Category Archives: caregivers

Winter View

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Winter View

I can just barely make out her house from the window above my kitchen sink. Once the trees fill out for spring, I may just see a splash of color or a bit of rooftop. It’s a beautiful house, old and charming, lovingly decorated with authentic treasures and keepsakes. It isn’t large or small and there is nothing cookie cutter about it. Little nooks and crannies are filled with art and memories, photos line the hall going up to the main level. The kitchen is open with modern appliances that somehow work in this older space. There is an air of authenticity about the place. Ginger and Amber are two tiger striped cats and they fit right in.

I went to visit my neighbor today. It was the first time I had ever been inside her house. Years ago my kids and I stood in her driveway getting bags and reflective vests for a neighborhood roadside cleanup. Neighborhood sounds misleading, these houses are all independent of each other in construction and in life. This area is upscale and spread out sadly, I can only name a handful of my neighbors and we’ve lived here for ten years. This is not unusual as most people have busy lives that are headed in different directions.

Today’s visit was as a hospice volunteer, I relieved the caregiver so she could go food shopping. I’ve often wondered what that particular house looked like on the inside and now I know. Once again, I am reminded a lot of people have something difficult going on in their lives right now. Sometimes it’s an inconvenience or a wounded ego, other times it is facing an imminent final goodbye. I’m not sure if I will see my neighbor again. I am sure that I will think of her whenever I drive by her house and I’ll be reminded of what is truly important.

 

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Lie To Me

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Lie To Me

Yesterday I went to work for Rob & Laura, my nonagenarian clients. If you follow my blog you already know that I adore them and we have fun doing mundane errands. Yesterday did not disappoint. Laura was getting a hair cut at a nearby salon while Rob and I did some food shopping.

We were in the frozen food aisle at the intersection of peas and dried beef (in Pennsylvania you must be age 75 or greater to purchase dried beef) when we bumped into Marty. You might think, how lovely is Marty a personal friend, acquaintance or helpful employee? Those are all really good guesses so don’t berate yourself for being wrong. Nay, nay friends, Marty is a robot who wanders the grocery store scaring the sh*t out of small children, robophobics (robophobia is real, I Googled it) and customers with a touch of dementia.

In fairness to Rob, Marty showed up out of nowhere. Just appeared at the end of an aisle. Marty and Rob starred at each other for a solid two minutes. Rob watched in a trance as Marty did that awkward oh-shit-where-do-I-go-now robot dance. I’ve only ever seen it before when the Roomba ricochets down the hallway like some modern day version of pinball or drunk staggering down an alley after last call. The worst part is that Marty doesn’t seem overly useful. He’s supposed to clean up spills or something but he’s no Rosie from the Jetsons that’s for sure.

After the grocery store we collected Laura and made our way to Miracle Ear and then a meat store. Rob has a special fondness for the meat store and he purchased several items. When we got back to the house I noticed that the meat drawer in their fridge was overflowing. I date everything and I noticed somethings from mid February. I pointed this out to Laura who assured me that an exhaustive sniff test would be performed before they consumed anything. Then I emailed their adult children to alert them of the rotting meat in the fridge.

After my outing with Rob and Laura I went home. I got home early and offered to make lunch for my husband. I made him a sandwich, it was a fine sandwich by any standard. Later I asked him how he liked it and he replied with a “meh, needed more seasoning”. Then I threw a heavy object in his general direction. Through keen observation he was able to recognize that this response did not please me. Then he said (in a heavy Brooklyn accent) “whadda ya want me to lie?” To which I replied, “yes, yes I do….unless it is in regard to fidelity or finances, lie to me.”

I Get To…

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I Get To…

Every so often the Gods of social media send a pearl of wisdom my way. This morning I was browsing Facebook when I saw a photo that caught my eye. The original post was from Kristen Hampton of WBTV Good News, it featured a handwritten sign which stated: I get to…

According to the original post, Kristen saw that note at a friend’s house. A friend who is currently undergoing chemo for what is described as an awful cancer. Kristen’s friend explained that “I get to” is a substitute for “I have to” and the simplicity and sheer gratitude of that suggestion is inspiring.

