I’m Too Young For This

By the time we hit the ripe old age of 20, chances are, we have uttered the phrase, “I’m too old for this.”

Maybe it was in regards to the toys we once loved, the shows we once enjoyed, or (most likely) the behaviors we at one time excused.

Youth has a way of tricking us into believing that the things we love are foundational. Maturity, usually with the wrath of a sleep-deprived toddler, shows us that almost everything is seasonal.

I’ve been too old on many occasions. For me, such occasions tend to involve rum and/or loud music.

The tricky piece is that coming to a place that you’ve outgrown something is individualized. Time and circumstance changes us all at different rates. As I type this there is a forty–something-year-old woman preparing to go to the clubs.

I’m listening for the dryer to buzz so I can change into my favorite elastic-waist pants before lounging with a young-adult fiction book.

The beauty of the dichotomy is that both of us are going to be fabulous with our chosen pursuits. Being too old isn’t a numbers game, it’s a mindset that defies the numbers.

I’m too old for the clubs, but that other nameless woman I mentioned, she’s too old for the books I enjoy.

As I quickly approach my 42nd birthday I no longer find myself too old.

Quite the opposite.

I’m in a season that time has failed to prepare me for.

My parents tried. They gave it their all. Honestly, every moment they could, they warned me. Whenever I would dream of the future there was always an undertone from my parents.

I hope we live to see it.

Whether it was in regards to my future baby’s names or the next color I may dye my hair, my parents had a way of reminding me they wouldn’t live forever.

Imagine being a young girl filled with dreams of blonde, luxurious, highlights and the most supportive comment you get is, “Do you want us to die seeing you with a hair color God didn’t give you?”

My mom was 35 and my dad 40 when I was born. These ages, though much more common now, were not the majority in 1976. Though my mother would frequently praise God for blessing her with a third baby that she had given up hope on having, she struggled with guilt believing her and my father would leave me too soon.

Her worry was for nothing.

Forty-two years later, I still have my parents. A blessing many would give anything to say. This blessing has created a unique season for me. A season many others are facing or will face one day.

I have 3 daughters blossoming into beautiful young women and an 82 year-old father whose health is failing.

I’m in the Disney and dementia season.

Known as the sandwich generation, I belong to a group of people that are caring for their minor children and their aging parents. I’m stuck between two generations that both rely on me to protect them, make decisions for them, and be their cavalry when trouble arises.

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Because of my career, I have a unique perspective. I deal with so many families of all different backgrounds. Different education levels. Religious beliefs. Economic statuses. They all have faced their own challenges and have celebrated their own victories. One thing I’ve noticed, in the majority of these families, I’m closer in age to their granddaughters than the daughters.

With the changes in our culture and the advances in modern medicine, the trends are changing. The age gap is growing between parent and child. Many of us are on this journey and there are many more to come.

It’s a blessing and a curse.

I have more energy than my older counterparts (that is an urban legend, I’m perpetually exhausted), but less resources. I have more patience, but less life experience. I have more creative solutions, however my time is limited.

I’m useful, yet somehow lacking.

It didn’t take long for the constant changing roles that I’m now playing to wear on me. On any given day I was calling doctor’s offices to get lab results on my dad’s Coumadin levels, while rushing to get my daughter’s uniform ready before we had to leave for her game.

The downshifting from daughter to mom was leaving me feeling like a failure in all my roles.

But then God gave me one of those wonderful hugs. (You’ll notice this happens often. He hugs me quite a bit.)

On a particularly stressful day I said to my daughter, “This isn’t the end of the world.” I had forgotten to sign a permission slip for her. Again. Her sigh indicated she was put-off by this.

After I said it, I realized I had said the same phrase to my frustrated mother in regards to my dad just a few hours prior.

Light bulb moment.

When I added this new role into my life I was sucked into that labyrinth that so many new moms are struggling with. I had unwittingly slipped into the belief that controlled perfection was attainable. If I kept all my ducks in a row I would be a caregiving rock star.

Come on Lori!

I’d been freed from this mentality years ago in regards to my kids. I. Am. The. Perfect. Mom. (For my heathens.) Not because I could control everything or because I was perfect, but because when God was considering my children, He looked down over all of us and said, “That hot mess right there! She’s the one.” My hot mess status is a nonissue.

Maybe I don’t have to be a different person for my various caregiving roles. Was I thinking so much about the different hats I had to wear that I missed the fact the hats were eerily similar?

What did all my loved ones need?

Encouragement.

What I say to my kids – “I know you can do this. I believe in you.”
What I say to my aging parents – “I know you can still do this. I believe in you.”

Reassurance.

Kids – “What’s the worst that can happen? You fail?”
Aging Parents – “What’s the worst that can happen? We have to increase your dose?”

Love.

Kids – “I’ll be there for you no matter what.”
Aging Parents – “I’ll be there for you no matter what.”

Boundaries.

Kids – “I catch you on that phone after 9pm and it’s mine!”
Aging parents – “I catch you in that car after 9pm and it’s mine.”

Maybe this sandwich generation isn’t as doom and gloom as I once thought.

From where I stand, I may have people of different ages needing something from me, but they all need the same thing. What all of us need.

Love. Support. Someone they can count on.

And when that doesn’t work…

Someone that will confiscate the crap that will harm them.

Now that I’ve figured out I don’t have to change my hat when caring for my loved ones, I need to figure out how to stop wearing baseball hats and care for myself.

I’ll keep you posted.

Never Underestimate the Power of Chocolate

Every story has a starting point. An event that will potentially set the direction of your future. For me, that day was August 27, of 2007.

This was the day I went from being a fatherless daughter to a future caregiver of a failing father.

I had just finished nursing my one-month-old daughter. I slipped her into her crib to take full advantage of the milk coma she was high on. Moving into my bathroom, I began cleaning. Her sisters had been napping for over an hour. I was on borrowed time.

Simultaneously, my phone rang flashing my sister’s name and I heard my husband’s truck pull into the back drive.

My husband had no reason to come home early. My sister had no reason to call in the middle of her workday. The feeling of dread was instant.

My dad had collapsed while mowing grass and was being life-flighted to St. Vincent’s.

My mom, being a mama bear even in the midst of tragedy, called my husband and asked him to go home so I wouldn’t be alone. My sister, needing the support only a sibling can give in this circumstance, reached out to the one person that could balance her fear.

Unfortunately, she called the wrong sibling.

I couldn’t breath.

It wasn’t the sudden cardiac arrest that rocked me. I wasn’t able to comprehend the magnitude of that diagnosis fast enough in my shock. It was the flight to St. V’s that left me decimated.

This was bad.

A ride on a medical chopper was reserved for the screwed. At that time, a chopper taking you St. Vincent’s was for the big boy screwed.

My dad was going to die and I was four-hours away.

If you’ve ever packed your kids for a vacation you realize how much they own you. It’s a three-day washing, organizing, and packing extravaganza just to visit family for a long weekend. With a teenager, two toddlers, and a newborn, leaving our house to go the store took two hours of preparation and twenty minutes of positive affirmations to get out the door.

That day we were packed and out the door in forty-five minutes.

My husband drove while I sobbed. (I took the occasional break to pacify kids so we didn’t lose our minds.)

We dumped our brood on my in-laws and made it to the hospital before dark. My sister, her husband, and my mom sat by dad’s bed looking as beat down as I felt.

Dad looked so different. My huge, larger-than-life father looked fragile. In his glory days of college basketball he stood 6’5’’. Looking at him in that moment, I couldn’t see that man anymore.

The tubes blocked his grin. The IV sticks had already begun bruising his arms. The ventilator made his chest rise and fall unnaturally. His closed lids hid his dancing, mischievous, blue eyes.

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Although I was a nurse, I touched him with the fear of a rookie. What if I hurt him? What if I mess something up and set off alarms?

My mom sat vacant. The sight scared me almost as much as my dad. She couldn’t carry us. Our husbands’ stood by our sides. Her’s was dying. She had the most to lose and we were going to have to rally.

The ICU Doc explained that dad’s heart had been down for at least eight minutes. Eight minutes or more of no oxygen. He explained what that looked like for his body. For his brain. He explained the odds of any kind of recovery for this type of cardiac event. The odds would be a challenge on a surgical table. When happening out in the field, the odds were bleak. He ended his time with us telling us to eat and get some rest. Removing a vent should never be decided with a tired body and empty stomach.

I’m not sure what I did more of that night. Cry, sleep, or pump breast milk to prepare my daughter for the next day. I certainly didn’t want to eat. My stomach couldn’t have handled broth at that point. A rare occurrence for me.

If you ever find me searching for something, it’s not my appetite.

That night I did come to realize why God doesn’t want us to know the future. It’s abusive. We will all face the death of a loved one. At times, for various reasons, we will be able to narrow down such an event. To know the day, almost the hour that it will happen is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. To know that when you wake you will watch your mother sign a piece of paper that makes your dad’s death official is a special kind of hell.

We picked up my mom the next morning. Though still riddled with shock, she discussed logistics. We needed to get my dad’s truck home. We needed to call a few people and let them know what happened. We needed to… get ready for the storm.

We beat my sister to the hospital. The moment visiting hours were official, we hit the button for the automatic door to await her arrival by his bed.

I stopped cold.

A bellow, like the rebel cry of a Scottish warrior, erupted.

“God-damn-son-of-a-bitch!”

I grabbed my husband’s arm to steady myself. “That’s. My. Dad!”

I knew that specific use of son-of-a-bitch anywhere.

Like my kids when there’s an opportunity to press an elevator button, we took off to my dad’s bed. There he was, wild, swinging at the nurses trying to control him.

With gusto, he had removed himself from the pesky life support.

The second he heard my voice he stopped. My mom hung back distraught and overwhelmed. My dad studied me for several seconds. He knew me. I mattered, but he had no idea how or why.

“Connie?” he asked sounding like a pirate. My mom’s name. The only name he could conjure. He instantly settled down allowing the nurses to correct the mess he had made.

He was in and out of consciousness the entire day. Each time waking with a vengeance. We were allowed to take turns sitting with him in spite of the strict visiting hours. They had no hope of controlling him without one of us there.

When faced with taking a left-hook in the jaw, 9 times out of 10, the nurse is going to pick protecting her moneymaker over the rules.

No matter who was there, they were “Connie”. My sister. My husband. My brother-in-law. The housekeeper. We were all Connie to him.

That evening we brought his oldest grandson up to see him. He was the only one old enough to be allowed in ICU. When we walked in the nurse asked my dad if he knew who was visiting him.

With more passion than necessary, he responded, “Hell yes I know! That’s my grandson.”

(Proof positive, once you’re a grandparent, your kids play second fiddle.)

The list of things he would never do again was lengthy. After feeding him one week after the incident, I got sick in the bathroom. I couldn’t bare to see him like this. He wouldn’t want to live like this. I would find a way to mourn his death. I couldn’t mourn him while looking in his eyes.

The next day when I arrived he was feeding himself. So shocked by the hug God had just given me, I pointed out the obvious to my dad.

“I’m hungry,” he deadpanned.  “Do you want some… Connie?” he asked.

He had no memory of not being able to feed himself. When he saw that chocolate pudding, he remembered where it went and how heavenly it would taste.

Yet, I was still Connie.

So started the rapid, odds-defying recovery my dad underwent. After multiple surgeries, addressing the many problems with his heart, they gave him five years.

They bought him time. They bought us all time.

That was ten years ago.

My dad has certainly taught me one thing. When in life, or death, screw the odds.

Welcome to the crazy caregiver!

I’m your host, Lori.

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Chances are if the name of this blog caught your eye you’re either interested in caregiving, knee deep in a caregiving situation, or your drawn to anything crazy.

No matter your reasoning, you are in the right place.

Caregiving is my jam.

I didn’t set out to be a caregiver. I didn’t attend a seminar and sign a contract stating I would spend the bulk of my life caring for others. It just sort of happened. Through a series of decisions, (mainly involving a dislike of condoms and my chosen degrees) here I am.

Let me introduce you to my care receiving cast.

I am the wife of an amazing man. After 24 years together, I still really dig him. He is by no means a heavy hitter on my list, but he’s on it just the same.

I’m the owner of a Saint Bernard. Don’t even roll your eyes! When your dog weighs 150 pounds, he makes the list.

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I am the mother of four amazing kids.

Our oldest, adult-age, son is disabled. (It feels weird even preparing to type my next statement since I rarely think it.) Our son is not biologically mine. I chose him. He chose me. Twenty-four years later, we’d both make the same choice.

By the grace of God, our son is not a full-time caregiving situation. Though his needs ebb and flow, I see myself as more of his permanently-employed-life-manager-that-works-for-hugs.

At the risk of being “one of those moms”, he’s kind of big deal in the Special Olympics basketball scene and totally needs a manager.

Our three daughters are ages 13, 12, and 10. Three girls that will all attend high school at the same time.

Let that marinate a second.

My retirement plan… a crap-ton of stock in Tampax.

I’m not just a mom and a wife.

I am also a geriatric psych nurse.

If caretaking was an Olympic sport (and I speak for all geriatric psych nurses)… I’d be Michael Phelps.

Since this is my blog, I’d have his abs too.

Most nurses have strong personalities. We have to in this field. That makes caring for this population incredibly tricky. It doesn’t matter what I know or what I can do. All that matters is what they know and they can do. Protecting and caring for someone who no longer understands your reality is challenging.

Caring for a group of individuals who no longer understand your reality, and don’t share a reality, is a shit show.

Picture it.

You’re sitting on your favorite chair, watching your favorite TV show. There’s a knock at your door. Before you can even answer it a stranger walks in. All smiles, like she has every right to be there. She walks right up to you and starts telling you what she’s going to do.

Half of what is said is in your native tongue. The other half is gibberish.

You look over where your husband should be sitting in his chair. He’ll put a stop to this! Your husband’s not there. Hell, his chair is gone too!

Maybe he’s still at work. He worked late on Tuesdays. It must be Tuesday.

Why isn’t the dog barking? Adopted that beast in 1972. Best dog you ever owned. Defended his family like it was his sole purpose.

Did this stranger harm your dog?

Now this smiling psychopath, with no respect for your home, is taking off your shoe. Words like wound and infection get thrown into the air around you.

You don’t have an infection in your foot! You’ve been an avid runner your entire life. You’d know if your foot had an infection.

 

Now, what do you do?

The answer is clear. You kick that hussy right in the face and knock the crazy right out of her.

Again, my reality doesn’t matter. If I want to keep my pearly whites, I better get into her reality. STAT.

Geriatric psych nursing is a tough gig. It’s also one of the greatest joys of my life.

When someone is lost and looks at you, or hears your voice, and relaxes because they know they’re safe, it’s magical. They can’t communicate why they feel that. They can’t even reason it out for themselves. None of that matters, for some reason, they know you will protect them.

It’s what I imagine a hug from Jesus feeling like.

Now lets move on to #1 on the list. The main attraction. The star of the show.

My newest charge that has inspired this blog.

My 82–year-old dad.

Nine months ago I returned to my home state, in part, to see my dad through the last leg of his life. His heart is failing. He’s fought hard, but as his mind and body deteriorates he needs an ally and my elderly mom can no longer carry the burden alone.

This blog is not a tale of grief. Far from it, I hope.

May I present to you the misadventures of a daughter and her dad. A story of our winding road, that’s sure to be lined with dumpster fires, that will one day lead to grief.

Seems weird. I hate to point out the obvious, but this story will end. My dad will die. I suppose in Ohio things are different than in Hollywood.

Here, the heroes die.

My personal goal is simple.

No regrets.

I hope to look back on this caregiving experience and know that I gave it my all. Be able to read between the lines of my failures and frustrations and see love. To have a living, breathing, documented legacy of all the moments that touched my heart and the moments I never want to forget.

My goal for my readers is vast.

As my caregiving responsibilities increase, I’m optimistic that you will find value in watching an unbiased professional transform into a very biased daughter. May you read my professional and personal experiences and consider a different lens to view your own circumstance.

May those of you drowning in your role as a caregiver see my story and know you are killing it. Remember, I’m Michael Phelps. How much sweeter are your victories compared to mine?

May those of you facing the role of a caregiver feel more prepared. Feel supported. Feel like your entering the coolest clique in town and not the abyss.

May you all shake your head (because yes, I will say inappropriate things), laugh till your weakened pelvic floor gives way, and feel thankful for your role as a caregiver.

Forever your crazy caregiver,

 

Lori