Improving Our Vision
We often have been instructed on what it means to truly listen, especially when it comes to hearing what someone else is saying. Just nodding our head and saying “uh huh, uh huh” may not be an example of effective listening.
What about our eye sense? Do we see what’s really there? Not always, and here’s a case in point.
I have family members who have tree nut allergies so we are all very diligent about using ingredients – and serving foods – that do not contain tree nuts and were not processed in a manufacturing plant that may have processed tree nuts as part of their business.
I donated a huge Costco-sized bag of chocolate chips to this particular tree nut sensitive household the other day and checked what I usually check: the list of INGREDIENTS and the all-important CONTAINS notation on the bag. Said elements listed nothing of danger to that household.
Turns out the Costco-sized bag of chocolate chips had an ALLERGEN INFORMATION statement that I missed but fortunately the household member who was about to use them did not. Ugh, this could have been a disaster of emergency proportions!!! You’d be correct in saying that the statement seemed plenty large enough to notice, but that was not the case for me. We are blind to so many things, some of which are less tactile. Had I not assumed the CONTAINS and INGREDIENTS statements were sufficient, I would have scrutinized the bag more thoroughly.
So too in life, we may not notice elements that would be beneficial in making appropriate life decisions. This particular allergen situation could have had dangerous outcomes, but less dangerous incidents of “blurry vision” could still impact us.
This lesson has clearly taught me that I need to greatly improve my vision in a tactile sense and a life-direction sense.
I feel I’m a good listener most of the time, but it’s obvious my vision is far from being 20/20.
May Peace Be Your Portion
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
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?
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.
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.
One Size Does Not Fit All
I don’t want an ongoing set schedule of activities – whether volunteer and/or personally entertaining – because my husband and I want the flexibility of being available for the younger members of our family whose parents just might need our involvement. A onesie-twosie activity is what I seek to improve my Quality of Life (QoL).
Whatever I do must be beneficial to those involved. Most of us are experts at wasting time – perhaps I’m the CEO of that effort – so I don’t want to do, just to be doing. I want to increase the value in someone else’s day, while also boosting my mental health and well-being.
It seems strange seeking connection at a time when the world is in a downward viral spiral – or is it an upward viral spiral? Anyway, as social beings, we’re all looking for SOMETHING, and I’m one of those social beings. The final QoL post in this series simply lets you know that my fuller life might not look like yours, and what’s so marvelous about making choices that matter to us, is that as individuals with a free will, we get to choose as we please.
One size doesn’t fit all, but isn’t it grand that the only size that matters is the one that fits us?
Still Figuring it Out
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.
A Full Life
What is a full life? There are as many opinions as there are people on this Earth. Here are a few elements that most of us would consider important to a full life and those that are on my list as well:
- giving & being on the receiving end of love
- purpose & fulfillment
I guess a full life doesn’t have to be defined as that which we attain at an older age. I’ve certainly felt my life was effective at a far younger age but I am in my 70th year of life so I felt it’s important to assess what a full life means to me now.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when it’s time for me to learn a lesson and I’m open to learning that lesson, the teaching curricula starts lining up at my front door.
The life I have with my husband and our family members is so very gratifying and fulfilling. My roles as wife, mother, grandmother, and sister greatly add to my Quality of Life (QoL). I know, however, that I need more community connection and my friend network needs a significant boost. My brother is an EXPERT at connecting with others; he’s a great teacher for me.
If you’re hoping to find my answer in this post, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.
This post is merely an explanation of what I’ve come to realize is needed to have a more well-rounded QoL. I learned the lesson that something is lacking, now I simply need to find out how to supplement my life’s current pantry shelf so my emotional cupboards are less bare.
The Wisdom of Baby Steps
My husband and I became avid hikers in 2016 once my husband had retired from a lengthy career as an engineer, and I had switched to writing and publishing my novels (Requiem for the Status Quo and A Jagged Journey). Hiking during the week in the Pacific Northwest is the only way to go as our area is a hiking paradise and we completed many non-weekend hikes for three solid years.
Then both of us had body structure limitations that were addressed and treated as effectively as possible so we could consider heading out on the trails again.
Then Covid happened.
We chose not to head onto the trails because even though we were extremely diligent in our masked day-to-day proactive way, hiking with a mask on was not an attractive option for us. So even though we went on neighborhood walks and took Cabin Fever Drives (CFDs) since winter 2020, we had not been on a trail since summer 2019. Until last week.
We understand the psychology of starting slowly, gradually building up to more challenging physical activities, so a close-in, 2.5 mile RT hike with 419 feet elevation gain was our starting point. What we didn’t take into account, however, was how much elevation gain would occur in 1.25 miles. We turned around once we realized our error in judgment and learned just how out of shape we are and how to better gauge elevation gain – a skill we were well-versed in just three years prior.
But we made an effort, and even though we didn’t quite master that day’s trail, we still lapped everyone sitting on the couch. Baby steps will be our practice going forward so we don’t doom our renewed commitment to Western Washington hiking.
The Fruit of Independence
Independence means so many things, and it’s not just tied into an American holiday that’s celebrated every July 4th.
As an independent person, I am free to think and behave in such a way as to benefit others, or harm them. I choose to always benefit person-kind.
As the above photo clearly illustrates, we have much from which to choose in seeking to bless others. Pick all of the above fruit in one day, every day, or choose the one-a-day plan – whichever suits you and is most likely to become a habit.
May you pluck all that is necessary from this tree so the greater good can be accomplished near and far.
Death of an Extraordinary Man
October 13th 2007, my father died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. That morning I had received a call from the memory care unit where Dad had lived for several years. The nursing manager of that unit said if I wanted to see my father again before he died, I should come as soon as possible. (I had spent a week with him the month before and knew that his prostate cancer would most likely hasten his death.) I first called my husband at work to let him know I would find a flight from Seattle, WA to Medford, OR and be gone…for how long? I didn’t know. Then while on the phone with my brother and sister, I booked my flight online with a tentative return, threw the very minimum of clothing in an overnight bag, and headed to SeaTac International Airport.
If you have read my novel, Requiem for the Status Quo, you’ve pretty much read the account of what transpired for me at my father’s bedside; some of the happenings that day/evening were altered, but the gist of what transpired are contained in Chapters 41 & 42.
Upon my return to Seattle, my energy level was depleted yet still on alert. When you have a loved one with a debilitating disease, a state of alertness is the norm – the status quo of constantly being in a state of emergency, if you will. You keep waiting for the phone to ring with the latest development – such as it did for the last time on October 13, 2007 – but that phone number’s appearance on my Caller ID had ceased.
What hadn’t ceased was the business of dying – all the financial and estate matters one cannot ignore – but because of my father’s diligence and organization leading up to his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, much of what I needed to do on behalf of his estate and us survivors, was readily dispatched in the months that followed my father’s death.
But the “now what?” of life post-caregiving was front and center for me. Initially, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with anything having to do with dementia. I continued to financially support my local Alzheimer’s Association and participated in one more Walk to End Alzheimer’s, but that was it. Then my heart called and I became an Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group facilitator and shortly thereafter, I entered the world of long-term care advocacy by becoming a Washington State LTC ombudsman, both of which I did for five years.
Then my heart spoke to me again, this time it said, “How about writing about your experience as Dad’s caregiver?” I ignored that thought until I no longer could – it wouldn’t leave me alone! I dragged out all of Dad’s records and my numerous journals, sat at my dining table, and over many months’ time, outlined how I would honor my father’s journey and my family’s experience within the pages of a book that might benefit others.
That was five years after my father’s death. My book was published five years later.
Now almost fifteen years after the end of my father’s Alzheimer’s journey,
my book still manages to make its way into the hands of those who need it.
If you, or someone you know, needs encouragement and a renewed sense of hope,
please make your way to your favorite bookstore, or find it right here.
Blessings to you today, and always.
What’s in a Name?
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.
The Soul’s Spring Cleaning
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 Serenity, you 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
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.
The Colors of Love
What a privilege it is to love someone and be loved by them. There’s a reason why there are so many dating/relationship services out there: we crave connection, and happily-ever-after is a worthy goal to pursue.
I’m fortunate that my current 26-year relationship (married for 22 of those 26) quite naturally fell into place. Girl meets boy on a blind date set up by a dating site; girl and boy decide to get together for another date, and…the rest is history!
No one disputed my choice of a partner with whom I held hands, smooched in public, and eventually enjoyed full intimacy. That is not always the case, whether a partner is of a different race, financial standing, or of the same gender identity. I experienced racial hatred when I married my first husband who is Chinese American. As a newly married couple, we walked hand-in-hand on a weekend outing in an Eastern Washington town where we were verbally accosted by a woman who shouted, “Thou shalt not mix races! You are an abomination to God!” I very unpolitely told her off and went on my way with my husband, enjoying the love we had already shared for more than eight years. That was almost 50 years ago, and I am still negatively affected by it. Many are harassed and abused in a similar manner because of the love they share with someone, harassment that takes many forms.
In the early 90s, I was privileged to work at a progressive Seattle law firm where one of my coworkers, a woman, was in a relationship with another woman. The two of them had certainly experienced discrimination but expressed that for the most part they had been fortunate. I asked my coworker how she and her partner had met. “Susan is who I fell in love with and she with me. It’s all about who you fall in love with.” That made sense to me and still does.
What also makes sense is living one’s truth and genuineness about who you are as an individual, and with whom you choose to share your life. Being who you are with someone else is rife with hurdles, regardless of your gender, but truly there is no other way to be. No ifs, ands, or buts – being safely and securely transparent in a relationship is a gift! What a privilege it is to live honestly, not having to pretend to be someone else, not living a cloaked identity just to be accepted by others.
I experience that freedom, and wish that same freedom for everyone seeking connection, love, and happily-ever-after.
May it be so.
Fear Not – unless you must
Fear is such a natural response, isn’t it? My understanding of the fear response is that the brain sends a signal that danger is present so we’d better be ready to spring into action to protect life and limb from imposing threat.
But sometimes the brain sends a false alarm that is okay to acknowledge, but can probably be ignored. A home smoke alarm can detect burnt toast just as easily as it does a whole-house fire.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should ignore your fear intuition – it’s there to keep you safe – but sometimes that fear is misdirected. That’s what I have found to be true and let me tell you, as someone who catastrophizes far too often, I am well acquainted with unbelievable fear…fear that is simply not credible.
So what’s my recommendation to you? Well, it’s not a recommendation, simply a piece of advice that has helped me in the past and continues to calm my over-active nerves: make an evidence list that confirms – or disproves – messages of danger that routinely come your way. Review that list when the same nagging worries and fears threaten to displace your peace and then make realistic conclusions as to whether or not that heightened sense of imminent danger is valid.
Your over-active fear response may have as its catalyst physical sensations in your body that you’re certain have you headed to your death bed posthaste, even though those sensations have all been medically checked out to be benign and have yet to send you to your grave. Or maybe you’re convinced you’re about to lose your job, even though you just received a stellar job performance review. Or you’re convinced that if you eat that itsy bitsy cookie, you’ll gain no less than five pounds as a result. Ugh, there are so many possibilities of incorrect danger signals that can steer a person off course; only you know wherein your fear lies.
I know not your fear, but I know fear, and it’s an emotion that gets far too much attention and credence.
So the next time fear threatens to impose on your peace of mind, decide which of these characters you want to embody and then act accordingly. Personally, I’m trying to get more intimately acquainted with the character in yellow, so that’s going to be a more appropriate direction for me to follow.
A Dose of Serenity
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?
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
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
Life 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.
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.
- Hey Sam, call me if you ever need some help.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Deathbed promises and how to fulfill them
Here’s a post from the past that draws lots of attention. Bringing it into the present today.
First of all – take a deep breath and shed the mantle of guilt you’re wearing. Now let’s address your dilemma.
When your father was on his deathbed you made a promise to take care of your mother in her old age. Now she is at the point of not being able to care for herself and you realize that you’re absolutely not cut out for – nor are you capable of – taking her under your roof to provide the care that she needs. What’s a dutiful son or daughter to do?
I’m not advocating that you break your promise to your father but I am suggesting that you consider redefining what that promise looks like. You promised your father that you would take care of your mother and that’s exactly what you’re going to do. aking care of your mother is not solely defined as moving her into your home and taking care of all her basic needs until she dies. Very few people have the ability or the means to provide 24-hour care in their home. You made that promise with the best intentions and you can still honor your promise without dishonoring your father. Keep in mind that loving your mother doesn’t guarantee your success as her caregiver. Even adult children with a fabulous relationship with their parent struggle greatly in their efforts. And if your relationship with your mother is tenuous at best, try picturing the scenario of you as caregiver and her as recipient of that care. What effect will that have on her, you, and the remainder of your household?
Let’s clarify how best to care for your mother.
Why can’t caring for your mother mean that you’re honest enough to admit that you’re not the best caregiving option? Do your best to find the care alternative that will provide her an optimal quality of life, e.g. adult daycare, errand and housekeeping services, assisted living. Do the research and consult the experts to confidently fulfill your promise to your father by securing the best care solution for your mother. If that solution involves selecting an assisted living facility, there are many resources available to you that can make this move a successful one for everyone involved. As her son or daughter you will be able to lovingly help her transition into a residential location with like-minded older adults where she can receive the care that will fulfill the promise you made to your father.
Now imagine the NEW normal that your mother and your family can experience.
Your mother lives nearby in an assisted living residence. She has companions with whom she enjoys spending time. She receives three wholesome meals a day and when she, or you, feel like seeing each other, you’re just a short drive away! The time she spends at your house will be as a pampered visitor – not an inpatient (or impatient) relative. It’s probably difficult right now for you to see this as a viable option, but I think in time, you’ll find that everyone, including your father, will be pleased with the outcome.
Here are some links to get you started on your quest: www.alz.org; www.caregiver.com; www.ltcombudsman.org
Do Little, Rather than Nothing
I’ve written about this topic before: Positive community activism; Spineless inaction: the bystander effect; Your positive imprint on mankind.
And I’m writing about it again, but I’m going to let Dr. Bernie S. Siegel be my mouthpiece on this one because he addresses the importance of making a difference in the lives of others in this excerpt from: 365 Prescriptions for the Soul. Here’s the selection verbatim:
It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little; do what you can. -Sydney Smith
Perhaps you have heard the story about the boy on the beach throwing washed-up sand dollars back into the water. A man walks by and asks, “Why are you doing that? There are thousands of them washed up. You can’t make a difference.”
The boy picks one up and throws it back into the ocean, “I did for that one.”
Remember, by changing one life you change the world. Every action has its effects. So make a difference and help someone get back into the ocean of life. You need not risk your life carrying them through the surf, but find out what they need to get back into the swim. Then help them do it.
The Brutality of Loss
My first novel, Requiem for the Status Quo, released in July of 2017, speaks of the brutal protracted loss of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Caregivers for a loved one with dementia witness the gradual loss of someone they love over an extended period of time.
Once my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it took four years for him to leave me. I was devastated the moment he took his last breath on October 13th, 2007, but my heart was continuously ripped apart during the years leading up to that final breath.
48 months, 208 weeks, 1460 days, 35,040 hours, and 2,102,400 minutes of ongoing departures from my and his life.
The characters in my novel have a front row seat to their loved one’s measured departure from this earth. That departure might appear as more-than-a-senior-moment of forgetfulness; an inability to perform simple tasks; struggling to come up with the name of the spouse to whom a person has been married for half a century; or the complete change in personality from a loving spouse to an actual threat to the other spouse’s life.
Loss is a life event from which recovery has no prescribed length of time, but recovery does eventually occur. In time, we live a minute where we can truthfully acknowledge that during that brief snippet of time, we didn’t feel the pain and despair as deeply as before. When that happens, dear friends and readers, I encourage you to celebrate that moment because if you wait for the big events for which you might hold a celebration, you just might be waiting for a very long time.
Celebrate even the smallest of victories and joys that come your way. Doing so will guarantee you many more reasons to be grateful, to experience joy, and perhaps to even witness the life-giving feeling that hope can bring.
I wrote Requiem for the Status Quo to honor my father, other loved ones like him, and all those current caregivers who are just trying to mess up less today than they did yesterday.
Perfection isn’t possible, but when you’ve done your best, you’ve done your best.
I celebrate you.
Requiem is available where all books are sold, or readily ordered if not currently in stock. On Amazon, the eBook is $1.99 and the paperback, is less than $7.
A Yummy Word: NORMAL
Maybe it’s just my age, but the more I hear the word NORMAL applied to me, the happier I become.
That is not to say that everyone shouldn’t carry on being their unique selves – that’s a given – and my normal or unique ways may not at all resemble yours, but more and more, I’m relishing the concept of normal, especially as it applies to my health.
I feel confident in saying that each person reading this post has met with a doctor to get to the bottom of whatever pain or abnormal body sensation took hold of their body and mind. Whether tests were ordered and completed or the doctor simply examined you and declared you healthy and NORMAL, either way, you might have walked out of that experience with a spring in your step because medical science hadn’t assigned any dreaded diagnosis to what was your current way of being. If you feel every medical effort has been made to assure your well-being, try to relish the NORMAL designation, a state of being I highly recommend.
Granted, we also experience disappointment when what we’re sensing has no quick fix or pill to get us beyond what we perceive as a malady; it kind of feels as though we’ve been dismissed. But let me tell you, in my 60s decade of life, more often than not I bathe in the NORMAL designation and move on, prepared for what will no doubt be my next perceived illness or sensation.
Let’s face it, the longer I live, the more likely I am to experience dis-ease in my body. Normal sounds perfectly delightful in comparison.
You know how it is: something sticky gets on the kitchen floor and no matter what you do (spot cleaning the floor, wiping the bottom of your slippers) NOTHING gets rid of the sticky stuff that appears on your walking surface unless you do a thorough scrubbing & cleaning. (I know of what I speak as I had to do that just this morning.)
Life is like that as well: daily matters constantly go awry, what used to be the norm blows up into something unrecognizable, and what seemed to work before just doesn’t cut it any more.
Is it me who is at issue? Is it everyone else?
Let’s pretend it’s everyone else. Even if that is the case, there’s still nothing I can do to change everyone else so it’s up to me to adjust how I handle that very unlikely source of stickiness.
If it’s me, the onus is on me to figure out what is needed to attain a status quo with which I can once again be happy. If I don’t do something to change things up, I’ll continue to walk around with stickiness on my shoes, reminding me with every step that unless I get to the source of the sticky and eradicate it, I’m…well…stuck with it.
In a couple months, I will be 69 years of age. I have had many opportunities to examine what’s what when it comes to emotional and physical quality of life. Each and every time such an examination takes place, I have the option of pretending nothing is wrong, of pointing the finger at someone else, or being honest with myself – and therefore with others – by making adjustments that will get rid of the gunk that insists on hanging around.
More often than not, I’ve settled on the third option and more often than not, such a plan has worked well to unstick my life. It isn’t always easy, but it’s always the right thing to do.
Assigning blame to others or other circumstances rarely provides an actionable benefit.
At least that has been my experience. What about you?
Days. Weeks. Months. Years.
NOTHING LASTS FOREVER.
Impermanence could be interpreted as being 100% negative, but I don’t see it that way. Keep in mind, just as the good times don’t last forever, the same can be said for the bad times.
Caveat: I know that is not always the case as I have lost close loved ones to Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other terminal diseases. Terminal conditions exist and are the epitome of impermanence. And speaking to the world’s current situation, wars are not easily “won” and they ALWAYS cause irreparable damage.
In this post I am primarily referring to the impermanence of everyday life with its minor sicknesses, aches and pains, emotionally rife periods of time, or any situation from which we want to escape. In most circumstances, the maxim “this too shall pass” becomes a truism, albeit rarely to perfection and not always on our timeline.
Where does the concept of hope come in? Or does it?
When the world experiences a multi-year dire global health situation and one country’s horrific and inhumane assault on another, the concept of hope does not seem remotely possible. But quite often, undesirable circumstances do change and that is the impermanence on which I am relying. Pandemics and wars will “end” but the lives that were lost and the damage that was inflicted are not positive outcomes. But this year I am endeavoring to nourish my hope quotient so whatever I can do to have success in that venture is what I am going to do. One region’s tragedy is every region’s tragedy so every region can be involved in doing its part to support those devastated by the current world condition.
That is why whether we are people who practice traditional prayer, or those who dedicate their energy in different ways towards healing, reconciliation, and recovery…
NOW IS THE TIME TO COMMIT TO SUCH A PRACTICE.
Will a change happen overnight? Probably not, but not trying won’t get us there any sooner.
Hate is not the opposite of love…
The existential philosopher Rollo May maintained a different perspective of opposites, as stated above. I like his take on the love/hate continuum.
We aren’t necessarily meant to love everyone – love having a different degree of emotion depending on the situation – but not caring about a person’s plight, not giving them the time of day or a second or first thought seems cruel.
Merriam Webster defines apathy as follows:
- impassiveness or indifference
The Oxford dictionary provides this definition:
- lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern
And finally, Dictionary.com offers this take:
- lack of interest in or concern for things others find moving; freedom from emotion of any kind
Ugh, all those definitions leave me feeling emotionally bereft, and being on the receiving end of someone’s apathy would be devastating, wouldn’t it? The following example is extreme, but relevant nonetheless:
A man falls down on a crowded sidewalk and each person who encounters him walks over or around him without offering assistance.
Okay, like me you’re thinking, “No way would I do that, I would offer whatever help I could so I am not guilty of such behavior.” But what about the time I tried to avoid a particular neighbor because said neighbor always waylaid me in conversation for what I considered an interminable amount of time? Yep, I did that several weeks ago when an elderly neighbor turned the corner onto my street when I was at the curb to pick up my mail. With my head down I retrieved the mail and quickly walked back into my house.
Lordy I felt guilty, as I should have. I had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, yet I didn’t allow this person an opportunity to engage in conversation with me – perhaps a much needed bit of socialization for her day. Five minutes out of my non-busy day to connect with someone…was that too much to ask? No, it was not. I have reformed since that time, seeking out opportunities to provide socially engaging respite for this woman and her canine companion. I didn’t like the Irene that previously ignored this neighbor; I don’t want to spend time with that Irene, ever again.
The cost of apathy is a far too high price to pay. I certainly cannot afford it.
Making an Impression
It’s true, that we only get one chance to make a first impression, but can we improve upon those incidents when we perhaps fell short of rendering a positive one?
I certainly hope so.
At my age, I have known for quite some time the importance of getting it right the first time but that doesn’t guarantee perfection in presentation. Even as a published author with countless editors working on perfecting my two novels, edits still needed to be implemented before publication so that you, the reader, could have a smooth reading experience.
Even more important than making sure my novels convey what I intend for them to say, is the way I present myself to you so that I respect you and your time – whether a 325 page novel, a 3 minute conversation, or a 3 minute blog post.
On a personal note, I know I have left horrible, lasting, first impressions of which at the time I was fully aware. I also know that there were – and are – other times when I obliviously missed the mark and stuck my foot in it.
Other than my earlier-in-life missteps that got in the way of me leaving a positive first impression, there are times when distraction or inattention were the culprits for me leaving a sour note in the minds and hearts of those I encountered.
That personal realization helps me to better understand the actions of others with whom I come in contact. Everyone is going through something, and some of those somethings are more serious than others so it’s no wonder words, actions, and attitudes are affected.
As observers, it’s all about leaving judgment behind and letting compassion and loving kindness come to the forefront as needed…
AND IT’S ALWAYS NEEDED.
Words hold so much power: power to harm and power to heal. This post is about words that have the power to heal.
I am a writer with two published novels and close to 1200 blog posts and I still have to carefully choose my words in any given situation. I don’t always get it right, but the healing goal is always the same.
The other day I found myself at a local Urgent Care clinic; the non-urgent reason for being there is immaterial to what transpired there. My appointment completed, I walked from the treatment area of the clinic through the front office area where three delightful women held court to greet – and say goodbye – to each person who found themselves in need of medical treatment when primary care offices had no available appointments.
One of the women said, “Before you go, can I just tell you something? When you walked in here, I couldn’t help but notice how much you look like the actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Wait, let me find a photo of her for you.” The photo she found on her cell phone was this one:
She also held up the photo to her fellow front desk peeps and they all agreed and said, “You really do look like her! Wow!”
Now I know the resemblance, if there is one, is quite a stretch, but it didn’t matter. In that moment, I felt far better than my body was allowing me to feel at that moment.
Later that evening I relayed my experience to one of my sisters-in-law and she said, “I’ve always thought there was a resemblance but I didn’t know if you’d be flattered or not!”
Double whammy of healing statements, all in one day!
Our words have the power to heal and the power to harm; the other day I was on the receiving end of healing words. It’s sobering to realize that all words are just a different combination of the same 26 letters of the alphabet. I am now even more committed to putting those 26 letters together to form words that uplift, encourage, and yes, heal. I guess the bottom line is:
We can all be healers.
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