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Archive for the ‘dark humor’ Category

I finished my blog, “How to Live and Die Well” and while I meant every word, my sarcastic side was reeling.  Admit it, most of us will leave this earth kicking and screaming ( at least on the inside). We don’t want to eat our veggies as much as we’d prefer to dive into a bag of Lays, and aren’t there some days when you want to embrace your inner grump and blast the world? So here’s my comedy version–and on some/most  days–it’s a tad closer to the truth.

How to Live a Horrible Life:

  • Indulge my every whim–even when I’m repeating an already disastrous scenario that didn’t exactly work out the first time.
  • Refuse to forgive–especially myself.
  • Hold on to, nurse, and even embellish grudges, past hurts, and assumed wrongs.
  • Accuse others of stealing from you, talking about you, disliking you (which they probably do by this point) because that further endears you to folks.
  • Watch lots of television.
  • Buy a scooter. Walking is for sissies.
  • Try and force things to happen. It’s exhausting and not trusting, but it’s based on believing that I’m actually in control–of anything and everything.
  • Keep that inner monologue of self-doubt and self-loathing going 24/7.
  • –while simultaneously blaming anybody and everybody else for my crappy life.
  • Get too little sleep, indulge in too many processed foods/sweets, and take a pill, any pill, all the pills I can find–for everything from a hangnail to hemorrhoids.
  • Never do anything that’s not for my own direct benefit.
  • Give up, give in, and then complain about how nothing ever works out for me.
  • Never say thank you.
How to Die a Horrible Death: 
  • Repeat the above steps for the next 40/50 years.
  • Get more demanding and grumpy with each passing year.
  • Threaten that “I’m going to die soon, so please just do this one thing for me,” to get people to cater to your every whim.
  • Go to a doctor for every little thing and take all the meds and all the free med handouts they give me.
  • Read lots of articles about horrible diseases and become convinced I have them all.
  • Push people out of the way with my cart and mumble “Move it, I’m old!” (my mother used to do this)
  • Become incontinent as soon as possible…
  • because we all know that our family members just LOVE changing adult diapers.
  • Insist others feed you and then let the food dribble out on your chin and down your shirt–your family will be sure to love that one, too.
  • Become so cantankerous that even the grim reaper doesn’t want to spend time with you.
  • Refuse to “go to the light.”
  • Fake your death scene–clutch your chest and gasp for air–just to get people all crying and worked up. Then yell, “Surprise!” (Facetious, I know, but don’t you want to try it now?)
Yeah, I’m having a bit of fun, but this list just might help keep me motivated.
I’m working on my Oscar-worthy death scene now….
Have some to add? Send ’em my way and I’ll add them to the post.
In the meantime, happy living!
Carol D. O’Dell

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Many people think that caregiving and womanhood go hand-in-hand. We’re nurterers by nature, we’re led to believe. Probably because they don’t want to do it (whoever “they” are). You’re good at it–so you should do it. We’re also good at cleaning the bathroom–not because we have a knack for it–it’s mostly because nobody in the house seems to even notice (I’m generalizing).

Caregiving can seem to run counter-intuitive to staying a woman.  Maintaining a vibrant, healthy, dynamic, enticing, savvy and nurturing selfhood can literally be sucked out of you by never-ending days, with the medical and insurance world, worry, regret, guilt, grief–who can be “womanly” with all that?

The truth is that what’s behind going on behind most front doors is that we know caring for our loved ones–whether babies or elders–is an important job–and most of the time, only one person in the family has the strength, autonomy, and chutzpah to do it.  We’re lonely and scared, brave and exhausted. We fear we don’t know what we’re doing. We fear we’ll be found out.

We try to be patient and kind but oftentimes, we fall short. We feel like we’re trying to outrun disease and death–and impossible task. We feel helpless to stop pain and depression. We love what we do but we worry about our own health and relationships–and we feel as if we’re giving huge chunks of our own life away–and in some ways we do it willingly, but we grieve all we’ve lost. We’d cry or even give up, but we don’t have the time–and something deep inside us  urges us to get up and go on.

Let me clarify this: there are many ways to be a woman. We don’t all need to be pin-up dolls. We’re far to rich and textured, complex and fascinating to be shoved in one tiny box. We can be cowgirls, butchers, dentists, outriggers, poets and prophets. Short hair, no hair, long hair, big boobs, no boobs, there’s no one way to be–but all these ways of being can be in jeopardy if you (or others) ask too much of you and you never fill your reservoirs.

But how? Your snarky self asks.

