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Archive for the ‘senior care’ Category

I’m a keeper. I didn’t know I would be, but I can’t imagine parting with Daddy’s jacket.

It’s brick-red suede, and has completely worn through at the edge of the sleeves. It no longer smells of him, but I keep it.

I remember when I was a child, riding with him to Sears on Saturday morning just to buy salted peanuts and look at the tools in the tool department. He wore that jacket. I was adopted and maybe that makes me more sentimental, I don’t know, but keeping my past is important to me.

I also have his Bible, his wallet, his watch, his glasses, and a yellow shirt I remember him in.

I have lots of items that was my mother’s–her mink coat, her Russian coat, purses, jewelry, a Sunday suit, and more Bibles. (My mother was a preacher, so trust me when I say she had lots of  Bibles).

I also have their photos, letters, recipes, Daddy’s old tool chest, the first gift he ever gave her when she was just 14–it’s a small cedar box that’s in the shape of a heart. If  my math is right, he gave it to her in 1925. I can tell the story of  how they met as if it were my own.

Why do we keep our loved one’s clothes?

Like a child’s ratty blanket, we hold on. Safety, security, identity.

Our momentos are in boxes, on shelves, in cabinets, and I know I keep way too much, but how do you let go of such things?

It’s all I have now, and I believe that by pulling out Daddy’s coat or by pinning on one of my mother’s broaches, I can see them clearer, remember better. 

I remember Daddy’s bushy eyebrows, the thickness of his fingers and how I could barely squeeze my child fingers through his. I remember that jacket and how he’d wear it when we went to see his family–his sister and brother every Sunday afternoon. His faithfulness amazed me then. His loyalty and tenderness is something I value in a man.

There are issues with keeping things. Psychologists might tell you that you’re not moving on, not making room for the new. I understand the logic. A friend recently visited my home. I hadn’t seen her since my mom was alive and she commented on how much my house had changed. My mom’s antiques are no longer on display. Some have been give to other family members, others sold.  This is a slow process–for me.

It no longer looks like my mother’s house. After moving my mother and her 40 years of not moving, her collections oozed out of every crevice.  I barely had room for “me.” My mother was one powerful woman. She had a way of taking over.  I let her reign, so to speak. As her daughter and in those last few years, caregiver, I learned how to hold my ground and still allow her to feel as if she had some independence. 

But now, I have a new couch, a new dining room table.  Her furniture has been divvied up among my daughters. I’ve reclaimed my throne, so to speak.

Ironically, I consider myself more of a futurist than a person who lives in the past. I lean toward modern/eclectic design and  and music and I’ve made a slew of six month, one year, five year, and then year plans, always writing my future. I’m a list maker–a list for the day, the week, the month, sometimes two a day. I like noting the little things I’ve accomplished. I’ll write something down I just thought of just to get the thrill of crossing it out.

But when it comes to my parents, I’m a keeper, but it no longer keeps me  in the past. I’ don’t think I fall iinto thecategory of  “not moving on.”

I like to think of their clothes and personal items as a cushion to my life. As if they somehow support me and connect me. Just one look at that jacket and I’m four again. No other Bible comforts me like Daddy’s. I don’t need to even open it to feel a sense of guidance.

It takes time to get to a place to let go of at least a few things.

After your loved one dies, part of grief is when you still try to live in your old life with old clothes and the way things used surrounding you. 

You weren’t ready for him to die. You don’t want to date, get a new job, or have to figure out what to do with yourself next Christmas. You don’t want to move on.

 Some people get rid of things too soon. Others, too late–it’s different for each person. Finally, you begin to make your own way. Reinvent yourself. Find who you are–now. They are in you, a part of you, but you are changed. You have to go on.

What’s the time frame? Varies. I know people who were clearing out closets before the funeral. I know others who open a closet ten years later–and there’s everything just as it was.  Of course, there’s always a chance of getting stuck and not being able to let go. You run that risk.

For many, somewhere around or after that first year mark, things shift–a little. You don’t have to make yourself do everything. Some things come a little easier. A little. For others, it’s two, three years before they can feel anything but blinding loss.

But somewhere along the line, you let go of a few things. You call up a family member and offer them a book or a knick-knack. You sell something, drop items off at Goodwill or another charity.

You live with the empty space for awhile before you figure out how to fill your life again. And  the items you keep become more intended, more precious. They go in top drawers and the chest that sits in the guest bedroom. You leave out a few photos, a book–a silver comb that sits on your dresser.

