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I’m not much for regrets. I don’t think we as individuals, family members, or caregivers should even strive to perfect. Our faults and foibles define us and teach us. Besides, have you ever been around someone who was trying too hard? It’s exhausting and annoying. I love the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi–the beauty found in imperfection.

I found this definition at Nobel Harbor, written by Tadao Ando, a Japanese architect. This essay on Wabi Sabi so touched me that I thought I’d share it–it’s how I strive to live my life.

Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.

But I do wish I had known back then what I know now.

In regard to caring for my mother, I tell myself I was busy. There was never enough of “me” to go around. I had to eek out my time and love in tiny drops just to give everybody a piece. That was true, and asking a caregiver to stop spinning in a maddening circle is asking them to do the impossible.

The  busy-ness (observation–busy-nessand business is not necessarily the same), franticness, never stop breakneck speed is a protective stance.

I had a the privilege of being a real part of my mother’s life the last 15 years she was on earth. Daddy had died, and I was her closest relative. Although I’m adopted, that doesn’t change anything in terms of family dynamics–they were my parents, and I was their daughter. If anything, adoption added a little extra cement to our bond. 

I spent hours and hours with my mother–driving her to doctor appointments, to the grocery store, and to the million errands she could concoct just to get out of the house. And in the end, my mother lived with my family and me–she became a part of the O’Dell household complete with two dogs, two cats, three teenagers, my husband and myself. Most of the time she didn’t think about being a part of anything–by then, life, she believed, evolved around her. It was my job to incorporate her, create balance to my home, and not let anyone yell “fire” and hog all the time and attention away from the delicate harmony of our home.

So there I was, always on the go. Always avoiding. Always, even when sitting perfectly still on the outside, whizzing around in my soul like a gyro-top. It was fueled by panic, fear, sorrow, loss, and the underlying thought, “I can’t do this–be responsible for my mother’s life, for my children–I can’t do all this.”

But now I know.

What’s more important than making every doctor’s appointment, than reading about Alzheimer’s, then cutting pill after pill, then the calls to Medicare and home health aides was this:

What my mother (and my husband, children, and friends) needed from me more than anything–was a good conversation.

There isn’t anything in the world as loving and respectful as someone who will sit with you, look you in the eye, listen to what you have to say–and contribute to the conversation. The easy banter of thoughts, hopes, fears, and chit-chat of life is deeply satisfying.

My mother didn’t move into my home just to have a list of needs met every day. Anyone could do that. On some level she was hoping we’d have a few minutes–to simply be. Not to agree with one another, not to be little clones spouting off the same agendas, but to sit as bookends, side-by-side observing life.

That’s what my mother needed. What I needed. I couldn’t do much to speed up or postpone death. We can’t change much about life in the big scheme of things–but what is within our capabilities is how we interact with one another. We can choose to create a time and space for real connection to happen. It can’t be forced or cajoled.

Having one genuine moment of understanding–a said or unsaid conversation is rare and most precious.

I remember a conversation my mother and I had when I was about eleven years old. We were in the car outside of church waiting for Daddy to get out of an elder meeting. Something big was going down–there were rumors that our pastor had had an affair. Even the kids knew about it. I was just old enough to know what that meant–and young enough to think that life was black–or white–nothing in between.

I was in the back seat, mother was in the front, filing her nails, as usual. We both stopped what we were doing and looked at the church.

“Why doesn’t his wife just leave him and the church just fire him.” I said, angry that this pastor I had looked up to had betrayed me as well.

“It’s not that easy, honey.”

That’s all Mother said. I laid my head on the ledge of the front seat, and she continued to look at the building in front of us, at the steeple that strained into a blue sky.

I learned a lot that day–by all that she didn’t say.

We’d have many conversations over the next almost 40 years. Many times we’d talk at each other, alienate each other, blast each other–but every once in a while, there would be that cord that stretched from her to me and back to her again.

I’ll spend the next few posts exploring what makes a good conversation, how to talk to someone we love–someone who is ill or aged, or someone we have issues with–thorns that make us wince at the thought of a meaningful conversation. I’ll write about how to talk–or be with someone you love who no longer can speak, or comprehend who you are.

