No-regrets caregiving guide

-35In the November issue of AARP magazine, editor Robert Love saluted the 39.8 million Americans who currently provide unpaid care to an adult, dubbing them both “noble” and selfless.

During the last six years of my mother’s life, I inherited the task of managing her long battle with vascular dementia. Had you asked me then, I would have described myself as anything but “noble.” Most of the time I felt scared and frazzled. In retrospect, I see what I could have done better.

In the December issue of Michigan Prime, delivered with your Sunday Detroit Free Press, I share a few tips from my “No-Regrets Caregiving Guide.” Click here to read my column (page 6) in the online edition.

Moving Mom

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” — Maya Angelou

Yesterday, while labeling my mother’s clothing and underwear, I had a surreal moment in which I felt as if I were moving another kid to college. In reality, we’re getting ready to transfer Mom to an assisted living residence, where she’ll soon have her own studio apartment.

Doug and I spent the past week moving pieces of Mom’s furniture (her apartment comes with some basics) along with decorative accessories, photos, clothing, TV, microwave, and toiletries. We also shopped for a bedspread and items for her kitchenette.

The new apartment looks traditional and beautiful — the style my mother is accustomed to — yet we know, deep down, that all the elegant things in the world won’t fool my mother into thinking this other place is superior to the condo she’s grown to love so much.

When Doug and I aren’t consumed by the moving process, I’m usually on the phone with a social worker or a physical therapist at the nursing center where my mother is undergoing rehab now. The social worker is concerned about my mother’s delusional behavior this week. Mom doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with her health — nor does she remember last month’s visit to the ER at Beaumont Hospital, which ultimately led to all of this. Sounding like Dorothy on a broken record, she just keeps asking to go home. To her real home.

While I know this move is inevitable and right, I still feel twinges of guilt for uprooting my mother from everything that matters to her.

And I don’t know how I’d survive the stress without Doug, the world’s absolute-best husband. It breaks my heart a little, too, when I remember that Doug plowed through a similar scenario less than two years ago when his late father (who had Alzheimer’s) had to be moved several times until he and his mother found the right nursing home. (Ain’t midlife grand?) Doug’s experience with lease agreements and medical/legal paperwork alone has been invaluable, not to mention his willingness to sit with me and write my mother’s name on dishtowels and socks with a permanent marker.

The big move from the nursing center to assisted living is scheduled for Sunday. What a long and winding road it’s been. While I’ll be relieved to get my mother in a safe place, finally, I know there’s a boatload of emotional work ahead of me. Mom will need time and patience to adjust. And so will I. –– Cindy La Ferle

— Top: Our family with my mom on Christmas night, at Woodward Hills nursing center cafeteria. My mother has been recovering at Woodward Hills following a week at Beaumont Hospital last month. Bottom photo: A detail from Mom’s new apartment at a local assisted living residence. —

 

 

 

Bringing Grandma back

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family.  Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”  ~Jane Howard

It’s not always easy to be a family. For starters, our troubled job market makes it nearly impossible for relatives to live in the same community — or the same region. And even if they do live nearby, work and other obligations can make it a challenge to forge satisfying connections or offer help when it’s needed.

Earlier this month, my mother was finally sent home after spending two weeks in the hospital and another two in nursing rehab. Getting her settled has taken a team of visiting nurses and a physical therapist — and lots of family support. This week’s column in Royal Oak Patch tells the story of how my son’s surprise visit helped us “bring Grandma back.” Please click here to read it. –CL

Notes from Janus

And now, let us welcome the New Year/ Full of things that have never been.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

janus-statue-in-vatican-wc-pdIt’s perfect — how the month of January is named for Janus, the Roman god of gates and entrances, beginnings and endings.  With his two heads facing opposite directions, Janus inspires us to look backward and forward as we step over the threshold and begin again.

Last year was a year of change and transition for me and my small family.

My only child, who moved to Chicago after graduating from college in 2008, purchased his first condo in the summer. On moving day, his dad helped him haul boxes up and down the elevator of his new residence while I organized his kitchen. Unpacking my son’s dinnerware and utensils, I recalled other “firsts” in his young life. First day of kindergarten. First formal dance with his girlfriend. First day of driver’s ed. First day of college at Notre Dame. How quickly those days flew off the pages of our family calendar.

Meanwhile — almost overnight — my widowed mother lost her old spark. Independent for years, she began forgetting things. Important things. She forgot that certain people in her life had died. She forgot phone conversations we’d had the day before. When tested by the neurologist, she couldn’t recall the name of the county we live in, or what day of the week it was.  Not surprisingly, in November she was diagnosed with early stage dementia — a diagnosis that immediately reordered my priorities and changed the shape of my days.

Looking forward; looking back. My son moves ahead with his new life in Chicago while my elderly mother’s world grows smaller and smaller. Clearly, the seasons of family living are unfolding exactly as they should. And despite the inevitable heartache, I find myself feeling deeply grateful for every step, stumble, or leap that brought me to this path, this life of mine.

As a freelance writer with a supportive husband, I’m lucky to have the flexibility to help my mother when she needs me. Impromptu trips with Mom to the doctor’s office or the emergency room aren’t fun — but they’re not as much of a challenge now as they would have been when I had office jobs.

Still, there’s no denying that it’s been a very tough year for every writer and journalist I know. If there’s a silver lining in any of it, the sad state of journalism here in Detroit forced many of us to try markets we’d neglected or overlooked when we were employed full-time or working other assignments. Out of necessity in 2009, I developed new writing workshops. I worked harder at promoting Writing Home. I outlined a viable idea for a new book project. Several of my personal essays were published in national anthologies and magazines. Best of all, a piece I wrote about my Zen garden was accepted for the March/April 2010 issue of Victoria — a lifestyle magazine I’ve read and admired for years. Regardless, freelance writing is a crazy business, so I’m forever grateful to my local writer pals and support groups for keeping me (somewhat) sane last year.

Typing these notes, I’m also overcome with gratitude for all of you who read my reflections here. Your comments and support always cheer me. And I apologize for not visiting (and commenting on) your blogs and Facebook walls as often as I wish I could. Too often lately, real life has made it impossible to spend as much time on my computer.

I’ll be offline for most of next week too. It’s time to pull down the Christmas decorations and begin the ritual of clearing out things I no longer need — holiday treats and leftovers; old clothes and grudges; bad attitudes. Getting started this morning, I opened our front and back doors to let the old year out and welcome the new one inside. It’s an old Celtic custom that’s still praticed in parts of Ireland and Scotland, and it makes perfect sense to me. The first cold blast of January wakes me up and hurries me back to work.

So there you have it. Doors opening and closing. Endings and beginnings. I wish you all a peaceful, healthy start for your own new year. — Cindy La Ferle

Keeping the flame

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” — Zora Neale Hurston

hestiasnowFor several years I’ve kept a small garden statue of a woman by our side entrance. I named her Hestia after the ancient goddess of home and family. In Greek mythology, Hestia’s role was to keep the flame of the hearth burning. This week she’s dressed in snow — and looking a little overwhelmed by the onset of winter and the challenges ahead.  I can relate.

It’s been a mixed bag of a holiday in our household. My husband and I have been enjoying a week-long visit with our son, who flew in from Chicago for Christmas last week. We’ve shared some cozy meals at home together — I love to cook with my family — and we’ve made time to visit extended family, old friends, and favorite haunts around town.

Meanwhile, real life also paid us a yuletide visit. On Christmas Eve, my mother (who was just diagnosed with early-stage dementia last month) came down with another serious infection. I spent most of Christmas Eve morning at the doctor’s office with her, and the rest of the holiday bringing meals to her.

At times it felt awkward to celebrate with the rest of the family while my mother stayed in bed in her condo, watching television.  And so, with regrets, I canceled out of several parties and gatherings, all the while feeling guilty for lacking the social energy and enthusiasm required of the holiday season. I know I disappointed more than a few people for not showing up in one way or another.

My mother’s doctor asked me to come in with my mother for a consultation this afternoon. As the doctor put it, we need to determine the next step for Mom’s ongoing care. I’m guessing, from the doctor’s tone on the phone, that 2010 will be a year of changes. But there’s hope too. Mom agreed, after several arguments, to take a new medication prescribed for her dementia. She adores her condo — keeping house is the thing that gives her life meaning, shape, and routine. So I’m hoping she’ll be able to stay in her own place as long as possible.

At this point in the holiday season, I’d usually be drawing up a lengthy list of New Year’s resolutions. In the past, most of those resolutions would have included ambitious career goals and pie-in-the-sky dreams of self-improvement. This year, I’m asking only two things of myself: To sustain the energy I’ll need to keep the fire burning — and to find the patience to ride out the changes ahead. — Cindy La Ferle

— “Hestia” garden statue photo by Cindy La Ferle —