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Archive for the ‘menopause’ Category

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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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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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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There’s no way to stay in a long-term relationship and not have issues.

Hurts, frustrations, “you weren’t there for me,” “I can’t believe you said that, betrayals and disappointments are all a part of being human.

Whether you’re in a committed relationship, married, have children, adult children, siblings, and even friends must eventually hit this road block in their relationship.

Yet most people don’t speak up. They get hurt or mad and they don’t say anything–not to the person who they’re mad or hurt at–maybe they complain to someone else, or just stuff it.

The relationship begins to wane. It feels like work. You grow apart and you don’t even know why.

We tend to fight with our spouses/significant others the most.

But we’re not good at it.

If you do fight, you use dirty tactics. Accusations, you always, you never, you did this, you didn’t do that, and before long you’ve got a tangled history together and whatever issues you had in the beginning–seeds of doubt, hurt, mistrust–they’re all there playing over and over in each new scenario. 

This can cause deep and lifelong issues.

Divorces are so common that they’re barely a blip in a conversation to say a friend got a divorce. No one really asks or wants to know why–and yet those who go through it know that it’s devastating on the heart, head, pocketbook, and most importantly, how you perceive yourself.

How do you stop this cycle?

Two easy steps.

Before I share with you what they are, let me assure you I’m learning how to do this myself.

I have grown daughters and I really don’t want them to hate their mom. I don’t want them to complain about me for years–to everybody else but to me–and then for us to wonder in my old age what went wrong. I don’t want their emotional pockets filled with boulders of hurt, disappointment and frustration.

So, I took a big deep gulp and called one of my daughters today.

I apologized for an issue I’d heard was bothering her. I took accountability.

Then, I asked her that in the future she tell me when she’s hurt or frustrated with me.

I told her that I had blamed my own mother for emotional “crap: for years. I had griped and whined and didn’t let go over things that really didn’t matter in the big scheme of things. I should have let her off the hook and I didn’t. Eventually yes, we came to a place of peace but I carried around those stones for far too long.

I asked my daughter to come to me. I gave her permission to approach me when I’m irritating.

I told her that I want to become a better person–a better mother–and how can I do that if she doesn’t let me know what’s hurtful or frustrating? I told her that I dearly loved her and I wanted a healthy relationship with her.

It took her off guard. Most people I know don’t have this conversation often enough–if at all.

I learned it primarily from life–from living long enough to have a few regrets. I don’t want regrets, hurts, and disappointments to plague my life and mind. I want to lighter, free-er and more joyful–and I can’t get there without letting go of a few things along the way.

I was crying by the time I got through. It was vulnerable and scary–but I really, really want to have a good relationship on my daughters based on respect, love, and tenderness toward one another. I also need to be thier role model as a woman, wife, mother, and friend.

IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP IN TWO EASY STEPS:

1.     I ask you, give you permission to tell me when I”m being difficult, frustrating, or I’ve hurt or disappointed you.

2.     The easiest way I know to do this is to start the conversation by….”It really hurt when you _________.” I felt so _______________ when you did that. Next time please _______________.

**********************

It sounds so simple, but it’s so scary!

I also told her that if she didn’t come out and say something by the end of 90 days I was going to ask her because I’m sure that I can irritate anybody by the end of 90 days.

Author and speaker Jack Canfield wrote about doing this in his book, The Success Principles. I would eat that book, digest it and live by it if I could. It’s such a Bible of personal integrity, purpose, and meaning that’s rare, particularly in the media world.

Jack said that he asks his wife at the end of each week (as well as his co-workers–and he owns a MAJOR company) on a scale of 1-10, how did he do this week–as a husband? Boss?

After that he asks, “How can I make it a 10?”

That takes guts. I’m impressed.

We’re so afraid of being criticized that we don’t realize that’s how we grow and change.

Whether you’re a caregiver, an adult child, an elder parent, a spouse or sibling, I encourage you to take this little two-step script, print it off if you have to, and have this very important conversation. It’s vital when you’re dealing with end of life issues, when you return to care for your family and all your tangled history is in your face and your life again. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

And it doesn’t mean everything can be fixed. Or that you should try to make someone happy all the time.

