Now and Forever

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June 2014, two men struggled to get Mark into our friends convertible, but it was a great ride and memory now. 

In just one moment, our life’s journey took a drastic change and now I can’t help but relate our life as before or after April 27, 1991. In my mind it’s like I have two filing cabinets, one holds memories of before and the other after the car accident. Much love is contained in each cabinet, however the two different lifestyles did changed our relationship. The one constant is as Carole King sings, “Now and forever, I will always think of you.”

I still miss the way things were in my before cabinet and enjoy reflecting on the files contained there. I have to smile at the possibility of my mind embellishing those twelve years of memories, because most of the files hold an easier and happier way of life.

Anniversaries have a way of making me reflect. Because it will be twenty-five years in just a few days, I realize my married life after the accident cabinet holds more than double the files of my before cabinet. To lift my spirit I’ve set my sights on writing about the positive aspects contained in my after cabinet, which I consider blessings.

I’m glad Mark and I survived the accident which could have taken both of our lives. I’m grateful our children weren’t with us when it happened. At the young ages of seven and eight, they appeared to be more resilient and accepting of our new lifestyle than they might have been if they were teenagers at the time. Their childlike belief that all would be well kept us working towards their expectations.

I’m thankful the accident happened before we moved instead of after. I’m grateful for the advice and insight of others to stop the sale of our home. This unfamiliar road would have been so much harder had we been attempting to get settled in a new house while seeking new friendships. I appreciate the love and support we felt from our Sandy neighborhood. The benefits of Mark returning home to a familiar place surrounded by familiar people proved to be immeasurable, especially with his short-term memory problem.

There are unexpected advantages to Mark’s memory issues, such as not recalling the pain and length of time in rehabilitation. I believe his poor short-term memory has saved him from depression. He is fun to be with and works hard to accomplish things which used to come easy. His example of patience, endurance and the constant expression of appreciation encourage me to do and be better.

We’re fortunate Mark regained consciousness after three months of being comatose and remembered the most valuable things in life—faith, family and friends. He retains his determination and quick-wit. He enjoys making people laugh and reminds me that bringing happiness to others brings joy to oneself. He teaches me what’s most important in life and encourages me not to worry about all the other stuff.

I appreciate of the wonderful people we’ve met since our accident and their positive examples. They are mentors who give me strength, courage and faith that I can succeed in my caregiving journey. I’m grateful for all those who have shared a part of their stories as guest authors on Uniting Caregivers.

We’re happy to live in a wheelchair accessible home which provides comfort and conveniences, making our life easier. We’re fortunate to share our home with my parents who are willing to help in every way they can.

We’re lucky to have friends who love and encourage us. Friends who made our move to Draper easier. They welcomed and helped us feel comfortable right from the start. We moved just five years after the accident and we were still adjusting to a new way of life. Their warm reception and support made our new pathway bright.

I’m privileged to have parents and siblings who are generous with love and service. We’re blessed they live close by and we can call on them at any time. If possible and needed, we know they’d come at a moment’s notice to assist in any way they could.

I’m fortunate to have the acceptance and love of Mark’s family and although they live in other states, we know of their concern and care for us. I’m thankful for cell phones, email and social media, which bridges the distance and keeps us connected.

I’m blessed to be a part of a large extended family where cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews are involved in our lives. We cherish our relationship with each one and I’m grateful for their love and loyalty to family.

Looking at all these files of blessings, I realize our life has turned out just as it should for our own personal growth. Our journey may have taken an unthinkable turn on April 27,1991—one I wouldn’t have chosen, nor expected or could have prepared for. However, joy is found in the after the accident cabinet. I believe happiness can be now and forever because Mark is a part of me and I will always be with him.

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?

Who is the Real Caregiver

“I’m not sure who the caregiver is in this marriage,” Neils said in part 1 of his story, Dancing with Class.

