Archive for the ‘books’ Category

After a decade of caring for my mother who had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, then brought her into our home the last 2+ years of her life, this is the distilled version of what caregiving taught me. I am profoundly grateful for these lessons.

  1. To stand up for myself, and caregiving will give me plenty of opportunities to do so.
  2. There is a time in life in which you sacrifice for someone you love–and a time to stop sacrificing.  
  3. It takes humor to tackle the big scary things in life, like caregiving, disease, and death.
  4. Caregiving will inevitably bring out the worst–and the best in me.
  5. Caregiving will change me, but it’s up to me to determine how.
  6. I can’t stop death.
  7. I can decide how I will live the next moment of my life. One moment at a time.
  8. My emotions are my body’s barometers. I need to listen to these cues, feel them, use them as a catalyst, but know that no one emotion will last forever.
  9. To pace myself. Burnout is very real and very dangerous.
  10. I can’t meet all the needs of another human being. I can’t take the place of my care partner’s spouse, career, friends, or health.
  11. Caregiving is about integrity. I have to choose what is right–for me–and for all the others in my life. No one person gets to be the “only one ” 
  12. When I start to give too much to caregiving, it means I’m avoiding some aspect of my own life’s journey.
  13. Caregiving  isn’t just about caregiving. It unearths every emotional weak spot I have–not to destroy me–but to give me a chance to look at, and even heal that area.
  14. I have to stop being nice and pleasing people. “They” will never be satisfied or think it’s enough. What’s best for me–truly, deeply best–is best for those around me.
  15. Learning to stand up to relatives, authority figures, to my parent or spouse, and even a disease teaches me to be brave, a quality we need.
  16. Give up perfect. Go for decent. Do more of what I’m good at–and ask for help on the rest.
  17. Don’t isolate myself. Being alone, depressed, and negative is easy. Fighting to stay in the game of life–that’s tough, but worth it.
  18. If or when my care partner needs more care than I can provide, or even dies, that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means I’ve done all I could and it’s time for change.
  19. You will go the distance. You will live at hospitals, stay up night after night, weep in the deepest part of your soul, question everything you’re doing…and barely come out alive. Caregiving asks, takes this from you. Through this process, you will transform. You will see who you are–the whole of you. You will survive.
  20. Choose to care-give–then do with heart and guts.

To love makes us brave. To be loved gives us courage.

                                                                                                                                       –Lao Tzo, Chinese Philosopher

Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

Read Full Post »

Caregiving kicks up family igivssues. It just does. We can think we’re over them. We made amends. Asked forgiveness-forgave–and then we find ourselves back in that vortex of anger and hurt. Are we truly able to let go of a grudge?

We don’t like to admit it, but we like our addictions, and yes, a grudge (hurt) can become an addiction of sorts. We grow accustomed to, feel comfortable and safe with our dramas. Why? Because people fear the unknown. Even when the known isn’t so great.

Grudges. We all have them. Hurts from the past. Times our moms or dads weren’t there for us. Times when our siblings belittled us, took something we wanted for their own. Some wounds are profound. Some of us have been molested, raped, endured physical or verbal abuse. It’s not that we’re trying to be difficult. These are valid. They were and in many ways are knife slashes to our soul. And when it comes time to be a caregiver, these grievances resurface and can get in the way–not only of giving care, if we choose to–but get in the way of our own personal growth and healing.

5  Keys to Letting Go of a Grudge:

  1. Admit you have one.
  2. Admit you’re tired of having one.
  3. Stop negative words from coming out of your mouth–mid-word.
  4. Crowd out those hurtful thoughts. When you catch yourself mulling over the hurts of the past–crowd it out with something else–music, go-online and read some jokes, or call an upbeat friend.
  5. Give your grudge a ceremony. Create a campfire and write your hurts on paper and then burn them, or write them on rocks and place them in a rock garden, do something that signifies that you’re letting go of this hurt–and when you start to say or think about that grudge, remind yourself of that ceremony and tell yourself it’s a done deal. That’s why weddings and funerals are a part of so many cultures–they signifiy new beginnings and bitter-sweet ends.