This is meant to open the dialogue. To understand each other–not as a giant wish list. Sometimes boundaries and respect are what’s really the goal.

Let’s heal old wounds. Forgive. And make new choices about how we treat each other.

I plan to follow through. This wasn’t a “Mom’s feeling all sentimental” moment. I want to brave enough and big enough to forge healthy relationships.

I want to be so light by the time I die I just float into eternity. (sappy, I know!)

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

www.kunati.comKunati Publishers, Winner of ForeWord’s Small Publisher of the Year Award

 

 

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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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This June, my mother will celebrate her sixth anniversary “on the other side.”

I can hardly believe it’s been that long. I spent the first year in grief and rebuilding my life.

That’s normal, and you can’t rush it or fix it. It was more like two years, and that’s also “normal.”

That’s how long it takes to assimilate a death, process your emotions, and begin to incorporate your loved one into your being. Of course, averages are just numbers and each person’s process if different, but you really shouldn’t expect much from yourself during those first two years–at least that long. 

For me, that time was a mix of guilt, regret, longing, lostness, mania, and vacillating between lethargy and intensity. To the outside world, I might not have looked like I skipped a beat, but what choice did I have?

I was a sand-gener–I had daughters to finish raising, to get into college. I returned to college myself, lost 30 pounds, stayed married, wrote my book, wrote short stories, essays and articles–I looked busy. I was busy. But there was a whole lot going on under the surface.

But only in retrospect can we see the bigger picture.

Now, I can look back and see where I’ve been and what I’ve learned.

It’s a laundry list and I can’t say when I learned what.

There’s no order, only this is what I know–about caregiving, life, death, mothers, daughters, families, faith, and surviving.

What I Learned:

  • I’m glad I didn’t know what was ahead–if I did, I would have never gone on this journey. 
  • Believe that caregiving has come into your life to heal you, show you things about yourself, give you a chance to work on old issues–and that in the end, you’ll emerge a better person.  
  • To accept myself and my mother and our relationship “as is.” It’s okay not to try and fix things.
  • Forgiveness are like small pebbles you pick up along the way–nothing big and monumental–just a gathering of what I choose to keep–and what I leave behind.
  • Doctors and nurses aren’t gods and I don’t have to do everything they say. I can speak up, ask for somehting different. I know my loved one much better than they do–and I have to make–and live with my decisions.
  • For the most part, going into the hospital in those last few years only made things worse. It wore me out, and there is a time to just accept that your loved one’s health is falling apart and let it.
  • Live with the chaos, the dishes, the laundry–sleep whenever I can–there are times to just get by.
  • Stop worrying about what my relatives or our neighbors think. Unless you’ve been a caregiver, youy can’t fathom what this is like.
  • To ask for more and more and more help. I tried to do too much alone and on my own.
  • Trust that I will bounce back from caregiving. Don’t drive my health to the absolute bitter edge (just almost), but then reclaim my health, my life, and my sanity and move on.
  • Guilt and resentment take up too much time and energy–stop giving my power away by mulling on things I can’t change.
  • You might not want to piss off all your doctors and nurses because you might eventually need them–so be savvy about how you deal with them.
  • If you’re forced choosing between your health, your marriage, your sanity, your children–and your elder–then choose your life to put first. Not theirs. As cold as that sounds, life moves forward. This doesn’t mean you ditch them on the side of the road, but in your mind and heart, put your life first.
  • Don’t just tolerate things you can’t stand. Stop being passive agressive and complaining about it later. Do something about it. Pitch a fit. Tell off your sibling. Fire a home health aide. Scream for help. Be a bitch. It probably isn’t the first time–nor will it be your last. You get what you tolerate, so stop tolerating so much. (I’m talking to myself, here)
  • No matter how religious a person may have been in their life, it doesn’t mean they aren’t fearful of death. Fear, or lack of, has more to do with a person’s psychological make up, and a way they’ve practiced seeing and responding to life–and this will determine how they handle death.
  • Realize that those last few years, months, or weeks may be more about semantics–that their spirit has already left this earth and the shell, their body, just hasn’t left yet. Be okay with taking care of that shell–but don’t make it hard, and don’t over think.
  • Understand that anger is sometimes a useful emotion–it’s a way we protect ourselves, but there’s also a time to lay anger down.
  • Laugh whenver you can–at whatever you can. Be irreverent, be snarky, other than downright cruelty, laughter is so good for you that you need to see the humor and crazyness of your situation.
  • For the most part, go with your gut. Do what feels most natural, particularly after your loved one passes and you’re grieving. Sleep, eat, cry, run a marathon, join thepeace corp–whatever is driving you, let it drive you–it’s part of your journey, and other than truly dangerous behavoir, you can’t screw up, so go for it.
  • You feel really lost after losing your mother. You wonder who you are without them to help define you. Later, you might even feel free-er, less confined.
  • Missing someone hurts, but sometimes it’s good to hurt.
  • It may take a few years, but eventually, let go of the exhaustion, resentment, guilt, and begin to enjoy your new relationship with your loved one. People “on the other side” still teach us, guide us, speak to us–and realize that they are now a part of who you are. You carry them with you.
  • Understand that you may have to care give again–a spouse, another parent, a sibling, who knows? Begin to think–how would you do it different?

Here I am, almost to June. Six years ago I was at my mother’s bedside.

It was grueling, and the weeks were dribbling by.

It rained every day, and my mother was in a coma. It felt like she’d never die. That may sound cruel, but I was beyond all human niceties. It also felt like I’d never live. Practically speaking, I knew I couldn’t fix Alzheimer’s. I knew her living would keep her in a place of perpetual lostness, and I didn’t want that for either of us.

I hated everybody–hospice, me, my mother–and then I let go and just allowed.

The barometric pressure felt off the chart. ‘

Death had to come, but when? Mother had quit eating and drinking, and I let her. That was an excruciating decision, but I chose to let her leave this world. I chose not to intebate her, to do a feeding tube. I knew that this decision would be one I would have to bear alone. I would have to sit there, every minute and see the ramifications of my choice. I did, and as hard as it was, as many times as I wanted to panic, jump up, run out, beg for intervention, I didn’t. I stayed firm.

My world grew calm, my movements quiet. We waited.

And here I am–six years forward. Blogging. I had no idea I would wind up blogging every day. I doubt I even knew what a blog was at the time.

My book, Mothering Mother has been out a year. I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of caregivers. I’ve been featured on CNN and other tv and radio programs. I’ve written a novel about Vincent Van Gogh, and finished my prequel, Said Child. I graduated from Jacksonville University and danced at my daughter’s wedding, and buried our beagle. Life is full. It swells and ebbs.

What I’ve learned is to accept each day, the power of now. Each season. To be alive with what is given to me at the time. To realize I’m not so much in control as I am in the flow. I am a part of what is happening, not orchestrating it.

Caregiving gave my life a deeper meaning. It revealed things about me, how I think, how I handle life–things I’m proud of and things I’d like to address.

One thing for sure, caregiving changes you in ways you can’t imagine.  

~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

Publisher: www.kunati.com

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I remember that day well. The day I knew I couldn’t keep on caregiving like I was–not full-time, 24/7, in our home.

It wasn’t about being exhausted to the bone, frustrated to the point I had gritted my teeth down to the nubs, or numb due to months of interrupted and little sleep.

It wasn’t about me. Or Alzheimer’s. Or the end stages of Parkinson’s.

My breaking point was about my daughter.

I wrote in Mothering Mother:

I didn’t expect it—not today—the day I would decide I couldn’t take care of Mother anymore. It’s not really about how hard it is to care for her, but then again, maybe it is.

I should have known that in the end the deciding factor would not be when I had had enough, but when my family had had enough.

Cherish, our youngest daughter is in the hospital. She has a severe kidney infection.

It started out with a backache that lasted for a couple of weeks, and then last night she came down with flu-like symptoms, only something was different about it. My mothering instinct kicked in, and I told Phillip I had to take her to the emergency room.

She was admitted, and for the first time, I found myself in the children’s wing of the hospital, the walls decorated with brightly colored tropical fish murals, and a friendly, concerned staff.

I spent day and night beside her, getting washcloths, holding back her hair and wondering how she had gotten so sick and I didn’t know it. I’ve spent every lucid moment taking care of my mother. My own child needed me and I didn’t pick up on it.

 

Cherish’s medications worked and we barely avoided surgery, but they told us one kidney was smaller than the other and we would have to continue to monitor the situation. She spent five days slowly improving. My mother-in-law flew in to take care of my mother, which was a godsend. 

On the day we were told we could leave, the doctor did a final exam. She asked Cherish, “Who’s your best friend?” and “What do you like to do for fun?”

Cherish’s answers were polite, but lacked enthusiasm. I wondered how I’d answer the same questions. Our life had become as bland and monotonous as a bowl of oatmeal.

The doctor asked what home was like and Cherish explained how her grandmother lived with us. She said it was hard. 

I sat there, stunned, not ever having fully realized the impact of Mother’s care on my children’s lives.

 

“Is your grandmother’s care too much for you or your mom?” the doctor asked and I felt sick inside. How did we get here? How did it ever come to this?

Cherish’s timid nod yes was followed with tears and quivering lips.

 

It all fell away. The illusion that we were all coping was over. I admitted to myself, perhaps for the first time, that this was too much.

 

I had no right to put my family through this. What had started our as love and loyalty had morphed into something unhealthy. I was no longer sure I was taking good care of anyone, including my mother.

I had to accept that my Mother’s bizarre behavior (Alzheimer’s) is no different than living with the mentally ill in practical terms. Its origin may be different, but no one would or should subject a child to this.

My children had endured a worn-out mother, a bickering, beligerent grandmother who inflicts constant verbal attacks, and the loss of the freedom just to be a teenager. This child had taken the brunt.

Everything I’ve believed in is on shaky ground.

 

I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now. I just know I can’t keep doing this.

I’ve been home a few days from the hospital; I pick up Mother’s wallet, get out her insurance card and dial the number. Within fifteen minutes I’m talking to someone who suggests possibilities.

Why haven’t I thought of this before?  What keeps me locked in the I-have-to-do-this mind-set?  Guilt?  Loyalty?  A promise Mother asked of a child?

I no longer feel obligated to do this no matter what. The no matter what is my family. I’ve done the best I can.

 

After hours hours and hours over the last several days on the phone—time I don’t have to waste—and I’m back to nowhere. The cost for nursing care is astronomical. Mother’s conditions are not considered a “skilled-nurse necessity” and therefore Mother’s insurance doesn’t cover her. I’m stuck between paying out thousands a month for who knows how long, or piecing the care together as I’ve been doing while carrying the main load myself. So much for help.

 I basically spent a week fooling myself, thinking that I could find Mother decent care without bankrupting us. So far, I haven’t found it. Mother’s been with us twenty months and I’ve done all that I know to do. It feels like it’s time to let go, but I don’t know where to turn.

*****

I don’t know if you’re at your breaking point.

If you’re not, you may be one day.

It will be about your own family dynamics, or perhaps your marriage or your health. Most disease such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, ALS, all offer ring side seats to a very long and heartbreaking situation.

I wish I didn’t have to share this with you.

I wish I could clean it up and offer you something cool to drink.

I wish we didn’t have to talk about this, and yes, your loved one might slip out quietly and peacefully in the middle of the night. I wish, pray, and hope that for you.

 

But I’d rather share my story, offer a few insights, and reassure you that while yes, it will be really, really hard–you will make it.

My story doesn’t end here. My daughter is healthy today. We’ve managed to avoid surgery a few more times.

My mother’s passing was at home and peaceful, but it was slow, and I have to tell you these things because who else but a fellow caregiver will be this candid?

 

Sandwich generation-ers aren’t people just under a catchy umbrella. Their concerns aren’t just how to get little Jimmy to soccer practice–many of them face gut-wrenching choices.

I can also tell you that I believe my children are grateful for the experience of living with my mother, and while aspects of it were really hard, they gleaned a lot, learned a lot about themselves and what it means to be a family.

Did I pray? Turn to God for help? I think I did, although I was in full crisis mode, and I didn’t have the sense to make a formal plea. Nor do I think we need to. A desperate prayer occurs instantly.

Did I have faith? I’m not sure I had much of anything, and I can’t see a divine loving being holding that against a worn-out caregiver. We think we have to jump through hoops–do it right, say it right. I don’t think so. I’m just grateful our lungs are on auto-pilot because in times of great stress, I’m sure I’d forget to breath in and out.

Did I let some things go on too long? Should I have done some things differently? Perhaps. I’m not one to wallow in regrets. I accept what was and learn from it.

May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, The foresight to know where you are going, And the insight to know when you have gone too far

An Irish Blessing

Where are you? Does this post hit you hard and deep? Does it scare you? Infuriate you? What is it that shakes you to your core?

If you’re at your breaking point, my advice is to go ahead and break. Let it fall apart. You’ve done all you can. You’ve loved, and given, and worked, and hoped, and now it’s time to let go. Trust. Trust something will happen, something or someone will help.

Call someone. Alzheimer’s (www.alz.org) has a toll free number. Call–pour your heart out. Ask for help. Tell others that this is it. You can’t do any more.

Trust that help will come.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

www.kunati.com

 

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I received a great email the other day from Gourete, and she used the term, “Rabid Caregiver.”

I had to laugh! I thought of the sign you put on a  chain link fence: “Guard Dog: Beware.”

Even if you didn’t see a dog, you were expecting a vicious Rottweiler to leap out and show his foaming, gnarling teeth.

 You knew if he jumped that fence you were in big trouble. Stephen King didn’t write Cujo for nothing.

Yep, that fits the description of a rabid caregiver.

There were just some days when I was not pleasant to anyone. I always had a fantasy of getting in my car and driving to some podunk seaside town and becoming a seedy (okay, delicate boned, long-haired melancholy) waitress and change my name to Lola so no one would find me.

I blame it on lack of sleep, monotony, my mother’s uncanny ability to hardly walk due to Parkinson’s and even though she had Alzheimer’s and forgot my name (I became, “Little Girl” after a while), and there were times couldn’t tell the difference between a telephone and a house shoe, somehow she could still find ways to be manipulative and undermining.

And then there were the mounting frustrations with a health care system that didn’t seem to listen to me, or help my mother in ways I really believed they could–not to mention that I was raising three teenagers (one away at college, but trust me, that “ain’t grown”), and the normal give and take of a marriage.

I was going to snap. I’d walk out the back door, down to the river and scream. Screaming is good. Find a closet, a pillow, a car–and go scream. I also imagined my life under different circumstances….

I wrote in Mothering Mother:

Thrive

I’ve decided to turn myself into the Department of Family and Children Services.

I’ll call in a report using one of those voice change deals you see on movies when the bad guys ask for a ransom.

I’ll tell them I’m an unfit mother, I mean, daughter. I’ll tell them Mother’s failing to thrive. That’s what nurses say about babies who aren’t doing well, when they’re not gaining weight or responding to stimulus. I’ll tell them we’re not bonding.

I’ll try and look sad when they take her away.“My baby, my baby!”

I’ll sob at the front door for a good show. I hope they won’t notice the beach bag next to my feet stuffed with my car keys, a book, and sunscreen. They’ll put her in a foster home. I hope they have Klondike Bars or she’ll be one unhappy guest.

I don’t think I’ll tell them she’s delirious; it’ll take them a little longer to assess the situation if they don’t know exactly what they’re dealing with. They’ll tell me I have supervised visitation privileges. Maybe I’ll tell them I pose a threat and then I’ll twitch.

