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Archive for the ‘career’ Category

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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Do you feel like running away?

You may have restless caregiver syndrome.

What’s that, you ask?

I may have made up the term, but I certainly experienced it firsthand.

Have you seen the commercials for restless leg syndrome?

They’re kind of quirky, and I’m not saying that it’s not a serious disorder, but it’s presented in a way that makes my own legs twitch! Nothing like an idea planted in your brain.

But that’s exactly what I felt like some days as I cared for my mom who had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I just couldn’t sit still. I wanted to run, to stay busy, to go, go, go.

I guess I was scared.

I was scared my mother would consume me.

I was scared that this was going to be my life from now on, and that by accepting it now, I was accepting it forever.

I was scared that if I sat still, thought too long, I’d realize it was a mistake, that this wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was scared I’d grow old and not have the life, the adventures, the memories and journeys I’d always dreamed of.

Restless caregiver syndrome happens off and on in the caregiving process. It occurs when you’ve given up your old life in order to care for your loved one. It’s also compounded by a sandwich generation lifestyle where everyone wants something from you all the time. And, if you’re female, you may be dealing with the oh so lovely change of life–men-o-pause. And, on top of that, you’re probably a boomer and thinking about your own future, i.e. finances, career, retirement, aging, etc.

You became a caregiver because your loved one needed you. You did it believing it was the right thing to do. You told yourself there were some benefits—getting out of a dead-end job, able to spend more time at home, maybe take better care of your own health, or begin that second career you’ve always dreamed of.

Only…

Caregiving isn’t quite what you’d thought it’d be. You’re bored. Stressed. Unmotivated. Overwhelmed by all the stuff there is to do, and how little you feel you get done. You have time (sometimes) but no focus, no initiative.

Your loved one certainly needs your assistance, but you didn’t plan on becoming someone’s personal butler, driver, maid, and cook. They also seem to enjoy your being at your beck and call—or they’re miserable, fussy, or constantly apologizing. You didn’t think all this emotional baggage would come in tow.

You‘re consumed by caregiving even when you’re not caregiving.

You’re fumbling in your own life. Directionless. How long can this go on? The years stretch out in front of you like a vast desert. Some days, sure, you feel on top of your game, but there’s also an underlying sense of sadness. You know where this is going to end.

A restlessness has built up inside you. You gotta get out. You can’t sit in that living room chair one more minute. You can’t scramble one more egg. But you’re stuck.

How to Combat Restless Caregiver Syndrome:

·       Play a game with yourself: if you were under house arrest, but you weren’t caregiving, what would you do? What resources do you have right at home?

·       If someone gave you three years to reinvent yourself, what would you do? Learn a new language? Take some classes and become a computer whiz? Sell your handmade jewelry online?

·       Create a structure you can live with. You call the shots. You decide when dinner is, you decide the med routine. If you want your loved one to go to bed at 7pm so you can have the night to yourself, then arrange it. Create boundaries you can honor that make your life easier.

·       Start planning for time off. Check into respite care; hire a CNA for $20.00 an hour. It may take you a while to get all this in order, but do your homework, find someone you feel your loved one is safe with, and start taking regular breaks.

·       Don’t use your take out for anything that you aren’t dying to do. Go for a mountain hike, antique shopping, to the local pub to watch a football game—anything that will make you feel as if you’ve truly taken a break. No errands. No combining. Time off is time for you.

·       Create a room—your bedroom, a spare office, part of the garage that is just for you. Make it your haven. Put a cooler in there with drinks, stock a mini-bar, and collect magazines only you like— and go there — alone. Your family and loved ones will respect what you respect—and they will run rough-shod over you if you let them.

·       Call a friend and vent for 10 minutes. Set the timer and then just go for it. After that, tell your friend to forbid you from any further complaining for the day. Complaining and whining and griping are good, but not when it’s a toilet bowl that never flushes. I mean that visual to be disgusting so that you’d STOP. Incessant thinking is unhealthy.

·       Use your fidgetiness and wear yourself out. Do something physical—put all your anger and edginess into it. Clean out the frig, scrub the bathroom tiles and get out the gunk around the shower door. Use your restlessness.

·       Find a safety valve. If you’re really about to blow your top, how can you get away? Do you have an emergency person? Can you take them to adult day care? Are they okay for a couple of hours alone if you really couldn’t take it anymore? Have a plan B—because sometimes, it all gets to be too much.

·       If you have siblings and you’ve been carrying this burden alone—then make the call and insist they help out in some way. Even if it’s paying for home help, then that’s a help. Don’t let resentment and exhaustion build up. Tell them how hard it is. Insist you get a weekend off every few months—and a week or two of vacation time a year. You only get what you ask for, so ask!

