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Archive for the ‘neurological disorders’ Category

For many of us, caregiving a spouse is in our future. We like to not think about it, or at least imagine that it’s a long, long time from now. For many, it’s a daily reality.

According to the Family Caregiving Alliance, there is a much higher likelihood of receiving care from a spouse than from an adult child. 
Nearly one-quarter (22%) of caregivers who are themselves 65+ are caring for a spouse. Personally, I think it’s higher than that.
And it’s not all the women who are doing the caregiving. 
I know lots of men who are caring for their wives through cancer, MS, heart disease and dementia.
 These men have my full respect. The ones I’ve met are kind, thoughtful, and are trying to very hard to give their wives the best of care. I’m sure there are many who are not like this, but I do have to pay homage to the ones who are.

So why does caregiving my spouse scare the bejezus out of me and most everybody else?

 Because my husband is my strength, my rock, the person I can rail against, nag, complain about–but would never want to do without.

Even when he gets the flu, I’m a wreck. I’m projecting into the future, seeing him years from now, weak, and me trying to care for him.

He’s 9 inches taller than me and about 60 pounds heavier than me, and the few times he’s had minor surgery, I’ve seen how difficult it is.

But that’s not it.  We’d find a way to make it work.

It’s not that it’ll be hard, exhausting, or challenging. I cared for my mom through Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. I’m no wimp.

So just why is it so hard to care give a spouse?

I’ll just vent and you pick the one that best fits you:

(some of them don’t paint me in a good light, but I’m being a guinea pig here so that we can all identify with our less than admirable selves)

I don’t want to become his “”mother.” (By that, I mean I want to remain his wife, lover, and friend).

I don’t want to be stuck by his side 24/7–I’m very independent.

I don’t want him to be weak–for me, or him. He’ll hate that.

If you’re sick, then I have to be well? What if I get sick?

Who am I now? How do I define myself?

I don’t want him to order me around all the time–and he will. I don’t want to fight all the time.

I don’t want to cry all the time either.

I don’t want him saying “thank you” a gazillion times a day and feeling guilty.

I don’t want it to be over.

I don’t want to watch him /her  slowly die.

I don’t think I can manage our life and home without him.

I don’t want the fun times to be over–the trips, the banter, the ordinary days.

I don’t want our world to grow small, isolated, and lonely.

I don’t want our world to revolve around doctors and medicine.

I don’t want that time to come when I can’t make him smile.

****

This just starts the list. No one wants any of these things. But until we can admit them, I’m not sure we can move on.

I know that the next step is to take this list and turn it into a WANT list, find the good in whatever life throws me.

I was at a talk for Community Hospice on Saturday at the Mary Singleton Senior Center in Jacksonville, Florida and I told this crazy story about a time when my husband passed out at an amusement park. He said he was dizzy, grabbed his neck and fell stiff as a board onto the gravel road.

I was freaked. I thought he died. And you want to know that first fleeting thought?
“You…(I’ll leave out the colorful phrase), you have died–died and left me to raise three kids? Alone?

I then began to pound on his chest (not CPR, even though I was trained) and yell in his face “Help!” What? As if HE could help us? I did it over and over.

Thank goodness, he started to come to, and then I had another thought…”He’s a narcoleptic! He’s going to be conking out all the time!”

I swear, I followed him, walking three feet behind him like some antiquated Japanese woman (did they ever really do that???) for the next two years.

As if I could catch him.

***

That true, but embarrassing example is a light hearted version of what wives and husbands feel everywhere.

Deep inside we’re all screaming, “Don’t leave me here without you!”

Spousal caregiving kicks up a lot of emotions. Some sweet and sentimental, some down right  self-serving. 

The only thing I can offer is:

  • Talk, talk often. Get used to this conversation so that if something awful happens, you’ll have practiced. Kid around, make jokes, talk about the “what ifs.” Nothing is as scary as an unsaid fear.
  • Tell your loved ones how you want to be cared for. Please, for your family and spouse, sign a living will. They are so, so easy. Go to The Five Wishes and request one or print one out. Don’t make your family guess and then fight or feel guilty because they didn’t know what you wanted–or they all heard something different.
  • Have health insurance, life insurance and long term disability or care insurance. I know the economy is tough, but try to keep these, or seek a governmental equivalent (for health insurance if you qualify). Murphy (as in Murphy’s Law) likes to strike the second you’re unprotected, and caregiving is tough enough without adding the stress of finances.  

