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Archive for the ‘spiritual teachers’ Category

Caregiving does things to you–as a caregiver, a family member.

It takes you places.

At first, you might start out caregiving heroically–feeling that you can make a difference. You can “fix” this problem–that your loved one’s condition can be bettered if you could just…get in there…find the right doctor, get on the right meds, coordinate the proper level of care…

It’s a tough day when you finally realize you can’t fix your loved one.

You can’t fix their disease.

You can do very little to make anything about this “better.”

You learn to just live, love, and hope to be granted some small level of grace.

You may feel as if you’ve lost them forever and this can cause you to grow bitter if you’re not careful. We don’t like not being in control, not getting results.

 But what if one of the goals/purpose/benefits of your loved one getting ill, facing death is what it does to you, the caregiver? What if part of this is about you?

What caregiving does to you, asks of you, unearths in you? 

I’m not trying to be Pollyanna here.

Sometimes it all feels useless. You didn’t sign up for a life lesson, and this is really shitty. Pardon my French, but I’ve been there, and I used far more “French” than that in my caregiving years! 

If someone told me that I was supposed to get something out of caregiving, there would be some days that I would have definately thrown some heavy, possibly sharp object directly at that person’s head.

But as the target talking here, I’m going to duck and say it again:

What are you supposed to get out of this experience? 

I can’t, I refuse to believe that caregiving is just this terrible, horrible thing that you have to endure because life’s just like that. Caregiving is so much more.

As much as it feels as if your loved one’s personality is gone–that you’re caring for a body, not your mom, remember they’re deep inside. When my mother started to lose her essence, I had to sort of go on auto-pilot. I had to care-give because of my commitment, my integrity (which I was groping and grasping to hold on to).

The difficulty lies in the fact of what we knew they once were–vivacious, intelligent, gifted people who made an impact on the world.

I was in a caregiver support group recently where a woman shared that her husband was a Yale Law professor, and now he can’t even dress himself. Her grief was palatable. She was holding onto who he was–what he did, what he presented to the world. She hadn’t let that part of him go yet.

Although you may only get glimpses of your loved one, hold onto the knowledge that they’re there. It becomes a treasure hunt. I began to seek out glimpses of my mother.

I started to notice smaller and smaller details: the way her hands moved, the way she’d brush her hair out of her face. That was still her. I didn’t use my hands like that–that was her own distinct way. As the bigger, more obvious ways of communicating diminished, it helped to pull in, and find my mother as if we were enjoying a game of hide and seek.

Some nugget, some kernel of their spirit is still inside.

 

Since the release of Mothering Mother, I’ve spoken to several thousand caregivers and their loved ones across the country. I’ve visited care facilities, and I’ve found that no two people are alike. No two people with Alzheimer’s react the same way. Even in their “lostness” is unique.

I knew I had to let go of who my mother was, and sadly, I knew I had turned her into a list: mother, wife, minister, cook.

I had to decide to love who my mother is: a person, a woman, the core of a spirit.  

 

I read about a couple whose son had been in a motorcycle accident years before and was brain injured. He was still alive, but he wasn’t the son they knew before the accident.

They decided to hold a memorial service or celebration service–even though he had not passed away. 

They needed to let go of the son they once had–in order to embrace their new son. This new son still needed to be loved, still needed parents, but as long as they were holding onto that old son/old image–it hurt too much.

I know that parents of children with disabilities have to mourn their pre-conceived notions of their children, of what it would mean to be a parent. They must learn to love and embrace the child in front of them–their medical/mental challenges, the way they may look, talk, or act different. They must witness and embrace the new beauty, the new relationship before them.

This journey, this revelation changes them–and in the end, oftentimes makes them a better person capable of more love and peace than could have ever imagined.

You’re not really letting go of your loved one–of who they were, who they are–you’re enfolding that into you–you’re the keeper of time, of memory, of all you hold dear.

 

 

I love time theories and quantum mechanics, (I wrote several papers on it in college) and I read a great article by a physicist that explained that time and events(or place–for us to conceive time, we have to intersect it with place) can be seen as a wheel with each moment being a spoke–and our memory adds meaning to that event–so some moments or events “spike out.”

Each moment, each event stands apart and will always exist.