I was watching the film, What the Bleep Do We Know,and I was reminded by one of their neuro-scientists about the power of our frontal lobes. Human beings have a highly developed frontal region, and this region is our seat of reason. We can decide, change our minds, examine, ponder, and observe–all from this vantage point. If our frontal lobes have been damaged, our ability to decide–anything–whether we’d like toast or a biscuit for breakfast is hampered, if not downright halted. 

Deciding what to do with a grudge is a choice.

Have you ever had something, thoughts that consumed you for years–that are no longer a part of your every day life? That means you’ve moved on–and if you did it once–you can do it again. Somehow, you started to choose to view that hurt (grudge) differently. It lost its “umph” as my mother used to say when a Sprite no longer held a zing.

Grudge sounds so negative–sounds like drudge or dredge. Let’s just call it a hurt we’ve been holding onto for a while. I’m not belittling what has happened to you. I have had some pretty decent size  traumas in my life, so I’m not immune to this topic. I take it very serious. It took me years, years to deal with my hurts. Did you know that sociologist’s have found that it takes about 15 years to work through the issues that come with severe traumas such as dealing with a suicide, murder or rape? That’s a lot of time, but if you’ve ever experienced any of these, you know the physical and psychological toll it took on you.

Why do some people absorb their pain, use it in some  way for the good, incorporate it into their being, and in essence, “move on” when others seem stuck in anger, regret, and seething pain for the rest of their lives?

I don’t know the answer to that.  I don’t think it’s because one person is better or stronger than the other.  I do believe it’s in part, a choice–even when they don’t realize it. I think it’s because the light bulb (understanding, revalation) hasn’t been turned on–yet. It’s part of their journey, and I love the saying, “If I’d-a known better, I’d-a done better.”

But I do know that people are capable of change–great change. Sometimes the shackles that had us so pinned down one day simply fall to the ground. 

For me, I think I wore out my anger and hurt. I got  sick and tired of being sick and tired as Oprah says. My angry, pitiful story of how I was hurt was no longer a story I wanted to tell. I started to observe that people didn’t want to be around me when I was complaining. I could taste my own toxins and I was turned off by what was rolling around in my thoughts and falling off my tongue. 

I began to want to be well. I started by controlling what came out of my mouth. Not easy. Lots of start-overs.  I wrote down my hurts, said a prayer, sometimes burned them on pieces of paper, ready every self-help book under the sun. My awareness and desire to change was at least a start.

There were times when caring for my adoptive mother (who had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) was difficult. Buttons got pushed and at times, I felt right back in that quagmire of the anger and pain I thought I had dealt with years ago.  But I found that I chose not to stay there, in my complaining, nasty, negative self. I didn’t want my grudge any more. I didn’t identify with that part of my past. It wasn’t that “we,” my mother and me were completely fixed and all was magically erased–it wasn’t, and I didn’t want it to be. I could accept who we were, what we had done to ourselves and each other, and I could see that we were no longer those two same people.

If you’re reading this, then maybe you’re ready to let go of some of that back of the closet crap you thought for some reason you had to hold onto.

It’s a new day when our grudges no longer bring us comfort. A new self is emerging.

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

Read Full Post »

Will I get Alzheimer’s? Will you? Maybe we will if we live long enough.

Should you be worried? I don’t think so. Worry can kill, or at least bring on a host of diseases from mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders to insomnia to heart disease-and all these illnesses will kill you far sooner than Alzheimer’s is likely to show up. I was my mom’s daughter and eventual caregiver and her last years were spent in the grips of Alzheimer’s, but I can’t let that define her. My mother had a full, wonderful life–and this insipid disease cannot diminish the amazing woman she was.

