Monthly Archives: January 2013

Growing Old Ain’t For Sissies


There is not enough time in the day…or week for that matter. I am having trouble managing my time. I am behind in my schoolwork already. I work for a company who provides companions for seniors in their homes. It is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had but not one that provides good pay ( it is outrageously expensive, so go figure) or benefits. It is the perfect job while you are in school however. You can pick and choose your days and hours. The only challenge is I’ve been having a problem saying no. There is so much demand for this kind of service. More clients than caregivers.

Plus, evidently the word is out that I am good at this and there  have been personal requests for my time. Flattering, but even more challenging. I acknowledged this as I realized I worked close to 80 hours in a week. Some of the shifts are overnight which quickly add up. I only accept hours that I can sleep part of the time. I am not a night person.

I have met some remarkable people who have charmed my socks off as well as extremely difficult ones that would test the patience of any saint. Saintly I am not. I am an observant person and am astounded at the lessons I am learning. What it is to be old in our country and how I want to be treated. I get a birds eye view of family dynamics between parents and their grown children. In many cases, even though there is great caring and concern for the aging parent, there is also great impatience and intolerance. I have seen, overwhelmingly so, how the adult children become the nagging parent. The seniors don’t want to lose their independence while the offspring want to ensure that nothing can happen to the beloved parent they must begin to say goodbye to, so they begin to challenge and change their environment. The parent fights it. Sound familiar? Throw in unresolved emotional issues and it’s adolescence all over again.

We all know it is easier to be kinder to strangers than our own family. Familiarity does breed contempt. Civility is sometimes the cost of facing the immortality of our parents. I think it is a kind of distancing that starts to happen in preparation for that final goodbye.

When you are 90, you don’t see or hear well, unless you are incredibly lucky. Even my clients with hearing aids find it difficult, but it still drives their kids up the wall, like the parent is personally trying to annoy them. Communication breaks down even further. I know of one person who is convinced their parent is developing dementia but the reality is they can’t hear well even with an expensive hearing device and they are extremely frustrated that they are misunderstood. It contributes to being helpless and feeling out of control. Little things become very important. How you fold a towel, where you put something. They resist any kind of change because day by day they are losing the very life they have created over decades. We must develop a more respectfully inclusive culture for the elderly in this country, starting with our youth. Aging is denied, surgically removed or enhanced, and refuted and rejected in our culture. No wonder the young revile aging.

I have seen seniors’ worlds shrink from a busy, useful life to a recliner in the corner of a room, and a t.v. remote on a night stand. How does one make that transition? Many of my clients tell me their grown children make them feel useless and childlike. It is easier to take care of a child in some ways than to negotiate with an adult when you have the demands of your own job, family and life on top of it. It is true that some elderly want to be dependent and some can’t help it because of illness and decline. The thing we forget though is that we will one day be in that same position. I find myself asking how do I want to be treated?  So far I haven’t been able to translate that to positive behavior when being behind a senior driver. I’m working on that.

The more we honor that person for what they brought into the world, the more we can honor them in how they leave it. All of my clients love to talk about the past because it is what they are most valued for. They felt important. I realize through observing all of this that I have to be responsible for my self care as a caregiver. Caregivers are the first to get sick when they don’t practice this very important rule.

I have a favorite client that is from Argentina and has lived in this country since her twenties. She is ninety and is a breath of fresh air. Her health is failing but not her spirit and I look forward to every minute I am around her. I also see that her independent spirit is a pain sometimes to her two children. One is accepting and validating of their mom’s feistiness, and the other is not. That is because one is a bit too much of a caretaker (and like their mom in temperament), thus takes on too much, and the other lives farther away and is more distanced from the daily stresses. How they each deal with their mom can cause friction between the siblings. Codependency, old rivalries and resentments flourish in these situations. There are always exceptions to every rule; situations that are challenged by financial concerns for both parties. It is not easy.

The aging population is growing exponentially in our country but yet, we have very little training or education on what that looks like. All of a sudden, as a result of a stroke or a fall, things can change in an instant. Your relationship with that parent changes forever. I have begun to talk to my kids about this. The more I communicate to them now, the more they will be prepared for it. No parent wants to burden their children with this but it is a reality none the less. Yet more reason, to be personally responsible for our health. Physically and otherwise. Self care.

I have begun a book Retirement Heist, How Companies Plunder and Profit From the Nest Eggs of American Workers by Ellen E. Schultz, an award winning journalist for the Wall Street Journal. This book will forever change the way you see employers as the overburdened carriers of healthcare and pensions. It will make you sick at the amount of propaganda we are spoon fed for the profits of companies at the executive level. Executive profits and greed are growing more massive by the minute and we are paying for it. It’s not a good time for me to be reading this, but I can’t put it down. Knowledge is power. I’ve also got The Elegance of the Hedgehog in the wings, by Muriel Barbery.

Who Am I?


I found out this week that I am officially getting a grant for a retraining program. It’s a good thing, because I started the certificate program last Monday. During class, I couldn’t help but feel insecure. It’s been over twenty years since I worked in the pharmaceutical field and the landscape is not familiar anymore. To make matters worse the only other female in the class is a chemical engineer, and she SOUNDS like one. Our homework this week is to post a paragraph on our technical background. I refuse to date mine. There comes a time when we all bluff our way through. Resumes come to mind. But who am I really going to be? I don’t want to bluff anymore.

My friend reminded me that this woman is also unemployed (not working in her chosen profession) too, and was laid off.  There is nothing like unemployment to level the playing field. It is happening all over our country and there is a huge shift happening concerning education. I had to make a decision whether to finish my degree. When I found out my credits wouldn’t transfer (yeah…like English composition and math change all the time) and I’d have to start over, I quickly decided not to. The loans would cripple me. It’s times like these though, that I wonder. Is it about ego?  I am very smart, worked in the science field without the benefit of a science degree and read voraciously. Why then do I feel like an illiterate hick when I get around people who have degrees? That is one powerful piece of paper! I find I work twice as hard to prove myself, which gets old really fast. Let’s face it, part of getting a college education is all the crap you have to go through to obtain one. Bureaucracy and navigating the FAFSA, not to mention the financial-aid office should get us an honorary one. Plus, I already have paid off numerous student loans!

This is what is called living life on life’s terms and it’s not one of my favorites. I know I am smart enough to hold my own in this course but I don’t like feeling like I’m not, so I’ve decided to change those. Feelings aren’t reality. Hmmm, where to start? I’ve got some new homework.

Ironically, a new client that requested my time, has been a huge champion. She sees things I don’t. It’s made me look at myself differently. I always thought I had high self-esteem but as soon as I lost my security blankets (relationships, food) I deflated like an old balloon. It was surprising and hard to navigate, but I am getting there. My friends are wonderfully supportive and loving but sometimes I wonder what they see? They don’t have any trouble telling me, but I have to be able to see who that person is. That is where my education has to start. It is deep spiritual work. I have lost almost fifty pounds and with each dress size I change, I discover this person I didn’t know was there. She’s a stranger of sorts, someone I am getting to know.

It has been an insanely busy week and it didn’t help that I made a mistake in my checking account and the soda I bought will cost me about $100. The waves of shame and abuse that rose up brought me to my knees. Old messages that aren’t true. I made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes, but some of us were taught to punish with them. Messages that were given to me, that I am giving back. I guess one is never too old to lighten up? I sent FH a birthday card this week that says “Wisdom comes with age…wouldn’t you rather be stupid”? Not on your life!

It’s A Matter Of Perception


I lost a dear friend today from Parkinson’s. He has suffered for a long time from this awful disease and his body was completely worn out. His spirit lives on however through his loving kindness and his outstanding integrity. I have mixed feelings, because on one hand I am glad that his suffering is over, but I am saddened that the love of his life (his wife) will now be without him. She has cared for him by herself until Hospice came in for the end.


I now have a job that requires me to work with a few Parkinson’s patients and the irony is not missed by me. One patient is a holy terror. The first time I went to visit this client I was told all sorts of horror stories by caregivers, and I was quite nervous. This patient is very smart and frustrated beyond belief that they can no longer be understood. This client likes things in a certain routine and order and every time a new caregiver is introduced this patient must try and communicate to train them in the thousand and one things it takes to bring some order into their room.

I decided that since I couldn’t be there to care for my friend in California, I would care for this  client in the same way. Patience, kindness and a sense of humor. That is how my dear friend Mike would have done it, he is my reminder and inspiration when things get dicey. It’s how I can honor him.

