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Love has no age limit and no rules

I will never forget where I was and how I felt when my dad informed me that he had asked a woman out on a date. A date? My dad…but wait, he’s married to my mom. My mom had died in January of 2002 and it was the fall of 2003 when we were having this conversation. I knew it wasn’t too soon, but none-the-less it felt, well, weird. My dad was informing me that he had asked a woman out because we lived in a small town and he was sure I’d hear about it from one of the many local town criers if he didn’t tell me himself.

He also wanted me to meet her, which I did. Is this what it feels like when ones parents meet their child’s first date? I wasn’t sure what my role was, so I asked my dad just what he wanted from me. My approval? My advice? Then, after I breathed in and out several times, I realized that my dad simply wanted me to share this part of his life with him. Nothing more was required of me.

My dad’s from the generation known as the people who “had to get married in order to have sex.” They are now forming new relationships, ranging from walking down the traditional marriage path to living in separate houses in different states. It doesn’t matter if they share a bed or not. What matters most is intimacy—closeness, companionship and love. The movie Amour is a beautiful description of loving through thick and thin. Valentine’s Day serves as reminder that we all—no matter our age—need relationships that sustain us. Happy Heart Day all!

Oh the stuff of Life

I was married to a hoarder. Not only was money spent on collecting things that didn’t get used, but it took a lot of money in therapy to work through what the accumulation of unused stuff was doing to us as a couple.

As my mom became more debilitated from Huntington’s disease, leaving the house less and less, she started filling her home with stuffed animals, music boxes of all styles, and a myriad of Norwegian knick-knacks. I had to clear out the house after my mom’s death and let go of a lot of things in order to move to a smaller place after my divorce. Both experiences left me wanting less stuff.

Fast forward to three years later and I’m back to accumulating stuff, but with a consciousness that I didn’t have back then. I focus on re-using, second-hand, and trading. When I bring new clothes in, I remove ones I haven’t worn. (Okay, I admit, I lean on one of my step daughters to help me clear out my closet!) I’ve used three ‘M’ words to help me evaluate the stuff of my life:

  • Mindfulness — Are your things taking up space and energy that could be used for other activities in your life? I notice this especially when I have to move certain items to reach things I’ve tucked away. Or when I can’t decide on what to wear because I have so many options.
  • Meaning — meaningfulness or meaninglessness — If you’re holding on to things for no good reason, they hold very little meaning for you. I often look around at pictures I have sitting on my desk and shelves and ask myself, “Does this picture make me smile?” If it does, I keep it and if not, I repurpose or donate the frame.
  • Maintenance — As we age, we not only have to maintain our bodies, but if we have a lot of things, we also need to maintain those. Freedom comes when we have less to keep up.

I hold no judgment on what and how much people collect. But please parents; don’t leave your garages full of “I don’t know what to do with this” for your kids to go through. Maybe if adult children clear out stuff on a regular basis, we can be role models for our parents.

Living a SANE life with the help of four words

We just passed the midpoint of January 2019. It’s not always an easy month—post holiday blues and “back to the same-old, same-old.” Here’s what I’m focusing on this year, this month, this day, this moment: Living SANE—Supported, Appreciated, Not Guilty and Energized. Whether you’re giving care, receiving help, or just living day–to-day, come out of your silo and live SANE:

  • Supported is knowing when and who to call for help. Make a list of those trusted people who make space for you to be brutally vulnerable, who listen to you with no agenda, and who love you every day.
  • Appreciated is living in gratitude and loving yourself. List all the things you love about your life and yourself. Keep that list handy.
  • Not guilty is no regrets—being gentle with yourself even when you’re not functioning at your personal best. Gentle is a good word to post on your mirror to remind you to be kind to yourself.
  • Energized is engaging in life physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It’s your energy to give and keep. Make note of those with whom you have a happier, healthier, give-and-take of energies.

Spilled milk is just that

November is designated as National Caregiver month. I’m pretty sure caregivers feel like they need more than one month of recognition for the variety of jobs they take on day in and day out. I’ve spent my fall immersed in two different caregiver situations, both where husbands are caring for their wives. The three stories below are meant to help you remember that letting go is always important when giving care, and especially during the holiday season.

Situation One: A gallon of milk

My friend with Parkinson’s disease is too weak to lift and poor from a gallon jug of milk. Seems like a relatively simple solution: buy a smaller size container. But it’s not that easy. Sure there are numerous ways to solve this, but what one needs to take into account is the relationship of the couple. For many of you, we’re talking about your parents. They’ve lived together and operated as a unit for how-ever-many years. Their long-standing habit of buying milk in a gallon size container is too difficult to break. You may suggest a whole slew of alternatives on one visit, and then return for a second visit only to find the gallon-size container of milk. So the milk gets spilled all over the counter; it’s only milk. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to convince your dad that it makes more sense to buy in smaller containers. Heck, it may even be your mother who is making the buying decision and your dad simply wants to allow her that choice. Let it go.

Situation Two: Two right feet

Your mom comes out of her room and is shuffling a bit. You notice her shoes and see that she’s wearing two shoes that look similar, but are actually two different shoes. And she’s wearing the right shoe on her left foot. This is not a big deal in and of itself, but you may feel embarrassed for her. You’re going out and this once well-dressed woman is wearing one flat shoe and one with a heel. Your dad doesn’t notice the difference. But this one isn’t just about vanity; there is a safety issue to address. If one shoe has a heel and the other is a rubber soul, she could risk a fall. Can you get rid of one of the pairs of shoes? Can you talk with your dad and suggest he help her pick out a matching pair? Seems like reasonable requests. Have the conversation, but when Mom comes out with two mis-matched shoes the next day, let it go.

Scenario Three: Dementia and decision making

“It’s up to her,” said my friend. He was referring to whether or not his wife should have a three-step eye surgery that would return her eyesight to one eye. My friend is mixing up the details of the eye surgery with her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), saying, “There’s no cure, you know.” She’s right, but we’re not talking about AD, we’re talking about an eye procedure that would enable her to read again. You can try to talk with your mother, and maybe in the past it would’ve been a beneficial conversation. No longer. When a brain disease, such as Alzheimer’s, clouds her thinking there is no rationalizing. What makes this situation even more difficult is your dad. He is clinging to the past: Mom has always made her own decisions. Except now she can’t. She is unable. Her brain is not working in a way that allows her to digest facts and make rational decisions.

At some point, you have to let go of convincing either of your parents to change. Not easy, but necessary for your health. Find a trusted friend or a caregiver support group and vent, rant, scream, and cry. Let it out and then let it go.

Make a list and hand it out!

Recently I made up a Caregiver To-Do list and to my surprise, audiences ate it up. It’s a simple notepad where you get to write down what you need help with. And then give it away when people ask, “What can I do for you?”

Let me know if you think this would more easily allow you ask for help.

Or tell me where you struggle in asking for help. People want to lend a hand, they just need to know what you need.

 

 

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