Bittersweet holiday

As I’ve written before I’m sure, Thanksgiving was my dad’s favorite holiday. He loved turkey! My dad was not one to get too excited about food normally, so it was a big deal to watch him devour slice after slice of turkey.

While I can still recall those fond family memories, they are unfortunately overshadowed by that Thanksgiving three years ago. Dad was in the ICU, clinging to life. I was trying to figure out when I should fly out, because I was working the entire holiday weekend. The nurse said he could pass in two hours or two months, there was no telling. As soon as I arrived to work on Black Friday 2011, I received the call from a nurse, frantically asking me if they should pull the plug on my dad’s life support.

turkey

I’m now back working in the same newsroom I was that day when I received that terrible call. Every now and then I’ll glance to that corner of the room and remember the pacing I did that day three years ago, trying my best not to completely freak out from the stress. I’m once again working the holiday, but from home this time. Thankfully I won’t have to mark the anniversary of those painful memories at the office.

So Thanksgiving is bittersweet for me. I still enjoy the food and try to focus on the happy memories. Life, and death, does not pause for holidays.

I hope somehow, somewhere, Dad is enjoying a few big slices of turkey.

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The Most “WANDER-FULL” Time of the Year!

Joy Johnston:

A good reminder for those gathering for holiday celebrations soon.

Originally posted on Georgia Chapter Blog:

­The holidays are almost here…is your loved one wearing their MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return jewelry?

My name is Kim Franklin and I have been working with the Alzheimer’s Association as our Safety Services Manager for eight years now.  During the holiday season, I usually see an increase in wandering incidents.  At this time of year we tend to be around family and friends, coming and going from many events and things can sometimes get a little loud and exciting.  These busy times can often be more confusing for someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia.  Their day-to-day routine may be thrown off by holiday gatherings and events and there may be crowds of unfamiliar people around. (Remember – even close family and friends can be unfamiliar to persons with more advanced memory loss).

All of the holiday hustle and bustle is often the perfect storm that leads to an…

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Guilty of a totally unnecessary caregiver panic attack

So about 30 minutes into my flight to visit my mom, I took my phone off airplane mode to enable my Bluetooth headphones. (I know, slap my hand, that is an in-flight no-no.)

When I did so, I noticed the voicemail icon was lit up. When I went to see the time the voicemail was recorded, it was when I was at the airport, so I was surprised that I had missed the call. When I checked the phone number of the missed call, it was my mom’s home phone number. In fact, there were two missed calls from her, about 30 minutes apart.

plane sky

If Mom was calling me early in the morning, something HAD to be wrong.

Even though I knew it wouldn’t work, I tried to access the voice mail. No-go, despite my phone still showing a 3G signal.

Fortunately, the plane did not suffer from any issues due to my actions.

But for the rest of the flight, I was frozen with terror. My mind began spinning with all sorts of worst-case scenarios. Knowing Mom has been suffering from this mysterious ailment (most likely a hernia) for some time, I feared she had developed more severe symptoms. She called me wanting to know if she should dial 911 and now was waiting in agony for my reply. Or she had called 911 and was being taken to the hospital and I was several hours from arriving! There was nothing I could do up in the sky but wait it out. I had a two-hour flight, but it seemed like 20 hours.

Finally, we land and I immediately turn my phone back on. I listen to the voicemail. It was from the airport shuttle, confirming my ride. Whew, ok, that was a relief. (They usually call to confirm the day before.)

But what about the mysterious phone calls from Mom’s number? I called her when I got inside the terminal and all was (relatively) well. She had not called me. When I thought back on it, there were no missed calls from the shuttle company. Somehow, my phone read the shuttle number as my mom’s number (same area code, but quite different numbers.)

The point of this story? Caregivers have enough real crisis situations to deal with. Don’t invent imaginary ones, especially when you up in the clouds, helpless to take action.

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National Caregiver Month: Honor a caregiver

In addition to being National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, November is National Caregiver Month. It’s only fitting for those of us who have cared for a loved one with dementia that these two recognition events occur in the same month.

While caregiving, both family and professional, needs much more recognition than just a designated month, this is a good time to get the conversation started about how important caregiving is to our society.

My mom, who was a wonderful caregiver for my father who had Alzheimer's.

My mom, who was a wonderful caregiver for my father who had Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimer’s Association is marking the month by allowing people to write a personal tribute on their website.

I’m marking the month by making a visit to my mother, who has been dealing with some recent health setbacks. Caregiving in action!

To all of you in the blogosphere who have shared your caregiving stories, thank you. Together we can raise awareness and help each other through this challenging journey that is always full of surprises.

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Being in the moment

As caregivers, it’s not just our bodies that are put to the test, it’s our minds as well.

I find that I spend very little time in the moment. Part of my mind is always mulling over the latest brewing health crisis or fragile financial state.

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Today I decided to go for a long walk in the park. After a raw and cold weekend, today was sunny and beautiful. I was near the end of my walk when I came upon a man feeding the ducks and geese by the park’s lake.

In the middle of the quacking flock, a young blue heron stood stock-still. It seemed very focused on the water, and while completely still, ready to spring into motion.

The man feeding the birds said that the young one had not learned how to hunt yet, but was practicing by stalking prey in the water below.

I allowed myself to just absorb the scene for several minutes.

My patience paid off. Eventually the young bird took flight.

An hour’s respite turned out to be more rewarding than I could have imagined. Sometimes it is the simplest things that can make the biggest difference in our daily routine.

How do you spend precious solitary moments away from caregiving duties?

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Dementia and Disagreements: No one wins

Joy Johnston:

I’m sure this post will ring true for many family caregivers. Behavior changes can also occur with other diseases, like cancer. I struggled mightily at times trying to navigate the emotional roller coaster my mom was on during her battle with cancer.

Originally posted on Dealing with Dementia:

unwontictactoeFor me, morphing from adult child to caregiver has taught me much. One of the hardest adjustments is leaving behind your past and learning that as the disease progresses, no one ever wins disagreements. If a discussion is getting contentious, it needs to end without anyone emerging “right”.

This was tough for me to learn because in our family, debates and the exchange of ideas was a tradition at our dinner table – even into adult hood. As mom’s disease progressed, frank discussions, or any disagreement brought out the lion. She would just become combative. Medication has helped and she is much less suspicious and disagreeable now.

It took me time to learn, but I began to redirect, let go and change the topic when a disagreement was coming. I’m not perfect at it, and on a bad day, I still struggle to overcome the old patterns of our…

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Home care workers raising hell for a good reason

One of the only positive things that has come from both of my parents suffering from serious illnesses is that I discovered the importance of home health care workers. Notoriously underpaid and given little respect, home health care workers in multiple states across America are finally raising their voices and demanding better treatment.

It may not take a college degree to help feed a patient or take care of their toileting needs, but it does take a certain amount of compassion, patience and emotional strength that many people seem to lack. Many home care workers are supporting families, and in America, it would be difficult for a single person to survive on the current minimum wage. Current laws in the U.S. allow home health care workers to be paid less than minimum wage. There is already a growing number of workers in the fast-food and other retail industries that are demanding the minimum wage be increased from a paltry $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour.

holding hands

While I feel $15 per hour is not going to be feasible in our economy, I could support increasing the minimum wage to at least $10. In addition, I would like to see some kind of tax break for home health care workers as an extra incentive to join this profession that is only going to grow in demand as our population rapidly ages.

I remember the kind, yet exhausted home care workers that helped care for my parents in their times of need, and I learned a lot from them. They offered practical, time-saving and thrifty solutions that I never would have considered. They were good-humored but firm when necessary, such as when providing care instructions. They negotiated difficult personalities and never seemed to take a break.

While raising the minimum wage for home care workers will have financial consequences and will require some retooling of already-strained state budgets, it is something that this country needs to understand is a priority. We’ve heard the unfortunate cases of home care workers who physically or mentally abuse their patients, and even steal from them. If these workers continue to be ignored, their resentment will only grow and our loved ones will suffer. Let’s reward those who are providing quality care to our family members and not allow this part of our workforce to remain invisible any longer.

If you are interested in learning more about the cause, Caring Across Generations is a great place to start.

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