If You’re Already Caregiving:

  • Be present. Each day is precious. Even if it’s hard, chaotic, or near the end, it’s a privilege.
  • Keep your blinders on when you need to. There’s a time to think about the future, and a time when this moment, this hour, is all you can deal with. When times get rough, make your life simple, quiet, and don’t go to all those scary places. It’s not the time.
  • Never stop being a spouse. I know that caregiving is a lot of “doing.” Meds, baths, physical therapy, doctor appointments, home health aids…after a while you can forget you’re a married couple. Never ever forget that this is the person you said ” I do” with. At times we have to force ourselves to step out of “Nurse Nightingale (or Nurse Ratchett’s) position and step back into that role that no one, no one but you can fulfill. You’re his sweetheart. You’re her sweetheart.
  • Give  up being perfect. It’s exhausting and impossible. It’s the quirks, the foibles, and the fights that define us. Do the best you can. Forgive yourself when you lose your temper, forget something important, or just can’t do it all. Look yourself in the mirror each night and say out loud, “You did well today. I’m proud of you.”
  • Trust that as grueling and dark as it is, you will find the strength, you will find your way through spousal caregiving. Somehow.

***

At the end of my talk, the very sweet woman had me sign her book. She could hardly talk, she was crying so. Her husband of 54 years has Alzheimer’s. I held her and cried too. I try to give tips and I try to encourage, but I can never convey how deeply I care. Your stories touch my heart, and sometimes, all the advice in the world won’t be enough. 

Caregiving a spouse is so hard. Why? Simple. Because we love them.

~Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother

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New Year’s is a time of hope. Wipe the slate clean. Begin again.

I was on a walk the other day, thinking about resolutions. Thinking about the word, resolve.

To re-solve. To solve something again–that it was once solved. So a resolution is a re-solution.

That means that once upon a time it wasn’t a problem.

That’s true.

We weren’t always overweight. We didn’t always drink too much, smoke, spend to much, or see our loved one’s too little. 

So, a resolution is just getting back to that former state.

Think back, when was it that you weren’t overweight?

Perhaps your teens? Before kids? For some of us, we have to think back even younger.

But there was probably a time. You didn’t think about food all the time. You rode your bike. Played little league.

Your body remembers this. In sports, they call this muscle memory. If your body (or mind) has ever done it once, it remembers–and can do it again.

This works for more than just weight.

So I thought about it–I used to spend copious hours on my bike as a kid. I can bike now. I used  to sing for the heck of it. I can sing in my car. I used to draw. I think I’ll go outside and draw that live oak tree in my back yard.

Sometimes we make things so big and so hard. Simple pleasures are deeply satisfying.

We buy too much, eat too much, smoke and gossip because we’re trying to fill a hole.

 We have to (at least I know I have to, I have no right to speak for anyone else) learn how to be with ourselves–and be content. 

To be content is to have content. (Sorry, I’m a word-nerd)

To have content is to have substance–something meaningful that fills up space.
I love the word contentment. To be deep in joy–to belong–to not want to be anywhere else or with anyone else.

 

According to GoalGuy.com, here are the top ten resolutions: (every site I researched had a similar list, so it’s pretty much a given)

 

Top Ten New Year Resolutions

 

                1. Lose Weight and Get in Better Physical Shape

2. Stick to a Budget

3. Debt Reduction

4. Enjoy More Quality Time with Family & Friends

5. Find My Soul Mate

6. Quit Smoking

7. Find a Better Job

8. Learn Something New

9. Volunteer and Help Others

10. Get Organized

This list tells me we’re all pretty much alike. There’s things we need to stop doing–other things we need to start. Push and Pull.

 

So, just for fun, I propose a Top Ten Caregiver’s Resolution List:

1. Sleep. Sleep more. Sleep any where, any time, any how. Dream of uninterrupted sleep.

2. Not totally blow my top at any one–a nurse, my loved one, the pharmacist…this could be tough (especially when you’re dealing with Alzheimer’s)  

3. Not eat my way into oblivion–food is not my best friend (repeat 10 times a day)

4. Remember where I’m driving–zoning out is dangerous–I may need a loud buzzer horn or taser. Stess causes zoning out, I’m sure.

5. Walk every day. Even if it’s just to the mailbox. Walking is good. Sun is good. I need this.

6. Get out and meet people. Normal people not in the health care/elder care profession. There’s a great big world out there and I need to see it once in a while.

