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What to say at a Memorial Service.

If you typed these words into your search then you are seeking help to find your words–words that capture all you feel for a loved one, a loved one who is no longer with you. I hope this helps.

Forget dates and facts–where he/she born, died, went to school, what job he or she had doesn’t need to be said–include it in a program if you feel it needs to be said.

Tell a story or a mosaic or small tales. One person can combine several stories in their talk or you can invite several speakers to capture various times of that person’s life. Some like to tell a story from childhood, another from young adulthood, another from their parenting years, etc., slowly building a whole life. Others just tell one really good story that sums up the person in such a way that you leave knowing this soul in such a hilarious/brave/tender way that you’ll always carry them with you.

Gather stories from their childhood, a story about one of their struggles, a time they messed up (keeping it vulnerable and real touches hearts much more than acts of valor) tell about a funny or scary time. Before you talk make a list of their personality traits–good and oh so human: generous, stubborn, easy going or tends to jump to conclusions–then find a story that illustrates these traits.

Paint the whole picture. It’s okay that they weren’t perfect. No one is. It’s okay that we remember them as they were–flawed, sometimes heroic other times less so. It’s okay to say what you’ll miss–their crazy-loud sneezes, the way they always squeezed your shoulder when they knew you were having a bad day. Go for examples–not just abstract words (they were kind, sweet, silly-show it instead).

Let people remember.
Use photographs or songs.
Hold up an object they loved–something that reflects them in a unique way.

Laugh.
And cry.
It’s okay, even good to run the gambit of emotions.

Let people walk away feeling they learned something about this person–something they might not have known before. Refer to the things they loved–their favorite songs or poem or movie line you can quite, that they loved gas station coffee, always wore the same old ratty house shoes to go grocery shopping, loved sunflowers and grape popsicles and sang Queen in the car. Make them real.

And end reminding those who have gathered that this person who is now no longer physically with us will forever be remembered–and the more we tell their stories, the more we laugh at their antics, allow them to continue to be a part of our lives because they lived, really lived, warts and all, makes our lives better.

Let your last words be words that leave the audience grateful for having known this person–and grateful that life is indeed fragile, unpredictable, surprising and complex–and that every day is a rare and fleeting gift.

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Caregiving and romance doesn’t seem to go hand-in-hand, but in many ways, it’s the epitome of real love. To care for a spouse, to set aside other aspects of your life and even your marriage to care for an aging or ill parent or child, is about grown up love–the kind that gives, and at times, the kind that sacrifices. Keeping love alive isn’t always easy under the best of life’s busy circumstances, and caregivers even have added stress, but it’s so worth the challenge.

Love Do’s:

Number one goal: Survive. We call ourselves “Team O’Dell.” Some days we felt like a black-ops team whose goal was to get through the dangerous landmines of caregiving and raising teens without committing kamikaze. Wasn’t easy, but I liked the idea of the two of us on a covert mission. However you do it, stay united.

Do keep a bigger vision in focus: Your marriage, your health, your sanity, your humor, your passion–keep that visionary “finish line” ribbon in site. No matter what happens, how long or how hard caregiving gets, the goal is survive–and even thrive.

Do practice good manners. Kisses hello and goodbye, thank you for the hot tea, opening the door for your lady–treat each other like you would on your first date. Why? Because in honoring someone else, we honor ourselves and our relationship. It takes a bit of discipline at first and then it’s easy–and really helps to smooth things over on tough days.

Do compliment each other. Tell your loved one how brave they are. How compassionate they are. How funny they are. Caregivers (for the most part) don’t feel attractive, don’t feel perky or sexy, so remind them they are. Nothing is sexier than someone who knows how to love.  Compliments never get old–not when they’re genuine.

Do look for moments of connection. Forget going on a two-week vacation for now–don’t even torture yourself with the idea. You may not even be able to go on a two hour dinner date, much less a weekend getaway–so grab a kiss in the garage, dance to your favorite song in the kitchen, or better yet–start each day with a shower together! (that was the one place my mother respected my privacy–I think she was part-cat and was afraid to get wet!)

Do celebrate every chance you get. See some gorgeous wildflowers in bloom on the side of the road? Stop and grab a handful. Buy her a mini cupcake and stick a candle in it as a “you survived another week” celebration. Celebrating isnt about fancy gifts, it’s about taking notice.

