Everyone’s favorite mom

Friends are relatives you make for yourself.”  ~Eustache Deschamps

Do you remember a special mom in your neighborhood whose influence made a difference when you were growing up?  An othermother? For me, it was Evie Carnahan, the mother of one of my best friends from Clawson Junior High. As an only child in a quiet household, I was grateful to Ev for periodically “adopting” me and giving me a glimpse of what it’s like to be part of a big family. After her funeral last month, I was moved to write a tribute to Ev — and our lifelong friendship. The column runs this week on both Clawson and Royal Oak Patch sites. Please click here to read it.

The photo at left was taken at Pronto! in Royal Oak, where I met with Ev and the “Carnahan sisters” to celebrate Ev’s 80th birthday nearly two years ago. Ev’s in the bottow row, far left.

Update on Mom

The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it.”  ~C.C. Scott

First, a big thank you to all who’ve inquired about my mom. It really means a lot to know that she’s remembered in your thoughts and prayers, and I always pass along your messages to her.

Secondly, I apologize for not being a very good blog buddy or Facebook friend recently. Like 3D friendships, online connections should be reciprocal. But with so much going on, I haven’t kept up with friends as often as I’d like. Once things settle, I hope to change that.

Right now, Mom is in healing mode. Her pacemaker was inserted on Monday and the surgical wound looks good. The challenge for the next few weeks, in addition to rebuilding her strength after the heart failure, will be to keep her from moving her left arm too much. (It’s essential to prevent the pacemaker from being dislodged or disconnected while the tissue around it heals into place.)  This week, she’s recovering at Woodward Hills nursing center, an affiliate of William Beaumont Hospital. It’s her third time at this facility in the past 10 years, so she settled in without much fuss after Doug and I drove her there from the hospital yesterday.

If all goes well, Mom will be ready for discharge from Woodward Hills later next week. Right now, everyone is monitoring her carefully to determine if she’ll be able to care for herself again in the long run. Once she’s home, I’ll be staying with her through her recovery, working closely with a team of home-care nurses and a physical therapist. And there will be several field trips to the cardiologist as well as to the doctor who keeps the pacemaker ticking.

Meanwhile, Mom’s memory loss remains a big concern, especially since she was terribly confused during her long stay at the hospital. Crossing my fingers, I’m hoping she’ll adjust to her new heart medications and gain emotional as well as physical strength during therapy. One day at a time.

I’d be lying if I told you I was anything but pooped out and fried. But I’m fortunate to have a husband who’s right there with me at every hospital visit, and who doesn’t seem to mind hanging out in medical waiting rooms. I’m darned lucky, too, to have so many friends who care. — CL

Mom, no matter what

The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them.  ~Bernard M. Baruch

I won the book this summer, but it sat unread for weeks, buried on my nightstand under a tall stack of novels and review copies. Joy No Matter What: Make Three Simple Choices to Access Your Inner Joy, by Carolyn Hobbs, sounded like a delightful read, but I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to crack it open.

Overwhelmed with concerns about my widowed mother’s health, I’ve been feeling more anxious than joyful lately.

Mom lives alone in a condo, about 10 minutes from my house. Up until this fall I’ve felt reasonably confident that she was capable of living independently. And she was, for quite a while. But my mother’s early stage dementia — which was officially diagnosed by a neurologist over a year ago — has moved to the middle stage, and her doctors have put me on alert. Right now, I’m filling out the paperwork for an in-depth geriatric evaluation that will, hopefully, lead to the help and advice I need to make the right decisions for my mother. (Including when to take away her car keys.)

Meanwhile, as her sole caregiver, I worry a lot.  And as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I’m swimming against an undercurrent of resentment.

So I happened to thumb through my copy of Joy No Matter What last week, and discovered that “resentment” has its own chapter in the book. And what I read was exactly what I needed to consider.

“Resentment steals joy like nothing else,” writes author Carolyn Hobbs. “It cheats us out of wholesome loving contact with those we love. It destroys perfectly good relationships.” As Hobbs points out, it can also negatively impact our health. Thankfully, she offers some solutions, and one in particular has really helped.

“Writing your resentments down on a piece of paper is a great way to acknowledge them to yourself,” Hobbs advises.  “Don’t hold back. The best way to make resentments conscious is to totally indulge them.”

Despite the fact that I’ve been writing personal stories for years, the very thought of recording how I feel about Mom’s dementia — even privately — seemed disloyal and cruel. So I had to force myself to sit down and make a list of all the things I “resented” about her condition and how it has marred our once-happy relationship.

For starters, I admitted that my mother’s dementia has hijacked my peace of mind as well as some of the freedoms of my newly emptied nest. I listed the frightening, paranoid phone calls I get from her several times a week, throwing my normal routine off course. I wrote about how my mother expresses little interest in my life — and how most of our conversations revolve around her health and anxieties. I even tallied all the hours I’ve spent in doctors offices for her countless medical and dental appointments. I wrote about how I resented dementia for blurring the quality of Mom’s elder years, and for building a wall between her and many of her oldest and dearest friends.

Lastly, I listed the guilt I battle daily for harboring all this resentment and worry.

Of course, I will never share this list with my mother. But facing up to my darker emotions has helped me find some relief. Examining the issues that trigger my anger and sadness, I can begin to move ahead and ultimately find the patience required of all care-givers. Most of all, Hobbs’ technique has led me to understand that, deep down, I’m grieving the loss of my real mom. I’m grieving the loss of the mutually supportive relationship we had before the dark brush of dementia rendered her childlike and needy.

Once in a while, I get a few glimpses of my old mom — and I savor them while I can.

Two weeks ago, for instance, Mom phoned to ask about a doctor’s appointment on her calendar. During the conversation, I mentioned that Doug and I were celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary that evening. My mother, who always remembered family birthdays and anniversaries, had totally forgotten this one. “Oh my, I had no idea you’ve been married 30 years!” she shouted into the phone, struggling to process the oversight. But an hour later, she drove over to our house with the most beautiful flower arrangement I’ve seen — a wild assemblage of deep-violet carnations, burgundy roses, and cabbage flowers. The card read, “Happy Anniversary, Love Always, Mom.”

Every day, I remind myself that the overriding emotion I’m really feeling for my mother is love, not resentment. Despite the fact that she can’t recall things I’ve told her the day before, she never forgets that I’m her daughter, and she knows I’ll do my best to get her through this, no matter what. — Cindy La Ferle

— Photo above: My mother on her 80th birthday in September this year. The photo in the foreground is my mother’s high school graduation portrait —

Winging it

The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt.”  ~Max Lerner

When the walls around my little world seem to be caving in, my first impulse is to isolate myself while I put the bricks back in place. Luckily, I have a great support system to help bolster those walls and to remind me that I’m really not in this thing alone.

Earlier this week, my 80-year-old mother was in the hospital with a broken rib and multiple compression fractures in her spine. Meanwhile, my husband’s own mother has been leaning heavily on him to avert a family crisis of a different kind. There’s been so much going on in our realm of elder care, in fact, that the two of us are operating in what we call “divide and conquer mode.” Yet through it all, Doug always makes time to sit down and listen to my daily litany of “What’s wrong with Mom now.” He’s my main port in the storm.

While my mother wants to remain independent in her own condo, her health issues (including early stage dementia) now require a team of home-care professionals to make that possible. Thank goodness, by the time my mother was discharged from the hospital, her internist had ordered a nurse, an occupational therapist, and a physical therapist to work with her at home several times a week. When the discharge nurse informed me of this development, I fought tears of relief. At first, Mom objected to the idea of having strangers in the house to assist her. But when I explained that I’ll need help in order to help her, she reluctantly backed down.

Of course, this is only a temporary solution. As a retired RN reminded me, determining how to care for our elderly — with love and dignity — is one of the toughest challenges for my generation. Whether you’re an only child like me, or have five handy siblings willing to roll up their sleeves, you need a plan to care for your aging parents. Another friend is wrestling with similar issues for her widowed mom — and she still has teenagers at home. Her brothers live out of state, so, as she put it, she’s been functioning almost as if she were an only child.

Meanwhile, dear ones have warmed my heart and soul with supportive notes and cards and e-mails.  Shirley sent three chocolate bars with a sweet note that read, “These will help.” (And yes, they did.) My aunt volunteered to help with Mom’s meals and grocery shopping. And out of the blue, my neighbor Joanne invited me to a spiritual program at the nearby Manresa Jesuit retreat center yesterday. The program focused on the role of the Blessed Mother Mary, and circled around the theme of nurturing and “mothering” ourselves when life seems to ask too much of us. How perfect was that?

When I was preparing for my second hip replacement surgery back in 2002, my friend Jenny sent me a wonderful quote from Patrick Overton. My blog friend Marlynn, who didn’t know that I had already received the quote, sent it to me again last week. (Marlynn reminds me that there are no “coincidences.”) It worked like a charm the second time around, and I’d like to share it with you:

“When you come to the edge of all the light you have and must take a step into the darkness of the unknown, believe that one of two things will happen to you: Either there will be something solid for you to stand on, or, you will be taught how to fly.”

Thanks so much, everyone, for winging it with me. — Cindy La Ferle

— Collage in photo is from “Nature,” an altered book, by Cindy La Ferle —

Living art

To improve the golden moments of opportunity and catch the good that is within our reach, is the great art of living. — Samuel Johnson

Lately we’ve had some wonderful conversations here about the arts — writing and the visual arts, in particular. But in my view, just as essential to “the great art of living” are several gifts and talents that we sometimes take for granted.

These include cooking, baking, nurturing our relationships — and occasionally pulling out all the stops to host a party for someone we cherish. All of this came to mind last weekend when I attended a tea party honoring my friend Norma, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday.

Since Norma’s birthday falls close to Christmas, her daughter Jan had decided to host the party on a quiet Saturday afternoon in January. Wise move. The tea was held at Norma’s church, and Jan, a talented caterer, made all of the tea sandwiches and baked goods. Everything was perfect, from the coral roses and deliberately mismatched vintage tea cups on the tables to the large gathering of devoted friends who came to celebrate Norma.

Clearly, a party can be a work of art. I’ve known Jan for years, and have always admired the creative sense of style she brings to everything she does. Aside from the pretty tables, Jan also arranged a small gallery of photos chronicling her mother’s life from her girlhood in New England to the present. The photos prompted conversation around the tables, and even those of us who’d known Norma for years got to know her better.

Norma looked more beautiful than ever at her tea party.  Seeing the sheer happiness on her face as she chatted with her guests on Saturday, I was reminded how important it is to celebrate our mothers — and our elder friends — while we can.

Jan is Norma’s only child, and since I’m an only child too, I understand the special closeness of their relationship. My own mother turns 80 in September. Inspired by Jan’s generous spirit, I’m already planning Mom’s birthday party in my head. — CL