Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

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!

Read Full Post »

Michael J. Fox might have Parkinson’s, but Parkinson’s doesn’t “have” Michael J. Fox. His two new book titles are Lucky Man and Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist. A title says a lot about a person. It’s the summation of the book–obviously. But it’s also a commentary about their life, their journey, and what they believe about the world.

I’ve read both books, and darn, he’s such a likeable guy! Even in his youthful, arrogant, on-top-of-the-world years he was likeable. Even more so now that he’s been tempered by time, marriage, and challenges–his easiness exudes from his voice, his mannerisms, his smile, his insight and his playfulness. If there were ever a spokesperson for a disease, it’s Michael. He doesn’t make you feel sorry for him. He calls to the best in us. And that best aspires to a cure.

My mother had Parkinson’s, and perhaps of the diseases she had, she had “P.D.” the longest. I think it started when she was in her late 70s. She took it pretty well. She didn’t like to talk about it because as she put it, “I don’t want the devil to hear me.” That’s a good way to look at it, I suppose–hey, it kept her from complaining. She continued to live in her own home, drive, play the piano at church, and enjoy life even though the love of her life, my daddy was gone.

I was her right hand gal. Some people would call me her caregiver, but I’m not sure my mother would have cared for that word. I was her daughter. We were family. And this is just what you do. I stood beside her for well over a decade. She held onto my arm. Her feet shuffled. She sweated. Laughed. Made excuses. I waited. Patted her arm and learned to enjoy the weather, the birds, my own breath. It really wasn’t a bad situation for either of us once we learned to just let it happen. I think being a mom of three daughters within 4 1/2 years had taught me an immense amount of patience. I never wanted her to feel embarrased or that I couldn’t wait for her body to “click in.” Even when my head was filled with grocery lists, kid worries, and things only women can fret about, I tried not to let on.

I admired my mother’s tenacity. Her optimism. She held onto her faith and always planned for the future. In that way, my mother and Michael had something in common. He’s in his late 40s, married, has children, writes, speaks, raises money for “P.D.” and is even doing some acting–on the tv show “Rescue Me.” Even the tv shows he picks show his slightly rascally style. And what’s amazing is that great smile of his, that oh-so-likeable demeanor is still there. And it trumps Parkinson’s every time.

That’s what I take from this man. No matter what you have, don’t let it have you.

When I think of Michael J. Fox, I think first of his indominatable spirit.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

I’m not much for regrets. I don’t think we as individuals, family members, or caregivers should even strive to perfect. Our faults and foibles define us and teach us. Besides, have you ever been around someone who was trying too hard? It’s exhausting and annoying. I love the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi–the beauty found in imperfection.

I found this definition at Nobel Harbor, written by Tadao Ando, a Japanese architect. This essay on Wabi Sabi so touched me that I thought I’d share it–it’s how I strive to live my life.

Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.

But I do wish I had known back then what I know now.

In regard to caring for my mother, I tell myself I was busy. There was never enough of “me” to go around. I had to eek out my time and love in tiny drops just to give everybody a piece. That was true, and asking a caregiver to stop spinning in a maddening circle is asking them to do the impossible.

The  busy-ness (observation–busy-nessand business is not necessarily the same), franticness, never stop breakneck speed is a protective stance.

I had a the privilege of being a real part of my mother’s life the last 15 years she was on earth. Daddy had died, and I was her closest relative. Although I’m adopted, that doesn’t change anything in terms of family dynamics–they were my parents, and I was their daughter. If anything, adoption added a little extra cement to our bond. 

I spent hours and hours with my mother–driving her to doctor appointments, to the grocery store, and to the million errands she could concoct just to get out of the house. And in the end, my mother lived with my family and me–she became a part of the O’Dell household complete with two dogs, two cats, three teenagers, my husband and myself. Most of the time she didn’t think about being a part of anything–by then, life, she believed, evolved around her. It was my job to incorporate her, create balance to my home, and not let anyone yell “fire” and hog all the time and attention away from the delicate harmony of our home.

So there I was, always on the go. Always avoiding. Always, even when sitting perfectly still on the outside, whizzing around in my soul like a gyro-top. It was fueled by panic, fear, sorrow, loss, and the underlying thought, “I can’t do this–be responsible for my mother’s life, for my children–I can’t do all this.”

But now I know.

What’s more important than making every doctor’s appointment, than reading about Alzheimer’s, then cutting pill after pill, then the calls to Medicare and home health aides was this:

What my mother (and my husband, children, and friends) needed from me more than anything–was a good conversation.

There isn’t anything in the world as loving and respectful as someone who will sit with you, look you in the eye, listen to what you have to say–and contribute to the conversation. The easy banter of thoughts, hopes, fears, and chit-chat of life is deeply satisfying.

My mother didn’t move into my home just to have a list of needs met every day. Anyone could do that. On some level she was hoping we’d have a few minutes–to simply be. Not to agree with one another, not to be little clones spouting off the same agendas, but to sit as bookends, side-by-side observing life.

