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Have you ever noticed how in a store or a restaurant you’ll talk to someone who has a baby–or you’ll see an elder sitting alone and you’ll start a conversation? Our “bookends,” I like to call them, have a way of allowing others to open up and say, “Hi!” It’s a good thing, too. As fulfilling as those two times in life can be, they’re also lonely. It felt so good to see my babies wave and a stranger wave back–to see them smile. And it felt so good to see my mom’s face brighten when someone commented on her crazy blue petal hat.

Caregiving meant I spent a lot of time with my mother. A lot. A whole lot. And truth is, we needed each other, but we also needed other people in our lives. Sometimes we got fussy with each other just because there wasn’t anyone else around to break our monotony.

Caregivers find it difficult to maintain friendships. We’re not exactly stellar company. Most of us are sleep deprived and we probably need to complain for a good 15 minutes (just to get all the stress out of our systems) before we can calm down enough to have a casual and uplifting conversation that doesn’t include a diatribe about bowel movements.

Why have we lost our conversational skills? Myopic vision. We can’t see past our own situations. Because folks in pain–physical or emotional–can’t see or feel much past their own all consuming issues. Besides, who wants to talk about adult diapers, ER trips at 2am (for no other reason than for gas…), or the latest update on Medicare? We forget it’s a great big world out there and we’re not the only ones going through crap–and that good things are happening, too.

Caregivers either tend to be sleepy (we nod off at the red light), grumpy (we snap at the bag boy for squishing our potatoes, which who knew they could be squished), or we’re weepy (every commercial–luxury car commercials remind us of what we’re missing even though we’ve never thought about zipping through the streets of Rome Italy at 100 mph). 

Our worlds have grown small (unless you count all our new friends at the doctor’s office) and our waistlines have grown wide (can Oreos be considered a vegetable?) Although caregivers might not always be pleasant (talking about myself here) we just need someone who makes us smile, helps us to laugh, and don’t mind if we lean on their shoulder occasionally and ball our eyes out. We also need someone to tell us to STOP our whining, open our eyes and see that planet earth is still spinning and still a pretty snazzy place to be. You know what they say…location, location, location….

I hope you have at least one person who is brave enough to speak the truth into your life and someone who will be there for you–no matter what.

If you don’t have one, then consider reaching out to an online caregiver buddy.

You cn meet them on a caregiving site–Caring.com’s forums, AARP’s chat rooms, or the Alzheimer’s Association boards–all of them have literally hundreds of folks just like you–they’ll get your snarky humor and they’ll get it when you say all you feel like doing is crawling back in the bed. Sometimes a friend is someone who’s a lot like you.

I recently had the honor to peruse the web for the best caregiver stories out there, and I happen to know there are some amazing caregivers who blog, photograph, and share their art and their lives. They open up their curtains so you can peek in. You’ll find stories that echo your own. I hope you’ll check out their stories. http://www.caring.com/articles/best-caregiver-stories-web

Bottom line, the world’s not the big scary place we think it is. We’re all just people bungling around in our own lives. And we’re all a tad lonely.

So break out of your bubble today and give someone a compliment. Take the time to check on someone you haven’t heard from in a while. Play peek a boo with a toddler who’s in line in front of you. Hold the door for an elder–and give them a smile.

Be the first to reach out–and the world will reach back.

You just might make their day.


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“Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.”

Meister Eckhart

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Sleep and laughter are perhaps the most healing gifts the good Lord gave us–and it’s the first to go when caregiver stress mounts an assault on your life. You have to fight to protect these two gifts. You have to buy a lock for your bedroom door, take out the TV, turn off your cell phone and not take it into the bedroom with you, refuse to fall for the drama and schemes that your loved ones pull to get you out of bed. It’s not going to be easy….they’re tricksy!

My mother treated the night like we were at the Indy 500. The later it got, the more riled up she got! She’d turn on the lights, bang the cabinet doors, call my name and knock on the door. I had to show her that I wasn’t going to cater to her 24/7. I wish I could tell you that this worked. My mom had Alzheimer’s and sundowners and over time, I had no choice but to get up and deal with the chaos. I had to practically strip her room bare (she seemed to gain super-human strength in the middle of the night and could overturn her nightstand, rip all of her clothes off of hangers and empty her drawers into a pile in the middle of the floor).

If you’re reading this and your loved one isn’t doing these things (yet) this probably scares you. All I can say is that Alzheimer’s takes you and your loved one to some pretty bizarre places. You’ll experience things you never even thought of! And yes, at times, it’s scary.

But at some point you stop being scared. They’re still your mama, your daddy. And caregiving makes you brave. It toughens you up. You face your monsters and you realize that you either stand up and take control or realize you’ll be bullied from here on out. So you deal. You get strong. You love and you hold your temper even when provoked and even when you don’t get any kindness back. You make tough decisions. You do what’s best.

And you laugh. You laugh so you won’t cry. You laugh and cry all in the same breath. You realize that life is precious, and sweetness still abounds, and that the crazy stuff might just be the good stuff. You laugh because none of it makes sense. You laugh so you can let go, so you can feel, so you can hope again.

So right now, look up a joke, or call the funniest person you know and tell them you need cheering up. Vent, share your crazy-awful, silly, you-would-never-believe-what-mama/daddy/husband/partner just said or did….You laugh because it’s the only antidote to grief or sorrow there is.

Laughter and sleep–ain’t nothin’ better…

Take both–or either–any way and any time you can get them.

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother, available on Amazon 

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Caring for the caregiver is almost as intense as being a caregiver. 

Family. Extended family. Friends. Neighbors. Co-workers. Church and community.

A caregiver needs a wide net. Even if they only send good thoughts and prayers, (there’s no “only” to it–thoughts and prayers may be the most important gift of all). 

The wider your care circle the more you feel and can draw on their love and strength. You know you’re not alone. 

I’m sitting in a hospital room with my daughter and granddaughter. I’m on “Team Lucy,” as my two week old g’baby recovers from open heart surgery. My daughter’s role is to be here for her daughter, to be her voice and her protector. My role is to care for my daughter and son-in-law. I’ve got their back.

I make sure my daughter eats, that she pumps (she’s breastfeeding), that she gets out of the room, if just for a few minutes a day, to distract her, help her laugh, let her vent, hold her when she cries. I bring her food, refill her water bottle, cover her with a blanket, sit up and watch the baby’s monitors so she can rest knowing that someone who loves this little one is keeping guard. 

Debee, a dear friend and lifecoach asked me, “Your daughter is caring for her daughter and you’re caring for your daughter, but who’s caring for you?” The care circle widens. 

Our family has been on high alert and we’ve burned through all our emotions and physical energy in the last week. If it weren’t for the connections we feel with each other and with our circle I believe it would too, too easy to succumb to the fear and dread that lurks around every thought. 

Caring for a caregiver means paying attention to details–food, sleep, medication and other “doctorly” info, squelching runaway worries,and soothing crazy thinking, and being there when the waves of overwhelming grief inevitably arise. 

It means not being too somber or too silly. 

It means being strong at times, comforting at others.

It means delegating and calling in the “tribe.”

It means being the one that information is filtered to and then sent out. It means listening. It means choosing your words wisely–not flinging fear or trying to fix things, or taking over. 

I’ve been a caregiver so I know what it means to give and receive care. I’ve had the blessing of being  surrounded by those who love you. It means everything. 



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It’s 2am and you’re in the ER. Your mother has fractured her pelvis. You get the diagnosis your husband has cancer. Your dad has wandered off and you can’t find him–nobody has to tell you he has Alzheimer’s–you already know. Any of these circumstances can throw you to the deep end of the caregiver freak-out pool. I know what it looks like and feels like. You feel numb and alert at the same time. You eyes get this wild look. A thousand thoughts and feelings bombard you and you can’t turn them off. Your life–as it was five minutes ago–is over.

I don’t think caregiver freak-out can be avoided. Bad things happen. Accidents, diseases, falls…life is a landmine. How we react is in large part biological. We go into a kind of shock. Adrenaline floods our systems. Our brains are on fire with everything from confusion to regret. The cocktail of panic, dread, worry, tenderness and loss  is part of our jouney.

The problem is, you can’t (or rather shouldn’t) stay in caregiver freak-out.

You’ll make yourself sick–and you won’t be any good to anyone.

Yet how do you break the cycle?

You’re stuck at the hospital or rehab for weeks on end. Your loved one may need tests or surgeries. You have to call everyone you know and give them “the news,” replaying all the details again and again. You face more changes. Perhaps it’s a wheelchair, or a care facility, or they need to move in with you. Family members come together to figure out what to do.

Your world has changed. You used to get up and go to work or run your errands. Now you make doctor appointments, set up physical therapy visits, get to know your pharmacist on a first-name basis. You’re buying bedpans and meal supplements. Your loved one is in pain or they’re confused and no matter what you do you can’t seem to get it all done, relieve the pain, or comfort the one you love.

You live in a perpetual state of sorrow and dread. Your spouse, your parent, your family member or dear friend is sick, really sick. They’re going to die. You can’t bring yourself to sit five seconds with that thought. You don’t know how to be with someone who is dying. You don’t know what it will be like. There’s so much you don’t know so you stay busy. Crazy busy. And although you never say it aloud something in you believes that if you do enough, care enough, try hard enough..you can prevent what’s to come.

So you take up residence in caregiver freak-out land.

You didn’t realize you changed your zip code, but you did.

