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Archive for the ‘mid-life crisis’ Category

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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Those last few hours, days, weeks, or months are a mix or panic, sorrow, numbness, and tenderness.

It usually comes after an accident, diagnosis, or surgery–or sometimes, for our elderly, it follows a slow, painful descent.

However you got here, my heart goes out to you.

“I Don’t Know What I Should be Doing Right Now.”

This is normal. You feel lost, kicked in the gut–you have little or no experience at this.

I know your world feels as if it’s falling apart. You might feel the need to control everything, or you may feel that nothing is important. You may be going a mile a minute, making phone calls, demanding to see doctors, exploring treatment options–or you may be paralyzed and all you can do is sit next to your loved one and try not to cry.

Either way is fine. Your’re on auto-pilot. This is fight or flight. You wish you could just go back to life as before, but you can’t. You wish you could be a caregiver–as hard as it is, it sure beats feeling helpless.

Let others step in–or tell them everyone that everything can wait. Do what’s natural.

The Bare Essentials–A Few Important Things to Remember:

  • Get a piece of paper and pen–write down anything the doctors or nurses tell you–you’ll be glad you did when someone asks you something and you have a complete mind meltdown
  • Keep track of your loved one’s meds and treatment times–realize the care staff isn’t going to deliver the meds on the dot, but you have the right to ask–especially with pain meds (which can be done with IV) your loved one should be kept comfortable–and you can insist on this
  • Designate a liason–a family member or friend who can field calls and coordinate plans–they’ll feel useful and you won’t feel overwhelmed
  • Pace yourself. If you’re in a hospital or hospice or at home, know that you have to keep some strength and clarity in reserve–in case you need it
  • Get your sleep–and get a bit of fresh air–you may be called on to make a very important decision–do you really want to do that on no sleep?
  • If your loved one can talk, initiate a conversation about end of life care–feeding tubes, Do Not Resuscitate orders–if you have a living will, then you have it in writing–if you don’t, then as hard as this is, ask the nurse’s desk for one (the staff can get you one). It could save you so much heartache later
  • If you do have a living will, bring it to the hospital or care center. Even if the facility has one, you need the other copy with you. Trust me, these things can slip through the cracks
  • Be the family you are. Don’t let others judge how you’re reacting to this situation. If you’re not cuddly, then don’t do anything that doesn’t feel natural
  • Know that you can’t control others actions–some people may rush to your side, others hang back. Let everyone “be” without worrying about them. Stay focused on you and your loved one

I’m Already Wracked With Guilt and Regret–We Should Have Caught This Sooner, I Should Have Done More…

These are normal feelings. It gives our brains something to do. We’re under the illusion that we control things, that if we had done this, not done that, that things would be different. Life is bigger than us mere mortals. Try not to stay in this awful, negative vortex.

You’re spinning your wheels and taking valuable time and thought –and love away from your your loved one and the time you have together. Stay Present.

I Can’t Think Straight–Shouldn’t I Be Making Plans?

Only if that brings you a measure of comfort. It will all work out. Let your liaison coordinate anything you’d like done now–flights, checking out care facilities, etc. This isn’t the time to get caught up in the doing–and if you are, do it because it’s your coping mechanism, not because you think you should.

When Do I Start Making Funeral Arrangements?

It’s different for everyone. Some people have family plots and know their local funeral director as a friend. Others are new to their area and haven’t a clue.

Are you the type to ask a doctor flat out how long does your loved one have left?

Do you want to know?

It’s okay not to, everyone’s copes differently. Also know that doctors are not infallible. They can be wrong. They can misjudge. Life is determined by the will–and the spirit. But if it would make you feel better to have a general time frame, then ask a doctor or nurse–ask if it’s time for hospice–enlist all the care you can get.

Hospice will be more wiling to talk about the death and dying process than doctors will (usually) -and palliative care (pain management). Some doctors resist hospice, but I find they’re a valuable resource to families. It doesn’t mean your loved one is going to die this second because you ask for hospice. It means you’ll have the support you need–people that have been through this.

Should My Loved One Stay in the Hospital, Go Into a Hospice Center or Should I Take Them Home?

Again, what’s right for you? And your loved one? Have you talked about this before? Have you ever thought about it? Is there care manageable at home? Will that be more stress on you–or less?

