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Archive for the ‘family caregiving’ Category

Caregiving and Multi-Tasking: Are You Trying To Do Too Much?

If you’re counting medications, talking on the phone to Medicare, cooking dinner, letting out the cat, answering your mother’s incessant questions—and zipping over to the computer to order your husband’s birthday cake—you’re a multitasking caregiving fool.  Not that you’re a fool, it’s just that I figured out it was foolish for me to think I could pull all that off at the same time—error free.

Why doesn’t multitasking work?  

It boils down to our brain structure. Science, April 16, 2010 edition reports a study in brain imaging  when subjects are given many tasks to complete simultaneously. The study asked subjects to “juggle streams of letters, concurrently performing two pairing tasks” only to find that our brains simply can’t do its best job when given too many jobs.

When we give our brains one task, one part of our two-part hemispheres take on the job—whichever the chore is best suited for. When we give our brains a second job, it’s allocated to the other half. We might be able to manage that, but add a third, and there’s no more hemispheres. We volley back and forth, jump from thought to thought, and eventually one of the balls gets dropped.

Sadly, and particularly in the medical field, “dropping the ball” can lead to dangerous outcomes—wrong dosages, a surgery on the wrong limb, a botched procedure. Even as a family caregiver, the wrong medications or incorrect dosage amounts are a strong possibility.

How do you care-give without multi-tasking?

I won’t lie. It’s not easy.

I was a sandwich generation, multi-generational, multi-tasking mom. Three kids, two dogs, a cat, a traveling husband, and a mom with heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. My days and nights blurred like a carosel on crack. I was dealing with teenage drivers, dating, my mom’s list of medications, her in and out hospital stays, a house to manage, my own feelings of womanhood, marriage, and laying down a career in order to be “mom central.” And yes, I dropped the ball. I let exhaustion and frustration lead me to some poor decisions. There were days I would sold a kid to the gypsies, my mom to the circus–and I had big plans of heading south and taking up life as a salty, toothless waitress.

I had my scares–waking up to find my kid had blown curfew. Waking up to find my mom heading out the back door (thank goodness for alarms!), calling poison control because my mom had tried to drink liquid deodorant (drink milk is what the told me–ever try to force an adult to drink anything?) Those wake-up calls scared the crap out of me. I was blowing it–and the consequences were only going to ramp up if I didn’t figure out how to care for those i loved.

The world comes at caregivers pretty hard and fast.

All we can do is prioritize. Let things wait. Decide what’s most important and shut the rest out, especially when it comes to medications, bathing, driving, and other safety issues. So ignore the phone. Answer that email later. Turn off the television. As the world around you begins to calm, you’ll find you really enjoy paying attention to just one thing at a time.

And perhaps there’s even a more important reason. When we’re multitasking we’re not really present. We may be performing a complicated list of chores, but we’re not the daughter, son, or spouse we mean—and need—to be.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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There came a time when I knew my mother was dying. It wasn’t necessarily a physical symptom, it was a gut feeling. I was scared–even frantic. How do I do this? If you’re a caregiver it’s likely that you will eventually face the last turn in road. Your loved one will entering the dying process and as death draws near you may call or be recommended for hospice.

I felt sad, cornered, overwhelmed, grieving, angry, panicked, even numb, and if I’m really honest–almost relieved. I was not only losing my mother, I was losing a part of me.

How do you know when the end is near?

Do you wait for a doctor or nurse to tell you?

Do you check into the hospital?

Who do you call–what do you next?

All I know is that I had been caring for my mother for a number of years. I was the one who fixed her meals, bathed, her, listened to each breath, monitored everything from her moods to her medicine.

When no one else knew–I knew.

I asked the doctor if we were ready for hospice. He hedged. A few weeks later, I insisted.

Hospice came in and although my mother qualified they didn’t think that death was imminent. Still, something in me knew it wouldn’t be too much longer.

Mother rallied–I felt duped–then she plunged again. In less than six weeks from the time I made that call my mother took that last turn. For three weeks or so, she lingered. She forgot how to eat–and I let her. By that I mean that I chose not to insert a feeding tube. That’s a highly personal family decision, but it was the right one for us. It wasn’t an easy decision by no means–and I knew I’d be the one to witness every breath, every moment. And I took on that role willingly.

I received one of the greatest gifts of my life in those quiet, grueling weeks. My mother taught me how to die. She gave me front row seat–something not many of us in our modern society gets the privilege of witnessing. But I ask, how else will we learn?