Your loved one is now incorporated. Their clothes, their memories are a part of you, in your house so to speak–but they have a place and not like a box you trip over whenever you walk into a room. Anytime you need to, you can slide open a draw and remember. Find comfort.  

And now, there’s also room for something new. 

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

Carol is a Family Advisor at Caring.com

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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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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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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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Halloween is just for kids? Who says?

Our elders really get a kick out of Halloween. They love to see the kids dress up and enjoy handing out candy, or at least watching the parade of adorable angels, fairies, pirates, and ghosts walk by.

Easy Ways to Enjoy the Fall and Halloween Season:

  • Pick up a pumpkin at the grocery store. Even if you don’t cut it, it’s still pretty sitting on the front porch.
  • Decorate your house with a few spooky bats. Use some black construction paper or even use some purple, red, or green wrapping paper–who says bats have to be black?
  • Hang a ghost from a tree–all you need is a sheet and two black eyes and some string.
  • Buy a witch’s hat at a discount store and walk around with a broom and cackle. Your mom or dad will perk up, I promise, if you greet them with their afternoon meds as a witch!
  • Splurge on a little Halloween candy. Get something your mom or dad can eat. A couple of marshmallow pumpkins won’t hurt anything. We all have a sweet tooth–at any age. My mom had a thing for Little Debbie snacks–and I couldn’t help but let her enjoy herself with a couple of swiss cake rolls every once in a while.
  • Plan ahead, bundle up your senior, and either sit outside or near the front door and pass out candy.
  • Light some candles or even string a few Christmas lights around your door–you can leave them up for the next two months and they give off a nice glow.
  • Make it a point to meet a few of your neighbors. If you don’t know your neighbors, you need to–and what better way to strike up a conversation than over a cup of hot cider or commenting on how cute their kids are.
  • Do you know that young couples miss their grandparents and would love a surrogate grandpa or grandmother for their kids to look up to?
  • Let your mom or dad be the candy passer-outer. That will allow them to see the children’s costumes and they’ll enjoy the festivities.
  • Consider renting a oldie–but goodie. How about the Bride of Frankenstein–or the old Dracula? If you mom or dad don’t seem to be up for being frightened, then try a little Planet Earth–the one about all the bats in the caves of Mexico scared me more than any scary movie ever could! For a G-rated film, try Charlie Brown’s Halloween Special.
  • Make a pot of veggie soup–or chili. Mix up some cornbread and enjoy the fall chill in the air.
  • If you’re near your grandkids, then consider going to their house and enjoying the fun. This is how you make family memories–and it’s worth the trouble.

I read this great short story once about a daughter who took her mom, who had Alzheimer’s, to a Halloween party. Her mom loved it–and totally got into the masks and charades and felt free–not to have to be one person or another–to be concerned with knowing someone, recognizing someone. For Halloween night, she could be anybody she wanted.

I have a favorite Halloween memory of my mom and me. It’s a bit unusual since I grew up in a strict religious household–my mom was a minister–so you don’t exactly think they’d buy into the whole Halloween thing, but she did. I’m glad she didn’t take it too serious because to this day, and I still love to dress up.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, SAID CHILD, which is the prequel to Mothering Mother. (SAID CHILD is about being adopted at age four, and my search for my birth family–and how I learned to love both my adoptive and birth family). 

 

               Daddy had been in the hospital for back surgery on Halloween when I was about eight or nine years old. It was an especially cold Georgia Halloween night and I fidgeted beside his hospital bed, tired of coloring and wanting to go home and get on my fairy costume and go trick-or-treating. By the time Mama and I kissed Daddy goodbye and we made it out of the hospital and hit the cold night air of the parking lot, I realized it was long since dark. The cold bit into my chest.

“Don’t worry, I have an idea,” she said as she walked a little faster.

We hurried home and I moped around, standing on the heater grate, curling my sock feet over the metal edges for warmth. Mama burst out of her bedroom,

“Count to one hundred, and then come knock on my bedroom door.”

What was she up to? I did as I was told.

“Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred.” Knock, knock.

Mama cracked open the bedroom door. She peeked out with a sheet over her head,

“Ohhh!” She moaned like a ghost. I squealed and giggled.

“I am a Halloween ghost!” she said in a low voice spooky voice. “Would you like some candy, little girl?”

I ran and got my orange plastic pumpkin bucket and thrust it toward the door. Mama dumped in a handful of Bit-O-Honey candies. She leaned down and whispered for me to count to one hundred again with my eyes closed, and then go to the bathroom door and knock. She motioned for me to turn away as she ran to the next room.

Mama opened the bathroom door wearing Daddy’s trench coat and hat and a mustache she must have drawn on with her eyebrow pencil. I laughed until I fell down and then held out my plastic pumpkin as she emptied Bazooka bubble gum into it.

We ran from room to room and each time Mama appeared as a new character—a maid with apron and spoon in the kitchen, a lady in a evening gown and fancy hat in the closet, a little girl with curlers in her hair and a teddy bear when she emerged from my room.

 

Mama wasn’t so boring after all. As regular as a clock, she kept my childhood in order. She made sure I scrubbed under my fingernails and practiced my times tables. But she was also a mother capable of a surprise or two–especially on Halloween. 

***

Have a Happy, Safe, and Fun Halloween!

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

Family Advisor at Caring.com  

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Every day, a child’s mother, father, grandmother, grandfather or sibling dies.

Experiencing death while still a child is common, but that in no way makes it less difficult.

There are ways to help a child deal with grief.

When a child loses a loved one to death, that loss can have a profound effect that can even last a lifetime.

Emotional, psychological and physical trauma can occur and effect how a child views the world.

If grief is talked about and a child is given the proper coping tools, is surrounded by love and support, then the negative impact can be lessened.

But too often, adults are at a loss. They’re grieving themselves, and they don’t know what to say or do to comfort a child.

They don’t know how to tell a child that someone they love has died.

They don’t know how much to share with them–they either tell too much or too little.

Adults can simply “freeze” and stop communicating, and the child is left to grapple with their sorrow alone.

They can also insist that the child be happy and move on–because it makes them feel less guilty. They try to live life through their child–but children also have their ups and downs when it comes to grief. They can’t be puppets that we demand to be “okay,” because we need them to be.

Many people expect and demand that children are expected to go on with their lives.

They want them to hurry and go back to school. They don’t want them to get behind. How sad. Something as profound as a parent, sibling, or grandparent dying is so much more significant than an A in algebra.

Just days or even hours after a grandparent dies, many children are expected to return to school, sports and activities. Adults someone need the child to be busy so that they can deal with “adult” matters of business and details, but the child has his own grieving process to go through.

Children have so many issues to deal with–growing up, adolescence, fitting in, weight issues, pressure to smoke or smoke pot, divorce, family issues, academic and social issues–and it starts at a very young age.

When are they supposed to feel safe and free to open up and talk?

When can they express how much their miss their grandad?

How Do You Tell a Child That a Loved One Has Died?

Keep it simple. Use “died”, not “He is sleeping.”

Allow your child to express raw feelings freely or ask questions.

Answer questions honestly and simply. Do not go into detail, unless asked.

If the death was due to a violent crime, explain that they are safe now, nd you will do all you can to make sure they stay safe. 

Offer a comfort object–blanket, doll, teddy bear. Even if they’re “older,” something cuddly can reduce anxiety.

If the body is suitable for viewing, allow the child to see your deceased loved one, if requested. Prepare the child for what he or she will see.

Tell your child what will be happening in the next few days.

Give your child choices in what to do. Some children want to go to school the day of the death–it’s comforting and feels “normal.” Give them a choice. Whenever they return, inform the school of the death before your child returns.This makes their teachers and classmates more sensitive. Most schools have a school counselor that can also assist and be made aware of the situation.

Reassure your child that he or she will be cared for and explain the plan.

Children sometimes open up easier if they’re doing something with their hands–playing cars or helping bake cookies–it can take awhile for them to feel safe–and they feel less on the spot if they don’t have to look at you but can pretend to be “busy” with their hands.

 Don’t Know How to Talk To Your Child: Here’s some Easy Conversation Starters: 

 I’m sorry your grandmother/papa/mom/dad/sister died.

 What was your dad/mom/brother like?

Tell me about your__________. 

What was his favorite food/book/thing you did together?

 What do you miss the most? What is the hardest time of day for you?

I cannot know how you feel, but I remember how I felt when my __________ died.

 Whenever you want to talk about it, I’m here.

I’m thinking about you especially today because I’m aware that today is your mother’s birthday (anniversary of the death, your birthday, etc). 

