Mark Twain

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do ...
Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Through My Care Giver Eyes - Second Guessing


These years have been an emotional roller coaster. Tears, struggle, anger, humor, sadness, frustration, loss, laughter, reflection, love ... all mixed together like multi-colored confetti.

And through all my ups and downs, mom's own emotional responses seemed a bit flat. Yes, sometimes she would show frustration, laugh at the antics of one of the dogs, anticipate an event, show interest in a hobby, but it was short lived. Was this an aspect of her mental decline, or depression, or something else? I started to second guess myself.

Was this related to her shrinking social circle?

I worried that I had made a poor decision by inviting her into my home. Five years ago I firmly believed I was broadening her life. She would have daily company, my kids dropped in a lot, my grand-dogs and cats were always under foot, my neighborhood had stability with an eclectic mix of people. Surely that was better than sitting alone in her apartment with only TV for company. But maybe a better choice might have been assisted living where she would enjoy the company of new faces, make friends and participate in planned activities. She would stay socially connected to life within her own generation.

But the realities of assisted living, beyond the social benefits, were a concern. Her financial resources would not have sustained her for the long life that she is leading. I also wondered if her medical problems would have been captured readily. And now the subtle symptoms of her chronic illnesses raise questions for me. Would they be noticed and medicated promptly to avoid hospitalizations? Would her connection to family have been as frequent? Or would the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality eventually become the norm for all of us.

While the choice of assisted living would have been easier for me, I don't believe it would have been best mom. Maybe in the future we will be forced into that option. But five years ago I don't think it was the right choice.

Certainly a senior apartment with less monitoring would have been a terrible choice for her in light of her hidden medical conditions.

Looking back I know I made mistakes. For example, it is true that I didn't check in with family before I moved mom in with me. There was no family meeting to discuss our options. Mother and I discussed her options for years, but it wasn't a conversation that included others. I have apologized for this omission several times. When I heard that criticism, I started to second guess myself again.

I tried to think back to determine exactly when that meeting should have been. Should the meeting have occurred after her auto accident, or possibly after she proved so indecisive, or maybe when her rents went up, or was it most appropriate after the first hospitalization? And based on my concerns about senior apartments and assisted living, would our choice of residence for mom be any different than it is today?

As an observer, it is easy to say "I would have done things differently." But I wasn't an observer, and I know I would not have done anything differently.

Like a glacier, mom moved steadily in one declining direction. She lived closest to me. I was a steady presence in her life. My actions were not made with any selfish or ulterior motives. At the time, I was the one "connecting the dots" of mom's decline. I was the one who took action.

Unfortunately, it is true beyond all measure ... that you can take the right actions for the right reasons, and still you will not please everyone. You just have to move on and listen to your own conscious.

I think this care giving journey unconsciously began for me in 1997 while staring at that crushed Honda Civic. I was alone that day standing in the tow lot with my horrifying thoughts and emotions. If I had been with other family at that moment, would they have had the same reaction, the same protective step forward for mom? Would my actions from that day forward have been more of a partnership ... if we had shared together that first glimpse of what could have been a tragedy?

Second guessing.

I still doubt myself at times, but I believe I have made decisions I can live with.

I haven't caused harm ...
I've made carefully considered decisions on her behalf ...
I've made one elderly person's life better ...
I've gained a new respect for the difficult road ahead in my aging ...

And, most importantly, I have learned to be grateful for having spent this time with mom.

You see, while I am walking through this care giver life with its twists and turns, frustrations and difficulties, it is easy to forget that -

... I am lucky she is still a part of my life.
... I love her dearly.
... and I can give back when she needs it the most.

In my "travels" with mom, I have met many people. Most people whose moms are gone feel compelled to share. Frequently they say -

"I would love to walk in your shoes - even for just one day!"

I am lucky, and there is no second guessing about that.

Retired Knitter
Care Giver and Daughter


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Milo Moment


As most of you know, I proudly call 3 charming, cute, handsome and smart dogs, my grand-dogs!

Because you are reading my blog right this minute, please treat this moment as if you had asked me about my grand kids ... and I, like all good grandmas have pictures ready in my wallet ... and you like all good friends, politely and enthusiastically look at each one exclaiming appropriate "oooos" and "awwwws"

Be honest, don't you want to just kiss that face?

Today I want to spot light Milo. He is a French Bulldog - about 17 months old. He is the youngest of the 3. And of the 3 grand dogs, he is the one who is most "full of himself."

He is most happy when he has a stick in his mouth.

I mean to tell you ... a stick in his mouth is a ....

REAL

BIG

DEAL!




You only need to see the look in his eyes, the concentration, the focus, the determination (to get this stick into the house after his mama says "no"), to know that he ...

Lives

for

his

sticks!



And he has been in dog-hog-heaven because Hurricane Irene left him a whole bunch of sticks outside.








And has a secret passion.

Cookies, all kinds.

But he especially loves vegetable cookies right from the table.

He is watching his figure, you know.






My other two grand dogs will be seen soon.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Through My Care Giver Eyes - Guilt


I had pledged to have "no regrets".

I would take all the steps necessary to keep her healthy and functional. To make sure the medical care she received was correct, consistent, reasonable without being too invasive or inappropriate. I changed her doctor of 15 years when he failed to be responsive to her home nurse. I "lived" at the hospital and the rehab facilities with mom whenever her foot passed their threshold. I guarantee that some of the staff at those places never want to see my face again, because I can be a pain in the a** when I am tired and worried.

No regrets! I would do what needed to be done.

But another emotion raises its ugly head from time to time.

Guilt.

