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Archive for the ‘memoir’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calment’s Quotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clement’s Best Quote:

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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

Love Do’s:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                       –Lao Tzo, Chinese Philosopher

Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

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Dr. Christiane Northrup did a PBS talk on the Wisdom of Menopause in which she reminds me that nothing–not caregiving–not menopause is brought into my life to destroy me. It’s to make me pay attention. To love and accept myself more–not less. Over-caregiving is more common than you think. I’m guilty of it myself–at times. I had to learn that I couldn’t fix my mother–I couldn’t take the place of her beloved husband after Daddy died. I couldn’t stop Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t be her all in all. And I had to stop trying.

Dr. Northrup used the excellent model of breastfeeding to correlate how we should care-give. Being a young mother is another time of extreme care. We physically and emotionally give our all to birth a new life. In order to breast feed, you have to feed yourself. You use up 600-1000 calories a day breastfeeding. What you eat, how you sleep, how stressed you are–all effects your ability to produce milk. If you go for even a few days without eating healthy and sleeping well, your milk production will begin to wane. What a great example. You can’t give out, unless you give in. Your body–and your spirit just won’t do it.

She also mentioned that a doctor friend of hers wrote on his prescription pad to a woman “See your mother ONLY 2 times a week.” Doctor’s orders. Sometimes we need others in authority to give us permission to take better care of ourselves.

I remember one day when my mother shuffled into my kitchen with a scowl on face. She slammed her hand down on the counter and announced,

“I”m not happy!”

She had a “and what are you gonna do about it look on her face.”

I started to smile. Revelation.

I realized in that moment that the only person I could make happy–was me.

We can never fill up another human being. We can’t make up for aging and disease–or for their lack of caring for their lives and health all along. Our best way to give is to know what ways ive best.

How do you know when you’re over-caregiving?

When you have zero time for your own health and relationships. But, but…you argue. If you are getting less than 6 hours sleep, are spending all your time taking care of someone else’s physical and emotional needs, feel like your stress levels are above an 8 almost all the time, then yes, you’re over-caregiving.

How to stop over-caregiving?

Care-give  ala’ carte style. Pick and choose and don’t even try to do it all.

What are you good at?

What does your mom–or dad–or spouse value?

What seems to be working?

What isn’t working?

So, if you’re a great cook and they eat for you, then cook and fill their tummies with homemade soup and decadent brownies.

If they like for you to be at their doctor’s appointments, then build that into your schedule.

If you tend to fight every time you start trying to organize their house–then quit.

But I dont’ have a choice. If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.

Then it won’t get done. Be willing to live with it.

For example, I stopped going to re-check appointments. My mom had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as heart disease. I took her in for her six month check-ups, but no follow-ups. I got her meds and created a structure we could live with. I dealt as best as I could with the emergencies that came up.

I also said no to hospitalizations. They wanted to try exploratory surgery. Really? On a 90 year old with all these conditions? I said no. The medical profession looked at me as if I were a bad daughter, but I didn’t care.

Ask yourself: Does it need to get done? Will it improve the quality of life enough to warrant the work/commitment?

Yeah, some things do. But do the minimum in the area you’re not good at or don’t think it will pay off. Or ask someone to help.

If you have to choose–choose to meet your needs first.

What?

Yep, that’s what I said.

You can’t reverse Alzheimer’s once it’s started.

But you can prevent heart disease (the number one killer in the US) in your own heart!. Go for a walk. De-process food your house. Sign up for yoga. Rent all your favorite funny movies and invite a friend over for a laugh fest.

Sounds too simple? It’s because it is simple. Choose health CARE over health-care. Do what you can, but know that you can’t undo another person’s diseases or problems. Love them, make life comfortable, and give up over-caregiving.

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Like many adult children and sandwich geneartion-ers whose parents don’t want to leave their home, I had to practically force my mom to sell and move in with me. It’s not that I wanted to evict my mother from her own home, it’s because I knew that she was no longer safe. Caregivers everywhere face this difficult decision–but it also means we have to deal with all the stuff–when history collides with clutter.

My mom had Parkinson’s and heart disease–and I was starting to question whether she had some form of dementia. I worried about her falling, her not eating, forgetting to take her meds, getting locked out of the house…and as my mom’s only child and primary caregiver, I knew I had created a community of support and relied on extended family, friends, church members and community resources all that we could.

It was no longer enough. My mom needed continuity, and I was the only one who was willing and able to step up.

My mom agreed–at first. But the day we were to sign the papers and sell her home, she had a panic attack. She thought it was a heart attack and we rushed to the hospital. I had my doubts, but knew we should get it checked out. Then her avoidance tactics escalated. She wanted to back out of the deal. I had to be the strong one. I called the real estate office, arranged for the Durable Power of Attorney papers to be delivered to the hosptial, and signed the papers in the waiting room.

They gave us three days to finish moving out. I pulled up to my mother’s house–the place I had lived from age 12-18–and began the arduous job of packing and sorting. I was alone–me and thousand memories.

