Godsend

Mom’s home care services started last Monday and I could not be more pleased.

There are so many agencies offering services for seniors out there. I really didn’t know where to begin. I’d seen a television commercial for a particular agency, and the ad appealed to me, so I started there. A representative came out to Mom’s town home for our consultation, and we were both so impressed, Mom signed up on the spot.

Our only other experience with home care was an agency that we’d hired for Dad after he’d broken his hip. Dad’s caregiver was a very nice man, but he wasn’t great at his job. He wasn’t self motivated, and if my parents didn’t specifically ask him to do something, he would sit at the dining room table and play with his cell phone or watch whatever happened to be on the television. He had a thick accent and there was a significant language barrier. He couldn’t carry on a casual conversation with my parents, and once when asked to get a box of cereal out of a cupboard, he returned with saltine crackers.

When interviewing the agency we hired for Mom, I mentioned that based on past experience, it was important to us that any caregiver working with Mom be confident and self motivated. We were assured this would not be a problem. I wasn’t sure whether it was cool to also specify that her caregiver be a woman, one with strong English skills, and  preferably a bit more on the mature side. We were told the only thing that couldn’t be specified in writing was the age preference. But it would be kept in mind when her schedule was created.

We were told that since the caregivers were already scheduled for most of the month, the first week would probably involve several different caregivers, ones with some availability in their existing schedules. But by the following week, there would be a consistent schedule of just two people, and an occasional substitute if ever one of the regulars couldn’t be there.

On Monday morning, a fresh face by the name of Amanda showed up at Mom’s house and she was all of twenty years old. And despite her preference not to have someone so young, Mom loved her from the start. She already joked that my middle kid, Ryker should stop by and meet Amanda. (My mom, the matchmaker! This is quite the kick!) Mom said Amanda was confident, motivated, and could carry on a conversation with her easily. She doesn’t come from a background of ease, and this seems to contribute to her drive and sense of compassion. At the end of their time together, Amanda asked Mom if she could request to be on her schedule every Friday and Mom happily agreed.

I was very encouraged when I called Monday afternoon to get Mom’s status report.

On Tuesday, Karla came, and on Wednesday, Anna. Both of these ladies were in their sixties. Karla had retired from her full-time job and said she was now working as a caregiver because she enjoyed it and couldn’t stand the thought of being retired and doing nothing in particular. Anna used to live in Michigan. When her husband passed away, she moved here to be closer to family. She particularly loved Mom’s dog, which happens to be a Pekingese. Anna said she used to have Pekingese dogs herself. Mom thoroughly enjoyed both Karla and Anna. Both of them told Mom that they’d love to come back when she’s got an opening in her schedule and she said she would welcome each of them anytime.

On Thursday, another woman came. She was quieter and less confident than the others, but she provided nice company for Mom. She didn’t do many of the everyday chores. She had told Mom she’d slipped and fallen on the ice the day before and was sore. Mom said she didn’t want to ask her to do much if she was hurt. I gently told Mom that if her caregiver wasn’t well enough to do a few simple chores, she probably shouldn’t have come to work that day. But I figured this was a one time deal with this person. She won’t be a regular on Mom’s schedule so I dropped it.

On Friday, Amanda returned and Mom had another good day.

Next week, there will be one more new face, Mom’s most regular caregiver, Barbara. I’m praying Barbara will be as good a fit as the women Mom met last week, if not better. Amanda will return each week on Friday, and I already know that’s a good thing.

I was nervous at the beginning of last week. Because of the poor experience with Dad’s home care services, my sister and I had to work hard to convince Mom to agree to some services for herself. Each day last week, I would call Mom after lunch when I knew her caregiver would have gone for the day. Each day, I heard a positive spirit in Mom’s voice such as I haven’t heard in months. I was looking forward to the fact that these caregivers would take over some of the chores that my sister and I normally have to do. I was hoping my mom would tolerate having someone in her house daily, hovering over her for a few hours. What I didn’t really expect is how much Mom would truly enjoy the companionship her caregivers provided.

A few days into her first week of services, I realized how much my mom’s loneliness had probably impacted her physical health. And going forward, even if her caregivers do nothing but provide friendly companionship, it will be okay with me if that’s what makes Mom happy and healthier. (But I really hope they manage the chores. I’m tired of trying to keep up with two households!)

Throughout the week, Mom’s spirits seemed brighter and her physical health appeared to improve by the day. She and I had new things to talk about, and I knew just what a good thing we’d done when she mentioned something one of the caregivers had told her. I was confused about which one had said it after hearing all of those new names and asked, “That’s the young girl, right?”

Mom said, “No, you’re thinking of Amanda. She’s the granddaughter one. I’m talking about Anna.”

The granddaughter one! My mom already thinks of Amanda like one of her grandchildren!

If there’d been any doubt in my mind as to whether Mom would be able to get comfortable with her home care, it was now erased.

Seeing my mother through this past year since my dad’s passing, seeing her decline in many ways … it’s been such a hard journey. Staying positive has been a serious challenge and I often feel such a heavy weight on my heart.

But this. This past week. These caregivers. They have been a true Godsend. And I am grateful beyond words.

Just a Season

I need to shake the habit of thinking that things are supposed to be a certain way. It’s just not true. I don’t know where I got that idea. Maybe I’ve just had it that good in life. Maybe I didn’t have role models to show me how to handle certain challenges. Maybe I’ve simply been wearing blinders.

There are no guarantees that life will go well or that there will always be a simple solution for all of its problems. And it occurs to me that I’m probably more that a bit spoiled if I’m waking up every morning wondering if this is the day things will iron out and I can get on with my comfortable life again.

A few miles down the highway, my mom continues to live on her own. I purposely refrain from saying that she lives independently, because her life is far from independent. The past few months brought an onslaught of worry, not that I wasn’t already forfeiting a large percentage of my energy to that particular habit.

Mom’s already fragile state took a noticeable turn sometime before Christmas. Something wasn’t quite right. Numerous doctor visits resulted in the professionals merely shrugging their shoulders, making best guesses and sending her home again. They said it was probably just the progression of her autoimmune disease.

The real problem revealed itself two weeks ago in a most painful manner. Mom spent most of a week in the hospital and I couldn’t help but wonder if the coming days would find her children planning another funeral for a parent.

Thankfully, the cause was found and the issue was somewhat resolved, but the entire episode left mom sapped of what little physical strength she’d had previously. And unfortunately, an important conversation with the hospital doctor occurred without any of Mom’s family around. It was strongly recommended that she spend some time recuperating after her hospital stay in a transitional care facility. Mom declined. She didn’t want to go to “one of those places.” She needed to be cared for after her hospital stay. And if it wasn’t from the professionals, someone else would have to provide it. I was already providing a lot of support to Mom beforehand. Now she needed even more.

Mom’s barely been alone since her return home over a week ago. She’s just not been capable of managing on her own at all. She hasn’t been able to take care of herself or her dog without constant assistance. She walks minimal distances around the house with her walker. Worried eyes follow her every move. My sister and I were already taking turns spending nights with Mom during the week before the hospital stay. And since she refused to spend time in transitional care, our rotating “slumber parties” have continued in the wake of her return. I’m eternally grateful for Mom’s longtime friend who provided relief during the week, spending nights and most of the days so my sis and I could go to work. But evenings and weekends are still our responsibility.

We just can’t continue the pattern this way. Something’s gotta give. Though it’s probably the best option, Mom won’t consider assisted living right now, due to reasons I can understand. (She won’t leave her dog. And even if dogs are allowed, she feels she can’t manage him in an apartment.) I don’t agree that we should be putting the dog ahead of Mom, but I get that some decisions are just not easy to make. Especially when you’re sick and lonely. But I’m afraid even if and when the dog is no longer a factor, she won’t be willing to improve her living situation. I’ve begun to understand the senior mind these past few years. While the body may be weak, the mind grows ever more set in its ways.

We hired a home care agency last week. Starting tomorrow, someone will come take care of Mom in the mornings, Monday through Friday. That still leaves her alone in the afternoons, at night and on weekends. It’s probably not enough. And it still means that someone has to be there every evening to make sure she has dinner and something to heat up for her lunch the next day. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Mom views the home care service as a necessary evil. She clearly thinks the help is something she only needs temporarily. While she was on the phone yesterday, I heard her say to someone that she’s going to try it for a month or so. And I know her well enough to know that the first time something doesn’t sit well, she’ll be wanting to cancel the service.

I don’t argue with her when she says she just needs to gain her strength back so she can be on her own again. She hasn’t really been on her own for a couple of years. Her disease means it’s nearly impossible she’ll regain enough strength to live normally and independently. But I’m certainly not going to be the one forcing her to accept defeat. Having her live with me would help ease my stress, and it’s doable, but I know it’s not ideal. It would bring on a whole host of other problems. Still, I would do it if she’d agree. For the same reasons she won’t go to transitional care, she won’t come live here. That damn dog. I love him. And I hate him sometimes.

I love her dearly, but it makes me crazy that she doesn’t seem able to consider that without some sort of professional assistance, my sister and I have to put our lives and families on hold to manage hers. Having Mom to care for in addition to working full-time is exhausting at times…. God, that sounds so selfish! But when I think about all the unfinished projects around my house, the chores that have gone undone, the friendships that feel like they’re fading away, I can’t help but feel sorry for myself sometimes. I run errands for her every whim, while my Target and grocery lists grow to unmanageable proportions. And quite honestly, my sister’s life is in no shape to be put on the back burner. Yet she does it, if for no other reason than she won’t leave me alone in this.

Don’t get me wrong. My mom is always very gracious. She often states that she shouldn’t be asking us for so much help, but she’s so grateful for it. She tells me daily how much she loves and appreciates me. It helps to hear it, and her words make it a bit easier to face another day of the same.

I am fighting so hard lately to keep my thoughts focused on that which I can control, to keep them in a positive realm. I have succumbed to worry, sadness, anger and bitterness for far too long and I don’t like myself much when I’m in those places. I’m tired of thinking about it. I’m tired of talking about it. I wish so often that I had something else to contribute to the conversation. I just want to feel normal again, but I’m not sure normal can or will ever be the same. My thoughts are consumed with issues of the aging, with thoughts of death and funerals and sadness. My dreams are filled with scenes of me failing at my caregiver role.

I’ve learned lately that it’s a mind-game at times. You can teach yourself to partition your thoughts into those that you’re willing to see, and those which stay hidden behind a wall. And I’m finally beginning to grasp what it means to forgive. I don’t have to forgive others for keeping their heads in the sand and feeling no obligation to help care for the same person who gave you life. I don’t have to make them think that it’s okay what they’re doing. Or more accurately, not doing. But I can put those people behind that same wall as the self-pity and darkness. I have to remember that my anger and frustration poisons no one but myself.

But Lord, it takes practice, and I’m not always successful. I broke down sobbing Friday morning, during a quiet moment when it seemed safe to do so. I prayed for strength to keep going, and realized a good cry sometimes helps. Sometimes I’m just sad that the rug has been pulled out from beneath my mom’s feet. Afterwards, I reminded myself that this time in life is just a season.

Just a season. Seems like I’m always telling myself that. Someday, when Mom is gone, I don’t want to remember only that I was scared and bitter. This is just a season in which I need to fight extra hard. Years down the road, I want to look back and know that I did everything I could to give back to my mom all that she gave to me.

So I’m extra grateful for simple things lately, things like sleeping in my own bed, a free afternoon to wander around a furniture store, an understanding boss who says, “family first,” or coming home to find my husband and daughter making dinner so I don’t have to. I’m practicing hard to keep my thoughts on the here and now. Tomorrow is out of my hands. No good can come from imagining all that might go wrong after this moment. Besides, something … anything could go right. Right?

Bundling Up

This week, I’ve frequently found myself feeling grateful for the remote car starter. Business casual has gone out the window at the office. It’s jeans, heavy sweaters, and as many layers as one can comfortably manage. I’ve made a new friend at work. After 4:30, we meet in front of the large break room windows pressing buttons on our key fobs until we see headlights illuminate and the tell-tale sign of exhaust plumes floating from their pipes.

Winter is in full force here in Minnesota. We’re hunkering down inside our homes, in front of our fireplaces, and under mountains of blankets when we go to bed at night.

Well, I am anyway.

And let me just say, if you’re contemplating building a new deck like we did last summer, and if you’re considering one of those maintenance-free options, think long and hard. Nobody warned us that this kind of  decking would become mildly treacherous when it rains or snows. Or when it rains and then snows. Or when it has snowed several times and the temperature remains steadily low enough to maintain all that snow on the ground, and then it rains and freezes.

Our split-level house doesn’t have a lower-level walk-out. (I think I just won the prize for most hyphenated words in one sentence!) The deck and its flight of stairs are the dog’s typical means of getting to the fenced back yard. When it rained last Monday night and then quickly dropped to single-digit temps for the week, our world became a glazed, icy wonderland. And our deck became impassable. All week-long, we’ve been bundling up and walking poor Lucy out the front door and around through the back gate to do her business.

img_4787Oh, well. As one of my favorite former coworkers used to frequently remind us in the face of complaints, “First world problems.”

Anyway, it looks like we’re having a bit of a heat wave this week. I might be able to shed a layer!

Also, there’s a lovely Mexican vacation in my near future (first time EVER!) and that makes me very. VERY. HAPPY.

Hello, 2017!

I am ready for a new year! Like so many others, I’m not sorry to see 2016 go. 2016 wrung us out in so many ways, not just here at home, but throughout the country, and around the world. And even though today, the sun has simply risen on another twenty-four hour window, just like it has every day before this one, the fact that today brings a fresh new year gives me a sense of hope and optimism.

I’ve been reshaped in the past year. I’d like to think I’ve been made stronger. But the process of getting here hasn’t been easy.

Jack and I went to a wedding yesterday. At the reception, I was talking with a friend who has suffered more family tragedy in the past couple of years than anyone should have to endure. We talked about things like losing loved ones, watching our parents grow old and frail, and the seemingly high instance of addiction in people these days. We talked about how much pain and hurt exist in this world. And we discussed how easy it is to worry and to hurt when you love others. I said that I always figured the older I got, the easier life should be, and the less we should have to worry about. But with each passing year, I realize it’s just not so. It can be so easy to let fear, hurt and bitterness consume you – if you allow it.

If anyone ever had the right to curl up in a ball and let darkness swallow them up, it would be this friend. But she hasn’t and won’t allow that to happen. She inspires me. As we talked, there were some tears. She’s been through so much, and she endured a period of darkness not long ago that I’m not sure I personally could have survived. We talked about how hard it can be to keep taking another step forward when so often we don’t understand why things sometimes happen the way they do.

I’ve reached a stage in my life when “someday” has arrived. Years ago, I understood that someday, my parents would grow old.  I knew that friends and loved ones would eventually depart from this life, and that there was the possibility that we wouldn’t all grow old. I knew that not everyone I cared about would have an easy life. Not everyone would enjoy good health for all of their days. But when I was younger, and had more control over protecting the ones I love, when time was on my side, it was easy to tuck someday away in the back of my mind.

We get older, and someday inevitably arrives. It can’t be ignored. You can let it swallow you up … or you can face it, and find happiness and good in spite of it.

I told my friend that as I endured the loss of  loved ones over the past couple of years, the only thing that kept me from losing it was the fact that there were clear signs that this here, this now, is not all that there is. A prayer to my grandmother was answered with the sound of her favorite song. A loved one showed up in a dream, assuring us that it’s all okay, that there is happiness in the beyond. I call them God moments. So does my friend. To others, maybe they are simply hope and optimism, or just wishful thinking. Whatever they are … they give me the strength to keep keeping on.

Still, in 2016, I mostly felt as if I was just going through the motions and trying not to let everything get the best of me. I know this is simply life. Most of us will have to pass by this way at some point. It’s a process. Grief and sorrow can’t be overcome in a day. And maybe they are something we just learn to live with. Strength and new wisdom do not come in an instant. Shedding old skin, arising anew … it all takes time. This is what we’re here for. To feel every emotion. To feel alone sometimes as well as to be surrounded. To experience joy as well as pain. To understand that sometimes we have to endure the depths for a while. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. All of this is what helps us to know what it is to truly live.

My friend summed it up well. She told me she never could have survived her losses if it weren’t for the love and support of those around her. “We’re here to love each other,” she said. “We’re just supposed to love each other. That’s all this is about. Nothing else matters.”

I think she’s right. In 2017, I hope I’ll stay more focused on this. I can’t save my mom from the inevitable strains of her health conditions, but I can take care of her as best I can. I can be with her as much as possible and love her as much as possible. I can’t save anyone from the ugliness of this world, but I can remind them they aren’t alone and they are loved. And when the unimaginable happens, maybe that love will be someone’s saving grace.

I spent too much time in 2016 feeling lost, alone and defeated. I don’t want to feel the sting of tears so often anymore. I want to feel less anger and bitterness. I want to remind my brain to focus on the positive, and when negativity finds its way in, acknowledge it and let it pass on by. I want to enjoy what I have, appreciate that which I can control, and stop stressing about what (and who) is beyond my grasp.

As I’ve so often been reminded in recent days,  a new year is like a blank book.

treat-the-new-year-like-a-blank-book-5-638

I hope I write a good one in 2017.