Do say thank you often. Every day, in fact. Consider a gratitude board where everyone writes what they’re thankful for–a great kitchen or laundry room addition. Use a bit of irony: “I’m thankful I didn’t pull all my hair out today–or I’m thankful I didn’t rip that doctor’s nose off when he trated me so condescendingly.” Not all gratitude has to sound like a Hallmark card.

Do invest in your emotional and relationship bank account. The caregiving years may be a time for withdrawals more than deposits. That’s okay. Know that your relationship is strong enough to go on auto-pilot for awhile.

Do give mercy cards. Your spouse snapped at you for no reason? Don’t snap back–offer a mercy card instead. Sometimes we need to let something go, look over it, and realize they’re under so much stress that just need someone to cut them some slack.

Do stand up to your spouse when you need to. The other side of mercy is a showdown, and sometimes that’s just what’s needed. If you spouse is being an ass, pull him or her aside privately and tell them the strong truth. Sometimes it’s the cold-water thrown in your face that gets your attention.

Do use the ole’ good cop-bad cop routine if you have to. Let your spouse use you as an excuse if they need to. Sometimes we need to blame someone else–it’s okay–use every tactic you need to. In times of war the rules change. In times of caregiving, the rules change.

Do know and expect that the love and energy you give out will come back to you. Demand it back. Fully expect that your health and your relationship will rebound. We’re actually hardwired with tremendous reserves for time of great stress or need. That’s why we have such amazing brain and muscle reserve. When you need it, it’s there–but be prepared for the adrenaline dump that comes after it.

Do know how to pace yourself and take needed breaks. You can deplete those reserves–and then you have nothing left and your health can be in serious jeopardy. A six week hospital stint, a month of all-nighters–and before you know it, you are completely shot. Have you ever seen some daredevil on television do something so reckless that it’s just plain stupid? Don’t be a daredevil with your health (mental or physical) for anyone else. If you go past that, its dangerous ground. Accept that there’s is a limit to what you can do.

Do consider each other a source of strength. The arms of you spouse or partner should be the safest place on earth. Create a haven for each other.

Do know that caregiving will end–and yes, eventually it will circle back and begin again. So when caregiving comes to an end, grive, reocver and then…live, celebrate, play, work–fill your life in a million meaningful ways. It takes some time to get back to feeling connected with the rest of humanity, but it will come. We’re meant to be fully engaged on this big blue ball–so when you can, while you can, go make memories, do some good out there, learn, explore, give back, kick up your heels and make some noise!

Keeping love alive is crucial but it isn’t going to be easy.

Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or any ole day, you’ve got to have some fight and some passion in your relationship. Being a caregiver isn’t about squelching all the other parts of you–it’s about weaving them in anytime and anyway you can. Be willing to invest and preserve your relationships and be determined that caregiving won’t take you down for the count. Caregiving is yet another thing you can look back on and realize that ironically it made you strong and it’s a part of who the two of you are.

Life is precious and caregiving seasons come and go. When it’s time to play, to travel, to really get out there–do it with all you’ve got!

In the words of my daddy, “Be good and take care of each other.”

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                       –Lao Tzo, Chinese Philosopher

Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

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It’s so easy to make dozens of resolutions you know you won’t keep. It’s even easier to beat yourself up about not losing those ten (okay fifteen) pounds, not staying on budget, not cleaning your closet, and if you’re a caregiver, mom or daughter–not losing your patience every ten minutes. But all that guilt and regret doesn’t get you closer to your goals. So why not try a little reverse psychology? Why not try an anti-New Year’s resolution list?

 My grandmother used to say that the best way to get me to do something was to tell me that I had to do the opposite. She was my birth grandmother–before I was adopted–which means I was under the age of four and probably my purest self. That means that I need to tap into that inner rebel and get that little imp on my side.

I’m tired to trying to “good.” Trying and good don’t really go together. To  be truly good comes from a natural place–from deeply held beliefs about yourself and the world.  Trying is exhausting and tedious–and it always falls apart.

So I’ve created an anti-New Year’s list.

 My Anti-New Year’s Resolution List:

I will not diet.

