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Archive for the ‘heart disease’ Category

Dick Clark died April 18, 2012 of a massive heart attack. He was 82 years old and is considered America’s “oldest living  teenager.” My question is, could his heart attack have been avoided? Could mine–or yours? Heart disease remains the number one killer in America. It steals the quality of our lives and takes our loved ones from us too, too soon.

We can’t get around the facts. Americans suffer some of the highest heart disease rates in large part due to our issues with obesity and lack of exercise. I’m the first to admit that it’s tough to get in shape, to give up certain foods and hit the gym on a regular basis, but I also know after witnessing heart disease with my dad that heart disease doesn’t just kill you fast, it’s something you suffer with, something that impacts the quality of your life for years, something that can alter your loved ones and caregivers lives.

If you remember, Dick Clark suffered a stroke back in 2004, which meant had arteriosclerosis. It silenced the voice we had grown to love and count on. What you may not know is that he also had type 2 diabetes. “Two-thirds of people who have diabetes die of either heart disease or stroke,” Dick Clark shared a few years ago. “That was enough for me to stand up and say, ‘Whoa, I’m in that group…’ ”

Dick Clark is truly representative of what is happening in America, and especially to our men. Dick Clark wasn’t particularly heavy, so is heart disease and all of its “side dishes” (strokes, diabetes) come with just the “build-up” (literally) of life? Just how hard do we have to work at staying healthy to avoid this early killer?

Do we give up fat? Meat? Salt? What else? Do we hit the gym 30 minutes a day? One, two hours? What’s it going to take? Diligence, yes, but also a bit of know-how. Quality of life over quantity.

First, *and I can only speak for myself, it’s time to drop all processed foods. They’re simply no good. I heard Heidi Klum say recently that she “avoids anything that comes out of a box or a bag.” I also need to have a few meatless days a week, but it’s not just about going meatless, it’s also about what you replace that meat with–heart healthy beans and steamed or roasted veggies.

What stands in my way?

Stress and exhaustion.

I reach for the bag or the box, for the greasy/juicy hamburger when I’m tired, when I’ve worked too long, when I’ve let regret and worry  (living in the past or in the future avalanche my thoughts and bury my body in oh so familiar bad habits.

As I grow older I am even more aware of how much I value sleep and how being crazy-busy (as I used to like to call it as if it were a badge I wore proudly) just isn’t cutting it any more. I used to equate busy with important, but even I no longer believe my own lies (illusions).

I’ve also found that I can’t bully myself into a healthier lifestyle.

It’s got to be about joy, not guilt or shame.

Eating beautiful, clean foods. Learning to celebrate with a bowl of cherries and a handful of almonds instead of a red velvet cheesecake (the occasional bite is fine, but restaurants won’t bring you just a bite!)

It’s about dancing any hour of the day  (I take Zumba classes). It’s about long walks, meandering bike rides, and even a few challenges–signing up for a 5-K.

It’s about laughing, and recognizing stress and exhaustion before it’s tied me to its bumper and taken me on a cross-country tour. It’s about turning OFF the media and crawling into bed for a glorious night’s sleep BEFORE I fall asleep on the couch at midnight in a TV remote surfing coma.

It’s about being content, letting go, forgiving, and loving what is. I still struggle, still get worked up, still default into panic mode, but I am finding that it’s lost its appeal. I’d rather lay down my frantic thoughts. I’d rather not get worked up about what s0-and-so said. More often than before, I’m choosing quiet joy.

I know that something–heart disease, Alzheimer’s, who knows what–will eventually get me. We don’t just die. We die of something, but that something doesn’t have to live with me and rob me of precious years, even decades. I’ve always said I want to go out big–a bungee cord that snaps or the rip cord that doesn’t rip when I’m 92. I want my friends to spread the word of my demise by saying, “You’ll never guess how the ole’ gal left this world…”

Can I prevent my own heart attack? Can you prevent yours? Is it too late?

No, I don’t think it’s too late, but it does take the proverbial wake-up call. It does take a deep, life-changing/thought-changing jolt that reminds us again and again, even when we’re tired, even when we’re stressed, to make that first, and then another, and then hundreds of little choices and changes, not simply to avoid “the big one,” but to live now–cleaner, sweeter and simpler.