Part of me knew this was the beginning of the end. My dad had passed a decade before. My mom was 89 and I knew at best, we had a few years left–and her health issues would only escalate in time.

It’s tough–to deal with saved/recycled aluminum foil and a two dozen pie pans as well as treasured family photos, important documents, and childhood toys. Part of me was angry for being saddled with such a monumental job–why hadn’t she dealt with all this crap before now? But then I thought of my own house and my own stuff–guess I’d better get busy.

Every room, a memory. Every room, a million decisions.

I grieved and bungled my way through the next three days vascillating between overwhelming exhaustion and tender recollections. It felt good to be alone, to feel everything, no matter how hard it was.

I gave myself permission to make mistakes–to keep too much–to throw away the wrong thing.

Who could get this right?

Finally, the house was clear–the movers would come the next day–and mounds of trash sat at the end of the driveway.

I walked the land. I remembered the school bus dropping me off each day and my cat, Charlie, greeting me, the daffodils that popped up every February around the giant oak tree–bright yellow against the bleak sky. I followed the trail down to Daddy’s garage, picked up a stone and placed it in my pocket.

I took photograps and said goodbye to every tree. I saw myself at 14 on the roof sunbathing, walking to the car with a nosegay on my wrist on my way to prom and later kissing my date goodnight under the porch light.  I saw Daddy, could hear the high-pitched squeal of power tools, smell the sweetness of sawdust, and see my own toddlers looking for Easter eggs in the backyard. This house held me, nurtured me, gave me a place to grow up, and now gives me a place to remember.

I sat in my car knowing I’d never be able to come back–driving by just isn’t the same. What would come with my mom–caring for her in my final years–was not something to I could face–not yet.

It was all I could do to turn the key and back away.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

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I always say in my talks that my mother was a dictator in search of a country. She had no problem ordering me–and everyone else around. She was an “old school” Grande Dame who was comfortable ruling the roost, bellowing out orders, and using just about any manipulative tactic known to womankind to get people to do it “her way” (Lord, bless her–that’s the southern way to say something bad about somebody and for it to be okay) Caregiving my mom was an extreme challenge in finding my balance and keeping the ship of our lives on proper course. Even with Alzheimer’ s and Parkinson’s, my mother had a bigger-than-life persona and I had to learn how to be strong–and loving–at the same time.

I’m not alone. I know lots of caregivers who struggle with feeling intimidated.

I know  a woman whose husband is in a wheelchair (due to a car accident) and can’t talk or eat (he has a feeding tube) and still, he controls the entire house–with his eyes and body language. He fusses (moans, turns away, scowls) and his wife and their aides scramble to please him, and do all they can to placate him. They also avoid him as much as possible because no one enjoys his company. That’s a lot of power–without ever having to speak a word!

Even though my mom was a force to be reckoned with, I had to learn how to make decisions and follow through even when she disagreed. Some days were better than others. Some days she was in a foul mood. Some days I was the fussy one.

I had to break it down to 5 minute increments. I used to put a band-aid on my finger–something to “fiddle” with that kept reminding me not to get sucked into the argument, latest demand, or fall down the sink hole of her emotions.

3 Tips to Break the Intimidation Cycle:

  • Pick your battles, but once you pick one–follow through. Once you establish a new edict, you have to, have to, have to stick with it. “Intimidators”  look for chinks in the armor–and will attack with twice as much arsenal as before!
  • Do what’s right–and best for everyone. As a caregiver, you don’t have the luxury of thinking about just one person. If you’re a part of the sandwich generation or have a multigenerational household, you have to consider the other members of your family.  Doing “what’s best for all” is a way to measure and balance your decisions, and it’s also something to fall back on or “blame” for what you have to do. Consider yourself the general of a vast army, and it’s your job to look at the big picture–and to come out of the war as victor and with the least casualties.
  • Dig deep. Do lots of self talks. When you feel yourself slipping, second-guessing, cowering…leave the room and go take three deep breaths. Even if they’re yelling at you not to leave the room, leave anyway.  Be alone for a minutes and let the fear, hostility, anxiousness leave your body. Remember the overall plan, what’ s best–and go back in when you’re ready.
  • BONUS TIP: Are you a people pleaser–times ten?  We’d (I throw myself in this category) rather keep the peace than speak up, but when we stuff our emotions, they tend to come out in other ways–depression, overeating, apathy, anxiety. Ask yourself what you’re afraid of? Will they be mad at you? Is that so bad? Let them have their own emotions and that you don’t have to get sucked in. Once they learn they can’t manipulate you, they may give up–but it won’t matter what they do once you find your own quiet center.

Being an “intimidator” or being intimidated isn’t a healthy basis for a relationship. Breaking the cycle takes awareness and consistency. But I’m here to tell you that it is possible–to relearn how to talk with and treat each other. In small, but significant ways, we can change. But the only person we need to worry about changing–is ourselves.

Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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