·       Don’t be a perfectionist and think everything has to be exactly right and exactly your way. If you do, you’ll be a slave to the mundane. Choose a few things to do well, and a few things to do lousy. Nobody ever died because the forks were sticking up in the dishwasher.

·       If your loved one is being ugly, then get in the car and leave. Even driving around the block helps. I used to walk out back, down the embankment out at the river—and scream. So what if the neighbors heard! Better they hear me scream than gunshotsJ They’re adults and can be alone for 5 minutes and they need to be taught that you will not be mistreated. Make that point clear.

You get what you allow.

Sometimes, you’re just going to feel restless as caregiver. You’re going to want to run, to scream, to change your name to Flo and become a waitress on some seaside pier restaurant (my fantasy, not yours necessarily).

When you feel like running, then run. Get out as much as you can. Even if it’s just out the front door and around the block. Hide, sneak out, stay in bed an extra half hour, stand in your shower until the water turns cold. Do what your gut is telling you to do–at least in some small way. If you let off the pressure valve, then maybe, maybe the whole thing won’t blow.

Trust yourself. Trust your journey and this process.

Later, there will come a time when you might not be able to “run,” so do it now. Trust that you will come back.

After your loved one passes, you’ll go through this all over again—there’ll be days when you just can’t be at home. It’s a part of the grieving process. There’ll be other days, or weeks that you can’t make yourself leave. Home feels safe.

Again, trust yourself. Trust that your body, your soul, and your heart knows how to heal itself.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Family Advisor at Caring.com

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

www.opentohope.com

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I’m a sandwich generation caregiver.

My 89-year old adoptive mother (who suffered with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s) moved in with us–my husband and I, two of our three daughters, plus a menagerie of dogs and cats.

My situation won’t be the same.

We have three daughters, and I had all of them while I was in my twenties.

That means when I’m 89, my daughters will be 67, 66, and 63. Yikes.

I hope they’ll be in good health and that we can all toodle around and take road trips, eat triple decker double-dipped ice-cream cones and enjoy our grandchildren–and my great grand children.

But there are no guarantees we’ll all be in good health.

And being in your late sixties and caregiving can’t be a picnic.

Just ask all the boomers who are starting down this road now.

Ironically, my mother-in-law has a mother-in-law. Neither are spring chickens. My mother-in-law is 79, and her mother-in-law is 95.

My mother-in-law has begun to slow down and is dealing with an arthritic knee. Her father-in-law died this year  and they’ve been driving three hours a day to help care for his mom (my mother-in-law’s mom-in-law). They’re worried about how things will go in the future, what care she’ll need, how they’ll manage.

They face the same questions I faced–what do we do about mom?

Do we place her in a care facility? Does she live with family?

But they (my father-in-law has his  2 siblings) also have different questions:

Are any of us capable of caring for her–long-term? 

My father-in-law just retired. He was planning on golfing, driving to see all the kids and grandkids, and instead, he’s caregiving.

Guess you just can’t get away from it. The best you can do is look a bit ahead and make a semi-plan.

And as we age, caregiving is even more difficult–physically in particular.

Families have new questions to ask. New plans to make. Grab the moments of fun now and not wait for some “golden” day for that dream trip or to think you’ll sail into your senior years in the glow of a sensual–just-two-love-birds sunset.

My plan is to really, really spoil my grandchildren–afterall, they’ll be young enough to care for me. That, and live big/love hard–now.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

 available on Amazon and in most bookstores

www.mothering-mother.com

www.kunati.com

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Caregiver guilt is debilitating. You know that the word, “guilt” isn’t a healthy word, but many caregivers feel overwhelmed with a sense of I should, I wish I had, why can’t I just…

I certainly experienced my fair share of caregiver guilt.

The irony is the more you do, the guiltier you feel. Trust me, the family members who have disconnected from their loved ones who need them feel far less guilt than you do. Why? Perhaps it is as simple as a disconnect. They just don’t “feel” it. It’s a safety valve. But those who get in the thick of the battle, who give time, money, energy, and day-to-day care are the ones feeling the most guilt. Crazy, huh?

Certain family dynamics add to this.

Was your mom the queen of guilt? Is this a learned behavoir for you? Did you hear the phrase, “You should be ashamed…” when you were younger?

I sure did. Certain religions, (growing up Catholic, or in my case, Pentecostal) seemed to serve guilt as an entree to life. I was taught to feel bad about everything–my thoughts, my actions, my in-actions, you name it. I never felt good enough, or that I could ever do enough.

That’s sad. I don’t believe that shame based manipulation is good for anyone, especially a child. And I don’t believe that’s what God ever intended. Guilt can lead into the downward spiral of depression. Be careful of that little buggar. Stats say that 52% of Americans experience depression–and I wonder what percentage of them are wracked in guilt? (depression.about.com/od/factsfigures/Statistics.htm –

Sure, guilt might work for awhile, on the surface–but it doesn’t begin to touch on the issues of the heart.

Sometimes, our loved ones still employ guilt tactics to keep us entangled and paralyzed.

Ever heard these lines?

“You never come to see me.”

“Why can’t you just do this one thing for me.”

“I thought you’d be glad to…”

My mother had a purse full of guilt lines and she’d whip them out all hours of the day and night–and it didn’t matter who was around. At 89, I insisted she move in with my family and me. She had Parkinson’s, and although she wasn’t aware, the beginning signs of Alzheimer’s. I moved heaven and earth to sell my home, her home, put us all under one roof, drive her to every doctor’s appointment, find her a church she liked, buy her favorite foods, and you know what she used to tell people?

“Carol’s asked me to give up so much just to move in with her.”

Now, I can laugh. Now, I see that as her defense mechanism. Now, I see that statement as a way of her to keep her dignity, to feel in charge. I wasn’t as merciful with her at the time. I rolled my eyes and looked disgusted. And yet, I did feel guilty. Had I made the right decision?

Here you are. 30, 40, 50, or more–and you’re wracked with guilt.

Here’s something I wrote in journal several years ago as I was caring for my mother:

Letter to Self

Dear Carol,So far, you’ve been taking care of your mother for a year and a half. You’ve stuck it out through crazy times, angry times, tender times, through hospital visits and home health visits and while everyone else gets to come and go, you’ve stayed. You haven’t had a vacation and no more than two days away this whole time. I know that when your mother dies, you’re going to feel guilty. I know you. You’re going to think that you should have been kinder, less rushed, that you should have done more with her, taken her more places, insisted the kids be nicer. I know you’re going to miss her and wish that a million things had been different.I want you to know you did the best you could.You remained faithful. You grappled with every decision. You let her into your life and your home, and you and your family did what most people wouldn’t even have considered, much less done. People aren’t perfect, and if they try to be, then they’re not real. We’re not supposed to get it all right.Remember that you had to balance this with being a wife and mother. It’s only natural to want to move forward and be more interested in your children, in those who are living. That’s how the human race survives.

Remember that her emotions were always on an ever-widening pendulum and Alzheimer’s took it to frightening heights and devastating lows. You learned as a child that you couldn’t trust her with your heart although you kept trying. It just wasn’t ever possible. That’s okay. You also know she loved you. And you loved her.

It really did help to write that letter to myself. To rationalize guilt away, to expose it, to learn to be tender with myself–as tender as I would to a dear friend.

Become your own friend. Talk to yourself. I do a lot of self-talks in the car. I’m grateful for blue-tooths because most people just think you’re talking on the phone.

By going into “third person,” I’m able to objectively treat myself with the same respect, dignity, and honor I tend to give others.

A Few Guilt Breaking Techniques:

  • Self Letters, and letters to your loved one explaining why you simply can’t fall into the guilt trap any more
  • Self-talks–or talk to your loved one (metaphorically). Argue, tell them to stop. Tell them it isn’t going to work any more.
  • List all the things you’ve done–with love, kindness, and committment. You’ll be surprised how very long this list is.
  • Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. They don’t like feeling weak and vulnerable, and guilt is one of the very few tools they possess.
  • List ways you “think” you’ve failed. Then really look at that list. Is this in any way realistic?
  • Cut yourself some slack. Take “perfect” off the table. Be realistic. If there’s one area you, personally would really like to improve upon–then make a plan. Do it. One thing–not the whole mountain.
  • Learn to let go. Whatever you didn’t do right 10 years ago, yesterday, or in the last five minutes is the past. Let it go. Keep a stone or shell in your pocket to remind you to let go of old baggage.
  • Visualize guilt as a toxic bright green substance as dangerous as battery acid. Every time you have a guilty thought, see your heart being splattered with this yucky, sizzling, flesh eating gunk. Become “allergic” to guilt.
  • Adopt the mentality, “If I’d-a known better, I’d-a done better.” Now you know. It’s a new day.
  • Take a tube of lipstick and draw a big heart on your bathroom mirror. Align your face to fit the inside of that heart. Every day, put yourself in that heart. Smile, and say outloud, “I’m a good person, and I have a good heart.” Do this several times a day. Straighten your posture. Take a few deep breaths. Smile. Begin to view yourself as your own best friend. Your own advocate. Don’t let anyone, including your “other selves” tear down this person you love and respect.

