Saturday, November 17, 2018

Be the Bridge


I found out the hard way that my navigation device needed updating. That poor woman who lives inside my GARMIN had a complete nervous break-down the last time we (she and I) drove to Dallas. Brand new neighborhoods and access roads, towering mix masters and HOV lanes - OH MY! After all those years of guiding me safely to and from my home, my GARMIN Genie finally reached her limit. There I was, totally exhausted, in fast moving traffic, with only a few more miles to go and she just kept repeating, “calculating… calculating…”

I felt like a stodgy old road hazard as confident commuters zoomed around me from every direction. I imagined them rolling their eyes and muttering, “Yankee go home.” My face burned with embarrassment as I shouted to no one in particular, “Hey! Give me a break will ya?” I’d just driven 1500 miles like a champ, but then again; I needed to remember the other motorists had places to go and people to see too. 
Do you ever wonder where you’ll be when you reach your own threshold for adapting to change? Living with Alzheimer’s/Dementia can feel like failing to keep up with busy traffic. As those suffering with A/D near the end of their journey, we may need to slow down ourselves and marvel at just how far they’ve already come. Be their "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" so to speak (see below). 
In the end, it could help us all find our way home. 
Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon and Garfunkel

Photo Credit:traffic-jam-1703575_960_720

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Smelly Cats & Self-Care

There’s a lot of buzz (and research) these days about preventing caregiver burn-out. Whether you’re taking care of a family member or serving others as a paid professional in the eldercare field, here are some simple home remedies I use to bolster my enthusiasm and prevent burn-out:

I exercise my (laugh) muscles on a regular basis, and I buy Epsom salts and lavender oil in bulk. Large doses of humor and frequent tub baths are a sure cure for me when I’m feeling low (please hear me, I am not suggesting this will cure clinical depression or exhaustion so see your doctor for symptoms lasting longer than a few days).  
If you’re a fan of NBC’s hit sitcom Friends, you might remember Phoebe Buffay’s silly song about the plight of a poor, misunderstood smelly cat (see below for the link). “Smelly cat, smel- ly cat, what are they feeding you? Smelly cat, smel-ly cat, it’s not your fault…” Yeah, the merits of laugh therapy are well founded and lots cheaper than a membership to the gym. Laughing out loud makes your physiological AND psychological heart stronger, and who among us couldn’t use some of that?

There’s also a practical caregiving lesson hidden in those silly lyrics. Simple analytics. Cause and effect. When grandpa’s leaving an unusually potent cloud of methane gas behind him, maybe you should think of Phoebe’s song, and find out, “What have they been feeding you?” And while you’re at it, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that “It’s not your (their) fault…”  

So maybe the cure for burn-out isn’t all that complex after all. Indulging in simple pleasures like: leisurely walks, luxurious baths, listening to music, or watching (and re-watching) silly sitcoms could prove to be your minimum daily requirement for good health and well-being. And let’s not forget the long term benefits of eliminating any unnecessary gastric upsets of those we serve (wink, wink). 
Here’s the link to Smelly Cat – I hope you enjoy it!

Photo Credit: 316817_230872830306990_891548831_n smelly cat

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Riders on the Storm

Most of us Baby Boomers were and still are influenced by the music of our youth. I’m not ashamed to admit I listen to my own personal jukebox (in my head) on a regular basis. Just the other day I mentally listened to *Riders on the Storm, while visiting a nursing home memory care unit where I saw people staring off into space and aimlessly wandering around looking for home. It reminded me of a live news feed of an Oklahoma tornado victim picking through a pile of rubble. Pajama clad, confused - wondering what the heck just happened, “All I know is: it sounded like a freight train…”

Alzheimer’s/Dementia is the stormageddon none of us saw coming. And even if we did, there’s no safe place to hunker down and hide from it, so we need to establish better long term “shelters” for those permanently displaced in its aftermath. If you see substandard eldercare, don't just look the other way and utter a prayer of thanks that you're not living there. Use your voice to speak for those who can't speak for themselves. Disaster recovery seems to bring out the best in all of us, so roll up your sleeves and get involved - today.    

I know you’d prefer to read stories with happy endings. It takes courage to live life fully aware of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but that’s the only way we can work together to fix what we can, while we search for a cure. 

Oh boy, I feel another song coming on: "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" by Hugo Montenegro and His Orchestra:
______________________ _______________________________

*Riders on the Storm - The last song Jim Morrison ever recorded with The Doors

Monday, October 1, 2018


Life’s Lovely Circle. 

I drove a total of 3,464 miles just to hold my youngest grandson for the very first time. His eye sight not fully developed, he intently studied my face and his breathing quieted. With one look that little fella snatched my heart!

His skin - so delicate, his coos and whimpers - music to my ears. I noticed every nuance, sigh, and quiver while his mother quietly nursed him in her arms. He knows her. Her silhouette, her voice, her scent. I was witnessing the beginning of their lifelong journey as mother and child. My heart both thrilled and ached for her. Motherhood will require all that she has to give and then some. 

All too soon it was time for me to go home so I took one last long look at them - trying to press every detail into the pages of my mind. I kissed the top of his bald little head and tip toed out of his room.

A few days and many miles later, I drove into my dear friend's driveway. I found Agnes sitting in her favorite chair, nearly naked, except for her disposable underpants and undershirt. The sight of her translucent skin loosely draped over her 90 year old frame was nearly more than I could bear. She strained to see my face through hazy lenses and her breathing slowed to a peaceful rhythm. Like a helpless infant, I wrapped her in a fleece robe and held her close. We talked, and laughed, and prayed together.  A soul deep contentment washed over me as my mothering instincts re-emerged. I slipped off my shoes and yielded to what is, and what was, and what eventually will be. She fell asleep, so I kissed her on the top of her balding little head and tip toed out of the room. 

Tiny babies and frail old ladies...their lives are much the same.

Monday, September 17, 2018


I got all my sisters with me…

Sister Sledge’s 1979 signature song, “We are Family,” was recorded in one take. Pretty remarkable considering, “Kathy Sledge, who sang lead, did not know the lyrics ahead of time. Rodgers and Edwards (writers and producers) gave her each line through her headphones as it came up to make it sound spontaneous.” 

Winging it. I can relate – but getting it right the first time like she did? Not so much.
Providing in-home care services by its’ very nature, extends a tempting invitation for each of us to become part of the family we serve. Sounds good, right? 

If you’ve been at this very long, I’m guessing you already know exactly what I’m talking about. And maybe it’s worked out well for you, but when I look back on the past ten years, I realize I’ve put myself out there over and over again, causing myself unnecessary heart ache I hope you'll avoid.

I like to be liked. I long to belong. It gives me pleasure to help others when they need it most. With that in mind, sometimes I need a (not so) gentle reminder that care giving is my job, NOT my identity.

Oh sure, everyone means well. Families want us to feel comfortable and appreciated in their homes. Plus it’s flattering when people say you’re just like one of the family. We see, hear, and find ourselves in the middle of some very personal situations. A listening ear, comfort and reassurance…that’s most often where things get iffy. Lines are blurred and we cross over before we know it. Do you find yourself unable to “clock out” at the end of your shift? Texting back and forth after hours? Seems impossible to let go and move on?

The truth is, after the coroner is called your work is done. It’s not your place to grieve openly at the funeral parlor. Polite, controlled condolences, sharing a carefully chosen memory, acknowledging their loss is best. It’s not about you. Save your grief for your real sisters. Your caregiver sisters (and brothers) who understand. Moving on is not dis-regard or disrespect for the significant role you played in your client’s lives. That’s what you do. Now go on, and do it again.

I have a bulletin board covered with photos and a box of keepsakes that remind me of those I’ve served and loved. They and their families will always hold a special place in my heart...while I continue to fill it with more and more families who’ll need my help in the days ahead.  

Be encouraged. You’re part of a world-wide family of caregivers. Learn to give your best without giving your heart away. And oh yeah, next time you hear Sister Sledge singing, “We are family, I got all my sisters with me…” turn up the volume and sing your heart out, with all of your caregiving sisters and brothers in mind!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Finishing - But Never Finished

Life’s journey is one l o n g => marathon we’re seldom prepared to run. As caregivers we offer assistance to weary runners approaching their own personal finish line. Sometimes we cheer them on and sometimes we bandage their feet. Sometimes we lovingly cool their brow and wet their lips; but all too often when they falter, we attempt to pick them up and carry them the rest of the way, all by ourselves!

Imagine the inevitable (and preventable) crash they both face, all because no one asked for help.

Burn-out is a very real occupational hazard, whether you’re a family caregiver or you give care as a professional. Do yourself a favor, read some expert advice on how to run a marathon. Especially when it comes to this new race strategy which calls for taking walk-breaks:  

You don’t have to be a long distance runner to benefit from the concept. Thoughtfully plan to take short, daily “walk breaks.” Long awaited vacations and get-a-ways are not nearly as effective when it comes to curing and/or preventing exhaustion. A lifestyle that incorporates walk, run, walk, run, intervals is a more realistic and effective way to prevent unnecessary burn-out.

Recognize the signs and symptoms of Caregiver burnout:

Staying strong takes thoughtful planning and preparation, especially for those of us running a challenging race of our own while assisting others facing the end of theirs as well.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


MasterCard’s “priceless” commercials have been tugging at our heart strings for nearly two decades now. And why not? The immeasurable worth of relationships is a timeless truth that appeals to young and old alike.  

As a caregiver I witness more than my fair share of priceless moments. Loving hand squeezes, forehead kisses, laughter and tears comingled in a desperate attempt to hang on to a life that’s slipping away… I may not be at the top of any corporate ladder or pay scale, but OH! the benefits of what I do - are PRICELESS.  

In 2013 I had the privilege of looking after a married couple in their nineties. Both widowed, they met and married while in their sixties, never imagining their second marriages would outlast their first. I always looked forward to their nightly ritual when they blew kisses to each other from across the room, and then I’d turn out the lights.  

His & Her bedside commodes and twin beds replaced their queen sized bed and stylish furniture. Not exactly the American dream for retirement, but their modest kitchen afforded them the simple pleasure of dining together while enjoying a beautiful backyard view.
I’ll never forget the day Mildred shared one of her dearest desires with me. It was something she hoped would happen sometime before she died. I’m almost afraid to write about it, for fear of spoiling its’ purity.

What she wanted, I dare say, longed for, just once…was one really good kiss from her dear, dearest Nelson.

Aww. I know! Right? J

Her innocent confession hung in the air like the sweet scent of lilacs in May. And oh how I wish I could say I quietly soaked it all in and simply nodded in respectful admiration. I shoulda kept my mouth shut and smiled, but no, the doer in me wanted to set things in motion. Clear the way for her wish to come true. Oh brother. So I promised to get on him about brushing his teeth more often and make sure he mowed down some of those whiskers he kept missing when he shaved in the morning. Hmm, I even thought perhaps I should light some candles at dinner, you know, to help set the mood? Yep, I’m ashamed to admit it, but I wanted to be the one to make sure Mildred’s lovely wish came true.  

Fortunately for them, she set me straight and don’t think she didn’t! She thought he was just fine the way he was: whiskers, bad breath, and all. So I stayed out of the way, and watched and waited. Months passed and sure enough, one cold, dreary February morning, Nelson came clunking along behind his walker into the kitchen like he always did. But this time he stopped next to where Mildred was sitting at the table. He pressed his hand flat on top of hers and she looked up at him, the man of her dreams. He said, in his breathy hoarse voice, “May I have a kiss?”

I held my breath, stepped back and put one hand over my heart and the other over my mouth. She smiled, and giggled, and said shyly, “Of course.” And right then and there folks, I witnessed her dream coming true. Better than any chick flick, or fairy tale, or romance novel; they kissed! 

He lingered for a moment and then, without a word, he clunked along with his walker until he plopped down in the chair where he always sat, right across from his beloved Mildred, every morning since they’d declared their “I dos.”

Yep. The pay I receive for being a caregiver – it's PRICELESS.