I miss Dick Clark already, but I realize now that I’ve missed Dick since 2004–eight years that “America’s eternal teenager” struggled with the ripple-effect of America’s number one disease. Dick, I danced to American Bandstand all those years ago and in my heart we’ll always dance.

~Carol O’Dell

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

Available on Amazon (hardback and Kindle)

Resources:

http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/04/18/dick-clark-had-history-heart-disease-type-2-diabetes-before-death/#ixzz1sURMLApY

http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

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We sat in the Ronald McDonald family room at Shands Children’s Hospital, sequestered for the day, waiting for the pediatric cardiologist to operate on my middle daughter’s 8 day old baby girl. All of my family gathered. We ached with worry, skittered around the edges of dread, squeezed hands and whispered prayers. We also laughed. We have that ability–to tease, to banter, to tell a familiar story, to find sweetness and humor wherever we are. All of us, together, getting through this wonderful and awful day, my daughters, son in-law and husband confined in such a small space, with so much at stake, and yet there we were, healing our own hearts.

I’ve been here before, with both parents, through back surgery, abdominal surgery, heart surgery, through kidney infections, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I’ve walked this too-familiar road, but never like this.

We drank nasty coffee, the TV on although none of us watched it, flipped through waiting room magazines, covered in blankets, our legs thrown over one another.  The hours dug in long and hard. We’d go through swells of fears and eddies of faith. Some of us took walks, others tried to nap. We played on iPads, shared apps, got fast-food, the only choice we had.

We checked the time, then checked it again. In the lull of the afternoon, our daughter gets a call and steps into the hall. Moments later she flings open the door, her eyes and face already swollen from days of sorrow now blotched and red with fresh tears.

I sprung, arms open…oh god…

The surgery was over. It went well. Our tiny baby’s heart is repaired.

Relief poured up and out of us all. We became a geyser of tears and laughter, cheers and hugs.

If it weren’t for the break that humor gave us, the ability to siphon off some of the dread, the sharing of strength and solace, I don’t know how any of us would have made it through that day. For a caregiver, or family or friend of a caregiver, perhaps this is your greatest gift to give.

How does humor heal? New research has shown that it’s a natural pain reliever and does wonders for our immune system. Laughter is nature’s re-calibrator. Most of all, it’s contagious. And don’t worry about it being inappropriate to smile or laugh when life is at its worst. It’s a testament to the human spirit, to hold the “scary stuff” in one hand, and to balance it with joy, with sweetness, with laughter, in the other.

Even in the darkest of hours, laugh, tease, play and tell a story.

Humor heals. It makes the unbearable bearable. 

 

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available at Amazon and on Kindle

Resources:

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/02/17/9-ways-that-humor-heals/

http://women.webmd.com/guide/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter

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Mike Wallace died April 7, 2012. His last few years were spent in the confusing and tangled maze of dementia. He was 93 and  was a newscaster most known for anchoring 60 Minutes and in the media for over six decades. He’s a prime example that if you live long enough, you just might get dementia or Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia). Your odds increase exponentially with age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association your chances of developing Alzheimer’s doubles about every five years after age 65. After age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent.

So our first challenge is to survive (or hopefully skip over) heart disease and cancer.

The major causes of death (in order) are: heart disease, cancer–both of these way out in the lead–lower respiratory infections, stroke, accidents, Alzheimer’s diabetes, flu and pneumonia, and self-harm (suicide).

As scary as Alzheimer’s is, heart disease and cancer take far more lives.

But Mike struggled with other demons–several years ago he shared that he struggled with depression and even attempted suicide. His honesty helped to shed light on depression, something millions face in silent shame. His life, like most of us, was a mixture of great highs and devastating lows. He was by all means a success, but he also lived through the death of his son (he had a falling accident in Greece when he was just 19), divorce and death of his wife, and several physical and mental challenges.

He was known as a fierce interviewer and was often referred to as an interrogator. He interviewed many of the world’s top and toughest leaders–and he never flinched.

