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Archive for the ‘guilt’ Category

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.

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

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

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

Why the change?

The mother-daughter bond is resilient.

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

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

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

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

~Elizabeth Debold and Idelisse Malave

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Victoria Secunda

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

Eventually, the scales balance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Every day, a child’s mother, father, grandmother, grandfather or sibling dies.

Experiencing death while still a child is common, but that in no way makes it less difficult.

There are ways to help a child deal with grief.

When a child loses a loved one to death, that loss can have a profound effect that can even last a lifetime.

Emotional, psychological and physical trauma can occur and effect how a child views the world.

If grief is talked about and a child is given the proper coping tools, is surrounded by love and support, then the negative impact can be lessened.

But too often, adults are at a loss. They’re grieving themselves, and they don’t know what to say or do to comfort a child.

They don’t know how to tell a child that someone they love has died.

They don’t know how much to share with them–they either tell too much or too little.

Adults can simply “freeze” and stop communicating, and the child is left to grapple with their sorrow alone.

They can also insist that the child be happy and move on–because it makes them feel less guilty. They try to live life through their child–but children also have their ups and downs when it comes to grief. They can’t be puppets that we demand to be “okay,” because we need them to be.

Many people expect and demand that children are expected to go on with their lives.

They want them to hurry and go back to school. They don’t want them to get behind. How sad. Something as profound as a parent, sibling, or grandparent dying is so much more significant than an A in algebra.

Just days or even hours after a grandparent dies, many children are expected to return to school, sports and activities. Adults someone need the child to be busy so that they can deal with “adult” matters of business and details, but the child has his own grieving process to go through.

Children have so many issues to deal with–growing up, adolescence, fitting in, weight issues, pressure to smoke or smoke pot, divorce, family issues, academic and social issues–and it starts at a very young age.

When are they supposed to feel safe and free to open up and talk?

When can they express how much their miss their grandad?

How Do You Tell a Child That a Loved One Has Died?

Keep it simple. Use “died”, not “He is sleeping.”

Allow your child to express raw feelings freely or ask questions.

Answer questions honestly and simply. Do not go into detail, unless asked.

If the death was due to a violent crime, explain that they are safe now, nd you will do all you can to make sure they stay safe. 

Offer a comfort object–blanket, doll, teddy bear. Even if they’re “older,” something cuddly can reduce anxiety.

If the body is suitable for viewing, allow the child to see your deceased loved one, if requested. Prepare the child for what he or she will see.

Tell your child what will be happening in the next few days.

Give your child choices in what to do. Some children want to go to school the day of the death–it’s comforting and feels “normal.” Give them a choice. Whenever they return, inform the school of the death before your child returns.This makes their teachers and classmates more sensitive. Most schools have a school counselor that can also assist and be made aware of the situation.

Reassure your child that he or she will be cared for and explain the plan.

Children sometimes open up easier if they’re doing something with their hands–playing cars or helping bake cookies–it can take awhile for them to feel safe–and they feel less on the spot if they don’t have to look at you but can pretend to be “busy” with their hands.

 Don’t Know How to Talk To Your Child: Here’s some Easy Conversation Starters: 

 I’m sorry your grandmother/papa/mom/dad/sister died.

 What was your dad/mom/brother like?

Tell me about your__________. 

What was his favorite food/book/thing you did together?

 What do you miss the most? What is the hardest time of day for you?

I cannot know how you feel, but I remember how I felt when my __________ died.

 Whenever you want to talk about it, I’m here.

I’m thinking about you especially today because I’m aware that today is your mother’s birthday (anniversary of the death, your birthday, etc). 

If you don’t want to talk, we can still spend time together.

 

WORDS THAT CAN HURT:

I know just how you feel. I know just how you feel…my dog died last year. Lick your wounds and move on. You’ll get over it. It will be okay. Don’t think about it. You are better off without him. Don’t cry. It’s your fault. God took him so he wouldn’t be in pain. Tears won’t bring her back. Be strong. Forget about it. You are the man/woman of the house now. You should feel ….(proud, relieved, happy, sad, etc.)