A lot of people are asking themselves the “Big A” question. They’re especially concerned if their parent or sibling has dementia, Alzheimer’s or other types of memory disorder diseases. There are even tests to help you determine if you are a likely candidate. But most people aren’t getting tested, they’re just worrying.

Ironically, my mother’s situation with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (even though it sounds crazy to say this because so many see this disease as off-the-charts scary) is that I’m no longer afraid of these two monsters. Why?

Because I’ve ripped off the curtain and seen for myself that the great and terrible Oz is just a little guy in a green suit with a booming voice, I don’t sit around and worry about getting any disease, much less Alzheimer’s. These two diseases didn’t take my mother from me (in some ways it did, but life/aging/death does anyway). I’m fortunate that my mother didn’t start showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s until her late 80s and it was only the last two years that were truly difficult. Even when it was terrible, and I do mean terrible, she was still my mother–something I had to learn to remember and cherish when she no longer could.

I do have to admit–I was adopted. You think that lets me off the hook, but you see, my birth mother had schizorphrenia–another brain related disease that’s really off-the-charts scary. My birth mother’s life (and in some ways mine) was destroyed by schizophrenia. She was in mental institutions much of her adult life, had to undergo many shock treatment therapies, and she couldn’t raise or even be around her children. I was eventually adopted and my mother died before I found my birth family.

Schizophrenia strikes somewhere between your teens and early 40s. I remember asking my daughter’s pediatrician how would I know if I were to become schizophrenic. “Oh, you won’t know…but everyone around you will.” That’s a lot like Alzheimer’s. The forgetfulness, the confusion, the delusions and excuses are all ignored, denied, or simply go unobserved–by the person experiencing them. It’s their co-workers, spouses and children who first begin to see the symptoms.

I finally made peace with the schizophrenia bully-monster who was lurking in the back of my thoughts. My life was significantly different than my birth mother’s. I was in a loving marriage, I took care of my health, and I was aware that it was a possibility–and I knew that there were much better treatments available today. Other than that, there was nothing I could do–just live a full, rich and healthy life–and trust for the best.

I feel the same way about Alzheimer’s. We’re so much more educated about our health. We know to watch our weight (whether we do or not is another issue) to exercise, use our brains, watch the vices such as alcohol and smoking…and I truly believe that we’ll begin to see medical advancements as well to curtail the current statistics.

Here’s the breakdown of those who will have Alzheimer’s from the National Center for Health Statistics for the average person from ages 50-90.

(From Today’s Senior)

If you
are now age
Your lifetime risk
is only
Odds that you
won’t get Alzheimers

I’ve given my family written permission that if I become seriously ill with Alzheimer’s or any other long-term chronic disease that completely strips me of my cognitive abilities, put me in a decent care home, visit and love on me often, but go and live your great big wonderful life…in my honor (if that makes you feel better about it).

My heart goes out to those who contract Alzheimer’s at a young age. Yes, it does seem totally unfair, a life cut short, and families placed under tremendous financial and emotional stress. For these circumstances, I pray for a cure. I’ve lived through and also witnessed the ravages of this disease. It’s not simple. It’s not easy, and even when I try to make the best of it, I know how isolated and scary it is to deal with Alzheimer’s in your family. Those who are caregiving a loved one with Alzheimer’s are under tremendous stress.

If you’re really in a knot over whether you’ll get Alzheimer’s, consider getting tested. Write your family a letter and share with them how you want to be cared for.Do some research and find good doctors or care assistance, and after you’ve done all you can do, try to let it go. Being proactive is all you can do. Don’t let what could happen tomorrow steal today.

For me, each day I try to make peace with my past–and my future at the same time. I refuse to worry about something that might–or might not happen. I’ve got too much living to do. I have a bucket list three miles long!

What’s coming tomorrow–or twenty years from now none of us can know. That’s why it’s so important to live in the now. Do good work. Live with purpose and passion. Make a difference in somebody’s life. Laugh and embrace right where you are. Today. It’s all any of us have.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle


Read Full Post »

Let me guess: your morning caregiving routine is pretty spelled out for you. It probably includes dressing and feeding your care buddy (mom, dad, spouse) and yes, the meds. Every day–2,3, 4 times a day you dole out the meds. Your routine may also include some physical therapy, schedule doctor appointments, argue with your insurance comapny, trips to the store and pharmacy. Sound familiar?

Those aren’t the caregiving rituals I’m talking about. I’m referring to what you do before you do all that.

“What?” You may ask, “Roll out of bed, throw on my house coat and get busy?”

No wonder you’re burned out (yes, I mean you!)

Without a daily ritual that supports and under-girds all you do, you will become burned out (if you’re not already).

Caregiving is more than just a bunch of “to-do’s” It’s not merely a never-ending list of meds and doctor appointments. Caregiving is part of your relationship. Not all, but part. Caregiving has something to give you, to teach you–if you perk up your ears and your heart and listen.

What you’re doing is actually important, and not just on a physical level. But it has to start early in the morning. As a sandwich genaration mom, once I opened my bedroom door, I stepped into a raging river. My morning rituals gave me the strength and insight to face what might be on the other side of that door.

Ways to Create Meaning Through Your Caregiving Ritual:

  • Make your bedroom and your bathroom a sanctuary.
  • An easy quick fix that can change your mood is color–paint your bedroom–at least one wall.
  • Do you need a soothing color? Blushes, creams and peaches? Or do you need a joyful color? Turqoise, chartreuse or magenta?
  • Is your bedroom junky? The dumping ground while all the rest of the house looks relatively good? Well it’s time to change that! Even if you don’t have but 5 minutes, pick up the stuff that’s cluttering your floors and dresser tops and take them some place else–anywhere else. You deserve a serene room. You deserve beauty and order. Clean it up later, but get it out of your room–today!
  • Consider an electric water/tea kettle or a coffee pot for your bedroom/bath. It’s nice not to have to leave your bedroom just to get a cup of chamomile.
  • Before you ever get out of bed, come up with three things you’re thankful for–the cardinal that just flew by, a perfect pillow, the fact that you can lie still with not one ache or pain are something to be grateful for.
  • Keep that door shut in the morning. If you like TV, move one into your bedroom, or better yet, go for some music. Music lifts the spirits almost in an instant.
  • Take the time to fully dress. Brush your hair, put on your shoes, and dress in real clothes before you ever leave your room. This take charge attitude will set you up for a good day.
  • Make that bed! Why? So you can leave your door open and see that beautiful room that’s waiting for you at the end of the day. Go outside and pick some greenery and put it in your room. Bringing the outside in is healing.
  • Keep a journal. Pour your worries, your fears, and even your sweetest memories onto the page. You’ll feel lighter knowing it’s kept in a safe place.
  • Say your prayers.  Talk like your gushing to your best friend (because you are). Ask for a good day. Ask for patience. Ask for strength.
  • If your day goes south–you lose your temper, you hit a roadblock–take a break and go to your room. Shut the door and find a cozy place to sit. Return to what soothes you–vent in your journal, light a candle, say a prayer, strip off your clothes and take a cool shower to calm down.
  • Look forward to returning to your room at the end of the day. Imagine that gorgeous color on your walls, your made bed, your journal waiting for you, the music in your CD or iPod player. Imagine yourself walking back in that room, slipping out of your shoes, and letting it all go….

Soon, your mind will comprehend that your bedroom is a “safe place” you can always return to find your center again. These daily morning rituals can literally save your life. They can be your port in your crazy-caregiving storm.

~Carol O’Dell, Author Mothering Mother

Read Full Post »

Sometimes I feel I’ve got to…runaway, I’ve to…runaway..from the pain that’s hurting me.

