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Posts Tagged ‘sandwich generation’

Many people think that caregiving and womanhood go hand-in-hand. We’re nurterers by nature, we’re led to believe. Probably because they don’t want to do it (whoever “they” are). You’re good at it–so you should do it. We’re also good at cleaning the bathroom–not because we have a knack for it–it’s mostly because nobody in the house seems to even notice (I’m generalizing).

Caregiving can seem to run counter-intuitive to staying a woman.  Maintaining a vibrant, healthy, dynamic, enticing, savvy and nurturing selfhood can literally be sucked out of you by never-ending days, with the medical and insurance world, worry, regret, guilt, grief–who can be “womanly” with all that?

The truth is that what’s behind going on behind most front doors is that we know caring for our loved ones–whether babies or elders–is an important job–and most of the time, only one person in the family has the strength, autonomy, and chutzpah to do it.  We’re lonely and scared, brave and exhausted. We fear we don’t know what we’re doing. We fear we’ll be found out.

We try to be patient and kind but oftentimes, we fall short. We feel like we’re trying to outrun disease and death–and impossible task. We feel helpless to stop pain and depression. We love what we do but we worry about our own health and relationships–and we feel as if we’re giving huge chunks of our own life away–and in some ways we do it willingly, but we grieve all we’ve lost. We’d cry or even give up, but we don’t have the time–and something deep inside us  urges us to get up and go on.

Let me clarify this: there are many ways to be a woman. We don’t all need to be pin-up dolls. We’re far to rich and textured, complex and fascinating to be shoved in one tiny box. We can be cowgirls, butchers, dentists, outriggers, poets and prophets. Short hair, no hair, long hair, big boobs, no boobs, there’s no one way to be–but all these ways of being can be in jeopardy if you (or others) ask too much of you and you never fill your reservoirs.

But how? Your snarky self asks.

I know. My caregiving years were largely make-upless (not that you have to) pudgy due to horrible eating at 2 am (me and a bag of Oreos met for regular intimate discussions on the stresses and strains of caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s who had no respect for the words, “It’s after midnight for (#*%& sake!!!)

And worse, I was ugly–to myself–ugly thoughts, self-deprecating eat ca-cah and die, your life is over, your friends are gone, you’ll never go on vacation again, your kids will never want to take care of you, not after this, sex? are you kidding? can we say hello 200 pounds? That kind of looping inner-monologue.

I often wonder, if I could gather all my thoughts about my weight, my body, my hair, my boobs, my s0-and so doesn’t like me, am I pretty, am I sexy, too sexy, not enough, way to much–and I took all those seconds and used that brain power and time to say, learn a language, get a degree, or…run a small country…what could I accomplish?

So I’m not going to preach to you about treadmills. I’m going to tell you how I got through, and I do mean got through. “I will find you. No matter how far or how long, stay alive and I will find you!” I could hear my inner Daniel Day Lewis from Last of the Mohicans yell to me from the cascading waterfall.

So how did I get through?

I journaled all the crap going on in my head–allowed myself to vent all the really ugly scary nasty truthful tearful and sometimes hopeful, crazy and funny things I was thinking and experiencing.

I walked outside and cried a lot. Nature had a way of soothig my soul. A red cardinal on a branch, a sunset so red and so orange that I forgot my pain. The wind whipping in and around the trees turning the whole world into a dance.

I screamed in the car and in the shower. Yes, I too am surprised the neighbors didn’t call the cops. I hoped someone would call DFACs (department of children and family services) to come to my home and SOMEONE, ANYONE away. Do they have foster homes for fussy moms and rolling eyed teens? How about for grumpy caregiver?

I gave up trying to keep a tidy house. Between a hospital bed, portable potty, bedpan, cane, walker, mother who liked to go “shopping” or “trashing” in the middle of the night (she would have fit right in at a frat party), teenagers, dogs, cats, home health aides traipsing in at all hours of the day, I just gave up. Welcome to clutter-ville.

I did decide that my room was off limits. Our bedroom was the only room I refused for junk to pile up in. I bought a gorgeous bedspread–that kind that can thrown in place and look decent, painted the wall behind my bed a sumptous eggplant and bought a nice strong lock for my door. Best thing I ever did–that and the coffee maker I put in my bathroom so I could have my coffee before I hit the world full-tilt.

