“I don’t want to be a burden…”

Most of you know that I began this blog as a way to deal with my own grief…while watching my Mother slowly die, literally and figuratively, of Alzheimer’s Disease. Those who loved her beyond reason, had to stand by and watch her descend into that living hell. She remained home, with family, until we could no longer give her the care that she so desperately needed. One of our strategies, to keep her home as long as possible, was to “share” the responsibility of her care among the four children and my Father. Part of my responsibility (and honor) was to stay with her and Daddy, one week out of every month (more often, as I could)…

Mother had gotten to a point where she could not bathe herself, go to the bathroom by herself, or feed herself. So, on this particular day, it was time for her shower. I found it easier (and safer) to just get in the shower with her, and gently bathe her as we talked, laughed, and reminisced. Some times this was a difficult task for her, in that she could not follow or understand anything that I was saying. Other times, bathing was easy, and she would assist me with her own care.

We were both in the shower, drenched from head to toe, and she placed her hand on my arm and made me stop. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I never wanted you children to have to do this. I never wanted to be a burden.” Those words broke my heart and I struggled to find just the right thing to say, to convince her that she was never a burden to us. With a smile on my face, I said, “Mama, didn’t you tell me that when I was a baby, while nursing, the only way you could get me to go to sleep was to let me pinch the skin under your arm, and roll it back and forth between my fingers?” She smiled so sweetly with the memory, and said, “Yes, that’s right.” I asked her, “Didn’t it hurt?” She said, “Yes, but that motion somehow soothed you, and you would go to sleep every time.” I then said, “Didn’t you spend countless, sleepless nights, sitting by my bed, or laying beside me, or just holding me, because I was so sick that you would not leave me alone?” Again, she said, “Yes, I did!” I continued to tell her that there were too many examples to count, too many memories of selfless sacrifices that she had made not only in my behalf, but for all of her children. I asked her if she considered being our Mother a burden. She looked at me in shock, and said, “No! I loved all of you, and I wanted to take care of you!” I then explained that we were doing the same thing for her now; that we wanted to take care of her, out of our love for her. She smiled through tears, and said “OK, then! That’s settled.”

Some times the greatest gift we can give someone is to simply accept their help and caring. Those who are being cared for DO feel like a “burden” to their family. You have a choice as to how you are going to make that person feel…You have a choice as to HOW you are going to give that care – either out of guilt or out of love…and your actions will indicate which choice you made. Have you let your parents, or loved ones, know that they are NOT a burden? Or do you let them know how inconvenienced you are? I tell families and caregivers all the time, “It’s not that you just gave the care, and got it accomplished, but rather, HOW you gave the care.” Do you make them feel guilty? Let those individuals, the ones you are caring for, know that providing care and assistance is an act of love… I don’t ever want someone I love to feel as if they are a burden to me. Caring should be given freely, from the heart. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

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Who to call??

It was a year ago this week that I lost my Mother. They say that time will ease the pain, and I am so hoping that is the truth. However, I pretty much know that the hole in my heart will be felt for the remainder of my life. I am coping much better, but there have been so many “adjustments” that have had to be made in my day to day life. There’s one that has been harder to accept than others, and that was the daily phone call that I made to my Mama. No matter which part of the country I was in, I always made it a point to “check in.”

Even in the later stages of her disease, when thought process and memory became even more of an issue, she seemed to remember that I would be calling. We would talk about everything and anything…and laugh a lot. At the end of each call, when it came time to say good-bye, Mother would thank me for calling. She would always comment that not all children would call their parents on a daily basis, and she appreciated it.  I would always tell her that I did not call for her and Daddy, but rather, I called for me…that I needed to hear their voices.

I had a dear friend that lost her Mom a number of years ago. During one of our conversations, as she was describing her loss, she said, “there’s no one to call now.” I asked, “What do you mean?” She shared that whenever she went on a trip, she would call to say goodbye, and then upon returning, she would call to say she had made it back home safely. This was just one example of the calls that she made to her mother on a regular basis. I empathized with her, but did not truly understand the depth of that particular loss, until I experienced that same loss myself. Now, I still call my father, but it is not the same. My Mama was the “talker.”

Those of you who have parents who are still living, if you can’t visit them, please give them the gift of hearing your voice on the phone. How much time would it take? Five minutes? And what a difference those five minutes would make in their lives! Believe me, there will come a time when you would give everything to just pick up the phone, and hear their voice. What I would not give for just one more phone call…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Please, don’t let me die alone…

When I first started working in nursing homes, my background and education was in social work. Oh, the plans I had in my head regarding this profession and career. I was going to blaze new paths for the field of social work…I was going to “save the world”…I was going to solve people’s problems and make all of their lives so much better. Initially, I found this “mission” to be a little harder than I had anticipated. Each day I learned that there was quite a bit of knowledge that I needed, that could not be found in any textbook. Much of what I did in the beginning was “trial by fire.”

Just as an aside, you need to know…People who work with elders, especially those precious ones who live in nursing homes, find that it is possible to have a few “favorite” people who are in their care…those individuals who you automatically “connect” with…they need and give just a little extra loving and affection. They may have no family at all. They may have been abused. They may simply be wanting to be loved. For whatever reason, you find that you form a strong bond with these wonderful, old people. The professionalism comes into play in that the “favoritism” is never shown, especially in front of other residents. They are all cared for, loved, and attended to the very same. At least in my buildings they were!!

There was a very tiny African American lady that became a “favorite” of mine. She had no family that I could find, and absolutely no one ever came to visit her. We became fast friends, and would spend time each day singing old Spirituals and visiting. Oh, how she loved to sing! When she saw me coming around the corner of the hallway, her eyes would light up, and she would grin from ear to ear. One day I arrived at work to discover that she had a massive stroke the night before and was in the hospital. She was dying, and they returned her to the only home and family that she knew at that time…us! She had a tube in her nose, made horrible gurgling sounds, body-jerked a lot from fear, and her eyes would dart around…just practically scared to death! I would hold her hand, stroke her hair, and try to give comfort as best I could. However, I knew that I was NOT meeting her needs. It kept me awake for a number of nights. One night, I sat straight up in my bed, with a good plan of action for the next day… and it did NOT come from a textbook. It just felt like the right thing to do.

I walked into her room, took my shoes off, climbed up into the bed with her, put my arm under her, placed her head on my shoulder, and held her just like a mother would a child. I began singing to her very gently. She stopped jerking, her eyes stopped darting around, and for the first time since she had returned from the hospital, her breathing came easy and she slept. I began doing this several times a day, as often as my schedule would allow. She ended up dying in my arms one morning. She finally found the peace that she so needed, and I felt that I had been able to give her a gift in dying, just as she had given me a gift in living.

We mostly overlook those people who have lived long, full lives, and have now outlived everyone they know. For them, there is no one to say to, “remember when we…” There are no shared memories. They are truly and forever alone. I cannot begin to fathom the depth of loneliness that they must feel and face each day. Each one of you reading this post has the ability to give just a little back to these precious elders. How about spending a little time with an old person? Visit with them, take the time to get to know them, and learn from them. You may find a love and friendship that just might mean more to you than you could possibly imagine. And what it means to them is indescribable. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

It Will Never Be The Same Again…

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As many of you know, my Mother passed away in February – that means that this weekend holds a holiday that I have never experienced without my Mother. So, here’s the story for this week…

Two weeks ago I had to go grocery shopping. We were just about to head to the checkout, when I remembered that I needed just one more item. I rushed back to the area where I thought the item could be found, and turned down an aisle to get there a little faster. As soon as I started walking a few feet into the aisle, I realized that I had made a mistake. I had unknowingly turned down the greeting card aisle, and plastered everywhere were Mother’s Day cards. In an instant my eyes were filling with tears as I realized that this year I would not be buying a Mother’s Day card, nor would I be making the trip to spend the weekend with her in celebration. I left the aisle as quickly as I possibly could, and tried not to think about what I had just seen, and what it meant for me.

I will be honest…I have struggled with this loss, just as I struggled with her disease process. I have the skills, expertise and ability to train healthcare professionals in these areas, but I have been rather inept in helping myself. I have a very dear friend, who has watched this struggle of mine. She finally asked me, “Cat, just what are you thinking and feeling? What are you hoping for? What are you looking for?” And I tried to verbalize…I said, “I don’t feel Mother’s presence. In my mind, I just assumed, because we were so close, that when she died…I would feel her presence ‘with me’ constantly. That has not happened, and I don’t know what to do.” As soon as I expressed those thoughts, she said, “Cat, she is with you every day…she is in your heart…she is in your mind…she is living inside you.” And now comes the best part…she said, “All you have to do to ‘feel her’ is continue being the person that she wanted you to be.” And just like that, I felt a peace that I had not felt since Mama’s death. You see, I realized that this is something I could do! I can be the person she raised and was proud of…I can emulate the character, integrity and Christ-like traits that she taught by living example. You see, I simply do NOT know how else to be, but who I am…who she made…and who she loved.  I AM my Mother’s child!

For those of you whose mothers are still living…MAKE the time and effort to visit with them, make memories with them, enjoy them, just “be” with them…for one day, they absolutely will be gone from your life…and it will never be the same again. For those of you whose mothers are no longer living, do what I am doing…let’s live the lives that our Mamas taught us to live…strong in faith, compassion, loyalty and love…and ALWAYS doing for others. BE the person that “Mama” would have you be. Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

Are you feeling lucky…..

It has been wonderful hearing from everyone this week, either by comment here on the blog, or by FB, or email. So we are off to a good start. I hope that many of you did things this week that would make your Mama’s heart “go thump.” I did, and am doing, a number of things….I’m taking care of a friend’s house, plants, and mail while she is out of town. Earlier, I made a fresh pie for a neighbor who had lost her mother and 17-year old dog within the same week. I gave free tickets to some neighbors who had never been to a UT Lady Vols basketball game.  Just a few of my “heart thumpers” this week. So little things can make a difference – they don’t have to be BIG actions. Since last week’s blog was a little sad, I thought we might have a lighter story and challenge this week. AND this is a New Year’s story, so I have to get it in the blog this month. So, here we go…

I need to give you a little “background” for this particular story. Although I am a public speaker and communicator by trade, my close friends and family know that if anyone has a talent for saying the wrong thing, and putting not one, but two, feet in their mouth…..well….that would be me. Now, on to the story…

If you are from the South, you KNOW that black-eyed peas MUST be eaten on New Year’s Day in order to have “good luck” for the coming year. If you were to ask most Southerners “why” we eat black-eyed peas for good luck, not many would be able to give you a rational answer. We just know that if that black-eyed pea does not cross our lips on New Year’s, all is lost, and gloom and doom will surely follow us the entire year. My Mama used to always call me on New Year’s Day to wish me well, and she would always begin the conversation by saying, “Have you had your good luck yet?” And of course, I would always respond, “yes, I ate them at lunch.”

This particular year, I was out of town visiting with friends over the holiday. Most of us had not had very good “luck” the prior year, so it was pretty much a unanimous decision to include black-eyed peas in our New Year’s menu. As “luck” would have it, we did not have any peas at home, so a trip to the grocery store was required. My friends sent me into the store (by myself), knowing that I cannot go into a store without talking to everyone in the building. (They waited for me in the car.) As I finally located the aisle containing the black-eyed peas, I started walking down it. I saw a man walking up from the other end of the aisle, and for some reason, I came to the conclusion that he was also looking for black-eyed peas. I smiled at him from a distance away, and he returned the smile. As we got closer to each other, within “talking” distance, I gave him a great big ole’ smile and said….”Hey, are you looking for some good luck?” The minute the words were out of my mouth, I KNEW they were the WRONG words! The man smiled at me, started at my feet with his eyes, going slowly over my body to my head, and said, “I might be…” I raced out of the store before he could go any further! I hopped into the car and said the words my friends have heard on more than one occasion…”leave rubber!” They peeled out of the parking lot not saying a word. Several blocks later, they all turned to me and said “what did you do??” Of course, New Year’s rolled around the next day, and my phone rang. It was Mama. The first thing she said was, “have you had your good luck?” I said, “Mama, don’t even go there.” The phone line got really quiet, and then she said…”what did you do?”

So, JUST FOR THIS WEEK, I am going to realize that I cannot read peoples’ minds, and know what they are thinking, or even what actions they might be thinking of taking. I’m NOT going to jump to conclusions!! I’m going to let people communicate their thoughts and actions to me with no bias or anticipation on my part. In other words, I AM GOING TO LISTEN….just for this week. Won’t you join me?