There aren’t many things I’d say I would do differently, because I really love my life. I’m a firm believer that every decision you make, good or bad, is critical to leading you to the place you are now. Still, of all the “I wish I knew then what I know now” moments, #3 above is the one for which I’d risk the present, to redo the past.
Caring for aging parents is full of stories of lessons learned and love. This one is about my Mom. For several years, particularly the last 18 months of his life, my Mom was the full-time caregiver for my Dad. He had congestive heart failure (CHF), which means his heart didn’t pump properly, so fluids would build up around his heart and lungs causing him to be (among other things) severely out of breath, weak and overall cranky.
Dad was able to get around with a walker (when he finally would use the damn thing), get himself out of bed, shower, and to his recliner every day. The last year we had visiting nurses and hospice come in a few times a week to help him shower, etc., but it was still Mom who was there with him 24/7. That’s a load for anyone, much less one who is 80-something.
So when Dad told me “Your Mom is losing it.” I chalked it up to the stress of her life, caring for her dying husband of 50+ years.
I hadn’t really seen much that I would have thought was out of the ordinary, given the circumstances we found ourselves in.
In full disclosure, my Mom and I did not have a great relationship. I love my Mom. We were never estranged or feuding, but we weren’t mother-daughter best friends. My sister Karen and Mom were much closer. Mom and I would butt heads on almost everything. I think that played a part in my not seeing some of the changes because what she was doing was annoying and I thought I was just letting old wounds surface. I should have stepped back and recognized the changes.
For one, Mom would start reading signs as we drove. “Belt Line Road”. “Dominos Pizza”. “Exit 423”. No conversation. Just reading signs out loud. She was doing this for a couple of years before Dad got really bad, not regularly or anything that would make me thing anything other than… “ok, so… I wonder if she wants pizza for dinner.” I assumed she was in her own thoughts and just said something out loud that fit in with whatever story she was lost in. As time when on, it got more frequent. Still, not enough to think it was anything other than Mom being Mom.
One night we were sitting in the living room and I started to smell something terrible. Having had more than a few plastic containers fall from the dishwasher rack onto the drying element, I knew that smell was plastic melting. Mom had put a plastic pitcher on the stove and turned on the burner. But… anyone can have a senior moment, right? An 83-year-old woman under that kind of stress; right?
But here’s the kicker: Mom stopped doing crossword puzzles. Every morning; every single morning for as long as I can remember, Mom had her coffee, breakfast and that day’s crossword puzzle, sitting at the dining table. They had the Dallas Morning News delivered well past the time most folks switched to digital, in large part because she wanted the crossword puzzle (and Dad wanted the “funnies” aka: comics).
One day I noticed Mom wasn’t doing the puzzles anymore. I’m not sure when she actually quit, but I noticed it near the end of Dad’s life. Again, there was so much stress and sadness in what was happening that we didn’t focus on it.
I wish I’d focused on it. I wish I’d focused on all of it. They were all signs of her progressing Alzheimer’s. It didn’t get bad enough for us to actually recognize something was REALLY not right for another year. By that time (after discussing with Mom and everyone agreeing) we’d sold the house, moved Mom into a senior living apartment in another city completely disrupting her life and taking away anything familiar—all the very worst things you can do for someone with Alzheimer’s.
What would I do differently? Until Dad passed I don’t think I would have done anything differently. After, I would have admitted the things that had been happening may NOT have been only stress related and scheduled an appointment for Mom. I would also have tried very hard to discourage a surgery she had later that summer after Dad died. Anesthesia is something all seniors should try to avoid, AT ALL COSTS. It was a nightmare experience for Mom. I don’t think she ever recovered back to her pre-surgery self and the dementia seemed to really advance after.
Everyone is different. There are many, many forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s presents itself in varying ways. This is my story. I’ll welcome questions or comments about my experience, but please know that I’m not a medical professional. I’m just a daughter trying to care for her Mom in the best way I know how. I have to say, also, that my sister Karen is my best friend and lifesaver and she and I are in this together. I cannot imagine being an only child with this responsibility. I cannot imagine being an only child, without my best friend—period.
Thank you for listening. I feel like I’ve just had a therapy session. Here’s to the HaT Tribe and to sisters. XO
My heart goes out to Lynnelle and to all who have family members suffering from Alzheimer’s. It is a horrible disease that robs one of all that is precious from doing a simple cross word puzzle to remembering loved ones.
I, too, have stories about caring for my elderly parents but my parents have been gone for over 17 (Dad) and 20 (Mom) years, now. Remember the WTF weight post? My adult weight gain was at its worse during my mom’s final two years and I, too, have some regrets. Most of all, I regret that they were taken from me when I was young (I now feel that under 45 is very young) but I also regret things I did and things I didn’t do. There are three life lessons I have tried to remember:
Lynnelle and Karen and all who are aiding, loving, and actively assisting your parents, never forget you are heroes.
Time. We’d like to think we have enough.