I know. My caregiving years were largely make-upless (not that you have to) pudgy due to horrible eating at 2 am (me and a bag of Oreos met for regular intimate discussions on the stresses and strains of caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s who had no respect for the words, “It’s after midnight for (#*%& sake!!!)

And worse, I was ugly–to myself–ugly thoughts, self-deprecating eat ca-cah and die, your life is over, your friends are gone, you’ll never go on vacation again, your kids will never want to take care of you, not after this, sex? are you kidding? can we say hello 200 pounds? That kind of looping inner-monologue.

I often wonder, if I could gather all my thoughts about my weight, my body, my hair, my boobs, my s0-and so doesn’t like me, am I pretty, am I sexy, too sexy, not enough, way to much–and I took all those seconds and used that brain power and time to say, learn a language, get a degree, or…run a small country…what could I accomplish?

So I’m not going to preach to you about treadmills. I’m going to tell you how I got through, and I do mean got through. “I will find you. No matter how far or how long, stay alive and I will find you!” I could hear my inner Daniel Day Lewis from Last of the Mohicans yell to me from the cascading waterfall.

So how did I get through?

I journaled all the crap going on in my head–allowed myself to vent all the really ugly scary nasty truthful tearful and sometimes hopeful, crazy and funny things I was thinking and experiencing.

I walked outside and cried a lot. Nature had a way of soothig my soul. A red cardinal on a branch, a sunset so red and so orange that I forgot my pain. The wind whipping in and around the trees turning the whole world into a dance.

I screamed in the car and in the shower. Yes, I too am surprised the neighbors didn’t call the cops. I hoped someone would call DFACs (department of children and family services) to come to my home and SOMEONE, ANYONE away. Do they have foster homes for fussy moms and rolling eyed teens? How about for grumpy caregiver?

I gave up trying to keep a tidy house. Between a hospital bed, portable potty, bedpan, cane, walker, mother who liked to go “shopping” or “trashing” in the middle of the night (she would have fit right in at a frat party), teenagers, dogs, cats, home health aides traipsing in at all hours of the day, I just gave up. Welcome to clutter-ville.

I did decide that my room was off limits. Our bedroom was the only room I refused for junk to pile up in. I bought a gorgeous bedspread–that kind that can thrown in place and look decent, painted the wall behind my bed a sumptous eggplant and bought a nice strong lock for my door. Best thing I ever did–that and the coffee maker I put in my bathroom so I could have my coffee before I hit the world full-tilt.

I watched the Food Channel and HGTV. I read about a half a poem a day. All the reading I could fit in–but I wanted it to make my soul howl for beauty. I opened art books so when I walked by I could Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

I signed up for college. CRAZY, I hear you say. Yeah, but one night a week I left my mother in the care of my husband and two kids (God bless ’em) and I attended class. It was the most amazing experience of my life. I have no idea how I pulled it off, how I studied, but I did.

I drank good coffee. Elixar of the Gods. That’s all I’m saying.

I decided that I was probably going to have to deal with the weight thing after caregiving. And I did.

I allowed my loved ones to hug me–and help. That was probably toughest of all. Me, super-amazing, I can do it all–accepting assistance. Admitting I could in no way do it all. Not even do it half. More like do it crappy. Multigenerational households, sandwich generation folks are ironically blessed. Triple the work, but lighter the load. My kids learned kindness, patience, and reaching out beyond themselves. My marriage grew stronger. Add caregiving to the list of things we survived.

I got to where I would talk back to my mother. That’s the great thing about Alzheimer’s–she wouldn’t remember it in five minutes, but I sure felt a ton better! Not vile stuff I’d have to ask forgiveness for on her deathbed (that’s okay, too) but the honest truths/stand up for myself/I’m your adult daughter doing the best I can so back off kind of stuff. The stuff I should have been doing all along.

I allowed each day to be what it was. Some good. Some awful. Kind of like a rip-tide. Fighting against it useless. Just don’t drown. Let it take you–out–far out. Then, when it releases you, swim like hell.

Somehow, Daniel Day Lewis met me on the other side (recurring fantasy, I admit). My mom passed–but she was 92. Good long life–career, marriage, child, grandchildren–the kind of life we all hope to have. Overall, she didn’t get too sick or too out there until the last three, maybe four years.

She taught me how to live, lots of what not to do, but lots of what to do. I made peace with my biggest adversary. Not her, myself. She just led the way.

And my womanhood–it survived. Maybe those caregiving years weren’t my sexiest years–but sexy isn’t always the goal, now, is it?

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

In spite of everything, yes, let’s !