Children May Express Grief Differently Tnan Adults:

Their emotions may experience highs and lows. They may laugh inappropriately–even at the memorial service. Don’t think this is because they don’t care. It’s difficult for a child to figure out how to handle their emotions. They may avoid sleep–or a teen may sleep all the time. They may zone out and not seem to hear anyone talking to them.

Become clingy and panic if you’re not home on time or don’t pick them up on time. Act rough or violent toward a sibling or friend. Defiantly disobey.

Teens may become daredevils–drive fast, extreme sports, breaking and entering–anything to feel “alive”

They may even try to “test” your love.

When Do You Seek Professional Help?

When the symptoms (lack of sleep, depression, agression) continue for weeks or months and grow in intensity.

When they can no longer function in school or around other people

When they isolate themselves for too long

When they become dangerous to themselves or others

They fixate on death, experiment on animals, or are exhibiting cruel behavoir

What do you do if you suspect your child or teen is not handling grief well?

Talk to the school counselor, your pediatrician, or clergy

Get a recommendation for a therapist who has helped children through grief.

Don’t settle for just a prescription. Talking and expressing their emotions is crucial to the healing process.

Don’t go just one or two times and think your child is “better.” Follow through and be consistent.

The Best Advice?

Be patient. Expect some some highs and lows. Share your own grief journey. Listen. Reassure. Be there. Provide help if or when it’s needed. Let them know it’s okay not to be able to handle this all by yourself–we all need each other. 

 

In the United States, approximately 4.8 million children under 18

are grieving the death loss of a parent.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Helpful sites:

www.opentohopefoundation.com

www.beyondindigo.com/children

www.griefnet.org

www.childrensgriefnet.org

www.kidsaid.com

I’m Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon. I hope you’ll visit my blog again.

www.mothering-mother.com

 

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Let’s face it: Caregiving can get ugly.

What I mean is, when I was a caregiver, I’d sometimes go days without looking in the mirror. On purpose.

I was busy, tired, overwhelmed–and that leads me to feeling frumpy, puffy, and in a rut–and when I feel that way, I tend to go into denial and avoidance.

It’s good to  care give, even if you let yourself go for a little bit. 

Generosity, patience, and tenderness have a way of making you beautiful and gives you a glow much like pregnancy, and I doubt Mother Theresa stared in the mirror much (not that I’m comparing).

But face it, you can let yourself go to the point to where you don’ t feel good about yourself. I know.  

I gained close to 40 pounds during my two+years at a full-time caregiver. I don’t blame my mom for this.

Honest. I take full accountability. I could have put down the bags of Oreos and Fritos. (Notice how all tasty snacks tend to end in O’s? I could have walked more. Even with my mom and kids and a big house to manage, I could have gone for two fifteen minute walks a day and eaten more veggie soup. No one was forcing sugar down my throat.

Yeah, I was tired, frazzled, and distracted–it comes with the territory–but I used that as an excuse not to pay attention. I’m just saying I contributed to own “junk in the trunk.”

It also helps to lighten things up a bit (metaphorically speaking) and think about haircuts, color, make-up and clothing takes the emphasis off the heavier aspects of life. Being able to feel good about yourself, to smile with confidence with a spring in your step helps not only you, but your loved one.

Depression doesn’t like color, light, and laughter–so let’s flood the room!

Now you’ve seen the light (aka seen yourself with the lights on!) and you’re ready to do something about it, I’ve got a few simple suggestions.

First, don’t make it hard, but let’s stage your comeback and surprise your loved ones with a fresh look.

