Personal Struggles

Good Wins Out

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The bad do not win – not finally, no matter how loud they are. We simply would not be here if that were so. You are made, fundamentally, from the good. With this knowledge, you never march alone. You are the breaking news of the century. You are the good who has come forward through it all, even if so many days feel otherwise.

Alberto Rios, from A House Called Tomorrow

I believe this statement to be true; believing otherwise would not serve me well. Be well. Stay well. You’ve got this people.

Good News is Everywhere!

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I think we can all agree that we’re surrounded by bad news stories. We need not look any further than a pop-up notification on our phones to catch Breaking or Headline news that is rarely good.

As I have stated in previous stories, including this post written this past October, it’s so very important to make note of even the smallest of victories that come our way. Here are a few small, and not so small, incidents I had the privilege to celebrate this past week.

  • A close family member got the ideal job for the household’s circumstances.
  • My local NFL team made it to the playoffs!
  • I received encouraging news about a health condition I have battled for the past couple years.
  • I was gifted with a very comfortable pair of warm slippers that I really, really needed to keep my tootsies warm…tootsies that get alarmingly cold and painful due to a health condition that is not related to the point directly above.
  • Despite all the wind and rain we have had in my part of Washington state, we did not lose power this week.
  • While shopping at a grocery store with the word Whole in its title, there were no plastic produce bags to be found. A professional shopper filling her order saw my dilemma and gave me the 2 plastic produce bags I needed.
  • A snack our household enjoys that has been missing from grocery shelves for a couple months has returned. See! It doesn’t have to be something major to be good news!

Majoring on the “minors” is a great way of being when those minors are positive happenings in our lives. And they’re important! Why? Because the more good we acknowledge the less yucky the bad stuff will seem to be.

Don’t let the bad stuff get you down. Being open to the many positive happenings around you is a good way to start.

 

 

Spoken and Unspoken: Words Matter

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  • Words said in anger and without consideration of others matter.
  • Withheld words that would have provided encouragement and affirmation certainly matter.
  • Unloving words that we say to ourselves – berating, judging, unkind – matter a great deal.

Words matter: they always have, they always will. Choose your words wisely.

Be Kind to Yourself

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Being kind to yourself is most definitely a serious matter. You deserve to be treated with the same gentleness you would treat others for whom you care.

If the Holidays have gotten to you, do what is needed to bring some calm and control back into your life, even if that means disappointing others. Again, you matter just as much as those you might have to disappoint, so I would advise you to try a little kindness toward yourself, a kindness you so very much deserve.

And if you’re doing absolutely well right now and can exercise some outward gentleness, check in on individuals who might need a reminder that they matter and that someone was thinking of them. You don’t have to make a huge effort – especially if doing so depletes your own reserves – but a phone call, a text, or a hello in passing – could mean the difference between making their day and not.

Do what you can, and start with yourself.

 

Inexpensive Holiday Gifts

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I know you’re busy, and this Holiday season has perhaps caught you unawares, so here are two inexpensive book gifts that make the gift giving so very, very easy. If you purchase the eBook version, an email is easily sent to the recipient so they can claim their book, right when you want them to!

Requiem for the Status Quo is a novel that celebrates the lives of caregivers of family members with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia.
A Jagged Journey is a story about a diverse group of perfectly imperfect people. If you know someone who is imperfect, or perhaps you yourself are among the rest of us who are still trying to figure life out, this book is a perfect addition to ones’ bookshelf.

Don’t Worry. Be Happy!

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Whether it’s because the Holidays are fast-approaching, or we’re relocating to a different area, or we are faced with a life stressor that threatens life, limb, and sanity, we are oftentimes encouraged to stay calm and relax. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!

Being on the receiving end of such an admonition is not a welcome moment, to be sure. “Try being in my women’s size 12 shoes and say that again! You have no authority here.” Boy can I relate. Given an opportunity to break down that comment, however, I might eventually get to the point of being able to at least realize that if I were to take a few deep breaths I would feel slightly better as a result.

I fully understand the impetus behind someone telling us not to worry. Certainly I have said the same thing to someone in need and I absolutely meant it. But staying calm is not an easy venture, is it? But boy oh boy is it called for.

I react and I overreact – just ask my husband. You know what they say about teaching old dogs new tricks? Well, I’ve been trying to learn the calming lesson/trick for quite some time now. The more I overreact and discover later that such a reaction was not needed, I get that much closer to learning a lesson that will most definitely help my well-being. When an overreaction takes place, the fight or flight response gets set into motion which sets in motion bodily anomalies that never do the body good: accelerated heart rate, increased pain where pain might already exist, and if you’re me, the gastric juices start churning and a sour stomach ensues.

Being able to witness time and time again that things most of the time turn out okay, that most disasters are readily avoided, and life goes on regardless of any perceived evidence to the contrary, then we can settle down and carry on. But if you’re at all like me, you will need to administer compassion and loving kindness toward yourself to attain such a state of well-being. 

