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Move over, Michelle Obama, cause Mama’s in the house.

That’s right, Michelle Obama’s mother is moving into the White House.

Marian Robinson quit her job 22 months ago to help care for the Obama girls while Michelle and Barack started campaigning. She’s now 71 and a retired secretary and she’s moving into the White House on a “trial basis” before giving up her home in Chicago. While the presidential campaign was underway, Ms. Robinson cooked the girl’s meals, shuffled them to their various activities, helped with homework and kissed them goodnight. That’s a big job, but it was for a big reason.

That’s something I admire–a family that figures out how to care for one another and when it’s the appropriate time to do so. I’m not too worried how she’ll be treated a few years from now when she needs elder-care or caregiving. She’s invested in her family, and love is almost always returned.

The White House will be full again, with a father, mother, two children, a grandmother, and a dog. I like the idea of those old rooms bustling with the sound of feet running up and down the halls, of a grandmother’s stern call to order and the yelp of a dog.

Multigenerational families aren’t new. People used to live together under one roof out of necessity–to run the farm, to continue the family business. In fact, it’s on the rise.

More than 3.6 million parents lived with adult children in 2007, according to census data. That number is up 67 percent from 2000. And in the new economic light, more and more families are choosing to “bunk up” to save on expenses, and as a necessity for those who have lost their jobs.

Somehow, we got away from that in my generation. We got independent, perhaps too independent thinking that money would be enough–or as my southern daddy would say, “We got too big for our britches.”

My adoptive mother grew up in a multigenerational house. She was surrounded by aunts and uncles (her mother was divorced and raising two children on her own in the 1910’s). My mother’s memories are good ones. A large table with lots of food and conversation. She said she felt as if she had many mothers, not just one–and it helped that her mother could work full time and her two children had someone at home.

Times haven’t changed that much. Marian Robinson is an example of millions of grandmother’s who are either raising or helping to raise grandchildren. We need each other. We need our mothers and fathers to be a part of their grandchidren’s lives. That’s how values and stories get passed down.

From all I’ve read, Marian Robinson is going to be a busy woman. She’s noted for her independence and will only stay if she’s needed. She may even purchase a home nearby just so she has some privacy and doesn’t have to deal with the day to day fuss life in politics entails. She’s no where near slowing down and has recentlycompeted in the Senior Games running the 50 and 100 yard dash. No matter where she chooses to sleep, she’ll be an active part of the Obama household and everyone will benefit from that.

It’s not that her value as a grandmother is in throwing in a load of laundry or chauffeuring the girls around, it’s that the children will be influenced by her wisdom and will have that sense of family and continuity that’s so important. It’s easy to caught up in the “doing” and not the “being.”  The most valuable gift our elders have to offer is simply who they are–a part of us. Their life, their experiences, their stories shape and define future generations.

I have seen families take advantage of their elders–used them as free babysitters–and that’s not healthy for anyone. Sometimes we have to say, “No, not tonight, I have plans.”

As my mother moved in with my husband, our daughters and myself, I knew I had to strike a balance. My mother had to fit into our home, and in return, I (we) needed to treat her with respect and privacy. These are the concerns multigenerational families face. You don’t know exactly what your issues are going to be until you’re there, all living together. One person becomes needy, another bossy–someone needs more privacy than another, and…somebody always gets jealous. It’s just human nature and no matter how old we are, we still get jealous or needy at times.

My mother was always a part of our lives, and I’m so grateful that even though she was an older grandmother (she was 74 when her first granddaughter was born), she got right to being an active grandmother. She used to come over and get our girls and take them for an overnight stay as soon as they were out of diapers. They remember going to eat breakfast at Shoney’s with my mom and how proud she was showing them off to anyone who walked by, and then going to K Mart to hold the dolls. She’d buy them something small and even though these times weren’t fancy, they were just enough to begin to build a relationship–and memories. Our daughters remember my mother’s songs, her prayers and Bible stories, her stories–and even her quirks, her humor, her fears–everything that made her a whole person. So when it came time for my mother to move in with us, they expected it. In many ways, she was already a part of our lives.

Just the other day, our 21 year old daughter said she was glad her grandmother lived with us. That’s saying a lot, because she was there through it all, the Alzheimer’s, the heart attacks, and the end of life. She’s now able to measure the whole of the experience and not just focus on a particularly dark time.

What I wish for the Obama’s is that everyone will be patient and understanding with one another during this time of change. My advice, if I may offer a little–be quick to forgive, laugh at your mistakes, value your togetherness, and respect each other’s differences.