For me, my mother, myself, and all the moments I hold dear exist forever.

 My favorite author, Madeleine L’Engle says,

“The great thing about growing older is that we get to keep

every age we’ve ever been.”

 Carol D. O’Dell

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated Blog at www.OpentoHope.com

Kunati Publishers, www.kunati.com/mothering-mother-memoir-by-car/ – 95k

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a lot of caregiving!

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

What Have You Learned From Caregiving The First Time?

(Here’s a few of mine)

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

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

You can’t worry about your caregiving future. 

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

If You’re In Between Caregiving Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caregiving is a Natural Part of Family Life

We just recently came up with this fancy name.

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

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

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

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

Care Give Loose!

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

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

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated Blog at www.OpentoHope.com

 

 

 

 

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Caregivers,

Do you have a place to go?

A sanctuary?

If not, it may be a big part as to why you’re stressed and resentful.

Caregiving invades your space, your head, your time–you don’t always get to say when you’re needed.

I pulled many a “late night shift” with my mom.

My mother had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and not only did she have Sundowning, a condition in which people with Alzheimer’s get more aggitated and have more energy as the sun goes down–and on into the night, but she simply didn’t need much sleep–or her body wouldn’t let her sleep. (Here’s a post I wrote about my experience with sundowning).

It’s not like we could make it up during the day.

I was dragging. That made me miserable, fussy, and I tended to overeat. Why? Because studies have now shown that obesity is linked with lack of sleep. We tend to munch all day because it gives us something to do, causes our brains to perk up, and since sugar is almost always involved, we’re pumping ourselves up like we’re climbing the highest point of a rollercoaster–and then plummeting to exhaustion.

Maybe what you need isn’t to just lie down. 

It’s a renewal of your spirit you’re hungry and longing for.

You don’t have to be religious to need a sanctuary.

I love that I happen to live in a bird sanctuary area–the Timucuan Preserve. I love the thought that animals are held as sacred and that an area is designated for them.

But shouldn’t we humans create our own sanctuaries? What exactly is a sanctuary?

The word, “sanctuary” means:

Source: Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) –The spelling has changed since then.

Sanctuary\Sanc"tu*a*ry\, n.; pl. Sanctuaries. [OE. seintuarie, OF. saintuaire, F. sanctuaire, fr. L. sanctuarium, from sanctus sacred, holy. See Saint.]
   A sacred place; a consecrated spot; a holy and inviolable
   site.
Two of the definitions include:
c) A house consecrated to the worship of God; a place where
       divine service is performed; a church, temple, or other
       place of worship. A place to keep sacred objects.
   (d) A sacred and inviolable asylum; a place of refuge and
       protection; shelter; refuge; protection.
Operative words: Refuge. Sacred. Shelter. Protection.

How to Create a Sanctuary:

What is sacred or holy to you?

  • Gather a few objects–a photo, seashells, stones, your mother’s broach, your dad’s pocket watch, your baby picture.
  • Grab a basket or a box and walk around your home and hard. Gather anything that interests you. Your sacred objects will change over time. Just get it rolling for now.

Find a place:

  • Where in your home or yard feels “safe?”
  • Where can you have some privacy? Where can you relax?
  • Place a table, a desk, a chair, a cover at this place. If it’s outside then create a box of your sacred items that you can carry out with you.
  • You might also want to include a journal and pen, micro-cassette recorder, a drawing pad, candles, a rosary–any object that helps you figure out life.
  • Go frivolous~ don’t think a sanctuary is all serious! Take your ipod along. Dance! Paint your toenails and read a magazine! Navel gaze. You may just need some extended down time–staring into space.
  • There are no rules. Do what you feel like doing. We’re taught not to trust our feelings. That if we got to do what we felt like, we’d all be drug addicts, cheaters who eat nothing but Oreos. Trust yourself. Do what feels right. Sleep. Stare. Rant. Cry. Sleep some more.
  • Your sanctuary is off limits to everyone else. Make your boundaries. No interruptions. No phone calls. Unless there’s blood and lots of it–you are not to be called away from your most important work–taking care of you.
  • You’ll be surprised, but your family and friends will respect your space–if you do. This is a great example for your children.
  • Don’t expect “results.”
  • This isn’t a magic box. It’s a place to rest or even to rejuvinate. Recenter. Calm down. Work things out. Place no expectations. This isn’t like Weight Watchers for the soul. You don’t have to weigh in and measure if you’ve gained or lost since last week. Just be.
  • You may need to use your sanctuary to work out your anger, hurt, and resentment. One thing I do when I’m really upset is to write it all down on scraps of paper, say it outloud, and then burn it. It helps to watch your anger turn to ash.

