Aging Parents: When We Invest Ourselves in Caregiving

When we work hard at something, expend great effort–perhaps even go beyond what we thought were our limits–we’ve invested ourselves. Indeed, when we’ve put a lot of ourselves into something it permeates us. Be it caregiving or whatever, it becomes a significant part of life; the major part of life; and for some individuals–their life. Over time it’s easy to lose perspective and upset the needed balance to be emotionally and physically healthy.

                               “You’ve got to take care of yourself.”

How many times do caregivers hear that? We needn’t be geniuses to know that food and sleep are necessary for physical health and stamina; but there may be precious little of both due to circumstances beyond our control. It’s also easy to get so caught up in the demands and decisions that we forget priorities. We may think about our needs, but other demands supersede.

  • We skip meals or vitamins or meds, planning to take them later, then forget.
  • We get less sleep, planning to make it up with a short nap that never/rarely happens.
  • We fool ourselves into thinking we can remain in high gear forever, not knowing how long our caregiving will need to continue.
  • We may be in denial that people with certain conditions that require caregiving can outlive their caregiver.

Whether loved ones are at home, in hospitals, or in care centers our lives and routines are impacted. That spills over to physical health and emotions.

On a personal level: Having experienced some of the above almost half of this year, and being aware of the consequences of overextending, I tried to do it right. I ate well (although sometimes only two complete meals+snacks a day), walked about 2 miles daily, but was admittedly often sleep-deprived. Thinking I took care of myself pretty well under the circumstances, I’ve had a shock!

A few weeks ago, I got dressed to go out. I put my iPhone in my pants’ pocket. To my amazement, and almost embarrassment, after taking a few steps the iPhone’s weight (which isn’t much as we know) caused my pants to start sliding down, I put on another pair–same result. I rarely get on a scale, but I did. Scale shock! I’ve lost almost 10% of my weight, and was too busy to realize it until the other day.

Solutions and Remedies
Two Questions:

  1. How does one get more sleep when he or she is called upon to do other things? How does one turn off a racing mind? Why does exhaustion make it harder to sleep?
  2. How do we know when we’re not eating enough?

I contacted a highly experienced counseling colleague (our offices shared a waiting room and secretary years ago) to weigh in on #1. She’s one of the most effective counselors I know– always sees the big picture and has the capacity to “nail things.”  She innately “gets it.” I shouldn’t have been surprised when she lumped #’s 1 and 2 together.

“Sometimes you have to deal with the fact that you’re losing weight and sleep. But you have to accept the fact, otherwise you’re giving yourself additional stress when you already have so much. You won’t starve to death and you may not sleep–but your body will tire eventually and you will sleep.” She continues: “Feeling that you have to sleep, for example, causes stress–it keeps you awake. Focus on the awareness instead of the stress. Whether it’s sleep or eating enough, be aware of your body signals–monitor yourself; and if out of control, seek medical help.” 

                                            Monitoring Ourselves

When during the day do we make the best decisions? have the most energy? have the least patience? Sometimes things seems less solvable and more urgent at night because we’re tired, but in the morning answers and solutions come more easily. Can a walk or a certain amount of time spent exercising help us analyze problems more objectively?

                                                  About Friends

Barb just ended 6 months of 24/7 caregiving in their home, for her husband’s 91-year-old mother who recently died. That plus her private practice and cooking for four people on different diets would have overwhelmed many; being sleep-deprived was the norm. A month later, she has helped me. And that’s where friends come in.

While friends mean well, it’s important to enlist certain friends’ help for certain problems. Good friends always want to help and want the best for us. But we need to think carefully about who’s the best resource for help with a given problem, otherwise we’re vulnerable to more frustration.

If we discipline ourselves to think broadly, and remember the “6 degrees of separation” theory, we should be able to find the best help for those entrusted to our care.

As we invest ourselves in caregiving, we also need to recognize and attend to our needs. To this end the value of certain friends is priceless.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

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When We No Longer Have Aging Parents–or a Spouse

“I’ve stepped to the front of the line.” Although R had been
widowed for years prior to her elderly mother’s death, she often
said that after her mother died. It wasn’t until later that it made
an impact and I understood the meaning. I sensed her feeling:
no longer was someone ahead of her to protect her.
Psychologically, did she still feel her 90+ year-old mother had
been  a protector? a buffer? a first line of defense? I wondered.

Indeed, she had us: her son and me, her daughter-in-law. We could and would share her responsibility and be there for her. That said, she cherished independence and was an intelligent, fully functioning, involved woman. Although grateful, she must have considered us back-up. Continue reading

Help Aging Parents: Memorial Day 2016

Once again, we remember.
May 30, 2016

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Honoring WWI Regiment  NY

 

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WW !! Memorial  DC

American cemeteries throughout the world pay tribute today to those who gave their lives to preserve and insure our freedom.

This link offers information about events today in England, France, Italy. Luxembourg, Netherlands, Philippines, and the US.

I’m back in the Southwest–Arizona, where my husband was born. Above all, he wanted to return here. In spite of his partially unresolved medical issues we made the trip a week ago Saturday,

Making the decision to undertake this trip was not easy and entailed much thought and planning.The latter will be part of a later post.

Right now I’m headed out to the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona to meet a longtime best friend, whose husband, a former Brigadiar General, is there. This friend walked me home when I began a new school in first grade.  The cemetery covers a huge area–right in the middle of desert. I’ll try to post a photo later. Until then–

We planned to meet a few blocks away from the cemetery after the official ceremonies ended as we thought it would be less crowded. There was, however, a steady stream of cars coming from the east and west–needing to turn right or left to enter the grounds. Upon entering, large American flags flanked both sides of the main roadway.as far as the eye could see.  Small flags were placed by every in-ground grave–in the sand.

This is desert–no grass. But then the landscape is not the important thing here.. The loved ones who have been laid to rest on grounds less impressive then Arlington or Normandy are loved and their memories are treasured just the same; and their families weep just the same.

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Caregiving and Time for Self

  • One reality is that we can’t stretch a 24-hour day.
  • A second reality is that–and we all know this, but easier said than done, those entrusted with caregiving must take care of themselves.
  • A third reality: it’s hard not to push ourselves….just this one time or just a little bit more…but it’s not good for us if it must continue over an extended period.
  • And the last reality–at least for me–is that my time for keeping up with my blog remains in short supply for the time being.

Having set mental markers in my head to warn me of when my ability to remain helpful to anyone, even myself, is at risk–I have asked for help several times since my husband’s surgery to replace his aorta and mitral valves on February 4.

While we planned to go to the Southwest the beginning of April and had been cleared by doctors to go, there was a serious issue connected with the surgery, that hospitalized my husband on April 1st….and he is still hospitalized, although we’re hoping he can come home in a few days.

So the help I now need is finding a bit of time for myself–something I’ve done to a small extent each week. Yet as this hospital routine continues, and time walking, running, taxi-ing, bus-ing back and forth to the hospital continues to eat up time, I need more rest or unassigned time, as well as time to prepare for his homecoming.

With no family members east of the Rockies, the ultimate caregiving responsibility is mine. Good friends are a blessing and have been wonderful. With many friends in the counseling profession like myself, there’s a certain supportive understanding that most people don’t have.

For now I take a break from my blog and will get back when I can….hoping it will be soon.

 

Aging Mothers: “Thriving at Age 70 and Beyond”–Jane Brody’s 4/26/16 Column is Timely for Mother’s Day and for Us

With Mother’s Day just over a week away, the Well column in Tuesday’s NY Times, Thriving at Age 70 and Beyond, is timely and worthwhile.. It provides understandings, information and insights for those of us with older mothers and grandmothers and–for women in their 70’s and beyond who face a myriad of changes and challenges.

Jane Brody begins by discussing a recently published book, 70Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade,”  saying it “inspired me to take a closer look at how I’m doing as I approach 75 and how I might make the most of the years to come. It would be a good idea for women in my age cohort to do likewise. With a quarter of American women age 65 expected to live into their 90s, there could be quite a few years to think about.”

I remember Sr. Advisor R, at 98,  judgmentally reporting a relative 30 years her junior asking her if she ever thought about dying. I don’t remember how R answered that question other than thinking how inappropriate it was.

Jane Brody puts it another way: “It’s not the first time I’ve considered the implications of longevity.,” She then shares a fear, talks about the toll age takes, and suggests that the information in “70 Candles”  illuminates the most important issues facing older women, and how society could help ease their way into the future. “What are the most important issues facing these women as they age, and how might society help ease their way into the future? Leading topics the women chose to explore included work and retirement, ageism, coping with functional changes, caretaking, living arrangements, social connections, grandparenting and adjusting to loss and death.”

Reading Jane Brody’s Thriving at Age 70 and Beyond gives us insights into mothers and grandmothers–and even ourselves; and for creative adult children, it could spark ideas for Mother’s Day gifts.

I especially love my friend Linda’s creative frame below (not part of the column, but included in the Great Gifts tab above). Linda hand-decorated this picture frame for a Mother’s Day gift, using old buttons, chains, orphaned earrings, no-longer worn pins, and objects that belonged to her or her mother. And doesn’t the photo within complete the specialness.  Definitely one of a kind, lovingly personalized. What mother wouldn’t love it!.

Linda and Her Mother--a moment in time

Linda and Her Mother–a moment in time

 

 

 

Help Aging Parents Must Postpone

Since my husband’s heart valve replacements on February 4, I’ve continued to post weekly–albeit not always on Saturday night. Two months after the surgery, as we prepared to fly–with doctors’ clearance– to the Southwest for the sale (closing) of his mother’s home, a major problem connected with the valve surgery occurred.

Chronology

Trip cancelled,  We went straight from the cardiologist’s office to the hospital for observation and diagnosis.

Mt. Sinai heart is ranked #7 in the country. A specialist in heart repair was called in and doctors felt the best choice was a procedure that–although less risky than another major surgery–carried with it other concerns, as all procedures usually do.

“Misery is not a competitive sport.” I’ve remembered  these words from decades ago, spoken by Ann Kliman who, with her husband, Gilbert, founded the Center for Preventive Psychiatry in Yonkers, NY back then. Thus, I leave out details–except to say progress is slow and my husband is still hospitalized, now in a getting-ready-to-go-home unit.

I’m at the hospital first thing each morning to catch the  doctors on their initial morning rounds around 7 am.and don’t get home until rather late at night. Since it’s important for caregivers to take care of themselves and currently sleep is in short supply, for me, I will complete this when time allows…. .but not tonight.

Help Aging Parents: Sr. Advisor D’s reflections on her 90th Birthday

Understanding A Well-functioning 90-year-old’s Appreciation
for Friends and Life
***
ON WAKING UP ON MY 90th BIRTHDAY I’VE MADE IT!
(written August 2015. Sr, Advisor D died March 2016)

In spite of two cancer attacks, the lung weakness and the backbreaking weight of so many years, I inhabit the living world.

Still in bed, I look out the window on this August morning. From my high apartment perch, I can see trees, backlit by a weak sun. Yes, I tell myself, I’m here. I can breathe and see. My legs move without a protest from the weak knee, my back agrees to let me sit up and I can breathe again. Yes, I can breath, see, move, breathe, think, hear, breathe again. I’m deeply grateful.

Later I will be thankful again for being able to walk (haltingly, carefully), prepare breakfast, eat without difficulty (if I chew carefully), read the paper (with magnifying aid for the obituary columns), talk on the phone, shower, and dress. So many friends are unable to do these remarkable things.

I think of the many people I’ve loved, friends and family, who have gone, almost all of them before my present age. My grandparents, parents, my dearest husband, my younger brother, aunts and uncles, friends and more friends….all this love for me and from me catches me up and helps support me.

In spite of my losses, these last years have been wonderful. Thanks to my beloved son I have been able to live fully, seeing friends and family when I wished, and my doctors when I needed them. He has helped and accompanied me in the seasonal moves to and from Florida. His presence has been a constant support.

I am grateful, too, for beloved nieces and nephews, my loving sister-in-law and faraway cousins.

I am grateful for the fruitful working life I have had and the beloved colleagues who worked with me in founding the Scarsdale Teachers Institute and the Mentor Institute, both enterprises that stretched my vision and abilities. Both enterprises have given me friends who write from other continents. I am grateful for former students who have known me as teacher or principal and remain connected with me by phone or email.

I am grateful for the living friends–a few here in Westchester, most of them scattered over the country and world–younger than I and wonderfully tolerant of my slow gait and lagging energy.

The day ahead of me promises the intense pleasures of a walk in the neighborhood, an hour with a book, birthday phone calls, cards and emails…and finally an evening my son has planned that will begin with drinks at a favorite outdoor restaurant by the Hudson River’s edge.

I feel that I am at my life’s edge, and when I take a tumble, it will be into Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, and there will be nothing more for me, no people to love, no world to try to fathom, no beauty to fill my eyes. I expect nothing after death, but I’m willing to be surprised…

Sr. Advisor D, 89th birthday

Sr. Advisor D, 89th birthday