Sep
21

Living The Ironman Life

by Christine

As I write to you today I am in Lake Tahoe sitting before a warm fire. Yesterday, my son ran his first Ironman and I was in Tahoe to support him and cheer him on as he crossed the finish line. Those of you, who follow this blog, know that this time last year, Matthew was hit by car while training for this very race. He had life threatening injuries that could have resulted in paralysis or death. But he was blessed and our family was blessed with a miracle. Good Samaritans and competent professional all came together at the right time, with the right skills to save his life. I am grateful for the community that saved him. 

Participating in the Ironman was a two-year journey for Matthew. He committed both mentally and physically to participating in the race.  A moving and exciting tradition of the Ironman race is as the athlete crosses the finish line the announcer bestows the title of #Ironman on the finisher. Tears came to my eyes as Matthew ran across the finish line and the announcer said, "Matthew Parks, You. Are. An. Ironman." The irony of the moment is that the athlete doesn't feel like an Ironman as he or she crosses the finish line. The athlete has endured 140.6 miles of swimming, biking and running and drained all reserves to cross the finish line. It takes about a 45-minute rest, a few hundred calories and hugs from family and well-wishers for the athlete to appreciate the enormity of their accomplishment. 

As I sat in the dining hall with the finishers, I listened as the racers discussed their performance on the course. The athlete's attitude about his performance was based on his expectations going into the race. If an athlete expected to finish the course in 13 hours but finishes in 12 hours the event was a success. Conversely if that same athlete's expectations are 11 hours but the final time is 12 hours disappointment rises to the surface and a harsh critical analysis begins. At Ironman as in life our expectations drives our journey and ultimately whether we are happy or not. When our expectations are met we are happy, when our expectations aren't met we are dissatisfied. Happiness is the result of our expectations and outcome being balanced. 

I am a big proponent of making life plans and working those plans but I have learned and now embrace life where my expectations run contrary to the outcome. The unexpected gives me an opportunity to learn and grow as a human being. What if we viewed our life as an Ironman event where it's going to take us everything we've got to make it to the finish line and that the unexpected is part of the course and doesn't drive our happiness. Yesterday I watched as hundreds of athletes faced the unknown and worked for the title of Ironman. My wish for them is that they find happiness in their willingness to take chances and run the race. I was inspired and encourage by my son and those around him as they took up a personal challenge to achieve a difficult goal. I will take this lesson with me as I head back home to New York.

 

Hugs,
C

 

 

 

Sep
18

First Encounter

by Christine

In the middle of my daylilies was a singular blooming tulip. This import from Holland was silky pink and should have been cause for celebration. Spring had arrived with a burst of color that signaled the end of another brutally cold winter but the sight of this lone blooming flower confused me. I had planted a cluster of tulips in the front garden but not down by the Lake. How did a tulip end up there, in the middle of the daylilies?

Each August, the daylilies lean majestically into the warm summer sun prideful of their neon orange color. I've not had the heart to tell them that they are not true lilies. To be a real lily they must be part of the family of plants known as Lillaceae but sadly daylilies belong to a family known as Hemerocallidaceae. To make matters worse the Hemerocallidaceae family is not from North America but hail from Asia. Botanists and Horticulturist are as ridged about keeping proper records on the lineage of flowers as is the Daughters of the American Revolution are about documenting roots to a patriot of the American Revolution.  My daylilies are not true lilies but it's best to keep that information between us. I know my daylilies are snobs and would not welcome a spring pink "foreigner". And I know I didn't put the unsuspecting Hollander in the midst of group of Hudson Valley New Yorkers.

That is when the confusion gave way to fear. My first thought was, "Who moved my tulip?' but I quickly dismissed that thought as paranoid and an indication that I was crazy. I mean who would come into my garden uninvited and move a single tulip. So I settled on the only other logical reason for the tulip's new home. I did it and I was losing my mind. That was the only explanation. At the time my mother's health and mind were failing and I was over extended. I was working desperately to keep all the plates spinning so it made perfect sense to me that I went into the garden and planted a single tulip in an unwelcoming place. Mystery solved and time to move on.

The next spring a single tulip bloomed in the side garden in the middle of my pastel pinwheels. I was no longer confused or afraid. I was just plain angry. Well, maybe not angry, just annoyed that I couldn't figure it out. It was time I faced facts. I wasn't the one playing musical chairs with the tulips. But who was doing it? And why? Was a Taoist gardener sneaking into my garden to arrange tulips without intention and minimal action to purify his soul? Could it be an obsessed fairy with the desire to recreate Vincent van Gogh's painting Irises with lilies and a tulip? 

Nothing made sense until one fall day I saw him. He was standing next to the garage with dirt under his fingernails and a tulip in his hand.  We made eye contact and he did not look away. No remorse. My surprise at catching him in the act left me speechless. He gently caressed the tulip and sauntered away. That was my first encounter with Gary the Gardener, an Eastern Grey Squirrel. 

Hugs,
C

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep
16

Raised Beds, Flowers And Renewal

by Christine

A year ago I'd planned to share with you my new garden project, raised herb beds. Unbeknownst to me my whole world would be turned on its ear when my son was hit by a car while training for the Ironman in Lake Tahoe. A year later Matthew has healed from his injuries and the herbs in my kitchen garden are cascading over the sides of the beds.  I thought this would be the perfect time to share with you pictures of the thriving sage, rosemary and thyme outside my backdoor and share a few lessons learned about creating a raised herb garden. 

Building a square frame is not difficult if you have a talented partner who can tote wood, use a saw and wield a hammer. Marty spent an afternoon with me putting together the framework for the raised beds. Marty was the journeyman carpenter and I was his apprentice. I also added the stenciled design on the sides of the frames for a little whimsy and color. Here's what you need to know to start your own beds.

1. Raised beds can be the perfect solution for spaces with poor soil. I built my beds outside my backdoor near the kitchen and on top of an under ground bolder. I was never able to get anything to grow in that space because the soil was only a couple inches deep. Now I have lush herbs and eatable flowers for daily use. 

2. When choosing a site for your herb garden, follow the sun. Herbs need lots of sun to thrive and reach their full potential. If sunlight is in short supply in your garden, a small raised bed could be the solution.

3. Raised beds can be crafted out of almost any material. You can use materials such as concrete blocks, masonry, rock, galvanized culvert, stock tanks, steel or wood. I chose wood because I liked the look and wanted to be able to stencil the sides. I did make the decision to avoid chemically treated wood. It will decay faster but the chemicals won't leach into the ground and into our water supply.  

4. I asked Marty to cover the bottom of the beds with chicken wire to keep animals from burrowing up through the beds. In retrospect this was an unnecessary step for us because our beds are on rock. But if you have garden critters that burrow, the chicken wire could be the solution for you. 

5. We mixed the soil ourselves using organic products. Topsoil was the main ingredient with compost and manure added for drainage and nutrients. The hardest part of this job wasn't finding the right composition of soil but toting bags and bags of topsoil and rock. We filled out the spaces between the beds with bluestone rock that is indigenous to New York. 

This was truly a labor of love. Watching the herbs thrive and the brilliant colors of the nasturtiums decorate the space outside my kitchen brings joy to my day. If you want to renew and rejevenate a section of your garden to grow your own herbs, I suggest giving a raised bed a go.

Hugs,

Sep
14

What Is Community?

by Christine

A couple of years ago I purchased a Jeep Wranglers. I've wanted a Jeep since before my kids were born but always felt I needed to have a responsible car. But after my mother died, I finally purchased my "dream" car. Unbeknownst to me with the purchase of my little red Jeep, I joined the Jeep "community"; a group that created a tradition of waving to one another as they pass each on opposite sides of the road. I now do the Jeep Wave.

It's fun to do the Jeep Wave as I come upon another Jeep driver but I am under no illusion that I am part of a community. I am waving to another person who has the same fondness for the Jeep brand. Being part of a community requires more from the individual than having similar tastes in cars.

I believe a community is a unified group of people who acknowledge a joint ownership and participation in society and quite frankly includes a physical component. What do I mean by that? Take FACEBOOK as an example. We can read about the loss of a loved one by one of our friends on FACEBOOK and offer our heartfelt condolences on the site but we can't take our friend's hand or give them a hug. We can't deliver a casserole or take their children for an evening while they get some rest after a trying day at the hospital. I believe one must be physically present from time-to-time in the lives of others to be a community. 

Now before you get up in arms about my excluding FACEBOOK as a community, please know that I am a FACEBOOK fan. I have reconnected with high school friends, maintained connection with previous co-workers who have moved on to other jobs and shared pictures with family regularly on this ubiquitous tool. But my point is, FACEBOOK is a tool, a device to enable communication between people. Community doesn't reside in the virtual world. 

As we discuss what it means to be part of a community and how we personally can shape our community in a positive way. We must first understand what it takes to create community and be clear on what we are willing to do to make it a place we want to live. 

Hugs,
C

 

 

Sep
10

You Can Make A Difference

by Christine

I come from a background where it is ones civic duty to be well informed and educated on the “issues” of the day.  Growing up I would read the morning and afternoon newspaper as well as watch Walter Cronkite each evening on CBS.  As I got older I tuned into PBS to watch The MacNeil/Lehrer Report and expanded my reading list to include various magazines like Time and NewsWeek. Today I read the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the LA Times. Because Marty still wants to watch broadcast news, we will occasionally turn on CBS but since the whole Brian Williams fiasco I am turned off to television news.

In a real time crisis I turn on CNN understanding completely that 75% of what is being presented is hysteria driven speculation. It takes time to gather enough information to accurately and succinctly report on stories of mass killings, weather tragedies and airplane disappearances but I feel the need to be connected if only through TV. Now that I can get the BBC on cable I will turn to them during an international crisis like the terrorist attacks in France because that broadcast feels less breathless and dramatic.

One might say I am a News junkie but I suggest I am a Political Science junkie.  While I do analyze and critic the process of delivering the news, I am more about the structure of how society governs and regulates itself. I watched in horror and in real pain as the Sandy Hook Murders were reported and was dismayed to see the process for a call to action turn to there is nothing we can do.  Have we really become a nation whose government has been bought by the upper 1%?

I imagine you are wondering by now if I am going off on some kind of Occupy Wall Street rant. Stick with me as I bring it back to you and me. We are bombarded with information on every single tragedy on the planet minute-by-minute. Heck if there isn’t a real time tragedy happening, one is created.  Coupled with the images of death and mayhem are the words of “subject matter experts” who tell us the only solutions involves obscene amounts of money or decisive action from our government both of which, we don’t control.

I have come to a place where I don’t buy it. I don’t buy the rhetoric I am being fed. I am part of the world but my community does not encompass all that is shown on TV, the Internet or in the print media. I do have influence over the community in which I live and work if I want to exercise it.  I can’t touch the lives of the entire world’s population but I can make a difference in my neighborhood or town. I believe that if we do care for and nurture our communities, then we do make the world a better place.

Hugs,
C

Next: What Is Community?

Sep
08

How To Make The Transition

by Christine

The journey has been one of ups and downs since starting this blog. Footsteps was created as a tool to discuss living with and caring for aging parents. You were there at the beginning when I shared with you the challenge of "taking" the keys from Mom to my struggles with sadness after her death. Footsteps has helped me connect with kindred souls who were walking the same journey and I am grateful. 

Over the last couple of months my thoughts have moved from the specifics of caring for aging parents to the how-tos of transitioning from one season of life to another. Over the course of my lifetime there have been multiple transition points. I transitioned from high school to college, from single life to married life and back again. One of the biggest transitions in my life was into motherhood and while I will always be a mother, I am no longer responsible for the day-to-day care of my children. I'm sure you could list a dozen more as could I but now I'm contemplating and reflecting on how to transition from one state of being to another in a positive and productive fashion without the fear and hesitation that sometimes surrounds change. 

Due to the positive response to Footsteps, I have been thinking about how to build community. The virtual communities of Footsteps and Facebook have been a positive force in my life but I'm talking about face-to-face, multi-generational and multi-interest groups that have an emotional and physical effect on our lives. How do you meet people of similar interest? How do you care for those in our community who need help in a dignified way? How do I become part of a community that gives as much as it takes? How do we honor our differences and create a loving community based on understanding and respect?

Some people are Specialist I am a Generalist. I am jazzed when engaged in learning about and exploring new and different subjects and ideas. I won't stop blogging about my parents and their end of life journey but you will find I will be expanding the conversation to include how to transition to the next season of life. I want to explore how to embrace the life that you have and how to take advantages of the opportunities that are available to you. I hope you want to come along and see where it takes us.

On a side note, I really do want to hear your thoughts and ideas I also know leaving a comment is a little more cumbersome than in the past. The spammers were clogging the site with every conceivable advertisement for sunglasses, designer stuff and technology gimmick you could imagine. To keep them off, we had to add another layer of identification. Please don't let that keep you from engaging in the conversation!

Until next time...

Hugs,

C

Sep
01

Life Is Pretty Amazing

by Christine

Over the last ten weeks I've written about forgiveness, loss, fatigue and saying goodbye to our parents as they walk their end of life journey. Realistically, the death of ones parents is not really the end of the journey for those left behind. There are funeral arrangements to be made, homes to be cleared out and sold while other legal matters are addressed. Not surprisingly grief set-in and colored my world after all the business of my mother's life was completed. 

I returned home and my life headed in another direction. No more panicked phone calls from family or healthcare providers alerting me to another health crisis. I didn't have to hop a plane to Jacksonville and spend a month living out of a suitcase. Strokes were not longer ravaging my mother's body and causing her to wonder as a child might when she would be allowed to return home from the rehabilitation center. Now I experienced a wave of sadness when I would think "I need to call mom" about something happening in my life and then remember I couldn't. At first I was eager to organize my parent's family photographs and my mother's recipes but couldn't complete the task because it exacerbated the sadness I felt.

Slowly the sadness that had been part of my being for months started to subside. Over time sorrow no longer tainted the memories of my mother and my father. I was able to remember and honor their life through laughter and positive reminiscences. Everyone's journey through grief is different but mine lasted just under three years beginning to end. It happened without warning but one day I consciously thought "I feel joy". I learned how sad I had been once I was no longer sad.

Life is lived in seasons and I have entered a new season of life. I am the matriarch of my family now and I intentionally work to be as good a grandmother to my grandchildren as my mother was to hers. After watching two pillars of my life die, it is abundantly clear to me that the end of life journey will one day be mine to walk and I have no time to waste on the petty and mundane of this world. Life is exhilarating, delicious, delightful, entertaining, opportune, fortuitous and above all short. I embrace the joy in my life and daily, I am reminded that life is pretty amazing. This is the lesson I took away from my parent's end of life journey and I am blessed to have walked it with them.  

Hugs,
C

 

Aug
25

Fatigue That Come From Loss

by Christine

 

Last week I wrote about asking the right questions when making decisions as you walk the end of life journey with your parents. Today, I am looking at the fatigue that come from loss and what it means to those experiencing it. For the last six months of my mother's life I was tired. Bone tired. I asked others for help where it made sense, I tried to eat healthy meals and exercise and I worked to get plenty of sleep but I was still tired. What I now understand is the fatigue I was experiencing was not just physical it was mental too. In retrospect I was probably depressed but that didn't occur to me at the time. Fatigue and the desire to cocoon was a part of my daily life. 

When you are in the process of watching your parents or someone you love exit this life, the fatigue you may be feeling is as much mental as it is physical. Yes, you can take action to lesson the effects of fatigue on your body such as diet and exercise but sometimes that isn't enough. In my case it was a tough six months but I did get through it. My friend if you are walking this journey now, sit quietly and take stock of how you are feeling. If you are weary and fatigued and there is no end in sight then consider reaching out to your health care professional for support. Yes, you can just push through but if there is help to lessen the strain, why not take advantage of the support? But also know the fatigue you are feeling is situational and will dissipate when your situation changes.

If you are living with a spouse or watching a friend walk this journey, I encourage you to be patient but vigilant. Your loved one may complain of being tired all the time or become indifferent to activities they once loved. He or she may only want to be at home or curled up on the sofa watching mindless TV. This is normal but if months of care for a failing parent turns into years of care, then you might want to gently suggest your loved one check in with his or her doctor. I am not a professional in this area but I do know long-term stress and fatigue takes its toll on the body. The reality is 80% of elderly people receiving assistance are in private homes so you and your spouse aren't the only ones navigating this territory. 

We may feel it is our responsibility to care for our parents as they age but it is also a privilege. As you walk this journey, remember you are a family whether by birth or by choice, and you must take care of yourself too, as you are taking care of your parents. 

Hugs,
C

Aug
18

Money: The Albatross In The Room

by Christine

My mother used to say, "We can buy anything thing we want, just not everything we want." Now keep in mind my mother was a depression era child whose wants were modest. My father and mother were savers and lived well within their means so when it was time to retire, they were able to do so "comfortably".  My parents had a life long commitment to paying their way during their tenure on this planet and it was their sincere hope to have some money left over to leave to their children. To some this may seem to be an old-fashioned belief system but that was who they were. 

My mother wanted to spend the rest of her life in the home she shared with my father at the time of his death. It was a request that our family worked diligently to honor even after mom's body and mind started to fail. Ramps were built for easy access at her house, caregivers were brought in and family members spent as much time as they could with Mom so that she could remain at home. The money was there so why not use it?

All good, right? Well not exactly. Money started flying out the door and a nest egg that looked substantial at the time of retirement was now being depleted at a pace that no one could have predicted. We started to question how long we could responsibly maintain the life we created for Mom at home before we would be forced to move her into a nursing home. There were agonizing conversations between family members on how long could we afford to do this. Truthfully, we never had to make a decision because my mom died before we got to a critical point.

We found money to be an albatross because it became the center of the conversation instead of starting from a point of, is this the “right thing” to do. Let me give you an example. My mother, like her mother before her, developed diabetes later in life and had multiple strokes the last six months of her life until a final stroke killed her. Each time Mom had a stroke she was transported to the hospital where they stabilized her and ran a battery of tests to learn the extent of the damage.

After her first stroke, she regained 95 to 98% of her mental and physical function but with each subsequent stroke that percentage decreased. She went to the same hospital, had the same battery of doctors and the response was identical each time, “your mom is aging and this will probably continue to happen”. Again, you might say, all good?

Well, here’s the problem, the doctors felt because Mom had good insurance (i.e. Medicare, a bridge policy and the ability to pay co-pays and out of pocket fees) why not run all these tests and procedures? The doctors wanted to “do something”. Their profession is all about healing and to admit they could do nothing for my mother went against all their training.  And we, of course, wanted Mom to have the best care so why not do it?

Well, here’s why not? Some of the tests were painful, others caused her to become disoriented or sedated to the point she could not communicate. It was only after her fourth trip to the hospital that we asked the doctors if it would change the outcome if my mother didn’t take the battery of tests. Bingo! That was the question we should have been asking, not could Mom afford the tests. Money had nothing to do with it.

I know there are families who are dealing with the opposite challenge when it comes to money. I know individuals who have taken their mom or dad into their home because they feel there’s no money for another alternatives or that they don’t want to confront selling their parent’s home or liquidating other assets to pay for their care. And truthfully only you can answer that but I put to you, are you asking the right questions? Would it be better for mom or dad to be in a group situation like a nursing home but they “just won’t go”? Are you ruining your health, your marriage or your job because you can’t bear the thought of mom or dad being in “one of those places”. Is it really a question of money or is the alternative a more difficult choice?

Years ago someone said to me “money is rarely the real reason we don’t do something”. The mentor sharing her philosophy with me believed we fail to act because we lack the will, the know-how or the self-confidence to take the steps necessary to move forward. My lesson after walking the end of life journey with my mother is to take sometime to ask the right questions. And only after asking the right question, should money be considered.

Hugs,
C

 

 

 

 

Aug
11

Angel With A Broken Wing

by Christine

Over the last seven weeks, I've shared with you the lessons I learned while walking the end of life journey with my parents. Most of the discussions have centered on forgiveness for those closest to you and youself. Today I am blogging about paid caregivers, the people who may spend more time with your parents at the end than even you. Next to money, the most frequently discussed issue surrounding my mother at the end was the paid staff caring for her. 

When we started looking for someone to "help" with mom, our big concern was getting the car keys away from her. Mom lived in the suburbs and the car was a lifeline to her everyday needs. To her credit she had started to self limit her driving by staying close to home but she was also having little mishaps with the car on a regular bases when she went out. One time she got hung up on a ramp in a local parking lot and the police had to be called to help get her car free. We learned of these minor accidents in dribs and drabs well after they occurred. There wasn't enough family that lived close enough to drive her around and the idea of taking a taxi seemed extravagant to her so we decided to hire someone to do the driving for her. 

The job description was simple. Drive mom to the grocery store and any other place she wanted to go a couple times a week. We were fortunate to find someone who was a nurse, a nutritionist and very friendly. From the beginning, my mom welcomed her and would even tell her friends that her children had "hired her a friend". Twice a week they would run mom's errand, have a ladies lunch out and then return home with leftovers for later. My mother didn't miss driving and truly enjoyed her weekly outings. 

As the months progressed my mom's health and mind started to fail, she needed more help. We naturally increased the hours of Mom's Friend, which was a painless and seamless transition for mom and us but was life changing for her. As I relay this story to you, I can't tell you at what point the shift occurred but the paid caregiver began to make decisions and take actions that should have been made by the family.

The decisions made and the actions taken were not done out of malice because she genuinely cared for my mom and as such took full ownership of her care. The result was mom's end of life journey was taking a toll on her too. Instead of relieving our stress by being a rested outside resource, she became another exhausted, emotional person we had to negotiate with during a difficult time. Towards the end, we were hiring staff to relieve our heavy hearted and weary paid caregiver. 

My message to you is threefold. First, a paid caregiver is called into solve a problem not replace family. We were so pleased that mom stopped driving without a struggle that we lost sight of the fact that Mom's Friend was not a friend but an employee. Keeping that distinction in place would have avoided a lot of discomfort for everyone later on in the journey. Next, if you are fortunate enough to find someone as conscientious as we did, remember that they are human beings. They need regular time off, sleep and meals. You need to make sure they are getting what they need even if they tell you "Oh, I'm fine" and resist taking time off. And third, remember, these are your parents. You know their values and their wishes. A paid caregiver's values and motivation may not be the same as the ones that ground your family. Keeping clear boundaries will help avoid confusion for all involved when end of life decisions are being made. 

Mom's Friend was an angel. She genuinely cared for my mother and wanted to make the end of her life as joyful and as productive as possible. I am grateful for her care and attention to my mother. The challenge to all families is how to balance and effectively manage paid care with the real need to have a kind human being caring for your aging parents. 

Hugs,
C

 

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