I hope you succeed in doing so, as much as I hope to do so myself.

 

Book Gift Ideas

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I am a published author of two books: Requiem for the Status Quo and A Jagged Journey.

I wrote Requiem to share my family’s Alzheimer’s caregiving experiences with those who might benefit from those experiences. I chose the fiction genre, not memoir, so that along with our family’s actual episodes, I could include those from other families’ lives to represent a well-rounded representation of the highs and lows of the family caregiving journey.

I was my father’s primary long-distance caregiver – caregiving that I carried out in person numerous times for several years at his southern Oregon memory care community, and daily from my home in the Seattle, Washington area. Additionally, as an Alzheimer’s Association support group facilitator and a State long term care ombudsman, I met many family caregiver heroes who I believed deserved to have their stories told.

Journey is a different kind of novel, one that spotlights the challenges of being a fallible human being in a world where what we believe might change from time to time – oftentimes for the better. But the not-so-good changes also exist, because as humans we don’t always get it right. Fortunately, lessons can be learned nonetheless.

But why should you purchase either of these books? Although I believe in my work as a writer, I am painfully aware that readers have millions of titles from which to choose, but I sincerely believe you will be glad that you chose mine as a Holiday gift for yourself or for others. And if by chance you aren’t interested in my novels, please pass this post along to someone who might be. Be well. Stay well, y’all.

Both books are EXTREMELY affordable in any format you might desire. I hope you will consider exploring their pages.

 

Is Daily Gratitude Possible?

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I am well aware that it’s extremely difficult to be grateful for anything or anyone when times are tough: illness, financial downturn, emotional turmoil and the like.

At those times, it takes a grand effort to make the decision to find just one thing a day for which to be grateful. JUST ONE THING!!

And once that decision is made, it takes lots of practice to get in the habit of doing so day, after day, after day.

But even the smallest of reasons to smile are worth the effort:

  • improved sleep or wellness
  • a break in the weather
  • a food item that awakens our taste buds
  • a stranger’s smile or greeting
  • a flower

When we start to feel better about the way things are going, we might decide to spread some of that “feel-betteryness” to others with our own unexpected smile, greeting, or other kindness.

I have found that it is really worth the effort – both for the giver, and the person on the receiving end.

JUST A THOUGHT WORTH CONSIDERING.

 

Finding the Good in the Not-So-Good

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In keeping with my most recent post about partying, I just have to tell you a very brief story about something I had the opportunity to celebrate the other day:

I had a horrible night’s sleep!!!

Why is that worthy of a celebration? Let me tell you.

Each of us has our stories of either not being able to readily fall asleep and/or falling asleep but waking up a few hours later and not being able to fall back to sleep, thereby starting ones’ day at an absolutely ungodly hour. I have experienced both, but the first sleep malady has not been an issue for me for many, many months. That was my first reason to celebrate.

My sleep routine always involves listening to a positive, 20-minute guided meditation wherein I usually fall asleep half way through. But the other night, four meditations later, I still hadn’t attained slumber. I tossed and turned, getting frustrated by my inability to sleep, totally disregarding the sleep hygiene advice every sleep expert gives: get out of bed, go elsewhere in your home and read or do something other than counting down the number of hours remaining before your day has to begin. If you stay stuck in bed, you’re also stuck in the anxiety-laden arena of non-sleep where just wishing you’ll eventually fall asleep simply does not work. Why? Because that’s all you’re thinking about and what you pay attention to will only grow.

After a period of three hours of non-sleep, I finally got out of bed and went elsewhere in my home to read thereby changing the scenery and giving my mind something else to concentrate on. I was no longer not sleeping in my comfortable bed, I was reading a book as though doing so was the most perfectly normal thing to be doing at two o’clock in the morning. Climbing back into bed an hour later, I managed to catch a few hours of sleep. That was the second reason to celebrate.

But that’s not all! I actually had three reasons to celebrate as a result of that yucky night’s sleep: I also successfully made it through the day-after, without too much struggle!

Mind you, I’m retired and therefore didn’t have to be super diligent during the day-after’s activities: I didn’t have to operate heavy machinery or get up in front of a classroom or a boardroom and string together cohesive sentences for the benefit of others, but I did manage to do some Holiday gift shopping with my husband and plow through a pile of laundry accumulating in our house without damaging anyone in the process.

Yep, all was well, and I lived to tell about it.

Three parties in one day. What’s not to celebrate?

 

 

It’s Party Time!

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Oh my goodness…you know how it is…the first of November creeps up on us and before we know it, all the traditional Holidays of the year are upon us and we’re wondering where the time has gone.

It’s been awhile since I’ve looked forward to Holiday celebrations but this year I’m geared up and ready. Well, not ready as in I’ve got it all figured out and organized, but ready as in I’m very much up for it. Why is that? Well, for me, I am always looking for a reason to celebrate – whether I’m celebrating an actual occasion or just noting a positive improvement of sorts in my daily life.

During my father’s decline from Alzheimer’s disease, I got into the practice of celebrating every small positive element that came my way. I realized early on in my father’s disease process that big reasons to celebrate weren’t always forthcoming so I committed myself to celebrating even the smallest of victories, and there were many! Doing so guaranteed many opportunities to party, rather than just the few and far between grandiose reasons to don the party hats. My first novel, Requiem for the Status Quo, is a reflection of that period in my life where my celebrate-as-often-as-you-can philosophy was born.

This year has had its ups and downs, hasn’t it? I am quite certain I’m not the only person reading this post that saw illness invade the calm of loved ones’ lives; who experienced loss of some sort that left you reeling; or who questioned whether goodness and mercy had become qualities of the past.

As we near the end of the current year, I hope you are privy to more good than bad and that your reasons to celebrate far outnumber those that make you want to hit something…or someone. Finding that renewed focus, that light at the end of the tunnel, might seem more difficult than not, but if you’re able to do so even just one time before the calendar year expires, give it all you’ve got and do your happy dance! Who knows? Your good vibes just might rub off on others!

And if you’re able to make a few thirty second friendships along the way? All the better.

 

 

How Old Do You Feel?

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Just when I thought I was getting old, the voice of reason settled my soul.

Each year is just a drop in the bucket of life

We are all acquainted with friends or loved ones who have managed to make it to the nine decade mark of life. I am in my 70th year of life – reaching a full seven decades next year. I didn’t mind at all turning 65 years old: I celebrated, I boasted of my accomplishment, and I plowed through each day as fit and proud as can be!

Then I turned 66, then 67, then 68, and most recently 69. Ugh, what a geezer I had become. But why? Really and truly, if sixty-eight was fine with me, what changed in the ensuing 364 days of that birthday year?

  • I started paying attention to the body sensations and pain tweaks that prior to my change of age didn’t warrant such hyper-attention. What you focus on grows bigger.
  • Having enlarged the body sensations I was feeling, I started to cut down my activity level because in my mind I no longer had the ability to be as active as before. I believed the lie that my fight or flight brain was telling me.
  • Not only did I cut back on my physical activity, but I narrowed the scope of my world: going to fewer places, spending less time with people I usually enjoyed spending time with, and relying on others to get me to where I wanted/needed to be. Isolation does not do a body good.
  • I found myself taking what I call a Senior Lie Down just about every day. A feeble body needs a nap to make it through each day, don’t ya’ know.

STOP THE PRESSES!!!!!

If genetics has anything to do with my lifespan, at least where my father’s side is concerned, I will live at least eight decades. My father died at the age of 89, suffering from prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s, and even with those diseases, he lived twenty years longer than my current age!

I don’t want to shorten my enjoyment of life because of facts not yet entered into evidence! Not on your life, or at least, not on mine!

Changing my mindset has made a ginormous change in my outlook on life. No more sweating the small (or normal) stuff in life. Living life, rather than fearing it, is a far better use of my time.

 

You Are Not Stupid

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Thoughts aren’t always true, they are just thoughts.

We are oftentimes admonished not to be judgmental of others, but what about the judgments we have about ourselves? I catch myself being very self-critical, repeating what I oftentimes heard my mother say to herself when she, for example, made a sewing mistake. “Oh Patricia! You’re so stupid!”

My mother was far from stupid, nor am I, so declaring oneself stupid is very inaccurate. A far less harsh statement might be, “Oh, Irene, that wasn’t a smart thing to do/that was a stupid thing to do.” I’m not stupid, but the action wasn’t the best delivered action at the time.

All I’m saying in this minuscule post is to be careful what you say to yourself – whether out loud or in your mind – because I guarantee, you are listening, and some day, you just might start believing what you hear.

Life’s Challenges

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Family Caregiving Challenges

Because we’re alive, we will always be challenged in life. Sometimes those challenges involve medical issues – as a patient or as a family caregiver as depicted in the novel REQUIEM FOR THE STATUS QUO.

Changing the status quo of our beliefs

Other times, those challenges pertain to functioning in an appropriate manner in the diverse country in which we live, such as those found in the novel, A JAGGED JOURNEY.

I wrote these two novels in an effort to meet those challenges and did so by putting personal caregiving experiences and community observations down on paper.

Both novels are very reasonably priced, regardless of the format readers choose. May you, or someone you know, benefit from my literary efforts.

Small Kindnesses

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A poem by Danusha Laméris, 2019 (bold highlights made by this blogger):

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by.

Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plaque. “Don’t die,” we are saying.

And sometimes when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up.

Mostly we don’t want to harm each other.

We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back.

For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pickup truck to let us pass.

We have so little of each other now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.

What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here, have my seat,” “Go ahead – you first,” “I like your hat.”

Just a Thought

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A thought is just a thought, not a fact.

Our imagination can serve us but sometimes it provides a huge disservice. May you not be ruled by your thoughts and may peace be your portion.

A Labor of Love

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FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: A turning point where releasing a loved one to fend for themselves is filled with immeasurable angst.

To what am I referring? Either sending a child off to Big Kids School (BKS) for the first time or a teenager for their first year of college away from home.

In our family right now, it’s a Mommy & Daddy dropping off their five-year-old son (our grandson) at a local elementary school. If you’ve experienced said angst-filled event, you know it’s not just day-of that’s a struggle; it’s every day leading up to that day (arguably months of days leading up to that day.)

It’s not enough to provide platitudes of support (although platitudes of support are exactly what my husband and I have provided to these stellar parents). Why? Although statistics and evidence document centuries of successful first-day moments, including those of our grandson’s parents, it’s an entirely different story when that first-day moment involves the cutie-patootie child in the family, right now.

The best evidence, however, is the sincere belief that a parent has done all within their power to prepare their sweetheart for the harsh realities of spending six hours away from home, five days a week, in the presence of strangers who – in time – will certainly become friends.

Us grandparents may have the benefit of decades of experience but we will still be waiting for the parents’ texts to report the ins and outs of our grandson’s first full day. Granted, we all know our grandson survived – and loved – his three half days of “trial kindergarten” earlier this summer, but now we’ve hit the big time.

His life of schooling is just beginning to take shape and the parents’ lives will never be the same.

After two years of part-time preschool, however, we all feel confident in our grandson’s forthcoming adaptability to what will become his normal for many years henceforth. Our grandson will flourish – not languish – at his elementary school, and one way or another, us adults will fine tune our own adaptability to a new normal for him, and be better prepared for his sister’s first day of BKS three years from now.

Ready or not, our granddaughter is headed toward becoming a member of the graduating Class of 2038!!!

 

Adulting Is Hard

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Life is not an easy venture, regardless of who we are or how we were raised. But we get up every morning, stumble through our wake-up routines, and plod through the day because that’s what the human condition requires.

We all know that some days are easier than others – just as some years are worse than previous years – but when the not-so-good times start piling up day after day, we tend to wonder if we’ll ever get to the other side of the bad.

Life is most definitely a contact sport. Scrapes and bruises are bound to hit many of us in debilitating ways.

The fictional characters in this new novel are acquainted with yours and my experiences. They’ve had it tough, and they’ve had it easy, and how their lives panned out reflects outcomes not unlike those we’ve all endured.

Misery loves company isn’t what the author had in mind with the writing of A Jagged Journey but she knew that those going through a tough time could benefit from how Charlie, Hannah, Gretchen, and the book’s many other true-to-life characters, handle the challenges that come their way.

The outcomes aren’t all touchy-feely and rainbow-laden, but that’s not how real life pans out for you and I anyway.

May this well-crafted story keep you company during the highs – and the lows – in which you find yourself, and may you experience the joy and hope that so many previous readers of A Jagged Journey have enjoyed.

May Peace Be Your Portion

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AS SUMMER WINDS DOWN, MANY OF US ARE TRANSITIONING TO LIFE CHANGES THAT AREN’T ALWAYS EASILY TOLERATED: FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, NEW JOBS, RELOCATING TO A NEW AREA OF THE COUNTRY.

WHATEVER TRANSITION YOU FACE, MAY PEACE BE YOUR PORTION AS YOU SETTLE INTO YOUR NEW NORMAL. 

Home & Body DIY Projects

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My current DIY home project is one that is not-at-all rewarding at the moment but my husband and I are certain the remodeled laundry room will eventually knock our socks off. Then we’ll probably lose half of those socks in the newly-placed drier! 🙂

Do It Yourself home projects are very time consuming and most often difficult, and for many of us, DIY is the only way to go. But the DIY work we do on ourselves doesn’t have to be 100% Do It Yourself. As a matter of fact, I strongly recommend seeking assistance when trying to put ones’ life in order, especially when mental health is part of the project’s package.

Doing the work, as it is oftentimes called, is a life-long process that is not for the faint of heart. Proper guidance from appropriate resources will most certainly get us headed in the right direction. The past two-plus years, I have felt compelled to put my mental health at the top of my priority list, because mental health is health.

I have attended virtual therapy sessions with a local doctor of psychology for the past two years and can honestly say that she has been my most essential healthcare provider during that time. I am fortunate that my U.S. Medicare plan, plus my supplemental insurance, cover 100% of the costs, and I realize that full health insurance coverage is not the case for everyone.

And I have discovered that just like home improvement projects, life improvement projects can get messy and the cleanup can be a painstaking process, but flexing ones’ muscles – which include the heart and the mind – is well worth the blood, sweat, and tears that ensue…and trust me, there will be tears.

I truly hope you are able to find access to the guidance you deserve as you endeavor to attain personal health, while always remembering that:

MENTAL HEALTH IS HEALTH

What Are You Reading?

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My First Novel!

I wrote and published my first novel, REQUIEM FOR THE STATUS QUO, in 2017. This novel was a work of love to fictionalize the experience my family went through after my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not just about my family, however, it’s about other people who were unfortunate enough to fall into the category of being a family dementia caregiver. I met them, and sufficiently altered their stories so others could benefit from what was arguably one of the most difficult chapters of their lives.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. So many of the reviews written about my book describe how this novel not only acted as a user-friendly caregiver guide of sorts, but it also stoked the fires of hope that had fizzled out over time.

My 2nd Novel of which I am equally proud.

I sat on A JAGGED JOURNEY for a few years before I realized that its time had come and the story I brought forth within its pages was a story of every-person. We have all had not-so-proud moments in our lives – some of us more than others – but we have also managed to climb out of those times and made decisions in our lives for which we were grateful.

If you are looking for a novel that you can sink your teeth into and walk away as a satisfied reader, please consider one or both of my novels. They are VERY reasonably priced on Amazon and if your local bookstore does not have it in stock, they can certainly order it for you.

I thank you in advance for considering my literary offerings. 

 

Still Figuring it Out

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The lessons I need to learn in order to live a fuller life are becoming clearer and clearer in my heart and in my mind. My experience has been that when awareness of a need kicks in, hope tends to get kicked into overdrive. 😁

May your own journey treat you with the kindness and diligence you so deserve.

What’s in a Name?

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I have never liked my given first name: Irene. Sorry, I know my parents meant well, but I’m not enamored by the name. Every search I’ve done for the name – Greek, Arabic, Irish, Biblical – all indicate that the name means PEACE. And human characteristics for the name are: intense, compassionate, generous, artsy, and creative. Okay, you nailed it Mom and Dad because I am all of those.

I wish I was less intense, but since that trait has been a part of me for sixty-nine years, I think I’m stuck with it.

I don’t mind all the other traits but intensity? Ugh. I’m not even going to provide the definition for it because we all know even the way that word sounds describes what it means.

And guess what’s really intriguing? My middle name, Frances, means FREE ONE. I love that meaning but I wouldn’t want to exchange my first with my middle name because I don’t think that’s a better option for me.

But if I’ve learned anything the past several years about the word acceptance, is that it doesn’t mean you agree with something but you certainly need to let what is, be; as in Let it Be.

So I will…let it be. I admire those who have changed their names, and for far better reasons than simply not liking their given name. I figure my parents felt it in their souls to officially name me Irene Frances so out of respect for their decision, that is what my moniker will continue to be. Now I just have to come to terms with it – be at peace with it – and carry on as I have for almost seven decades.

Peace, y’all.

 

The Soul’s Spring Cleaning

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I know summer is upon us, but I’m still enmeshed in spring cleaning so I want to address that topic, but in a FAR different manner. I’ve been bored because the weather in Washington State has not been conducive to outdoor activities so every nook and cranny of our 2-story house has been purged beyond recognition – and it feels good.

You wanna know what else feels good? Doing spring cleaning on my soul: the me-ness that has existed for sixty-nine years.

Merriam-Webster defines soul as follows: 1) the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life; 2) the spiritual principle embodied in human beings; 3) a person’s total self; 4) the moral and emotional nature of human beings.

I am very transparent in what I write on this blog, so if you’ve been following my blog and my stream of thought, you already have a pretty darn good sense of who I am. If I had to characterize the 2021-2022 timeframe for me, however, I would say that most of my new efforts have been directed toward kindness…toward myself. The other day, my talk therapist suggested I check in with myself each day by saying:

What’s the kindest thing I can do for myself today?

Oddly enough, that very day I said to myself, “I’m going to take care of myself today” – inspiration I received as a result of listening to a mindfulness podcast. If you viewed my post, A Dose of Serenityyou read about the phenomenon (to me anyway) of being open to learning a new lesson and then the lessons about that lesson start bombarding you. Well, I have been in the classroom of self-compassion for awhile now.

I am very hard on myself – demanding is more accurate – and more often than not I end up as my worst enemy. When I catch myself being so self-judgmental, I shift gears and talk to myself as I would a friend or loved one who is going through a similar situation.

The description I crafted for my online Facebook profile reads, Author, always ready to dish out kindness. I strive to promote truth and kindness wherever I go. Well, I guess my profile is a lie because I am always wherever I go so I’d best dish out some soul nourishment towards me on an ongoing basis.

Suffice to say that patience is a hard-earned virtue, and even more difficult when needed to be directed self-ward. But in order to have a productive soul spring cleaning, I need to gift myself with patience and understanding, and leave self-judging behind me where it belongs. That’s certainly my personal goal; how about you?

 

 

The Risk of Love

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Such a sweet feline: Estelle Phalange, affectionately called Stellie. Our daughter’s household loved her, and we loved her as well – taking care of her when Stellie’s humans went on vacation, and entertaining her when we spent time with the grandkids at their house.

Stellie went to kitty heaven the other day, and she is greatly missed. As I said to our daughter the day Stellie died,

“Love is risky, but it is worth it.”

What we love, we grieve. I am certain Stellie, and my kitty cat of long ago, Betty, are curling up together in kitty heaven, enjoying a sunbeam for eternity.

A Dose of Serenity

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This quote is speaking to me BIG time!

You know how when you need to learn a specific lesson, and you’re open to learning that specific lesson, input regarding that specific lesson starts coming at you from all directions? Maybe that’s just me, and if it is, I’m okay with that. The lesson I have had to learn as of late is that control is fleeting, and for the most part, non-existent.

We have so little control over most matters, it’s best to only spend energy on that which we can control.

Being out of control really hit me hard when the pandemic first took off because there was so much uncertainty and very little information-stability. But my extraordinary husband and I came to the place of acknowledging that all we were in control of was how we handled our little corner of the world to keep us, and the rest of our family, safe. Fortunately, keeping our circle of family safe also keeps the rest of those with whom we come in contact, safe. A win-win situation.

In my corner of the world, health challenges (nothing serious, yet prevalent) seem to be bombarding me – disrupting my peace, displacing my calm, and spinning me into a mental health spiral. And keep in mind, mental health is health, so there is no separating the physical from the emotional.

I am doing what I can control: addressing my mental health which – quite naturally – positively affects my physical health because…

MENTAL HEALTH IS HEALTH

I would like to say, however, that wanting to fix others’ problems denotes a certain amount of caring – a lot of caring – for those with whom I entangle myself. But one thing I’ve learned the past two years is that I have to love myself first and foremost before I can spread love towards others. When I exhibit self-compassion, I gird my heart, my mind, and my body with the resources they need to flourish going forward. And yay, that means I’m more available for others!! Another win-win situation!

And one step at a time isn’t just recommended, it’s required. I leave you with this:

 

 

Alzheimer’s: am I next?

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Your parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia and as their biological child you wonder, “Will that be my fate?”

In 2019, an article of mine, Me Worry? Not on your Life was published on the CogniHealth website, a company that in partnership with Alzheimer Scotland, developed a caregiver aid for those – especially family members – providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. (Please note that the linked post references an extraordinary non-profit that I am still a part of but no longer serve in a managerial capacity, having retired from doing so.)

I chose the topic of whether or not dementia might be passed along to biological family members because as a daughter who witnessed the decline of her father as a result of dementia, I certainly had an opinion on the matter. Does one need to worry their entire life about the chance of acquiring Alzheimer’s disease?

I hope you will read my article that while transparent and painfully clear, also provides many rays of hope and encouragement for those in similar circumstances.

At the very least, I am certain you will come away with a clearer understanding of how little value worry contributes to ones’ life.

Our life: an ongoing parade

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Here I go again, relying on Dr. Bernie S. Siegel to provide some wisdom for your day, but what can I say, his 365 Prescriptions for the Soul catches my attention more often than not and when it does, I like to share the good stuff I find.  The following is provided verbatim:

Parade of Life

Forget past mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you are going to do now, and do it. – William Durant

oktoberfest-819706_640Life is a parade. Sometimes we march along and realize we have passed by what we were looking for. What do we do? Stand there and drop out of the parade? March on with regrets? Feel bad about how we looked or that everything we wanted was on the wrong side of the street? It’s passed! Forget it and march on!

Sometimes our parade isn’t so pretty, and the crowd isn’t interested in us. If we drag everything we have passed with us, we will destroy the present. We have no future when we live in the past.

We even talk about past lives. Whether you believe in them or not, the same principle applies. If you are living a past life, you are destroying your present one. In therapy, people come to understand why they are acting the way they are and how the past is affecting them. They learn to let go, move on, and not sit in the same classroom year after year. They graduate and commence a new life.

To conclude, I, Irene Frances Olson, have this to say about Dr. Siegel’s comments:

The good news is that we can learn from our past, both the good and the bad, but if we stay cemented in the past and don’t move on? That parade Dr. Siegel talks about?  It’ll pass us by.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get left behind.

Solo Caregiving

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My recent post, Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport assumes the person providing care for a loved one has a wealth of family members upon which to draw for support. When that is not the case, it can be difficult – but not impossible – to find willing team members to provide that support. This article provides advice to the solo caregiver and his/her friends, business associates, neighbors, and community contacts.

THIS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING INFORMATIONAL POST, BUT IT IS A START.

CAREGIVER: BE BOLD – ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED.

Those people with whom you have contact probably know that you’re the only one carrying the ball when it comes to caregiving but they can’t possibly understand the degree of difficulty you are experiencing. Assuming that to be the case, your friends, business associates, and neighbors may not feel the need to reach out to you with assistance. Now is the time to be very transparent with them and tell them what you need. Easier said than done, I know, but a challenge worth pursuing. Here’s just one suggestion – one that could provide respite and community support.

DINING ALONE IS A DRAG – NOW’S THE TIME TO ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT

If you are able to leave the house for a meal, there is no shame in inviting yourself to dinner. If these are true friends/acquaintances of yours, they will welcome you into their home. Once you’ve invited yourself a couple times, true friends and valuable neighbors will start to invite you into their dining room on an ongoing basis. Besides, they’ve probably been wondering what they could possibly do to help you out in your situation and you’ve just presented a very easy way for them to do so. Heck – they’re going to cook dinner for themselves anyway; one or two extra people aren’t going to throw a huge wrench into their meal plans.

!!!ATTENTION WELL-MEANING FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS!!!

I think the rule of thumb in these situations is to assume that your solo caregiver friend needs a hand with something, so ask him what he needs. Let’s look at the difference between the following offers of assistance.

  1. Hey Sam, call me if you ever need some help.
  2. Hey Sam, could you use a little extra help around the garden? I’m all caught up with my yard work and would like to help you in any way I can.
  3. Hey Sam, we always cook for a crowd and always have some leftovers. I’d like to give you some leftovers in disposable containers that you can freeze and use any time you don’t feel like cooking for yourself. (Especially needed for the caregiver not at liberty to leave their loved one alone.)

In the 1st example, you’re leaving it up to Sam to feel comfortable enough to inconvenience you (in his mind) with a request for help. I know I’m being somewhat judgmental when I say the following, but I’m gonna say it anyway: The first example of help is an empty offer – an offer that doesn’t carry much weight. Why? It comes across as an expected social comment without any true meat on its bones. You’re basically doing the minimal amount of due diligence while forcing the caregiver to ask for help. In the 2nd and 3rd examples, you’ve given Sam an offer of tangible, definable assistance that shows that you really mean it when you say you’re willing to help out.  If neither of those offers fit within Sam’s current needs, you’re still making it easier for him to ask for help with something else: “Wow Larry, thanks so much for your offers but what I could really use is help figuring out the health insurance issues that have kept me awake at night. Can you come over for a cup of coffee, and between the two of us, maybe we can make some sense of this mess in which I find myself.”

Friends, work associates and neighbors – your solo caregiver friend needs help and you could be just the right person with the skill that he needs. Some day you may find yourself in a similar situation and will know first hand how difficult it is to be a solo caregiver. If it takes a village to raise a child, it must take at least that to help someone with the burden of being a solo caregiver.

Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport

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What’s a pitcher without a catcher?  A quarterback without a receiver?  A point guard without a center?  Individuals – that’s what they are – they are not a team.  Caregiving should never be an individual effort because quite frankly, one person cannot do it all.

Take a deep breath; think happy thoughts; and do your best.

Whether the primary caregiver actually does hands-on-care or is the primary “manager” of a loved one’s day-to-day life, that caregiver needs all the support he or she can get. For the purposes of this article we’re going to assume that the loved one, Mom, lives in a long-term care (LTC) facility cared for by professionals. As with every sports team, there is a General Manager of the team – responsible for the overall smooth running of the team, and then there are the individual team members without whom there would be no support whatsoever. Let’s look at the responsibilities of each person on the team. GENERAL MANAGER: whether self-assigned or chosen, the GM is usually Mom’s primary contact/visitor. He or she will also be the main point of contact with the staff at the LTC facility and as such, should definitely be on the “approved list” of people with whom the care staff can discuss every aspect of Mom’s care. Getting on the approved list might involve one or both of the following:

  • Facility Care Plan/Residential Agreement. Because of the restrictions resulting from the enactment of HIPAA anyone other than the actual patient/resident must be given permission to receive confidential information regarding another individual’s health condition. There is usually a section on LTC facility agreements and/or care plans wherein a primary family member is listed and approved as the person who can have access to all confidential information regarding the resident’s/loved one’s care. Similarly you’ll want to be on the approved list for Mom’s doctors so you’re able to freely communicate with medical personnel regarding any ongoing health concerns. If Mom is able, she will need to sign the necessary documents that indicate her decision to allow that confidential health information be shared with you.
  • Power of Attorney for Health Care. This legal document allows someone, usually a family member, to speak on behalf of a loved one who may not be able to do so on her own. I’m not a lawyer so I’m not offering any advice regarding this document but the attached link will give you a thumbnail sketch addressing when the appropriateness of such a document comes into play.

Now back to the General Manager’s duties: the GM needs to play on the strengths of each team member.

Alzheimer’s Walking Team: myself, my hubby and my brother

Hold a family meeting – even involving those living out of town using virtual means – to discuss the strengths that each possesses and ones’ willingness to exercise those strengths. Once those team members’ tasks have been assigned or volunteered for, it’s up to the General Manager to provide oversight to assure each task is being accomplished, and to discern if any team member needs assistance completing tasks. As you can see, taking on the role of General Manager carries a lot of responsibility and quite frankly, anyone who assumes this role needs to be good and ready to carry a heavy load. The good news, however, is that the GM is not alone – there are additional members of the team.

FINANCE MANAGER.  Your older sister is a finance whiz who’s very comfortable crunching numbers. She gets to take over the day-to-day system of bill paying, investment monitoring, and the like. You might even arrange for all mail to go to this sister’s home so that she has immediate access to timely financial information, in addition to online access of course.

INSURANCE MANAGER. One of your brothers who works in the health insurance industry understands the ins and outs of private insurance and as it relates to Medicare. Congratulations, his strength will contribute greatly to the whole, but you don’t have to work for an insurance company to excel at this task. Some of us – yes, I’m one of them – really “gets it” when it comes to reconciling Explanations of Benefits (EOB) documents from health insurance companies. The Insurance Manager will work hand in hand with the Finance Manager to assure that any balances due a particular medical professional or institution is paid. This can really get sticky when attempting to make sure that everyone who is responsible for paying a part of the medical service – private insurance companies and Medicare – have paid their part prior to sending out a check for the balance, but effective Finance & Insurance Managers can successfully get the job done.

TRANSPORTATION MANAGER.Your other sister has recently retired, or has a very flexible work schedule, and has the ability to take Mom to the various doctor appointments that occur each month. Terrific.

Anyone need a cab?

That sister will be doing the running around with Mom and can make sure each appointment is scheduled, attended, and summarized. Since she’s going to these appointments with Mom, she can sit in on the appointment and bring up issues about which the family has concerns; she can take notes on what transpires during the doctor visit; then she can report the medical updates to the family so everyone is on the same page every step of the way. This sister will also need to be on the approved HIPAA document that the physician’s office requires in order for her to communicate and interact in such a way as to be on top of Mom’s ongoing health care.

FAMILY DYNAMICS THAT GET IN THE WAY OF EFFECTIVE MANAGING. Let’s face it, not every family gets along well enough to avoid the bumps in the caregiving road.  If family dynamics were strained to begin with, you can certainly expect those dynamics to be heightened in stressful situations – and caring for Mom is certainly one of them.  My article “Family dynamics that hamper caregiving success,” an article of mine from 2011 that addresses family dysfunction and offers advice on how to lessen its impact on your caregiving team.

A team’s success is attainable – but each member has to dedicate themselves to the task at hand  for that to happen.

Life Happens

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We all have a strong preference that life should be easy, comfortable, and pain-free, but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with life when it isn’t those things. It’s just life and it’s not how you would prefer it to be, but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with it. – Constance Waverly, WaverlyRadio podcast #132

I imagine we all would prefer to live a life of health, happiness, and success (however success may be defined but certainly not limited to financial prosperity). With those three preferences met, life would be a carefree and joyful experience. Given the complexities of life, however, we are guaranteed a certain degree of physical pain, emotional heartache, want, and for some, absolute devastation.

Even an innocent newborn baby immediately discovers that his existence on this earth is anything but 100% delightful. He can’t define what that means when he’s a minute old, but he certainly feels it.

We tend to wonder why good things “always” seem to happen to bad people – an inaccurate thought, nevertheless it’s one that we entertain from time to time – but those of us who endeavor to do no harm aren’t blessed with easy, comfortable, and pain-free lives.

I don’t have the answer to that question but I do have an answer: our assumptions about others are just make believe because we have no way of knowing what is actually going on in their lives. A person’s outward show of perfection, boundless happiness, and ease is just that: their outward public mask that very well may hide an entirely different one worn in private. Let’s face it, no one can be ecstatically happy and fulfilled 365 days of the year – or even 24 hours a day, or dare I say, a mere 60 seconds at a time – so why is it that we assume others have mastered that very impossibility?

Part of what I’ve learned in my almost seventy years is that what matters most is how we live in the present, regardless of whether or not that present pleases us. Living in the moment, accepting that moment as our life’s current state of being without pushing back against it can be far more fruitful and enjoyable than the alternative: anger, complaints, and hatred. For example, Ariel and Shya Kane, in their book Practical Enlightenment, point out very clearly that getting angry does nothing toward changing ones current situation. Case in point: you’re running late for work in disastrous traffic. You pound the steering wheel, honk your horn, and yell at the other commuters and what do you know? Your situation hasn’t changed but you’ve become your own worst enemy because your previous misery has been considerably compounded by your fruitless actions.

  • Traffic doesn’t happen to us, it just happens.
  • A rent increase wasn’t directed at us personally, it was simply a business decision made by the landlord.
  • Long lines in the grocery store didn’t occur to inconvenience us; quite simply, like us, other people decided to shop at the same time.
  • Coming down with the flu a day after a person arrives in Hawaii for the vacation of a lifetime wasn’t preventable; germs are everywhere and will do their thing at any time and any place. Even though it sucks that the germs manifested themselves just as the vacationer was heading to the beach, please know he’s not being punished for trying to have a good time.

All the wishing in the world won’t change our current reality because anything we could have done in the past is over and done with. Anything we could possibly do in the future hasn’t yet happened, so we should give it up and just be where and when we are right now.

Piero Ferrucci had this to say about the illusion of being in control when his preferences weren’t met during a vital point in his life:

The outside world did not adapt to me: More simply and practically, it is I who must adapt to what is happening moment to moment. The Power of Kindness.