Tag Archives: Elder Care

The Two Women

The young woman on the inside is strong and vibrant. Self-sufficient and capable. Beautiful and lively.

The woman on the outside, with her greying hair and thin skin, is tiny and frail. She breathes with the help of oxygen and spends her days confined to bed or chair.

Most of the time, they co-exist peacefully, each unaware of the other’s presence.

The discord comes when the two meet. When the woman on the inside tries to stand, but finds she’s unable. Tries to answer questions about herself, but gets even the basic facts wrong. Tries to place food in her mouth, but instead finds it in her lap.

Frustration sets in, because the woman inside knows she is able. But her physical body is no longer in synch with her mind, and the two do not cooperate with one another.

“How are you today?” asks the nurse. “Fine,” she replies, unaware that oxygen is flowing through a tube beneath her nose.

“Do you have any pain?” asks the doctor. “No,” she answers, not remembering that she can no longer stand after breaking her hip.

It’s hard for us to know how to feel. Because of the woman on the inside, anxiety levels are lower. But it frustrates the woman on the outside, because she doesn’t understand. And the two can swap places without any warning. So you never know which one you’re with at any given moment.

The rhythm of her breathing is comforting. It is a reminder of her physical presence. But everything else creates unease. Each new report from the doctor, each change in her physical status brings more questions. But since she is unable to contribute to her own care, others must make decisions for her.

Others must also bathe her and feed her. The lively young woman lies helpless in a bed. Long gone are her dignity and privacy.

Occasionally, the woman on the outside perks up. She watches television, or replies with one of her signature quips. Those moments are rare gifts. And every week there are fewer of them.

At some point, she will need peace. And we will be left with memories of both women. I hope the memories of the woman on the outside fade quickly, leaving us to reminisce with joy about the woman on the inside.

The woman on the inside, with her handsome, young man.

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Life is Good Enough.

Good enough.

I used to hate those words. They always seemed like a cop-out.

Then I had three kids. And we bought an apartment building. And got a dog. And I started taking care of my in-laws. And I just couldn’t keep up with my old standards any more. I started to feel inadequate, and beating myself up regularly over the things I couldn’t get done.

But I found a solution. A way out of the self-imposed guilt. I’ve turned over a new leaf.

I’ve embraced mediocrity.

And now, good enough has become . . . Good Enough. Not just a measure of acceptance, but a whole new philosophy for life. A new mantra.

Here are a few excerpts from the Good Enough Manual:

Good Enough Laundry = clean (for the most part). The kid who hasn’t yet gone through puberty may occasionally wear shirts more than once. Folding is optional. And you already know how I feel about sorting socks.

No more shame!

Good Enough Dinner = everyone eats something. Most nights I provide the meal. Most nights we eat together. But if we can’t, we can’t. My children are now old enough to handle sharp knives and prepare food. They know the way to Subway. They won’t go hungry.

Good Enough Housekeeping = a reasonable standard of hygiene in the bathrooms and kitchen. Enough said.

Dusting is now optional.

Good Enough Landscaping = the weeds will die once we have a cold snap. Probably. If not, they’ll bloom in the spring and I’ll call it a garden.

I’m no longer envious of my friends with their picture-perfect homes and spotless cars. They can hop in with me and we can go to lunch. Or we can drive out to the lake and eat Cheerios off the back seat. It doesn’t matter to me.

This weekend we’re going to a cross-country meet in Baton Rouge. Instead of rushing home as soon as The Caboose crosses the finish line, we’re going to go visit The Trailblazer at LSU. We’re going to enjoy a little October weather and I’m not going to worry about housework.

When I get home I may print up some membership cards to the Good Enough Club. Who wants one?

 

 

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Boiling Frog Syndrome

I often use a metaphor to describe how we sometimes find ourselves in situations we didn’t see coming. It goes something like this:

If you put a frog in a pot of hot water it will jump out immediately, because it senses danger. But if you put a frog in a pot of cool water and heat it slowly, the frog will adapt to the changes. It will not perceive danger, and eventually it will cook to death.*

I fear I’ve become a victim of Boiling Frog Syndrome.

(Photo © 2010 J. Ronald Lee.)

I used to live a very organized, efficient life. I worked outside the home, worked inside the home, mothered three kids. As an Army wife, I often did it solo. I managed our rental properties, cared for my parents, volunteered at my kids’ schools, taught Catechism at my church. And all the while I managed to maintain a decent standard of hygiene in my home and a semi-active social life.

I’m not sure when the fire was turned on under me, but somewhere along the way that cool pot started heating up, and my surroundings became a threat to my survival.

At some point, having the right uniforms clean on school days became a challenge. (Enter Febreeze into my life.)

Homework became a lifestyle-altering component of my family’s schedule.

Carpool and lacrosse practice became the events that dictated the rest of the day.

I had to take an afternoon off of work to wait for the exterminator, the plumber, the AC guy.

Meals at home became grab and go events, not sit downs.

Taking my parents and in-laws to the doctor became a frequent activity.

I was overwhelmed by my routine day.

Lists didn’t help. I never could get the things on the list done by the time they were supposed to be done. The unchecked list became a reminder of my failure.

Requests for assistance didn’t help. I had created a system that only I knew, so asking for help meant doing it over when it wasn’t done right, and stopping to explain ‘what or how’ became as time-consuming as doing it myself. I had painted myself into a proverbial corner.

Years went by, and I couldn’t figure a way out. I reminded myself to be patient. “This, too, shall pass,” became my mantra. I watched as my friends went on weekend jaunts to Napa, while I tried to dig out of paperwork. I was jealous of those who went to the zoo when I could barely get to the grocery store. The lists grew longer and longer. But I couldn’t figure out how to change anything.

The events of the last year turned the fire up even hotter. And I started to feel the heat. Anxiety attacks, hives, a trip to the ER after passing out. My body was sending me clear signals, but I still couldn’t figure out how to reduce the flame beneath me. I knew I had to get out of the pot for my own survival, but I just couldn’t find the way out.

So I scoured the internet for some inspiration, and I stumbled on this blog.

The steps seemed simple enough, so I thought I’d give it a try to see how I could apply these business practices to my life.

7 Tips for Prioritizing Tasks Effectively

1. Respect Deadlines.

An absolute must. I was prone to putting off the things that stressed me the most, even if there was a cost. Practical translation: Laundry must be done. If I have to Febreeze a uniform so my son can wear it to school unwashed, I’ve failed. Monday morning, laundry must be caught up.

2. Set Milestone Deadlines.

Don’t complete one task at the expense of the others. If it all has to be done, set reasonable milestones and work toward them. Leaving a monumental task until the last minute will bite you in the ass every time. Practical translation: The insurance claim must be filed within two weeks. The apartment must be ready to show by the 20th.

3. Consider the Consequences.

There will be things that just can’t get done. Choose the ones you can let go, and then… let them go.  Practical translation: I won’t be making those spectacular Halloween decorations I saw on Pinterest. In fact, I’m may delete my Pinterest account. All it does is make me feel more inadequate.

4. Consider the Payment Terms.

Some commitments do pay rewards. Get them done. Practical translation: Get the apartment ready. Missing another month’s rent will set the cause back even further. Two teenage boys on the car insurance is no laughing matter.

5. Consider Time Required.

When facing two equally important tasks I’ve started using the low-hanging-fruit method. Practical translation: Choose the one I can get finished. The reward of checking something off that list will often give me the energy to tackle the next one. And then the next one.

6. Set Goals and Work Backwards.

Keep the big picture in mind. Prioritize the steps, keeping in mind that some are foundational for others. Doing things in the wrong order makes for extra work. Practical translation: Clean the kitchen before starting dinner. Put away laundry before packing for vacation.

7. Schedule a Percentage of Your Time for Personal Projects.

Personal indulgences were always the first thing to be cut. But tasks that energize me – even if they take up valuable time – leave me better equipped to tackle the necessary things. Cutting these activities backfired on me in the long run because it left me feeling unfulfilled. Practical translation: Don’t eliminate the things that fulfill me. Spend time with friends. Exercise. Read. Dare I even say it… travel.

Now I’m not sure if using this method is going to solve my problem. But I am already gaining some sense of control over things, and I’m sure that will cool the water down a bit. I’m giving myself a month to knock out some big items and make decisions on how to work smarter on the small items. And I’m planning a trip. (A really big trip! Just for me! More on that later.)

Because I’ve already lost enough time sitting in this pot, waiting for the water to cool on its own.

* Before publishing I confirmed the accuracy of this anecdote with the trusted online source Wikipedia. According to Wiki, the frog will eventually realize its demise is near and jump out. But revealing this at the beginning of the post would have ruined the whole metaphor. Ignorance is bliss. 

** No frogs were harmed in the writing of this post.

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How do you manage tasks and stress? What organization methods help you function more efficiently? And have you ever actually seen a frog in a pot of water?

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Moral Relativism: How I taught my son to tell a lie.

The Truth is not always clear.

Yesterday I sold myself out.

The Caboose had a concert last night, the “final exam” for his chorus class. It was at 7:00 P.M. at a church about 30 minutes from home.

My Mother-in-Law (who lives with us) has been having some medical issues this week, and my husband and I thought it best that she stay home and have her visit with the home health nurse. Knowing she’d be upset if she found out he was performing and we weren’t taking her, I did something I’ve never done before.

I told my son to lie.

I wrapped it around an explanation that, albeit true, was justification to disregard one of the standards I hold highest. At least I did until yesterday.

Since we’d be leaving the house just a few hours after getting home from school, she was bound to ask where we were going. And in his chorus uniform (dress clothes with a tie) a casual explanation wasn’t plausible. I suppose I could’ve just sneaked out the back door in stealth mode, but there would have to be an explanation of why the sitter was staying late. I felt trapped by The Truth. So I made a judgment call. And I lied.

We all tell lies. We really do. “This is the best cake I’ve ever tasted.” “I can’t make it in to work today.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t get the message.” We rationalize the lies we tell by pretending they’re harmless. We justify their use by the goal we’re trying to achieve.

As adults, we live in a world where things are not always black and white. We rely on experience and outcome to make judgment calls at times. And we sometimes lie in the process.

But at eleven years old, he doesn’t yet have that body of experience, or the understanding to make those calls. I told him that it was OK to lie because the truth would hurt her feelings. I packaged it up neatly in a way that would make it easy. Then I engaged him in the process, we told the cover story, and left.

On the way to school this morning, he was the first to bring it up. “It felt weird lying to Grandma last night.” I told him that I thought so too, and that we shouldn’t do it again. But the fact of the matter is that we will have to do it again, because she can’t do everything we do. I’ll just have to make sure I have a better plan, one that doesn’t require his participation.

And I’m now left to wonder where else he’ll apply this new standard of relativism.

“If it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’ll be OK.”

“She’ll never find out, so why not?”

“I’m only lying because I don’t want to hurt her.”

So The Truth, which I used to hold in such high regard, is now reduced to a standard I’m willing to sacrifice for a greater good in my son’s eyes. I sure wish I could get a do-over on this one.

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What do you think? Is it OK to tell a lie in certain situations? 

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Full Time Daughter

My mother-in-law moved in with us.

If you’ve been following for a while now, you may remember that we don’t get along.  But circumstances are what they are, and despite our challenging relationship, moving her here was our only option. I’ll spare you the details, but here are the facts you need to follow along: her husband is in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimer’s. She broke her hip in December. She is an insulin-dependent (Type 1) diabetic. Her dementia has advanced to the point where can no longer be left unattended. Ever.

So here we are.

The decision was a hard one to make. My husband and I both knew what we had to do, but because of our past, I don’t think he felt like he could ask that of me. So I let him off the hook, and I posed the question. The answer was an immediate “yes,” and we set about preparations immediately, before either of us had a chance to really think about what we were doing, and change our mind.

We cleared out a room, converted it to a bedroom for her, and moved her in to our house.

I was angry. For years I watched her deal with her husband’s dementia without an ounce of patience, belittling and demeaning him in front of others (even my children), and now I was rolling out the red carpet for her. She was given beautiful accommodations, home cooked meals delivered to her at the table, and was spoken to with kindness and respect. It didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t fair.

I tried, I really tried, to open my heart and put my feelings aside, but I just couldn’t. When she asked the same questions over and over, I flashed back to the way she treated him, and even though the words I spoke were calm and non-confrontational, they were filled with bitterness. Karma hadn’t gotten it right.

(Thanks, Enlightenment Ain't for Sissies, for the Karma Wheel.)

Then one Sunday, the story of Jesus and the lepers was read in Mass, and the homily centered on Jesus loving the Unloveables. “Who are the Unloveables in today’s world?” the priest asked. He talked about loving, in an active way, those who are hard to love. He pointed out the obvious – the homeless, AIDS patients, those who are different from you, those who scare you. Then he challenged us to think about our own world, and who our Unloveables are. And to reach out to them. To love them anyway.

I tried. I tried to be more patient. I tried to speak more gently. But I just wasn’t there yet.

I was still waiting for her to love me back.

As days turned into weeks, I knew I needed an internal reconciliation. Something had to change, and the change had to be within me. I prayed. I sought counsel from friends. I wrote thousands of words, trying to put them in the right order to get me where I needed to be.

I knew I was getting closer, but I still wasn’t there yet. I continued to search the archives of my mind and my heart for some reference to give me what I needed.

Along the way I thought about an old blog post from my friend Mike. (Mike, send me the URL so I can link it here!) He wrote of Sacrificial Love, and his reflections mirrored that homily a few weeks prior, that we as Christians are called to love beyond what’s easy, to love sacrificially.

And then it flashed through my mind. I thought about the Golden Rule, the philosophy so universal it exists in Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

And the Truth I had been searching for hit me. I was still waiting to receive. And that had held me back from giving. Whether or not it was ‘fair’ was not for me to consider. My duty – to God, to my husband, and to myself – was to treat her the way I wanted her to treat me, not the way she actually did treat me.

For twenty-six years I had shown her love, and had been waiting for her to return it. On that day I accepted the fact that it wasn’t going to come. The time for that had passed. In her condition, she was no longer capable of opening up to anything new. It was all about me now, and how I behaved towards her.

It was time for me to give love in its purest form, in sacrifice, expecting nothing in return.

For only then could I turn to God and say that I’d done my best. Only then could I ask Him to do unto me as I had done unto others.

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This post was submitted for the Yeah Write #51 link up.

http://yeahwrite.me/51-open/

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The Long Goodbye

Those who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s know what this means.

The term was made famous when Nancy Reagan described her husband’s slip into a distant world.  We all get its meaning, but only those of us who live with it truly understand it.

My father-in-law, “Gramps” to all of us, started experiencing lapses in judgment about 15 years ago. At first it was of little consequence, just slight confusion and poor decision-making.  It slipped into forgetfulness and some short-term memory loss.  Within a few years the confusion grew, and the memory loss became more profound. Simple household tasks were becoming off-limits, and driving was no longer safe.  His wife assumed the 24-hour responsibility, and the 36-hour day.  As it became no longer safe for him to be left unattended at home, Gramps became a frequent face at our house, allowing his wife a few precious hours to herself.  Then sitters became part of the routine, and eventually, a search for an appropriate facility to relocate him.

While this was happening, the impression my kids had of their grandfather changed as well. Only my oldest son has memories of Gramps when he was “whole” – when he worked, drove a car, and remembered their names. My middle son remembers him in the beginning of his decline.  He recalls going fishing, throwing a ball, going on vacations together.  But my little guy has only known Alzheimer’s Gramps.

In a way, the little guy has the easiest load to cope with, because he only remembers Gramps the way he is now.  He didn’t have to watch him slip away from us. He understands what Alzheimer’s is, and knows first-hand what it means.

In his prime, Gramps was an amazing man.  He worked tirelessly for his family.  In a story we can all relate to today, Gramps worked two jobs to rebuild his family’s losses after Hurricane Betsy.  He was generous, kind, and polite to a fault.  His wife never touched a vacuum cleaner, or pumped gas.  When his children cried at night, he paced the floor with them.  He served in the Navy with his twin brother, and served his community as a Shriner.

He currently resides at a skilled-care facility for Veterans, the third residential facility we’ve placed him in.  It’s not a VA facility, but a partnership between the state and the VA.  As a war vets home, it’s mostly men, and a place where he seems to feel comfortable with his neighbors.

Which brings me to today.

We had a lacrosse game in Baton Rouge, and stopped to see Gramps at his “home” on our way home this afternoon.  While we adults visit often, we keep our visits with the kids controlled, limited to times when we think Gramps will be receptive to visitors, and under conditions that won’t freak them out. 

We arrived in the early afternoon, and I ushered the boys to the family room, while hubby went to retrieve Gramps from the secure Alzheimer’s unit.  Some of the other residents are in states of deeper decline, and visiting the unit can be uncomfortable even for adults.   So Gramps greeted the boys in the game room, where the air hockey and pool tables waited, and other families visited with their loved ones.  We spent about an hour visiting with him, playing games, and talking.

Watching them interact with their grandfather was a beautiful thing. They played pool with patience, explaining the rules with every turn, and laughing along when things got confusing.  They reminded him of their names, what grade they’re in, and promised to visit more often.

As the rate of his decline continues to accelerate, opportunities like today will come less often.  Catching him on a good day will be a gift, and the number of times they get to make memories with their grandfather will decrease.  And when he can no longer interact with them, and no longer remembers them, they will have something to cling to.  So will I.

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