Friday, June 9, 2017
When I opened my side door yesterday morning, the vibrant red cardinal flew to my porch railing. It's as if, on cue, his excellent bird hearing knows precisely what this sound means. Crumbs of bread, succulent seeds are soon to be on their way for he and his little friends. He paused, looking at me in that way that birds do, with head tilted to the side. In close range, I had time to take in the stunning black mask on his face and the tufts of red feathers which poked from his tiny head. Those dark eyes, so filled with intelligence. In the voice usually reserved for my darling cats or very small children, I began speaking to him telling him what a pretty bird he was and how happy I am that he greets me each morning. I talked and talked, making clucking sounds or tsking noises, anything to hold his interest so that we could communicate he and I in any way possible.
My cats took this as a sign that I was calling to them when they heard my loving sounds, and proceeded to investigate why their mother was speaking in that special way to another.
The cardinal flew to another part of the porch, this time lighting on one of the chairs. I still spoke, and he listened, all the while the little head tilted as if trying to discern what I said. He flew up from the chair, actually hovering in the air for a moment or two, bright wings flapping as if dancing for me. To the top of my grill, then onto the wicker porch swing, Mr. bird paused, never leaving, appearing to take in the language as foreign to him as his chirping is to me.
Next, he landed on my car, and I reveled in the special moments meant only for me, not worrying that I didn't have camera or phone to record this special time, but recording it to the memory of my heart.
For I believe we have a blossoming friendship, the cardinal and I. It's been at least a year that he and the missus have lived in our backyard pine. Never straying very far, he knows my movements, when my car returns from a work day, and he is there to greet and to sing, giving me gifts that only he can.
Nature has always been such a big part of my family. My mother grew close to a female raccoon to the point she was able to hand feed her. When the raccoon had babies, she brought them to my mom as if waiting for approval, and teaching them that this human was kind; this human will not hurt you.
My parents enjoyed watching the birds around their home, and eventually hanging a hummingbird feeder for the last several years. As Dad would sit on the porch, those little darlings would hover near to his face, investigating him before whisking away in that speedy fashion they have of flying to seek more nectar.
I walked outside yesterday, and grabbed the bag of seeds to fill the bird feeder. The cardinal flew to the lowest branches of a nearby tree, waiting patiently. Though I filled my hand with seeds and called to him, inviting him to a more intimate feeding, he would not come; would not breach the gap between human and animal.
Perhaps someday, I thought. For there is a friendship growing between the two of us. A precious trust that reminds me of our Heavenly Father. God invites me to those more intimate times. Will I dare to give up control, trusting Him for friendship, for more beauty than I ever dreamed possible?
May we all appreciate nature and every good gift that comes from above.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Mom was never the warm and fuzzy type. Not a hugger or a kisser, but my brother and I knew we were loved and adored growing up. She showed her care in so many other ways; with the baked goods and food she prepared every single day. With a listening ear for our school bully infractions, or the betrayal of our one true love. Advice given, words of wisdom, character building ones. A tender heart toward nature and toward others. No prejudice was allowed--Mom truly cared for all of mankind. This is who I am honored to call my mother.
Yesterday the tables were turned in a very dramatic way for me. Though her once beautiful mind has been faltering for some time with dementia, and my brother and I have been caregivers through it all, I had to step up to the plate of comfort in a major way.
The nursing home had called me about two weeks ago. They mentioned placing Mom on an anti-depressant. Said she had bouts of crying and depression. Hmmm, this was not something our family had seen recently. On the contrary, we noticed her talking more and laughing more when we are there as the strokes she had have begun to heal a little.
Cute little remarks, old inside jokes and our favorite of all, the movie lines we know and love so well are all things that continue to make Mom smile. We'd do anything for that smile. And yet yesterday while visiting her in the early morning, I saw my mother break down uncontrollably for several minutes and my heart broke.
As the nurse was bathing and dressing her in bed, Mom appeared to have had enough. I think her arthritis was hurting as it always does in the early morning when rising. I think she realizes she is limited, so limited in her adult briefs and inability to dress alone or stand alone. I can't imagine what goes through her mind in times like these, but she started to sob, deep heart-wrenching cries, and I did something uncharacteristic, I hugged her around the shoulders and stroked her back gently, reciting words of love and of comfort. The nurse she had isn't the most patient, but she stood back and let me do what only a family member could. Mom cried and I soothed. I held onto her and kissed the top of her head tenderly. And then I was able to do what all of us in the dementia/Alzheimer's community know best. I was able to re-direct her by talking about a pretty bracelet she was wearing. Like a small child, her tears slowed to sniffles. She saw the bracelet and answered my questions about who gave it to her. I sat back content that a crisis had been averted, and thanked God for giving me the tenderness needed in that moment even though I had never done this before with her.
