Posts Tagged ‘activities director’

Better you than me

busy as a bee

Being caregiver to an elderly loved one is similar to parenthood. The demands don’t end after an eight-hour shift. Downtime is minimal. Some days, no amount of expressed gratitude can compensate for the private sacrifices and personal exhaustion.

two bees

Married HANCs who choose to provide Housekeeping, direct Activities, prepare tasty, Nutritious meals and offer fulltime Companionship may find privacy especially precious. It’s vital to seize moments of intimacy and search for opportunities to be alone with your spouse while maintaining balance in your care-giving roles.

solo bee

Conversely, it is essential to find time to be alone, with friends and to seek personal activities that sustain and support emotional stability. This is particularly important for the solitary or single HANC.

bee duo

The role of companionship for yourself is no less important than providing healthy meals or stimulating activities and maintaining a well-kept home. Remember why you made the decision to become a HANC but don’t let the decision monopolize your life.

fuzzy bee

            From time to time, you will hear things that affirm your decision.

fat bee

A sister said, “Thanks so much for being there—1,000 times.”

Thistle flower with bee

When a friend learned of our move, he wrote in an email:

“I think what you’re doing is fantastic. I wish I could have been there for my father more than I was at the end.”

bee on flower

A business acquaintance told me, “You are doing a wonderful and selfless thing.”

Florida bee

A brother wrote, “Thank you again for your being there. I am so grateful to you for taking this leap in faith to move in with Momma.”

Marigold bee

A colleague wrote, “You have sacrificed a lot to be there for your mother.”

Pollen hunter

Yet one of the briefest and most profound statements came from my sister-in-law.

Better You Than Me!

The Little House in the Country

City HallI was thrilled when I first moved from my lifelong hometown, with a population of 5,360 – according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau – to Atlanta, with well more than 900 times that.

City scape view

At the time, I needed to be absorbed into the city’s anonymity, to feel the pulse of cultural diversity. Several years later, I downsized the city but upgraded my lifestyle.

House in the suburbs

We moved from a small two-bedroom apartment on a fourth-floor walk-up into a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage. About one-fifth the size of Atlanta, this city was still fourteen times larger than where I returned to report for HANC duties. As a HANC I am my mother’s Housekeeper, Activities director, Nutritionist and Caregiver.

Chef

Much of what I’ve done has been typical for a homemaker or a HANC. Cooking, cleaning, stimulating conversation; memory work; driving to appointments, refilling prescriptions, answering the telephone and coordinating with family and friends who want to visit; these are all things that for more than a decade, I have resolutely eschewed.

Why am I now thinking of sewing myself an apron?

World Book encyclopedias

I have fought to be atypical in all my endeavors. I never thought I was superior, yet I felt somehow different from others. One sister has called me the family dictionary for ages. A friend told me my knowledge is encyclopedic. A co-worker nicknamed me the breathing style guide. An employer thought I had moved to South Carolina from Chicago or Manhattan, because of my demeanor and lack of strong southern dialect. No wonder I sought to escape my small town.

            Yet, here I am.

Award

Thomas Wolfe wrote,

You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

    Yet, here I am.

I left my little house in the country for one of the largest cities in the U.S.A.

NAMPA AWARD   The whole enchilada

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filtered by my environment, I’ve lived my dreams of writing and editing.I am pleased that I seem to have achieved some level of glory and fame. I have no desire to escape time or memory. In fact, my mother’s fading memory is one of the things I hope to help her preserve. As Alzheimer’s begins to scar the surface of her recollections, I went back home, to my family, but not to my childhood.

place setting

I miss the culinary delights that are typically found in large cities, the hidden spots frequented on rare and special occasions. I do miss my friends, the bonds forged while working on our individual novels and short stories or as we groused about deadlines or unmet expectations. I miss my infrequent lunch and after-hours buddies.

Photo outing

I will have to find new photography field trippers and cultural outlets. Now, instead of one or two grandmothers, I am surrounded by them within my own family and it feels different. Good, but different.

house in the woods

I did not return to the Little House in the Country  as a child, seeking anything but peace of mind. For myself, primarily, as I ached every time I had to leave my mother, knowing her health declined daily. For my mother, secondarily, because in order for me to have peace of mind, I needed to provide her with a level of care and companionship that might ultimately improve her condition somewhat.

children in summer

I did not consider that I would provide peace of mind to my large family, but I have. Each one has conveyed in his or her own way how grateful they are to know that our mother is no longer alone.