Seven Easy Comeback Solutions:

  • Fixate on your health, not your weight. Take it from Queen Latifah, the new spokesperson from Jenny Craig. She’s not trying to become America’s Next Top Model. She loves her curves. Love yours–and focus on your health not your flab. We all have flab.
  • Nix the elastic waist pants. Why? They’re comfy, I know, but it’s too easy to keep on snackin’ when you’re not feeling a pinch in your side. Put on real pants. Even if you have to go up a size. Beauty is not a size, it’s a state of mind.
  • Set very small goals. Walk ten minutes twice a day. Stretch–even encourage your elder/loved one to do some simple stretches with you. Don’t bring home the snacks. If you must, get a snack pack at the gas station–one of those bags for 99 cents. Eat them and throw the bag away. Don’t worry about the money–the economical size bag will cost you more in the long run (health, Weight Watcher’sfees, cholesterol meds).
  • Get your Vitamin D–and how? By heading out the door for those ten minute walks! That’s all it takes. And your elder needs their Vitamin D., so at least have them sit on the porch for a few minutes per day. There are supplements, too, and recommended for elders. 
  • Go look in your closet. Anything that’s been in there for more than five years–toss it now! I mean it! Go to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the dress you wore to your daughter’s wedding or your 25th anniversary. Come on, let it go. Guys–this is for you, too. Even three years is long enough. You’re not a museum–you’re a living work of art!
  • Now, match up three outfits that look nice that you could wear every day. Stop waiting for an excuse to dress up. Dress up for yourself. You deserve it–and your loved one deserves to look at a person who takes pride in their appearance. I know you’re tired and you think this doesn’t matter. It does. No high heels, but a nice pair of jeans or slacks, a decent shirt that’s not all stretched out and something that has some nice color. Spritz with some perfume and comb your hair. You’ll feel better.
  • Plan a daily tea time. Crazy, I know. It’s English, so pretend you’re English. Choose a time–say, 4:00, and set out a cup for the two of you. Have tea and two cookies. Just two. You can even say it’s medicinal–all tea is good for you, but go for a green tea variety and get your antioxidants. Sit out on that porch to get your vitamin D., or sit in the living room. Chat for ten minutes and sip tea. Your loved one will feel special, and you’ll begin to relax. It’s just a simple tradition, but it’s soothing–and something to look forward to.

Ladies, if you’re ready for a real comeback, have I got a book for you!

Staging Your Comeback by Christopher Hopkins is for real women over 45–primarily focusing on women in their 50s and 60s is really amazing. It isn’t downgrading or patronizing. He’s been featured on Oprah and Today Show, and he isn’t your run of the mill “I’ll make you look 20” kind of salesman.

There are lots of pics and the most astounding before and after photos you will see. My 21 year-old daughter was with me at Target when I bought the book, and even she was amazed. (I heard the make-up in the book is heavier than he would normally recommend and was only done that way for the book).

 The book is designed to be interactive with his website that has downloadble worksheets to help you plan your comeback. 

Is all this frivolous? I don’t think so. We have to balance out all we’re dealing with–disease and death are not the only things in life. We need balance. We need to relax and enjoy our one wild and precious life, as the poet Mary Oliver would say.

We need hope.

And bottom line, isn’t that really what we all need?  

 

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The first month after your loved one dies is perhaps one of the scariest,

most dreaded times in a person’s life.

Losing a spouse, a parent, a child is devastating. But somehow, you will get through.

I know you don’t think you will.

But there’s this little thing called breathing. Your body does it whether you want it to or not.

Your heart can be breaking, your gut wrenched, and you can feel as if you will truly lose your mind–and your body will continue to take its next breath. There will be times when you don’t want to breathe. You don’t want to live–the pain is so intense. Just let your body get your through for now.

It’s a divine design–to keep our heart and lungs on automatic.

I’m sure I would have either forgotten or opted not to breathe, not to allow my heart to pump if I had any say in the matter. But this sheer involuntary response is the only way to go on during those early days of grief.

Death comes in many forms–by way of an accident, or after a long agonizing illness–it’s never easy.

Even when you’ve been caregiving for years and you know your loved one is no longer suffering, almost everyone has a difficult time letting go.

Why? Why is it so difficult to watch death take those we love–even after pain and suffering, and even old age?

I believe because there’s something in us that deeply believes in the eternal.

Our brains do not compute that life is simply cut off. I’m not basing this on any particular religion or theology–I’m basing this on biology–we cannot comprehend that someone we know and love was here yesterday–and is not here today. Those who look at this purely scientific would say that it’s mere habit–but something in me feels that it’s more.