I know we all come from different types of families. There are some of us who grew up with adoring parents who snuggled with them, gave tons of kisses and showed affection. There were others who grew up with harsh words, barked orders, and slaps instead of hugs. There are some who don't even know their parents and would have given everything for even one word from them or about them. I consider myself blessed that even though affection wasn't a big part of my years, I got so much more.
Pull yourself out of your comfort zone and love a little. Even those of us who have been hurt in our upbringing. Forgive, and let go. See our precious elderly for who they are now. People just like us with human failings, with imperfections and good and bad inside. Perhaps their own childhood was hideous and they didn't know any better. Look at them in a new light. Be the light of Christ in their world. Give that hug, say those words. Never let it be too late.
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Been doing a lot of soul searching recently. When you lose a parent, and are faced with the loss of the other, life flashes before your eyes and your own health begins to matter in a way it never did before.
When we are young, we think we have forever. We do foolish things, drive way too fast, eat stuff that is really bad for us: greasy fast foods, and play Russian Roulette with the choices we make. But now, as sixty looms before me in a few years, and watching the severe health issues both parents have had to suffer, I have started to think of becoming healthier.
I hate the four letter word diet. It's an evil, awful disgusting word. It conjures up thoughts of carrot and celery sticks. It brings to mind denying the pleasures of chocolate, especially Blizzards with pieces of Butterfinger and Reese Cups. But what if we were to become healthier right where we are. No diet drinks, no joining a gym (because goodness knows, there is certainly no time for that!). If we could do the best WE could do without trying to be someone else.
I observe people around me. I see some who are content with the size they are, even if they are several or many pounds overweight. I also see those who "work out" and eat said carrot sticks and celery pieces and I've compared myself to both of these body types.
It hit me the other day. I am NOT any of those people. I am me. I weigh more than I ever have. I eat for comfort, and sometimes in secret so nobody sees the candy bars I began buying on a daily basis. If I heard more bad news about Mom's health, a quick trip to the store for some chocolate comfort would ensue. But what if I ate what God intended? What if I took the time while grocery shopping to make better choices and pick things that I do like and incorporate them into my daily eating?
About seven days ago, I wrote in my prayer journal. I wrote a prayer to the Lord that He would help me to become healthier. That I could not do this without Him. I'm too weak. I need His guidance. Then when hubby and I went to the store, I carefully purchased Honey Crisp apples, snow peas, cantaloupe and watermelon. I made a plan that ALL of my meals would be cut down in size, and I would eat to glorify God and enjoy the gifts He's given me. My chewing would be slow and deliberate. The colorful array of the new fruits and vegetables actually began to look appealing. And here, seven days later, I have found that I absolutely love the taste. I do need a slight touch of light Ranch dressing on the side, but it's a small dip instead of a huge dunk into the bowl now. My portion sizes on the plate are much smaller, but I eat slowly and enjoy every bite.
Then I asked myself: what can I do for exercise? Instead of making excuses for what I cannot do, I began to do what I can. Whether that means walking in place for about ten minutes in the morning and at night while watching t.v., or taking a small walk outdoors, it's better than sitting and eating chips and dip, (yes, I confess!) to my favorite shows.
This morning, and I praise God, I am down three pounds. Not an easy feat for a foodie, and someone with a slow metabolism. For as we age, and hormones change, it is not easy to drop weight like we used to. No, I'm not dieting. And I do have much farther to go. But this healthy new style has given me hope. It's God-given goals, not my own. It's the knowledge that we CAN do all things through Him! I cannot do anything apart from my Heavenly Father. When He blesses our desires, there is no stopping us.
So, I am not looking to be a stick-thin figure. I'm not judging anyone who can't lose even one pound, for I know only too well what food addiction is like. But for this moment in my life, I need to be a better, more healthy me. I want to be here for whatever is in our path with my mother's failing health. I want to be strong, motivated and clear. I give glory to God for help on this new journey!
