Friday, March 23, 2012


In recovery, it's often said that FEAR stands for "False Expectations Appearing Real".  I have to remind myself of this often.

I expect the worst to happen everyday. It's a survival mechanism for me that keeps me focused on what needs to be done in order to protect others from themselves. My father volunteers to give his money to every internet scam "opportunity" out there, on an almost daily basis. If I didn't expect the worst to come of his actions, things could get much, much uglier. 

However, living in FEAR isn't healthy. The reality is that the worst doesn't happen everyday. I have been dealing with Dad's decaying judgement for a while now-and the worst hasn't happened. It's frustrating and is scary-but the expectation of impending disaster is different from the current reality. 

The reality is that Dad has been taken advantage of by scammers-and has lost thousands of dollars already. The reality is that there are not enough safeguards in place in our society to protect our more vulnerable citizens: seniors and those with mental handicaps. The reality is that I can only do so much on my own to protect him. 

I don't have a lot of support from my family, unfortunately. It seems that the sadness of what is happening to Dad is too much for my brothers to handle. My husband makes effort to do things like watch him at work, screen his email etc- but having the real conversations with Dad falls on me and me alone. This in itself is problematic, as it makes it easy for Dad to write off my concerns as "female hysterics" or to decide that my motivations lie in a desire to control him.  Neither of these are true. 

It's an exercise in living in the moment really. I can't control Dad's actions. I can choose not to spend each day with a knot in my stomach, wondering what trouble he has gotten into now. Ultimately, I can also choose when the time to act to restrict his activities has come. My goal is that this decision, which is quickly approaching, will be driven by love and not FEAR.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I'll be the first to admit that the expectations I had of what life with Dad would be like were wrong.  Really wrong. I blame TV.

When you think about it-there aren't that many role models for multi-generational families on TV.  I can only think of two off the top of my head: Raising Hope and The King of Queens.

If you haven't seen Raising Hope- you should. It's hilarious, with Cloris Leachman as the adorable but senile Maw Maw "leading" a household composed of four generations.  The King of Queens was cancelled long ago, but lives on in perpetuity through syndication.  Jerry Stiller, a comedic master, played an aged father who lives with his married daughter.  Both of these shows are comedies, so they are focused on the lighter side of  inter-generational living. Neither of these shows is very realistic.

Don't get me wrong-there are many moments that could be manipulated by some comedic genius to create a sitcom all our own.  While I can't say that Dad has ever flashed school aged children while on a field trip (a la Maw Maw), I have caught him wandering around the kitchen in his underwear late at night looking for a snack. Laughing beats crying, so that's what we try to do. That's what I try to do, as much as possible. Fortunately, kids seem to naturally consider ALL adults somewhat absurd, so they cope with Papa accordingly.

The reality of living with a Senior can include way too much time spent at the local hospital to deal with frequent medical emergencies.  For us, it includes balancing his standards with our own- house keeping, time spent together, disciplining and setting boundaries for the kids are just a few of the things that we redefine daily.  I do appreciate that comedies like Raising Hope and The King of Queens exist as a reminder that things aren't always as bad as they seem and that perspective is everything.

I have to ask though- given that the number of multi-generational families world wide is trending upward (due to the recession, baby boomers, single parents, etc), would it kill the networks to include an extended household in just one family drama?  I know, I know-family dramas seem to be a relic of the past right now. Crime and all that is much trendier.  I am guessing though that I am not alone in my desire to see families make a comeback.

Monday, March 5, 2012


I confess that I never did get around to reading the book mentioned in the last post. I probably will, but I haven't yet. I found something else-something that I have found to be very valuable.

Several years ago, I bought a book that I completely forgot about. When I was organizing and sorting through books to donate (this process of sorting and donating in hopes of creating order out of the chaos of two combined homes STILL takes up many hours a week) I came across this book again. It is a book of meditations on elderly parents.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I am a recovering alcoholic.This will probably come up periodically here, but hopefully not often. There are things that I have learned through work I have put into my recovery so far, things that help me stay sober and to deal with life. In my past life, I drank to deal with my emotions. Anger, disappointment in myself and others, frustration and resentment mostly. I also drank to deal with happy feelings-but those were the good days, the days when the drinking led to laughing and not the throwing of household objects. I needed help- so I got help. Anyone who has been through a good rehab program will tell you that the power of meditation and prayer are incredibly important to their recovery. While I still struggle with prayer and defining a higher power, I do meditate daily.

Meditation is one of those nebulous things that seems to look and be different for everyone. I am a beginner, so I stand in awe of those who are able to discipline themselves to successful meditation. For me, one good meditation can be followed by a seemingly endless string of days that feel like meditative failure-an inability to keep my mind focused, with my thoughts wandering from garbage day to mundane events that took place two decades ago. I keep trying though, because in those days that I am able to focus my thoughts- I find tremendous solace.  It's totally worth waiting for.

Using guided meditation to contemplate  my position as a caregiver has helped me deal with my father's aging with a much better attitude, and for that I am grateful. I would take that further even and say that I am grateful for BEING grateful, for I know that when I move from an attitude of resentment to gratefulness, I am moving out of my own head and into the world again at a healthy level. In these times I can breathe a sigh of relief and know that for that moment I am where I need to be.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


There's a lot said about having babies, toddlers and children in our lives.  I think that most people anticipate having children when we become married adults (or not married, or whatever- not judging).  Babies keep us up at night, but reward us by smiling and laughing. Toddlers can be even more challenging with their increased need for independence and their 'pesky' new found mobility.  Each stage of a child's life is challenging-both for parents and for the child.  Part of the joy though (for us anyway) has been reliving our own childhoods, making the landscape at least somewhat familiar to us as parents. There's also a myriad of books on the subject of raising children, support groups for Moms and Dads, playgroups to occupy the kids, etc.

It only recently occurred to me that caring for a senior is just another phase of life, and that there may be help in some of the same forms that I used raising my children. I looked, but sadly-in my small community, there are currently no support groups for caregivers.  So, I turned to the internet to look for books on the subject. There are many resources there (duh!), but one book in particular piqued my interest.

I have not yet received the book much less read it. When I have read it, if it contains valuable information, maybe I'll share the title, etc.  I bring it up only because, based on what I learned from just reading the publisher's paragraph-it's likely that I'll be sharing. Just the little bit that I read online introduced me to a new idea that fascinates me: that seniors are a lot like teenagers.

When I applied this concept to my daily dealings with Dad-it was easy to see the parallels. Teens have the ability to make many decisions, and often they choose without weighing the facts, and without regard to their own well being. Often, teens are rebellious and their actions simply reflect their desire to assert their independence. All true with Dad.

I have raised one teen, and am in the process of raising two more. As I see it-there are a few significant differences between teens and seniors. Teens can be punished for behavior that endangers them. Seniors can't (and I'm not suggesting that they should be). Teens are protected by the law from legally signing documents. Seniors are not (until it's often too late, and they have already made expensive, dangerous decisions) . Teens most often don't have credit cards, lines of credit or access to large amounts of money. Seniors often do.  Teens may behave as though they want freedom, but  many experts agree that they need boundaries. Try removing freedoms from or setting boundaries with an elderly parent- I dare you! Still, it's something that often must be done.

Wrap all of this up in the complicated relationships of parents and children, of protecting a senior's dignity while protecting their assets, of offering respect for a senior's experiences and knowledge while attempting to assert your own, and well- good luck. It's a recipe for becoming quickly overwhelmed: two parts frustration, one part anger, a half portion of confusion. Don't forget to stir constantly to avoid boiling over!

It's interesting to contemplate how very many books have been written on how to raise children, or how to communicate with your teenager. Comparatively few exist on how to communicate with seniors-so my hopes are high that what I have found on the subject will offer more valuable insights. I'll let you know if I learn anything further when I've actually read the book.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The journey home (?)

I should clarify that some of the choices that I have made, that WE have made as a family are not for everyone. I don't judge other people, and I hope that you won't judge me (any more harshly than I judge myself anyway).  Most of us will have to  make decisions regarding our aging parents at some point in time. Those decisions will be complex, sometimes painful, possibly inconvenient and always emotionally charged.

