Family Caregiver’s Month

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November is National Family Caregiver’s Month. So, why the picture of cactus? Well, I’m a little prickly about the fact that the contributions of caregivers are officially recognized only one month out of twelve. With almost 66 million people in the United States providing care to an ill, disabled or aging family member, it should be year-round.

Since releasing my book a few short months ago, I’ve been privileged to hear the stories of so many people who are caring for moms and dads, children, siblings, spouses and life partners. And regardless of our differences, the common thread that runs through every experience is the capacity for resilience, that ability to cope with stress and adversity that sometimes seems in short supply.

It’s a word I recently asked my caregiver’s writing group to consider. What did the term mean to them? What strengthened their resiliency? What weakened it? How did they find it in themselves or others?

As always, everyone wrote from a different perspective. One person described how resilience is a living, changing thing, and that helping others to be strong enhances your own ability to cope. Another takes her lead from the weeping willow – a tree that survives the years through its ability to bend and move with the wind. For me, it could be found by looking at my tiny sparrow of a mom, 90 years old, and realizing that her body told a tale of resilience more eloquently than words ever could. Despite surgeries, disease, and heartache, she practiced gratitude every single day.

So, my question to you, dear readers, is, “What helps you deal with the difficult challenges of caregiving? Is it the support of other people? Is it strong faith? Is it a beloved family pet you can pour your heart out to? Or maybe its releasing your stress and anxiety on paper.

Leave a comment here, and you’ll be entered into a drawing on November 30th to win an autographed copy of The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving: A Practical Memoir.*

Take good care. You are all, quite simply, amazing.

*Sorry. U.S. deliveries only.

 

Coloring is for Grownups

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As kids, who didn’t inhale that new crayon smell or covet that fresh box of 64 Crayolas every new school year. What was your favorite color? Mine was magenta, mainly because I liked the sound of the word. MA-GEN-TA.

Remember how when we were coloring, all our troubles fell away? Our right brain engaged; our head was inches from the page; and our tongue peeked out with rapt concentration.

Why did we stop? Maybe, because growing up meant putting away childish things. Good news, though. Research now shows that coloring can be a great stress and anxiety reliever, offering a much needed break from the responsibilities that often weigh so heavily on our shoulders. It also enhances motor skills and trains our brain to focus.

There are some fabulous coloring books out there for adults these days – from florals to animals to zen inspired designs. And who cares what people think? I’m putting my pictures up on the refrigerator door.

Leave a comment and you’ll be entered in a drawing on November 30th to win one gorgeous coloring book by Johanna Basford, along with a set of colored pencils.*

On your marks, get set, have some fun!

 

*Sorry, U.S. readers only.

Sharing The Hospice Experience

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Despite the fact that none of us gets out of this world alive, generally speaking we’re uncomfortable with the concepts of death and dying. In her book, Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died, Karen Kaplan, an ordained rabbi and board certified chaplain, demystifies the process by talking about her experiences with hospice clients of all ages and denominations. Listening as they share their stories, their hopes and their fears, she offers the powerful gift of being heard, with warmth, gentle humor and deep compassion.  Below is an excerpt:

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As you accompany me to my patients, you may find yourself throwing various assumptions overboard. Such as when I sing to them, you might think I only sing sweet and religious songs like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” or “Kumbaya, My Lord,” or something based on the Psalms such as “May the Words of My Mouth.” Sam, twenty-eight years old and formerly a policeman, was one of the youngest residents in a nursing home relatively near my office; he was there on account of a disease that was stealthily stealing his motor abilities. Almost every time I stopped in, he gave me a broad delighted smile. But he decidedly did not want to hear a “girlie” thing like a hymn, though his mother did. She visited him at the nursing home practically every day to patiently feed him lunch served along with her cheery and loving talk. I often saw her during my weekly visits, and because she found my hymns soothing, I sang them for her benefit when she was around. She kept requesting them every time our visits coincided, although she had a thing or two to say to God due to the disease that was destroying her son. Sam, as I implied before, was not ambivalent about religion. He simply was not on board with it, so I tried to think of something nonreligious to sing. I had recently found out that one of the things Sam missed a lot at the nursing home was beer. Since I could not quickly arrange to have it made available (this would have required a doctor’s order), I thought a song about such beverages might raise his spirits at least in part. So I energetically sang “What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor,” “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer,” and “In Heaven There Is No Beer.” All of these elicited his distinctive lingering smile. On subsequent visits, when I asked if he wanted to hear these again, he formed an even longer-lasting smile and said, “Sure!” Even his mom allowed herself a grin. At later visits when he could no longer indicate what he wanted to hear, his smile acted as confirmation.

One of Sam’s dying wishes was to get a tattoo showing his police rank and years of service. Given his condition, the procedure would have been painful, but his response was, in his soft high-pitched voice, “I’m tough.” Unfortunately, this was complicated to arrange. For one thing, he was not strong enough to leave the nursing home to appear at the tattoo parlor. There was some talk of getting a tattoo artist to make a house call, but by then, Sam was too weak to endure getting the tattoo. Soon after his disease had progressed to that stage, my husband Steve and I saw a performance of Hawaiian hula dancers, and I noticed that they had tattoos—not the kind we typically think of with pictures of hearts and arrows and letters, but of geometric shapes. One of the Hawaiian performers explained that their tattoos signify such matters as family connections and position in the social hierarchy. The higher the rank, the more elaborate and more numerous the designs. I thought of Sam, who wanted us to read his epitaph on his skin, proclaiming who he was and what he had achieved.

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Ordained in 1992, Karen was among the first 200 female rabbis worldwide. In 2007 she became a board certified chaplain and served hospices for seven years. Her goal in writing Encountering The Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died,  and her blog, offbeat compassion, is to provide a gentle entree to a forbidding yet mesmerizing subject. The book is available on Amazon in softcover, a Kindle version, and now as an audiobook, which can also be purchased on audible.com.

Times Festival of Reading Event

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Everyone’s talking about it – a book on caregiving that’s actually fun to read. I’ll be signing and selling copies of The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving at the Times Festival of Reading this Saturday, October 24th at the University of South Florida’s St Pete campus.  Come visit me at Booth 16. There will be chocolate.

A Library Moment

Our Hillsborough County Public Library system has a special “Share Your Story” feature on their website. My recent childhood trip down memory lane was included. Honestly, I can’t imagine a world without libraries. Can you?

Library Story

I Cannot Tell A Fib

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Well, maybe once after I came back from summer vacation, and told my classmates that Lloyd Bridges, from the TV show Sea Hunt, had invited me to spend the summer with him on his boat, the Argonaut. I was eight.

When my third grade crush, Michael Dots, doubted my story, I ran out of class and on to the playground where I promptly tripped and fell. If you’re wondering what was more humiliating – lying there by the tetherball pole with sand up my skirt or having my credibility questioned, it was definitely the latter. Because even as a kid, being someone people could trust was important to me.

It still is. And that’s why you’re reading this embarrassing childhood tale. To demonstrate my willingness to share honest, salty sweet stories and advice in The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide, which illustrate the darkness, the light, the exhaustion and the humor to be found in loving and caring for aging parents.

In this day and age, growing old with grace and dignity is fraught with challenges, as is family caregiving. When we’re not afraid to acknowledge that, we can then begin an honest, openhearted dialogue that can change things for the better.

Stay with me. There’s so much more to come.

A Library Fantasy

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After doing some research on the first public library in the U.S., it seems that several towns claim that honor – Peterborough New Hampshire, Salisbury CT, Darby PA, Newport RI, to name a few.

Regardless, I’m honored to share that the Hillsborough County Public Library System has just added The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving: A Practical Memoir to their collection!

Growing up, one of my fantasy jobs was  being a page at our local library, and getting to shelve books all day. This is so much better! And as you can see, Addie Jacob is just as excited.

The Perfect Book Launch Party

Signing books and retouching my eyebrows at a “Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving” launch party given by some lovely friends, Steve and Janie Miller. This is the perfect book club selection, with a series of questions at the end that are sure to get people talking. Or maybe that will be the wine.

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