                               ~Vincent Van Gogh

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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

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Holidays, birthdays, other celebrations when you’re having your grandparents, in-laws, teens, college kids, dates, toddlers, spouses and sometimes ex-spouses all under one roof–it can make you feel like you”re a lion tamer and you never know when one’s going to take a swipe at you.  You may be the primary caregiver, or the out-of-town sister, the peacemaker, the black sheep, or even feel like you’re the one who gets lost in the crowd. Families often bring out the worst in us, even when we’re really trying to be on our best behavior. So how do we come together–multigenerational famileis –and  really be together in meaningful ways?

How to Really Be with Your Family:

  • Be yourself. You don’t have to be rude and crude, but also try not to put on a front. Let them love you for who you are–warts and all. If they rib you a bit too much, say, “Hey guys, that hurts. Please don’t kid about that.” But go ahead and be who you are. It’s our quirks, our vulnerabilities, our oddness that makes us unique. So what if you’re divorced–again, if you’re gay, if you have a reputation for drinking a bit too much eggnog or if your housekeeping skills (or lack thereof are legendary) Let them talk. In the end, it’s better just to be yourself. When you like you–everybody else falls in line.
  • Embrace your wild and crazy relatives! While you’re with your family, decide to be with you family. No iPhones, Blackberries, Facebooks. Be present. Give smelly Aunt Gladys and great big hug and make her day. Don’t fuss about the 1,000 calorie casserole–eat a spoonful and enjoy it–or eat the whole thing and don’t worry about it. Sit among your aunts, uncles, ex’s, kids, grandparents and feel the connection you have–the DNA cocktail that connects you–for better or worse–and accept them as part of you.
  • Decide right now not to let anyone push your buttons. If you know someone really like to zero in and dig at you–then don’t hang out with that person. Get up and move. Ask someone to take stroll around the block, play chess with your dad. If you get cornered and they start in on you, open your arms and give them a big hug and say Merry Christmas and then walk away–even if they’re still going at it! And remember, if a good ole’ family fight breaks out, it’s par for the course and will give you something to talk about in years to come!
  • Do something together–play a game, charades, start singing some Carols, play Scene It or Wii. Pitch in and wash dishes so mom doesn’t have to. Or find someone who’s all alone–and sit with them–you may be surprised that they really do have a lot to say.  We tend to fight and nit-pick a lot less when we’re engaged, when our hands are occupied.
  • Find someone to give to. Look for opportunities to give–maybe your grandmother has Alzheimer’s. Get out an old album and look at each picture with her. Many times their memories go deep and you’ll find a connection, something  or someone from long ago. If your dad’s caregiving your mom, then hire respite care and take him off for the afternoon–to a car show or an indoor shooting range, or to do a little shopping.  The gift of your time and ability to touch someone’s life is the best gift you have to offer.
  • Put a time limit on your visit. If you have one of those families that things get ugly as the night wears on, then set a timer on your phone and leave before the werewolves come out to play. It’s better to be with your family for three hours–and then leave with good memories–rather than stay for eight hours and see the ugly side emerge. You’re also sending an important message–that you don’t have to subject yourself to verbal abuse and people acting in ways that are hurtful to themselves and others.
  • If your family gathering is at your house, then take a few “smoke” breaks. You know how smokers sneak out about every two hours and sit outside for ten minutes in the quiet? Who says we need to smoke to take a smoke break! About every two hours, slip outside. Bundle up and take a short walk. Go to your room and take a ten minute nap. Being together doesn’t mean you can’t get away and decompress. Trust me, if you step out for just a few minutes, you’ll come back refreshed.
  • Look for a “God moment.” That’s what I call that one special moment during the season when I feel the true essence of the holiday spirit. I’ve come to expect that holy sacred time to emerge when I least expect it. Sometimes it’s a random act of kindness from a stranger, other times it’s a red cardinal that lands on a frozen bird bath, or a child’s hug that simply takes my breath. We get what we ask for–and if you come to expect life to delight and surprise you, it will.

Yeah, our families can drive us crazy–but we love them, too. Love them for who they are. Be yourself and come together with all your edges, your oddness, your hurts–and spend just a few hours really being with your family. Then leave- with those new memories safely tucked away-before things go amuck!

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You’re furious at your siblings for not helping you in caregiving  mom or dad. You’re outraged at your mom or dad or spouse because he/she said something really, really ugly that pushed all your buttons–and they expect and demand so much. You feel like you could just walk out the front door and keep walking.

That’s two types of caregiver rage–there’s many more. Rage is so off the charts that it consumes you. Rage is when you want to hit something (or someone) smash something, cry, scream and just absolutely lose it. You can lose yourself in rage, but it’s also a tool. Rage tells you that something is terribly wrong. Listen to it. Then figure out how to get out of this volatile place before it harms you.

How do you get out of being “en-raged?”

I won’t tell you to slap a smile on your face and go out into a field and pick daisies. That’s insulting. You may have every right to be that ticked off.

Getting out of rage takes time and comes in incremental steps.

Think of a marathon runner. They didn’t just put in their running shoes, open the front door and sprint 26 miles the first day. They started with a half mile walk around the block–a mile or two. Then they began to walk-jog. That’s where I am. I walk-jogged 3 miles this morning. That’s all I’m capable of. I envision myself walk-jogging five miles, and eventually jogging more than walking. But it’s going to take time.

If someone tells me to be happy when I’m not, it makes me even more livid! 

I have been so head-exploding hurt and enraged that it took me years to deal with it. Not kidding. I had some pretty big hurts to get over. I never ever thought I’d say this, but I’m not longer in-raged. If something happens that pokes the embers, yes, I can still get pretty worked up. But in general, I can observe my thoughts, my emotions now, I can see now that the other person was sick or hurt and they did some really awful things. No excuses, but I too have done some mean things, and we’re all accountable for our own actions. I’m out of the vengence game. I’m all out of hate–the barrel is empty.

You can’t let go of this crap overnight, or even in a few days or weeks–not when it’s huge.

Rage can turn into anger. Anger is like ocean waves. You can feel moments of absolute fury, but then there’s a lull. Sometimes, like waves, anger rolls in one on top of the other. Then, it’s calm for a while.

Anger can be notched down to hurt. Tears may come. Or screams. Good tears. Good screams. A baseball bat slammed on a pillow might feel really good.

Or anger might morph into resentment. It’s all part of the process. Resentment can be reasoned with–a little. Resentment may turn into disagreement. You can vehemently disagree with someone. You may not understand their viewpoint but you don’t feel the need to rip their eyebrows off their face. You can choose to walk away from a disagreement. You can choose your words, feel pity for them, and eventually, wish them no harm. It takes time.

So if you’re off-the-charts crazy mad right now. Don’t even try to be nice. Just try not to hurt anyone–with words of actions. That’s a big accomplishment, and it’s enough–for now.

Being at peace and joy may feel as far away as from here to Australia–it may feel impossible to get there. But do you know that if you want to go, you can book a reservation and fly to Australia? Yes, it’s a long way, especially from the East Coast, but it is possible to see koalas and the Sydney Opera House. First, you have to believe that Austrailia (peace and joy) is out there–somewhere–even if you can’t see it, or even get there today.

Forget about trying to make the finish line in one giant leap. You’ll land flat on your face.  Just get your shoes on, head out the front door and tell yourself you’re just going to stroll around the block. That’s all. First steps.

Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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Tomorrow, I’ll be speaking with the Parkinson’s Foundation of Manitoba Canada. We’ll gather in Winnipeg and talk about what it’s like to be on this journey. Husbands, wives, those with Parkinson’s, sons and daughters–we’ll huddle in a room, learn a few things, introduce ourselves, and crack a few jokes.

Yes, that’s what I said. Jokes. Because one thing I know is that one weapon you need to fight the fatigue and frustration is to be able to make a joke out of anything, especially the things that bug us, confound us, and are generally considered off limits. And let’s face it–life is funnier when you have someone to share it with.

There will be close to 200 caregivers tomorrow gathered in one room–and it’s my “job” to give them hope, to give them a few minutes of feeling like they’re part of a tribe–they’re in the “in” crowd. Caregiving is cool because it’s a community of people who care, really care.

As an author and speaker it’s my job to point out the ridiculous, the hilarious, the over-the-top so insane moments that come with Parkinson’s. And as I watch these tired souls nod, chuckle, nudge each other, and smile…I feel like I did something meaningful with my own experience.

I’m so blessed to have had such a difficult mother! (Did that just come out of my mouth?) I’m so glad she was a pistol–because she taught me stand up for my self, and at times, to stand against her. Our difference made me define myself, and even the the hurts we inflicted on each other are now a part of our fabric–and they’re part of what I share and weave into my stories.

If I didn’t tell the truth, these caregivers would know. It would be like trying to lie to a front line sharpshooter about the realities of war. I’d be shot on the spot. I think they call this friendly fire.

I’ll share about our numerous mother-daughter fights. How she told me how to drive, how to cook, how to dress, how to make her bed. When she’d get really bossy I used to say that a small country was missing their dictator. We learned how to deal with the tremors, the pauses, the hiccups of “P.D.” as my mother called it–with humor, patience, and grace–depending on what was needed at the time. 