My colleague, Nick John, like every other weekday morning, caught the subway for downtown. But that Tuesday morning, instead of heading to the Chase Tower and his office, he walked down Fulton to his breakfast meeting on the 108th floor of Tower 1. Nick didn’t have enough time.
But, he didn’t know it.
A couple of Sundays ago, Sargent Steve Perez got in his car at 4am to drive to work downtown Houston. Sargent Perez didn’t have enough time, either.
Today is a difficult day for many. While they may not know his name, people all over the world are remembering Nick and all those who perished with him in 2001. At the same time, much of the world is still following, donating and supporting those who have suffered and lost much from Hurricane Harvey. And now there’s Irma, Jose, the earthquake in Mexico, the wildfires, and on, and on.
There is always loss and tragedy in the world. It seems especially heavy these past few weeks and, unfortunately, is likely to be so for a while longer. As much as possible, let’s see the good. Love what you do. Love who you’re with. Live in the moment, smell the roses, be grateful, hug your loved ones.
See the good. It’s all around us.
We’d all like to think we have enough time.
But you never know.
Lynnelle is so right. I took a big, deep breath after reading her post—the kind of breath some call “cleansing”—and while I don’t feel cleansed but do actually feel better. EW and I did not lose a loved one in 9/11 but that day was the final push we needed to change our lives. Just prior to 9/11 we lost two dear loved ones to cancer. They, too wanted more time to pursue their dreams and watch their children become adults. We were struck by the same realization Lynnelle mentioned above: You never know how much time you’ll have.
Taking off and going sailing had been a shared dream for years and all of the events in 2001 conspired to move us forward with a speed that surprised many of our friends. We found the boat in January, sold the house in March, and moved aboard in May—none of which had been planned for that year. Though it hasn’t always been easy, it was a move we never regretted.
As I write this, we are getting ourselves and our boat ready to survive Irma. We argued a bit during these stressful days, but we both still said, “I love you” when I left the boat to work on the shore preparations. (Teeth may have been gritted, but we said it and meant it, dammit and that counts!)
While friends and family have worried about us during northeasters on the dock in Maine, when we crossed the Atlantic, or when a hurricane skirted us in St. Thomas—most understand that we are living our life exactly as we wish to, with love, laughter, smelling more salt air and low tide than roses, and plenty of hugs. When we finally end up with no more time, we will have very few regrets. Hugs to you all.
You know that old kids’ song, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”
Both types of friends are invaluable so I hate to imply that one is more precious than the other. (And really, silver seems like an insult.) If you’re fortunate as I am, you have both kinds of friends, old and new, though for women over sixty, “oldest friend” may not be a welcome moniker.
“I’d like you to meet my “OLDEST friend“. Isn’t that special? Bless her heart.
Instead of “New=Silver” and “Old = Gold”, perhaps we can agree on two new categories. How about one category for the women friends with whom we bonded PRIOR to growing breasts, another for those we met AFTER.
Think about it, that friend who knew you and became your “bosom buddy” before you had bosoms, knows you as well or better than your sister does. She knew you when you wanted to win the “Miss Congeniality” title in the Miss America Pageant. (As if.) She knew your mom’s pet name for you. She’s met your aunts and uncles. She knows about your first kiss, first boyfriend, and first time to “second base” and beyond.
And she will never, ever tell.)
The Pre-Bosom Buddy of your childhood is a Forever Friend. This sister-of-your-heart is the friend you kept even as you moved to different states or just in different directions. In fact, if you hadn’t met pre-bosom, you might never have known each other! And that would be a great loss. (For Movie, think “Beaches” or “Now and Then”, or “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”.)
The second category is reserved for that friend you met after buying a bra was no longer a right-of-passage and she does not know everything about you. That friend may have come into your orbit as you started a new job, met your life partner, had a baby, got a divorce, started a business, or traveled after retirement. You didn’t know each other when you started high school, graduated from college, became a partner in the firm, or sobbed when the “baby” got married. At some point—when you needed her, or when she needed you, or both—you met. (Cue the violins. Cue Carol King.) (For movies, think “Thelma and Louise”, “Mona Lisa’s Smile”, and “Calendar Girls”…and no, Lynnelle, we will not publish that kind of calendar!)
The Bosom Buddy of your adulthood loves the woman you are and becomes a Friend for Life.
I wanted to end this with a reference back to the Gold and Silver thing and asked Lynnelle, “What’s more valuable than Silver or Gold?”
“Lynnelle, can we think of something that isn’t so … destructive?”
After some research into the most precious of metals, we found Rhodium, of the “platinum family”, and learned that it’s highly reflective and commonly used in search lights and mirrors. In short, boring, so Lynnelle said, “Let’s just use Platinum.”
And that is why she is one of my Bosom Buddies and a Platinum Friend for Life.
It’s true – I, like most of us, have friends from many different chapters of my life. Thanks to Facebook, I’m back “in touch” with friends I made, as Barb puts it, prior to growing breasts. But, if I’m to be totally transparent here… <gulp> and if I’m to keep with Barb’s boob analogy, I need to categorize THREE eras of friendships – not two.
1. Pre-Boob era; (1957-1970)
2. Pre-Boob-Job era; (1970-1986)
3. Post boob-Job era; (after 1986)… I just had a sickening thought. My post-boobs are older than my former boss.
However… now that I think about it – I really didn’t have any boobs before 1985, so actually I do have a pre-boob and post-boob era. Mine were just manufactured and not found in nature.
Most of the friends I am still actively in contact with are post-boob friends. Not exactly sure why that is, other than I moved away right after school. I’m thankful Facebook has enabled a reengagement with early life friends, if mostly online. (Shout-out to Vicky, Peggy, Rhonda and the MAC girls!)
If you haven’t already gotten it, Barb is an outgoing extrovert. Not a normal, run of the mill extrovert; an OUTGOING extrovert. Myself, I’m an introvert; a friendly introvert, but an introvert still. There are no strangers in Barb’s world. She would likely need all the metals in the periodic table to list and categorize the friends she’s collected throughout her life. I’m glad I rank at the platinum level. I’m REALLY glad she didn’t classify me as her plutonium friend. (We’ve all had our share of THOSE; the mean girls don’t stop being mean post-boobs.)
We wish platinum ranked friends for all of you, whether they are Pre- or Post-Boobs, Boob Job, or (it must be said) Boob Scare. With platinum worth over $29.00 a gram and with the average over-60 woman weighing about 150 pounds, Forever Friends and Friends for Life are worth over two million dollars each.
But, we really know they’re priceless.
We had fun checking out movies about women friends. This site had a great list. Grab a Forever Friend or a Friend for Life, add wine and chocolate, and enjoy.
If you haven’t already, please join us in the HaT tribe. We’re a fun group of silver, gold and platinum introverts and extraverts looking to share ideas and experiences and compare notes as we explore what is known as our “senior years”. We will make special efforts to avoid the plutonium landmines.
In my post on Monday, I mentioned Karen and I are familiar with the signs of “transition”, having cared for my Dad during the last weeks of his life. Transition is the term used to describe the phase of life when one –well – transitions from this world, the world of the living, to the next world, the world of the spirit (or whatever that other world is according to your beliefs). Depending on a number of factors, transition period can be an hour, a day, a week or longer. A doctor or nurse can consider a few factors and make an educated guess, but you never know how long.
Mom was released from the hospital on Saturday evening, 30 September. We had a hospital bed. I stocked up on bed pads, alcohol wipes, gloves, and the applesauce, soup and juice. We were ready.
Please know I am not a doctor, a nurse, nor do I have any professional experience in the field of medicine. All I share here is from my personal experience only. Helping my Dad transition was a blessing. And now, we are with Mom for her transition. Sadly, we won’t need the bed pads, hospital wipes, applesauce, soup or juice.
As difficult as these experiences are, they are even more profound. Helping Dad and Mom has enabled me to see life as the natural process it is. While we might think we can control the course of our lives, any control we may have is limited, at best. Life runs its course regardless of what you do or what you want. The saying goes, “All good things come to an end.”
This isn’t a bad thing, just a truth; a natural evolution. It goes against the grain of our culture to think of or plan for anything other than reaching the next mountaintop, but at some point we all fail to reach the top or we reach the top and then fall down.
As morbid as our culture may consider this, I believe we would all be well served to learn about the end-of-life process and to think about our own. We plan weddings, save for our children’s education, our retirement, who says dying is easy? I’m not sure any of us is a “natural”. Knowing the transition process can make the end of our life less scary and, more importantly, the lives of our loved ones less traumatic. We should all be so lucky to live a full life and die in our sleep. Most of us will not be that lucky.
Talk to your kids, your spouse, or caregiver. Talk about the dying process and the physical changes to be expected. Give them direction as to your preferences – beyond the typical DNR. Should they keep you as aware as possible or keep you as sedated as possible? Should they use oxygen to keep you comfortable or avoid using the oxygen at the risk of discomfort to speed the process? Caregivers, talk to your loved one. Do you know how your loved one feels about these decisions you’ll be asked to make? There are no rights or wrongs.
As I write this just after midnight, early Friday morning on 6 October, my Mom’s breathing is has become more labored and her coloring is pale. We didn’t think she would make it through the night on Tuesday and here we are early Friday morning. Between Karen and me, Mom has not been alone since coming home on Saturday. Knowing Mom, we made the decision to avoid the narcotic pain medication unless she was in distress. We also elected to use the oxygen to keep her comfortable. If you have any questions about other aspects of this journey, or if you’d like to share your own story please do. I’m honored to have been with my Dad for his life transition. I’m blessed to be with Mom now.
The books below are all helpful in directing you to the important areas you need to focus on for practical end-of-life discussions and planning. It isn’t only about the DNR or where the insurance policy is; although those are important. Just having the conversation is a big step forward. We’re providing these links because we think the information shared in them is good.
Please know that if you click on one of these books and make a purchase, Heels and Tevas will receive a few cents commission. If you’d like more information about that, please send us an email or refer to our Disclosures and Other Legal Stuff page.