Tag Archives: death

Farewell to a sweet soul

I had to say goodbye to my beloved Rosalie two days before Christmas. She went into respiratory distress and a large mass was found on her trachea, which was almost entirely blocking her airway and ability to breathe. Because of its location, her age, and her condition, there were no realistic treatment options. I decided to let her go while she was still under anesthesia from the diagnostic procedure so she could slip out of this world as peacefully as possible.

Rosalie came into my life at the worst of times (my mother dying) and departed during another tough period of my life. I was fortunate to get six years with her delightful spirit. She was by far the easiest cat I’ve ever cared for and very affectionate. While I’ve loved the timid cats that I’ve adopted over the years, Rosalie was not shy at all. Nothing much seemed to spook her. She lived every day soaking up the simple pleasures of life (sitting on the heat vent or napping on the heated blanket during the winter, enjoying food, being petted, knocking her favorite crinkle ball toys under the couch) and I would marvel at how content and relaxed she was no matter what strife I and/or the world was facing.

I may have jinxed her by thinking she could be my “20 year old cat,” because she had the calm and happy-go-lucky demeanor that centenarians often have. Alas, cancer claimed her just a month after her 15th birthday.

The day I adopted Rosalie I put aside my normal common sense and went with my gut instinct. It was just days after another one of my beloved cats had died and many people would have felt it was too soon to adopt another. The weather that day was dreadful and for any other event or task, I would have opted out. Navigating through violent thunderstorms, I arrived at the shelter and met with Rosalie just minutes before another adopter arrived asking about her. From that fateful beginning, Rosalie and I forged a special bond.

She taught me that sometimes rules and traditions are meant to be broken and she could have taught a master class in self-care. I will be forever grateful that the universe brought her into my life.

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Reflecting upon 10 years since my father’s death

It has been 10 years since my father’s death. So much has happened in the past decade, but I’ll never forget where I was when my mother called with the worst news of my life, in the middle of the newsroom at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I had been waiting for that awful call for quite some time, and some part of me wished for it, because it pained me so much to see my father suffering in the late stages of dementia. But of course there was no immediate sense of relief upon my father’s passing, just sadness and regret.

I do still carry feelings of regret and guilt to this very day, and probably always will. I discuss this at length in The Reluctant Caregiver, and urge others not to judge themselves too harshly. In that spirit, I am taking a look back on what my father inspired me to do over the last decade.

  • I began this blog, The Memories Project. What began as a way to document memories of my father and process my grief has become the foundation of my dementia and caregiver advocacy platform. I have also met so many fellow caregivers through the blog and am grateful for their wisdom and their support.
  • I wrote a book, which was a life goal of mine. My collection of personal essays on family caregiving, The Reluctant Caregiver, won a gold medal at the IPPY Awards. An essay from that collection won the Rick Bragg Prize for Nonfiction from the Atlanta Writers Club. A story I wrote about my father, “French Toast,” was included in the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias collection. I know my dad, a lifelong lover of books, would be proud.
  • I finally made it to Ireland and visited my father’s hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland. This was at the top of my bucket list and has been one of the best experiences of my life.
  • The privilege of sharing my father’s story through a variety of outlets, including NPR, AlzAuthors, Caring Across Generations and the Aging in America conference.

The decade since my father’s death has been the most difficult of my life, but also the most rewarding. I hope that you can take time this holiday season to recognize and reflect upon the highs amidst the lows of your own caregiving journey. Give yourself the grace that you deserve.

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A lesson on how grief impacts our memories of traumatic events

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 is coming up and there will be many powerful reports, essays, and accounts written to mark the somber occasion. Remarkable pieces have been published over the years about 9/11, such as The Falling Man. An essay published in The Atlantic recently is one of the most well-written and moving accounts I’ve ever read. On the surface it’s about a family’s struggle with losing a loved one on 9/11, but peeling back the layers with both compassion and clarity, Jennifer Senior reveals much more than meets the eye.

One of the more interesting aspects of the essay to me is the impact that trauma and grief have on our memories. It’s a lesson that may serve dementia caregivers well. Getting the details just right may not be as important as how we are able to process past traumatic events in the here and now. Sometimes remembering a specific word is less important than conveying the meaning and emotion of the message.

Another important lesson learned from this family’s heartbreaking experience is that grieving can cause us to act in ways we don’t intend. Communication can become difficult. It’s important to give those who are grieving space to process what they are feeling. Be a compassionate listener. This essay captures in vivid detail just how different the grief process can be for members of the same family.

The 9/11 anniversary is coming at a time when our nation is reeling from the deadly coronavirus pandemic. There are many of us grieving right now. I would encourage all of us to remember that as we go through our daily interactions. A moment of kindness can make a big difference.

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Hospice Training: A Change in Perspective — The Day Between

What a fantastic exercise in developing empathy and understanding of the challenges facing those going through the end of life phase. I believe this training could also be adapted for those caring for those with dementia to better understand how one might feel like they are losing pieces of their identity to the disease.

From a fellow blogger training to be a hospice volunteer:

Yesterday, in a training for upcoming hospice volunteering, I was asked the following: Who are the 4 most important people in your life? What are your 4 most important possessions? What are your 4 top beliefs and/or aspirations in life? What are your favorite 4 activities to do? What are your 4 greatest comforts? I […]

Hospice Training: A Change in Perspective — The Day Between

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This Mother’s Day, reach out to those who are grieving

My mother’s last Mother’s Day in 2015.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left thousands of Americans motherless this year. One model shared in a study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggested the number of children who lost a parent due to the pandemic could be as high as 40,000, a staggering amount in just a year’s time span. On the other end of the spectrum, adult children grieve their elder mothers who died during the pandemic, some who must grapple with the extra pain of not being able to properly say goodbye.

Having lost both of my parents, I do find that Mother’s Day is harder for me emotionally than Father’s Day. I believe this is because my mother died in the month of May, just a couple of weeks after the holiday. My last memories of her before she became bedridden was reading her Mother’s Day card and admiring the fresh flowers I bought for her. Even though this year will mark six years since her passing, those bittersweet memories are still the first to surface when I’m reminded of Mother’s Day via the endless online ads and TV commercials.

I found this essay by Carol Smith on grief and the myth of closure to be compelling and moving.

For those whose mothers are still alive and perhaps will be seeing in-person for the first time in months due to the pandemic restrictions, I am so thrilled for you and I hope you have a wonderful reunion. We know now more than ever that each moment with loved ones is precious.

If you have a friend who may be grieving the loss of their mother, reach out and offer support in whatever way is meaningful to them. It can be a lonely holiday for those whose mothers are no longer alive, and acknowledgment from caring souls can mean so much.

In honor of Mother’s Day, AlzAuthors is offering free Kindle copies of our first anthology Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiving Stories: 58 Authors Share Their Inspiring Personal Experiences.

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Marking Dad’s 89th birthday

Today would have been Dad’s 89th birthday. This year will mark 10 years since his passing. It’s hard to believe that much time has gone by, and how much the world has changed in just a decade.

I’ve always loved this series of photo booth shots. I wasn’t an entirely cooperative model but Dad’s beaming smile makes up for it. Dad rarely smiled in photos as he was self-conscious about his teeth, so the wide smiles in these shots are extra precious. He was definitely a proud papa.

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Pandemic sparks discussion about end-of-life care options

Over a half-million deaths later, Americans may finally be ready to have more frank discussions about death. It is long overdue, and it pains me that it took a deadly pandemic to raise awareness, but perhaps it can be an important legacy of those who we’ve lost over the last year.

I’ve long championed the need to have “the talk” with elder loved ones, and how my parents’ refusal to discuss their end-of-life wishes created unintended but very real consequences. You can read more about my challenges in my collection of personal essays, The Reluctant Caregiver.

The pandemic showed us what many of us don’t want for our deaths: to be alone with no loved ones present, to be hooked up to machines, to die in a hospital instead of at home, to not be given a proper funeral or farewell ceremony. Hopefully we will take time to reflect upon these tragic, lonely deaths and take action now to better articulate what we would like the final phase of our life to look like.

Some may want to consider a death doula. Practically speaking, death doulas are helpers in all aspects of end-of-life care, from the bodily aspects of the dying process to spiritual concerns. They can assist with logistical issues, such as whether a client would prefer to die at home or in a hospice facility, and help coordinate burial and funeral plans. Doulas can serve as a comforting presence for both the dying and their grieving family. While it may seem awkward to bring in a stranger to what is considered a private family affair, having a compassionate, but clear-eyed presence can be a great benefit in an emotionally-charged setting. To learn more about this option, the International End of Life Doula Association offers a Doula Directory.

If you have not done so already, I hope you will take this time to think about how you’d like your end-of-life care to look and document those wishes. Encourage your loved ones to do the same. The coronavirus pandemic denied many the opportunity for a “good” death but by being more open in discussing a previously taboo subject, we can hopefully move towards a better end-of-life experience for all.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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