Personal Struggles

Cost of Dying: planning for a good death, from advance directive to talking with your family

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Cost of Dying: planning for a good death, from advance directive to talking with your family.

The article posted here is well worth the read.  It is very comprehensive and reveals the nitty gritty of the decisions that are so important, and too often emergent, as we and/or our family members age.

When my husband and I set up our living wills/advance health care directives a few years ago, we did so as a living gift to each other.  The attached article reflects that sentiment as well.  With all of the details spelled out in advance, the surviving loved one is not thrust into an emergent decision that by its very nature holds one of the biggest responsibilities we can carry on our shoulders.  To be sure, an advanced health care directive doesn’t take away all of the end-of-life challenges that occur but it does allow the surviving family members to feel at ease as they respect their loved one’s wishes that were expressly made known well in advance of the need for implementation.

Having these discussions with loved ones can be uncomfortable for some,  but if framed in the guise of being a living gift to those left behind, the discussions take on a whole new meaning and can’t help but come out in a positive light.

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Caregiving as a Baby Boomer – Joan Lunden’s experience.

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Caregiving is not for wimps as is evident in a recent CNN article, “Caring for loved ones the ‘new normal’ for boomers.”  This article highlights the challenges that former “Good Morning America” host, Joan Lunden, faced when helping her mother transition into a long-term care (LTC) housing facility.  Even with all the resources at her fingertips, it took three LTC housing moves before Ms. Lunden found the one best-suited for her 88-year-old mother.

Where will your search for senior housing land you?

My article, “Selecting a Senior housing community – easy for some, not for the rest of us,” addresses the challenges inherent with even beginning ones search for senior housing.  Just like everything that is new to our experience, there are an entirely new set of vocabulary terms associated with long-term care housing so it helps to understand those terms prior to starting off on your journey.

Additionally, the article “Avoiding the pitfalls of selecting senior housing” addresses the ways in which you can discern whether or not the housing community you’re considering has had any run-ins with licensing, the Department of Social Services, and the like.  You will be pleased to know how easy it is to check up on the facilities you’re considering just by making a few phonecalls or perusing websites that provide vital information to consumers about incidents that might have been investigated at the facilities.  No one needs to go into this task blindfolded and uninformed.  The better informed you are, the better the chance of success in choosing the most appropriate senior residential situation for you or your loved one.

What has been your experience as someone looking for long-term care housing options?  Certainly all of us can benefit from the experiences of others just like yourself so I hope to hear from you in the form of blog comments soon!

Where do you find peace?

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Do you find peace within the circle of your family; or does meditation or prayer, an inspirational book, or music fill your soul?  Wherever the source – how do you keep that peace from slipping away?

On the Threshold of Eternity
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Certainly when we’re exposed to sorrowful or earth-shattering news, any semblance of peace and calm seem to disappear, such as: acts of terrorism – both domestic and abroad; heartless school shootings; bigotry and hatred; and even devastating illness.  How many times has your armor been pierced by such circumstances?

Too many to count. So how do we find peace amongst the chaos?

We can find peace in many small ways – probably the easiest way to do so is to acknowledge the beauty that surrounds us.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a creationist or an evolutionist, the beauty you see is the same.  It’s always refreshing when I walk through my local plant nursery, Molbaks, to see the intricacies of flowers and their natural, yet seemingly unrealistic, colors.  How did that happen?  How can so much detail just happen and we had nothing to do with it?  I relish the peace I feel when roaming the rows and rows of flowers and I capture that moment and take it home with me.

Português: Céu rosa com nuvens um pouco antes ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And the colors of sunrises and sunsets – what a joy to behold!  Even though my house is located in such a way as to not be able to directly see the sun’s rising and setting, I still have the privilege of seeing its aftereffects in the pink and ruby colors of the sky.  My mother’s favorite color was pink, so when the sky is beautifully colored in that tint, I credit my mother for this natural artwork, somehow executed from her heavenly resting place.

Celebrating even the smallest of victories in one’s life.  Time and again I remind myself to acknowledge the small goodnesses and victories in my life.  I learned this practice shortly after having a fairly major orthopedic surgery several years ago.  The recovery and rehabilitation were lengthy so I had to take comfort in even the smallest signs of improvement so that discouragement didn’t creep in to rob me of the positive steps I had made towards recovery.

So too is it important to pay attention to all the emotional windfalls that come our way.  A huge lottery windfall – such as recently happened (December 2013) in California and Georgia – isn’t the type of emotional windfall I’m talking about.  We can experience far more authentic emotions that are not tied to money or things.  Someone greets me with a smile or has a word of encouragement that I absolutely needed at that moment?  That feeds my soul.  I greet someone else with a smile and a hug?  Even better – now I’m paying it forward!  It’s been said many times before that the richest and longest lasting gifts are those that don’t cost a cent.  As trite as it may sound, it’s still absolutely true.

Where or how does one find peace when hit with a wall of hurt – whatever that hurt may look like?  In my experience, I have to force myself to look away from the hurt/pain/stress/negativity in order to clearly see some peaceful element, regardless of how small, that will convince me that all is not lost, because I still have this, whatever “this” may be.  When we consciously turn away from the wall of hurt, we then have the ability to find some element of peace, somewhere, in our purview.  That doesn’t mean that we ignore what is required to resolve the hurt that came our way, but we make a conscious decision to redirect our focus elsewhere so that all the focus isn’t on the hurtful things that have come our way.

Dona Nobis Pacem.  I really like this blog entry entitled, Dona Nobis Pacem, from a blog written by Kathy that focuses on her quest to find peace after the death of her mom to pancreatic cancer.  To be sure – finding peace is a journey, it’s not just a decision one makes – and Kathy’s article addresses the work required to attain peace.  But initially she had to make a decision to simply start on that peace-finding journey, and doing so, she’s nearing her quest.  I hope you will visit Kathy’s site and take the time to also watch the video she attached that highlights the song Dona Nobis Pacem – Give Us Peace.

Where do you seek happiness?

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I came across a quote the other day from Marie Mountain Clark, one of an elite group of women who completed U.S. Air Force pilot training in the 1930’s.  Ms. Clark died in 2008 at the age of 93.

“It is natural for a person to seek happiness in life; however, I believe that this desirable aim is never achieved if one attempts to find it directly.  Instead, happiness is found indirectly as a by-product from devoted service to the lives of others.”

Thank you, Marie, for words by which to live. 

Whether you’re in your 20’s, 50’s, or 80’s, life is too short.   We absolutely have no guarantee of the next minute, month, or year.  Why occupy what time we have, regardless of how long it might end up being, with tasks that provide no assistive value to others?  Does this mean that we all quit our jobs and start a life that rivals Mother Teresa of Calcutta?  Not by any means.  What it does mean, however, is that in the hours that we’ve been given, let’s make as many of those count.  A very wise man once said, “Do all that you can, in all the places you can, in all the ways that you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as you can.” – John Wesley

Define your passion; follow your heart; and make a difference in someone’s life.  If your eyes and ears are open, you’ll know what that is.

Creating the next chapter of your life.

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Do you seek new direction in your life?

Are you in the process of recreating yourself?

Well I’ve learned that it’s easier to know which direction you should go if you’re already in motion.

Painting Pasaulio sutvėrimas IV (Creation of t...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world may have been created in a week, or zillions of weeks; either way, a lot of energy went into that creation and the world-in-process was not a stagnant one.

Trial and error.  I constantly look for ways to improve myself and increase my effect upon the community around me.  If I’m not contributing to a cause – regardless of how big or small – I figure, “Why bother?”  But if I wait around for some sort of change to occur, I’m going about it in the wrong way and believe me, I’ve experienced enough trial and error to write a book on the subject.  The trial and error approach works, however, if a person becomes well-informed and doesn’t take financial or personal risks that they can’t afford.  After all, sometimes we need to discover what doesn’t work for us in order to find out what does work for us.

Living or playing to your strengths.  My Baby Boomer direction was greatly influenced by Marcus Buckingham, one of the world’s authorities on employee productivity.  (By the way, his DVD series Trombone Player Wanted, is worth looking into.)  He suggests that to make your greatest contribution, it’s best to play to your strengths most of the time.  I have taken to heart Mr. Buckingham’s strong caution against veering off ones strengths path.  After all, when I’m creating a new me, why would I choose to do the lame-o, same-o with all its inherent dissatisfaction?  That’s like doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  That sure hasn’t worked for me.  In addition to playing to my strengths, I also play to my passions.  As a Baby Boomer creating my life’s next chapter, it makes sense to deliberately avoid activities that drag me down and weaken me and run to those activities for which I am most impassioned and inspired.