Instead, I’ll be sure to start each day with a protein and a good carb–peanut butter, boiled egg, or if I’m rushed–a handful of nuts. I can combine that with a piece of fruit or whole grain bread. Eating a hearty breakfast is the best way to not gorge the rest of the day.  

I will not exercise.

Instead, I’ll play. I’ll ride my bike, play kickball in the street, dance in the kitchen to my iPod, and bounce on my giant ball during the commercials. I’ll race my husband to the mailbox, clean out the gutters and plant a garden. I’ll move because it feels good, not because I think I should. My goal is to play–every day.

I will not keep a perfect house.

I don’t even want to. I used to admire those with shiny kitchen floors and feel inferior to those “other women” who woke up perky and had the toilet swished and the dishwasher unloaded before 7am. Now I consider a “too clean” house a serious waste of the precious time I’m allotted on earth.

Instead, I’m going for the basket method. I allow the magazines to pile up, and I won’t even think about getting rid of them until they reach the top of the basket–at that point, I’ll start ditching. I’ll do the same basket method with toys, shoes, and bathroom toiletries. If it’s in a basket, it’s good enough. I find that I do better when I don’t worry about it. If you show up at my house, I’ll offer you a glass of wine or a cup of hot tea–and I’ll sit with you on the couch or in the backyard, and that for me, is what a home is for–a place where people feel welcome.  

I will not force myself to do anything I really don’t want to do.

I will trust my gut. I have pretty good instincts about most folks. I need to honor that. If I don’t want to go to lunch with that person, I won’t. If I don’t want to get my teeth cleaned that day, I won’t. Life is tough right now, and I need to give myself a break. By allowing little breaks, I won’t have a major meltdown and do something really stupid. By realizing I can say “no,” if I want to, I find that I’m usally glad to say “yes” simply because I have a choice.

I will not beat myself up about not being  or doing “enough.”  

 Everyone has different expectations of me. It’s my job to look at the bigger picture–and prioritize. As a wife, mom, daughter, caregiver, friend, and professional–I’ve found that each person has a myopic view of me. All of us see ourselves as the center of our own universe. They don’t always consider all that I have to do, or what someone else might need me more at that moment.  I don’t need to get upset with them. It’s my job to find the right balance for me–not theirs. I don’t even have to explain or defend myself. What I do have to do is to care for those I love–including myself–the best I can and trust that will be enough even when others don’t think it is.

The more I believe in myself, the more peace I project onto this rag-tag world.

Yeah, I know it sounds like I’m just tricking myself, but it works for me. I’m able to back into self-care and wholeness and it doesn’t feel like a big ordeal. By being defiant and saying “I will not,” I can actually fool myself for a split second and then I’m free to choose something I really believe in.

Are there times when I really have to ante up and do things I don’t want to do but need to do for myself or for someone I love? Sure, lots of times. But if I’ve allowed myself enough lee-way at other times I find that I have the strength and fortitude to follow through when I need to. 

My list of “I will not’s” allows my three-year old self to come out and play.  She’s much more agreeable after she’s had some time to romp free.

 Who knew that embracing your inner rebel could be such a good thing!

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If you haven’t seen Pixar’s UP, get in the car and head to the movies. I’m not kidding. That’s an order:) And if you are a part of or direct a care home, an adult day care or a senior community center, load them all in the van and take them to see UP. You won’t regret it.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I don’t use it as a way to endorse or promote anything I don’t passionately believe in–so I hope you’ll trust me on this.

And it’s absolutely perfect for Fathers Day! 
If you’re a caregiver, what a perfect outing and take your loved one. Sandwich Generation? Take everybody to the movies!

Oh, and take a box of tissues–and be ready to laugh, cry, smile, and leave feeling completely rejuvenated.

Yes, it’s a cartoon, but I’m not sure Pixar’s great films (Monster’s Inc. Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall E) can be placed in the category with Sponge Bob (sorry, Bob).

What’s UP about? I’m not telling. I will let you know what you could pick up from the commercials–it’s about a seemingly grumpy old man who has longed for adventure all his life–and about a young boy who so needs a friend. It’s much much more than that and old and young alike will identify with both these characters, their wants, needs and fears. It’s about dreams and adventures and how we find–and lose–and find our way through life.

