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Archive for the ‘elderly’ Category

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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I heard it on the news just this morning–another murder-suicide of an elderly couple. This same awful news happens in every community. Most of us assume that suicide and murder are “young people” crimes–that it’s our youth to blame. The truth is that the highest suicide rate in our country is for males over the age of 65,+ white males and the murder-suicide rates for elders are alarmingly high–and many of these deaths are due to the strains and stress of caregiving, depression, alcohol abuse, and isolation.

What are the signs of suicide?

  • Appearing depressed or sad most of the time.
    (Untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide.)  Talking or writing about death or suicide
  •  Withdrawing from family and friends
  •  Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling helpless
  •  Feeling strong anger or rage
  • Feeling trapped — like there is no way out of a situation
  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes
  •  Abusing drugs or alcohol
  •  Exhibiting a change in personality

What are the symptoms of murder-suicide among the elderly?

  • Prolonged illness which may also include pain
  • Medical financial issues
  • Being told you don’t have long to live
  • Depression
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • wrapping up details/talking about dying
  • Prolonged hospital stays and unresolved caregiving issues
  • A history of violence, jealousy, or clinical depression
  • A recent purchase of or interest in a handgun or hoarding of pills
  • Isolation

What can you do if you suspect the possibility of a murder-suicide?

  • Get the guns out of the house–every major study on violence has shown that guns make it too easy to take a life–a recent study showed that 34 out of 39 murder-suicides involved a gun.
  • Get the “victim” out of the house. If an attempt has been made, or you strongly suspect it might, don’t take a chance.
  • Take a hard look at your dad/the male. Elder suicides are almost always perpetrated by the male and they often struggle with severe depression and find that caring for their sick wife or being sick themselves makes life unbearable. Get them help–after you get the female/your mom/loved one out of the house.
  • Get them help–quick. Suicide is the culmination of feeling completely helpless, hopeless and alone. You’ve got to ease their burden–get them assistance–and most likely get them out of the house. The isolation and despair are just too much or a pull. They need to be with others, need outside assistance, and need to not be able to hide the depression and/or violence that are the hallmarks of murder-suicide.

If you suspect there’s a problem, there probably is. Listen to your gut. Do something fast.

Here are a few organizations who can help.

Suicide hotline: 1-800-suicide

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Helpline and Treatment:  800-234-0420  800-234-0420

Elder Abuse Hotline:  800-252-8966  800-252-8966

Alzheimer’s Association Hotline: 800-621-0379

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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“You’re in a bad mood.” I could see it on my mother’s face the moment she woke up.

As a caregiver, my mother and I took turns being in a bad mood. It’s a miserable existence when two people play off each other’s negativity. My mother had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and some days, it was just too much for her to work at being happy. Is it work? Is happy all it’s cracked up to be? It’s not about being happy or giddy, it’s more about being okay with where you life is–acceptance–and then being on the look-out for the good that comes with your situation.

My mom wasn’t the only one that could turn into a Gloomy Gus. I had my own issues to contend with–raising three teenage daughters isn’t the world’s easiest job, and it’s easy to let depression seep in the cracks of your life when you’re caregiving and dealing with end-of-life concerns.

It’s usually the head and heart stuff that turns your insides into knots. I’d mull over a past hurt (my mother should have been archeologist, the way she could dig up the past!) or I’d project into the future and create disastrous scenarios. Ridiculous, I know, but our minds are like a team of horses, if you don’t reign it in, it goes anywhere it wants to, which is usually a bad-thought neighborhood.

In time, I learned that if my mom and I were going to live together again, and if she was going to have to do the tango with two formidable diseases, then we had better get our act together.

Here are a few tips I learned to coax either of us out of a bad mood:

  • Lovingly disengage. Just because my mom wanted to declare it the end-of-the world-all-is-lost-day, I didn’t have to raise the flag. I could take one step back and acknowledge that yes, today was a challenging day for her, but the best thing I could do for both of us was to stay on a steady course.
  • Ignore the whining and grumpiness. I’ve learned something about emotions by observing my long and illustrious marriage–sometimes we push someone else’s buttons so they will either get mad, yell or cry–and then we feed off the release of their emotions. I’m not kidding! Anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship will attest to this phenomena. So the best thing to do is to click into high gear and simply not go there. After a time of it not working, the emotional fire won’t have any oxygen to keep going.
  • Conversely, if you haven’t had a heart to heart talk lately, then it may be time. But cut to the chase. Ask if they’re scared. Ask if they’re lonely. Tell them you are. At first, they’ll most likely scramble. We’d rather pick at each other than look at the truth, but by you admitting your emotions, they’ll gain permission to consider their own.
  • Put on some music or a funny video! Music is simply amazing when it comes to altering our moods. Within minutes, we breathe differently, our heart rate alters, and we start having different thoughts. Turn on some Bach or Count Basie to drown out a fussy moment. Even if they complain and say turn it down, don’t turn it off.
  • Coax, flirt, play, tease your way out a challenging moment. Remember how to cheer up a toddler? Get their favorite stuffed toy, a cookie and a snuggly blanket? Do you think we ever grow up from needing a few creature comforts? We don’t. With a bit of gentle play, a time of wooing, an offer of a gift, we can cause a shift in someone’s day. Come on girls, you know what I mean here–we’ve been cheering up our guys for years. Guys, there is nothing in the world like flowers and chocolate. It works–for moms and girlfriends. Even for dads. Remember what they like. There’s nothing as wonderful as someone who knows you.