That’s what my mother needed. What I needed. I couldn’t do much to speed up or postpone death. We can’t change much about life in the big scheme of things–but what is within our capabilities is how we interact with one another. We can choose to create a time and space for real connection to happen. It can’t be forced or cajoled.

Having one genuine moment of understanding–a said or unsaid conversation is rare and most precious.

I remember a conversation my mother and I had when I was about eleven years old. We were in the car outside of church waiting for Daddy to get out of an elder meeting. Something big was going down–there were rumors that our pastor had had an affair. Even the kids knew about it. I was just old enough to know what that meant–and young enough to think that life was black–or white–nothing in between.

I was in the back seat, mother was in the front, filing her nails, as usual. We both stopped what we were doing and looked at the church.

“Why doesn’t his wife just leave him and the church just fire him.” I said, angry that this pastor I had looked up to had betrayed me as well.

“It’s not that easy, honey.”

That’s all Mother said. I laid my head on the ledge of the front seat, and she continued to look at the building in front of us, at the steeple that strained into a blue sky.

I learned a lot that day–by all that she didn’t say.

We’d have many conversations over the next almost 40 years. Many times we’d talk at each other, alienate each other, blast each other–but every once in a while, there would be that cord that stretched from her to me and back to her again.

I’ll spend the next few posts exploring what makes a good conversation, how to talk to someone we love–someone who is ill or aged, or someone we have issues with–thorns that make us wince at the thought of a meaningful conversation. I’ll write about how to talk–or be with someone you love who no longer can speak, or comprehend who you are.

There are lots of great sites on the Internet about families, caregiving, Alzheimer’s, elder-careparentsand children–but nothing is more important than quieting your thoughts, unwinding the pent-up soul, and taking a few moments to sit quietly–and talk.

~Carol O’Dell

I hope you’ll check out my book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir–on sale at Amazon, other online e-tailers, and in most bookstores.

Read Full Post »

It doesn’t matter your cultural or religious background–it doesn’t matter if you’re wealthy or just barely getting by, there are three concerns at the end of life most people share.

They’re heard by chaplains, hospice workers and volunteers, and by family members who gather around those they love and try to make the last weeks, days, and hours of a person’s life as comfortable and as meaningful as possible.

 

Here are the three biggest concerns at the end of life:

  • I don’t want to be a burden
  • I don’t want to be in pain
  • I don’t want to lose control over what’s done to me

I don’t want to be a burden.

As a speaker/facilitator in the field of caregiving, I hear this concern all the time–and it starts long before the end of life.

In fact, I heard it from my 25 year-old daughter. She said she’d rather go into a care facility when she’s older because she doesn’t want to be a burden. It’s a sad reflection on society to think that growing older or needing help to get around is equated with being a burden. (I didn’t teach her this, by the way :))

There’s a lot not being said here:

I don’t want to be dependent. I don’t want to be vulnerable.  I don’t like others telling me what to do. I don’t want to be in the way. I don’t want people to resent caring for me. I’ve dealt with the elderly and infirmed and I don’t want someone to have to do, to sacrifice what I did. I’m scared. I

But what if you’re not a burden?

What if caring for you is viewed as a privilege?

What if you plan enough ahead of time and arrange for the added/needed help so that family members do less physical work and can simply “be” with you–enjoy your company?

What if you do all that you can do now–health wise–to be strong and mobile and live longer in good health? (there are no guarantees on that one).

What if you have something valuable to offer–even in your last years and months?

What if even your dying is considered sacred and something to treasure?  (even if it is hard)

What if, by allowing us to witness your end of life, we learn how to handle our own?

Who else will teach us?

I don’t want to be in pain.

No one does. Certain diseases cause more pain than others.

I can’t promise you that you won’t be in pain.

I can’t promise you that the end will come quick or be sweet–or even meaningful in the sense that sometimes we romanticize certain events and imagine them in a glowing, fuzzy cinematic light with all of our loved ones gathered and all getting along and tears and smiles and kisses and we can be coherent and see them all and hold this wonderful moment for all eternity…and it isn’t always like that.

I can tell you that hospice in particular will do everything they can to keep you pain free.

Palliative care is better than ever–there are all over salves that numb you, take away the aches, meds to reduce fever and chills–but many of these medicines will gork you out. You may sleep a lot. You may not be fully aware of time or of your loved ones coming and going. You might be pain free, but there might be a trade off.

All I can say is that by knowing this now, you can come to some level of acceptance. That’s all I can offer you–or me. I can’t say how I’m going to go–whether it will be many years from now or any day.

I can’t say whether the end of my life will be peaceful or tragic. I just have to trust–and do all I can to attract peace.

But I do know that whatever I believe about the hereafter, eternity, heaven…it will be that I will not be in pain. I will be in peace. I will not carry the pains, hurts, and sorrows of this world onto the next. And that brings me comfort.

I don’t want to lose control over what’s done to me.

Isn’t it amazing that one of the last questions/concerns we have before we leave this earth is about trust?

This teaches me one thing–I better get to dealing with my trust issues now.

Trust is the underlying factor that determines the success of any relationship–marriage, friendships, communities–it all boils down to, “Can I trust you?”

