I remember vividly the moment I knew that a major change was needed for my parents. My mom had some major medical complications and needed a level of care my father could no longer provide. I was on the phone with my cousin, wandering through the grocery store, trying to find something to cook for their dinner. This became a nightly ordeal.
His early dementia (that would eventually lead to Alzheimer’s) and her short-term memory loss from a stroke, combined with congestive heart failure, kidney issues, and diabetes meant they could no longer live at home on their own.
Stressed with their care, my job and care for my then teenage son, I was exhausted and unable to care for them as well.
My cousin, sensing my despair, urged me to consider Assisted Living Facilities (ALF’s) so that all of us would be able to live happier lives.
I searched and found the perfect solution—close to my home, affordable and with activities I was sure my parents would enjoy.
Within two weeks, I had them moved in and began renovating their home for sale, confident that life was back on track for everyone.
However, I made a huge mistake. I didn’t consult with my parents on the place I picked out and it caused some hurt feelings. The truth is, most seniors don’t choose to move to Assisted Living.
Here is what I could have done better.
1. Sit down with my parents to discuss the need to move
My parents had lived in their house for 37 years and the decision to move them was not theirs. There were other solutions I should have considered including home care.
2. Involve them in the selection of their new home
Once my parents knew they were moving, the decision had already been made on where they were moving to. I had invested the time to visit and explore all the options-looking at the places that were most convenient to me, were in our price range and had a few activities I thought my parents would enjoy. I never considered where their friends might be living and thought I was being the good daughter by taking care of the details for them. Instead, they felt shoved into a situation without any control.
3. Help them adjust
Being “relocated” was a big culture shock for my parents. Moving from a three-bedroom, two-bath home to a much smaller apartment was difficult in many ways. Besides feeling displaced, they weren’t able to take all their things with them and although I didn’t recognize it, depression set for both of them. I realize now that talking to a counselor may have made it easier for all of us.
My own exhaustion got in the way of making better decisions.
If you are going through something similar, know There are experts that can help guide you through the process and ease the stress and transition for everyone involved, including social workers, estate planning attorneys, religious organizations, and community organizations that specialize in seniors.
I recently conducted a workshop for a non-profit that organizes monthly activities for its member families. It is one of my favorite events to facilitate because the stories that are shared cover a wide span of ages and experiences. I always marvel at the giggles and affectionate glances that are exchanged as the family members uncover layers of memories that deepen their family bonds.
It doesn’t really matter if a family event is comprised of seniors and their adult children, or younger parents and their kids. The experiences they share are what connects them to each other in meaningful ways. Often, they both chip in their version and memories of the same event and if you pay close attention, you will see smiles and nods around the room as the rest of the participants relate to some of the stories.
Occasionally, the parent or child will share something the other has never heard before and that turns into a very special moment. A recent experience with my son in Washington, DC reminded me of those family workshops.
Part of the antenna recovered from the second tower. In the background, front pages of newspapers from around the world reporting the events of 911
Because of my background working for media, both in print and online, Joel arranged for us to visit the Newseum (News Museum), and together we touched the Berlin Wall, viewed the 911 exhibit as well as the history of comics and Newspaper Syndicates.
Joel knew this would be a home run activity that I would love. But I had no idea that one of the displays, the Pulitzer Prize-winning photos that wrapped around a curved wall and filled a room with images of joy, sadness, horror and adventure would hold a memory from his childhood I had never shared with him before.
This feeling in the room was equally reverent and emotional. Every Pulitzer Prize photo both in News and Feature categories were on display, along with descriptions and the story behind the photo from the photographer; how he or she got the shot. Some of the photos were stunningly beautiful, others horrific scenes of war or disaster.
The picture that stopped me in my tracks was taken in 1987 of Baby Jessica McClure, the little girl who fell down a well in Midland, Texas.
Scott Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize Winning Photo was taken as Baby Jessica McClure was pulled from the well in Midland, Texas. Originally published: Odessa (TX) American
Only a few months older than Joel, the incident happened just before his first birthday in October. I remember so clearly sitting up all night watching and praying with the nation for her rescue. And 58 hours later as she was pulled from the well, I was picking up my little boy out of his crib and holding him while he slept, grateful that he was safe and sound in my arms as she was once again in her mother’s. As I shared that story with Joel, I felt the tears again rolling down my cheeks.