When all else fails, choose to be grateful for even days like this. Gratitude can be broken down into bite-size pieces. Today, a flock a sea birds took off over my house. It sounded like angel’s wings–and took my breath to see such magnificence. they just kept coming, bird after bird, their long necks (egrets and spoonbills) stretched against a blue sky. Whatever happens today, I have my birds to remember.

Not all of your day may go so great, but be on the look out for your birds–for something that startles you and takes your breath.

Helping someone get out of bad mood is an art, part play, and part having a plan. The up-side is that you can’t help lift someone else out of the doldrums without giving yourself a boost at the same time.

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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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I wrote these words during the early weeks after my mother moved in with us. It captures the concern, guilt, and trepidation we all felt on this new venture.

 

I didn’t feel I had a choice–about insisting my mother move in with my family and me. My mother’s Parkinson’s and early signs of dementia had grown to the point that I didn’t feel she was safe living alone, or that her care was something I could continue to farm out to paid care, extended family, church members and neighbors. She needed consistency. She needed me.

 

 

But it wasn’t easy on either of us.

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from my journals, and what later would become my book, Mothering Mother.

 

 

“I think Mother would just like to sit down and cry. She can’t figure out the layout of the house and says she doesn’t want to sleep downstairs. I explain that there isn’t a downstairs, but her apartment is on the opposite end of the house from my bedroom. It’s so far away that she must feel like it’s on a separate floor. She keeps saying she wants to sleep next to me. Not in the next room, but next to me. She walks around touching the walls as if they could collapse on her if she were to let her hands down. She sits in my dining room chair with nothing to do. I’ve made her breakfast, given her the paper and told her I need to unpack the kitchen, which she can see me do from where she’s sitting.

I feel as if I’ve taken everything from her, which she enjoys announcing to everyone, from the bank teller to the podiatrist. She makes sure to note that she’s selling her house, moving in with us, and giving up everything—her church, her friends, and her home. I stand beside her as she regales them with her sob story, wishing I could add what I am giving up—my freedom, my privacy, my mind, and that I’m not doing this to hurt her. I’m trying to help. Instead, I smile and pat her hand, hoping she’s receiving the sympathy and attention I can’t give.”

It took some time for all of us to get used to living together. I still had two teenage daughters at home. Along with “mother issues,” I had to contend with boyfriends, curfews, teen drivers, and the ever threatening emotional outburst from any of them–at any time. Mother was usually the first to blow.

 

“Mother, I want you, we all want you. Relax. You’re here now, and we’re all at home. This is our home. Please give us time to adjust.” I think of my own mother angst. I spent the first half of my life trying to get away from her and the second half trying to get back.

The cat walks by and rubs against her leg. I don’t know why that cat insists on cuddling up to the only person in the house who would like to throw it across the river. Mother pushes it away with her foot, gentler this time because she knows I’m watching. She looks disgusted. I try not to laugh.

“Go on now, scat!”

Great. Now I have to play referee between her, the kids and the pets.

 

 

 

 

For me, being an adult, a daughter, a wife, and a mother at the same time was challenging to say the least.

 

“We’re having to figure out how to stand next to one another in the kitchen, how to maneuver past each other in the hall, not just physically but even in our thoughts. No one fits every groove of our psyche, habits, or beliefs, and those knots and bumps rub us raw before we develop calluses. As hard as this is, I’m not in a hurry to get to the dying part. I want to face each day and glean whatever sweetness there may be, to truly be here, open my eyes wide and learn to stand next to her, neither one of us shoved to the side, each with a decent amount of space.”

 

 

 

 

I think women are particularly vulnerable into morphing into whatever and whoever someone needs them to be–to the point of losing a piece of themselves. We are the ultimate super-hero, we lose our identities in order to care for others.

 

 

Caregiving takes it even one step further. Your loved needs more. You are their protector, their provider. You are their lifeline.

 

My mother’s apartment was next to my kitchen and laundry room and was the parallel opposite to my bedroom.

 

I can remember evenings of helping my mother change into her gown, giving her the last of her medication, tucking her into bed, kissing her goodnight…and then walking through the kitchen and feeling myself “stripping” that caregiving/daughterly clothes and having to change into the next person I was to be–to help a daughter study for her SAT’s, or become a wife, my husband’s lover. All within moments…a new identity.

 

 

How do you keep your head and heart intact?

 

  • Believe you can do this. You were meant to do this–wife, mother, daughter, friend, co-worker. You have lots of experience already. Life never comes to us orderly. You have to be able to unload the dishwasher, talk to your best friend, pack your kid’s lunch, kiss your hubby goodbye for the day, and hand your mother a bowl of oatmeal–oh, and don’t forget to feed the cat.

 

  • Having your mother move in with you–or you with her–isn’t the worst thing in the world. Not having a mother is far worse. Yes, you’ll have a few squabbles, at least I hope you will. Your mother will teach your more about yourself than ten shrinks ever will.
  • Becoming your parent’s parent is the hardest, fastest, best way to really grow up. Whatever residual crap you had left over about your childhood (or adulthood) issues, you will finally either forgive or give up. It just gets too hard to stay angry and do everything else you’ve got to do.
  • Put yourself in your mother’s place. One day, you will–so take a moment to consider how vulnerable they feel. Their bossiness, negativeness, or fussiness is just a cover up. It helps to remember that it’s much easier to be the one in charge than the one in need.
  • Speak up. Set boundaries. Don’t give anyone–your kids, your husband, or your mother all your time and energy. Save some for you. Be alone every day–for ten minutes. I don’t care if you have to lock yourself in the closet, go to the mailbox and stand by it for ten minutes pretending to read the mail–be alone. Take long baths. Drink your coffee on the back porch. You do not have to be at anyone’s beck and call every second of the day. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for them.
  • If you don’t pray or meditate–start. You’ll need it. Find your center of strength. Ask for help, guidance, and wisdom.
  • You might not like it, but you’re probably a lot like your mother. The quicker you learn how to love her, the quicker you’ll love you.
  • Don’t let every little comment get to you. So what if she thinks you’re a slob, wear your shorts too short and can’t cook. There’s no better way to get over what people think of you than to practicce with your own relatives. Smile and be content with being just who, and just how you are.
  • Our minds, bodies and spirits are meant to love a lot of people. You can do it. You can find the patience and perserverance to do this. You will surprise yourself with how much you can love.
  • Caregiving is stressful, I won’t try to water it down in the least. You will have to be on your game almost all of the time. You will lose your cool, cry, curse, and at times, fall apart. But you are resilient. You will rebound.
  • This won’t last forever. I promise. It won’t. Parents die and kids grow up. My mother’s gone now–and what seemed like an eternity is now a memory. And I miss her.
  • Being a part of a family and caring for someone intimately is a priviledge. It’s messy, heartbreaking, hair tearing, and scary–but the alternative is orderly loneliness.

When it’s over, let go.

You will most likely grieve, feel secretly relieved, guilty, resentful, and scared all the way through and especially after it’s over. But this will pass. Your parent will become a part of you–in a cosmic, spiritual, and even on a biological level.

It will then be time to recreate who you are again.

Trust that all you need to know you already know.

You will find your way.

 

 

~Carol O’Dell

Family Advisor at Caring.com

Mothering Mother is available at Amazon

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Do you feel this is the last Christmas with your spouse or parent?

Perhaps you’re looking at a  cancer diagnosis, or you’re at the end stages of Alzheimer’s or heart disease.

This can put a cloud over the festivities. Everything drips with meaning. You’re standing in Wal Mart and feel weepy.

Or…you can’t seem to wedge your butt off the couch. Flipping channels has somehow become  your life.

 

You don’t know it, but this is the face of grief.

We start grieving long before death enters the picture.

The word grief means Deep mental anguish, as that arising from bereavement.