That’s a line to an old 80s song that rolled around in my head many of my caregiving days. I literally felt a panic inside: what was I thinking, moving my mom into my home. How long is she going to live? Do I have months, years…decades? She won’t leave me alone–I can’t take a bath or have a decent conversation with my husband (much less anything else). What choice do I have? She needs me, but how am I ever going to do this day after day. What about my life, my dreams?

On and on my internal monologue hounded me. Not only did I want to run away from my mother–I wanted to run away from me~!

I started collecting fantasies. How would I run away. Where would I go?

I imagined slipping out in the middle of the night. Me and the open road, guided by the moon. I’d roll the window down and howl. Free at last!

I imagined changing my name to Flo. Living in a run down house in Key West and waitressing. I’d fish for fun, check out books from the library and become a walking mystery.

I imagined inventing an adult play-pen and decorating it with things my mother loved. That way, I could exercise, cook, or take a bath without worrying–and maybe that Ronco guy would sell it on his high energy info-mercials.

I imagined strapping my mother to a wheelchair and taking her everywhere I long to go. Mom and me at the Grand Canyon. Mom and me at the Louvre. Mom and me taking art classes in Rome. Mom and me traipsing around New York City…hey, if you can’t get rid of them, bring ’em along became my motto. We’ll become like a Where’s Waldo drawing–where will the dynamic duo go next? We’d write travel books for caregivers and their buddies.

If only my life was that exciting…and if you think I’m a bit odd, then you try living 24/7 with your mother who has Alzheimer’s–and was a hand full before that ever started!

Kidding aside, when my mom first moved in with us, I did feel like I wanted to bolt out the front door. It took a while for my brain and my body to get the hang of her being in such a close proximity. I had to learn how to not let her overshadow me at every turn. I also had to learn how to let her feel needed and appreciated. Our mother-daughter dance had to learn a few new steps.

I also had to give into my run away tendencies. If I didn’t, I knew I’d really hit the road. So I started running away–to my journal. I had to snatch and grab a few minutes here and there–but having a place to put my questions and my angst kept them from boiling over.

I had to learn to run away–to the back yard. Nature calms and heals me. Especially water. Just to slip out that back door and stand at the edge of the river, watch the Spanish moss sway in the trees, and pick up a stone to hold as I said a prayer changed everything. Yeah, I’d look back at the house and my feet felt encased in lead. How could I ever make myself go back in there? But I did.

I used to hide–in the pantry, in the linen closet, on the side of the glass front door where no one could see me. I’d slump down and just give myself a few minutes–but then, they’d find me. They’d always find me. I was a sandwich generation mom–I had my mom–and my kids and husband to deal with. Somebody always wanted to know where mom was.

I’d run away by using my biting sarcasm (mostly internally), but my quippy comebacks kept us on our toes and we’d usually wind up laughing about it.

Running away is about letting off a little steam. It’s a mini-stay-cay. You can’t actually book that plane ticket to visit Bhutan, the place that Michael J. Fox’s book, Always Looking Up says is the happiest place on earth. You can buy a Chinese gong. You can visit a Bhutan website. You can buy a table runner in that gorgeous orange the monks wear.

If you feel like running away, then do it. Figure out a way to let off a little steam. Go for a bike ride, get off your bike and pick a few wildflowers. Do a virtual vacation by visiting a few websites and take notes for a future trip. Slip out the back door, find a pebble and say a prayer. Also, consider checking out respite care. Who says you can’t have a weekend off now and then? Check your community resources, ask a family member, and give yourself a break. (I know how hard this is and I can hear your but, but’s…but if you don’t you’ll burn out!)

Feeling that urge to run away is normal. Fantasizing about it lets off a little steam. Laughing about it soothes the soul. You are already a good caregiver–and admitting that once in a while you’d sure like to step out of that role if only for a few minutes, means you’re human.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle


Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle


Read Full Post »

If you haven’t seen Pixar’s UP, get in the car and head to the movies. I’m not kidding. That’s an order:) And if you are a part of or direct a care home, an adult day care or a senior community center, load them all in the van and take them to see UP. You won’t regret it.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I don’t use it as a way to endorse or promote anything I don’t passionately believe in–so I hope you’ll trust me on this.

