I’m Not Okay! I Am But I’m Not.

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Be like the sun for grace and mercy. Be like the night to cover others’ faults. Be like running water for generosity. Be like death for rage and anger. Be like the Earth for modesty.
Appear as you are. Be as you appear.

Rumi

Photo by Jan Tancar on Pexels.com

I would guess my title is confusing. I haven’t written much about caregivers but I suspect there is so much they are not saying.

I’m not a stranger to working with someone whose memory is failing them. Being an only child I was the one to see that my mom got the care she needed. She was not very accepting of this care and didn’t like me very much until her last years.

My mother-in-law also had memory loss issues. My sister-in-law was the one that alerted us to the fact and so we tried to help with our mother and mother-in-laws care.

My sister-in-law, after taking care of her mother, also needed care and her husband and family stepped up and loved her as she was. Sadly we did not step up as much as we could have. We were one of those people who weren’t sure what to do so we stayed away, much to our regret now that we are wiser. I also think we were tired from my mom and my mother-in-law’s situation and deaths, and our way of coping was to stay away rather then to watch another family member struggle. We were not okay though we appeared to be.

My brother-in-law went from being a very capable person to one that could not navigate life on his own. My sister-in-law, his caretaker, tried to take care of him but she got tired and as a result, had a hard time making decisions about their life.

We tried to help in all of these situations. We were aware but we didn’t want to overstep, although occasionally we did, because we saw how tired their caregivers got and so we helped make some decisions.

The difference between that and my caregiving duties now is that for us or me, it wasn’t 24/7. I could leave the situation but in each instance, those family members that were caregivers never complained and would always say they were okay. It’s like a shame to admit we can’t always handle things on our own when we are caregivers. We become tired. Our decision-making is occasionally made out of tiredness because we can’t think about one more thing. Reaching out to others seems like a weakness and there is the fact that family and friends do not always know what to do or they feel uncomfortable.

There is also the guilt if we have to put a loved one in a facility where someone else cares for them. The reality I have seen is that tired caregivers aren’t always the best people to care for the people they love. A wife goes from being a wife to being caught up in the chores of making meals, juggling doctor appointments, seeing the house is safe and keeping their place of living clean. They become a mother not a wife. The world for both of them becomes lonely.

We are blessed as when we reached out we have been receiving wonderful support. My children help when they can and my daughter saw that I was too tired to find a place to live where things would be easier for us. She took charge and that was what I needed for us to make a move. It was hard to trust that job to another person, even my daughter.

Though my kids are supportive they haven’t been able to be here much because of distance and busy schedules. Appearances short term can be deceiving, hiding from our family the reality of what is actually happening on an hour to hour or daily basis. Family might think they know what we are going through but unless they spend days with us, they don’t, just like I didn’t get the full picture with all the people in our family that have had this issue before us. I didn’t live it all day and all night on my own like they did. It is mind-blowing and a wearing, bone-tiring job. There I said it. It is tiring.

I know my kids think I complain too much. I vent to them and I probably shouldn’t, and they give the only response they know how to give and most of the time that is: “It’s going to be alright.” And it is,and I don’t know what I expect them to say at that moment.

I think the gist of what I am saying in this long diatribe is this: I try to be positive and most days it works. I suspect that is true for most caregivers because we know what our loved one is going through is much worse. But there are days when we just want to shout to the rooftops “I am not okay.” But we don’t because of the response we get from others. We need our loved ones to understand we need for them to let us to not be okay for a moment, an hour, a day, so we can pull ourselves back up and go on with all the details our life now entails that we don’t want to do. Let us have those times and don’t feel uncomfortable when we feel that way. It will pass. We just may need to express it out loud. We’re not looking for sympathy we need to let it out and not bottle up unhealthy feelings.

I had a recent phone conversation with a person that has taken care of their loved one for a long time. Their children want them to move to somewhere where there is more help. The kids have given them brochures, telephone numbers etc. to no avail. The children have given up and said there is nothing more they can do and have resigned themselves that this is not going to end well.

