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New Year’s is a time of hope. Wipe the slate clean. Begin again.

I was on a walk the other day, thinking about resolutions. Thinking about the word, resolve.

To re-solve. To solve something again–that it was once solved. So a resolution is a re-solution.

That means that once upon a time it wasn’t a problem.

That’s true.

We weren’t always overweight. We didn’t always drink too much, smoke, spend to much, or see our loved one’s too little. 

So, a resolution is just getting back to that former state.

Think back, when was it that you weren’t overweight?

Perhaps your teens? Before kids? For some of us, we have to think back even younger.

But there was probably a time. You didn’t think about food all the time. You rode your bike. Played little league.

Your body remembers this. In sports, they call this muscle memory. If your body (or mind) has ever done it once, it remembers–and can do it again.

This works for more than just weight.

So I thought about it–I used to spend copious hours on my bike as a kid. I can bike now. I used  to sing for the heck of it. I can sing in my car. I used to draw. I think I’ll go outside and draw that live oak tree in my back yard.

Sometimes we make things so big and so hard. Simple pleasures are deeply satisfying.

We buy too much, eat too much, smoke and gossip because we’re trying to fill a hole.

 We have to (at least I know I have to, I have no right to speak for anyone else) learn how to be with ourselves–and be content. 

To be content is to have content. (Sorry, I’m a word-nerd)

To have content is to have substance–something meaningful that fills up space.
I love the word contentment. To be deep in joy–to belong–to not want to be anywhere else or with anyone else.

 

According to GoalGuy.com, here are the top ten resolutions: (every site I researched had a similar list, so it’s pretty much a given)

 

Top Ten New Year Resolutions

 

                1. Lose Weight and Get in Better Physical Shape

2. Stick to a Budget

3. Debt Reduction

4. Enjoy More Quality Time with Family & Friends

5. Find My Soul Mate

6. Quit Smoking

7. Find a Better Job

8. Learn Something New

9. Volunteer and Help Others

10. Get Organized

This list tells me we’re all pretty much alike. There’s things we need to stop doing–other things we need to start. Push and Pull.

 

So, just for fun, I propose a Top Ten Caregiver’s Resolution List:

1. Sleep. Sleep more. Sleep any where, any time, any how. Dream of uninterrupted sleep.

2. Not totally blow my top at any one–a nurse, my loved one, the pharmacist…this could be tough (especially when you’re dealing with Alzheimer’s)  

3. Not eat my way into oblivion–food is not my best friend (repeat 10 times a day)

4. Remember where I’m driving–zoning out is dangerous–I may need a loud buzzer horn or taser. Stess causes zoning out, I’m sure.

5. Walk every day. Even if it’s just to the mailbox. Walking is good. Sun is good. I need this.

6. Get out and meet people. Normal people not in the health care/elder care profession. There’s a great big world out there and I need to see it once in a while.

7. To actually want sex and intimacy and do something about it. Sex drive? Is that like, four wheel drive? Yes, i remember….vaguely.

8. To get dressed in something other than a jogging suit–something NOT with an elastic waistband. This relates to not eating a whole frozen pizza and walking to the mailbox, doesn’t it?

9. Do something for me, just me. People do that? Lunch with a friend, getting my nails done, putzing through an antique shop–caring for me is actually part of caregiving…who knew?

10. Ask for help. Pray, cry, meditate, journal, scream, go to a support group, go to church, ask for respite care, pay for care for an afternoon off, try adult day care for my loved one. Ask, ask, ask–caregiving is not a lone sport. It takes a village.

Bonus–

11. Not be afraid–of caregiving, cancer, Alzheimer’s, ALS, or death.

Fear is a big woolly monster trying to gobble up your precious days. Turn around and face  it–yell big and loud–”I’m not afriad. I can do this.”

12. Attitude of gratitude. Each night before I go to sleep, I ask myself, “what was the  best part of  the day? Usually, it’s a dragonfly who stopped right in front of me–or a neighbor who gives me a big smile when she sees me. It’s the small moments that stick. Being grateful in a time in your life when so much is beyond your control is a way of turning the tables in your favor. The more you’re grateful, the more you have to be grateful for–it’s like a fan that keeps expanding.

Just like the other list–things to stop doing, other things to start. Push. Pull.

New Years is a magical time. Resolutions represent hope. Hope for change. You already know how to do this. After all, it’s just a re-solution.

 

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother–available on Amazon

 

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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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Remember the old Art Linkletter show? About kids saying funny things?

Well, parents can be pretty darn funny too.

My mom may have had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and a heart condition, but she could still say and do the craziest things.

It’s okay to laugh. We have to. If we don’t, we’ll just dissolve into a puddle on the floor.

Why is laughter so good for you?

“The old saying that ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart,” says Michael Miller, M.D., F.A.C.C., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack,” says Dr. Miller who is also an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Cool, huh?

So, what makes you laugh?

Think about the movies where you’d laughed out loud.

I just saw Tropic Thunder–and laughed until my sides hurt.

I warn you–it’s raunchy from the beginning to the end (and I’m not usually a raunchy humor kind of gal–not a big Austin Powers fan). But it’s also well-written and sharp.

Make Your Own Funny List

  • Funny movies
  • Funny friends
  • Great jokes
  • Funny songs or rhymes
  • Funny or ironic moments in your own life
  • Funny, sharp, witty turns of phrases
  • Funny books or authors

Begin to see the “funny” in each day. Start looking for it.

The Benefits of Laughter

Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California have been studying the effects of laughter on the immune system. Published studies have shown that laughing has the following benefits:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Rreduces stress hormones
  • Increases muscle flexion
  • Boosts immune function by raising levels of infection (fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies)
  • Triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being

Wow! Too bad the pharmaceutical companies haven’t caught on. I wish they’d include a complimentary Saturday Night Live video with each of their prescriptions!

I’ve laughed my head off at an indecisive squirrel who just can’t seem to make it across the road. I’ve laughed at my dog eating peanut butter–I’ve laughed at my ability to trip walking down a flat sidewalk!