And it’s absolutely perfect for Fathers Day! 
If you’re a caregiver, what a perfect outing and take your loved one. Sandwich Generation? Take everybody to the movies!

Oh, and take a box of tissues–and be ready to laugh, cry, smile, and leave feeling completely rejuvenated.

Yes, it’s a cartoon, but I’m not sure Pixar’s great films (Monster’s Inc. Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall E) can be placed in the category with Sponge Bob (sorry, Bob).

What’s UP about? I’m not telling. I will let you know what you could pick up from the commercials–it’s about a seemingly grumpy old man who has longed for adventure all his life–and about a young boy who so needs a friend. It’s much much more than that and old and young alike will identify with both these characters, their wants, needs and fears. It’s about dreams and adventures and how we find–and lose–and find our way through life.

Oh, and if you’re a dog lover, Doug the dog is adorable! He’s my dog, Rupert on the big screen–lovable, daffy, and most of all, loyal.

It’s about time that our elders were given their on-screen debut and delivered as the complex, meaty, powerful protagonists they are. Yes, it’s super-hero status in the best sense of the word–not because he can fly or walk through walls–but because he still has something amazing to offer the world–his time, love, and experience. It’s about time that the media portrays our elders with the respect they so deserve.

No, Pixar’s not paying (but feel free). I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been deeply touched. Take your dads. Take your moms. Take your aunts, uncles, kids, grandkids, and neighbors. UP will warm your heart, unhinge your tear ducts, and boost your heart.

Read Full Post »

I have a magnet on my back door that reads, “Cherish this moment. This moment IS your life.”

As caregivers, we sometimes think we’re living for our loved ones. We’ve put our life “on hold,” and as soon as they’re better, or after that die, we’ll get our life back. Not a great way to look at caregiving–or your life. No wonder we feel resentment. No wonder we’re always agitated, gripey, or zone out–we’re constantly saying (whether we realize it or not, we’re giving out the message),  “I don’t want to be here.”

But what if “here” is all you’ve got? All you’re ever going to get?

Remember that great line in the movie As Good As It Gets?”

 Melvin Udall, played by Jack Nicholson is plagued so badly with OCD that his life is nothing but self-imposed rules. He can’t allow people or love into his life because they’ll make a mess, cause him to step on a crack in the sidewalk, or mess up his arrangement of silverware. He falls in love with a waitress who has a “messy” life. Not enough money, a sick child, living with her mom and waitressing for a living. (The quotes are so, so good from this movie, check out a few here)

After almost losing the love of his life because he’s so darn difficult, he decides he’s got to get better, he’s got to get help. He barges into his psychiatrist’s office and demands to be seen. He looks around and sees an office full of scared and miserable people. People waiting for their life to start. Waiting for their OCD to go away. Waiting.

He can’t wait any longer.

He blurts, “Wake up, people. What if this is as good as it gets?!”

So I ask you, what if your life right now, today, is as good as it gets?

Are you going to give up, go to bed and pull the covers over your head? Forever? No, you’re going to make it work. Sadly, the end of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is death. So yes, there’s a way out, just not a good one. But death is the way out for all of us, so don’t let that get you down.

I love a little book that came out a few years ago, “Do One Thing Different” and the concept really stuck with me. When you’re caregiving, much of your life is structured around meds, treatments, and rehab, so jumping into a full exercise routine or enrolling full-time in college really isn’t an option. But you can change one thing. One thing that takes, oh, ten minutes a day–or less. Don’t tell me you don’t have ten minutes. Everybody wastes ten minutes–on tv, over-cleaning, or chowing down on something that’s not even all that tasty.