I left that first meeting with the difficult client, feeling a connection to this brilliant mind, trapped in a body that will no longer cooperate. I helped the patient make a phone call to grandchildren and was dumbfounded at the “I love you’s” that poured from their voice, and was further mesmerized when they made a grunting grrrrrr sound to mimic a bear hug over the telephone. Some of the caregivers would never believe me, but it was my gift.

My friend that died today, never complained according to his wife.  Everyone that knew him marveled at that. If anyone is entitled to be cranky it would be him; but then again look at Michael J. Fox? He is the poster child for how you want to respond to a life threatening illness. His perceptions are powerful, positive and courageous. I’m afraid I would be kicking and screaming and most likely complaining.

I have been given a treasure. I am invited in to the lives of seniors struggling to keep their dignity in the face of too many physical challenges. One of my favorite clients is a firecracker from Argentina. She taught in the school districts in southern California for thirty years and was an advocate for special needs children that were struggling with disabilities and the added challenge of a language barrier. She is a spiritual powerhouse and we’ve been having wonderful conversations about life. She told me that money is a matter of perception. I thought that was so simple, yet profound.

Covering the considerable costs of health care for the aged is no small matter. All of my clients are able to afford high end care, but they have all worked very hard and know the value of a dollar. Perception is the key to so many things in life. How we choose to look at challenges, financial burdens, loss, will ultimately decide the very quality of our lives, no matter the situation. It’s not easy and I don’t  mean to imply that it is. Think what could happen though if we change our perception? It’s a choice.

My New Anniversary of JOY


I decided I need to focus on a clean slate every day. Expecting a whole new year hasn’t worked out that great thus far. I’ve had way too many life lessons lately. Spiritual growth sucks sometimes, but the benefits outweigh the trauma… or so I’m told. I’m taking their word for it. I was catching up on my blog reading at Enchanted Seashells, minding my own business, when I read the one about the courtship between the Captain and Rosebud. I felt the tears welling up.

Today is my wedding anniversary to my Former Husband (FH), which technically is the anniversary of the end of our marriage when you think about it. I don’t want to feel sad. I forget more and more every day that I was married. It’s like women have to count everything! Or is it, keep track? Pounds, birthdays, weddings, death. I hear widowers say, all the time, how long a loved one has been gone, or what birthday it would have been. Do men keep track like that?

Expectations take a lot of energy. The more I expect of myself the more I expect of others. Hmmm? That brings me to ambition. I am finding the realities of my energy control my ambitions. I don’t have the time to read every blog or respond the way I would like to. When I was unemployed that was easier, and enjoyable. Now I play catch up.

Clanmother blog

I didn’t have the time to respond to a blogging award recently that Clanmother nominated me for. I don’t feel ambitious enough to expand my reader base. I need to be in the moment and let myself off the hook, so I can let others off the hook? Funny how that works. Expectations will always beckon.

I am going to encourage a theme for myself this year. JOY. That will be my pursuit. Giving it and receiving it. Receiving, opening myself up is the challenge. If I break it down to a daily goal instead of a yearly one, it’s doable. Little expectations, little footprints instead of big ones.

I don’t have a problem being alone but I like having a purpose. My new job has given me that, and I love it more every day. It’s not a long term solution to health insurance, but it is more than enough for the journey, today. I’ve decided to re-frame January 2 into my anniversary of JOY. It’s time to let FH and me off the hook.

I read an amazing book by Juliette Fay, called The Shortest Way Home. Her stories remind me of Karen White’s writing, which I really enjoy. The main character of this book is a man named Sean who has grown weary of nursing in third world countries and is called home to Belham, Mass. to deal with his family in crisis.

He discovers that he has been avoiding his own issues by taking care of others. Care taking at it’s best (there is a reason that it’s the basis for co-dependency) and it’s developed beautifully in this story. I loved all the complexities woven through out this novel while teaching about Huntington’s disease, sensory disorder in his young nephew, and the specter of a genetically inherited disease hanging over your head. I seldom read books written by women about male heroes but Fay does an excellent job. I had to go check out her first book, Shelter Me, which also takes place in the same town. I read some time ago Deep Down True, liked it as well, but it didn’t have the impact this book did.

I’m in process of packing up after a three week stint house/dog sitting and begin the tedious process of schlepping stuff back home. I will miss Zippy’s sweet, black-button eyes and his devoted patter every where I go. I won’t miss his obsession with paper products, however. Another way to spell his name?