Guilt is an insidious creepy bug. It gets into your mind through the cracks of your armour. Guilt is the internal enemy I deal with on occasion.

It all begins with the best of intentions.

Sometimes I'd think she could do better at her exercises or her walking. And I'd push her. "Come on mom, you can walk a little faster. Remember this is exercise, and you need to push yourself." And then I'd discover the truth of her inactivity. She was walking slowly or sleeping so much because she had a fever and was on the crest of another serious infection.

Guilt.

I would want her to do more for herself so she wasn't sitting around all the time. I'd tell her to get a glass of water if she was thirsty or to make her own lunch if I am out. I'd remind her that all these normal activities add up to cumulative exercise. That walking to the kitchen, going to the refrigerator, pouring her own water, returning to her chair ... these normal of activities of daily living were good for her. In essence - when she would ask for water, I would ask her to get the water herself! And then I would discover her arthritis in her hands was bothering her and she couldn't open the water jug easily, and pulling and pushing the heavy freeze door for ice was difficult. The cup she wanted was too high to reach. She had difficulty managing her walker and a glass filled with water as she returned to her chair.

Guilt.

And yet I would remind her that if she lived on her own, she would find a way to manage these things. And that exercise of every day life would keep her strong.

She would try. She never balked at these requests. She would always try. Sometimes she would be successful, sometimes she wasn't, and usually when she wasn't, it was because of something out of her control.

Guilt.

And sometimes I would get short with her over silly things ... knowing all the time she is basically a pleasant person, not mean or intolerant like some elderly I have heard about. She seldom responds back when I am short of temper. And then looking inward I would realize that I was really the one with the problem. Not her.

Guilt.

And then there is the desire to claim back more of my life, more normal things that others do. To spend unfettered time with friends without the worry about getting home. To be more of a wife to my husband ... to have the freedom for us both to be out of the house together more often. To visit our son's campground just once (he's been there 3 summers and we have never seen it), to see the place my son and his fiance have chosen to get married next year, to help my daughter when she moves. Just normal stuff ...

... and of course there is ... you guessed it ... guilt!

You see, Mom doesn't have her normal life either. Does she remember the normal things she used to do? Does she wish for the car she once owned and the freedom to drive away as she once could? How much would she love to just go to the grocery store by herself again without the aid of a walker? Or what about just going for a simple walk down the street without stopping to rest? How about the simplest of things ... the luxury of a private bath or shower?

Wanting my life back seems small compared to all the losses she has sustained.

The emotions of being a full time care giver are complex. It is easy to say "you have nothing to feel guilty about." But guilt does not respond to reason and logic. It is a personal emotion that arise from within, from the total of who you are as an individual, how you were raised, what your values are, and how well you meet them.

And how do I deal with these emotions?

Not as well as I would like, but one technique helps.

I focus on ... today!

Today she woke with a smile on her face (actually, she does that all the time). Today she is well or getting well. Today she can go for a walk outside because the air quality is good and the temperature is comfortable. Today we have company coming for dinner, and she loves guests. Today my daughter is coming for a visit, and mom really enjoys seeing her. Today my grand dogs will be here, and they are a happy distraction. Today her other daughter plans to visit, and she misses her bubbly personality.

Today!

Today ... it is all any of us have. I focus on "today" and try to be positive so I don't add to the guilt I already carry.

And it should be said ... it helps when I write. :-)

Retired Knitter
Care Giver and Daughter


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Day After World's End

Yes, I am still here on the Day After World's End.

The storm was predicted to be at its worst between 11 pm and 5 am. I was up until 11:30 hoping to catch a glimpse of "its worst". By the time I went to sleep it was still just a big rain storm. I have slept through earthquakes so I was sure I wouldn't wake up till morning.

What do I see today?
  • all the trees around my house are still standing
  • there are leaves all over the place - guess the winds did shake the trees a bit
  • we never lost power
  • my kitchen had a large puddle of clean water in the middle of it - the "flood" was not from Irene, but because I failed to plug the drain in my cooler full of melting ice and food.
  • my basement had a huge mess of dirty water because my husband brought all the large plant pots filled with wet dirt into the house forgetting that each pot had a hole in the bottom.
I think we caused more damage to ourselves than Irene did. :-)

We will see World's End another day.
And I'll remember to put the plug in my cooler next time.

Hope it was as uneventful for you as it was for me.

Cheers!

A Knitted Beauty



Our Tuesday morning knitting group has become a favorite time during my week. Tuesday morning has become my sane day, my happy pill, my mental health break, my time with friends. Many hobbies fall under the knitting group label (knitting, crochet, weaving, needle point) and many types of people have made time in their busy week, just like me, to spend this precious time together.

Spring, Summer and Fall we knit outside. Among the knitting community at large "Knitting in Public Day" falls on a Saturday in June. But our group has enjoyed knitting outside, knitting in public, every week long before it became the "in thing" to do.

Today, Deb, one of our members, arrived wearing her latest finished object - this beautiful knitted top. She is an extremely talented knitter. When she knits a sweater, she starts with one pattern and then make changes to suit her whimsy. Sometimes she combines 2 or 3 patterns pulling the best from each to create a much improved design. And the outcome is always spectacular.

When I knit I follow instructions ... to the letter, exactly as the designer intended, no divergent paths, no stepping outside the box, no nothing. I know. Boring. But if it wasn't written, it wasn't done. And never, never, never does my stuff turn out this good.

Today's pictures spotlight Deb's latest creation - totally flattering.


It is wonderful to be surrounded by such wonderful and talented knitting friends.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

World's End - Part 2

Still here.

