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Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

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.

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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

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I’ve been wanting to do this for a while–write to the future me–about how to live and die. I witnessed my 92-year-old mother as she died and I am profoundly grateful for that experience. I learned so much from those last years together–and that when it’s my time to go, I want to go out easy with a grateful heart. I even want to be a little  jazzed about whatever comes next. If that’s to happen, it must start now. You can’t get bold in those last moments if it’s not a part of who you are all along.

There’s a great site for just such a letter. It’s www.FutureMe.org.

It’s a place to write yourself letters–letters of encouragement, advice, or just to capture where you are today so that the future you and remember, really remember. I go there often–leave myself little notes–remember to laugh out loud at least once a day–to take a risk–to ask forgiveness. You can email it to yourself at any future date.

So here’s mine–about how I want to face those last hours on this earth. I’m hoping that I will have to email myself this same letter again and again–that I’ll have a bit of time to taste the sweetness this world has to offer.

But who knows? So I better get busy…

Dear FutureMe,

I have no idea when your day will come, but when it does–be brave. Meet the next big adventure with a smile and a “let’s see what’s next” kind of attitude.

In the meantime, tell people you love them, be grateful. Laugh. Give. For-give. Embrace whatever comes down your path–where ever you live, whoever you’re with, whatever it is that you do–give it your whole heart.

All I know is life is full of change. Switchbacks, surprises, knock your breath out and catch your breath moments–gather them all.

You’re going to lose people you love, and nothing can stop the hurt that’s to come. Try to let all the bitter disappointments, rejections, losses, and sorrows to pass through you. We have to let go and as hard or impossible as it might seem, that’s what life asks of us. Glean their truths without holding onto bitterness or cynicism.

Learn. Grow. Never settle. Forget this “I’m old” crap. Not everyone sits in a recliner and gives up, so hang out with those who inspire you. Be bold! Do the unexpected. Learn to fly a plane at 80, volunteer at a free clinic in Ethiopia, paint some kick-ass graffiti or climb the Eiffel tower–whatever grabs your heart and won’t let go.

Trust that what you want–wants you.

Leave this world a better place than you found it.

And when the time comes–be at peace–whether you’re  garden dirt (which is a lovely thought, to help flowers and trees grow) or star-dust in a distant galaxy, or fishing by a lazy river with Daddy–trust that whatever is next, is exactly as it should be–and that for me is the definition of Heaven.

When the time comes for you to go, this is what I want you to do:

Take a deep breath. Remember being on a boat. You’re coming back from a day trip–Mexico or the South of France–and you’re on top. You’re a little pink with sunburn, a little buzzed on rum punch, and the wind on your skin feels oh so good. Phillip is beside you and he’s holding your hand. He feels strong and warm and you lean on him. The sun is setting but it’s so bright that you close your eyes. All you can feel is the hum of the boat, the rhythmic bounce of waves, the occasional salt spray that cools your face.

This day, this life, was everything you ever wanted. You are full. You are exhausted and spent–in the best of ways. You think of all those you love–and you know without even opening your eyes that they’re surrounding you–those who are still on this earth and those beyond. You feel their love. They’re here to celebrate you.

And all you can feel is deep, sweet rest and the boat and the wind–taking you home.

Love big. Laugh bigger.

Life is oh so sweet.

~Carol

On a boat, off the coast of Cassis, France

Carol D. O’Dell

www.caroldodell.com 

 

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle and in hardback on Amazon

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Being a full-time caregiver for several years and going the “last mile”has taught me a thing or two. I allowed (not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually) my mom to pass in our home and that has changed me. At the time, when I was in the thick of caregiving 24/7 and having to get up and play “prison guard” to my mom who had Parkinson’s (thank God because it slowed her down) and Alzheimer’s (which revved her up) and heart disease (just to throw another kink in the game plan), I spent most nights hitting my bed only occasionally as if it were a trampoline. In those grueling, full of worry, can’t make it better no matter what I do, nights and days I wondered at times if I would survive. I did, and I’m profoundly grateful for this life-changing, push me to the bitter edge experience. This gal learned a thing or two.

