Tag Archives: aging

Growing Old Ain’t For Sissies

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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.

It’s A Matter Of Perception

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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.

Seniors

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.

A Christmas Carol (1951)

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This movie was originally titled Scrooge in Great Britain, they changed the title to A Christmas Carol when it premiered in Los Angeles. It had disappointing box office returns in the U.S.  but was a huge hit in England in 1952. Alistair Sim plays Mr. Scrooge in this very popular version and most would agree he is the best, but not to me.

This IS a wonderful version. I love the charwoman, Mrs. Dilber. When Ebeneezer wakes up from his night of frolicking: he is giddy and dances madly around the room, and looks completely insane to poor Mrs. Dilber. He grabs her to spin around, and she sees her life pass before her eyes, shrieking at the top of her lungs. It’s one of my favorite scenes because seldom does any servant get noticed or rewarded in any of these films. Just imagine what that poor woman must have put up with!

My two favorite “Scrooges” are coming up in the days ahead. I’ve often wondered what it would be like if I could combine all my favorite moments in all the “Carol” films into one movie. Bet it would be a block buster! Each film has characters brought to life or highlighted that were not in Charles Dickens book. That is why I re-read it every Christmas to remind myself what really happened. Soon I will know the dialogue by heart.

We left Zippy at home while we ran around today. I returned home for something I forgot, and as I’m inserting the key, Zippy trots up to the glass door, looking happy as a clam with a pot holder hanging out of his mouth, like a bone. I laughed until my stomach hurt…he looked deliriously happy. I try not to think about how he got it.

Zippy is having aging issues that involve his hind legs and my daughter was lamenting his slower gait. After we arrived home, I tossed a toy to Zippy and he blitzed back and forth in excitement. My daughter couldn’t believe it was the same dog. I know I couldn’t do that. Well, I’ve never been able to do that, come to think of it. Happiness and joy gave him the ability. It’s something to think about isn’t it?

Displace Or Replace?

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I heard someone refer to a woman as a displaced homemaker and it got me thinking. Is that me? I looked it up and this is the definition: In general,  a man or woman who (1) is at least 30-35 years old, (2) is unemployed  and has not worked  as an employee  for a substantial  number of years but has worked in his or her home providing  unpaid services  for familymembers,  (3) has been dependent  on the income  of another family member but is no longer being supported by that income, (4)  has been receiving  public welfare  assistance for having dependent children, (5) is underemployed  and finding it difficult to upgradeemployment.
All except number four applies to my situation but the reality is that I have worked as a part time employee at many establishments during that period of “unemployment” helping to put food on the table etc. Unfortunetly for me it doesn’t look great on a resume. Human Resources are set up in very intricate ways with point systems and methods that weed out “undesirables” quickly. With my work history I fall under that category. So what do I do? Well…my first course of action is to return to the familiar and Fort Collins where networking will be not as daunting, hopefully. Next, I registered at Workforce and will make an apppointment for an assessment. I also need to explore housing options, transportation issues (close enough to ride a bike or walk) and reconnect with my old network of friends. This is not my favorite part. I don’t want to appear like a victim but yet I need to use all the resources I have to find employment. Asking for help is not my strong suit but pride is a luxury I can’t afford. I think I’d rather start with a government agency, easier because I can be anonymous.
 I cling to the notion that my energy went to providing for the needs of my family. There were a lot of emotional needs to meet and I made them a priority, unlike the way I was raised. It was important for me to see that through, my kids didn’t beg me to bring them into the world, it was my choice. I didn’t have a lot of energy left for building a career although I did take a college course each semester while “at home” for a decade or so. Still… not enough in today’s market. I am a  bright,  articulate woman with a lot to offer. That’s not enough either. When I feel like this I have to put one foot in front of the other until these emotions pass, praying is essential. I am more than a job or a statistic or label. Time to get creative? What will that look like? Feelings of not measuring up are a reality in this journey but fear has been thankfully removed. One of my favorite friends used to say “What are they going to do? Take away my birthday?!! It might help my resume.
I am now reading “The Exotic Marigold Hotel” by Deborah Maggach. It has been contributing to my malaise I’m afraid. Things like retirement, healthcare and the economy are as bleak in Great Britain as they are here and have stirred my pot. In this story the discarded, aging members of society are just arriving to the seductive pull of a better life in India. In their desperation they have been misled. Supposedly that is where the humour comes in but I haven’t seen much so far. I’m waiting. Hoping. Praying for some.
We meet for the second and last book club tonight to discuss “The Birth Order Book”. We decided it only seemed right to end it at Shari’s Restaurant for free pie night. T and I have given up eating desserts but my niece can get away with it, and there is still the wine. I’d rather eat dessert. Hooya!
I’ll close with some of my favorite reminders of how good life IS… My kids, my niece, trees, tea pots, books, libraries, book clubs, pets, fabric, linens, the ocean, the beach, good food, old friends, making friends, email, facebook, blogging…you get the picture.