If you don’t want to talk, we can still spend time together.

 

WORDS THAT CAN HURT:

I know just how you feel. I know just how you feel…my dog died last year. Lick your wounds and move on. You’ll get over it. It will be okay. Don’t think about it. You are better off without him. Don’t cry. It’s your fault. God took him so he wouldn’t be in pain. Tears won’t bring her back. Be strong. Forget about it. You are the man/woman of the house now. You should feel ….(proud, relieved, happy, sad, etc.)

Children May Express Grief Differently Tnan Adults:

Their emotions may experience highs and lows. They may laugh inappropriately–even at the memorial service. Don’t think this is because they don’t care. It’s difficult for a child to figure out how to handle their emotions. They may avoid sleep–or a teen may sleep all the time. They may zone out and not seem to hear anyone talking to them.

Become clingy and panic if you’re not home on time or don’t pick them up on time. Act rough or violent toward a sibling or friend. Defiantly disobey.

Teens may become daredevils–drive fast, extreme sports, breaking and entering–anything to feel “alive”

They may even try to “test” your love.

When Do You Seek Professional Help?

When the symptoms (lack of sleep, depression, agression) continue for weeks or months and grow in intensity.

When they can no longer function in school or around other people

When they isolate themselves for too long

When they become dangerous to themselves or others

They fixate on death, experiment on animals, or are exhibiting cruel behavoir

What do you do if you suspect your child or teen is not handling grief well?

Talk to the school counselor, your pediatrician, or clergy

Get a recommendation for a therapist who has helped children through grief.

Don’t settle for just a prescription. Talking and expressing their emotions is crucial to the healing process.

Don’t go just one or two times and think your child is “better.” Follow through and be consistent.

The Best Advice?

Be patient. Expect some some highs and lows. Share your own grief journey. Listen. Reassure. Be there. Provide help if or when it’s needed. Let them know it’s okay not to be able to handle this all by yourself–we all need each other. 

 

In the United States, approximately 4.8 million children under 18

are grieving the death loss of a parent.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Helpful sites:

www.opentohopefoundation.com

www.beyondindigo.com/children

www.griefnet.org

www.childrensgriefnet.org

www.kidsaid.com

I’m Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon. I hope you’ll visit my blog again.

www.mothering-mother.com

 

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Most people, in fact 85% don’t want to go into a nursing home–that’s what they used to call them.

Many of our seniors cringe at the word and imagine long, dark halls, people screaming, sitting in soiled diapers, horrible food, and being abused. Thank goodness, this is not the norm–and there’s more vigilance to report elder abuse and substandard care today.

According to surveys done by AARP, most of us would prefer to Age in Place–meaning, stay in our homes  and augment care as needed–a mix of family caregiving, professional caregiving services, adult day cares, and other elder-care community based resources.

I highly recommend staying at home, including various elements of family caregiving, paid care, and community care–but I do know that there are times and circumstances when this just isn’t enough.

What Are the Different Kinds of Care Facilities–and Which One Is Right For my Loved One?

Contining Care or Graduated Care is when you buy into a community in which you can choose your living condition (small home or condo at first), and then “trade” it in when/if your care needs increase. Within one “complex” you might see homes or duplexes, condos or apartments, a building (care facility) that houses many units of care, and all these may be near a hospital or hospice facility. These are usually a large development and can offer meals, hired care workers, transportation, activities, and other amenities.

Assisted Living is similar and can be a part of graduated care. Assisted living can be houses/duplex, condos/care facility where the person has their own apartment but has access to additional help. There may be a place for meals, a van for transportation, and non-skilled care workers can be hired to do various needs and levels of care. Some assited living and care facilities are individually owned while others are a part of a larger corporation.

Care Facility or Skilled Nursing Care is considered a full-care facility and is what people think of when they say, “nursing home.” They can be a part of other facilities, such as the continuing care, or assisted living home, but they have the added component of a skilled nursing staff (RN’s–registered nurses) as well as non-skilled care, usually called CNA’s (Clinical Nurse’s Assistant). Care facilities are for people who have medical needs, have severe mobility issues (can’t walk, falls), and need supervision as well as medical care. They often have a staff of doctors and other care workers who will come to visit them, prescribe medications, and offer in-house treatments such as physical therapy.

