by Sue Anne W. Kirkham
How it all began:
It was late October when my husband, Jack, and I showed up at my father and stepmother’s townhouse to walk their two dogs—a duty we’d taken on several months earlier, after they announced they no longer felt up to the task. At 84, my father suffered from respiratory and circulatory problems; at 81, my stepmother showed early signs of dementia, with some Parkinson’s-like tremors erupting, just to keep things interesting. I was determined that they not be forced by these circumstances to give up their pets. On this day, Dad greeted us at the door with another shocker. “We have to move into assisted living.” No hello. No how ya doin? Just this stark declaration.
Dad and Zelda had always been younger than their years in every respect. He continued his career as a psychologist into his late 70s, and the warm, witty, delightful woman he married in 1972 had always been active and ready for a new adventure. Each enjoyed absorbing hobbies, and they eagerly traveled the globe together for most of their 32-year marriage.
As Jack and I herded the pups that chilly autumn day, I remained troubled by the prospect of a radical change in lifestyle for my beloved father and stepmother. So I hatched a plan: leave my dreary clerical position and devote myself to lightening their load and injecting some sparkle back into their lives. I would carve out a new weekday vocation as companion/housekeeper/social director/exercise coach/assistant cook.
I kept a journal from Day One as, over the next 18 months, Zelda suffered incremental losses of mental acuity. Less noticeably, my father’s COPD was cranking toward a dramatic climax that none of us anticipated. While I focused on finding enough fingers to plug the ever-multiplying holes in the home-front dike, Dad’s staunch self-sufficiency propelled him through his own physical deterioration. Meanwhile, I watched Zelda—former organizer of Fourth of July kitchen band marches—fade into confusion. To be at her side through the slow, agonizing loss of her Self would prove to be the most affecting experience of my life. It soon became clear that the course I was chronicling was strewn with striking contrasts: moments of high hilarity and wrenching despair; snapshots of the struggle for dignity in the face of decline; arcs of mood between fear and optimism, gratitude and resentment. Hobbling my efforts to navigate these troubled waters was the crushing blow of friends and family members challenging my motives, questioning my trustworthiness.
This enterprise had much to teach me about life and death, human limitations, faith, and endurance. The struggle, as they say, was real. But the joys and rewards were every bit as genuine.
Why I wrote about it:
As my time with Dad and Zelda ended, a fresh commitment shaped my mission: I had been seeking a book topic I felt passionate about. This was that subject. I would share our experiences, unique amidst all the universal similarities, to promote understanding and support others confronting the challenge of caring for those who once cared for us. I chose the memoir format because, as dementia robbed Zelda of her voice, my journal became the story; it painted a complete and authentic picture for readers. Memoir also allowed for the interweaving of family history, a fleshing out of characters, and a means of affirming through narration the individual’s continuing worth, untainted by the loss of physical and cognitive abilities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sue Anne Kirkham is a freelance writer who blogs atwww.yourrecipesforlife.com. She has published print articles on aging and family relations as well as online profiles of inspiring everyday heroes, and essays on health-conscious living and the peculiarities of contemporary culture.
FOLLOW THE AUTHOR:
FOLLOW THE AUTHOR:
Author website: www.lovingzelda.com
Author Facebook page: @LovingZeldaCaregiving/
LinkedIn: Sue Anne Kirkham
Twelve years ago today, 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 twelve 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.
How often have you felt defeated because your day-to-day existence is somewhat routine and boring?
The life of a family caregiver, attending to a loved one with a disease or malady that is all-encompassing, is never Same-O Same-O. Any semblance of status quo flies out the window shortly after taking on this learn-as-you-go caregiver role. The boring life about which the family caregiver used to complain no longer exists as she or he memorializes that long-abandoned way of living. My memorial to status quo existed while attending to my father during his Alzheimer’s journey.
Requiem for the Status Quo speaks of that memorial to things that once were.
In a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, New York Times columnist and author, David Brooks, eloquently responded to Oprah’s statement where she said, “I hear that authors write the books they need to read.” Mr. Brooks’ response:
We writers are beggars who tell other beggars where we found bread.
He further explained that statement by saying:
We found it here, we want to share it with you.
That is what the more than 200 AlzAuthors have in common. Each author may describe their quest or mission somewhat differently, but no doubt many of them would agree that the impetus to write about their personal experiences was a call to action they could not ignore.
As a member of the AlzAuthors community, I personally feel that the more mainstream the conversation surrounding the Alzheimer’s and dementia experience becomes, the more the AlzAuthors’ vision will be realized:
Our vision is to lift the silence and stigma of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
May you find sustenance within the AlzAuthors community.
AlzAuthors is a community of more than 200 extraordinary authors who have written about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. Today I am spotlighting those books written by the community’s supportive management team, of which I am a member. Please take time to visit the six books spotlighted below. I truly believe you will be glad you did. Let AlzAuthors light your way through Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Alzheimer’s Daughter – a memoir by Jean Lee. A poignant accounting of a family’s life after both parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease on the same day.
Blue Hydrangeas – an Alzheimer’s love story by Marianne Sciucco. A touching account of a couple’s journey into Alzheimer’s and of the love that never succumbed to the disease.
Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia by Vicki Tapia. This engaging memoir offers useful information from experts within the field of Alzheimer’s research, personal lessons the author learned along the way, and ideas and tips for managing the day-to-day ups and downs of dementia.
Weeds in Nana’s Garden by Kathryn Harrison. A heartfelt story of love that helps explain Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias geared toward the children in our lives.
Motherhood: Lost and Found – a memoir by Ann Campanella. A memoir of the ordinary and extraordinary courage of those who endure debilitating and even crushing illness, and those who suffer with them when they do so.
Requiem for the Status Quo by Irene Frances Olson. A novel that explores the delicate balance of families upended by Alzheimer’s disease and how they manage their loved one’s needs with their own.
Who would have thought when I started my publishing journey to honor my father’s life – a life that was cut short because of the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease – I would one day be featured as part of Maria Shriver’s efforts to combat Alzheimer’s disease in women? But I am!
The Mission of Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM):Every 65 seconds, a new brain develops Alzheimer’s. Two-thirds of the brains with Alzheimer’s belong to women, and no one knows why that is. The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement is determined to find out. Founded by Maria Shriver, The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to raising awareness about women’s increased risk for Alzheimer’s and to educating the public — women andmen — about lifestyle changes they can make to protect their brain health. Through our annual campaigns and initiatives, we also raise dollars to fund women-based Alzheimer’s research at leading scientific institutions, so that we can better understand this mind-blowing disease and hopefully get closer to a cure.
My contribution, Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Personal Caregiving, is a transparent look at the challenges every dementia caregiver faces, even for a personal caregiver who had years of professional memory care experience, as did I. If you know of someone who could use some encouragement – whether they are caring for someone with dementia or another debilitating illness – I hope you will share my Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement piece with them; doing so would honor my father, and all those current and future caregivers who just might need some additional support in their corner.
Requiem for the status quo was picked up by a publisher two years ago this month. The eBook and audiobook will continue to be available on Amazon through Black Rose Writing until the end of 2019. I am arranging for different publishing options for the paperback version, however, and will be releasing that paperback later this year.
In the meantime, my publisher and I reduced the paperback price for the month of February so those who want to add this book to their library can do so at a discounted price. If you are a Prime member, shipping is FREE! When I self-publish my novel I’ll be sure to send out an announcement so you’ll again have access to the paperback version through Amazon. And of course, the eBook is still available on Amazon and will continue to be available forever and a day. (I will self-pub the eBook at the end of the year.)
Let these recent reviews encourage you to get your copy today!
Jill W. I’ve never written a review when I’m only halfway through a book, but I wanted the author to know sooner rather than later, how much her book has affected me emotionally. My family has been dealt the dreaded card of dementia so reading REQUIEM FOR THE STATUS QUO has been difficult since we’re living Coleen and Patrick’s nightmare now. I find myself only able to read pieces at a time because the author has done a superb job of making Patrick and his family’s battle with this horrible disease, so real. Last night as I read, I found myself laughing and then crying. This book is a must read for anyone touched by Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Ann C. Irene Frances Olson writes believable fiction. Her characters are kind, funny and endearing — even in their flaws. When Colleen takes over her father Patrick’s caregiving because of his advancing memory issues, the reader can’t help but be moved by the tender relationship between them. The effervescent Colleen finds herself in a challenging life situation — pulled between her father’s condition, her working life, her brother’s disdain for her father’s illness and her own desire for companionship. Having experienced the devastation that Alzheimer’s can bring to a family, it was both heartbreaking and a joy to follow Colleen’s path. Yes, there was loss, but the author helps us see the beauty and courage in facing the inevitable challenges of aging and how it’s possible to do it with grace and love.
Jason This book is about the many faces of Alzheimer’s, from those how bear the thief in their brain to those who must cope with and care for loved ones. The story is straightforward and written with love, it is a daughter’s anthem of love for her father while also being a support for others facing the journey of incremental loss. Colleen describes it best when she identifies Alzheimer’s as a thief robbing us of our memories and our future. If you or a loved one are walking this journey, this story is sure to give both a sense of how to make this journey possible and how to mourn with others on the path.
I have been closely involved in matters regarding Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia for eighteen years now: long-term care (LTC) housing, memory care, Alzheimer’s support group facilitator, and Washington State LTC Ombudsman. But it took me becoming a published author of a novel that focuses on a family’s Alzheimer’s disease experience before I finally found my Alzheimer’s community.
AlzAuthors is a group comprised of over 170 published authors (as of this writing) who have published fiction and non-fiction books reflective of their personal Alzheimer’s experience. The six members of the AlzAuthors Management Team (Team) is the Alzheimer’s community about which I speak.
The Team’s motto says it all:
We can sing a lonely song, or form a choir and create harmony.
Without exception, the authors featured on our site and each member of our Management Team had the experience of struggling with the learn-as-you-go-task of caring for someone with cognitive impairment. We all made mistakes, and we learned from them, but we also had successes, and we celebrated them.
As a recent addition to the AlzAuthors Management Team, I became even more convinced that my personal Alzheimer’s community resides within this group. The support, the kindness, the giving nature reflected within the Team is incomparable in my experience, and we are not just keeping it to ourselves. AlzAuthors is spreading their influence into numerous parts of the world…which is kinda why they asked me to join the team as their Global Outreach Coordinator. The six of us know our presence is evident in more countries than just the United States, but our imagination and passion is boundless so we have set out to become a household word in small and large communities throughout the world.
Why AlzAuthors? Because this 100% volunteer group has brought together some of the best books on Alzheimer’s and other dementia in one central location: our bookstore. We’ve categorized those books to make the personal caregivers’ or professionals’ shopping experiences an easy one with categories such as: Caring for Parents or Grandparents, Caring for Spouses or Partners, Living with Dementia, and Children and Teen books, to name a few. We know a caregiver’s “free” time is limited or non-existent, so we’ve done our best to make their shopping experience an easy one. They simply click on the cover of the book they’re interested in and they are taken directly to Amazon to make the paperback, eBook, or audiobook purchase.
We’re working hard so you don’t have to.
And finally, we understand the journey of unpaid (family & friend) caregivers because:
- We have experienced the loss of a loved one with dementia.
- We know the pain of being forgotten.
- We all have witnessed decline.
- We have provided countless hours of caregiving.
- We know many others have experienced the same and we believe in the power of sharing those stories.
This week’s kindness spotlights the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) a fabulous group for writers of women’s fiction. Most if not all the administrative staff is volunteer – the reason why their kindness is this week’s selection. As a member of this organization, I was given the opportunity to have a podcast recorded for their Hear Me Roar program because I’m a debut author. Although my novel, Requiem for the status quo was released a year ago, it was my debut publishing effort.
This podcast is approximately 30 minutes in length, and although my novel is certainly the focus, much attention was spent on the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and other dementias in the world. Perhaps this podcast will keep you company on your commute in the next few days; although it may seem a bit choppy, I think it’s worth hanging in there to hear my, and the host’s, provocative discussion.
I was asked to write a story or two for an anthology of short, short, stories that would be read to seniors with cognitive impairment. I jumped at the opportunity. That anthology, The Mighty Ant, is now available in paperback on Amazon.
I am one of 33 contributors to this collection of short stories for seniors who suffer from dementia and other related memory or cognitive disorders. This book is the culmination of a project from editor and contributor, Jessica Bryan, who is a caregiver and advocate for caregivers. Several years ago she began to notice that her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, lost focus and could no longer read lengthy books. Jessica began reading to her mother and found that simple, short stories were easier for her to understand. The Mighty Ant is filled with these kinds of fiction and non-fiction stories.
The proceeds from the sales of the books will be donated to a local Council on Aging. The generous contributions of authors like myself have come from all over the world. The result is a book with different perspectives, reminiscences, and tales that reflect not only local culture, but a variety of customs, ethnicities, and lifestyles.
I am honored to have my two stories titled, A Neighborly Friendship and A Sweetheart of a Story included in this collection. A Sweetheart of a Story was selected as the final story in the book because the editor felt it was the perfect selection to provide a sweet ending to the anthology. Buy a copy or ten or more for yourself and others…perhaps your local memory care community would love to include the reading of this book to their senior activity schedule! Currently only $12 for this 322-page large print storybook.
I discovered something shocking during the weeks that followed my novel’s release:
Alzheimer’s disease is still a secret.
I know; we’ve all certainly read about it, especially when a celebrity is diagnosed with the disease. Every once and awhile there might be an Alzheimer’s Association commercial on television…that is assuming we don’t fast forward through it or walk out of the room. Another reason we’re familiar with the disease is that it is happening to so many people with whom we are acquainted – whether intimately or tangentially.
But it’s still a secret. The very definition of the word speaks to its intent: adj. not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others; n. something not properly understood; a mystery. from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary
In many of my promotional posts and boasts for my novel Requiem for the status quo, I’ve indicated that my book tour would probably look more like a senior center tour than what is normally the route for authors: readings and signings in major and independent bookstores. That’s the tact I took, approaching numerous senior centers in Western Washington. 25% of those I approached booked my author event on their activity calendars. But when I approached a major senior housing community foundation to get on their speakers’ calendar, I was told the residents pushed back at the foundation’s previous efforts to enlighten and inform when they hosted those who spoke to the reality of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia.
I gave the members of that group 24 hours to leave a comment on my giveaway announcement if they wanted to be entered into my contest to pick one lucky (hopefully lucky) reader to receive a complimentary copy of my novel, Requiem for the status quo.
I received 37 entries, and a considerable percentage of those readers’ entries made mention of their own personal Alzheimer’s/dementia caregiving journey. Here are just a few of those comments:
- I am a geriatric care manager, can’t wait to read it!
- My friend just had to put her mom into a caregiving rest home because she could no longer handle her. She was becoming quite violent. It is a horrendous disease.
I love that you are writing inspiring stories! Many of us are or were caregivers and the hopelessness we feel when we dont see them getting better can be overwhelming. Your compassion is so sweet and much needed in todays world. Im really excited to find a new author I can enjoy!
- I would be honored to read this book, my father had Alzheimer’s disease. I want to tell you that the cover is totally amazing !!!!!
- I would love to win. My husband has Alzheimer’s/ dementia so it is if special interest to me.
Even as familiar as I am with the statistics for this disease – 44 million diagnosed worldwide as of this writing – it still astounds me to hear the personal stories associated with it. Like every terminal disease known to man, Alzheimer’s and other dementia are very personal diseases. The brain – the very essence of a person’s being – is the initial body part affected. What we say, how we behave, and who we are resides in the various, vital parts of our brain. Our brain is the grand traffic director of all things me.
It’s no wonder the very long goodbye associated with this disease is so devastating to the one diagnosed, as well as for the one caring for her or him. It’s very personal, isn’t it?
I am of the belief that family dementia caregivers are 21st century heroes. Additionally, all caregivers, not just those on a dementia caregiving journey are the best of the best. They are:
Ordinary people, doing the ordinary right thing, at an extraordinary time.
I am honored to be in your company.
Requiem for the status quo will be released by Black Rose Writing on July 20th. You can order Requiem at Barnes & Noble and Amazon as well as all online and brick and mortar chain and independent bookstores. Be sure to shop around for the best price, you won’t be sorry you did. And for those of you with eReaders, the eBook will be available at most online book retailers on, or about, July 27th.
I had the privilege of being my father’s caregiver during his multi-year struggle with Alzheimer’s disease that ended with his death in 2007. Five years after his death, I started writing my debut novel, Requiem for the status quo, to be released by an independent publisher, Black Rose Writing, on July 20th. And now five years since I started my novel, Requiem will be available to everyone in less than 30 days. My debut novel was inspired by my father’s and my caregiving journey and is dedicated to the man whose later years was robbed by a disease that is always fatal. The book’s dedication reads: Dedicated to my father, Don Patrick Desonier, who wore his disease with the dignity it did not deserve.
I am in the very distinct and healthy position of understanding that realistically, as a debut author I cannot hope to be an instant and resounding financial success. But that’s okay, because for me it has never been about the money, but very much about helping those who are experiencing or have experienced an Alzheimer’s caregiving journey similar to mine. For that reason, most of my “book tour” will encompass senior centers in the region, as well as senior living residential communities where I hope to hold readings and sell my novel to seniors at a highly-discounted price. I know it is said that when trying to fill an auditorium, it’s all about getting butts in seats, but for me, it’s about getting books into laps.
And that’s what I’m going to do.
Requiem for the status quo is currently available for preorder at Black Rose Writing, enter discount code PREORDER2017 before July 20th for a 10% discount. You can also preorder Requiem at Barnes & Noble right now, and Amazon will be providing preorder opportunities in the days ahead. And for those of you with eReaders, the eBook will be available at most online book retailers on, or about, July 27th.
This is NOT an article about football. Anyone who has a loved one for whom they provide care – whether hands-on or peripheral – knows all too well how unpredictable life can be with that 24/7 responsibility. We’d all like to think that special occasions and events are immune from medical emergencies and other disasters, but all too often that is not the case.
Welcome to the life of a caregiver.
I honestly didn’t think I had another football article in me but the unfortunate circumstances in my best friend’s life have proven otherwise. Read the rest of this entry »
Did you ever get so busy that you received an award and didn’t go pick it up, and then you forgot that it was waiting for you? That’s me. Lori, one of my most favorite bloggers, has been writing her blog Let’s Talk About Family since December 2011. This fabulous person nominated me for the Best Moment Award in May of 2013. All I can say is that not “picking up” my award qualifies me for the Worst Moment Award, but I’ll try to make up for it with this post.
Lori’s blog family history starts with her mother’s failing health and death, and continues with her father’s life as a widower who eventually moves into an assisted living facility (ALF). Her blog is one that I never miss. You know how you can manage the notifications you receive so that you get a notification e-mail immediately, daily, or once weekly? Her blog is one of those that I receive immediate notifications – I can’t wait any longer! is the way I treat her blog. Thank you so much for opening up your life to us in the blogging world.
Rules for the Best Moment Award:
Winners post information about the nomination, thanking the person who nominated them, with their acceptance speech that can be written down or video recorded.
Winners have the privilege of awarding the next awardees (see below) The re-post should include a NEW list of people, blogs worthy of the award, and winners notify them the great news. Winners should also post the award badge on their own website.
What makes a good acceptance speech?
Thank the people who helped you along the way, be humorous if you can to keep the reader entertained and smiling. Provide inspiration that helps your story to touch the lives of others.
And here’s mine: I’m thrilled to be acknowledged as having something good to say from time to time. I don’t think I’m an excellent writer, but I do have lots to say and I’m quite willing to write up a storm. I’m the youngest of three siblings and the only one of us who has been involved in the lives of senior citizens – and everything that involvement implies – for close to two decades. I’ve always loved people older than me; I guess it gives me comfort knowing that I’m younger than someone else. My official responsibilities over the years involved: working in the senior housing industry both in the corporate environment and in assisted living/memory care facilities, being an Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group facilitator, and a Certified Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman for the State of Washington (an advocate for vulnerable adults living in LTC facilities.) I’m retired from active work but I am actively still involved in being an advocate for the vulnerable by writing my first novel – a project I hope to complete by end of this year. My novel focuses on the lives of family members who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.
My nominees for the Best Moment Award are:
Kay Bransford, for Dealing with Dementia. The reason I enjoy Kay’s blog is best described by her blog’s subtitle: A family caregiver’s journey to deliver loving care with grace and humor. We all know there is absolutely nothing humorous about Alzheimer’s or other dementia, but humor can be found in the human interactions between caregiver and family member. If you look for them, you will find them. Kay, I’ll be posting my acceptance of a different award you recently nominated me for very soon. THANK YOU!
Dementia Poetry is an in your face journal of a daughter-in-law’s disease journey with her mother-in-law, in the form of extremely well-written poems. The subtitle for her blog is: The Politically Incorrect Alzheimer’s Poetry Blog.
Theresa Hupp’s blog, Story and History, is a moving journal of a family’s life covering past, present, and future. But that’s not all: Theresa is a fabulous, published author. I’d say I’m jealous, but friends, and that’s what I consider Theresa, don’t turn green with envy – at least they shouldn’t. Theresa, you nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award in February of 2014, but I already received that award a couple years ago so I’m not going to claim it again, but I thank you profusely for nominating me.
Reflections on Dementia, Caregiving and Life in General is a must-read blog all the way from Singapore. This blogger takes care of her mother who has Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Her insights and her view of her world will engage you from the very first posting you read.
Imagine that you are the primary family caregiver for a loved one with dementia in your home. You have no time to yourself while in the house so how can you possibly find the time to leave your loved one alone to complete some pressing errands?
But you do leave the house and you do leave your loved one alone at home, because you haven’t figured out how to get someone else to do those errands for you, or you don’t know how to secure someone else to watch your loved one while you do the errands. I favor the latter option because a 24/7 caregiver absolutely must get out of the house and feed her soul while crossing items off her To Do list.
I went to Staples office supply store yesterday to pick up three items for my writing quest: a new thumb drive that I can trust to store my magnificent masterpiece of a manuscript; a new mouse pad because my right wrist and hand have worn out the previous one; and a ream of lined filler paper for taking notes and drafting new ideas.
Because it is currently back-to-school shopping time, Staples was crazy-busy yesterday. The checkout line was very long and directly behind me was a young mother with a shopping cart filled with supplies for her two school-aged children. An older woman with two items asked if she could please go ahead of her because she had a sick husband at home; the young mother graciously agreed to let her do so. When it was my turn at the register, I turned to the older woman and asked her to go ahead of me to which she responded, “Oh thank you so much, you see I have a situation at home and I need to get back quickly.”
Have any of you been there – done that?
Do you know someone who has?
The following advice goes to those of you who know someone in a similar predicament as the woman at the Staples store: be the respite that person needs. Don’t wait for them to ask for help – they won’t ask you; you must make the first move. Put yourself in that someone’s shoes and imagine racing through your errands, all the while freaking out wondering what’s going on in the house while you’re away: the person with dementia wandering away from the house or falling down in or around the house, turning on the stove or running the water without turning either off, or letting someone inside the house who should not be inside the house.
Now it’s your turn: imagine the worst-case scenario and apply it to this situation.
Now do something about it.
Other articles to inspire you:
Approaching The Final Destination. The attached article focuses on one caregiving journey that is coming to an end. Chris McClellan’s caregiving journey is coming to a close because his partner, TLO, is approaching his final destination. Recently, another blogger that I follow, who was the caregiver for her husband, Chuck, came to the end of her caregiving journey because Chuck approached, and reached, his final destination.
Each caregiver/blogger that I follow has said the same thing in almost the same words that echo how Chris describes the tenor of the day-to-day life of a caregiver: “I’ve come to realize that what I might think is a routine day, is totally off the charts by normal standards. I’m sure most family caregivers can get in touch with that.”
Whether a loved one needs care because of cancer, as in TLO’s case, or Alzheimer’s, as in Chuck’s case, the lives of both caregiver and patient are forever changed once a diagnosis is pronounced. The 10-15 minute medical consultation in an exam room or a doctor’s private office thrusts the recipients into the as-yet-unknown world of living with a terminal illness.
My brother’s wife, Nancy, was diagnosed with mixed dementia when she was barely 65-years old. In the first article on my brother’s caregiving blog, he also characterizes diagnosis day as the day his life, and that of his wife, changed forever.
Normal becomes a shifting paradigm that can look different from month to month or moment to moment as a loved one’s disease progresses towards its final destination. Both caregiver and patient can’t recall – for one reason or another – what normal used to mean before the disease’s arrival in their lives. I know from personal experience with my father, that the caregiver truly can’t imagine life without caregiving – so all-consuming and life-changing is a fatal disease in ones life.
Normal? What does that mean? And in the midst of caregiving, you become aware that the only escape from this new and ever-changing normal is the death of the one for whom you provide care. What liberation! What freedom lies on the horizon!
No, that is not what the caregiver is thinking. He or she is focused on the here and now, because such focus is required in order to adjust to the shifting sands of normalcy.
But the end does come as it did with my father on October 13, 2007, with my sister-in-law on July 4, 2012, with Chuck in late February 2014, and as will happen with TLO once Chris and TLO’s journey comes to an end.
What we all would give for just one more day of abnormal normalcy with our loved ones.
But all journeys come to an end, and none of us would rob our loved ones of their final escape to a destination towards which their lives had been headed since their own personal diagnosis day.
Freedom from pain; freedom from physical and cognitive restrictions. Let it be.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, in this instance a spouse, is a difficult task and so very unpredictable. Sometimes the unpredictability brings heartache and extreme difficulty.
sometimes the unpredictability results in a heart filled with renewed promise of goodness and beauty. Celebrating every victory that comes our way – regardless of how small some may think it to be – is reason to strike up the band, blow up the party balloons, and relish the joy that exists in that very moment.
The attached 7 minute film depicts a positive take on being an adult child-caregiver for ones mother. The same could have been filmed of a spouse-caregiver because the message is the same.
Please make every effort to watch this film straight through without distraction. I believe you will conclude – as I did – that what is depicted is beautiful beyond measure.
There is no denying that caregiving is extremely difficult. But there are certain opportunities inherent with the task that create a link between the carer and the one being cared for that might not have been possible without dementia’s onset.
As the adult daughter most involved with my father’s care management, I can conclude that through all the difficulties of his Alzheimer’s journey, there was a certain richness to our relationship that might not have existed without the intrusion of Alzheimer’s in his and my life. I would have preferred that he had never suffered and died from this disease – don’t get me wrong – but I’m grateful for the deeper relationship that resulted from it.
I feel blessed to have been on the caregiving journey with my father. And my, oh my, do I still miss him.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Your Questions Answered | PBS NewsHour. We need all the help we can get in order to make well-informed decisions about any caregiving journeys that might occur in our future. The attached article shows a snapshot of one adult daughter’s 24/7 caregiving journey with her mother.
Perhaps you’re saying that you don’t anticipate your parents requiring any caregiving assistance in their frail years (perhaps your parents have already passed so no need exists there.) Do you have any siblings? close friends? a significant other? If you answered “yes” to any of those designations, the possibility exists that you will be called upon – or you’ll volunteer – to be of assistance to someone who needs help with their activities of daily living (ADLs).
Taking care of a loved one is no easy task. It doesn’t matter how much you love the person, your patience and your abilities will be tested. I truly admire the subject of this PBS article. Rebecca Wyant is the full-time caregiver and guardian of her mother, Mary Wyant, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 65. Mary moved in with her daughter in 2006, is now 74 years old, and Rebecca is in her seventh year of personally providing her mother with full-time care.
How does Rebecca do it? She thought she was prepared for the task but soon discovered that finances, and creative ways of managing her mother’s care, are dwindling resources. With that said, however, Rebecca states that she is the only person who can provide the care that she can. She agrees that professionals could provide the care, but absolutely no one could possibly care for mom as Rebecca can. That part of the video disturbs me a bit, and I’ll tell you why.
I was an Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group facilitator for several years and heard the voiced concerns of those daughters, sons, and spouses, who carried a great deal of guilt on their shoulders for not being able to keep up with the care of their loved one. They did provide the care initially, and then found their abilities wanting – and their health declining. They eventually made the very difficult decision to place their loved one in an assisted care setting.
Here’s the story of “Constance” and “Robert.” Constance first came to my support meeting at the age of 80 having already taken care of Robert at home for the previous three years since his diagnosis. Constance’s health started to decline due to lack of sleep – Robert’s dementia had no respect for the clock. Added to that dilemma was the fact that she had no existence outside of her house. She was trapped! Her friends abandoned her, all the social activities in which she had participated fell by the wayside, but she refused to move her husband into an assisted care setting, even though she felt they had the finances to support such a move – many do not and have no choice but to provide 100% of the care. “No one can take care of Robert like I can. I would never do that to him – placing him in someone else’s care. That’s my duty as his wife; a duty I take seriously.”
Fast forward one year later, and Constance had no choice but to place Robert in an adult family home with five other residents; it was either that, or she would have been forced to relinquish her caregiving role because, quite frankly, she ran the risk of dying before Robert. Once she relocated Robert to a care home, the well-trained staff provided all the assistance Robert needed, and Constance could now have the sole role of being his wife. She visited him almost daily until the day he died one year later.
Constance admitted that she wished she had moved Robert to the adult family home earlier than she had because she realized that being a committed wife didn’t have to include caregiving that risked her own health. She relished her reprised role as his loving wife when she visited him – none of the other care staff could fulfill that role but her – and the staff did what they do best, providing all the care her husband needed.
This is the nugget I want you to come away with from my above commentary: guilt and obligation are normal emotions that might prevent you from making decisions that may very well be in your best interests and those of your loved one. Please believe that allowing someone else to take care of your loved one does not equate to you shirking your familial duties. It does, however, tell me that you know your limits, and you know what is best for your personal situation in the long run. Additionally, it shows that you value your long-standing role as a daughter/spouse/partner/sibling, more than any new role as a care provider. There’s something to be said about retaining your given role in a relationship.
Caveat: as I indicated above, finding affordable care outside of ones home is no easy task, and you may have no choice but to provide the needed care for your loved one. But if you are able to find trusted family or friends who can “spot” you from time to time so that you can enjoy a needed time of respite, please do so. You’ll be far more able to carry out your caregiving task if you take care of yourself first. See my article: Caregiver: put on your oxygen mask first.
Perhaps you read the brief title of my article and before delving into its content you’re wondering: The morning after a night of drinking? The morning after doing something regretful – perhaps synonymous with the previous question? The morning after a horrific news event?
None of the above. In the attached article, a fellow blogger writes about his experience of waking up the day after his wife passed away; a day in which he felt the full impact of the loss of his wife and the cessation of his role as her caregiver – his identity for so many years.
Unless, and until, you experience this type of blurry identity, you can’t fully understand the feeling. Those of you who devoted any amount of time caring for a loved one prior to their death understand all too well the emptiness and lack of purpose that oftentimes follows the end of the caregiving journey.
I was the long-distance caregiver for my father after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He lived in a memory care unit of a Southern Oregon continuing care retirement community (CCRC) while I commuted from Seattle by plane, by telephone, and by 24/7 worrying and thinking. By choice, I left my full-time job and for the next four years, dedicated my time to managing his care and being the primary on-site visitor. Many of you worked full-time at your “real” job while being a caregiver for a loved one and I respect and honor you for somehow juggling all of those responsibilities. I knew my limitations, however, and reached that limit quite early in the process. The emotional and physical toll of caregiving was more than I was capable of handling on top of my other job, so with my husband’s blessing and encouragement, we did without my financial contributions while I carried on as my father’s care person.
After my father’s October 13, 2007 death at the age of 89, I returned to Seattle having spent the last hours of my father’s life at his bedside; then several days wrapping matters up with the funeral home; with the bank trustee, and with the facility in which he had lived for close to thirteen years. Although there would be many weeks of tying up loose ends upon my return home to the Seattle area, I was effectively unemployed – laid off from a job to which I was extraordinarily committed. As the blogger in the attached article mentioned – those in this position wake up the day after, and the day after the day after, feeling as though they have lost their purpose. Additionally, the identity which defined them for several years no longer applies.
Grieving and re-purposing our lives can take place during this time, a process which may take months or years; a process that is as individual and unique as ones fingerprint. As the blogger wrote in his article, he appears to be transitioning in a way that utilizes his years of being the primary caregiver and advocate for his wife. He’s recreating his working life; reshaping it to fit the caregiver role in which he flourished. Like this blogger, I too quite naturally segued into employment positions in which I could continue on the path that I had started years earlier with my father: elder advocacy, Alzheimer’s Association volunteerism, and most recently, putting all of those past and present experiences down on paper in the form of a novel.
But that is not necessarily the norm. Some of you may have felt the need to totally disassociate from anything remotely related to the caregiving or care managing roles. I understand that decision and I agree 100% that it’s the right thing for you to do. Again – how we recover and/or regenerate after the caregiving experience is a distinctive aspect of our ongoing lives. What we do have in common, however, is that we have all experienced the morning after the end of our caregiving journey. Whether we’re relieved, angered, aggrieved, or a combination thereof – the morning after is unavoidable.
In closing, I want to celebrate you – the caregiver heroes who are ordinary people, who did the ordinary right thing, at an extraordinary time. You are a hero to many, and you are a hero to me.
In my post, President Obama says the “A” word: Alzheimer’s, I provided some Alzheimer’s statistics that focus on those who are predicted to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementia in the years to come. I also talked about caregiver statistics.
One statistic that really resonates with me is the following: a new caregiver is set into action every 33 seconds because someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds. In actuality, the stats are far greater than that. Caregivers are “created” every second of the day because there are countless diseases requiring the assistance of someone just like you and me – an unpaid caregiver for a loved one. I use the distinction of “unpaid” so as not to be confused with those who work as caregivers in the health care industry.
The following statement is attributed to former First Lady of the United States, Rosalynn Carter:
There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers,
those who are currently caregivers,
those who will be caregivers, and
those who will need caregivers.
I really don’t think there’s any way around it. How about you? Have you dodged the caregiver or being-cared-for bullet yet?
Historically, it’s the adult children who move back into the parents’ home, oftentimes because of financial issues. Apparently that is no longer the sole definition of multi-generational living.
In a USA Today article, Who’s moving in? Adult kids, aging parents, Haya El Nasser writes, “(A)bout one in seven say they already have a ‘boomerang kid’ – an adult child who moves back home – or elderly parent living under their roof.”
This brings about two unexpected events:
- The parents who enjoyed their empty nest and started to reestablish themselves as a couple, instead of just as parents, suddenly have an adult living with them who just happens to be the kid they gave birth to 30 years ago; or
- The adult child who strove to establish his home with his spouse and their 2.5 kids suddenly have a parent living with them requiring just as much attention, if not more, than the young children they themselves brought into this world.
The USA Today article above focuses on a rising trend towards families deciding to purchase larger homes than they would have previously considered with the anticipation that it would be more economical to have other adult family members living in – and contributing to – the same household. Talk about a paradigm shift! Stephen Melman, director of economic services at the National Association of Home Builders says, “I remember when I was in college, no one wanted to be near their parents.” That thought certainly resonates with me. When I was single in my 20s and early 30s there was no such luxury of renting a place on my own and living-at-home was definitely not an option. At one time I had two roommates so all three of us shared the same bathroom, kitchen and common living space. Inconvenient and not as private as we would have liked? Certainly – but the only way to afford housing and have the ability to put away money for our future was to split costs with other like-minded adults.
A Pew Research report earlier this year showed that “the share of Americans living in multi-generational households is at its highest since the 1950s.” OMG! As a Baby Boomer who was born in 1953, I just have to repeat, “OMG!!!!!”
My focus today is on the caregiving issue – that adult children and/or Baby Boomers find themselves with the added responsibility as caregiver to a loved one. In my article Start your retirement – start your job as a family caregiver I address the caregiving aspect of Baby Boomer retirement which sometimes evolves into multi-generational living. Our quality of life definition tends to change as family caregiving is added to our lives. But it’s a fact of life for many of us and one that very few can escape. But herein lies the problem…
Most of us aren’t prepared for that eventuality. Those of us who are counting the days until retirement kid ourselves into believing that caregiving happens to others, not to us. And our adult children find it difficult to wrap their minds around that type of living scenario whilst in the midst of their hectic career development and ever-changing family dynamics.
So what happens? We find ourselves in an emergent situation that requires immediate action that may not be well-thought out because we don’t have the time to make a well-informed decision. We all know that the worse time to make a life-changing decision is in an emergency. There is a wealth of information available at our fingertips – the worldwide web is replete with helpful resources. Even this website has many articles written on the subject. As you browse through this website’s categories, be sure to enter a search term in the “Search My Site” box located at the right-hand side of each content page.
I’m not suggesting that you finalize plans that might not be implemented until many years down the road – or at all. What I am suggesting, however, is that we all become aware that a) these issues exist and could very well happen in our own lives; and b) we’re going to do what we can now to make wise decisions later.
For those of you who have not experienced the stresses of caregiving, or being the point-person for a loved one with dementia or other debilitating disease – please read the above-linked article. It will give you a wee taste of:
a) the toll that caregiving takes on loved ones;
b) the toll of being a spouse with someone with dementia; and
c) the extreme frustration of trying to communicate with professionals while coordinating care for your loved one.
Please read this article – it will give you a healthy respect for your coworker, neighbor, family member – who is on duty 24/7 with caregiving tasks. Whether the caregiver is performing these tasks long-distance, as was the case for me in relation to my father’s care, or performing them on-site, the task is monumental and deserves a great amount of respect and understanding.
I congratulate Chris MacLellan, the Blogger whose article is linked above, for coming to the realization that:
- caregiving is a noble and worthwhile job; and
- caregiving can be bad for one’s health.
All of us at one time or another have turned the focus away from our own well-being onto that of others to the detriment of our emotional and physical health. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t attend to the needs of others – we must if we’re to be a supportive society – but it’s important to be aware of what we personally need in order to remain healthy. It’s a difficult balance to reach, but it can be done.
My article, “Caregiver: put on your oxygen mask first” addresses the mistaken notion that we can do it all. We can’t. Our reserves will always run low and our fuel tank will always near empty unless we feed ourselves with that which sustains us. Chris discovered what he needed to do. I hope we all come up with the winning formula that allows us to take care of ourselves while we take care of others.
I should have posted this earlier than today, but I hope anyone needing this valuable resource – and it’s FREE today Sunday, August 26th!!!!! – will be able to take advantage of it. I know I will.
Thank you, Kelli, for being generous with this offering.