How do you know when the end is near?

It’s instinctual, guttural, spiritual, biological–but you’re also subconsciously weighing every piece of information you’ve gathered–as spouse, daughter, son, or friend. You’ve been there all along and even if you’re not medical, you know when a shift has occurred. You’re picking up on cues you’re not even aware of.

Trust that you may know before anyone else knows–and you might not be able to explain why.

In the end I was fully present. Scary–yes. But the frantic fear was gone. It was tough beyond words, but it was also good–necessary–and for me, holy.

Few of us have another way out of caregiving, especially for our elders. We all must die.

Knowing the end is near is a rare gift–one I’m profoundly grateful for.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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April 8, 9, 2010, I’ll be speaking at Owensboro Community and Technical College in Owensboro, Kentucky. My book, Mothering Mother is their Spring Common Reading Room book recommended for their entire college to read. They’re embracing the message–that when a community cares about caregiving–it makes a big difference.

Caregiving is a community affair. It impacts our society as well as our families. Meeting the needs of one elder can often take a two dozen people–doctors and nurses, rehabilitation therapists, pharmacist’s, the clergy and church members, neighbors, extended family and the list goes on.

But more important, caring for an elder impacts the family. Ask any grandchild who is facing the loss of a grandparent–what it’s like for them and their parents–the worry, exhaustion, grief, and guilt that come in tow. Caregiving can change a family–in good and in challenging ways. Families sacrifice, grapple to find the time and resources needed, and then feel at a loss when there’s nothing more youan do to make things better.

This isn’t an “age” problem. Many teens, college age persons and young adults care give as well. Cancer, mental illness, accidents, and heart disease are just a few of the diseases and circumstances that can enter a person’s life at any age.

And right now, we’re all struggling–financially–to make ends meet. Many families have moved in together and created multi-generational households out of necessity. Loss of jobs and not being able to afford  professional care are just some of the reasons we come under one roof. We pool our resources and do the best we can–we love and give–and hope it’s enough.

I’ll gather with the nursing department, “The Family” psychology class, English classes,give a reading and even do a presentation for the community at the Shephard Center. Many are free and open to the public–so if you live in Kentucky or Southern Indiana –consider stopping by.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my story. When a community listens, people come together, learn, ask questions and begin to prepare. Caregiving is so much easier when we gather our resources and share the load.

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When our home became a multigeneration family household, I found that the clutter factor exploded. I did want my mom to move in with us–I was glad to have her–but I didn’t realize that she wanted to keep every wadded up ball of aluminum foil and every plastic bowl or plate she had saved from a frozen meal! Along with the family photographs and heirloom came ten pounds of crap. Pardon my language, but what else do you call it? Standing in my kitchen and surrounded by more boxes than a U-Haul could hold, I found myself on the verge of tears. How could I manage a house of seven people, two dogs, and a cat? I had to somehow tame the mess, feed and nurture them all–including me. Little did I know that clutter came hand-in-hand with caregiving.

7  Tips to Tame the Multi-Gen Clutter:

  • Throw things out when they’re not looking. You have to. If not, you’ll drown on VHS tapes, plastic cups, and magazines from the 80′s.
  • Create a video/dvd/cd archive. Hire your teen or college kid to scan in your photos and then store–or ditch those paper copies. Make a back-up disk and give copies to other family members. Do you know that I have over 20,000 photo scanned now? Crazy.
  • Create centers–places where things go–and then become the enforcer! All coats in the hall closet–not draped over the chair. Have a homework center, medicine center, library book center and  video game center. Be a stickler about making sure everyone puts their items in the centers.
  • Instill a 5 minute clean up time–and do it several times a day. Everybody pitches in–and be sure to do it before bedtime. 5 minutes times 5 people is the equivalent of you doing a 25 minute clean-up alone.
  • Tell yourself it’s for a season. Face it, seven people, seven times seven. You’re just going to have to deal with some of the clutter. Having my mom’s knick-knacks sit around wasn’t exactly my choice of decorating style, but it gave her a sense of home–and that matters more. Today, my mom is gone, and I’ve completely decorated to my taste–but I miss my mom.
  • Choose one surface that will always stay nice. Put flowers on your dining room table and forbid anyone’s junk/medicine bottles/backpacks/mail, water bottles, etc., fill your one serene space.
  • Your bedroom–your sanctuary. Don’t let your bedroom or bath become the dumping ground. Paint one wall a soothing color. Get a new bedspread and decorate your sidetable with things you love–good books, magazines, mints, pens, and few photographs you love. You may not be able to control the whole house, but your sacred space is vital to your sanity, and to your heart.

