Monthly Blog Archives: May 2013

“I See Dead People”

It’s totally normal for someone who is dying to see “others” (many times relatives). They may even talk to them. You may think they’re going crazy, but it’s very common. Sometimes a dying person will say something such as, “Aunt Mildred was here and asked me to go with her….” These experiences happen, as Christine Cowgill told family caregivers on The Unexpected Caregiver Radio Show.

I realize that you may not want to discuss death, but when a loved one is dying, it can be the central theme of one’s days. Read more »

Monsters are only scary when we don’t face them

As a little girl, I was afraid of monsters in the closet. When my parents came to tuck me in, I made sure Dad shut the closet doors tight. Once the lights went out I never looked in the closet. The fear of growing old is just as scary to many. We buy products to help us cover it up, reverse it, or change its color. And even though demographics paint a clear picture that we are moving from a predominantly youth nation to a “mature” one, we still try to outrun the unknown that comes with aging. It’s almost as if we want to stuff anything having to do with growing older in the closet and shut the door tight.

2013 Marge and Kari

Marge recently presented me with one of her beautiful gourd creations

Marge Engelman, a professor and now a dear friend, was the first person that asked me to look at myself as an older woman. For a class exercise, she had us draw ourselves as an 85-year-old person—how we envisioned looking, what we were doing and with whom. This was my first course in aging studies during my Master’s work in 1994. What an eye-opener! I now teach that exercise in my presentations and like me, people experience many “ah-ha” moments. Once the door is open and the conversation rolling about what aging is all about, fear drops off. Looking at this mysterious, oftentimes-scary part of our lives called “aging,” is much like the monsters I imagined in my closet as a little girl. When I bravely looked in my childhood closet, the only thing frightening about the inside of my closet was if my parents decided to open it and discover my secret cleaning methods. I was afraid of what could be in there.

I am blessed that I have spent a great deal of time working with and around older adults. I have many elderly friends. I love them and embrace their aging…so why not my own aging? When I look at myself in the mirror, I see the aging changes. I also see the future possibilities and the many crazy times that have formed my face. I encourage you to look into the face of aging—have conversations with friends, talk with an older person, look in the mirror and observe the changes without judging. I hope that one day we all embrace aging instead of ignoring, fearing, and trying to make it—aging—go away.

Thank You, My Not Always Perfect Mom

KG & DianneMy mom died January of 2002. Even though I was a choir director at the time and living in Denver, CO, I got the gut call to fly home for Christmas. I felt an intuition that I should sing The Birthday of a King for my mom, a song that, over the years, she had often requested and that last year I honored. We had tickets to return to Denver on December 26th, but learned—at the airport—our flight had been permanently cancelled. Eric flew out the next day, but I remained because Mom had just been admitted to the hospital and Dad wanted me to stay. I stayed that time and one other, when we received the doctor’s diagnosis of liver cancer. That third time I tried to return to Colorado, Mom died. Read more »

Reconnecting with Mom and Dad

How do you reconnect with Mom and Dad? Even if one of them has a disease that causes dementia? It is often a challenge, especially when we’re trying to do something “special.” Family issues get in the way and we get frustrated. Your parents may not move as quickly as you do and you get irritated. When they don’t hear you (and you don’t understand them), tensions rise.

But I’m talking about reconnecting with them and not doing anything special. I recently interviewed Dr. Victoria Sweet, author of God’s Hotel. Dr. Sweet worked for over 20 years at San Francisco’s old Laguna Honda Hospital, a giant chronic care facility for the city’s destitute and ill. At one point in the interview, she said, “There’s nothing like presence and giving someone space.” Another reminder of the importance of being with someone vs. doing for someone. Dr. Sweet used to sit on the bedsides of her patients and listen. Or at times, just sit. It is that simple. But you must let go of the to-do list or the notion of doing something special.

Showing up is half the battle, but when you do, allowing someone space to express themselves—to cry or to laugh—is priceless.

Of course there are other ways to actively reconnect with your parents (and that is exactly what I talk about in The Unexpected Caregiver). Bring in a picture, a children’s story, a memento, and hook into your parent’s memories: “Tell me about this handkerchief, Mom” or “What is special about this book, Dad?”  Be gentle if there is memory loss. Reconnecting is not about the correct answer, but is more about sharing stories.

And don’t forget to hook into your parents by just sitting beside them, connecting through silence. Silence is, after all, golden.