The answer isn’t “Yes, I can,” or “No, I can’t.”

Trust isn’t about finding people who won’t ever let you down.

Trust is knowing they will–in some way or another–and being okay with that.

Loving them any way. Trusting any way.

Choosing and then living in trust. Not trust in others. Perhaps it’s trust in yourself.

Trust that you’ll be okay. Trust that you don’t always have to be in control.

It’s also about trust in something bigger than you–in God, faith, the universe, the good–whatever you choose to call it. Trusting that goodness will come your way. Trusting that the universe is out to help you.

In the end, we all know that death will come. Perhaps there will be pain. Perhaps I won’t be able to say when it will happen, where I’ll be, who will be around me, what care I will or won’t get. And that somehow I can still believe that it will be all be okay.

 

But there is one more lesson here…

There is a lot you can say about the end of your life–but you better say it now. Talk to your loved ones. Write your ethical will. Fill out that living will. Say what it is you want. Appoint that guardian or family member to speak for you when or if you can’t.

Say all the I love you’s now. Go on those dream trips. Make memories. Laugh, cry, make love, sing, dance.

You want to not be a burden?

Start now. Invest in your relationships. Call your loved ones and listen to their day to day problems. Spoil them with your time. Go for walks and hold hands. Tell them how very proud you are of them, of the kind, good people they’ve become–then they won’t think you’re a burden.

You want not to be in pain?

Don’t dwell on pain now–physical or emotional. Live “pain-free” by practicing forgiveness, letting go and laying old issues down. Pain thrives off tenseness, tightness, and focus. Pain therapists use many techniques to help their clients manage pain–laughter therapy, engaging the mind on something bigger, more interesting, acupuncture, yoga…by letting go of pain today, we don’t attract it tomorrow.

You want to not be hung up on control?

Start trusting today. Take a risk. Fail. Laugh it off and try again. When you feel like a knotted fist inside your gut, recognize it and choose to trust. Give someone a chance. Give them a second chance. Give yourself a chance. The person we least trust is ourselves. We mistrust our own goodness. We are our own worst critiques, our own biggest doubters. Start with small affirmations–say them out loud in the car or in front of the mirror:

“I trust my own good heart.”

The biggest concerns of life are no surprise–they’re our biggest concerns every day–when you come to think about it. Every day, we’re given a chance to face our fears–to see our own good–and the goodness around us.

If you’re a caregiver, and you’re with a loved one who is coming toward the end, reassure them–let them know repeatedly that they are loved, that you will do all they can to make sure they’re not in pain, that you will honor their wishes, you will be there–steadfast. They will not be alone. Each time you say this to someone else, you say it to yourself.

I know as a caregiver this time is scary.

You don’t know how. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve faced death in an intimate way–with a family member this close. I was just like you–my dad died in hospital–and I was facing the death of my mother in my own home. I worried if I’d be okay–if I could handle it–emotionally.

IYou will find your strength and resolve.

You will keep your loved one safe–and honor their life and their death.

You will give them the dignity they deserve.

Even though you may feel like running, you will be brave. You will be there for your loved one–and it will change how you perceive life–and death.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

Read Full Post »

Creating a bedtime ritual is good for the body and soul.

Parents do this for their children–read them a book, sing a song, say a prayer. Why do we ever stop?

Everything from brushing your teeth to the way you fluff your pillow gives cues to your body to begin to relax and let go. It’s a great way to ward off insomnia and over-thinking/worrying.

 

I always ask myself two questions at the end of each day:

What was the best part of my day?

What am I looking forward to tomorrow?

As I ask myself the first question, I almost always get a visual, and about 85% of the time the best part of my day had something to do with nature. Not about me achieving my goals–and believe me, I’m very goal driven. It’s not about a royalty check reflecting how many books I’ve sold or some other personal achievement (sometimes it is, but it has to be something I feel I’ve earned or dreamed about for a long time).

The first question allows me reflect upon the day.

It’s about the double-winged dragonfly that zipped past me while I was biking. Or the blue heron that stood still and let me get really close. Or the field of wild rabbits I came up on. No matter where you live–New York City or Kalamazoo, there’s more nature around you than you think. It’s there for a reason–it sustains you in so many ways.

 

Nature gets me outside myself. It connects me with all living things. It’s exquisite,  exotic, powerful, and surprising. Sometimes I relive these moments–the feel of my hair lifting off my shoulders as I bike, the buoyancy of the waves as I body surf–reliving those moments at the end of my day is living life twice.

Occasionally, it’s about an old friend that called, a recognition I’m particularly honored to receive, but more times than not–it’s not about me.

This one question has also changed my day. What will I have to tell myself at the end of the day if I don’t get outside and give opportunity for those “best parts of my day” to present themselves?

It’s heightened my awareness. I step out my front door expecting a miracle, or at the very least, a gift.  When that hummingbird appears, that deer looks me in the eye, I’m acutely aware–and grateful. I tuck in my memory like a pebble in my pocket knowing I’ll get to enjoy it again as I lay my head on my pillow.

The second question links me to the new day in front of me.