 

So what do you do if you feel like this is your last Christmas together?
Do exactly what you feel like doing. Trust your gut, your heart, your intuition, your spirit…whatever you want to call it.
If you need to flip channels, then give in and flip. Are you missing something significant?
Could you really grasp “significant” right now? Even if it hit you on the side of the head?
I really do believe that after about 3 days, either you’d get sick of the same old “As Seen on TV” merchandise–or, you’d get carpel tunnel and you’d have to quit anyway. Be willing to give in and see where it takes you. I’ve learned that the best way to get over something  is sometimes to give in.
Even scientists have observed  this–they find that if a child is exposed to copious amounts of pizza, chips, cookies, and apples–they’ll eventually get the junk food crave out of their system and willingly choose the apple.
Grief isn’t something you can fight. Nor should you.
It’s natural, and for the most part, healthy.
But if you can, try not to jump time–don’t go to the future–to the time your loved one dies. Be present. That season isn’t here yet.
Also realize  that if you’ve been caregiving for several years, you may have hit the caregiver’swall–you may feel numb, exhausted, and zombie-llike.
Trust the process. If you go too far, you’ll know it–everyone else will know it.
If you do have the ability to rationalize and feel, then cherish this season. Don’t dread it or push it away.
Don’t make everything drip with meaning. That can get exhausting and annoying.
Your loved one won’t appreciate being inthe spotlight every second. Follow the moment.
When something touching, seweet, or poignant happens, you have a better  chance of recognizing it if you are ‘gently” alert.
If you get a few photographs or can jot down a few thoughts, then you’ll have something you can treasure for years.
If you can’t–or don’t–then let it go. I promise you, all you need is one moment–one glance, one gentle touch of the hand, one brush of the hair–somethig will rise to the top. You will have your moment. You will find the sweetness in the season. Just let it happen.
Our relationships–and the holidays–aren’t to be forced. 
Trust that this holiday will give you a gift–at the most unexpected turn.
~Carol O’Dell, and hope you’ll check out my book, Mothering Mother

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People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ~Abraham Lincoln

I find it pretty amazing that this quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

He didn’t exactly have a cushy life.

His mother died when he was nine, and although his family could barely survive, young Lincoln gave up hunting after watching a turkey suffer after he shot the bird(the bird thing is a side note, but I found it interesting).

He didn’t just become president over night–he was a lawyer, then tried for congress (twice) but was defeated by Stephen Douglas–over the issue of abolition.

He married Mary Todd, and three of their four children would die before adulthood. This left Mary, who already suffered with depression, even more mentally unstable. As Abraham Lincoln’s life began to evolve more and more around politics, his marriage suffered.

President Lincoln was under great stress to try to hold our country together in perhaps its most challenging time. He did so, but with great personal sacrifice. He was assasinated when he as only 56 years old.

According to today’s standards of what qualifies as a “good life,” Abraham Lincoln’s journey would not be considered an easy one–then or now.

(Other great quotes by Lincoln )

And yet, we all owe him a great debt. He held America together and changed the course of  history. His words and example still inspire us today.

He doesn’t exactly seem like a person who would focus much on the meaning of happiness–but who better than someone who knew, but did not give into sadness/

Happiness is a lot about choice. It’s a state of mind and way of looking at things. It doesn’t change the facts. If your mom has Alzheimer’s, if your dad fell and broke his hip, that’s a fact–but how you deal with it–that’s up to you.

There were many times in Mr. Lincoln’s  life when I’m sure he had to choose to simply go on, breathe in and out, and keep on doing the task at hand.  Sometimes happy isn’t about being happy, but choosing not to be unhappy (aka miserable).  Caregivers know this well.

According to the Princeton online dictionary, happiness  means:

  • state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy
  • emotions experienced when in a state of well-being

Where did the word  “happy” come from?

It dates back to 1340, from the waord, “hap,” which was connected to chance or fortune.

(From  Etymology.com)
1340, “lucky,” from hap “chance, fortune” (see haphazard), sense of “very glad” first recorded c.1390. Ousted O.E. eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesælig, which has become silly. O.E. bliðe “happy” survives as blithe. From Gk. to Ir., a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.” Used in World War II and after as a suffix (e.g. bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing “dazed or frazzled from stress.” Happiness is first recorded 1530. Happy hour“early evening period of discount drinks and free hors-d’oeuvres at a bar” is first recorded 1961. Happy-go-lucky is from 1672. Happy as a clam (1636) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tide, when it can’t be dug up and eaten.

How does it relate to caregiving?

Much of caregiving doesn’t fall under the category of “happy.” While parts might be necessary, needed, serve a purpose, and at times, appreciated–as a caregiver  I found that I had to fight or choose to be happy. Let me tell you, I know how it feels to push that rock up hill. There were some days when a Volkswagen Bug full of 50 clowns wouldn’t have gotten my mother to crack a smile! Caregiving taught me how little I could control, and writing Mothering Mother helped me to reflect on my journey.

I had to look for the good, the funny, the crazy and ironic. I had to let go, give up, give in, and simply trust. So much was so way beyond anything I could have prepared for that it was in away, left up to luck, to chance–to hope. And maybe that’s where the happy part comes in. When you can’t control it, you might as well choose to see the good, any good that comes your way.

The smallest of good/happy moments could make my day–a cardinal dipping past my window–I love how they fly–dip, dip, dip–their bright wings in defiance of a winter morning.

Bottom line, if Abe Lincoln can choose to be happy, then so can I.

Happy for no reason. Let luck and chance blow in like a surprising summer rain. Trust that it’s all meant for the good.

Right now, with all the economic challenges we face individually and collectively, I feel like I don’t have a choice–either crawl in the bed and pull up the covers (indefinitely), or keep an eye out for bright red birds and all the amazing small wonders that surround us.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

Family Advisor at Caring.com

www.caroldodell.com

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Halloween is just for kids? Who says?

Our elders really get a kick out of Halloween. They love to see the kids dress up and enjoy handing out candy, or at least watching the parade of adorable angels, fairies, pirates, and ghosts walk by.

Easy Ways to Enjoy the Fall and Halloween Season:

  • Pick up a pumpkin at the grocery store. Even if you don’t cut it, it’s still pretty sitting on the front porch.
  • Decorate your house with a few spooky bats. Use some black construction paper or even use some purple, red, or green wrapping paper–who says bats have to be black?
  • Hang a ghost from a tree–all you need is a sheet and two black eyes and some string.
  • Buy a witch’s hat at a discount store and walk around with a broom and cackle. Your mom or dad will perk up, I promise, if you greet them with their afternoon meds as a witch!
  • Splurge on a little Halloween candy. Get something your mom or dad can eat. A couple of marshmallow pumpkins won’t hurt anything. We all have a sweet tooth–at any age. My mom had a thing for Little Debbie snacks–and I couldn’t help but let her enjoy herself with a couple of swiss cake rolls every once in a while.
  • Plan ahead, bundle up your senior, and either sit outside or near the front door and pass out candy.
  • Light some candles or even string a few Christmas lights around your door–you can leave them up for the next two months and they give off a nice glow.
  • Make it a point to meet a few of your neighbors. If you don’t know your neighbors, you need to–and what better way to strike up a conversation than over a cup of hot cider or commenting on how cute their kids are.
  • Do you know that young couples miss their grandparents and would love a surrogate grandpa or grandmother for their kids to look up to?
  • Let your mom or dad be the candy passer-outer. That will allow them to see the children’s costumes and they’ll enjoy the festivities.
  • Consider renting a oldie–but goodie. How about the Bride of Frankenstein–or the old Dracula? If you mom or dad don’t seem to be up for being frightened, then try a little Planet Earth–the one about all the bats in the caves of Mexico scared me more than any scary movie ever could! For a G-rated film, try Charlie Brown’s Halloween Special.
  • Make a pot of veggie soup–or chili. Mix up some cornbread and enjoy the fall chill in the air.
  • If you’re near your grandkids, then consider going to their house and enjoying the fun. This is how you make family memories–and it’s worth the trouble.

I read this great short story once about a daughter who took her mom, who had Alzheimer’s, to a Halloween party. Her mom loved it–and totally got into the masks and charades and felt free–not to have to be one person or another–to be concerned with knowing someone, recognizing someone. For Halloween night, she could be anybody she wanted.

I have a favorite Halloween memory of my mom and me. It’s a bit unusual since I grew up in a strict religious household–my mom was a minister–so you don’t exactly think they’d buy into the whole Halloween thing, but she did. I’m glad she didn’t take it too serious because to this day, and I still love to dress up.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, SAID CHILD, which is the prequel to Mothering Mother. (SAID CHILD is about being adopted at age four, and my search for my birth family–and how I learned to love both my adoptive and birth family). 

 

               Daddy had been in the hospital for back surgery on Halloween when I was about eight or nine years old. It was an especially cold Georgia Halloween night and I fidgeted beside his hospital bed, tired of coloring and wanting to go home and get on my fairy costume and go trick-or-treating. By the time Mama and I kissed Daddy goodbye and we made it out of the hospital and hit the cold night air of the parking lot, I realized it was long since dark. The cold bit into my chest.

“Don’t worry, I have an idea,” she said as she walked a little faster.

We hurried home and I moped around, standing on the heater grate, curling my sock feet over the metal edges for warmth. Mama burst out of her bedroom,

“Count to one hundred, and then come knock on my bedroom door.”

What was she up to? I did as I was told.

“Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred.” Knock, knock.

Mama cracked open the bedroom door. She peeked out with a sheet over her head,

“Ohhh!” She moaned like a ghost. I squealed and giggled.

“I am a Halloween ghost!” she said in a low voice spooky voice. “Would you like some candy, little girl?”

I ran and got my orange plastic pumpkin bucket and thrust it toward the door. Mama dumped in a handful of Bit-O-Honey candies. She leaned down and whispered for me to count to one hundred again with my eyes closed, and then go to the bathroom door and knock. She motioned for me to turn away as she ran to the next room.

Mama opened the bathroom door wearing Daddy’s trench coat and hat and a mustache she must have drawn on with her eyebrow pencil. I laughed until I fell down and then held out my plastic pumpkin as she emptied Bazooka bubble gum into it.

We ran from room to room and each time Mama appeared as a new character—a maid with apron and spoon in the kitchen, a lady in a evening gown and fancy hat in the closet, a little girl with curlers in her hair and a teddy bear when she emerged from my room.

 

Mama wasn’t so boring after all. As regular as a clock, she kept my childhood in order. She made sure I scrubbed under my fingernails and practiced my times tables. But she was also a mother capable of a surprise or two–especially on Halloween. 

***

Have a Happy, Safe, and Fun Halloween!

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

Family Advisor at Caring.com  

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You don’t have to like your mother to love her.

Jess is a friend of mine. She’s in her mid-thirties, and like most young women she’s had a couple of decades of feeling like she had nothing whatsoever in common with her mother. Now, within the past few months I’ve noticed she talks about her mom differently.

Jess’s mother is flying in for her wedding shower and they’re going shopping all day at the outlet mall while she’s in town. She calls her mom several times a week as she’s driving home from work–just to chat. This wouldn’t have happened even three years ago.

Why the change?

The mother-daughter bond is resilient.

It’s not a warm, cuddly blanket, but a sinuous cord that connects us. At times, it’s the jet fuel we need to grow up and move on with our lives. We “use” our mothers. We hate them in order to love ourselves. We swear we will never be anything like them. We despise them when we don’t want to admit we despise ourselves. We lash out in words and actions knowing it cuts like a serrated knife. We think it will always be like this–us, way over here–them, way over there.

The resiliency of the mother-daughter relationship that grows stronger over time isn’t a surprise. Pennsylvania State University conducted a study of midlife daughters and their elderly mothers. Researcher Karen Fingerman, Ph.D., found that “despite conflicts and complicated emotions, the mother-daughter bond is so strong that 80 percent to 90 percent of women at midlife report good relationships with their mothers—though they wish it were better.”

Whodathought? After all those years of bickering, name calling, not calling at all…that we actually love each other underneath all that bravado. And…we actually want a better relationship with our mother! I never throught that day would come for me, but it did.

Suddenly, through birthing a daughter, a woman finds herself face to face not only with an infant, a little girl, a woman-to-be, but also with her own unresolved conflicts from the past and her hopes and dreams for the future…. As though experiencing an earthquake, mothers of daughters may find their lives shifted, their deep feelings unearthed, the balance struck in all relationships once again off kilter.

~Elizabeth Debold and Idelisse Malave

We need something to propel us into our own lives and identities and we push off of our mothers like they’re a springboard–the laws of physics at work in relationships. Our “you weren’t there for me’s,” and “why are you always so controlling” can take years to leave our systems. We stew in our own toxic venom.

Were they bad mothers? Perhaps. At times. But that doesn’t diminish their power or our need to have them in our lives. Even if for a few, our mothers are object lessons, they are still in our lives for a purpose.

Eventually, most of us learn to make at least a measure of peace with mothers–and mothers with their daughters. It’s not a conscience thing. It’s not an “I should.” It just is. It’s biological.

Mothers and daughters can fight, argue, cry, blame, and complain–and their bond gets stronger. You don’t even know it’s happening–you think you’re a million miles away. We can even ignore our mothers and go on with our busy adult lives, and that bond is still there. Genetics is one powerful pull.

I’ve seen it countless times–family members who have been hurt find a way to forgive. Daughters who are disgusted with their mother’s choices begin to understand why, and through their own poor choices, they offer a morsel of mercy.

Mothers who seemed hard, controlling, and fussy finally become real people to their daughters. Their daughters begin to realize the that their mothers have lives, dreams, and quiet heartbreaks no one knows about. Mothers loosen up over time and become somone their daughter confides in.

Again, why?

You can’t make peace with yourself, with who you are, with all that you’ve done that had made you ‘you,” until you can begin to accept your mother, your past. She is your key.

What the daughter does, the mother did.  ~Jewish Proverb

Our mothers, our daughters define us. We are who we are because of them–good or bad. We look into their faces and we see ourselves–past and future.

We forgive, tolerate, and accept things our mothers or daughters have done. We know them, bear their secrets, absorb their transgressions, and even speak our truths into their lives no matter how tough and gritty it is.

Caregiving comes into play in regard to the mother-daughter bond. When our loved ones need us–really need us–we come back. We help out. We lay down our grievances and rally to the cause. But it’s more than that–caregiving gives us a reason to make up, to let go, to “get over it.” As our mothers need us, we return and answer the call.

Whether our relationship is strained or easy, hostile or amiable, we need our mother if only in memory …
to conjugate our history, validate ourfemaleness and guide our way.

~ Victoria Secunda

Something happens when our mothers lives begin to grow smaller either physically, emotionally, or financially–a power shift occurs. We (the daughters) gain strength and power–and this time to “be on top,” allows us to feel less threatened–and when we’re not threatened–we can be generous with our love.

Eventually, the scales balance.

After years of our mother’s having dominance over our lives (the childhood years), we’ve built up resentment, and finally, as time rolls along, we come into our own, we tower above our mothers for a short time, and that isn’t as fun as it sounds. If we’re lucky, and our mothers live a little longer, we become equal bookends, each of us strong in the broken places and worthy of respect.

And then, just when we make peace, our mothers die. It surprises us. It shocks us. This is too soon, we cry.

We realize how ironically close we really were–all along–even when we thought we weren’t. We realize we loved them in a deep-bone way. We lose ourselves in grief. We just found ourselves in and through and mothers, and then they leave us. We feel abandoned, lost, maybe even angry.

Looking back, I realize I’ve lost two mothers four times.

My birth mother had schizophrenia and I was taken from her as an infant when the voices told her to hurt herself and her children. I lost her again when I was adopted at the age of four. I didn’t know it would be forever. I lost her again when I was 23, and found my birth family only for them to tell me that my mother was dead–she had died one year before I found them. I cried that day, that week, that year–I cried for the mother I would never know.

I lost my adoptive mother to Alzheimer’s before death took her. To look into the face of someone you know so well–someone who you’ve screamed at, cried and fought with, only to have a disease eat away at her brain like battery acid–and to know that she doesn’t know you, remember you, you hold no emotion, no connection. You might as well we a cardboard box. It ravages your soul and all you believe.

And then death came. In a way, a welcome relief to the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s. I knew it would never give me my mother back.

Why now? Why do we lose our mothers just at the point when we can sit beside them and feel at ease, a give and take? Just when we can be ourselves in the presence of our most formidable foes, our most dependable ally, we lose them.

I have no answer for this. The only solace I can give you is that my mother’s life is now my example, her stories, her “ways” ripple through my own life. I don’t idolize her or think she was perfect. That would be an insult to such a great woman. I see her as complex and confounding as ever–but that’s what I like about her, about me.

In a bigger sense, I haven’t lost her, or lost me. We sit side-by-side. Equals. I hear her so much more clearly these days. I feel her respect. I listen.

And now, I have three grown daughters. The torch has been passed. They rail against me at times.

I let them. I know the journey they must take to get to their own place of acceptance and strength. I’ll be here. Waiting.

The woman who bore me is no longer alive, but I seem to be her daughter in increasingly profound ways.  ~Johnnetta Betsch Cole

I’m Carol D. O’Dell, the author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon. I explore the adult daughter-mother relatiohnsip in my book, and I hope you’ll check it out.

 

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Are you already hearing people cough and sneeze in the grocery store?

I am. It seems as if the cold and flu season has hit early, and older adults and people with chronic diseases are at the greatest risk of problems associated with the flu.

But what if your loved one has late-stage Alzheimer’s, dementia, ALS, or Lewy Body, they’re not exactly communicative–not in a helpful way, any way. 

How do you know if someone with a memory disorder or a speech problem is sick?

  • Look for change in behavior–are they more agitated? Less? Lethargic?
  • Look for skin changes–do they look flushed? Pasty? Change is the key word
  • Are their hands usually cold due to poor circulation–are they now warm and beet red? Or vice versa?
  • Try the kiss test–I can tell a fever by kissing their forehead or cheek–more than by the back of my hand
  • If you don’t go to the bathroom with them, you might need to–check for changes, smelly urine, diarrehea
  • Look at their tongue–does it look white?
  • Use a flashlight to look at their throat–do it to yourself first and let them look at yours
  • Are they like a little kid and pulling on their ears?
  • Are they making a great effort to swallow?
  • Does their abdomen look bloated? Will they let you press on it–is it tender?
  • Check their urine for a foul smell, cloudy, bloody, or low output–signs of infection or dehydration–both common in our elders. Check out my blog post, UTI’s Don’t Let Your Elder Suffer in Silence”
  • Do a full body check every few weeks–it’s easy to miss a broken bone when they can’t tell you it hurts

You need to take your mom or dad to get their flue shot, but as their caregiver,

you need one as well.

 Most caregiversdon’t have a lot of “back up” options–not the spur of the moment kind, the kind you can call because you’re running a 101 degree fever when you get up in the morning and your throat feels like a gravel road. So do all you can to prevent getting sick this winter.

