Back to Joy

When I started the journey of going to Florida from Georgia every two weeks, it was January, 2012. Hospice had taken Mom as a patient and I thought I would be making the trip for two or three months at the most. I was preparing myself for her death and my loss.

Six months passed and she was still with us, but continuing to decline. I grieved each time I left my husband, contemplated lost time to play with my grandchildren and being with other family and friends. I grieved for Mom’s loss of function and pending death when I left her. I was grateful for the time I had with Mom, my sister and cousins, but the two weeks in Florida were becoming long, lonely and difficult. I had one foot in one bucket and one in another and they seemed to be moving apart. I was losing my balance.

By September, I was a mess. It took me three days when I arrived home to recover from the trip. Three days before I had to go back, I was depressed and miserable. I realized that the support of my husband, children and grandchildren, sister, cousins and friends was not enough. So, I made an appointment with Dr. B.

I met Dr. B. about 16 years ago when I was going through the transition of moving from being a mother with dependent children and managing my husband’s office to “What am I going to do for the rest of my life?” Her insight was helpful, then, as I moved out of the medical field to a job at a nature science center and into a different role with my adult children. Though I had not seen her since that time, we connected as we had done all those years ago. She has taken the pressure off of my husband who I know has grown tired of all my moaning and groaning, though he is a very good listener. I can cry and vent all I want to without feeling guilty. She has helped me come out of the dark and move into the light once again.

Thirteen months later and Mom is still with us. I am grateful. She delights in her great-grandchildren, staying awake to not miss a moment with them.  She loves when friends and family come to visit and when my sister or I take her for a daily ride. She eats very little, can’t talk, can’t hear, can’t walk, but she has a lively spark in her eyes. So, I continue to make the trip to Florida to be with her for two weeks each month.  At least, I will until June.

Another woman has brought joy to the journey, Rosie. I wrote about her in a previous blog. She lovingly cared for my aunt and uncle until they died. She wraps us all within a cloak of love that comes only from the Divine. She is clear about her mission in life and that is to care for older people who need her. She is a professional with a heart. It took me months to call her because I couldn’t let go of Mom’s care. An honest friend told me that I am not honoring Mom if I continue to wear myself out and become resentful. That pushed me down the road to call Rosie. And Rosie let me know that it was time to dry the tears and that she would work out a way to be there for Mom one week a month. “God will work out all the details.“ I believe her. Mom always brightens when she sees Rosie. Finding the right person to stand shoulder to shoulder with you on the caregiving journey blesses everyone.

Beginning in June, I will joyfully go one week each month to be with Mom. My sister will continue to stay with her for two weeks at a time. She will be loved always by everyone who cares for her. My balance has been restored. The road we are on in this life is rarely straight. It is full of unexpected crooks and turns cluttered with stuff. I like it like that. Keeps it interesting. Through all of this I have learned once again that love is what counts, joy gives us a bounce in our step, and kindness that we give will be returned to us. Thanks to all who have showered us with kindness.  It is my plan to move forward, love more, fear less and squeeze every drop of joy from this crooked road called life.

Words

I decided it was time to return to blogging after being away for 8 months. I found this entry written in June, 2012, but never published.

I am in the space between.  I am not taking care of Mom and I am not at home where chores wait. I am allowing my thoughts to roll in and out like the ocean waves I am watching.  Nothing is sticking for long, which is a good thing–cleansing, even. 

2012 July Chumuckla 045

I finished reading Then, Again by Diane Keaton yesterday.  Her mother wrote in 85 journals over her lifetime.  Diane wrote the book as a legacy honoring her relationship with her mother who died from Alzheimer’s Disease.  She uses entries from her mother’s journal, her journal, letters, and recorded phone messages.  I recommend it. “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth wrote.  Whether we agree with someone or not, listening to or reading another’s words can bring understanding and respect in spite of our differences.

Words anchor our relationships.  When they slip away from someone we love, it is inevitable that we feel unhinged.  It has been over 6 years since Mom experienced several strokes and loss of words. I miss her spoken and written words. I miss her fussing at us about leaving the door open between the kitchen and backroom and not wiping our feet, tracking in sand.  I miss her praying the blessing at dinner time and playing “pretend” with the grandkids. I miss seeing her singing in the choir at church. I miss her cards and letters. Each one found from the past is cherished. I hear her voice in my heart.

Words that we hear or read can be doorways to adventures, love, friendships, acts of kindness, finding ways to make this world a better place to live, experiencing the Divine, and anything you might imagine. Books have been an important part of my caregiving journey. Some are for escape from the sameness of each day. Some are for knowledge to make the journey with fewer bumps in the road.

Reflections

Aside

When I arrived at Mom’s last week, it was 94 degrees and had not rained in 2 weeks.  I felt like Sadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.  I was cranky.  The grass was brown.  The fields were full of dusty, struggling cotton plants.  There was little shade around the house due to the loss of trees from Hurricane Dennis.  I wanted to be at home in the shade of North Georgia.  But, I was in Chumuckla and happy to see Mom and Kittye.

It rained the next day.  Mom and I did the happy dance.  The cotton plants were washed clean.  The grass turned green and I breathed in the sweet moist air of summers past.  I remembered the afternoons spent inside playing Monopoly with Kittye as the thunder rolled   through the woods, Mom looking out the window at the pines bending low with worry that one might fall on the house, and Daddy napping in his recliner after a morning of lifting hay bales and feeding the cows.  It has rained no less than four times since I have been here.  A lovely afternoon shower just ceased and a bunny hopped by the window at this very moment.  Blessings.

Yesterday, it stormed.  The wind blew the rain hard against the windows.  Mom and I were stuck inside all afternoon.  I dusted and danced to the Beatles. Mom laughed at my antics. When the dark clouds traveled on down the road, I rolled her out onto the driveway.  We went up and down breathing in the fresh air and feeling the cool breeze on our faces.  I rolled her through a couple of puddles.  Then, I noticed droplets of water hanging from the cedar tree.  They reflected the goodness around us.  I got my camera and took this picture.

When I framed the picture I noticed the reflection of the large oak tree near Aunt Myrtle and Uncle J. Lee’s house.  I remembered seeing Vic and Jim standing under that tree, relief from the sun and a break from tossing watermelons and cantaloupe.  Then, Mom and I got carried away looking at puddles.  Each had a strong tree that survived the storms though the last 50 years or more.

My good friend Becky called me last week.  She listened to my rants and shared a quote about joy that she thought she had gotten from one of her devotional books.  She is a rare female ordained Baptist minister who graduated from Mercer Theological Seminary when she was in her sixties. Today I received a card from her with the source of her quote.  Reflecting on our journey together, I chuckled when I read the article she taped into her card, the source of her quote.  It was from her horoscope on May 31st.  She is a Virgo.  It read “A task no longer brings you joy, and you’d just as soon not do it–but your high level of responsibility won’t allow you to bail, so you’re stuck.  Change your attitude and push through.  There’s joy to be wrung out of this yet.”  She wrote “Messages come in strange places sometimes!  I’m trying to pay attention always!”  It was the perfect message for me.

Caregiving  allows us time to reflect and there are many times we have to push through.  But there is always joy in unexpected places and times to be wrung out.  May those who read this be surprised by joy in unusual places.

Variety IS the Spice of Life

Mom is not eating much these days.  When we go out for lunch she eats a few bites and I finish hers and mine.  “Waste not, want not”, you know.  Consequently, I have gained enough weight to make it difficult to button and, in some cases, zip my pants.  I decided to go on the cabbage soup diet as outlined on www.cabbage-soup-diet.com rather than shop for a new wardrobe.

I gathered the ingredients: cabbage, scallions, parsley, carrots, celery, tomatoes and green peppers.  All wonderful vegetables, I knew I would enjoy.  I sauteed the onions in a little olive oil and added the rest of the coarsely chopped vegetables and 2 cans of petite diced tomatoes.ImageImageAfter having cabbage soup for three meals a day, three days, I couldn’t take the monotony any more.  I gave up.  When Mom goes home, I will cut back the calories and hopefully,  be able to wear some of my favorite pants again.  I pureed the remaining soup and froze it to use in spaghetti sauce.ImageMom likes variety, too.  We all need to spice things up in our life, whether it is trying new foods or activities.  Doing the same thing day after day leads to depression.  Caregiving can be extremely repetitive taking one down the road to pure boredom–watching the same TV programs, going down the same roads, bath time, meal time, snack time and bedtime.

We have to be creative.  For the mental health of ourselves, the caregivers, as well as the one we care for each day.  Mom enjoys being busy and doing things that feel worthwhile to her.  She unloads the silverware and sorts it into the tray.  Folding small items helps me and keeps her engaged in the activities she has done all her life.  ImageImageGreat-grandchildren and grandchildren, definitely, add spice to her day.  Family and friends are such a blessing in an older persons day.  They transport them into the present with joy overflowing.  Mom and Olivia giggled as they “made” cookies.  Olivia got excited about the sugar she was suppose to be rolling the cookies in.  Most went on her tongue, I believe.  Only those who love her ate the cookies.

ImageImageImageNew technology brings friends to life though miles apart.  Billy and Paula Kimbrough sang in Chumuckla Community Church and Victor Campbell, my cousin, filmed them, www.me3tv.org.  Mom moved and grooved to the music.  Better than anything we could ever find on TV!

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Smiles, Change and Honey

Dave and I met Kittye and Mom at a park in Defuniak Springs, Florida on Hwy. 98 to begin Mom’s six weeks with us.  She waved and smiled when she saw me, like she always does.  It makes me happy, relieved she is well, and life is as it has been.  I know change is coming, but I am comforted in the moments it remains the same.  She will do the same when she sees Kittye the end of November.

On the way home, we picnicked at the rest area on I-185.  Mom enjoys chicken wings and Cheez-Its.  She is wearing her Napkinection (www.napkinection.com).

Watching her interact with her great-grandchildren is a privilege, I cherish.  Grayson (18 m.o.) said “Grandma!” when he saw her this time and my, oh my, how that made her smile.  Smiles delight, pass on joy, draw us in, connect us heart to heart.

Olivia was not to be left out, of course.  She gives Mom lots of hugs. Kimberly makes sure they have plenty of time with their great-grandmother.  She has fond memories of spending summers on the farm with Grandma.

The sourwood tree is my favorite tree, lacy flowers in the spring and luscious red leaves in the fall.  Butterflies and bees feel the same way I do.  They flit and flutter over the flowers gathering pollen to spread the joy.  In the Arbor Foundation “Library of Trees”, James R. Fazio writes, “As I prepare this issue on sourwood trees, my appreciation for bees is greater than ever.  If it were not for them, we would not be blessed with what is arguably the finest of all honey.”  It is a unique honey that has a buttery or caramel flavor, mild and delectable to the taste buds.

This sourwood is outside my living room window.  Mom sits in her lift chair with it in full view, watching it change throughout the seasons, accepting the changes that occur in her life in six-week increments.  As much as we want the good things in our life to stay the same, accepting that they will not takes some work and practice in letting go with grace.  Mom seems to have it mastered.  Gratitude for the wondrous moments, strength and faith for the difficult times and remembering through the good and bad, “This to shall pass.”,  will help us find peace and comfort through the caregiving experience.

Trees and Blue Sky

Trees with a backdrop of cobalt blue sky push my pause button, especially this time of year.  I want to pull them inside me, live with the vivid colors, exude the joy of the moment.   Panama City Beach in September is lovely.  The water serene and blue to match the sky.

A few years ago,  Kate was with us in Florida for Thanksgiving.  We visited my nephew, Kyle and his wife, Brandy in Munson.  They served us barbecued ribs that were juicy, messy and yummy delicious.  It was a treat to be with them as we walked in the field behind their house.  The stately pine caught my eye.  The glossy red berries of the yaupon holly reminded my of my grandmother, Dessie.  She would decorate with the berries during the holidays.  I planted yaupon holly from a nursery in my yard in Georgia because it reminded my of my Florida family.

The leaves will be changing soon.  Just as the seasons come and go, our days of caregiving will do the same.  It is all about letting go.  Holding all things loosely.  The trees let go of the leaves.  The soil is nourished.  Those we care for are nourished by our care and we are nourished by their presence in our lives.  Acceptance is difficult to reach, but it can be a place of peace.

Last year in December, I visited Kate in New York City.  She took me to Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas trees.  I loved the leafless trees strung with lights.  They seemed hopeful.  Bare, but giving off light when the sky was the darkest.

The Cedar Waxwings come through about February.  They love the Cotoneaster berries.  I will notice them when I hear the little squeaky call they make and see the leaves wiggling with no breeze as they greedily eat the berries.  When I walk by the bushes, they fly up into the trees.  They are handsome, smoothly dressed feathers in yellow and gray.
And then, spring comes again.  This oak is flowering in April.  It is a white oak, if I remember correctly.  All things newI enjoy the young green leaves of the tulip poplar next to it.

Haiku is a fun way to observe and take a mini-moment for reflection.  Try it as you fold laundry, prepare meals, or walk the dog.  This is one I wrote in an art class in August.  The assignment was to draw a tree and write a poem.

Oak trees reach for sky.

Fertile ground welcomes acorns

dying….forest grow.

Fran’s Beauty Salon

Mom is sitting on the back deck watching the birds coming to the feeders this morning.  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are tanking up from the glass ball feeder before making their way across the Gulf of Mexico.  She points to each one when she spots it, making sure that I see it when I am out there with her.  In three days she will return to Florida.  I’ll miss her pointing to the Hummers.

My mother decided that she wanted to become a beautician when I was 12 years old, so she went back to school.  It was quite intense.  At the time, she had to go to Tallahassee to take a final exam, if I am remembering correctly.  I went as her “head of hair” to show off her skills.  Finger waves, which are quite difficult, were part of the exam.  She passed and Fran’s Beauty Salon was born.  It was located in what eventually became the master bedroom on the back corner of our house.  Customers would drive up to the sliding glass doors and park on the grass.  It was a place of laughter, tears, stories and love.  There was a well stocked chest type Coke machine in one corner and a jar of Lance cheese and peanut butter crackers on the station with the sink.  A large hooded hairdryer on a green vinyl chair accommodated a head filled with the largest of rollers.  The smell of permanent wave solution wafted down the hallway everyday that Mom worked.

I learned some skills watching Mom.  I have been cutting Dave’s hair for forty years.  Sometimes, I have had grand successes and sometimes, my daughters wished that I had kept my scissors in the bag.   I decided this past week to give Mom a perm.  Maybe the smells of her beauty shop imprinted on my brain.

It is getting harder for her to maneuver in a beauty salon, these days.  The footrest on the chairs is almost impossible for her to get over.  So, I went to Sally’s Beauty Supply and purchased the rollers, papers, perm–One ‘n Only, Shiny Silver for Grey Hair, and a “funnel” that wraps around her head and directs the water to the sink.

Rolling her hair on the rollers was not an easy task.  More skill is needed here.  The hair kept slipping out of the papers and the paper would stick to my fingers.  We giggled, but I had to work hard to keep a few expletives from slipping out of my mouth.

Forty-five minutes later, we were ready for the solution–the stinky stuff that makes the hair curl.  I mixed the activator in the little bottle with the solution in the biggest bottle.  The bottle became warm to touch after shaking it.  I put it on all the curls and Mom dabbed her face to keep it from rolling in her eyes.  I forgot to get the cotton rope to go around her face at the beauty supply store.  I cut strips of towel and tried to use it instead, but it did not stay put.

Fifteen minutes later, I squeezed Mom’s head with the funnel and secured it with the Velcro tab.  It did stop the flow of solution.  I rolled her up to the kitchen sink, in order to use the sprayer.  By the time we were finished with the first rinse she was soaked and more water was on the floor than in the sink.  I needed an extra pair of hands to keep the funnel in the sink.  The weight of the water pulled it out.  Using the transport wheelchair would have helped.  The wheels are smaller and would have gotten her closer to the sink.  Next time.

 

After the first rinse, I covered each curl with the neutralizer and waited five minutes.  Then, the second rinse and the relief of taking out all of those tight little rollers.  If anyone reading this has had a perm, you know what I am talking about.  I added the leave-in conditioner and happily rolled her hair with Velcro rollers–so easy.

She looks gorgeous in this picture with her new curls.  I was relieved and pleased with the results. As caregivers, we often have to step out of our comfort zone.  The journey may be the dickens to get through, but arriving at our destination makes it all worthwhile.