Catalina “I’m a woman of great faith,” Ruby said. 

“When Charlie passed, I relied on my belief in God to help me through those long days and even longer nights.” “Weren’t you angry?” I asked her. 

“His dying just like your Daddy is like my mother and I dying of breast cancer.” 

First off, child, you are not dead yet; and second, things don’t go according to our plan, no way, no how.” 

Ruby made her point by thrusting her head back into her rocker and pushing off hard on the runners. 

“I’m not unfeeling to your situation, child, but the truth is you have already decided what is going to happen and that’s plain crazy.  God isn’t to blame for these unfortunate times in our lives.” 

“Who is then?” I asked. 

“Just like I said before, I never get the answers I want when I ask.” 

She made a circle with her fingers in the air. 

 “If you’re asking me, which you are, I’ll tell you that life’s a circle and we go around like the spokes on a wheel.  Sometimes we’re happy, our faces in the light, and sometimes the wheel thrusts us into harsh places of darkness and despair.  But we have to believe that it keeps going around, back into the light.  Never give up hope.”   

Q: What was the bud or seed of this story? 

A: The interesting thing is that the seed or bud of this story was not about Hudson Catalina or about breast cancer.  In fact, the very seed of this book was centered on the character, Willy Wu.  The original title of the novel was “Willy Wu”.  At the time that I began putting words to paper I was re-reading some of Joseph Campbell’s works and I was taken once again with his concept of heroes.  Coupled with this and the desire to write a story about a character like Willy, who is challenged physically, mentally and verbally, I wondered how much Willy processed and if he could transcend his stereotyping and be a hero. 

Part II of “Belly of the Whale” begins with: “Heroes are the most unassuming, and the most improbable of individuals.”Through the filter system of publishing Willy became autistic.

 In the early stages I hesitated to tag Willy.  I felt that the community of his peers might be offended by the mention of a more defined diagnosis.  Now that the story is completed I am comfortable with Willy being autistic.  He rises above his handicaps and fulfills my original intention.   

The story evolved and Hudson Catalina became the main character leaving Willy to be a hero in the true sense.  Hudson must face her fears, but Willy is not capable of fear.  He trusts everyone.  He is innocent, he is pure, he knows about heroes. 

More tomorrow. This is just too good to gorge on all at one time. Savor.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

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