There are lots of great sites on the Internet about families, caregiving, Alzheimer’s, elder-careparentsand children–but nothing is more important than quieting your thoughts, unwinding the pent-up soul, and taking a few moments to sit quietly–and talk.

~Carol O’Dell

I hope you’ll check out my book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir–on sale at Amazon, other online e-tailers, and in most bookstores.

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Let’s face it: Caregiving can get ugly.

What I mean is, when I was a caregiver, I’d sometimes go days without looking in the mirror. On purpose.

I was busy, tired, overwhelmed–and that leads me to feeling frumpy, puffy, and in a rut–and when I feel that way, I tend to go into denial and avoidance.

It’s good to  care give, even if you let yourself go for a little bit. 

Generosity, patience, and tenderness have a way of making you beautiful and gives you a glow much like pregnancy, and I doubt Mother Theresa stared in the mirror much (not that I’m comparing).

But face it, you can let yourself go to the point to where you don’ t feel good about yourself. I know.  

I gained close to 40 pounds during my two+years at a full-time caregiver. I don’t blame my mom for this.

Honest. I take full accountability. I could have put down the bags of Oreos and Fritos. (Notice how all tasty snacks tend to end in O’s? I could have walked more. Even with my mom and kids and a big house to manage, I could have gone for two fifteen minute walks a day and eaten more veggie soup. No one was forcing sugar down my throat.

Yeah, I was tired, frazzled, and distracted–it comes with the territory–but I used that as an excuse not to pay attention. I’m just saying I contributed to own “junk in the trunk.”

It also helps to lighten things up a bit (metaphorically speaking) and think about haircuts, color, make-up and clothing takes the emphasis off the heavier aspects of life. Being able to feel good about yourself, to smile with confidence with a spring in your step helps not only you, but your loved one.

Depression doesn’t like color, light, and laughter–so let’s flood the room!

Now you’ve seen the light (aka seen yourself with the lights on!) and you’re ready to do something about it, I’ve got a few simple suggestions.

First, don’t make it hard, but let’s stage your comeback and surprise your loved ones with a fresh look.

Seven Easy Comeback Solutions:

  • Fixate on your health, not your weight. Take it from Queen Latifah, the new spokesperson from Jenny Craig. She’s not trying to become America’s Next Top Model. She loves her curves. Love yours–and focus on your health not your flab. We all have flab.
  • Nix the elastic waist pants. Why? They’re comfy, I know, but it’s too easy to keep on snackin’ when you’re not feeling a pinch in your side. Put on real pants. Even if you have to go up a size. Beauty is not a size, it’s a state of mind.
  • Set very small goals. Walk ten minutes twice a day. Stretch–even encourage your elder/loved one to do some simple stretches with you. Don’t bring home the snacks. If you must, get a snack pack at the gas station–one of those bags for 99 cents. Eat them and throw the bag away. Don’t worry about the money–the economical size bag will cost you more in the long run (health, Weight Watcher’sfees, cholesterol meds).
  • Get your Vitamin D–and how? By heading out the door for those ten minute walks! That’s all it takes. And your elder needs their Vitamin D., so at least have them sit on the porch for a few minutes per day. There are supplements, too, and recommended for elders. 
  • Go look in your closet. Anything that’s been in there for more than five years–toss it now! I mean it! Go to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the dress you wore to your daughter’s wedding or your 25th anniversary. Come on, let it go. Guys–this is for you, too. Even three years is long enough. You’re not a museum–you’re a living work of art!
  • Now, match up three outfits that look nice that you could wear every day. Stop waiting for an excuse to dress up. Dress up for yourself. You deserve it–and your loved one deserves to look at a person who takes pride in their appearance. I know you’re tired and you think this doesn’t matter. It does. No high heels, but a nice pair of jeans or slacks, a decent shirt that’s not all stretched out and something that has some nice color. Spritz with some perfume and comb your hair. You’ll feel better.
  • Plan a daily tea time. Crazy, I know. It’s English, so pretend you’re English. Choose a time–say, 4:00, and set out a cup for the two of you. Have tea and two cookies. Just two. You can even say it’s medicinal–all tea is good for you, but go for a green tea variety and get your antioxidants. Sit out on that porch to get your vitamin D., or sit in the living room. Chat for ten minutes and sip tea. Your loved one will feel special, and you’ll begin to relax. It’s just a simple tradition, but it’s soothing–and something to look forward to.