Maybe they’ll get me therapy. I love therapy. I like talking about me.

I’d love to sit in a clean office and read magazines I don’t ever get to buy and drink chilled water out of the water cooler in those cone shaped paper cups. I hope the person in front of me has some serious issues and they have to go into overtime, like a baseball game when the score is tied at the end of the ninth inning.

I like those pictures that health care facilities have on their walls—the ones with uplifting nature scenes and quotes on the bottom: Success is when preparation meets opportunity, or something equally nauseating.

I might have to have some fun with the counselor, as she looks at me with a glazed face that only years of institutionalized learning can produce. I’ll make up a humdinger of a story, like Mother beat me when I was a kid. Wait, that part’s true.

Maybe they’ll give me medication, though I prefer to remember my pain. It keeps me from going through things twice.

I might suggest rehab. Twenty-eight days in a serene environment with grounds that rival the Augusta National’s will give me a place to roll down hills and get in touch with my inner child.I’m more afraid DFACS will decide to give me a second chance, and I’ll have to go to court where a judge will review my records then tell me I can have full custody again.

In that case, I might have to have a relapse. 

Cujo, oh yeah.

I remember scratching my head a lot. It’s a nervous habit, something I do when I’m frustrated. I won’t mention all my other nervous ticks.

I stopped calling my friends because God knows I didn’t want to hear me complain, I couldn’t imagine they did.

I gained 30 pounds and man, was that easy to do!

The only perk that came out of grumpy mood was that I cut a couple of toxic people out of my life.

Mother was consuming my patience like a gas guzzling Hummer and I had nothing left for anyone else who crossed me, and I just did it. Nice girl, me–ousted a couple of folks who to this day still don’t know why. I just remember one day thinking, “Mother’s all I can handle, and I don’t need anyone else pushing my buttons.”

I find that bad mood jags are a vortex that just won’t stop.

You don’t mean to fall in the swirl, but once you’re in you can’t get out. I’d mull over what mother said, mull over the fight with the nurse, mull over the fact that my daughter just left on the back of a crotch rocket (a very uncomfortable motorcycle in which your butt sits up higher than your head and no one over 35 would want to ride).

Are you in a vortex can’t seem to get out of?

Is everybody bugging you?

Do you walk around with a scowl on your face?

Try writing a fantasy. I swear, it helps.

If you send them to me at writecarol@comcast.net,

I’ll publish them–anonymously if you need me to.

It’s great fun, and I promise you’ll feel better.

~Carol D. O”Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

www.kunati.com 

Kunati Publishing

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Caregiving isn’t exactly synonymous with a spicy love life–not until now. Maybe a passionate love life is just what the doctor ordered…

 

Dr. Christine Northrup, Oprah’s gynecologist on speed dial and author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, and the Wisdom of Menopause suggests that you spend 30 minutes three time a week in “self love.”

(Yes, that’s right. We’re talking about the M word)

Now, I can only speak for myself here, but unless “self love” includes eating a bag of Dove chocolates, painting my toenails and thumbing through a magazine, I’m going to have about 27 minutes to kill.

 

It’s not like I have to woo myself or assure myself that I’ll respect me in the morning…

 

As a caregiver, mother, daughter, sandwich generationer, pet “mom,” I have to tell you, thirty uninterrupted minutes is hard to come by.
(pah dum,dum)

 

I figure I can blog about this if Oprah can discuss it at 4:00 in the afternoon while I’m making chicken pot pie.

Besides, a healthy love life is important–and most of us would rather “play with others,” so let’s take the leap.

 

Why bother? You haven’t got time? You have no drive?

You’re beyond exhausted? You’ll deal with “that” later?

 

Here’s why it’s crucial: 

 

Being a passionate person spills over into everything in your life–how you dress, walk, what you choose to eat, how generous you are with your time and energies, how affectionate you are to all living creatures–not to mention the effects giving and receiving love has on your heart, immune system, psychological, emotional and spiritual foundation.