Oh, and if you’re a dog lover, Doug the dog is adorable! He’s my dog, Rupert on the big screen–lovable, daffy, and most of all, loyal.

It’s about time that our elders were given their on-screen debut and delivered as the complex, meaty, powerful protagonists they are. Yes, it’s super-hero status in the best sense of the word–not because he can fly or walk through walls–but because he still has something amazing to offer the world–his time, love, and experience. It’s about time that the media portrays our elders with the respect they so deserve.

No, Pixar’s not paying (but feel free). I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been deeply touched. Take your dads. Take your moms. Take your aunts, uncles, kids, grandkids, and neighbors. UP will warm your heart, unhinge your tear ducts, and boost your heart.

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I have a magnet on my back door that reads, “Cherish this moment. This moment IS your life.”

As caregivers, we sometimes think we’re living for our loved ones. We’ve put our life “on hold,” and as soon as they’re better, or after that die, we’ll get our life back. Not a great way to look at caregiving–or your life. No wonder we feel resentment. No wonder we’re always agitated, gripey, or zone out–we’re constantly saying (whether we realize it or not, we’re giving out the message),  “I don’t want to be here.”

But what if “here” is all you’ve got? All you’re ever going to get?

Remember that great line in the movie As Good As It Gets?”

 Melvin Udall, played by Jack Nicholson is plagued so badly with OCD that his life is nothing but self-imposed rules. He can’t allow people or love into his life because they’ll make a mess, cause him to step on a crack in the sidewalk, or mess up his arrangement of silverware. He falls in love with a waitress who has a “messy” life. Not enough money, a sick child, living with her mom and waitressing for a living. (The quotes are so, so good from this movie, check out a few here)

After almost losing the love of his life because he’s so darn difficult, he decides he’s got to get better, he’s got to get help. He barges into his psychiatrist’s office and demands to be seen. He looks around and sees an office full of scared and miserable people. People waiting for their life to start. Waiting for their OCD to go away. Waiting.

He can’t wait any longer.

He blurts, “Wake up, people. What if this is as good as it gets?!”

So I ask you, what if your life right now, today, is as good as it gets?

Are you going to give up, go to bed and pull the covers over your head? Forever? No, you’re going to make it work. Sadly, the end of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is death. So yes, there’s a way out, just not a good one. But death is the way out for all of us, so don’t let that get you down.

I love a little book that came out a few years ago, “Do One Thing Different” and the concept really stuck with me. When you’re caregiving, much of your life is structured around meds, treatments, and rehab, so jumping into a full exercise routine or enrolling full-time in college really isn’t an option. But you can change one thing. One thing that takes, oh, ten minutes a day–or less. Don’t tell me you don’t have ten minutes. Everybody wastes ten minutes–on tv, over-cleaning, or chowing down on something that’s not even all that tasty.

For me, I’m concentrating on my waist. Sounds silly, but according to many health experts, your waist circumference determines how healthy you are. Women need to be under 35, and men under 40. Those are pretty generous numbers, (American size), and I’m fortunate to have a pear shape, but I figure that instead of going for a total body makeover I’d never achieve, I’d spend ten minutes a day doing exercises that focus just on my waist. Ten minutes. I’m not going crazy and saying I’m going to workout 2 hours a day when I’m know good and well  that’ll last about 2 days. I can coax myself into ten minutes working out in front of the tv instead of sitting in front of the tv.

The other thing I’m focusing on is brushing up on my Spanish. I may be spending time in South America this fall, and although I don’t want to fork out $400 for Rosetta Stone, I went online and found several YouTube and iTunes Spanish lessons for free. I’m also going to a used bookstore in town, trading in some old books and buying some children’s books in Spanish to read. So the way I look at it, these two small items allow me to exercise my body and my mind with little or no cash outlay needed.

When do I say, “That will have to wait until after my caregiving years are over.”

Really? Is there some small way you could jump start process?

Remember, everything that has come into creation was once just a thought. Jack Canfield wrote an amazing book, “The Success Principles,”in which he describes years ago when he was only hoping to be a sought after speaker and author how he wanted to go to Australia to speak. He had never been asked to speak internationally, so it was unlikely he’d get a call from “down under.” So he went to a travel store and bought a poster of Sydney’s famous opera house and hung it in his office. Within a year, he was speaking in Australia.