P.S. I will treat myself to a Blizzard in the near future. But it will be something to look forward to only every so often instead of the comfort that only the Lord can truly give me.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Do you know what I'm really missing most about my father right now? It's our inside jokes and all the sayings we had. It's the make believe language he made up, and the nonsense phrases he always said. It's the lines from comforting, favorite movies watched over and over. It's seeing him conduct an unseen orchestra as his beloved waltz or classical thunder music played. It's picking pine cones from under trees on walks together. It's that sweet smile, soft voice, always happy man that put everyone else before him. It's the slow, steady walk through his front and back yard admiring flowers he planted and cutting lilac and pussy willow branches. It's all these things and so much more.
Do you know what I'm missing about my mother? A listening ear, advice given better than any therapist. Laughter and silliness, secrets shared. And once again, movies, movies, movies. The comforting ones that meant something to me and her. In later years, the stories we heard over and over as dementia began robbing her of recent memories,yet playing old time ones again and again. I miss them now yet I know them all and I know them well. And I, too, will be able to tell them long after she is gone.
Soon, my brother and I will be faced with one of the hardest tasks of our lives. We will have to sift through years and years of the life of our parents. With Mom now in a care facility, the precious home we all shared together will be broken apart and items distributed to those who may want them: wooden crafts our father made; airplanes, boats and houses. Well-worn recipe cards with the smattering of batter splashed upon them, from some of Mom's best loved favorites.
I'll walk through the rooms which meant so much to me. The living room where I envision the countless Christmases. Huge, fat trees decorated with fragile, precious ornaments from when our parents first married. Mountains of presents so carefully chosen for each of us. A favorite chair, an old, worn couch. Then into the small dining room where a table filled with baked Italian goodies and laden with other fine delicacies sits empty now.
The heart of our little ranch home--the kitchen always feels the warmest. For out of this room came a fresh home cooked meal each and every night. Out of this room came gooey pecan loaves, tasty pineapple upside down cakes and homemade pizza that would put one of the best restaurant pizzerias to shame. The table where we all sat, and the conversation and laughter that echoes in the stillness now.
I walk down the hallway toward our bedrooms and see the one converted into Dad's little craft room. The walls are adorned with thousand piece puzzles so carefully glued together as artwork. Tins of small bric-a-brac and tiny pieces of wood just waiting for the crafter's hands to pick up once again.
There are albums filled with the pictures of our lives. There are cards and letters so well-preserved in drawers and it feels as if Mom saved all of them throughout the years. How can one weed through so much and not feel emotional? For I know my heart will be breaking even as I begin the task at hand.
This house, this home saved our lives. For it wasn't where I grew up. We moved there when I was eleven. It was after the roughest time that my parents had gone through. Dad had made the decision to leave the only place we'd ever known, realizing it was best for us to make a change and start fresh.
I can still see the first time my parents showed the new house to me. It sat in a quiet, wooded neighborhood, not the cement jungle I'd grown up in. There was a large back yard and another smaller one. There was a finished basement, screened back porch. There was a sense of belonging of "coming home" so to speak. Yes, this is where our little family belonged. And it would be in this house that my brother was born fourteen years after me. Our miracle.
It won't be easy to toss things away. For you see, there's still a package of cookies, the last ones Dad bought for himself sitting on a shelf like an item from a shrine. There's notes written to Mom reminding her to take her pills and how to work the television remote.
I know I need to cancel our cable, internet and phone. Yet I hang on as long as I can, for once the phone is disconnected, the number that had been ours--mine since childhood will be forever gone. It may sound crazy, but these are the thoughts that plague me. I know God will grant my brother and I the strength we need when it is time. For there is nothing that will take away what is in our hearts. Nothing will take away the parts of Mom and Dad that live inside both of us. We are products of them both. And that is something that will never be lost.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
They say that a scent is one of the most powerful tools for bringing back vivid memories. As I sit here typing in a most life-changing time of my family's journey, it is the aromas from the Easter's and Spring's of my youth which evoke just such recall.
I smell the grassy scent of palms distributed in my old Catholic church, the cool feel of the long stems as we waved them around during mass and the way my Nonna or Mom would weave them into intricate little decorations to be placed around the home.
I smell the light fragrance of Springtime flowers; I see their colors popping up around my childhood home as Dad orchestrated his little prizes in our yard.
I smell the plastic candy scent of rustling green Easter grass in the basket so lovingly put together by my mother; the mouthwatering scent of good Anderson's chocolate--our best neighborhood chocolatier. I smell the fruity scent of dozens of multi-colored jelly beans laying amidst the fake grass.
There's the acrid tang of vinegar poured into cups dissolving the egg decorating tablets that will color a dozen beauties.