Memory Disorder Facility or Center can be a part of an assisted living or care facility and focuses on the needs and care of people with neurological disorders such as brain injuries, advanced Parkinson’s or Lewy Body, Alzheimer’s and dementia.This facility has the feature of secured doors and exits so that people who tend to wander can’t leave. They specialize in dealing with the behavoiral, psychological and physical issues that come with neurological disorders. Since this is an area that overlaps, many of their clients need medical care/skilled nursing care/visiting doctors, etc.

Rehabilitation Facility is usually a short term facility that focuses on people recovering from surgeries, accidents, and for those who need various care treatments such as physical or occupational rehabilitation therapies. They are a “half way” facility people go to when they’re not quite ready to go home, or need more care than a graduated or assisted living facility offers. Most rehabilitation facilities are corporate owned and work closely with hospitals and doctors. 

How Do I Assess If My Loved One Should Go Into a Care Facility?

  1. They choose a graduated/continual care or assisted living on their own.
  2. They have no family nearby and no one can or will coordinate their care (don’t forget how helpful geriatric care managers can be in figuring out various stage of care and evaluating care facilities)
  3. They need full-time care, perhaps with needs of skilled nursing care as well–and this has become too much to manage for a loved one to deal with.
  4. Their dementia/Alzheimer’s has increased to a level to where they’re not manageable at home–violent, escapes, can’t be managed by one care helper–needs more supervision, medication, and physical control than the family/and caregivers can provide.
  5. Are at the late stages of various diseases/aren’t mobile/and the family can’t manage their care–perhaps hospice is involved and there are end of life and palliative care needs (pain management).
  6. You, the family caregiver simply can’t do it anymore–your own health or finances are falling apart and you’ve done all you can.

There are valid reasons for your loved one to enter a care facility.

You have not failed as a caregiver–nor are you “done” when your loved one enters a care center/facility.

Your loved one needs you more than ever to oversee their care and make sure they are safe, respected, and receiving all the care they need and deserve.

Also know that the first care facility may not be your last one–it may not be a good fit, you may have to change and try a different one. Also, as time goes on and their care increases, you may have to move them again.

Don’t forget that hospice and palliative care is still needed (and must be asked for) to supplement their care at the end of life.

You may also consider letting them come “home” to die.

You  have many options.

Helpful Links:

Great article:

newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/14/faced-with-caregiving-even-experts-struggle/  

~Carol O’Dell, Author of Mothering Mother–an Amazon Bestseller in Alzeimer’s and Aging Parents.

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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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Today, I switch roles from the caregiver blogging perspective to that of the care receiver–

specifically, the aging parent.

If you’re a caregiver/son, daughter, please read this post.

You need to put yourself in their shoes.

But I don’t want to live with my adult children!

I don’t blame you. Me neither.

(And I wrote the book, Mothering Mother–and my mom lived with me the last (almost) three years of her life!) But that’s my point–my mother lived on her own–with Parkinson’s and early dementia until she was 89 years old!

We’ll all be in this predicament one day–if we live that long–so we need to be empathetic.

My kids are grown, responsible, and we all love each other–and I still don’t relish the thought of permanently living with them! I am a big proponent of family caregiving–but do it when the time is right.

No one wants to give up their independence.

We like things our way, our household “rules,” TV shows, and favorite laundry detergent. Things seemingly insignificant choices give us a sense of autonomy and joy to every day life.

I don’t want to be a burden. 

I hear this a lot. I feel it on a personal level, but know that when it’s necessary–cancer, end of life, when it’s really needed, then it’s not a burden. It’s a privilege–

Ad you still have much to give.

Encourgement, humor, appreciation, family togetherness is a rare and precious gift and should not be under-appreciated.

I feel privileged to have children. And I know if/when I have to, we would all do our best to make it work. I’m grateful I have the option if I needed it.

There are many people who do not have children. Or their children are not able or willing to help.

No time for a pity party. Get busy! Use this as a catalyst to get busy doing just that–planning your life–for quality and purpose.

If you don’t want to live in a care facility (prematurely, and hopefully never) or with someone else–family member or not, then I (and you) better have a plan.

Note: Decide today to be okay how your life turns out–either way. Who knows what wil happen? 

Have you heard of the aging in place movement?

This July AARP released a new report citing that 87% of people with disabilities age 50 and older want to receive long-term care (LTC) services in their own homes.

The National Aging in Place Organization is about collaboration and education to live at home as long as possible.