Maybe Joel understands now why I always wanted to make sure he was safe growing up, by knowing who he was hanging out with and where he was. Even today, I appreciate his updates when he travels and arrives at his destination.
We experienced some amazing memories that weekend. It is something we will always have to talk about and as with the workshops, makes our family connection even stronger.
When was the last time you tried something new? Something adventurous? Something completely out of your comfort zone and, you did it with someone else?
I conduct team-building workshops for companies to help them build stronger relationships, but recently I focused on a much smaller team. There were only two people and I was lucky to be one of the participants!
I flew to Washington D.C. to visit my son Joel, while he was there for a Fellowship program. We had already been to all the historical sights and monuments, both together and separately. We wanted to try something new!
About 90 minutes outside of D.C. in Maryland is a quaint area called Harper’s Ferry. Locals and tourists can get their adventure on and a few thrills too. From zip lines, to kayaks to white-water rafting and tubing, there are several companies that offer half-day and full-day outings.
Neither Joel nor I had ever been on a zip line and we were both a bit nervous. But outside of the personal accomplishment that would come with the achievement, was the bonding that comes from experiencing it together. Mother and son, a team of two, sharing in the same adventure at the same time.
He insisted I go first. I felt my “mom” instincts kick in just a little bit to forge the path and it was a blast. He was proud of me and I of him as I watched him zip over to the platform I was waiting at. And then we did it again. This time he went first and waited for me. What a sense of exhilaration we both felt! White-water tubing was fun too and the rapids were not that extreme. But the current was enough to separate us a few times. I found that a little frustrating since our goal was to do this together. I also realized that my arms were not long enough to paddle effectively over the tube. Joel to the rescue! He tied our tubes together with a piece of cord that he took off my hat. Anyone remember the show MacGyver? Joel also paddled for the most part for both of us.
It doesn’t matter how big or how small the team is, there are benefits for groups of all sizes.
Here Are Three Nuggets You Can Take Away From a Team-Building Activity
Common Ground -When two or more people share experiences and create memories, it bonds them in a unique way. It will always be an event that has special meaning for them, one that they can reference back to.
Values – Most people knowingly or unknowingly judge others based on their personal values. It is the reference of our previous experiences that gives us our perspective. Knowing the base of another’s experience helps us to understand their perspective. Sharing in an event together allows you each to take your past and create a new paradigm together.
Trust – Our past experiences with others also shape our relationships with everyone else we meet. It is another point of reference. Sometimes we are rooted in those feelings, and if we are lucky, can remain open to new circumstances and form new beliefs. Experiences shared help create trust because you have gone through it together.
Discovering an aha moment from an event and sharing your favorite part of the experience creates a positive anchor and memory. Here is what I discovered on my day of adventure with my son.
Part of a being on team is learning what each of us brings to the table and lending our strengths to each other. I stepped up to go first on the zip line; Joel helped me navigate the white water. It made the day even better for both of us knowing we could rely on each other.
My favorite part – I absolutely love experiencing the world through my son’s eyes. But mostly, it was the joy of spending the day with him and deepening our connection through a shared memory we will always remember.
I need to laugh and when the sun is out
I’ve got something I can laugh about
I feel good in a special way
I’m in love and it’s a sunny day
Good day sunshine, good day sunshine, good day sunshine –
When we laugh, our energy is lifted. It is as though we are attached to a virtual helium balloon that pulls us up. No one knew this better or connected more deeply with others through laughter than Scott McKenzie, host of the morning show at Orlando’s Mix105.1
I had the honor of interviewing Scott in May of this year about his battle with cancer. What he shared with me appeared on both The Good Men Project and Talking About Men’s Health. In typical Scott fashion, he told me it wasn’t about him, but that he was honored to share his story to give hope to others fighting the same ferocious battle, in whatever form they had. He never wanted to be known as “The Cancer Guy” – but if there was something he could do to help others, he was there. Especially if it involved laughter!
“The treatments for cancer had changed so much in the seven years since this journey began,” he told me, and he was anticipating being accepted into a clinical trial that would hopefully knock this monster out of his fragile system. He had made a few attempts, but each one was unsuccessful as his blood counts were not strong enough on a consistent level to enter the trial. He made his last and final attempt in July, staying in Philadelphia for about a month then returning to Orlando to write his final blog post, sharing that the treatment was no longer a viable option. He went on to say he had also contacted Hospice and made his final arrangements. Fans and friends alike were shocked. Scott passed away a few days later.
The outpouring of love for Scott on his Facebook timeline, as well as Mix 105.1’s, co-worker’s, and even other radio stations has been no less than remarkable. Thousands of fans, as well as friends, family members and co-workers left heartfelt messages expressing their condolences, sadness, love and memories. There have been so many responses, shares and posts, that he became a trending topic, and for a short time, the number one trending topic in the nation. The Hashtag #OrlandoLovesScott has been seen on many posts. Many expressed that he felt like family to them. The photo that accompanied his passing on the radio station’s website soon appeared along the Interstate.
This humble, funny guy had a way of reaching through the radio every weekday morning for 24 years in the Orlando market, making drive time and the beginning of the workday fun for so many. He made everyone around him laugh, both on the air and off. It was a gift that he loved to share.
Many listeners commented that he was more than just the DJ on the radio; he was a friend and even family. Listening to the on-air tributes to him from co-workers, both former and current, we heard it reiterated over and over again how much the listeners meant to Scott and how much he loved going into the studio every day. Fans were delighted to hear Erica Lee, his co-host for the first 20 years as part of the tribute. Listeners also got to know through the years his family; wife Fran and daughter Lauren whom he spoke about often.
Scott was also heavily involved in the community and always willing to MC events that helped others.
His funeral expectedly was full of tears, but like his life, there were moments that included laughter. Stories that were shared about his life showed how deep the connections were he had with others as well as his zest for living every moment with joy. The impact he had on those he met, and those he never met, was spoken about again and again. Scott loved music (especially The Beatles), he loved his job, and he loved being in the studio and connecting with people. His presence in the Orlando community will be missed greatly.
Memorial contributions in Scott’s memory may be made to: Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, The Children’s Miracle Network, and the Coalition For The Homeless of Central Florida.
You can read the interviews with Scott; his emotional story through May of this year on The Good Men Project and his medical journey on Talking About Men’s Health.
My husband and I are learning what it means to tread water. Not literally, but we are leaning to stay afloat and together when there is no rescue in sight.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Our house was struck by lightning, leaving a ragged hole in the chimney and frying out the wiring in our home. Our 11-year-old miniature schnauzer contracted diabetes a few months ago and as the doctors warned us could happen, went blind. Tragically, he passed within a week of the lightning strike. The stress of not being able to see, being in several different houses before we moved to a hotel and other medical complications were too much for him and he shut down. To add to the frustration, two trusted advisors see our retirement financial plan differently which adds to the confusion.
So our heads are spinning. We’re distracted by too much on our plates; me, managing more than one business and working with clients, and my husband, trying to coordinate contractors and the insurance company while taking care of his customers. In other words, we are stressed!
The easiest thing for us to do is take our frustrations out on the closest person in our lives, physcially and emotionally. For us that usually happens to be each other. But that easily could also be our son, or best friend, or whoever is within breathing distance on a bad day.
It’s not that we intend to be mean or inconsiderate. Stress can turn the nicest of people into mud-slinging, insult-throwing, mean-spirited monsters. The words and actions can just bubble up from inside and then explode.
This is not normal behavior for either of us. We are generally thoughtful, happy people. So when we hit the wall of overwhelm, one of us can often morph into a version of ourselves that we don’t recognize and it can put stress on the relationships that we hold most dear. The saying, “We always hurt the ones we love,” comes to mind, but it makes sense. Those are the people in our lives that are closest to us and we feel safe in some way unloading our pain, sorrow and anger with the world on them.
These bursts of frustration can damage even the best relationships, steadily chipping away the love and trust. While one spouse or partner may feel safe lashing out, it is a safe bet your “loved one” doesn’t feel safe being around you, not knowing when the next emotional explosion is headed their way.
Communicating is key in any relationship and we work at it every day. Hurtful words and actions can be destructive and we work to make choices that avoid that path.
Here are 5 ways we learned to keep our cool and our relationships healthy
Think Before You Speak
Yes, take a deep breath. It’s the obvious method that most have heard about, but it works. Breathing deeply calms our nervous system and enables us to slow things down for a moment and find balance. It is like the refresh button on the computer.
Taking three deep breaths works even better and about equals the timeframe of counting to ten. It gives us space to gather our thoughts and speak them effectively and kindly, versus from a place of anger.
Divert Your Mind
Take a time out. Focus your energy on something else. Physical activity such as working out often helps disburse the negative energy. Or you might choose a creative outlet. Meditating can take your mind to a non-judgmental place, where you can tune out from your stressful thoughts and feelings and calmly explore solutions. For me, a long walk listening to an audio book on my phone takes me to another realm, while my husband heads to the bowling alley to work on his game.
Regardless of what attracts and inspires you, putting your attention in another direction allows space, time and energy between you and your loved ones.
Chill With Great Music
There is lots of research showing music calms and soothes the soul as well as lowers blood pressure. Our emotions respond to music, so it’s no surprise that music can decrease our stress hormones. It can also raise our energy and calm our senses. You don’t have to listen to smooth jazz or classical, (unless that is your preference,) just find the kind of music that feeds your soul.
Look For Humor
You have probably heard the saying, “One day we will look back on this and laugh.” There are parts of our situation that will never be humorous , for us losing our sweet dog is one of those. There are others that we will likely be laughing about in time – what’s the big deal about a hole in the chimney when we live in Florida and we might get cold enough for a fire one or two weeks a year? Sometimes we can find the humor in the situation and laugh now. It’s all a matter of perspective. Laughter relieves stress, soothes tension and is a natural muscle relaxant.
Ask For Help
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to admit when we need help, but it is one of the most effective ways to move through a process. But who do you ask?
Start with the people you love most. The shift of asking for help versus lashing out builds the relationship and opens lines of communication. Let them know you are frustrated and needing each other’s help to sort the situation. This changes the paradigm from attacking each other to building a bridge together.
Maintaining healthy connections with others, especially those we hold in our hearts takes work, positive communication, and sometimes a little space away that allows us to rejuvenate and regroup.
Admittedly, sometimes my husband and I both get really tired and overwhelmed dealing with a problem we are facing, but facing it together takes some of the burden off both of us, strengthens us and helps us to find the laughter.
Originally published on The Good Men Project
Four years ago I made a decision that still haunts me. A decision that would change lives forever. His would be ended. Mine would be empty without him.
Guilt. It is something I have been holding in my heart since that day. Did I make the right decision? Could I have done something different, made another choice, gone in a different direction, tried something else?
Some will say taking him to Hospice was the humanitarian thing to do. I allowed him to die with dignity. I signed the papers that gave permission to inject him with a sleep-inducing , until many days later, he drew his last breath. It took much longer than it did when I took my beloved dog Scooby to the vet, but it felt the same. It felt like I had put my dad down.
My dad was a very kind and gentle man. Hel loved tooling around in his garden, playing bridge, and solving puzzles. He had a dry wit that I loved and to this day I smile thinking about his silly jokes.
He beat Leukemia, followed by a nasty bout of shingles. He worried deeply when Mom had a heart attack and she barely survived open-heart surgery, contracting MRSA while still in the hospital. The rest of her life involved daily struggles with diabetes, kidney failure, and congestive heart failure. Dad felt pained giving her insulin shots. It weighed on him heavily.
He took care of her the best he could until he couldn’t any more. Dementia crept in, and then Alzheimer’s. Too many things were falling through the cracks, and changes had to happen. First I hired in-home care for a little help with laundry and cooking, while I sorted out the bills. It turned out it wasn’t enough.
Years before, my parents went on a trip, dawdling around the country for the summer, I asked my dad to give me power of attorney and to be their health care surrogate – just in case. I paid their bills while they were gone, knowing that if anything happened to them on the road, I could make necessary decisions on their behalf.
With Mom and Dad’s health in jeopardy in their later years, having those documents allowed me to help them live better lives. It also allowed me to uproot them from the home they loved for 37 years and place them in an Assisted Living Facility, sell their home and make decisions for them that I know they didn’t agree with. I told myself I was doing it for them. They could no longer take care of their home. Dad had taken out a reverse mortgage and was tumbling into debt. I was struggling to pay their bills, and their self-care was going downhill fast. The food in the fridge was spoiling. So many things were going wrong every day and I was alone trying to help them and was exhausting my solutions and myself.
Walking through the grocery store one evening in tears, trying to figure out what to make them for dinner, I realized that I was falling apart. Mom needed insulin four times a day, and their life and mine felt turned upside down. Two weeks later, I moved them to an Assisted Living Facility and I know they resented it deeply. From a three bedroom, two bath house with a full kitchen and back yard, they were now crammed in a one room studio apartment because it was what they could afford. I sold their house paid off their debts and spent the next four years watching them both decline. Mom physically and Dad mentally.
As Mom continued to struggle with her health issues, Dad drifted into his own world. Sleeping was his escape from the fear of what was happening to both of them.
Becoming the parent of your parents is one of the hardest things. I had to make the decision to sell his car. He never understood that he was no longer safe on the road, even though he had failed a road test. Dad said he slept to escape his sadness and frustration. I have trouble sleeping sometimes feeling I contributed to much of it.
When Dad became too disoriented for activities of daily living according to the ALF, I moved him to the Alzheimer’s ward. I think it confused him even more, not being with mom and I know it broke my mother’s heart. She died six weeks later; I think she gave up.
I never told Dad that Mom had passed, another decision that festers in my heart. He was struggling with his own mind, not knowing who people were although he did know me. I just couldn’t bear to add sadness to his journey.
Then Dad contracted C. diff (Clostridium difficile), a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon, and ended up in the hospital and then a nursing home for rehab. He couldn’t come back to the ALF until he was cleared of the contagious bacteria. I watched him decline more each day, both mentally and physically. There were many sleepless, tear-filled days and nights.
Finally, he was cleared to return and go back to his shared room. He was barely eating, and continued to lose weight. Sometimes he would eat a little for me, but he was now sleeping almost 20 hours per day. The ALF recommended I call in Hospice to help him. It was so confusing and overwhelming. I wasn’t ready to let him go. I sat by his bed for hours, begging him to wake up and eat. By the second or third night, he was breathing heavy. Hospice said I could sit with him all night as he was transitioning, but I couldn’t wrap my head around what was being told to me and I called 911 to take him to the hospital.
Dad was severely dehydrated by then, but within 45 minutes of a saline IV, was suddenly alert and talking a little with me. I was kicking myself. Dehydration – that was all it was. I could have made a horrible decision. The hospital admitted him for a few days and although confused, he was doing better and the physical therapy staff even got him up and waking a little in the halls.
And on one of the walks, he had an accident and lost control of his bowels. I was more upset than he was. Alzheimer’s is both a blessing and a curse. The hospital insisted on testing for bacteria and sure enough, the C-Diff was back and more serious than before.
The doctor quickly went from – “He can go back to the ALF” – to “He will likely never recover from this.” His body was weak, he was nearly skin and bones and my heart sank.
My father had been sleeping most of the day. He moaned and groaned a lot, whether from physical pain or emotional, I wasn’t quite sure. And then in a moment of lucidity, he opened his eyes and reached out his arm for me. I quickly moved over to sit by him on the bed and he looked at me and said, “I love you” and then closed his eyes and slept again.
I left the hospital that night in tears, knowing that I couldn’t send him back to the nursing home. And I couldn’t send him back to the ALF. During his three-week stay there he had declined rapidly and it was not an environment I wanted him to spend anymore time at. I arranged and met with the Chaplain at the hospital to help me with my decision. It didn’t matter that I was Jewish and he was Christian. It wasn’t about how you prayed, it was about faith and comfort – and my guilt.
Two days later, my dad was moved to the Hospice Facility. Moving him woke him up and he came into the building on a stretcher, sitting up and fairly alert. I panicked. “Wait – Dad is alert. He’s back. It’s ok. We don’t need to be here!” The staff took him to his room and settled him in bed while they took me on tour. I told them he didn’t walk any more, he was too weak and suddenly he was trying to climb out of bed, wanting to check out the room, the bathroom, wanting to know, “Is that a TV?” I don’t think there is a scarier rollercoaster than the one my emotions were on.
My heart was pounding. Dad settled down and then looked at me and waggled his index finger. “You’re a good Daughter,” he said. Those were the last words he spoke to me. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep and a short time later the nurse came in, morphine in hand. I spent the next four days by his bedside talking to him, soothing him, telling him I loved him and finally, telling him that Mom was waiting for him. An hour after I left on that fourth day, he passed.
I still hold on to the thoughts of did I do the right thing, did I do enough, and did I have the right to make the decisions I did.
I have told myself that my dad died with dignity and I helped make that happen. But as it is with every Father’s Day, my heart is still heavy.
Originally published on The Good Men Project