I get to is a gentle reminder that all of this is temporary. Whatever problems we have individually and collectively, it’s all so transient.  The kids we wait on will leave the nest (eventually), the aging parents we care for, they’ll also move on to a more permanent place, that boss you can’t stand likely won’t be in your life in five years and on it goes. The list of daily chores and obstacles can seem impossibly long and arduous. I get to is a beautiful, gentle reminder that this is all temporary, so enjoy the ride.

I get to recognizes that it is a gift to be able to tick off the list of things to do for ourselves and others. A reminder that we can control the narrative of our own inner voice.  It reminds us that we are fortunate to have the physical and mental capacity to do the things that need to be done. A suggestion that we have the ability to choose a more positive frame of mind, one grounded in gratitude.

These are my People

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These are my People

Hello internet friends. For those that are following my blog, thought I’d update you on some things. It’s riveting so grab a hold of your hats and hold on (I may have just oversold it):

Remember how I wrote about my friend Pam a few days ago…well today I went to an appointment and to my surprise, three of her friends were there. We all shared Pam stories, held hands and sang a song. OK there was no actual singing I just find it interesting that she is reminding us all of her fabulousness. Damn, I miss her.

After that, I stopped by my friend’s bakery. She’s magic and makes the most delicious knishes. I came home with two boxes of goodies and when I took a peek I saw that my friend added some extras (she basically doubled everything). Did I mention that I have the best friends. When I got home I saw this meme. I’m totally fine with having a pet sloth named Knish:

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This week my client Laura told me about polar bear picnics. When her kids were little and driving her crazy inside during the winter months she would send them outside with instructions. They were given some sticks and a can of soup. They were expected to make fire, heat the soup over an open flame and eat outside. This woman’s bad ass level impresses me to no end. I also found out she used to ride her bike to work – 5 miles of country back roads with no shortage of steep hills. On the way home she would stop to look at wildflowers. I think she was just trying to get out of cooking dinner and again, she has my respect. Now I can’t get the image of little kids bundled up in 60’s winter gear over a driveway campfire with a polar bear. If only I could draw…

100

The above picture was downloaded from my Facebook newsfeed. This woman is 100 today and I instantly fell in love with her. Notice the banner in the background – “I’m 100 Bitches”. Other photos included toilet paper encased in a box that read “Holy crap, I’m 100!” and a mug that stated “It took 100 years to look this good!”

These are my people.

What’s Cookin’?

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What’s Cookin’?

Things have been busy with Rob and Laura. Last week I went in for my usual Monday visit and found that Rob had been struggling that morning. Laura assisted him with getting out of bed and with both of them in their 90’s, I was immediately concerned. We determined that it would be best to get Rob to the doctor which left us several hours before we could get in.

We filled our time with the tasks of getting ready and eating lunch. When that was behind us, Rob and I worked on a puzzle. Confession, I adore puzzles, BINGO, Scrabble and pretty much anything that appeals to the over 80 crowd. What can I say, I’m an old soul. This puzzle was unlike any I’ve ever worked on. It was wooden and the individual pieces were works of art. The shapes of each piece varied from people, dogs, flowers a seemingly endless variety of small wooden masterpieces.

Here’s a link to the manufacturer in case you are a puzzle geek like me. I get nothing for the link just sharing my joy of puzzles – Liberty Puzzles You can also order custom puzzles based on a photo. Rob showed me a puzzle he had made for Laura which was based on a photo of quilts that she made. These people are crafty!

We all went to the doctor and got Rob some antibiotics. I brought over some macaroni & cheese I made for them to sustain them until my next visit. When I came back later in the week, Rob was still not feeling well so I ran some errands while my friends stayed tucked in their warm house. This past Monday I got to meet their daughter and her dog who came to visit over the long weekend. Today I’m making the Beef Stroganoff which I will take to Rob and Laura tomorrow. What’s cookin’ in your world?

 

*The featured image is a puzzle which is available through Liberty Puzzle.

