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People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ~Abraham Lincoln

I find it pretty amazing that this quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

He didn’t exactly have a cushy life.

His mother died when he was nine, and although his family could barely survive, young Lincoln gave up hunting after watching a turkey suffer after he shot the bird(the bird thing is a side note, but I found it interesting).

He didn’t just become president over night–he was a lawyer, then tried for congress (twice) but was defeated by Stephen Douglas–over the issue of abolition.

He married Mary Todd, and three of their four children would die before adulthood. This left Mary, who already suffered with depression, even more mentally unstable. As Abraham Lincoln’s life began to evolve more and more around politics, his marriage suffered.

President Lincoln was under great stress to try to hold our country together in perhaps its most challenging time. He did so, but with great personal sacrifice. He was assasinated when he as only 56 years old.

According to today’s standards of what qualifies as a “good life,” Abraham Lincoln’s journey would not be considered an easy one–then or now.

(Other great quotes by Lincoln )

And yet, we all owe him a great debt. He held America together and changed the course of  history. His words and example still inspire us today.

He doesn’t exactly seem like a person who would focus much on the meaning of happiness–but who better than someone who knew, but did not give into sadness/

Happiness is a lot about choice. It’s a state of mind and way of looking at things. It doesn’t change the facts. If your mom has Alzheimer’s, if your dad fell and broke his hip, that’s a fact–but how you deal with it–that’s up to you.

There were many times in Mr. Lincoln’s  life when I’m sure he had to choose to simply go on, breathe in and out, and keep on doing the task at hand.  Sometimes happy isn’t about being happy, but choosing not to be unhappy (aka miserable).  Caregivers know this well.

According to the Princeton online dictionary, happiness  means:

  • state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy
  • emotions experienced when in a state of well-being

Where did the word  “happy” come from?

It dates back to 1340, from the waord, “hap,” which was connected to chance or fortune.

(From  Etymology.com)
1340, “lucky,” from hap “chance, fortune” (see haphazard), sense of “very glad” first recorded c.1390. Ousted O.E. eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesælig, which has become silly. O.E. bliðe “happy” survives as blithe. From Gk. to Ir., a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.” Used in World War II and after as a suffix (e.g. bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing “dazed or frazzled from stress.” Happiness is first recorded 1530. Happy hour“early evening period of discount drinks and free hors-d’oeuvres at a bar” is first recorded 1961. Happy-go-lucky is from 1672. Happy as a clam (1636) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tide, when it can’t be dug up and eaten.

How does it relate to caregiving?

Much of caregiving doesn’t fall under the category of “happy.” While parts might be necessary, needed, serve a purpose, and at times, appreciated–as a caregiver  I found that I had to fight or choose to be happy. Let me tell you, I know how it feels to push that rock up hill. There were some days when a Volkswagen Bug full of 50 clowns wouldn’t have gotten my mother to crack a smile! Caregiving taught me how little I could control, and writing Mothering Mother helped me to reflect on my journey.

I had to look for the good, the funny, the crazy and ironic. I had to let go, give up, give in, and simply trust. So much was so way beyond anything I could have prepared for that it was in away, left up to luck, to chance–to hope. And maybe that’s where the happy part comes in. When you can’t control it, you might as well choose to see the good, any good that comes your way.

The smallest of good/happy moments could make my day–a cardinal dipping past my window–I love how they fly–dip, dip, dip–their bright wings in defiance of a winter morning.

Bottom line, if Abe Lincoln can choose to be happy, then so can I.

Happy for no reason. Let luck and chance blow in like a surprising summer rain. Trust that it’s all meant for the good.

Right now, with all the economic challenges we face individually and collectively, I feel like I don’t have a choice–either crawl in the bed and pull up the covers (indefinitely), or keep an eye out for bright red birds and all the amazing small wonders that surround us.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

Family Advisor at Caring.com

www.caroldodell.com

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

Caregiver Depression is Very Real and Very Dangerous.

Why?

It Doesn’t Always Look like Depression.

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

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

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

What caregiver has the time to fall apart?

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

Am I Depressed? Ask Yourself These Questions:

When is the last time you got your hair cut?

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

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

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

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

Do you do nothing other than care give?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Men are vulnerable in different ways.

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

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

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

The statistics for elder murder-suicide are startling.

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

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

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

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

Are drugs the only answer?

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

But know that anti-depressants come with some risk.

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

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

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

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

Lots of Ideas to Help Ease Depression: 

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

Important to Consider:

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

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

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

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

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

~Carol O’Dell

Family Advisor at Caring.com

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Today, the Today Show had a six-year old little girl on their show who is a singing sensation. She can belt out the national anthem with a voice to rival Ethyl Merman. Natalie Morales introduced her and said that the little girl also lives with autism.

Words are important. Autism cannot be viewed as a death sentence–especially not for a child who has their whole life ahead.

Living with or suffering with makes a big difference.

If you have Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS, or cancer, you have to eventually come to choice–do you choose to live or suffer?

Personally, I hope to never say the word, “suffer” again. I don’t want to suffer with anything!

Suffering implies pain, sorrow, heavy burden…agony. And yes, there are moments, days, even months where pain and sorrow overwhelms life–but as my very religious, very southern mother used to say when asked how she was, she’d reply…

“Well…I don’t want the devil to hear me!”

She didn’t want to entomb herself in negativity.

Caregivers, how do you talk about your role? Begin to observe your words.

How do you introduce yourself?

“I’m just a caregiver?”

“I’m just caring for my mom?”

Really? Just a caregiver? That’s like saying you’re just the president of the United Stats, just a mom, just a CIA assasin!

Even if you are at home with your loved one, or even living with them. You can introduce yourself any way you like–“I’m an artist, I’m a teacher (even if you’re not in a classroom now, do you ever stop teaching? I’m in school (are you taking an online class? That counts.”

If you introduce yourself as a caregiver, then do it with pride.

But also introduce the fact that you’re a daughter, a wife, a friend. Your role as a caregiver is admirable, but your loved one needs to hear you say that you’ll always be their daughter/sister/spouse first.

How will anyone respect you and perceive what you do as important if you don’t?

Choose. Choose your words. Choose to care for your loved one.

No one is making you be a caregiver. You may think they are. You may believe that you have to, that your loved one has no one else, that it’s your responsibility…but realize that it is a choice. Other people in your same situation have said no. The world will not end. Is it the right thing to do? To say no? Every family is differentt, and my point is that you choose.

If you choose caregiving–part-time, full-time, in your home, their home, as a working caregiver, or an advocate for your loved one who is in a care facility–whatever the living/working arrangment is–choose. Caregiving is a part of who you are, it’s a role, what you do with your time and energy.

Take the helplessness, choice-lesness out of your vocalbulary.

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

It’s available on Amazon, other online stores and in bookstores. Kunati Publishing

I’m a family advisor on Caring.com, and my syndicated blog appears on www.opentohope.com.

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It doesn’t matter your cultural or religious background–it doesn’t matter if you’re wealthy or just barely getting by, there are three concerns at the end of life most people share.

They’re heard by chaplains, hospice workers and volunteers, and by family members who gather around those they love and try to make the last weeks, days, and hours of a person’s life as comfortable and as meaningful as possible.

 

Here are the three biggest concerns at the end of life:

  • I don’t want to be a burden
  • I don’t want to be in pain
  • I don’t want to lose control over what’s done to me

I don’t want to be a burden.

As a speaker/facilitator in the field of caregiving, I hear this concern all the time–and it starts long before the end of life.

In fact, I heard it from my 25 year-old daughter. She said she’d rather go into a care facility when she’s older because she doesn’t want to be a burden. It’s a sad reflection on society to think that growing older or needing help to get around is equated with being a burden. (I didn’t teach her this, by the way :))

There’s a lot not being said here:

I don’t want to be dependent. I don’t want to be vulnerable.  I don’t like others telling me what to do. I don’t want to be in the way. I don’t want people to resent caring for me. I’ve dealt with the elderly and infirmed and I don’t want someone to have to do, to sacrifice what I did. I’m scared. I

But what if you’re not a burden?

What if caring for you is viewed as a privilege?

What if you plan enough ahead of time and arrange for the added/needed help so that family members do less physical work and can simply “be” with you–enjoy your company?

What if you do all that you can do now–health wise–to be strong and mobile and live longer in good health? (there are no guarantees on that one).

What if you have something valuable to offer–even in your last years and months?

What if even your dying is considered sacred and something to treasure?  (even if it is hard)

What if, by allowing us to witness your end of life, we learn how to handle our own?