This one I heard from Dr. Phil.Now I’m not crazy about the direction he’s taken with his Jerry Springer-esque tv show, but I heard that he asks his sons this question each night so that they would end the day on a note of hope.

No matter our age or circumstance of life–we all need something to look forward to tomorrow.

Whether it’s meeting a friend for lunch or the next day’s walk, we need to go to sleep with the thought that tomorrow is waiting for us.

It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to cost money. It’s about creating a life of meaning.

Even our elders those we are caregiving need to look forward to the next day.

This again, causes us to create our days, make plans, and focus.

Create a morning ritual as well. 

List 5 things you’re grateful for before you get up.

Again, we’re talking simple.

Here’s today’s morning list for me:

I’m grateful for–

  • a bike ride (I go on one every morning)
  • my dog Rupert and his he sits nudged under my desk as I write
  • cherries that are in season–and the bowl that awaits me when I get up
  • my favorite pillow–gushy
  • my newly painted office that is lipstick red with white trim–and has a whole wall painted in chalkboard paint so I can literally write on the walls

Nothing earth shattering, but as my feet hit the ground each morning, I do what was suggested in the book, The Secret. Each step I take on my way to the bathroom–I say, “thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” Out loud. I

‘m smiling by the time I glance into the mirror.

This sure is better than beating myself up for saying something stupid that day, or mulling over a pile of bills, or rehasing a disagreement. There is a time to deal with those things, but that time isn’t the last thing at night or the first thing in the morning.

Protect this sacred time. Gather the best, look forward to tomorrow–

and fill your heart with gratitude.

 

I’m Carol O’Dell, and this is my blog, Mothering Mother and More, found at caroldodell.wordpress.com/

Carol is the author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir.

It’s a collection of stories and thoughts for families and caregivers written in real time as she cared for her mother who suffered with Alzheimer’ and Parkinson’s.

Mothering Mother is available at Amazon and can be requested at any bookstore or library.

Read Full Post »

Caregiving does things to you–as a caregiver, a family member.

It takes you places.

At first, you might start out caregiving heroically–feeling that you can make a difference. You can “fix” this problem–that your loved one’s condition can be bettered if you could just…get in there…find the right doctor, get on the right meds, coordinate the proper level of care…

It’s a tough day when you finally realize you can’t fix your loved one.

You can’t fix their disease.

You can do very little to make anything about this “better.”

You learn to just live, love, and hope to be granted some small level of grace.

You may feel as if you’ve lost them forever and this can cause you to grow bitter if you’re not careful. We don’t like not being in control, not getting results.

 But what if one of the goals/purpose/benefits of your loved one getting ill, facing death is what it does to you, the caregiver? What if part of this is about you?

What caregiving does to you, asks of you, unearths in you? 

I’m not trying to be Pollyanna here.

Sometimes it all feels useless. You didn’t sign up for a life lesson, and this is really shitty. Pardon my French, but I’ve been there, and I used far more “French” than that in my caregiving years! 

If someone told me that I was supposed to get something out of caregiving, there would be some days that I would have definately thrown some heavy, possibly sharp object directly at that person’s head.

But as the target talking here, I’m going to duck and say it again:

What are you supposed to get out of this experience? 

I can’t, I refuse to believe that caregiving is just this terrible, horrible thing that you have to endure because life’s just like that. Caregiving is so much more.

As much as it feels as if your loved one’s personality is gone–that you’re caring for a body, not your mom, remember they’re deep inside. When my mother started to lose her essence, I had to sort of go on auto-pilot. I had to care-give because of my commitment, my integrity (which I was groping and grasping to hold on to).

The difficulty lies in the fact of what we knew they once were–vivacious, intelligent, gifted people who made an impact on the world.

I was in a caregiver support group recently where a woman shared that her husband was a Yale Law professor, and now he can’t even dress himself. Her grief was palatable. She was holding onto who he was–what he did, what he presented to the world. She hadn’t let that part of him go yet.

Although you may only get glimpses of your loved one, hold onto the knowledge that they’re there. It becomes a treasure hunt. I began to seek out glimpses of my mother.

I started to notice smaller and smaller details: the way her hands moved, the way she’d brush her hair out of her face. That was still her. I didn’t use my hands like that–that was her own distinct way. As the bigger, more obvious ways of communicating diminished, it helped to pull in, and find my mother as if we were enjoying a game of hide and seek.

Some nugget, some kernel of their spirit is still inside.

 

Since the release of Mothering Mother, I’ve spoken to several thousand caregivers and their loved ones across the country. I’ve visited care facilities, and I’ve found that no two people are alike. No two people with Alzheimer’s react the same way. Even in their “lostness” is unique.

I knew I had to let go of who my mother was, and sadly, I knew I had turned her into a list: mother, wife, minister, cook.

I had to decide to love who my mother is: a person, a woman, the core of a spirit.  

 

I read about a couple whose son had been in a motorcycle accident years before and was brain injured. He was still alive, but he wasn’t the son they knew before the accident.

They decided to hold a memorial service or celebration service–even though he had not passed away. 