Recently, I was at a caregiver’s conference, and after my talk–in which I do a one-act play of my mother and I having an arguement about me refusing to wear a slip–a woman in the audience whispered in my ear, “It’s probably been over a year since I laughed. I laughed today.”

There is no better gift she could have given me.

We caregivers can get too darn serious. Sure, we’re dealing with disease and end-of-life issues–but the absurdities and incongruities of life are even more ironic, more funny when there’s so much at stake.

Mark Twain said,

Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.
- Following the Equator, by Mark Twain

 

 

Finding the funny in caregiving kept me alive. I had to write about all the crazy, irreverent, whoopsy-daisy moments caregiving brought into my life. Sometimes I wrote about it with biting sarcasm, other times, it’s tinged with sorrow. You can’t separate it–caring for our loved ones is bitter sweet. I’m grateful that my mother could laugh at herself–at us. When I was a child (she was my adoptive mother and 50 years older than me), we’d watch Jack Benny together and Red Skelton. We’d laugh and laugh. I’d stack their stand up routine against today’s finest–and they’d still trump these guys (and gals!)

Mother had a gillion sayings. She knew she was funny–and she could wait for a punch line.

I’m so grateful to have been brought up in a house where we could laugh.

Here are a couple of excerpts from Mothering Mother when my mother was at her finest!

Remote

Mother can’t figure out all this “high-falutin’ machinery,” as she calls it. The phone rings, 

 

“Hello. Hello?  Hello!”

 

She doesn’t know she’s picked up the remote control.

 

“Hello!”

 

No one answers. She sets it on the table, thinking she’s hung up the phone, but somehow she’s knocked the real phone off the hook. It starts making that noise. I reach over and hang it up.

I look at her but don’t say a thing. I’m trying not to laugh.

“They must have hung up,” she says.

I agree.

“Yes, mother. Someone has definitely hung up.”

***

No Bacon?

I need to go to church. I need to get out this house, wear a dress and sit on a pew and sing a hymn and pray. I desperately need to know I’m not just out here on my own.

 

I dress and hurry to fix Mother some breakfast. I place cereal, toast, coffee and cut-up bites of cantaloupe in front of her, then hand her the little silver tray of pills, the same silver tray she always handed to Daddy, and give her some water to take her medicine with.

You can’t hurry Mother anymore. She’s worse than a preschooler meandering down the sidewalk, pausing to examine a ladybug on a blade of grass and pocketing every pebble.

“Are you sure I take this purple pill now?” Mother stares at the silver tray as if I’m trying to poison her.

“Yes, Mother.”

“Where’s the yellow one? I need to take the yellow one.” She dumps the pills from the tray into her hand.

“No, Mother, that’s with lunch. You take these with breakfast.”

Is it breakfast time?  I thought it was late afternoon.”

“Yes, honey, it’s breakfast. Swallow these pills and then you can eat.”

“Where are you going?” She looks around the room, tilts her hand, and drops the purple pill onto the floor. I find it on the carpet.

“Church, and I need to hurry.” I put the pill on her tongue.

“Is it Sunday?  I need to go to church, too.” The pill drops out of her mouth.

“No, Mother, you’re not strong enough today, sweetie. Phillip is staying home with you today.” I pick it back up.

“I can get ready in a jif.”

“Mother, take these pills. I need to go.”

Aw, you’d wait for me.” She reaches in her house robe pocket and pulls out a long strand of pearls then puts them on over her housecoat.

 

I rub my face to keep from chuckling at her attire or screaming at how long this is taking.

I think of what she’s really like, of the Sunday mornings of my childhood and our intricate dance of preparation. The ironing that commenced on Saturday afternoon, the cleaning out of her purse, the polishing of everyone’s shoes, the check of the nylon hose for runs, the dab of clear fingernail polish… on and on… late into the night, beginning again early on Sunday morning, culminating in southern perfection.

 

Now, it’s a sling of the beads over a well-worn housecoat and she’s good to go. This isn’t like her.

“No, I can’t wait for you, honey. Maybe you can go next Sunday, but you can’t make it today.” I don’t like the sound of my own voice, the hurry inside me.

“Who’s gonna stay with me?”

“Phillip. Now take these pills and sit down and eat.” Five minutes later, I’ve scooted her from the bed to the chair and put the tray in front of her. She surveys it, scanning the food as if she’s a New York food critic, flicking a cantaloupe chunk onto its side with her fingernails. I turn on the television to a preacher I know she likes and take a step back, sneaking out of the room the way I did when my girls were babies so they wouldn’t cry.

“What?” She looks around on her plate. “No bacon?”

***

I’ve heard some of the greatest stories by families and caregivers around the country.

One story I can share is about a man who works at home and takes care of his mom who has Alzheimer’s. She “goes to work” with him–sits right beside him at the computer. When the man’s wife comes home from work, the man’s mother goes ballistic. She sees his wife as “the other woman.” She hides her purse, pinches her under the table, and tells her “to leave her man alone.”

That could really mess with your head!

***

One more story–(I have a million!)

A friend of mine was placing her 91 year-old mother in a care facility (falling/memory loss). She and her sister were cleaning out her mom’s house and consolidating things. She found a rather bright pink Las Vegas type dress–kind of ballroomy with lots of sequins. They decided to donate it to Goodwill and couldn’t imagine who the dress even belonged to–surely not their mother!

A month later their mother asks her daughter’s, “Did you all see that pink dress I had in the back closet? I want to be buried in that dress.”

The two daughters looked at each other–tried not to laugh–and said of course, that would be perfect.

They spent the next 2 months trying to track down the dress. Sequins and all.  

***

So come on, share your stories!

Let’s laugh to the point of tears–not laugh at each other but at life and all it throws our way.

Carol O’Dell is the author of Mothering Mother, available at Amazon

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Mr. Spock said it r first. We all hope to live long and prosper.

But living long is an art–if you’re going to do it with finesse.

And prospering isn’t all about money–it’s about the wealth we acquire when we live good lives and take care of ourselves.

Great docs such as Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen of the book, Real Age have compiled all the latest health data that if followed, can literally add years to your life. I took this info, along with several known preventative methods to deter Alzheimer’s and compiled it into a list. I love Dr. Oz’s You on a Diet, and You the Owner’s Manual–just enough medicine talk to teach me a few things in a great format I don’t mind picking up again and again.

