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Archive for the ‘mother-in-laws’ Category

Maybe you’re not the one doing the day-to-day caregiving–maybe you’re the spouse, partner, the one who would get “best supporting” if there were an Oscar or some other shiny statue given for “Best Caregiving Award.”

Being the sidekick behind or rather beside the caregiver is a VERY important and crucial role. I know because I’m not sure I could have done what I did–care for my mom who had Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease and lived with us–if it hadn’t been for my other caregiving half.

My husband, (my caregiving spouse) had a lot to contend with. He put up with my moods–my many, many spontaneous, combustible moods. He put up with some doozy mother-daughter fights–fights between my mother and me and fights between my daughters and me. (I’m beginning to realize I was at the hub of all the fights!)

He went with the flow, would order pizza if I was too frazzled to cook (the man can’t cook), would run our daughters to wherever they needed to go–or stay with my mom so I could. He did without vacations, built my mom’s apartment onto our house, picked up my mom when she fell, and seemed to do it with a good attitude instead of a “I’m not getting attention” whine that wouldn’t have gotten him anywhere anyway. I had my hands full and he knew it.

So I decided for this blog to turn to ask my husband, Phillip, if he had a friend who said, “My wife’s mom is moving in and needs caregiving–how do  I support her?”  What would he say?

How to Support a Caregiving Spouse:  (by a caregiving spouse)

  • Listen–a lot: If she needs to cry, hold her. If she needs to complain, give her the time and space to vent. Call her throughout the day. Turn off the television when she’s (I’m using the pronoun “she” but it goes either way)  talking.
  • Lighten her load any way you can: Pick up extra chores. Pitch in. Get the kids to help, too. Look for things that need doing–don’t wait to be told.
  • Pay attention to your spouse’s needs: It’s your job to take care of her so she can take care of others. Notice if she’s tired and make her hot tea. Rub her feet, wash her hair, offer to mom-sit, do the little things only you can do.  Consider it family care–not just something your spouse does.

Wow. It didn’t  take him but three seconds to come up with that–because he lived it. He was right beside me all the way. I can honestly say that he was my backbone when I didn’t feel I had one. He wrapped me in his arms day after day after day. He did without sex, sleep, decent meals and even a pleasant wife–many times over. He never complained. He seemed to know what I need and he wouldn’t let me give up even when I wanted to–because he knew deep down, I didn’t want to. He was there when my mom died, and he was there in those dark and lost days after.

Caregiving is hard on a marriage/relationship at times, but it also brings out the best in us. We see what we’re made of–and in the end, we look back at our lives and remember all we’ve been through side-by-side.

Caregiving is one of our journeys. One of many.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

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Do you hear the tick, tick, tick of the death clock?

What’s the death clock you ask?

The death clock, is a website that calculates (with a little information you add in) the exact day you will die.

Sounds morbid, right?

I agree, but take this as a bit of fun and not too serious.

Playing with death–trying it on for size is one way humans deal with the tragedies of life–kind of like playing dress up with your mother’s high heels and your dad’s jacket.

So, I went to www.deathclock.com, (there’s also a few others– http://www.findyourfate.com/deathmeter/deathmtr.html, http://deathdate.info, http://www.death-clock.org/) and put in my numbers.

I didn’t really want to know when I’d die. But I have to admit, I was curious.

How can you not be curious?

I was raised in a uber-religious home and this sounded like fortune telling–something stricly forbidden to dabble in–which means it’s even more tempting, dangerous, and oh so fascinating…(yeah, I’ve got a bit of a rebellious streak in me, I can’t deny it).

So I typed in my info, and you know what? I feel better!

It says I’m going to live until I’m 100 years old.

Instead of feeling depressed about knowing my “D day,” I felt expanded.

100 feels pretty far away. I’m not quite half there. I still have a a whole lotta livin’ to do. 

I do take in account I could get hit by the proverbial bus at any time–that lightening could strike me for visiting that heathen site, (sorry, Mama!) or a myriad of other diseases and accidents could come barrel my way–but I’m not the type of person to be paralyzed by the “what ifs” of life. 

But I’ve seen the dark side of agin. I know what Alzheimer’s looks like, about the challenges that come with aging.

My dad died of heart disease at 78, and my mother lived with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and died at the age of 92 (they were my adoptive parents and older than most parents). I was her primary caregiver and she lived with my family and I the last three years of her life.

I wrote every day my mother lived with us.

I wrote what it’s like for her to live with this disease, what it was like for me, her daughter to struggle with the challenges of being a sandwich generation-er. I wrote about our fears, our fights, our hurts, our day-to-day challenges, and the truth about the guilt and resentment caregivers and families are afraid to say out loud.

Our story became a book, Mothering Mother and has been read by thousands.

The fact is, if you live long enough, you stand a real strong chance of getting Alzheimer’s.

Deal with it. Sounds cold, but what I mean is…do what you can now to take care of yourself.

Eat healthy, have a good attitude, walk every day. Forgive.

Those are the best ways I know of to stave off that dreaded disease.

And even if you get a diagnosis, don’t just crawl up and die. You still have time–love your family–leave a legacy. Don’t spend your precious time worrying.

I don’t know if you want to try the death clock–if it all seems like a bunch of hoo-haa.–but if you’re feeling brave, then take a twirl with the grim reaper and give it a try.

A few years ago, I wrote a “100 Things To Do in My Life” List.

I wrote it while we were on vacation. I wrote it around the margins of an old Rand McNally atlas we had in the car–apprapo, I guess.

I wrote things like:

  1. Go back to college and get my BFA
  2. Design and make a bronze sculpture
  3. Visit the Vincent Van Gogh Gallery in Amsterdam
  4. Publish books (plural)
  5. Take a cooking class in Napa
  6. Repaint all my favorite Van Goghs myself
  7. Create cool yard art–and sell it
  8. Be paid 500 bucks an hour to speak and inspire people
  9. Be on the board of a charity/organization and help make a difference
  10. Design an Italian garden
  11. Have a 30+year writing career
  12. Be a GREAT grandma
  13. Speak French, Italian and Spanish fluently
  14. Live in the South of France for several months
  15. Win a PEN award
  16. Stay married, stay healthy
  17. Forgive and not grow bitter

I wrote this in 1999. I was dreaming big,. I packed it away and didn’t look at it for more than five years. My heart and my words guided me intuitively.

There are 126 items on my master list.

Of the 16 I listed here, 11 have already come to fruition.

I have 53 years to achieve the rest.

A friend of mine said she saw The Bucket List this week and that she loved it, but a friend of hers said they wanted a list of all the things they didn’t want to do–a “Chuck It” list. I like that idea too.

Or you could do an “anti-list.”

Remember that edisode on Grey’s Anatomy when that guy found out he was dying and decided to video-taped himself chewing out all the people he hated/who had hurt and humiliated him? This is what he chose to do before he died.

How cleansing! To leave this world feeling like you said your peace. Perhaps is he had done this sooner, he wouldn’t be dying.

What would be on your anti-list?

I’d love to never ever have another root canal…how about you?

So maybe I should rename the Death Clock to the LIVE clock.

After all, I have a list that needs a whole lot more check marks. Instead of counting down the days until I die, I should count each day I’m living.

Instead of following the old cliche, “Live a little.” I think I’ll rewrite it:

Live A lot!”

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Kunati books, www.kunati.com/motheringmother

Family advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

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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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Dear Mother,

This is my fifth Mother’s Day without you.

I should clarify: without you physically here.

You are indeed, here.

I talk to you and listen to you more than ever. Never thought I’d say that.

Your stories, wisdom, advice, and crazy sayings all come out of my mouth.

Your stories, wisdom, advice, and all crazy sayings come out of my mouth.

You are remembered, your songs sung, and your recipes grace my dinner table often.

I’m now the family matriarch, and I’m somewhat comfortable with that new role. I’m the remember-er, the keeper of the stuff (birth, marriage, and death records, photos, jewelry, heirloom furniture), the family repository. In some ways, I don’t feel dignified or old enough for this role, but I guess I am. Old enough.

I still long to be somebody’s daughter. Do you ever get over that?

And yet, I do see that I needed you to get out of my way. Sorry, mom, but it’s true.

I needed this emotional space so that I could step into my own womanhood. This transition is natural. Mothers die. I too, will die. This is to make room for all the new mothers and all the new daughters. But mothers don’t just die, their seeds fall into the hearts of those who love them.

I also don’t want to sugar-coat you–or us. We were far, far from perfect.

I’m not even interested in perfect, who learns from perfect?

I see some wrong choices you made–some wrong choices I made.

I understand why: pain, fear, selfishness.

By analyzing “us” I can learn a few things, make different choices. I can’t imagine you being bothered by this now because whatever the “here-after” is, it has to put our petty issues in perspective, and I refuse to think of an eternity wracked with guilt and regret.

You’d be proud though.

My skirts are longer now, and I actually do own a slip.
I wear your broaches and scarves when I talk about you to
caregiving and Alzheimer’s groups–and I show your picture. I talk about you more now than when you were alive, and part of me finds that rather annoying. I hope to have as long of a shelf life as you are.

