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Do you wonder sometimes why your life has turned out like it has?

Why does one parent need you right now?

Why you’re caregiving dad–not mom–or vice versa?

The obvious reason is dad or mom is still here and needs care.

That’s the obvious reason, but not the only one.

It’s no coincidence.

It has a lot to do with what you need to learn. What lessons have come your way.

Where you are and what you’re doing is important and significant not only to you, but how your experience ripples out and touches others.

Some have pleasant, easy caregiving experiences. Not too many.

Relationships are complicated, and even when they’re not, caring for another life can be exhausting, frustrating and challenging because there are so many aspects to it–physically, financially, dealing with the medical community and other family members–it’s about as pleasant as licking a porcupine!

I also wonder about those people–with nice parents. Nice spouses. I feel as if I’m studying an ailien species that breathe in water. How do they do that? I ask myself.

I had to ask myself why my dad passed fifteen years before my mom. He died of heart disease and had  struggled with it for about a decade–he’d had a valve replacement, several veins replaced, he lived on nitro-glycerin tablets, and in the end his heart simply wore out. I was relieved for him to pass knowing he was out of pain and not struggling for every breath. He held on for my mother. She asked him to and he did. For as long as he could.

Dads can be stubborn, cantankerous, strong (headed and bodied), non-communicative, cold, (maybe less affectionate, or shows it in differnt ways), proud, demanding, opinionated, and controlling.

Not all dads. Just some. Caring can be a real challenge. And some of those challenges are inherent to the fact that you’re dealing with testosterone.

Men are proud critters. They’ve always been the one to help others. They’ve provided for a family, fought in a war, held a job down for 30+years–and now you, their child, is going to tell them what to do???

I can understand that it may take a bit of an adjustment period.

The list may sound stereotypical, but I believe many of those traits are more personality than gender based. Stubborn? Cantakerous? Demanding? Opinionated? My mom staked her claim to all of these. But there’s a male version that adds a whole other level of independence and stubborness to this scenario.

Dads can also push our buttons. A lot of history runs between dads and their kids. Hurts, frustrations, wanting to please your dad, obey your dad, honor your dad–how do you do that and still change his diaper? It’s tough.

Let’s be fair here. Not all dads were Ward Cleavers. We adults have to deal with the disappointments and hurts from childhoods and teenhoods that maybe have been marred by absentee dads, alcoholic dads, angry or distant dads–and now, we have to care give and act like one happy family?

That’s another post, but know that you can find a way to take care of you–and provide the care they need.

Sometimes dads are difficult to care for because of all the things they won’t let you do.

Not just you, but anyone. Pride again. They don’t know how to stop being that person they were for so long.

How do you reach your dad? Especially if you have a hard time (either of you or both) talking about things of the heart?

  • Be patient
  • Let them have their way on things that don’t really matter
  • Honor them. Treat them with dignity. “Brag” about who he is, and all he’s done when you’re out in public or when people come over
  • Focus on how proud you are of him as a person–not just a list of things he did. It’s hard for him to reconcile himself to not being able to be that strong, tough guy he used to be. Focus on inner qualities of patience, humor, kindness, wisdom–things he still possesses
  • Choose to focus on the good times, the good in him–and in you. Let go of the “you weren’t there for me” moments of your life
  • Pay attention to anything that interests him–birds, politics, how to cook perfect scrambled eggs, vintage cars–find ways to connect
  • Smile. Do something they like–pull out the sports page, buy him a car magazine.
  • Be easy. Let go of your own fussiness and let the time just flow.
  • Before long, you’ll see a softening in him–less combative–and if you can get just one small acknowledgement in a week, then you know you’ve broken through.
  • Ignore the bluster. If he’s fussy, demanding, opinionated, even angry–ignore it. Do the care you need to do–take him to the doctor, give him his bath or meds and just let him gripe while you keep doing “your job.” Griping is one way of handling the embarrassment–a way to distract him and you from the task at hand

***

This Father’s Day, if you don’t have a great relationship with you dad, then focus in one thing to be thankful for. Write it down on an index card and put it in your pocket of what you’re wearing that day. If things get off course, pull that out and focus on what you’re grateful for.

Why you’re caregiving your dad and not your mom may be a mystery to you–right now. But I bet in time, you’ll see why.

I know that I had a soft spot for my dad–and it would have been easier for me to be kinder, more patient with my dad–I’m a Daddy’s girl. But it wouldn’t have been good for him. He was in pain. He needed to pass on to the other side. Perhaps my caregiving would him would be hard on him. I was his little girl.

But I believe the biggest reason why I had to care for my mom is that I still have lessons to learn from her–how to be a wife, a mother, how to become an older woman, how to die. I also needed to learn how to stand up for myself. I still had some forgiving to do. I still had some letting go to do. I needed to know that I had the strength and tenacity to see it through–to make plans about my own integrity and personhood based off what she had to teach me.

Caregiving is a two-way street. Each have something to gain. Each have something to learn.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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

available on Amazon, Kunti Publishers, www.Kunati.com

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

 

 

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Grieving is natural. It’s good for you. It’s necessary.

But can you take grief too far?

What is “too far?”

What’s right and necessary for one is dangerous for another.

I recently watched “Reign Over Me”about a man (played brilliantly by Adam Sandler–not his usual comedic role) who loses his wife and three daughters in the airplane crash of 9/11. The premise is that his best friend and college roommate (Don Cheadle, also brillant) recognizes him on the street, flags him down and they rekindle their friendship–only Charlie (Adam’s character) refuses to talk about his wife and children. When he’s confronted he panics and flips out. Both men ran prominent dental practices, but Charlie is no longer a dentist–his life had been altered by the death of his family.

This one of the most profound, thoughtful movies on grief I have ever seen. Whatever faults or unevenness it may have is due in part to the very difficult subject matter. It examines the role of friendship, how grief changes you, what you lose and what you gain, how you question everything, how everything and nothing has meaning, and how to ever so slowly begin again.

Charlie was not the same man after his family died. He couldn’t do the same things.

Is that you?

Also know that you begin to grieve even before your loved ones pass away. Caregivers, especially those who care for someone with Alzheimer’s and other long-term illnesses are grieving on so many levels. It can feel like you’ve been grieving for years before your loved one ever dies.

Some people can and need to go right back into their jobs and life after a tragedy. It makes them feel normal, safe, that life has some continuity and gives their life meaning. These are good reasons to keep on course, and if that’s what you need, what works for you, then don’t feel guilty or think you’re not showing the proper response of grief just because you can go on with you life.

No one should judge your grief.

I know people who don’t talk about their sorrows. Ever. Some, much, much later. Some show it in their actions. It varies, and that’s okay. Don’t think you’re heartless because you don’t “do it” in some expected way.

Grief is individual. Grief doesn’t have to look normal.

I won’t give the movie away (I do highly recommend it), but there comes a point in the movie when it implies, “Can you grieve too much?”

Does there come a point when it’s not healthy, or downright dangerous?

Yes. It can.

Depression, isolation, insomnia, drinking, and other risky behavior such as gambling, promiscuity, extreme and dangerous sports–you may experience any or all of these symptoms. It’s part of the process.

There is a biology to grief

Grief releases powerful chemicals in your body. The first, being shock. That’s to keep you alive during the event. That’s how people are able to survive car or plan accidents and get to a place of safety before their bodies begin to shut down. That’s how a mother can lift a car off her toddler even though she has a broken arm.

Grief also comes with many coping mechanisms. Sometimes we have to simply use every possible tool we have to get by–even when they’re not good for us. We have to exist before we can live again.

I’m not going to tell you because you can’t sleep without prescription meds that you’re grieving too much–or I’m not going to tell you just because you polish off a bottle of wine several nights a week that you’re ruining your life. At some point you might, but you may have to over-use, over-indulge to drown your pain–and you’ll have to find your way back out.

I asked a friend who had gone through a bad patch of grief and had done some pretty risky things why she thought she did them. They were out of character for her, and were downright unsafe.

She paused, and then said, ‘Because I could. Because I didn’t have anything to live for–so doing something dangerous or crazy didn’t matter.”

That’s what grief, hurt and sorrow can do to you.

It’s not that I’m suggesting that you should. Trust me. I’m not judging you if you are.

Sure, there are healthier ways to grieve–walks, talking with friends, professional help, journaling, support groups–but let’s face it, we don’t always and consistently do what’s good for us.

Some people, like Charlie in the film have to radically change their life.

I know one woman who sold everything, moved across the country and started working for habitat for humanity. I know another who is spending a year (that’s the plan as of now) in Belize surfing and taking odd jobs. I know another who person who after 9/11, sold his business and lived on a sailboat in the Caribbean for two years. I know another who after losing a child, has had four children in four years.

There’s no one right way to handle grief.

When do you know if you’ve taken grief too far?

  • You need to work and you can’t–and you don’t have an alternative way to live–(homelessness)
  • Alcohol, drugs or even prescription drugs are consuming you
  • You have no initiative or purpose–for years–even though you want to–and it doesn’t feel like you’re coming out of your fog, just stuck
  • You’re completely cut off from everyone (for a very long time) and it’s not working for you, it’s not because you’re content
  • You have repeated thoughts or attempts of suicide
  • Nothing brings you joy or comfort–and it’s been years
  • Your health is now at risk–obesity, forgetting to eat, not taking needed meds have begun to take a serious toll
  • A fixation has taken over–perhaps a fixation of your loved one, of death, or trying to contact them–whatever the fixation, it’s bordering on dangerous and hindering every day activities such as eating or sleeping or getting out. It’s easy to fall into this. You don’t mean to, it just sort of happens–but it’s the kind of thing you might need help getting out of.

Any of these can occur and you can still be okay, not great, but okay–still dealing with grief on your own terms.

But there’s also a line of delineation–when it’s not okay, it’s not part of the process, it’s a never-ending vortex.

How do you move past grief?

  • With help–meet with a grief counselor, one that’s trained and has seen hundreds of people who have had to deal with real tragedies–the journey is different when cataclysmic things have happened.
  • Be willing to go on medication, if necessary, and make sure you take it consistently and are monitored–we all need a little help at times
  • Look into your past back to another time of great hardship–what got you through? You have the keys to your own healing within yourself
  • Call a hotline if you need to
  • Go online and visit some great grief organizations where you can reach out privately in your own home–day or night–the Open To Hope Foundation is a wonderful resource for all kinds of grief–those who have lost a child, a parent, a spouse, those impacted by suicide, drugs, or violence. 
  • As difficult as it might seem, become a part of a small community–a church, a volunteer organization, a group of friends who meet regularly, a support group–ask to be accountable to someone. Go even though you don’t feel like it, have a hangover, a cold, a headache.
  • Be patient. You’ve been through a lot. Guilt, regret, longing can eat away at your life and your heart and your life may seem broken beyond repair. It’s going to take some time to even begin to get on your feet again.
  • Know that the human spirit is amazingly resilient. Although you cannot fathom it, your life can have meaning and a measure of joy again.
  • Be willing to eventually open to love again. For now, willingness is all that matters

The bottom line is if you want your life to change, you’re ready to reach out, but you just don’t know how, it’s time to ask for help. We all need help at times.

I hope that something I’ve said will comfort you and offer light.

I offer this prayer–to all who feel lost.

May that small sliver of hope

slide between the folds of your heart

May a breeze catch you by surprize and remind you

you are not alone

May you once again feel the warmth of a hand, the brush of a shoulder

Trust. Trust beyond reason. Beyond today. Trust.

~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, Publisher

 

 

        

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