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Posts Tagged ‘caregiving’

Remember that leap your heart made when a friend knocked on your door and asked your mom if you could play?
Please oh please oh please say yes, mom, say yes…
You bolted out that door and ran from all the adults as fast as your Keds would carry you.
Those words, “Come play,” still makes my heart leap.

I’ve decided not to age. Technically, we age from the moment we’re born. Technically, parts of our body peak at 30. But I’m not talking technically. I just don’t identify with this whole aging thing. It’s like death. Who gets death? Technically we die. Our pets, our loved ones, apple trees and hummingbirds, right whales and honeybees. We die. But do we? We fight death literally and metaphorically. Our brains, our hearts don’t know how to reconcile with this concept. It never feels right, does it?

My thought is because we don’t die. We transcend.
Various religions have given names to this basic belief. Eternity. Heaven. Hell. Reincarnation. Even if you say you don’t believe anything about the afterlife. Even if you say we become dirt or stardust which is still a form of transcendence we believe that something of our souls, for lack of a better word, lives on.

With that thought I whip back around to the title. If we have such a hard time with death then doesn’t it make sense that aging, just foreplay to death, doesn’t sit well either?

I know, I know. Aging isn’t all bad you say. You are rocking your new shock of white hair. You kind of like stepping out of the sexy game and wearing comfortable clothes and not worrying about the priss and preen that goes with attracting a mate. You love being retired and not feeling the pressure of getting out there every day. You argue that these are the perks of aging that come with the not so great perks of bad knees, high cholesterol and actually contemplating dentures.

Before I sound uncompassionate let me say that I know too well what it’s like to be a caregiver, to grieve, to take a sharp blow so hard that no breath comes, to be so relieved that a year that held so much pain is over even though I don’t even know or care what comes next. Life can be too full of all things shitty. That’s why I’ve decided to live with gusto whenever I can. Not because I’m oblivious to sorrow but because I am acutely aware.

Now that I’ve posted my disclaimer let’s get back to the fun stuff.
So instead of aging this is what I plan on doing for the next, oh, 30-50 years:

Play.
Be downright silly.
Laugh until I snort.
Goof off and waste loads of time navel gazing or the equivalent.
Nap.
Flirt.
Create.
Lighten my load–physically and emotionally grow lighter.

How?
By playing first of all.
By choosing to strip my backpack of hurts I’ve been nursing like sucking like crazy to get one more drop out of a dried up teat. By saying lots of nos and no thank yous–not for me, by saying big, crazy risk-taking yeses, by not doing a damn thing I don’t want to do and realizing it’s damn near impossible to do anything I don’t want to do. That means owning some scary shit. Then laughing at my own hand-made messes.

By standing in my own life and getting out of everyone else’s. Boy is this one tough. It’s a lot like hide-and-seek and running back to home base again and again.

By not taking myself, my darkness, my ugliness, my blinding ambitions, my tail-chasing avoidance laden quests, too serious.

Serious is too f*ing serious. (I love to curse folks, so I just might have to let loose and be my true self a little more often.

I just don’t give a shit about all the rest.
Arguing exhausts me.
I don’t give a rip about religion or politics or whatever else folks post on the almighty Facebook just to get a rouse out of everybody else. Vote. Sign a petition. Serve soup at a shelter. DO something with those beliefs and respect everyone else’s rights to think for themselves.

I’m going to have to feel my way through this growing younger thing.
Today, I’m going to doodle.
Swing so high my feet go over the lake behind my house.
Pull weeds.
Go to the beach and the pool with my granddaughter.
Make love to my husband (check on that one–accomplished that by 7am!….sorry if that’s a TMI but let’s get real!)
Eat watermelon.
Do some damn good writing (which I hope I am accomplishing right now.
Nap. It’s summertime people. Naps are mandatory.
Make up stories about fairies.
Eat food grown in dirt. If I’m going to eventually get back to motha-earth I might as well eat the rainbow and swallow a few dirt-crumbs along the way.
Then I’m going to the gym tonight and kill it on some weights. Sweat like crazy. Listen to some Kanye–nothing like gritty music to get you pumped.
Then I’m going to play with glow in the dark bubbles as the stars come out and at last fall into my hubby’s arms.