Pick a Sanctuary Location:

  • Some people like clearing out a closet and placing a chair, pillows, and a small table and light in their “prayer closet.” Oprah recently featured a sanctuary closet that was really decked out. 
  • Others like to go outside–they hide away in the nook of the yard and get the benefit of nature to heal them.
  • One friend keeps her “special box” she calls it in the car. She literally walks out the door and goes and sits in her car. Her family is less likely to find her there and she feels safe and cocooned. She can scream, cry or laugh in her sound-proof sanctuary.
  • For some, it’s in the bathroom. They retreat eat night to the tub–they keep candles, soaps, and a journal on hand. They know that being naked will most likely keep people away! Hey! Whatever works!
  • Be like my cat and change your sanctuary every once in a while.

Cats are great to observe. They seem to make their spots seem sacred. My cat picks a spot and goes there after breakfast each morning. He gives himself a luxurious bath, folds in his little paws and I swear, if cats could pray, I’d think he was praying. Then, he takes a nap.

This week, his spot is under my birth grandmother’s rocking chair in my bedroom. He tends to pick a spot and goes there for 3-4 weeks before picking another spot. Recently, it’s been in the back of my closet–that’s when he doesn’t want to be found. A few weeks ago, it was on a chair next to the dining room windows so he could enjoy the sun. I knew where he was, but he’s also quiet and hidden away enough to not invite attention. Smart cat.

What Do I Do in My Sanctuary?

First, let’s address what you DON’T do.

  • You don’t take care of anybody but you.
  • You don’t stay busy just to avoid what’s bothering you.
  • You don’t have your thoughts constantly interrupted with the chatter of life.
  • You don’t allow yourself to be bombarded with the demands of every day life.

This is What You DO:

Rest. Think. Imagine. Work out hurts. Cry. Zone out. Learn (maybe take a book?) Find your joy.

If it feels odd at first because you’ve never done anything like this, then let it feel odd. Your sanctuary practice will be even more necessary at the end of your loved one’s life–and especially during your time of grief. Create this space now so that you’ll have a place to run to when you really need it.

Like my cat, I change my locale every once in a while.

Right now, it’s on my back porch on my parent’s glider (they had it since I was adopted in 1965). I have a stack of books on one arm, and I recently bought a big cushion–in case I get sleepy. About 9am you’ll find me there with my 2nd cup of coffee, my journal, a few magazines, a no doubt, a couple of dogs by my feet.

I’m a Guy and This Sounds Lame:

Does it?

My daddy had a sanctuary. He called it a garage. He built it himself. He left for his garage every morning after breakfast (he was retired at this point) and after his game shows. He putzed, worked on a broken lamp, put in a small bathroom. He listened to talk radio. For the most part, he was alone–although a few friends would come and visit. Mama and I came down but never really stayed long. It felt like we were intruding.

He’d come back to the house with a smile. He’d had his time to himself. He smelled of sawdust and linseed oil–and peanuts and Coke he kept in a cooler to sustain him throughout the day. He came back relaxed because he allowed himself this break. He didn’t have to listen to Mama nag or me talk incessantly. He came back ready to be a dad and husband. Smart man.

Caregiving stress is a real issue with real ramifications to your health and realtionships. Sometimes we unknowingly contribute to our own stress by always being on call. Sometimes it’s a power thing we’re unaware of, sometimes it’s fear, sometimes it’s just a plain ole’ bad habit we can’t figure out how to break.

You need a sanctuary–caregiving or not.

You need to know that the world won’t fall apart because you take a half an hour and pull inward.

Like Daddy, you’ll come back refreshed.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

Kunati Publishers, www.kunati.com/mothering

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I spoke at Haven Hospice in Gainesville, Florida yesterday–and the speaker before me was Dr. Slayton who is also a caregiver to his 87 year old father. He spoke of the “Out of Town Hero Syndrome.”

Everyone knew what that was–it’s when out of town relatives swoop in town and begin to tell YOU how to care give.

They come once or twice a year (thank goodness, not more) and rearrange everything from your medicine cabinet to your car’s glove compartment while proceeding to tell you (in subtle and not so subtle back stabs) how you could, should give better care–to mom or dad.

You’re there 365 days a year. They’re there for 10.

You’re nice at first. Keep peace, you tell yourself…but by day three you’re about to blow a gasket.

If your loved one has to go to the doctor or is in the hospital or in hospice and it’s near the end–then it’s ten times worse. They run the show. The doctors and nurses speak to them. Especially if they’re an older sibling–then you’re really in for it.

By the time they leave you can barely find your own socks.

You’re angry, frustrated–and worse–your confidence has been undermined.

You start to doubt yourself.

You just want to quit. Fine then–take mom–take dad.

“Do it all yourself and I’ll come back this time next year and boss YOU around for ten days.”

That’s what you’d like to say.

On top of that–your mom or dad like them MORE.

They get the smiles, holding hands, pleasantries you haven’t seen in months–they sit at the table and gab like you do this every night and you feel like such a hypocrite. They’re all in the livingroom talking after dinner–and where are you?

Loading the dishwasher.

I didn’t have siblings, but I experienced this with several relatives who came into see mom–twice–once each in more than two years.

I went off for the day to give them time alone and when I had come home this person (no names) had reorganized my pantry and all my kitchen cabinets. She took me in there by the hand and showed me everything she had done and explained why her system should work better. I had to stand there like a ten year old in trouble and agree, yes, her system was better and I was a piece of …well, you know.

I was so stressed, angry and nervous by the time she left I thought I’d collapse in a heap on the floor when she pulled out of the driveway. On top of that, I knew my mother had complained her head off about me–not taking her to church, drinking wine (my mother was a fundamentalist minister), watching movies with curse words, letting my daughters wear those short shorts…you name it.

The next time this happened was with a good friend of mine. My mother ate her up like she was homemade vanilla ice cream. They chatted and laughed–my friend washed my mother’s hair and did her nails.

Made me sick.

I had asked my friend to come down to help me and this felt like betrayal. I know she didn’t mean to but that’s how it felt.

I felt judged–and poorly lacking.

Mother hadn’t said a kind word to me in weeks and now she was a geyser of compliments.

Then I heard them whispering. Mother was crying (fake crying) and saying she wished I were sweeter, kinder, more patient, that she didn’t know what she had done to make me act so cold to her.

My friend came out and a very concerned voice told me I needed to make up with my mother and forgive her.

I thought my head would split open. I felt betrayed by everyone.

Mother was up to her old manipulation tricks–and I knew this full well having experienced it countless time in forty years.

I told my friend she really had no idea what was really going on here and that I needed her to respect and trust me.

Later, she apologized. Her father got Alzheimer’s and she dealt with her own family issues. She really didn’t have anything to apologize for. I knew how mother had played her, but I understood.

I share all this with you to say this about relatives in town or out who make you question yourself:

Know deep inside you are a good person–a good daughter, son, spouse–and let no one shake you on this

Stop worrying about what other people think about you and your caregiving.

It’s none of your business what others think of you. (How freeing is that?!?)

You’re care giving because you believe it’s the right thing to do. You have to give care the way you can–the way you can be consistent, they way that’s right for you and your loved one.

Stand firm on this and don’t listen to other’s opinions. 

Unless they have done this for as long as you have, they can’t possibly comprehend the level of sacrifice, committment, love, tenacity, and exhaustion you’ve endured. Caregiving is a marathon not a sprint.

You may feel yourself pulling away from people.

That’s part of caregiving.

You’ll naturally pull in–for good and not so good reasons.

You’ll get tired of explaining yourself.

You’ll get tired of trying to be nice to people.

You’ll get tired of feeling that everything you do is up for scrutiny.

You’ll get strong and stop needing others to validate you or what you’re doing.

That’s the bottom line.

Your relatives, friends and neighbors will intimidate you just so far and then you’ll find your backbone and stand your ground.

This is one of the best lessons of caregiving that can change you and how you deal with others for the rest of your life.