Who else will teach us?

I don’t want to be in pain.

No one does. Certain diseases cause more pain than others.

I can’t promise you that you won’t be in pain.

I can’t promise you that the end will come quick or be sweet–or even meaningful in the sense that sometimes we romanticize certain events and imagine them in a glowing, fuzzy cinematic light with all of our loved ones gathered and all getting along and tears and smiles and kisses and we can be coherent and see them all and hold this wonderful moment for all eternity…and it isn’t always like that.

I can tell you that hospice in particular will do everything they can to keep you pain free.

Palliative care is better than ever–there are all over salves that numb you, take away the aches, meds to reduce fever and chills–but many of these medicines will gork you out. You may sleep a lot. You may not be fully aware of time or of your loved ones coming and going. You might be pain free, but there might be a trade off.

All I can say is that by knowing this now, you can come to some level of acceptance. That’s all I can offer you–or me. I can’t say how I’m going to go–whether it will be many years from now or any day.

I can’t say whether the end of my life will be peaceful or tragic. I just have to trust–and do all I can to attract peace.

But I do know that whatever I believe about the hereafter, eternity, heaven…it will be that I will not be in pain. I will be in peace. I will not carry the pains, hurts, and sorrows of this world onto the next. And that brings me comfort.

I don’t want to lose control over what’s done to me.

Isn’t it amazing that one of the last questions/concerns we have before we leave this earth is about trust?

This teaches me one thing–I better get to dealing with my trust issues now.

Trust is the underlying factor that determines the success of any relationship–marriage, friendships, communities–it all boils down to, “Can I trust you?”

The answer isn’t “Yes, I can,” or “No, I can’t.”

Trust isn’t about finding people who won’t ever let you down.

Trust is knowing they will–in some way or another–and being okay with that.

Loving them any way. Trusting any way.

Choosing and then living in trust. Not trust in others. Perhaps it’s trust in yourself.

Trust that you’ll be okay. Trust that you don’t always have to be in control.

It’s also about trust in something bigger than you–in God, faith, the universe, the good–whatever you choose to call it. Trusting that goodness will come your way. Trusting that the universe is out to help you.

In the end, we all know that death will come. Perhaps there will be pain. Perhaps I won’t be able to say when it will happen, where I’ll be, who will be around me, what care I will or won’t get. And that somehow I can still believe that it will be all be okay.

 

But there is one more lesson here…

There is a lot you can say about the end of your life–but you better say it now. Talk to your loved ones. Write your ethical will. Fill out that living will. Say what it is you want. Appoint that guardian or family member to speak for you when or if you can’t.

Say all the I love you’s now. Go on those dream trips. Make memories. Laugh, cry, make love, sing, dance.

You want to not be a burden?

Start now. Invest in your relationships. Call your loved ones and listen to their day to day problems. Spoil them with your time. Go for walks and hold hands. Tell them how very proud you are of them, of the kind, good people they’ve become–then they won’t think you’re a burden.

You want not to be in pain?

Don’t dwell on pain now–physical or emotional. Live “pain-free” by practicing forgiveness, letting go and laying old issues down. Pain thrives off tenseness, tightness, and focus. Pain therapists use many techniques to help their clients manage pain–laughter therapy, engaging the mind on something bigger, more interesting, acupuncture, yoga…by letting go of pain today, we don’t attract it tomorrow.

You want to not be hung up on control?

Start trusting today. Take a risk. Fail. Laugh it off and try again. When you feel like a knotted fist inside your gut, recognize it and choose to trust. Give someone a chance. Give them a second chance. Give yourself a chance. The person we least trust is ourselves. We mistrust our own goodness. We are our own worst critiques, our own biggest doubters. Start with small affirmations–say them out loud in the car or in front of the mirror:

“I trust my own good heart.”

The biggest concerns of life are no surprise–they’re our biggest concerns every day–when you come to think about it. Every day, we’re given a chance to face our fears–to see our own good–and the goodness around us.

If you’re a caregiver, and you’re with a loved one who is coming toward the end, reassure them–let them know repeatedly that they are loved, that you will do all they can to make sure they’re not in pain, that you will honor their wishes, you will be there–steadfast. They will not be alone. Each time you say this to someone else, you say it to yourself.

I know as a caregiver this time is scary.

You don’t know how. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve faced death in an intimate way–with a family member this close. I was just like you–my dad died in hospital–and I was facing the death of my mother in my own home. I worried if I’d be okay–if I could handle it–emotionally.

IYou will find your strength and resolve.

You will keep your loved one safe–and honor their life and their death.

You will give them the dignity they deserve.

Even though you may feel like running, you will be brave. You will be there for your loved one–and it will change how you perceive life–and death.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

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Creating a bedtime ritual is good for the body and soul.

Parents do this for their children–read them a book, sing a song, say a prayer. Why do we ever stop?

Everything from brushing your teeth to the way you fluff your pillow gives cues to your body to begin to relax and let go. It’s a great way to ward off insomnia and over-thinking/worrying.

 

I always ask myself two questions at the end of each day:

What was the best part of my day?

What am I looking forward to tomorrow?

As I ask myself the first question, I almost always get a visual, and about 85% of the time the best part of my day had something to do with nature. Not about me achieving my goals–and believe me, I’m very goal driven. It’s not about a royalty check reflecting how many books I’ve sold or some other personal achievement (sometimes it is, but it has to be something I feel I’ve earned or dreamed about for a long time).

The first question allows me reflect upon the day.

It’s about the double-winged dragonfly that zipped past me while I was biking. Or the blue heron that stood still and let me get really close. Or the field of wild rabbits I came up on. No matter where you live–New York City or Kalamazoo, there’s more nature around you than you think. It’s there for a reason–it sustains you in so many ways.

 

Nature gets me outside myself. It connects me with all living things. It’s exquisite,  exotic, powerful, and surprising. Sometimes I relive these moments–the feel of my hair lifting off my shoulders as I bike, the buoyancy of the waves as I body surf–reliving those moments at the end of my day is living life twice.

Occasionally, it’s about an old friend that called, a recognition I’m particularly honored to receive, but more times than not–it’s not about me.

This one question has also changed my day. What will I have to tell myself at the end of the day if I don’t get outside and give opportunity for those “best parts of my day” to present themselves?

It’s heightened my awareness. I step out my front door expecting a miracle, or at the very least, a gift.  When that hummingbird appears, that deer looks me in the eye, I’m acutely aware–and grateful. I tuck in my memory like a pebble in my pocket knowing I’ll get to enjoy it again as I lay my head on my pillow.

The second question links me to the new day in front of me.

This one I heard from Dr. Phil.Now I’m not crazy about the direction he’s taken with his Jerry Springer-esque tv show, but I heard that he asks his sons this question each night so that they would end the day on a note of hope.

No matter our age or circumstance of life–we all need something to look forward to tomorrow.

Whether it’s meeting a friend for lunch or the next day’s walk, we need to go to sleep with the thought that tomorrow is waiting for us.

It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to cost money. It’s about creating a life of meaning.

Even our elders those we are caregiving need to look forward to the next day.

This again, causes us to create our days, make plans, and focus.

Create a morning ritual as well. 

List 5 things you’re grateful for before you get up.

Again, we’re talking simple.

Here’s today’s morning list for me:

I’m grateful for–

  • a bike ride (I go on one every morning)
  • my dog Rupert and his he sits nudged under my desk as I write
  • cherries that are in season–and the bowl that awaits me when I get up
  • my favorite pillow–gushy
  • my newly painted office that is lipstick red with white trim–and has a whole wall painted in chalkboard paint so I can literally write on the walls

Nothing earth shattering, but as my feet hit the ground each morning, I do what was suggested in the book, The Secret. Each step I take on my way to the bathroom–I say, “thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” Out loud. I

‘m smiling by the time I glance into the mirror.

This sure is better than beating myself up for saying something stupid that day, or mulling over a pile of bills, or rehasing a disagreement. There is a time to deal with those things, but that time isn’t the last thing at night or the first thing in the morning.

Protect this sacred time. Gather the best, look forward to tomorrow–

and fill your heart with gratitude.

 

I’m Carol O’Dell, and this is my blog, Mothering Mother and More, found at caroldodell.wordpress.com/

Carol is the author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir.

It’s a collection of stories and thoughts for families and caregivers written in real time as she cared for her mother who suffered with Alzheimer’ and Parkinson’s.

Mothering Mother is available at Amazon and can be requested at any bookstore or library.

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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/motheringmother-memoir-by-car/ – 95k

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