Ladies, if you’re ready for a real comeback, have I got a book for you!

Staging Your Comeback by Christopher Hopkins is for real women over 45–primarily focusing on women in their 50s and 60s is really amazing. It isn’t downgrading or patronizing. He’s been featured on Oprah and Today Show, and he isn’t your run of the mill “I’ll make you look 20” kind of salesman.

There are lots of pics and the most astounding before and after photos you will see. My 21 year-old daughter was with me at Target when I bought the book, and even she was amazed. (I heard the make-up in the book is heavier than he would normally recommend and was only done that way for the book).

 The book is designed to be interactive with his website that has downloadble worksheets to help you plan your comeback. 

Is all this frivolous? I don’t think so. We have to balance out all we’re dealing with–disease and death are not the only things in life. We need balance. We need to relax and enjoy our one wild and precious life, as the poet Mary Oliver would say.

We need hope.

And bottom line, isn’t that really what we all need?  

 

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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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Today, the Today Show had a six-year old little girl on their show who is a singing sensation. She can belt out the national anthem with a voice to rival Ethyl Merman. Natalie Morales introduced her and said that the little girl also lives with autism.

Words are important. Autism cannot be viewed as a death sentence–especially not for a child who has their whole life ahead.

Living with or suffering with makes a big difference.

If you have Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS, or cancer, you have to eventually come to choice–do you choose to live or suffer?

Personally, I hope to never say the word, “suffer” again. I don’t want to suffer with anything!

Suffering implies pain, sorrow, heavy burden…agony. And yes, there are moments, days, even months where pain and sorrow overwhelms life–but as my very religious, very southern mother used to say when asked how she was, she’d reply…

“Well…I don’t want the devil to hear me!”

She didn’t want to entomb herself in negativity.

Caregivers, how do you talk about your role? Begin to observe your words.

How do you introduce yourself?

“I’m just a caregiver?”

“I’m just caring for my mom?”

Really? Just a caregiver? That’s like saying you’re just the president of the United Stats, just a mom, just a CIA assasin!

Even if you are at home with your loved one, or even living with them. You can introduce yourself any way you like–“I’m an artist, I’m a teacher (even if you’re not in a classroom now, do you ever stop teaching? I’m in school (are you taking an online class? That counts.”

If you introduce yourself as a caregiver, then do it with pride.

But also introduce the fact that you’re a daughter, a wife, a friend. Your role as a caregiver is admirable, but your loved one needs to hear you say that you’ll always be their daughter/sister/spouse first.

How will anyone respect you and perceive what you do as important if you don’t?

Choose. Choose your words. Choose to care for your loved one.

No one is making you be a caregiver. You may think they are. You may believe that you have to, that your loved one has no one else, that it’s your responsibility…but realize that it is a choice. Other people in your same situation have said no. The world will not end. Is it the right thing to do? To say no? Every family is differentt, and my point is that you choose.

If you choose caregiving–part-time, full-time, in your home, their home, as a working caregiver, or an advocate for your loved one who is in a care facility–whatever the living/working arrangment is–choose. Caregiving is a part of who you are, it’s a role, what you do with your time and energy.

Take the helplessness, choice-lesness out of your vocalbulary.

~I’m Carol D. O’Dell, and I hope you’ll check out my book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

It’s 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’s the simple things I miss about my mother.

Just two women shopping. Someone to be with. Someone who knows me better than I wanted her to.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom.

I’ll always miss you, and I’ll always carry you in my heart.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from my book, Mothering Mother:

When I Miss Her

I miss Mother when I go to the grocery store. Since I’m no longer eligible to park in the parking spaces for the handicapped, I must walk by the light blue and white lines as I head across the parking lot that no longer takes me ten minutes to cross. I see Mother grip the handle of the grocery cart and remember the freedom this rolling walker gave her.

 

I still see her curved spine dipping, her stockings slowly sagging from above her knees and eventually bunching around her ankles. I see her silhouette, complete with a bright blue nylon cap and its hundreds of petal-shaped pieces that made her head look like a massive flower. Some people loved her hat, others made fun of it, snickered about it behind our backs, but there were a few who found her and her blue hat endearing.

 

I miss her as I pass by the bananas. She said they gave her potassium and ate one a day. I had to buy seven a week—not six, not eight—though I often cheated, hoping to tide her over a day or two. Sometimes I get the urge to eat one in case I, too, am low on potassium. Any fruit she ate had to be peeled, cored and washed until it practically no longer resembled anything that ever lived. Apples were pale and tinged brown, grapes looked naked and embarrassed without their skins.

 

I miss her when I pass the Little Debbie display. Her face would light up at the sound of me opening the cellophane wrapper of an oatmeal pie.

 

I miss not picking up her half gallon of milk, her apple juice and her frozen dinners. I knew which ones she liked—the meatloaf, beef tips and flounder, nothing with pasta, very little chicken. Ice-cream bars remind me of her dying, not living. I can’t bring myself to eat one, or even buy them anymore.

 

I miss her small talk with the cashier, the slightly condescending way she treated the help, and the times she surprised me with genuine kindness and humor. As time went on, she took forever to get out her wallet, and two forevers to pull out her credit cards. She could no longer differentiate a Visa card from a debit card, from a license. She’d just let them pick, holding the plastic squares out innocently like a hand of playing cards. I always tried to catch her before she let strangers rifle through her entire wallet and checkbook. By then, some of her prejudices had diminished and she chitchatted with anyone who caught her eye, regardless of race, which was a pleasant change, though unreliable. She insisted the baggers carry our groceries to the car, no matter how few we had, and she saw no need to tip them. I’d slip them a dollar or two after buckling her in. Tipping never was her thing.

 

Now I just go to the store like anyone else. No one to slow me down, no one to check on, no bananas to count, no Little Debbies to hide so she won’t eat them all in two days.

 

It’s just ordinary, and what once seemed a bother, is now missed.

 

~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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We always think that happiness is “out there.”

When I get a new job, when I take vacation, when I lose 30 pounds, when…

Happiness is not that hard. We make it hard. Happiness is having new eyes. A fresh perspective.

After I moved my mother in with us to care for her, (she had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), she used to tell everybody–the postman, the grocery clerk, the pastor, the lawn guy, that she had given up everything to move in with me–her house, her car, her friends, her life.

Apparently she thought I had given up nothing.

I would stand next to her and smile and let her have her moment, get the sympathy she thought she deserved although most people had no idea what to say.

It reminded me of a precocious two-year old I knew who would run in from playing with a tiny scratch on her arm and pronounce to the entire room, “LOOK AT WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME!”

There were times as a caregiver (and other times in my life) that I wanted to do that, pronounce it to the world.

But somewhere along in my early adult life (after years of anger and hurt about being adopted and other very painful issues) I got tired of my own whining. I simply wore it out. I was tired of being known as the girl with the problems.

I decided to be the happiest person I knew.

Not a sappy Pollyanna happy type you just want to slap, but deep-down easy, not in your face joy.

It hasn’t been a linear path getting here, but I am pretty darn happy.

One day, while caring for my mom, she toodled into the kitchen, slapped her hand down on the counter and pronounced, “I’m not happy!”

As if I could bop her over the head with my fairy wand and “Voila!” instant happiness.

I looked at her, my mother who truly was a happy (in a self-centered, domineering, the entire world is here to serve me kind of way) person. It just wasn’t easy, and life isn’t always easy. She didn’t like having to leave her friends and move in with me. Her body was giving out and Parkinson’s had taken its toll, also, Alzheimer’s and depression are linked. Most days, she couldn’t toodle into my kitchen. She didn’t like that I had to divide my time away from her to take care of my children and my marriage. She didn’t like that her life was playing out and that sooner, rather than later, she’d die.

