Family Steps Up Wednesday, Sep 5 2018 

A year ago this month my father fell and broke vertebra in his back.  The actual damage was fixed, but his overall functionally has not been regained.  The rollercoaster ride  the family has been on since then has taxed us all.  Dad, because he cannot accept his change in situation, Mom, because she cannot function at home by herself, and us, their adult children, because we are trying to take up the slack.

DAD:  His back is fixed, but he didn’t do well in rehab.  Physically, there is not a reason he cannot walk, but mentally he is so afraid of falling, most of the time he will not try, even with assistance.   He is showing signs of ‘sundowners’, which is less cognitive ability as the day wears on.   He wants to go home, but doesn’t try to handle any of his personal needs on his own.   Tends to be angry during visits.

MOM:  Can no longer follow through with regular tasks such as medication, consistent meals and personal hygiene.  But doesn’t think she needs help of any kind.  All conversations are circular.

BROTHERS:  Have committed to helping both Mom and Dad and have been instrumental in me keeping my sanity.   Taking Mom to see Dad.  Making sure she has regular meals. Agreeing she needs a helper and allowing one.

The world changed last September for all our families.  I hope we can continue to withstand the stress of both our parents becoming unable to care for themselves.





Don’t Discount Childhood Baggage-Pack Carefully Thursday, Feb 1 2018 

Back in the days when the Hubs and I were assisting his Mother, I discounted the impact of having spent one’s childhood with the person you are assisting being your ‘authority figure’. While everyone has different types of childhoods, rarely does a child come through their childhood without some emotional baggage that carries over into their playing adult. The Hubs didn’t have much childhood baggage with his Mother (another story with his father, for another time), so we didn’t bump up against many historical emotional issues between him and his Mother while caring for her.   Since she was not my Mother, I carried even less emotional baggage into the situation, as my relationship issues with her started after I was an adult. (Let’s not pretend that all humans have perfect relationships with their parents or mother in law, shall we?) Don’t misunderstand, there was plenty of emotion, but it wasn’t tied to the four year old that resides within us.   You know that child. It’s the flare of anger or other emotion you feel at a basic level when triggered and your adult responses just aren’t available to that inner child.

My relationship with my Mom growing up was rockier than the Hubs with his Mother. While Mom had the best intentions of not allowing her upbringing to impact how she raised me and my brothers, it crept in. I was an only child for 5 years, so I got the brunt of the learning curve.   Before her illness was firmly in place, Mom often referred to me as her practice child and the joke was she improved her parenting skills with my younger brothers. The result of this situation, as my youngest brother and I have discussed, is that I was raised with a different set of the same parents than my brothers were.   And this created for me some emotional baggage that I carry around with me. Like a little emotional suitcase.

This suitcase is not in the forefront of my life and many of the things that I unpacked and allowed myself to react to as a younger person no longer have impact. I was able to let them go.   At times, I even thought I had lost the suitcase. I was wrong. I am finding out, as my Mom progresses down the dementia path and Dad becomes more physically and mentally disabled, that remnants of that childhood suitcase, now pretty tattered, remain deep within me. I feel its weight these days, as I am opening it more often than I should when dealing with my parents. Funny how that happens.

My parents are in their 80’s, live in their home and are basically home bound. It takes a creative balance and effort to keep their household running, their appointments kept, and their medications on schedule. Although I am the primary handler, and the first on the call list, I’ve started enlisting the help of my brothers and the Hubs. I cannot physically do all that is needed to assist my parents. I work a full time job, and live the farthest away from my parents. I’ve also discovered, that emotionally, I cannot always deal with them, as their actions or needs open my suitcase.   The Hubs has stated I am showing increased signs stress which probably adds new levels of packing in my emotional suitcase.

I wonder what baggage my kids carry around, and if they will unpack it when I need help in my old age. I wonder if I will ever be able to discard the suitcase I am shifting back and forth in my grip as I walk this path. I wonder why, when I created this suitcase, I didn’t put rollers on it, so it would be effortlessly dragged behind me or shoved aside.

I wonder what tomorrow holds.

The Google, The Mouse and It’s Not Her Fault Friday, Aug 21 2015 

I’m sure there are plenty of you that are dealing with an aging parent with dementia issues. If you’ve read any of my blog you know I’ve been down this path before, and that I understand exactly how this process works. But I’ve recently been slapped with a reminder that I might need to take a refresher course, or possibly adjust my expectations. I may need to dust off my mantra and restart saying a phrase I used to say all the time with my mother in law that helped me keep my balance when she was off. It’s not her fault.

This most recent awake up call occurred last week when my Mom called me to tell me her computer, a gadget she used to be very proficient using, just had ‘the Goggle’ on it. First of all, ‘the Google’ is not something she would have uttered a few years ago. She knew it was Google. Second, she would have known that if her PC was reaching Google, it was reaching the internet. I spent quite some time over the phone trying to figure out exactly what her screen was displaying, and how to get her to be able to open her email. I pictured the white Google search engine page, even went to my PC, pulled it up and started to direct her to her email link. Then she started telling me what she was seeing on her page, and none of it made any sense. I explained that if she had Google availability, she could get to her email, since ‘Gmail’ was Google mail. I asked questions. In the upper right hand corner of your screen do you see…? Read to me what your screen says. Etc. etc. Many answers were provided with a timid no, and I wasn’t able to tell if the items I was asking her to look for were really not there or she just didn’t understand. In her frustration she finally said all she wanted was to get to her email. I restated since she had access to Google, she had access to her Gmail account. After some time, we worked through the issues presented, and she was able to access her email. She was relieved and I was exhausted.

The situation was unsettling for me because I know how she used to be able to move around on her PC. But, being somewhat in denial, I packed the episode away and let it be. It wasn’t her fault.

Yesterday Mom called and talked about many random things. In the course of the conversation she mentioned that she’d had a computer person out to the house because she thought she had a computer virus. He’d told her she did have a virus and it was because she had been using her mouse backwards. Now this really didn’t make any sense. First of all, that’s just BS, because a right click just brings up a menu. Second, ever since Mom has used a PC, her mouse has been programmed backwards due to her wrist issues. Her right side is double click (main operation like the rest of us) and the left side is one click to menu. She uses her ring finger and pinky to operate the mouse and has for the last 20 years. But when the repair guy tells her mouse is backwards, she doesn’t recall this and lets him change it to normal mode. When I tell her mouse has been configured like this for a reason, at her request because of her wrist, she states she doesn’t recall this, but it makes sense because she’s been trying to use it the way he said and her wrist hurts.

I am used to her forgetting recent things, but the mouse issue is not a recent thing and it was a big deal, something she really was focused on. My full blown awake up call has arrived. We’ve moved into another level and I need to get a grip on where we are now. I need to dust off my coping skills, practice my balancing act, repeat my mantra “It’s not her fault”, and stow my frustration.

Because truly, it’s not her fault.

Just Close Your Eyes (Not a Country Song) Friday, Feb 20 2015 

No, really, I sat in the car, my Mother’s car, in the passenger seat, with my eyes closed.   My Mother is driving at my request.  I am testing her and she is actually doing okay.  Not “great” and she drives quite differently than she did previously, but I am not too worried.  But to keep from reacting when she skims too close to a car parked on the side of the road,  I just close my eyes.  I don’t inhale.  I don’t tense up or say anything.  I practice all my self restraint. When I don’t hear the mirrors crunch, I open my eyes.  It’s going to be okay.

I’ve started going to all Mom’s doctor appointments.  She’s taking what appears to be the only memory med she is going to be able to take and it is at a reduced level because she had side effects when she tried to step up to a higher/preferred dose.  They’ve already determined she cannot take Aricept.  She reacted to the higher doses of Namenda.  I am not sure if I am imaging she shows some slight improvement since she’s been on the med, but I sure want to think it.

For the last appointment, I decide that I need to see for myself how she is doing with her driving.  Dad is having more and more trouble physically, and she’s been taking on the driving.  But she did not do well on the driving memory test given by one her doctors, so I am worried.  The answer, I think, is to check it out myself.  I explain why I want her to drive, and she’s fine with it.  I expect her to be nervous, but she doesn’t appear to be.  I am ready for a slightly too slow trip.  I even allowed extra time.  Ha!  No need. That is not what happens, as she has sped up.  Acceleration is now her friend.  And as mentioned above, I closed my eyes (three times) when she fails to move away from objects too close on the side of the road.  But all in all, she did okay.  So the driving argument of ‘you can’t drive anymore’ is postponed for a while at least.  She even remembers to ask me when we get home how she did.  That’s why I think the meds might be providing a slight spark.  The Mom of a few months ago, probably would  have not thought to ask.

Dementia, It’s Here Tuesday, Dec 23 2014 

I knew this time in my life would come, but always held out hope it would not. I think I am really an optimist hiding behind the ‘glass is the wrong size’ philosophy. It is never half full or half empty, but something is sure going on with the darn glass. I am stuck between my feelings of obligation and my ‘why me’ selfishness. I want to do the right thing, but cannot decide exactly what that right thing is.

I’ve been down this path before. The ‘take care of an elderly parent’ path. If anyone ever read my earlier blog entries, I wrote about it. How my Hubs and I spent 12 years assisting my mother in law through the various stages of Alzheimer’s decline, how that impacted us, our immediate family, and how we recovered. Yes, recovered. Because we didn’t assist from a distance with our lives continuing on without interruption. Our lives were completely disrupted and we were not able to continue normal daily functions of family life as so many other did at the time. Because for them it was someone else’s problem to take on and handle. (This is the ‘don’t get me started’ part of the post.)

Which is why now that my Mother, at the age of 77, has been diagnosed with dementia, and is showing definite memory loss, I find myself once again heading down the assistance path. And feeling some conflict, obligation and selfishness.

This time is different for a few reasons. The first item is that both my parents are involved. With my mother in law, it was just her and there was no balancing act between two people to consider. As strange as that might sound to someone not dealing with this type of issue, it really makes a difference to be able to make decisions without having to consider another elderly patient. What was best for her as her dementia worsened was all there was to consider. The second item is that I carry childhood baggage into the mix. I am ‘the child’ regardless of my physical age, and some of the old hurts and feelings bubble to the surface as we start to navigate the changes mental and physical disease is placing on both of them. As an example, Mom’s new blank look (when she doesn’t understand something or is trying to process something, which now takes longer) is very, very similar to the look of disapproval she graced on me when I was a child and I have found myself feeling extremely six/eight/eleven on more than one occasion.

Another element to the situation is the new, or should I say different level of interaction with my two siblings. I do not plan on doing all that is and will be needed to be done on my own. I, as the oldest and only girl, have typically been the one is charge of parent issues in the past. And there have been some. But this is a long term, multi level problem and more than a little bit of assistance is required.

So bottom line is that Mom and Dad understand they need assistance. However, their idea of assistance and their level of cooperation versus what their offspring think is required, are not lining up. And that’s where things are right now.

We all lead busy lives, including working full time and wonder how providing the required and appropriate level of assistance is going to impact us.  As I stated earlier, I am stuck between obligated and selfish.

Walking on the Moon Monday, Jul 21 2014 

The summer of 1969 was one of changes for me. My parents had, from my point of view, ruined my life. They had uprooted the family, and moved from Orange County California without previously having located a place to live or secured any means of support. So, we went to my Grandparents farm outside Westville Oklahoma. The Allied van that carried our belongings across country unloaded everything into the unused milk barn where all was to remain until we had another home. Our city toys, like skates, skateboards and bikes, went into storage too. There just wasn’t anyplace to use that type of thing on a dirt road farm in Oklahoma. Life in Oklahoma in 1969 was very, very different from life in southern California. Mom and Dad went to various towns within a day or two drive to check out jobs and the cost of living. My brothers (age 5 and 3) and I stayed with our Grandparents.

The only good thing about the summer was that one set of my cousins lived in a nearby town. Their Mom, my Aunt, was a school teacher, so she was off for the summer, and they visited often that summer. We, two 11 year old girls, one 12 year old boy and one 13 years old boy, had free run of the 200 acre farm which included a spring fed ice cold creek. We picked blackberries, played in the hay, swam in the creek, caught fireflies, and dodged June bugs.

Vintage TVOn Saturday evening June 20, 1969, we were playing outside in the dark, the best type of hide and seek ever, when the adults in charge called all of us inside. On a TV that barely had any reception on a good day (not at all like SoCal), we all watched as the first man walked on the moon. I don’t recall thinking it was some great moment in time. What I recall is a bunch of kids squirming around on the braided rug, picking at each other, waiting for whatever was on the TV to be over so we could finish playing outside. When enough time had passed that the adults felt we had absorbed the event, we were released into outside freedom once again.

It was years before I realized what I had been forced to watch on the hot summer night in Oklahoma. And it was a truly great achievement. But what I really remember is one of the best hide and seek games ever was interrupted by a man walking on the moon.

Best Ride in Town Friday, Jun 13 2014 

Some memories stick out from my childhood so clearly that I wonder how that is possible after all this time. How can something that happened 45 years ago, and did not having a life changing impact on my life still be running around in my head? And why am I thinking about it now? So many questions, only one of which I can answer. I am thinking about Ft. Smith Arkansas, the smells of spring and riding a bike because my doctor told me to get exercise to ward of the increased levels of sugar and cholesterol in my body. Evidently, I have some borderline issues.

The year I was in 6th grade, my family moved to Ft. Smith Arkansas. Having spent the previous 6 years in Southern California, moving to a relatively small Arkansas town created culture shock for the adults in our tribe. Even back then Southern California (Orange County) was a hopping place with 24/7 availability and multiple non cable TV channels, which is how civilization was measured in the 1960’s. Ft. Smith Arkansas had one rabbit ear channel that combined the major networks (remember that?) and the sidewalks of downtown rolled up at 5pm. While my parents tried to adjust to this drastic difference in lifestyle, my brothers and I hardly noticed. I made friends at school and in the neighborhood. (My elementary school had a cafeteria inside, not just picnic benches!) Across the street from our rental house lived a family with three kids, including two girls, in 5th and 4th grade. The Culp sisters, Julie and Cindy. We started playing together, including riding our bikes (I had a big white Schwinn with pink pin striping) in big circles down our block, then down the alley behind their house and around again. (My house backed up to a field with grazing cattle even though it was the middle of town and did not have an alley.) The alley was dirt and had little hills that would create puddles after a rain, which in Ft Smith that year occurred frequently. We always rode those hills and through those puddles as fast as we could making mud streaks on the back of our clothes. White 1965 Schwinn

But that is not what this entry is about. Surprised? Mr. Culp was a hands on guy that ran/owned a go-cart raceway on the weekends. I don’t know if that was his full time job or just a weekend thing, but I went with the family from time to time and got to drive a go-cart. I recall liking it very much. But what I recall about hanging out with the Culp sisters the most was that Mr. Culp built, for his family’s enjoyment, a bicycle built for 5. He used parts of other bikes, and built this multi colored homemade bike that was completely wonderful. He was the leader, seat number one, with the three kids in the middle in order of age and Mrs. Culp at the back. But on many occasions, I filled in the trailing seat. On warm evenings or Sunday afternoons, 4 Culps and I would ride all over Ft Smith Arkansas on big one bicycle.

Mr. Culp had confidence and would locate streets with hills to race down while we all hooted and yelled, encouraging the fun. A bike of that size draws attention from everyone including, well, dogs. Besides people smiling, pointing and waving at us I recall more than once I had to raise my feet from the pedals to the handlebars of my section of the bike to keep from being nipped as a dog would chase the end of the homemade ride. Riding around on that bike is one of my best memories ever.

So why am I thinking about that now? I am wondering if I can talk my husband into a tandem bike. Exercise. Outdoors. I swear, it won’t matter if it is just the two of us, I will be 11, and riding with 4 others, if at all possible. It was the best ride in town.

Happy Birthday Dear Friend Wednesday, Mar 19 2014 

For many years now, I’ve spent March 18th reflecting on my life and how I live it. I tend to feel a little guilty that I have the opportunity when someone I care for deeply does not. March 18th is Larry Churchill’s birthday, and if he was with us today, he would be 57. He is forever handsome and young in the picture on his headstone and in my fond memories.

Larry and I met when I was 14 and he 15. I had just moved to his hometown and had started attending the same small church he attended. The youth of the church were mostly female and Larry was a sought after young man. I think, even without the benefit of hindsight, it is safe to say that more than a few of the girls had a crush on him. On this point, I admit nothing. Larry and I become friends. We came from completely different backgrounds and circumstances but we connected. I enjoyed his take on things, so different from my own. I enjoyed his unabashed screams as we plunged over the hill of the roller coaster. I enjoyed his acting as the lead in the annual school play. I enjoyed the time we spent together, whether in group form or one on one. We shared some secrets. I’d found someone special. Larry made an impression on me that impacted my life. He was a positive influence.

Larry Churchill 1974

Larry Churchill 1974

My family relocated (again) after two years in Larry’s hometown. Larry and I wrote letters (remember those?) and spoke on the phone through the rest of high school and college. I married and started my family. Larry moved across the country and started his adult life. Contact became less frequent. Over time, we lost touch. I missed his humor and our connection. I neglected an opportunity to reconnect. I thought there was more time. There was not.

When I got the call he had passed away, I was knocked off my feet. Literally, I had to sit down and catch my breath. I cannot explain or detail my feelings other than to say I felt a deep loss and physical hurt. In these days before online availability, my husband wrote and requested a copy of Larry’s obituary for me from the small town paper. I just couldn’t grasp the enormity of my friend‘s death. It was a sad time.

I think of him often. When certain songs play, when his home state is mentioned, when someone uses sarcasm is the funniest of ways, select movie quotes. Whenever I am in the vicinity of his hometown, I stop by and visit his grave-site. I am always overwhelmed by how sad I feel when I visit, knowing that he died too young, knowing that he was someone I loved and let slip away. Staying in touch would not have stopped his passing, but it would have enriched my life and hopefully his. I regret that in my youth I took what I had with my friend for granted. I’ve tried not to make that mistake again.

March 18th was a special day for him and for many years now, for me as well, to reflect and remember. Larry is not forgotten.

If he could see this, he’d make a joke. And Laugh.

Random Acts of Kindness Thursday, Mar 13 2014 

It had been a long day. Last Friday was full of multiple issues and I was tired, as I headed out into SXSW and spring break traffic to try to get home. Man, was that a mess! I arrived home (finally) to finish my light packing for the drive to East Texas for the weekend. The Hubs was already in East Texas, having driven over from a conference in Houston earlier in the day. I could picture him tapping his foot, waiting.

By the time I reached Bryan I was hungry, and decided to treat myself to fast food. (Yea me!) I used the drive thru of a burger place, placed my order and bopped to the itunes playing through by speakers while I waited. When I pulled up to pay, I was surprised to find out that the lady that had been in line in front of me had completed a ‘random act of kindness’ and paid for my meal. She had told the cashier that she liked to give back from time to time. It was a small gesture, but nice. After the day I had had, it struck me as just the right thing.

There is not a reason in the world that I cannot give back more than I do. The hubs and I, mostly during the holidays, but sometimes at other times, will pick out someone who has waited on us or performed a service and tip them a larger amount. And I’ve contributed to the person in front of me in line when they’ve fallen a bit short and were going to put something back. A few times, I’ve tipped a bartender more than the cost of the drink, stating ‘I’ve had a good day, you should too’. But I have not randomly purchased something as a random act of kindness before, and I like the idea. I felt good receiving it, and I’d like to pass that feeling along.

So nice lady in the drive thru in Bryan Texas last Friday night, you did more than buy me a burger and a drink. And that’s a good thing.

I Did Not Win the Mega Millions Lottery Wednesday, Dec 18 2013 

You heard it here first. Or maybe second because they announced where the winners live and I do not live in San Jose California or Atlanta Georgia and you knew I’m in Texas. I tried to win. Really. Well, what I mean is I bought a ticket or two, so that the dream could live for a day or two. And I did dream, mostly while driving on my long work compute, what it would be like to have that much money, or ‘enough’ money. I know money doesn’t solve problems but it would solve my lack of money problems. Money also doesn’t buy happiness. We’ve all heard that one. I’d like to give it a whirl myself, before making any snap decisions on its ability to make me happy. I bought my tickets early Saturday, just after the Friday night drawing that yielded no winner. I did not wait until the last minute. I had four days of hope that I could beat the odds and win. It was not to be.

In the meantime, my life continued as of nothing was pending. My grandson turned 6 and I survived his birthday party with all the other 5/6 year olds. Some Christmas items I ordered arrived. My hubs crunched the fender and removed the side mirror of his car by close encounter with a construction barrel in a construction zone, therefore damaging his pride more than the car. (Everything around this town seems to be under construction.) I talked my mom (over the phone) through changing the battery in her smoke detector. I am still working on getting the Christmas tree decorated. I work in little bursts and have the living room in complete disarray. Winning the lottery would not have changed any of this real life activity. Would today have been different? Yes. I think so. But how different, I will never know. I am like everyone else (except two people) in America today. Deep sigh. Life goes on. And even without winning the lottery, life is good.

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