Guess "the end" will sometime later. :-)

6:50 pm Had dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, rain is still just at the level of a normal rain storm without thunder and lightening. But we hear that the storm will pick up steam between now until 10:00 pm.

So some cute stories:

Yesterday I had the most yummy MacDonneld's French Fries and a frozen coffee Mocha. Yes, I am still on my diet, but as I was riding into Bethesda to pick up Milo, I had the strongest urge for a frozen something and French Fries. Finally half way to Milo's house I stopped and indulged. After I finished my treat, a news reporter said that when there are big storms (like snow and hurricanes), nature can sometimes increase our desire to eat! Sort of like storing up our fat against famine ...

I felt justified. I blame this lapse in my diet on Hurricane Irene. :-)

Another radio listener called in to share his personal story. The caller, I'll call him John, said that his ex-wife and her husband were in town staying in a camper to visit their son. With the hurricane coming they had no where to safely wait out the storm. So John invited them to his house to stay. Then John's wife, I'll call her Sally, discovered that her ex-husband and his wife were in town and called wanting some where to stay to wait out the storm. So now John and Sally have both their ex-spouses and their spouses staying under the same roof for the storm.

Not my idea of a good time! :-)

7:10 pm - Looked outside...getting a little windy. Still no more than a normal rainy day. But turn on the TV and it is "the end of the world".

Oh well, I am sure things will heat up. Hope everyone stays safe.

World's End - Part 1

Today is the day! World's End.

Ok, that is an exaggeration, but if you take the news reporters seriously, they can make it sound like the end is near.

9:20 am - Noth'en yet. The sky is gray and ground is wet, but it is humid and still.

11:30 am - Took my two grand dogs home to their "papa" to weather the storm at their own house. Hurricane Irene's wet fingers splashed across our area with a few short showers.

1:30 pm - Went for a walk. Got wet. The rain was gentle but consistent. The sky was getting darker.

3:00 pm - The intensity of the storm has picked up for Maryland's ocean shores and the waves are getting higher. Here ... still pretty quiet like any other normal rainy day, but there is no thunder or lightening like most storms bring. News promises that by late afternoon we she see increasing wind and wind gusts.

3:15 pm - Finished setting up the cooler with foods and beverages that we might need. We have a 50-50 chance of losing power according to our Governor. The cooler seemed like a reasonable step to take. I also made tomorrow morning's coffee already. I usually don't care for old coffee, but no coffee would be even worse.

Through My Care Giver Eyes - Changes



Spring of 2007 was our first hospitalization together. There would be others, of course. But thankfully she had no other recurrences of TIAs. I retired that spring. The effort of holding down a full time job and the growing demands with mom had left me tired.

The years following this first hospitalization were filled with a blur doctor's visits, new medications, other hospitalizations and sub acute rehabilitation experiences. Each hospitalization took a small part of mom energy, strength and health that were never recovered despite all the supportive medical services. Like a downward stair case where each step disappears behind you ... mom's health slipped.

She did have her well periods, but independence was slowly chipped away.

She stopped driving after a few big errors in judgement while I was a passenger in her car. I remember one time when she had a problem parking into an easy pull-in slot. She seemed embarrassed. I made light of it and said "It happens. Just pull out and try again." My heart ached at that moment because I knew another difficult conversation was ahead of us. She tried again. Her second attempt was not successful either. I talked her through the third try, and the car was finally parked. She pulled the key out of the ignition, and turned to me. "You know, I think I probably should think about giving up driving soon," she said. My heart was pounding in my chest. I knew she had left a small opening for me to walk through. So I did ... "Yes mom, I think it is time."

She made that difficult conversation ... easy. It was kind of like a gift from her to me. It was not something I realized at the time because my emotions were so strong. But now I know, it was a gift. A sad gift.

Other things began to slide as well. She couldn't manage her own medications on a proper schedule. She used a cane all the time. Watching her climb the stairs to the bedroom level made me nervous. Climbing any steps without the assistance of a hand rail was not possible. All chairs needed arms so she could push herself up. The coffee maker and the microwave were too confusing for her. She could not find clothes stored in the closet or drawers. The tub became a safety issue. Writing a check to pay her one bill was an effort. These things didn't happen over night, but over the period of several years.

At each juncture we made adjustments to our home and to our lives. And as each change was made, she resisted. She didn't want any adjustments to accommodate her. She would get along without them. She would be careful. She would have no accidents. Why spend money on that stuff. And my favorite excuse was, "I don't really need that. I am fine."

So many disagreements.

A stair lift to the bedroom level was installed and hand rails added to our exterior steps. One of our kitchen chairs with arms was moved to her bedroom so she had a place to sit while dressing. I took over her medications completely. Her clothing was stacked on her rocker so she could see it. Interior hand rails, bars and shower aids were installed in her bathroom and the hall. I wrote her checks. She gave her car to my sister.

The most noticeable change was the addition of a new lounge chair in the living room. This chair reclines back, but it can also lift you up to almost a standing position, all with the touch of a button. We have had a few laughs as a result of this chair. Once she plopped down on the seat forgetting that the control was under her. The chair immediately began to recline. Mom's startled look was priceless. We both found it funny. It took me 5 years, but I finally got smart on the purchase of the recliner. I purchased it while she was in the hospital. When she came home it was there. No arguments. She loves it. :-)


She also learned to love that stair lift she resisted so vehemently. She never told me personally how much she appreciated it, but one day my son was here with her while my husband and I were out. They were sitting in the living room together, and at some point mom decided to go up stairs. As she settled into the chair lift seat and pushed the button to begin the ride up, she commented aloud to herself ... "I sure do love this chair." My son shared that comment with me because he knew about the arguments she and I had regarding its instillation. I remember smirking sarcastically when I heard that she liked it. But later it gave me a warm feeling to know that she valued this piece of vital equipment.

