Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A question of appetite

My father has Alzheimer’s and I can’t get him to eat the things he used to love. Every day is a battle to try to understand what he might agree to eat. Can you give me any advice? Sent in by B.G.Fruits and Veggies

Many medications for Alzheimer’s patients, especially if they have other medical concerns, can wreak havoc on their taste buds as well as their appetites. Talk to your father’s doctor and request a consultation with a nutritionist who can guide you. Unfortunately, what tastes acceptable one day might not taste as good the next day. Be patient and understanding. Offer a variety of options and remember he isn’t deliberately trying to be difficult.

If you have a caregiving question, email mary@marybrotherton.com.

Laughing Together

It doesn’t happen often enough, but when my mother and I can laugh together, I’m reassured that my husband and I made the right decision to live with her during her twilight years. It brings me joy to see her throw her head back and laugh no matter the reason. Typically, jokes might evoke a chuckle or a smile, but her belly laughs are what make me happiest.

Laughing

Sometimes, we laugh at my cat’s antics. For a twelve-year-old indoor cat, he is active. At no more than eleven pounds, he can shake the house when he runs. It’s amusing to hear the crystal glasses tinkle when he charges after a phantom.

Cat at play

When she was raising eight children, my mother didn’t believe animals should share our home. We were her priority, not tending to cats or dogs or any other kind of critters. We didn’t realize, until we were adults, how hard she had to work to provide food and shelter.

Soup

My father was a highly functional alcoholic and my memories of him include cigarettes, coffee, occasional beers and laughter. I remember his deep chuckles, his mischievous titters and his all-out, this is the funniest-thing-ever laughter. He worked long hours at his motel job and I was too naïve to recognize the secreted bottles for what they were. I knew he was the maintenance man at our church and he did all he could to keep up repairs at home. He died when I was twenty-six. My sons were very small, but they, too, have fond memories of their grandfather.

Winner

To ease the stress from what must have felt like never-ending potty training, teenaged angst and a husband whose drinking habits hindered his ability to provide for his family, my mother often stepped outside and screamed. She didn’t need anxiety pills or therapy, she just screamed. It grounded her. Then, she resumed whatever task she had been doing, as if nothing had disrupted her routine.

Laughing

I’ve tried to emulate her stress-relieving tactics with limited success. I’m not as strong as she was or is. Daily, I struggle to remain calm and solid. Every day, my son and I walk several miles and I make certain that taking care of myself is my top priority. Knowing I can never be a proper caregiver if I am not fit, good nutrition is as vital as daily exercise. Deep breathing, meditation and talking to other caregivers help me stay focused.

Rest and Relax

Still, laughter is my best stress-relief.  Most of our shared joy comes at our own expense.

Together, we laugh at our mistakes. We are both grammarians, so if one or the other mis-speaks, and the other catches it, we have an opportunity to laugh. We each have extensive vocabularies and we know how to use words properly, but from time to time an ain’t slips out or I’ll ask – never she – where something is at. Her answer is always, “it’s behind the at.”

Mother and sons

We must find a way to deal not only with the stresses of care giving, but life itself. I recommend laughter. Laugh alone, if you must, but a laugh partner keep the laughter rolling from trickling giggles to guffaws that hurt your sides.

I hope your sides hurt more than your heart.  Please, leave me a comment and share how you handle your stress.

Adult women laughing

What’s your favorite way to laugh?

Who is your laugh partner?

Who tickles your funny bone?

What memory makes you smile every time you think about it?

Why Daddy Drank

I may not know all the reasons my father drank, but I may have one explanation.

Laughing Brewmaster

My mother can be a nag. With her worsening memory, her gentle reminders sometimes bring to mind a Komodo Dragon eating a Water Buffalo.

Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw.

truck of beer

She especially likes to recall how much Daddy drank. This leads into the financial impact of his functional alcoholism on the family.

Bar men

He always denied being an alcoholic.

“Alcoholics go to meetings. I don’t.”

I don’t remember seeing my father drunk. He had beer with the other men at picnics and I knew about his whiskey bottles under the driver’s seat. I just didn’t see how is drinking affected the family.

holding a drink

Occasionally, Momma will say, “I think he was in a lot of pain. Maybe that’s why he drank so much.”

Alcohol

Daddy was in his late thirties when he suffered his first serious heart attack and he endured multiple cardiac arrests before his final, fatal one in his early sixties. He didn’t drink much after doctors discovered his brain tumor. His heart simply stopped almost two years later.

food and beer

I think Momma may be dealing with remorse for her behavior toward Daddy’s drinking.