  • I learned not to be afraid of disease. Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s I’ve seen what they can dish out, and it’s not pretty. They’re bad, don’t get me wrong, but I know the terrain and I find we’re most afraid of the unknown. I hope to figure out how to deal with whatever grenades life throws me.
  • I want to grab life with gusto. No guarantees in this world. So spend your money, take the trips, laugh with friends. Love big and hard and take risks–the good kind. Do it now. Arbor day, Chinese New Year’s–life’s for celebrating in big and little ways.
  • Stand up for myself–and for those I love. Caregiving comes with a zilliion big and little decisions. It’s easy to be bullied by the medical community, by other family members, by the “shoulds” in your head. I learned to stand up and stand behind my own decisions. It’s easier to blame others, and it takes a big girl (or a big guy) to have the guts to stick to my own convictions.
  • Love what is.Pain comes from the fight to make things a certain way, when we can’t let go of what was and walk across the bridge to what is. I thought my mom was back in my life in such a big way so we could “fix’ our relationship–work through our hurts and misplaced expectations. Wrong. I learned to love her, to love me, to love us–as is.
  • Laugh–or scream–but do something to release those runaway rollercoaster emotions. It’s time to stop holding it all in. Sorrow, guilt, frustration, resentment–it’s all there for a reason. They’re clues to help us know what’s going on in our heads and our hearts. But they’re toxic if they’re stuffed down and not allowed to breathe.
  • Do something I’m proud of. It’s time to leave the world a better place than I found it. I want to be known for something. For making a difference. I want some small sliver of the world changed for the better–because of me. I’ll let you know what sliver grabs my heartstrings next.
  • To stop caring what others think. Get a nose piercing, cut my hair down to the nubs, paint my front door purple and my mailbox lime green, dance under the stars, speak up and speak out when I see an injustice–that’s how I want to live now. That’s how I want to be remembered. Conformity sucks. In the words of Nelson Mandela (I believe he quoted it from Marianne Williamson), “Why are you trying to fit in–when you born to stand out?”
  • Nature heals. Nothing brought me more comfort than the sparkle of light on water, a bird’s wings whirring overhead, a breeze lifting my hair and reminding me to stop for a moment and take it all in. When sorrow slams into my chest I hope to remember to fall into the earth and ask it to take from me what I cannot bear alone.
  • To tell our stories. I wrote every day I cared for my mom. I wrote to stay alive. I wrote to figure out life. I wrote to remember our journey. Those journals became my book, Mothering Mother, but I wasn’t writing to get a book deal. I was writing to capture moments, to pick them up like a prism and look at each facet.
  • When death comes, I hope to dance my way to the next realm, not fight it. I hope I’ll have a bit of a heads up and let go of this world with a dash of grace. I hope I’ll take Chief  Sitting Bull’s words and shout to the universe, “It’s a good day to die!”

That’s what I’ve learned. Oh, I can still be shallow, petty, and mean-spirited at times. I still lose my way–but not for long. Caregiving has changed me. For the better.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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All of us worry about aging. Perhaps we should worry less–and learn from a pro. So, who’s the oldest person who ever lived?

The oldest woman (that can be documented) is Jeanne Louise Calment. She lived to the age of 122.

Born in Arles, France, February 21, 1875, and left this earth on August 4, 1997. Now, that’s impressive–but what’ more impressive is her mindset, her ability to embrace challenges and change. If anything is the key to longevity–with quality–it’s embracing challenges and changes with a measure of wit and grace.

What attributes do you need to live a long, healthy, and meaningful life? Living past 100 isn’t just about longevity–it’s about quality. Being a caregiver, I got to see “old age” close up. My mom lived to the age of 92 and it was only the last two years that were extremely difficult. ( My mom had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease). There isn’t always rhyme or reason why one person makes it well past 100 with a sharp mind and a spry body while another person seems to hit one health problem after another.

Many centenarians have eaten what they wanted, smoked, drank (usually in moderation)–while someone else who tries to follow all the rules finds a not so pleasant diagnosis. Life isn’t fair. That’s a mantra we must embrace–and not in a negative way–but by choosing to love what is kind of way, and knowing the only thing we can change is our attitude.  Life’s a crap shoot, so let’s play some craps.