And there's food--oh such food. . . mouthwatering ham, gooey sweet potatoes, and our family's most favorite of all: sweet Easter bread. The aroma from the baking of this gem would last for hours giving our home the flavor of a touch of anise, a hint of orange.
All of these make up the memories of my childhood. A simpler era when thoughts of old age, dementia, health issues and even death weren't even a thought in a little girl's head. I knew time would stretch on forever and my parents would always be there.
Where did it go? Wasn't it just yesterday that I got that new Easter hat, and that pretty pink Easter coat? Wasn't it only a short time ago that I was an innocent child untouched by harsh events and life-threatening illness?
They say cherish the old times, but don't tarry there long. For if you have family, even amidst life's changes, you still have everything. I will do my best not to stay long visiting old moments, and I will treasure every single breath my mother still has on this earth. For no physical problem, lost memories, or frail body will keep the deep love this family has always had from going on forever even beyond time.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Where to begin? A year ago, six months or perhaps only three weeks ago. This has been a life-changing, earth shattering time for our family. It was about this time last year that I noticed my father acting differently. Usually cheerful, our rock and our strength, Dad began to complain more than ever about how he was feeling, how difficult it was with Mom's worsening dementia, every bill he got in the mail, etc. Dad always had such joy talking with me about Spring and flowers and seed planting and birds. Simple morning conversations that I could live on for the rest of the day. That ended around this time in 2016. Little did we know we would lose Dad later that summer. That he was winding down, and the time had come for his well-deserved rest with Jesus.
Now our little family is going through this with Mom. Words cannot describe the feeling in my chest--of my heart splintering into tiny fragments, each one burnished with a memory good and bad alike. Only three short weeks ago we were able to take her out to eat, go for drives to her favorite stone bridge and listen to the creek. Three short weeks ago we saw a high school play and Mom sang along to the Disney tunes she knew and loved so well.
Yesterday we moved our mother into a care facility. I saw a woman before me that I barely recognized, completely devoid of emotion. Gone is the laugh that was so cute. Gone now are the stories told over and over, stories we all knew better than her, but listened patiently as they were told once more.
Her eyes hold a tiny spark of light when she sees either me, my brother or son. But I'd give anything to rejuvenate life back to her; of memories that would fill her with emotions once again.
She was wheeled into her new room and as she looked around at perhaps a few familiar items, my brother handed Mom a beautiful dolly he got her a few Christmases ago. One story our mother always told us was about a doll she received one year from a family friend. She would describe the beloved doll in great detail, and my brother tried to replicate one by searching many sites and finding one that Mom claimed looked exactly like the one she'd had.
Mom sat in her wheelchair stroking her dolly, covering her with the blanket that lay around her own shoulders. My eyes filled with tears and it was difficult to remain stoic. I stayed with her until much later in the day, watching old movies, trying to get her to eat in the dining room with new friends, seeing if talking about cooking and baking would bring her around just a little.
I left last night with the feeling of a tight band around the upper part of my stomach. The band of fear and uncertainty, for it was with me last August when my father was in the hospital. It is a hated companion this familiar tight knot of tension and worry.
I cannot find my laughter right now. I am not enjoying much. My work days are filled with stress and I don't like who I've become. I snap in anger over situations that I used to handle a little better. I'm not reading for pleasure, doing much writing, except these cathartic blogs. Most of my thoughts are of Mom and wondering how her day is going when we cannot be there with her every minute.
I've read about others who have gone through this before me. I see their smiling faces, their grandkids or trips they've gone on. I see that life does return and there will be rainbows and sunshine again. This is a season in my family's journey. The tale of two parents both so very loved and a life so very missed. My brother and I will hold on to what we have of our mother until her own story ends. And then we will make new memories and remember with fondness the old ones so lovingly tucked away in our hearts.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Several years ago I read a book by a then unknown author. It was called "The Shack," and it had a feel to it as if I was not only reading a great story, but learning a lesson in the process. The story stayed with me as all good tales do, and I would think of it on many occasions through the years.
Nothing prepared me for the reaction I would have to the movie, however. Seeing such a heartfelt, deep story playing out before me on a huge screen would leave me with many, many emotions. I felt anger and horror along with the main character and what he was going through, yet there were many moments of humor and delight. I believe that I learned more about God's love than I ever thought possible while watching it. Deep thoughts and questions began to form. I knew I wanted to share this movie with loved ones who may not understand the nature of God, and I prayed for the right timing.
One of the biggest things I realized is, we all have our own "shack." As the author, Wm. Paul Young pointed out on a television special, there are deep places of hurt within all of us, our own shack, so to speak. A place where unspeakable issues may exist. Perhaps trauma from childhood, rejection, an unfair situation that occurred in our lives. Loss of loved ones too early, physical problems or situations that feel unbearable as we are going through them.
Some of the shacks in my own life were built by me; there were times I went my own way and made the stupidest mistakes, yet other shacks were thrown at me with their splintered wood and rusty nails.
We can think of one instant or several in our lives where we cried out to God for His help and mercy. We had never felt so alone or abandoned, thinking He was nowhere to be found. It was in these darkest nights of the soul that I learned more than ever to keep my eyes focused on Him.
There's a scene in the movie where Mack, the main character is on a boat. Clouds gather, the water turns murky, and the boat begins to fill with water. It was the PERFECT metaphor for what it's like to be overcome by trauma. I loved it when Jesus said, "It's not real! Look at ME, look at me, keep your eyes on ME!" It was then that the storm and the flood waters began to calm. If only we could remember to keep our eyes on Jesus in times of trouble.
Recently I felt overwhelmed by fear and I pictured laying my head against Jesus and holding His hand. I cried out for Him to give me the courage to go through the situation. Peace settled on me almost immediately, and I found the strength to go on.
In the movie, Jesus is an ordinary, likeable guy. Mack feels the closest with Him because He is human. We put Him in a "holy box" sometimes, thinking He is too far above us because He is perfect, good, righteous and holy. We forget that He came as a man for US. We are His delight. It blows my mind, but also humbles me. He calls us friend.
What is your shack? What do you hide in the secret recesses of your heart? Do you think it's unforgivable? Are you so ashamed of something you've done, secrets you keep, or hurts that were done to you? Let them go. Free yourself of the bondage. Forgive the person who hurt you, maybe not to their face, but in a letter you may never send. Write, write, write. It's very cathartic. Keep a journal and pray about the things you write.
There was pain in my childhood of times when I wasn't sure my mother would be restored to our family after the stigma of mental illness. There were moments of bullying so bad in middle school that I would cry every day, and retain some of the hurt for many years. There was the betrayal of a husband in my early twenties, a man that I thought the sun rose and set on, and the feeling of unworthiness attached to the fact that he chose another over me. There was a dark time in my son's teenage years that I felt my heart was breaking.
Keep Your Eyes on Me. Jesus says.
Well if my eyes are on you, Lord, then they aren't on my problems any longer. If my eyes are on you, then I'm not seeing the past and the breaking of my heart. I'm able to let go, forgive those who hurt me and hurt my loved ones. Forgive myself for bad choices and mistakes.
What about death? Can we keep our eyes on Jesus then? For we've all lost someone we love. There's another scene in the movie "The Shack" that fills my heart with such happiness, I feel like I could burst. I want to sing and clap my hands. I want to cry beautiful tears of joy. Mack is permitted to see his daughter Missy playing with other children in Heaven. Missy knows her father is there watching, and walks over near him and with the most incredibly joyous glee, she shows her happiness, her contentment, and her love. Her father sees her as she is, not who she was, and his own heart is filled with hope. It is then that he realizes he was not at fault for her death, and that perfect love does indeed, cast out fear.
My mother had a near death experience in the early nineteen seventies. She had a cardiac arrest and felt herself being pulled into an unexpressable love. She could barely describe the feeling of warmth, all-encompassing love as if she was the only person who mattered. When she returned, she told us that she wasn't afraid to die. I think that scene in the movie with Missy conveys that feeling of absolute joy--a joy that nothing can ever take away. Think about it. If our departed loved ones feel that rapturous joy, if their eyes are fixed on Jesus, then even death does not triumph.
I hope if you have the chance, you will see this life-changing movie. Is it one hundred percent gospel, well, is anything except the Bible? Take from it what the author intended. A story of healing and forgiveness; a story of God's perfect love. I happen to think you, too, will come away changed and with a new sense of wonder, awe, and your eyes on the One who matters.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
I'd been planning this little excursion for weeks. One of Mom's favorite Disney cartoons had been "Beauty and the Beast." She watched it over and over with her grandson, my Matt, when he was very little, and then with me just as many times. I knew she would enjoy the local play.
Sunday arrived, and with her dementia, Mom kept asking, "Now what is going on today?" I'd explain that me and Matt were taking her to a high school production of one of her favorite movies. She seemed okay. Okay, that was, until we got her out. She complained about the weather; it was way too cold. The wind was blowing, and she had to walk pretty far to get inside the school and into the auditorium. What if she had to go to the bathroom? The list went on and on. I had a really bad moment where I lashed out and said, "Fine, if you're going to be like this, let's just turn around and go home." I meant it. All my planning for a perfect day, shot down with her negativity. I couldn't remember her Alzheimer's in that moment. All I could think about was me.
When the lights finally dimmed, Mom innocently asked, "Is this "Cats?" It was a question she would repeat at least twenty-five times or more. For some reason the musical "Cats" was stuck in her head. Then when the cast broke into a song she knew from "Beauty and the Beast" Mom would sing along, out loud mind you, and she appeared as if she was enjoying herself immensely. Then all over again, she'd say, "I want to see "Cats." My stress level was through the roof. I thought about getting up and leaving with her, but something said: stay until the end. This is a day for everyone to enjoy. Don't worry if she's embarrassing you. Don't think about the people around us who were hearing her say things out loud every so often. And not that I don't care for the feelings of others, but there have been many times in my life when I've sat near special needs children or adults. Yes, I'd always been understanding of what was going on with them.
When the play was over, Mom sat crying with the story she'd loved so much. The Beast is dying, and Belle's love saves him. It was a tale she'd told me as a little girl many times. And it was in this moment, that the little girl began to emerge in my mother. As we walked out of the auditorium, we spotted many of the characters from the play talking with friends and family. The lovely Belle posed for pictures with little girls who seemed enamored of their favorite character. Mom shyly asked, "Can I have a picture with Belle?" My heart cracked into two right at that moment. That little girl again, showing up through the wrinkled skin, thinning hair, and wheeled walker. "Of course," I said, and we snapped away at a few poses. In them, I can see Mom almost puzzling out why she was standing next to this lovely princess. In her mind, she may have been eight or nine again, believing in magic, beauty and love. Who was I to take that from her?
I think back on that day right now, and feel a pang of guilt at my impatience at Mom. Yet I also glow when I see how much she enjoyed herself.
The next morning, my mom woke up and on her way to the bathroom, she fell and hasn't been the same since. After a short hospital stay, she is now in a rehab facility. She can only speak in soft, garbled phrases. They aren't sure yet if she's had a stroke, or what might have brought this on. More childlike than ever, she is smiling and sleeping a lot. She talks in hushed whispered tones and can't answer most questions posed to her. I watched her during one of her moments of slumber and noticed she was talking to herself a little. I wonder if she's chatting with my father, her own Prince Charming who passed on before her. I wonder if he's there even now near her, whispering the words of love he's always said to her. I see her smile in her sleep and can only imagine.
Monday, March 6, 2017
I lay awake at four in the morning, totally unable to find that cozy spot once again or to stop the thoughts which pummel me from all sides. Will Mom be alright today? Will she eat and take her pills? What if she missteps and takes a fall? Is her health okay?
On the days I am with her, I try to give her my all. We begin with a scrumptious breakfast, bacon, french toast and coffee. I do my best Lumiere impression from "Beauty and the Beast" for her to "Be My Guest" as I serve her. I love to make Mom laugh, and it's no easy task always thinking up a barrage of chatter so she won't go down any of the paths of depression. Dementia is enough without the added sadness she sometimes carries.
I glance around for tasks which need done; wanting to be of help to my brother who is her nighttime caregiver. He does so much, and I want to make life a little bit easier for him too. I'll begin the wash, take care of the cats, do a light dusting, help Mom to dress or heaven forbid, take a shower. For this has not been easy and on the days I can coax her, I end up getting almost as wet as she does. I know she feels badly. It can't be easy having your daughter insist you do something that has become almost scary. For the tub isn't easy to maneuver with her bad leg, and getting her onto her shower seat takes patience and a little muscle as well.
Some days I take Mom for a drive to a favorite spot near a lovely creek and small stone bridge, knowing she and Dad loved to drive there each week. We may even grab a little food while we are out, but taking a walker in and out of the car and making sure she doesn't fall, gives every trip a little added stress.
I orchestrate all her doctor, dental, eye and foot appointments like a well-oiled machine, seeing that she is cared for. And getting her to them is another feat in itself.
Once she is situated back home, I make sure that Mom has taken her late afternoon pills; or days when I am not there, try talking her into taking them on the other end of the phone. It's exhausting, these simple tasks, and sometimes as part caregiver, I want to vent and scream and even run away.
