Archive for August, 2012

A Dead Man Inspired me to Become a HANC

Mountain at Flat Rock NCOn a trip to North Carolina, my husband treated me with a visit to Connemara, Carl Sandburg’s home in Flat Rock. I researched the historical site online before we visited the 248-acre property that Mr. Sandburg called a “village” and his wife called “a million acres of sky” now managed by the National Park Service. The website, while thorough, did not prepare me for the inspiration that came shortly after we joined the guided tour already in progress when we arrived.

kiosk at cannemara


Known as America’s Voice, Carl Sandburg was more than a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who legitimized free verse, recorded folk stories and spoke for those too weak to whimper. He wrote what some consider the comprehensive biography of Abraham Lincoln despite being told that poets had no business writing serious prose. He turned every no he heard into more than a yes; he turned them into personal success.


kiosk at cannemara working man



The wandering poet pursued writing seriously with the encouragement of a college professor. A West Point dropout, Mr. Sandburg also left Lombard College without a degree and became active in politics, advocating for the end of child labor and protesting the exploitation of laborers.


handwritten letter to Sandburg


Sandburg spent two months wooing and winning the affections of Lillian Steichen, a woman who initially did not find him appealing. The tour included quotes from some of their correspondence and made me renew my resolve to write more hand-scribed letters to those most dear to me, though I will bear in mind the social mores of our current technological era.


corner bookshelves at Sandburg home

The 20th century was only eight years old when Sandburg wrote his first love letter; the Kennedy administration a recent memory when he died. In the 21st century, lovers and business people, brothers and sisters, friends and strangers communicate electronically, using tools and technology unknown to Sandburg. He frequently shared information with friends and newcomers to his social circle by placing a copy of something he’d read in their hands during a handshake. Knowing this, inspires me to share more relevant information with my readers.

Sandburg bookshelf with ladder


The only rooms not lined with bookshelves were the bathrooms and the kitchen. Just looking at his personal library, I was inspired to read even more. Sandburg’s daughter, Margaret, was also his librarian. The family brought more than 17,000 books in the move from Illinois to North Carolina. Most of the books and periodicals in place at the time of Sandburg’s death at age 89 remain as they were in 1967 and reflect the political and social environment of that era.








Nature window frame

As we walked through the three-story home, the guide pointed out the lack of curtains. Sandburg’s wife, Lillian, had said that windows were meant to frame nature, not hide it.

window frames mountain

Although the “Poet of the People” read and wrote in nearly every room of his home, Carl Sandburg chose a dark office without a view of Mount Pisgah, which he said was too distracting. He also chose to write at night, when his mind was sharpest, though he was still a devoted father and husband.


Inscribed on one of the plaques at the entrance to the park is one of Sandburg’s quotes.


“There is a place for me somewhere, where I can write and speak much as I can think and make it pay for my living and some besides. Just where this place is I have small idea now, but I am going to find it.”


Sandburg typewriter

As most writers, I have also yearned for that place somewhere, a place where I can also write and speak as much as I can think, a place that will pay for my living with a little extra. Until my visit to Connemara, I knew that I would eventually find my place to write, though I had no clue how to begin my search. I only knew my current situation did not provide what I needed. Without knowing I’d even been inspired, twenty-four hours later, I’d found my place.


Sandburg lake at fence



Returning from North Carolina to its southern sister, the tranquility and beauty of Carl and Lillian Sandburg’s home had eased my concerns. For the first time in years, I loosed myself of the shackles of my own work-a-day woes. I was on a holiday from my day job and I wasn’t concerned with writing or editing or even photography. I enjoyed the views and the fresh mountain air.

yellow house in the country

Then I walked into my mother’s modest home. Perfectly cool on a warm  April day, initially; within a few minutes, she’d flipped the thermostat from its air conditioner setting over to heat. Fifteen minutes later, she complained she was overheated, a cycle that repeated. She seemed more agitated and forgetful than I recalled from our visit with her just a few days earlier and my husband and I noticed other signs that led us to a simple conclusion.


We must move in with her.


sunset through tree house backyard

The easiest hard decision we have made as a couple will return me to my childhood roots and the place where the seeds of my writing had been sown.

We must say goodbye to suburban living near a large city and prepare to embrace the isolation of rural life in a small county.


I will become my mother’s HANC because I can’t yet accept the fact that she needs a live-in caregiver. So, I will be her Housekeeper, Activity director, Nutritionist and Companion.


rooster in house


We will  trade our close-knit city neighborhood for a pastoral setting that is part redneck, part hillbilly – everything I have struggled to overcome for years. I am intrigued how the rural setting I longed to leave fifteen years ago, now feels exactly like the place I need to be.

rocking chair


Perhaps Carl Sandburg had it right all along. My mother’s home will be that “place for me somewhere, where I can write and speak much as I can think and make it pay for my living and some besides.”

Testimony Ann ZTestimony Lucy

Okay, so I’m also an editor. Testimony John
















How to be a Master HANC

Leu Gardens brick walk   Almost anyone can be a caregiver, but t-o be a Master Housekeeper, Activities Director, Nutritionist and Companion requires more than organization, dedication and patience. It requires unconditional love, keen observation, tolerance, strong listening skills and superb grounding routines.

     Families often hire caregivers and nurse/companions for loved ones who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease dementia or other memory loss issues. While some of these employees demonstrate an extra depth of compassion or caring, when their shifts end, they gather their magazines, novels or laptops and go home. The Master HANC does not go home, because home is where the job takes place.

 Support groups can help with many aspects of caregiving, but the calling to be a Master HANC is an extraordinary opportunity to put personal goals and dreams on hold for a higher purpose. Everyone’s situation will be different, but here are some steps to lead you toward your goal.

  1. Notice a need to step up; don’t wait for someone else to offer.  Regardless of the size of your family, only one person can be the first HANC. It’s not likely you will have to compete for the position.
  1. Accept the fact that you will make personal sacrifices and you will make them often. Your family life will never be the same, your job and your habits will need to change. Even if you are accustomed to working remotely, while you are adjusting to your new lifestyle, your job could suffer. Be prepared to handle the changes and go with the flow. Consider contingency plans for the things you normally take for granted.
  1. Never question your choice to be a HANC. You may fluctuate between the joy of knowing you are the best person to provide care and assistance to your loved one and wondering what happened to your reasoning powers the day you chose to become a HANC. Don’t doubt yourself. No one else will. You have embarked on a noble journey. Enjoy it.
  1. Expect unsolicited advice. Family, friends, even strangers will offer advice on how they think you should be a HANC. It won’t matter that few of them have done what you are doing, they will be happy to offer their opinions about medications, menus and activities they think you should become involved in.
  1. Keep building your networks. Expand your social and personal networks and stay in contact. You never know when someone has the answer to one of your problems or concerns. It’s possible you can simply ask for help and receive it, if you have a strong network.

path at leu gardens

  1. Embrace the life-changing event as an adventure. Whether you have made the choice to become a HANC on your own or with another person such as a spouse, partner, sibling or child; it can be a grand adventure. Never look upon it as a chore or something you “have to do,” but see it as a major opportunity in your lifetime.
  1. Recognize challenges as learning opportunities. When the person for whom you are providing care balks at changes, seek to understand the reason behind the protest. Are you attempting to make too many changes, too quickly? Are you making decisions without his or her input? Slow down and discuss the concern. You might hear an entertaining story and learn some family lore at the same time.
  1. Remember your place.  Never forget that you are most likely junior to the person requiring a HANC. If you are a child, grandchild, niece or nephew be certain to remain respectful at all times. The adage: a daughter’s a daughter all of her life, but a son is a son until he takes a wife has many implications. Even though caregiving roles may have reversed, the need for mutual respect remains.
  1. Know that some days will present more challenges than others. Fictional characters, such as Mary Poppins, might wake each day singing and smiling, but most people have mood swings and some have days that change from moody to worse or from dramatic to traumatic. Everyone has different ways to respond and cope. Be sure you are ready to accept the differences in each day.
  • Take a step back and breathe during challenging days.Don’t react to negative behavior with more negative actions or words. When challenged by circumstances or harsh words, take a moment to take a deep breath and if you can, separate yourself from the situation, if only long enough to get a drink of water. Often, just walking away is enough to diffuse a potentially volatile situation.

path with bench at leu gardens

  1. Learn something new. Every day offers a chance for learning something. Find a new recipe; discover another way to the doctor’s office or drugstore. See if you can create a new ritual or routine for daily tasks. Read something different or listen to music you didn’t think you’d care for, but never force your loved one to listen to music that might be offensive or simply foreign to older ears.
  1. Explore familiar territory together. Take a walk or drive through the same places you typically pass, but this time, notice something different. Look for a certain kind of car or dog and see how many you can count on your exploration. Notice the clouds in the sky. Do you see any similar patterns? Go to your childhood neighborhood, if possible or take a trip down memory lane by going through old photos together. Discuss the different styles of architecture or landscaping you see.
  1. Share stories. You may find yourself repeating some stories or listening to others more often, but sharing family stories can be fun and educational for both of you. Have fun with your new position. Note if the stories remain the same each time or if there are subtle changes.
  1. Make being a HANC a fun experience.  Especially if you are responsible for caring for a person with memory issues, find a way to make your job more fun. Have tea parties, color, sing or dance together – even if the other person can’t dance. Crank up the music and see what happens. Be prepared for the magic.
  1. Keep a journal. Record the funny anecdotes and jokes. Keep a record of the things you do together and don’t forget to record your dreams and goals for the future.

tree at sidewalk at Leu Gardens

  1. Blog your experiences. If you aren’t comfortable blogging, find a forum for caregivers and join the conversation. Your experiences might help someone else and you are sure to find help you need.
  1. Vlog. If you have a smart phone, you can make a video blog. Record your memories. Remember the good days and recall fond memories from your past. You don’t need special editing software or Hollywood lighting to make a precious family keepsake. Every generation has something special to share. Ask questions and make each video just a few minutes long, about one subject.
  1. Read books aloud. If you can both read to each other, it will be even more special, but reading books or magazine articles aloud will help strengthen your bond and will give you both something to focus on other than the reason you have chosen to become a HANC.

19.Limit discussions about medications or illnrose path at Leu gardensesses.

Don’t discuss someone’s medical condition with others, even with other family members, unless the person with the condition grants permission or begins the conversation. Be ready to change to another topic quickly.

Trust that you have a future life, after this journey is concluded. Life will go on and so will you. Don’t abandon your dreams and goals, but accept that they may be on hold for some time.

  • 21. Realize that you are making a tremendous difference in the life of your loved one. You are a Master HANC and most families have only one. Knowing that you have saved your loved one from life in a strange home or facility should be reward enough, but more importantly, you and only you, have the opportunity to spend quality end-of-life time with someone you love who loves you, too.
  • 22. Don’t take personally, the days when you wonder where the love went. There will be days you wonder what happened. The love will return. Be patient.
  • 23. Don’t see yourself as a victim and don’t become a false martyr because you are the unsung hero in this scenario. Some will not understand the sacrifices you are making. They aren’t the ones moving away from friends and jobs or making career adjustments. The sacrifices are part of the process, but if you dwell on what you must give up, you won’t be able to enjoy all you will receive.
  1. Find new hobbies. You may no longer be in a position to take leisurely walks, spend weekends away or engage in some of the recreational activities you once participated in, but this could open your time and mind to other opportunities.
  1. Take care of yourself. Remember that a caregiver can not give care while fatigued or ill. Stay healthy and mentally balanced.  path THROUGH LEU GARDENS
  1. Don’t underestimate the power of sunshine and fresh air. If the one you are caring for becomes chilled, sometimes a stroll or ride outdoors in the sunshine will warm better than a blanket. The vitamin D and bright light will help combat Seasonal Affective Disorder and most bad moods. The exercise will help keep you in balance.
  1. Respect the healing power of touch. Even those who shy away from warm and fuzzy or touchy/feely will usually respond to non-invasive hugs, hand touches or the application of lotion on aging skin. Never force someone to accept your touches, however. If you are caring for someone who is tactile resistant, you will have to start much more slowly.
  1. Seek touches if you need them. If you find you are missing your former companions, don’t be afraid to search for new friends in your new surroundings. Join a support or hobby group. See where it leads.
  1. Stay connected. Your new job as HANC may make you feel isolated both geographically and socially. Stay in touch via email, social networks, hand-written letters, phone calls or personal visits.
  1. Get away. It is imperative that you take time away from the job. Set up time off as part of your regime. Find a sibling, friend or hire temporary respite if necessary so you can take a weekend as often as possible. Take your spouse or a good friend and go do something fun.     path to gazebo at Leu gardens
  1. Treasure your personal space.  Respect the personal space of your loved one, too. Everyone needs space from time to time. Take yours without crowding anyone else and don’t forget to come back, soon.
  2. Rest. When you are tired, take a break or take a nap. You never know when you may need to go without pause for some reason. Rest while you can and be sure to always rest when you are tired. You can’t help anyone if you are exhausted.
  1. Stay sharp. Engage in lateral thinking or brain exercises. Tongue twisters can be fun and crossword puzzles or other word games challenge thinking.
  1. Exercise. Take walks, ride bikes, work in the garden or do whatever feels right so you can keep limber and stay active.
  1. Stretch. Stretching keeps you from stiffening up and is good if you can get your loved one to join you.
  1. Meditate.

statue hug at leu gardens

If you don’t already know how to meditate, you can learn . Even if you don’t wish to meditate, it’s a good practice to breathe deeply and rhythmically. Meditation helps lower blood pressure and stress.

  1. Remember breakfast.  While you are focused on your loved one’s nutritional needs, don’t forget your own. Make a weekly or monthly menu to eliminate the stress of planning. Once you have a menu worked out, it will help with food shopping and some meals can be prepared in advance, frozen to save for days that may not go so smoothly.
  1. Remain positive. Associate with people who uplift you and support you. Read motivational literature and avoid depressing television and people.
  1. Take it easy on yourself.  Know that you can only do your best and your best is good enough. You aren’t being graded or evaluated on your performance by anyone but you. No matter how you do, it’s better than doing nothing. You are at the head of your class before you start. Don’t be hard on yourself when things don’t go as expected or when plans don’t fulfill according to your strategy.   walkway at leu gardens
  1. Expect the job to be difficult.  This will be one of the hardest things you will have to do. Some days will be rewarding, others will be exciting and some will be adventurous. Most will be complicated and filled with inflexibilities. Personalities and family drama could consume your life. Don’t let them.
  1. Walk barefoot.  Take a walk outdoors on the grass or dirt in your bare feet. It will help keep you grounded in a very real sense. Being grounded will help you stay strong, energized and positive.
  1. Take care. While you are cooking, cleaning and planning activities, remember that one of the most valuable aspects of being a Master HANC is being a Companion. Take care of your loved one and take care of yourself. Enjoy each other’s company and nurture your relationship. Enjoy it and take care of it.

Leu Gardens pink flower

All of these photos were taken at Leu Gardens in Orlando, Florida and are the property of

Mary Brotherton. For more information or to purchase one, contact








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