I heard one of his colleagues say that he recently visited Mike and that he didn’t remember anything about 60 Minutes or what he had achieved as a broadcaster. In some ways, that’s sad, but I take it as a cautionary tale. Appreciate life now. Honor your journey. Celebrate it now. None of knows what tomorrow brings. While that sounds ominous, I don’t mean it to be, just that there aren’t any guarantees.

Life is today. What will you remember of your life? Who knows. The point is what you’re doing right now. Live it. Celebrate it.

Mike, tonight we celebrate you.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available of Amazon 

Carol D. O’Dell’s Mothering Mother is a frank, unflinching true story of a daughter coping with the role reversal when her sick and aging mother moves in. Carol holds back nothing, offering up hilarious moments alongside the poingnant and the heartbreaking.
More than a memoir, Mothering Mother will inspire, entertain and hearten anyone facing the challenges of caregiving. Through it all she must find the time to escape and nurture her own body and soul while caring for her children, her mother, and her marriage.
Written with wit and sensitivity, Mothering Mother will help others survive–and thrive family life, including the caregiving experience. Mothering Mother was originally written from Carol’s daily journals and captures the reality of everything from driving issues, jealousy, doctor and medical care concerns,, hospice, grief, family dynamics and the joys and challenges found along the way. Mothering Mother is perfect for the sandwich generation, multi-generational households, and for those who care for loved ones and want to face each day with purpose, joy, and hope.

Resources:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8334-504803_162-57411009-10391709/a-look-back-at-some-memorable-mike-wallace-reports/?tag=cbsnewsMainColumnArea.1

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jadeEUfpe-0vNVtCIM-ETbcl9o-w?docId=123741572d8e44cbb208611f8e3c6e06

http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_causes_risk_factors.asp

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm

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All of us worry about aging. Perhaps we should worry less–and learn from a pro. So, who’s the oldest person who ever lived?

The oldest woman (that can be documented) is Jeanne Louise Calment. She lived to the age of 122.

Born in Arles, France, February 21, 1875, and left this earth on August 4, 1997. Now, that’s impressive–but what’ more impressive is her mindset, her ability to embrace challenges and change. If anything is the key to longevity–with quality–it’s embracing challenges and changes with a measure of wit and grace.

What attributes do you need to live a long, healthy, and meaningful life? Living past 100 isn’t just about longevity–it’s about quality. Being a caregiver, I got to see “old age” close up. My mom lived to the age of 92 and it was only the last two years that were extremely difficult. ( My mom had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease). There isn’t always rhyme or reason why one person makes it well past 100 with a sharp mind and a spry body while another person seems to hit one health problem after another.

Many centenarians have eaten what they wanted, smoked, drank (usually in moderation)–while someone else who tries to follow all the rules finds a not so pleasant diagnosis. Life isn’t fair. That’s a mantra we must embrace–and not in a negative way–but by choosing to love what is kind of way, and knowing the only thing we can change is our attitude.  Life’s a crap shoot, so let’s play some craps.

Highlights of Jeanne’s Louise Calment’s Amazing Life:

  •  Born the year Tolstoy published Anna Karennina
  • Born one year after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
  • She met Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, her home town, when she was just 14. She wasn’t impressed.
  • In the end Calment was blind and almost deaf, but she kept her spunk and sharp wit to the end.
  • At age 121, she released her two CDs, one in French and another in English titled, Maitresse du Temps (Time’s Mistress). the CD features a rap and other songs. She wrote or contributed to five books.
  • Her husband died of a dessert tainted with spoiled cherries–she was a widow for more than half a century.
  • She outlived her only daughter who died of pneumonia at the age of 36. She raised her grandson who became a medical doctor and  lived him as well (he died in a car accident in 1963).
  • Calment took up fencing at the age of 80, and rode her bike until 100.
  • Calment enjoyed port wine and a diet rich in olive oil–and chocolate–two pounds a day.
  • At the age of 119 she finally agreed to give up sweets and smoking–because she could no longer see to light up.
  • Calment enjoyed a life of relative ease–from a bourgeois family, she always had enough money–not wealthy mind you, but enough.
  • She was active–and enjoyed tennis, bicycling, swimming, roller skating, piano and even opera. In her later years she sold some of her real estate and lived comfortably in a nursing home in Arles until her passing. She was affectionately known in France as “Jeanne D’Arles.”

