Embracing Life at Death Cafe

Talking about death is awkward for most of us.  It’s not an easy cocktail or happy hour topic.  But I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to encourage this very subject. 

So I searched the web for tips. 

When I came across a Meetup group called Death Café, I was intrigued.  While intrigue was high, I was too busy to go.  And, if truth be told, it seemed rather odd.  Would it be filled with Goths or artists focused on El dia de los Muertos?  Was it for folks who were dying, had recently lost someone, or some other reason?  The post for the Meetup simply spoke to talking about death in a comfortable setting, and the mention of cake.

About four months later, at a networking meeting, someone mentioned wanting to go to a Death Café.  Bingo.  I was again intrigued.  I found the time and place and plugged it into my calendar. 

I arrived a bit after 1 pm at a lovely home in a Sacramento neighborhood.  I was probably 5 minutes late.  The conversation had already started.  The phrase, “death waits for no one” immediately popped into my head, but I held my tongue.  Is humor okay?  Should we joke about death?

The phrase, “death waits for no one” immediately popped into my head, but I held my tongue. 

As I settled in, I heard people introduce themselves and what brought them to Death Café that sunny afternoon.  People were there for a variety of reasons.  Some were facing a terminal illness or lifelong, threatening health condition. Some were grieving a family member.  One was grieving a pet, which hit him with such force that he felt compelled to explore his fear of death.  Some worked with people who were facing the end of life.  Some were just searching or curious about death.  I mentioned that I wanted to learn how to talk to people about dying – how could I encourage people to talk about end-of-life wishes and consider this a gift to those they left behind rather than a morbid task that would evoke fear and guilt and sadness?

The facilitator, a lovely woman who lost her first husband years ago and has since found a calling for assisting dying people at the end of their lives, shared that Death Café was founded by Jon Underwood who had envisioned a place where people could meet to talk through their fear, curiosity and any other feeling about death, consider how to live in the present and share tea and cake.

Jon Underwood had simple guidelines for Death Café.  It must be a safe place with confidentiality, it must be free of charge and no one should be there to sell a service or materials, and there should be tea and cake.  The tea and cake – or other refreshments – are a means of nourishment and sustaining life.  When we share food with each other, he believed, it is an act of the living, and while talking about death we can be more fully present to the gift of life in the moment.

The tea and cake – or other refreshments – are a means of nourishment and sustaining life. 

What I found at Death Café were people who sincerely wanted to talk openly about their struggles, their fears, their questions and their experiences without fear of judgment. No one was forced to share. Some shared a lot.  Some shared a bit.  Everyone listened. There was humor as well.  One gentleman inserted several puns or wry comments.  I suppose my “death waits for no one” thought could have landed well. Over the two hours, there was a palpable level of intimacy between strangers that was, indeed, life-giving.  People opened up about a topic that touched them in familiar yet deeply unique ways, which was both compelling and comforting. I left feeling lighter, optimistic, clear.

On the whole, we don’t talk about death much.  There is a lot of focus on being present, being mindful, and that is good.  What I found at Death Café was the ability for both to coexist.  In fact, I found that being present to life made talking about death simple, elegant even.  To talk about death is to talk about life. 

Death Cafés are held in over 56 countries.  You can Google Death Café and find one near you, or find a way to start your own.

“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different ends.” Lao Tzu

Tough Choice? OWN Your Decision

A few months ago, I was with a group of friends, and while talking with two women, I learned how one was now caring for her Mother In Law.  It was a change in plans for her and her husband, and it meant putting some things on hold.  The other friend talked about how her mother would likely come live with her and her husband when necessary.  Both felt very positive about their decisions, even if it meant life changed or would change.  I did not get a sense of “Poor me.  This is such a burden.”  It was a life choice and they could own it.  That is powerful.

There are many ways we can care for our aging parents.  Many people are able to age in place and stay in their homes. Some will move in with family. And then some will need more care for any number of reasons. My parents both had had good experiences with their aging parents living in Assisted Living facilities.

For my mother, it was a relatively easy choice.  We lived in Ohio and my grandfather lived in Oakland, CA.  He fell and broke his hip and had to go to a Skilled Nursing Facility for some time.  My mother’s Aunt, who also lived in the Bay Area, was able to find a place that was attached to an Assisted Living program, so that made the transition easier.  My grandfather lived another 13 years.  He thrived with the interaction and community. I believe he was quite popular, especially with the ladies!

My Dad’s parents moved to a community that also offered a continuum of care.  My grandfather needed a lot more help than my grandmother, initially, but she had long given up driving by that time, so for her, being in a place that gave her opportunities for an increased social life was wonderful.  She also became quite the popular diva!

So when my parents retired and moved from Ohio to Roseville, CA, they had already secured a long-term healthcare plan that would provide for Assisted Living.  They were adamant that this was what they wanted.  They did not want to live with any of us, three kids. They knew what they were getting into because they had thought long and hard about it.

Eventually, they did choose to live in an Assisted Living facility. They picked it out after we looked at many. They liked it because their doctor told them his parents were there. Recommendations, my friends! Like a good restaurant! Apartment for two – no waiting. It worked for them for a while, but eventually, when they each needed more care, they were able to move to another lovely place, that cost an arm and a leg. But that Long-Term health care insurance they had purchased really came through. They were able to choose what they wanted for themselves and for us kids.

However, after my father died, a friend of my parents called me to tell me I should have my mother come live with me.  Take her out of “that place,” he insisted. He was adamant that this is what she would want, even if it meant having a hospital bed in our living room, which is what he did for his mother years ago.  When I told him I knew quite well what my mother’s wishes were, he told me I didn’t really know her and that I was wrong.  I definitely struggled with this feedback, and I resented it.  Who was he to tell me he knew my mother better than me?  I felt judged.  I felt shamed!

I believe he meant well. I don’t believe for a minute he wanted to hurt me in any way. In some way, perhaps, he needed to justify his own choice for his mother. But, there are many ways we can care for our parents.  If we make those decisions with our heart and with love for not just our parents, but our own families’ needs as well, then we generally make the best decisions.  There is no one right way.

In fact, I often say, “There are multiple right answers to most questions!”

We hear of “Mommy shaming” these days.  There’s Sandwich Generation shaming, also.  This is NOT helpful.  This doesn’t move the discussion forward, and it doesn’t serve any person.  Only you know your family, your parents, your unique “big picture.” Do what you can to make the most empowering decision for you, and it is likely to be the best.

Then, OWN IT!

I’ve come to believe the best thing we can do is own our decision.  Owning our decision gives us the power to make the best decisions moving forward.  Talking with more and more Sandwich Generation folks – like my friends – is making that abundantly clear. So number – let’s be kind out there! And number two – let’s own our choices!

Signs Your Parent Needs More Help

There are some great articles on the web that can give you information about what signs to look for to tell you if your parent needs more help.  Next Avenue and A Place for Mom are two that have good information.  Common items are:

  • Difficulty with Activities of Daily Living (often referred to as ADLs)
    • Cooking
    • Bathing
    • Home maintenance and cleaning
    • Running errands
  • Frequent Falls
  • Driving difficulty
    • Look for dings on the car
    • Traffic violations
    • Limiting driving – if this is unusual
  • Social Isolation
  • Forgetfulness
    • Missed appointments
    • Getting lost
    • Trouble recalling routines
  • Not taking medications properly
  • Emergency room visits or increase in frequency
  • Money management issues – if this is out of the ordinary
    • Missed bills
    • Missing money

The Changes are the Key!

We can all be forgetful, or go through periods of withdrawal, or fall or any of the above things.  But it is the change in behavior, change in patterns that is the key. And as we age, it is normal and natural that some things take more time or effort.  My grandfather who lived to be 99 once told me, “My decades are starting to blend together.” 

I get that!  I’m only in my fifties, and when someone says the 1980’s are old or retro, I think, “that was last week!”

So pay attention and start noticing.  Look for patterns, and look for changes in patterns or behavior.  Be aware that new patterns or behaviors are not in and of themselves harmful or suspicious, however.  Change is also a good thing.  Learning new things is great for our brains, after all.  But consider if the change is enhancing everyday life, or limiting it.  Is the change to avoid a necessary or vital activity, such as socializing, or is it detracting from it.

You May Not Be the First to Notice

Also – you may not be the best person to notice.  Sorry to tell you this, but you may be biased and make excuses for your parent.  You aren’t biased because you are stupid or unable to make good judgments.  You may be a bit biased due to confirmation bias.

What’s confirmation bias?  That’s when we are directly influenced by the desire of our beliefs.  We want something to be true, or we don’t want it to be true.  So when we have a lot at stake emotionally – like with our kids or with our parents or other loved ones – we don’t always see what others see.  We see what our desires want us to see, and we don’t see what doesn’t match our desires.  We may actually be in denial because we don’t want to see it.

Again – not because we are stupid.  It’s because we are human.

So what can we do?

Seek Feedback.

I suggest talking to others.  Talk to siblings, if this is productive.  But also talk to others who are not as emotionally attached.  Talk to neighbors.  Not gossiping, but check in with them.  Get to know friends of your parents, and maybe ask if they notice anything out of the ordinary.  Let them know you are willing to hear from them.  People want to help others.  More than we think, really.  But a lot of people stand on ceremony, and consider talking to an adult child of a neighbor as being unfaithful to their friend. They might feel it is “not their place.” Let them know you care about your parent, and that they can call you if they are aware of emergencies and other concerns.

Do your parents have regular cleaners or hired help?  If it is a service and different people come each time, then these are the people to ask.  But if your parent has a weekly or monthly cleaner, this person will likely notice changes in needs.

My parents’ neighbors and friends were so helpful to me in this way.  I definitely did not want to see how impaired my parents were becoming.  When a neighbor called to tell me that the garbage cans were forgotten now and then, I listened.  When I took my Mom to her friend’s 75th birthday, she pulled me aside at one point and shared concerns about my mother’s memory and how she had stopped coming to their book club.  My aunt called to tell me she was concerned about my mother’s memory.  All of these people helped me to see what I didn’t want to see, even though I visited my parents a couple of times a week.

It is also helpful to get a professional evaluation from a geriatric case management team.  If your parent has a long-term health insurance plan this may be paid for under the plan.  Check with your parent’s doctor – a physician may be able to give you some information about services within the medical plan, or direct you to who might know more.  You can also hire a Geriatric Case Manager.  There are more and more people heading to this profession.  Also search for Healthcare Advocate – these professionals can also lend support and guidance.

When To Start?

            Probably now.  Sorry!  But if you are going to take on supporting your parent or parents in some capacity, it is never too late to start taking notice of patterns of behavior.  If you get a sense of what is happening when things seem normal and healthy, then it is likely you will notice changes later.  In Case Management, we call this getting a baseline.  You don’t have to take data like a researcher.  But start to notice daily routines.  What are your parents hobbies, social habits, basic home care routines? 

            Take some time to reach out to neighbors, if possible.  Do you know your parents’ friends?  If you are comfortable – trade phone numbers.  Like I said – most people want to help, but they often don’t know how to help or who to contact.

            Our goal in all of this is to be able to best support our parents.  Their habits will naturally change over time.  Most of those changes will makes sense in some way.  But if something seems, well, weird, then it probably is.  But check it out with someone else.  Look for changes in routines and patterns.  It may be strange, but when we are closest to someone, we don’t always notice what’s under our noses.

            Do you recall that old adage about raising children, “It takes a village?” I think it takes a village to care for each other, as well.  Start building your village!

Was this helpful? Are you noticing changes in your parents’ needs and routines? What is working for you?

The Hard Work of Being a Butterfly

It’s excrutiating to witness the pain of someone you love.  Whether that pain is physical, emotional or spiritual, it is almost overwhelming to witness knowing there is little you can do to really alleviate the pain. 

Sure, with physical pain you might be able to make the other person more comfortable.  You could give them pain meds if they have been prescribed.  You can adjust the environment as best you can – turn down the lights, quiet noises, maybe turn up some white noise, set the temperature to an ideal level, add scents or eliminate scents.  Whatever they need.

But with internal, emotional pain or spiritual pain there is little you can do but offer empathy, and sometimes empathy is just holding a hand and not saying anything.

Sometimes the best you can do is to not say or do anything. 

But inside, you hurt.  And this type of hurt is almost harder to bear.  You want to take it away.  You want to say just the right thing to give comfort.  You might even be ready to face their foes and drive them away.  In your body, you can feel your own ability to take on the pain!  “I’m strong enough!”  “I’ve been through this.”  “I can do this for you.”

But you can’t.

And even if you could fight their foes, should you? 

Every parent has dwelt in this sort of pain at one time or another.  It seems different at various stages.  When my kids were little, time passed quickly, and the internal foes were smaller, more manageable.  I am blessed that my children did not face the enormous traumas others have faced.  So I’m not speaking to abuse, neglect, loss and grief of significant proportions.  I’m talking about those little growing pains.

But even witnessing your child’s friend group and social milieu problems – lunchtime seating, recess play groups, birthday parties, theater or performance activities – every child faces little and big hurts here and there.  Rejection.  The yo-yo’s of  “In group – Out group” dynamics.

How much do you intervene?

We hear a lot about helicopter parenting these days.  It is a real issue.  I’ve seen it as a parent and as a school psychologist.  Doing too much for your kids can harm them.  You can’t fully learn how to find your voice if someone else is always speaking for you.

I’ve often shared the worm to chrysalis to butterfly analogy with other parents.  You watch a caterpillar turn into a chrysalis and then watch it struggle to break out of the shell.  If you interrupt or try to “help”, you actually harm the soon to be butterfly.  The process of breaking free is essential to the evolution of the butterfly.  They need that hard work to fly. So even though you just want to edge it out a bit, fold back one little, thin, wispy part…you can kill the butterfly, or at least impair its ability to ever fly.  And what is a butterfly that can’t fly?

But holding back is hard.

It continues to be difficult even when your children are grown and moving into adulthood.

In some ways it seems even harder because the there might actually be some traumas at this point, or at least the dramas seem quite a bit more intense, more significant.

Maybe because we are adults, too, these young adult growing pains feel more intense for us to witness.  Time seems to go a bit slower when witnessing your child heal from a broken heart.  Maybe that’s fresh for us, too, a bit too close to our own path through a broken heart from the past, maybe one that never fully healed.

I often encourage parents of Kindergartners to let their children carry their own backpacks.  If the backpack is too heavy, check to see what’s weighing it down.  Is everything in there necessary?  I can’t tell you how many parents have had to remove a favorite rock, large book from home, heavy toy or pair of favorite dress up shoes from a backpack.  “How did that get in there?” I often hear.

Clean out the backpack every evening and take a peek in the morning on the way out of the home.  You never know.  But allow a child to carry their own backpack.  This is one of the first steps in growing up.  It’s a strengthening step.  Building muscles for life.  “I can handle my stuff.”  It’s part of the chrysalis phase.

By the time each of our kids were about 4 and 6, when we took trips or went out and about, my husband and I would tell them they had to be responsible for what they brought along.  We weren’t going back for lost things.

But like all kids, mine were smart enough to know I carried a purse or small backpack.  Somewhere along the way I would get the question – “Can you put this in your purse?”

At some point I told them both I was not their Sherpa!

“What’s a Sherpa?”

“We’ll Google it when we get home so you can see, but it’s important that you carry your own stuff.”

But now that they are young adults I sometimes fantasize about being their emotional Sherpa.  I want to carry the pain.  I want to fight their foes. I know the right moves, the correct steps, the best lines, the secret path.

I want to open up that delicate chrysalis and peek inside to tell them it will all be okay.  They will only be stronger and they will be beautiful butterflies.  

But I can’t.

So I focus on taking care of me.  Because that I can do.  I can take care of me so that I am too busy to open the chrysalis.  I can take care of me so that I don’t become the Sherpa.  I focus on me so I can take the rocks out of my own backpack.  Out of my own purse.

And I try to fall back on listening.  Holding a hand.  Adjusting the emotional temperature as best I can.

Giving the Best Gift Ever

 

I wrote a brief article for my husband’s newsletter just in time for the 2018 Christmas Holidays. The concept is great for caregivers and those in the “Sandwich Generation” every day of the year.  Here it is, for the good of the cause!

The Best Gift Ever

Holiday time again! Rushing about, getting the house ready, decorating, cooking, attending work parties, holiday cards to buy, create and send out, neighborhood parties, buying gifts, wrapping gifts. And if your house has elves… Well, you know what that means. Time seems to fly and stress seems to soar to exponential heights. And as the stress piles up, the “Joy of Season” seems to dissipate like the helium out of a balloon that snagged on a sharp edge.

And there we are, flat on the ground.

Many of us run around at top speed trying to do it all a great deal of the time. During the holidays, though, it really feels compounded. There are quite a few expectations and quite a few triggers.

Our bodies, though, likely don’t know it is a special time that will soon pass. Our bodies just keep taking the hit. For me it is the neck area. I know I am feeling extra stress when my shoulders seem to be touching my ear lobes. Sometimes getting a full breath is a chore. And my eyes are tired from lack of good sleep. But like a lot of folks, I have always kept up the pace. Kept pushing along to get it all done.

Not a great way to show up in the world, is it?
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What to do About Jesus?

 

Trigger Warning! I refer to a picture of Jesus as” Jesus”. I mean no disrespect to any faith. This is not a religious post.

As long as I remember, my parents had a gilt-framed portrait of Jesus hanging in their bedroom. He came with them from Ohio to California in retirement, and moved with them to two different Assisted Living residences.

When they died, I inherited Jesus.

But this is not about faith, or religion or even about Jesus. It is about the crossroads we face with the clutter in our own lives and the clutter we inherit.

Now – how can I refer to Jesus as “clutter”? I’m not. It really is the picture of Jesus, but in our family, we came to call the picture…Jesus. It has been comforting, really. It reminds me of the faith of my parents, the faith in which they raised me, and the faith and spirituality I passed along to my children.

But back to clutter. I read an article about clutter this morning. It was very clear that clutter in our homes can lead to clutter and disorganization in our minds as well. One point was that, if we leave clutter behind, then we are leaving it for our children to handle.

This happened to me, which brings me back to Jesus. I inherited Jesus and a lot of other memorabilia, art, keepsakes, photographs, and documents. There was a ton of stuff to go through. My siblings live out of state, so they didn’t take much except valuables. And I get that!  It’s difficult and expensive to ship a box of stuff to sift through across the country.  They told me to simply throw things away.

Continue reading “What to do About Jesus?”

The Loving and Tough Choice of Hospice

One of the toughest times I recall was when I made the decision to sign papers for Hospice for my father.

He had been ill for a number of years – a slow decline at first, and then a rapid finish, it seemed to me, but my memory is blurred by love and sadness. At the time he was living in an assisted living facility with my Mom, receiving a lot of supportive services and trying desperately to keep a fair amount of time between Emergency Room visits as each one seemed to suck a chunk of time away from him.

My husband and I had taken the opportunity during summer to take some time away, just the two of us, for business and pleasure, after having spent nearly 5 years providing increasing levels of care for both of them. My siblings took time to visit from their own states and give us a reprieve. When our plane landed, I turned on my phone and the texts quickly pinged and populated my screen. I learned that both parents had made trips to the ER in the weekend before we landed back home, but that both were now back in their room, apparently safe.

The next day when I visited it was immediately clear that Dad was not all right. We made another trip to the hospital and by the end of a long day, arrangements had been made for me, as the one holding the Power of Attorney and Health Care Advocate status, had to make some decisions about Hospice.

Continue reading “The Loving and Tough Choice of Hospice”

Elder Orphans

silhouette of family with kids walk on sunset tropical beach

The other day I visited with a family friend who was having several helpers sort through a lot of old stuff – cleaning out. Her husband had died about a year ago, and she was finally ready to clean out a lot of the rooms in her home. Her daughter and a couple of grandchildren were there with her, along with some other family to help her through the process.

As I talked with several of the family members, I was struck with how worried they were about her. She now had a huge, empty house, she was getting on in years herself, and had recently made the decision to stop driving, which gave them enormous comfort, but also laid a new burden in their laps, as well.

Watching our loved ones grow old is very difficult. Often I hear people talk about how they now have to “parent” their parents. It certainly is a viable analogy, but I think it is not quite right. Is it that we become “parents” to our parents when they need us more, or are we really just morphing into another type of relationship – one that so far does not really have a name?

Continue reading “Elder Orphans”

Bright Sides and Silver Linings

The Sandwich Generation squeeze is tough. There are no two ways about it. One of the kickers is that it tends to sneak up on us. We live in a busy world when raising children, even if they are older and able to take care of most of their own needs. Combine any level of childcare or teen and young adult “management” with working, and we have busy with an extra dollop of stress on our plate. So in talking with people in the Sandwich Generation, I often hear how it went from 0 to 60 in a heartbeat. They didn’t really see it coming. Mom fell and broke her hip. Dad had a stroke. I’ve written about how I wasn’t fully in tune with how quickly my mother’s “forgetfulness” went from what I thought was anxiety to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. It is rather counter-intuitive that we find the signs of aging actually sneak up on us; after all, we are all aging every day. But it does. So yes, it is stressful.

But when we settle in, take care of the immediate needs, try to stabilize any crises, and finally come up for air, what do we find? Is it all doom and gloom? I am an optimistic pragmatist. I try to see the bright side in what is. Get the job done, but always look for the silver linings. In my own experience, and what I have heard from others, there are bright sides.

I’ve heard from people that relationships with parents often softened, deepened, and renewed. Strained sibling relationships often evolved and repaired to a significant extent. Spouses had opportunities to support and care for the caregiver. Children witnessed incredible acts of compassion, and themselves acted with immense love. Caregivers often report finding reserves of strength they didn’t know they had.

Often the bright sides and silver linings are small things with big impact. For me, I found a deepening relationship with my parents. My children loved times when my parents talked about their childhoods, my childhood, and so many funny stories. It became a ritual that we would ask one or both to tell a story when we were together. One time, we took a trip to where my Mother grew up and she lit up with such glee showing my kids her childhood house, her school, the church where she and my dad were married. She was completely delighted. It was wonderful to see how much long-term memory she retained, even if she couldn’t recall the conversation of 5 minutes ago.

My children often supported me, as well. Maybe because they were one generation away, and only knew my parents as older adults, they seemed to have deeper levels of patience for them. I recall one night in, particular; I had gotten crab for dinner because both of my folks loved crab. But my Dad no longer had the dexterity to crack the legs or bodies of the crab and dig for the sweet meat, a chore that had always been half the fun when I was a kid. But now I had to do it for him. He even had difficulty managing a fork, so I had to adjust to that. I became increasingly frustrated and distressed – mostly because I hated witnessing this sharp decline. Both of my kids stopped me and quietly intervened with words and actions. They provided both my father and me with compassion and support. It was these acts that later brought a flood of tears – acknowledging their maturity and gentleness. And looking at it from a distance, I could see a legacy of love from one generation to another. My children were learning more about compassion than I could have predicted.

Now, I wasn’t always great at seeing the bright sides and silver linings, but when I did, it gave me energy, insight, and enthusiasm for pushing on. Journaling about these times was especially helpful to me. I began with writing a nightly letter to God as a form of prayer. I started always with a gratitude list, then a list of special intentions for others, and then ended with asking for guidance and wisdom to see it when it showed itself to me. It helped me, too, when I asked for the best to come to those who I felt had angered or hurt me. It was easier to let them go when I wished them well, praying always for more joyful energy to show up in the world.

Coping is important for wellbeing. Coping is essential if we are to move through difficult times. And science actually shines a light on the physical and emotional benefits of coping strategies such as meditation, exercise, gratitude, and even compassion.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. David Hamilton (https://drdavidhamilton.com/) in 2017 at the first MindHeart Connect Conference in Gold Coast, Australia (http://www.mindheartconnect.com/). Hamilton is an organic chemist who spent four years developing drugs to combat cardiovascular disease and cancer. He was intrigued by the placebo effect and its power – and the mind’s capacity – to heal the body. He has written many books and lectures on the topic. He sees compassion as not simply good for the one cared for, but as a healing process for the caregiver as well. Hamilton notes that consistent, small acts of compassion are quite powerful. Our compassionate acts need not be grand gestures – the daily little things we do to care for others, also heals us.

Our bodies produce oxytocin, often called the “cuddle hormone,” when we engage in pleasing social situations and acts of compassion. Mothers produce oxytocin during labor and lactation. Men produce oxytocin as well and it is thought to promote social awareness. 

So we can focus on the chaos, the sadness, the added chores, or stop to consider what gifts we are given in this time. That is up to us.

This speaks to the power of intention, mindfulness, and self-awareness. It is easy to get caught up in feelings of overwhelm. But in taking a long view, pulling the lens out a bit to see the big picture, I know I have found that accepting the situation I cannot change – that caregiving for an aging parent will ultimately mean dealing with their death – helped me to focus on the quality of their lives, the quality of my life, and the quality of my children’s and spouse’s lives.

How do you care for yourself during these times of immense stress? Have you found bright sides or silver linings? Have you experienced the power of compassion?

I invite you to share. Thanks for reading!

Christy

Denial

“Christy, I think your Mom is having memory problems. Have you noticed?” my Aunt asks me. A lot of people have been asking me this one lately. No, I tell them. It’s anxiety. She is just so worried about my Dad. She worries all the time and is afraid to leave him for very long, so she cancels things she used to do. She has been cancelling book club, volunteering, various and sundry social engagements. But the question nags at me. Is it anxiety or is something else going on?

My Mom tells me, “I’m afraid I am more like my mother than my father!” She refers to her mother who died the day before her 80th birthday, who probably had some form of dementia for years. She would walk around her home with a burning cigarette with a 5-inch ash at the end, with my grandfather following behind with an ashtray trying to keep the house from burning down. Her father lived nearly another 20 years and died at age 99. His memory was as clear as a bell, although he did tell me the decades seemed to blur together. My Mom worries a lot about my Dad, but she worries a lot about that, too. She worries about her memory. Should I worry, too?

I’m a school psychologist with a background in counseling and various other things. I’ve worked with adults and children. I’ve worked with people with mental illness. I know anxiety when I see it, I tell myself. This is anxiety. But my conscience gnaws at me. Is this denial on my part? Sometimes we are most dangerous when we think we know things.

I visit my parents and stop to check that my Dad’s pillbox is full for the week. I’ve been checking this recently because my Mom tells me Dad messes it up after she fills it. He is on a lot of medication. I look and sure enough, pills have been moved and everything is a jumble.

“Who changed everything?” I ask them both. I sound like the 3rd grade teacher my mother was for 25 years, interrogating the 9 year olds about the messy room or missing markers. This bugs the crap out of my Dad, who huffs. “She keeps messing with it,” he tattles. She is ratted out again and looks aghast and indignant. Seriously – is this what it has come to? I pull back from my frustration about having two more “children” to care for. Eventually, I fix the pills and tape a sticky note to the front, “Do not move, remove or add any pills until you call Christy first”. Yeah – that’ll work.

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