Posts Tagged ‘caregiving’

“I get tired of being told to take care of myself. Yeah, I know I should, but it’s just not that easy.”

It’s not like you haven’t thought of sleeping eight continuous hours, or that you haven’t thought of making an appointment to get your teeth cleaned, or signing up for yoga or join the Y. It’s just that a few things keep getting in the way….

Your loved one gets on a coughing jag from 2-4 a.m. You’ve been in hospital land for like, three weeks. You’re sick of going to doctors so you don’t relish the thought of making an appointment for yourself. And you know you should want to but the idea of getting into gym clothes and working out is about as appealing as a proctology exam.

I got whapped back into caring for a caregiver this week. We’re in the hospital with my two-week old granddaughter who needed heart surgery. I’m on vigil, side-by-side with my daughter and son-in law. I’m back in the world of vinyl sleeping chairs, Bunn-o-matic coffee and powdered cream, monitors, IVs, and waiting for rounds. It’s oh so familiar.

As the 2nd in line (caregiver of a caregiver) I have just the slightest shift in perspective. After a week or full-out trauma and eating only cafeteria food knowing we could be here a month, I can now begin to make a plan. I went to the store and bought us salads, carrots, grapes and apples–and 100 calorie snack packs for the middle of the night, help relieve the stress munchies.

I’m taking the stairs instead of the elevator several times a day (we’re on the tenth floor). I’m avoiding anything fried but am allowing for the occasional cookie and hot tea snack. I try to go for several long walks around the University of Florida/Shands campus a day. I’ve thought about doing some lunges and push-ups but I haven’t actually done it yet:) We’re all to worried to think much about our own bodies, but it really won’t do anyone any good if we just lose it on a giant box of Krispy Kremes.

Bottom line, no one likes to be told what to do.

Telling a caregiver to take care of themselves might get you hurt, or a nasty look at the very least. Buy them a cup of their favorite hot tea.  Give them a gift card for a massage. Tell them a funny joke so they’ll chuckle the rest of the day. Give them a loofah and some body salts.

Put your heart where your mouth is.


Read Full Post »

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. 



Read Full Post »

My mother liked to cook with a pressure cooker, a heavy steel pot with a lid that locked in place. What fascinated me was the tiny attachment that bobbed on top to let out the steam. Without the ability to release the pressure the pot would have exploded. (The disgusting part was that my mother loved to cook rutabagas in that pot. Nastiest smell there is). That’s what happens when you’re caregiving and you don’t give yourself an escape valve. Somebody’s going to get hurt.

Anger, resentment, anxiety, frustration…these are your signs. They’re the clues that let you know the pressure is building. That agitation is there for a reason, so honor it. Sure, it’s not pretty, but playing “nice” and living a lie can really get ugly–and dangerous.

If you’re experiencing any (or all) of these emotions, then congratulations, you’re alive–and fairly normal. Don’t be afraid of your emotions, observe them and ask them to guide you. Those who work in anger management remind us that anger, when understood, helps us.

Anger teaches, anger signals, and anger looks for solutions.

Now that you recognize that you have a pulse, it’s time to figure out how to destress.

3 Tips to Destress for Caregivers:

  • Use your emotions. If you’re feeling rage, then rage, just do it in a safe way. Scream into your pillow. Throw an old coffee cup against the outside wall of your house (watch for fly-backs), jump up and down, find a punching bag and wale away. The point is, get the anger up and out.
  • Vent. Stop stuffing and call a friend. Ask for a ten minute rant. Complain away. Say it all. Get it out. Trust they won’t take everything you say as gospel truth or think you’re a horrible person. Purge your worry, your guilt, your frustrations, and then when the timer is up–STOP! If you don’t, it’s like a faucet left running that spills onto everything and gets harder and harder to clean up.  You can also vent on the page, or vent in the car–alone. Talking aloud and having imaginary arguments helps you work through many issues without destroying relationships.
  • Get away. Five minutes or five days. Respite is crucial for caregivers, but it’s so so hard to convince a care provider to  take a break. Why? We’re control freaks. I know you don’t want to hear that, but I did put myself in the mix as well. We think that no one can do what we do. We think our loved one will decline or not respond to anybody else. That’s ego talking. We don’t want to admit it, but it is. It’s time to realize that if we don’t step away, if we don’t mend our souls, get some sleep, and gain some perspective that we’ll ruin our health and be of little good to anybody.  Step outside the front door for five minutes. Take longer in the shower, longer at the store. Steal moments. Make it game or a challenge. How can you get 30 minutes to yourself?