For me, I’m concentrating on my waist. Sounds silly, but according to many health experts, your waist circumference determines how healthy you are. Women need to be under 35, and men under 40. Those are pretty generous numbers, (American size), and I’m fortunate to have a pear shape, but I figure that instead of going for a total body makeover I’d never achieve, I’d spend ten minutes a day doing exercises that focus just on my waist. Ten minutes. I’m not going crazy and saying I’m going to workout 2 hours a day when I’m know good and well  that’ll last about 2 days. I can coax myself into ten minutes working out in front of the tv instead of sitting in front of the tv.

The other thing I’m focusing on is brushing up on my Spanish. I may be spending time in South America this fall, and although I don’t want to fork out $400 for Rosetta Stone, I went online and found several YouTube and iTunes Spanish lessons for free. I’m also going to a used bookstore in town, trading in some old books and buying some children’s books in Spanish to read. So the way I look at it, these two small items allow me to exercise my body and my mind with little or no cash outlay needed.

When do I say, “That will have to wait until after my caregiving years are over.”

Really? Is there some small way you could jump start process?

Remember, everything that has come into creation was once just a thought. Jack Canfield wrote an amazing book, “The Success Principles,”in which he describes years ago when he was only hoping to be a sought after speaker and author how he wanted to go to Australia to speak. He had never been asked to speak internationally, so it was unlikely he’d get a call from “down under.” So he went to a travel store and bought a poster of Sydney’s famous opera house and hung it in his office. Within a year, he was speaking in Australia.

Take it down to your level. Maybe you’re dreaming of a vacation. Take out that seashell you picked up a few years ago and put it on your kitchen counter–just as reminder–and a way to lay claim to your own future. Check out a book from the library about where you’d like to go, or visit an online forum where other travelers have been there and suggest places to go and see. Daydreaming is great way to get your mind off the daily caregiving stress.

I know you can’t just get in your car and drive away (although that was one of my favorite fantasies–I was going to drive to Key West, and still might!) But you can start with one small change. Don’t put your entire life on hold–it won’t even make you a better caregiver, just a fussier one.

I hope you’ll take me up and drop me a line at writecarol@comcast.net or leave a comment and share what one small change you’ve made.

Read Full Post »

One day, my 91 year-old mother and I were running some errands together, and she says to me,

“Just think, one day it’ll just me you, me, and Phillip.” (he’s my husband)

She sounded like a five year-old who really didn’t want her parents to have other children. I imagined her feet not reaching the dashboard of the car.

“What do you mean?” I asked. I was a sandwich generation mom and still had a 14 yr. old and 17 yr. old daughters at home.

“Your children will all be grown and out of the house, and then it’ll just be the three of us,” my mom added with a tone of deep satisfaction.

I began to see my future before me…years and years of caregiving, the three of us on the couch watching movies, the three of us on our 25th, 30th, 40th anniversary trips, the three of us toodling into the sunset….I started to hyper-ventilate. I loved my mom, and I liked she was with us, but I started worrying, what had I created? My mom had turned into that bratty kid at the birthday party who wanted to run the show.

Perhaps this was a tad too much…togetherness.

“Just how long do you plan on living?” I blurted, half-teasing. (I knew that would get her rialed up)

“HEY!” She snapped back, getting the joke.

I patted her hand and we both chuckled.

“By the time your children grow up, maybe you’ll be able to keep a clean house,” Mom teased, stealing the thunder with her great come-back line.

Nice, mom, nice.

Our little verbal bantering was half in jest, half venting (for both of us), and I liked that she could still “dish it out.” Humor is a sign of intelligence. Humor means you’ve still got a few marbles rolling around up there. Later, Alzheimer’s would rob my mom of her wit, but this day lives on. I read an article about quantum mechanics and time by physicist, Paul Davies. He referred to moments of time as spokes on wheel–each moment is a spoke that lives in continuum.

My family and I tell that mom story and many, many others. We have that sort of dark humor thing going on, and if you can’t take being teased, you might be in trouble. But with the teasing comes ferocious love.

So this Mother’s Day, tell your mom stories. Laugh until you snort and tear up. Laugh and remember.

~Carol O’Dell

Need to Laugh? Looking for a Speaker for an Upcoming Event?

Check out my YouTube Presentation

Author, Mothering Mother

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Excerpt from Mothering Mother:

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

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

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

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

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

~Carol D. O’Dell

Read Full Post »

“How do you care for your mom every day? How do you deal with Alzheimer’s day in and day out? How do you not give up? Doesn’t caregiving get to you”

Have you ever been asked any of those questions? You don’t really have an answer. You just do it–you get up each day and you do what you need to do, what has to be done. Most caregivers are far from perfect, and they might want to walk away, but they don’t.

In my book, Mothering Mother, I recall one of my favorite fantasies. When my mom’s Alzheimer’s was really bad, or when her Parkinson’s made it impossible for her to walk, I’d imagine myself dying my mother’s hair and dropping her off at the emergency room with a note pinned to her lapel, “Feed me Klondike Bars.” Then, I’d get in my car and drive straight to Key West. I’d change my name to Flo and become a salty waitress with no family and no responsibilities. I’d witness the golden sunset each night in glorious Margaritaville.

That one fantasy kept me from losing it some days. It was a mental release and silly as it sounds, it kept me from doing something I’d really regret!

When I was a sandwich generation mom, I was busy taking my mom to a slew of doctors, dealing with her telling me how to raise my children, and fighting so hard to keep my mother up and walking and communicating while dealing with Parkinson’sand Alzheimer’s. In retrospect, I did the best I could. We did the best we could. Caregiving is not about being perfect. It’s about showing up.

So what did I learn that I could pass on?

  • Choose. If you’re going to care give, then choose to do it with integrity.Caregiving asks something of us, and if we do it with a grudge, it turns toxic. Each day, make a choice. Choose to see the good. Life’s not fair, and death and disease happen, but know that you have a purpose. The only thing you have control over is your attitude, your perspective. Lay your head on the pillow each night knowing that not only did you give that day, you also received.
  • Pace yourself.As I’ve said in previous blogs. Caregiving is like running a marathon–with a bear chasing you. You have pace yourself, find a rhythm, not burn out–but you have all those fears, those hurts, those regrets–those are your bears. Stop trying to outrun them. Turn around and face them. They won’t eat you alive. You can’t know how long you’ll be a caregiver. Some people go into it sentimentally. They think the “end” is months, perhaps weeks away. They pour themselves into the role…and five years later they wonder what happened to their life. Have short range and long range goals. Take care of your health, your relationships, and your life.
  • Cultivate and protect your tender heart.Become a team. Remember that song, “You and Me Against the World”? It’s so, so easy to be bitter, cynical, and so exhausted that you’re on the verge of depression and serious illness. You can hate–and love–being a caregiver at the same time. It’s okay to admit it, but separate caregiving and disease from your actual loved one. Practice manners. Make yourself smile and hold hands. Laugh with each other at the crazy twists and turns. After awhile, you won’t have to force yourself. Keeping a tender heart is in many ways, selfish (it also makes you a whole heck of a lot nicer to live with). It keeps you young (metaphorically speaking). It keeps you healthy. It’s the Type A personalities who are bitter and cynical die quick and hard.

I truly believe that with these three secrets in hand, you can caregive longer and with joy and purpose. Yes, you’ll occasionally get off-center, lose your way, fall into the grumpy doldrums–but you’ll self-correct sooner. 

Choosing each day to care with integrity.

Pace yourself. This may take awhile, so make a plan and make sure you’re (your health, relationships, and life) are a part of that plan.

Protect your tender heart. It’s too easy to give into negativity, but that’s one miserable way to live.

I hope you’ll leave a comment and share your own caregiving secrets.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »