Caregiving Contemplation

I recently had the opportunity to speak with a fellow writer about being a caregiver and how it affects your life. I related that while it was emotionally one of the most heart-wrenching times in my life, I wouldn’t trade the four months I spent caregiving for my mother for anything in the world. She passed away 28 years ago today and I miss her dearly. I went into the experience of caregiving with the knowledge that my Mom was in her final months of living with colon cancer. I had no idea, however, how much our time together would change me. Not only did taking care of my mother bring our relationship to a whole new level, but it also gave me a completely new perspective on my own life. I didn’t realize how it would transform me until after I was years removed from that time and I had grieved my mother’s passing. Today, I’m in the midst of writing that part of my journey as a healing experience in my memoir.

In August of 2018 my 87-year-old aunt, the only surviving sibling of four in my Dad’s family, told me that she had been scammed out of $3,000, and was in a car accident after she got lost and confused and, nine hours later had no idea where her car or her license were. Our family realized her dementia had progressed and it was time for my power-of-attorney to be asserted. With my life now in California and hers in Connecticut, I knew this was going to look a lot different than the journey with my mother. In fact, caregiving for my aunt has been quite challenging.

My aunt was not ready to renounce one iota of her independence, so I set up a meeting with her lawyer (an older authoritarian she would acquiesce to), and flew back east with my sister in February of 2019 for what the lawyer termed a “will update meeting”. The attorney successfully persuaded Aunt Terrie to invoke my power-of-attorney yet she wasn’t ready to relinquish financial control. And it would take another four months of worry before she was caught driving without a license by the police and ordered by the court to stop.

Aunt Terrie is not in very good physical health; severe kyphosis has her walking with her head face down, and a botched knee replacement resulted in chronic lymphedema that prevented her from ascending the 14 stairs to her bedroom and full bathroom. Consequently, she started semi-sleeping in her recliner in front of the TV where she succumbed to persuasive QVC-type ads and ordered every cream, vitamin, and gimmick an elderly person must have to be “cured” of growing old. This out-of-control ordering, coupled with her fear of identity theft, resulted in her kitchen and dining rooms becoming filled with mountains of mail—catalogs and donation requests—that piled up in paper bags waiting to be shredded.

I convinced my aunt to let me hire a person from the Visiting Angels agency to unbury her of paper and made those arrangements from California. An attempt to get her to use taxis or the town’s senior shuttle for trips to the store, bank, post office, and doctor appointments fell on deaf ears. So after lengthy amounts of research, I hired a geriatric care manager to assist in the management of our aunt’s life. During this time I connected with my aunt’s bank and annuity companies; sent notarized powers-of-attorney and living trust documents, and began attempting to make sense of what turned out to be a nightmare of a financial situation. What I discovered was that my aunt, who had been left with a comfortable inheritance from her older sister, was now deeply in debt. She owed thousands of dollars for numerous credit cards, including an astronomical loan for a new car that she was conned into buying.

Late that June, the Visiting Angel (the 4th one our aunt hadn’t fired), found my aunt lying on her front porch after she had tripped and taken a hard fall. Aunt Terrie had fractured her elbow and dislocated four vertebrae and was taken to the hospital via ambulance. A week later, after tests were run and diagnoses made, she was transferred to a rehabilitation center at St. Mary Home in West Hartford. I flew back to Connecticut in July to see her and found that Aunt Terrie was coming along but that her cognitive function continued to decline. Her condo was in worse shape than before, with smelly garbage and recurring boxes of vitamins and creams overflowing on the bags of mail the neighbor had dumped in her living room. I had discovered exorbitant amounts of money were being deducted for car insurance (along with the loan) from her bank account, so I worked to get her car sold. CarFax thought the car had been stolen so it took quite a bit of undoing to straighten out the report. We were thankful that my aunt would physically recover somewhat, however it was obvious she would never be able to make it up the stairs without help. What’s more, after she let important things like health insurance lapse, it was clear her dementia had progressed. Unfortunately, our aunt didn’t have long term disability insurance, and her financial situation precluded at-home care.

My sister and I researched our aunt’s options, and since the rehab facility she was already in also provided long-term care, it seemed like the best choice. Not only is it a nice, well-reviewed facility, its also run by the Mercy Catholic Community; our aunt’s faith is very important to her. Subsequently, after becoming argumentative in a meeting with the geriatric care manager and social worker, the lawyer was called in once again. Terrie didn’t want to give up her condo, but after he explained her situation, she reluctantly agreed to live at St. Mary Home. Thus began the process of getting my aunt on state Medicaid. This included more in-depth forensic accounting than I ever imagined, along with the preparation of her condo for sale with the overwhelming dissemination of 40 years of stuff. 

I contacted some of my aunt’s friends and planned a small 88th birthday party at the nursing home, and flew back to Connecticut for the September 26, 2019 date. I picked up my sister at BDL a few days later and we evaluated items that could stay with our aunt at the home or fly back with us. We paid utility bills and set aside important papers and items, and went to work meeting everyone needed to help sell her place; a realtor, contractor, and attorney-referred liquidator who would start cleaning out the condo after we gave him the go-ahead. After returning to California we learned the liquidator had prematurely ransacked the place and destroyed some important papers we set aside. Thankfully, the geriatric care manager and her husband stepped in and a professional consolidator was hired. Although pre-paid, the utilities were shut off for non-use and it was a chilly 40 degrees in the condo during the estate sale. At least the heat was back on when the contractor was working on repairs, but the whole process turned out to be a huge disappointment. And don’t get me started on the real estate attorney assistant who kept sending me e-documents with my name spelled wrong.

Back in California, I became so frustrated trying to manage my aunt’s bank accounts in Connecticut that I ended up closing them and opening two new ones in my California bank. The subsequent months were a constant back and forth of processing requests from the legal assistant for required statements and extraneous information the state kept asking for. And while I continued to send notarized documents everywhere, I successfully managed to raise about $100k for the non-profit where I worked. While I enjoyed my full-time job, I was incredibly stressed by the pressure of being a caregiver long-distance. The constant barrage of emails left me unable to be present for my family or myself. My self-care and exercise routines were replaced with early morning phone calls to Connecticut and soon I realized something needed to change.

In an effort to bring balance back to my life, I began a Breathe for Change Wellness Champion and Yoga Teacher training at the end of February. As the PTA wellness chair at my children’s high school, I was hoping to be a resource to teachers and students in the new wellness center and had scheduled to teach a yoga class during the opening.  Who knew the world as we knew it would change and effectively shut down on March 16 due to the Coronavirus? School went virtual and although some now have in-person classes with strict protocols, most have yet to reopen. I am grateful that my Breathe For Change community went to a Zoom format and I received my certification. Mostly I’m thankful that it infused my own wellness practice and my yoga communities are on-line. Additionally, I added Pilates and swimming to my exercise routine now that I can get appointments at the re-opened town pool.

Last week, over two years after my second caregiving journey began, I received an email from the attorney’s office in Connecticut with “Approved!” typed in the subject line. I can’t begin to relate how happy and relieved I am knowing that my 89-year-old aunt is safe and secure in the nursing home in Hartford, and now covered by the state. Under normal circumstances, I would have flown there to be with her on her birthday, but I sent her a box of personal care items she needed, and my sister sent flowers. Caregiving is not always an easy job however, it’s what I would do for any member of my family. Most certainly it can be fraught with frustrations and aggravations along the way. But making sure your ailing or aging family member is safe, happy, and well-taken care of is the best gift you can give your loved one… just be sure to keep some balance in your own life while you’re taking care of them.

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Sunrise Swim – Pandemic Style

Dorothy Bengston Aquatic Center 50-meter Pool – Pleasanton, California

It was the beginning of September when I learned the town pools were opening back up since closing down with the rest of the nation on March 16, 2020. Since the COVID pandemic began, I started practicing more yoga and added walking and biking to bolster my physical and mental health. Then I read a novel about an 87-year-old woman who swam daily and I was inspired to get in the water. I’d always loved the water as a kid and as an adult, I was certified in scuba and water aerobics instruction, but getting back in the pool was a gift.

With so many people vying for as many spots in the pools, getting a reservation on-line proved to be difficult but somehow I succeeded. And since I knew 9/11 would be a somber day, I was thankful for a slot that Friday evening. But alas 2020 happened! Northern Californians woke up to an eerie sight the previous Wednesday. With the looks of the sky, we weren’t sure if it was night or day and this being 2020, thought the apocalypse might truly be happening. The fires ablaze all around the state had turned the ashy smoke-filled sky into a dark and orangey hue, giving the atmosphere a creepy vibe. We’d already had a number of spare-the-air days and this was just the icing on the 2020 cake; the impetus to reclose more of our coveted retreats. And so, the town pool was shut once again and my Friday evening swim canceled. I got back online a few days later however and somehow managed to find a spot the following Thursday morning for 7 am.

So I donned my swimsuit and mask and drove over to the pool. I should have known I wouldn’t be able to walk directly up to the check-in window even though no-one else was there. I had to walk a good 16 feet down a cordoned off crowd-control stanchion line and back up again to reach the window—open but barriered up with plexiglass just enough so the attendant could access my head with a thermometer. After she took my temperature she brought out her health screener and asked me all the standard COVID questions: Had I been in contact with anyone who had COVID in the last 2 weeks? Was I experiencing any of the following symptoms: cough, fever, chills, stomach upset? After she was satisfied I was COVID-free, I was given my lane—#5 in the 25-meter pool, which was nice and warm, and #11 in the 50-meter pool, which was a bit chilly today.

I was extremely grateful to get a lane at 7:30 am today since when I logged in to the town website Friday morning, I saw all the spots filling up right before my eyes. But once I got there, got into the water and started doing the backstroke, I looked up into the beautiful smoke-free blue sky and thought about how fortunate I was. First of all, it’s the fall and I’m in the pool outside—so unusual for this east coast transplant. Mostly though, I was ecstatic that my arms were even moving with so much ease, and I could complete each and every stroke. It was back in 2009 that my left shoulder froze up and took eight months of painful therapies before thawing. And then, in 2013 when my right shoulder stopped moving, I was anxious about undergoing the long agonizing therapies. And so I opted for a chiropractic adjustment instead and experienced the most excruciating manipulation ever. But it was just one. And then, after undergoing a structural integration series and regular therapeutic massages, my shoulders finally began to heal. So here it is 2020, and I am ever so thankful to be back in the pool, even if it is pandemic style.

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Windows of Hope

Yesterday I needed to hear some voices of hope, so I listened to Michelle Obama’s new podcast with President Barack Obama. They talked about how they were raised during the “it takes a village” mindset when everyone watched out for everyone else’s kids and we all had each other’s backs. They suggested that this is a worthy paradigm to help our country get back on its feet and move forward again. Examples discussed included all of us wearing masks to help end this pandemic, and everyone casting their votes for the next administration.

Listening to the Obamas got me thinking about what else gives me hope during this pandemic; the amazing bravery of the essential workers on our front lines day in and day out who are saving lives, those working to provide our essential needs, and those keeping us safe. I am encouraged by the peaceful protestors affecting change in the Black Lives Matter movement, including the artists creating beautiful murals, street, and sidewalk creations I’ve seen on my pandemic walks. Tybre Faw, the little boy who read the poem, “Invictus” at the late congressman, John Lewis’s memorial was a memorable moment for me that inspires courage in the face of the fight against bigotry.  And while I was sad for our country’s loss, and the loss of so many milestones for our youth as a result of Coronavirus – including proms and graduations, I am in awe of how our young people acclimated to on-line and bubble environments during the shelter-in-place mandate. I see hope in the strength and perseverance of this generation of children who have endured so much change and loss.

Today I was cleaning my kitchen and chuckled when I looked up at the window and a 2019 calendar was taped there. Each year I put our holiday cards up on the windows that frame our kitchen table. I would have normally taken them down by now, but when the pandemic hit, I decided to leave them up and missed the old calendar. I like that the cards with photos of my extended family and friends are “with us” at the kitchen table each day. I am reminded of what the Obamas discussed; I’ve got a wonderful support system of family and friends that have my back. And while 2019 is long since past, I remain steadfast and hopeful for happier times ahead.

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Connecting during Coronavirus

I am an extrovert. I enjoy speaking with people, and I’m generally a friendly person. Most of the time when I’m walking past someone, unless they’re looking down or seem unapproachable, I will smile and say hello.

Walking in the park today was weird. It’s a bizarre time; this COVID19 virus has everyone behaving strangely. I’m not even myself. I want to be out in the community getting exercise and smiling at people in solidarity while I pass them or compliment their beautiful dogs. I tried to do that today but it felt awkward. Even if someone did look at me, they immediately looked down or away.

No one wants to smile, let alone communicate to strangers in such a scary time. We’re told to “social distance” due to the deadly virus, however that’s a misnomer if you’re connecting on social media. What we’re all really doing is physical distancing. We’re trying to stay at least six feet away from each other since that’s what we’ve been instructed to do in order to stay safe.

On Friday we were told that we should all be wearing protective face covers when we go out. Before then, only the sick were instructed to wear masks, and personal protective equipment (PPEs) was reserved for frontline personnel. The governor came on TV to say that all of us should be covering our faces when we go out now, but that N95 masks need to be reserved for those who are essential workers and taking care of the sick. The problem is, there are not enough. There isn’t enough N95 masks and there are not enough gowns. There isn’t enough personal protective equipment, and there are not enough ventilators to help the sick stay alive. Anxieties are high.

I am fortunate to be in Breathe for Change wellness champion and yoga teacher training right now which is doubling as my self-care. But I’m worried about the caregivers; those who are helping the physically and mentally ill. I spoke to a school counselor friend who said she feels like a hypocrite for counseling when her own anxieties are sky high. I feel for all of the essential workers right now because the people that are helping to take care of everyone are becoming marginalized themselves.

This virus sucks. I’m trying, we’re all trying to stay sane and rise above it to stay safe and healthy. I have my family close and I draw on our togetherness for strength. And I do yoga, take walks, cuddle with my dogs, and meditate. We need to breathe in peace and breathe out love for the world to heal. And we need to stay connected. Social media is huge right now; I am so thankful for my online communities.

Since the Coronavirus made us start sheltering in place on 3/17/2020 in California, I’ve become a champion at attending on-line meetings. I’m an extrovert who thrives on connection. I’m grateful to have my Facebook and Instagram page with family, friends and community groups that I was previously connected with, and now so thankful to be able to connect via zoom with my church family, yoga families, PTSA board, and writing communities. Physical distancing, yes. Social distancing, no.

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Frampton Comes Alive and so does Bonham

Peter Frampton was a much-loved performer back in the 70s. It was the first of July in 1976 when he came to Colt Park in Hartford and nearly didn’t perform after falling off the stage during rehearsal. But he rallied and it turned out to be a great show. “Frampton Comes Alive” became one of the most frequently played records on every station that year (shout out to WPLR), and a record collection staple.

The band that started my record collection was Led Zeppelin, after I had seen them perform at the Montreal Forum in ’69 (and again in ’77 at Madison Square Garden). And while Frampton’s looks and locks were nearly up to par with Robert Plant’s and his songs incredibly likable, his music didn’t take me to the heights of Led Zeppelin. And that summer, Physical Graffiti was still the album on the top of my record pile.

So when I bought tickets early this year to see Frampton’s Finale tour on 10/12/19, it wasn’t necessarily because I wanted to see Frampton go out with a bang, but maybe more so that Jason Bonham was his opening act. Bonham is the son of the Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham who inherited his father’s drumming chops; he tours under the name JBLZE or “Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening”.

Before the show, my cousin and I met for dinner a few miles from the venue and for the first time we Uber’d our way to the concert. It turned out to be a good way to avoid the long lines of traffic coming in and out of the venue. And though I thought I would have come out of there saying that Frampton was my favorite part of the show, I would have to tell you otherwise. Bonham’s drumming was flawless and his setlist perfect, beginning with Immigrant Song and ending with Stairway to Heaven. My favorite number however was Kashmir, of which I captured a little clip.

That’s not to say that Frampton didn’t put on a great show. In fact, I was just as impressed with his guitar playing as I was with Bonham’s drumming. It was just that I think people wanted to hear more from the days of old instead of only the six tunes that everyone knows, like his opener What’s Happening that you can see on my YouTube channel. In fact, I didn’t mind that he added some blues songs to his setlist and I especially enjoyed his version of Hoagy Carmichael’s Georgia on My Mind. I’m always grateful when I get to see a live performance, and appreciate when I get to share it with family and/or friends.

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ROLLING STONES – SANTA CLARA SET LIST 8/18/19

I’ve never owned one Rolling Stones album. And that’s pretty amazing, considering I began my record collection at only 10 years old (with Led Zeppelin II). I do remember a “Jumping Jack Flash” in my pile of 45s, but how I went without owning the legendary “Sticky Fingers” record is beyond me. But their music was so prevalent at the time that you couldn’t help but hear it, as I did as a faithful WPLR FM Radio listener…nod to the late great Stoneman, Marcia Simon, and Smith & Barber.

Typically, I prefer to be present and not distracted at a concert so I can enjoy the show. However, when hubby and I went to see the legends at Levi’s Stadium—their No Filter show in Santa Clara had been postponed from May due to Jagger’s heart surgery—I made it a game to write down as many songs as I could. I video’ed a few of my favorites as well.  I especially enjoyed Honky Tonk Woman, since I vividly remember the first time I heard the song; blasting so loud out of the basement of the house next door when we lived in Quebec, Canada, that my 8 year old ears thought it was live; the coolest song I’d ever heard!

HONKY TONK WOMAN – Performed at Levi’s Stadium on 8/18/19

So here you have it…the Set List from last night’s show:

Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Tumblin’ Dice
Out of Control
Rocks Off
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Sweet Virginia*
Let it Bleed
Sympathy for the Devil
Honky Tonk Woman
You Got the Silver*
Before they Make me Run*
Miss You
Midnight Rambler
Paint it Black
Brown Sugar
Start Me Up
Gimmie Shelter
Satisfaction

The asterisks next to 3 songs, are the ones we had to look up. And truth be told, if we hadn’t watched the Stone’s Netflix Documentary “Ole, Ole, Ole! A Trip Across Latin America” the night before, I wouldn’t have known the name of “Out of Control.” And here’s a fun fact that I just heard on the morning news. The 49ers (who own Levi’s Stadium) actually negotiated with the city of Santa Clara to let the band play an hour past the 10pm city curfew; apparently this has never been done before. I’m glad I got to see the Rolling Stones with my husband in what will most likely be the last tour for this iconic band. #grateful #rollingstones #levistadium

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In honor of Randy…

It feels wrong, like my step brother passing is somehow not part of God’s plan. Two teenagers and two youngsters were not supposed to lose their Dad, and neither was his loving wife. Now she is a grieving widow left to raise her 7-year-old twins alone. It feels wrong. Why is it God, that you divert from a plan that seems on track, and for some strange reason take the good ones, the ones that are still so full of life, and it appears their work here on earth is unfinished? Randy had so much more to give.

This is that part of the grieving process that no one can ever be prepared for, that roller coaster of emotions that sends us to the depths and then, after it seems we’ve exhausted all of our tears, we come out fighting mad, angry at a God that’s supposed to be just. It’s hard to call that divine. Then in times of tea and calmness, or in my case, 3am cream-of-brown-sugar-wheatness, you think about the signs… those signs that make you ponder a loss differently. What was it that this person brought to the world? What was it that you can learn from a person who was so good that he, at a time was a Marine who would have done anything to fight for his country?

Yes, he was good, and I honor him through the sign that he left this world on his mother’s birthday. It’s a sign to me that he was leaving his children to be loved in the comfort and safety of their own mothers’ arms, and was going to rest and be with his mother, whom he loved with all his heart. I’m sure he left his children and wife with many wonderful memories that they will cherish, and I hope they feel comforted in knowing how much he loved them. For me, those are memories of a father, son, brother, and friend who had deep respect and love for his family. He graciously shared his Mom with my Dad and me, and I am forever grateful that they helped mold my Dad into a kinder loving person and father.  RIP brother.

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Twenty-five Years Ago Today

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My family and I have lived in California for five years now. This morning while at breakfast, a friend asked me if I would ever go back “home” to Connecticut. No, I told her, because my home is where my family is, my husband and two children (and wherever there is a beach:-). Before I was married however, even if I lived on my own, home was always wherever my mother lived.

I was recently cleaning out our storage area, and came upon two items that my mother treasured. One was a laminated photo of Mom’s 10/9/55 bridal announcement from the Hartford Courant. I am amazed at the lengthy description of her gown: “of Chantilly lace and tulle over satin, styled with a sheer yoke with lace trim and a lace wing collar. The gown was made with tapered sleeves and a bouffant skirt ending in a sweep train. A lace and seed pearl cloche fashioned her headpiece and held in place her veil of fingertip-length French illusion.” The papers certainly don’t make room for such elaborate accounts these days. In any case, Mom looked absolutely gorgeous, and I also treasure that bridal picture.

The other item that I found is the program from Mom’s commencement ceremony. She graduated from St. Joseph’s School of Nursing on Sunday, September 5th at Ten O’clock, 1954. My Uncle Jim, Mom’s eldest brother, recently told me the story of how hard Mom worked to get into nursing school. She would stay up hours after her family had gone to bed, and study by candlelight. In fact, she went back to school later in life for a second degree in Health and Human Services. Mom enjoyed her psychology classes and went from a surgical nurse to an obstetrical nurse (teaching the “Lamaze” method), to a psychiatric nurse. And I was awed when Mom continued her school internships as a volunteer Youth at Risk Mentor and Rape Crisis Counselor.

Mom’s role modeling had a considerable impact on me. Not only did I go back to school for a master’s degree, I worked in numerous agencies advocating for those on a journey of survival. I helped raise awareness about the social issues of homelessness, addiction, domestic violence, rape, and cancer. Today marks 25 years since Mom passed from cancer, and today I honor her life. Miss you Mom…

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“Memories We Share”

Many of us identify specific periods of our lives with certain albums of the time. For me, one of those Soundtracks is “An Evening with John Denver” – a live album that was released in February of 1975. Even though I had already attended a Led Zeppelin concert by the time I was 8, the folk singer was a favorite. I may have been blasting Rocky Mountain Way in my headphones, but I couldn’t help but sing along to Rocky Mountain High in the car. Who didn’t love Denver’s smooth country-twanged voice, and folksy guitar sound?

In 1975, Denver released his live album “An Evening with John Denver”, and I played it over and over again on the little portable record player in my room… “Talk of Poems and Prayers and Promises, and things that we believe in. How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care. How long it’s been since yesterday, what about tomorrow, what about our dreams and all the memories we share?” Such pensive words for a 13 year old!

Mom and Dad had divorced the previous year, and the Sunday thing with Dad wasn’t working too well. Consequently, I was thrilled when Dad invited me to a concert. And so it was, that my father and I had our own evening with John Denver. I’ll never forget that April 16th, 1975 at the New Haven Coliseum. There were so many songs the singer crooned that we sang along to… memorable ones like: Grandma’s Feather Bed, Annie’s Song, and My Sweet Lady. Sunshine on my Shoulders still played in my head as I clung to Dad’s hand on the big escalator to the parking lot. I couldn’t fall asleep from all the excitement.

Thank you Dad, for the memories and making the extra effort to be with me on a Wednesday night.

 

 

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