Good life.
Today is a play day.
I hope (and plan) to play my way through this life.
I will be the silly, goofy, crazy hat dancing in the streets 90 year old–and every day until I get there.

I have one question for you…Wanna play?

Wanna play?

Wanna play?

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Mary (on the left), Diane, and the bears

Mary (on the left), Diane, and the bears

My dear friend and writer bud Diane lost her husband this summer. They were soul mates finding each other after several starter marriages went bust. Two amazing people each in their own right who found sweetness and LIFE and spent  20 years side-by-side. They rode his Harley, got tattoos, water skied, and made a home for children and grandchildren. Then cancer came along and the last couple of years were tough. We (the Chats) joined Diane and Wally’s family and friends at his memorial service and witnessed a man who was and is so loved. Then Mary, another of our writer buds, offered to make Diane and her family teddy bears out of pieces of Wally’s clothing.

Diane lined up Harley, Corona, and Marine Corp tee shirts alongside a rugby shirt, a few Hawaiian prints, and even some plaid golf shorts and asked the kids and grandkids to chose whichever item of clothing they were drawn to, the one connected with a memory. Then, Mary got to work.

See, Mary makes bears.
Bears and puppy dogs and other critters.
She makes them so you’ll have something from your loved one to hold.
This isn’t all Mary does–she makes sanitary pads for young girls in Africa who will miss school because there aren’t disposable feminine products available, or they can’t afford them anyway. She makes quilts for sick babies. She’s that kind of gal.

Here’s Wally’s Hawaiian print  on a bear with a navy blue bow.

Here’s Wally’s rugby shirt turned puppy dog for a grandson–with a collar piece to boot.

Here’s another dog sporting plaid from Wally’s golf shorts.

She has seven more to make. Each adult child and each grandchild will have a bear or a dog to remember their dad/paps by. They get to hold a piece of him. They will no doubt be comforted in the days and years to come–all because Mary offered to make a bear.

Mary is like that–thoughtful, empathic, generous.

Perhaps you’ve lost someone you love.

Perhaps you’ve held onto articles of clothing, a favorite jacket or vest, something that links you to your loved one. Most likely your keepsakes, like so many of mine, are stored in chests, in the back of closets and boxes we keep under the bed.
Why not take these beloved items and do something with them?
Turn your missing into something tangible you get to touch.

Diane stood, amazed, when she saw her bears. The exhaustion lifted from her brow and  the sorrow in her eyes gave way to light. It was as if she were giving a piece of Wally to the family they both so love. The plaid, the  Hawaiian blue palm trees, the rugby blue and red are all parts of what made Wally who he is and how he will be cherished.

When we take our loss and so something with it–write a poem, tell a story, wear their dog tags as a necklace,  make a bear–we make something new in us. They live on in this transformation, “reincarnation,” if you will.

We take our sorrow and turn it into something that offers comfort and connection.

Wally is now a bear–and a dog–and  he’ll be tucked in at night, taken on vacation and get to play tea party with his granddaughters, and if you ask me, that’s exactly where he’d like to be.

If you’d like a bear, shoot me an email at writecarolodell@gmail.com and I’ll get you in touch with Mary

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I never thought this day would come–when I’d write about making peace with my mother. My mother was difficult, and that’s an understatement. It’s not that I’ve ever known anything different. When some people read my book, Mothering Mother, they ask how I could have forgiven her, much less taken care of her. The reason is simple: caregiving is more about you–your character,  your journey–than it is about them.

While my mother was demanding,  domineering, rather self-serving, somewhat violent (I grew up in the day when spanking, whipping, and  even slapping your child across the face (which she did more times than I can count) wasn’t all that unusual–mine was just a bit more extreme), but my mother was also funny, bigger than life, and she ironically adored my daddy and me.

I spent  my 20s pretty darn angry–about being adopted, about her  rages, and in general, just one big hot  mess. Eventually, I got tired of being angry. I got tired of carrying such a huge “life isn’t fair” grudge around all the time.

So, in essence, I simultaneously wore it and decided to let go.

Not because she  did or didn’t deserve it, but because I did.

And in full disclosure, there were many times (teen years especially) where I was not the ideal daughter and she had every right to be beyond frustrated/irritated and  at a complete loss as to what to do with me.

We continued to have  our tiffs and rifts. I still had to stand up to her–toe to toe–and she still managed to wield her emotional  knives and sometimes I didn’t see them  coming and  would once again buckle under the hurt. Still, this formidable woman gave me more good than ill. I honed my strength, my courage, and my faith by having it tested again and again. And in time, as I  married, birthed and  raised children, I became aware that  all mother-daughter relationships are fraught with a tangle of emotions, regrets, and misunderstandings. I  have  more compassion for my mother these days and I ask mercy from my own adult daughters. Yet I know  there will be so much I won’t understand and they won’t understand  until it’s time. Until then I will be their whetting stone and they  will sharpen their axes on me just as I, in turn, did to my mother.

I am finally at peace with my mother. Not in some Pollyanna way. I am at peace now because I am somehow able to open wide and embrace all of it–I can remember and absorb the pain and it no longer poisons me.

I remember the day  I opened Jack Canfield’s book, The Success Principles and read his first entry:

I am  100% responsible for my own life.

That day I finished growing up (not that  we are ever done growing).

The angst of a mentally ill birth mother, a alcoholic-addictive father, a cold grandmother saddled with grandchildren to raise, being  abused and  being adopted by the age of four to a mother wrestling with religion and force and hardened old and narrow  ways–all of it burned by some holy fire, no more than ashes.

I am 100% responsible for my own life.

Peace.

Only by loving what is–all that she was, that I was, all that we are and will  forever  be–am I now capable of holding us in that sacred and loose place. I can smile and say with  an open heart and wide arms,

“Oh, we’re  such a mess, aren’t we?”

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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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“Why haven’t you called?” “I want to be independent and live by myself.” “You’ll miss me when I’m gone.” The push-pull of caregiving can send you into an emotional whiplash. Yet, it’s what we do–as family. We send mix messages. Caregivers feel guilty that they’re not doing enough, and then get whapped with “Back off, I don’t want you all up in my business!” What’s a caregiver to do?

It’s tough, but the healthiest thing a caregiver can do is to stay present in their own lives and refuse to get tangled in the emotional web of someone else’s volatile unpredictability. What would you do for your loved one if you could step away from the guilt, resentment, worry, and fear?

Some of us are afraid we’d just walk away. Some of us can’t even begin to imagine a life without these negative feelings driving us. Most of us forget to start and end our day with a sense of calm presence realizing that the only person we can truly give anything to–is ourselves. Until our own cups are full we have nothing true and good to give.

We can’t drive a car without gas. It simply can’t be done (not counting electric, of course, and even they need charging regularly). When our tanks are empty we’re stuck. In the end, we sputter, panic, and then find ourselves stranded on the side of the road. That’s what it’s like when we continue to give and give without adequate sleep, without renewing our joy, without taking care of our own health. We sputter just before we burn out.

Most of us enter adulthood with a complete set of emotional baggage. Our parents got us to do what they wanted mostly by fear tactics: stay in bed or the boogie monster will get you, make good grades or you’ll be grounded, don’t get pregnant or you’ll be disgraced…from little things to big we learned to live in fear. Fear of failing, fear of displeasing those we love. It may have worked (temporarily), but there’s a price to pay for living in that much fear. We either cower or rebel. Or…we learn to stand up for ourselves.