But I couldn’t fix any of that.

I just looked at her with this dawning revelation.

If only one of us could be happy, then I’d choose me.

Kind of the life raft theory. Who do you kick off the boat?

The one who most likely won’t make it any way.

Sounds terrible, I know, and I had truly, truly, truly tried to make her happy–and more than that, I had tried to take care of her, keep her safe, keep her alive.

But if the people around you simply choose not to be happy, then realize you can choose otherwise.

Choose joy.

My life is far, far from perfect, and I’ve been kicked in the teethquite a few times, but this morning, I rode my bike for five miles with my ipod on singing my heart out.

I have a new CD–Grey’s Anatomy’s Third Season, and I love the compilation of songs and artists. I belt it out, make figure 8s and circles with my wheels, and dance on the bike (be-boppin’ up and down) and I don’t care what anybody thinks.

Why should I? In the first place, hardly anyone’s home at 10am, and most people I know aren’t happy–or at least they don’t act happy, so why should I care if I’m known as the crazy bicycle singer?

My kids think I’m nuts, but they’re used to me by now.

My morning coffee, my journal, my glider, the sun, my bike, my ipod, my afternoon dark chocolate fix–the warm, strong hug of my husband–these are what I call give me my “happy fix.” They bring me immense daily joy. They cost very little, and I try not to run out or get so busy and stressed that I don’t do these things I love, the very things that sustain me.

Caregiving was grueling at times, and the end was really, really tough–but it taught me to love, to give, to stretch beyond myself, and it was for a season.

Since my mother’s passing, I’ve learned that life is pretty darn short and I better snatch all the sweetness and joy I can. Parts of my life are still crappy, and I’m not always this giddy–I tend to be more so in the spring and summer, so if I’m getting on your last nerve–sorry.

What I hope for you today is based off something I read this morning in Alan Cohen’s Daily Devotional book, A Deep Breath of Life,

April 14th entry:

I used to think I was a perfectionist.

I was constantly finding flaws and errors other people overlooked. If there were many aspects of a job that was done well, I would point out the one area that wasn’t.

But now I realize I was an imperfectionist.

If I was a perfectionist, I would have found perfection everywhere I looked.

***

That BLEW ME AWAY. I hope it did you too.

I plan to become a happyologist.

~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

 

 

 

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Do over 100 booksignings/events in less than six months and you start to notice who’s buying your book.

Who Buys/Who Needs Mothering Mother?

Majority: Women (guys do too, but more need to since 44% of all caregivers are males)

Age: 40-65 typically (the “average’ caregiver is 47 years old and will caregiver for 4.5 years)

Ethnicity: Mixed–caregiving is common, accepted and expected among many ethnic communities such as African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Indian–just to name a few.

Boomers and Sandwich Generationers–lots. Even young people with family members–parents, siblings and others who suffer with mental illness. Caregiving covers a wide array.

Diseases: The usual suspects–Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, cancer, heart disease, and mental illness top the list.

I’ve also noticed the caregivers (oftentimes, daughters) tend  not to buy the book if mom is with them.

Many caregivers “circle” me. They’re not ready to buy my book at first. They tell themselves they don’t need it–yet.. They might take my card. Many do come back–and talk to me, for minutes, sometimes a half hour. I hear lots of family stories–and I’m glad I do. I actually enjoy this and feel that they need a listener ,and I’m glad to be one.  I’ve had them not buy my book that day, and then order it–only to email me with tender words.

I’ve learned that many people buy my book who has already lost mom or dad–and find my words, my stories cathartic. Others almost run from me–still in pain–in griever’s pain. I understand.

And the other person who buys my books are mothers. Wise mothers who want to read my story and share it with their daughters. They want their daughters to know and understand what’s up ahead–they want to open a dialogue. I’m proud of these women–of their openness and bravery.

See? See why I do what I do? See what I’ll stand in bookstores for hours? They need me. I know, I was one  of them. I so would have clung to “me,” read “me.” Needed “me” to listen. That’s why I do what I do.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of MOTHERING MOTHER: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon and in most bookstores, Kunati Publishing

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