I’m a mother-in-law, which is completely weird, and I understand things different now.

I understand how trusting someone to love, respect, and care for your child is so scary, even when your daughters or sons are grown and tell you they don’t need your protection. They do. Spiritually, emotionally, not in your face, tell you what to do, but in a broader sense.

I understand how a wedding isn’t just about the bride and groom–how your dreams, your hopes, your family’s expectations somehow get tangled in the mix. It took me 25 years to stop blaming you for controlling my wedding.  

I understand how you long to have a quiet alone moment with the child you bore–how it’s hard to be second fiddle to person who once thought you carved the moon out of cheese and flung it to the sky.

I understand how hard it is to scoot one seat down and let the next generation take center stage when you feel like you barely got there.

I eat breakfast every day, something you couldn’t force me to do as a kid. I also hear those words slip out of my mouth–”Wear a hat, it’s cold.” I think of you and me, and all the hats I snatched off my head the second you weren’t looking, and here I am, dolling out the same advice. Did put a whammy on me?

I also insist my children call me every day. Just like you did.

It was the best thing you could have done, you know.

Even after five years, I so miss our calls. I can’t tell you how irritating they were, some days.

But those “I’m all right, busy today, love you, mom,” calls kept us going. I thought they were just for you, about you being needy.

I think of all the things I didn’t tell you in those phone calls –all the marital fights, the worries about my first gray hairs, my own children rebelling against me, the world’s best mother. I didn’t tell you what was going on in my life–not with words, but I think you knew because I know. I can measure the tone of children’s voice with my handy mother-barometer I now possess.

You didn’t need me to say things out loud, but you took your cue and prayed.

My daughters call every day. They do it automatically because I’ve forced them into this habit. 

Many days are short and sweet–and I too, listen to what all is not being said.

You taught me how to be a wife. Watching you love Daddy, dote over him, worry over him, and hearing you two laugh and talk until late at night and even as a child I’d have to holler to you, “Some of us have to go to school, you know!” What a legacy to leave to a child when so many couples don’t know how to weather life side-by-side. You also showed me the price of this love as I watched you grieve his passing, your body draped over his, your cries so heartbreaking I had to leave the room.

I miss you in a million small ways. I miss having a woman to pal around with–not to necessarily agree with–lord knows that wasn’t out strong suit. But I do miss your company, your sense of style, and I remember everything, everything you loved–pecan pie, Co-cola as you used to say–and a Snicker’s bar, homemade macaroni and cheese, and fresh sheets. Somehow, your preferences are now a part of my own–a way to remember you.

I’m a different woman now. Caregiving, sitting beside a loved one as they pass from this earth changes a person. I find myself more tolerant of the ambiguities of life and perhaps less tolerant of social situations where people simply posture, brag, or argue for the sake of arguing. I don’t have the patience for that sort of thing–even when, and especially when it’s coming out of my own mouth.

You’ve made me into an old soul. I could sit outside in a lawn chair and stare at the stars for hours.

But death had another effect on me as well–I want to live, to accomplish something you and my daughters will be proud of, to really be present–for all the big and small moments, to accept myself and those I love on an “as is” basis knowing good people only get better.  I can trust that this world still has a lot of goodness left in it, and I can be patient enough to wait for it. I can also accept the random chaos, the sorrows of all kinds of losses, and the uncertainty of something as out of our control as the weather or a nasty disease can obliterate your life as you know it at any time.

It’s all part of the package.

You’d be proud of me. I’ve grown up a little. I love with fierceness, and I’m tired of taking guff from people who just don’t matter.

I’m somehow coming into my own as a woman, a wife, a mother, a friend. Did you have something to do with that? Did caring for you, learning from you, learning how to be a woman, how to become a widow, how to grow old, and how to die get incorporated into me? I hope so because I can’t fathom how to do all this without you.

I need you to still teach me. I need your Southern wisdom. I need you to disagree with me. I need to butt up against somebody who will sharpen me a bit, force me to figure out what I believe–and what I don’t. I need a mother who will tell me, “Don’t buy that dress, your thighs look like tree trunks in.”

No one but your mother would dare.

I share this day with you.

You taught me how to be a woman, complex and defined, and how to be a mother even when your kids are grown and no longer think they need mothering–but they do, only in more subtle ways.

You taught me how to dig deep for strength and sit by someone dying without dying myself.

How not to fall apart. How to choose hope and faith when circumstances would say otherwise. How to speak my mind and hold my tongue, as needed.

You taught me that I could love more than I could ever imagine.

~Your daughter.

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

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

www.kunati.com Publisher

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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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