 

Here’s a few tips for revving up the ole’ love life for couples who are also caregivers, raise kids, and walk dogs. Believe me, I’ve been there–forty pounds heavier than I am today–sleep deprived, irritable, and pulled in a thousand directions–and living with a loved one with Alzheimer’s isn’t exactly conducive to candles and teddys.

 

Mom’s Home—Quick, Lock the Bedroom Door!Enjoy Your Relationship Even if Your Mom

Lives With You

· Put a lock on your bedroom door—and use it
· Sneak around—intimacy doesn’t just have to happen in the bedroom. Be playful! Flirt!
· Nix the old t-shirt and sweats and wear attractive PJs—they don’t have to be overly sexy to be attractive.
· Stay affectionate–even if you have to make yourself at first—call each other during the day just for a “Hi, and I love you,” hug and kiss hello and goodbye, cuddle on the couch, call each other affectionate names/ take baths or showers together (you do remember those?)
. Take short walks together—even 5 or 10 minutes of fresh air is invigorating and gives you a chance to talk
· Plan a surprise—sneak out to the yard after dark to cuddle on a quilt under the stars with cups of hot chocolate
. Laugh! Rent a comedy, pop some popcorn and sit ont the couch together–not in dueling recliners
· Don’t sweat it if you aren’t in a lovey-dove mood–caregiving is stressful and there are seasons in life. Remember though, a healthy love life is healing, satisfying and stress relieving—and better for you than a bottle of Scotch

  • If you’re a care partner, you have also face physical challenges. Talk, cuddle, find out what works and what doesn’t. Don’t think you have to “go all the way.” Find your own way.

Being a caregiver, care receiver, or care partner doesn’t mean you–or your loved one is dead. Unearthing those needs and desires means you’re still alive. Love and passion are vital.

Say “yes” to LIFE every chance you get.

And don’t forget–holding hands is still pretty darn great.

Happy V Day!

~Carol D. O’Dell
Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir,
available on Amazon
and in most bookstores

Kunati Publishing

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I’m a sandwich generation caregiver.

My 89-year old adoptive mother (who suffered with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s) moved in with us–my husband and I, two of our three daughters, plus a menagerie of dogs and cats.

My situation won’t be the same.

We have three daughters, and I had all of them while I was in my twenties.

That means when I’m 89, my daughters will be 67, 66, and 63. Yikes.

I hope they’ll be in good health and that we can all toodle around and take road trips, eat triple decker double-dipped ice-cream cones and enjoy our grandchildren–and my great grand children.

But there are no guarantees we’ll all be in good health.

And being in your late sixties and caregiving can’t be a picnic.

Just ask all the boomers who are starting down this road now.

Ironically, my mother-in-law has a mother-in-law. Neither are spring chickens. My mother-in-law is 79, and her mother-in-law is 95.

My mother-in-law has begun to slow down and is dealing with an arthritic knee. Her father-in-law died this year  and they’ve been driving three hours a day to help care for his mom (my mother-in-law’s mom-in-law). They’re worried about how things will go in the future, what care she’ll need, how they’ll manage.

They face the same questions I faced–what do we do about mom?

Do we place her in a care facility? Does she live with family?

But they (my father-in-law has his  2 siblings) also have different questions:

Are any of us capable of caring for her–long-term? 

My father-in-law just retired. He was planning on golfing, driving to see all the kids and grandkids, and instead, he’s caregiving.

Guess you just can’t get away from it. The best you can do is look a bit ahead and make a semi-plan.

And as we age, caregiving is even more difficult–physically in particular.

Families have new questions to ask. New plans to make. Grab the moments of fun now and not wait for some “golden” day for that dream trip or to think you’ll sail into your senior years in the glow of a sensual–just-two-love-birds sunset.

My plan is to really, really spoil my grandchildren–afterall, they’ll be young enough to care for me. That, and live big/love hard–now.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

 available on Amazon and in most bookstores

www.mothering-mother.com

www.kunati.com

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