Posts Tagged ‘loved one’

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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