Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What Do You DO With Your Time?

Since my  husband and I sold our business and "retired" in 2005, the pervading question has become, "What do you DO now?"  Oh... how long do you have?!  I honestly wonder how we ever worked... and maybe you have heard this from other "retirees."  We knew that I would have the responsibilities of caring for my grandmother... but we certainly were not expecting to be caring for a baby!  The old adage of telling God your plans and making Him laugh would certainly apply!

So today, a lifelong friend dropped by to pick up something for her husband, and she asked, "So what do you all DO now?"  I explained that we took care of my grandmother... although that had become less time consuming in some ways now that she is in the ALF... and I told her about Timothy.  I didn't even get around to telling her that my husband, Greg, delivers Meals on Wheels to senior citizens at least one day a week, and he has taken on more and more responsibilities with his mother, who will be 86 in June.  He takes care of her yard, helps her with household repairs, drives her to out-of-town appointments, and much more... and as times goes by, I am sure he will be doing even more for her.

Actually, my friend who dropped by today probably understands better than many.  Her own 80-something mother was in the car.  I invited them inside, but she said they had been out running errands, and her mom was tired and ready to go home.  She also told me that her oldest son and his wife now live in England, where I think they are doing mission work.  When they left the U.S., their little girl was 2... and my friend and her husband saw the child every day, since they lived virtually next-door.  She kept saying, "I know you must be heartbroken without your baby."  I could tell she genuinely understood how lonely it's been around our house since Timothy left.

I think my point in sharing this with you is that most people don't have a clue what it's like for members of the Sandwich Generation.  They may have some idea of what it's like to care for children and your family... particularly if they have - or had - children and a family.  But many don't understand in the least what is involved in caring for an elderly person... even one who is fairly able-bodied and mentally clear.  I'm not sure that you can even truly prepare someone for the physical, mental, and emotional challenges that are involved.  If you try to share this information with others, they often don't believe it - or they think their situation will be different.  More often, they simply don't listen.

My sister-in-law has been experiencing huge challenges with her 95-year-old mother over the last six months.  She has told me about several experiences that were quite familiar to me... but it was as if they were totally new to her.  One day she said a friend of hers had told her that... "a lot of people are going through the exact same things as you," and she said, "You know... I guess she's right!"  HOPEFULLY, some of you who read this blog will realize that you are not alone... that there are a lot of people experiencing the same issues you have with your senior - and your spot in the "sandwich." 

More importantly, I hope we all realize that our situation may test our patience (if not our endurance and our sanity at times), there is very possibly someone who faces bigger challenges and could use a hug and a simple, "I understand what you are going through."  My friend did this for me today... and I am truly grateful.  Is there someone you could bless and encourage out of your experience base?

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My grandmother continues to have good days and bad.  When I visited yesterday, she was at the nurse's desk getting a Tylenol - for a headache - or so she told the nurse.  We went to her room, and she sat down on her bed.  The pill was in its little cup on her walker seat.  I asked, "Would you like some water?"  She looked at me like I was crazy.  "... to take your Tylenol?" I continued.  "Yes!" she answered.  I asked about her headache.  "I don't have a headache."  "But you told Lola your head was hurting."  "I know it, but I sat out there, and I just hurt."  I asked where she hurt, and she replied, "All over!"  I found out later that "out there" meant she went to the dining hall and listened to special music.  I'm not clear on how that made her "hurt all over," but the whole time I visited, she laid on her bed.  Usually, she is up and down and won't lie still - even if she is not feeling well - but yesterday, she didn't budge until I asked if she was ready to go to lunch.

Timmy modeling new
clothes I made for him.
I'm still trying to take a piece of sewing to show her every time I visit... or a quilt or something to do with sewing.  I took two quilts I had bought recently at an auction, and she studied each one and gave me several "I tell you whats!"  She said, "I tell you what... quilts just do something to me."  She was such a wonderful seamstress and quilter... piecing and quilting everything by hand.  Sewing and things related to sewing are about all we have left to connect on... and the smile on her face is all the communication we need.

Timothy and Zola in their
matching outfits I made for them.
We seem to have no trouble finding common interests to share with our kids, but finding something to share with seniors is often a challenge. Now that my grandmother has trouble putting sentences together, our conversations are pretty pathetic.  During one recent visit, she managed to tell me, "I wish you would come and spend the whole day with me." First of all, I told her she is so busy that she doesn't have time to spend a whole day with me.  She still finds plenty of things to occupy much of her time.  The other thing is that we would go nuts just sitting all day and staring at each other.  It was a "dig," and I knew that at the time.  But I do think that the sewing has been a tremendous "common denominator" that has given us something to share - even without many words.

One of the quilts I took to show to
my grandmother recently.  She loved it!
So try to think of things you can share with your senior.  If your dad enjoyed sports, maybe you can watch a game on TV together.  If your mom loved to cook, maybe you can make something she considered her "specialty" and take some to her to enjoy.  If your senior enjoys songbirds, maybe you could put in a feeder and keep it stocked... then spend some time together bird watching.  You may have to dig pretty deep to find a common interest, but I promise, you'll be glad you did!  Now, when my grandmother can't say much else, she can usually ask, "What are you sewing now?"  And we are off and running...

Monday, April 2, 2012

I Think I'll Try the "Sink or Swim" Method

I know it's been a few weeks since my last post... and I have no other excuse except to say that I've been busy!  My 88-year-old cousin who was dying was laid to rest on March 21st, so I spent much of that week with cousins and other family members.  This was a bittersweet time... we will miss my cousin, but he is at peace and died as he lived - on his terms, and with dignity.  I got to visit with cousins I have not seen in years... and some old connections were re-established, hopefully.  At the same time, this was one more reminder for my grandmother that her day is coming... and that somebody else got to go before she did.
Some of the cousins did spend quite a bit of time visiting with my grandmother, and she thoroughly enjoyed listening to their stories.  Since she can hardly get out a sentence these days, she likes for us to gather and visit in her presence.  She can soak in what we are saying... and every once in a while, she gestures, smiles, or interjects a word or two.  But mostly, she sits and smiles and enjoys our company.

Lately, my visits to see Mam-ma have centered around rearranging her closet and taking my latest sewing project to share with her.  The latter seems to be the one thing that truly energizes her these days... the "common thread" (no pun intended) that we can share and enjoy.  My grandmother was an amazing seamstress, and I still marvel at her tailoring skills and the ability to create tiny clothes for our Barbies - by hand!  But she is impressed with the work I am doing, and she obviously takes great pride in my accomplishment.

Five pair of shorts, two onesies and matching pants,
one dress, one appliqued tank, and a burp pad... all in
coordinating prints of Groovy Guitars, Urban Zoologie, and more!
Darling Diva outfit created from ladies cardigan sweater
in animal print.  Note the beading detail on the pants hem
and the little jacket pocket!  This was really fun to create!

Orange dream created from ladies beaded knit top.
Baby bolero jacket created from vintage embroidered
dresser scarf with crochet lace trim.  I love repurposing old linens!

Our little friend Ada Jane models her fake fur zebra print
bolero shrug jacket!  Is she a darling diva or what?!
Sewing has taken up much of my spare time in recent weeks. It keeps my mind off of how much we miss Timothy and gives me a positive focus. I've made dresses, shorts, burp pads, appliqued onesies, and even a fake fur jacket for the little friends, nieces, nephews and cousins in our family. I've even made matching clothes for an American Girl doll! The children all enjoy their one-of-a-kind clothes, and the moms are beyond thrilled. I know that the day will come soon enough when these little ones are teens who wouldn't be caught dead in one of my creations. But for now, they love their new duds... and I get such a kick out of creating them!

A couple of weeks ago, my husband's brother and sister-in-law visited for the day. Over lunch, my sister-in-law reported the latest news about her 95-year-old mother, who fell in November and broke her arm in two places. She required surgery, a lengthy hospital stay, and rehab at a local skilled care nursing facility. Each week since mid-November, my brother-in-law and his wife have traveled some 3+ hours to spend several days attending to the needs and business of this woman. Usually they would go on Thursday and return home on Sunday. Some weeks, my sister-in-law has stayed longer, as needed.

March 31st signaled the end of Medicare coverage for my sister-in-law's mother. She had the choice to continue her stay at the skilled care nursing facility and pay out-of-pocket. She could also move to an assisted living facility. Or she could go home and have continual care. Of course, she opted for Door #3. My sister-in-law had toured a local ALF and loved it. She hoped her mom would, also. She did not. She found all sorts of reasons to derail a move there... she had to take her own furniture (not a problem, she was assured). She would have to change therapists (also not a problem - she won't have therapists at home!) People would not come to visit her as often (the visits have already dropped to a trickle).

Every excuse she thought of was readily addressed, but she still insisted she wanted to go home. Weary of the argument, my sister-in-law told her, "Fine... then make it work." She left her mother to her own devices. Her mother arranged for part-time in-home care. She has severe macular degeneration and cannot see, but she refused Meals on Wheels, insisting she will cook for herself. Doctors and therapists determined that she was better walking unassisted than trying to use a walker, because she could not see to maneuver it... and her arm, weakened from the fall and surgery, would not adequately support her weight.
A few days before she was to leave the nursing home rehab, this woman fell in her room and sprained her ankle. My sister-in-law thought this might get the wheels back on the bus for going to an ALF. It did not. So this weekend, she and my brother-in-law moved her mother home... and then they returned to their home. In essence, my sister-in-law has said, "Sink or swim."

While I cringe at the thought of this, I get it. I remember the week before my grandmother moved into her apartment at the ALF and we argued over a folded envelope she had wedged behind a wireless doorbell apparatus plugged into the wall receptacle. She insisted it was not a fire hazard... I insisted it was. In frustration, I finally said, "Fine... if you burn yourself and this house down before you move next week, so be it!" Then when she was not looking, I removed the envelope. I don't know if my sister-in-law will get the opportunity for such an action or not... but I know she will take it if she has a chance.

We do this often with our children... we try to protect them as much as possible... tell them "don't touch that hot object" ... or "you won't like the taste of that!" But sometimes, they have to discover these things for themselves. The tricky part is allowing them to sometimes sink a little...without drowning! This is an extremely slippery slope with both age groups, and often we have to pray hard and trust God to protect our "little ones" of all ages.

My grandmother and I have come a long way on this journey, but we still have some "sink or swim" moments. She fell again recently... hit her neck on the edge of her night-stand. She admits she stood too quickly and lost her balance... and her walker was across the room. She explains that she uses the night stand and her bed as braces as she inches along the floor toward her walker, which she leaves parked across the room beside her television. Efforts to get her to pull her walker over beside her chair are futile.

Also fruitless was my attempt to get her to remember to count to five before taking a step. I reminded her that this was "the doctor's order." When she stood, I chided, "Count to five... count to five... Mam-ma, STOP and count to five!" Three or four steps later, she stopped and stared at me like I was from Mars. I realized I had just wasted my breath... and I've not reminded her again to "count to five." I know she will probably stand again, take off without letting her blood pressure regulate, and fall. And I am prepared to deal with any resulting injuries. She will either sink or swim... and I probably won't be there to rescue her if something goes wrong. Making peace with this has also been a journey... and a huge lesson in patience, surrender... and faith.

I applaud the determination of the human spirit to become independent - as with children... and to keep that independence when we age. The challenge for those of us in the middle is to learn to handle the bumps, bruises, and disasters that ensue. For this, I pray for strength and courage for each of us.

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What's happening with your "sandwich" these days?  Do you have a story to share... insights or success stories?  What's bugging you?  Can we offer you some possible solutions or encouragement?   Please leave your comments, or e-mail me directly using the link on the sidebar.