I tend to act quickly to situations. I try to be prepared enough that I don’t overreact, but at times, I don’t work out all the scenarios. I had not considered how my transition to HANC-dom would impact others in the family. I just knew I had no option but to go home.

House in the country

My parents built The Little House in the Country and we moved into it when I was in the sixth grade. I was over-dramatic when I thought I would never see my best friends again. I thought I hated the new house and who could blame me?

two missing

I have four brothers and three sisters. The house had four tiny bedrooms. Now, it has two! The day we moved in, the house was “dried-in,” which means it had a sub-floor, four exterior walls, a roof and studs for interior walls. The electricity had been turned on and the plumbing was installed. There were no walls or doors inside the house. We had no privacy so my mother stapled sheets to the studs around the bathroom. Little by little, cardboard walls were also then stapled to the other rooms. As time and money allowed, sheet-rock was installed.

Worden parents

My mother told me she had moved frequently once she married my father and when they moved into the newly-built, but unfinished house, she told him,

“This is the last time I am moving. If you want to live somewhere else, you will have to do it without me. I am not leaving this house until I am dead.”

            She has “made do” with whatever she could and has improved The Little House in the Country as much as she has been able.

flowers

Now, it’s my turn. The city girl has come home to her roots and I rejoice when I find grubs or red wrigglers in my compost bin! A recent trip to buy a simple piece of hardware turned into a field trip for me, when I started setting potted plants and hanging baskets into the shopping cart. My urban-bred husband shook his head and waited.

outdoor flowers

I spent hours arranging and repotting dahlias and mums near the mailbox and I fretted over which soil to use for the rosemary and pepper.

rural house

I traded in my small country home for an equally small apartment in a thriving metropolis that was later traded for a spacious home in the suburbs and I pursued my career as city editor. Returning to my roots, I have swapped all I held dear for what is most precious to me. With that, came The Little House in the Country.

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Take a Break. It’s more Important than you Think.

Since becoming my mother’s Housekeeper, Activities Director, Nutritionist and Companion (HANC) I face new challenges daily. In some ways, on some days, it’s as if I am responsible for an 85-year-old toddler. Without family intervention, her meals would be meager and lonely, her health dwindling rapidly.

woman in blue shirt wearing glasses

Joe plays guitar

 Prior to our moving in, my sister, Jane, or my brother, Joe, cooked for her, but they weren’t able to be on hand daily to ensure she ate what they prepared.

That’s my job, now.

When I told Jane of our decision to move in with Momma, she told me, “You have no idea what you are getting yourself into. It is much more work than you think it is and it’s not going to get easier.”

She was right. Being a HANC is a tremendous honor and an enormous responsibility.

Without my support system, I might have burned out quickly.

family

By far, my biggest supporters are my brothers and sisters. Each in his or her way has provided invaluable assistance. Some have taken us out to dinner.

tea party

Others have brought food or even tea parties to us. Some have helped with yard work.

All have given words of gratitude and encouragement.

Jane offered to give me and my husband one weekend off each month.

gift

What a gift!

I had no idea how important that would be, but Jane knew.

When we first moved in, I needed some time to unpack and assimilate. We all needed to adjust to the new lifestyle. We were here three months before our first weekend away, which meant it was all the more important.

We’d started planning a trip to Hilton Head, but something didn’t feel right about it, so we decided my husband would follow his instincts and use “the force” to direct us on our spontaneous adventure.

museum

We drove an hour to North Charleston, where he surprised me by taking me to the Fire Museum, a wonderful visual tribute to firefighters all over the world. That evening, we enjoyed a sumptuous meal and sat outside our less-than-ideal motel room watching a feral cat colony.

library

The next day, we drove to historic downtown Charleston where we started making plans for a return trip.

A short drive to the Isle of Palms, where we toured the island and I took photos, took us past the Windjammer Beach Club and we modified our plans. We then drove us to Sullivan’s Island.

signbattle sign

 

My husband stopped as soon as he saw  the historical monument depicting the Battle of Sullivan’s Island.

Then we saw him.

ski on air

A young man was rising out of the water, a hose attached to a jet ski. He rode on a stream of water, hovering over the inlet. We watched him until he stopped his water and air show.

It was the highlight of our day.

Revived by his enthusiasm and athleticism, we returned home with great memories and hundreds of photos to share. We can relive the weekend with Momma, which should spark some stimulating conversations.

 

 

 

 

Majoring in Minor Meltdowns

The easiest hard decision my husband and I have ever made as a couple didn’t arrive after months of discussion or hours of debate. In twenty-five syllables, we made a life-changing choice.

Couyple dolphin

“Why don’t we move in with your mother and help her?”

“Are you serious?”

“Very serious.”

“Let’s do it.”

houses at night

We made our decision late one night, while visiting my mother. The next morning, we discussed it with her when she expressed anxiety at our pending departure.

            The real discussion started after we agreed to make the life-changing move.

Mary with Marie and Bob

The easy part is behind: us packing, sorting, giving away and moving, leaving dear friends, work acquaintances, making job adjustments, opening or moving accounts, deciding which possessions must come into the new home with us and which could be stored.

shoesThe second most difficult phase has taken longer to complete. Ever mindful that I am moving into my mother’s home and not into an empty apartment, I’ve cleaned years of grime and discarded broken items or things she does not use, like the nearly two dozen pairs of shoes that pinch her feet or the shoebox filled with custom orthotics that no longer serve her. We both laughed when I asked her what she wanted to do with several denture molds I found stashed in a dresser. My mother still has her natural teeth and she could not remember if the molds were for her mother or my father. They both passed away within nine days of each other.

Thirty years ago.

laptops

“I’ll never use that,” alternated with, “Put that away for now,” which became, “Do you think you can sell that on the computer?” as she kept company with me and watched me sort decades of her possessions.

basket shoes

Often, I found empty totes with piles of things nearby. Some days, she asked why I was moving certain things and she did not understand my need to wash dishes we had not used or to wipe inside and outside of cupboards.

Some days, our genetic disposition to lead, led us toward stubborn standoffs. We also both possess a need to be right, which suggests compromise often means acquiescence.

As the junior, I submit most often.

door

One area we disagree on is the need to keep her bedroom door closed in order to direct the airflow pattern properly. No amount of explanation has convinced her that her old air handler system wasn’t optimal.

            “I didn’t have any of these problems before you moved in.”

            She worries about the possible increase in her utility bill because we are using extra fans to move the air as well as an auxiliary window unit. She does not understand that the computers we require to maintain our jobs rely on a regulated, cooler temperature.

fan

We all suffered until, after several emergency service calls, we were able to convince her that buying a new unit now would prevent the need for an urgent install once winter arrives.

elder in scooter

“My blood is thin. I need it warm in here,” has been her mantra, but my husband  suggested we take her out into the sunshine on the days it’s not raining. She’s been enjoying her scooter outings that allow her to warm up and has not complained about the cold since we started.

She’s my mother. I’m from the South. I’m also her middle child, so I don’t sass or talk back. It’s difficult for me to argue with her, even when I know I’m right, so I try to avoid arguments and present topics as a matter of fact.

juice

As a result, she looks forward to drinking a glass of fresh juice every day, which is helping her nutritional needs.

tea party

She also showers more often and my coup has been setting the dinner table each night and having her eat at the table.

mug

For more than three years, she has been content to sit in her recliner for all of her meals, even if her meal was a cup of coffee and two cookies. She always insisted, when we were children, that we eat at the kitchen table. I don’t insist, but I gently encourage.

We’ve been living in her house since June. I’ve had a few minor meltdowns during that time.

            When she becomes adamant that I must leave things in place, as she has had them for years, I try to remember that this is her house, even though I also live here and she has said repeatedly, “We’ll make this work, no matter what it takes.” I strive to compromise, but there are times I need her to give as well as take.

            She says she understands the sacrifices we have made, but has also said,

“I don’t care. It’s mine and that’s how I want it.”

yard

To keep my minor meltdowns from causing major problems, I’ve developed a routine that takes me outdoors. The yard can always use some work, so as often as I can,  I go outside and melt away my stress.

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.

 

Hit the wall, but don’t let it hit back

It’s not uncommon for a HANC to hit an emotional wall at some point. Keeping a tidy house, directing activities, planning nutritious meals and providing fulltime companionship will take its toll. Wall with flowers

Doing all this while maintaining a career and relationships can add to the stress level of even the most well-balanced person, but to attempt the feat while caring for a beloved pet that becomes ill, relocating your entire household and “coming home” after nearly a decade-and-a-half away can prove exhausting.

wall corner pin and tan

If you don’t rest and take care of yourself, your body will give out in any number of ways and you will be forced to take a break. Be mindful of your physical, emotional and mental state unless you want to suffer the consequences of fatigue, colds, headaches or other maladies.

small bricks

  • No move ever goes exactly as planned or expected, even when you have options for contingencies. Unexpected problems will emerge, such as the old air handler that fails to perform during unseasonably hot weather or the elevated utility bill resulting from the faulty appliance. Cars break down, oven doors fall off, pests invade, rain seems never-ending; yet you are the one who must hold things together for everyone else.
  • Expecting the unexpected can help HANCs cope with computers that fail or cell phones that break. Accepting Murphy’s Law makes it easier to cope and respond appropriately when things go wrong. Then the family has a sense of calm cohesiveness.
  • Problems arise when HANCs expect too much from themselves and are less forgiving of their own mistakes than they are of others. With so many responsibilities, it can be difficult to remember to take time for yourself, time to play, relax, to do nothing. Don’t be too stubborn to listen to the advice you give others.
  • Realize that the housekeeping aspect of your new job does not require miraculous transformation of a marginally kept house into a magazine cover shot. Take care of the necessary daily chores and reserve some of the deeper cleaning for another time, after you have settled in fully.
  • Perhaps the most important part of being a HANC is the activities director portion, but this does not mean you must plan every waking moment of each day. Some days, it means making no plans at all, but being open to what the day brings. If the weather changes, be prepared to change your plans accordingly. Sometimes, an activities director needs only to provide simple conversation and gentle reminders about recent events. Too many changes and too much commotion can be overly stimulating and frightening. A good HANC knows where to draw the line between keeping busy and being a busybody.
  • Learn as quickly as possible how much activity the person in your care can handle at a given time and don’t push beyond that limit. A walk outdoors might be all you can handle one day, but the next day, a drive or shopping trip could provide interaction or the chance to meet old friends. Don’t rush and don’t put your desire to fill the needs of being a HANC before his or her need to do whatever is important at that moment.
  • If the person in your care has memory issues, don’t let your personal frustration drive you to impatience. Allow time and encourage memories by urging conversations with friends and relatives. Give hints and recollection prompts and know that the other person is more annoyed than you at the declining memory.

wall and pipes and sky

Can you tell Fran about what we did yesterday?” might be too generic. Try, instead, “Will you tell Fran what you thought about the farmers’ market?”

Don’t quibble over details, but help with dates and time management.

“Remember, we went to see Sally after you had your haircut. Yesterday was the day we went to the museum.”

reflection of wall

The activities you engage in are to help deter boredom and keep the mind of your loved one stimulated, not for your own entertainment. This can be difficult to remember at times. It can be harder to implement when you are also trying to maintain a healthy balance. If you feel you are close to hitting an emotional wall or at your physical limit, take a moment to collect yourself. A few minutes alone in the shower or a short walk outside might be all you need. Put some space between you and whatever is frustrating you. If your loved one is too demanding, make a promise to yourself to take a break as soon the current crisis has passed.  Keep your promise.

sunset wall

  • By providing a healthy diet for the person in your care, you are also ensuring your own nutritional needs are met. Just be certain your specific dietary needs don’t clash with medical needs. Don’t force anyone to adhere to your menu preferences. Introduce new foods gradually. Make suggestions, not requirements. Don’t preach about snacking, but make healthy choices readily available and be sure to set a good example with how you eat. Keep a water bottle handy, especially when leaving home. Don’t forget to drink water, yourself.
  • Companionship could well be the second most important facet in any HANCs position or life. By growing in communion with the one in your care, you may not add years to a life, but you will certainly add life to those years.

road walls

Knowing your job as a HANC means you understand the obligations, but does not lessen the responsibility to take care of yourself.

fence wall post

Enjoy the journey and stay off that wall.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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