It may take you a while to figure out what feels right, and sometimes you figure out what’s right by what’s wrong–if the hospital is getting on your nerves and you just one everyone to go away and for it to be a time of peace, then you probably want a hospice center or to return home.

Does the care feel overwhelming to you? Would you rather go to a care center and let others take care of things? You can spend the night there, and most hospice centers are very thoughtful and serene.

Or does home sound like the only place you and your loved one wants to be. Home hospice is available as well, and pain can be managed from home.

You’ll figure this out along the way. Don’t feel pressured to make decisions prematurely or on someone else’s timeframe. Trust your gut.

For some, this is a deeply spiritual time, a time when faith is important. Even if you haven’t turned to your faith in years, if it feels right, then ask to see a chaplain, priest, or rabbi. Faith can oftentimes give you a measure of comfort and hope.

I’m Scared if I Stop Moving, I’ll Fall Apart

Is it so bad to fall apart? I know you think that if you do, you’ll never function again. You will.

If you truly can’t let yourself fall apart now, then set a date–in the future–and give yourself permission to fall apart then. Eventually, you’ll need to cry and scream, and beat something. You’ll need to curse, or sob, or fall to the ground. This is all a part of grief, and grief starts long before the last breath.

Losing a loved one is about the hardest thing you’ll ever do and the emotions that come with it are some of the hardest, strongest, saddest, awful-est time you’ll ever go through. But you will.

You will keep breathing. Your heart will keep beating, unfair as it is. You will.

But for today, be present.

If you have only days, weeks, or months left, then gather and treasure every sweet moment you have–

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/motheringmother-memoir-by-car/ – 95k

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Do You Realize You Will Most Likely Care Give More Than Once?

I compare caregiving the first time around to being chased by a hungry/angry bear as you’re running a marathon. Sure, you’ve got to pace yourself, but you also better run like hell.

You don’t usually have the time or foresight to plan your caregiving the first time around.

It’s just one big chaotic frenetic fear-fest!

But what if you knew you were going to have to care give again?

Most likely, you’re going to care give a parent the first time. But you have two parents…and you might have in-laws…and a spouse…and siblings…and god forbid, you have children that might need you to care give them–life is unpredictable.

That’s a lot of caregiving!

I hope you–nor I–have to care give all those people, but as you can see from the list, you’re most likely going to have to do it again.

What Have You Learned From Caregiving The First Time?

(Here’s a few of mine)

  • I learned to get prepared and organized–from the get go
  • I learned to protect my time, heart, and energy–every day
  • I learned not to fret about every little thing said or done–neither what I did or what was done to me
  • I learned not to give doctors or other medical personell carte-blanche. They don’t love my family member like I do
  • I learned not to let caregiving (people or the process) control me or my life
  • I’m not so afraid of the end of life–I hope to embrace this tender time and hold it sacred

If caregiving is a marathon, then the next time I vow to turn around and tell the bear to back off~

You can’t worry about your caregiving future. 

Live life now. Live big and with open arms. If caregiving comes your way again, it won’t be the same experience. It will teach you new things.

If You’re In Between Caregiving Times:

  • Be totally selfish. Take care of you. Recoup.
  • Do the things you put off. This won’t replace the loved one you lost, but use this time to keep your promises to yourself.
  • Look enough ahead that caregiving won’t completely side-swipe you
  • Do the prep-work: get those living wills signed, know where those important papers are, talk about long range plans
  • Put your family on notice–let them know just because you gave care once doesn’t mean you’ll automatically do it again

If It’s Your Spouse You’ll Be Caregiving Next

Caregiving your spouse is different. It kicks up all kinds of emotions. Be gentle on yourself.

You might feel scared for your own future. Angry they didn’t take care of their health before now. Weepy–your heart is wrenched.

How much time do you have left? What is the quality of that time together?

This is a very intimate, tender experience. Be present. Spousal caregivng isn’t about managing the situation–it’s much closer to the heart. at some point, let the rest of life fall away.

Caregiving is a Part of Who We Are–It’s Not The Whole of Who We Are

You are actually a good caregiver to stay outside of the emotional hurricane of caregiving.

You don’t prove that you love someone by being miserable with them.

Many times, our loved ones want us to feel what they’re feelings.

You know the old cliche’, “misery loves company?” It’s true. If we’re depressed, we tend to cloud the atmosphere and dare anyone to be cheery. It’s difficult to live with a person who has Alzheimer’sand not get pulled into the vortex of lethargy, melancholy, and numbness.

Caregiving is a Natural Part of Family Life

We just recently came up with this fancy name.

We’ve always had mothers, fathers, spouses who need us. Family caregiving was just the norm–and it was just being a family. The kicker now is how long we’re all living!

Enjoy Life–Enjoy Caring for Those You Love–And Don’t Over-Think!

Keep it natural. Love those who are in your circle.

Love life and appreciate your health, your family–and don’t over-think it all. Don’t try to do it all, be it all.

Care Give Loose!

Life is constantly changing. We have to learn to love and let go, love and let go.

(If I figure out how to do this, I’ll let you 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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are things we never tell anyone.

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

***

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

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

Each person has to figure that out for themselves.

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

So you stay.

How do you love someone who has hurt you?

Don’t try to make yourself love them.

Don’t feel guilty.

Don’t try to look noble.

Do what you can.

Choose a path of integrity.

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

Decide who you want to be, regardless of them.

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

Trust your good heart.

Practicing a faith can bring you deep comfort.

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

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

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

Find your place of peace.

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

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

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

Choose a higher path.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

www.mothering-mother.com

 

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Grieving is natural. It’s good for you. It’s necessary.

But can you take grief too far?

What is “too far?”

What’s right and necessary for one is dangerous for another.

I recently watched “Reign Over Me”about a man (played brilliantly by Adam Sandler–not his usual comedic role) who loses his wife and three daughters in the airplane crash of 9/11. The premise is that his best friend and college roommate (Don Cheadle, also brillant) recognizes him on the street, flags him down and they rekindle their friendship–only Charlie (Adam’s character) refuses to talk about his wife and children. When he’s confronted he panics and flips out. Both men ran prominent dental practices, but Charlie is no longer a dentist–his life had been altered by the death of his family.

This one of the most profound, thoughtful movies on grief I have ever seen. Whatever faults or unevenness it may have is due in part to the very difficult subject matter. It examines the role of friendship, how grief changes you, what you lose and what you gain, how you question everything, how everything and nothing has meaning, and how to ever so slowly begin again.

Charlie was not the same man after his family died. He couldn’t do the same things.

Is that you?

Also know that you begin to grieve even before your loved ones pass away. Caregivers, especially those who care for someone with Alzheimer’s and other long-term illnesses are grieving on so many levels. It can feel like you’ve been grieving for years before your loved one ever dies.

Some people can and need to go right back into their jobs and life after a tragedy. It makes them feel normal, safe, that life has some continuity and gives their life meaning. These are good reasons to keep on course, and if that’s what you need, what works for you, then don’t feel guilty or think you’re not showing the proper response of grief just because you can go on with you life.

No one should judge your grief.

I know people who don’t talk about their sorrows. Ever. Some, much, much later. Some show it in their actions. It varies, and that’s okay. Don’t think you’re heartless because you don’t “do it” in some expected way.

Grief is individual. Grief doesn’t have to look normal.

I won’t give the movie away (I do highly recommend it), but there comes a point in the movie when it implies, “Can you grieve too much?”

Does there come a point when it’s not healthy, or downright dangerous?

Yes. It can.

Depression, isolation, insomnia, drinking, and other risky behavior such as gambling, promiscuity, extreme and dangerous sports–you may experience any or all of these symptoms. It’s part of the process.

There is a biology to grief

Grief releases powerful chemicals in your body. The first, being shock. That’s to keep you alive during the event. That’s how people are able to survive car or plan accidents and get to a place of safety before their bodies begin to shut down. That’s how a mother can lift a car off her toddler even though she has a broken arm.

Grief also comes with many coping mechanisms. Sometimes we have to simply use every possible tool we have to get by–even when they’re not good for us. We have to exist before we can live again.

I’m not going to tell you because you can’t sleep without prescription meds that you’re grieving too much–or I’m not going to tell you just because you polish off a bottle of wine several nights a week that you’re ruining your life. At some point you might, but you may have to over-use, over-indulge to drown your pain–and you’ll have to find your way back out.