Why, after practicing a lifetime of faith, and believing with all our hearts that we will see our loved one again–is it still so hard to stand next to their lifeless, breathless body and kiss them goodbye?

The same reason a toddler cries for his/her mother. We don’t like separation.

And those early days of separation are very, very difficult.

What’s it like? That first month?

Experiencing a death of someone we love–at any age, and for any reason, usually means that we go into shock. Not only have I experienced the death of several loved ones, like you, I have many family and friends who have also experience grief and loss.

By looking at these first few days and weeks, we can begin to see a pattern–in ourselves and others. It’s less scary to know that we’re not alone, and that our bizarre thoughts and actions are something others experience as well.

What is shock?

It’s our body’s response to trauma or pain.

Physically, speaking, shock is when the body isn’t getting enough oxygen. It can occur after an injury when the body shuts down (the blood stays close to the heart to preserve life at its core level–or it can occur after a severe emotional trauma.

WebMD desribes shock as this:

  1. A sudden physical or biochemical disturbance that results in inadequate blood flow and oxygenation of an animal’s vital organs.
  2. A state of profound mental and physical depression consequent to severe physical injury or to emotional disturbance.

If you’ve ever experienced shock (yourself or by witnessing it in another person), one of its prime characteristics is that you’re probably not reacting to pain (physically or emotionally) as you would expect.

Car accident victims can walk around with a head wound or internal injury–and only after minutes or even hours does the body “compute” the damage and begin to react. This may give the person time to rescue a child or get out of a fire.

Emotional trauma shock can present with similar symptoms–the person may talk or act rather normal, even when you would expect them to cry or scream or fall apart. They might eventually do all those things–but it may be weeks or months later. The mind has the ability to stay “in shock” much longer than the body–and it will usually only allow the person to really feel and experience the deepest levels of grief when it’s safe.

The movie, Reign Over Me is a great example of emotional shock.

Adam Sandlerplays a man who lost his wife and children during 9/11. He spends years in “shock,” and the exploration of how this man deals with grief in an unconventional way–and the arguments that the social and mental health community make to try to “fix” him, is interesting.

Every person’s journey with grief and loss is different. Honor yours.

Trust your gut, your shock will get you through.

During the first month you might: (no two people are the same)

  • Be able to plan an elaborate funeral or memorial service
  • Hold yourself together–be courteous, thoughtful and polite
  • Look healthy and strong
  • Go back to work days or weeks after your loved one passes
  • Feel euphoric–an urgency to get on with life
  • Plan a trip, go shopping, or other ordinary things
  • Go off with friends and do things you haven’t been able to do in a long time

But…if you observe grief and shock a little closer, you’ll notice things aren’t quite what they appear on the surface.

You might also:

  • Feel high strung, nervous, agitated
  • Can’t pay attention, get bored or antsy with people
  • Suffer from insomnia
  • Have a panic or anxiety attack when you’re out in public
  • Zone out and not remember where you are
  • Feel guilty and think you caused your loved one to die (by taking them to the hospital, or not taking them, or a myriad of other decisions you had to make)
  • Forget things–your keys locked in the car, your wallet at the gas station
  • Avoid falling apart or crying because you may feel like once you start, you won’t be able to stop
  • Have nightmares, even scary dreams of your loved one coming back alive–but not alive
  • Become obsessed with something–putting your affairs in order, doing something your loved one nagged you about but you put off–but now you’re doing it to excess
  • Do something, anything to feel alive–gamble, go to Vegas, visit online chat rooms, shop too much, eat too much
  • You may start to snap at people–or cling–can’t let yourself be alone
  • Your emotional pendulum keeps swinging wider and wider

Practical Things You Typically Do The First Month:

  • File for and receive the death certificate (that’s tough)
  • Contact your life insurance
  • Decide when or if to go back to work
  • Comfort others around you–children, friends, even when you don’t feel like it
  • Cancel credit cards and put your house or car in your name only
  • Pay the bills associated with your loved one’s passing–funeral expenses, etc.
  • Decide to buy or sell certain items
  • Figure out how to pay the bills or deal with repairs–whatever your spouse/loved one did that you now must do
  • Catch up with your lfe–if your loved one was ill, there may be many things that need your attention now
  • Write thank you notes and figure out how to handle your relationships with this new change

Emotionally You’ll Have To:

  • Make calls and let businesses know your loved one has passed
  • Talk to many family and friends–and some of them will be awkward and say the “wrong” thing
  • Walk back in your house, your bedroom, drive his car–feel his/her presence and be faced with your loss
  • Sleep in the bed he’s/she’s no longer in
  • Deal with clothes, cars and other personal items–even if you don’t start sorting and deciding what you keep, they are with you–in your house and your life
  • Allow your brain and heart to assimilate that your loved one’s not here for you to call–to talk to
  • Wake up and think he’s/she’s still there
  • Feel alone and lost even when you’re busy
  • Figure out who you are now and what to do with your time and energy
  • Think about that “first” that is to come–first birthday without him, holiday without her–and make a plan
  • Literally survive the best you can

For most people, the first month is a blur.

At times, you’re in bone crushing grief alternting with an odd euphoric gotta-get-out feeling.

You can bite someone’s head off or not even care if the shoes on your feet were on fire.

There’s a lot to do, and that list of wrapping things up and starting anew at least keeps your keep moving. The good news is: you probably won’t remember most of this.

Shock does a whammy on the brain. You may feel like you’ve put your skin on inside out–and your nerve endings are exploding–but later, there will be many things you can’t recall.

Your body is protecting you. Let it. J

As crazy, lost, alone, scattered, numb, and frantic as you feel in those first months, know that as hard as it is to believe, it won’t last forever.

Just breathe.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Carol is a family advisor at www.Caring.com

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I’m Carol D. O’Dell, and I hope you’ll check out my book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon

Caregiver Depression is Very Real and Very Dangerous.

Why?

It Doesn’t Always Look like Depression.

That means it can go undiagnosed for a very long time.

Caregivers can’t (or don’t) stop. They don’t lock themselves in darkened bedrooms for days on end. They don’t necessarily cry or stop eating. They keep on caring for their loved ones. They suffer in silence.

So, what does caregiver depression look like? It can be tricky. It doesn’t manifest itself in the same way other people display depression.

What caregiver has the time to fall apart?

Conservative stats put caregiver depression 20%. That’s very conservative. I’d say it’s closer to 50%. It comes with the job. We’re dealing with disease, pain, and the end-of-life. Depression doesn’t have to consume you, but I doubt there is one caregiver out there who isn’t touched by it.

Am I Depressed? Ask Yourself These Questions:

When is the last time you got your hair cut?

Have you gained more than ten or fifteen pounds this year?

Have you stopped calling friends? Do you think they’re sick of hearing you complain and what else do you have to talk about anyway?

Are you so antsy, so anxious that you can hardly stay still? You stay on your feet, clean, talk, eat–all to avoid something you can’t even name?

Do you feel like all your energy has been drained out your big toe? Seriously, do your legs feel like they’re in cement?

Do you do nothing other than care give?

Fill in the blank: I used to ___________, but I just don’t want to, have the energy, or care about things like that any more.

Have you stopped decorating for the holidays or celebrating birthdays or other special days? Why bother, it’s just more work for me–attitude?

Do you find yourself zoning out–all the time? Can you not think anything through?

Do you get on crying jags and just can’t stop?

Are you stuck in negative thoughts, berating yourself mentally–for hours on end?

Are you waking yourself up with copious amounts of caffeine–or pills–and then forcing yourself to sleep with even more pills?

Do you feel (and look) 15 years or more older than you really are?

Do you feel hopeless? Do you feel you have zero options in your life–you can’t stop caregiving even if you wanted to?

Do you not even want to think about life after caregiving–because you don’t even know what you’d do with yourself?

Is sex a ridiculous concept and even the thought of it takes way too much energy?

Do you flip channels endlessly but never rent a movie or read a book all the way through?