Calment’s attitude and longevity s attributed to her decision not to worry: “She never did anything special to stay in good health,” said French researcher Jean-Marie Robine.  She once said “ If  you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”
Calment recommended laughter as a recipe for longevity and jokes that “God must have forgotten about me.” ( L’Oubliee de Dieu?) as her reason for her long life.

For skin care, she recommended olive oil and a dab of make-up.  “All my life I’ve put olive oil on my skin and then just a puff of powder.  I could never wear mascara, I cried too often when I laughed.”

Calment’s Quotes:

“I’ve waited 110 years to be famous, I count on taking advantage of it,” she quipped at her 120th birthday party.

Also on her 120th  birthday, when asked what kind of  future did she expect, she replied “A very short one.”

Getting used to growing media attention with every year that passes, she quips:  “I wait for death… and journalists.”

“When you’re 117, you see if you remember everything!”   She rebuked an interviewer once.

On her 120th birthday, a man in town said, “Until next year, perhaps.”

“I don’t see why not,” she replied. ” You don’t look so bad to me.”

Clement’s Best Quote:

“I’ve never had but one wrinkle, and I’m sitting on it.”

I don’t know about you, but aging like this doesn’t sound too bad. It sounds like a good life.

Enjoy life, learn to let go–even of those you love, crack a good joke, eat what you love, and don’t worry about the rest.

***

Mothering Mother is now available as an e-book! (click here to order for your Kindle)

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Today, my mother would have been 100 years old. I’m celebrating. She left this earth eight years ago, but she hasn’t left me. I spent the last three years of her life being her full-time caregiver and now, I’m back to being her full-time daughter. I feel the length and depth of our relationship. I see it as a whole or I can zoom in at any facet–when I was four and she adopted me, when I was fourteen with a splash of zits across my forehead, when I was 30 and a mother of three. Mother was there–for every stage. She still is.

I decided to take a quick glance at the year mother was born to see what it was like back then.

I decided to compare 1911 to 2011. Here are a few stats.

  • First use of aircraft as offensive weapon occurs in Turkish-Italian War. Italy defeats Turks and annexes Libya
  • Chinese Republic proclaimed after revolution overthrows Manchu dynasty. Sun Yat-sen named president
  •  Mexican Revolution: Porfirio Diaz, president since 1877, replaced by Francisco Madero
  • Roald Amundsen becomes first man to reach South Pole
  • U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham discovers Incan city of Machu Picchu.
  • Marie Curie (France) receives the Nobel Prize for discovery of elements radium and polonium
  • Chevrolet was founded in France
  • Ronald Reagan and Lucille Ball were born in 1911
  • First class stamp: .02 cents
  • Child labor at its height in U.S.

I notice the beginning of the car-craze we  grapple with still, today, Only now we’re focused on oil and how to fuel our four-wheeled allies. How much it costs, who has it, who needs it. It’s a pawn. It influences governments, commerce, and is a huge player in war. I also noticed Libya in the news–way back then–and again, in 2011.

Other similarities: more amazing inventions and discoveries include:

  • A 9.0 earthquake rocks Japan followed by a nuclear reactor scare of radiation contamination hundreds of miles in diameter.
  • Egyptian citizens take to the streets demanding and later receiving governmental changes.
  • Lybia breaks out in civil unrest as do other Middle East countries.
  • Gas prices continue to soar after last year’s major oil catastrophe in the Gulf of the U.S and due to escalating problems in the Middle East and a growing demand for the product.
  • Unmanned aircraft by DARPA is capable of staying in the air for up to five years
  • Virgin birth of a shark–second occurence we’re aware of (not kidding, folks, here’s the link)
  • Travolution system (by Audi) that allows its cars to exchange information with traffic lights
  • Gene that leads to longer shelf-life in fruits and veggies (Why include this? Think globalization and how we keep tampering with our food)
  • Omniderm–a substitute for human skin has been invented (and patented) by Israeli researchers, also artificial  corneas created by  U.S. doctors that could potentially restore sight to the blind
  • CERN successfully completes tests on the world’s first particle collider ( a potential form of energy)
  • Child labor is outlawed in major countries, but human trafficking (including children) remains a serious concern
  • Stamps now cost 44 cents

It’s obvious. The world has changed. The world is changing. And yet, I notice how certain concerns circle back around.

In some ways, I’m sad that mother’s not here to blow out her own 100 candles. But realistically, no. I’m relieved she’s passed on and is a part of this great universe.

Why? At 92 my mother has Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease. The last eight years wouldn’t have been pretty. Or satisfying. As a caregiver, I would have been way beyond burnout. Financially, her money would have been way gone, and money equals care in our country. I have no idea how I would have met her physical needs, much less her emotional needs. I don’t think, knowing where she was headed, that she would have been much more than incoherent and bedridden. Sad to say. Heartbreaking, actually.

Now, I do know of centenarians who spent their big century b’day by skydiving. That’s simply amazing.

But I’ve made peace with the realities of caregiving. That wouldn’t have been my mother’s outcome. She left this world with only the last year or two being rather rough. Not bad, to live 92 years and only the last two being less than desirable. Still, we enjoyed some good times those last few moments of her life. We played the piano, held hands, I let her eat anything she wanted–mostly Klondike bars. We looked at old photographs. I brushed her hair. She left this world on a gentle June evening with a breeze lifting a lace curtain overhead and me, by her side.

Happy Birthday, Mama.

What have you been up to these past eight years? Riding a comet? Are you sitting on a lawn chair enjoying some distant shore? Walking hand-in-hand with the love of your life?

What’s it like–over there? Is there an –over there?

Wherever you are, know that you are here as well–with me.

You used to relish telling me what to do. And now, I listen.

All my love, your daughter–

Carol

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

 

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Caregiving my mom carried many ironic gifts. One is that I witness how love goes on–after death. My parent’s marriage lasted for 52 years. They faced the Great Depression, World War II (Daddy served for four years–in France, at the Battle of the Bulge, and then stayed to help rebuild the country), a miscarriage, an inability to have natural children, a two career household when that was quite unusual, and later–one illness after another, including daddy’s final battle with heart disease. What I realize now, looking back on this vast relationship landscape, was that love goes on. As a daughter and caregiver, I am profoundly grateful to have witnessed this.

My mother was a widow for 18 years. She would have never wanted that. She had no desire to marry again. Daddy was the love of her life–and vice versa. I was adopted when they were 54 and 58 years old. Established. They argued (petty but quite verbal) all the time.Both of them retired by the time I was in second grade, so they spent a lot of time together and with me.  They only have maybe two tiffs that seemed rather big the whole time I knew them. They were as polar opposite as can be. He was quiet, a bit melancholy. Deep. Thoughtful. She was loud, vivacious, and her moods were shall we say…unpredictable. And yet, they worked it out.

More than that, they adored each other. They complimented each other constantly.  They respected each other, bragged about each other, doted on each other. And yet, they were completely normal. She talked too much and that drove Daddy nuts. She micro managed his entire life down to picking out his daily underwear. Daddy was slow. Wouldn’t do anything he didn’t want to do. Stoic. Refused to follow the doctor’s orders. That infuriated my pull-pushing, dot every i, OCD mother. He escaped each day down to his chateau–the garage he built with his own hands. That’s what marriage is like.

Daddy did all he could to look out for my mother. He left her a home, a generous savings, health and life insurance. More than that, (which all of that became less valuable over time–almost 20 years has a way of gobbling up money and goods) he left us all a legacy.

I’m grateful that my mother, who fought Parkinson’s and at the end, Alzheimer’s/dementia didn’t forget her husband–not until maybe the last year. We talked of him every day. We kept his pictures out. We shared stories. And as you can probably tell, I adored him, too. With all of my being.

And now, both my parents are gone. Time has taken them. That’s what time does. And yet, they remain. Their marriage endures. They are my example. I am profoundly blessed to have been adopted by such a union–and I say this in full light of my less than idyllic childhood (I did mention that my mother was unpredictable and for anyone who has read Mothering Mother, they’ll also note that she wasn’t exactly easy to care for either!)

Still, love is what endures. Spending the last years with my mother and caregiving for her daily needs gave me the opportunity to witness love in action. Their marriage carried over, like the scent of gardenia on a southern night. The sweetness remains.

~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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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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Some people are shocked by my candidness in my book, Mothering Mother–about my resentment, my anger, my fears about caregiving. I wrote my book in “real time,” as I was caregiving, so the exhaustion, the confusion, the rabid fear are all there–blemished and flawed. Even though my story is at times, scary, I would have given anything for such a guide–for someone to tell me the truth about caregiving–however gritty it might be. 

My mother had Parkinson’s for years. We had grown accustomed to the medications, the schedule, the times or days when nothing worked–and while it was challenging, we had no idea what was to come. My mother also had some heart disease. She had had a mild heart attack and was taking medication, but it was nothing like my dad’s heart condition–he struggled for every breath. But the coup de grâce was when she started showing signs of dementia/Alzheimer’s. It was like juggling five plates in the air while tap dancing on an open fire. Alzheimer’s tested my mother, me, my family, and all of our relationships in every way possible.

So I thought I’d recap a few truths I learned about caregiving along the way.

  1. Caregiving will uncover every fear and flaw you have. This isn’t to destroy you, but it is an opportunity to learn about yourself.
  2. Do what’s in your heart. Don’t care-give because you think you should do it because you love someone, and do it in the way that’s best for you–part-time, full-time, in your home, in theirs, placing them in a care facility–it’s nobody’s business–you’re the one giving the care and it’s between you and your loved one.
  3. At times, you will over-extend yourself–BIG TIME. You will be sleep deprived, perhaps abuse some substance–food, alcohol, sleep meds–just to get by. You will at times, ignore your health, ignore your other relationships, and take yourself to the bitter edge. It’s just part of the process. Sometimes, there’s no one else to help you, and you go and do and push past what’s sane or smart. Just try not to stay there.
  4. You will be really ugly. You will curse, get violent (hopefully with a pillow). snap and yell…and you’ll feel really bad.
  5. You’ll want to quit, give up, and run away. It probably won’t happen on a bad day, or a day you lose your temper. It will just come over you. A calm, “I’m done,” feeling. Sometimes it happens because you’re so bone-tired you can’t see straight, and for others, it’s because you’ve done all you can and something in you knows you need to stop.
  6. You probably won’t get to quit caregiving when you want to or need to. Exits usually have to be planned. Your love and commitment will keep you from just driving off. Fantasize about it all you want–it’s a great stress reliever, but when it’s time for a change, make a plan that’s good for everyone.
  7. Alzheimer’s in particular taught me to dig deep inside myself and decide what kind of daughter (and person)  I was going to be. Was I going to be mean just because my mother was mean to me? Was I going to let go of all the petty hurts that had built up over the years? Was I going to be able to hold true, love deep, and stay committed to my mother’s care even if her mind completely unhinged? These were the challenges I faced every day–the ethics of the heart that I had to ask myself again and again.
  8. There are things you’ll never tell anyone. Both tender, private moments–and times when you really lost it, or didn’t do what you know you should have done. Eventually, you have to accept all aspects of caregiving. You’ll have to incorporate all of you–forgive yourself for things you’d never want to admit, and even praise yourself for the few times you really stepped up to the plate. Most people have a harder time accepting the good in them–than admitting to their dark side. Sad, to think that we can hate ourselves easier than love ourselves.
  9. Death is really scary, but you can do it. If you’re one of those people who haven’t been around a lot of people dying in your family, then all this is going to seem really foreign. Death and dying are like a lot of things-it’s more scary in concept than in reality. When it’s your mom, dad, brother, sister, spouse, it’s in some ways cathartic. It’s finishing something. It’s biological and quiet. Part of it can be a grueling pressure, and if the dying process lasts for days or weeks, it’s really, really hard–but by then you’ll need to stay and see it through. You’ll be glad you did it. There’s something about closure that’s really, really important. Don’t miss this part of your journey. There’s much to learn. It’s also healing, whole, and part of what it means to be here on earth.  

