Many may have mixed feelings about celebrating Halloween in such a difficult year that has been filled with so much real-life horror and death. For those who have lost a loved one, the sight of neighbors decorating their lawns with grave and skeleton decorations may seem insensitive. For those who have children or others in their lives who love celebrating the holiday, it may be important to maintain some semblance of normality.
I definitely feel both of these perspectives when I take the dog on neighborhood walks. Some decorations are quite elaborate and creative, and make me smile. Then I feel an inward cringe when I see the grave markers with RIP stamped on them. I can’t help but think of all of the lives lost this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Personally, I love Halloween and enjoy the spooky decorations more than Christmas ones. But I remember feeling a similar ambivalence about Halloween the year my mother died, though she died months before the holiday. I instead focused on the happy Halloween memories we had as a family.
I also had a critical reaction to seeing Christmas decorations being put up at the hospital where my dad lay dying in the ICU. When you are in a family health crisis mode, your perspective narrows. How dare all of these strangers celebrate the holiday when my dad is dying? Realizing the world doesn’t stop for you is a tough, but necessary lesson to learn.
Happy Halloween to those who do celebrate, and hope you receive all treats and no tricks. And if you are grieving and struggling with seeing Halloween decorations, I understand. I hope you can have a quiet night honoring your loved one’s memory.
A free treat for all: You can get both of my books, The Reluctant Caregiver and CBD for Caregivers, for free through this Halloween giveaway.
As we face another potential wave of coronavirus cases this fall and winter, this post by Elaine M. Eshbaugh, PhD, on When Dementia Knocks addresses the challenges of caregiving during this unprecedented time with compassion and humility. None of us have all of the answers and we cannot beat ourselves up for making mistakes.
I haven’t given COVID as much attention in my blog as it deserves. I’ve started many posts and abandoned them because they felt inadequate. To be fair, I have gotten a bit of hate the few times I’ve written posts about COVID. Examples: I thought you were smarter than this. COVID isn’t any worse than […]
As world events send shockwaves on a daily basis, it becomes imperative that we find some respite in our daily lives. This is especially true for caregivers, who face both external and internal challenges and may not have an adequate support system.
I turn to nature when feeling overwhelmed. It’s free, it’s right outside my door and it’s a simple way to try to center myself in the moment when my brain reels, feeling like a runaway train of thoughts.
Whether you live in the city or country, there are natural wonders to be discovered and appreciated. For example, when I travel to New Mexico, in a region that has both mountain and desert elements, I love the unique flowering plants I see there along with the bluest skies, free of the pollution that mars the city skies I’m more used to seeing. In Atlanta, I live in a city known for its canopy of trees. I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood with many gardeners who offer beautiful displays of blooms almost all year long.
During a typical work day, a 5 to 10 minute dog walk may be my only respite from all of the craziness. I make a point to seek the vibrant blooms, to watch the squirrels scamper up the trees, a butterfly flutter by my hand. Now that the weather has cooled off and the mosquitoes are leaving, I sit in a cozy nook I made for myself in the yard, where I can look upon the memorial area I’ve created for loved ones and watch the activity at the busy bird feeder. I find these moments grounding and rewarding.
It is my hope that no matter your circumstance, you are able to carve out these moments of respite. They are even more valuable in these times of turmoil.
Recently, I had a disturbing dream that on the surface sounds like a nightmare. In the dream, I saw my mother’s corpse. It wasn’t in a coffin, but placed on some kind of shelf. Then she woke up and began moaning and talking.
I remember in my dream trying to tell myself it was just a dream, as it is recommended to do to wake yourself from a nightmare. But instead of Mom going into full zombie mode on me, the dream took more of a domestic drama turn. Instead of being chased by a flesh-eating monster, I faced a chilling dilemma: how would I manage caring for my mother again? As with most dreams, there was no satisfying conclusion but lingering questions about housing and financial issues.
At least I know why I had such a bizarre dream. There was a story in the news about a woman in Detroit who had been declared dead but was found alive in a body bag hours later at a funeral home, where she was about to be embalmed. The images of the bodies of COVID-19 victims being stacked haphazardly in storage rooms and sheds has also haunted me.
It was a disturbing dream, but it intrigued me more than frightened me. This scenario has been played out in books and films but considering it from a caregiver’s perspective presents more practical questions than supernatural ones.
This week, musician Trini Lopez died. I immediately thought about my mother and how saying Trini’s name helped her in her recovery from a grueling cancer surgery.
I was familiar with many of my mother’s favorite musicians, which included Elvis and country legends like Hank Williams and Willie Nelson. But I had never heard of Trini Lopez until my mother became ill and required emergency surgery. Her mental state had taken a decline due to a delayed diagnosis, and she faced recovering from general anesthesia while being bedridden, trying to regain her physical strength.
Mom’s mental state bounced back pretty quickly, but there was one name she couldn’t remember to save her life, and it was an important one: her surgeon, Dr. Lopez. After many false starts, Mom came up with an unusual way to prompt her memory, by connecting the doctor with Trini Lopez, whose music she enjoyed as a young adult. When Dr. Lopez would make his rounds and Mom would be trying hard to remember his name, I would say, “Trini” as the clue and then Mom would say, “Lopez!” I’m sure the doctor thought we were a little, ahem, eccentric, but it worked every time.
It was one of the more lighthearted moments during Mom’s lengthy recovery period. I bought her a Trini Lopez CD when she returned home and she loved to play it. So it was fitting that when she died, that beloved Trini Lopez album was playing. I touch upon this in one of my essays in The Reluctant Caregiver.
I’ll always have fond memories of Trini Lopez for the joy that he brought my mother and the memory aid he provided in the hospital.
I recognize just about every blog that made this list, from the major organizations to the personal bloggers like myself. I was happy to see Alzheimer’s Daughter by Jean Lee, one of the founders of AlzAuthors, included on the list. Likewise, Kay Bransford does great work on her blog, Dealing with Dementia, covering important financial issues for those with dementia and their caregivers. Also making the list are two other blogs I frequently read, including The Caregiver’s Voice by Brenda Avadian and The Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver by Rena McDaniel.
As many of you know, The Memories Project began back in 2012 as a tribute to my father, who died of Alzheimer’s. Over the years, it has grown into an awareness and advocacy blog for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, as well as their caregivers. I also documented my journey as my mother’s caregiver, who had colon cancer.
While it’s nice to be acknowledged, the true reward I receive for blogging is connecting with family caregivers and being given the opportunity to advocate for those who provide care for their loved ones. I’ve also learned so much from other caregivers. The caregiving community is smart, tough and compassionate and I am honored to be a part of it.
Hope you and your loved ones have a safe holiday weekend.
In addition to Fourth of July, Monday is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 83 years old. Mom served briefly in the Navy, but the lessons she learned helped shape the rest of her life. She valued her time in the Navy and supported those who served. I’m grateful that Mom saved all of her Navy memorabilia, so I have everything from photos to newspaper clippings to her class notebooks.
I’ll be thinking about Mom this weekend and all of those who have served their country, whether in the military or through volunteer work as civilians.
Five years ago today my mother died. It’s hard to believe that much time has passed. Following on the heels of saying goodbye to my dear cat last week, it’s a double dose of grief.
When I think about my mother, the visceral pain has dampened with the passage of time, but such a profound loss changes the landscape of one’s heart forever. As those who have followed this blog or have read The Reluctant Caregiver know, my mother and I had our relationship challenges, because we were opposites personality-wise. But a mother is an irreplaceable figure in one’s life.
There are so many people experiencing loss right now. Having experienced a variety of losses over the last decade, I can say that grief does transform over time. Grief is an individual process, and while the established stages of grief may offer some insight, be prepared to slide in and out of stages over time. One thing I have found helpful is to give meaning to the loss, to honor the significance that person or animal had in your life. This could mean designing an urn, writing a poem, planting a tree, etc. One meaningful way I’ve honored both of my parents is to engage in caregiver advocacy work, to support those who cared for my parents during their times of need.
For those who are grieving right now, I hope you are able to find a path that will lead you to some form of inner peace.
This week, I had to say goodbye to Nod, my 15-year-old cat. He was such a sweet and affectionate cat, a total lap magnet. He also was one of those old soul creatures who carried an air of wisdom and deep understanding. We had an amazing bond and his absence is being painfully felt everywhere I turn.
Still, he had as good of a death as one can have. When he stopped eating over the weekend, he let me know that it was time to leave. (He’d had a chronic GI issue over the last couple of years and fought to live as long as he could.) I made sure to spend as much quality time with him as possible until the mobile veterinarian came to the home to perform the euthanasia. Nod always ran from the doctor, who has been paying visits a lot lately to treat my dog’s ear infection. But this time, he stayed in his pet bed and locked eyes with the veterinarian as she stepped into the living room. He knew she was there for him and he didn’t flinch. He was at peace, and that did offer me some comfort.
My other cat, Rosalie, was not particularly close to Nod. They had more of a sibling rivalry relationship. She initially left the room as the veterinarian set up her equipment, but then she came back in and intently observed the procedure from a safe spot. As soon as the veterinarian checked his vitals and nodded to me that he was gone, Rosalie got up, stretched and left the room. She knew that Nod was no longer with us.
I’m always floored by just how much animals understand. We don’t give them nearly enough credit. And we could learn something from them about how they approach death.
Farewell to my sweet friend Nod, who I know will be waiting for me at the Rainbow Bridge.