I asked a friend who had gone through a bad patch of grief and had done some pretty risky things why she thought she did them. They were out of character for her, and were downright unsafe.

She paused, and then said, ‘Because I could. Because I didn’t have anything to live for–so doing something dangerous or crazy didn’t matter.”

That’s what grief, hurt and sorrow can do to you.

It’s not that I’m suggesting that you should. Trust me. I’m not judging you if you are.

Sure, there are healthier ways to grieve–walks, talking with friends, professional help, journaling, support groups–but let’s face it, we don’t always and consistently do what’s good for us.

Some people, like Charlie in the film have to radically change their life.

I know one woman who sold everything, moved across the country and started working for habitat for humanity. I know another who is spending a year (that’s the plan as of now) in Belize surfing and taking odd jobs. I know another who person who after 9/11, sold his business and lived on a sailboat in the Caribbean for two years. I know another who after losing a child, has had four children in four years.

There’s no one right way to handle grief.

When do you know if you’ve taken grief too far?

  • You need to work and you can’t–and you don’t have an alternative way to live–(homelessness)
  • Alcohol, drugs or even prescription drugs are consuming you
  • You have no initiative or purpose–for years–even though you want to–and it doesn’t feel like you’re coming out of your fog, just stuck
  • You’re completely cut off from everyone (for a very long time) and it’s not working for you, it’s not because you’re content
  • You have repeated thoughts or attempts of suicide
  • Nothing brings you joy or comfort–and it’s been years
  • Your health is now at risk–obesity, forgetting to eat, not taking needed meds have begun to take a serious toll
  • A fixation has taken over–perhaps a fixation of your loved one, of death, or trying to contact them–whatever the fixation, it’s bordering on dangerous and hindering every day activities such as eating or sleeping or getting out. It’s easy to fall into this. You don’t mean to, it just sort of happens–but it’s the kind of thing you might need help getting out of.

Any of these can occur and you can still be okay, not great, but okay–still dealing with grief on your own terms.

But there’s also a line of delineation–when it’s not okay, it’s not part of the process, it’s a never-ending vortex.

How do you move past grief?

  • With help–meet with a grief counselor, one that’s trained and has seen hundreds of people who have had to deal with real tragedies–the journey is different when cataclysmic things have happened.
  • Be willing to go on medication, if necessary, and make sure you take it consistently and are monitored–we all need a little help at times
  • Look into your past back to another time of great hardship–what got you through? You have the keys to your own healing within yourself
  • Call a hotline if you need to
  • Go online and visit some great grief organizations where you can reach out privately in your own home–day or night–the Open To Hope Foundation is a wonderful resource for all kinds of grief–those who have lost a child, a parent, a spouse, those impacted by suicide, drugs, or violence. 
  • As difficult as it might seem, become a part of a small community–a church, a volunteer organization, a group of friends who meet regularly, a support group–ask to be accountable to someone. Go even though you don’t feel like it, have a hangover, a cold, a headache.
  • Be patient. You’ve been through a lot. Guilt, regret, longing can eat away at your life and your heart and your life may seem broken beyond repair. It’s going to take some time to even begin to get on your feet again.
  • Know that the human spirit is amazingly resilient. Although you cannot fathom it, your life can have meaning and a measure of joy again.
  • Be willing to eventually open to love again. For now, willingness is all that matters

The bottom line is if you want your life to change, you’re ready to reach out, but you just don’t know how, it’s time to ask for help. We all need help at times.

I hope that something I’ve said will comfort you and offer light.

I offer this prayer–to all who feel lost.

May that small sliver of hope

slide between the folds of your heart

May a breeze catch you by surprize and remind you

you are not alone

May you once again feel the warmth of a hand, the brush of a shoulder

Trust. Trust beyond reason. Beyond today. Trust.

~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

www.Kunati.com, Publisher

 

 

        

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Do you need to be needed?

Carl Jung called it, “The Wounded Healer.”

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

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

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

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

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

What would caregiving do to me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Realize that you might have codependency tendencies.

What is codependency?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balance, grasshopper. Balance.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

www.mothering-mother.com

Syndicated blog at www.hopethrives.org

Family advisor at www.Caring.com

 

 

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