7. To actually want sex and intimacy and do something about it. Sex drive? Is that like, four wheel drive? Yes, i remember….vaguely.

8. To get dressed in something other than a jogging suit–something NOT with an elastic waistband. This relates to not eating a whole frozen pizza and walking to the mailbox, doesn’t it?

9. Do something for me, just me. People do that? Lunch with a friend, getting my nails done, putzing through an antique shop–caring for me is actually part of caregiving…who knew?

10. Ask for help. Pray, cry, meditate, journal, scream, go to a support group, go to church, ask for respite care, pay for care for an afternoon off, try adult day care for my loved one. Ask, ask, ask–caregiving is not a lone sport. It takes a village.

Bonus–

11. Not be afraid–of caregiving, cancer, Alzheimer’s, ALS, or death.

Fear is a big woolly monster trying to gobble up your precious days. Turn around and face  it–yell big and loud–“I’m not afriad. I can do this.”

12. Attitude of gratitude. Each night before I go to sleep, I ask myself, “what was the  best part of  the day? Usually, it’s a dragonfly who stopped right in front of me–or a neighbor who gives me a big smile when she sees me. It’s the small moments that stick. Being grateful in a time in your life when so much is beyond your control is a way of turning the tables in your favor. The more you’re grateful, the more you have to be grateful for–it’s like a fan that keeps expanding.

Just like the other list–things to stop doing, other things to start. Push. Pull.

New Years is a magical time. Resolutions represent hope. Hope for change. You already know how to do this. After all, it’s just a re-solution.

 

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother–available on Amazon

 

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You want to know what time of year is the busiest for neurologist’s who specialize in Alzheimer’s, dementia, Lewy Body, and other memory disorder conditions?

January.

Why?

Because families tend to gather during the holidays.

Maybe it’s been a few months (or even since last Christmas) since you’ve seen mom or dad.

Or, maybe your spouse says something odd at the family get together.

Maybe he asks if Aunt Tilly is coming even though she’s been dead since 1992.

That’s how it happens: We notice the difference in our loved ones if we haven’t seen them in a while–when their normal routine is disrupted and it triggers a different response.

You fly back home, but now, you’re concerned.

Last Christmas you just attributed it to aging. Everyone forgets now and then, right?

But Alzheimer’s and other neurological/memory loss issues go beyond losing your car keys.

Visit the Alzheimer’s Association site (click here) for the ten most common warning signs of Alzheimer’s.

What’s the next step?

If you live far away from your parents, you may want to start visiting more often–or you may want to check into geriatric care managing companies who can help keep an eye on your loved one’s situation.

Does Mom (or Dad) have Alzheimer’s? What do I do?

  • First, check out the ten warning signs
  • Start calling and visiting more often–no one wants someone to butt into their life if there’s not a real relationship to back the sudden concern
  • Talk to your other parent (if they’re still alive) ask them what they think
  • Talk more than once–they may be resistant at first–ask their opinion and reassure them you’re going to be involved and will help find solutions
  • Get your parent (or other loved one) into see a neurologist that specializes in Alzheimer’s/geriatric patients
  • Get an official diagnosis
  • Create a folder/organizational system to keep all the paperwork associated with the care of your loved one–you’ll need it
  • Consider medications
  • Begin short term and long term plans
  • Much of life can continue on as it is now–make any necessary changes gradually. It’s important that your mom or dad doesn’t feel like this is a death sentence. You can still have a rich and meaningful life–encourage your parents/spouse to continue on with church, activities, vacations, and every day activities for as long as they can.
  • What insurance do they have? Do they have long term care coverage?
  • Contact your local/regional/state department of elder affiairs or council on aging–these are government organizations that have a bounty of information
  • Go online and begin to help research community care resources such as adult day care centers, respite care, caregiver’s support groups. There are great websites such as Caring.com and Health Central to help educate and support both the person facing the disease and the caregivers and other family members.
  • Encourage your loved one or spouse to attend an Alzheimer’s (or other memory disorder they may have) workshop/talk at their local hospital, or other care facility
  • Look online for your local chapter of Alzheimer’s Association, Parkinson’s Foundation, etc. They’ll have a list of resources in your area.
  • Consider home health care–many private company’s such as Comfort Keeper’s offer at home care and assistance on a daily or weekly rate
  • Talk to other family members, especially siblings and brainstorm about ways to help–calling, home care, repairs, time off for the other spouse
  • Talk to everyone about a long term plan. If your mom/dad/spouse ever needs to go into a memory disorder care home in the future, what are your options?

This is just a basic list, but it’ll get you started.

I had ignored the warning signs that my mom had Alzheimer’s/dementia for a couple of years.

She wanted to continue living independently, and I wanted her to as well–for her sake, and so I could go on my life.

I was in my late thirties, I had three teens to raise, a husband, a career–I really didn’t want to face the fact that my mother had Alzheimer’s.

I didn’t do any of this deliberately. I didn’t even know I was doing it. That’s why they call it denial.

By the time I figured it out, (my mother hid it, made excuses) she was almost past the point of medication helping. Don’t wait that long.

Emotionally, you and your family have some issues to deal with as well.

I’ll address that in another post, but know that it’s normal to feel kicked in the gut, angry, shocked, scared about the future–and concerned that if your parent has it, you could get Alzheimer’s as well.

You’re not alone. Sadly, millions face the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s every day.

The good news is, there is help.

There are more resources, medications, and support out there now than there ever was.

You’ll figure out how to do this–how to handle the changes. Life can still be good–for everyone.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Family advisor at Caring.com

 

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I wrote these words during the early weeks after my mother moved in with us. It captures the concern, guilt, and trepidation we all felt on this new venture.

 

I didn’t feel I had a choice–about insisting my mother move in with my family and me. My mother’s Parkinson’s and early signs of dementia had grown to the point that I didn’t feel she was safe living alone, or that her care was something I could continue to farm out to paid care, extended family, church members and neighbors. She needed consistency. She needed me.

 

 

But it wasn’t easy on either of us.

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from my journals, and what later would become my book, Mothering Mother.

 

 

“I think Mother would just like to sit down and cry. She can’t figure out the layout of the house and says she doesn’t want to sleep downstairs. I explain that there isn’t a downstairs, but her apartment is on the opposite end of the house from my bedroom. It’s so far away that she must feel like it’s on a separate floor. She keeps saying she wants to sleep next to me. Not in the next room, but next to me. She walks around touching the walls as if they could collapse on her if she were to let her hands down. She sits in my dining room chair with nothing to do. I’ve made her breakfast, given her the paper and told her I need to unpack the kitchen, which she can see me do from where she’s sitting.

I feel as if I’ve taken everything from her, which she enjoys announcing to everyone, from the bank teller to the podiatrist. She makes sure to note that she’s selling her house, moving in with us, and giving up everything—her church, her friends, and her home. I stand beside her as she regales them with her sob story, wishing I could add what I am giving up—my freedom, my privacy, my mind, and that I’m not doing this to hurt her. I’m trying to help. Instead, I smile and pat her hand, hoping she’s receiving the sympathy and attention I can’t give.”

It took some time for all of us to get used to living together. I still had two teenage daughters at home. Along with “mother issues,” I had to contend with boyfriends, curfews, teen drivers, and the ever threatening emotional outburst from any of them–at any time. Mother was usually the first to blow.

 

“Mother, I want you, we all want you. Relax. You’re here now, and we’re all at home. This is our home. Please give us time to adjust.” I think of my own mother angst. I spent the first half of my life trying to get away from her and the second half trying to get back.

The cat walks by and rubs against her leg. I don’t know why that cat insists on cuddling up to the only person in the house who would like to throw it across the river. Mother pushes it away with her foot, gentler this time because she knows I’m watching. She looks disgusted. I try not to laugh.

“Go on now, scat!”

Great. Now I have to play referee between her, the kids and the pets.

 

 

 

 

For me, being an adult, a daughter, a wife, and a mother at the same time was challenging to say the least.

 

“We’re having to figure out how to stand next to one another in the kitchen, how to maneuver past each other in the hall, not just physically but even in our thoughts. No one fits every groove of our psyche, habits, or beliefs, and those knots and bumps rub us raw before we develop calluses. As hard as this is, I’m not in a hurry to get to the dying part. I want to face each day and glean whatever sweetness there may be, to truly be here, open my eyes wide and learn to stand next to her, neither one of us shoved to the side, each with a decent amount of space.”

 

 

 

 

I think women are particularly vulnerable into morphing into whatever and whoever someone needs them to be–to the point of losing a piece of themselves. We are the ultimate super-hero, we lose our identities in order to care for others.

 

 

Caregiving takes it even one step further. Your loved needs more. You are their protector, their provider. You are their lifeline.

 

My mother’s apartment was next to my kitchen and laundry room and was the parallel opposite to my bedroom.

 

I can remember evenings of helping my mother change into her gown, giving her the last of her medication, tucking her into bed, kissing her goodnight…and then walking through the kitchen and feeling myself “stripping” that caregiving/daughterly clothes and having to change into the next person I was to be–to help a daughter study for her SAT’s, or become a wife, my husband’s lover. All within moments…a new identity.

 

 

How do you keep your head and heart intact?

 

  • Believe you can do this. You were meant to do this–wife, mother, daughter, friend, co-worker. You have lots of experience already. Life never comes to us orderly. You have to be able to unload the dishwasher, talk to your best friend, pack your kid’s lunch, kiss your hubby goodbye for the day, and hand your mother a bowl of oatmeal–oh, and don’t forget to feed the cat.

 

  • Having your mother move in with you–or you with her–isn’t the worst thing in the world. Not having a mother is far worse. Yes, you’ll have a few squabbles, at least I hope you will. Your mother will teach your more about yourself than ten shrinks ever will.
  • Becoming your parent’s parent is the hardest, fastest, best way to really grow up. Whatever residual crap you had left over about your childhood (or adulthood) issues, you will finally either forgive or give up. It just gets too hard to stay angry and do everything else you’ve got to do.
  • Put yourself in your mother’s place. One day, you will–so take a moment to consider how vulnerable they feel. Their bossiness, negativeness, or fussiness is just a cover up. It helps to remember that it’s much easier to be the one in charge than the one in need.
  • Speak up. Set boundaries. Don’t give anyone–your kids, your husband, or your mother all your time and energy. Save some for you. Be alone every day–for ten minutes. I don’t care if you have to lock yourself in the closet, go to the mailbox and stand by it for ten minutes pretending to read the mail–be alone. Take long baths. Drink your coffee on the back porch. You do not have to be at anyone’s beck and call every second of the day. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for them.
  • If you don’t pray or meditate–start. You’ll need it. Find your center of strength. Ask for help, guidance, and wisdom.
  • You might not like it, but you’re probably a lot like your mother. The quicker you learn how to love her, the quicker you’ll love you.
  • Don’t let every little comment get to you. So what if she thinks you’re a slob, wear your shorts too short and can’t cook. There’s no better way to get over what people think of you than to practicce with your own relatives. Smile and be content with being just who, and just how you are.
  • Our minds, bodies and spirits are meant to love a lot of people. You can do it. You can find the patience and perserverance to do this. You will surprise yourself with how much you can love.
  • Caregiving is stressful, I won’t try to water it down in the least. You will have to be on your game almost all of the time. You will lose your cool, cry, curse, and at times, fall apart. But you are resilient. You will rebound.
  • This won’t last forever. I promise. It won’t. Parents die and kids grow up. My mother’s gone now–and what seemed like an eternity is now a memory. And I miss her.
  • Being a part of a family and caring for someone intimately is a priviledge. It’s messy, heartbreaking, hair tearing, and scary–but the alternative is orderly loneliness.

When it’s over, let go.

You will most likely grieve, feel secretly relieved, guilty, resentful, and scared all the way through and especially after it’s over. But this will pass. Your parent will become a part of you–in a cosmic, spiritual, and even on a biological level.

It will then be time to recreate who you are again.

Trust that all you need to know you already know.

You will find your way.

 

 

~Carol O’Dell

Family Advisor at Caring.com

Mothering Mother is available at Amazon

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Do you feel this is the last Christmas with your spouse or parent?

Perhaps you’re looking at a  cancer diagnosis, or you’re at the end stages of Alzheimer’s or heart disease.

This can put a cloud over the festivities. Everything drips with meaning. You’re standing in Wal Mart and feel weepy.

Or…you can’t seem to wedge your butt off the couch. Flipping channels has somehow become  your life.

 

You don’t know it, but this is the face of grief.

We start grieving long before death enters the picture.

The word grief means Deep mental anguish, as that arising from bereavement.