In Love

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In Love

I recently got hired by a family to help out with driving and errands for a couple in their 90s. Some things I have heard in our short time together:

1. My wife is the good looking blonde with white hair.

2. How are you today?  Response: Vertical

3. Their youngest daughter had the nickname of “Easy” until she determined it would not be appropriate in High School.

4. The other day the wife was looking over her canvas bag which is bit soiled. I suggested that we could wash it and I asked who it was made by, turns out it’s a “Relic” bag. We both laughed at that.

5. For those that may have missed a prior post, here is a photo of their key chain:

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This is it folks, three weeks in and I’m in love.

 

Aye, Aye, Captain

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Aye, Aye, Captain

The key chain in the featured photo belongs to my client, Rob (not his real name), he is 94 years old. Gawd, I love a man with a sense of humor. I visit Rob and his wife Laura (Pssst, that’s not her name either) twice a week. Their pseudonyms come from the Dick Van Dyke Show, my blog, my rules. Our visits usually consist of errands and me refilling the numerous bird feeders that surround their home.

They keep the bird seed (several varieties) in the basement and I’ve been asked to check the mouse traps down there as well because apparently mice like bird seed. I don’t have any personal experience with mouse traps (thank you husband) but I don’t want my nonagenarian friends taking a chance on the wobbly wooden steps that lead to an unforgiving cement floor. So I glance toward the mousetraps and give a prayer of thanks each time I find them empty. Last week I accidentally set one off when my foot brushed against it. Fortunately it isn’t flip flop season. Once I’ve checked the traps, I fill four old coffee cans with three types of birdseed and then I make the rounds. My clients are happy, the birds are happy and the mice have stayed out of the traps thus far, everyone wins.

This week one of our errands involved taking my clients to the bank to close an account. Laura told me there wasn’t much in it, just a pesky out of the way account she wanted to close in order to consolidate funds. No problem, the branch is near the grocery store, easy peasy. When we get to the bank and my clients state that they want to close an account, they get ushered into a fishbowl of an office. I sit outside the office but I can peak in because, it’s a fishbowl. After a few minutes I go into the office to see what’s going on because I’m concerned that maybe the employee is trying to strong arm my friends into keeping their account, or worse.

I’m not comfortable being in this situation. I’m at a bank with two elderly people that I’m not related to and they want to close an account and walk out the door with significant funds. It turned out that my clients had four certificates of deposit in this institution with maturity dates that went to 2021. At first the employee was extolling the benefits of keeping the CDs in until they reached maturity at which point my clients will be knocking on 100 years old. I gave her the FFS are you kidding me look which likely made me look like a potential criminal….then I asked my clients to think about what they want to do. I followed up with, if you close the account we must deposit the funds into your primary bank today. We left with a check for over $30K. which was thankfully deposited into their other bank before I left them for the day.

This incident created an emotional collage for me. These are new clients, I’ve only worked for them for a month and here I was in this financially sensitive situation with them. My first instinct was to protect them from the bank, I just wanted to make sure that their money was safe. I got a long slow look at how vulnerable they actually are and it made me sad. Later that afternoon I sent an email to their adult children to keep them informed, they are the lucky ones. How many elderly people have to navigate this stuff alone, without a trustworthy relative or helper?

 

 

 

 

‘Tis the Mofo Season…

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‘Tis the Mofo Season…

It’s been a morning straight out of the children’s horror section, made me think of this –

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My bad morning started last night when I received this email from the school district Superintendent :

I am communicating at this time to inform you that we were notified by the XXXXX Borough Police Department that a potential threat was made to our schools. We are taking direction from the police department with regard to this threat as they continue to investigate the situation. We are going to have police presence at all of our schools tomorrow. We will also increase staff vigilance with regards to this potential threat to our schools. This is all the information we have at this time. We will keep you updated as we receive more information.​

I told my kids about it and said we would make a decision about school in the morning (this morning). I was up at 6am and my daughter was awake already wanting to know the answer. She had a doctor appointment at 7am so we both needed to be up and out. I was still on the fence with school, so I asked for a few minutes to see if there were updates. This is now part of parenting in 21st century America. Parents doing the mental gymnastics to sort out if it is worth sending our kids to school the last day before winter break when there is an unspecified threat.

