Category Archives: Memories

Dad gone 7 years now

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Today marks seven years since my father died. The weather today in Atlanta, a steady chilly rain, is exactly the same as it was on that day in 2011, when I took a call from my mom in the newsroom of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She rarely called me at work. I expected the worst, and received it.

That moment, and those right after receiving the devastating news, are forever burned into my memory and play in slow motion. The week after, viewing Dad’s body, trying to be there for my grieving mother but finding that we were clashing, making a desperate attempt to return home in the middle of a freak snowstorm, getting stranded in Roswell, New Mexico for Christmas … are memories I’d like to forget.

But some good did come out of the sadness. While I was stranded in that hotel room in Roswell, eating a microwave dinner, I created this blog, The Memories Project. And over the years, this blog has served me well. Initially, it helped me through the grieving process, and over time, it has become the foundation of my caregiver advocacy platform. Regular writing and exploring ideas helped me publish The Reluctant Caregiver. I’ve made so many wonderful connections over the years through this blog. From appreciative readers to those who have reached out for interviews, I am eternally grateful.

 

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Gift guide for those living with dementia and their caregivers

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The holiday season is in full swing. As you are tackling your shopping list, you may have someone on your list who is living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia and may be unsure as to what an appropriate gift would be for this person.

I ran into this issue with my father, during his last couple of Christmas holidays at home. One year, I got him a New York Times book reproducing the newspaper from the day and year he was born. While he couldn’t read much anymore, he could look at the images and advertisements and get enjoyment from that.

Here are some gift ideas from The Advocate for those with dementia, and please, don’t forget their caregivers!

Personalized gifts: Like the book I ordered for my father, gifts that evoke memories of the past are a good choice for those with dementia. One could offer to help the family put together a scrapbook or photo album by buying the supplies.

Activity-oriented gifts: One thing that is often overlooked when caring for those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias is that the person often still craves to engage in hobbies or tasks. They don’t want to be left in a room to stare out the window all day, especially in the early to mid-stages of the disease. Adult coloring books, art projects, easy puzzles, etc. make thoughtful gift choices.

Joy-evoking gifts: Those with dementia often still respond to music and other audio-visual cues even as their other cognitive abilities decline. Think about Glen Campbell, and how he could still sing and play guitar well into his battle with Alzheimer’s. If you know the person’s favorite genre of music or a beloved performer, you can give the gift of music, which can soothe and lift the spirits of those with dementia.

For the caregiver: Think about easing the workload when picking out gifts for caregivers. A gift card to a favorite restaurant or a meal delivery/grocery  service would likely be appreciated. Try also to pick out a gift specifically for the caregiver to use for self-care, such as a gift certificate to a spa or movie theater. If you are in the position to do so, offer to give the caregiver a break from duties.

If the dementia caregiver in your life enjoys books, consider The Reluctant Caregiver, my award-winning collection of personal essays on caregiving.

One of the best gifts you can offer those with dementia and their loved ones is simply your time. So many people withdraw upon learning of a dementia diagnosis that it can lead to social isolation. A compassionate ear and an open heart will be appreciated by all.

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Halloween greetings


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I know not everyone celebrates Halloween, but it’s always been one of my favorite holidays. I don’t dress up in costumes like I did as a kid, but I enjoy watching scary movies and decorating the house with spooky items. Oh yeah, and the candy. You’re never too old for a sweet treat.

If you haven’t had a chance to read The Reluctant Caregiver yet, I have a story in there about my dad in the essay titled, “The Batty Bunch.” I write about how he protected me after a few bullies pushed me at a Halloween party when I was a young child. It’s one of my favorite stories about my dad, who wasn’t the hands-on parent for a variety of reasons, but really came through when it counted. I also wrote about that Halloween party in a previous blog post here on The Memories Project.

Even though the world itself seems like a scary place right now, I still enjoy the Halloween season.

Do you have any favorite Halloween memories?

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6 Skills You Need to Have as a Caregiver

Great list, these are definitely important skills to have as a caregiver. I struggled with a few, but excelled at organization and problem solving.

The Purple Jacket

Whether it’s a career you want to pursue or something you want to do to use your time to give back, being a caregiver is both a challenging and rewarding experience. People do it every day all over the globe to make sure their loved ones and others get the care and help they need. It’s a selfless job for anyone who wants to take it on, and like all other jobs, you should have certain skills before you step into the role.

Beginning your journey as a caregiver before you know if you’re ready for it would be a major problem. Not only would you be putting yourself in a bad position, but you’d be preventing someone from getting the quality care they need. Read on to see which skills are most important for you to have as a caregiver.

Find out what you can do to improve those…

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Bittersweet birthday memories

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Pixabay

For me, July will forever be associated with birthdays. My mother’s birthday was July 6 and my birthday is July 19.

While birthdays should be filled with happy memories, ever since the death of my parents, I’m left with bittersweet memories. There’s a profound quote in the Netflix documentary, End Game, which is about end-of-life care and hospice, that touches upon what I’m feeling this week.

“Suffering is the wedge, the gap between the world you want and the world you got.”

Even though I didn’t spend my birthday with my parents as an adult, they always sang Happy Birthday to me over the phone. It was a fun tradition, and each year Mom would tell me how they practiced all week to make it special. My parents both had some musical talent, with Dad especially fond of singing in the style of his favorite crooner, Bing Crosby.

The year before my father was placed in the memory care center, my parents performed the best rendition ever of Happy Birthday. My dad was in high spirits that day, and even though he was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s by then, he hadn’t lost his ability to sing or to ham it up. He continued singing, performing a medley of classic show tunes before Mom was able to get the phone back from him. At the time I thought, “I wish I had recorded this!”

As my birthday approached the next year, I was visiting my parents and Mom and I made the trek to the memory care center to see Dad. He was mobile but heavily medicated. I didn’t expect any birthday singing, but Mom insisted. I was torn about recording it, but I knew in my heart that it would be my last birthday with my father alive. Little did I know then that my mother would be in a care center a year later recovering from cancer surgery.

Even though I knew it would be painful, I decided to record it. I’m glad I did, even though it is heartbreaking to watch. (I rarely share this video, but am making an exception here.)

As to the quote about suffering, what I wanted was the sublime Happy Birthday performance from the year before. What I got was my father, addled with medication and his brain ravaged by Alzheimer’s, trying his best to perform one final time, with my mother trying desperately to be upbeat.

Ultimately, both memories are gifts. They are both filled with love.

 

 

 

 

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An encore visit to the cat circus

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The Amazing Acro-Cats

This past weekend, The Amazing Acro-Cats returned to Atlanta for multiple “purrformances.” Of course, I had to go. It is such an entertaining, quirky show. It’s the only time you get to see “cat herding” in literal action. I highly recommend catching a show if they come to your town.

When I saw that the Acro-Cats were going to be in town this time around, my heart clenched a bit. If  you’ve read my book, The Reluctant Caregiver, there’s a darkly humorous account about the first time I attended an Acro-Cats show. The essay is titled, “That Time I Chose the Cat Circus Over My Dying Mother.”

I couldn’t help but remember seeing them in 2015, and how desperately I just wanted one evening free of caregiving duties (at that time, I was a long-distance caregiver, but in contact with Mom daily.) I arranged everything so carefully, got out of work early and called Mom before the performance to let her know I would be unavailable for a couple of hours. I had just settled into my seat in the theatre when my phone rang. It was Mom.

And here’s where the guilt pangs come in. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t wait to see if she left a voicemail. Instead, I turned my phone off. “I just want to see the cats,” I screamed inside my head. I was definitely in need of a break, but ignoring my mother’s call and turning my phone off is not my proudest moment as a caregiver.

Of course, throughout the performance, I kept thinking about Mom. Wonder if she had fallen? (She wore a LifeAlert pendant so she did have remote assistance.) Wonder if she was having shortness of breath?  Wonder if she needed to call 911 but couldn’t? Wonder if she was dying right at that moment and wanted to tell me one last time that she loved me? How could I be so selfish?

Immediately after the performance I turned back on my phone and with dread, listened to the voicemail. Mom was asking me to call her doctor in the morning to inquire about her pain medication. She was as “OK” as a dying person can be, and I was relieved my night out hadn’t ended in disaster.

This time, I could enjoy the cat circus without any interruptions, which was bittersweet. Mom would have enjoyed the cat’s antics. Check out a snippet of Oz’s stirring rendition of “Careless Whisper.”

In a sad coincidence, Samantha Martin, the Acro-Cats founder, is now battling stage III colon cancer, exactly what my mother had. She is raising money to offset the costs of not being able to tour while she is recovering from surgery. Martin has done so much to help needy cats, rescuing them and helping them get adopted. She’s also shown the world that cats can learn tricks through her clicker training method. I wish her the best in her recovery. The Acro-Cats will always hold a special place in my heart.

 

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When You Need Some Help: 5 Reasons to Join a Caregiver Support Group

Caregiver support groups are available in-person in some communities and online around the globe. Choose which format suits your personality and circumstances the best. The important thing is to make sure you have a support network to help you along the caregiving journey.

The Purple Jacket

In a world that seems to have lost the idea of the “village,” sometimes we feel pressured to be able to do it all. Asking for assistance or admitting that you are overwhelmed feels like failure, and we often think that we’re being judged by others as not good enough. And that’s just with normal, everyday life.

When you find yourself caring for a loved one, the pressure increases. You are expected to take on this additional burden with a smile, and your willingness to do so seems to be a measurement of your love; expressing your anger or frustration to friends and family earns you appalled looks of disbelief. The good news is that there is a village for you; a caregiver support group. Here are 5 reasons why you should think about joining one.

To Reduce Stress

Perhaps the primary reason to join a support group for caregivers…

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