Find your niche and go for it.  I know what I like to do and what I’m good at so I try to consciously remain open to opportunities that directly relate to those strengths.   I thoroughly enjoy working with an older population of adults but I know what part of that experience I’m able to do, and what I’m not able to do.  For example, I know my limits on “clinical atmosphere” so any involvement with older adults excludes my participation in a nursing home or hospital environment.  But throw me in the midst of adults living in assisted living or dementia residential settings and I will make new friends of everyone with whom I come in contact.  Add to that my enjoyment and effectiveness as a public speaker, I look for every opportunity in which to use those abilities.  As a Certified Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman, I have the privilege of meeting with and advocating for residents in LTC settings.  Additionally, I provide resident rights presentations at those facilities and at non-facility venues such as senior centers and city forums.  It’s the best of both worlds for me – interaction with my target audience and feeding my passion for public speaking.

hallway with doors to monks' cells at the form...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recognizing an open door when you see one.  On a recent Oprah’s Next Chapter episode, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Lady Gaga and at one point asked the singer how she came up with new song or album ideas.  This is the gist of what Lady Gaga said: she imagines herself in a hallway, there are doors all along the hallway but she knows there’s another door coming up further down the hallway that is more appropriate but it’s not readily visible.  Through trial and error she eventually finds the correct door/song inspiration.  How does she know that’s the door through which she is to walk?  When the door finally opens, the light floods in, she is able to block out all distracting noises, and her wishes and thoughts rise to the surface as a basis for her next song/album creation.  I’ve opened some wrong doors in my life as a result of incorrectly thinking that just because a door opens, that means I’m supposed to walk through it.  Again, trial and error comes into play and discernment takes a front row seat.

Not every door that opens is going to be the correct one.  When I’m in exploratory mode, I have to be very careful not to walk through the first door of opportunity that comes my way – regardless of how enticing.  When I make this mistake,  I quickly discover that I’ve committed myself to the wrong project and have had to withdraw myself shortly thereafter.  I didn’t look before I leaped – not a safe, or advisable practice to be sure.   It’s worth me taking the time to weigh my options; write a list of Pros and Cons; ask trusted individuals for their input; and then make an informed decision.  If it’s right for me, it’ll wait for me.  If this new opportunity allows me to play to my strengths and my passions, everyone benefits and there are few, if any, casualties along the way.

What does the next chapter of your life look like?  How are you going about writing that chapter?  I’d love to hear from you because I’m pretty sure I have quite a few more chapters of my own to write.

Start your retirement – start your job as a family caregiver.

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You’ve worked your entire life; you’ve lined up your retirement leisure activities; you’re ready to start the first day of the rest of your life, but instead you start a new job: caregiver to your sibling, spouse, parent, or other family member.

Or perhaps you retired early to take on your caregiver job because there was no way you could do it all: continue your full-time job while moonlighting as your loved one’s caregiver.  It doesn’t work or it only works until the caregiver runs out of steam.  One way or another, your retirement years sure don’t resemble what you envisioned.

The CNN article, As baby boomers retire, a focus on caregivers, paints a frightening picture but one that is painfully accurate.  The highlighted caregiver, Felicia Hudson, said she takes comfort in the following sentiment:

Circumstances do not cause anger, nervousness, worry or depression; it is how we handle situations that allow these adverse moods.

I agree with the above sentiment to a very small degree because let’s face it, the nitty-gritty of a caregiver’s life is filled with anger-inducing depressive circumstances about which I don’t think caregivers should beat themselves up trying to handle with a happy face and a positive attitude.  It just doesn’t work that well in the long-term.  It’s a well-known fact, and one that is always talked about by the Alzheimer’s Association, that caregivers don’t take care of themselves because they don’t know how, or don’t have the support, to stop trying to do all of their life’s jobs by themselves.

“I’m obligated because my parents took great care of me, and now it’s time for me to take care of them.” 

or

“For better or worse means taking care of my spouse, even though she’s getting the better of me, and I’m getting worse and worse.”

The problem with the above sentiments is that oftentimes the adult child or spouse start to resent the person for whom they are providing care.  It’s like going to a job you hate but being held to an unbreakable employment contract; your employer is a loved one with a life-altering or terminal illness; and you’re not getting paid.  “Taking care of a loved one in need is reward enough.”  No, it’s not.

I’m not bitter, I’m simply realistic.  Caregiving is one of the most difficult jobs any of us will hold and we can’t do it all by ourselves.  My blog article, Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport, encourages each person in a family caregiving situation to create a team of co-caregivers to more effectively get the job done.  And please take a look at the other articles found in that same category of Caregiving.   I hope you will find encouragement in those articles – some based on my own experience, and some from other caregivers’ shared experiences – especially when a positive attitude and a happy face just isn’t working for you.

The Contentious Alzheimers Patient: You Can Be Right or You Can Have Peace

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The Contentious Alzheimers Patient: You Can Be Right or You Can Have Peace.

This article from The Alzheimer’s Reading Room provides much wisdom and guidance when it comes to making choices when communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles on my Blog, “If you don’t insist, they can’t resist.”