We chose to move in with my Dad after my Mother passed away. Logistically- it wasn't easy. We lived in the city, 6 hours away from the small town that my parents  chose to retire in. While the town is  picturesque, I never would have chosen to live here. Ever. Two years after the move, I still feel like a fish out of water. I am a liberal vegan woman who does not belong to a church (heathen), living in the midst of 30,000 conservative Christian hunters. As I said-I don't judge, but I also don't fit in. So be it. 

I moved almost immediately to help Dad deal with the business of dying-contacting people, arranging services, dealing with Mom's belongings, etc. Back in the city, my husband  took care of getting the boys to school, and my daughter (who was then 17) took care of them in the afternoons. She sacrificed much of her Senior year of high school to make the move possible. I do wish that I could give that back to her.  

We saw each other most weekends, and the boys moved down in April of that year-four months after I did. The only bedroom big enough to accommodate them both had been Grandma's room, so it required some changes. Everything had to go in fact, so that they could start their new lives with hope, not living in the shadow of their dead Grandmother. I spent time painting their room with colors that they chose on one of their weekend visits. We put in new carpet also, to ensure the room was completely  made over.

 They moved in with me and their Grandpa (Papa)  during Spring break. From their first day here-their lives were better in so many ways. Their school is now within walking distance, which eliminates the 20 minute drive to class that we were all used to in the city. Their friends are also within walking distance- in fact, several kids live on the same block-which makes the "play date" system of scheduling an afternoon with a classmate two weeks prior to the actual get together obsolete.

It took 18 months to sell our house in the city, even though it was one of few homes with a forest and water view.  I loved that house. We enjoyed many days hiking with the kids in the canyon below our backyard. It was the last place that we were all together as a family before my daughter went away to college.  I will miss that life for a very long time.

To say it was a difficult time is an understatement. As I look back on it- I am still overwhelmed. Some days I can't help but mourn that life has required me to give up so much. Other days, I can't help but focus on how much I will have to give up in the near future. Focusing on the here and now is hard, and is not only part of my journey- I believe therein lies my  happiness. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Where to begin...

I am a chronic blog-starter. There was the blog about interior design-which I abandoned when I stopped working. There was the blog about clothes. I quit that one shortly after I quit working too, because my new wardrobe consists mostly of sweat pants and converse. HAWT!

Then there was the one about gardening. I started that one a while ago, after my Mom died. For months, I worked in what was her garden, hence the title: Tending Mother's Garden. Initially, the work I did there was rehab for both me and the garden. The weeds had taken over during her illness, and it was several months (19 to be exact) before I felt like dealing with much of anything. Then the fog lifted, as I wrote in the blog- and I felt like doing nothing more than spending hour after hour getting dirty. Digging up weeds, pulling the vines apart and clipping back overgrown bushes was my therapy. Eventually I decided to make the garden my own, putting in raised beds to grow vegetables and removing roses that were old and diseased. My goal was, and still is to create a proper potager. I haven't written here for months, but as winter lets go of us- I hope to start updating it.

Why a new blog? Obviously I am fickle and have a short attention span. Depreciating Jim is again therapy for me, as I look at how complicated my life has become as time and age continue to redefine who I am and what my responsibilities are. My new life revolves around taking care of my aging father, who suffers from various illnesses-diabetes, heart disease, ulcers, etc. Recently, it became apparent that dementia has set in.

Jim is (obviously) my father, and while my hope is to help him grow old with dignity, I find that sometimes his problems cause us both to devalue who he is, and who he was in the past. It is a sad fact that old age can really suck. 'Depreciating' or devaluing my father is the opposite of who I hope to be for him during the final stages of his life. Some days though, that is easier said than done.

It may have happened gradually over the years, but now it's undeniable. His lapses in judgement become more pronounced, as do the holes in his memory. So, I play the role of "reluctant caregiver". I am also a mother to two sons and  a college aged daughter. I am a wife and  a sister. I am a recovering alcoholic, and I am a woman looking desperately for balance in her life. I hope that through reflection and possibly feedback if anyone finds me here I will gain some much needed perspective.