 

So what do you do if you feel like this is your last Christmas together?
Do exactly what you feel like doing. Trust your gut, your heart, your intuition, your spirit…whatever you want to call it.
If you need to flip channels, then give in and flip. Are you missing something significant?
Could you really grasp “significant” right now? Even if it hit you on the side of the head?
I really do believe that after about 3 days, either you’d get sick of the same old “As Seen on TV” merchandise–or, you’d get carpel tunnel and you’d have to quit anyway. Be willing to give in and see where it takes you. I’ve learned that the best way to get over something  is sometimes to give in.
Even scientists have observed  this–they find that if a child is exposed to copious amounts of pizza, chips, cookies, and apples–they’ll eventually get the junk food crave out of their system and willingly choose the apple.
Grief isn’t something you can fight. Nor should you.
It’s natural, and for the most part, healthy.
But if you can, try not to jump time–don’t go to the future–to the time your loved one dies. Be present. That season isn’t here yet.
Also realize  that if you’ve been caregiving for several years, you may have hit the caregiver’swall–you may feel numb, exhausted, and zombie-llike.
Trust the process. If you go too far, you’ll know it–everyone else will know it.
If you do have the ability to rationalize and feel, then cherish this season. Don’t dread it or push it away.
Don’t make everything drip with meaning. That can get exhausting and annoying.
Your loved one won’t appreciate being inthe spotlight every second. Follow the moment.
When something touching, seweet, or poignant happens, you have a better  chance of recognizing it if you are ‘gently” alert.
If you get a few photographs or can jot down a few thoughts, then you’ll have something you can treasure for years.
If you can’t–or don’t–then let it go. I promise you, all you need is one moment–one glance, one gentle touch of the hand, one brush of the hair–somethig will rise to the top. You will have your moment. You will find the sweetness in the season. Just let it happen.
Our relationships–and the holidays–aren’t to be forced. 
Trust that this holiday will give you a gift–at the most unexpected turn.
~Carol O’Dell, and hope you’ll check out my book, Mothering Mother

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Let’s face it–there’s just too much to do during the holiday season–and if you’re caregiving or a sandwich gen-er–you’re really feeling it by now. 

Sure, it’s all good–the tree, the gifts, the home baked cookies, the parties, the family gatherings, the lights…

Every one of those holiday components can be truly wonderful–the fresh smell of the tree, the wonder of what’s in that big, sparkly-wrapped box…

But then the proverbial “soup pot” boils over and the cookies burn, you don’t want to go to one more red-sweater party (or there are no parties and you feel empty), and the whipped cream on top of the hot chocolate–someone says/does something really ugly…I mean you feel like your head’s going to explode you’re so mad.

Not exactly what you had planned, huh?

It’s all too much.

If you want a good laugh, the Thanksgiving segment of Boston Legal will make you snicker (you can watch it online).

Around the holiday table is Denny Crane, (played by William Shatner) who has Alzheimer’s, so he”s always good for a few inappropriate remarks, Alan Shore, his best friend (played by James Spader--he could read to me alll night) decides to deliver a lawyerly rampage on American politics…and the other players all pitch in their own prejudices, stereotypes, and funny banter that will make you WISH your family was this witty in their all too familiar digs. 

It all winds up (after a really big fight) in the kitchen with Denny thoroughly confused. Christmas, time, memories, love–it’s all too much. The small moment winds up being a long hug between two old friends.

But of course, you can’t just leave it like that–on a sweet note–no!

Just like at your house, (or mine)–someone has to take it too far and someone really does get their feelings hurt.

It happens. We’re human, and no one, no one can push that exact right button to make you go off than someone who shares your same DNA.

My other Christmas funny movie is the classic “Christmas Vacation” with Chevy Chase. We still kid about his aunt wrapping up the cat and trying to give it as a gift–and then she sings the National Anthem instead of offering a blessing. My mother actually did that once–so we all went with it–hands on our hearts and belted out our national pride.

All you can do is spike the egg nog and go with it. Christmas and the holidays can bring out the beast in all of us. But if we look really close and think small, we might find something of value

My only advice is survive. Any way you can. Just envision that Last of the Mohican’s guy about to jump into the waterfall and telling the love of his life. “No matter what, I will find you. Survive!” This is what I tell myself when I’m really stressed. (FYI guys, All and I do mean ALL girls love that scene).

Choose one thing–whether it’s riding around looking at lights or baking Italian wedding cookies from your great aunt Sophia’s recipe–pick one thing that means Christmas to you–and do it. Don’t get hung up on what doesn’t get done, and what gets screwed up.

The perfect Christmas/Chanukah/holiday is  really more than the human race is capable of.

Zero in on what is most sacred, most precious to  you. That’s all that matters.

One small thing. 

