It still amazes me how many people I have met over my 20 year career that seemed genuinely surprised that their parent had gotten old. Especially since the alternative to getting old would be death (not trying to be crass, it’s just the truth). The reality is that barring an untimely death our family members, as well as ourselves, will all eventually be old.
When I speak to people about being pro-actively prepared for this approaching season of life share many will say that they are prepared. When I ask for an example of their “preparedness” 99/100 times their example is their pre-paid funeral, to which my responses is “That’s great for when you’re dead, what do you have planned before that?”
While it is very helpful to have your funeral pre-paid, there are many other pro-active steps that can be taken to help ourselves as well as our family members before that. I refer to this as preparation for “What if”.
Ask the following questions of your elderly loved ones (as well as yourself) and then encourage them to start gathering information on the local programs, facilities and care options available in order to empower them to make pro-active decisions about their care.
Write down the answers and then share them with all the family members. When everyone is aware of the persons’ wishes ahead of time it makes it less problematic for the family if ever faced with making those types of difficult decisions. These are just a few examples of care related questions. Having a place to start the conversation can help families share much needed information about individual preferences and help not only to create a practical plan for the future but empower pro-active personal decision making.
Summer is usually a slower time for most of us. Though it may seem like there is a lot going on, it is mostly fun focused activities. The weather is nice and the days are long. The summer is a lot easier with seniors able to get out and about more easily.
Then Fall arrives…
Work picks up, the kids are back at school, monthly boards and committees resume and caregiving duties become more difficult to manage. During this time it becomes more taxing to find the motivation to make the extra trip to the store or pharmacy when it’s dark at 5:00pm. The increase in activities can also make it challenging to schedule doctor appointments for an elderly loved one due to issues with the coordination of transportation.
So what is there to do? Here are some Fall tips to help you to better schedule your chaos!
Creating a plan for successful chaos management this fall can help you through the winter and spring months too!
This past month I was in Florida for a family reunion. My husbands’ family is rather large so at any given time there were about 20+ of us at his sisters’ home where she and her husband, as well as my mother and father-in-law live, enjoying time together.
On one occasion, the group decided to go bowling. Bowling is a pastime that I don’t particularly fancy, however; since I had dubbed myself the family paparazzi, I went along to take photos of the event. As the large group loaded into several cars, I noticed my 83 year old father-in-law, Ed, grabbing his coat and walking stick and expressing his excitement about going bowling to my husband Paul.
Now, for most people this may not seem like something one would take special notice of since, other than me, most people enjoy bowling and it would be customary for the patriarch of the family to join in with his kids and grand-kids for an afternoon of fun and frivolity. What made this exchange unique is that Ed is completely blind and extremely hard of hearing.
To get around he uses a walking cane with a ball on the end that he moves back and forth to analyze his surroundings. His vision over the years I’ve known him has gone from ok to poor (seeing only shadows), to non-existent, relying completely on his cane and the assistance of others to maneuver around. His hearing, amplified through the use of hearing aides in both ears, still falls short of normal audible ranges. So the idea of Ed joining in the festivities, outside of possibly hearing the ball roll and pins knocked down was captivating.
Given that my in-laws live in another state I have had the opportunity to visit with them maybe a dozen or so times over my 9 years of marriage. During those visits I have come to learn a lot about my father-in-law Ed and how he copes with his escalating disabilities.
Knowing these things about Ed, I realized as we headed out the door that he fully intended to participate in this family outing. So, as we all entered the bowling alley, he made sure that my husband knew what size bowling shoes he needed. Paul then assisted him in picking out a bowling ball. As he felt each ball Ed would inquire about the color of the ball and reject those not in his preferred color palate, which tested Paul’s’ patience a bit (lol). After putting his shoes on, Ed informed Paul that the 2 of them would switch off turns, subsequently trying Paul’s competitive nature as he, and his brother Mark, are very aggressive sportsman and my husband likes to win. Nevertheless; Paul quickly agreed and assisted Ed over to the lane to prepare for the game.
Each time Ed went up he retrieved his own ball, refusing offers from anyone who tried to fetch it for him. Ed would have Paul bring him to the edge of the lane and explain to him where he was standing in relationship to the lane so he could adjust his position for optimal velocity as well as the natural curve of his throw. Ed threw a gutter-ball each time up, nevertheless, he insisted Paul go through this routine each time he was up.
As we headed home with Ed in the backseat, he laughed and said “This was a great day, because I got to play an old game a new way”. He then recounted the game with enthusiasm, sharing his excitement of being on the team and analyzing his technique so that he can do better next time (Ed surmised that his consistent gutter-balls boiled down to bad coaching by Paul which got me laughing so hard I even snorted!).
I wanted to share this story for a couple of reasons: first, witnessing someone joyfully overcoming obstacles in their life is a reminder to be thankful for all that we are able to do both physically and mentally each day. Secondly, and I believe most importantly, we each have a choice to make every day about how we live our life, we can wallow and complain about what we do not have or cannot do, or, we can adjust to the circumstances that life throws our way, enjoy what we do have and can do and learn how to play an old game in a new way.
Today’s point to ponder:
What choice are you going to make about how you will live your life today?
“Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.” – Grandma Moses
I wrote this several years ago while sitting alone in my hotel room in Washington D.C. where I was one of the speakers at the Aging In America National Conference. I was so excited when I was asked to speak at the conference. I felt that this opportunity was important for my career in the aging field and that it would assist in catapulting me to a new level in my passion for assisting caregivers.
For the Chinese 2008 was the Year of the Rat, for me that year can best be described as “The Year of the Crisis”.
Some highlights include my step daughters canceled wedding, my best friends multiple hospital stays during a very difficult pregnancy, a terminally ill friend who lost her battle with cancer at age 37, and numerous other
friends in need of help with both major and minor issues in their lives. There were many occasions where I got nervous when the phone rang
because it just seemed like every time I turned around there was someone else that I loved in crisis.
However; the one that put me over the edge was my husband’s car accident. Though he was ok, I can’t begin to tell you how overwhelmed I was receiving a phone call from a paramedic telling me that my husband was in an accident and they were taking him to the hospital via ambulance!
As I sat in the waiting room of the ER I thought about a comment that a friend had said about me…”Sue is everyone’s rock”.
So humor me for a moment and visualize a very large rock, let’s start with a bolder. It’s big and can handle a large amount of debris and rain, however over time what happens to the bolder when the load falling on it becomes too heavy? At first sliver size fractures appear, most not even visible to the eye. Over time those fractures become larger and become visible cracks, those cracks can then become gaps and eventually the rock will begin to splinter and fall apart.
That was me to a tee, a cracked rock!
I was overwhelmed by the needs of other people in my life, I was tired and in need of a break. Ironically the only thing in the way of me taking that break was ME!
The reality is that, though I didn’t have control of these circumstances, I did have control of my reactions to them. I would have assisted my friends and family, however; I would have asked for help, set better boundaries, empowered others to do what they could for themselves and taken some time for me.
As caregivers we are the “rock” for those we love. We are the strength that stays focused to get the things done that need to be done; the “doers”. However; we also need to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves, that we are practicing boundaries and not putting things on our plate that don’t belong there!
So I ask all of you to step back and take a moment to look at yourself. Evaluate your fractures and try to look at ways to take some of the pressure off of you so that you don’t end up cracked!
For those of you who are already cracked…the good news is that cracks can be fixed with time and the proper filler! So take a break! Get a massage, a pedicure; take a bath or even a NAP!
Take care of you!