Would a work colleague or old friend even recognize you now?

Are you an insomniac–after years of caregiving, sundowning, and middle-of-the night emergencies, do you find your sleep patterns all out of whack?

Have you ever thought about taking yourself–and your loved one “out of this world?”

***

If you don’t answer “yes” to at least a few of these questions, I’d be surprised.

Caregiving is hard on the body, spirit, and relationships. These signs of stress and depression are common–for anyone, but especially for caregivers. But it’s the severity in which you experience these symptoms. Every day, all day long, the vortex of negative thoughts never ending…

Men are vulnerable in different ways.

They don’t always have the friends and support system that would allow them to let off steam.

They relied on their wives and family members to talk to, feel close to, and if their wife is the person who needs their care, is no longer their companion in the sense the person they communicate with the most–then these men are truly isolated. They may drink too much, flip channels, pull in to the point to where no one knows how bad it is.

Some men take it too far–if their loved one is dying (or they perceive they are), or in sever pain, they might come to the conclusion that it would be best if they both “leave this world” at the same time.

The statistics for elder murder-suicide are startling.

Florida has the highest incident, and one all too common situation is that of the husband whose wife has Alzheimer’s, and he can’t continue to care for her. There’s usually a gun involved.

This is a tragedy–for families and for society. We have to find a way to reach people, to let them know they’re not alone. There are options.

How do you know if the stress and depression has gone too far?

You probably know in your gut. You know how much you’re fooling others. You know how much weight you’ve gained or lost, how little sleep you’re getting, the last time you talked to anyone outside the house. You know how many times you’ve reached for that bottle.

Are drugs the only answer?

In today’s pharmaceutical world, the first thing a doctor is going to recommend is an anti-depressant.

But know that anti-depressants come with some risk.

These are helpful, and when needed, a god-send. But it won’t address the root of the problem.

You need friends, a community, a network. Caregiver supports groups can be a life-line.

You may need a professional to talk to–someone who will listen and ask questions, who will help you make a plan. This may be in conjunction with medications.

If anti-depressants are a good choice for you and your situation, then take them properly and give them time to work. Also, think of this as a part of your health plan, and keep in mind that you will eventually want to wean yourself off these power medications.

Lots of Ideas to Help Ease Depression: 

  • Get the junk food out of the house–sugar highs and lows can really whack you out
  • Get the guns out of the house! Why risk it? Sell the thing, donate it to the local police.
  • If you’re having a problem with alcohol, get rid of it. You can live without it if it’s proving to be a detriment.
  • Join a caregiver support group. Get into a healthy one–a place where people can share openly, but also a place that is positive
  • Get out of the house just for you! Plan one outing this month–go to the zoo, call an old friend, make a hair appointment. Start small.
  • Journal, meditate, stretch–give outlet to those thoughts
  • Walk. Nothing is more healing and takes less time and equipment for phenomenal results. Start with a 15, 20 minute walk. Do it religiously. Don’t wait until you feel like it. Do it like you’re taking a pill. Force yourself if you have to. Don’t worry about walking fast at first, or dressing right, just get out the front door and shuffle down the street. You can leave your loved one locked in the house for 15 minutes. If you can’t, ask a neighbor to come watch TV in your house for that long.
  • Wean off the sleeping aids. This may take awhile. Go slow, take less, but at least monitor that you’re not increasing the dosage.
  • Get angry! Depression is oftentimes anger imploded. Go outside and throw some old glasses against the side of your house. See if it feels good. Go out to your car, shut the doors, roll up the windows and scream your head off.
  • Go to the doctor and get a prescription if you really need it–then take it–get rechecked and make sure you’re taking something that’s working for you. It may take you a couple of months to hit upon the right dosage/medication.
  • If you’re having dangerous thoughts, tell someone. People will understand. You will find compassion.
  • Watch out for physical signs. We can so ignore our health needs that we have a real physical condition we’ve ignored. You might not be depressed–you might be sick! The good news is, you can get well–so check with your doctor and at least get that over-due physical.