All these losses and changes took their toll on her and me.

For mom it was a constant reminder that things were changing permanently, that her body and mind were failing her, and that her ability to be independent was slipping away.

I became more the care giver and less the daughter. Mom needed both, but, unfortunately I usually had energy for only one.

It has taken me a few years to reach my stride in this new role ... I now can say that I manage both: care giver and daughter. But it wasn't always so.

Retired Knitter
Care Giver and Daughter


Friday, August 26, 2011

World's End - Day Before

I totally love big weather events!
I totally hate big weather chatter!

For those who may not be aware, the eastern coast of the United States has a pretty big hurricane traveling northward. The hurricane is not the strongest or most destructive, or even the biggest one to land on our shores. But hurricanes are less common here and so those who live on this coast are generally ill prepared for it.

It began this morning with a vengeance ... hurricane talk throughout all the media.

Alert, Alert, Alert
Pay Close Attention
The End of the World is coming.
Should arrive in your area about 4:00 pm tomorrow!

"Big storm."
Prepare.

"Massive and Deadly storm"
Prepare.

Storm of "historic proportions"
Prepare.

Evacuate now before it is too late.
Prepare

Are you feeling any anxiety yet?

I am rather energized by big storms. And our risk factors are few. We don't live on the coast. We don't live in a flood zone. The eye of this storm appears to be staying off the coast. We could lose power, but even that happens rarely as all our lines are under ground. From the looks of the weather map, we should have tropical storm conditions only (unless Irene gets ornery and changes direction.)

So we will just hang out and hope that the impact of the hurricane isn't too great for anyone.

I will be back on World's End Day ... tomorrow! :-)

Shakes in the Earth

Mr. Earthquake has to wait his turn to be represented in my blog!! I have a blogging schedule to maintain, and not even the earth moving under my feet changes that!!!

:-)
(Could I be a little rigid, maybe?)

Yes, just like everyone on the east coast of the US I felt the earthquake, and I have a bit of a story to tell.

Of course, I wasn't anywhere special. I was typing away on my computer in the kitchen. My husband was playing away on his XBox 360 game in the living room. Mom was sitting on the deck off the kitchen enjoying the sun.

Life was normal and quiet for a change. (I knew it couldn't last.)

Gently the room started to shimmy.

I looked up at the corner cabinet. The glass door was moving back and forth. The walls were trembling. The whole house seemed to have a case of the jitters.

I looked at my husband. He never stopped playing his Xbox game. I checked mom. She was still sitting quietly on the deck as if nothing was happening. I jumped up and kept looking around. I looked again at mom. Her glass of water was giggling next to her hand. Her expression never changed. My husband was still playing his Xbox game.

In that 5 seconds I thought I had finally gone nuts!!

Yep!

That was it. I had finally flipped out from stress!!!

The corner cabinet began to rattle more. Some glasses started to bump against each other.

hmmm....

Maybe it was time to say something ...

"Hey, do you think we are having an earthquake?" I called to my husband. He pulled his eyes from the TV screen and said, "Why yes, I think so." Man, he was calm. But he missed a golden opportunity to deny it and play with my mind a bit.

I opened the slider door to speak to mom. "Mom, I think we are having an earthquake." She responded with annoyance, "Well, some'tens going on!" But she never moved or blinked an eye.

Shoot, was I the only one who was worried about this?

Apparently!

And then it stopped.

I flipped on the TV. It took the news about 10 minutes to catch up to what everyone else already knew. We had an earthquake.

*****
Ok guys, I can play that game too.

So this coming Saturday, when Hurricane Irene finally arrives in Maryland, when the winds are howling at 55 miles an hour, and the wind gusts reach 70 miles an hour, and the darkness covers the sky, and the rain shoots sideways in blinding sheets of water, and the guttering on the house begins to peal off, and tree limbs are flying through the air, and the waters begin to rise ...

I am going to be cool. I am going to be calm. I am going to say things like ...

"What rain?"

:-)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Through My Care Giver Eyes - The First ER Visit

(continued from August 23, 2011)

Our first medical scare appeared without warning.

Mom had driven us to the local senior center. Walking into the center she greeted friends and acquaintances warmly. The director of the center greeted her at the door. Mom used to be a regular at the center, and many were glad to see her back.

While chatting with the director, the left side of mom's mouth began to droop. Her speech became slurred. She continued talking as if nothing was wrong, but my eyes were transfixed on her face, knowing exactly what I was seeing. But denial is a terrible thing. My brain raced to find another reason. We probably lost precious minutes while my mind desperately tried to control my panic and find another cause other than "stroke".

Finally I asked the director if she noticed the change in mother - she did, and quickly left to call Emergency. I led mom to a chair. Unhappy and complaining that nothing was wrong, Mother complied. But as she reach the chair her speech had totally degraded to gibberish. I still remember the dawning look on her face. What she was hearing did not match what her brain thought she was saying.

Fear hung in the air ... curiously not for her. But it covered me totally from head to toe.

I followed the ambulance to the hospital. By the time I had been allowed into the ER, mom's speech had returned to normal. It was a frightening 30 minutes or so, but the short episode passed quickly with no lingering impacts - at least we didn't think so initially. The diagnosis was TIA - a mini stroke. The hospital kept her over night to run tests. She complained about all the fuss. She wanted to go home.

At one point in our stay she made a very telling statement. In her frustration at being hospitalized she bemoaned, "I don't know what all the fuss is about. If this had happened at home, I would have laid down and taken a nap. And when I got up it would be gone."

It was a blinding flash of insight for me. This had happened before and that was exactly what she had done. That is why she was not frightened by the event. How many times had she experienced this and how much damage had been done I would never know.

Beyond a doubt, the move into our home, a move into our lives, was the correct choice. How many more times would she have ignored the signs of a stroke before she died or was terribly disabled and institutionalized by a major stroke.

I finally felt the weight of my new role. I knew she was not making correct decisions for her self. Her previous actions may have caused damage in her brain and reduced her functioning. She could never reliably live independently.

I was her care giver.

That first year together was a watershed year. We had been relatively lucky up to that point. All the previous years ... years when my radar had been sending me alarm messages, years when I tried vainly to get her into another living situation ... those years were indeed years when she did need help, when she was not coping well, when she made bad decisions. And probably she had a few mini-strokes.

I felt relief that she lived with me.

The year was still 2007.

And it was in 2007 that I began to understand fully the personal price you pay for being a full time care giver.

Retired Knitter
Daughter and Care Giver


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Let me introduce you to ...



... to Robert Hitcho
through his beautiful pictures.

Bob and I met through Tai Chi. He has a passion (and a talent) for photography that he pursues in retirement.

Recently Bob asked his Tai Chi friends for input on a few pictures he was submitting to a contest. Picking my favorites was exceedingly hard. I asked him if I could share his beautiful shots on my blog, and he gave his permission. These shots were taken a Centennial Park, in Columbia, Maryland.

Hope you enjoy the three I have picked for this posting. I will spread the joy by posting a few more later.

Thanks, Bob!

Enjoy!


Just one more note:

My Tai Chi group was recently featured in a our local newspaper, the Columbia Flyer. Please check the link to see what a fantastic group of people they are.

As some of you know, I took Tai Chi for 2 years and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately I had to stop Tai Chi this past spring. The winter and spring were hard for mom and I, so I had to drop some activities. Tai Chi was one of them.

Not long after I stopped attending, they all moved on to Tai Chi with Sword - which was referenced in the news story.

Man, I sure wanted to own a sword ... there are days when having that sword would be useful!!

:-)





Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Through My Care Giver Eyes - The First Year

(continued from August 21, 2011)

I promised!

Nothing would change, but the roof over her head.

And I broke that promise. Everything did change.

Eventually.

Thankfully, by the time I was breaking that promise she had forgotten I had made it. Sadly, she had forgotten a lot of things, but my promise, the one I made in good faith and a giving heart ... that promise I am glad she didn't remember.

And now looking back at that broken promise, I believe it was the first of many future events that would make me sad. Sadness that the aging process, which joyfully gave us so much in our early years as we matured into adulthood ... that same aging process now robs us of so much at the end of life. It was the beginning of all that for mother and I.

I just didn't know it at the time.

Initially our lives joyfully went on as we planned. I prepared 2 rooms in our townhouse for her: a bedroom and a den. She also had 3 closets and her own bathroom. The rooms were emptied of our stuff, painted, carpets cleaned and filled with her remaining belongings after she downsized. I had her own phone line installed and cable TV in her den.

The move went smoothly.

She drove to church every day and visited friends. She managed her own meds and requested refills when needed. She made her own doctors' appointments and went to them by herself. She climbed our many, many steps every day. She paid her own bills. She helped with dinner and tried to help with cleaning. She changed her own bed sheets and made her bed every day. I did her laundry because it was in the basement and it was another flight of stairs she didn't need to tackle, but in the first 6 months she tried to do that as well.

My husband and I, however, notice small subtle changes ... changes you would notice only if you were with her every day. A sort of relaxed state - a stepping back. It was almost as if the idea of independence was not that important to her anymore ... maybe I had been promising her something that she really didn't want.

That first year was full of discoveries. Each discovery carried with it an added level of concern. She hadn't been able to balance her check book for quite some time prior to the move. My husband took over that task. But he commented that her checkbook was simple, only 2 or 3 checks a month, and it was easily balanced. She was grateful that it was finally balanced, but another small red flag peeped its ugly head over the fence of our lives.

She had been dealing with several medical issues that were not known to us while living in our separate abodes. I took the lead in getting proper care for those conditions. Sometime during that year I started going with her to doctor's appointments. She couldn't seem to verbalize what the doctor said or why certain tests had been ordered. If I wanted to know, I needed to be there. And I heard frequently her physicians comment that they were glad I was coming with her. They didn't make a big deal of it, but there was a noticeable sense of relief - as if concerns were growing in them as well.

The first year confirmed that her move into our home rather than into another place had been the right choice. So many unknowns about her health and mental state had become evident. If she had lived in a senior apartment separate from family, would we have known the true state of her functioning and health? Probably not.

And despite all the little signs of trouble, I still didn't feel that I was her "care giver." I recognized she needed a helping hand and some words of advice now and then, but that didn't define "care giver" in my mind.

All that changed at the end of the first year when we had our first major health scare ... at least the first major health scare I was witness to. The year was 2007. It was spring.

Retired Knitter
Daughter and Care Giver




Where are my manners? Thank You.

A startling thing happened to me on Sunday!
So startling to my mind that I forgot my manners.
I failed to comment on it publicly and thank this blogger
for her most gracious nod in my direction.

I was asked by Doris Plaster to guest post on her blog called Hold My Hand. Doris is a social worker in a nursing home, and her blog postings are a reflection of her professional experiences presented in the form of touching short stories. I believe they also raise the awareness in readers to the issues of aging with snippets of perspective and understanding.

