Laura’s Story, Part 8

Written by Christine Scott

Christine

Christine Scott

This post is much easier to write because I can finally include my happily ever after. Weeks ago I was thinking about the story of Cinderella and how, out of all the fairy tales, it’s been told and retold the most. I believe this is because Cinderella’s plight resonates with so many people.

Looking back on my childhood and growing up years, I lived a story similar to Cinderella. My dad passed away while I was very young, leaving my care to a mother who prioritized another sibling’s well-being over mine. I don’t fault her for choosing to put Laura’s needs before mine because my mom’s dedication was necessary for Laura to receive the care she needed. If a mother doesn’t fight for her disabled child, who will?

What distinguishes my story from Cinderella’s is that my mom wasn’t the villain and neither was Laura. In true life, people aren’t easily identifiable as the black and white stereotypes of villains and heroes. They come in every shade between and more often than not, their choices for good or ill, are a result of trying to make the best out of the less-than-stellar circumstances they’ve been given.

For the most part, that’s where the similarities end between mine and Cinderella’s story. I didn’t sing to the animals, have mice as friends, or receive a visit from my fairy god mother. I won’t lie, a visit from a fairy god mother would be very nice. But I did find my prince, and in very unconventional way—Laura helped with that

To catch you up to speed on the timeline of our lives, my grandma recovered from her stroke and was able to independently live in her own home for many years following my grandpa’s death. She never did obtain a driver’s license and with becoming a widow, she became very proficient at public transportation.

When I was thirteen, my mom made a down payment with the royalties she received from my dad’s hang glider plans on a new house. This home was built in West Valley, so we moved about fifteen minutes away from my grandma, but Mom kept in daily contact with her. She continued to be an integral part of our family, taking family vacations with us and helping with my brother. She also shared her love of flowers and history with me whenever given the chance, which fueled my passion for writing and yearnings for her green thumb.

Life went on and I started dating, got my first job at Harmon’s grocery store, graduated from high school, and attended Salt Lake Community College. The doctors eventually controlled Laura’s seizures with many modifications to her medications. She continued to have a lot of behaviors such as picking her face, tantrums, and repetition of certain phrases. She carried around toys and talked to them and she loved Richard Simons workout videos and watching Wizard of Oz.

Dating and having Laura for a sister made for some interesting times because she loved to answer the phone and then repeat her nonsense phrases to whoever was on the other end—usually stuff she’d memorized from shows she’d watched. I learned that letting her answer the phone when guys called who I didn’t want to see again was a great way to get rid of them.

I believe having a mentally disabled sister served as an effective screening process for the guys who came into my life. It took someone understanding and tolerant of disabilities. It required acceptance of differences to be in a relationship with me for an extended amount of time.

Eventually, I met my husband, Nate and he hung around through Laura answering the phone and her tantrums. He even stuck up for me. Laura usually was well behaved in his presence because he expected her to be kind to me.

Laura holding Jessica

Laura holding Jessica

After we were married, Laura treated me different. She never physically picked on me again. Maybe it was because I didn’t live with her and our roles had changed, but I don’t know for sure. When my first daughter, Jessica was born, Laura was fascinated with her, except when she cried. I would have to take Jessica out of the room so it wouldn’t upset her.

Marriage brought a freedom and peace which had been lacking in my life. I was able to progress and explore my talents. From the first time we met, Nate believed in me and my abilities. I will forever be grateful to him for not judging my family situation and loving me through all the strangeness. He was my prince who rescued me and keeps rescuing me every day.

Mom, Laura & Jessica

Mom holding Jessica with Laura

Together, Nate and I have faced many challenges and grown together while caring for our five children. I have absolutely loved being his companion through this craziness I call our life.  He has put up with my marathon running, dreams of becoming a successful author and finishing my occupational therapy assistant degree. I appreciate him for standing by my side through my anxieties and plethora of self-doubts while I’ve struggled to believe in myself and my abilities. And for this, I will love him forever and back again.

 Thanks Christine for being a guest author and sharing your life story of living with Laura. This segment reminds me of the importance of advocacy. While your mother was involved in being an advocate for Laura, you missed having one in your childhood. I’m glad Nate came into your life and was your champion and promoter. As independent as we all want to be, I believe we all need someone to encourage and back us up. You have shown us the difference an advocate can make in our lives. I’m so glad you found your prince.

In February, Christine Scott started sharing childhood segments of her life with her mentally disabled sister, Laura. It’s been inspiring to get a child’s perspective on her family’s caregiving journey and the trials they had to withstand. The first segment of Laura’s Story, recounts her birth and slow development. In Part 2, Christine recalls the impact of Laura’s seizures and in Part 3, details of Laura’s fight with cancer. Part 4, reveals how Christine, at age ten, learned about the accident which lead to her father’s death and Part 5, recognizes the community of angels who helped her family get through their darkest days. Part 6, illustrates the importance of building fun memories with our loved ones, which can ease the grief of losing them. Part 7, Christine remembers her mother’s extreme demands as a young widow caring for three children on her own with the oldest having mental and physical disabilities and the youngest an infant. Unfortunately, Christine, the middle child who didn’t require attention was sorely neglected and often responsible for taking care of her baby brother.

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Laura’s Story, Part 7

Written by Christine Scott

Christine

Christine

Everyone is familiar with the pop song, Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson.  I’ve heard the quote, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” repeated a lot over the past few years. I don’t know if the popularity of the quote came from the song, but I’ve decided to make it my mantra as I approach the very difficult topic of sharing my adolescent and teen years with you. Since the fact I’m here writing this, I’m living, breathing proof that those years didn’t kill me—so I must be stronger.

In many ways I was a normal adolescent girl. My hang-ups were typical. I fought with my mom. I felt awkward. I wanted to make friends and find a boyfriend. I liked all the popular music and wanted to dress in the current brands. I wished I was prettier, funnier, and more popular. I didn’t know my talents. In a lot of ways I was lost—similar to many other kids my age.

Laura teenager

Laura

However, I had a mentally disabled sister I didn’t want others to know about. I’d moved past the point where she was my sister and I’d stick up for her—my reputation was on the line. I was afraid if someone found out about her they’d think something was wrong with me too.

I remember my sister chasing me down the aisle at Harmon’s grocery store and pulling my hair. I remember the humiliation. I remember feeling that maybe it was my fault for not standing up for myself. My brother was bigger than her and she didn’t pick on him like she did me. Should I have been more of a fighter? I’ve always felt like I should be more of a fighter. That I’m too weak, that I let others take advantage of me. And maybe I have.

But I suffered a unique form of abuse—one you don’t hear about. One that doesn’t have a name or a definition.

It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I realized I was an abuse victim. I suffered abuse at my sister’s hands and neglect from my mom’s failure to act in a way that protected me. I realize my mom was overwhelmed with Laura’s behavior problems, but it wasn’t until later she sought help by medicating Laura—and I don’t understand why she waited. I do remember her saying that Laura was so sweet mannered at school that the teachers and whoever else she sought help from, didn’t believe her about the behavior problems at home. Maybe if my mom had a support system, maybe things would have been different.

Laura teenager1

Laura

Laura ruled the roost at our house. Mom did everything to appease Laura. From letting her watch the shows she wanted to Mom staying home from work or whatever outing we’d planned when Laura was having an “off” day. She didn’t expect her to do chores or respect the needs of others. Mom’s coping strategies allowed Laura to have terrible tantrums, which were often focused at me.

To keep the peace, my mom told me to go to my room. If I was out of sight, Laura didn’t torment me as much. From my alone time, I learned to love reading and I read a lot of romance books. I became an introvert, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The worst part was the important interactions I missed. Family time. Time spent with my mom teaching me and believing in me and my abilities. I wish my mom would have made more time for me instead of taking the easy road with disciplining Laura. I wish she would have made time for herself, for friendships, for exploring her own talents and interests. Maybe if she had, she would have expected more from Laura. Maybe she would have disciplined her so our family could have been more functional.

But these are only wishes for a different outcome. To be healthy in this life you have to take what you’ve been given and make the best of it.  In retrospect, I wouldn’t trade growing up with Laura. The experience gave me insights I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s led me down the path to become an occupational therapy assistant so I can make a difference in situations such as these.

And there’s the proof that I am stronger, but what’s even better—I found a way to thrive despite the challenges I’ve faced.

Thank you, Christine, for being a guest author. I enjoy reading your insights on the challenges and rewards of growing up in a caregiving household where another family member requires so much of the care due to mental and physical health disability. I imagine there’s others who can relate and have been neglected due to the main caregiver’s extreme demands. I’m sorry you were one of them.

For me, as a caregiver, this article spotlights the importance of respite care. Time away from the problems can clear the vision. However, it’s hard to find people who qualify or are willing to take care of the needs of our loved one while the caregiver gets that much needed break.

For our Tip next week, we will brainstorm and list some ways a caregiver can find the help needed for some time to refuel, recharge and be revived.

In February, Christine Scott started sharing childhood segments of her life with her mentally disabled sister, Laura. It’s been inspiring to get a child’s perspective on her family’s caregiving journey and the trials they had to withstand. The first segment of Laura’s Story, recounts her birth and slow development. In Part 2, Christine recalls the impact of Laura’s seizures and in Part 3, details of Laura’s fight with cancer. Part 4, reveals how Christine, at age ten, learned about the accident which lead to her father’s death and Part 5, recognizes the community of angels who helped her family get through their darkest days. Part 6, illustrates the importance of building fun memories with our loved ones, which can ease the grief of losing them.

Laura’s Story, Part 6

In February, Christine Scott started sharing childhood segments of her life with her mentally disabled sister, Laura. It’s been inspiring to get a child’s perspective on her family’s caregiving journey and the trials they had to withstand. The first segment of Laura’s Story, recounts her birth and slow development. In Part 2, Christine recalls the impact of Laura’s seizures and in Part 3,  Laura’s fight with cancer. Part 4, reveals how Christine, at age ten, learned about the accident which lead to her father’s death and Part 5, recognizes the community of angels who helped her family get through their darkest days.

Christine has agreed to share a few more insights on the challenges and rewards of growing up in a caregiving household where another family member requires so much of the care due to health issues and concerns.

Written by Christine Scott

Christine

Christine Scott

To be honest, I want to be finished writing Laura’s Story—and I don’t want to dwell on the next segment because it was such a difficult time in my life. When sitting down to write this, the sadness and loss makes me tired. At this point, I wish the story took a happy twist and I could report on how we all lived happily ever after. However, this story isn’t one of my works of fiction and processing the hardships I experienced is an essential part of my recovery process. Not to mention—many of you have expressed your interest in finishing the story and I don’t want to let you down.

We lived with my grandparents for six weeks after my dad died and then we moved into a rental house around the corner. My mom wanted to stay close to her parents so she could lean on them and have help raising us.  My fondest memory of this house was the crab apple trees planted in front. My grandma would have me pick the crab apples, and then she’d make the best jelly out of them. However, I struggled with the move. The kids at my new school weren’t as friendly as in Morgan. And the kids in the new neighborhood openly made fun of Laura, which didn’t seem to happen as much in Morgan. I missed riding horses with my friend and the bike rides from one end of the Morgan valley to the other. I dreadfully missed living in a small town where there were wide open spaces and next to no traffic. I still do. Some things you never grow out of.

About a year after my dad died, my grandma was hospitalized for pneumonia. After she was released, my grandpa had a minor heart attack and was hospitalized.

A few days later they were getting ready to release my grandpa from the hospital and when my grandma and mom arrived to pick him up, they discovered he had sustained a major heart attack. When the hospital staff approached my grandma to sign the paperwork to treat him, she collapsed. My family always assumed she had suffered a stroke. She was admitted to the hospital.

The doctors operated on my grandpa and put in a pacemaker, but his heart was too damaged. He passed away a few hours later. Grandma was unable to attend his funeral due to her hospitalization.

Laura12

Laura Hill

My mom had moved close to her parents for their support, but within a short year, the situation had reversed and she was the one helping them. Mom rose to the occasion and pulled through even more challenges—once again proving her strength and resiliency. Much of my baby brother’s care fell to me. Laura had reached puberty, which threw her seizure medications off balance so she started having seizures again.

A few weeks ago while reminiscing with my mom about this time in her life, expecting to hear about her struggles, I was surprised by her positive attitude. We discussed the family trip we took to Disneyland shortly before my grandpa died. It was a trip my parents had planned to eventually take, but with my dad’s business struggles there had never been enough money. At this point my mom’s financial situation had significantly improved due to the royalties she had received for my dad’s hang glider plans. So she decided it was time to take her dream vacation to Disneyland. My grandpa didn’t want my mom to go alone, so he and my grandma accompanied her.

My mom packed us all up in her Ford Granada and we headed to Anaheim, California. I remember being excited about staying in hotels and swimming. I loved Disneyland and was completely disappointed when grandpa insisted we leave before dark. My mom loved this trip. It is one of her fondest memories of my grandparents.

Speaking with her about the Disneyland trip made me remember the trip my family took to Lagoon on the Sunday before my dad died. It was a mild fall day and the lines for the rides were short. We were able to go on our favorite rides as many times as we wanted. My dad was attentive to my family and mom was happy. It was day I wished would never end.

As I relived these memories with my mom, I realized that these times we have with our families are precious gifts that transcend the challenges and heartaches. It is when we are together and for a brief time, when life is in rhythm and we feel at sync with the life around us. These moments are beautiful gifts and evidence of Heavenly Father’s hand in our lives—and when remembered—outweigh the grief.

Thanks Christine for sharing another segment of your life with Laura and your family’s caregiving trek. When I read this article, the importance of taking time to play with our families is what stood out to me. As a caregiver it’s easy to feel like you don’t have the time or the money to so. Good memories are important, as you have so eloquently described. A break from responsibilities is essential for the family’s well-being. I’m grateful for the reminder.

 

How to Recognize Angels

AngelsIn Laura’s Story, Part 5, by Christine Scott, she remembers the angels in their lives who came to their aid after the death of her father. We often think of angels as beautiful beings with wings, but Christine was referring to family, friends and even strangers who helped them through a difficult time. A friend of her father sold equipment and hang gliders and put collection jars around town to raise money for their family. An aunt single-handedly packed up their belongings to help with the move and grandparents who welcomed them to live in their home.

These were angels who walked among them on earth—real people with mortal bodies. These wonderful people seemed to be sent from above and knew just what was needed at the moment. How can we recognize the angels in our lives? The answer is simple: acknowledge the kindness and help given to you. Those people who have made a positive impact in your life. I’ve been thinking about it and have listed a few.

  • Our biggest angels are parents. They brought you into the world and most of them sacrificed time and money for your care and well-being. They spent sleepless nights when you were sick or out too late. They were your advocates in sports, music and/or drama. They were your cheerleaders in school and other activities.
  • Our littlest angels are children. They are pure and wise beyond their years. Their innocence and curiosity gives us a new and delightful outlook on things which are often taken for granted.
  • Friends who are honest and loyal and lift you up when you’re feeling down.
  • Teachers who taught you how to read, write and do arithmetic. Most have angelic patience and without their help, you wouldn’t be able to read this right now.
  • Doctors and nurses who attend to your medical needs and help you feel better.
  • Therapists who help you overcome hardships and improve your abilities with their knowledge and encouragement.

We can all be angels by lending a helping hand. As we appreciate and recognize the good in others, more angels become apparent.  When I think of the angels in my life, I realize they all have at least two things in common. First of all they are thoughtful and caring and second, they don’t always seem like angels. But how can they? They are people with mortal bodies and not perfected yet.

It reminds me of a “standing joke” Mark and I have. When I help him stand up I often say, “Look up at my halo,” to encourage him upward. To that he replies, “Oh there it is, resting on top of your horns.”

It’s true, sometimes I’m sweet and sometimes I’m not. However, by recognizing and appreciating the helpfulness in others, it usually triggers more kindness.

Who are the angels in your life and why?

Laura’s Story, Part 5

ChristineMy name is Christine Scott. I’m a forty-six-year-old mother of five children and I grew up with a mentally disabled sister. In my first segment of Laura’s Story, I recounted her birth and slow development. In Part 2, I told about the impact of her seizures and Part 3, her fight with cancer. Part 4 revealed how I learned about the accident which lead to my father’s death.

Life has a way of going on, even when tragedy strikes. You put one foot in front of the other and get through the hard times. I wish I could say my family survived the year my dad died by praying and relying on our faith, but I can’t. We weren’t the praying type. I believe it was the love and faith of others that carried us through those dark hours and days.

Laura & Chris1

Laura & I

Even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my dad’s death shook the small community of Morgan, Utah, and those good people surrounded us with their love and support. Our house was being sold out from under us so we had to move and with Dad gone, there was no longer a reason for us to stay in Morgan. We had planned to move to Ogden, but after his death it was decided we should move in with my grandparents in Kearns, Utah.

My dad passed away on a Wednesday and we had his funeral on Saturday. It was a closed casket viewing because his head was crushed during the accident, with only a graveside service.The service was simple, the way he would have wanted it. Since he was an army veteran, his plot was donated along with his headstone.

Roland Sinfield, an angel in our lives and a colleague of Dad’s, sold equipment and hang gliders out of my dad’s shop and put collection jars around Morgan to raise money for our family. After daddy’s funeral, he gave my mom $700 from those collection jars to help cover funeral and moving expenses.

We had many other angels in our lives and my aunt Jean was one of them. Single handedly she packed up our house—which she deserves a medal of honor for this amazing feat. I’d spent the previous summer in the field by our house, catching the biggest grasshoppers I could find. I put them in mason jars and stacked them in my closet. I don’t know how many jars I collected, but the bottom of the closet was pretty full. After all these years I think Aunt Jean is still traumatized from cleaning out that closet.

Laura 12

Laura, age 12

We moved in with my grandparents in Kearns, Utah. In less than two weeks after my dad’s death, my mom enrolled Laura and I in new schools.When I asked my mom about this time in Laura’s life, she doesn’t remember much about how the events affected Laura. She was struggling through her own pain. She does remember sitting with a counselor at Hartvigsen, the special education school in Granite School District. While getting Laura enrolled, Eric, who was only eight weeks old, began to cry. Laura told the counselor he was crying because we needed to teach him how to talk. My mom said it was so cute and one of her favorite memories of Laura. I’m happy she’s able to look back at this difficult time and find a small amount of joy.

In addition to the angels in our lives to help us through this time, we had our habits and routines. Doing activities which were important like going to school, washing dishes, caring for our newborn baby brother Eric. By getting back to our normal lives—we began to heal.

Laura's family

Family photo with the grandparents we lived with after daddy passed away.

Recalling my dad’s death, I take a great amount of comfort in how we survived this tragedy, in how our family and community pulled together for us. No one wants bad things to happen in their lives, myself included. But if tragedy strikes—I know my family and I will be all right because we’ve been through some pretty rough circumstances and came out stronger in the end.

Thank you, Christine, for sharing how your family coped with the loss of your father. I know from my own experience the value of the love and support from family and friends. The kindness of strangers in a community is heartwarming and uplifting . The total impact of many is huge in carrying us through difficult times. I like the saying, “if you care and you give, you are a caregiver.” This segment of your life truly demonstrates the variety of caregivers. While your mom was the major caregiver for you, your sister with special needs and an infant, thank heaven there were angels that carried her through those dark days. Generally speaking, we often don’t realize the difference we can make in another’s life.