You will become strong, independent, and do what you need to do and you won’t give a rip what others think. They have no idea.

The anger and hurt will dissapte. In time.

These situations and people that threaten you will give you a gift–you’ll find your own confidence.

You’ll be in your own quiet center.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Kunati Publishing, www.kunati.com/caroldodell

Family Advisor on www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog on www.OpentoHope.com

 

 

 

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

What’s the death clock you ask?

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

Sounds morbid, right?

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

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

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

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

How can you not be curious?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wrote every day my mother lived with us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wrote things like:

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

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

There are 126 items on my master list.

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

I have 53 years to achieve the rest.

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

Or you could do an “anti-list.”

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

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

What would be on your anti-list?

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

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

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

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

Live A lot!”

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Kunati books, www.kunati.com/motheringmother

Family advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

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Anniversaries that mark the day our loved one’s passed away can be tough days, but with a little bit of forethought, it can also be a sweet-tender day.

Your body seems to remember even before your mind.

Athletes call this muscle memory

“Muscle memory can best be described as a type of movement with which the muscles become familiar over time. For instance, newborns don’t have muscle memory for activities like crawling, scooting or walking. The only way for the muscles to become accustomed to these activities is for the baby to learn how to do these things and then practice them with a great deal of trial and error..”

Ways to Celebrate Your Loved Ones Passing:

  • Have a celebration gathering. Funerals are for the most part sad. Illness, accidents–it’s hard to remember all the sweet times when you’re hurting. Six months or a year later gather your family and friends and tell all those great-funny stories. It’s okay to laugh, cry, and remember. Do something unique–serve their favorite foods, host a football party, go ice skating or fishing …something they loved.
  • Create a memory box. Craft stores sell wood boxes with glass lids. Collect Dad’s baseball cap, ticket stubs, signed baseball, a photograph of the two of you at the game and create a memory you’ll always cherish.
  • Write them a letter. Tell your loved one where you are, that it’s still hard but you’re doing a bit better–or you hope to soon. Write them letters on your birthday, their birthday, their passing day–any time you want and need to talk to them–and keep these letters together. You’ll feel as if in some way they’re still with you.
  • Have a place to go and talk to them. Many families choose cremation, which is a valid option–and even those who bury their loved ones in a cemetary have the issue of trying to get back to the place to visit them. Why not donate a bench to a local park and engrave a plaque with your loved one’s name on it? That way not only will you have a place to go to talk with your loved one–other people can enjoy it as well.

Know that grief takes time. Lots of time–and it’s different for every person.

I think there’s a grief memory as well.

Our bodies store everything that’s ever happened to us, and something as profound as grief cycles though our minds, bodies and spirits. We find ourselves a year later experiencing many of the same overwhelming emotions–as if no time has passed at all. Unless we teach our spirits–literally replace the painful memories with new memories, we can circle this mountain again and again.

A dear friend of mine has a very difficult few weeks leading up to the anniversary of her father’s passing. He committed suicide and also killed his wife–her step-mother. It was needless to say, a horrendous shock and tragedy. We were talking this morning and she was weepy, feeling lost–and I reminded her that this weekend was the anniversary of my mother’s passing. Then it hit her–her father’s passing date will be in a few days. Her body remembered long before she looked at a calendar.

But knowing that this happens helps.

Each year, each cycle, we can choose a path of healing–in some small way we can begin to remember with sweetness and peace instead of turmoil and panic.

This year, I spent the day I remember my mother’s passing quite differently than before.

I danced this day.

Why?

We celebrated two family weddings this past weekend–one on Friday, another on Saturday (different sides of the family). I spent all weekend at rehearsal dinners, on the beach, toasting with champagne, hugs, hugs, and more hugs. Both sides of the family are generous, sweet, affectionate people, and both sides had lost a dear loved one this year so they knew how precious a day of celebration was.

It was also the right time for me. Enough time has passed that this was the right thing to do. There is a time to mourn, to ache, but there is a time to rebuild our lives.

It’s important to celebrate every chance we get.

Life is hard enough. Death comes and taps each of us on the shoulder.

Everyone’s been touched by cancer, heart disease, car accidents, Alzheimer’s–do you know anyone who has not experienced at least one or more of these?