Stuff is just stuff.

Family is infinitely more important. But you have to be able to locate them…in the midst of the clutter!

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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Cooking for my elderly mom was a lot like cooking for a fussy toddler. She wanted to eat what she wanted to eat–and that could fluctuate at any given moment. I tried to make her happy, I really did. Caregiving and cooking is a daily challenge, not to mention a battle of the wills. Little Debbie’s and Klondike bars were about the only thing that would make her face light up into a smile. I used to let it get to me, then I figured hey, she’s 92 years old–she has earned the right to eat what she wants! Besides, I should worry (focus is a better word) more about what I’m eating than what she’s eating!

While I didn’t blame her for going for the sweets, (who wouldn’t?) the problem was, I did the ole’ “one for you and one for me.” Before I knew it, I had gained over 30 pounds! It took patience and experimentation, but I finally learned how to cook and eat in a healthy way–and still fit it in with my crazy chaotic caregiving day.

Tips I Learned About Cooking and Caregiving:

  • Get a couple of sizes of Calphalon pans (not the nonstick type–avoid Teflon for health reasons). It’s quick and easy to pan cook your meats such as fish, chicken, pork or beef–for fast cooking and so you can do several things with your chicken breasts, pork chops, etc.
  • Start the day with a good breakfast. Yes, I sound like your mom did when you were a kid, but it’s true! Not only do our elders typically enjoy breakfast food, they tend to be hungry first thing in the morning–and breakfast is an easy clean up meal. Go for eggs or oatmeal, always have some fruit, and even enjoy a slice of bacon (it’s actually not too bad for you!)
  • Consider eating a hearty lunch–or even doing the whole 2 meal plan. I grew up with retired parents and we ate breakfast at 10 and dinner at 4. It worked out great–and clean up was early in the evening.
  • Take that chicken breast you’re cooking for mom, cook some rice in some chicken stock, add a few carrots, a slash of parsley and garlic, ( found my mom got to where she didn’t like spices that much) chop that breast into easily chewed pieces and your mom has a hearty and comforting lunch/dinner.
  • Take the second chicken breast and chop it over a bed of greens (by that, I mean spinach or kale–go for the hearty greens) chop some red peppers, purple onions, boiled egg, some feta or goat cheese and you have one great salad–mix a bit of dijon mustard with a splash of balsamic vinegar and honey, heat it 20 seconds in the microwave and you have a great hot dressing. If it’s winter and chilly, saute it in your pan for a warm dinner and serve with a sweet potato–and you’ve got one nutritionally packed meal.
  • K.I.S.S. Keep it Simple, Sweetheart. Any great chef (such as my hero, Tom Calicchio of Top Chef) will tell you, keep it simple. Use a few fresh, colorful, quality ingredients–and let the flavors wow you.
  • Get mom those 100 calorie snack packs for cookies (if you can stop yourself) and keep her snacks back in her room. If she stops eating her meals and is loading up on the goodies, either remove them or don’t worry about it. When you’re 90, do you still have to follow the food pyramid? Really? I think not…
  • Dinner should be the lightest meal of the day. That’s why God made canned soups. Enjoy tomato soup or black bean soup–and follow it with some Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey in it. You’ll feel like you had dessert.
  • Take your vitamin D and other supplements–walk 20 minutes a day (2–10 minute walks are great) keep handweights nearby for a bit of strength training. Along with a decent night’s sleep (I know, not always possible!) and you’ve got the basics of a healthy lifestyle.
  • Think about yourself–a lot. Sounds crazy, I know.  But caregiving takes up so much of your time and energy–and that’s okay–but you’re responsible for what goes on between your ears. Buy books to help you with you. Go to the library and check out some health books of CD’s such as Dr. Amen’s Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.
  • Pick one part of your body and just work that out. Do lunges down the hall. Do 10 sit-ups (girlie kind, half way) a day-no more. If you like wearing sleeveless tops in the summer, then lift handweights while the commercials are on. Don’t worry about the rest of the package–you’ll have great arms!
  • Eat only what you love–but learn to love the good stuff. It’s almost cherry season and I have every intention on gorging myself  with fresh cherries. How bad can it be for me? They’re only good (and relatively inexpensive) for a few short weeks, so why not indulge myself in something that I love? My new favorite foods are Fage Greek yogart, goat cheese (I eat it on everything I can think of) and a great Riesling–I only have that once a week, but what a treat! Life is too short to fill my body with processed crapola. In the words of L’Oreal….I am so worth it! (paraphrase :))

It’s easy fall into the zombie mind of caregiving–but along with that comes in tow some baaaaad eating habits. Keep it simple. Learn to love the good stuff. And remember…good food, good family times–does life get any better?