Getting used to living together and under such scrutiny is bound to cause some nerves to be razzled. Just as with any family, it takes time to learn to live together. But it’s worth it. There are times when we need each other, and that’s the best definition of what makes a family that I can think of.

In the end, the Obama girls will be surrounded by family, by legacy, and by love.

I wish them (and all of us) the best.

~Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

Familly advisor at Caring.com

 

 

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

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

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

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

Not exactly what you had planned, huh?

It’s all too much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One small thing. 

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

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

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

~Carol O’Dell, author of Motheirng Mother

Family Advisor at Caring.com

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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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Every day, a child’s mother, father, grandmother, grandfather or sibling dies.

Experiencing death while still a child is common, but that in no way makes it less difficult.

There are ways to help a child deal with grief.

When a child loses a loved one to death, that loss can have a profound effect that can even last a lifetime.

Emotional, psychological and physical trauma can occur and effect how a child views the world.

If grief is talked about and a child is given the proper coping tools, is surrounded by love and support, then the negative impact can be lessened.

But too often, adults are at a loss. They’re grieving themselves, and they don’t know what to say or do to comfort a child.

They don’t know how to tell a child that someone they love has died.

They don’t know how much to share with them–they either tell too much or too little.

Adults can simply “freeze” and stop communicating, and the child is left to grapple with their sorrow alone.

They can also insist that the child be happy and move on–because it makes them feel less guilty. They try to live life through their child–but children also have their ups and downs when it comes to grief. They can’t be puppets that we demand to be “okay,” because we need them to be.

Many people expect and demand that children are expected to go on with their lives.

They want them to hurry and go back to school. They don’t want them to get behind. How sad. Something as profound as a parent, sibling, or grandparent dying is so much more significant than an A in algebra.

Just days or even hours after a grandparent dies, many children are expected to return to school, sports and activities. Adults someone need the child to be busy so that they can deal with “adult” matters of business and details, but the child has his own grieving process to go through.

Children have so many issues to deal with–growing up, adolescence, fitting in, weight issues, pressure to smoke or smoke pot, divorce, family issues, academic and social issues–and it starts at a very young age.

When are they supposed to feel safe and free to open up and talk?

When can they express how much their miss their grandad?

How Do You Tell a Child That a Loved One Has Died?

Keep it simple. Use “died”, not “He is sleeping.”

Allow your child to express raw feelings freely or ask questions.

Answer questions honestly and simply. Do not go into detail, unless asked.

If the death was due to a violent crime, explain that they are safe now, nd you will do all you can to make sure they stay safe. 

Offer a comfort object–blanket, doll, teddy bear. Even if they’re “older,” something cuddly can reduce anxiety.

If the body is suitable for viewing, allow the child to see your deceased loved one, if requested. Prepare the child for what he or she will see.

Tell your child what will be happening in the next few days.

Give your child choices in what to do. Some children want to go to school the day of the death–it’s comforting and feels “normal.” Give them a choice. Whenever they return, inform the school of the death before your child returns.This makes their teachers and classmates more sensitive. Most schools have a school counselor that can also assist and be made aware of the situation.

Reassure your child that he or she will be cared for and explain the plan.

Children sometimes open up easier if they’re doing something with their hands–playing cars or helping bake cookies–it can take awhile for them to feel safe–and they feel less on the spot if they don’t have to look at you but can pretend to be “busy” with their hands.

 Don’t Know How to Talk To Your Child: Here’s some Easy Conversation Starters: 

 I’m sorry your grandmother/papa/mom/dad/sister died.

 What was your dad/mom/brother like?

Tell me about your__________. 

What was his favorite food/book/thing you did together?

 What do you miss the most? What is the hardest time of day for you?

I cannot know how you feel, but I remember how I felt when my __________ died.

 Whenever you want to talk about it, I’m here.

I’m thinking about you especially today because I’m aware that today is your mother’s birthday (anniversary of the death, your birthday, etc). 

If you don’t want to talk, we can still spend time together.

 

WORDS THAT CAN HURT:

I know just how you feel. I know just how you feel…my dog died last year. Lick your wounds and move on. You’ll get over it. It will be okay. Don’t think about it. You are better off without him. Don’t cry. It’s your fault. God took him so he wouldn’t be in pain. Tears won’t bring her back. Be strong. Forget about it. You are the man/woman of the house now. You should feel ….(proud, relieved, happy, sad, etc.)

Children May Express Grief Differently Tnan Adults:

Their emotions may experience highs and lows. They may laugh inappropriately–even at the memorial service. Don’t think this is because they don’t care. It’s difficult for a child to figure out how to handle their emotions. They may avoid sleep–or a teen may sleep all the time. They may zone out and not seem to hear anyone talking to them.