I "met" Doris this spring through an April A to Z Blogging Challenge. I was drawn to her blog for obvious reasons - I live with an aging mother. Recently she released a book that patterned her participation in that blog fest called Home Sweet Home: An A to Z collection of 50-word stories on aging and health care (Volume 1). I am waiting for my copy from Amazon as I write.

When I started the series of posts called Through My Care Giver Eyes, I never thought it would lead to guest posting on such an exceptional and well respected blog.

Doris, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. When I responded to your request (after I picked myself up off the floor), I said I was honored to guest post on your blog.

Honored from the bottom of my heart.

If you haven't yet visited Hold My Hand, please do so ... you won't be sorry.


Retired Knitter
Care Giver and Daughter

Monday, August 22, 2011

Habits

I am a creature of habit!


My breakfast ... always the same.
My bedtime ... midnight!!

Wearing pajamas until noon - a developing bad habit, sadly. :-)

Coffee with cream and sweetener in the morning
- the rest of the day
- black.

A glass of wine (red, never white) while I cook dinner.
If I make dinner in a crock pot at 9:00 am ...
is that too early for wine?

Listening to pod casts when I drive, walk, and clean.

Sharing pieces of my apple with Milo on the car ride back to grandma's every Thursday.

Cleaning my house when I am upset.
(I need to be upset more often!)
:-)

Cheese and Crackers before I go to bed.

Watching the news while cooking dinner.
(The news can make you want to drink!)

Blogging!

Something sweet after lunch and dinner.

Potato chips must have dip!

Pretzels must have dip!

Dip.


Why do most of my habits center around food?


Making soup or stew or chili on a snowy day.

Drinking a hot-toddy when I have a cold.

Playing Words With Friends before going to sleep
before breakfast
while eating lunch
while watching TV
(Is there an addiction here?)
(Is there another addict out there?)
(Is there an addict who wants to play with me out there?)
(Can you launch a game with me? I am retired knitter there too.)

Playing iPad games of all sorts.
(I can blame that habit on Steve Jobs.)


Habits I should develop!
hmm
nothing
I am retired!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Through My Care Giver Eyes - Comments

I started a series of postings on my life as a care giver. - called "Through My Care Giver Eyes".

When I started this, I was unsure of the value of such a series for the readers. After all, most of my peers are dealing with similar issues. Many of them know more than I do about caring for a parent. I felt the series was mostly just to chronicle and explore this "right turn" I took in my life 5 years ago and to put some sense to it in my mind. Certainly comments were not necessary, I thought in my little vacuum. It's mostly for me, after all.

Well, I think I have changed my mind.

I have received many wonderful comments by email. And my email is always open to those who want to continue to share privately. But to improve ease of conversing, I am putting the comment feature back on this going forward.

The series continues in my mind to be mostly a me "venture" :-) ... but it may also be of help to others who are walking this same road.

It is just nice to know we are not alone.


Through My Care Giver Eyes - August 21, 2011

(continued from August 19, 2011)

Discussions were ongoing regarding her future living options. We mapped them out on paper. Talked about the pros and cons. Visits, however, to see any choices were always ... later. And "later" never came.

Finally external forces pushed her to do what I could not. The apartment management changed and her rent jumped $200 a month. Mom lived frugally by choice and by habit, and although she said she could manage the increase, I could tell from the tone of her voice that this increase was going to make things tight. And what would following years bring? More increases? And how would she handle a move 2-3 years from now when she was that much older? No, we both agreed that this year was the year she must move. This was the year!!

But to where?

Because she had delayed action in moving for a few years, changes in her functioning had definitely limited her choices for independent living. Assisted living was a choice but her financial resources were not inexhaustible. Her social security and pension had comfortably sustained her for many years as well as her minimalist style of living, but how much longer could she outrun inflation, a major problem for many senior citizens.

And to my eyes, she now clearly needed assistance in certain aspects of her life.

Again we talked.

She had a new concern: all the details of the move, the cleaning out, the packing, all the address changes, the moving arrangements ... she saw this as a huge deterrent to moving at all, she didn't see how she could manage it ... maybe she should stay put for another year ... and again she began to back away from the decision. I dug in my heels. We couldn't dither about this any more. Years of talking were over. Action was needed. I finally convinced her that I could easily manage all the aspects of her move from her one bedroom apartment.

She had to start to trust me. This year really was the right year to move.

And this time I offered the option of living with family ... living with me. She didn't jump at it at first. It was a decision, after all, and she had problems making decisions. But in the end, she took the offer.

I began the process of moving her for what I hoped was the last time.

Did I recognize the giant step forward I was taking into the care giving role? No. Not really.

I sincerely felt I was offering her a reasonable option for a viable living arrangement. I assured her, promised her, that nothing would change, but the roof over her head. She could still do her own things, attend activities, visit with friends, maintain her own independence. My husband and I would still live our lives doing similar things. We would share a house ... that was all!

The only valid criticism that I accept of my actions during this time was naivety. I was naive!

Terribly naive.

The year was 2006.

Retire Knitter
Daughter and Care Giver
Comments may be sent to Retiredknitter@gmail.com

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Friendship

The most beautiful discovery true friends make
is that they can grow separately without growing apart.
~ Elisabeth Foley


What a true statement.

I do believe that friendship is a convoluted subject, one that isn't easily discussed without using generalities or platitudes. My life has been filled with many friendships, but I wanted to give a nod to the special kind of friendship that doesn't fit the typical friendship mold.

The seldom seen or talked to friend!
The friend you are instantly at ease with
even if it has been 10 years since you last talked.

As a child or young person friends seem to be an important influence and fluid part of our lives. As a child, friends can be casually made in a moment. Ask a child who has just spent time playing in the sandbox with a new acquaintance ... who is this person they are spending time with and they usually say without hesitation "my friend". Teens place a great importance on the opinions of their "friends" - peer pressure is all about friends and what they think and how you fit in.

But as you mature you realize that not everyone who crosses your path in life is a friend. By mid life many established friendships are tested by distance, time or hardship. Sometimes those tested friendships disappear. Later in life some long term friendships can almost reach the level of family ties.

I am blessed with the ability to make friends easily. I count a diverse group of people among my friends. As the quote above reflects, friendship should be able to stand the test of individual growth and change. Friends who are cookie cutter images of me are not as satisfying as those hold a different perspective.

The most surprising friendships for me are the ones that are not nurtured. You hear all the time ... friendships, relationships, marriages ... they need caring and tending to be successful. And yet, I personally have a hand full of friends who I rarely see or communicate with, and when we get together it is like no time has passed, no changes in who we are have occurred.

Yet, change has occurred. Life changes you. But the basic underlying relationship is unchanged. The comfort in each other's company remains.

Why is that!

Can it be said that friendship is more of a chemistry thing?
You either have a good chemistry with a person or you don't.

Or is the art of building friendships more an individual thing?
Are some individuals more open to the differences of others
and that is what makes the friendship work between 2 divergent people?

I can think of at least 5 individuals who fit this category of "distant friend"
- no matter when they bump into my life,
we are in sync.

Do you have friends like that?







Friday, August 19, 2011

Through My Care Giver Eyes - August 19, 2011


(continued from August 16, 2011)

Mom recuperated from her accident at my house for about a week. She could barely walk and even after returning to her home, she needed lots of help. Food shopping, laundry, rides to the doctor and church ... but over time she recovered, she got a new car and took back bits and pieces of her life.

I really thought we were back to normal.

But then another behavior began to emerge. I discovered that talking took the place of action for mom. Although she was always a cautious person, I didn't remember her delaying actions indefinitely. Talk about taking computer classes and getting a computer went on for a year or more. Talk about her need for hearing aids lasted almost a year. Concerns about her rising rent and a possible move to another place went on for two or three years. Through it all, we talked and talked, and planned and planned, but I couldn't seem to prompt her to action.

Eventually I convinced her to get hearing aids. A hearing test had shown her hearing loss was severe. But it was probably 8 months before she would wear the new hearing aids full time. At least I was content that she could hear sirens when driving her car or people approaching her from behind when she walked on the street.

But I had uncomfortable thought that maybe she had passed some mental invisible line in her functioning. Everything took so long to achieve.

Most worrisome was how frail she was getting. She still went out for walks in her neighborhood, but they were slow and measured with the help of a cane. At times she seemed to be overly trusting of casual acquaintances. As I left her apartment after each visit, I would watch her. She would follow me out to my car, and watch as I left, waving all the time, then walking back to her front door - slowly and carefully.

I couldn't help but worry that as she was getting older and weaker, she was becoming a target for bad things that sometime happen against the elderly.

During a short period of 4 or 5 years, friends were moved away or went into retirement communities, trusted neighbors were leaving, some close friends died. She also seemed to be pulling away from her normal social circles - doing less of everything. She stopped traveling, taking only occasional day trips. And then even the day trips stopped. And decisions about all things, big and little, became more and more difficult for her. Discussions and conversations were only partially remembered. Important things were written down so she could refer to them later. Soon even unimportant things were written as well. Taking action on anything was lacking.

The circle of her life was shrinking noticeably.

Maybe I was over reacting, watching too much crime TV, reading too many newspaper stories about crimes against the elderly ... maybe. But I know my personal radar was picking up changes in mom that required action from those who cared about her.

I struggled then, as I do now, with how to balance her rights to independence (as much as she could manage) against my concerns for her health, safety and quality of life. My yardstick in dealing with mom was to treat her as I wanted to be treated when I was her age. So we continued to talk as I sought to move her through decision making into action. Movement was slow going.

It definitely was the harder road to travel. I always seem to pick the harder road.

And the forward steps by me towards being a full time care giver were occurring without conscious thought or plan. I was just doing the things that needed to be done for a member of my family. To do otherwise seemed to be irresponsible.

Retired Knitter
Daughter and Care Giver
Comments can be sent to Retiredknitter@gmail.com

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Review - Little Red in the City



My trip to the Mannings earlier in the month resulted in a few purchases.

Shocking fact, I know!! :-)

Little Red in the City by Ysolda Teague caught my eye right away. I picked it up many times always setting it down, but returning again to look further. One of those times I picked it up, I carried it around the store with me while I shopped for other stuff. I think I sent it down again, but when I got in line with my yarn purchase ... miraculously that book was back in my arms and showed up on my sales slip. Go figure!

Ysolda is a young Scottish designer of knitting patterns. The chatter among the knitting community about this book's upcoming publication seemed to pop up everywhere among those interested in knitting. I have tried to avoid buying knitting books. I have a large knitting library and I didn't need another book ... until I saw this one.

The focus in this book is fitting and sizing. This critical information can make or break a finished knitted object. After hours of planning, and knitting, even thousands of perfect stitches will fall short if the fit is wrong when you put it on. Been there, done that!

But that is only one reason I bought this book.

I totally loved the lack of stick thin models wearing the sweaters. Really - some people can wear a potato sack and look good. But normal people have to pick carefully. The world is filled with more normal sized people than stick people.

