Friday, 29 March 2013

The small miracle of lessons learned

We are painting.

If you live anywhere in the vicinity or follow me on Facebook or work with me, you are groaning  now. One of my co-workers said, "Please! No more painting stories."

One of the problems is that it's a big area. Living room, dining room, hall up to and including the front door, up the stairs and the upstairs hallway are all painted the same.

And have been for 20 year. That's another problem. The style was definitely 80s ("old lady" was my husband's comment) and needed not only refreshing but updating. It was dark and gloomy.

A third problem is that we both work full time, have a puppy and can only attack it in fits and starts. So we lived for 6 weeks with our furniture in the middle of the floor and chaos ensuing.

We are half way to the finish line. Living room and dining room is finished, the furniture has been put back in place and I staged a cleaning intervention. We are making arrangements to move the piano to my daughter's house, and someday soon, a lovely fireplace will go in its place. Of course, one project leads to another, and we decided we need new doors and a hardwood floor. Visions of dollar signs dance in my head, but I keep reminding myself that it's many years since anything has been spent on the house. It's time.

I've learned some lessons while painting. While I was reflecting on these, I noticed similarities to lessons I learned recently in my life through another painful experience. (Because painting has been painful, I assure you.) The time between when I decided I wanted to marry again and when I met my husband was a painful time of learning as well.

Things I learned from painting and dating:

1. It gets worse before it gets better.  In painting, you make a huge mess preparing the walls, and first coats don't look great, either. It takes a few finished walls, with drips and touch-ups done, to start to feel like you're getting somewhere.

I went through many difficult situations in dating. I met 17 scammers over a year's time, and a few I didn't recognise as such right away, and I got hurt. I got led on and dropped, spoken to abusively, and just disappointed. It hurt, and the loneliness I felt when I started got worse.

2. There are times you think you're getting nowhere. The living room had a wallpaper border in the middle of the wall. It wasn't a large area or a large border, and I didn't anticipate the anguish it would take to remove it. Three days of scraping, washing, peeling tiny fragments, scraping again, washing again and finally rinsing brought it down, but during that time I shed a few tears of frustration. I've taken down wallpaper before, but nothing like this.

How many times can you have your hopes dashed before you loose your nerve? I cried out to the Lord many times, because I was afraid I wouldn't have the courage to try again. I put "trust" verses all over my fridge and read them daily. Jer. 29:11 was my anchor. "For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope." Through each disappointment, I would ask Him for the future and the hope. I held onto His promise, but many times I felt despair.

3. It's hard work. Our sore shoulders will attest to that in relation to painting.
Jumping into the dating pool after 30 years of marriage and four years of widowhood was incredibly difficult. I agonised over the decision and sought the counsel of friends. Infinitely harder, though, was to pick myself up and try again after many disappointments. And then to do it again. And again.

4. It's worth it. Even though the job is only half done, the room looks different. It is brighter, more contemporary, and ours. Each change makes it more ours, and that's exciting.

After almost a year of marriage, I still feel incredible joy. We know God brought us together at the perfect time for both of us. We appreciate what we have, and don't take a day for granted. Dating had it's up times and many devastating low times, but in the end, God answered our prayers.

I am thankful.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Caregiver stress--What do I do about it? pt. 6

Muriel was caregiver for her husband, who had Parkinson's disease. At this point, he needed minimal help, but in the last year, she had seen a lot of changes, and they haunted her. She had done extensive reading, and knew that the disease was progressing more quickly than it did in some people. The drugs didn't seem to be making much improvement, and she was terrified of the future. Her fear kept her up at night, listening to her husband's breathing. It caused panic attacks when he was out of the house. She burst into tears one day while doing the grocery shopping, and had to leave her cart in the middle of the store.

Her husband was concerned. He saw her slowly drowning in her fears, and he felt responsible. He had his own fears, and grappled with depression every day. They were starting to bicker, and he was afraid it was affection their relationship--a relationship they desperately needed to be strong for the road ahead.

10. Get professional help

My suggestion is just this--get help.

Everyone's situation is different, and people struggle in different ways. A situation that is difficult but possible for one person might be overwhelming and incredibly distressing for someone else. It doesn't mean that one person is weaker than another. Sometimes (not always) what passes as strength is pride that keeps the person from seeking much needed help.

Sometimes the strong one is the one who goes for help.

Professional help can help you in so many ways. It is someone who talk to about your caregiver issue who may have some perspective and wisdom that you are too close to the issue to see. They may have suggestions of resources that you can access. You may need other medical help, such as medication, for a short period, and they can help with this.

Not everyone needs this kind of help, but if you need it, you are doing yourself and the person you are caring for a favour if you get it.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Caregiver stress--What do I do about it? pt. 5

In your entire arsenal against caregiver stress, what I'm going to discuss today may be the most important weapon.

A sense of humour.

"Are you nuts? There's not a thing funny about this situation. My heart is breaking, I'm exhausted and most of the time I have no idea if I'm doing the right thing. How can I laugh?"

In many ways, that's true. But the ability to see the funny side of a situation and to laugh when crying is also an option can be your salvation. You're not laughing at. Sometimes you're laughing with, and sometimes you're just laughing. But laughter can give you the strength to go on.

In the stories I am about to share, the names have been changed and the people left us a long time ago. But the stories...the stories remain.

Velma had an incredibly sharp mind until the last year of her life. She worked complicated crossword puzzles every day and had many opinions on politics and current events. She loved the symphony and was every bit a lady. Later in life she had a stroke, and her mind became uncharacteristically confused. She hoarded the garters used for the kind of briefs she wore, and was convinced the staff was stealing them and selling them on the black market. (There's a black market for those kind of things?)

One day, Velma made a slow journey down to my desk. Every step was work, but she soldiered forward, grasping her walker and moving with a slightly tipped gait. I saw her coming and wondered why she had ventured this far. In her present state, a journey like this was a lot of work. I stood from my chair as she arrived, deciding to try to discover how I could help her. For a few minutes, she stood silent, although she seemed to be concentrating on something behind the desk. Ignoring my questions, she began to shake her head. She pointed to my chair, on the back of which was an Obus form I won in a contest at work. The name of the company which had supplied it was in bold white letters on the black fabric--Therapist's Choice.

"The Rapist's Choice." read Velma, shaking her head. She turned to leave, but I heard her mutter to herself, "Makes you wonder what they're doing down here."

A lady from our independent living apartments came to my desk, looking as if she had lost something. I asked her if I could help her.

"I'm looking for Ann Peachman, but she's on vacation."

"I'm Ann Peachman."

"Oh, you're Ann Peachman when she's away?"

No, I'm Ann Peachman all the time."


Brigit was a delightful Irish blind lady who lived in our dementia unit. She had strong opinions about everything, and wasn't the least bit shy about expressing them. Her blindness was recent, but because it was combined with dementia, she didn't have the heightened senses many other blind people have.

One day, the piano tuner arrived just before lunch. He began to work on the piano in the lounge where Brigit was sitting, waiting for lunch. As he systematically plinked and plunked his way up the keyboard and down again. I noticed Bridget was becoming agitated, making "Tsk." noises and wiggling in her chair. Just before he was done, she could stand it no longer, and burst out with, "If you canna play the thing, you'd be better to leave it alone!"


Even when grief is fresh, there can be a funny side. I had a newly widowed wife ask me what to take to the funeral home. Did she need underwear? I told her to ask the funeral home. I had no idea.
But it's certainly something to ponder in the middle of the night.

And when I was at the funeral home planning my husband's memorial service, I was asked to look at urns. I burst out laughing (and got some startled looks from the person helping me.) How could I explain to her how funny Bill would have found that? He just wasn't an urn kind of guy. I ended up buying boxes at the Dollar store with pictures of shells on them. Much more his style.

As you start your day as a caregiver, ask God to show you where the smiles and laughter lie. It will make your journey a little lighter.


Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Caregiver stress--What do I do about it? pt. 4

My next suggestion is probably the most difficult and frustrating to follow.

8. Be flexible.

When I was a young bride (I'm an old bride now) we used to joke about my I.L.T. This with a piece of note paper that contained a list of chores I hoped to accomplish in a day. At the end of the day, the more items crossed off, the better I felt. I.L.T. stood for Impressive List of Things, and it kept me on track during the day. Not a bad thing, it produced focus. The problem came when the I.L.T. became my god, and accomplishing the only thing worthwhile in a day. The goal was to have a crossed-off list to display for my husband at the end of the day. Anything, children, phone calls, interruptions of any kind (even a friend dropping over) became a hindrance. What was a useful tool became a ball and chain. 

It took many years to learn to be flexible. When I became a caregiver, I discovered a whole new level of this trait. 

Caregivers learn flexibility in many ways:
  •  getting someone dressed and ready for the day can be a full day's accomplishment.
  •  unplanned moments of clarity or fun are more valuable that a vacuumed floor. 
  •  my agenda may not be the best one. 
  • I can ask for help for some of the things I need to accomplish. 
  •  I am not defined by what I accomplish. (That's a great life lesson, by the way, and one I still struggle with on occasion)
If you are a caregiver, realise that an I.L.T. can cause you great stress. Look at your day, and decide what absolutely must be done, what needs to be done by you and where you can get help, what can wait until tomorrow and what can wait indefinitely.

Here's another thought. Start your day with prayer, and ask God how to order your day. You'll be amazed how priorities fall into place.

A shorter post this week. Next week, I want to talk about maintaining a sense of humour. Hold onto your hats, folks--I have stories!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Caregiver stress- What do I do about it? pt. 3

Sometimes as a caregiver, you have to make tough choices.

Molly always hosted the family Christmas get-together, and she loved it. She was all about family and celebrating. For weeks and even months ahead, she baked and shopped, decorated and planned. It wasn't a chore. The anticipation of the event and the looks of pleasure on her family's faces gave her hours of joy. It was her thing, and she loved it.

But not this year. Since Mervyn's stroke, she had been his caregiver. Her children were relieved when their dad regained his speech and mobility, and Molly thought they didn't realise how much she was supporting him. He needed help with dressing and bathing, and couldn't do housework such as laundry and dishes like before. She'd hired someone to shovel snow and make minor repairs around the house, but the burden of every day landed on her shoulders. Instead of the usual joy and anticipation, thoughts of the Christmas season were a black cloud on her horizon. A burden. A stress.

6. Learn to say "no."

It's often the most difficult syllable to utter, especially if, like Molly, you are turning down something you like. There is guilt involved ("I don't want to disappoint them.") and unrealistic expectations ("Maybe I could do it.") All of us--even those who aren't caregivers--find it painful to have have those conversations. But by not saying "no" when necessary, you are adding unnecessarily to the burden of your caregiving.

The story has a happy ending. Molly invited one of her daughters for coffee. (She didn't feel up to meeting with all of her children.) When she explained the situation, there were tears as Molly revealed how much she was doing for their dad, and her daughter realised they hadn't done a good job of looking after Molly. The daughter immediately talked to her siblings, and they came up with a plan.

To ease Molly's burden immediately, they arranged for weekly housekeeping and installed a dishwasher. They changed how they visited so that Molly had some "alone" time and some "fun" time.
As for Christmas, one of the children took over the hosting, but everyone pitched in, and Molly was the director of the proceedings. She went shopping with them, helped decorate and participated in ways that gave her joy without being a burden. The family found new ways to celebrate and developed new traditions.

7. Develop realistic expectations.

Of course, this is related. it wasn't realistic for Molly to consider hosting the celebration.
There are other, smaller concessions that often need to be made. Because caregiving is always changing, you need to re-evaluate situations constantly. What works this week may not work next week. Or tomorrow.

Consider some scenarios:

  • George and Sylvia always go on a winter vacation. They look forward to it and plan it for months. Now Sylvia is in a wheelchair and needs assistance with the activities of daily living. Travel like they are used to would be difficult for both of them. On the other hand, they could consider other options, such as 
  1. George could hire a caregiver to go with them.
  2. They could stay at one place with supports rather than travel.
  3. They could plan a few shorter, closer trips
  • My sister is 10 years older than me, and her children spent lots of times with my parents. My mom babysat, and they were close to her. By the time I had children, she had early Alzheimer's. She often remarked that she couldn't wait until Rebekah was old enough to stay with them, alone. That never happened. I brought her (and later, her sister) over to the house frequently, and had them to my house. We did things together, and she had a great relationship with them and loved them to bits. But I recognised things had changed since the years my niece and nephew were small. 
Take a hard look at today. What is possible? What isn't? What might be if you look at creative solutions? Then go for it...