We don’t realize it, but we thrive off being needed, and sometimes we’re even addicted (mildly) to the drama that comes with care. Face it, it’s exciting (in a bizarre way) Wean yourself away.

My mother would tell me to stand back and she’d take that hot and heavy pot to the sink and the first thing she’d do is let it cool down. She didn’t rip off the lid. If she did, it would explode, give her a steam burn, or simply refuse to budge. It had to sit, calm down, and wait for the pressure to subside. Caregivers have to realize that they’re going to have to try a lot of different “tricks” to figure out what works best for them and their loved one. They can’t rip into stress and demand it go away. It took a long time to build up that much pressure and it takes time to create balance once again.

And for the record, I still don’t like rutabagas. Nasty. Nasty. Nasty.

Read Full Post »

“When will I feel like me again?”

Sometimes I get asked this question by someone whose care partner has recently died and they’re reeling from grief while trying to figure out a new direction for their life. Other times it’s in the midst of the valley of care–when there’s no end in sight.

I see their desperate eyes and I wish that I could give them a simple, “soon,” but the truth is, none of us can go back, not even a moment or day, to who we were, to what life was.

I experienced this as well. I left one life–a busy mom/director of a school, a writer with publishing dreams, and then within a matter of months I was my mother’s daughter, caregiver, driver, health advocate, cook and could barely leave her side without being called back. I used to say I’m the dog in the front yard–the one with a choke collar on a very short chain. I chose to care for her, but I had no idea where it would take me. In time, I lost and found more of me. I had to figure out how to compartmentalize the many facets of identity.

Caregiving changes you. It has to. It’s too all-encompassing not to. Some of those changes make you a better person. Sometimes you don’t think you passed “the test.” You see how ugly, selfish, degrading, bullying, manipulative, resentful, and angry you are. And most of the time you don’t even know what triggered it. It gives you a chance to take a long hard look at who you are, but most of the time you’re too exhausted and frustrated to feel like you can do much about it. Every day exploded with doctor appointments, prescriptions to pick up, sheets to wash and calls to make.

Besides, I don’t think we have to be aware of change in order to change. Life teaches us, like it or not, willing or not. Being exposed to pain and suffering (for most of us) teaches us compassion. Being exposed to the dying process allows us to contemplate life and purpose. It doesn’t have to be profound, understanding weaves its way into our ordinary days, and I have to believe that in that small moment where we slip past our vices, when we extend kindness, humor, and tenderness–in spite of our own issues and our own needs–and we touch, truly touch another–that is the gift.

In  Finding Your Own North Star, author and life coach Martha Beck reminds us that many cultures value the times in our lives when we lose one identity and have yet to pick up another. Indians go on spirit walks. They leave their tribe and wander without knowing if they will ever make it back, and in that no man’s land, they encounter something magical. Those who return are barely recognizable. Only remnants of their former selves remain. Cleansed by a holy fire, this human metamorphosis is part of our journey and especially true for caregivers.

I guess the only way to get there is to be stripped of identity and to learn to somehow be okay with not knowing who we are or where we are. To be willing to strike out, nameless, faceless, and to give our all and have no idea of who we’ll be when it’s over and trust that whatever lessons needed to be learned were learned, and if not, they’ll come around again.

Let the riptide take you and see what shore you wash up on.

Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.
Madeleine L’Engle 



Read Full Post »

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 



Read Full Post »

I finished my blog, “How to Live and Die Well” and while I meant every word, my sarcastic side was reeling.  Admit it, most of us will leave this earth kicking and screaming ( at least on the inside). We don’t want to eat our veggies as much as we’d prefer to dive into a bag of Lays, and aren’t there some days when you want to embrace your inner grump and blast the world? So here’s my comedy version–and on some/most  days–it’s a tad closer to the truth.