I watched the Food Channel and HGTV. I read about a half a poem a day. All the reading I could fit in–but I wanted it to make my soul howl for beauty. I opened art books so when I walked by I could Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

I signed up for college. CRAZY, I hear you say. Yeah, but one night a week I left my mother in the care of my husband and two kids (God bless ’em) and I attended class. It was the most amazing experience of my life. I have no idea how I pulled it off, how I studied, but I did.

I drank good coffee. Elixar of the Gods. That’s all I’m saying.

I decided that I was probably going to have to deal with the weight thing after caregiving. And I did.

I allowed my loved ones to hug me–and help. That was probably toughest of all. Me, super-amazing, I can do it all–accepting assistance. Admitting I could in no way do it all. Not even do it half. More like do it crappy. Multigenerational households, sandwich generation folks are ironically blessed. Triple the work, but lighter the load. My kids learned kindness, patience, and reaching out beyond themselves. My marriage grew stronger. Add caregiving to the list of things we survived.

I got to where I would talk back to my mother. That’s the great thing about Alzheimer’s–she wouldn’t remember it in five minutes, but I sure felt a ton better! Not vile stuff I’d have to ask forgiveness for on her deathbed (that’s okay, too) but the honest truths/stand up for myself/I’m your adult daughter doing the best I can so back off kind of stuff. The stuff I should have been doing all along.

I allowed each day to be what it was. Some good. Some awful. Kind of like a rip-tide. Fighting against it useless. Just don’t drown. Let it take you–out–far out. Then, when it releases you, swim like hell.

Somehow, Daniel Day Lewis met me on the other side (recurring fantasy, I admit). My mom passed–but she was 92. Good long life–career, marriage, child, grandchildren–the kind of life we all hope to have. Overall, she didn’t get too sick or too out there until the last three, maybe four years.

She taught me how to live, lots of what not to do, but lots of what to do. I made peace with my biggest adversary. Not her, myself. She just led the way.

And my womanhood–it survived. Maybe those caregiving years weren’t my sexiest years–but sexy isn’t always the goal, now, is it?

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

In spite of everything, yes, let’s !

                               ~Vincent Van Gogh

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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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My parents were prejudice and I know I’m not alone. When my mother began aging her inhibitions fell to the wayside and I knew that taking her out in public or having someone care for her who was overweight, a different color, or from another country was a free for all–who knew what shocking thing might leap from her lips? It made me nervous. My mother’s prejudice wasn’t something I expected to deal with as a caregiver.

As an adult child or a caregiver, how do you handle prejudice?

“Wheweeee! That lady over there sure is….”

“Mother!” I’d yell and try to change the subject.

I can’t even count how many times or how many places we were when my mother said something hurtful, embarrassing, or downright shameful.  I had to learn how to reign her in–or live in utter fear and mortification.

How to Handle Prejudice in Older People:

  • Realize they might not ever change. Love them as they are, but find ways to distract them and stand up to them when you really need to.
  • Be ready to talk over them, ask a question, change the subject, do something outrageous (but not offensive)  yourself.  Keep a mental list of ways to distract your care buddy–and be ready to move fast.
  • Get used to apologizing (boy, did I have to do a lot of this!). Something somewhere is going to slip and you’re going to have to clean up this verbal mess. Be honest. Tell them that your parent has always been this way. You hate it and you’ve tried and tried. Be real. Most people appreciate your honestly and feel for you.
  • If it’s really ugly, say it! Call your parent down in public. Say loud, “”That was inappropriate. You cannot and will not talk to anyone that way.” And then just as you would handle an unruly toddler–leave. Don’t let them enjoy whatever they were doing beforehand. Tell them that you won’t be able to take them out in public if that’s how they’re going to act–and then keep your word.
  • Be willing to do it all over again the next day or next week. Many times, even the strongest chastisement won’t stick–their minds are teflon and their wills are iron. Don’t let it get to you. Deal with it as a matter-of-fact and use every tactic you can to remedy the situation.
  • Create a plan–and stick to it. If you’ve hired a home caregiver or are dealing with health aides, nurses, or other professionals and your parent is saying or doing ugly things, create a plan with your care person. Ask them how they’ve handled it with other clients, see if you can find a solution but don’t let them continue to be demeaned. Do all you can to handle the situation with tact, firmness, and fairness for all.
  • Laugh at the craziness of it! I’m not belittling how awful this can be, but it sure helps if we realize we’re just dealing with flawed people who weren’t taught to be respectful of everyone and who have given into all the stereotypes and assumptions there are in the world. Most people are ignorant more than they are cruel–although ignorance can be plenty cruel. At the end of the day, laugh a little, love as much as you can, and know that you did all you could possibly do to behave as a person you’re proud to stare back in the mirror.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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If you’re a nurse or a doctor you care for the sick. It’s something people admire. You get told you made their pain go away. Every once in a while when something goes right you get to be a medical super-hero–praised by all. Caregivers, whether professionals or family members also don the cape and tights. We care for people in need. We’re told how self-sacrificing we are, how much we help. And if we’re honest, at times, we derive another kind of satisfaction out of caregiving that’s hard to admit.

I admit it. I can’t point my finger at someone else and not fess up. It feels good to be in charge, to be needed, to make a difference.

When our husband, wife or child or parent is sick, it means they need us.

That makes us important.

We dole out the meds.

We drive them to the doc.

We sit by the hospital bed.

We (oftentimes) talk to the doc on their behalf.

They tell us they appreciate us.

We feel close to them–perhaps closer than we’ve felt in quite some time.

It keeps them at home–with us.

When they get well, they move out of our circle. They go back to work, back to their friends, back to not appreciating us. I could always tell when my mom was getting better–she got fussy, opinionated, and stopped telling me what a sweet daughter I was.

It’s a little bit of a let down.

WE get left with the tissues, the dirty sheets and covers, the used cups and dishes, the videos to return to the store. Our house is in disarray–and hearts are empty–again.

Yes, we want them well. We want the crisis to pass. We know that we’re not the center of their universe, but secretly, yeah, it felt good to feel needed, to be in charge, and to be told we’re such a good spouse, mom, daughter or son.

Rationally, I didn’t want to be my mother’s all in all. I didn’t want her to depend on me for everything. I knew that wasn’t healthy for either one of us–but I also had to admit that it felt good to hear those words, “where would I be without you?” It’s hard for that to not go to your head–or heart.

We’d much, much rather they be well–it’s just tough when that’s not the option. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, certain types of cancer–our loved ones aren’t going to get better.

Most of us let go when the time is right and our loved one has recovered with only a twinge of missing the “good parts” and remembering the “not so good parts” all too vividly.

We peel off the mask, roll up the tights, and sigh as we hang up our super-hero caregiving cape.

If you’re caregiving long-term, the vicious cycle of you’re the best, I need you, what would I do without you, can begin to mess with your sense of self. And letting go of all this gets to be a bit harder.

You want them well, but what if getting well isn’t really going to happen? What if the only sense of purpose you derive these days does come from caregiving? How do you stay mentally and emotionally healthy and balanced?

How do you avoid your own hype–the super-hero syndrome?

I don’t have a definitive one size fixes all answer.

I do know it’s crucial to keep at least one aspect of your life going–outside of caregiving.

Do at least one thing a week–away from home–that is unrelated to caregiving or that other person. Remember who you are outside of this one role. For me, I enrolled in college and took one adult-ed class a week. A four-hour night class. It seemed crazy to even think I could stay awake or do the homework–but it got me back out with the masses.

It showed me that other people aren’t caregiving at least not all the time–that I could use my brain and skills in another way. I took one class at a time. I took psychology, painting, glass blowing, history…I poured myself into my books and took pride in writing papers. I even tried to imagine myself after caregiving–as scary and painful as that was to say.

Keeping that one thing going just for me helped me inch my way toward balance. While caregiving is truly needed and important–there are other important things too. Even super-heroes have day jobs/alter identities that make them far more mysterious, powerful, and even add another dimension to their brave and daring lives.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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Hover mother. Helicopter mom. They have a name for parents who micro-manage their kid’s lives and have a hard time letting go. But what if you’re a caregiver and you have to manage someone else’s life–their meds, their moods, their physical therapy, their finances, their meals…the list just goes and goes.

What if the only way of “letting go” comes with the passing of the person you’re trying so hard to keep alive?

Is there a way to caregive–loose?

You’re probably going to have to do a whole lot more than you want to, no way around it.

You probably don’t get your jollies changing adult diapers, cutting meat into bite-sized chunks, and changing sheets daily–or more. You probably don’t want to sort pills, hang on the phone with Medicare so long you can watch your leg hairs grow, or answer the same question ten times in ten minutes.

But you do it. It comes with the territory.

It wears on your nerves.

Worry interrupts your sleep.

Frustration gnaws a golf ball size hole in your stomach.

And then somebody like me calls you basically, a control freak.

All I can say is that I’m one of you. Caregiver. Mom, adult daughter, wife–roles that come with a list of care duties ten miles long. I know what it’s like to just ask a care aide to leave and bathe my mother myself because they’re too rough, they’re upsetting my mom, and they just aren’t doing it right.

I didn’t think I was taking it too far, but I’m sure I did–at times.

Call me whatever you want. I have a job to do. I have people to care for. I have things to get done. I have a list!

And then that day came when I knew my mom was dying. I told the doctors–they didn’t agree or disagree–but I knew. I had to begin the process of letting go.

As awful as it was to think about, my mom was in so many ways, already gone. Parkinson’s had ravaged her body. Alzheimer’s, her mind. She was forgetting how to eat. No matter what I did I wasn’t going to be able to get my mother’s life or health back.

Only letting go of my mom meant letting go of a part of me.

Who would I be without my formidable foe? Who would teach me? Goad me? Infuriate me?  Cause me to look at my life, my choices, the ugly thing I said and thought–and face myself? Who would be there to comfort me–just because she was the link to my past. In so many ways she defined me. Refined me.

And yet I knew that if I couldn’t let go–she wouldn’t let go.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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Caregiving and Multi-Tasking: Are You Trying To Do Too Much?

If you’re counting medications, talking on the phone to Medicare, cooking dinner, letting out the cat, answering your mother’s incessant questions—and zipping over to the computer to order your husband’s birthday cake—you’re a multitasking caregiving fool.  Not that you’re a fool, it’s just that I figured out it was foolish for me to think I could pull all that off at the same time—error free.

Why doesn’t multitasking work?  

It boils down to our brain structure. Science, April 16, 2010 edition reports a study in brain imaging  when subjects are given many tasks to complete simultaneously. The study asked subjects to “juggle streams of letters, concurrently performing two pairing tasks” only to find that our brains simply can’t do its best job when given too many jobs.

When we give our brains one task, one part of our two-part hemispheres take on the job—whichever the chore is best suited for. When we give our brains a second job, it’s allocated to the other half. We might be able to manage that, but add a third, and there’s no more hemispheres. We volley back and forth, jump from thought to thought, and eventually one of the balls gets dropped.

Sadly, and particularly in the medical field, “dropping the ball” can lead to dangerous outcomes—wrong dosages, a surgery on the wrong limb, a botched procedure. Even as a family caregiver, the wrong medications or incorrect dosage amounts are a strong possibility.

How do you care-give without multi-tasking?

I won’t lie. It’s not easy.

I was a sandwich generation, multi-generational, multi-tasking mom. Three kids, two dogs, a cat, a traveling husband, and a mom with heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. My days and nights blurred like a carosel on crack. I was dealing with teenage drivers, dating, my mom’s list of medications, her in and out hospital stays, a house to manage, my own feelings of womanhood, marriage, and laying down a career in order to be “mom central.” And yes, I dropped the ball. I let exhaustion and frustration lead me to some poor decisions. There were days I would sold a kid to the gypsies, my mom to the circus–and I had big plans of heading south and taking up life as a salty, toothless waitress.

I had my scares–waking up to find my kid had blown curfew. Waking up to find my mom heading out the back door (thank goodness for alarms!), calling poison control because my mom had tried to drink liquid deodorant (drink milk is what the told me–ever try to force an adult to drink anything?) Those wake-up calls scared the crap out of me. I was blowing it–and the consequences were only going to ramp up if I didn’t figure out how to care for those i loved.

The world comes at caregivers pretty hard and fast.

All we can do is prioritize. Let things wait. Decide what’s most important and shut the rest out, especially when it comes to medications, bathing, driving, and other safety issues. So ignore the phone. Answer that email later. Turn off the television. As the world around you begins to calm, you’ll find you really enjoy paying attention to just one thing at a time.

And perhaps there’s even a more important reason. When we’re multitasking we’re not really present. We may be performing a complicated list of chores, but we’re not the daughter, son, or spouse we mean—and need—to be.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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Caregivers get bombarded with advice.  They feel guilty about everything. They worry about everything. But seldom are they asked what they’re doing right. It’s time to make a list–and see for yourself what you’re good at.

The truth is, they’re doing a lot right. If practice makes perfect then caregivers get lots of practice.

They navigate themselves through through the landmines of medical care. They tiptoe through the tulips of tangled family relations, and when they need to, when it’s required, they pull out the big guns and go the distance.  They keep their home a sanctuary and can practically live on caffeine and vending machines. They camp out at hospitals for weeks on end, and go on less sleep than seems humanly possible. Every day they make a difference.

Neural research has shown that our brains are hardwired to seek out our areas of strength.

In Now, Discover Your Strengths,  author Marcus Buckingham states that we’re born with far more neural connections than we need. As we grow we naturally find our own interests–music, math, building, communication, and as we do, that net of neural connectors begin to unhinge and gravitate to our areas of strength. Those loose neuron bundle around the area of interest like cords of a rope–making it stronger.

We’re not meant to be good at everything–and you get to choose.

Spend most of your time doing what you’re good at. Hire out, ask for help, find volunteers to do what you do lousy. You’ll be happier–and you’ll make friends with those who can help you–and you’ll widen your net and expand your loved one’s tribal network of care.

What are you doing right for you?

Caregivers are told again and again to take care of themselves. It’s easier said than done. But if you’re doing just one thing right–toot your horn!

Doing the right thing is ironically and surprisingly small and simple. 

Caregiving isn’t really about balance. Some weeks are intense, some are off the charts in sane. Every day or hour is unpredictable. You gotta be quick on your feet and go with the flow. Control is an illusion. Sometimes you have to eat when you can, what you can. But don’t eat crap–save that for the really bad days! Who says you need to be a fancy cook? Nothing beats a plate of sliced tomatoes and a sprinkle of salt. Go for cantaloupe, peaches, a simple baked potato and sour cream. Avoid the pre-packed foods and hang out in the perimeter of the grocery store where the veggies, meat and dairy are. You can’t eat the bad stuff if you don’t bring it home.

Are you practicing profound self-care? Go at it by the back door.

Can’t worry about what you eat right now? That’s okay. Chug a few vitamins and then pat yourself on the back for taking B-Complex, Vitamin D, and magnesium.  If you manage to do a few stretches, lift a few hand weights, or dance in your skivvies, then whop-whop for you!

Do one thing right–move–any way you can.

Your nerves are too rattled for yoga, and eating consists of things that come in packages. Yeah, sometimes it happens. So take a 10 minute walk–but not like you think. Walk around your house, get a giant exercise ball and bounce, consider vacuming or mopping a form of exercise, or put your hoe on the back porch and if you get really mad at somebody, go hoe a few weeds!

Didn’t blow up today? Not in the last hour? Then you must be doing something right!

It’s a star day if didn’t lose your cool at least once. But just remember, every hour (or minute) is a “new day.” Reset your callibrater and start over.

Take in account all you’ve learned along the way.

Have you figured out how to manage your time? (most days?)  Got Medicare down pat? Is your care buddy doing well on your new  home workout routine? Are they sleeping better? You were a big part of that, so feel good about it. Can you make two doctor appointments in one day–and go to the bank, post office and get groceries? You’re a time-management master!

Start a list–of what you do right.

Notice what you’re good at. Let go of what you’re not. I promise that if you started the list by 9am you’d have a page full by noon. You do far more right than what you flub. It’s high time you took notice.

Those who complain and criticize say much more about themselves than they do you.

Got a critic in your corner? Just remember that every time they gripe about what you did or didn’t do, they’re drawing attention to themselves and telling the world that they’re negative, fussy, and have low self-esteem. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have the need to put you down.

So the next time you feel like beating yourself up, praise yourself up. Remind yourself what you do right every day.

No one else might sing your praises–so make it a solo. You’re a  loving (mostly), thoughtful, funny, generous and a savvy caregiver. You’ve learned a few things on this caregiving journey–and it’s time to remember your own worth.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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