I’ll even go up to the edge of decorum and dangle my toes over–share how I thought of rigging up a large spotlight in the corner of the room so she could “go to the light.” And then I’ll take them where they’re afraid to go alone. We’ll  talk a little about their own lives, their own dreams-on-hold, and what it will be like later–after their loved one is no longer on this earth–how they’ll love and remember them and incorporate them into their being–and figure out who they are and where they are once again. 

And I’ll encourage them to look around–at their “peop’s.” This room is their tribe. There’s someone here they could email or call. There’s someone here who knows a thing or two about their particular current issue–and how we help each other at our points of need.

That’s the power of community. As isolating as caregiving is, it also makes us vulnerable–and that’s a good thing. We meet, come to gether only where our lives intersect.   

I know how tired you are. I know you don’t consider yourself good company.

But you need people–and they need you. You can start giving back now (what, you didn’t realize this was part of the bargain?) There are new caregivers every day. They’re your neighbors, your cousins, your friends, and they need your wisdom, advice, and your “here’s what not to do” list. When life presents you an opportunity (and it will), I hope your ears will perk up and you’ll remember this blog, and you’ll know it’s time.

Finding your tribe means you are willing to step into the circle.

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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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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Remember the old Art Linkletter show? About kids saying funny things?

Well, parents can be pretty darn funny too.

My mom may have had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and a heart condition, but she could still say and do the craziest things.

It’s okay to laugh. We have to. If we don’t, we’ll just dissolve into a puddle on the floor.

Why is laughter so good for you?

“The old saying that ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart,” says Michael Miller, M.D., F.A.C.C., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack,” says Dr. Miller who is also an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Cool, huh?

So, what makes you laugh?

Think about the movies where you’d laughed out loud.

I just saw Tropic Thunder–and laughed until my sides hurt.

I warn you–it’s raunchy from the beginning to the end (and I’m not usually a raunchy humor kind of gal–not a big Austin Powers fan). But it’s also well-written and sharp.

Make Your Own Funny List

  • Funny movies
  • Funny friends
  • Great jokes
  • Funny songs or rhymes
  • Funny or ironic moments in your own life
  • Funny, sharp, witty turns of phrases
  • Funny books or authors

Begin to see the “funny” in each day. Start looking for it.

The Benefits of Laughter

Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California have been studying the effects of laughter on the immune system. Published studies have shown that laughing has the following benefits:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Rreduces stress hormones
  • Increases muscle flexion
  • Boosts immune function by raising levels of infection (fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies)
  • Triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being

Wow! Too bad the pharmaceutical companies haven’t caught on. I wish they’d include a complimentary Saturday Night Live video with each of their prescriptions!

I’ve laughed my head off at an indecisive squirrel who just can’t seem to make it across the road. I’ve laughed at my dog eating peanut butter–I’ve laughed at my ability to trip walking down a flat sidewalk!

Recently, I was at a caregiver’s conference, and after my talk–in which I do a one-act play of my mother and I having an arguement about me refusing to wear a slip–a woman in the audience whispered in my ear, “It’s probably been over a year since I laughed. I laughed today.”

There is no better gift she could have given me.

We caregivers can get too darn serious. Sure, we’re dealing with disease and end-of-life issues–but the absurdities and incongruities of life are even more ironic, more funny when there’s so much at stake.

Mark Twain said,

Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.
– Following the Equator, by Mark Twain

 

 

Finding the funny in caregiving kept me alive. I had to write about all the crazy, irreverent, whoopsy-daisy moments caregiving brought into my life. Sometimes I wrote about it with biting sarcasm, other times, it’s tinged with sorrow. You can’t separate it–caring for our loved ones is bitter sweet. I’m grateful that my mother could laugh at herself–at us. When I was a child (she was my adoptive mother and 50 years older than me), we’d watch Jack Benny together and Red Skelton. We’d laugh and laugh. I’d stack their stand up routine against today’s finest–and they’d still trump these guys (and gals!)

Mother had a gillion sayings. She knew she was funny–and she could wait for a punch line.

I’m so grateful to have been brought up in a house where we could laugh.

Here are a couple of excerpts from Mothering Mother when my mother was at her finest!

Remote

Mother can’t figure out all this “high-falutin’ machinery,” as she calls it. The phone rings, 

 

“Hello. Hello?  Hello!”

 

She doesn’t know she’s picked up the remote control.

 

“Hello!”

 

No one answers. She sets it on the table, thinking she’s hung up the phone, but somehow she’s knocked the real phone off the hook. It starts making that noise. I reach over and hang it up.

I look at her but don’t say a thing. I’m trying not to laugh.

“They must have hung up,” she says.

I agree.

“Yes, mother. Someone has definitely hung up.”

***

No Bacon?

I need to go to church. I need to get out this house, wear a dress and sit on a pew and sing a hymn and pray. I desperately need to know I’m not just out here on my own.

 

I dress and hurry to fix Mother some breakfast. I place cereal, toast, coffee and cut-up bites of cantaloupe in front of her, then hand her the little silver tray of pills, the same silver tray she always handed to Daddy, and give her some water to take her medicine with.

You can’t hurry Mother anymore. She’s worse than a preschooler meandering down the sidewalk, pausing to examine a ladybug on a blade of grass and pocketing every pebble.

“Are you sure I take this purple pill now?” Mother stares at the silver tray as if I’m trying to poison her.

“Yes, Mother.”

“Where’s the yellow one? I need to take the yellow one.” She dumps the pills from the tray into her hand.

“No, Mother, that’s with lunch. You take these with breakfast.”

Is it breakfast time?  I thought it was late afternoon.”

“Yes, honey, it’s breakfast. Swallow these pills and then you can eat.”

“Where are you going?” She looks around the room, tilts her hand, and drops the purple pill onto the floor. I find it on the carpet.

“Church, and I need to hurry.” I put the pill on her tongue.

“Is it Sunday?  I need to go to church, too.” The pill drops out of her mouth.

“No, Mother, you’re not strong enough today, sweetie. Phillip is staying home with you today.” I pick it back up.

“I can get ready in a jif.”

“Mother, take these pills. I need to go.”

Aw, you’d wait for me.” She reaches in her house robe pocket and pulls out a long strand of pearls then puts them on over her housecoat.

 

I rub my face to keep from chuckling at her attire or screaming at how long this is taking.

I think of what she’s really like, of the Sunday mornings of my childhood and our intricate dance of preparation. The ironing that commenced on Saturday afternoon, the cleaning out of her purse, the polishing of everyone’s shoes, the check of the nylon hose for runs, the dab of clear fingernail polish… on and on… late into the night, beginning again early on Sunday morning, culminating in southern perfection.

 

Now, it’s a sling of the beads over a well-worn housecoat and she’s good to go. This isn’t like her.

“No, I can’t wait for you, honey. Maybe you can go next Sunday, but you can’t make it today.” I don’t like the sound of my own voice, the hurry inside me.

“Who’s gonna stay with me?”

“Phillip. Now take these pills and sit down and eat.” Five minutes later, I’ve scooted her from the bed to the chair and put the tray in front of her. She surveys it, scanning the food as if she’s a New York food critic, flicking a cantaloupe chunk onto its side with her fingernails. I turn on the television to a preacher I know she likes and take a step back, sneaking out of the room the way I did when my girls were babies so they wouldn’t cry.

“What?” She looks around on her plate. “No bacon?”

***

I’ve heard some of the greatest stories by families and caregivers around the country.

One story I can share is about a man who works at home and takes care of his mom who has Alzheimer’s. She “goes to work” with him–sits right beside him at the computer. When the man’s wife comes home from work, the man’s mother goes ballistic. She sees his wife as “the other woman.” She hides her purse, pinches her under the table, and tells her “to leave her man alone.”

That could really mess with your head!

***

One more story–(I have a million!)

A friend of mine was placing her 91 year-old mother in a care facility (falling/memory loss). She and her sister were cleaning out her mom’s house and consolidating things. She found a rather bright pink Las Vegas type dress–kind of ballroomy with lots of sequins. They decided to donate it to Goodwill and couldn’t imagine who the dress even belonged to–surely not their mother!

A month later their mother asks her daughter’s, “Did you all see that pink dress I had in the back closet? I want to be buried in that dress.”

The two daughters looked at each other–tried not to laugh–and said of course, that would be perfect.

They spent the next 2 months trying to track down the dress. Sequins and all.  

***

So come on, share your stories!

Let’s laugh to the point of tears–not laugh at each other but at life and all it throws our way.

Carol O’Dell is the author of Mothering Mother, available at Amazon

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I spoke at Haven Hospice in Gainesville, Florida yesterday–and the speaker before me was Dr. Slayton who is also a caregiver to his 87 year old father. He spoke of the “Out of Town Hero Syndrome.”

Everyone knew what that was–it’s when out of town relatives swoop in town and begin to tell YOU how to care give.