Have a great, guiltless day!~

Carol D. O’Dell

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

Available on Amazon and in most bookstores

Kunati Publishing

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It’s not that I’m against “brain games.” They’re an enjoyable and a way to spend your spare time.

Whether it’s chess, bridge, crossword puzzles, hand-held games, soduku, or computer games, many boomers and seniors hope to ward off the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease by keeping their mind active.

But remember, nothing can replace purpose.

Our brains and hearts know what’s really important and what’s not. When we become empty nesters and/or life slows down, we can’t fill it with golf, games, and country clubs and think that’s going to make us happy or mentally sharp.

Reinvent yourself. Learn something–and yes, chess, etc., does count, but why not examine your heart and really go for it? Why not volunteer, start a second career, or find something that really engages you past mild entertainment?

I know, you’re tired, you work all day, you’ve worked all your life…you don’t have the money, or you just don’t have the drive. Sounds like depression and complacency has reared its ugly head.

You don’t have to kill yourself to begin to take small steps.

Try something new. Volunteer once or twice a month at a literacy organization, go online and find a local charity and donate your skills as a carpenter, computer expert, or cook–plan a “giving” vacation and go build a school or clinic in Guatamala.

I’m just not like that, you say….that’s not me. I’ve been too busy building a career, raising …

I understand, but it’s a new day.

I can’t promise you that Alzheimer’s or dementia won’t skulk in through the backdoor of your brain, but I say it’s going to have to catch me.

I need purpose. I need something bigger than me to believe in, to give myself to.

I want a life of passion and purpose.

I can’t control the future, but I can sure make it difficult for fear to wrap its gnarled grip around my neck.

Boomer means to boom!

A few months ago, I held a memoir based writing workshop at Cathedral Gardens. I taught over 100 seniors and we spent the day totally engaged. We wrote their stories–adventures gathered in their lifetime. One gal, (97 years old) wrote her detailed and eloquent account of joining the Merchant Marines in 1930 and sailing around the world seven times. She spent hours writing and dictating her story. She wasn’t worried about her arthritis or whether her brain might go haywire. She was wholeheartedly engaged in her story. Her purpose for that day was to get it on the page.

These seniors lit up. They went into that zen place where your thoughts and creativity take you, when you don’t talk, you work contentedly, you don’t even think about going to the bathroom or being hungry. you’re lost in your own little world. That’s what I’m talking about! At the end of the day, we hugged with gusto. They were proud of their work. (See some of their photos on the first page of my website at www.mothering-mother.com).

Active, vital engaged people don’t sit around waiting and worrying about something “getting them.”

They’re too busy creating, planning, and working at things that really matter to them. 

I think we ward off a lot of icky crap by simply refusing to give in. Whatever comes, comes, but I still say that the joy and passion you gain by really giving yourself to others, or to somethng you deem worthwhile is better than dreading what might or might not happen.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon and in most bookstores.

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Why are adult day care centers so important?

Because according to National Family Caregivers Association, 77% of all caregivers go it alone. Their loved ones live with them, or near them. Most caregivers have to work. It’s not an option. With the average caregiver being an 46 year old woman, she can’t afford not to work. She’s technically a boomer, and has a mortgage, oftentimes children, she may be divorced. She has worked hard to create her life–her career. She needs to work for the insurance benefits and continue to save for her own retirement, and yet she finds herself in the midst of caregiving responsibilities.

Caregivers worry.

They worry their mom or dad or grandparent is left alone all day. They worry mom or dad is going to fall, that they won’t be able to get to the phone, or they’ll take off their “button” and will lie helpless for hours. They worry their loved one isn’t eating, or does nothing all day but sit in front of the television or they might wander due to dementia or Alzheimer’s. They worry that their loved one is lonely, bored, not getting enough exercise, isn’t taking their meds….the worry list goes on.

And while they’re worrying about that–they have to juggle their families, doctor appointments, cleaning and cooking, and job duties. It’s a wonder their heads don’t explode. It felt like mine would during the almost three years I cared for my mom full time.

What’s one of the easiest, safest, more natural alternatives to relieve some of this caregiver stress?

Adult day care centers.

Most adult day care centers are community based, usually non-profit, and are conveniently located. It’s a place that’s not run by a corporation, but is almost always run by someone with a big heart, someone who lives within this community and knows the resources needed and available to families.

As an author and speaker, I get to visit and work closely with adult day care centers, such as Peaches-na-Basket in Jacksonville, Florida. Dolores is resident “Mama,” and her heart’s desire is to provide a safe, loving, homey environment for her seniors she calls her “Peaches.”

