Posts Tagged ‘empowered’

Forced to Follow my Dream

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 declining rapidly.

man on motorcycle

Prior to moving, 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 was prepared. That’s my job, now.

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

family phot

Others have brought food or even tea parties to us. Some have helped with yard work. All have given words of gratitude and encouragement.

tea party

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

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

What a gift!

Gift with a bow

When we first moved in, I needed some time to unpack and assimilate.

boxes

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 – but what a fiasco! We’d started planning a trip to a local resort town, but something didn’t feel right, so we decided my husband would follow his instincts and use “the force” to direct us on our spontaneous adventure.  My well-intentioned sister didn’t realize that my night-schedule husband wouldn’t wake at dawn, as hers would have. I knew this, so I promised her I’d call when we were leaving, but she came early. It all worked out well, but it seemed as if we were being rushed that day.

traffic jam

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.fire museum

That evening, we enjoyed a sumptuous meal and sat outside our less-than-ideal hotel/motel room watching a feral cat colony. The next day, we drove to historic downtown Charleston and the Battery where we started making plans for a future trip.

customs house

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. My husband then drove us to Sullivan’s Island. He  stopped so I could take some photos of the historical monument that described an early battle during the Revolutionary War.

monument plaque

Then we saw him.

A young man was rising out of the water, a hose attached to a jet ski. He rode on a stream of water, hovering the inlet. It was the highlight of our day.

jetski rocket

I have wanted to travel, for as far back as I can remember.

Wait. That’s not accurate or truthful.

Bernie

My first memory is of my sister Bernadette “Bernie” and me making cucumber pies. I was five and she was almost four. We lived in the largest house I can remember for my family of ten, although at that time, the “babies” had not yet been born.

The house was situated on a corner at the intersection of two major thoroughfares. Long before interstate travel sped by on freeways created for the purpose, travelers used these small-town highways.

On one hot summer morning, our house roused to the sound of a collision and we knew a large truck had been involved. This one had been filled with cucumbers. Housewives and older children rushed to the intersection to help clean up the debris so traffic could resume as soon as possible. My mother pickled what she could and those too bruised or broken became playthings for Bernie and me for a day. We made the best-smelling mud pies in town.

reading

When I wasn’t making mud and cucumber pies, I was reading. I don’t recall a time in my life without books. Once I started school, I read even more. That’s when thoughts of travel first entered my mind. I longed to visit exotic places I’d read about and for many decades, I believed travel meant passports, airfare and foreign countries.

I’m reconsidering my perception.

passport

To be certain, I do own a passport. It’s in almost pristine condition, though it will soon be time to renew it. I have traveled outside of the United States, but barely.

cruise ships

Although I enjoyed it thoroughly, traveling on a cruise ship is an extremely limited sort of travel.

Hawaii hello

My husband and I have dreamed together of being able to spin a globe to stop it with a finger on “Where shall we go next?” knowing our dream is tied to our budget. Outside of a few cruises and some outings while visiting family, our travel has been limited – in location and ambiance.

As another month approaches, we are faced with a dilemma.

sign

  • Where should we go?
  • What will we do when we get there?
  • What kind of restaurants will we find?
  • Do we want to visit the typical tourist venues or go off that path?
  • How can we avoid another iffy hotel, when the online rating system is flawed?
  • Can we really afford to spend the night away each month?
  • Can we afford not to stay overnight?
  • How much can we, with our current jobs, afford to disconnect?

We think we have a solution.lottery

Scaling down our global travels dream (until we win the lottery), we’re going to put names of cities and towns in a hat or a box or a basket or maybe just stack them like playing cards.

hat and cane

Each month, we’ll draw out the name of that month’s destination for our weekend away.

There are no rules, but we do have some guidelines.

  • No location should be more than a three to four-hour’s drive from home. This will ensure we can enjoy our destination as well as the journey to get there.
  • We’ll spend a little extra for nicer accommodations, even if we have to skimp on our main meal out.
  • Some months, we will pack a picnic basket, depending on our final destination.
  • Each location should have some draw: a museum, an aquarium, a historical monument, a botanical garden or some other special amusement.
  • We reserve the right to change our minds.

wine

Now, my task is to locate cities and towns that fit our criteria, set up the cards with options for entertainment and search out accommodations.

historic inn

If you have any suggestions for exciting destinations or locations within a few hours from the Charleston/Columbia South Carolina or the Savannah Georgia areas, I’d love to know about them. Please, leave me a comment with your suggestions.

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.

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.

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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