How to Live a Horrible Life:

  • Indulge my every whim–even when I’m repeating an already disastrous scenario that didn’t exactly work out the first time.
  • Refuse to forgive–especially myself.
  • Hold on to, nurse, and even embellish grudges, past hurts, and assumed wrongs.
  • Accuse others of stealing from you, talking about you, disliking you (which they probably do by this point) because that further endears you to folks.
  • Watch lots of television.
  • Buy a scooter. Walking is for sissies.
  • Try and force things to happen. It’s exhausting and not trusting, but it’s based on believing that I’m actually in control–of anything and everything.
  • Keep that inner monologue of self-doubt and self-loathing going 24/7.
  • –while simultaneously blaming anybody and everybody else for my crappy life.
  • Get too little sleep, indulge in too many processed foods/sweets, and take a pill, any pill, all the pills I can find–for everything from a hangnail to hemorrhoids.
  • Never do anything that’s not for my own direct benefit.
  • Give up, give in, and then complain about how nothing ever works out for me.
  • Never say thank you.
How to Die a Horrible Death: 
  • Repeat the above steps for the next 40/50 years.
  • Get more demanding and grumpy with each passing year.
  • Threaten that “I’m going to die soon, so please just do this one thing for me,” to get people to cater to your every whim.
  • Go to a doctor for every little thing and take all the meds and all the free med handouts they give me.
  • Read lots of articles about horrible diseases and become convinced I have them all.
  • Push people out of the way with my cart and mumble “Move it, I’m old!” (my mother used to do this)
  • Become incontinent as soon as possible…
  • because we all know that our family members just LOVE changing adult diapers.
  • Insist others feed you and then let the food dribble out on your chin and down your shirt–your family will be sure to love that one, too.
  • Become so cantankerous that even the grim reaper doesn’t want to spend time with you.
  • Refuse to “go to the light.”
  • Fake your death scene–clutch your chest and gasp for air–just to get people all crying and worked up. Then yell, “Surprise!” (Facetious, I know, but don’t you want to try it now?)
Yeah, I’m having a bit of fun, but this list just might help keep me motivated.
I’m working on my Oscar-worthy death scene now….
Have some to add? Send ’em my way and I’ll add them to the post.
In the meantime, happy living!
Carol D. O’Dell

Read Full Post »

“Where was I? A caregiver friend of mine asks, standing in the middle of her life as if she has walked back into a room and forgot what she was doing in the first place. Life after (or between) caregiving can make you feel odd in your own skin. You’re not who you were, you don’t know what’s to come, what you’re good at now, or what interests you anymore.

Long term caregiving can feel as if you’ve held your breath so long you don’t know how to inhale and exhale like all the other folks on the planet.

My friend is coming up on the first anniversary of her dad’s passing. Fifteen years spent as a caregiver (primarily) and her hair is now strikingly white, she has a new husband, and for better or worse she’ll tell you she’s just not the same gal she was when she agreed to move in and care for her mom, then dad all those years ago.

Perhaps a better question is, “Where am I?”

Where was I doesn’t particularly matter. You’re however many years older. Your experiences, beliefs, and even issues have changed. And that’s okay. It has to be. It’s the nature of living–things change and so do we.

It’s not that things changed, most of us get that, it’s that aspects of our selves, our lives, were in stasis. We feel like we’ve been in cryogenic sleep and have no idea who won that last 20 World Series. Life has gone on without you. You have no idea what movies are in theatres, and whatever happened to DVD’s?

You may be thinking about going back to work, but what are you qualified to do–other than bring juice, fluff pillows, and argue with insurance companies?

Getting traction, momentum may take some time–and while you’re figuring this all out–grief sweeps in like giant waves crashing on top of you, buckling your knees, you come up sputtering with a mouthful of grit and a belly full of hurt.

Letting go of what was will eventually come. Let it. No, you’re not 35 any more, but 55 isn’t so bad. There are a few perks that come with aging, with living, with loving for so long. Letting go takes time. We don’t open our grip without some resistance.

In Finding Your Own North Star by life coach Martha Beck, she talks about being in quadrant one–when all we know dies, when our lives are reduced to rubble and we stand in the ruins, ashy, beat up, stunned, and the mantra is:

I don’t know what’s happening, and that’s okay.

It’s okay to not know what comes next.

It’s okay to have a decent hour when you’re not consumed with grief or anxiety followed by four crappy, baseball in the back of the knees–ones.

It’s okay not to have a plan.

It’s okay to bump into walls.

It’s okay to cry–not cry, scream–not scream.

That’s where you are.

And that’s okay.

My only suggestion is this:

Do what soothes you, follow any inkling of a curiosity, buy, borrow, visit anything or anyone that stirs something in you. These are the seeds of desire.

And our desires, however small or trivial doesn’t matter, are the thread thin roots of our new selves.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »