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Archive for the ‘mothers’ Category

I never thought this day would come–when I’d write about making peace with my mother. My mother was difficult, and that’s an understatement. It’s not that I’ve ever known anything different. When some people read my book, Mothering Mother, they ask how I could have forgiven her, much less taken care of her. The reason is simple: caregiving is more about you–your character,  your journey–than it is about them.

While my mother was demanding,  domineering, rather self-serving, somewhat violent (I grew up in the day when spanking, whipping, and  even slapping your child across the face (which she did more times than I can count) wasn’t all that unusual–mine was just a bit more extreme), but my mother was also funny, bigger than life, and she ironically adored my daddy and me.

I spent  my 20s pretty darn angry–about being adopted, about her  rages, and in general, just one big hot  mess. Eventually, I got tired of being angry. I got tired of carrying such a huge “life isn’t fair” grudge around all the time.

So, in essence, I simultaneously wore it and decided to let go.

Not because she  did or didn’t deserve it, but because I did.

And in full disclosure, there were many times (teen years especially) where I was not the ideal daughter and she had every right to be beyond frustrated/irritated and  at a complete loss as to what to do with me.

We continued to have  our tiffs and rifts. I still had to stand up to her–toe to toe–and she still managed to wield her emotional  knives and sometimes I didn’t see them  coming and  would once again buckle under the hurt. Still, this formidable woman gave me more good than ill. I honed my strength, my courage, and my faith by having it tested again and again. And in time, as I  married, birthed and  raised children, I became aware that  all mother-daughter relationships are fraught with a tangle of emotions, regrets, and misunderstandings. I  have  more compassion for my mother these days and I ask mercy from my own adult daughters. Yet I know  there will be so much I won’t understand and they won’t understand  until it’s time. Until then I will be their whetting stone and they  will sharpen their axes on me just as I, in turn, did to my mother.

I am finally at peace with my mother. Not in some Pollyanna way. I am at peace now because I am somehow able to open wide and embrace all of it–I can remember and absorb the pain and it no longer poisons me.

I remember the day  I opened Jack Canfield’s book, The Success Principles and read his first entry:

I am  100% responsible for my own life.

That day I finished growing up (not that  we are ever done growing).

The angst of a mentally ill birth mother, a alcoholic-addictive father, a cold grandmother saddled with grandchildren to raise, being  abused and  being adopted by the age of four to a mother wrestling with religion and force and hardened old and narrow  ways–all of it burned by some holy fire, no more than ashes.

I am 100% responsible for my own life.

Peace.

Only by loving what is–all that she was, that I was, all that we are and will  forever  be–am I now capable of holding us in that sacred and loose place. I can smile and say with  an open heart and wide arms,

“Oh, we’re  such a mess, aren’t we?”

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Today, my mother would have been 100 years old. I’m celebrating. She left this earth eight years ago, but she hasn’t left me. I spent the last three years of her life being her full-time caregiver and now, I’m back to being her full-time daughter. I feel the length and depth of our relationship. I see it as a whole or I can zoom in at any facet–when I was four and she adopted me, when I was fourteen with a splash of zits across my forehead, when I was 30 and a mother of three. Mother was there–for every stage. She still is.

I decided to take a quick glance at the year mother was born to see what it was like back then.

I decided to compare 1911 to 2011. Here are a few stats.

  • First use of aircraft as offensive weapon occurs in Turkish-Italian War. Italy defeats Turks and annexes Libya
  • Chinese Republic proclaimed after revolution overthrows Manchu dynasty. Sun Yat-sen named president
  •  Mexican Revolution: Porfirio Diaz, president since 1877, replaced by Francisco Madero
  • Roald Amundsen becomes first man to reach South Pole
  • U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham discovers Incan city of Machu Picchu.
  • Marie Curie (France) receives the Nobel Prize for discovery of elements radium and polonium
  • Chevrolet was founded in France
  • Ronald Reagan and Lucille Ball were born in 1911
  • First class stamp: .02 cents
  • Child labor at its height in U.S.

