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Posts Tagged ‘Carol O’Dell’

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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I have a friend who fled New Orleans a few days ago.

He is father, a dad, a son, and a husband. He left town with a caravan.

He’s a caregiver extraordinaire. Not because he thought it’d be fun.

It’s because he loves his family.

In one car was his wife, his wife’s mother who is wheelchair bound and with a catheter and oxygen.

In another a car iwas his college age daughter with all their belongings.

In another car was his teenage daughter with all their pets–four cats, and a puppy.

He was driving the lead car–and in his car is his mother and father. His father has Alzheimer’s.

They’re headed to a hotel in Texas to hold up until Gustav blows over.

He learned the hard way.

They evacuated for Katrina,but only after the winds and rains started. Their house had to be demolished. They were living in a hotel and fema trailer for 15 months.

Now again…

My heart aches for him. He’s got to be exhausted and worried. How many times can he do this?

If he moves to another city or state he has to get a job, relocate kids in school, move his parents and his mother-in-law and parents, all of who depend n him and his wife.

This is the epitome of being a sandwich generation. Enough stress to make your head explode.

What catastrophe could come your way?

Nature? Could you get slammed with a blizzard? A flood? What about a terrorist attack? We can’t say that won’t happen…

What would two weeks without electricity do to you and your loved ones? What if their meds ran out? What if you yourself got sick or hurt and could no longer maintain your caregiving responsibilities?

Here’s a short list of preparing for emergency care with a ill or aged loved one:

  • Know your route out of town if you need to evacuate
  • Don’t wait until the last minute
  • Keep meds and medical information in a plastic container that won’t get wet and will be easy to grab and go
  • Don’t over talk this and get your loved one worked up
  • Don’t watch the news in front of them–make your plan and be prepared. Quietly move to go items near the door or loaded into the car
  • Consider golashes for the entire family–if there’s rain or snow or ice, this makes it easier to transport people
  • Keep med times and meal times and bedtimes as structured, on-time and normal as you can. This will keep your loved one calm and functioning as well as possible
  • If your loved one moves slowly, consider buying a used wheelchair so that you can move them around easier if you have to change locations often or at the last minute
  • Know where special needs shelters are in your area
  • If you have pets–Google pet friendly hotels along your escape route. Call early–pet friendly hotels get filled fast
  • Take important docs including living wills and DPOA
  • Prepare for stress related issues to come up. Stress is hard on a healthy body for reeks havoc on people with neurological diseases. Too much information to process can overload their delicate neurons so expect their speech, motor skills, etc. to not funciton as well
  • Stay together. You are their lifeline. Don’t get separated in a crowd. Refuse to leave them.
  • Consider a medical alert bracelet or necklace with ID information–especially for those iwth dementia or Alzhiemer’s
  • Even if your loved one isn’t in adult diapers, you might want to keep some on hand for this kind of emergency
  • Stay focused. Getting everyone to safety will take your full attention and physical endurance.
  • Keep a sense of humor. As difficult–and scary as all this is, there’s nothing more reassuring that everything will be all right than a smile, a hug, or a laugh when things get crazy.

As long as you make it out of your emergency situation with those you love–and everyone is safe–that’s all that matters.

Take the time to prepare now. So many people depend on you as a caregiver–you’re their lifeline.

Do all you can to ensure the safety of those who are vulnerable–those you love.

And take it from my friend who is safe and dry in a hotel (with his whole gang, (dogs and cats and moms and dads, and mom-in-law, and wife and kids) somewhere deep in the heart of Texas–leave early!

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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Sometimes stress causes us to come to a complete stand still.

I know, because right now my house is in complete turmoil.

My entire downstairs was flooded two days ago and they’ve ripped up the carpet and baseboards–I have about 25 fans and giant humidifiers everywhere. Stuff is everywhere and I’m assessing the damage. I”m grateful that this is the only drama that has come my way recently, but stil, it’s unsettling.

I find myself staring a lot. I sit on the front porch and try to read or work–but I just sit and stare.

It reminds me of the chaos of caregiving–how your life, your aspirations are displaced.

When I first realized my mother had Alzheimer’s, I felt complete immobilized. What does this mean? Where will it take us? How bad will it get?

I felt like I couldn’t find myself or remember what it was I was supposed to do. Whenever I wasn’t cutting a pill or making a dinner tray or driving my mother to a doctor, I’d fall into the crevasse of nothingness. I just couldn’t figure out what it was I was supposed to do or if it really felt important enough to bother with. Sure, I had a list–but no motivation.

Whenever I talk to caregivers now, I am usually upbeat with lots of suggestions. I’m surprised no one’s slugged me in the arm yet. My chipperness could get on somebody’s “last nerve,” as my Mama used to say.