They come once or twice a year (thank goodness, not more) and rearrange everything from your medicine cabinet to your car’s glove compartment while proceeding to tell you (in subtle and not so subtle back stabs) how you could, should give better care–to mom or dad.

You’re there 365 days a year. They’re there for 10.

You’re nice at first. Keep peace, you tell yourself…but by day three you’re about to blow a gasket.

If your loved one has to go to the doctor or is in the hospital or in hospice and it’s near the end–then it’s ten times worse. They run the show. The doctors and nurses speak to them. Especially if they’re an older sibling–then you’re really in for it.

By the time they leave you can barely find your own socks.

You’re angry, frustrated–and worse–your confidence has been undermined.

You start to doubt yourself.

You just want to quit. Fine then–take mom–take dad.

“Do it all yourself and I’ll come back this time next year and boss YOU around for ten days.”

That’s what you’d like to say.

On top of that–your mom or dad like them MORE.

They get the smiles, holding hands, pleasantries you haven’t seen in months–they sit at the table and gab like you do this every night and you feel like such a hypocrite. They’re all in the livingroom talking after dinner–and where are you?

Loading the dishwasher.

I didn’t have siblings, but I experienced this with several relatives who came into see mom–twice–once each in more than two years.

I went off for the day to give them time alone and when I had come home this person (no names) had reorganized my pantry and all my kitchen cabinets. She took me in there by the hand and showed me everything she had done and explained why her system should work better. I had to stand there like a ten year old in trouble and agree, yes, her system was better and I was a piece of …well, you know.

I was so stressed, angry and nervous by the time she left I thought I’d collapse in a heap on the floor when she pulled out of the driveway. On top of that, I knew my mother had complained her head off about me–not taking her to church, drinking wine (my mother was a fundamentalist minister), watching movies with curse words, letting my daughters wear those short shorts…you name it.

The next time this happened was with a good friend of mine. My mother ate her up like she was homemade vanilla ice cream. They chatted and laughed–my friend washed my mother’s hair and did her nails.

Made me sick.

I had asked my friend to come down to help me and this felt like betrayal. I know she didn’t mean to but that’s how it felt.

I felt judged–and poorly lacking.

Mother hadn’t said a kind word to me in weeks and now she was a geyser of compliments.

Then I heard them whispering. Mother was crying (fake crying) and saying she wished I were sweeter, kinder, more patient, that she didn’t know what she had done to make me act so cold to her.

My friend came out and a very concerned voice told me I needed to make up with my mother and forgive her.

I thought my head would split open. I felt betrayed by everyone.

Mother was up to her old manipulation tricks–and I knew this full well having experienced it countless time in forty years.

I told my friend she really had no idea what was really going on here and that I needed her to respect and trust me.

Later, she apologized. Her father got Alzheimer’s and she dealt with her own family issues. She really didn’t have anything to apologize for. I knew how mother had played her, but I understood.

I share all this with you to say this about relatives in town or out who make you question yourself:

Know deep inside you are a good person–a good daughter, son, spouse–and let no one shake you on this

Stop worrying about what other people think about you and your caregiving.

It’s none of your business what others think of you. (How freeing is that?!?)

You’re care giving because you believe it’s the right thing to do. You have to give care the way you can–the way you can be consistent, they way that’s right for you and your loved one.

Stand firm on this and don’t listen to other’s opinions. 

Unless they have done this for as long as you have, they can’t possibly comprehend the level of sacrifice, committment, love, tenacity, and exhaustion you’ve endured. Caregiving is a marathon not a sprint.

You may feel yourself pulling away from people.

That’s part of caregiving.

You’ll naturally pull in–for good and not so good reasons.

You’ll get tired of explaining yourself.

You’ll get tired of trying to be nice to people.

You’ll get tired of feeling that everything you do is up for scrutiny.

You’ll get strong and stop needing others to validate you or what you’re doing.

That’s the bottom line.

Your relatives, friends and neighbors will intimidate you just so far and then you’ll find your backbone and stand your ground.

This is one of the best lessons of caregiving that can change you and how you deal with others for the rest of your life.

You will become strong, independent, and do what you need to do and you won’t give a rip what others think. They have no idea.

The anger and hurt will dissapte. In time.

These situations and people that threaten you will give you a gift–you’ll find your own confidence.

You’ll be in your own quiet center.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Kunati Publishing, www.kunati.com/caroldodell

Family Advisor on www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog on www.OpentoHope.com

 

 

 

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Do you hear the tick, tick, tick of the death clock?

What’s the death clock you ask?

The death clock, is a website that calculates (with a little information you add in) the exact day you will die.

Sounds morbid, right?

I agree, but take this as a bit of fun and not too serious.