Drinking time

She sounds sad when she says, “I will never forget the day I walked into his hospital room and the nurses had given him a six-pack of beer. He’d gone into DTs because he hadn’t had drink in a long time.”

Beer

Momma usually stops talking about his drinking for a while, after this memory.

I’ve never seen anyone with Delirium Tremors from alcohol withdrawal, but I can only imagine its horror based on the pain I once endured when I tried to quit caffeine overnight.

Mug of beer

My youngest brother, David was the only one of eight children living at home who had to put his life on hold for Daddy. During his senior year of high school, he helped drive Daddy to doctors’ appointments and chemotherapy treatments. At seventeen, he was far too young to be a caregiver, but he cared for our father, and consequently, our mother. Still, as soon as he could, he joined the Navy and moved away.

Bourbon

I can’t move away. I’m committed to providing for my mother until she moves beyond this life. I can’t drink too much or too often, at least, but on days Momma gets stuck on an unpleasant memory, I can certainly understand why Daddy did.Tall cool one

 

My 87-year-old mother has a Facebook page.

computing grannyShe doesn’t understand how computers, the Internet or social media work. But once or twice a day, she and I review what’s new on her page.

home officeShe never learned to type and isn’t comfortable for long periods at a desk, but we are making this one of our shared activities. I sit in a chair next to her recliner and together, we look at the photos shared by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

young adults

Nieces and nephews and their children are also getting involved. If Momma makes a comment verbally, I pull the laptop back and type it in for her.

She’s reluctant to have me take her photo and is seldom pleased with the results, although she is still as beautiful at 87 as she was at 17, when her portrait in a photographer’s display stole my father’s heart. She has aged well, but she won’t believe me when I tell her.

Sepia by age

She has agreed to photos that partially hide her face, so we are making a game of taking her photo behind bouquets and books. She may agree to photos where she is the background, rather than the main subject, but we’ll have to experiment with that for a while.

Woman with daffodils

Most of my aunts and uncles are deceased, but their children and grandchildren are also enjoying the interaction. I’m finding it’s a good memory exercise for all of us. It’s my family’s version of Who’s Who, because we’ve lost touch with many of our cousins.

group shot

In just a week, she accepted 75 friend requests, every one related by blood or marriage, with only a few family friends in the mix.

good friends

 

 

 

A HANC Bucket List

movie poster

In the movie, The Bucket List, two men from opposite edges of the financial spectrum and conflicting life philosophies end up in the same room with the same powerful prognosis, you will die, sooner than you think you should. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman portrayed cancer ward escapees who roamed the world fulfilling their life goals, or what Nicholson’s character called his Bucket List. Together, they fulfilled their singular and united goals and dreams.

bucket overturned

BucketList.org provides an online forum to record lists of things to do before dying, as well as a place to brag about accomplishments and search other lists for ideas.

book with spiralHANCs need bucket lists, too – things to accomplish before the person in our care passes away. Don’t forget the fun things you want to do and then go out and do them, if you can. Of course, one of the reasons you are a HANC is because someone is unable to do things independently. Otherwise, you would not be there. But, you can still talk, dream and plan.

Here’s how I started the conversation one day, as we ate lunch together.

sports car

“Momma, I remember you told me you used to want to drive for NASCAR. Is there anything else you wish you could have done?”

Smiling woman

With the same mischievous grin that stole my father’s heart, she said, “I always wish I could have been the first woman on the moon.”

moon manWe spent some time discussing what she thought she would have seen and what she hoped to find there. She told me how she used to watch the “man in the moon” change expressions and she wondered if she would have been able to walk across the moon and see what caused those changes.

She wasn’t interested in discussing other goals or making plans for the rest of her days.

Woman with puzzle book

“I’ve lived my life,” she said. “I don’t need to go anywhere or do anything but sit in my chair and work my puzzles and wait to die.”

            Some times, that’s how she feels. She’s just waiting to die. Since she enjoys looking at my photos, on days she doesn’t feel like going outside on her scooter, I try to bring the outdoors in for her. There is still so much more I would like to do for and with her.

traffic

My husband and I recently took her on an impromptu road trip to our former home in Florida.

