Posts Tagged ‘tools’

Making it Easy for Others

House

When you make the life-altering decision to be a HANC, know your choice will affect others. Once you move into another person’s home, especially with your spouse, your life ceases to be exclusively your own. If that home belongs to a parent, your status as a competent adult will be challenged.

old woman

Regardless of frailties or medical conditions, your parent will always be your parent. You will hear things to make you wonder how your transition from child to adult had been overlooked. When siblings come to visit, they are not visiting you in your home. They are returning to their childhood home or coming home to Mom and Dad’s house. They will expect to find things as they had been for years and some will not be happy to see changes.

I need space

Make it easy on others by keeping things as close to how they were when you moved in. Change things slowly, subtly. It’s imperative to remember that your caregiving is a long-term commitment, if you are fortunate. It does not necessarily obligate you to live in another person’s home forever. At some point, your parents’ home may become your home, or you may return to a home of your own. Then, you can turn your energy toward redecorating or claiming your own space.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Until then, remember to do what you can to make things easier for others, so they will want to make things easy for you. They may not ease your stress, but they might lighten your workload. Even if they don’t, maintain your sense of humor. Stay flexible. Remember why you made the decision to become a caregiver and know that this is temporary.

sign

I’d heard, “I don’t know where anything is anymore,” from my mother and, “You’ve moved everything,” from my sisters so often, I’d begun to believe the myth that I’d moved things in my attempt to organize.

grits note

So I did something I thought might help on the occasional days my husband and I left the house, something I never would have considered under other circumstances. I labeled the kitchen cabinets. I thought it would help when we took our first full weekend off, but my sister still couldn’t find the grits.

grits shelf

Just smile and remember the real reason you made the choices you did.

Know your Signs

Everyone has some stress and each person deals with it differently.

Excited

As a caregiver, it is essential that you recognize the signs indicating a need to address your stress. The sooner you recognize and accept the signs of your own stress, the sooner you can do something to resolve the issue. If you are over-stressed, your ability to provide quality care is compromised.

Cautionshallow water

Do you experience headaches after a long, frustrating day? Perhaps your tension manifests through hives or hair loss. How has your blood pressure been since you started providing care for your loved one? Are you more easily irritated than you were before? How do you sleep at night? Have you become more restless or are you dealing with disturbing dreams?

Painful

Maybe you are a pacer or the kind of person who must have a spotless house when your anxiety takes over. Has your appetite changed or are you turning to alcohol more often? Don’t mistake a lower libido or lack of energy as a need to adjust to the demands of caregiving. It’s probably stress.

strange hair

When my mother struggled to raise her children with an alcoholic spouse, she coped with her stress by charging out of the house to stand on the grass, fists raised to the sky, and she screamed. We lived in a rural area with the closest neighbors more than a half mile away and she didn’t care if they heard her. Her stress didn’t have time to make a physical manifestation. The moment she felt overwhelmed, angry or afraid, her vocalized angst with no words alerted us to tread lightly.

Privacy

I’m not as clever as my mother. I tend to stuff my worries and concerns deep inside until, like a burst water balloon, they splash all over when I keep adding more. I suffered with migraines for years until traditional Chinese medicine helped me bring my body and mind into balance. Their frequency and intensity diminished until I became my mother’s housekeeper, activities director, nutritionist and companion. illness

More pervasive, however, was how my fingers dried out. They sometimes cracked and bled, but most often, they peeled off layer after layer until my fingers were raw and felt burned.

ouch

I sought the help of many medical experts and numerous home remedies – nothing helped until I took an extended break and visited my doctor who ordered me to relax. relax in hammock

“Stop doing. Just enjoy your life. Let your husband cook and clean and let your sisters care for your mother for a while. Take some time off to do only those things that bring you pleasure.”

Oh, to be carefree again! Don’t we all wish we could just flip a switch to take us back to our childhood, where the biggest worries we had were usually brothers and mosquito bites?

Flipped SwitchBouncing

“If you don’t, this level of stress will kill you,” he said.

What? Did my doctor just tell me that my stress will kill me? How could I provide care for my mother if I am not alive? I knew the importance of caring for the care giver. I’ve written about it, but I ignored my own advice. Not this time. It can happen to me. It did happen to me!