My friend Goldie reminded me that we must care for ourselves. We are no good to anyone if we don't first take time to do something nice for us. As another of my friends, Paula mentioned the other day, if you were traveling on a plane and in an emergency the oxygen masks came down before you, you would first put the mask onto your own face so that you'd have enough breath to take care of your loved ones around you. We cannot help someone else if we can't breathe.We cannot thrive without oxygen, and that's what the caregiver needs; sometimes one small breath at a time.
It's been easy to fall into a trap recently--an endless pit of despair at times. Poor me, why me, etc, etc. But when I actually listened to these two remarkable friends, my spirits lifted and the shackles of depression began to abate. Some people find a little solace in having their nails or hair done, or purchasing a fun new outfit. Others enjoy a good workout at a local gym. There are those who take in a movie with a good friend, or share a cup of coffee with another. A long, hot bath, good music, all great for the caregiver. And some of these are easily accomplished.
I got to thinking: Hmm, I'm not one to buy clothes, spend money on my nails, or heaven forbid, purchase a membership to a gym. (Well, at least not yet anyway.) But there is something I took the time to learn about and indulge a little in. My skincare.
I've always been told I do not look my fifty plus years. My father's family had great Italian skin, and Dad looked way younger than his eighty years. I'd begun to notice some under eye baggage; a few lines and darkening that wasn't there a short time ago. And those darn marionette lines--what the heck are they anyway? Frown lines--well, I can guess what those are from.
Friend Paula who I mentioned above is a skin care advocate. I'm fortunate enough to work with her at my job. She has gotten into a company called Nerium, and I listened as she told some of our patients about the products that are slated to turn back the hands of time. Okay, I thought, let's give it a whirl. For I don't indulge in other spending, why not on my skin then?
Can I mention that it was love at first pump? The wonderful, enriching lotion sucked into my crevices and I saw results that were almost instantaneous. And over time, I see better and better looking skin. It's to the point that my husband noticed something "different" about me, and others have remarked as well.
I took in a movie the other day also. And I've been taking time to read good books, listen to music I enjoy, and on occasion, even paint my nails with glitzy, fun colors. Yes, it's true--we must caregive ourselves a bit from time to time or we lose a little of who we are and all that we can do for others.
So, buy the new shirt, read that book, indulge in the dark chocolate you've been wanting. Call a friend and vent. Then vent some more. Laugh at a funny movie, or be inspired by a touching one. Do something for you! It makes the spirits soar and helps us to be a much-improved caregiver. Remember to breathe.
Below you will find my friend Paula's site for the amazing Nerium products. Oh, and while you're at it, consider becoming a partner for the company, those of you who may need an extra income or who enjoy working from home. But one thing I know, you will adore the results!
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Count your blessings, they say. Think positive. Easy enough for people who aren't going through major life changes or depression.
I left for work this morning sulky and downcast. Though inspirational music played cheerily on my car radio, I couldn't muster one good thought. I arrived at work and the day began. Little by little, the routine began to settle me. I found that being busy was good for my spirits. And when a co-worker and I took a long walk during lunchtime, I turned my face upward to the shining sun and whispered a prayer of thankfulness.
As we returned to the office, I received a phone call from my son. He was going to spend a little time with my mother, his grandmother today. She had a doctor's appointment and he had volunteered to take her. He had questions for me, and I could hear in his voice that he was a little agitated, but he patiently answered the receptionist at the clinic while being respectful to my mother who kept talking in the background. My heart cracked in half as I thought of my son's goodness. It can't be easy for an almost thirty-year old to "hang out with grandma" one day a week. It can't be easy watching her mind failing, and answering her questions over and over, or listening to stories he's probably heard hundreds of times by now.
He took her out to eat after the appointment--something he does each week. He made sure she took her afternoon pills, knowing how much I worry about this every day. My mind could settle a bit as I relaxed and knew that Mom was in good hands. Matt is my mother's shining star, you see. She adores him and still refers to him as "My Darling." This is a name she has called him since he was a baby. I would walk into the house with Matt in my arms, and the minute he'd hear her say those words, his little feet would start kicking and he'd get the biggest smile on his face.
When she asked the other day who Matt was to me, my heart sank. But then I thought: at least she knows him. But I couldn't believe she didn't realize he is my son.
Matt is my shining star too, though. He is the blessing I am most grateful for every day of my life. His name, Matthew means gift of God, and it is appropriate. Any time I'm really down, I think of Matt and smile. His good heart, his infectious grin, his passion for causes that are right. Such a good young man. The best.
I am proud of him for more than this. He is someone who picked himself up from his own bout of depression. He cast off shyness that he'd had as a child, and did something about it. Matt took his passion to a whole new level and began doing what he really loved. Playing crane machines and making kids and their families happy. His YouTube channel and popularity have skyrocketed and I cannot think of a more deserving person.
I watch him at meet and greets when fans line up to talk with him. He takes time with each and every one of them, asking where they are from, and still humble enough to be amazed when they say they've come from out of state to see him. I see the looks on the faces of the children, the excitement of meeting their idol, and the joy from being there with him and it warms my heart. Matt gives of himself going above and beyond to make sure each child and family get plenty of attention. He's helped several kids who have been depressed as he shared a special story on his YouTube channel called "Draw My Life." And he donates his many wins to special charities and events. Yes, I cannot help but smile and feel very, very blessed when I think about the amazing person my son has turned out to be.
God, thank you for Matt, this gift you've given, this shining star for so many of us. And if anyone should be a true star in every sense of the word, I pray that Matt's popularity would grow and flourish even more in the years to come.
Hey, if you have a minute, check him out. Subscribe to his channel. I think he'll make you smile, too.
Matt's Facebook Fan Page:
Matt's special story: Draw My Life:
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
I have chosen Valentine's Day to share a few small stories that I hope will encourage and bless you. If you are a caregiver of an elderly family member, please know you are not alone. And know that there are moments, these sweet moments that you will remember forever.
Love in the Golden Years
Love in the senior years: A true inspiration to me. My parents were married over sixty years. Sixty years of ups and downs, good health and bad, happiness and sadness. But one thing remained: a steadfast love. It was this love that inspired me to write stories; theirs, and another couple: my husband’s elderly aunt and uncle.
Louise, my husband’s aunt, had a stroke several years back and was hospitalized and eventually moved into a nursing home. Her husband, Hubert, took the time every single day to drive to see her. He helped her eat, talked with her even though she couldn’t speak well, and made sure every need of hers was met. There came a time he couldn’t drive any longer, and he would wait as the senior bus picked him up, not wanting to miss one day with his wife.
When he suffered his own health crisis, he ended up in the same care facility. Though they weren’t in the same room, Uncle Hubert would wheel himself down the hall to spend time with his beloved each and every day.
Hubert and Louise didn’t have many family members, so I became a regular visitor of theirs. I watched as love appeared to grow even stronger as Hubert sat by his wife’s side, gazing upon her as if she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and talking to her as if she was the only person in the world who mattered.
Then came the day when we had to tell him that Louise had passed away. Brave man that he was, Hubert made it to the funeral. When he stood from his wheelchair to give Louise that final kiss, I thought my heart would break.
He would live another two years without her, and it was during that time that I would grow closer than ever to him.
One Christmas morning my husband Jim and I went to visit Uncle Hubert in the nursing home after Aunt Louise had passed away. We signed the guest book in the front lobby and walked through the doors to the hall that leads to the patient rooms. A little way up the hallway, Uncle Hubert was sitting in his wheelchair, the only patient in the immediate area, an expectant look on his face which broke into the most beautiful smile the instant he saw us. "Merry Christmas," he said, extending both arms toward us. We embraced and went into the dining room with him to chat. A lump formed in my throat as we spoke, realizing we probably got the most wonderful present by giving our time to this dear man. "I knew you were coming," he said to us. It was the strangest thing. We could have chosen any time that day for a visit, yet he knew in his heart it would be then. All our love, Uncle Hubert....
Basket of Love
There is a basket my mother keeps near her kitchen table, spilling over with love letters and cards that Dad sent her through the years. We lost my father only four months ago, and these writings have become a beautiful link to his love for Mom.
Every so often when I’m visiting, Mom pulls a crumpled page out and asks in a shy, giggling, school girl kind of way, “Did you ever see some of the notes your father wrote me?”
In her dementia, Mom doesn’t realize that I’ve heard the letters read many times now. But to her, it’s the first time. It’s a way to reignite the passion she and Dad shared, and makes her see herself as my father always saw her: as the young beauty he once courted.
Though the ravages of aging are upon her, the thinning, gray hair, bent body, and same sweatshirt stained with jelly from the previous day; inside is the young girl. The one my father loved.