I’m not going to offer you any tips today. I’m going to sit with you. If I were there–I’d flop down next to you and not say a word. Sometimes you don’t want to be fixed, you just need to know you’re not alone.

If you find yourself numb, lost, blah, and overall, good for nothin’, then hey, don’t fight it. Not today. It might just be where you need to be. For awhile.

I promise–life will eventually change. The monotony will give way, the mood funk wil pass. Sometimes, we don’t let ourselves feel the sorrow and grief that comes with caregiving. We try to stay up, up, up–and then it all backfires. Trust yourself, your body, your emotions. You will come out of this.

Sadly, loved ones pass. Death gives way to life.

Life cycles around again. Births will come–birth of spring, of flowers and birds–it happens every year and it will happen to you. You will have energy and joy and purpose again in your life. You will laugh and dream. Today and all of its paralyzing emotions will pass.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Check out my book–Mothering Mother, A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available in bookstore and online–and on Amazon \

Kunati Publishing

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Creating a bedtime ritual is good for the body and soul.

Parents do this for their children–read them a book, sing a song, say a prayer. Why do we ever stop?

Everything from brushing your teeth to the way you fluff your pillow gives cues to your body to begin to relax and let go. It’s a great way to ward off insomnia and over-thinking/worrying.

 

I always ask myself two questions at the end of each day:

What was the best part of my day?

What am I looking forward to tomorrow?

As I ask myself the first question, I almost always get a visual, and about 85% of the time the best part of my day had something to do with nature. Not about me achieving my goals–and believe me, I’m very goal driven. It’s not about a royalty check reflecting how many books I’ve sold or some other personal achievement (sometimes it is, but it has to be something I feel I’ve earned or dreamed about for a long time).

The first question allows me reflect upon the day.

It’s about the double-winged dragonfly that zipped past me while I was biking. Or the blue heron that stood still and let me get really close. Or the field of wild rabbits I came up on. No matter where you live–New York City or Kalamazoo, there’s more nature around you than you think. It’s there for a reason–it sustains you in so many ways.

 

Nature gets me outside myself. It connects me with all living things. It’s exquisite,  exotic, powerful, and surprising. Sometimes I relive these moments–the feel of my hair lifting off my shoulders as I bike, the buoyancy of the waves as I body surf–reliving those moments at the end of my day is living life twice.

Occasionally, it’s about an old friend that called, a recognition I’m particularly honored to receive, but more times than not–it’s not about me.

This one question has also changed my day. What will I have to tell myself at the end of the day if I don’t get outside and give opportunity for those “best parts of my day” to present themselves?

It’s heightened my awareness. I step out my front door expecting a miracle, or at the very least, a gift.  When that hummingbird appears, that deer looks me in the eye, I’m acutely aware–and grateful. I tuck in my memory like a pebble in my pocket knowing I’ll get to enjoy it again as I lay my head on my pillow.

The second question links me to the new day in front of me.

This one I heard from Dr. Phil.Now I’m not crazy about the direction he’s taken with his Jerry Springer-esque tv show, but I heard that he asks his sons this question each night so that they would end the day on a note of hope.

No matter our age or circumstance of life–we all need something to look forward to tomorrow.

Whether it’s meeting a friend for lunch or the next day’s walk, we need to go to sleep with the thought that tomorrow is waiting for us.

It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to cost money. It’s about creating a life of meaning.

Even our elders those we are caregiving need to look forward to the next day.

This again, causes us to create our days, make plans, and focus.

Create a morning ritual as well. 

List 5 things you’re grateful for before you get up.

Again, we’re talking simple.

Here’s today’s morning list for me:

I’m grateful for–

  • a bike ride (I go on one every morning)
  • my dog Rupert and his he sits nudged under my desk as I write
  • cherries that are in season–and the bowl that awaits me when I get up
  • my favorite pillow–gushy
  • my newly painted office that is lipstick red with white trim–and has a whole wall painted in chalkboard paint so I can literally write on the walls

Nothing earth shattering, but as my feet hit the ground each morning, I do what was suggested in the book, The Secret. Each step I take on my way to the bathroom–I say, “thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” Out loud. I

‘m smiling by the time I glance into the mirror.

This sure is better than beating myself up for saying something stupid that day, or mulling over a pile of bills, or rehasing a disagreement. There is a time to deal with those things, but that time isn’t the last thing at night or the first thing in the morning.

Protect this sacred time. Gather the best, look forward to tomorrow–

and fill your heart with gratitude.

 

I’m Carol O’Dell, and this is my blog, Mothering Mother and More, found at caroldodell.wordpress.com/

Carol is the author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir.

It’s a collection of stories and thoughts for families and caregivers written in real time as she cared for her mother who suffered with Alzheimer’ and Parkinson’s.

Mothering Mother is available at Amazon and can be requested at any bookstore or library.

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