Take it down to your level. Maybe you’re dreaming of a vacation. Take out that seashell you picked up a few years ago and put it on your kitchen counter–just as reminder–and a way to lay claim to your own future. Check out a book from the library about where you’d like to go, or visit an online forum where other travelers have been there and suggest places to go and see. Daydreaming is great way to get your mind off the daily caregiving stress.

I know you can’t just get in your car and drive away (although that was one of my favorite fantasies–I was going to drive to Key West, and still might!) But you can start with one small change. Don’t put your entire life on hold–it won’t even make you a better caregiver, just a fussier one.

I hope you’ll take me up and drop me a line at writecarol@comcast.net or leave a comment and share what one small change you’ve made.

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This Mother’s Day, I’m acutely aware of the lessons my mother taught me. Some are from her good example, her “momisms” she passed on through wit and wisdom, and at times, she taught me best by being a living example of how to do things differently.

What Mothers Teach Their Daughters:

What it means to be a woman.

Whether our mothers neglected themselves physically or emotionally, or taught us self-love and nurturing by example, or by neglect. Everything from body image to daily habits to whether we believe we’re prone to depression can be traced back to our mothers. It’s not that they were screaming, “Believe everything I say.” It’s more the power of a whisper.

How we view men.

Whether we like it or not, our mother’s voices linger in our heads and we base subconscious decisions on the words and actions, particularly when it comes to how we view our fathers (“He’s such a moron!” or “Your father is a good, good man”). Separating our experiences from theirs can be a challenge. Just because our mothers were “unlucky at love,” doesn’t mean we will be–or vice versa.

How we view women.

Did your mother have good friendships? Did she surround herself with a circle of estrogen? Did she have a best friend–or was it all catty, gossipy, destructive relationships that subliminally taught you that women couldn’t be trusted? When you have a problem, do you have a friend to call to work through your issues–whether big or small–whether it’s whining about your cramps or getting fired? Our mothers influence how we perceive women–as friend or foe.

Our own perceptions of our ability to mother.

Deep down, we believe things about ourselves–that we’re a good driver, or not–that we’ll be able to hold our tempers and be naturally attentive, easily confident moms, or if we’ll be the nervous, flighty kind. Most of us have this quiet, ongoing dialogue running in our heads that tell us about ourselves. It takes keen observance to hear these looping taped messages, and it takes diligence to analyze them and decide what messages to keep–and what to shred.

After years of being told what to do, we rebel either inwardly or for some, outwardly. This is necessary. We need to begin to think for ourselves, act for ourselves, and the best way to do that is by getting angry, beligerent, and yell, “I don’t see it your way, Mom.” That’s our first tiny root that sprouts to form our independent lives. It takes this jet fuel of anger, rebellion, or “I’m not you, Mother,” to begin to push away from the only home we’ve ever known. To make our own homes. Our own lives.

It’s not all bad news. Our mother’s effect is powerful–and can be our ally.

For most of us, we eventually make peace with our mothers. We have to. Why? Because it’s also a way to make peace with ourselves. The sound of their voice, the cadence in their speech, their smell, their thoughts on everything from religion to nail polish give us something to ponder.

Are we like them? In some ways. But one of the greatest lessons we learn is that the friction between mothers and daughters is in many ways, a good thing. We get to decide everyday–do we agree or disagree, do accept their teachings or forge a different path.

For me, my mother taught me:

That a strong woman is to be respected, but she won’t always be liked.

She taught me that adoring your husband and thinking he’s strong and handsome makes you look good. After all, you picked him out.

She taught me that humor can redeem a difficult person. She taught me that families take care of each other.

She taught me that standing up for myself was the only way I could be around her.

She taught me that dressing for one position higher than I currently am causes people to treat you differently.

She taught me that Southern food is in my opinion, about the best cuisine on the face of the earth.

She taught me that girlfriends can really make difference when you hit a bad patch.

She taught me that saying good things about your children makes you almost believe it’s all true. 

She taught me that caregiving is full circle, and yes, it’ll just about break you, you’ll learn more about yourself than you care to ponder.

She taught me that having a good attitude is about the only thing you can control.

She taught me that love is complex and you’d be surprised what all you can forgive–but in the end–redemption is sweet. 

What did your mom teach you?

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

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