I notice the beginning of the car-craze we  grapple with still, today, Only now we’re focused on oil and how to fuel our four-wheeled allies. How much it costs, who has it, who needs it. It’s a pawn. It influences governments, commerce, and is a huge player in war. I also noticed Libya in the news–way back then–and again, in 2011.

Other similarities: more amazing inventions and discoveries include:

  • A 9.0 earthquake rocks Japan followed by a nuclear reactor scare of radiation contamination hundreds of miles in diameter.
  • Egyptian citizens take to the streets demanding and later receiving governmental changes.
  • Lybia breaks out in civil unrest as do other Middle East countries.
  • Gas prices continue to soar after last year’s major oil catastrophe in the Gulf of the U.S and due to escalating problems in the Middle East and a growing demand for the product.
  • Unmanned aircraft by DARPA is capable of staying in the air for up to five years
  • Virgin birth of a shark–second occurence we’re aware of (not kidding, folks, here’s the link)
  • Travolution system (by Audi) that allows its cars to exchange information with traffic lights
  • Gene that leads to longer shelf-life in fruits and veggies (Why include this? Think globalization and how we keep tampering with our food)
  • Omniderm–a substitute for human skin has been invented (and patented) by Israeli researchers, also artificial  corneas created by  U.S. doctors that could potentially restore sight to the blind
  • CERN successfully completes tests on the world’s first particle collider ( a potential form of energy)
  • Child labor is outlawed in major countries, but human trafficking (including children) remains a serious concern
  • Stamps now cost 44 cents

It’s obvious. The world has changed. The world is changing. And yet, I notice how certain concerns circle back around.

In some ways, I’m sad that mother’s not here to blow out her own 100 candles. But realistically, no. I’m relieved she’s passed on and is a part of this great universe.

Why? At 92 my mother has Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease. The last eight years wouldn’t have been pretty. Or satisfying. As a caregiver, I would have been way beyond burnout. Financially, her money would have been way gone, and money equals care in our country. I have no idea how I would have met her physical needs, much less her emotional needs. I don’t think, knowing where she was headed, that she would have been much more than incoherent and bedridden. Sad to say. Heartbreaking, actually.

Now, I do know of centenarians who spent their big century b’day by skydiving. That’s simply amazing.

But I’ve made peace with the realities of caregiving. That wouldn’t have been my mother’s outcome. She left this world with only the last year or two being rather rough. Not bad, to live 92 years and only the last two being less than desirable. Still, we enjoyed some good times those last few moments of her life. We played the piano, held hands, I let her eat anything she wanted–mostly Klondike bars. We looked at old photographs. I brushed her hair. She left this world on a gentle June evening with a breeze lifting a lace curtain overhead and me, by her side.

Happy Birthday, Mama.

What have you been up to these past eight years? Riding a comet? Are you sitting on a lawn chair enjoying some distant shore? Walking hand-in-hand with the love of your life?

What’s it like–over there? Is there an –over there?

Wherever you are, know that you are here as well–with me.

You used to relish telling me what to do. And now, I listen.

All my love, your daughter–

Carol

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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A friend of mine told me that she confronted her mom about her memory loss and told her she was concerned it might be dementia or Alzheimer’s. Like many caregivers her hope was that she could convince her mom to visit a neurologist. Instead, her mom got furious and now won’t talk to her. My friend is devastated. She wonders if she stepped over the line, if she should have just made up another excuse to get her to the doctor, or if she should have just let it go. Now, there’s nothing but silence.

Being shut out of a loved one’s life really hurts. You question everything you said or did. You feel rejected when all you wanted to do was to help. What do you do now?

There’s no one right answer. Every family is different.

Suggestions for getting past the hurt: 

  • Give it some time–many people come around after their hurt and anger has subsided.
  • After a cooling off period, act like nothing has happened.
  • Try reasoning with them and assure them that avoiding the matter only makes it worse–and it might be a medication interaction or something else, but it’s best to know and be proactive.
  • Pull the “big guns” and insist the two of you go to the doctor–some people respond to a firm hand.
  • Try a bribe–is there something they’ve been wanting to do? For you to take them to see their sister, or take them to play the slots? Use whatever helps them safe face.
  • Send gifts and cards and lure them back. Be the bigger one and realize that you’re their lifeline and they need you right now–and if they want to “feel”  or “look” in charge, then let them.
  • Get someone else who’s on their good side to take them. They may not want to give into you, but they may go with their sister or best friend.
  • Leapfrog over a diagnosis and start dealing with the day-to-day concerns and issues you can do something about.

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In the meantime, keep a journal. Make a note of any excuse, lie, avoidance, any times of confusion or bizarre findings such as the keys in the freezer, when they got lost coming home from the corner bank, or when they mentioned visiting a long deceased relative. As a caregiver you need to know what you’re dealing with and how often it’s happening.

Realize that a diagnosis isn’t going to do much–not in practical ways.

There’s no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s and that the meds only work during the early phases of the disease and the medications only work on about half the people taking it, only slows the progression of the disease and typically only helps for about a year. But if your loved one is experiencing paranoia, anger issues, or anxiety, then ask about medications that can help these very real and very frustrating conditions.

If you suspect your loved one has memory loss then they probably do. so start working on practical aides (notes around the house, home monitoring, safety precautions such as a medical alert bracelet, and home help or live-in assistance, just to name a few).

Alzheimer’s and dementia certainly has its challenges, especially emotional ones. As the caregiver you have to be the bigger person. You have to do what’s right and not think about your feelings. Step over the hurt and find a way to reconnect.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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The new show, “Who Do You Think You Are” is a hit. There’s a reason. We want–and need to know where we come from. (www.ancestory.com is a good place to start) Louis Gates Jr. does a great job on the PBS show, “Faces of America” researches celebrities past and revealed Yo Yo Ma’s family tree dating back to the 11th century. You don’t even have to turn on your television to learn about your own history. Your own elders offer you insights you don’t want to miss. That’s why hanging out with your grandparents, great aunts, and uncles and parents, is a smart idea. It’s one of the perks of caregiving–you get to be around the people you’re related to, and you’ll learn stories, songs, recipes, and family legacies that are only revealed naturally–around the kitchen table, long car rides, and late at night.

Being adopted, I feel equally trenched in four families lives. I’m every bit invested in my adoptive family as I am my birth family. Who they are, the amazing feats of courage, their songs, stories, photographs, and ethical inheritance is truly a part of who I am.

I found my birth family 20 years ago, and since then, I’ve discovered that my great, great, (keep going) grandfather was a chaplain in the American Revolutionary war, which makes me eligible for the DAR. I’ve got lawyers, land owners, ministers, mayors, and statesmen in my family. I’ve found amazing stories of an aunt whose baby died at childbirth and she willed herself to die three days later. My grandmother was married 4 times, and fell out of a coconut tree–at the age of 83!

But what’s even more amazing is not that somebody famous or some war hero is lurking in your DNA, it’s the quiet moments, like when my adoptive mother who had only ever said the “nice’ things about her mother finally opened up that she had been critical and hard. It helped me understand her. I heard the heartbreak in her voice, held her hand and understood something profound about who she was, who influenced her, and why she did the things she did. It brought us closer because it wasn’t a bragging point, it was a revelation–to reveal. It brought understanding and connection.

Now “Who Do You Think You Are” brings this ancestoral fasciation to the mainstream view and will open the doors wide to our familial roots.The Temple at Delphi states “Know Thyself.” Louis Gates Jr. reminds us at the end of his show, “Know Thy Past, Know Thyself.”

These moments and opportunities don’t necessarily come through blood tests and genealogical research, it’s on those quiet caregiving days–it’s the gifts our elders give us.

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                       –Lao Tzo, Chinese Philosopher

Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

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

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

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

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

“I”m not happy!”

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

I started to smile. Revelation.

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

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

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

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

How to stop over-caregiving?

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

What are you good at?

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

What seems to be working?

What isn’t working?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?

Yep, that’s what I said.

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

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

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

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