Seeing paradise in a different way

paradise fan

I just got back from a visit to what was my parents’ condo in New Mexico. It will be called that for the foreseeable future because calling it my “second home” or “mountain getaway” makes me sound wealthy and pretentious, which I’m definitely not.

I made some progress, finally donating my parents clothes and a good chunk of my father’s books. I finally cleaned out the pots and pans cupboard and brought a few more mementos home with me. The numerous repairs the unit needs will have to wait a little longer. There were plenty of deer around, and it snowed just a bit. All in all, it was a refreshing getaway.

I had just gotten out of the shower when I glanced over at the decorative fan that has been hanging above the towel rack since Mom placed it there 12-plus years ago. I was thinking about my mother’s final weeks of life, and how much time we spent in that tiny bathroom, where I helped her with toileting and sponge bathed her until she became bedridden. There was a delicate balance of trying to preserve her dignity and privacy but increasingly recognizing that my mother needed assistance. There was a lot of forced optimism on my part, trying to make the daily tasks as distress-free as possible.

How often I must have glanced at that fan during those difficult times, but never really seeing it. It was only this past week that I realized the fan is hanging upside down.

It’s so obviously upside down, I can’t believe I never noticed!

I couldn’t help but think wryly, “Leave it to Mom to turn paradise on its head.” But when I turned it around to depict the tropical scene as it was intended, it didn’t look right. What momentarily struck me as “paradise lost” was just paradise from a different perspective.

Lesson learned: Never question Mom!

 

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A super-sweet Christmas memory

chocolate cherries

When I reflect upon childhood Christmas memories, I can’t help but think about candy. I always looked forward to the candy-filled candy cane Santa (Mom) would place on my door for me to find Christmas morning. Sometimes it was filled with gold foil wrapped chocolate coins, other times it was M&Ms. I also was fond of the mixed assortment found in holiday-themed boxes of chocolate, like Whitman’s. My favorite holiday candy were the petit fours Mom ordered from a catalog. They were like mini cakes, who could resist?

My mom’s favorite Christmas candy by far were chocolate-covered cherries. Though typically a milk chocolate fan, she preferred the dark chocolate-covered cherries. I remember as a kid sifting through the Queen Anne boxes, looking for one of the elusive dark chocolate varieties. Mom would be over the moon if we found the dark variety.

Back then, your choices were milk or dark. Over the years, the Queen Anne company has introduced some additional flavors, including the one I purchased above, black cherry cola. The clerk at the store said he was a fan of the black cherry flavor, bragging he could eat a whole box in one setting. Yikes!

I could only manage two because they are super-sweet. They do capture the cherry cola taste pretty well, and it’s a unique indulgence for the holiday season. I’m not sure if Mom would approve of this nontraditional flavor, but at least I’m carrying on the holiday candy tradition.

Does your family have a favorite holiday candy?

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Caregiver centers offer resources, respite

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Photo: Pixabay

I’m always interested in seeing how local communities are addressing the needs of caregivers. While it might be more convenient if such programs we’re centralized, there is quite a bit of innovation taking place at the community level that probably wouldn’t be possible with the red tape associated with federal government projects.

I was reading about the first caregivers center on Long Island, which is set to launch next year. The Family Caregiving Center will open at the Peconic Bay Medical Center in early 2018, providing caregivers with information on local resources, education seminars and counseling from care coaches.

Long Island, like other communities that are spread out geographically and lack efficient transportation options, faces challenges in serving its caregiver community. The caregiver center’s dedicated space will offer a respite for weary caregivers, while their loved ones are receiving hospital services.

The program’s director said while the hospital has been offering a family caregiver support group for the past few years, it’s become apparent that caregivers need more support. The director said it was a poignant conversation with a patient that really drove that point home. When she was sitting at a patient’s bedside in the ICU, she asked the patient if there was anything she could do to help. The man said his daughter could use support. He said that while he was receiving great support as a patient, his daughter wasn’t receiving any help as a caregiver.

That man’s selfless request helped spark the creation of the Family Caregiving Center. It will no doubt help many families for years to come.

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Touching wish from woman with Alzheimer’s

As National Caregiver Appreciation Month winds down, I came across this touching video from a women with Alzheimer’s. Pam Montana is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and knows what lies ahead. But she is not as concerned about herself as she is about her husband. Watch below as she explains her wish to family and friends.

Pam’s heartfelt message is a touching reminder for all of us to not forget about the caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. As Pam says, Alzheimer’s caregivers often feel isolation and suffer from depression. Don’t abandon them. Offer a sympathetic ear, check in on them to see how they’re doing, or offer to stay with their loved one so they can escape the house for a bit.

As Pam poignantly states, there will come a time when she will likely forget who her husband is. She doesn’t want their family and friends to do the same.

How do you stay in touch with caregivers in your life?

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AlzAuthors ebook sale is now live

Caregiver App Month Canva 2017

In honor of National Caregiver Appreciation Month and National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, the authors group that I belong to, AlzAuthors, is hosting an ebook sale.

From now through Nov. 21, you can choose from over a dozen books written by  AlzAuthors members. While the topics of these books focus on Alzheimer’s and dementia, there’s a wide range of genres, from nonfiction to fiction and self-help guides. Prices range from free to $2.99. The Reluctant Caregiver, my collection of nontraditional essays on caregiving, is part of this sale. I had already reduced the price in half for this special month, but for the next week, you can purchase my book for only 99 cents.

It’s a great time to stock up, just in time for those long winter months when there’s more time for reading.

You can find more information about the ebook sale on the AlzAuthors blog.

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‘The Weight of Honor’ sheds light on family caregivers of veterans

On this Veterans Day weekend, I can’t think of a better topic to discuss than the new documentary, “The Weight of Honor.”

I have been following the making of this important documentary for awhile. I donated a very nominal amount (wish it could have been more) and received a lovely thanks in the film’s credits. It’s an honor to help support this documentary, which depicts those who often remain invisible: the family caregivers of military veterans. The filmmakers followed a group of female caregivers of catastrophically wounded veterans for five years, charting their triumphs and struggles.

Caring for wounded warriors is a unique experience, as debilitating physical wounds are often accompanied by equally brutal psychic wounds. PTSD can make recovery a challenge, which means the burden on caregivers is even greater. Along with that, many military wives are young and tending to children when their wounded husband returns home, requiring constant care. The documentary doesn’t shy away from the consequences of stress and caregiver burnout, and how it can end up straining relationships.

Overall, “The Weight of Honor” displays the tremendous resiliency that these caregivers exhibit every day of their lives. A life forever changed by the violence of war, but a life that they are determined to make the best of for their families. I’m thankful that the filmmakers chose to tell their stories in such compassionate detail.

I hope you get a chance to see this film. It is available for streaming on Amazon, YouTube and other major platforms. I’d love to hear what you think about it.

 

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Understanding the importance of self-care for Alzheimer’s disease caregivers

holding hands

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Here is a guest post from Lydia Chan of Alzheimer’s Caregiver. Her post covers a topic I strongly support: self-care for caregivers.

November is National Family Caregivers Month and National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.  It’s important to understand the implications of caring for Alzheimer’s patients.  The disease is far-reaching, and being a caregiver is taxing physically and mentally.  If you’re a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s, here are some ways to offset the stress you may be experiencing.

If you care for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease, you are not alone.  There are almost 15 million dementia and Alzheimer’s caregivers in America.  At this time, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and there is limited relief for symptoms.  This leaves caregivers with what experts at HelpGuide describe as “a series of grief experiences as you watch your loved one’s memories disappear and skills erode. The person with Alzheimer’s will change and behave in different, sometimes disturbing or upsetting ways. For both caretakers and their patients, these changes can produce an emotional wallop of confusion, anger, and sadness.”

Potential burnout.  Caring for a loved one struggling with this disease can lead to burnout.  The chronic stress of the situation is emotionally and physically exhausting, and can leave you with no energy or interest to care for yourself or anyone else.  Here are signs some experts say indicate you may be reaching the breaking point:

  • Abuse of alcohol or medications
  • Unhealthy changes in appetite – overeating or undereating
  • Depression, hopelessness, loss of energy
  • Feeling alienated
  • Lack of self-control physically or emotionally
  • Rough treatment or neglect of the patient
  • Inability to sleep
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Not keeping appointments

Self-care for the caregiver.  Because you are traveling this difficult road, it’s essential that you take care of yourself.  Experts at the National Institute on Aging recommend the following:

Connect.  Participate in a caregivers’ support groups and spend time with friends.

Recreate.  Spend time doing your favorite hobbies and activities.

Maintain your physical health.  Eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.  Keep up routine medical exams.

Get help.  Don’t try to do everything all the time.  Take breaks daily and ask family members and friends to assist with some caregiving duties. Be specific when you ask for help from other family members and friends.  For instance, ask for someone to prepare supper or take your loved one shopping.  If you are having trouble finding help, you can pay someone to help for a couple hours per day.  If that isn’t possible, even a couple hours per week can provide relief.  If you aren’t sure how to find services, check out the Eldercare Locator.

Spend time with Fido.  Part of your self-care routine can include time with your four-legged family member.  According to some experts, dogs are a terrific relief for anxiety and depression.  Here are some of the ways your pooch can improve your well-being:

  • Lowers your blood pressure.
  • Offers a soothing presence.
  • Reduces cortisol.
  • Helps you forget negative emotions such as anger and frustration.
  • Offers unconditional support, love and companionship.
  • Encourages exercise.
  • Gets you outside to enjoy fresh air and sunshine.
  • Increases social interaction.

Make sure your time with your dog is a stress-reducer and not a stress-inducer.  If you have trouble getting to your dog’s needs at times, hire a dog walker to reduce stress associated with getting your pup exercised when you can’t be at home.

Your needs as a caregiver.  As someone who cares for an Alzheimer’s patient, you are under a fair amount of pressure.  Without proper care of yourself, you risk burnout.  Embrace a healthy, balanced lifestyle with good self-care. You will have more to offer yourself and the loved one you’re caring for.

For more respite care resources, visit Respite Care Share.

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