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.

I am the Sandwich Friday, Oct 4 2013 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandwich_generation

The Sandwich generation is a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children.

According to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent, in addition to between 7 to 10 million adults caring for their aging parents from a long distance. US Census Bureau statistics indicate that the number of older Americans aged 65 or older will double by the year 2030, to over 70 million.

Carol Abaya categorized the different scenarios involved in being a part of the sandwich generation.

  • Traditional: those sandwiched between aging parents who need care and/or help and their own children.
  • Club Sandwich: those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
  • Open Faced: anyone else involved in elder care. [1]

Merriam-Webster officially added the term to its dictionary in July 2006.

The term “sandwich generation” was coined by Dorothy A Miller in 1981. [2]

~~~~~~~

My eldest son, mid 30’s and his son, 5, moved out of our home this last weekend.  They have been living with us for almost 2 years.  The joy of having that level of access to my grandson was tempered by being his parent much of the time, versus just being able to be his “Granny”.  My husband and I often had a differing opinions on how things involving our grown child and his child should be treated within our home, adding an additional level of stress to the situation.  But we made it though that phase of the sandwich, and looked forward to having our home and our time delegated back to ‘us’.  We joked about relearning how to have a two person conversation, how to cook a two person meal, about cooking meals we liked vs those the picky 5 yr old would eat, how we’d spent time ..just the two of us…..and so on.   It is a nice dream.  The financial side of the situation is ongoing, but that is another topic.

So, on day two of our ‘freedom’, when my parents called, upset and needing my help, I should not have been surprised.  We didn’t even get a week of ‘just us’ before other responsibilities pressed us back into service.  My parents are aging, not in the best of health, and are quick to call on me, rather than either of my brothers, when they want or need something.  There is a thin line between want and need.  I think they call me because 1) I am female and they are of that generation that believes that caregivers are female, 2) I am the oldest 3) I’ve been down this road before with  my mother in law and 4) I find a way to do what they want if I can.

My husband and I have been ‘the sandwich’ for so many years now, providing care for members of his family and mine, that I do not recall a time when we were not taking care of an aunt/parent/grandparent/sibling and a child at the same time.  It started in our 20’s and we are in our mid 50’s now.  We were the sandwich before there was a sandwich.  We’ve been able to regroup in the small gaps between, but each round it gets harder and harder to reconnect and adjust.   Since we only get one round on this planet, I’d like to assert, we’ve done our time caring for others and we need a break.  But reality is, that is not going to happen.  Buck up, Ms. Sandwich.  This one is a toasty footlong with extra cheese.

What’s the Deal with Age? Tuesday, Sep 25 2012 

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about my age.  Not because I feel old or that I am worried about my age. In fact, it is quite the opposite.  I don’t feel old, and I am not worried about my age.  I have found out recently that others appear to be worried about my age.  And I find that amusing.

All those platitudes about you are only as old as you feel and act young to stay young are things old people say.  The young people still cling to the idea that youth and acting young is for the young and  many look down their noses at someone my age (I have passed the 50 mark, but have not hit the middle of that decade) enjoying the same activities I did while in my forties or thirties.  Why would I suddenly stop liking some of the same stuff, I wonder?  But it really seems to befuddle some of the ‘grown-ups’ in that age group.

I do not have the desire to do the same things I did back then as often as I did back then, but not because I cannot.  It’s actually because my life is too busy to fit it all in, not because my advanced age makes me too tired, as the ones worrying about my age seem to imply.  My job is hectic and I shoulder more responsibility than I did during my 30’s and 40’s. I am still upwardly mobile in my career.  I upgraded my living arrangements from the average city dwelling to the home of my dreams in the country and the compute takes a bit longer, which is good in some ways and bad in others.  I have a grandchild that I adore and I spend as much time with him as I can.  I’ve bought into the whole social media scene and I’m online more than I should be.   I found out I love genealogy, and have become an addict.  (Intervention might be in my future.)  I own a second home about 4 hours away for relaxation and down time.  I have aging parents that require attention.  All that takes time, so I’ve shifted, adjusted and squeezed as much as I can into the space allotted me.  So, yes, I still do many of the ‘old’ things I used to do, just not with the same frequency that I used to do them.  And some of them are much less important as my ‘age’ (I prefer ‘wisdom’) has allowed me to determine some of those just don’t rate as high on the enjoyment meter any longer.

So bottom line, worriers, don’t worry. Yes, I’m older than I used to be.  Who isn’t?  However, just because you continue to indulge in the same activities at the same pace, and I’ve slacked off those activities, doesn’t mean I’m tired, ill or out of pace with the world.  It means my life is full of other interesting things and activities I like and people I love.  It means I’m putting my experiences to good use.  It means I am vital and alive.  It means I’m not worried.

Now where are my keys?

Goodbye Sunday, May 13 2012 

We knew it would happen, and we knew it would happen quickly, but it was still difficult to get the news that my husband’s brother had passed away.  And now he has been gone since the beginning of February.   And our lives have just kept on going.   It is strange to have someone that close to you, a sibling, be gone and your life just keep going, almost like nothing has changed.

We have a family reunion coming up next weekend, and when we are in small town East Texas, we always visit the resting place of my husband’s parents, one set of grandparents, and one sister (that passed before my husband was born) and now his oldest brother.  The stone is in place.  It will be hard and confirm in granite the reality of what we know to be so rudely true.

 

Visit Monday, Jan 30 2012 

We drove over to visit my brother in law yesterday.  About four hours one way.  He is not doing well, and basically we’ve been told it is just a matter of time.  His body is failing, and the main goal now is to manage the medications so he doesn’t feel any pain.  He is in a facility, what in the old days would have been called a nursing home.  He has a semi private room.   It was pretty depressing.  Not just his situation, which was awful enough, but the whole place.  The people there.  It’s not the fault of anyone, the place itself was clean and as cheery as one can make a place full of very sick or incapacitated people.  What was depressing was the craving for contact that so obviously radiated from so many of the people.  We had our 4 year old grandson with us, and most of the people at the home reacted to a child being present.  He spoke to everyone as he walked by ‘hi’ on the way to the room, ‘bye’ on the way out, he roamed the halls, he found the entertainment room, which had a pool table in it and rolled the balls into the pockets as patients watched and smiled.  A tiny bright spot in the day perhaps.

My brother in law is no longer able to move around and made no effort to do so while we were there. He drifted in and out of sleep, mainly due to the meds, and would join the conversation with a comment from time to time.  He seemed to be aware of his surroundings, and who everyone was.  But he hardly ate at all, and from what I’ve been told, that has become the norm. I won’t list all the things are are going wrong.

Diagnosis August.  That is not so long ago, and here we are.  Watching him die. Were all those years of smoking worth this? A body riddled with cancer and pain?  It is easy to say the words that smoking causes cancer.  It is not easy to see the reality.  It is not easy to see the consequences of the action.  And I am certain it is not easy to experience it first hand, as he has too.  Quit smoking.

Wake Up Call Sunday, Aug 21 2011 

We made the drive to visit with my brother in law and his family and discuss how we could assist with all the things that need to happen as part of his financial needs and physical needs.  It was not a fun trip, and my stress level, even after returning home late last night remains at DEFCON 5.

If you smoke, stop.  If you have a loved one or friend that smokes, ask them (nicely) to stop.  Time to repair the damage is needed.  For my brother in law, there is no time.

Some families pull together in crisis, some do not.  Some try but are not successful.  The jury is out on how this family will be able to handle the downward pressure being applied to it. The baggage of the past interferes with the present, and adults frozen in immaturity by real or imagined slights react to pressure in unpredictable, unproductive and inappropriate ways.  In the midst of this chaos, a man tries to come to grips with the fact that his life will soon be over.  His regrets are plain to see and play out in the dysfunction that surrounds him.  It is heartbreaking.

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