I’m grateful for the angels in my life and in yours.

 

Everything Can Change

In a blink of an eyeI can relate to Christine Scott’s feelings and well written words in Laura’s Story, Part 4: “You should have some type of warning before your life unequivocally changes so you have the chance to do things differently—to take advantage of those last moments to say ‘I love you’ and ‘goodbye.’”

How easy it is to take for granted family, friends, life, health and abilities.

Today’s a great day to hug the ones we love and appreciate what we have. Remember, “in the blink of an eye everything can change.”

Part 5 of Laura’s Story will be published on Wednesday.

Explaining Death

Laura's Dad5In Laura’s Story, Part 4, Christine shared her memory of the death of her dad.  I imagine the caregiving aspect for her sister, Laura, presented new challenges with the passing of their dad. I look forward to the next segment and learning how they all coped.

I was touched by Christine’s words, “Our adversities don’t define us unless we let them, but experiencing the death of a parent when you’re in your childhood changes your life. You learn the world isn’t a safe place and death is very real and can strike at any moment.”

Although Laura was twelve years old when her father died, her disability made it hard for her to understand death or “going to heaven,” which is what her mom told her every time she asked where daddy was.

The death of any loved one is hard and the recovering process takes time. I remember clearly my first experience coping with the sudden death of an aunt when I was a child. Our capacity to understand death varies depending on age and abilities.

I found an excellent article, http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/death.html#, which describes a child’s capacity to understand death and their possible response to it by age. My summary of the article is as follows:

Before five or six years old, their view of the world is very literal. Therefore, explain death in basic and concrete terms such as the person’s body wasn’t working anymore and the doctors couldn’t fix it. If the death was a result of an accident, you might explain what happened and because of this very sad event, the person’s body stopped working. You may have to explain that “death” means that the body stopped working.

Young children have a hard time understanding that all people and living things eventually die and they won’t be coming back. Even after you’ve explained this, kids may continue to ask where the loved one is or when the person is returning. It’s important to calmly reiterate that the person has died and can’t come back.

The article suggested avoiding the use of euphemisms, such as telling kids that the loved one “went away” or “went to sleep” or even that your family “lost” the person. Because young children think so literally, such phrases might inadvertently make them afraid to go to sleep or fearful whenever someone goes away.

From age six to ten a child can start to grasp the finality of death, however, they don’t understand that it will happen to every living thing one day. Often, kids this age personalize death and think of it as the “boogeyman” or a ghost or a skeleton. They deal best with death when given accurate, simple, clear, and honest explanations about what happened.

As children mature into teens, they start to understand that every human being eventually dies, regardless of grades, behavior, wishes, or anything they try to do. Questions may naturally come up about mortality and vulnerability. For example, a sixteen-year-old’s friend dies in a car accident and a teen might now be reluctant to get behind the wheel or even ride in a car. The best way to respond is to empathize about how frightening and sad this accident was. It may also be a good time to remind your teen about ways to stay safe and healthy, like never getting in a car with a driver who has been drinking and always wearing a seatbelt.

Teens also tend to search more for meaning in the death of someone close to them. A teen who asks why someone had to die probably isn’t looking for literal answers, but starting to explore the idea of the meaning of life. They may experience some guilt, particularly if one of their peers died. It’s best to encourage them to share their grief with you or another trusted, empathetic family member or friend.

A young child might not cry, but react to the news by acting out or becoming hyperactive. A teen might act annoyed and may feel more comfortable confiding in peers. Whatever their reaction, don’t take it personally.

Learning how to deal with grief is like coping with other physical, mental, and emotional matters — it’s a process.

For more information on this topic see http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/death.html#

Related Article: Twelve Things I’ve Learned About Grief 

Thanks for reading. I look forward to seeing your thoughts and/or experiences with explaining death to a child in the comment box below. Sharing what has or hasn’t worked for you could help another person on their pathway through grief.