They needed to let go of the son they once had–in order to embrace their new son. This new son still needed to be loved, still needed parents, but as long as they were holding onto that old son/old image–it hurt too much.

I know that parents of children with disabilities have to mourn their pre-conceived notions of their children, of what it would mean to be a parent. They must learn to love and embrace the child in front of them–their medical/mental challenges, the way they may look, talk, or act different. They must witness and embrace the new beauty, the new relationship before them.

This journey, this revelation changes them–and in the end, oftentimes makes them a better person capable of more love and peace than could have ever imagined.

You’re not really letting go of your loved one–of who they were, who they are–you’re enfolding that into you–you’re the keeper of time, of memory, of all you hold dear.

 

 

I love time theories and quantum mechanics, (I wrote several papers on it in college) and I read a great article by a physicist that explained that time and events(or place–for us to conceive time, we have to intersect it with place) can be seen as a wheel with each moment being a spoke–and our memory adds meaning to that event–so some moments or events “spike out.”

Each moment, each event stands apart and will always exist.

For me, my mother, myself, and all the moments I hold dear exist forever.

 My favorite author, Madeleine L’Engle says,

“The great thing about growing older is that we get to keep

every age we’ve ever been.”

 Carol D. O’Dell

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated Blog at www.OpentoHope.com

Kunati Publishers, www.kunati.com/motheringmother-memoir-by-car/ – 95k

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Those last few hours, days, weeks, or months are a mix or panic, sorrow, numbness, and tenderness.

It usually comes after an accident, diagnosis, or surgery–or sometimes, for our elderly, it follows a slow, painful descent.

However you got here, my heart goes out to you.

“I Don’t Know What I Should be Doing Right Now.”

This is normal. You feel lost, kicked in the gut–you have little or no experience at this.

I know your world feels as if it’s falling apart. You might feel the need to control everything, or you may feel that nothing is important. You may be going a mile a minute, making phone calls, demanding to see doctors, exploring treatment options–or you may be paralyzed and all you can do is sit next to your loved one and try not to cry.

Either way is fine. Your’re on auto-pilot. This is fight or flight. You wish you could just go back to life as before, but you can’t. You wish you could be a caregiver–as hard as it is, it sure beats feeling helpless.

Let others step in–or tell them everyone that everything can wait. Do what’s natural.

The Bare Essentials–A Few Important Things to Remember:

  • Get a piece of paper and pen–write down anything the doctors or nurses tell you–you’ll be glad you did when someone asks you something and you have a complete mind meltdown
  • Keep track of your loved one’s meds and treatment times–realize the care staff isn’t going to deliver the meds on the dot, but you have the right to ask–especially with pain meds (which can be done with IV) your loved one should be kept comfortable–and you can insist on this
  • Designate a liason–a family member or friend who can field calls and coordinate plans–they’ll feel useful and you won’t feel overwhelmed
  • Pace yourself. If you’re in a hospital or hospice or at home, know that you have to keep some strength and clarity in reserve–in case you need it
  • Get your sleep–and get a bit of fresh air–you may be called on to make a very important decision–do you really want to do that on no sleep?
  • If your loved one can talk, initiate a conversation about end of life care–feeding tubes, Do Not Resuscitate orders–if you have a living will, then you have it in writing–if you don’t, then as hard as this is, ask the nurse’s desk for one (the staff can get you one). It could save you so much heartache later
  • If you do have a living will, bring it to the hospital or care center. Even if the facility has one, you need the other copy with you. Trust me, these things can slip through the cracks
  • Be the family you are. Don’t let others judge how you’re reacting to this situation. If you’re not cuddly, then don’t do anything that doesn’t feel natural
  • Know that you can’t control others actions–some people may rush to your side, others hang back. Let everyone “be” without worrying about them. Stay focused on you and your loved one

I’m Already Wracked With Guilt and Regret–We Should Have Caught This Sooner, I Should Have Done More…

These are normal feelings. It gives our brains something to do. We’re under the illusion that we control things, that if we had done this, not done that, that things would be different. Life is bigger than us mere mortals. Try not to stay in this awful, negative vortex.

You’re spinning your wheels and taking valuable time and thought –and love away from your your loved one and the time you have together. Stay Present.

I Can’t Think Straight–Shouldn’t I Be Making Plans?

Only if that brings you a measure of comfort. It will all work out. Let your liaison coordinate anything you’d like done now–flights, checking out care facilities, etc. This isn’t the time to get caught up in the doing–and if you are, do it because it’s your coping mechanism, not because you think you should.

When Do I Start Making Funeral Arrangements?

It’s different for everyone. Some people have family plots and know their local funeral director as a friend. Others are new to their area and haven’t a clue.

Are you the type to ask a doctor flat out how long does your loved one have left?

Do you want to know?

It’s okay not to, everyone’s copes differently. Also know that doctors are not infallible. They can be wrong. They can misjudge. Life is determined by the will–and the spirit. But if it would make you feel better to have a general time frame, then ask a doctor or nurse–ask if it’s time for hospice–enlist all the care you can get.

Hospice will be more wiling to talk about the death and dying process than doctors will (usually) -and palliative care (pain management). Some doctors resist hospice, but I find they’re a valuable resource to families. It doesn’t mean your loved one is going to die this second because you ask for hospice. It means you’ll have the support you need–people that have been through this.

Should My Loved One Stay in the Hospital, Go Into a Hospice Center or Should I Take Them Home?

Again, what’s right for you? And your loved one? Have you talked about this before? Have you ever thought about it? Is there care manageable at home? Will that be more stress on you–or less?

It may take you a while to figure out what feels right, and sometimes you figure out what’s right by what’s wrong–if the hospital is getting on your nerves and you just one everyone to go away and for it to be a time of peace, then you probably want a hospice center or to return home.

Does the care feel overwhelming to you? Would you rather go to a care center and let others take care of things? You can spend the night there, and most hospice centers are very thoughtful and serene.

Or does home sound like the only place you and your loved one wants to be. Home hospice is available as well, and pain can be managed from home.

You’ll figure this out along the way. Don’t feel pressured to make decisions prematurely or on someone else’s timeframe. Trust your gut.

For some, this is a deeply spiritual time, a time when faith is important. Even if you haven’t turned to your faith in years, if it feels right, then ask to see a chaplain, priest, or rabbi. Faith can oftentimes give you a measure of comfort and hope.

I’m Scared if I Stop Moving, I’ll Fall Apart

Is it so bad to fall apart? I know you think that if you do, you’ll never function again. You will.

If you truly can’t let yourself fall apart now, then set a date–in the future–and give yourself permission to fall apart then. Eventually, you’ll need to cry and scream, and beat something. You’ll need to curse, or sob, or fall to the ground. This is all a part of grief, and grief starts long before the last breath.

Losing a loved one is about the hardest thing you’ll ever do and the emotions that come with it are some of the hardest, strongest, saddest, awful-est time you’ll ever go through. But you will.

You will keep breathing. Your heart will keep beating, unfair as it is. You will.

But for today, be present.

If you have only days, weeks, or months left, then gather and treasure every sweet moment you have–

Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated Blog at www.OpentoHope.com

Kunati Publishers, www.kunati.com/motheringmother-memoir-by-car/ – 95k

Read Full Post »

Most caregivers I know are rsick of being told to take care of themselves.

It’s not that they don’t appreciate the advice, but I’m sure they feel like saying something along the lines of…

If you’d like to come over and give me a long weekend off, I’d be glad to take care of myself.

Or

And, how do you propose I do that on the energy of an anemic sloth?

Taking care of yourself takes time, energy, sometimes money, and resources.

These are commodities that most caregivers don’t have a lot of.

How do you get energy if you don’t have energy?

Ask yourself, what’s draining me? I mean other than 24/7 care and talking circles with a person who has Alzheimer’s. Mental energy drainers, crazy makers (meaning your relatives and other uninformed people) drain more energy than the physical work you do.

Make a list of crazy makers–from the irritating neighbor who fusses at you because your dog barks (at three in the afternoon) to the unhelpful, disinterested nurse who refuses to simply call in a prescription for your mom even though you know she has the same condition as the last time she went to the doctor.

Now that you have your crazy maker list you’ll hear an alarm going off in your head the next time you’re dealing with them–you’ll be able to detach before your emotions get tangled in with their chaos. Limit the amount of conversation you have with crazy makers. Get in, get out, that’s my motto.

It takes energy to get energy.

I hate this one, but it’s like exercise. You can’t wait until you feel like exercising or you’ll never do it.

You exercise in order to feel like exercising. Shut off brain. Don’t over think. Just grumble and move, grumble and move. Ten minutes in, and those lovely endorphins just might kick in. Tell yourself you can quit in ten minutes. I bet you’ll want to continue. Most days. Some days.

Are you really physically tired?

You might not be.

Caregivers suffer from monotony. Most of their days are too predictable. It’s boring. It’s not stimulating. You’re still young, healthy and your brain and body needs activity. You’re probably acting like your elder loved one–like you’re 87 with arthritis.

Mentally separate yourself from your loved one. Not in a mean way, but realize that you are 20, 30 years younger. Move like it. Talk like it. Don’t let an atmosphere of depression pull you down. 

Research has shown that if you’re tired, it may be because the other side of your brain needs stimulating.

If you’re physically tired, you might need mental stimulation–a game of computer solitaire, a crossword puzzle, learn a language, have a conversation with someone who challenges you. That way, you’re using the other side of your brain–the side that’s been lethargic.

If you’ve been working through a problem in your head, (even having an argument, figuring out care arrangements, or worrying about something), then you may need a physical activity–clean out a closet, wash the car, scrub out the frig. Your body is yearning to move.

Do you know why we yawn?

It’s not just because we’re tired. It’s that our breathing slows when we’re tired and we’re not getting enough oxygen. Our body triggers us to yawn so we’ll take in a deep breath and fill up with oxygen. Cool, huh? Even our body knows what we need. Maybe you need to “yawn,” metaphorically that is, and get some life sustaining oxygen flowing again.

So, brass tacks here’s how to take care of yourself when you don’t want to be told to take care of yourself:  

  • Tell those do-gooders “You should take care of yourself” folks to back off! Uhless they’re willing to anty up, it’s not fair to just tell you what to do and not help.
  • Name those crazy makers and decrease how much time you spend with them.
  • Do one thing you’ve been avoiding–calling the bank, deworming the dog–nothing zaps energy like dreading something
  • WALK or STRETCH for ten minutes. Not because you feel like it. Gripe all the way through, I don’t care. Just do it!
  • Do you know how much energy it takes to hold in our emotions? Go to your car, shut the door and have an imaginary tell-off session. Write a really nasty letter. Scream.
  • After you’ve said all those cruel and probably deserved terrible things, it’s time to pick your words and confront someone who’s really been bugging you. Start with, “When you ____________, I feel ___________. Then offer a solution. Next time, please ______________.  Then walk away. Refuse to get into an argument.  As scary as this is, this little script can save your life. Unresolved emotions contribute to heart disease, so unplug those arteries and stand up for yourself!
  • Create a time structure you can live with. I know people who get up at 6:00 because their loved one needs a pill. At six a.m.? I’d much rather be on a 8, 12, 4, 8 schedule. You’re the caregiver and consistency is important, but you should decide and dictate the care. Not them. Eating at the same time, taking their meds, and going to bed at the same time is important for everyone–but make it live-able for you.
  • Ask yourself each day: “What was the best part of my day?” It can something small, like having cream for your coffee. Most of the time for me, it has to do with nature–a cardinal that bathed in the birdbath outside my kitchen window. It might be a thank you or a compliment, a surprisingly helpful bank teller. Once you start this, then you’ll want something to be thankful for–you’ll be looking out for it–creating it. Gratitude is good for the soul.

That’s it. Nothing big or earth shattering:

Tell those do-gooders to back off. Decrease crazy maker time, walk and stretch, create a schedule you can live with, deal with something you’ve been dreading, tell someone how you feel and offer a solution, and be grateful. That’s the beginning of a great life.

Also know that if you’re changing gears–if your loved one has just taken another downward step–their Alzheimer’s has gotten worse, they don’t know you anymore, you think you’re entering into the end of life–or if your’e grieving–then chuck all this well meaning advice and survive. Your soul is aching. Do the best you can. I cared for my mom until the end, and I know that there are times when you can’t do anything but breathe–and do what is at hand. No guilt. Get through.

Caregiving has its challenges, but seeking answers to these challenges might just improve your life.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

www.kunati.com/mothering Kunati Publishing

Read Full Post »

Caregivers,

Do you have a place to go?

A sanctuary?

If not, it may be a big part as to why you’re stressed and resentful.

Caregiving invades your space, your head, your time–you don’t always get to say when you’re needed.

I pulled many a “late night shift” with my mom.

My mother had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and not only did she have Sundowning, a condition in which people with Alzheimer’s get more aggitated and have more energy as the sun goes down–and on into the night, but she simply didn’t need much sleep–or her body wouldn’t let her sleep. (Here’s a post I wrote about my experience with sundowning).

It’s not like we could make it up during the day.

I was dragging. That made me miserable, fussy, and I tended to overeat. Why? Because studies have now shown that obesity is linked with lack of sleep. We tend to munch all day because it gives us something to do, causes our brains to perk up, and since sugar is almost always involved, we’re pumping ourselves up like we’re climbing the highest point of a rollercoaster–and then plummeting to exhaustion.

Maybe what you need isn’t to just lie down. 

It’s a renewal of your spirit you’re hungry and longing for.

You don’t have to be religious to need a sanctuary.

I love that I happen to live in a bird sanctuary area–the Timucuan Preserve. I love the thought that animals are held as sacred and that an area is designated for them.

But shouldn’t we humans create our own sanctuaries? What exactly is a sanctuary?

The word, “sanctuary” means:

Source: Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) –The spelling has changed since then.

Sanctuary\Sanc"tu*a*ry\, n.; pl. Sanctuaries. [OE. seintuarie, OF. saintuaire, F. sanctuaire, fr. L. sanctuarium, from sanctus sacred, holy. See Saint.]
   A sacred place; a consecrated spot; a holy and inviolable
   site.
Two of the definitions include:
c) A house consecrated to the worship of God; a place where
       divine service is performed; a church, temple, or other
       place of worship. A place to keep sacred objects.
   (d) A sacred and inviolable asylum; a place of refuge and
       protection; shelter; refuge; protection.
Operative words: Refuge. Sacred. Shelter. Protection.

How to Create a Sanctuary:

What is sacred or holy to you?

  • Gather a few objects–a photo, seashells, stones, your mother’s broach, your dad’s pocket watch, your baby picture.
  • Grab a basket or a box and walk around your home and hard. Gather anything that interests you. Your sacred objects will change over time. Just get it rolling for now.