In talking to their person recently, that is the caregiver, I said, “You’re just too tired to make any of these decisions, aren’t you? The thought of finding a place to move and then actually moving plus trying to tell your loved one is overwhelming.” They broke down and said, “Yes.” So the children and the parents are at an impasse because the children don’t understand this and the parent can’t communicate it. I imagine there are many scenarios like that.

If you’re reading this, take away from it what you want. I’ve found help through an Interfaith Caregiver’s group in my county and the VA , because my loved one is a Veteran. There are also county services you might qualify for and if you’re a Senior Citizen, the Senior Link Line is a great resource too. I know you’re tired, but reaching out to one of these might bring you some respite.

Don’t forget bout family and friends. They can’t help if they don’t know. Our kids, our extended family and friends, plus these groups have kept us going. God brings blessings when our tears fall. It’s okay to not be okay, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.

Minnesota Senior Link Line

Interfaith Caregiver’s

Alzheimer’s

Some of these are Minnesota Link’s but most states have their own resources.

My Family Has A Language Barrier

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We have a language barrier in our house. Or we could call it a communication problem. It’s not new to me. I grew up in a household where there was a communication problem because of language, but I didn’t think it would extend to my adulthood.

Boris and Natasha, my two shyster cats, refuse to learn English so we can better cohabitate. I get tired of trying to decipher the tone of their meows. It is hit and miss. I think they’re tired of it too because as they get older, they’re stretching their vocal fold cords to new heights. I must not be getting their new commands right. In the early years, they were quieter, ignored us when we spoke to them, and yet we did what they wanted. Apparently, we were better trained ten years ago than we are now.

Early morning and late evening Boris sits by his bowl and glares at me. That means he wants to be fed. Natasha, on the other hand, gets my attention early morning by putting her paw on my face and waking me up so I will administer her a morning massage. We had our routines down. The minute there is a hole peeking through at the bottom of the food bowl, Boris demands vocally that we fill it. If they think we are going to forget, they open and then slam shut the cupboard door a few times to get our attention.

Lately, they have been directing us more often with their meows. We have a hard time figuring out the new things they want us to do. “There’s a mouse in the basement, let me down there.” We missed that one. The mouse is gone and the meows at the basement door has stopped.

“I want a treat, not my regular food.” as the meowing starts at another cupboard. And then of course, there is the… “You are sitting in my chair.” It took me a while to realize the meow at my head and the push at my back meant I needed to get up and let Boris or Natasha in the chair. The older they get the more demanding they are.

Boris saying, “I want my chair. Get up!“

I tried to teach Natasha to nod yes and no. After all, if my son could train his cat to use the toilet, I should be able to make my cats learn yes and no and to shake their heads. Natasha just blinked at me that she loved me, but she was adamant that nodding was beneath her.

I think of all the arguments we’re having about language these days. Recently, I saw a post that said if you’re going to live in America you needed to speak English. While I agree learning English may be a good idea, I thought of my grandmother.

My grandmother lived in America from the time she was 19 or 20. She never learned to speak English. I have no idea why. That’s what I mean when I say I am used to language barriers in my home. We lived with my grandmother. I never had a conversation with her that I could understand. For some reason, they never taught me Polish. I could understand a few words but that’s it. When my relatives would visit my dad and I would laugh because we couldn’t understand a word. I can’t say I was ever bothered by it because the one thing I did understand was that she loved me.

We are still having language barrier arguments all these years later. I wonder if some of what we are arguing about, only having people speak English, isn’t because of fear. I remember waiting on a couple of customers that spoke Spanish. They spoke English to me and then when talking to each other, spoke Spanish. I must admit I was a little fearful or paranoid because I had no idea if they were talking about me or making fun of me, or were planning something else. Media had put fear in my mind of a different culture. I no longer feel that way once I recognized it for what it was.

Different cultures view language different ways. Young people in other countries and now too here in our own, are learning to speak many different languages. I have friends whose children know how to speak Chinese because they went to language camps in the summer. Knowing each others languages breaks down barriers.

If you’ve ever had teenagers you know that may create a language barrier in your home. They speak teen-speak. The hard part is their language changes with each generation and now…it’s a language with letters and emojis. I can translate LOL but anything more my grandkids text me, I have to ask, “What does that mean?” I think I need to hit them with some shorthand or cursive, although my one grandson can read cursive.

