Category Archives: Memories

Respite in the woods


Sunset in Ellijay, Georgia.

I just returned from a 5-day trip to the north Georgia mountains. It was a nice getaway, with a mix of rainy days to crystal clear nights with the sky full of stars. In the past, I haven’t been able to enjoy these trips as much because I  was worried about my parents as their health declined.

Back then, cell phone service was very iffy in the woods, and being able to reach them required some effort. Calls would drop often and my mother always thought I was hanging up on her, haha. (While there were many times I wanted to, I only hung up on her a couple of times in my life.)

I am always in awe of the majesty of the mountains, from the beauty of the sunsets, to the way the rains strikes the roof of the cabin to the blanket of stars overhead on a clear night. But life cycles are also on display in the mountains. The hawks swooping and soaring effortlessly overhead were seeking their next kill. I took a short hike and came across so many fallen trees. Taken out by severe weather or just old age, they will decay until they return to earth or are removed by developers looking to build a new cabin.

Sometimes it helps to watch nature do its thing, and know that many of the same rules apply to us. I think especially for those grieving the loss of a loved one, there is comfort in observing the cycle of life and how there is always something new to take the place of what is lost. A dogwood tree was just beginning to bloom near the cabin, a sign of the rapidly approaching spring; a tree stump became home to abundant fungi.


It’s these moments that I get to fully enjoy now that makes me realize how difficult it is for caregivers to truly unplug. Caregivers are always on edge, awaiting the next calamity. Even if you know your loved one is receiving good care while you are away, you never know when a medical crisis might arise. After awhile, it becomes your new normal.

I hope that my fellow caregivers will get a chance to enjoy a real respite soon.



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A gun on the farm



With gun rights and gun control being the hot topics of discussion after yet another mass shooting, it reminded me of a story from my mother’s childhood that fortunately did not end in tragedy.

My mother was raised on a farm, and it was not unusual for farm families to own a gun. Typically a rifle or shotgun was kept, sometimes to put down sick animals, or to kill rabid animals or scare off a bobcat. Hunting also was a popular pastime and source of food for the family. While human prowlers weren’t as much of a threat back then, in a remote farmland area, you best be prepared to defend your family. Having a gun was a practical decision in my mother’s family.

One night when my mother was a young girl, she must have gotten up in the middle of the night, or perhaps was sleepwalking, and ended up in a rocking chair in the living room. Family members heard a noise and the gun was retrieved as a precaution. When my mother was discovered, everyone heaved a sigh of relief and had a good chuckle the next morning.

My mother told me that my grandmother was not as amused, as having weapons in the house made her nervous. She worried about what could’ve happened to “little Janie” if my mother had been mistaken for an intruder. But as the matriarch of a large farming family, she understood the purpose for such a weapon and reluctantly accepted its presence in the home.

I’m just as grateful as my grandmother that the story had a happy ending.


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The value of living in the present

Those of us who have dealt with Alzheimer’s in our families know just how particularly cruel this disease can be. Much of that has to do with the loss of the person, their personality and memories. They become a shell of the person they were and it can be difficult for family members to adjust. This thoughtful blog post below highlights the benefits of living in the present, as so many people with dementia do.

“Memories warm you up from the inside.” This was written in fancy cursive on the wall of a memory care community that had invited me to do a staff in-service. I’m not sure who decided this was a great quote to post on the wall in such a setting. I’d like to ask them about […]

via The Importance (Or Lack of Importance) of Memories in Dementialand — Welcome to Dementialand

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Lessons on life from dying children


File image via Pixabay. (Not Dr. McAlpine.)

A Twitter thread by a pediatrician has been making the rounds lately, and for good reason. Dr. Alastair McAlpine asked some of his terminal pediatric palliative care patients what has mattered the most to them in life, and what has given their lives the most meaning. The children’s answers are both simple and profound, and something we adults should take to heart.

The things so many of us are hooked on, such as television or social media, did not make the kids’ important list. Family, pets, books and ice cream did rank high. These young souls whose lives will most likely be cut short barring a medical miracle shared a couple of values they found to be the most important. Kindness and a sense of humor made the list, not wealth or celebrity.

I encourage you to read the short thread on Twitter. At the end, Dr. McAlpine offers a takeaway for all of us.

We could all use a reminder to let go of negative thoughts and regrets and focus on the truly important people and things in our lives.

At the very least, we can commit to enjoying more ice cream.

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Self-help book giveaway


As a caregiver, my resolution was just to survive another day. Whether you are maintaining your resolutions so far this year or are in need of some inspiration, these self-help books may be just what you need.

Almost two dozen self-help books, including my essay collection, The Reluctant Caregiver, are available for free via Instafreebie. There are books offering advice on everything from finances, health, relationships and even hair.

Book giveaway: Self-help books to jump-start the new year

If you do download and read The Reluctant Caregiver, I’d appreciate an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads. Of course, I’d love to hear your thoughts here as well. I consider family caregivers to be the best critics, because they’ve lived the life. Thanks for reading!

What is your favorite self-help book? Is there a self-help book for caregivers that you recommend?

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Never too old to love Santa

Santa Claus

Julia Freeman-Woolpert/Freeimages

Ever since my father died five days before Christmas in 2011, the holiday season has been bittersweet for me. He also spent Thanksgiving of that year in the hospital, so both holidays are associated with sickness and death.

But each year, there are stories that reinforce the wonder of the holiday season and lift my spirits.

The story about a lovely woman named Karen, who has dementia but has maintained her lifelong love of Santa Claus, is one of those uplifting stories.

As Karen has moved into the latter stages of dementia and was recently placed in hospice care, her family made the wise decision to capture a beautiful holiday moment that her family will treasure for generations to come.

If you click through on the Facebook post above, you can read the entire story behind the photo shoot. I love the fact that Karen has a Santa doll and speaks Japanese to it!

Of course, not everyone with dementia reacts to holidays in a positive fashion, so it’s best to follow their lead. But don’t be afraid to indulge in some good old-fashioned fun this holiday season. We can all learn a lesson from Karen and her family.



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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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