Become clingy and panic if you’re not home on time or don’t pick them up on time. Act rough or violent toward a sibling or friend. Defiantly disobey.

Teens may become daredevils–drive fast, extreme sports, breaking and entering–anything to feel “alive”

They may even try to “test” your love.

When Do You Seek Professional Help?

When the symptoms (lack of sleep, depression, agression) continue for weeks or months and grow in intensity.

When they can no longer function in school or around other people

When they isolate themselves for too long

When they become dangerous to themselves or others

They fixate on death, experiment on animals, or are exhibiting cruel behavoir

What do you do if you suspect your child or teen is not handling grief well?

Talk to the school counselor, your pediatrician, or clergy

Get a recommendation for a therapist who has helped children through grief.

Don’t settle for just a prescription. Talking and expressing their emotions is crucial to the healing process.

Don’t go just one or two times and think your child is “better.” Follow through and be consistent.

The Best Advice?

Be patient. Expect some some highs and lows. Share your own grief journey. Listen. Reassure. Be there. Provide help if or when it’s needed. Let them know it’s okay not to be able to handle this all by yourself–we all need each other. 

 

In the United States, approximately 4.8 million children under 18

are grieving the death loss of a parent.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Helpful sites:

www.opentohopefoundation.com

www.beyondindigo.com/children

www.griefnet.org

www.childrensgriefnet.org

www.kidsaid.com

I’m Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon. I hope you’ll visit my blog again.

www.mothering-mother.com

 

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Let’s face it: Caregiving can get ugly.

What I mean is, when I was a caregiver, I’d sometimes go days without looking in the mirror. On purpose.

I was busy, tired, overwhelmed–and that leads me to feeling frumpy, puffy, and in a rut–and when I feel that way, I tend to go into denial and avoidance.

It’s good to  care give, even if you let yourself go for a little bit. 

Generosity, patience, and tenderness have a way of making you beautiful and gives you a glow much like pregnancy, and I doubt Mother Theresa stared in the mirror much (not that I’m comparing).

But face it, you can let yourself go to the point to where you don’ t feel good about yourself. I know.  

I gained close to 40 pounds during my two+years at a full-time caregiver. I don’t blame my mom for this.

Honest. I take full accountability. I could have put down the bags of Oreos and Fritos. (Notice how all tasty snacks tend to end in O’s? I could have walked more. Even with my mom and kids and a big house to manage, I could have gone for two fifteen minute walks a day and eaten more veggie soup. No one was forcing sugar down my throat.

Yeah, I was tired, frazzled, and distracted–it comes with the territory–but I used that as an excuse not to pay attention. I’m just saying I contributed to own “junk in the trunk.”

It also helps to lighten things up a bit (metaphorically speaking) and think about haircuts, color, make-up and clothing takes the emphasis off the heavier aspects of life. Being able to feel good about yourself, to smile with confidence with a spring in your step helps not only you, but your loved one.

Depression doesn’t like color, light, and laughter–so let’s flood the room!

Now you’ve seen the light (aka seen yourself with the lights on!) and you’re ready to do something about it, I’ve got a few simple suggestions.

First, don’t make it hard, but let’s stage your comeback and surprise your loved ones with a fresh look.

Seven Easy Comeback Solutions:

  • Fixate on your health, not your weight. Take it from Queen Latifah, the new spokesperson from Jenny Craig. She’s not trying to become America’s Next Top Model. She loves her curves. Love yours–and focus on your health not your flab. We all have flab.
  • Nix the elastic waist pants. Why? They’re comfy, I know, but it’s too easy to keep on snackin’ when you’re not feeling a pinch in your side. Put on real pants. Even if you have to go up a size. Beauty is not a size, it’s a state of mind.
  • Set very small goals. Walk ten minutes twice a day. Stretch–even encourage your elder/loved one to do some simple stretches with you. Don’t bring home the snacks. If you must, get a snack pack at the gas station–one of those bags for 99 cents. Eat them and throw the bag away. Don’t worry about the money–the economical size bag will cost you more in the long run (health, Weight Watcher’sfees, cholesterol meds).
  • Get your Vitamin D–and how? By heading out the door for those ten minute walks! That’s all it takes. And your elder needs their Vitamin D., so at least have them sit on the porch for a few minutes per day. There are supplements, too, and recommended for elders. 
  • Go look in your closet. Anything that’s been in there for more than five years–toss it now! I mean it! Go to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the dress you wore to your daughter’s wedding or your 25th anniversary. Come on, let it go. Guys–this is for you, too. Even three years is long enough. You’re not a museum–you’re a living work of art!
  • Now, match up three outfits that look nice that you could wear every day. Stop waiting for an excuse to dress up. Dress up for yourself. You deserve it–and your loved one deserves to look at a person who takes pride in their appearance. I know you’re tired and you think this doesn’t matter. It does. No high heels, but a nice pair of jeans or slacks, a decent shirt that’s not all stretched out and something that has some nice color. Spritz with some perfume and comb your hair. You’ll feel better.
  • Plan a daily tea time. Crazy, I know. It’s English, so pretend you’re English. Choose a time–say, 4:00, and set out a cup for the two of you. Have tea and two cookies. Just two. You can even say it’s medicinal–all tea is good for you, but go for a green tea variety and get your antioxidants. Sit out on that porch to get your vitamin D., or sit in the living room. Chat for ten minutes and sip tea. Your loved one will feel special, and you’ll begin to relax. It’s just a simple tradition, but it’s soothing–and something to look forward to.