So head to your doctor, your pharmacy, or wherever you read about is offering free to low cost flu shots and roll up your sleeve. You don’t want to be the carrier that brings it into your house.

Why are our elder so suseptible to colds and flus?

Because older adults have reduced cough and gag reflexes, which means the infection just sits and gets worse. They also have weakened immune systems that comes with age, and sometimes the medications they’re on, and that makes it harder for their bodies to fight flu complications such as pneumonia.

Did you know that of all age groups, those over 84 have the highest risk of dying from flu complications?

Second highest category? Those over 74 (which in many cases, are the spouse or caregiver). 

The next category are children, age 4 and younger. 

How can I tell if my loved one has the flu?

Obvious flu symptoms:

  • fever (usual)
  • headache (common)
  • tiredness and fatigue (can last 2 or 3 weeks)
  • extreme exhaustion (usual at the start of flu symptoms)
  • general aches and pain (often severe)
  • chest discomfort, cough (common and can become severe)
  • sore throat (sometimes)
  • runny or stuffy nose (sometimes)

Less obvious symptoms:

 Look for gastrointestinal problems that can accompany the flu?

Sometimes stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, may occur with the flu. But these gastrointestinal symptoms associated with the flu are more commonly seen in children.

What flu complications should older adults watch for?

Complications of flu for older adults may include the following:

  • pneumonia
  • dehydration
  • worsening of chronic medical conditions, including lung conditions such as asthma and emphysema and heart disease

It’s important for your elder to see your doctor immediately if you have any of these flu complications. They simply don’t have a strong enough immune system to effectively fight off the flu. 

How can older adults prevent getting the flu?

The best way to prevent the flu is to get an annual flu shot.

Because the flu viruses change each year, older adults need to get a flu shot each year.

According to the National Institute on Aging a flu shot for the elderly

has the following benefits:

  • reduces the risk of hospitalization by about 50%
  • reduces the risk of pneumonia by about 60%
  • reduces the risk of death by 75% to 80%

Where can older adults get a flu shot?

Visit http://www.flucliniclocator.org. Enter your ZIP code and a date (or dates) and you’ll receive information about flu shot clinics scheduled in your area.

Can older adults use the nasal spray flu vaccine?

FluMist is a nasal spray flu vaccine that contains a live flu virus. FluMist is not recommended for adults over age 49.

When should older adults get flu shots to prevent flu and flu complications?

The flu season can begin as early as October and last until May. It’s recommended that people get a flu shot in October or November so the body has a chance to build up immunity to the flu virus. It takes two weeks for the flu shot to start working. Still, if you miss the early flu shots, getting a flu shot in December is wise.

How is flu treated in older adults?

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink plenty of liquids.
  • Ask the doctor or pharmacist before buying a new over-the-counter cold or flu medicine to make sure it won’t interfere with prescribed medicine.

Antiviral drugs are also available by prescription to treat the flu. The antiviral drugs must be used immediately upon having symptoms of flu. These drugs work by blocking the replication of the flu virus, thus preventing its spread. Antiviral medications for flu include:

  • Tamiflu (oseltamivir)
  • Relenza (zanamivir)

If antiviral drugs are taken within 48 hours after the onset of the flu, these drugs may reduce the duration of flu symptoms. Sometimes antiviral drugs can also be used for prevention if someone is exposed to a person with the flu. Talk to your doctor.

Are there warning signs with flu that older people need to watch for?

Call your doctor immediately if you have any of these signs and symptoms with the flu:

  • You have trouble breathing with flu.
  • Your flu symptoms don’t improve or they worsen after 3 or 4 days.
  • After your flu symptoms improve, you suddenly develop signs of a more serious problem including nausea, vomiting, high fever, shaking chills, chest pain, or coughing with thick, yellow-green mucus.
  • You become lethargic to the point of not being able to communicate
  • Your fever goes above 101 and does not respond to Tylenol or Advil
  • You become extremely dizzy and fall
  • You stop putting out urine–you can’t keep down any liquids and you become dehydrated

Being a caregiver means being alert–your elder could take a drastic turn for the worse. Pay attention to the warning signs, and when in doubt, call your physician.

Do all you can stay healthy and strong.

Take mega-doses of Vitamin C. Get your rest. drink your liquids, wipe your hands often when out in public with a disinfectant gel or spray. Take Zicam or other cold preventative at the first sign of a cold–and avoid people who are actively coughing or sneezing.

I’m Carol O’Dell–and I hope you visit this blog again.

And check out my book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

Carol O’Dell is a family advisor at www.Caring.com

www.mothering-mother.com

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