The challenge is to stand up and say loud and clear, “Wait a minute…wait just one darn minute. I’m tired of being afraid all the time. I’m tired of trying to please everybody else, even when it’s not good for me.”

And that may be the irony that comes with caregiving. It gives us yet one more chance to grow up. To really grow up. We no longer need to cower or rebel. We can speak in love, and stand in our own truth. We choose to no longer be controlled by fear. We can love because we choose to. We can give, and at times, even sacrifice our time, money, and energy for the good of someone else, but it’s with clarity and choice, and often short-term that we step into that place of sacrificial love.

We learn to say no. We learn to stay present in our own lives first. We learn to allow someone else to feel anything they want to feel without dragging us into their vortex.

It’s one of the last and greatest gifts our parents/loved ones can give us. The opportunity to revisit old issues with new eyes.

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YES!

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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Mike Wallace died April 7, 2012. His last few years were spent in the confusing and tangled maze of dementia. He was 93 and  was a newscaster most known for anchoring 60 Minutes and in the media for over six decades. He’s a prime example that if you live long enough, you just might get dementia or Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia). Your odds increase exponentially with age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association your chances of developing Alzheimer’s doubles about every five years after age 65. After age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent.

So our first challenge is to survive (or hopefully skip over) heart disease and cancer.

The major causes of death (in order) are: heart disease, cancer–both of these way out in the lead–lower respiratory infections, stroke, accidents, Alzheimer’s diabetes, flu and pneumonia, and self-harm (suicide).

As scary as Alzheimer’s is, heart disease and cancer take far more lives.

But Mike struggled with other demons–several years ago he shared that he struggled with depression and even attempted suicide. His honesty helped to shed light on depression, something millions face in silent shame. His life, like most of us, was a mixture of great highs and devastating lows. He was by all means a success, but he also lived through the death of his son (he had a falling accident in Greece when he was just 19), divorce and death of his wife, and several physical and mental challenges.

He was known as a fierce interviewer and was often referred to as an interrogator. He interviewed many of the world’s top and toughest leaders–and he never flinched.

I heard one of his colleagues say that he recently visited Mike and that he didn’t remember anything about 60 Minutes or what he had achieved as a broadcaster. In some ways, that’s sad, but I take it as a cautionary tale. Appreciate life now. Honor your journey. Celebrate it now. None of knows what tomorrow brings. While that sounds ominous, I don’t mean it to be, just that there aren’t any guarantees.

Life is today. What will you remember of your life? Who knows. The point is what you’re doing right now. Live it. Celebrate it.

Mike, tonight we celebrate you.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available of Amazon 

Carol D. O’Dell’s Mothering Mother is a frank, unflinching true story of a daughter coping with the role reversal when her sick and aging mother moves in. Carol holds back nothing, offering up hilarious moments alongside the poingnant and the heartbreaking.
More than a memoir, Mothering Mother will inspire, entertain and hearten anyone facing the challenges of caregiving. Through it all she must find the time to escape and nurture her own body and soul while caring for her children, her mother, and her marriage.
Written with wit and sensitivity, Mothering Mother will help others survive–and thrive family life, including the caregiving experience. Mothering Mother was originally written from Carol’s daily journals and captures the reality of everything from driving issues, jealousy, doctor and medical care concerns,, hospice, grief, family dynamics and the joys and challenges found along the way. Mothering Mother is perfect for the sandwich generation, multi-generational households, and for those who care for loved ones and want to face each day with purpose, joy, and hope.

Resources:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8334-504803_162-57411009-10391709/a-look-back-at-some-memorable-mike-wallace-reports/?tag=cbsnewsMainColumnArea.1

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jadeEUfpe-0vNVtCIM-ETbcl9o-w?docId=123741572d8e44cbb208611f8e3c6e06

http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_causes_risk_factors.asp

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm

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