Ladies, if you’re ready for a real comeback, have I got a book for you!

Staging Your Comeback by Christopher Hopkins is for real women over 45–primarily focusing on women in their 50s and 60s is really amazing. It isn’t downgrading or patronizing. He’s been featured on Oprah and Today Show, and he isn’t your run of the mill “I’ll make you look 20” kind of salesman.

There are lots of pics and the most astounding before and after photos you will see. My 21 year-old daughter was with me at Target when I bought the book, and even she was amazed. (I heard the make-up in the book is heavier than he would normally recommend and was only done that way for the book).

 The book is designed to be interactive with his website that has downloadble worksheets to help you plan your comeback. 

Is all this frivolous? I don’t think so. We have to balance out all we’re dealing with–disease and death are not the only things in life. We need balance. We need to relax and enjoy our one wild and precious life, as the poet Mary Oliver would say.

We need hope.

And bottom line, isn’t that really what we all need?  

 

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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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Today, the Today Show had a six-year old little girl on their show who is a singing sensation. She can belt out the national anthem with a voice to rival Ethyl Merman. Natalie Morales introduced her and said that the little girl also lives with autism.

Words are important. Autism cannot be viewed as a death sentence–especially not for a child who has their whole life ahead.

Living with or suffering with makes a big difference.

If you have Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS, or cancer, you have to eventually come to choice–do you choose to live or suffer?

Personally, I hope to never say the word, “suffer” again. I don’t want to suffer with anything!

Suffering implies pain, sorrow, heavy burden…agony. And yes, there are moments, days, even months where pain and sorrow overwhelms life–but as my very religious, very southern mother used to say when asked how she was, she’d reply…

“Well…I don’t want the devil to hear me!”

She didn’t want to entomb herself in negativity.

Caregivers, how do you talk about your role? Begin to observe your words.

How do you introduce yourself?

“I’m just a caregiver?”

“I’m just caring for my mom?”

Really? Just a caregiver? That’s like saying you’re just the president of the United Stats, just a mom, just a CIA assasin!

Even if you are at home with your loved one, or even living with them. You can introduce yourself any way you like–“I’m an artist, I’m a teacher (even if you’re not in a classroom now, do you ever stop teaching? I’m in school (are you taking an online class? That counts.”

If you introduce yourself as a caregiver, then do it with pride.

But also introduce the fact that you’re a daughter, a wife, a friend. Your role as a caregiver is admirable, but your loved one needs to hear you say that you’ll always be their daughter/sister/spouse first.

How will anyone respect you and perceive what you do as important if you don’t?

Choose. Choose your words. Choose to care for your loved one.

No one is making you be a caregiver. You may think they are. You may believe that you have to, that your loved one has no one else, that it’s your responsibility…but realize that it is a choice. Other people in your same situation have said no. The world will not end. Is it the right thing to do? To say no? Every family is differentt, and my point is that you choose.

If you choose caregiving–part-time, full-time, in your home, their home, as a working caregiver, or an advocate for your loved one who is in a care facility–whatever the living/working arrangment is–choose. Caregiving is a part of who you are, it’s a role, what you do with your time and energy.

Take the helplessness, choice-lesness out of your vocalbulary.

~I’m Carol D. O’Dell, and I hope you’ll check out my book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

It’s available on Amazon, other online stores and in bookstores. Kunati Publishing

I’m a family advisor on Caring.com, and my syndicated blog appears on www.opentohope.com.

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