Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A positive light at a dim time...

In February I read a news item about a North Idaho school teacher, Carrie, who was seriously injured in a terrible, horrific car accident. I don't know the victim, her family or friends but have been checking in on a blog about her recovery. Carrie's injuries might have taken her life but she has been recovering very well at a hospital in Seattle. If you wish to see some good news for a change, check out their blog Care About Carrie at this URL: http://careaboutcarrie.blogspot.com/

I wish for any of us to have the same supportive community and group of friends.

Day 7, a really tough day...

Day 7 at Assisted Living...and today was really rough. Mom was feeling despondent and like she was on the verge of a seizure but a treat, a chat with an old neighbor and another with an old acquaintance helped.

Mom's had epilepsy since a stroke during my birth. She has grand mal seizures under two conditions: high anxiety situations or a lower than desirable level of dilantin, her anti-seizure medication. When she feels a seizure coming on she gets scared which elevates her anxiety and exasterbates the situation. Often these may be stopped if she gets some rest or if we can quickly make her anxiety go away. The latter is usually impossible.

When I arrived at her apartment about 11am, she was crying in the bathroom. "I don't belong here with these dunderheads! None of them can hold a conversation. I want to go home.!" I felt a rush of emotions - anger, worry, saddness and frustration. I feel an enormous sense of guilt when I feel angry or frustrated with her. Even writing about my emotions here makes me feel guilty - this should all be about HER. It's a huge change for HER, SHE needs the support. SHE needs the adjustment; She must be comfortable. But - she trusts me and relies on me for help with business matters and emotional support more so than anyone else. Sometimes it's too much - I can't take care of two households and a full time job. It's a lot to do and I can't ask for much help from family for a variety of reasons. I'm not trying to be a martyr - I'm too lazy for THAT.

So - what to do for Mom without moving her... I did the thing that would distract a little kid - I plied her with soda pop and junk food. I loaded her onto her walker/seat and took her out in the sunshine to have a cold drink, BBQ chips and watch the valley view. We talked for a while and as her voice grew stronger, I reminded her of my brothers health problems. I wanted to spare her this conversation so that she'll concentrate on herself but this situation pushed me into it.

For more than 10 years my brother lived at her home. While he was helpful at first, over the past 3 years, I've watched his behavior deteriorate to verbal abuse, impatience and down right meaness. He drinks more than ever and, as a heavy smoker, he can't walk across the yard without stopping to catch his breath. His health issues make it impossible for him to care about anyone else. After only a few days we see a huge sense of relief in him now that she's living elsewhere. I had to tell Mom that he can barely take care of himself now so helping her will just make him deteriorate faster. She seemed shocked but understood.

About this time, a high school classmate, Sue, strolled by with her elderly father, Jim, during a tour of the facility. He is considering a move from his home to a studio down the hall from MOM. After introductions, the elders found some common ground. MOM and DAD purchased their first Philco refridgerator from Jim just after WW2. Jim grew up in North Dakota, the same state as my Mom and Jim remembered making my dad a great deal on a 1940-something Hudson sedan. This is the reason I wanted Mom to remain in her home town instead of moving with me to S Indiana. These sort of connections give her a sense of belonging, of rootedness and comfort. It is just what she needed.

Now to help her find it again.... tomorrow and the next day and the next.... I hope to help her find them on her own because soon I must return to my own home and work. I got a list of other residents and tomorrow we'll go over it and wheel around to their room and look them up. God, I hope they can carry on a conversation!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Loss of a family friend......

I hope I have some poingent thoughts to share on this blog but often I am too busy to get that thoughtful. A high school classmate DOES share some really meaningful and funny thoughts on his facebook page and said I could copy what I wish. Here is his latest entry about the passing of someone very special to his family.

By Darren S., Lewiston, ID, April 18, 2009

We sent another one on their way today. Buried a friend. Said good-bye in our own special ways. Some of us laughed, some of us cried, and some of us just stood in disbelief, always thinking there would be one more chance to say the things that we could never bring ourselves to say. Like thanks and I love you George. I can't remember the first time I met George, my moms "friend." I remember thinking to myself that he could never take the place of my dad, could never be a grandpa to my kids. And now years later I realize that he never tried to do either, he was just George. Him and mom would go out to lunch and soon one or more of the kids were tagging along. Him and mom would babysit on the weekends. Mom invited him to Priest Lake one year, an invasion on our family spot for 30 some years, but George stayed in the campground keeping a low profile while the rest of us rented a cabin. Soon mom was spending all of her time in the campground with him and the kids soon followed, so a year or two later we were all camping out with George. He started coming to family birthday dinners and spent the holidays with us. He became the grandpa that neither one of the kids' "real" grandpas wanted to be. George adopted us and we adopted George. George wasn't smart, handsome or macho, but he became a hero to all of us that knew him. He wasn't an expert at anything, but he knew a little bit about everything. He spent most days fixin' things or buildin' things or learnin' things.
George spent close to 20 years with us and we all grew with him as he did with us. We were the family that he never had and he was the dad and grandpa that we never had. He was there when mom told us that she had cancer. He was there during the surgery and the treatments. She spent the last few months on Georges couch, choosing to be with him because she knew, like we all did, that nobody would take better care of her than George. He fed her and bathed her and helped her with everything she needed. He was her punching bag when the realization of death scared her to the point of lashing out. He was there when she died.
George was worried that we would forget him. I told him he would always be a part of my family as long as he wanted, but things were never the same. The memory of what brought us together was the same memory that tore us apart.
The world needs more Georges now than ever before. Gentle, unselfish, loving people. Those of us that knew him will never forget him. One of those unique characters that only come along once in a lifetime. Someday when the ache in our heart subsides, we will sit around the fire and tell George stories...and laugh again. We'll look up and wonder why there's that one star that's brighter than the rest and realize that it's just George, still watching over us in his own special way.

Friendly insights help me be there for mom

One of my oldest friends just completed her Masters in Social Work and has been working as an advocate for some elderly clients. I asked for her advice and here is what she had to say. She knows me well enough to tell me to take time and just listen to Mom; I get so engrossed with my to do list that I neglect to take time to just BE with her and that's what she really wants.

From Gay L, Seattle, WA, April 17, 2009:

Sounds like you tried to do all the right things when you prepared to move your mom. I would just take a guess that part of your mom's pain in back and hips was probably stress which would be normal. It is a huge deal to move elderly from some place they are comfortable with to somewhere they know nothing about. And remember your mom has lived in the same house for many many years. That is hard also. Even if the move is needed. What I learned by visiting with the elderly women I spent time with is this. When they talk about being uncomfortable or scared or depressed don't try to fix it. Listen to them and acknowledge that it must be very hard. They need to talk about it with out somebody telling them why it is important. They know why, but they still feel like they are losing part of who they are. Grieving is a process in this and it is so important they are allowed to grieve.

The other thing I wanted to say was that there are sometimes support groups for people who are taking care of their elderly parents. These groups are for both those whose parents live in the adult children's homes or assisted living homes. Check with some agencies in the area to see if they have one. If not look into starting one. It gives people a place to come and talk about what is going on, the feelings around having to move parents, and everything else between diminishing mental capacity and/or physical difficulties. Your not alone and the care givers need support to deal with the guilt that sometime accompanies the process of doing what is right.
I will comment more later but hang in there and listen to her and acknowledge her feelings. She is scared and it is normal.