Making the Moments Count
A Tribute to My Hero
A Salute to Caregivers
Making the Moments Count
I've been thinking about a book I read called, "Making the Moments Count". Written by a recreational therapist, it speaks of experiences and pleasures which can be offered to those who may not remember them later. We know we don't fall into that category.... or do we? Probably none of us can remember all of the transient pleasures we have experienced during our lives.
We rarely do something that gives us pleasure just to create a memory of it, or because it will make a good story at the next party we attend. We participate in activities we enjoy because ... well, because we enjoy them at the time. How many of the gifts we received for Christmas or on birthdays can we list? Would we say, "Let's just skip Thanksgiving this year? We're not going to remember the details anyway"? Of course not! Yet I hear people wondering aloud whether it matters if mom has a visitor or goes out to an event. I hear them say, "She will forget the visit immediately," or "Take her to lunch? She will have forgotten by suppertime."
It appears to me that we who consider ourselves normal and alert have only the moment to enjoy anything seeing the face of a friend, receiving a compliment, having a back rub, getting a hug, attending a party. Sometimes we remember the details, sometimes not.
Is it really different for a person who has outlived his or her ability to file the pleasurable experiences under "P" in the brain's storage place and retrieve them for later review? It surely can't be different at the time the good feeling occurs, and strangely enough, many of our clients do manage to remember the face of the person associated with those brief good times. The staff of Daughters & Company is dedicated to making the moments count for our clients whose eyes can still light up, whose hand can respond to a little squeeze of recognition and friendship, and whose hearts can be gladdened (even for a moment) by expressions of care and attention.
A Tribute to My Hero
Expressing the love and respect I have for my mother, Erma M. Reed, in a few paragraphs is a challenging project. Her gifts to me throughout my life were the most precious ones I have ever received. She managed to create an atmosphere of richness during times when the household income was uncertain. Her companionship was more interesting and continuous than anyone else could offer. She freely shared her joy for my forays into the world and her forgiveness and support when I failed. She believed in the core of goodness in everyone.
Education was always cherished at our house, and her attendance at a Red Cross first aid class was my attendance at a first aid class. When I was a youngster, she went few places without me. Maybe it was a function of a time when babysitters were rare, but it felt to me like recognition that I would be a welcome addition to any occasion. She could make you feel like that.
She was never musical but encouraged others in musical endeavors. She wasn't an athlete but organized games. She was a teacher always willing to be taught, a creator of living art. Her supply of materials with which to create was amazing, and so were the ideas to go with them. The blanket over the clothesline became a tent. African violet blooms could be boiled to make dye for a piece of cloth. Clothespins became little people. Her kitchen cabinets yielded an endless array of interesting gadgets, containers and ingredients for apple dumplings, flour and water paste, cornstarch modeling clay and crayons for melting into stained glass creations. No mess was too awful to deter her from the delight of creation. No dough could serve any purpose special enough to save it from being nibbled before baking. Tastes, smells, the way things feel, the way thingslook and sound, all components to be explored and discussed. Close your eyes and smell this, she'd say, and tell me what it is. Feel this cocklebur. Turn your back and listen to this drop onto the floor - what is it?
Erma tried many things during her life. Her stellar trap-shooting career ended when she and my father noted that only men got prizes which could be eaten. Prizes for women were silver trays and other beautiful but useless trinkets. Fishing was much more productive, and she could sit with her sunhat and long-sleeved man's shirt for hours waiting for a catfish to bite. Her tackle box was the source of almost anything one would need. Chapstick, mints, scissors, bandaids, tissues, a sparkplug to loosen a snagged line, paper and pencil to play box dots or hangman games with a bored child. Her musical skill would be stretched by the need to sing a very quiet rendition of "Old McDonald Had a Farm". We could never decide what a catfish would say if it lived on a farm.
Grandchildren were any youngsters associated with my home. Her love and support extended to friends of grandchildren, visitors from college and ne'er-dowell acquaintances. She kept supplies of gloves, hair barrettes, chewing gum, buttons, pins, bobby pins. There were small toys for the tiny ones and a handy needle and thread (plus a generous supply of compliments and hugs) to mend the rips and tears of adulthood.
She was a wife in partnership with her husband. She had been the "assistant mother" to 5 brothers and sisters, and she knew how to work. My forced responsibilities at home were few, but she delivered the very clear message that one should support family projects with some sweat and "elbow grease". We cleaned up and painted rental properties, skinned rabbits, poured awful-smelling liquids down stopped drains, lighted hot water heaters in basements where cobwebs threatened, burned trash and fed live turkeys (from the trap shoots). Yet she was surprised that, on a childhood visit to the farm, I helped my aunt to kill, defeather and dismember several chickens for the freezer? Where my mother came from, you pitched in.
Her sorrows were many but she seldom showed a need for sympathy. I saw her well of inner security shaken by the Parkinson's disease which took her own mother into the journey of horror. But even my grandmother's stiffened body and shriveling limbs, inability to swallow and loss of memory never stopped my mother from collaborating with her sister, Thelma, to bring treats to Grandma and to engage her in any activity which could interest her and make her feel loved. The two sisters would make a chair of their forearms to lift her into the car for outings, and Grandma appeared in every picture of a family celebration. My other grandmother also received the same care and attention during her daunting trip through insanity which would now be understood to be arteriosclerosis. My mother modeled the daughter's love which I aspired to offer her when it was my turn. I can only be grateful that she lived long enough for me to find ways to demonstrate what she had taught me.
All these words and I haven't even started to tell of her sweetness or her strong Christian faith, her enthusiasm for life, her patience and wisdom, her ability with crossword puzzles, her tolerance for unpleasant people, her care for the old men who congregated around the potbellied stove in the shoe shop. Maybe another time but for now, suffice to say that I miss her terribly. Her memory lives on in the philosophy and mission of Daughters & Company.
It's all about preservation. My definition of preservation is "opposition to loss or decline". Our attitudes toward preservation are related to our steadfast dedication to denial of loss or decline. From their grade school days, the elders always thought that competence is rewarded, and the value of an individual is related to the ability to juggle obligations, ideas, jobs and social events. An individual should be able to work at a satisfying, lucrative profession and do charity work, plus manage the care and feeding of a house, car, boat, And then it begins...... loss comes creeping over the edges of their lives. Bodies just won't perform quite as well anymore. The hours in the day won't stretch over the work and play they used to hold. Housework is too much, yard work too hard. Awards are given for long years of service to an employer or community organization. What will life will be like without those responsibilities? The years fly by, ever moving toward something out there waiting. Married couples begin to talk about "which one of us will go first" and what they'll do when they retire. Loss - creeping along, casting its shadow.
When the children first perceive the, withdrawal of parents as the dominant force in their lives, it appears to be a good thing. Making decisions, receiving promotions and managing households are theirs to enjoy...... finally! They will decide the vacation location, the time to move to another city. The ridge over which mom and dad are traveling is hardly visible on the horizon. The road where there is no traffic upward, only movement down a slope toward the valley of old age. But the elders are still enjoying the trip ... or are they?
Preservation - who will attend to it? What if the children are too far away to notice how steep the downhill slope has become? What if they just refuse to notice? Downhill slopes are for skiing, they muse, not for holding the arm of a gray-haired parent, dragging along someone else's memories. Mom and dad may have to go down the road alone. "It's OK, we can handle it," they say to each other, whistling in the dark. They find bargains at multiple grocery stores, take pictures of sites which will be of interest to no one else, send gifts to grandchildren they hardly know, planning for the cruise, trying new remedies for aches and pains, discussing recent surgery with anyone who'll listen, a nice little craft project, a full life, they say, but physical and mental resources are dwindling.
Conversation with the children degenerates to "My, you look well." or "That's really funny (almost as funny as the last 3 times we heard it)". The elders are glad to spend a little time with smooth-skinned their own strength and vitality, their grasp of modern technology. They don't believe that the losses the parents are facing will be theirs to bear, too. They don't want to think about it, feel the pain. Their work is construction, not preservation.
So what's the point? The work of preservation is a noble mission. Elders need support for survival, help in holding tight to the memories. They need assurance that they won't be left alone, they need to see a face with eyes only for them, gathering up the shreds of that unique personality, devising a way to utilize the failing eyesight, urging the right level of exercise to avoid loss of mobility. Caregivers must develop a flair for preservation, finding ways to sustain hope, light up dimming eyes and warm still-beating hearts. We call it "doing what daughters do" but many daughters and sons are illequipped, too far away or too impatient to study the art of preservation.
It's easy to find someone to address medical problems. There are experts and specialists everywhere. Social work is usually directed toward other losses but so often it is formed to the mold of the medical reimbursements allowed by insurance and publicly funded programs. Lives are defined narrowly by reference to feeding, toileting, walking and dressing. Nothing about preservation of relationships, laughing, celebrating holidays, attending spiritual or entertainment events, keeping track of health care appointments, arranging repairs to the roof or washer. My contention is that preservation of the human spirit is as health-giving and life-sustaining as medical treatment. Both are part of the work of preservation, pushing back loss, slowing decline, enriching the quality of life of our elders.
A Salute to Caregivers
When my husband and I realized that more and more responsibility for our parents must be undertaken by someone, there wasn't much dispute about who would be the candidate in my family.
Fortunately, I never got far from my birthplace and I have acquired a spouse who will hang in there with me. But in many families, the parents live back home in Podunk where they have always been, while sons and daughters have followed a mobile career or other interests far along the highway to St. Somewhere. Visits include catching up on the grandchildren and reminiscing about the changes around the old hometown.
Then one of the trips is different. The need for caregiving enters the picture in the form of spoiled food found in the refrigerator, the obvious memory demonstrated in a parent's conversation, or the call about a broken hip.
Caregiving! There it is, right in the middle of things. Care needed by those self-sufficient, self-reliant folks? Care for those who never really needed anything from us but news, birthday gifts and admiration for the flowers or the new car?
We are often as unprepared for this new role as we were for parenthood. Our parents stood ready to gently advise, firmly support and unerringly guide us in that role. They were the source of information for relieving anxiety about thumbsucking and water heaters that didn't heat. But now the teachers of our youth are the ones who need us. Of course, we will seek excellent medical care for them, but personal and emotional care is another story. A story written in the hearts, wallets and travel itineraries of sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandsons and granddaughters.
So in this issue of Daughters Digest, we salute those caregivers who struggle with the physical and emotional burdens of providing support and assistance to parents, relatives or even friends. Our own plans go on hold for an indefinite period. Burnout can occur when caregiving becomes more stressful than satisfying. It is essential to find the resources which allow us to see our task through.
Although Daughters & Company is dedicated to the goal of team caregiving, volunteer caregivers often need support beyond what the marketplace can offer. So here's to caregivers: Appreciate yourselves, educate yourselves, assert yourselves and don't forget to breathe in, breathe out.
As we visit with clients and their families, we notice the courage with which they struggle to meet the demands of their changing lives. Those who lived through the Depression learned that they must rely on themselves. They saved everything, and they made do with what they had. They are still doing it, and that takes courage.
In the 50's and 60's, many courageous families made what was considered a radical change, and women moved into the workplace in great numbers. It took courage and "thinking outside the box" to address particular household duties and childcare. They shifted to a volunteer team approach, calling grandparents and friends into service as household helpers and sitters.
Volunteers were often inadequate to bear the load of responsibility. In the 70's and 80's, courageous families began to search for resources in the marketplace, and new services sprang up in response to the demand. I can still recall in vivid detail, after 35 years, the anxiety which accompanied the decision to delegate my ironing chores to someone else. We learned that courage to face our guilt could result in a lighter burden, without shirking our responsibilities.
In the 90's, adult children are now challenged by a new set of obligations. We are the first generation in which large numbers of our parents have lived to see their great grand children. While these long lives are a joy, this generation is summoning the courage to address huge demands never before encountered. The independence which carried our elders throughout the Depression may work against them now, as they are not enthused about having someone assume duties , they have been able to handle alone for so long Some friends may turn out to be frightening alternatives. As a business associate put it, "Volunteers can be the most expensive help around."
Grief and guilt are often present in both generations as the skills of the elders’ diminish, and the burdens of household upkeep and even personal hygiene become overwhelming. Courageous families who are willing to try a new approach find that a Daughters & Company service program provides support and encouragement to allow the parent to age in place. Elders gain a trusted friend and the assurance that someone will be available when needed. The family gains a less expensive alternative to higher levels of care and "another Daughter" who is readily available during the day while everyone else is otherwise occupied. Our clients tell us they and their families have a win-win situation.