Important to Consider:

It’s okay if you can’t be a full-time caregiver any more.

Quit. Place your loved one in a care facility. God will not hate you, and if your loved ones hate you, then tell them to come do some non-stop, full-time caregiving!

Sometimes we just hit a brick wall. Cry, and then let go. It’s okay.

As dark and scary as depression can be, it’s our heart’s and body’s way of asking us to deal with something.

Depression can be an ironic gift that leads you to help and healing.

~Carol O’Dell

Family Advisor at Caring.com

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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

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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.

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Do You Realize You Will Most Likely Care Give More Than Once?

I compare caregiving the first time around to being chased by a hungry/angry bear as you’re running a marathon. Sure, you’ve got to pace yourself, but you also better run like hell.

You don’t usually have the time or foresight to plan your caregiving the first time around.

It’s just one big chaotic frenetic fear-fest!

But what if you knew you were going to have to care give again?

Most likely, you’re going to care give a parent the first time. But you have two parents…and you might have in-laws…and a spouse…and siblings…and god forbid, you have children that might need you to care give them–life is unpredictable.

That’s a lot of caregiving!

I hope you–nor I–have to care give all those people, but as you can see from the list, you’re most likely going to have to do it again.

What Have You Learned From Caregiving The First Time?

(Here’s a few of mine)

  • I learned to get prepared and organized–from the get go
  • I learned to protect my time, heart, and energy–every day
  • I learned not to fret about every little thing said or done–neither what I did or what was done to me
  • I learned not to give doctors or other medical personell carte-blanche. They don’t love my family member like I do
  • I learned not to let caregiving (people or the process) control me or my life
  • I’m not so afraid of the end of life–I hope to embrace this tender time and hold it sacred

If caregiving is a marathon, then the next time I vow to turn around and tell the bear to back off~

You can’t worry about your caregiving future. 

Live life now. Live big and with open arms. If caregiving comes your way again, it won’t be the same experience. It will teach you new things.

If You’re In Between Caregiving Times:

  • Be totally selfish. Take care of you. Recoup.
  • Do the things you put off. This won’t replace the loved one you lost, but use this time to keep your promises to yourself.
  • Look enough ahead that caregiving won’t completely side-swipe you
  • Do the prep-work: get those living wills signed, know where those important papers are, talk about long range plans
  • Put your family on notice–let them know just because you gave care once doesn’t mean you’ll automatically do it again

If It’s Your Spouse You’ll Be Caregiving Next

Caregiving your spouse is different. It kicks up all kinds of emotions. Be gentle on yourself.

You might feel scared for your own future. Angry they didn’t take care of their health before now. Weepy–your heart is wrenched.

How much time do you have left? What is the quality of that time together?

This is a very intimate, tender experience. Be present. Spousal caregivng isn’t about managing the situation–it’s much closer to the heart. at some point, let the rest of life fall away.

Caregiving is a Part of Who We Are–It’s Not The Whole of Who We Are

You are actually a good caregiver to stay outside of the emotional hurricane of caregiving.

You don’t prove that you love someone by being miserable with them.

Many times, our loved ones want us to feel what they’re feelings.

You know the old cliche’, “misery loves company?” It’s true. If we’re depressed, we tend to cloud the atmosphere and dare anyone to be cheery. It’s difficult to live with a person who has Alzheimer’sand not get pulled into the vortex of lethargy, melancholy, and numbness.

Caregiving is a Natural Part of Family Life

We just recently came up with this fancy name.

We’ve always had mothers, fathers, spouses who need us. Family caregiving was just the norm–and it was just being a family. The kicker now is how long we’re all living!

Enjoy Life–Enjoy Caring for Those You Love–And Don’t Over-Think!

Keep it natural. Love those who are in your circle.

Love life and appreciate your health, your family–and don’t over-think it all. Don’t try to do it all, be it all.

Care Give Loose!

Life is constantly changing. We have to learn to love and let go, love and let go.

(If I figure out how to do this, I’ll let you know).

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated Blog at www.OpentoHope.com

 

 

 

 

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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

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