For me, it’s going to hear the Edward Water’s choir sing. They’re amazing, and sitting in a tiny chapel with warm wood walls and stained glass windows while 20+ college students belt out the Carols with soul and spice is the perfect way for me to celebrate the season. I attended last year, and tears streamed down my face–I clapped and sang and felt more in touch with the season that I had in years.

Each of us have to find our own way, what touches our heart and lifts our spirits.

If you’re caregiving, think really small. Hot tea and a cookie while sitting in front of a fire might be just right.

~Carol O’Dell, author of Motheirng Mother

Family Advisor at Caring.com

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People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ~Abraham Lincoln

I find it pretty amazing that this quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

He didn’t exactly have a cushy life.

His mother died when he was nine, and although his family could barely survive, young Lincoln gave up hunting after watching a turkey suffer after he shot the bird(the bird thing is a side note, but I found it interesting).

He didn’t just become president over night–he was a lawyer, then tried for congress (twice) but was defeated by Stephen Douglas–over the issue of abolition.

He married Mary Todd, and three of their four children would die before adulthood. This left Mary, who already suffered with depression, even more mentally unstable. As Abraham Lincoln’s life began to evolve more and more around politics, his marriage suffered.

President Lincoln was under great stress to try to hold our country together in perhaps its most challenging time. He did so, but with great personal sacrifice. He was assasinated when he as only 56 years old.

According to today’s standards of what qualifies as a “good life,” Abraham Lincoln’s journey would not be considered an easy one–then or now.

(Other great quotes by Lincoln )

And yet, we all owe him a great debt. He held America together and changed the course of  history. His words and example still inspire us today.

He doesn’t exactly seem like a person who would focus much on the meaning of happiness–but who better than someone who knew, but did not give into sadness/

Happiness is a lot about choice. It’s a state of mind and way of looking at things. It doesn’t change the facts. If your mom has Alzheimer’s, if your dad fell and broke his hip, that’s a fact–but how you deal with it–that’s up to you.

There were many times in Mr. Lincoln’s  life when I’m sure he had to choose to simply go on, breathe in and out, and keep on doing the task at hand.  Sometimes happy isn’t about being happy, but choosing not to be unhappy (aka miserable).  Caregivers know this well.

According to the Princeton online dictionary, happiness  means:

  • state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy
  • emotions experienced when in a state of well-being

Where did the word  “happy” come from?

It dates back to 1340, from the waord, “hap,” which was connected to chance or fortune.

(From  Etymology.com)
1340, “lucky,” from hap “chance, fortune” (see haphazard), sense of “very glad” first recorded c.1390. Ousted O.E. eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesælig, which has become silly. O.E. bliðe “happy” survives as blithe. From Gk. to Ir., a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.” Used in World War II and after as a suffix (e.g. bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing “dazed or frazzled from stress.” Happiness is first recorded 1530. Happy hour“early evening period of discount drinks and free hors-d’oeuvres at a bar” is first recorded 1961. Happy-go-lucky is from 1672. Happy as a clam (1636) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tide, when it can’t be dug up and eaten.

How does it relate to caregiving?

Much of caregiving doesn’t fall under the category of “happy.” While parts might be necessary, needed, serve a purpose, and at times, appreciated–as a caregiver  I found that I had to fight or choose to be happy. Let me tell you, I know how it feels to push that rock up hill. There were some days when a Volkswagen Bug full of 50 clowns wouldn’t have gotten my mother to crack a smile! Caregiving taught me how little I could control, and writing Mothering Mother helped me to reflect on my journey.

I had to look for the good, the funny, the crazy and ironic. I had to let go, give up, give in, and simply trust. So much was so way beyond anything I could have prepared for that it was in away, left up to luck, to chance–to hope. And maybe that’s where the happy part comes in. When you can’t control it, you might as well choose to see the good, any good that comes your way.

The smallest of good/happy moments could make my day–a cardinal dipping past my window–I love how they fly–dip, dip, dip–their bright wings in defiance of a winter morning.

Bottom line, if Abe Lincoln can choose to be happy, then so can I.

Happy for no reason. Let luck and chance blow in like a surprising summer rain. Trust that it’s all meant for the good.

Right now, with all the economic challenges we face individually and collectively, I feel like I don’t have a choice–either crawl in the bed and pull up the covers (indefinitely), or keep an eye out for bright red birds and all the amazing small wonders that surround us.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

Family Advisor at Caring.com

www.caroldodell.com

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