Playing with death–trying it on for size is one way humans deal with the tragedies of life–kind of like playing dress up with your mother’s high heels and your dad’s jacket.

So, I went to www.deathclock.com, (there’s also a few others– http://www.findyourfate.com/deathmeter/deathmtr.html, http://deathdate.info, http://www.death-clock.org/) and put in my numbers.

I didn’t really want to know when I’d die. But I have to admit, I was curious.

How can you not be curious?

I was raised in a uber-religious home and this sounded like fortune telling–something stricly forbidden to dabble in–which means it’s even more tempting, dangerous, and oh so fascinating…(yeah, I’ve got a bit of a rebellious streak in me, I can’t deny it).

So I typed in my info, and you know what? I feel better!

It says I’m going to live until I’m 100 years old.

Instead of feeling depressed about knowing my “D day,” I felt expanded.

100 feels pretty far away. I’m not quite half there. I still have a a whole lotta livin’ to do. 

I do take in account I could get hit by the proverbial bus at any time–that lightening could strike me for visiting that heathen site, (sorry, Mama!) or a myriad of other diseases and accidents could come barrel my way–but I’m not the type of person to be paralyzed by the “what ifs” of life. 

But I’ve seen the dark side of agin. I know what Alzheimer’s looks like, about the challenges that come with aging.

My dad died of heart disease at 78, and my mother lived with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and died at the age of 92 (they were my adoptive parents and older than most parents). I was her primary caregiver and she lived with my family and I the last three years of her life.

I wrote every day my mother lived with us.

I wrote what it’s like for her to live with this disease, what it was like for me, her daughter to struggle with the challenges of being a sandwich generation-er. I wrote about our fears, our fights, our hurts, our day-to-day challenges, and the truth about the guilt and resentment caregivers and families are afraid to say out loud.

Our story became a book, Mothering Mother and has been read by thousands.

The fact is, if you live long enough, you stand a real strong chance of getting Alzheimer’s.

Deal with it. Sounds cold, but what I mean is…do what you can now to take care of yourself.

Eat healthy, have a good attitude, walk every day. Forgive.

Those are the best ways I know of to stave off that dreaded disease.

And even if you get a diagnosis, don’t just crawl up and die. You still have time–love your family–leave a legacy. Don’t spend your precious time worrying.

I don’t know if you want to try the death clock–if it all seems like a bunch of hoo-haa.–but if you’re feeling brave, then take a twirl with the grim reaper and give it a try.

A few years ago, I wrote a “100 Things To Do in My Life” List.

I wrote it while we were on vacation. I wrote it around the margins of an old Rand McNally atlas we had in the car–apprapo, I guess.

I wrote things like:

  1. Go back to college and get my BFA
  2. Design and make a bronze sculpture
  3. Visit the Vincent Van Gogh Gallery in Amsterdam
  4. Publish books (plural)
  5. Take a cooking class in Napa
  6. Repaint all my favorite Van Goghs myself
  7. Create cool yard art–and sell it
  8. Be paid 500 bucks an hour to speak and inspire people
  9. Be on the board of a charity/organization and help make a difference
  10. Design an Italian garden
  11. Have a 30+year writing career
  12. Be a GREAT grandma
  13. Speak French, Italian and Spanish fluently
  14. Live in the South of France for several months
  15. Win a PEN award
  16. Stay married, stay healthy
  17. Forgive and not grow bitter

I wrote this in 1999. I was dreaming big,. I packed it away and didn’t look at it for more than five years. My heart and my words guided me intuitively.

There are 126 items on my master list.

Of the 16 I listed here, 11 have already come to fruition.

I have 53 years to achieve the rest.

A friend of mine said she saw The Bucket List this week and that she loved it, but a friend of hers said they wanted a list of all the things they didn’t want to do–a “Chuck It” list. I like that idea too.

Or you could do an “anti-list.”

Remember that edisode on Grey’s Anatomy when that guy found out he was dying and decided to video-taped himself chewing out all the people he hated/who had hurt and humiliated him? This is what he chose to do before he died.

How cleansing! To leave this world feeling like you said your peace. Perhaps is he had done this sooner, he wouldn’t be dying.

What would be on your anti-list?

I’d love to never ever have another root canal…how about you?

So maybe I should rename the Death Clock to the LIVE clock.

After all, I have a list that needs a whole lot more check marks. Instead of counting down the days until I die, I should count each day I’m living.

Instead of following the old cliche, “Live a little.” I think I’ll rewrite it:

Live A lot!”

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Kunati books, www.kunati.com/motheringmother

Family advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

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