In his part 2, he explains in more detail some of what she does for him. “Her gentle prodding, encouragement and constructive criticism is the gas in my tank. She is the light in the tunnel, the gentle whisper in my ear, my tease, my best friend and motorized mentor who runs over my toes when I get curmudgeonly.”

“Judith has never given up. She always listens to people’s stories and encourages them to fight on.”

I loved Neils closing remark, “My part as a caregiver is insignificant compared to what Judith offers. So, I ask again, who is the real caregiver?”

I  wholeheartly relate and have written about it myself in three other articles.

IMG_0333I’m a full-time caregiver and occasionally I’ve been asked, “Who takes care of you?” Well, I’ll tell you…

Mark is my caregiver. He may not be able to make a meal or do the physical chores of housekeeping or yard work, but he does care about me and gives me support by waiting patiently for me to complete a task before taking care of his needs. He also lifts my spirits with humor, companionship and good times. Being with him is a pleasure. I love his wit and sense of humor. He also gives care through letters, expressing love and appreciation. These letters mean more to me than if he were able to give me flowers.

My parents are my caregivers and have been my whole life. Even though they are well into their eighties, they give me and many others lots of care through meals, visits and sincere interest in what is going on in my life, along with any help or assistance I may need.

My siblings are my caregivers and they too have been my whole life. They are all busy with their own lives and children, but they make time to check up on us. If I ever need anything I always know I can call on any one of them. It’s wonderful to feel the love and support of family!

My children are my caregivers. When they were small it was wonderful to feel their love and admiration. They were sure I could fix anything and no one was stronger. As they grew, experience taught them differently, but their love kept me going. They are my strength and what motivates me to do and be better. Their care is different now they are busy adults and no longer dependent on me, but I still feel their care and love and it means a whole lot to me.

My neighbors and friends are my caregivers. They give with listening ears and a caring heart. They give understanding, support and friendship. They are observant for what they can do to help without me asking for it. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by people who are anxious to help. Many times in the winter my snow is shoveled off my walks and I have no idea who did it.

My church provides caregiving. Not only do I find comfort and solace in my church activities, but my association with people there has led to friendships and an organized volunteer program where two people come twice a week to help Mark with his exercises.

So I just have to say, I’m one lucky caregiver. I’m supported by a lot of other caregivers who probably don’t think of themselves as caregivers. But I know they are and I know I couldn’t do my caregiving without them.

If you care and you give, you are a caregiver. If you drive someone to an appointment, prepare a meal, watch children, or go shopping for someone else, you are a caregiver. You may think you’re just doing what anyone else would do—but anyone who helps is a caregiver.

Thank you, Neils, for reminding us of the many acts of service which are considered caregiving.

Who’s your caregiver? Feel free to leave your recognition in the comment square.

My related articles:

What Makes a Caregiver

Six Traits of a Caregiver

No Foolin’, You’re a Caregiver

A Blessed Life

As I look over my life, which is far from perfect, I recognize how fortunate I am. There is nothing like having a birthday to remind me of how grateful I am for parents who not only brought me into this world, but made many sacrifices to give me and my siblings a blessed life. I honor them today as I share a revised version of My Home Delivery, which I wrote last year.

Mom & Dad (2)My parents were married in 1950 and had their first child, Michael (Mickey) sixteen months later. The following year my sister Rosanne was born. Living with two little children in a one bedroom apartment was hard and crowded. Mom and Dad saved their money to buy a lot for a new home in Murray, Utah in 1953.

Since Dad was an excavator and owned a construction company with his brother, he did most of the work including the foundation, septic tank, concrete and framing. He did hire a plumber, electrician and brick mason for their red brick home. By today’s standard, it was a modest, three bedroom, one bath home which Dad did all the finish work on. They were able to move into their new home about nine months after they started building and just before their third child, Donny’s first birthday, in 1956.

A few years later Mom was expecting their fourth child. Since the new baby would need the bedroom my brothers shared across the hallway from our parent’s bedroom, they decided to finish two bedrooms for Mickey and Donny in the basement. The new bedrooms were the only finished area in the basement, but on the opposite end of the basement was a beautiful rock fireplace. They bought a black and white television and put a throw rug by the fireplace with a second-hand couch and also used folding chairs to sit on to watch T.V. This room would later be finished as the family/entertainment room.

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Mom, Dad, Mickey, Rosanne, Donny, Barbara sitting around rock flower box in front of our Murray home.

On Saturday, June 6, 1959, my mom’s parents came for a visit and to take Rosanne home with them for an overnight stay. They did this often, taking turns with each grandchild. After they left, Mom started having strong contractions so Dad called the doctor and told him they were on their way to the hospital. Because of the pain, Mom struggled to walk to the back door towards the garage. Dad rushed ahead to drive the car out of the unattached garage closer to the back door in hopes to make it easier for Mom. When he got back to the kitchen to help her to the car he realized her water broke and the determined baby was already on its way. He ran to the phone to call the doctor again and heard the television downstairs. Panicked, with only a stairway between my parents and the two young boys, Dad hollered down the stairs, “No matter what, you boys do not come up these stairs!”

Mickey, age seven and Donny’s fourth birthday in just three days, paid little attention to the hustle and bustle at the top of the stairs. Seemingly more interested in the television than the arrival of a new baby, it was easy to obey their father’s order.

By the time the doctor got to our home I had already arrived. What an entrance for a nine pound baby! I wish I could remember it… What I do remember is being referred to as the “kitchen baby”. Sometimes I was amused at the thought of coming into the world in this unusual way, but other times I was completely embarrassed.

Dad had always teased Mom during their four pregnancies that he had delivered lots of calves on the farm, so there was no need for a doctor. I guess I was listening. I’ve always had lots of faith in my Dad’s abilities. However, he stopped saying that after my birth.

I later learned the home delivery resulted in a three day stay at the hospital and I came home on Donny’s 4th birthday. I don’t believe I was his only present that year, but he always made me feel like I was his best present.

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Dad holding me with handsome brother, Don in the left bottom corner.

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Dad holding me with Rosanne and Mick on the front porch.

I’ve always considered myself a daddy’s girl and Mom often said I had Dad wrapped around my little finger because he was there for my birth. I was the only child out of their five that he witnessed because at the time fathers were not allowed in the delivery rooms at the hospital.

Twenty-two months later Mom delivered one more baby, my youngest brother, Steven. Because we were the closest in age we shared the upstairs bedroom for several years and had lots of fun playing together. See Siblings by Chance, Friends by Choice.

Me at two years old loving my stuff animal.

Me at two years old loving my stuff animal.

In my elementary years while we were on vacation at Disneyland, I vividly remember begging my dad to buy me a big stuffed animal. “Dad, think of the money I saved you by being born at home,” I pleaded.

“You were the most expensive child!” He replied. “At the hospital I had to admit not one, but TWO patients. You were considered contaminated by being born at home so you were not allowed in the nursery. They kept you in isolation for a few days, which was an added expense.”

Not only sadden by the fact I wasn’t getting the large stuffed animal, I was shocked by his reply. I previously thought I had saved my parents from the whole hospital scene and therefore was some kind of super hero. After all I had been called the kitchen baby by family and friends. Wow, what a blow this information was to me and an indication that I didn’t really have my dad wrapped around my little finger after all—at least not this time.

Now that I’m older and have gone through child bearing  and raising myself, I appreciate what my folks went through to get me here. I even feel a little guilty for being so impatient and determined. These traits I’ve carried throughout my life and they’ve loved and supported me anyway. They are the most giving and caring parents and grandparents I know. I’m blessed to be able to call them Mom and Dad. It’s been a wonderful life, thanks to them!

Caregiving Tips from Ann McDougall

Ann's kids awakeWhat became obvious to me as I read and edited Ann’s story last Sunday was how caregivers need other caregivers to be capable of doing what needs to be done. Her viewpoint wasn’t as a caregiver, but one that was receiving the care. However, she is a mother and all parents are caregivers. I learned from Ann’s story how important others were to enable her to give the care needed for her baby’s development and the care of her three year old son, Liam. I relate to that in my own caregiving journey. It’s clear to me I can’t do it alone. I don’t know anyone who can. Sometimes we may feel alone, but I hope that feeling doesn’t last.  Ann’s experience with being on bed rest for twenty-eight weeks taught her what was important to a person on the receiving end of caregiving. The following five tips were shared and written by Ann McDougall:

  • Be proactive. It was appreciated when others would ask what is needed and then follow through. With some people I was comfortable saying exactly what I needed and with others I wasn’t. I have a close friend who asked what she could do for me besides come visit and I asked her to pick up some specific snacks for me. I wouldn’t tell just anybody that. I had other friends who brought me crafts to do to keep me busy. All the supplies were ready so I could easily do it in bed.
  • If you say you are going to visit, visit. They are so important to someone who can’t get out. I felt isolated and lonely and really looked forward to the visits. I have a grandma who went blind in her old age. She was homebound and had to rely on caregivers. I know my grandma felt a lot of loneliness and thrived on visits. I have more empathy and compassion for people, especially the elderly, who are home alone all day and not able to do everything for themselves like they used to. Calls, texts, and Facebook messages were a good alternative to visits and were also appreciated.
  • Pick one doctor to be the primary doctor and stick with his/her opinion. When I was in the hospital, I saw a team of doctors who worked in the same specialty area. I also saw student doctors working under those doctors. Each one had a slightly different opinion and approach to my care. Before I was admitted, I had already picked one doctor to be my primary doctor so I was able to refer back to his opinion.
  • Remember the children. My mom brought toys to the hospital for Liam. It gave him something to do while he was there and those toys stayed at the hospital so they weren’t the same toys at home. He looked forward to those special toys and it helped make the boring, small hospital room a bit more inviting. Another visitor brought a children’s story book just for him that also stayed in my room. He loved it and still does.
  • Consistent child care is important, especially for young children. Liam struggled when I was on bed rest at home because I wasn’t able to get up and do things for him or play with him and when I was admitted to the hospital, his world was turned completely upside down. He acted out by hitting and had a huge potty training regression. It was tough for me to ask people to watch him because I knew he would be difficult to be around, especially if he didn’t know the person well. It was a huge help when my mom was able to take Liam the majority of the time. It helped Liam to have the same person watching him with a consistent routine. He knew what to expect from day to day, where he would be and when he would get to see me. I appreciated the many people who offered to take him, but I knew it was best if he wasn’t shuffled from house to house. I know it was hard for my mom to have him most of the time, but we were so grateful she was able to take care of him.

Learning By Example

Watching You Grow

I thought Joyce Maynard’s quote went well with last Sunday Story, Dad Creating Beauty After Tragedy – Part II. Katie said, “My dad has taught me the keys to happiness through his example. He chooses to be happy by having a sense of humor, being productive, forgiving, grateful and maintaining hope.

 

 

Caregiving Reflections

Written by, Dianne Breitling

Dianne & MomMother’s Day has become a time of reflection for me as I remember the final years my mother and I spent together. The hours we shared as well as those spent doing things for her are precious to me now, filling my heart with gratitude for circumstances which allowed me this privilege.

My mother had spinal disc problems which resulted in several surgeries and constant pain. She also had to have both hips replaced. Because of her physical limitations, my father became her caregiver doing all of the cooking and housekeeping for about fifteen years. Late in life my mother developed severe arthritis, which greatly limited the use of her amazingly creative hands. Through it all, my mother could always be seen with the most wonderful smile on her face. She loved people more than anyone I have ever known. For the final eighteen months she was in her scooter most of the time because the pain had become more than she could bear when walking.

At age 85, my father had a minor car accident, making him feel unsafe on the road. His wise decision to stop driving was the start of my journey as a caregiver for both of them. Since I lived close by, I gladly took on the responsibility to drive them wherever they needed to go such as doctor and dentist appointments, getting haircuts, and shopping as well as picking up prescriptions or any other household or personal items they needed. This was a difficult transition for my father since he had been the caregiver for my mother for so many years.  He went from doing everything for the two of them to depending on others in a relatively short time and each loss was painful for me to watch.

Both of my parents became so comfortable with me doing things for them that even when my siblings offered to help by taking them to their doctor’s appointments, they wanted me to do it because I was familiar with their needs and knew the doctors they were seeing. They also preferred me to do the shopping over my siblings because I knew their likes and dislikes.

Dad became very ill and had an emergency colostomy, changing our world drastically. I spent countless hours with him in the hospital trying to get answers from the medical team and worrying that we might lose him, while still caring for my mother’s needs. When he returned home it became clear I could not carry on with everything I had been trying to manage while adding the new burden of changing his colostomy bag regularly. My brother would sometimes do this, but he had irregular work hours and lived further away so it was difficult for him to be there at the needed times. The responsibilities had fallen on me because of how close I lived to them and because I was the only child who did not have a full-time job.

Dianne's DadAfter three years and growing needs, I requested each of my siblings to take one day to check on them. They were asked to make sure our parents had everything they needed and to help with dinner if necessary. When our father was in the rehab center, the scheduled person for the day was responsible to lay out breakfast, medications and check on mother by phone in the morning. This gave me two assigned days instead of the five to seven days I had been used to, but even that became difficult because if someone couldn’t meet their obligation my mother would call me and ask me to come over. Calls early in the morning or late at night were a regular occurrence. Often I would hear from my parents and my siblings that I was a life-saver or they wished I didn’t need to do so much, but after years of struggling with so many responsibilities, those words were not enough. I can see now it would have been so much better if I had been able to convince my parents to let me hire some outside help, but when I was in the middle of the experience, it was hard to know what to do. Looking back usually changes the perspective and solutions become clear.

In 2010 my father was hospitalized with a severe infection (MRSA) and while in rehab, he agreed to move into an assisted living center. My brother, sister and I made the arrangements, but at the last-minute he changed his mind. He didn’t want to give up the little bit of independence he still had, making those last days in his home emotionally difficult for both of us. I wanted to help make it possible for him to live at home, but told him when he could not prepare their meals that would no longer be possible. Both parents refused the idea of having Meals on Wheels delivered or having someone come in to cook and clean a few times a week. At this time the emotional strain was increasing because they knew I was making it possible for them to live in their home. This created feelings of gratitude, but also resentment towards me because I had too much say about what happened to them.

After a second bout with the MRSA infection, my father realized his strength wasn’t returning and once again asked me to make arrangements for them to move into an assisted living center. My father only lived there for five months before he passed away. My mother was lonely and continued to need attention after his passing. My siblings and I continued our daily schedule of checking in on her for the additional thirteen months of her life at the assisted living center.

Through all of the years of caregiving, my husband was always supportive. Not only did he spend time doing many things for them, he never complained when he came home to an empty house and no dinner or when our lives were put on hold while I met the needs of my parents.

As I reflect on the time spent caring for my aging parents, I realize the major challenge was recognizing the weight which came from the cumulative effect of the responsibilities taken on. The coordinating of two households with the added worry and care of their declining health was extremely difficult.

Dianne's ParentsWhile I missed spending time with my children and grandchildren during this time, I am grateful I was given the strength to care for my parents during their final years. When I look back on this experience, it is clear that the blessings far outweigh the sacrifices. My feelings are joy and comfort because I have no regrets. I’m happy they are in a better place without health complications and pain; but      I love and miss them both.

Thank you Dianne for your caregiving example and for sharing your experience on Uniting Caregivers. What a wonderful daughter and big difference you made in their lives.