Aging in Place includes building/altering your home so that you can stay there safely as long as possible.

It might also include a ramp, ample doorways and bathrooms for wheelchair accommodation, safe flooring, and even a space for live-in care. It’s up to each individual to make these arrangements to suit (by anticipating) their needs. This term is also loosely used to help individuals begin to plan for their future in terms of how and where they want to live as life progresses.

Aging in place might even include moving so that you are living in an area where retirement and aging is not only enjoyable, but that you also have ample resources within your community for the care you might need.

Or…it might include living close enough to your adult children so that they can easily check on you and manage your care without having to live with you. ( I know of three families in our neighborhood whose mothers/parents also live in another house in the neighborhood).

Recently, after Tropical Storm Faye, I saw one of the son-in-laws picking up debris out of his mother-in-law’s yard. At least he didn’t have to drive an hour or two to do this little chore–or worry about someone charging her an exorbitant price for a job that took less than an hour.

How to Arrange Your Life So That You Can Live at Home Longer:

(consider one or more of the following suggestions)

  • Move your bedroom on the first/main floor
  • Do a computer search or call your council on aging and get a list of all your community’s resources now. Don’t wait until you need help to start this process.
  • Consider redoing your main bath to accommodate a wheelchair/walker–and make your shower easy to get in and out of
  • If your spouse has passed away, consider a roommate. Finish a garage or basement if you’d like it to be more private and separate. This $10-20,000 investment (if it’s done well) could give you added years at home–you could even trade rent for care.
  • Be sure that if you choose to do this that you both sign a contract for renting, you get driver’s license info, run a background check and never ever give them access or personal/financial information.
  • Even though there are risks involved, having someone live with you or on your property can provide a certain sense of security, companionship, and allow you to stay home much longer than living alone.
  • Consider an alarm system if you feel you live in an area where you’re vulnerable to break-ins. Check with your local police to see if this is a common occurrence. Elders can be targets for easy crimes.
  • Don’t blab to every cable and lawn guy that you live alone. Always act like your son/nephew is in the house, coming home, on the phone. Even if you don’t have one–never let others think you’re always alone. Don’t be an easy target!
  • Consider “the button,” a monitoring device you wear in case you fall. There are systems that will call and check on you morning and night (of course, you pay extra for this), but it might give you and those who love you a peace of mind to know that you can call for help at any time.
  • Wear the thing! My mom was terrible about leaving it on a piece of clothing she wasn’t wearing, forgetting where it was–and caregivers, family members–if your loved one has memory loss, this may not help them. They won’t necessarily remember they have “the button” on, or even what it’s for!
  • Get rid of clutter now! Clutter can cause you to fall and gets to be a real hassle for those caring for you. Don’t leave this to your family to do later–give those sentimental items to your family members now so that you can see the joy on their face when they use their grandmother’s dishes or wear a family heirloom piece of jewelry
  • Gather all your important documents–insurance info, cards, prescriptions, life insurance, house insurance and living will. Place these items in a portable box and let your loved ones know where it is–for easy access. 
  • Do that living will now–don’t make your loved ones have to guess or fight over whether you’d want to be put on a ventilator or not. Be clear. Make several copies and give them to all the important peopel–one for you, your main doctor, the hospital you’re likely to go to, and one or two loved ones/guardians who would get to you quickly in times of emergency.
  • Get a recliner chair that can lift you out easily (consider this your next purchase when the current chair needs to be replaced)
  • Eventually consider a bed that is motorized–this added expense really helps if you have back problems and can sometimes be covered on insurance
  • Place tread on any slick floors inside or outside your house to avoid slipping
  • Remove any throw rugs that might trip you–(you may need to do this later or if you tend to shuffle)
  • Begin to think about your options if/when you can no longer drive–is there a senior van in your area? Friends/neighbors who you can ride with or will pick up a few items for you? Even consider a taxi–most areas have taxis (even if you’ve never used one in your area before, they’re probably there). Don’t sit at home and waste away–even if your eyes or your coordination begin to wane, you can still get out and enjoy life.
  • Continue to be a part of your local church/temple. Make friends–you need them, and they need you! Churches and community organizations are there to help. Let them. Helping others make us feel good–don’t be so stubborn and independent that you don’t allow someone else to give and feel good. If someone is willing to pick you up to take you to Sunday School or choir practice–let them~ You still get to go to an activity (which is good for you), and they feel like they’ve helped someone. Win-win.
  • Get to know your neighbors. You can all keep an eye on each other. Be nice to the kids in your neighborhood–they can rake your leaves or bring you the mail. Most children and even teens long for a grandparent and don’t get to see theirs enough. Wave! Smile, get to know their moms and dads so they trust you. Bake a cake and take it to them. Cultivate relationships. Old-fashioned neighborliness and friendship never grows old and is never out of style.
  • Choose where you want to pass away. Hospice offers you the choice to spend your last few months/weeks/days at home and can offer palliative care (pain management). Most people choose to be in their own home and to surrounded by those they love. Let people know now–most areas of the country have access to hospice. The diagnosis is that you have a life-limiting condition with a diagnosis or a year or less to live.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute–ask for hospice. Anyone can refer you to hospice (including yourself or your physician). Also know that many cities have more than one hospice with varying levels of care and options. Check them out to see what’s available to you.

Bottom line:

Plan now. If you’re over 50, then you better start planning. Having a 401K isn’t enough. It doesn’t take care of the details and quality of life–and money won’t fix everything.

Adapt your house to suit your aging needs.

If it’s not too late, and you need to, move closer to family so that it’s not hard for them to drop by and check on you.

And…or…live in a community that is “elder friendly,” with lots of resources.

Stay involved with people. Accept their help. Give back any way you can. A smile, a hug, homemade cookies will get you lots of friends. Neighbors are important. Do more than wave. You might need them one day.

Stay/get involved in church and other community activities. The more plugged in you are, the more people you have in your life, the more your mind/body stays active. Staying active will keep you at home.

No longer driving is not the end of the world. Figure out how to make it work–taxi, community van, church members/neighbors.

Consider a roommate or a family member living arrangement. Just be safe, sign a contract, and do a background check. ( I know of several nieces/nephews who are young and starting out in life by sharing a house with an aunt or grandmother).

Get help when you need it–hiring day-time care is cheaper than a care facility. There are many great companies such as Comfort Keepers who are licensed, bonded, flexible and reasonable–usually less than $20.00 an hour.

Wherever you are and whatever life throws at you–continue to smile, see the good, and find ways to give and receive love.

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, other online stores and in bookstores. Kunati Publishing

I’m a family advisor on Caring.com, and my syndicated blog appears on www.opentohope.com.

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It doesn’t matter your cultural or religious background–it doesn’t matter if you’re wealthy or just barely getting by, there are three concerns at the end of life most people share.

They’re heard by chaplains, hospice workers and volunteers, and by family members who gather around those they love and try to make the last weeks, days, and hours of a person’s life as comfortable and as meaningful as possible.

 

Here are the three biggest concerns at the end of life:

  • I don’t want to be a burden
  • I don’t want to be in pain
  • I don’t want to lose control over what’s done to me

I don’t want to be a burden.

As a speaker/facilitator in the field of caregiving, I hear this concern all the time–and it starts long before the end of life.

In fact, I heard it from my 25 year-old daughter. She said she’d rather go into a care facility when she’s older because she doesn’t want to be a burden. It’s a sad reflection on society to think that growing older or needing help to get around is equated with being a burden. (I didn’t teach her this, by the way :))

There’s a lot not being said here:

I don’t want to be dependent. I don’t want to be vulnerable.  I don’t like others telling me what to do. I don’t want to be in the way. I don’t want people to resent caring for me. I’ve dealt with the elderly and infirmed and I don’t want someone to have to do, to sacrifice what I did. I’m scared. I

But what if you’re not a burden?

What if caring for you is viewed as a privilege?

What if you plan enough ahead of time and arrange for the added/needed help so that family members do less physical work and can simply “be” with you–enjoy your company?

What if you do all that you can do now–health wise–to be strong and mobile and live longer in good health? (there are no guarantees on that one).

What if you have something valuable to offer–even in your last years and months?

What if even your dying is considered sacred and something to treasure?  (even if it is hard)

What if, by allowing us to witness your end of life, we learn how to handle our own?

Who else will teach us?

I don’t want to be in pain.

No one does. Certain diseases cause more pain than others.

I can’t promise you that you won’t be in pain.

I can’t promise you that the end will come quick or be sweet–or even meaningful in the sense that sometimes we romanticize certain events and imagine them in a glowing, fuzzy cinematic light with all of our loved ones gathered and all getting along and tears and smiles and kisses and we can be coherent and see them all and hold this wonderful moment for all eternity…and it isn’t always like that.

I can tell you that hospice in particular will do everything they can to keep you pain free.

Palliative care is better than ever–there are all over salves that numb you, take away the aches, meds to reduce fever and chills–but many of these medicines will gork you out. You may sleep a lot. You may not be fully aware of time or of your loved ones coming and going. You might be pain free, but there might be a trade off.

All I can say is that by knowing this now, you can come to some level of acceptance. That’s all I can offer you–or me. I can’t say how I’m going to go–whether it will be many years from now or any day.

I can’t say whether the end of my life will be peaceful or tragic. I just have to trust–and do all I can to attract peace.

But I do know that whatever I believe about the hereafter, eternity, heaven…it will be that I will not be in pain. I will be in peace. I will not carry the pains, hurts, and sorrows of this world onto the next. And that brings me comfort.

I don’t want to lose control over what’s done to me.

Isn’t it amazing that one of the last questions/concerns we have before we leave this earth is about trust?

This teaches me one thing–I better get to dealing with my trust issues now.

Trust is the underlying factor that determines the success of any relationship–marriage, friendships, communities–it all boils down to, “Can I trust you?”

The answer isn’t “Yes, I can,” or “No, I can’t.”

Trust isn’t about finding people who won’t ever let you down.

Trust is knowing they will–in some way or another–and being okay with that.

Loving them any way. Trusting any way.

Choosing and then living in trust. Not trust in others. Perhaps it’s trust in yourself.

Trust that you’ll be okay. Trust that you don’t always have to be in control.

It’s also about trust in something bigger than you–in God, faith, the universe, the good–whatever you choose to call it. Trusting that goodness will come your way. Trusting that the universe is out to help you.

In the end, we all know that death will come. Perhaps there will be pain. Perhaps I won’t be able to say when it will happen, where I’ll be, who will be around me, what care I will or won’t get. And that somehow I can still believe that it will be all be okay.

 

But there is one more lesson here…

There is a lot you can say about the end of your life–but you better say it now. Talk to your loved ones. Write your ethical will. Fill out that living will. Say what it is you want. Appoint that guardian or family member to speak for you when or if you can’t.

Say all the I love you’s now. Go on those dream trips. Make memories. Laugh, cry, make love, sing, dance.

You want to not be a burden?

Start now. Invest in your relationships. Call your loved ones and listen to their day to day problems. Spoil them with your time. Go for walks and hold hands. Tell them how very proud you are of them, of the kind, good people they’ve become–then they won’t think you’re a burden.

You want not to be in pain?

Don’t dwell on pain now–physical or emotional. Live “pain-free” by practicing forgiveness, letting go and laying old issues down. Pain thrives off tenseness, tightness, and focus. Pain therapists use many techniques to help their clients manage pain–laughter therapy, engaging the mind on something bigger, more interesting, acupuncture, yoga…by letting go of pain today, we don’t attract it tomorrow.

You want to not be hung up on control?

Start trusting today. Take a risk. Fail. Laugh it off and try again. When you feel like a knotted fist inside your gut, recognize it and choose to trust. Give someone a chance. Give them a second chance. Give yourself a chance. The person we least trust is ourselves. We mistrust our own goodness. We are our own worst critiques, our own biggest doubters. Start with small affirmations–say them out loud in the car or in front of the mirror:

“I trust my own good heart.”

The biggest concerns of life are no surprise–they’re our biggest concerns every day–when you come to think about it. Every day, we’re given a chance to face our fears–to see our own good–and the goodness around us.

If you’re a caregiver, and you’re with a loved one who is coming toward the end, reassure them–let them know repeatedly that they are loved, that you will do all they can to make sure they’re not in pain, that you will honor their wishes, you will be there–steadfast. They will not be alone. Each time you say this to someone else, you say it to yourself.

I know as a caregiver this time is scary.

You don’t know how. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve faced death in an intimate way–with a family member this close. I was just like you–my dad died in hospital–and I was facing the death of my mother in my own home. I worried if I’d be okay–if I could handle it–emotionally.

IYou will find your strength and resolve.

You will keep your loved one safe–and honor their life and their death.

You will give them the dignity they deserve.

Even though you may feel like running, you will be brave. You will be there for your loved one–and it will change how you perceive life–and death.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

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