Highlights of Jeanne’s Louise Calment’s Amazing Life:

  •  Born the year Tolstoy published Anna Karennina
  • Born one year after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
  • She met Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, her home town, when she was just 14. She wasn’t impressed.
  • In the end Calment was blind and almost deaf, but she kept her spunk and sharp wit to the end.
  • At age 121, she released her two CDs, one in French and another in English titled, Maitresse du Temps (Time’s Mistress). the CD features a rap and other songs. She wrote or contributed to five books.
  • Her husband died of a dessert tainted with spoiled cherries–she was a widow for more than half a century.
  • She outlived her only daughter who died of pneumonia at the age of 36. She raised her grandson who became a medical doctor and  lived him as well (he died in a car accident in 1963).
  • Calment took up fencing at the age of 80, and rode her bike until 100.
  • Calment enjoyed port wine and a diet rich in olive oil–and chocolate–two pounds a day.
  • At the age of 119 she finally agreed to give up sweets and smoking–because she could no longer see to light up.
  • Calment enjoyed a life of relative ease–from a bourgeois family, she always had enough money–not wealthy mind you, but enough.
  • She was active–and enjoyed tennis, bicycling, swimming, roller skating, piano and even opera. In her later years she sold some of her real estate and lived comfortably in a nursing home in Arles until her passing. She was affectionately known in France as “Jeanne D’Arles.”

Calment’s attitude and longevity s attributed to her decision not to worry: “She never did anything special to stay in good health,” said French researcher Jean-Marie Robine.  She once said “ If  you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”
Calment recommended laughter as a recipe for longevity and jokes that “God must have forgotten about me.” ( L’Oubliee de Dieu?) as her reason for her long life.

For skin care, she recommended olive oil and a dab of make-up.  “All my life I’ve put olive oil on my skin and then just a puff of powder.  I could never wear mascara, I cried too often when I laughed.”

Calment’s Quotes:

“I’ve waited 110 years to be famous, I count on taking advantage of it,” she quipped at her 120th birthday party.

Also on her 120th  birthday, when asked what kind of  future did she expect, she replied “A very short one.”

Getting used to growing media attention with every year that passes, she quips:  “I wait for death… and journalists.”

“When you’re 117, you see if you remember everything!”   She rebuked an interviewer once.

On her 120th birthday, a man in town said, “Until next year, perhaps.”

“I don’t see why not,” she replied. ” You don’t look so bad to me.”

Clement’s Best Quote:

“I’ve never had but one wrinkle, and I’m sitting on it.”

I don’t know about you, but aging like this doesn’t sound too bad. It sounds like a good life.

Enjoy life, learn to let go–even of those you love, crack a good joke, eat what you love, and don’t worry about the rest.

***

Mothering Mother is now available as an e-book! (click here to order for your Kindle)

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The happy caregiver–is that an oxymoron? Not at all. Yes, caregiving is inherently stressful, but it also has many rewards. A recent study featured on Good Morning America shows that having a positive attitude actually adds years to your life–not to mention its impact on the quality of life from everything from fighting depression to boosting your immune system.  

You may not consider yourself a happy caregiver–not every moment of every day, but it’s not too late to change your ‘tude, or realize you actually have more going for you than you realize. Happy isn’t birthday party giddy. Sometimes happy is about a deep sense of knowing you’re in the right place at the right time–doing the right thing.

The Happy Caregiver:

  • Is caregiving because they want to
  • Knows they’re needed
  • Keeps it in balance
  • Has other things going on–friendships, activities, learning
  • Knows that caregiving won’t last forever
  • Laughs off stress
  • Sometimes yells, sometimes slams doors a bit too hard
  • Asks forgiveness
  • Sees themselves as a part of a tribe
  • Asks for help
  • Doesn’t fall for bullying or manipulation
  • Does what’s best–for everyone
  • Keeps the bigger picture in mind
  • Doesn’t even begin to do it all
  • Can tell a good joke
  • And give a good toast
  • Appreciates the moments of surprize and insight that pop up at the most unusual times
  • Accepts imperfection in herself and others (her is just a place holder–guys care-give, too)
  • Keeps short range and longe range plans and goals in mind
  • Stands up for what’s right
  • Curses–occasionally
  • Knows they’re an advocate, a voice when their care buddy needs them
  • Occasionally exhausts all their resources–physically, emotionally, and spirituallly
  • And knows those resevoirs have to be refilled
  • Has a deep sense of faith and hope
  • Accepts that no one gets out of this world–alive
  • Faces their fear–not because they’re uber brave or crazy-strong–but because it’s the only way
  • When the time comes, they embrace the sweetness and quietness of a good death
  • Gives into grief
  • Relies on friends and family for strength
  • Counts blessings
  • Sees life in its many seasons
  • Sees life as precious, precarious, and profound
  • Reinvents herself/himself again and again and again

Maybe you don’t feel bubbly right now–but I bet you see yourself in a few of the lines above. Caregivers are pretty amazing–and the more you choose to view what you do with a sense of honor and integrity and knowing that every day you make a difference, the more you’ll realize you just might be…a happy caregiver.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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My friend Amy opens her front door and a hospice care person steps inside. They walk back to Amy’s dad’s room–a small Christmas tree sits on table positioned for him to see.  It’s the only holiday decoration in the house. Caregiving and the holidays can be a tender time–and a time of dread.

You might be asking, “Is this our last Christmas together?”

If your loved one is in hospice, it might be. But this is Amy’s second Christmas–with hospice in tow. Still, she feels that her dad won’t make a third.

“There’s a finality to this holiday we haven’t had before. Even dad knows it.”

I asked her what means the most to her this season–what’s the one thing she has to do.

“Our family tradition is that on christmas Eve we gather around the tree, drink egg nog and open our gifts.  Dad always reads from the Book of Luke and we sing Silent Night.”

Amy teared. She’s worried her dad won’t make it that long.

I suggested she move up Christmas Eve–that her dad probably wouldn’t question the date. Her face lit up and a smile spread across her entire face, softening worry lines.

What do you do if this is your last Christmas together?

Whatever brings you relief, whatever comforts you–do it now.

Surround you and your loved one with support and ease.

Ask for help, say exactly what you need–or ask for space–whichever you need.

Let go of expectations.

Let go of everything and everybody who causes you stress.

Pull in. Get Quiet.

Find your place of peace.

Make your own Christmas. Don’t wait.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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Thanksgiving is more than just turkey, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. Sights, smells and recipes conjures childhood in a way nothing else can. As my mother’s daughter and caregiver I became the woman in the kitchen.

The roles shifted and I wore the apron but I kept my mother alive–by making dishes from my childhood–Waldorf salad, Daddy’s pound cake recipe, and the best dressing on the planet. I would set my mother in a chair at the kitchen table while I scurried around the kitchen–offering her a taste of this or that and smiling when even with Alzheimer’s she’d suggest a bit more sage.

And then my mother was gone. She passed on a warm June day in our home with the lace curtains swaying and a cardinal on a branch just outisde her window.

That next Thanksgiving was tender.

Whether you still have your mom or dad, or if they’ve passed, I hope you’ll enjoy this Thanksgiving essay.

***

Thanksgiving Morning

I get out Mother’s enamel fruit bowl, the one painted with apples and grapes and pineapples. I know it must be from the fifties. I get out the potatoes and peeler and begin scraping the brown strips that fly and stick to the edges of the bowl. The white chunks are placed in a Revere Ware boiler that Mother gave me as a wedding present twenty-three years ago. I fill it with cold water and a dash of salt, and as I turn on the burner I suddenly feel five again and can see the small mound of salt crystals in the center of Mother’s palm and the quick turn of her wrist.

This is my first Thanksgiving without Mother here.

Sometimes she would stop right in the middle of her cooking, turn the pot upside down for inspection and lay it on the edge of the sink. She sprinkled it with salt and baking soda, then squeezed a little lemon juice from the yellow plastic lemon. Her fingers made little scrubbing circles with a sudsy Brillo pad, her shoulders hunched, her face intent and her whole body pressing down as if she could cleanse the world of its sin. I hung around to watch the quick rinse under the faucet. She tilted the pan for me to see the copper as it gleamed. Satisfied, I’d head outside to swing.

She’s been gone five months now.

I watch and wait for the potatoes to boil, for the familiar starchy foam that gathers first around the edges, turning the water opaque as the potatoes dance. I carry the heavy pot to the sink. The kitchen window fogs from the hot air that rises as the potatoes hit the strainer. With a shake, I pour them back into the fruit bowl, and blend the soft squares with cream, salt, and butter. They give way with each press of the old masher, the red stripe of paint flaking on the handle.

I spoon the fluffy potatoes into the green flute-edged bowl then remember, this bowl was used for the Waldorf salad, not the potatoes. I’m too tired to find another bowl, so I take them to the table, already set with my mother’s grandmother’s crocheted tablecloth and tell myself, no one will notice. Besides, does anyone but me like apples, walnuts, mayonnaise and raisins anyway?

With a snap of the Tupperware lid, I place a dozen cold deviled eggs into the heavy divided egg plate. I see Mother’s hand take two, three, four, then another after a slice of both the pumpkin and pecan pie. Aromas of turkey and pole beans fill the air. I cut up bacon to flavor the beans and watch them simmer with crescents of translucent onion. Mother liked her vegetables tender—they tasted like mush to me; for Thanksgiving, I cook them a little longer.

I would stop and cry, but it would take too long, and the rolls would burn.

The buns, too hot to simply pick up, get shoved or tossed from the aluminum foil-covered cookie sheet into the silver bread warmer, the round one with penguins carved on the sides. I wonder, how many dinners of my childhood did I spend staring at those flightless birds?  Each year, my head slightly higher, I viewed life from a different perspective. I can’t find the top of the warmer, it probably got lost in the move, so I fold a napkin over the rolls to keep them warm.

I put out the turkey on its tray and set it in the middle of the table. I get out a pale yellow organza apron, stiff with starch. Mother must have ironed it some ten, maybe twenty years ago, and although it’s a bit musty and dinner is ready, I tie it around my waist. I remember the slam then the slide of the iron, and that sweet, hot steamy fragrance of starch on cotton. I used to watch Mother take the tip of the silver triangle and go around tiny buttons, pressing Daddy’s white Sunday collars. A strand of her hair slipped across her forehead as she warned me to step back. I brought my crayons and paper and drew at the old-fashioned school desk she put in the kitchen and that Daddy had painted gold. They loved gold. I liked hearing the phish sound the iron made after each burst of steam, as if exhausted from its labor.

I call everyone to the table and pull out a chair, the chair Mother sat in last Thanksgiving, and sit down.

I pour red wine into crystal goblets, given to Mother by her sister-in-law for a wedding gift some sixty-seven years ago. Mother never used them, but I’ve already broken one. We fill plates and my husband, our daughters and our guests all take hands, and we bow our heads in thanks.

I never knew I’d miss her so much.

***

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

Hold those you love dear–in your arms–and in memory.

Have a blessed and joy-filled Thanksgiving.

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One of the most challenging and heart wrenching parts of caregiving was that I felt I was losing little parts of me every day–my intellect, my creativity, my humor, my friendships…the list went on.

It wasn’t necessarily true, but the sheer amount of time it takes to care for an elder or someone with a chronic illness or disability is pure mathematics–and then there are the emotional hurdles–the zombie-like state that comes with lack of sleep, the grief of losing someone you love right before your eyes, the longing for the life you had–your career, your connections–some of it is pretty darn real and not in your head. And yet boundaries create energy.

Boundaries create energy?

View your life as the Colorado River–tumbling on its merry way–and then someone gets a grand idea. Build the Hoover Dam (aka caregiving). Major roadblock.

You can consider your free and frolicking river/life has come to a screeching halt–or you can see all that pent-up energy as power. Electric. Energy.

Yes, a major part of you is held back. Yes, there’s lots you can’t do.

If you think your life is over, well, it is. Thoughts create our reality.

But…if you find a channel, some way however imperceptibly small to tap into the essence of you–what you love–to learn, to write, to garden, to connect, to read, to create art and craft–then you have a way to live inspite of all that’s going on around you.

This is how I survived and thrived in my caregiving years.

I was fiercely determined to seek out what I love–to invest in me in some small way every day.

For me, that means art, nature, and faith. Those are my tenants.

Art, for me, was/is everything from:

  • painting (sporadically)
  • reading the Letters of Vincent Van Gogh
  • reading poetry, snippets of the Psalms, Song of Solomon, and Job (love when God talks back to Job!)
  • the books and art materials I’ve collected over the years–and never fully explored
  • heading down to the river to cry, curse, scream, and pray (my prayers were mostly tears and moans)
  • walking around my own yard/weeding/exploring
  • journaling–every day in small chunks
  • watching the Food Channel, HGTV, History Channel and Discover–things that fed my need to learn
  • friends to call/vent/invest in their lives
  • surrounding myself with what I love–fresh flowers, good coffee, candles, magazines

I was so hungry for life, color, meaning, connection.

Even when I could barely dress I searched out the things that made my soul, my Geiger counter, go off the charts. Thank God (and I do mean that) for books, for paint, for the Internet, for television, for the nature that surrounded me. You don’t have to go far to find beauty and passion. Nothing is more breathtaking and comforting than a red cardinal, the morning rays as it streams through your kitchen window, or the purr of a contented kitty.

Her are a couple of photos of some paintings and sculpture I did during my caregiving years. I’m still so amazed I could even keep my eyelids open–shows you that your heart’s desire is (at times) stronger than exhaustion and grief.

Six months after my mother died I started editing my journal entries–it became Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir.

At the same time I began a short story about a woman who quits her life (call it my personal fantasy!) and finds herself in the South of France painting with the apparition of Vincent Van Gogh.

Seven years later, it’s novel=length and ready for publication–White Iris. The seed of this story began in my dammed-up life–caring for my mom, reading Vincent’s letters, painting sunflowers and irises on my kitchen cabinets.

My hope is that you will find your way, dear caregiver. Tap into what you love. Surround yourself with it.

Don’t give up. Give in–to what you love.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

***The artwork was created during the time I cared for my mom.

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“I quit!” That’s what you’d like to say some caregiving days.

You feel like crap. You’ve gained a ton of weight. Your life consists of round the clock care–oftentimes for someone who doesn’t seem to appreciate it, and the only way out of this is…death. Yours or your loved ones–not great choices. You don’t know whether you feel like screaming or crying, but running away is definitely topping the list.

You’ve checked into other forms of caregiving–hiring more home health care, nursing home care–both expensive options.  The economy isn’t exactly helping these days.

It’s not as if you can just stand up and say, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Or can you?

Isn’t everything in you is screaming that very sentiment?

Not that you don’t love them. Not that you don’t want them to be treated with the utmost care and dignity, it’ just that it’s never ending. There’s never enough of you.

How to Caregive When You Want to Give Up:

  • Embrace your inner Eyore. Sometimes it helps to be grumpy–to get it out of your system. To just let all that negativity out–give yourself permisssion to be a real curmudgeon–especially if you’re always  the “nice,” the “up” one. Sometimes we make caregiving look too easy. It’s time to tell it like it is!
  • Change one thing. Most caregivers do more than they need to. They don’t say no, not even to the trivial things. It’s time to change that. What’s one thing that drives you nuts? Stop doing it. I got so tired of rechecks. Every doctor wanted to see mother–who had Parkinson’s and could barely walk–and Alzheimer’s back in six weeks. Forget it. I stopped the rechecks. We went only when she needed new medication or had a new problem. Having power in this one area felt so good!
  • So quit–for five minutes, or five hours. If you’re being treated ugly or you’ve just had it, say it“I QUIT!” Then walk out of the room. Walk out the front door. Get your keys and purse and sit in your car. You may not have to or need to go any further than that but I guarantee you, you’ll feel amazing!
  • Pretend you’re free. Take it one step further, what would you do if you weren’t caregiving today? Go to the zoo? Zip over to get your hair done? Take a nap? Can you imagine–down to the smell of ammonia and nail polish? Stay in that zone–where you truly believe you’re free–for the next five minutes or five hours–or whatever time you can afford yourself. You quit, remember? So act like it. Give your brain cells a rest.

Why go to all this trouble of pretending? Isn’t that for kids?

Neurologists are finding that we can trick our bodies–by visualization–and if you’re a great little actor/actress your body actually thinks you did that amazing thing–skiied, won an Emmy, or…quit~! It gives your muscles and your mind the break it’s longong for. Don’t be surprised if you kind of miss caregiving–it’s addictive. But you may feel this huge sense of relief, even if it’s only temporary.

Why be so bold? Because you should be caregiving because you want to. Yes, because you’re needed, but also because you love someone and you genuinely want to make their life better.

When you quit it’s like recalibrating something inside you.

When you walk back through that door–do it as a choice–with your heart leading the way.

This won’t solve all your issues. It won’t miraculously give you 20 hours sleep or magically make Alzheimer’s disappear, but it will relieve a little bit of angst.

It  will remind you that each day you must choose to love, to give, to be there for yourself and those you love.

When we feel stuck we fall into resentment –or worse, apathy.

So when you need to, quit, give up, and start anew.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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