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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April 8th and 9th, I’m speaking at the Owensboro Community and Technical College in Owensboro Kentucky, and at every caregiving workshop and talk I give, I meet young men and women who are caring for an elderly grandparent. Many of them have moved in with their grandmother or grandfather and while they’re going to college or working a job, they come home each evening to spend time with the “older generation.” They do home chores, coordinate doctor visits–and what’s amazing is–no one is making them do this. They’re caregiving their grandparents because they want to.

Here’s Why Grandchildren Care for Their Grandparents: (In their own words)

“My parents divorced when I was young and my grandmother was the one person who was really there when I was a child.”

“I’ve always felt close to my grandparents–why wouldn’t I pitch in?”

“Living with my grandmother is a lot easier than living with my mother. Our living arrangement has worked out well. She needs a little help and I need a place to stay. Besides, she’s a lot of fun.”

“Our family is small. I don’t want to miss the time we have left. My grandparents give me a sense of family legacy I wouldn’t have without them.”

“If  my Mom and I didn’t help out with our granddad, he’d have to go to a care home–he’s not very social and I don’t think he’d be happy there. We take him to the store and to the library. Mom and I take turns driving him to doctor appointments–and what’s nice is that my children get to know their granddad.

Caring for a grandparent carries a unique reward. Many of us are close to our grandparents because they doted on us as children. Grandparents are oftentimes their grandchildren’s babysitters or their grandparent even had custody of them. So in many cases, the grandchild has spent more time with their grandparent than with their parent.

It also speaks to the power of family. Many young adults want to keep those connections alive. They don’t feel they have a lot of family history–especially if they’ve experienced divorce, death, or an illness in the family–it’s even more important.

What are the challenges a grandchild faces while caregiving a grandparent?

  • Dealing with elder-care illness and doctor appointments.
  • Feeling “old” or weighed down at a young age.
  • Juggling their own school, work, or children’s schedules along with their caregiving responsibilities.
  • Conflicts with siblings or other family members who won’t help out.
  • Shouldering some of the finanical costs that come with elder-care.

Amy, a friend of mine is 32. She lived with her grandparents for 5 years–during and after college. “I wouldn’t trade that time for anything in the world. Sure, it was hard, but I loved them so much. My Gramps died the second year–and my Grams died last year–I had to place her in a home because her dementia got so bad I couldn’t care for her and continue to work–and I had to work. Still, I know I did the best I could for both of them,” Amy says.

“As a young caregiver, there may be plenty of challenges, so be sure to ask for lots of help–but as I said–I’d do it all over again,” Amy continued.

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The new show, “Who Do You Think You Are” is a hit. There’s a reason. We want–and need to know where we come from. (www.ancestory.com is a good place to start) Louis Gates Jr. does a great job on the PBS show, “Faces of America” researches celebrities past and revealed Yo Yo Ma’s family tree dating back to the 11th century. You don’t even have to turn on your television to learn about your own history. Your own elders offer you insights you don’t want to miss. That’s why hanging out with your grandparents, great aunts, and uncles and parents, is a smart idea. It’s one of the perks of caregiving–you get to be around the people you’re related to, and you’ll learn stories, songs, recipes, and family legacies that are only revealed naturally–around the kitchen table, long car rides, and late at night.

Being adopted, I feel equally trenched in four families lives. I’m every bit invested in my adoptive family as I am my birth family. Who they are, the amazing feats of courage, their songs, stories, photographs, and ethical inheritance is truly a part of who I am.

I found my birth family 20 years ago, and since then, I’ve discovered that my great, great, (keep going) grandfather was a chaplain in the American Revolutionary war, which makes me eligible for the DAR. I’ve got lawyers, land owners, ministers, mayors, and statesmen in my family. I’ve found amazing stories of an aunt whose baby died at childbirth and she willed herself to die three days later. My grandmother was married 4 times, and fell out of a coconut tree–at the age of 83!

But what’s even more amazing is not that somebody famous or some war hero is lurking in your DNA, it’s the quiet moments, like when my adoptive mother who had only ever said the “nice’ things about her mother finally opened up that she had been critical and hard. It helped me understand her. I heard the heartbreak in her voice, held her hand and understood something profound about who she was, who influenced her, and why she did the things she did. It brought us closer because it wasn’t a bragging point, it was a revelation–to reveal. It brought understanding and connection.

Now “Who Do You Think You Are” brings this ancestoral fasciation to the mainstream view and will open the doors wide to our familial roots.The Temple at Delphi states “Know Thyself.” Louis Gates Jr. reminds us at the end of his show, “Know Thy Past, Know Thyself.”

These moments and opportunities don’t necessarily come through blood tests and genealogical research, it’s on those quiet caregiving days–it’s the gifts our elders give us.

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After a decade of caring for my mother who had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, then brought her into our home the last 2+ years of her life, this is the distilled version of what caregiving taught me. I am profoundly grateful for these lessons.

  1. To stand up for myself, and caregiving will give me plenty of opportunities to do so.
  2. There is a time in life in which you sacrifice for someone you love–and a time to stop sacrificing.  
  3. It takes humor to tackle the big scary things in life, like caregiving, disease, and death.
  4. Caregiving will inevitably bring out the worst–and the best in me.
  5. Caregiving will change me, but it’s up to me to determine how.
  6. I can’t stop death.
  7. I can decide how I will live the next moment of my life. One moment at a time.
  8. My emotions are my body’s barometers. I need to listen to these cues, feel them, use them as a catalyst, but know that no one emotion will last forever.
  9. To pace myself. Burnout is very real and very dangerous.
  10. I can’t meet all the needs of another human being. I can’t take the place of my care partner’s spouse, career, friends, or health.
  11. Caregiving is about integrity. I have to choose what is right–for me–and for all the others in my life. No one person gets to be the “only one ” 
  12. When I start to give too much to caregiving, it means I’m avoiding some aspect of my own life’s journey.
  13. Caregiving  isn’t just about caregiving. It unearths every emotional weak spot I have–not to destroy me–but to give me a chance to look at, and even heal that area.
  14. I have to stop being nice and pleasing people. “They” will never be satisfied or think it’s enough. What’s best for me–truly, deeply best–is best for those around me.
  15. Learning to stand up to relatives, authority figures, to my parent or spouse, and even a disease teaches me to be brave, a quality we need.
  16. Give up perfect. Go for decent. Do more of what I’m good at–and ask for help on the rest.
  17. Don’t isolate myself. Being alone, depressed, and negative is easy. Fighting to stay in the game of life–that’s tough, but worth it.
  18. If or when my care partner needs more care than I can provide, or even dies, that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means I’ve done all I could and it’s time for change.
  19. You will go the distance. You will live at hospitals, stay up night after night, weep in the deepest part of your soul, question everything you’re doing…and barely come out alive. Caregiving asks, takes this from you. Through this process, you will transform. You will see who you are–the whole of you. You will survive.
  20. Choose to care-give–then do with heart and guts.

To love makes us brave. To be loved gives us courage.

                                                                                                                                       –Lao Tzo, Chinese Philosopher

Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

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Dr. Christiane Northrup did a PBS talk on the Wisdom of Menopause in which she reminds me that nothing–not caregiving–not menopause is brought into my life to destroy me. It’s to make me pay attention. To love and accept myself more–not less. Over-caregiving is more common than you think. I’m guilty of it myself–at times. I had to learn that I couldn’t fix my mother–I couldn’t take the place of her beloved husband after Daddy died. I couldn’t stop Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t be her all in all. And I had to stop trying.

Dr. Northrup used the excellent model of breastfeeding to correlate how we should care-give. Being a young mother is another time of extreme care. We physically and emotionally give our all to birth a new life. In order to breast feed, you have to feed yourself. You use up 600-1000 calories a day breastfeeding. What you eat, how you sleep, how stressed you are–all effects your ability to produce milk. If you go for even a few days without eating healthy and sleeping well, your milk production will begin to wane. What a great example. You can’t give out, unless you give in. Your body–and your spirit just won’t do it.

She also mentioned that a doctor friend of hers wrote on his prescription pad to a woman “See your mother ONLY 2 times a week.” Doctor’s orders. Sometimes we need others in authority to give us permission to take better care of ourselves.

I remember one day when my mother shuffled into my kitchen with a scowl on face. She slammed her hand down on the counter and announced,

“I”m not happy!”

She had a “and what are you gonna do about it look on her face.”

I started to smile. Revelation.

I realized in that moment that the only person I could make happy–was me.

We can never fill up another human being. We can’t make up for aging and disease–or for their lack of caring for their lives and health all along. Our best way to give is to know what ways ive best.

How do you know when you’re over-caregiving?

When you have zero time for your own health and relationships. But, but…you argue. If you are getting less than 6 hours sleep, are spending all your time taking care of someone else’s physical and emotional needs, feel like your stress levels are above an 8 almost all the time, then yes, you’re over-caregiving.

How to stop over-caregiving?

Care-give  ala’ carte style. Pick and choose and don’t even try to do it all.

What are you good at?

What does your mom–or dad–or spouse value?

What seems to be working?

What isn’t working?

So, if you’re a great cook and they eat for you, then cook and fill their tummies with homemade soup and decadent brownies.

If they like for you to be at their doctor’s appointments, then build that into your schedule.

If you tend to fight every time you start trying to organize their house–then quit.

But I dont’ have a choice. If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.

Then it won’t get done. Be willing to live with it.

For example, I stopped going to re-check appointments. My mom had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as heart disease. I took her in for her six month check-ups, but no follow-ups. I got her meds and created a structure we could live with. I dealt as best as I could with the emergencies that came up.

I also said no to hospitalizations. They wanted to try exploratory surgery. Really? On a 90 year old with all these conditions? I said no. The medical profession looked at me as if I were a bad daughter, but I didn’t care.

Ask yourself: Does it need to get done? Will it improve the quality of life enough to warrant the work/commitment?

Yeah, some things do. But do the minimum in the area you’re not good at or don’t think it will pay off. Or ask someone to help.

If you have to choose–choose to meet your needs first.

What?

Yep, that’s what I said.

You can’t reverse Alzheimer’s once it’s started.

But you can prevent heart disease (the number one killer in the US) in your own heart!. Go for a walk. De-process food your house. Sign up for yoga. Rent all your favorite funny movies and invite a friend over for a laugh fest.

Sounds too simple? It’s because it is simple. Choose health CARE over health-care. Do what you can, but know that you can’t undo another person’s diseases or problems. Love them, make life comfortable, and give up over-caregiving.

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In the Movie, “Gran TorinoClint Eastwood plays a grumpy old man who has just lost his wife and his adult children want him to sell his house and move into one of those “nice retirement communities.” This is a classic aging in place dilemma. The adult child thinks he knows best and can’t fathom why his elder parent want to stay put.    Walt doesn’t really need caregiving–not yet–what he needs is to be heard and respected. 

It’s not what the character, Walt Kowalski, (Clint character’s name) wants. Even though he lives in a neighborhood that has changed and is in what most people would call the ‘bad side of town,” it’s where he wants to be.

The surprise of this film is that  Walt really has a soft underbelly and the most unlikely people bring it out–the Hmong Korean family who live next door. He fought in the Korean war and has a derogatory name for everybody. He pushes most people away. He’s rude, spouts politically incorrect comment about everybody, and seems miserable. Only he’s not. He’s created a world he likes. He keeps and lawn, his house, and yes, his car–a 1972 Gran Torino in mint condition. He misses his wife–who happened to be the one person who brought out the best of him–everyday.

In a believable and surprising turn, Walt befriends the Korean teens next door==after the kid tries to steal his beloved car. He becomes a reluctant mentor and eventually, their friend. The Korean family dynamics of closeness and honor is something  Walt admires (even though he doesn’t want to admit it).  Walt sees that this young boy, Thao, who is about 15 and not the thug his cousins are, needs to learn how to be a man. The 17 year old Korean girl, Sue, is like his wife–kind, thoughtful, and patient. She wriggles into his heart and life in tender and poignant ways.

This movie isn’t just about an old guy wanting to stay in his house. That’s just the catalyst. It’s about a quiet and unexpected hero. It’s about a man teaching a boy how to be a man. It shows that sometimes our families don’t get us. They have their own agendas. Sometimes we find family in unlikely places.

An interesting aspect of this film is that it’s a family affair. Clint’s younger son plays his movie son–the busy/upwardly mobile family man who thinks his dad is a fool for staying in that neighborhood and is pushing the move. His other son wrote the musical score for this film. It would be interesting to hear from the three of them what they think of this family’s dynamics and how they plan to handle their own “golden years–or their dad’s.

If you’re needing to talk to your family or adult children about your choices of where you’d like to live and how you’d like to live, start by asking them to watch this film. It can open their hearts and hopefully kickstart and honest–and respected–conversation.

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