What’s In Your Caregiver’s Purse?

Truth be told, I’ve had a thing for purses since the age of four. Back then I used to carry candy, crayons, and a picture of my cat, Mooney. Later, my handbag contained the usual keys, a wallet, a makeup pouch, a cell phone, and a damp washcloth in a plastic bag, (oh, wait, that was my mother). When I became a caregiver though, the contents of this over-the-shoulder life support system quickly expanded with my new reality. Now I carried:

Hastily jotted sticky notes, which sometimes stuck to my butt as I ran errands. One evening, I spent an entire hour grocery shopping with a sign attached to my pants that read “Fleets enema.” Trust me, that’s a back-story you don’t want to hear.

A dozen to-do lists. Actually, it’s pretty normal for me to juggle multiple lists, partly because there’s something so damned satisfying in being able to line through something.

A pound of change in a baggie for the parking meter at my mother’s rehab center. Twenty minutes for a quarter, which is about what my time was worth.

A key ring to make a custodian jealous. It held twelve keys, including my office, house, and car; my parents’ houses and their safe deposit box, along with an assortment of scan thingies from Stein Mart and TJ Maxx for retail therapy.

My cell phone. Instead of salivating like Pavlov’s dogs every time it rang, my body’s response was a spray of adrenaline up my spine that wore me out. To keep my sanity, I would change ring tones every few weeks.

Tweezers, for pulling inch long chin hairs that literally sprang out of nowhere. What’s with that? And of course, I never noticed them until glancing in my car mirror while sitting in traffic. Who can pluck while everyone’s watching??

A pocket calendar with laughably small squares. Does anyone’s life actually fits in those one-inch boxes??

Mooshed up Kleenex for those times I was so exhausted and a stranger would say or do something kind. I’m not a crier, but that would always bring me to hot, messy, nose-running tears.

My parents’ healthcare forms including: HIPPA letters, durable powers of attorney; healthcare surrogate documents; and living wills. I didn’t think it the least bit odd to also carry their DNR’s (Do Not Resuscitate), as well. It is always about being prepared.

A list of my parents’ doctors. Unfortunately, my dad was doing a great job of alienating most of them, so the list was constantly changing. One physician told him he had an anger problem and suggested counseling. When my dad actually called to schedule a session, he got a voicemail recording, and left a string of four letter words that I can never, ever repeat.

Last, but not least, I rarely went anywhere without a twisted sense of humor; because, as we caregivers know, despite all our preparation and planning for the unexpected challenges of this role, sometimes laughter can save us when nothing else will.

So, in the spirit of sharing, tell us what’s in your purse today?

Things My Mother Taught Me

“Poppies” painting by my mother, Sally D

My 69th birthday is this Sunday. It also happens to be Mother’s Day, and I am missing the hell out of my mom. She was one smart cookie who taught me some great lessons about living well. Here are just a few.

1) Never throw away used ribbon or wrapping paper. This is why you keep forty-two plastic tote bags in the closet.

2) Uttering a well-timed four-lettered word can be very satisfying.

3) Be proud to say you’re an artist, especially at ninety. Sometimes, the handsome young sales guy at Sam Flax will give you free art supplies.

4) The pants in your closet are not a good place to hide cash. Your smart-mouthed daughter will likely ask about withdrawals from the Bank of Polyester.

5) Be someone who says “thank you” often. There are kind people out there who have never heard those words.

6) Don’t be intimidated by doctors. You’re allowed to ask questions, plus it surprises the hell out of them.

7) Take a deep breathe and count to five before answering the question, “And how are we doing today?”

8) Your purse should always contain a baggie with a damp washcloth in it. Oh, and peppermint candies, too.

9) Sometimes, the more you learn about other people, the better you’ll like yourself.

10) Practice gratitude daily. With all its tsuris (Yiddish for “aggravation), life can still be beautiful.

Is there any Mom advice you’d like to share?

You Might Be a Caregiver If…

As most of you know, every month, I am privileged to facilitate a writer’s group specifically for caregivers. One of our members, Terry, wrote a piece that goes to straight to the heart of what it’s like to be on this journey, and she has graciously allowed me to share it with you.

You might be a caregiver if:

You experience a slight increase in your heart rate when you recognize the caller id is your loved one’s assisted living facility/nursing home/rehabilitation center

You quickly dart your eyes to your spouse and wordless communication this is ‘one of those’ calls before the caller can complete one of the following phrases: ‘unwitnessed fall’, ‘EMS is on route’, ‘being transported to the Emergency Room

You remind the nurse to be sure your loved one is sent with a jacket even though you know that won’t be enough to keep them warm once they arrive

You can put together a bag of essential items for an extended ER visit in less than five minutes

You can quickly review your planned activities and begin cancelling/postponing them on your way out the door

You have your driver’s license out of your wallet as you walk into the ER lobby

You have a prepared speech for the ER staff (preferred arm to use for a blood draw, needs extra blankets, list of artificial joints/pacemaker/etc.)

You can recite their list of prescription medications, drug allergies and reactions, date of last visit to the ER

You already have a Health Care Surrogate document on file at the hospital

You know which tests they are going to perform before the doctor begins placing the orders

You know you won’t be leaving for at least four hours

You know where every bathroom is in the ER area

You have spent at least two birthdays/anniversaries/holidays in the ER or hospital with a loved one

You have postponed, cancelled or returned early from a vacation (or simply skipped planning one)

You would do it all again, without hesitation, if needed

To caretakers everywhere, keep your chin up and your sense of humor handy. You are very special people and the best advocates for your loved ones. Remember to take care of yourself too.

I had no idea when I wrote this story that my role as caregiver would end eight days later. My mom had a second fall on December 13th and broke her hip. She was transferred to the Sun City Hospice House so they could help manage the increased pain. Once they administered the pain medication, she finally relaxed and went to sleep. She never woke up again and she died peacefully on December 15th with me, my husband, Paul, my cousin, John and his wife, Mary by her side.


Faith, friends and fur babies

What do these words have in common? According to the amazing caregivers who answered my FaceBook shout-out, these are all ways of finding peace when you’re between a rock and the hard place of caregiving. Read on for even more wisdom from caregivers just like you. Many thanks to everyone for being so generous with your time and your words!

I kept a list of goals accomplished, because you do accomplish things . A brief list of achievements reinforces that you are indeed effective. Cathy G

You must find someone to take over your caregiving for an hour, a day, or a weekend so that you can do something for yourself. Ginni B

One word – family. My mother’s illness and eventual death brought my brothers and me such closeness that I almost think she planned it that way. Brenda B

Laughter is THE best medicine. Look for it. It’s there! Cathy S

Make a self soothing box. Find a pretty box (any size you prefer). Put inside the box things that soothe you Like: candle,scented lotion,picture of your loved one when they were young, rock from a vacation, cork from a bottle of wine that holds a story etc.  Sheila A

Reaching out for help. I simply asked people to text me to relax, or breathe, or pray…whenever they thought of me randomly during the day. Becky D

Only the grace and mercy of God keeps me going when I want to quit. Ruth H

Without laughter where would we be?  In the end it’s the only thing that helps us hang on longer. Cathy C

Watching Master of None and laughing till it hurts!!! We are more than the fixer, the caregiver, the one who must make decisions. Enee A

My “calm” has always been music. Whether studying it, playing it, or merely listening and appreciating it, music transcends all boundaries. Chris A

I’m still working on that. Jen K

Taking time to look through pictures of past memories. Remembering wonderful times with friends and family. This can renew your soul. Denise H

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Liz L

Scheduling 15 minutes of “me” time. Catherine B

I cry, I call my friends who lift my spirits up, I hold & kiss my cat, I sit on my deck admiring the beautiful view, I read late at night, I make a dessert…… it’s little things that add up that gets me through. Eve T

The peace is found knowing that what you are doing is the ultimate labor of love. When it is over, you will miss so much of what you did so lovingly. Elizabeth M

Prayer. Jac D

“Recognize the Lord’s presence in the difficult times, and give Him the glory. See how even the things we think of as setbacks are all part of His perfect plan for our lives. Susan C

Sometimes all I can do is simply breathe and rely on the only One who can see me through that very moment. Jana S

My sweet golden and chocolate help me work through it. Each of us has to find our own path to acceptance of hard choices. Debra R

I no longer think of myself as a caregiver, which implies duty, but rather as performing the work that He has given me for today. Tom M

My favorite bible verse “I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me.” Helen H

The motto we used through 5 brain surgeries and subsequently 6 months in the hospital: TODAY IS NOT FOREVER. TODAY IS JUST TODAY. Lori R

I pray, then get busy with what God would have me do for that day. Roxanne M

I can stand anything for a little while!! Good times do not last forever and neither do bad ones!! Sharon D

I love him more than enough and I can love him through this. Judith R

On-line support, friends, and prayers. Michele L

A walk or some outdoor activity. Nanette H

The beautiful tile painting of a dove was found at a friend’s home.