Five local physicians had been unable to resolve a medical issue for me. After months of conflicting treatments, frustrated from the pain and inability to manage some of the simplest tasks, I made an appointment to Skype my Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor who had helped me keep my body, mind and spirit in balance for the past decade. He said he felt this was a major concern and wanted to see me in person as soon as possible.

dry fingers

When everyone else in the family had conflicting schedules, my mother told me to pack a bag for her. Despite her typical reluctance to step outside of her comfort zone, she agreed to take this trip because she knew how much pain I had been enduring since moving in with her.

We filled the car with weekend luggage and all the paraphernalia necessary to make her excursion as comfortable as possible.

 Wheelchair

Walker

Potty Chair

Daily medication

Emergency meds such as nitroglycerin and something for nausea or pain

A list of her medications in case she needed a doctor

Puzzle Books and pens

Pillows and sweaters and lap blankets

ocean view

When we arrived at my in-laws’ home, my mother was apprehensive. She had forgotten she had met them when her health was good. Her trepidation was quickly rested by the genial hospitality of my husband’s folks and despite the serious nature of our trip, she had a great time.

In addition to my HANC chores, I have a HANC bucket list that doesn’t involve out of state trips.
Laugh with her daily.
Laugh at myself as often as necessary.
Listen to her stories.
Tell her my stories.
Take her photograph as often as I can.
Breathe.
Sing – even if it is off key.
Paint.
Play.
Read more, just for fun.
Dance.
Stop over-thinking.
Remember my coping strategies:
Maintain my patience.
Remain composed when provoked.
Don’t allow anyone to provoke me.

Writing

Everyone’s list will be different. Don’t wait until you are facing the end of your life to make yours. More importantly, don’t make the list and think you are finished. Start fulfilling it and enjoy every single moment of your life – especially if you are a HANC. Enjoy your life as a caregiver and remember to be flexible. When you find your support group cannot come to your aid, change your perspective and you’ll find your most precious memories!

See the world differently

What’s on your bucket list?

Oops! My Domesticity is Showing.

domestiic oops

My what is showing?

When I left my hometown, I had a purpose. I had a plan. When I returned, nearly fifteen years later, my purpose had changed and my plan? Well, life has not gone according to my plan. Fortunately, I’m not the kind of person who needs to follow a formula precisely.

chocolate cake

Looks better than it tastes

Ask those poor people who were unfortunate enough to taste my salty chocolate cakes. Yes, I said cakes, with a plural emphasis, because I don’t always immediately learn from my mistakes.

daek chocolate bar

Nothing but the best!

When we were dating, I baked my husband a three-layer chocolate cake for his birthday. I had used the recipe on the back of the cocoa box so many times, I had it memorized and could practically prepare it blindfolded. I’d read that the addition of salt enhances the flavor of chocolate, so in addition to the typically delicious cake, I sprinkled in a few extra spoonfuls of salt to the icing. I added and stirred and tasted and added and stirred and repeated the process until I was certain I had the perfect enhancement. I was at a need-to-impress-him state in my life, so after forming the peaks on the frosting in a way that would make Martha Stuart want to arm wrestle Betty Crocker for my secret, I packed the cake carefully and drove 325 miles to his Florida home.

Central Florida Ocean

Not the sort of place you’d store your cake.

The cake smelled delicious and when I removed the cover, everyone in the house actually made an “ohh” or “mmm” sound. Big slices, unfortunately, were left on their plates after the first bite. My husband said it tasted like I had dumped it in the ocean.

pound cake recipe

Some recipes are more detailed than others.

 I waited many years before attempting to bake another cake, but this time, I followed a recipe precisely.

 

chocolate cake caramel icing

Never underestimate the power of following instructions.

The chocolate cake with caramelized sugar glaze was a hit, so with my confidence restored, I attempted another chocolate cake with chocolate icing, but did not try to enhance it with the addition of salt, yet this cake tasted worse than the first! Even I didn’t like it. I knew I’d lost my edge in the kitchen, but it didn’t matter.

desk edge

Editing happens here

I was a career woman, an editor, writer and photographer. I spent my weekdays in an office, working with an award-winning publisher and my weekends on outings with accomplished photographers or in my home office editing the works of novelists, memoirists, essayists, short story writers and poets. I didn’t need to bake and I didn’t need to cook. I didn’t even need to clean much.

what's for dinner

Nothing elaborate

My husband was content with quickly cooked meals from kits and the freezer. We lived our lives in such a way that I didn’t have to spend much time doing housework or yard work. We were living our plans and dreaming our dreams.

Mary is happy

Back in the carefree career days

I thought I was happy.

Scooter Pooting

Independently dependent

Then, we visited my mother and realized that although she could continue to live alone, her health would surely suffer and decline. We knew we couldn’t wait for someone else to step forward and help out more than they were. Each member of the family was doing his and her best to work around unique work situations and life schedules and no one was in a position to step into the role of full-time Housekeeper, Activities director, Nutritionist and Companion (HANC).

It was time for me to fill that role.

bicycle

How hard can it be?

I wondered if being a homemaker would be like riding a bike. Would it come back to me?

cookbooks in order

What’s for dinner?

In another life that my current husband has never known, I took extreme pride in my home. I used a cookbook and canning jars and slow cookers.

place setting

Presentation is half the battle

 I set the table and I knew “what’s for dinner” if anyone asked. I focused on my family and not my career in those days, but I wasn’t happy.

unpacking

Unpacking is as difficult as moving.

For several months, I have focused on the transition from full-time editor to full-time HANC. In between editing assignments, I have unpacked and worked to de-clutter and organize my mother’s small home.

hairdresser

Granny’s getting her style updated.

  It seemed that if I wasn’t driving to appointments with her hairdresser, we were driving to a doctor or to pick up prescriptions. I’ve accepted that I will be responsible for ensuring she takes her many daily medications properly.

herbs

Traditional Chinese raw herbs

Her many trips to see many specialists and doctors grates my own personal preference to more natural healing, which does not include pharmaceuticals.

oreos and milk

Yummy, but not nutritious.

 I  grimaced at her predilection for cookies and ice cream.

wine glass of juice

You don’t have to drink wine to toast to your health.

I rejoiced silently when she requested fresh juice and my recent triumph came when she requested a second helping of chili after telling me she didn’t really like chili, “until tonight.” Oh, yes! I followed a recipe and did not add any extra salt.

manuscript

Pages from my novel.

I’m still writing. I went on a photo outing in mid-October. I still write for some of my established clients.

vacuum

Vacuum cleaner in the Carl and Lillian Sandburg home in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

Oddly, I’m content to assist my mother, vacuum, make beds and find interesting meals to cook for my family.

paint

Awaking my sleeping artist

Is it possible that my domestic contentment will play a role in my artistic creativity at some point?

scarecrow in garden

Garden at Cannemara, Carl Sandburg’s home in NC.

 Perhaps my muse has been hiding in the garden, all along. I still have plans and dreams and yet, I find an amusing peacefulness when someone compliments a simple bowl of chili.

 

New Beginnings in Old Surroundings

    We’ve passed our first month on the calendar as HANC (Housekeeper, Activities Director, Nutritionist and Companion) and some days it seems we just arrived at my mother’s house. Other days, it seems we’re settled in and our routine is time-tested and sturdy.

As difficult as it is to move, relocating more than 300 miles away is even more trying. We were both fortunate that we weren’t also moving to new jobs and the challenges that provides. Although Curtis has worked remotely for many years, this move did present its share of slowdowns for him. I was a little better off with my job not needing quite the level of technology that his requires and I was able to get right to editing soon after our move.

     Of course, it’s always a struggle to move, but to move into a fully furnished house that has been home for nearly 5o years was a first for both of us and somewhat unsettling for my mother.

     She’s been living alone since my father passed away in the early 1980s with little exception.

     Not long after my father’s death, my brother David joined the military and she was completely alone for the first time.  From time to time, she’s hosted her children and others who visited for a week or more, but she’s mostly been alone.

 

 

     More than 20 years later, she remarried. A year later, shewas a widow and lived alone, again.

 

 

 

     Now, here I am, with a husband and a very vocal cat, disrupting her life. She thanks us several times most days and apologizes for not being able to fully express her gratitude. 

 

     Other days, she exerts herself as the homeowner and defies me to make any changes – even to the kitchen, which she said is, “yours to do with as you please.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re all spreading our wings, trying to see what we can do to “make this work.”

Great Blue Heron flies over lake at sunset

 

     One of  the first dramatic obstacles was finding a workaround for her aging air conditioner. For months, we thought Momma had been adjusting the thermostat, and there is some truth to that; but her adjustment wasn’t the only problem with the fact that many afternoons, when my sister, Jane, came to take Momma for her appointment at the hair salon, she’d find the house was in the mid 80s.

      When we visited in April, my husband, Curtis, thought it might be helpful to install a programmable digital thermostat, rather than the old-style mercury slide she’d had for years. The digital didn’t help much. Two months later, when we moved in, we found the house was still stiflingly hot. So, we called a repairman to come service the unit. The next day was one of the hottest days on record in this state and the 18-year-old unit could not keep up with the heatwave. When repeated calls to the repairman went unanswered, we called others.

     One came out and did a more thorough service job and by the time he left, the unit was cooling again. Our comfort was short-lived, however. The service call could do only so much. Hot air was leaking in through the un-insulated attic and old windows. We could literally feel the hot air coming in through some cracks.

     The first line of defense was to purchase a window air conditioner as an auxiliary unit. Once that was installed, thanks to Curtis and Matt, we realized we still needed to address some of the larger air leaks, Curtis and I put a sheet of insulation inside the hall, covering the gaping area surrounding the attic access and could immediately feel a coolness. Still, the hot air comes in, but we’ve learned which doors to close to keep the house reasonably comfortable – also, we rely on ceiling and floor fans to move the air through the house.fan

 

 

 

 

 

     I’ve had to readjust my daily goals. Now, I’m satisfied if I can unpack just one box  instead of hoping to complete a room. That way, I’m not exhausting myself every day.

 

      I also discovered one thing that helps me with stress – and there is more than enough of that to go around! Today, I had an incident where I was overwhelmed and Momma made a snarky comment.

night fire

      I decided I needed a fire. I wanted to burn things. We’ve had some rain and I felt my fire pit was safe, so I carried all the paper I could find outside. I also gathered some limbs and twigs and added old wooden shelves from the open shed to the inferno. The paper burned and the wood smoldered. I put some things in the better storage shed and I sweated. I kept moving and moving and moving.

bed made up

 

 

 

     By the time I’d moved things and burned things and was too tired to move any more, Momma had gone to bed.

 

      I missed saying, “goodnight” to her, but I didn’t lose my cool with her, either.

 

Black and blue butterfly

 

    

 

     Like the butterfly that landed on the window air conditioner and needed to warm in the sun before taking off, I needed the warmth of the fire and movement before I could remember why I am here – for my mother.

     My family and my life have changed dramatically. No longer am I a simply a wife and newspaper editor with weekends free to explore, shop and lounge about. Now, instead of concerning myself with what to prepare for dinner for my husband and myself, I must consider all three meals for us as well as my mother, whose medications, more than her health, make dietary restrictions a matter of life and death.

      A few months ago, it wasn’t important whether or not I skipped a meal. Today, I can’t risk it. Last winter, I needed only to worry about my own health and welfare (and my husband’s) but today, it’s vital that I not only maintain a healthy lifestyle for myself, I must also take steps to ensure my mother’s life is as stress-free as possible, too.

     I am a HANC. I manage the housekeeping, family activities, nutritional needs and provide companionship for my mother.

     Returning to my childhood home, I am making new beginnings for all of us, in old surroundings. The adventure has started.

Two Weeks as a HANC

When we visit our parents as adults, we want to believe everything is under control, as it was when we were children.

     We may see or smell things we’d rather not, but to keep the fantasy alive, we tend to ignore them.Gransmomma and siblings

   Usually, we make a point to clean something or do some yard maintenance on our visits, but mostly we visit, because our parents want to spend TIME with us, not watch us work.Clock in town square 

     Once we are back home again, we can pat ourselves on our backs for whatever we did. We might tut-tut to our spouses or siblings and think about what must be done “one day,” but we don’t want to believe our parents are anything less than super-humans. We want to remember them as strong and independent, virile and always capable.

Matt's guns

 Those of us with large families hope someone else will inevitably step up and take charge.

      For me, living more than 300 miles away, I had no option but to allow my sisters and brothers who lived closer to do just that. Each did what could be done  around schedules and personal requirements. Each filled a special role.

     My role was to visit as often as my job allowed and do what I could during the few days I was “home.”

     Over the years, our mother’s physical capabilities have declined and her memory lapses have worried us more and more. We have talked one-on-one with each other, but never as a collective family about her increasing need for more companionship, better nutrition, help with housework or more diversions to help her focus mentally.

variety of produce

     Once, my sister’s husband was driving Momma’s car, with Momma on the front passenger’s seat when Momma became startled by what she thought was an oncoming car.

      Momma decided for herself that she would no longer drive.

      She didn’t suffer the indignation of having her driver’s license taken from her, but she told me she misses not being able to trust herself behind the wheel of a car. She still loves to “take a drive,” and told me after her recent trip for bloodwork, “This is fun. I don’t care if it is just to the doctor’s office and back. I like to get out of the house.”

Oak tree lined dirt road

      Now, that we are living here, I can take her for a drive any day of the week. We don’t even need a destination.

 I hope to do more of this kind of driving once we are unpacked…at least, maybe after I have finished cleaning the kitchen. Goals are good.

redundant swiffer

     I try to clean, organize and unpack a little each day and I hope we aren’t confounding her, though sometimes, I think we must. There have been some incidents that make me know we need to be here and I am tempted to take over, but she loves her independence and I must remember she handled all her daily-living activities long before we moved in. She is proud to load or empty the dishwasher, but I do all the meal preparation – sometimes with her nearby. She still is able to do laundry, and I am pleased to allow her that chore. Today, she patched a pair of my shorts that had ripped. I would have probably worn them, ripped and all, until I could no longer do so. She enjoys doing needlework and I may end up in patches, but each one is lovingly stitched.

 quilted

     She is headstrong, but reasonable.

    Some changes make her wonder, “Why, after all these years, do I need to do that?”

As long as we explain what we are doing and why we must do it a certain way, she accepts the changes with grace. She just needs to know why.

 

     For many years, she has lived in a house with almost no insulation in the walls or attic, which makes her air conditioner work harder than it needs to. It also makes the house extremely hot during the summer. She’s on blood-thinning medication, which means she is relatively comfortable in a house that is warmer than 80 degrees. What she doesn’t seem to understand is that at 84 degrees or even 90, as it was one day, her thinking is impaired. She was very grouchy during the hottest days. She didn’t want us to purchase a window air conditioner, but when I told her we needed to, so I could cook and clean, she accepted it. We paid for it, but she’s not always certain she didn’t buy it.

    

     We can’t easily open most of the windows to allow a cross breeze and the roof has no venting for the heat. I noticed her mood improved when we were able to cool the house to anything below 78. She has started wearing a knitted shawl in the early mornings so I can do my household chores in more comfort. We compromised without even discussing the problem.

      At times, she smiles when I do something my father used to do or that she once did, but can no longer do. Nostalgia can be good.

     She has been writing her memories in a variety of notebooks and they are random. She knows there is no “book order” to them, but I hope to share them, soon.

Journal pages blank

     She retells stories, not remembering that she may have told the same story, almost verbatim, a day ago – an hour ago – five minutes ago. We do our best to listen and react as if it is new. Sometimes, she stops herself or asks us to stop her if she is repeating.

     Sometimes, she simply forgets things. “I never” and “I know I didn’t” precede many declarations. Whenever I remind her, respectfully and gently, in detail, she usually says, “Oh, yes. Thank you for reminding me.” It must pain her to know that her memory is slipping away from her. She often says, “I pray all my children can live long lives, but I do hope you can be healthy and not like me.”

      The worst for me is when she and my husband each want my attention at the same time and neither knows the other is also speaking to me. Some days, I just want to cry. Some days, I do.

 mom and son

 

     This is but one day in our new life adventure. There are many challenges and many rewards. When I moved out of this town nearly 15 years ago, my mother managed a hotel and was one of the most amazing people I knew, physically, emotionally, intellectually and there were few women whom I felt compared to her. I still feel that way about her.

I wanted to live an adventurous life in a city and for three years, I did just that. Then, we moved to a smaller city and my life became that of a suburbanite career woman. I immersed myself in my job and was content to visit my family whenever I could, but I also contented myself to vacation in more exotic venues as often as money permitted.

       Now, I have returned home to a more bucolic life and it’s good.

 

torch

     As I listened to a whippoorwill while standing between two tiki torches that kept the mosquitoes at bay  I thought about today’s achievements in addition to my editing and writing. It is good. It is very good, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in an Empty House

     I left my parents’ home when I was eighteen.

     Rather than going off to university, I moved into a small, one-bedroom cottage with my teenaged husband. We married in mid-November, so in addition to toasters and food storage containers, some of my first shower gifts included boxes of pretty, sparkly things to make our first holiday a special event.

 

Christmas wreath

 

     My life took an unplanned turn, when after twenty-five years of marriage, I packed the Tupperware and Christmas ornaments and left him.

storage containers

  

 

 

 

     Telling my mother was harder in my mind than in reality. She fully supported my decision.

mom and me

    

     At that time, she was a vibrant woman in her early seventies. She managed a busy motel near the Interstate highway that runs through the town where she was born. I knew my mother would always be strong, independent and self-sufficient. She had lived alone most of the twenty years since my father’s death.

 

highrise in Atlanta

     A year after my divorce, when I told my mother I was moving to Atlanta to live with a much younger man, she withheld judgment and told me to follow my dreams and my heart. She reminded me I could always come home.

couple laughing

 

 

 

 

   

       I packed everything I had, loaded boxes into a truck and drove to my new home–an empty place, ready to receive whatever I could squeeze into it.

     Now, more than a decade later, I’m packing again. This time, when I pack the Tupperware and Christmas ornaments, things are different. My years of collecting and moving, salvaging and saving have me sorting and scrutinizing my knick-knacks and whatnots.

box with christmas ornament

     After making the necessary decision to move in with my second husband to become my mother’s Housekeeper, Activities Director, Nutritionist and Companion, or HANC; the harder decisions come daily when each plate and pillow, my books and blouses, every file, folder, fan and forget-me-not must be relegated to one of three categories: tag it and sell it, move it or reconsider later.

stuffed fish

 

 

     If I make smart decisions, my possessions will become yard sale shoppers’ bargains.

 country house behind large oak tree from road

My mother’s home is small, but it has all the essentials including appliances, linens, dishes and more than its share of bric-a-brac. Soon, it will have three more residents – two adults and a small cat.

 

It seemed so much easier when the houses were empty, but who wants to live in an empty house?

abandoned house

 

 

Role Reversal Reverses Roles for a Week

medical equipment     When my mother was hospitalized for her last fall, one of the doctors  told the family to prepare for her to be placed in a nursing home.  At the time, I was living more than 300 miles away, but my sisters and brothers kept me posted on her situation until I could come spend some time with her.

     Seeing her in the hospital bed on a morphine pump for the pain in her hip, ribs and shoulder was difficult, but watching her reaction to the medication during the times between the pump was one of the hardest things I had dealt with up to that point in time. She was hallucinating and she was afraid.

     The family made arrangements to hire someone to assist with her daily needs during her rehabilitation at home. We all agreed to avoid a nursing home at all costs, if possible and I suppose the seed was planted at that time for me to eventually become a caregiver for my mother. I never saw myself as a caregiver and to use that word in association with my mother causes me discomfort.

 

With home health nurse 7-11-10with visiting nurse 7-11-10     In home nurses and therapists monitored her progress and encouraged her to do more than sit in her chair and watch television.

     Still, with limited mobility and a fear of falling again, she prefers sitting to moving and her mild Alzheimer’s disease seems to be the reason she prefers game shows and court TV to her former active social life. Add to this, her hearing difficulties and some days become much more frustrating than others.

    If I’m off my game, even a little, I can’t provide the care my mother needs and we both feel the difference in our relationship. I want, always, to be the best Companion and Activities director for her, in addition to a skilled Nutritionist and Housekeeper, but even the best HANC has limits.

     Knowing those limits is key to a successful relationship.

Today, I felt vulnerable and so typed in “Dealing with Dementia” online. One of my first links led me to the manufacturer of one of her medications. I found great information here.

Flexibility Is the Key to Working Together

The changing relationship between the person with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and the caregiver is a lot like the relationship between two ballroom dancers. When a couple dances, one person is the leader and the other is the follower.

In your relationship now, the caregiver may have to do a little more leading and less following. And the person with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease may need to find a way to follow that is comfortable.

Fortunately, Alzheimer’s disease usually progresses slowly, and in most cases you can shift your roles little by little. Being flexible is required. That is usually true for successful relationships. So, if you can stay flexible, you are likely to find ways to be close to each other. And that is staying connected.

 

big old oak     As strong and stalwart as the oak in her yard, my mother would never ask for help. She didn’t turn it down, though, when offered and she has been very appreciative of our presence.

     There are times I feel as if I have a very opinionated, 85-year-old toddler in my care and other times I am very much her child. The past week was the latter, as I was dealing with a migraine as well as simple hay fever and I simply did not feel like doing the things I came here to do.

     It may have empowered her to be in charge again as she did her best to help take care of me.     daffodil closeup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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