You might want to post this on your frig.

Don’t feel pressure to do it all–just pick 2-3 things that you can incorporate into your daily/weekly life. That’s enough for now. Later, you can add 2 more.

The Health List: (Ranked in importance to some degree)

  • Embrace a positive attitude. This is number one. Squash those negative thoughts. Redirect them. How? Catch yourself in the act. Turn the negative thought into a positive one and say it out loud. Flood your car and other places where you mind wanders with music, informational CDs, or healthy conversation–continually correct those down/derogatory thoughts until they’re crowded out by good ones.
  • When you can’t, laugh it off. Sometimes life just gets chaotic and absurd. When the crap just seems to pile up, then laugh about it. Ask yourself if this will matter one year, five years from now. Most of the time, it won’t. If it will, then take action and do what you can to fix it–if not–let go of life’s steering wheel and enjoy the ride.
  • Let go of hurts and resentments–most people don’t mean to hurt you, and for those who do, why give them power by dwelling on it?
  • Breathe! When stressed, stop, place your hand on the place on your body where you’re feeling the most tension–head, stomach, and take five slow deep breaths. Count if you need to, if your mind needs something to focus on–30 counts in, 30 counts out–breath in through your nose and really fill up those lungs, and breath out through your mouth and empty everything out in that breath. Do this at least three times a day–stress or not–it’ll change your life. It’s great for stress and anxiety.
  • While we’re on breath, you gotta give up smoking. If you haven’t so far, make an appointment and get into a doctor quick–there’s so many ways they can help you–meds, hypnotism–you’ve simply got to quit. Know that each time you try, you get closer. So don’t give up. I have lots of relatives who tried for years, and you know what? None of them smoke now. Many smoked for 20, 30 years–and now they’re clean. So it can be done!
  • Get enough sleep. I’m talking 8-10 hours. Sleep deprivation will take years off your life,damage your body, and make life miserable. Create a sanctuary in your bedroom–declutter, paint it in a soothing color, get great sheets–look forward to going to bed. Not sleeping enough is responsible for more car accidents than drunk driving and is directly linked to obesity.
  • When you can, nap for 20 minutes. It’s restorative and will aid in your mental sharpness and creativity.
  • Surround yourself with people you love–a spouse, friends, build relationships and community in which to be a part of.
  • Walk 30 minutes a day. Don’t stop. Keep a steady pace. Music helps. It aids in weight loss, stress, diabetes and heart disease prevention.
  • Music is a great mood enhancer. When you’re down, reach for the ipod instead of the pills/booze. It’s known to be effective in dealing with anxiety, depression, and lowers blood pressure.
  • Make love! With yourself and others–being sexual is good for you. (If it’s in a monogamous committed relationship). Create an environment where sex, cuddling and fooling around is easy and relaxing. If not, explore why you’ve shut down in this area–stress? Lack of sleep? Unresolved issues? Take a look.
  • Do some weight bearing exercise 2-3 times a week. Lift weights, work in the yard–move your muscles and stretch those ligaments. It’s even more important as we age.
  • Play! While exercise is important, face it, it’s boring. What sport or activity did you love as a child? I was a bicycler. Now, I bike almost every day. Swim, kayak, install a basketball goal in your driveway–even if you don’t have kids around any more.
  • Stretch–everyone can stretch–any age. 5-10 minutes a day–along with your breath work is something caregivers and their loved ones can do together. Yoga’sgreat too, and there are lots of DVDs and online classes if you can’t get out.
  • If you want to obsess about a body part, then concentrate on your waist size. Waist size reflects mid-section fat–the dangerous kind that’s close to your heart. Men should have a waist of no larger than 36 inches and women, 32 inches. So get out the tape measure and take deep breath…
  • Incorporate being active into your relationships. Meet with a friend for lunch–and then go for thirty minute walk. Sign you and your spouse up for tennis lessons or dance lessons. Shake things up. It’s easy to get sedentary in our relationships and build upon eachother’s bad habits.
  • Get out in nature. Nature’s benefits are endless. We are a part of this planet, and no matter where you live, there’s a dragonfly or cardinal waiting for you. Nature teaches us and heals us in ways we’ve yet to explore or understand. Do you know what prisoners miss the most? The sun–and being outside. Most of us can get up and go outside our front door. Do more than walk to your car.
  • Get your Vitamin D.How? By getting outside–remember I mentioned walking for 30 minutes? Do you know that your eyes and skin absorb just the right amount of Vitamin D in about 10-20 minutes and then it shuts off so you can’t overload? Vitamin D is crucial to your bones and is a real problem for the very young and the elderly–so even if you’re a caregiver–wheel your loved one outside and enjoy the flowers, dragonflies, and walk around the block.
  • Before you head out the door, slather on some sunscreen. No need to inflict damage to your skin, which isn’t pretty in the long run, or put yourself at risk for skin cancer. It’s way too easy to buy a moisturizer that has full spectrum sunblock and slather it on each day.
  • Speak up. When something is bothering you, begin to speak up. Say how you’re feeling. You can do this without blame, but stuffing your feelings is damaging and is known to cause lots of health problems. Speaking up is about taking care of yourself. It’s not always about fixing a problem, but voicing your hurts and concerns is beneficial for everyone. Risk the confrontation. Most people take it better than you think and it can be a great bridge to better communication.
  • Embrace faith. Whatever you believe, to whatever degree–embrace the sense of hope that faith embodies. It’s okay if it’s not the faith of your family or culture, it’s okay if it is–people who have some sense of life beyond, of purpose past self feel more at peace and more connected.
  • Look at your stress. Caregivers and those who are actively caring for others all hours of the day and night can really feel overwhelmed, but what is it that really gets to you? Everyone is different. Stress usually stems from a lack of control. For some, it’s the feeling of being trapped, of feeling like your life is put on hold, or maybe it’s the helplessness of seeing a loved one in pain. Is there one small thing about the stress that you could change? Ask for different pain meds? Try acupuncture? Take an online college class so that you feel like you’re doing something for you? Change doctors if yours won’t listen or communicate. One positive act can have a huge effect. You can’t fix it all, but knowing that you can do one thing can really help combat stress.
  • Learn something new. Learn a language, take a class at the rec center, learn to knit, take a computer course, do a tutorial of photo shop, learn how to make a great tiramasu–use that brain of yours!
  • Play games–in your downtime, reach for the crossword puzzle, chess set, or brain games. It beats re-runs of old tv shows and fires those neurons in your brain.
  • When is the last time you laughed? This is where friends come in handy. If you’re going to watch tv, then opt for funny because it does great things for your body and spirit. Make sure you have at least one “fun” friend who makes you laugh, and brings joy and play into your life.
  • Touch. Be affectionate. Hug, kiss, pet your dog. Touch is deeply important. It’s healing. Get a massage. Hold hands.
  • Practice smiling. If you haven’t smiled in a while, or you can’t remember if you have or haven’t, then start practicing. Smile in the car. Smile on the way to work. Smile in the shower. Smiling goes much deeper than just affecting the muscles in your face. Smiling and touching a part of your body is known as Qi Gong in Chinese medicine. It may sound silly, but you”ll feel better and sometimes we just get out of the practice.
  • Avoid the doctor! Whenever possible (not when you’re really/very sick) don’t reach for the anti-biotics. A cold will run its course. Getting in a medical mindset is unhealthy. Drug companies have corrupted American health care–and a pill isn’t always the answer. For simple things, go to the Internet, a health book and try the natural alternative. Now I’m not talking about cancer, heart attacks, etc.

THE FOOD LIST:

  • Eat well. Food is a celebration of life and culture. Eat what you love. You may think you love Fritos and Ding Dongs, but I bet you love other things too. Make your plate a work of art. Eat on a real plate, sitting down at a nice table. Eat with those you love. Surround yourself with beauty as you eat–a candle or a flower. Think about the food you’re eating. Turn off the tv and enjoy what’s going in your body.
  • Have an eating plan. If you know you’re going to be extremely busy, then take a sec and plan what you’re going to eat. There are almost always decent alternatives. You can eat decently from a quick stop, so no excuses. Stress eating leads to junk food eating. Create a fall-back plan for when life is crazy and incorporate at least a few healthy alternatives. Love salty? Go for salted nuts as opposed to chips. Love sweets? Go for Twizzlers or other candies with no fat–or a bag of grapes. Mindlessly eating? Grab a bag of carrots. Some gum, or popcorn. Know what it is you want–to chew, something creamy and homey–have those comfort foods on hand. They now make a Mac and Cheese with only 2% fat–and it doesn’t taste half bad. 
  • Know your weak spots. I know when I’m overworked and exhausted that I eat crappy. I’m working on a plan–foods that aren’t terrible for me, but I still find comforting in times of stress. I also know that during those mindless eating stress times I need to take a bath and put myself to bed. I’m not craving food as much as I am self-care and rest.
  • Cut way, way back on fried foods. Now I know you love them, but save them for truly special occasions–birthdays, anniversaries. If you need a fix, then consider oven frying your food at home–country fried steak, and fried chicken still taste good from the oven and it really cuts down on the fat.
  • Eat at home. It’s the only way to control your portions and calories–and quality. There are so many hidden variables in eating out it’s hard to know where to start. Make your home a place of serenity and beauty and take pride in the food you fix. It’s a much more satisfying experience. Learn to make one or two new dishes a month–and enjoy the experience.
  • Embrace fruits and veggies. You know you should–start with those you already like. If you grew up on green beans and corn, then start there and always have those on hand. Try a few more–see what you like. There’s a million ways to make a salad so get creative. The darker green the veggie, the better–the brighter the fruit, the better. Color rules!
  • Go green and buy those fruits and veggies from a local stand–you’ll not only help out your community, but you’ll get fresher produce.
  • Look at your palm. That’s the size and thickness a piece of meat needs to be. You only need one of two of these palms a day. Not enough food? Then pile on the veggies! Have a piece of fruit before your meal–or after.
  • Avoid white–white bread, white rice, have small portions of corn and potatoes. Choose grains instead–brown rice, wild rice, all different kinds of bread–seek out a local bakery. Potatoes and corn are good, but know that you don’t need a huge plateful.
  • Avoid the other white stuff–mayo, full calorie dressings, gravies–all should be used sparingly and the low-fat version is a better choice since we tend to over do it in these areas.
  • Dairy is okay for most people–especially women. Americans could eat more yogurt–the yogurt cultures contain acidophilus and is great for balancing our digestive tract.
  • Curb your appetite with a palmful of nuts. Keep lots of nuts on hand (raw is best, but just get used to eating them regularly at first). The best nuts for your brain are walnuts, almonds, and pecans. They’re great in salads too. It’s a good idea to eat a small handful before a meal–they curb your appetite, have a healthy amount of oils, and you’ll be less ravenous at your meal.
  • Know your super foods–not all food is created equal–here’s a list of the best of the best:
    • Beans
    • Blueberries
    • Broccoli
    • Oats
    • Oranges
    • Pumpkin
    • Salmon
    • Soy
    • Spinach
    • Tea (green or black)
    • Tomatoes
    • Turkey
    • Walnuts
    • Yogurt
  • Nix the plastic bottles of water and install a water filtration system on your faucet. Plastic isn’t good for you–fumes and all–and most city’s tap water is just as clean, if not cleaner than the stuff you’re paying for.
  • If you want notch it up, go for organic meats and eggs that haven’t been injected with hormones. It’s more expensive, but realize you need to eat less amounts of meat any way. We don’t need all those hormones and antibiotics.
  • Take a multi-vitamin–while research goes back and forth about supplements, if you’re eating well, you don’t need too much else. If you’;re dealing with a certain condition–UTIs, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, then this is the time to incorate a few more supplements. Some research indicates that Vitamin C and E helps stave off Alzheimer’s. A great source to know what to take for what disease/condition is at Dr. Weil’s site.                                       .
  • Enjoy a glass of wine! Ladies, on a day is enough. Red is better (although I’m a Riesling fan). Beer’s okay too.
  • Give up the Cokes/carbonated drinks. Nothing good is in any of them. Treat yourself to one occasionally–if you really like the way it tastes, but don’t keep them in your house. They actually suck oxygen out of your bones, has been linked to Parkinson’s, and new research says it might actually damage your cells. And have you seen what it does to your car battery? 
  • Have a cuppa coffee! This one made me particularly happy. Studies show that coffee’s good for your heart–and for Alzheimer’s. It opens up the blood vessels.
  • Give up the artificial sweeteners. They’re all scary. Go with steevia. I know, it’s hard for me too.
  • Go with real butter as opposed to the fake stuff–but a little dab’ll do ya.
  • Go with olive oil whenever you can. Other than desserts, you can cook with olive oil–and we already said that cakes and cookies are a splurge item.
  • Fish rules. Try to incorporate 2-3 fish dishes into your weekly diet. Salmon is great choice. So are all the white fishes–this is when white is good. Go local when you can. Broil or pan cooked fish only takes minutes to fix.
  • Desserts such as cakes should go with life’s celebrations. Enjoy them on birthdays,  anniversaries and holidays–as well as break ups and other life tragedies that only a cake can help. Other than that, have your glass of wine, dark chocolate and some cherries–not a bad way to end a day. If you love your icecream, then go with a low-fat frozen yogurt. Experiment and find your favorite kind.
  • One great dessert you can have it dark chocolate. I keep it at all times. Seriously. I have a small bar each day. I like Dove dark chocolates. I need it be a little creamy. Some of the European high cacoa varieties are too bitter to my liking. Four of their little squares makes me very, very happy. I also like Ritter–and they have one with hazelnuts that’s to die for. Dark chocolate has anti-oxidants which lowers blood pressure.
  • Incorporate flax seed or flax seed oil into your diet–a spoon of the oil can be added to soup, rice, or other dishes and isn’t even noticed. This gives the body Omega 3′s which is great for your heart and is also high in fiber.
  • Women and seniors probably need to take a calcium supplement. We just don’t get enough, and we don’t lift enough weights to offset gravity’s pull on the bones and spine.
  • Best spices are cinnamon (regulates blood levels and is good for diabetes), curry and cumin (heart and metabolic effects) and garlic (heart again). In fact, spices are great all the way around.

A Few Last Words:

Trust your body. If you’re craving lemons, then eat lots of lemons. If you’re sleeping ten hours a night, then tuck yourself in early.

Our bodies are incredibly intuitive. It knows what it needs. Also know that it’s about 3-6 months behind, so the stress you’re experiencing now (say, a bum knee or a heal spur) might be because of the stress and strain that was put on it months before–also know that your spirit works the same way.

If you’ve experienced a huge life change, then realize that your body and mind may be reacting to it months later. If you’re weepy, angry, mopey, it may be that your body needs to play catch up. Let it feel what it needs to feel and trust that it won’t last forever.

Get rid of negatives. Negative people and work situations can be difficult, if not downright impossible to overcome. If you’ve tried to remedy the situation–you’ve spoken up, offered solutions, tried to be amenable and it’s still not working–then consider a change. Money isn’t everything, and if your relationship is unhealthy, then choose to be alone and trust that if you ask the universe for something better–and then wait–it will come.

If you’re in a stressful situation–caregiving, the end of life, a messy divorce, recovering from a car accident, then be gentle on yourself. Life ebbs and flows and know that this difficult time will pass.

Sounds like a lot, huh?

Focus on one thing. If you try to be uber-good, it’ll back-fire and you’ll wind up overdosing on Ho-Ho’s in your car. One change is a good change.

If I’ve forgotten something important, then email me and I’ll add it to the list!

According to the death clock, I’m living to 100. Now, I’ve seen what 90-100 looks like for most folks, and I’m on a mission to improve my last decade. I plan on dancing at my great, great granddaughter’s wedding!

Live long–and prosper!

 Carol D. O’Dell

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com 

 

 

 

 

 

Syndicated Blog at www.OpentoHope.com

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

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Caregivers,

Do you have a place to go?

A sanctuary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The word, “sanctuary” means:

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

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

How to Create a Sanctuary:

What is sacred or holy to you?

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

Find a place:

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

Pick a Sanctuary Location:

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

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

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

What Do I Do in My Sanctuary?

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

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

This is What You DO:

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

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

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

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

I’m a Guy and This Sounds Lame:

Does it?

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

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

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

You need a sanctuary–caregiving or not.

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

Like Daddy, you’ll come back refreshed.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

Kunati Publishers, www.kunati.com/mothering

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Caregiving isn’t always sweet and sentimental. Caregiver relationships are as complicated as everybody else’s. What happens if you need to/are asked to care give someone who has hurt you deeply?

I met a woman at a book club once and her face revealed her suffering. She shared that her husband had late stage Parkinson’s and she was basically housebound and caring for him 24/7. She looked beyond exhausted.

She also shared that she probably should have left him years ago.

Sometimes we stay. For the kids. For the security. Because we were too chicken to leave. Now it’s too late. We need to finish what we started.

I understand. I’ve lived long enough and have been married long enough to understand how very complicated things get.

My “book club” lady shared she really didn’t love him any more. He had killed that long ago.

I didn’t ask, but many times relationships are mangled beyond repair.

Repeated infidelity. Addictions. Isolation and control. Verbal or physical abuse.

There are things we never tell anyone.

I’ve volunteered in shelters, counseled couples, and have found that the deepest hurts usually go unsaid.

***

So why do it? Why care give someone who you simply can’t love any more?

Why stay? You may only have a few years left yourself.

Each person has to figure that out for themselves.

Sometimes it’s not that black and white. Yes, there are hurts. And no, you don’t feel anything for that person, but you have your reasons. Maybe it’s in part how you need to see yourself.

So you stay.

How do you love someone who has hurt you?

Don’t try to make yourself love them.

Don’t feel guilty.

Don’t try to look noble.

Do what you can.

Choose a path of integrity.

Caregiving isn’t about the person who is ill, aged or infirmed. It’s about you.

Decide who you want to be, regardless of them.

Mentally and emotionally separate yourself. You’re still giving them good care.

Trust your good heart.

Practicing a faith can bring you deep comfort.

Know that forgiveness can be as basic as wishing them no harm.

Even if they’re still hateful, vindictive and cruel, if you choose to stay then it’s on your terms.

If you can, if you choose to, place them in a care facility. You’re still being responsible. You’re still watching out for them. You don’t have to humiliate yourself and continue to be demeaned. They chose their path. You choose yours.

Find your place of peace.

Detach when you need to. Methodical caregiving can still be good caregiving.

Begin to nurture yourself. Your dreams. Reward yourself for what you’ve chosen to do if you believe it’s the right thing to do.

Duty. Responsibility. Integrity. These are important words our culture has all but forgotten.

Choose a higher path.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

www.mothering-mother.com

 

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Do you need to be needed?

Carl Jung called it, “The Wounded Healer.”

Caregivers, whether they come by it willingly or are drug into their caregivingroles, become accustomed to being needed. It’s comforting  and satisfying to know that you have a purpose.

But what do you mean when you say, “wounded healer?”  Is that a bad thing?

Wounded healer is an archetypal personality type that psychologist Carl Jung used to describe the relationship between analyst and patient–why a person might go into the psychology/counseling field.

No, it’s not a bad thing. I’m not sure there would be firemen, doctors, nurses, pastors, or teachers if there life experiences hadn’t given them a reason to step into these professions–to give back or make a difference.

I know good and well I wrote Mothering Mother out of a sense of need. I needed insight and direction. I needed to know how to step into this new role as a daughter who cares for her mother. I needed to examine aspects of the soul, my beliefs, and the ramifications on my relationships.

What would caregiving do to me?

I couldn’t find the answer, so I had to write my way through.

Jung had some theories as to why people choose “needing” professions:

  • The wounded healing is consciously aware of his own personal wounds and can be empathetic toward the person in need. 
  • The care receiver/patient also possesses an “inner healer” he is unaware of, but it’s there to help guide him and lead him to wholeness. 
  • The care giver–and care receiver (wounded healer and patient) are a good fit for each other. They need each other, in many ways.
  • They intersect at that point of need and each derives something from their relationship or experience. 

Jung also noted that you have to be careful and make sure that this type of agreement or relationship remains a healthy exchange for both people. He referred tho this as depth psychology and cautioned that the caregiver could potentially have his old wounds reopened, or get caught in a vicious cycle. He also cautioned against the ego taking over and the caregiver getting hooked on the power or the needing and falling into an an inflated ego.

For most caregivers, I fear that you’ll wind up creating more and more “needing” scenarios and begin to only feel like yourself when someone is in need or crisis mode.

It’s a big let down after your loved ones passes or goes into a care facility. You feel useless. You thought you longed for freedom but you feel lost. Your days were defined for you and now…what do you do with yourself? Who are you if not someone who cares for others?

You like that you’re good at something. You’re proud of the fact that you’re a good organizer, that you can spout off medical jargon, that you’re the one everyone comes to for a diagnosis. You actually own your own copy of Grey’s Anatomy, and I don’t mean the DVD collection of McDreamy and McSteamy.

Jung derives the term “wounded healer” from the ancient Greek legend of Asclepius, a physician who in built a sanctuary at Epidaurus in order to treat others. Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen also wrote a book with the same title. The Greek Myth of Chiron is also used to illustrate the archetype of the Wounded Healer so this whole deal about being needed and what it does to you isn’t new.

Realize that you might have codependency tendencies.

What is codependency?

NIMH, the National Institute of Mental Health defines it as: “Co-dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.”

Oh, that’s not me. I’m not that bad. I’m not aiding an alcoholic or hiding an abuser.

Neither was I, but I did see aspects of control issues and “only I can make her happy” in my caregiving and even parenting years. A little of this stuff is toxic.

One book that changed millions of lives was Melodie Beattie’s Codependent No More. It brought this subject out of the counselor’s office and allowed lay people to analyze their behavior and seek help.

So how do you care give without taking it too far?

  • Be aware. Realize when you’ve tied your super-caregiver cape on, when you’re deriving more power or satisfaction out of your role than you probably should have–when you push others away or start to feel oddly territorial. Awareness is key.
  • Stop being so nice! Niceness is an illness. Do what’s right, not necessarily what’s nice.
  • Trust that what is right for you is right for those you love.
  • There is a time to extend yourself for others, but make sure there’s a cut off date.
  • If you are going to have to care giver for a long time, then make a plan so that your whole life and health and relationships aren’t derailed indefinitely.
  • Give up perfectionism. Allow others to help. Ask, demand help–and then accept it. If it’s difficult, then let one thing go at a time. Let one job be done by someone else for awhile–and go from there.
  • Ask a friend to be honest and let you know when you’re in “need to be needed mode.”
  • Laugh at yourself when you “do it again.” Don’t use this as another thing to feel guilty about. Break it down into manageable chunks.

It comes with the territory, but it’s not all bad news.

Recent studies on happiness says that people derive more joy out of being needed and having purpose than they do out of having money. Happiness seems to be based on treasured experiences, spirituality, a sense of family, and meaningful work. It’s also lowest during mid-life when you thought if you worked hard enough, made enough money, and raised decent kids, you’d be happy–suddenly you realize that while maybe you got some of that, much of life is beyond your control. You have to dig deeper, look beyond life’s trappings to find a deeper sense of joy.

So see? If you just don’t go crazy with this needing thing, it could actually be good for you. Caregiving certainly has aspects of experiences, purpose, family, and spirituality.

Balance, grasshopper. Balance.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Check out my book on Amazon: Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

www.mothering-mother.com

Syndicated blog at www.hopethrives.org

Family advisor at www.Caring.com

 

 

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Last night, the television show Boston Legal had one profound moment relating to Alzheimer’s.  

The premise is that one of their leading characters, Denny Crane (played by William Shatner) has early Alzheimer’s. He’s a brilliant attorney who has never lost a case–and he’s part owner in firm. The other law partners are hesitant for Denny to continue to litigate. Not only is he forgetful, he sometimes does or says bizarre things. Things Alzheimer’s patients might say or do.

Great scenario because I happen to know a great law professor from Yale who lives in my community who now has Alzheimer’s. You can be homeless and live under a bridge–and have Alzheimer’s, AIDS, or cancer–or you can be the president of the United States.

At one point, Alan, Denny’s best friend is having a conversation with Jerry, another lawyer in the firm, (who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome) about what a phenomenal job Denny did in court. Jerry blurts out, “Too bad Denny’s dying from Alzheimer’s.”

Alan is shocked. Insulted. He retorts:

“Denny’s not dying from Alzheimer’s. He’s living with it.”

There’s a great distinction here.

One of the drawbacks to early diagnosis is giving up too soon.

Early detection should mean that you receive proper medication, spend time with your loved ones, and make plans to live–not die.

In the case of Alzheimer’s, the average patient lives 8-10 years, and even longer depending on the age you contract this disease. Parkinson’s, ALS, MS, and other diseases can even offer a longer lifespan. Coincidentally, the average caregiver spend 4.3 years caregiving–leaving a bit of a discrepancy here.

The message is: don’t give up too soon.

Don’t hear a diagnosis and go home, draw the curtains, curl up in a fetal position and wither away.

As a family member or caregiver, it’s a blow to hear that your loved one has a terminal illness, but you still have to get up and face each day.

Michael J. Fox says that Parkinson’s is “the disease that keeps on taking.” He’s chosen to live with his disease. He’s chosen to do this for the millions who look to him and rely on him to raise money for research, for the difference he’s already made, but I’m sure he does this even more for his wife and his children.

A recent example is Ted Kennedy’s diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor. He had a seizure and went into the hospital just last weekend. Yet today, he and his wife, Vicki went sailing. He loves sailing and the Boston Globe said he “finds renewal on the water.”

Ted Kennedy is actually teaching his family and others how to treat him. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Kennedy’s cancer is dire, not hopeless.”

It’s proven that prayers and good thoughts can impact people’s lives clear across the country–and we can create the atmosphere and attitude around us by how we handle our own bad news.

Maya Angelou says, “We teach people how to treat us.”

Yes, it’s natural to feel kicked in the gut.

It’s natural to take to the bed, cry, get angry, lash out or pull in. Don’t beat yourself up for going through this very natural stage.

But after that, it’s time to move on.

You (or your loved one) most likely won’t die tomorrow. Or the next day.

So you take your meds, maybe get physical or occupational therapy. Change things around in your home, hire a home health aide, buy a walker or scooter or whatever else you need. Life is different. I don’t doubt that. But life can still be good.

You can still find joy–and purpose.

Sometimes our purpose is nestled in our situation. Sometimes something–or someone arises in our midst and a window opens where a door shut.

Yet, there will come a time–hopefully in the distant future when the tide turns again.

You, or your loved one may die from this disease, I can’t promise you won’t. 

If not, from something else.

We have to eventually accept that as well. Another transition. Another acceptance. Another change.

But until then, live, live, live, live, live.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Check out her book, a day-to-day, intimate and honest look at caregiving…

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

 

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There’s a new kind of caregiver out there.

She (or he) is a savvy caregiver, isn’t a martyr, and doesn’t look defeated (all the time).

She (I use the feminine pronoun to apply to everyone) has her act together (in some respects) and isn’t going to let her life and her plans be completely derailed–and yet she loves her family, her elders, her children, and embraces the fact that she’s an integral part of their life.

How does she do it all?

It’s not about being perfect.

In part, it’s about being prepared, looking at the big picture, and then breaking down the day-to-day components into manageable bites.

It’s also about choosing to care-give.

This isn’t a passive thing–and yes, it may have come to you sideways, unexpected or by default, but you didn’t have to say yes. Everyday people place their family members in care facilities, sometimes out of necessity and sometimes by refusing to give them any level of care.

Realize that you are choosing to care-give. That sense of choice also provides you with purpose and direction. It means you’re not a victim.

Preparedness (Boy Scouts, move over) and How to Care-give Not to Kill Yourself

  • She’s (the healthy caregiver) gathered the necessary info and has it at her fingertips–Living Wills (The Five Wishes is the one I highly suggest) DNR orders, if necessary, insurance info and numbers, notes made about recent doctor appts. or hospitalizations, and medicine info.
  • She uses her calendar and to-do lists efficiently, but she’s not a robot. Some days you chuck it all and love on the person who needs it the most (that may be yourself).
  • She has her down days, her pajama days, and she knows that balance isn’t about doing a little every day–sometimes there are seasons–seasons of quiet, seasons of chaos, and seasons of grief.
  • She’s learned not to let every little thing rial her. She’s experienced enough in life to know what’s worth freaking out about (which is very little) and what isn’t (which is most everything else).
  • She listens, repeats back what is said (to a loved one or to a doctor) so that she understands clearly. She takes notes if it’s important or could be necessary later.
  • She can shut it all off and be a woman, get a mani-pedi, be silly and play Prince in the car and sing to the top of her lungs. She doesn’t get sucked into being an elder or being a teen just because she happens to spend a lot of time with either (or both).
  • She prioritizes. Sometimes a home-cooked meal is soothing and rattles her nerves. Sometimes it’s pizza night. She laid down the “shoulda’s, woulda’s, and coulda’s.”
  • She has a great support team–friends to call and gripe to, a gynecologist or family doctor who’s looking out for her, knows the stress she’s under and can monitor her well-being. She relies on her faith, her heart, her circle of support and doesn’t try to go it alone. She considers herself a part of a team and shows a heart of gratitude.
  • She asks for and accepts help. She isn’t interested in being super woman or perfectionist woman. She’s willing to get help and seeks out competent care.
  • She knows she’s vulnerable to stress, so she’s devised a meditation time and exercise time she can manage–it may be only a few minutes a day, but it keeps her sane.  She’s found her own spirituality.
  • She continues to improve her own life–she takes an on line class, a yoga class, is learning how to knit–something that keeps her mind active and learning.
  • She utilizes the internet, finds help, information, and forums that help support her and her caregiving experience.
  • She can see past tomorrow–she knows that caregiving isn’t forever–and she has her own personal plan to move on with her life.
  • She gives herself permission to “lose it” every once in a while–sometimes things just go in the crapper and that isn’t a reflection of her, it’s just life. If she bites someone’s head off, forgets an appointment, bounces a check, she admits her faux pas and lets it go.
  • She values her marriage/intimate relationship and allows sex and intimacy to heal her. Even when she’s exhausted, she finds and asks for ways to connect.
  • She enjoys caregiving–even with all its craziness, caring for a loved one is a privilege. She finds ways to incorporate everyday pleasures to share with her care partner–bird watching from a bedroom window, stopping for ice cream on the way back from the doctor.
  • She takes the time to hold hands.
  • She’s strong enough to make the touch choices, to not be popular, to figure out how to get a doctor, care staff to understand where she’s coming from–and she’s brave enough to know that when death comes, she may be asked to make critical end-of-life decisions, decisions others may disagree with.
  • She’s not afraid of Alzheimer’s or Parkinsons and doesn’t give up in the cruel face of whatever disease her loved ones face. If they forget who she is, she’ll remember for them. If they become uncontrollable, she gets help and doesn’t take it personal.
  • She knows that she may not always be able to do this–and she’s explored other options. She isn’t going to wreck her health or her marriage. She’s planning for those changes now.
  • She knows that caregiving will take her to the bitter edge, and she’s got to figure out how regain the parts of her that get lost in the mix. She knows how hard this is, or will become, but there’s a thread that’s pulling her along, a thread will lead her out and will allow her to continue her journey once caregiving is over.

The new kind of caregiver isn’t a super-mom or super-daughter (or super-son).

They’re real people loving their families. It’s realistic. It’s not martyristic.

The world may not understand the “sacrifices” as some might call them that caregivers (plain ole’ family) makes, but those who have been there understand the love and loyalty that comes in tow.

You don’t do all these things at once, so don’t try to measure up.

You don’t do them to impress anybody.

This is survival. This is how to care-give and not kill yourself in the process.

~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

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We always think that happiness is “out there.”

When I get a new job, when I take vacation, when I lose 30 pounds, when…

Happiness is not that hard. We make it hard. Happiness is having new eyes. A fresh perspective.

After I moved my mother in with us to care for her, (she had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), she used to tell everybody–the postman, the grocery clerk, the pastor, the lawn guy, that she had given up everything to move in with me–her house, her car, her friends, her life.

Apparently she thought I had given up nothing.

I would stand next to her and smile and let her have her moment, get the sympathy she thought she deserved although most people had no idea what to say.

It reminded me of a precocious two-year old I knew who would run in from playing with a tiny scratch on her arm and pronounce to the entire room, “LOOK AT WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME!”

There were times as a caregiver (and other times in my life) that I wanted to do that, pronounce it to the world.

But somewhere along in my early adult life (after years of anger and hurt about being adopted and other very painful issues) I got tired of my own whining. I simply wore it out. I was tired of being known as the girl with the problems.

I decided to be the happiest person I knew.

Not a sappy Pollyanna happy type you just want to slap, but deep-down easy, not in your face joy.

It hasn’t been a linear path getting here, but I am pretty darn happy.

One day, while caring for my mom, she toodled into the kitchen, slapped her hand down on the counter and pronounced, “I’m not happy!”

As if I could bop her over the head with my fairy wand and “Voila!” instant happiness.

I looked at her, my mother who truly was a happy (in a self-centered, domineering, the entire world is here to serve me kind of way) person. It just wasn’t easy, and life isn’t always easy. She didn’t like having to leave her friends and move in with me. Her body was giving out and Parkinson’s had taken its toll, also, Alzheimer’s and depression are linked. Most days, she couldn’t toodle into my kitchen. She didn’t like that I had to divide my time away from her to take care of my children and my marriage. She didn’t like that her life was playing out and that sooner, rather than later, she’d die.

But I couldn’t fix any of that.

I just looked at her with this dawning revelation.

If only one of us could be happy, then I’d choose me.

Kind of the life raft theory. Who do you kick off the boat?

The one who most likely won’t make it any way.

Sounds terrible, I know, and I had truly, truly, truly tried to make her happy–and more than that, I had tried to take care of her, keep her safe, keep her alive.

But if the people around you simply choose not to be happy, then realize you can choose otherwise.

Choose joy.

My life is far, far from perfect, and I’ve been kicked in the teethquite a few times, but this morning, I rode my bike for five miles with my ipod on singing my heart out.

I have a new CD–Grey’s Anatomy’s Third Season, and I love the compilation of songs and artists. I belt it out, make figure 8s and circles with my wheels, and dance on the bike (be-boppin’ up and down) and I don’t care what anybody thinks.

Why should I? In the first place, hardly anyone’s home at 10am, and most people I know aren’t happy–or at least they don’t act happy, so why should I care if I’m known as the crazy bicycle singer?

My kids think I’m nuts, but they’re used to me by now.

My morning coffee, my journal, my glider, the sun, my bike, my ipod, my afternoon dark chocolate fix–the warm, strong hug of my husband–these are what I call give me my “happy fix.” They bring me immense daily joy. They cost very little, and I try not to run out or get so busy and stressed that I don’t do these things I love, the very things that sustain me.

Caregiving was grueling at times, and the end was really, really tough–but it taught me to love, to give, to stretch beyond myself, and it was for a season.

Since my mother’s passing, I’ve learned that life is pretty darn short and I better snatch all the sweetness and joy I can. Parts of my life are still crappy, and I’m not always this giddy–I tend to be more so in the spring and summer, so if I’m getting on your last nerve–sorry.

What I hope for you today is based off something I read this morning in Alan Cohen’s Daily Devotional book, A Deep Breath of Life,

April 14th entry:

I used to think I was a perfectionist.

I was constantly finding flaws and errors other people overlooked. If there were many aspects of a job that was done well, I would point out the one area that wasn’t.

But now I realize I was an imperfectionist.

If I was a perfectionist, I would have found perfection everywhere I looked.

***

That BLEW ME AWAY. I hope it did you too.

I plan to become a happyologist.

~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

 

 

 

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