I would like to think if we look someone in the eye and see them, really see them, the language barriers would fall away. If we take away the fear of insecurity of what we don’t know when they are speaking, maybe we wouldn’t be so judgmental.

As I grew up, I knew people who spoke Polish, German and a few other languages. They were the immigrants that were here during my generation. Not all spoke English. The argument was the same as it is now and so was the judgment. Guess what? We survived it and we integrated these people into our culture. I would not be here today, living in America if it were not for my Grandmother who never learned English. Yet in those days their culture was not accepted either.

My family kept their traditions alive by speaking their language and keeping close to the rituals of their heritage. Their roots were important to them. Perhaps it’s hard for those of us that were born in this country to understand that. It took me until my later years to get it as I sort through the things that were important from their native land. Though my mother was born in this country, her roots and heritage mattered to her. She never forgot where she came from and she never neglected to try and teach me their traditions. Sadly, I never realized the importance of keeping another culture’s heritage alive in family until she was gone

I find it exciting to learn about different cultures. The next time you eat Lasagna or Chinese food or take part in a tradition of another country, enjoy it’s richness. I am learning more about my Polish heritage and I am proud of it.

I think Boris and Natasha are proud of theirs too. I am sure Natasha is meowing Siamese and Boris is meowing Alleycat, and both are going to be stubborn and hold tight on keeping their language skills to meowing in their language. How lucky are we that our love for one another transcends those language barriers so we can bask in the purrs and blinks they give us on a daily basis.

Traditions, roots and culture remain important no matter what nationality we are, especially if it connects us to another country rich with history of our ancestors. It doesn’t make us less of an American to embrace our lineage.

Barriers can be created by closed minds and hearts. I am lucky love always won with my grandmother and my shysters. My life is richer because of it.

A Yearning For My Front Steps

This morning I have an inexplicable yearning to go outside and sit on my front steps and breathe in life.

It is the appearance of the sun in what has been a cold and bleak and cloudy Minnesota which brings to mind spring and thoughts of flowers and warm weather. However, I can’t explain my feeling that I need a front step sit. I have a perfectly good outside porch to enjoy but something in me tells me I need steps.

Though the sun is shining today my front steps and porch are crusted with ice. It is still winter and there is still snow on the ground. I like the beauty of winter as long as I don’t have to haul my old body outside. The pull is real to feel the fresh air on my face so I may dash out, raise my face to the sun and dash back inside to the warmth of my fireplace. Still, I feel the call of the front steps or the back steps for a peaceful sit.

Outdoor furniture awaits my porch sitting so why would I abandon that in place of the front steps? I think it has to do with my past and memories.

Living at my grandmothers and then when my family moved, we didn’t have fancy outdoor furniture. We would go outside and sit on the steps and talk and enjoy the evening. The front steps were better than the back steps because you could chat with those passing by or you could wave at the cars going by. Occasionally they would stop and talk.

There were interesting views. At my grandmother’s house I sat on the front steps and watched the trains go by or watched the animals. My mom or uncles would come in from the chores or the garden and we would talk for hours on the front steps. At our house my dad would sit with me as we watched the neighbor kids play or visited with those in the neighborhood, sometimes calling across the street. There were no cell phones or outdoor phones to distract us.

I do sit on my front concrete steps occasionally in this day and age for a quick moment when I am shaking out a rug or waiting for someone to pick me up, but most of the time I sit on my comfy chair on my outdoor porch or my patio. I have to say that for some reason it isn’t the same. Perhaps because of the front step memories.

I have no good explanation for yearning for my front steps unless it is perhaps missing those that used to share my experience. I also shared many front step conversations with my best girlfriends. If those steps could talk they would reveal so much about the past lives of the step sitters.

Perhaps when the ice is gone I will forgo my porch and patio for an occasional step sitting. I have a feeling it will be a good way to breathe and appreciate the simple life of the past,

“A journey to a thousand miles begins with one step.” –John F.Kennedy