Life comes in packages–life-death, babies–old age. We cannot open our arms to one and reject the other. We must somehow, learn to embrace both.

If this is the first or second year after your loved one’s passing, it is most likely a very difficult day. Be easy on yourself. Do whatever you need to do, whatever way you can get by. For some, this is a day to visit a graveside–for others, it’s a day to go parasailing–to do something so big and over the top to remind themselves they are alive and outrunning death’s grip. Some can barely get out of bed.

Do what feels right and natural, even if that means feeling sad and overwhelmed with grief–right now. Know that it won’t always hurt like it does now. It will get better in time. 

I was on a boat with a friend once. We were facing the wind, our hair going wild. We were smiling and laughing and watching flocks of birds lift out of the marsh and take off in flight, the spray of water surprising us–and my friend said,

“If sorrows and tragedies can literally make us age, then can’t good times, celebrations make us younger?

Yes, it can.

Scientists and physicians including Dr. Michael Roizen, author of Real Age has proven this.

You can be younger than your chronological age by how you take care of yourself physically, and by your mental outlook on life.

I missed my mom this year.

Thinking about the day she left this world will no doubt always hurt–but as I danced with my husband, my nieces and nephews, my mother-in-law, babies and toddlers–as I hugged and kissed and cried and toasted–I knew that this was the very, very best way I could honor my mother’s life–and her passing.

To dance.

It was time to place a new memory on top of the old one. It doesn’t diminish it.

Perhaps this is why people started placing flowers on graves.

Life and rebirth trumps death every time.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

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Life lessons are everywhere, and I was recently reminded of what it’s like to be a caregiver by my two dogs–Kismet and Rupert. Kizzy (short for Kismet) is an Alaskan Malamute and her son, Rupert who is part lab. (She had a tryst in the front yard before we could stop her). Miracle was, she only had one puppy–so we had to keep him. Miracle number two was that Rupert was born the very week of the anniversary of my mom’s passing.

Recently, I was sitting outside with the two of them, their leashes attached to my lawn chair (they love to romp the neighborhood if set loose), only Kizzy wanted to go inside. It was a cool, there was a breeze, she had a water fountain next to her to drink out of, I was there to pet her and we had a beautiful lake and birds galore to enjoy–but no–she would have none of that. She wanted inside.

Kizzy strained and strained. Whined. Wouldn’t sit down and relax and enjoy being petted or play ball–nothing. Rupert, on the other hand is less stubborn, more easy going by nature, and so he  was sprawled out beside me just as comfortable as he could be.

Both dogs were in the same place, under the same circumstances.

One was miserable. One was content. It was simply an attitude on both of their parts.

As I sat there, I thought of how some caregivers–or care receivers don’t want to be where life has brought them. Whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant isn’t even the point. They simply don’t want to be there. Period. They strain. Whine. Refuse to become a part of their environment and just enjoy the ride.

Others bloom where they’re planted. They adjust, adapt, make new friends, look around,  and figure hey, if they’re going to be there they might as well make the most of it.

Attitude.

I’m not saying that caregiving isn’t hard. Lord knows I know how hard it is. My mom had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,and in those last three years, I was Kizzy straining on the end of my very short leash.

I know now that I was scared. I was afraid my mother or that caregiving would consume me. I was afraid that if I was okay with it, that I’d never get to leave–or quit. I was afraid I’d never have a moment  to myself. I was afraid I was losing my indepence. Afraid. Afraid. Afraid.

Kismet, by the way, means fate.

I know that at times, I made it harder than it needed to be by not asking for and accepting more help, by realizing what a gift caregiving was (ironic gift), and by not seeing the beauty of where I was in my life. I missed certain opportunities by resisting so hard.  

If you’re miserable, edgy, antsy and irratated, ask yourself why?

At first, it’ll seem obvious–you’re exhausted, frustrated, sleep deprived, and perhaps dealing with a fussy loved one or facing death.

Ask yourself again–why are you miserable?

Keep asking until you get at the heart of the matter.

Ask yourself until you run out of excuses.

Why are you where you are?

Because it’s exactly where you need to be.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated Blog at www.OpentoHope.com

www.Kunati.com, Publishers

 

 

 

 

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