How very blessed north Jacksonville is to have her!

Who needs adult day care?

Average families–families who work, or need a few hours break. Seniors who need to get out, meet new people, have some place to go, learn new things. Seniors who don’t need to sit around alone all day. Seniors who will be given their meds, provided with a meal and entertainment, who might be able to do a little shopping and be escorted on the community van. Seniors who need a friend.

If you’re looking for a worthy charity this holiday season, why not consider a donation to your community adult day care? What better place to give than to your own community?

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

by Kunati Publishing

Available on Amazon and in most bookstores

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I’m backing out of my driveway the other day with my cell phone cocked on my shoulder as I set a date with Studio 10 TV in Tampa Florida. I’m not sure even a year ago I could imagine myself doing that–preparing for a television program about caregiving, elder-care, Alzheimer’s, family and mothers. As I hung up the phone and marked the date in my calendar, I remembered a small vignette I wrote in MOTHERING MOTHER–how my mother and I were “Quite a Pair.” We were ironically suited for one another.

If anyone had dared to say this to me even five years ago, they would have encountered an icy stare. The caregiving years were not the time to remind me of our likenesses. That was not how I wanted to see myself, and although my mother was  bossy, opinionated and volitile. She was also dynamic, funny, and quite the professional.

My mother held her ministerial papers for over 52 years. She preached and taught, sang and played many instruments and was on TV and radio. She “carried herself well” as the southern saying goes. She was still my mother through and through, and even though I came to her late in life (she adopted me when she was 54, Daddy, 58), she still had a few good years left.

I witnessed how she’d get ready to preach–saw her closet full of suits, her handbags and matching shoes. The housework quieted as she prepared for her sermon or Sunday school lesson. She studied, prepared, practiced, and then she was up there–in front of everybody–waltzing across the stage like she was on Broadway. She was as comfortable speaking before hundreds or thousands as she was in the living room with her feet up. I hope some of that rubs off on me, and of course, she had me singing and testifying at the age of four in front of the whole congregation. No wonder it feels familiar.

Daddy and I sat on the front row, proud. I despised her at times–she was a walking juxtaposition of good and evil (it seemed to me, anyway), but up there…even I had to admit she was pretty amazing. 

Even after writing MOTHERING MOTHER and the prequel, SAID CHILD, after many revisions and edits, I still find that I’m learning something about her–and me.

And here I am, talking to TV producers and thanking my mother for her example.  

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Yes, I’m a Grey’s Anatomy fan. I know it has very little to do with real medicine, but any McDreamy fan will tell you, it’s not about the science. It’s the human drama, the relationships and the observations that connect us and make their story so universal. 

On the Feb. 1, 2007 airing of Grey’s AnatomyMeredith’s mother, Alice, who suffers from Alzheimer’s became lucid, and for an hour of television time, wreaked havoc on her daughter’s life.

This, I understand.

Everyone told Meredith what a gift it was, that she should be there by her mother’s side. But Meredith found her mother’s lucidity almost as painful as her “amnesia.” (I do realize I’m talking about a television show, but a good story is a good story, no matter the medium).

Like an alcoholic who becomes sober and and everyone around them realizes they still possess (if not more so)  a toxic personality, and that their disease, whether Alzheimer’s or alcohol had almost made them more bearable. The disese allowed them to blame something–to isolate themselves from facing the myriad of unfixable problems in their lives and relationships.

This is what I address in Mothering Mother–the unbelievable complex mother-daughter relationship complicated by a cruel, take-no-prisoner’s disease. As I “shopped” Mothering Mother, some publishers eluded that Alzheimer’s and caregiving had been done. I disagreed then, and even more, now. While the how-to books (get help, find services) have been done, what Alzheimer’s and other unrelenting diseases do to our lives and our relationships has barely been explored at all. Kunati understands this. Kunati believed in Mothering Mother--the honesty, the grittiness, and the humor so needed to survive.

Apparently, Hollywood believes in it too. They are willing to explore the mother-daughter relationship, pull apart and examine the angst, regret, denial, and the rage that accompanies life, death–and illness.

Meredith’s big lament was that her life had taken some hard hits, some ups and downs–in large part due to her mother’s illness. Loving, caring, worrying, and grappling over her mother’s situation and Alzheimer’s care had indeed take a toll on her own life, her career, and her relationships. It changed her. In many ways, for the better, but in other ways, it had scarred her landscape and forever altered her hope that life was in any way fair.

This, I understand all too well.

Thank you, Grey’s Anatomy for bringing to light an issue of such importance and prevalence in the lives of millions.

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