I now look back at my caregiving years with a sense of reconciliation. It didn’t happen all at once. The first year after my mom had died, I felt that I killed her–that I had let her down. I couldn’t keep her alive. I had to accept me, her,  her–Alzheimer’s and all.

How else will we learn if we don’t accept the opportunities and circumstances that come our way?

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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“How do you care for your mom every day? How do you deal with Alzheimer’s day in and day out? How do you not give up? Doesn’t caregiving get to you”

Have you ever been asked any of those questions? You don’t really have an answer. You just do it–you get up each day and you do what you need to do, what has to be done. Most caregivers are far from perfect, and they might want to walk away, but they don’t.

In my book, Mothering Mother, I recall one of my favorite fantasies. When my mom’s Alzheimer’s was really bad, or when her Parkinson’s made it impossible for her to walk, I’d imagine myself dying my mother’s hair and dropping her off at the emergency room with a note pinned to her lapel, “Feed me Klondike Bars.” Then, I’d get in my car and drive straight to Key West. I’d change my name to Flo and become a salty waitress with no family and no responsibilities. I’d witness the golden sunset each night in glorious Margaritaville.

That one fantasy kept me from losing it some days. It was a mental release and silly as it sounds, it kept me from doing something I’d really regret!

When I was a sandwich generation mom, I was busy taking my mom to a slew of doctors, dealing with her telling me how to raise my children, and fighting so hard to keep my mother up and walking and communicating while dealing with Parkinson’sand Alzheimer’s. In retrospect, I did the best I could. We did the best we could. Caregiving is not about being perfect. It’s about showing up.

So what did I learn that I could pass on?

  • Choose. If you’re going to care give, then choose to do it with integrity.Caregiving asks something of us, and if we do it with a grudge, it turns toxic. Each day, make a choice. Choose to see the good. Life’s not fair, and death and disease happen, but know that you have a purpose. The only thing you have control over is your attitude, your perspective. Lay your head on the pillow each night knowing that not only did you give that day, you also received.
  • Pace yourself.As I’ve said in previous blogs. Caregiving is like running a marathon–with a bear chasing you. You have pace yourself, find a rhythm, not burn out–but you have all those fears, those hurts, those regrets–those are your bears. Stop trying to outrun them. Turn around and face them. They won’t eat you alive. You can’t know how long you’ll be a caregiver. Some people go into it sentimentally. They think the “end” is months, perhaps weeks away. They pour themselves into the role…and five years later they wonder what happened to their life. Have short range and long range goals. Take care of your health, your relationships, and your life.
  • Cultivate and protect your tender heart.Become a team. Remember that song, “You and Me Against the World”? It’s so, so easy to be bitter, cynical, and so exhausted that you’re on the verge of depression and serious illness. You can hate–and love–being a caregiver at the same time. It’s okay to admit it, but separate caregiving and disease from your actual loved one. Practice manners. Make yourself smile and hold hands. Laugh with each other at the crazy twists and turns. After awhile, you won’t have to force yourself. Keeping a tender heart is in many ways, selfish (it also makes you a whole heck of a lot nicer to live with). It keeps you young (metaphorically speaking). It keeps you healthy. It’s the Type A personalities who are bitter and cynical die quick and hard.

I truly believe that with these three secrets in hand, you can caregive longer and with joy and purpose. Yes, you’ll occasionally get off-center, lose your way, fall into the grumpy doldrums–but you’ll self-correct sooner. 

Choosing each day to care with integrity.

Pace yourself. This may take awhile, so make a plan and make sure you’re (your health, relationships, and life) are a part of that plan.

Protect your tender heart. It’s too easy to give into negativity, but that’s one miserable way to live.

I hope you’ll leave a comment and share your own caregiving secrets.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

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