Find a place:

  • Where in your home or yard feels “safe?”
  • Where can you have some privacy? Where can you relax?
  • Place a table, a desk, a chair, a cover at this place. If it’s outside then create a box of your sacred items that you can carry out with you.
  • You might also want to include a journal and pen, micro-cassette recorder, a drawing pad, candles, a rosary–any object that helps you figure out life.
  • Go frivolous~ don’t think a sanctuary is all serious! Take your ipod along. Dance! Paint your toenails and read a magazine! Navel gaze. You may just need some extended down time–staring into space.
  • There are no rules. Do what you feel like doing. We’re taught not to trust our feelings. That if we got to do what we felt like, we’d all be drug addicts, cheaters who eat nothing but Oreos. Trust yourself. Do what feels right. Sleep. Stare. Rant. Cry. Sleep some more.
  • Your sanctuary is off limits to everyone else. Make your boundaries. No interruptions. No phone calls. Unless there’s blood and lots of it–you are not to be called away from your most important work–taking care of you.
  • You’ll be surprised, but your family and friends will respect your space–if you do. This is a great example for your children.
  • Don’t expect “results.”
  • This isn’t a magic box. It’s a place to rest or even to rejuvinate. Recenter. Calm down. Work things out. Place no expectations. This isn’t like Weight Watchers for the soul. You don’t have to weigh in and measure if you’ve gained or lost since last week. Just be.
  • You may need to use your sanctuary to work out your anger, hurt, and resentment. One thing I do when I’m really upset is to write it all down on scraps of paper, say it outloud, and then burn it. It helps to watch your anger turn to ash.

Pick a Sanctuary Location:

  • Some people like clearing out a closet and placing a chair, pillows, and a small table and light in their “prayer closet.” Oprah recently featured a sanctuary closet that was really decked out. 
  • Others like to go outside–they hide away in the nook of the yard and get the benefit of nature to heal them.
  • One friend keeps her “special box” she calls it in the car. She literally walks out the door and goes and sits in her car. Her family is less likely to find her there and she feels safe and cocooned. She can scream, cry or laugh in her sound-proof sanctuary.
  • For some, it’s in the bathroom. They retreat eat night to the tub–they keep candles, soaps, and a journal on hand. They know that being naked will most likely keep people away! Hey! Whatever works!
  • Be like my cat and change your sanctuary every once in a while.

Cats are great to observe. They seem to make their spots seem sacred. My cat picks a spot and goes there after breakfast each morning. He gives himself a luxurious bath, folds in his little paws and I swear, if cats could pray, I’d think he was praying. Then, he takes a nap.

This week, his spot is under my birth grandmother’s rocking chair in my bedroom. He tends to pick a spot and goes there for 3-4 weeks before picking another spot. Recently, it’s been in the back of my closet–that’s when he doesn’t want to be found. A few weeks ago, it was on a chair next to the dining room windows so he could enjoy the sun. I knew where he was, but he’s also quiet and hidden away enough to not invite attention. Smart cat.

What Do I Do in My Sanctuary?

First, let’s address what you DON’T do.

  • You don’t take care of anybody but you.
  • You don’t stay busy just to avoid what’s bothering you.
  • You don’t have your thoughts constantly interrupted with the chatter of life.
  • You don’t allow yourself to be bombarded with the demands of every day life.

This is What You DO:

Rest. Think. Imagine. Work out hurts. Cry. Zone out. Learn (maybe take a book?) Find your joy.

If it feels odd at first because you’ve never done anything like this, then let it feel odd. Your sanctuary practice will be even more necessary at the end of your loved one’s life–and especially during your time of grief. Create this space now so that you’ll have a place to run to when you really need it.

Like my cat, I change my locale every once in a while.

Right now, it’s on my back porch on my parent’s glider (they had it since I was adopted in 1965). I have a stack of books on one arm, and I recently bought a big cushion–in case I get sleepy. About 9am you’ll find me there with my 2nd cup of coffee, my journal, a few magazines, a no doubt, a couple of dogs by my feet.

I’m a Guy and This Sounds Lame:

Does it?

My daddy had a sanctuary. He called it a garage. He built it himself. He left for his garage every morning after breakfast (he was retired at this point) and after his game shows. He putzed, worked on a broken lamp, put in a small bathroom. He listened to talk radio. For the most part, he was alone–although a few friends would come and visit. Mama and I came down but never really stayed long. It felt like we were intruding.

He’d come back to the house with a smile. He’d had his time to himself. He smelled of sawdust and linseed oil–and peanuts and Coke he kept in a cooler to sustain him throughout the day. He came back relaxed because he allowed himself this break. He didn’t have to listen to Mama nag or me talk incessantly. He came back ready to be a dad and husband. Smart man.

Caregiving stress is a real issue with real ramifications to your health and realtionships. Sometimes we unknowingly contribute to our own stress by always being on call. Sometimes it’s a power thing we’re unaware of, sometimes it’s fear, sometimes it’s just a plain ole’ bad habit we can’t figure out how to break.

You need a sanctuary–caregiving or not.

You need to know that the world won’t fall apart because you take a half an hour and pull inward.

Like Daddy, you’ll come back refreshed.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

Kunati Publishers, www.kunati.com/mothering

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »