Category Archives: Memories

Now showing: Intriguing mix of movies about caregiving, dementia, elders

It’s been a chilly winter for Atlanta (though no snow) and I’ve been hunkering down watching movies. In recent years, there has been an increase in movies about topics that I care about, including caregiving and dementia. Films about growing older that aren’t necessarily tied to illness and death are also being made. Whether you end up giving a thumbs up or a thumbs down to these movies, the mere fact they are being told and finding an audience is a positive sign. There continues to be issues with how older people, especially women, are portrayed in movies and there remains a need to explore growing old from the lens of people of color and other marginalized groups. Below is a list of movies I watched recently that deal with caregiving issues that I found intriguing.

Supernova: Starring Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth, this emotionally riveting drama centers around a same-sex couple grappling with dementia and end-of-life issues. I appreciated the focus on male caregiving, as it is often overlooked in our society but more men are becoming caregivers and their stories deserved to be told. The vulnerability that the actors showed in their roles was laudable.

Nomadland: Frances McDormand gives an award-worthy performance as an older woman named Fern who converts a van into a home and hits the road after her husband dies and the town she had lived and worked in suffers and economic collapse. The film offers an honest, unvarnished look at the life of modern nomads, who live out of vans or RVs. Many of these nomads are older, but continue to work at odd jobs to afford their life on wheels. While the road offers a good deal of freedom, health challenges, financial issues and loneliness are common issues. This is not a road trip adventure movie; it is about an older woman looking to learn who she is after her former life vanishes. Money is tight, the nights are cold and you take jobs wherever you can find them. The road can be unforgiving, but the friendships Fern forms along the way are authentic and offer important lessons.

Some Kind of Heaven: This documentary by Lance Oppenheim is a moving and intimate look at the less festive aspects of life in The Villages, the well-known retirement community in Florida. Those who have ample retirement funds and who are extroverts will likely thrive in the party-like atmosphere, but for those who find themselves alone, grappling with health issues or lacking money, The Villages is not such a fairy tale life. Oppenheim handled this subject matter with an impressive amount of compassion and insight for someone in their mid-twenties making their feature-length documentary debut.

I Care a Lot: This black comedy-thriller is polarizing audiences. Rosamund Pike plays a villain you love to hate but no one comes off as a hero in this film. Pike runs a company who provides guardianships to the elderly who are supposedly no longer able to care for themselves. The only problem is that her clients are all wealthy and not all are in need of guardians. The company is a scam to strip these people of their money while portraying itself as elder advocates in the eyes of the law. While the violent antics depicted the movie are over the top, there are documented cases of court-appointed guardians who do not serve their client’s best interest and who shut out family members who question such moves. Once courts become involved, it can be difficult for families to regain control of their loved one’s assets and care plan.

What are your favorite movies about caregiving? Let me know in the comments section.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

My father’s Cecil Hotel experience haunted him for life

I’ve previously shared on this blog my father’s terrifying experience at the Cecil Hotel back in the 1960s. Over the years, documentary filmmakers have reached out to me, interested in learning more. Last year, I was interviewed for a documentary that premieres Feb. 10 on Netflix. It is called, “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.”

The documentary focuses on the mysterious death of Canadian tourist Elisa Lam, who was found dead in a water tank atop the Cecil Hotel in 2013. While authorities ruled the death an accidental drowning, there are many questions surrounding her death, amplified by the notorious reputation of the hotel. The four-part series covers many of the high-profile crimes that have taken place at the Cecil.

For those interested in the possible supernatural influence at the Cecil, I’m sharing my father’s terrifying experience. My father lived at the Cecil in 1965. He was a young, single immigrant from Northern Ireland who needed affordable accommodations near his workplace. He had been staying at the Cecil for some time with no unusual incidents to report until one night, he woke up to the sensation that someone was smothering him. He described it as a heavy pressure weighing down on his chest and throat, as if someone was sitting atop him. He gasped for breath and tried to fight back, but it felt like his entire body was paralyzed by an invisible but strong presence. Then as soon as it began, the feeling dissipated. My father ran downstairs to the night clerk, and explained what had happened. The clerk said, nonchalantly, that someone had been murdered in my dad’s room.

Dad’s naturalization certificate with the Cecil Hotel listed as his address.

My dad changed rooms and did not experience anything unusual during the rest of his stay.

But the experience haunted my father for the rest of his life. Decades later, my father would be visibly shaken when retelling the story of what happened in that room at the Cecil Hotel. He would break out into a sweat, and his hands would shake. My mother would caution him to stop telling the story if it upset him so much, but Dad felt compelled to go on, even while clutching his heart. 

My dad survived the Nazis bombing his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland as a child. He recounted having to run to the bomb shelter in the middle of the night with less fear than he told the story about that night at the Cecil Hotel. 

The logical, rational side of me can dismiss my father’s experience at the Cecil as just a nightmare. He was prone to nightmares, very bad ones in which I remember him moaning and crying out in fear. But the thing about his nightmares is that they were always the classic “someone chasing me” scenario. Never did he have a nightmare that in any way resembled his experience at the Cecil. 

There’s no way for me to know if my father had an encounter with an evil presence that haunts the Cecil Hotel or not, but I do know that whatever my father experienced, it felt very real to him.

Read more: Dad’s stay at the haunted Cecil Hotel

When my father stayed at the Cecil, he likely wasn’t aware of its disturbing history. About a dozen suicides had been recorded at the hotel by the mid-1960s, including several women. Pauline Otten, 27, committed suicide in 1962 by jumping out of a window at the Cecil. In a tragic twist, she killed a pedestrian on impact. Just a year before my father’s stay, Goldie Osgood, a retiree known as “Pigeon Goldie” and the “Pigeon Lady of Pershing Square,” was raped and murdered in her room. The coroner said Osgood had been choked to death with a hand towel. The case was never solved, though an initial arrest was made. This Medium post offers a good overview of the deaths associated with the Cecil Hotel.

Unfortunately, the Cecil’s reputation only grew worse. In subsequent decades, it has been home to at least two serial killers, including the infamous Night Stalker. Lam’s mysterious death garnered worldwide interest and once again put the Cecil in the spotlight. The hotel tried to rebrand itself as Stay on Main for a few years and is undergoing yet another transformation but still attracts much attention from paranormal enthusiasts.

The hotel’s sinister history inspired a season of American Horror Story.

If you have interest in the history of the Cecil Hotel and the Elisa Lam case, I encourage you to watch this new documentary and let me know what you think. Many of you have reached out to me over the years to offer your own experiences when visiting the Cecil Hotel and I appreciate your comments.

1 Comment

Filed under Memories

For my father, ancestry and politics forever intertwined

The Long Room in Dublin

I couldn’t help but think about my father this week as Joe Biden was inaugurated. Biden is an Irish-American Catholic who proudly recognizes his Irish ancestry, frequently quoting Irish poets and writers in speeches. I think my father would approve.

My father’s interest in politics began early. He was born into a devout Irish Catholic family in Belfast. Nazi air raids sent him and his family fleeing into bomb shelters in the middle of the night. His initial love of America was due in part to the U.S. military’s role during WWII. He closely followed the violent, deadly developments that took place between nationalists and unionists in his beloved Belfast and surrounding areas during the Troubles. By this time, he had already immigrated to America, which was a good thing, because he alluded on more than one occasion that he may have become directly involved in the unrest if he had remained in Northern Ireland.

As a child, what I remember most about my father’s political beliefs was his adoration of all things Kennedy. He loved to tell the story of how he met a young JFK in New York City. My father was a bellhop at the hotel Kennedy was staying at and he got to shake his hand. He also followed Robert F. Kennedy’s political rise closely and I believed he attended at least one rally in Los Angeles. My father lamented the Kennedy curse that cut short the political aspirations of the two brothers.

My father’s heritage directly influenced his political perspective. He had great disdain for Britain’s control and interference in Northern Ireland, and closely followed other countries who battled for independence from crown rule. His many letters to newspapers reflected a deep political interest in conflicts around the globe. In spite of political turmoil, my father remained devoted to all things Irish, beaming with pride when those of Irish descent were recognized for their talents. As my mother wrote in my father’s obituary, he loved his adopted country and homeland equally. He recognized that the good parts outweighed the challenges. It’s a poignant reminder for me right now, as America struggles through its own cultural and political strife.

2 Comments

Filed under Memories

Remember those mourning amid holiday cheer

It’s the ninth anniversary of my father’s death, and that also means it is time for my annual PSA (public service announcement) about being gentle and non-judgmental with those who choose not to celebrate the holiday season because they’ve lost someone during this time of year.

The coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 300,000 lives in America will put a damper on this year’s festivities. But I also noticed the opposite effect, with neighbors putting their Christmas decorations up well before Thanksgiving. Both are natural reactions and we should respect the way individuals choose to cope.

This year as I reflect upon the anniversary of my father’s death, I remembered a detail I came across in a card he had attempted to write one of his sisters, but no longer had the cognitive function to address and mail. He had written in the card that he had been diagnosed with the swine flu. He had not received such a diagnosis, but the H1N1 pandemic was in the news at the time. Dad had latched on to that to explain what was happening to his body. That memory came back strong this year as the coronavirus pandemic unleashed its fury across the world.

Related to the pandemic and the need to wear masks, I also am reflecting on the fact that Dad would likely have been anti-mask. In 1986, when I was 12, wearing seat belts became mandatory when driving a vehicle in California. I remember many heated arguments in the car because of my father’s stubborn refusal to put on his seat belt. He claimed wearing the belt was constricting and made him feel like he was choking. Sound familiar this year? As an ill-advised compromise, Dad would drape the belt over his torso, but not latch it. Fortunately we never had any serious accidents. According to the Los Angeles Times, my father was part of the majority who at the time did not wear seat belts on a regular basis.

It has been the strangest and most challenging of years and the holiday season is no different. Connect with those you love however you can safely. Offer words of comfort and healing to the many who are grieving.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

Happy Halloween: May there be more treats than tricks

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

Dementia Caregiving and COVID — When Dementia Knocks

 

senior-599806_640_edited

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.  

Add title

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 […]

Dementia Caregiving and COVID — When Dementia Knocks

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

Fall feelings

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

Setting personal boundaries in caregiving

Good tips! Establishing boundaries as a family caregiver is so important. The initial resistance you may face can help you avoid caregiver burnout down the road.

Read the entire post on What to Do about Mama?

1 Comment

Filed under Memories

When our departed loved ones return (in our dreams)

Jay Mantri/Pixabay

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

Remembering Trini Lopez

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories