One word prompt sent to a community of bloggers. Five minutes to write about it. Unedited. Don’t think too hard…just write. The Five Minute Fridayword prompt this week is LAUGH. Ready, set, go!
I heard my dad laugh this week. It took me by great surprise, because dad went to his heavenly home in 2008. But, there it was – that familiar laugh. It started with an under the breath “heh-heh-heh” that morphed to a jolly, tummy-jiggling chuckle, and ended with a loud, throw your head back, “Ha!”
It happened when I was paying my brother a visit in the nursing home where he resides. I usually stop by after work and bring him a home-baked cookie and his favorite peach ice-tea. He doesn’t talk much, but he’s always glad to see me.
There’s a nice comfy chair in the corner of Brad’s room right next to his bed. I plop my work-weary self in the chair, kick off my shoes and prop my feet up on the edge of his bed, then sit with him for a few minutes to watch whatever he’s watching on the television. It’s usually an episode of Blue Bloods, but on this day it was a funny movie. It was during that tv-watching moment when I distinctly heard my dad laugh.
I find it helpful when people take the time to share what they like about various products that I’m thinking about purchasing. I hope this reblog will be helpful for a fellow caregiver seeking to make purchases which will help them on their caregiving journey.
I’m on the other side of caregiving now and am looking back on that experience and wanting to share a few of the most helpful purchases my husband and I made to assist us as we provided care for my mother.
Mattress Protection and plenty of bedding – nearly every person who struggles with memory loss will come to the point where incontinence is a fact of life. One of the best purchases I made was this mattress cover. We had a hospital bed, so purchased a Twin XL. This particular cover actually was waterproof and saved our mattress from certain ruin over and over again. It completely covered the mattress — trust me, this is important. I only needed to wipe it down with a disinfectant spray, but it also washed up nicely in the washing machine on warm. I would give it a tumble drying on air-dry…
I write from my experience of caring for my sweet mother in her later years with Alzheimer’s. I hope that what I write will be an encouragement to those who are caring for someone they love.
Before you read this post, you might want read the A-Z Caregiving Tips (pictured below) which inspired me to write about my own experience related to these tips.
A diagnosis of cognitive impairment or memory loss presents caregiving challenges, each as varied as the person experiencing it. Alzheimer’s was the diagnosis that spelled memory loss for my sweet mom. I have already presented my experience with tips A – I, so let’s move right on to my take on J, K & L.
J just redirect me pleasantly if I keep repeating myself.
When memory loss becomes apparent to family and friends, it’s the repetition of stories which oftentimes raises the warning flag that something is amiss. Mom had several stories that would frequently replay. There was one she would tell about why she loves ice cream. Other repetitious stories related to how she acquired some of the items she owned, including three blue flowerpots and a purple tablecloth. I loved each of the stories and, as I mentioned in my last post, now I wish I had recorded her telling them.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with telling family stories around the dinner table. We all do it. It’s one of the best parts of gathering around the table for a shared meal. But, when the same story keeps looping during the same meal, that’s when things get a little tricky. It’s easy to hurt our loved ones by saying, “You already told me that a hundred times, Mom!” We’re tempted to roll our eyes and inwardly groan, “Oh no! Here we go again.”
That is where the art of pleasant redirection comes into play. In the world of dementia caregiving, there are many opportunities to practice this act of gently helping a forgetful loved one refocus their attention on something else.
My granddaughter provided one of the best examples of gentle redirection that I have ever seen. My mom found my to-do list on the kitchen table. Thinking it was her own list, mom kept reading the list over and over again, worrying about getting it all done. Violet (who was probably 12 years old at the time) brought a photo album to the table and sat next to her great-grandmother. In one stealth move, Violet opened the photo album and placed it in front of her GGma as she simultaneously slid the list away from view. Then she started paging through the album and talking about the photos. My Mom’s worries melted away and she was immediately engaged in this new direction of thought.
In fact, photo albums and picture books are one of the greatest tools in the toolbox of dementia redirection.
Sometimes, mom would ask the same question repeatedly. One such question had to do with her finances–something she couldn’t handle on her own anymore, but continued to worry about. My husband handled her finances for her and greatly helped alleviate this worry by creating a single page monthly statement which listed all of her financial bottom-line numbers in one place. Mom could read this over and over to her heart’s content. [I explained more about this in Alzheimer’s and Money Worries, which may be of help to anyone going through this stage with a loved one.] If mom was having a fretful moment about money, we could hand her this statement, which we kept on a clipboard. She would sit and read (and re-read) it for a very long while and would often comment about how helpful it was to her.
K Know that closing my eyes may be me trying to find my words.
Word finding is one of the earlier struggles I noticed in my mom’s journey with Alzheimer’s. It’s a problem I am wrestling with these days too. I have noticed that when I am struggling to figure out which word I want to use during a conversation, my family and friends will often provide the word for me during my long pause. Most of the time I appreciate the help; other times it just deepens my awareness and the inkling I have that my later years of life are headed in the same direction of memory loss that my mom experienced.
In fact, photo albums and picture books are one of the greatest tools in the toolbox of dementia redirection.
I don’t remember mom closing her eyes when she was trying to think of what she was going to say–at least not in the earlier stages. I remember that she would avert her eyes upwards and away, as if she was searching the corners of her mind for what she wanted to say. I do this too. I have also noticed something in my own pause to search for the words. By the time I’m ready to add my words to table talk conversation, the direction of the conversation has moved on to something else. It’s frustrating, but it reminds me of something important when engaging in conversation with my memory-challenged friends at my workplace. Don’t be in such a rush–wait for them to answer.
L Listen with me to music and dance tunes.
Mom would rather sit quietly and read a book or magazine than dance or listen to music. It’s not that mom didn’t like music; rather, her hearing deficit made listening to music more than a little bit challenging. While this point doesn’t apply much to my mom, it does bring to mind my work place. I work as a baker in an assisted living memory care home and am sometimes surprised by the music being played in the background for our residents. Sometimes I think the music chosen reflects the preference of the caregiver on duty, rather than the tastes of the generation being served.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that the radio or television in our care home is oftentimes playing too softly. The younger folks who work as the caregivers don’t seem to take into account the need for extra volume in this older population. Nor do we pay enough attention to what is being broadcast on the television in our common spaces. It’s much better, for instance, to choose a classic movie from the era in which these folks lived, rather than a talk show featuring four women arguing their views. Better (in my opinion) to choose a nature show over a scary, blood and guts movie.
Don’t get me wrong–our care home is fantastic and is blessed with a number of great caregivers. But, there is one caregiver who I find to be absolutely delightful. She will put on music the residents love and engage in a little song and dance. She’ll even make up her own tune or sing a familiar jingle, even if she’s just passing through the room on her way to her next task. If they’re having an exercise class, she’ll join in and spread her own brand of love, laughter, song and encouragement. Marnie makes the residents smile (and me too).
The world of memory care caregivers needs more Marnies.
Now that she is no longer here to tell her stories, how I wish I had recorded her voice as she reminisced about her life, and how I wish I had written down those stories she shared. Her stories were part of my life’s story too.
Before you read my post, you might want to take a peek below and read the list of A-Z Caregiving Tips which inspired me to share my own experience related to these tips.
A diagnosis of cognitive impairment or memory loss presents caregiving challenges, each as varied as the person experiencing it. Alzheimer’s was the diagnosis that spelled memory loss for my sweet mom. I have already presented my experience with tips A – G, so let me jump right in where I left off.
H Hear my stories from long ago attentively.
I treasure the rocking chair my husband bought for me in celebration of the birth of our first child. When I walk past it, I sometimes run my hand across the back of the chair and give it a gentle nudge to rock. Sweet memories of rocking my children to sleep or to soothe their tears come to the forefront of my memory. Funny thing is, as often as I rocked my babies, I don’t remember when the last time was that I rocked them. That’s because it happened when I didn’t see it coming.
Similarly, there came a time when my sweet mother told each of her oft-repeated stories from her childhood for the last time. It was so easy to tune them out over time because I had heard them so many times. I find grace in knowing that I really was tired and trying to juggle too many things, but oh how I now wish I had taken more time to listen with my heart. Now that she is no longer here to tell her stories, how I wish I had recorded her voice as she reminisced about her life, and how I wish I had written down more of the stories she shared. Her stories were part of my life’s story too.
I Invite me along on community and church gatherings.
Just as the stories our loved ones tell will one day come to an end, so too will their desire to be social. I’m so glad I carved out time to take my mother on a few road-trips “home” to visit her family in West Virginia and Ohio.
Only God knows the measure of our days.
Even though she was in the early stages of memory loss, traveling with her wasn’t easy, but the effort was rewarded many times over as I observed her quiet joy as she spent time with her family (and mine).
Mom was a woman of faith who served the Lord with gladness as long as she was able. The day did come in the fall of 2015 when, for safety sake, I needed to take her car away (I didn’t earn any popularity awards with that decision). Mom’s need for fellowship with her church family was still strong, so I’m thankful for Mom’s friend Jean, who would take mom to church with her whenever Mom was willing and ready. Mom’s ability to measure time and take cues from what was written on her calendar gradually disappeared late in 2015. Sadly, when Mom’s ability to remember the names of even her closest friends diminished, so too did her desire to attend church. Her “last day” attending church happened when we weren’t expecting it either.
While mom no longer had the desire to go places, I noticed there was still a glimmer of joy when people would come to visit. I soon discovered that the most loving thing I could do for her was to invite family and friends in. Just a few at a time, so as not to overwhelm her.
Mom enjoyed the times when all three of us kids were able to be with her. She didn’t remember the visit for long, and it would usually tucker her out, but the momentary joy was worth the extra effort of finagling Brad’s wheelchair into the house.
Her church family was fantastic – she loved the visits from her pastors and friends who would stop by. Her eyes would light up when her grandchildren (and especially her great-grandchildren) would come for a visit. One granddaughter would bring dinner and her family every Sunday night. One grandson came every chance he could, bringing his girls with him. All of the visiting grands and great-grands would spend time doing whatever she enjoyed: coloring, sorting colorful buttons, working a puzzle a half-dozen times, and such. My sister Vivian would come every other weekend or so to help me out, sometimes bringing her youngest son. Mom dearly loved her family, even if she didn’t always comprehend that we were her family.
My encouragement to fellow caregivers is to make sure you make room for family and friends as often as you can.
We rarely know when time spent with a loved one is the last time. Last times happen in life when we aren’t looking. Only God knows the measure of our days.
During the month of November, many people like to take a little bit more notice of the things for which they are thankful. The older I get, the “things” on the list grow fewer and the “people to be thankful for” on the list grows longer and longer. Today, I’m feeling a wave of praise and thanksgiving wash over me as I think about one special person.
It was probably 2019, but it seems not so very long ago, when I arrived at BeeHive for a visit and lunch with my sweet momma. As I stepped into the door of the home, I spied my mom seated in a circle with her friends at BeeHive. Judging by all of the pool noodles and the balloon in the middle of the circle, BeeHive’s gregarious activity director had just finished leading a group chair exercise session. The residents, faces still flushed with joy, were listening as Kathleen continued on with an exercise of the mind, asking them to finish phrases like:
Practice what you ________.
Better late than ________.
Laughter is the best _________.
A woman’s work ___ _______ _____.
Birds of a feather _______ _______.
The residents seemed to enjoy this activity very much, but it was easy to see that mom’s participation level was very limited. Marked hearing loss and seriously impaired cognitive ability made it almost impossible for mom to participate in a meaningful way. But, I noticed one thing that was very special – it was the way mom was looking at Kathleen. There was love and admiration in momma’s eyes.
Very few activities captured mom’s attention for long, but Kathleen patiently encouraged her to try. If mom would wander away or was otherwise not engaged in the activity itself, Kathleen did her best to draw mom into the circle and strived to include her in the camaraderie of her fellow residents as an observer.
Kathleen’s strong voice always carried an endearing lilt of cheerfulness to my mom’s hard of hearing ears. It’s difficult to say how much mom actually heard, or understood, but mom could read the joy and encouragement on Kathleen’s face.
I will be forever grateful for Kathleen’s part in making my mom’s final leg of her journey toward her heavenly home a more pleasant one. Now that I’m baking a few days a week at BeeHive, it’s such an honor to be able to continue to witness Kathleen fill our assisted living memory care home with buzz and excitement. She now works alongside a sweet cohort in all things fun named Julia. Whether they are painting fingernails, calling out Bingo, playing cards, leading in chair exercises, making a beautiful art project, or decorating (and eating) delicious cupcakes, they make such a nice team in bringing a few moments of joy and a whole lot more buzz to the hive.
For several years now, this little watering can has held various succulents from my garden. I bought this little watering can around 17 years ago for my first grandbaby. My mind’s eye sees Violet, dressed in her pink ballerina tutu, carrying this pint-sized watering can around and joyfully watering my flowers…and rocks…and me.
One by one, each granddaughter took her turn as a toddler helping me water the garden using this watering can. Mia, then Noelle, each dressed in various Disney princess dresses, liked to use their budding culinary skills while they watered. They’d take the bucket of water I provided for watering can refills and add handfuls of their special ingredients: leaves, twigs, grass, and dirt, of course. Together they would create imaginary “salads” and “soups” for grandma and grandpa to enjoy. Then along came the stairstep grandsons, Charlie, Henry and George, who gravitated toward using squirt-guns over watering cans to get the job of watering plants (and each other) done.
Though the sun has faded the paint and the grandkids have all outgrown using it, I can’t part with the memories.
I’m not quite sure why, but a “clean out the pantry” whim hit me today. Armed with cleaning rags and my spray bottle filled with vinegar water, I spritzed and wiped dust and the sticky whatever-that-was off of the shelves. Jams and jellies tucked here and there got moved to the same proximity, as did an amazing collection of salad dressing bottles. Good thing we really enjoy salads at our house. A couple of savory items had migrated over to the sweet (baking) side of the pantry, so they were sent back to their own side. I checked things for for their “best if used by” dates and organized things by date with the oldest in the front. As I sorted and rearranged, I discovered a few slightly past-dated canned goods.
I won’t tell you how old the can of pumpkin was (lest you worry about me), but we now have a pumpkin pie cooling on the countertop!
“He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water…” from Psalm 1:3
A beautiful place of calm respite is just a few steps outside of my front door. This time of year, it’s not my garden. It’s the park just down the street. On this crisp autumn day, I decided to take a stroll around the park just before lunch.
I just love this weeping willow lined pathway. A row of towering trees strung all in a row alongside one of the park’s ponds, with a nice walking path dividing the pond-side trees from several willow friends reaching over the path from the other side.
Today, as my feet crunch through the leafy tunnel, I take in the aroma of fallen leaves and the shivering sound of the gold-kissed leaves as gentle breezes play with the dangling cascade of branches.
An unexpected blessing was finding my friend Rita just on the other side of this tunnel taking her own peaceful walk through the park. She changed directions to join me in my walk and together we talked trees, bushes, Mexican sunflowers, peonies, and all things garden-y. Her beautiful garden is on the other side of the park and is always worth a tiny detour to visit. I love her garden. Even though her garden is winding down for the growing season, I can see that it has good bones. She knows just where to plant her newest bush or tree so that it will reach its fullest measure of beauty and harmonize with neighboring trees and bushes. I learn so much from my friend. We really should visit more often.
Honestly, I’m befuddled as to why I don’t take walks in the park more often. It used to be an almost daily habit. Maybe I could make it just that once again. The first step out of the door is the hardest, but is always richly rewarded.
But our weather in south-central Wisconsin has been anything and nearly everything possible these days. In the past week, we’ve experienced frost on the ground most mornings, and even a frosty morning where I had to use my ice-scraper on my car’s windshield. Most days had at least a little bit of sunshine. A few rainclouds watered the earth for at least a few minutes. One day the raindrops seemed to be a little sharp with ice, but the sleet melted before hitting the ground.
Other than a few splashes of color here and there, our south-central Wisconsin colorama of autumnal splendor is definitely over. Just about any time I’m outside I can hear the sound of lawn mowers doing one final mowing and neighbors raking leaves. I’ve been out there tidying up flowerbeds too. I’m not going crazy with it this year. I’m just cutting back peonies, joe pye weed, pulling back spent foliage on daylilies and mildew-prone hostas, and the such.
Except for these few die-hard blossoms, my garden is finished for 2022. And, you know what? I’m ready for it. As much as I like playing in the dirt, I’m ready for the work to be done until spring.
A trio of clematis blossoms bid me to stop to admire their delicate beauty. This vine grows nearest my front porch and is a delight most of the summer, then gives a tiny flush of blossoms in the fall.
Snapdragons really don’t mind the cold. I let them seed themselves willy-nilly wherever they please and look forward to seeing them next year.
I’m still gardening in my bare feet (barefoot lily lady, you know), but my feet will find my shoes pretty soon…if my winter boots don’t find my feet first.
If you’re finished with your gardening chores in your corner of God’s earth, you might enjoy a virtual visit to see what is happening in other gardens all over the world. Just use this link to visit Jim’s Garden Ruminations to enjoy Six on Saturday to its fullest.