That’s how they get ya!

My dad has oodles of catch phrases. Seriously. The man is the king of one-liners. One of his favorites (I’d rank it a solid #3) is, “That’s how they get ya”.

Gas prices, a $.10 increase in the cost of broccoli, cell phone contracts. The list has changed with every passing decade and goes on, and on, and on.

There is always someone out to get your money. Saints and sinners alike. Trust no one and go without before you let them win.

As the years have slipped by his attitude has remained the same, but his favorite saying has a much darker turn now.

“That’s how they get ya. If I buy (insert any item under the sun here) I’ll die before I can use it.”

New boots, dentures, a recliner. With any purchase we could find ourselves at the mercy of the gauntlet. The second those new boots are laced up, the grim reaper will be given his orders to take him out.

Though this is a part of my dad’s essential make up, I’ve tried everything to change his way of thinking.

I’ve been supportive. “Dad, get what you need and want to enjoy the time you have left.”
I’ve been manipulative. “Dad, a new pair of shoes will give you more support and may help you get back to doing the things you love.”
I’ve been honest. “Dad, you’re crazy.”

All of it was for naught. This is a battle and he will be the victor.

One day, dad’s lower leg edema (fluid retention) was making him very uncomfortable. This created a sticky situation. It was the last day ice cream was 2 for $5.00. I offered to go get what he wanted, after all, he will literally eat any flavor. He debated it, but after a few moments decided I was not up to that challenge.

So off we went.

After driving through the store on a motorized cart like he was in the Indy 500 (I followed behind smiling and apologizing to everyone we passed) he scored his 6 gallons of ice cream.

Did I mention he’s diabetic?

When checking out I noticed the state of his wallet. Ragged and torn, the once black leather was now green from wear. Instead of hearing the inevitable “That’s how they get you” speech, I went out the next day and bought him a new wallet.

A few days later, I noticed my dad was still using that worn, ragged wallet.

The day I discovered this, it was on the tip of my tongue to make a comment. Something, probably God himself, shut my mouth. This is worth noting. Thinking before I speak is not my super-power.

I thought about that wallet the whole drive home. “Why do I bother? I try to get him what he needs and he won’t even use it.” As if my dad using that old wallet was a reflection of my caregiving skills.

What I did next won’t come as a surprise to any male reading this. I did what any woman does when she knows she’s right. I called my husband to complain.

Per his usual, my husband unleashed his God-given gift for psychotherapy.

“Lori, your dad doesn’t care what his wallet looks like. What are we doing for dinner?”

Oh. Maybe there’s a hidden point in there.

My dad didn’t say he needed a new wallet. He never asked my opinion on his wallet. I decided what he needed. I acted on what I believed he needed.

He was happy with his Hobo wallet.

Many words come to mind when we think of caregivers. One that isn’t attributed to our group enough is the word leader. Though weird, and sometimes twisted, being a caregiver is a leadership role and the best leaders have a servant’s heart.

In my wallet scenario, one of us (my dad and I) were desperate to gain the power we were losing. I’ll give you a hint.

It wasn’t my dad.

At the time, I was trying to decide if my dad would begin taking a diuretic to treat the fluid filling his body. We had done everything we could short of a medication and it was only getting worse. His breathing was being affected. His cough was increasing. The problem was his cardiologist was doubtful his heart was strong enough for the med.

Do I give my dad a med that could kill him quick or watch him slowly drown?

My options sucked.

Though I was the one with the ultimate cosmic power, I didn’t feel very powerful. I certainly didn’t feel like I had any control.

When I saw that wallet, I saw a problem I could fix. To walk in and have that problem still staring me in the face… Oh no he didn’t! He’s going to carry that new wallet!

Losing control on one front was causing me to pick a battle to gain control over the most senseless thing. I forgot I was a leader and servant leaders don’t hold on to power and control with both hands.

Ironic that the person who just took a diabetic to buy 6 gallons of ice cream needed control.

As far as dad’s fluid retention, there was no choice. We had to try. Since I’m writing this blog about him, you can probably surmise he survived. Big Jim proved them wrong again.

You’ll also be happy to know I’ve learned my lesson.

I was faced with a similar situation recently. My dad has a favorite shirt. He wears it constantly. Like a kid with a blankie, he waits on the dryer to finish to throw it back on.

IMG_2571

To him it’s perfect in every way. A button up, because pulling shirts over his head is getting tough. The pocket is nice and broke-in to accommodate the three pairs of glasses he carries. The length is perfect on his long torso.

Unfortunately, it’s the most hideous color of mustard ever conceived. It’s so intense it hurts my feelings.

My first thought was to order him a couple shirts. The exact same shirt. Same brand. Same cut, just in a different color. Any other color.

BUT, I’ve grown.

“Dad do you want me to order you a second shirt. I can get the exact same one online… maybe in a nice navy?”

“Why would I need two?”

It brought to mind when my daughters would wear tutus and snow boots in public in July. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is let them win.

“You’re right dad. Why have two when you only wear one at a time.”

And since I know you’re sitting on the edge of your seats, to this day, dad is still using his old wallet.

Carry on dad. Don’t ever let them get ya.

What color of M&M are you?

I’m not an only child. I have two siblings.

Why am I the caregiver?

Because life happens. Before we go any further, grab a beverage and buckle up while I throw my scrubs on.

(elevator music plays softly)

Hi, I’m the nurse caring for your failing parent.

The most destructive thing about losing a parent is not their death. It’s the relationship between the siblings.

Some of you are a part of an all-star-super-team of siblings. You’re always on the same page. A cohesive unit that works as one entity.

If that applies to you, that’s great, but don’t leave yet.

Though the sibling dynamic may not be an issue for you, trust me, you can’t always predict what’s coming down the pipeline. Let me warn you. The perfect relationships that get destroyed in this process are not destroyed by a grenade.

It’s the paper cuts that will kill ya.

The med change that your younger sibling didn’t know about. The decision to move dad’s bed so the morning sun doesn’t wake him.

These can become all-out war and if you aren’t prepared, you will be the sole soldier in an army of one.

For the rest of you that already know you come from a mixed bag of personalities, let’s talk.

I know what you’re thinking. I’ve never met the specific kind of crazy that your family brings to the table. How can I speak directly to you?

Let me reassure you. Yes I have. I’ve met you all, hundreds of times. Your family is not that special.

Families are like bags of M&M’s. The color combo varies, but there are only so many colors to pick from.

close up view colorful candy chocolate
Photo by Caio Resende on Pexels.com

I know your attention-seeking sibling. I’ve met your pathological lying sibling. Those that have been cheated their entire life… I’ve seen plenty of them.

I know your sibling struggling with addiction. The ones that lives out of state. The weekend warrior that only gets involved when they have absolutely nothing else going on.

The holiday hero, the control freak, the pot stirrer, the “I wish I could” excuse sibling.

The sibling you haven’t talked to in years that will show up the second the estate gets divided. The sibling that buys mom or dad’s love with extravagant gifts versus time. (Ricky, mom can’t feed herself. She doesn’t need an ipad.)

The sibling that becomes an all-knowing neuro surgeon with any medical change. The holistic sibling that doesn’t trust any decision that includes modern medicine. The Judge Judy that questions everything like you’re on trial.

Or my personal favorite… the Texas holdem sibling.

Does this group of people play poker to process their parent’s declining health? I don’t know, I’ve never asked about their hobbies.

This group is near and dear to my heart for another reason. No matter what you’re dealing with, minor or catastrophic, this sibling will see your drama and raise you, because nobody has been through what they have been through.

Do I need to go on?

I’ve. Seen. Them. All.

Now, let me pose a scenario.

I’m walking along and I see two bridges. One bridge is clearly dilapidated. There are large areas of missing boards. The wood is rotted. With one pound of weight, it will crumble, taking me with it.  The other bridge is sturdy. I hate the color it’s painted. There are a few empty beer bottles on it and I get the impression it will be very loud as I use it to cross, but I can see it will be around much longer than the weakened bridge.

What bridge do I use?

No matter where you fall on this waterfall of dysfunction, I’m here to free you. I’m going to tell you something that nurses on the clock can’t/won’t tell you.

You are choosing the wrong bridge.

All over the world siblings are choosing a relationship that is ending over a relationship that may survive. I realize that “may” is gamble. There are so many reasons that it is already teetering on the edge of a knife.

“I want what’s best for mom/dad.”

So everyone says. Literally, everyone.

What’s best for mom and dad is to see the people they love the most coming together. Supporting one another. Laughing, sharing old stories.

I’ve seen this play out. Several times.

All the kids come together for one last holiday, one last dinner. They sit around a table together, laughing and sharing memories. Mom or dad’s health at this point is irrelevant. They may be an active participant; they may sleep the entire visit.

So often this visit is a turning point and no one around the table is aware of the magnitude.

Hours, days, maybe weeks later mom or dad will peacefully move on to eternity.

In your grief, you won’t see the correlation, but its there. There’s a difference in their bodies from that moment on. A subtle change in their vitals or pain management needs. Tension is released from their limbs. Something shifts. What their mind no longer processes and their mouth can no longer communicate, their soul knows. They have hope. Hope you will all be ok.

Now someone, whose sibling is an unsavory character, is getting riled up. “You don’t know what they’ve done! What they put us all through!”

Betty, put your hand down.

Though I’m a geriatric psych nurse now, I started my career as a psych ICU nurse. I’ve seen freak flags and rap sheets that would turn your stomach.

I know what they’ve done. I know the damage they’ve caused.

We won’t heal those wounds today and I’m not suggesting you ask your sister who’s on parole to babysit your purse. However, we can get through the loss of your shared parents with a nugget of peace.

In my own personal scenario, my oldest brother is fourteen years my senior, lives in a different state, and is dealing with his own struggles.

My sister is two years older than me. Like, exactly two years older. Our birthdays are a day a part. We had to share every birthday, like twins without the cool twin super powers.

My sister works full time and has an autistic son that requires her to be on her game 26 out of 24 hours a day. Math seem off? Yeah. Math is different for all autistic parents.

Both of my siblings are the bleeding heart type. Cry at commercials. Love to reminisce about the old days. Tender hearted souls. Both have the heart for taking over caregiving for our dad. Unfortunately, heart doesn’t always get it done.

Their circumstances are different than mine. It’s simply not a possibility for them.

I’ve known for a long time I would take this role and am beyond grateful I’ve been entrusted with it. But my gratitude didn’t stop there! I’ve thanked God for giving me the opportunity to bless my siblings through this. God knew what they’d be facing at this time in their lives. He knew they would want to help, but not have means or the time. He knew they needed an ally.

Now I know what your thinking. “Oh Lori, I want to be you when I grow up. So well rounded. A fountain of wisdom. The poster child of stability.”

After all, I know what the rest of the world is doing wrong, right? I know how this needs to go down. Instead of typing, I should be sitting around a campfire singing Kumbaya with my siblings.

That’s the tricky part about “knowing” things. Knowledge and execution are two wildly different animals.

I’m a year into this ride and am already facing conflict. I’ve been unreasonable. My siblings have been unreasonable. I’m right. They’ve been right. I’ve been wrong. So have they.

With all I know and have seen, I still can’t seem to pull off the perfect dynamic in my own life.

So what’s my solution? (Suggestions welcomed.)

First and foremost, I’m going to pray and continue to thank God for the opportunity to bless my siblings. Even when the ornery-smart-mouth inside of me doesn’t want to, I’m going to pray through gritted teeth.

I’m going to forgive. Myself, them. Each day is new and although that may not change the consequences, I won’t carry yesterday’s feelings into a new day.

From a practical standpoint, I’m going to remember texting is the worst. Seriously. Why do we continue to use texting as a mode of communicating and relaying our feelings? It’s not just the obvious factor that intent and tone is lost, but how many well-scripted, biting texts have we wasted time constructing? Just call the person already!

I’m also going to remember what amazing assets my husband and brother-in-law are. In this season, those that married into a family tend to take a step back. “It’s not my family.” In my case they need to be involved. They are just as invested, but don’t have the history that gives them hairline triggers.

(Now if your spouse dislikes you and your parents, you may not want to follow my lead. In fact, there’s probably a different blog you should be reading.)

POA’s I get it. I’m living it and it’s so much harder than it looks from the outside.

Non POA’s, please let someone who is not your sibling tell you something.

It’s not coincidental that in a football game there is only one quarterback on the field, but many offensive linemen. The protection of the quarterback is so important one man couldn’t possibly do it alone.

If any of those linemen decide, “Screw this! I’d be a far better quarterback.” All of them will lose the game.

We all have a position. A purpose. Play your position to the best of your abilities with the belief that you are meant to bless your siblings, and you all win.