Get Serious

When I called my sisters to tell them I needed to extend my therapy break to two weeks, I discovered my mother, who had been ambulatory the day I left, was now bed ridden in excruciating pain. Three days later, she had been taken to hospice with stage four bone cancer that had not been evident at her last imaging three weeks earlier.

Go Left

After my mother’s memorial, I returned to my doctor who expressed amazement that my hands had healed so well despite the new emotions associated with grief.  I had been so committed to providing her with the best care and an improved quality of life, I ignored the signs of stress as they appeared on my fingers.

Be CarefulNo fishingLimited

One of the primary rules of caregivers is to care for the one providing care. Don’t wait to establish a healthy routine for yourself. Set up a regular schedule for relief. Your loved one will not suffer from a few hours a week, even a few days a month, without you. Most people work five days each week and take two days off so they can revive and recuperate. They typically take a week or two off each year for vacations. Whether or not travel is included, time away from work is essential.

Caregivers deserve no less – in fact, you deserve much more for the sacrifices you are making for your family.

Take a momentLimit

It’s time to take action. Call on brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins and family friends. Before you have reached a critical stage of tension that may result in injury or illness, set up a schedule for your weekends and vacations, even if they are in the middle of the week and happen one day at a time over the course of the year. Just as important as the family finances, living will, power of attorney and medical needs for your loved one are, it is vital to be sure the caregiver takes time and makes time for breaks that take you away from the caregiving setting.

Past Calendar

Know and heed your signs. Take a few minutes to look at what has changed in your body since you started providing care and take steps to find your balance. Don’t let stress rob you of your own health and sanity.

Be kind enough to love yourself, too.

Ends

Do Over

There are many things I wish I could go back and do a different way, where providing care for my mother is concerned.

I can’t do over anything, but if I could, I would:

  • Move in sooner so I had more time with my mother.

  • Be sure I knew where all her documents were before moving in and avoid the needle-in-the-haystack searches.

  • Write a sort of contract with my whole family’s input so everyone knew our roles clearly. Know beforehand, who already had roles to play and what they were.

  • Include in that contract what I was able and willing to contribute and what I expected in return.

  • Set up a backup to the verbal respite plan. As good as it sounds when someone says, “Just call me if you need help,” and “I’m here for you,” I’d remember that words carry little weight at 4 in the morning or when busy schedules interfere with my need for time off.

  • Set up a backup to the backup so my breaks and respite care are ensured. Have an emergency backup in place before I need it.

  • Before moving in, take extra time to discover the family’s understanding of the situation. I’d include them more and make sure they included me, too.

  • Insist that all my siblings and their children take time to do a Four Generation photo sooner, rather than wishing we had.

  • Listen more.

  • Play more.

  • Dance more.

  • Sing more (even if it is off key).

  • Go more with the flow and less against the stream.

  • Clean less.

  • Communicate better.

  • Prepare for the finality of the situation. In other words, I would have a plan in place for when my job as HANC ends, rather than wondering what I should do.

I may have other areas I’d like to do over, but first, I’d like to hear from you. What would you like to do over in your life? Not just as a caregiver, but in your life in general or in your “other career,” what would you like to do differently, if given the chance?

Write me at marybrotherton@gmail.com

and let’s start a dialogue about change!

 

 

 

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.

You’re Welcome to move in, but don’t Touch my Stuff!

Today, I am paying for yesterday’s choices

Cleaning and organizing

Sometimes, you have to make a mess before you can clean the house.

     I started taking  items from the china closet and placed them on the kitchen table.   When the table filled, I put items on the stove, the counters and in the chairs. The china closet has not been moved or cleaned in years.

China Closet contents on table

This picture might need 1,001 words.

     One door opened to hit the light fixture on the ceiling fan, which would not do. So, I started emptying the wall-sized cabinet/closet. It was cluttered with an assortment of seldom-used items.

      Momma has not eaten at her table for many years. She preferred to remain in her recliner, so there was less chance of falling.

Woman in recliner, crocheting

She has everything she needs, close at hand.

      Momma’s recliner is where she has built her own little “nest” over the years.

Bird nest

Unlike birds that can fly away, my mother’s nest supported her limited mobility and fear of falling.

  She wasn’t happy when she saw so many things on the table and on all the counters.

appliances on table

It’s intimidating to walk into your own kitchen to see what you thought had been put away all over every flat surface.


 

  She thought I would destroy the cabinet or move it in the storage “shed” in her back yard.   

storage in rural setting at sunset   

      Demanding answers, she asked my plans. Unsatisfied with my responses, she stated with an unusual emphasis,  “Don’t you dare move that cabinet. I don’t care what else you do, but don’t you move it!”

     Later, she became frustrated when she wanted to empty the dishwasher and found that I’d been washing bric-a-brac and dishes we have not used – dishes no one has used in years. Again, she demanded to know my plans for her cabinet, but my answers did not soothe her anxiety.

cute chicken sugar and creamer

The proof is in the dust track.

    I stopped unloading the cabinet and walked outside, because I knew I couldn’t respond with calmness. Her frustration is also my frustration.

I am doing the best I can to live in her home, with her things and despite the many bits and pieces of stuff and substance that I gave away or sold prior to moving, I have a deep need for order.

Organized china closet with cookbooks

Organized is good.

    I knew I would be moving into an established home, a home with many years’ worth of other stuff. I knew that I did not wish to duplicate the appliances and dishes my mother already had, but I did not know how many duplicates she had. Neither did I know how many one-of-a-kind kitchen orphans she possessed.

 bowl and rolling pin

Many birthday cakes were made in this bowl.


From the moment we first discussed the idea of living with Momma, she and I have said, “We will make this work, no matter what it takes.” It seems, to me, that it will take patience, compromise -primarily my giving in – and acquiescence, understanding, forgivement and forgiveness and something for distraction.

 

Camera lens

Lola is my camera and she goes to all the best places.

Typically, when I cannot go out with Lola and take photos, my preferred form of distraction is bicycling or cleaning. Since my cleaning started the frustrating cycle and the bikes weren’t easily accessible, I didn’t know what to do.

 

Two bicycles

      My mother was adamant and she was grumpy. I knew what I needed to do in order to be able to live with the smaller kitchen, but I also knew I could not do it under her watchful eye or even with her in the other room watching television. She was in one of her less enjoyable moods, so I went outside.

 

Rural sunset through Oak

Sometimes, just putting some distance between me and whatever is bugging me is enough. A beautiful country setting is a bonus.

I decided that I could start working on the two storage sheds in the back yard. I moved as much as I could from one into the other so that I could separate “our” stuff from “her” stuff, thus taking us one step closer to getting my husband the private office he needs for his work.

tools on racks

One day, our sheds and garage will be orderly and neat.

 While I moved tools and other things, I burned some paper and old wooden items I found in the shed on the left.  That helped keep the mosquitoes at bay and kept the landfill a little less full. The wood ashes will be good for the compost.

Compost bin

Until I can make a better one, this is serving as my composter for mulch.

 By the time I returned, I felt less upset and Momma had gone to bed.  The next morning, she said she didn’t sleep well for worrying that she had hurt my feelings over the kitchen. I assured her my feelings were fine, but I did not tell her that I was growing frustrated with her mercurial moods. I understand she will have good/bad days where she remembers and understands or becomes petty and obstinate, which is why I will rely on my grounding rituals, such as burning unusable items and writing in my journal.

Journal diary

Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake. What a wonderful thought!

I have discovered that Momma sometimes needs to repeat some things as many as five times before her cycle concludes. Some require more repetition. I try to remain calm and act as if each time is the first time she asked. So, today, when she asked again, why I had made such a mess of the kitchen, I told her that I needed and wanted to clean the cabinet and the things inside. I told her that by cleaning it, I could see and learn what was inside as well as get to know what items of mine I could sell, discard or give away. After the fourth repetition, she accepted the answer and did not ask again.

She often asked me when I planned to take a break but always accepted my answer that I would stop when I was finished. I did stop from time to time to write a myself a reminder note, ensure she was drinking or share lunch with her. I kept working on the large cabinet and she only told me the back story three times.

Crystal, lights, glass hens

All lighted up, after cleaning and reorganizing, the cabinet is a large piece of functional art.

    Years before my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he had done “a big job” for a man who owned many antiques. As barter for the work my father did, he was allowed to bring home any item he chose from the man’s collection and he chose the china cabinet. I don’t know if the cabinet was an antique When my father brought it home. It’s now another 30 years older, but the purpose, as far as my mother has been concerned, has been to act as a separating wall between the kitchen and the laundry area.

Using furniture to make walls

The darker wood is the “antique china cabinet” used to create a wall between the kitchen and the laundry area.

When this house was first built, it was designed to have four bedrooms inside its 1,100 square feet. After my father’s death, my mother enlarged her bedroom and the kitchen. The washer, dryer and a freezer were placed inside the kitchen and the china cabinet, which is much larger than a hutch, became a separation between the two sections of the room.

dead mosquito

This mosquito was one of several insects I found inside the cabinet, all dead, so every dish needed to be washed.

 I washed away years of dust, insects and grime from the items inside the cabinet and the cabinet itself received a through washing with Murphy’s Oil Soap. I strung lights inside the cabinet and consolidated, rearranged and cleaned. Boy, oh Boy! did I clean!

Green dishes and crystal with lights

Christmas lights make a great accent to the china closet.

 I also moved the cabinet into the kitchen, giving the laundry area more space. Oddly, everyone who visits thinks I moved the cabinet the other way and made more room in the kitchen. Decluttering really does work! It certainly helped me declutter my mind and eventually, even Momma agreed it was good.

Organized battery drawer

It’s kind of like a Batteries R Us display, isn’t it? They were in so many different locations before I started organizing.

I consolidated where I could and I know I will find more batteries, more glue, more stamps and tape in other places. I’ve probably located all the dishes but the odd household items will likely turn up in other rooms. Once I established which items I felt I needed to keep to use and to provide Momma with a sense of security, I cleaned them and returned them to the cabinet.  The lights made the glassware sparkle. The orderliness made me calm. The hours of walking and bending and reaching and sorting and cleaning made me tired.

Hens on nests

For years, my mother has collected glass hens on nests and other objects with roosters. It’s just one of the many collectibles she has.

One of Momma’s prized possessions is her collection of hens on nests. I’ve given them a prominent place near our combined cookbook library.

cookbooks

This cookbook collection represents many fine family meals and memories.

I never knew she owned martini glasses until I started cleaning!

Martini glasses and stones

Now, we drink our morning juice from these martini glasses.

 

Momma is very pleased with how I cleaned her cabinet and with how I rearranged the kitchen. She was so impressed she agreed to eat dinner at the table for the first time in years. That, in my mind, is a triumph!

Make mine to go

waffles, pancakes, strawberries     When I wake from this dream, please have my breakfast ready. Can you make that to-go, please? I’m going to be in a hurry.KFC cup

I’m about to start a new life. I’ll have to stop sludging around in the mornings, following the same ritual I created years ago. No longer will I be able to nosh on whatever suits me while I amble off to work, choosing to eat – or not eat – lunch with the girls at the office.

Woman at restaurant

My carefree days of taking the scenic route home from work or solo retail therapy will end when my new life begins. I may have seen my last mall, though that in itself isn’t going to hurt much.

 

trees on Rockledge Drive

 

I’m becoming a HANC. My mother needs a Housekeeper, Activities director, Nutritionist and Companion. She also requires a mechanic and general handyman. My husband and I have assumed those duties and as soon as my dream ends, I’ll be on call.     carpenters square

 

My mother’s low-level memory loss and physical frailty have reached a critical point where something must be done sooner, rather than later.

Scooter cuter

I’ve had time to adjust and acclimate to the changes. I’d like to think I have, at least.alarm clock

 

Many mornings, long before my alarm sounds, I wake in a panic before I realize we haven’t moved yet and I need save my mother from another non-nutritious breakfast of cookies and coffee.

 assorted cookies on gold charger

Some nights, as I collapse into bed after packing, I wonder who will ultimately have to make the most adjustments in this new lifestyle.

items prepped for moving

 Long ago, the rural childhood home to which I am returning nearly smothered my essence. I craved more.

 

 St. Pete Street

 I wanted the city lights, the culture, the streets and the convenience of living a life I felt entitled me to be the person I thought I would become. Today, it feels as if the shackles of illusion have been broken and I know I never really was a city girl. I don’t fit in with the beach communities and I don’t belong in suburbia. I’m going back to my bucolic roots with a new resolution, a new purpose, a new sense of how to be the me I was always meant to be. Me without constraints, without rules, without neighbors.

 fruit platter

    I’ll have to be more diligent about my own health, so I can care properly for my aging mother. If I don’t maintain a healthy mntal, emotional, physical and artistic balance, I won’t be a proper HANC.

 woman on truck

 She may even teach me a few new tricks .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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