Ysolda and her friend Amanda did all the modeling. Ysolda represents the normal shape and weight of your average woman. Amanda represents the larger women. Both wear all the sweater styles. Using real world bodies helps you see how each design looks on different body types.


Another wonderful feature of the book is the presentation. Throughout you feel like you are viewing some one's personal project notebook. Pictures that appear to be mounted with corner tabs, text type that mimics hand written notes, hand drawn schematics that put other simplistic line drawings to shame, beautifully drawn technique demonstrations ... these elements invite the reader to look further into this sometimes boring topic of fit and size.


The main thrust of the book is sizing and adjustments. Who doesn't want to ensure that their finished object fits their one-of-a-kind body!?! There are 15-17 sizes for each pattern, ranging from a 28 to 60 inch bust. There is guidance within each pattern for fit adjustments. There are large detailed charts for sizing of each design.

Many books on similar topics fill book store shelves today, but I believe no one has captured the charm of this book.

It is in my stack of books to be read from cover-to-cover - not many knitting books sit there!!


The book retails for $32.00.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Joke - A truth!

I got an email joke from a friend.
I don't share jokes often as they are prolific circulating in emails.

But I had to share this one!

The English language has some wonderfully anthropomorphic collective nouns for the various groups of animals.
We are all familiar with a Herd of cows, a Flock of chickens, a School of fish and a Gaggle of geese.
However, less widely known is a Pride of lions, a Murder of crows (as well as their cousins the rooks and ravens), an Exaltation of doves and, presumably because they look so wise, a Parliament of owls.
Now consider a group of Baboons. They are the loudest, most dangerous, most obnoxious, most viciously aggressive and least intelligent of all primates. And what is the proper collective noun for a group of baboons?
Believe it or not ....... a Congress!
I guess that pretty much explains the things that come out of Washington!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Through My Care Giver Eyes - August 16, 2011


(continued from August 15, 2011)

In all of life you take steps ... steps towards something or steps away from something.

It is movement. Nothing is static.

Trying to remember when I stepped forward into the role of care giver has been challenging. The changes in life that preceded mom's move into my house were so subtle - sort of like the movement of a glacier that can only be quantified by looking back to where the glacier was years ago.

But I did try to look back.

Others who have been witness to this progression might think they know exactly when it all began, speak with authority on the choices that were made with each step and feel confident to project just how the outcome could have been different. But unless you actually lived through the whole process in my skin and saw it through my eyes, those opinions are theories.

Mom lived an independent life starting 1970 as a widow. She struggled with uncertainty and unknowns in those initial years but she was a stronger person than she ever believed. I am sure she developed the same thoughts and perspectives that I now hold about myself ...
  • that I am capable and self-sufficient enough to not need help,
  • that am I sound of mind and body and will never falter because I won't let it happen,
  • that I refuse to be a burden to others.
She walked every day, enjoyed crafts, read books, she went to swim exercise, she stayed active socially with her friends, she traveled. She remained active and involved with life separate from her daughters. She had no reason to doubt her beliefs of an independent and active future.

But age, genetics, and normal chemical changes in the aging brain can to rob you of all your plans and expectations. It is stolen from you slowly - almost so slowly as to believe that it is not happening at all.

And so it was with mother.

And when did my concerns for her arise?

I often wonder if the seeds of my concern were buried somewhere in my childhood. There is no one memory that stands out, but the scope of many unhappy memories lumped together would be fertile soil for growth of gratitude toward this woman. And from gratitude would come concern at her failing.

The most startling memories of those from my adult years. I remember when she stopped going to her swim exercise. She said it was because someone had stolen a hair scarf from her locker. It seemed like such a small thing, and yet she gave up swimming - something she had done for years. Why I remember that event is a mystery ... except that it might have been the first tiny little red flag for me. Tiny as to be almost quickly forgotten. She was still doing everything else. What was the concern if she changed her one activity? No big deal, right? ... and yet, I remember. For mom it was a tiny step back. For me it was a tiny step of memory - a memory stored away - a concern - step forward ... for me. That probably was in the 1990s.

Another more significant event in the 90s shook her confidence. She was involved in an auto accident. Her car was hit by a motorist who ran a red light. The impact threw her car across the street landing it on the far sidewalk. Although not visibly injured at the scene, it was later discovered that her pelvis was cracked. I believe the realization of how close she had come to serious permanent injury or death changed her a bit.

The day after her accident I remember going to the tow lot where they had taken her car. The car that hit her had plowed into her car just behind her driver seat - missing her by inches - and destroying the back end of the car - the car appeared to have been bent in half and the back half was total destruction. Upon finding her car on the lot, I remember standing quite still, staring in disbelief at the pile of metal that was mother's Honda Civic, tears streaming down my face at the horror of what could have occurred and the terror she must have experienced at impact. Yes, that experience would shake anyone.

She took a step back in confidence that day. I took a protective step forward to compensate. That was 1997.

Retired Knitter
Daughter and Care Giver
retiredknitter@gmail.com

Monday, August 15, 2011

Look Up




Did you look up today?

I was out briefly today and I did a lot of looking up. Mother Nature provided some of the best views of our sky that I have ever seen. I am not one to take pictures of the sky.

But today, how could you just keep looking down?


For example
- is this the "dark cloud with a silver lining"
that I have always heard about?


And was mother nature confused
about what she wanted to do in this moment of time?


Haven't I seen water color pictures that looked a lot like this?



And I know I have artists renditions
of God stepping out of the clouds
- and they looked a lot like this.


Maybe my current simple diet caused me to think of
cotton candy
when I saw this.



And without seeing the sun in the sky, it was there
- as seen in the reflection of the leaves on the left.