My Broken Habit

writingloveI can’t believe it’s been over three months since I’ve written on Uniting Caregivers. I’ve missed it and the therapeutic nature writing is for me, but as with any good habit, they are hard to start and easy to break. Why is the opposite true with bad habits? They’re too easy to start and hard to break. Now that I’ve broken my writing habit, I’m struggling to know where and how to restart.

A lot has happened in the past few months. December is always a crazy month with it being the end of the year and the holidays thrown in the mix with related parties. It’s joyful and stressful all wrapped up at the same time. This year my mom, who is the supreme organizer and chief executive of all our family gatherings, was not feeling well so my siblings and I tried to step up to the task. We enjoyed our time together, but nobody can fill my mother’s shoes.

Arthritis and a bad hip are keeping my mother in constant pain and making it very difficult for her to move. Using a walker has been a hard recommendation for her to follow, but for safety sake’s she reluctantly agreed. My mother has always been the ultimate caregiver to those around her, yet it’s difficult for her to accept help from others. Switching roles is a hard transition for all of us, but there isn’t a better alternative than to accept health problems and make the best out of life challenges. Therapy and cortisone shots are her best hope now and she’s doing both.

Dad works hard to keep up with his new household responsibilities in addition to all his old ones. Assisting Mom with cooking meals and doing laundry along with driving to every doctor and therapy appointment can be strenuous. Living in the same household with them has been a blessing and I help as much as I can along with four wonderful siblings who all live nearby. Unfortunately, Dad recently developed pneumonia. We’ve all stepped up a little more to help out and as our family works together, our love and appreciation grows stronger.

Caregiving comes in all sorts of intensity sizes and experiences. Soon after Thanksgiving, our twenty-year-old, outdoor cat became very sick. I love all animals and have had many in my lifetime. Several years ago I started suffering with asthma and my complete dependence on breathing and the adverse impact that animals have on my airways made it necessary for me to love them at a distance. What I wish could be indoors had to be outdoors and as our beloved pets passed on, we haven’t replaced them.

Sammy

Sammy, February 2017

Sammy is a beautiful Siamese cat with more than nine lives. He has stayed with us longer than either of our two children, who both left home at eighteen years. He isn’t cherished more than our children, but still cherished for being a loyal friend day in and day out for a very long time. When I pulled our van into the garage, which is also Sammy’s apartment and he didn’t come out to greet us, I was worried. I found him in a corner looking distraught and unloved with his matted hair. I grabbed his hairbrush and with the first gentle brush stroke he nearly fell over. I put him in his bed and brought it in the house. He lay motionless for most of the night, which I know because I tried to sleep on the couch by his bed with one eye continually on him. I expected him to die that night.

I don’t know for sure what happened to Sammy, there was no blood or noticeable injury, but I suspected a cat fight. There had been a black cat hanging around, which Mark named Spook Impostor after a similar adored black cat we had thirty-five years ago. This particular night we saw him leaving the yard as we drove in.

The next day Katie helped me give Sammy a bath and we inspected his body for wounds. We did find a couple of puncture wounds by his right shoulder, but they didn’t appear to be bad. Days went by where he only woke up to eat and to use the litter box. I continued daily breathing treatments and shed many tears because I didn’t expect he’d live much longer and it would be the end of the pet era of my life.

Some family and friends suggested I put him down. I had to do that eight years ago with our cat, Figaro and that tied my stomach up in knots along with giving me a bad asthma attack from the vets office and all the animal dander in the air. Since Sammy didn’t seem to be suffering in pain, I wanted him to go naturally.

Nearly four months later, I continue to give Sammy hospice care. He’s had a cyst fill with infection, drain and heal, then come back four times now. He has gained weight and strength, only to lose it again. It’s a roller-coaster ride, but I want to care for him as an expression of my appreciation for his long-time companionship.

Dad & Sammy

Dad with Sammy December 2016

Amazingly, my asthma is doing better. I rarely need breathing treatments now. We did get an air purifier, which I’m sure has helped my allergies, along with hypoallergenic wipes I use on him almost daily. I’m enjoying this time with Sammy and he is the perfect house cat. He’s too old to jump up on furniture or counters. I know his days are numbered and I enjoy every day we have with him.

Aging in any life is hard. As I try to help and support my loved ones through it, my life is enriched. So as much as I enjoy writing, providing for the needs and cares of my family will come first while I try to mend my broken writing habit.

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The Land of Well

“How was it going back to church today,” my daughter, Katie, asked last Sunday just after I finished my article, There’s No Place Like Home.

Being in the mindset of the Wizard of Oz I said, “It seemed a bit strange to be in the Land of Well around a large group of people without apparent physical challenges.”

She seemed surprised by my response so I explained, “I was so involved with health problems I forgot there are many more people who are physically fit. Seeing people with all their limbs intact and joints which appear to be working without any thought can seem strange after being around many who struggle.”

Most people don’t realize how fortunate they are for their good health. After being around others with limitations and struggles, I promise myself I will appreciate my body more. However, it doesn’t take long after being in the “Land of Well” for me to fall back into that category of people taking for granted a body that works with ease.

I’ve recommitted to take better care of my own body. I vacillate back and forth from weight loss to weight gain, from being energetic to feeling sluggish. It’s a quirk of mine I want to change. I admire those who stay steadily motivated to eat right and exercise. I enjoy being physically active, but you wouldn’t know it to look at me. I weigh more than ever, missing a summer of walks, biking, hiking and gardening. It’s difficult to find the time with all the other responsibilities. For me it’s an issue of finding balance and making priorities. When my diet is good and my weight down I feel dynamic, full of life. During which time I can’t imagine falling back into my old habits. However, the patterns and routines creep back into my life at such a slow pace I don’t realize it’s happening until I find myself back or even further behind the place I vowed to never go to again.

What can be more important than taking care of my body? I know the answer, but find it difficult to put it first, before the other stresses and responsibilities of life. It takes time and planning to prepare nutritious meals and exercise—time that my relentless habits tell me I don’t have. I may have fallen off the band wagon again, but I can pick myself up, dust those bad habits off and start again.

Land of WellIn January of 2014 I wrote For Health’s Sake—Make a Date. I’m going to do it again, for I know my body needs to be appreciated by taking the best care of it I can. I’ve learned so much from people with physical limitations and realize their spirits make up for what their bodies can’t do. They remind me of the importance of appreciating what I have and taking care of it to the best of my ability. I enjoy the Land of Well and want to be there for as long as I can. I’m taking the leap, how about you?