Your world, your thoughts, your body and spirit barely resemble who you were. You’ve thrown everything and I mean everything you’ve got into caregiving.

But there’s a whisper behind you. You’re running scared.

I know this because I lived this. My mother had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and heart disease and I was her only child. She needed me and I did everything I could to make her feel safe, to comfort her, to outrun death. I know that awful feeling and I’m not going to offer three tips or anything like that. I hope to share in the next few blogs that is is possible to slowly but not easily possible to move past this initial phase–and why it’s  a little like moving into a nuclear missile testing site–perhaps not the safest address in town.

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What to say at a Memorial Service.

If you typed these words into your search then you are seeking help to find your words–words that capture all you feel for a loved one, a loved one who is no longer with you. I hope this helps.

Forget dates and facts–where he/she born, died, went to school, what job he or she had doesn’t need to be said–include it in a program if you feel it needs to be said.

Tell a story or a mosaic or small tales. One person can combine several stories in their talk or you can invite several speakers to capture various times of that person’s life. Some like to tell a story from childhood, another from young adulthood, another from their parenting years, etc., slowly building a whole life. Others just tell one really good story that sums up the person in such a way that you leave knowing this soul in such a hilarious/brave/tender way that you’ll always carry them with you.

Gather stories from their childhood, a story about one of their struggles, a time they messed up (keeping it vulnerable and real touches hearts much more than acts of valor) tell about a funny or scary time. Before you talk make a list of their personality traits–good and oh so human: generous, stubborn, easy going or tends to jump to conclusions–then find a story that illustrates these traits.

Paint the whole picture. It’s okay that they weren’t perfect. No one is. It’s okay that we remember them as they were–flawed, sometimes heroic other times less so. It’s okay to say what you’ll miss–their crazy-loud sneezes, the way they always squeezed your shoulder when they knew you were having a bad day. Go for examples–not just abstract words (they were kind, sweet, silly-show it instead).

Let people remember.
Use photographs or songs.
Hold up an object they loved–something that reflects them in a unique way.

And cry.
It’s okay, even good to run the gambit of emotions.

Let people walk away feeling they learned something about this person–something they might not have known before. Refer to the things they loved–their favorite songs or poem or movie line you can quite, that they loved gas station coffee, always wore the same old ratty house shoes to go grocery shopping, loved sunflowers and grape popsicles and sang Queen in the car. Make them real.

And end reminding those who have gathered that this person who is now no longer physically with us will forever be remembered–and the more we tell their stories, the more we laugh at their antics, allow them to continue to be a part of our lives because they lived, really lived, warts and all, makes our lives better.

Let your last words be words that leave the audience grateful for having known this person–and grateful that life is indeed fragile, unpredictable, surprising and complex–and that every day is a rare and fleeting gift.

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If your’e happy and you know it clap your hands…goes the children’s song. Now there’s a new twist: If you’re happy and you know it you just might live longer, suggests a new study just out by the University College of London.

In fact, if you are in your golden years and you keep up that positive outlook you’re 35% less likely to die than Mr. Scrooge and all those grumps who think that it’s just too much darn work to smile–or be nice to people.

This wasn’t just based on a “Are you happy” questionnaire. People tend to tell you what they want you to hear, or what they need to believe for themselves.

English Longitudinal Study of Aging followed more than 11,000 people age 50 and older since 2002 and in 2004 they collected saliva samples  on about 4700 participants. These samples were collected four times in one day and their moods were noted: happy, excited, content, worried, anxious, or fearful they felt at the time. Steptoe and his UCL colleague Jane Wardle have now published their findings on the links between mood and mortality in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .

Here’s their analysis:

Of the 924 people who reported the least positive feelings, 7.3%, or 67, died within 5 years. For people with the most positive feelings, the rate fell in half, to 3.6%, or 50 of 1399 people (The researchers adjusted for age, sex, demographic factors such as wealth and education, signs of depression, health, including whether they’d been diagnosed with major diseases), and health behaviors such as smoking and physical activity).

Even with those variables, the risk of dying in the next 5 years was still 35% lower for the happiest people.

But what if you’re not just one of those giddy, always up-beat types?

This is just my take, but there are many ways to be happy. People with dry wit, cynical types who see the world in a slant, and folks who aren’t the silly types, but who find a way to make things easy–these are all types of happiness.

I think we can carve our own happiness, and it may not look like someone else’s happiness.

Start a list:

  • What comforts or soothes you?
  • Add your favorite foods
  • Make a list of music you enjoy
  • Think about people you hang out with who just make you feel good
  • What every day activities do you find pleasing? Do you like to fold clothes or wash dishes by hand?
  • Have you watched one of your oldie but goodie movies you like lately?
  • Memorize three funny jokes–and share them!

This is the beginning of your happiness list.

Happiness isn’t out there–for others–it starts with the simple things.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

available in hardback and on Kindle 



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