The initial response is hell no, keep them home. Then you wonder if this starts to happen on the regular, do you just home school or pick and chose which days to send them in if there has been a non-specific threat? If it’s finals week do you roll the dice and hope it’s just a hoax, knowing you will never forgive yourself if they get harmed at school? We got lucky because the school district decided to close in an “abundance of caution” and I felt my small town breath a collective sigh of relief.

One of my friends who doesn’t have kids commented that she can’t imagine what it is like to parent in 2018. This is how I responded:

It’s like diving off of a cliff in the dark and you don’t know what you’re diving into – it could be a soft fluffy mattress, shark invested waters or rocks, no one knows. #Parenting2018

School was closed and I got my daughter to her appointment. At 8am I received a panicked call from my new client who insisted he had a doctor appointment to get to at 8:45am. I immediately left my house to fetch him and his wife who are both in their 90s. Did I mention that it is pouring out, because of course it is. I get my clients to the doctor and was informed that Rob’s appointment is on Monday (sure, why not).

Rob (embarrassed): I hope you are counting your hours.

Me: I am Rob, this though, this never happened. Consider it a test run. I’ll see you at 12:30 to go to Physical Therapy (that’s confirmed).

I get my new friends tucked in their house and head to the grocery store to tick some things off my to do list which is the length of a CVS receipt. I stop at the pet store first, the register isn’t working properly. It’s fine, I’m smiling at this nonsense by now.

 

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This is a CVS receipt well over 5 feet long, he purchased 3 items. My to do list is just as long with no “extra bucks” (well except for the extra bucks I spend).

When I leave the pet store, I notice I have a voice mail from my mother. Her cat needs to be put down, she’s 18 and has been sick, can’t pee or poop. Her vet is 45 minutes away and my mom got lost the last time she went. I called my local vet and got her in for this afternoon when I can go. So yes, this day may very well end with a dead cat because, of course it f*cking will.

I’ve now finished at the dermatologist, doctor’s office and the pet store (it’s barely 9am). Next stop is the grocery store. I can’t buy everything I need for Christmas Eve yet because I need fresh fish for the 7 fishes feast. I go to get bread in the bakery and realize – holy sh*t I need to order a birthday cake for my sister in-law. The lady behind the counter looks at me like I’m on fire – what idiot orders a cake 2 days ahead at the busiest time of the year (guilty as charged). I apologize profusely and explain it can be any chocolate cake with happy birthday on it. She obliges me (she’s a mom, she knows how nuts life is for us).

Then I wander around the store trying to go through the mental list of what I can buy now and what needs to wait until Sunday. At one point I found myself staring at the beef broth, overwhelmed. My brand wasn’t there which threw me into a quandary. I went back and forth a few times before I settled on something unfamiliar.

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Finished at the grocery store, I’ve moved on to Chick-fil-A where I beg for high quantities of chicken nuggets before 10am. My daughter is hosting a gift exchange party tonight (because of course she is). They take pity on me and I get 60 nuggets at the crack of 10am. While I’m waiting my friend texts me pics of her beautiful dinning room table which is set for a Christmas Dinner. I note that I will never be that much of an adult and that I would love to use paper plates – compostable ones because I’m not a monster (yet).

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Ride on

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Ride on

Today I spent a few hours driving a 94 year old man to do some errands. Sadly, he can no longer drive himself though his mind is still sharp, the body protests. I met Rob a couple of weeks ago. It was an interesting introduction, one of his daughters called me to ask about my services. I have a small business that fills in the gaps for people when life gets complicated. The daughter lives at least 1,000 miles away and was coming in to visit her parents. We talked a bit on the phone and within half an hour of ending our call her father called me (independently) to schedule a meeting. I let the daughter know and we decided that Rob would take the lead.

I always offer a free consultation for new clients. I like to meet the client I will be working with directly and any family members or caregivers that are involved with decision making. Sometimes my clients direct their own finances and decisions, other times a family member takes the lead. I take notes and observe, I try to read the situation without being overly intrusive.

I met with Rob his wife Laura and their daughter about a week ago. The daughter warned me that Laura is resistant to outside help, she told the last employee that she hated her. This resentment of caregivers is more common than you might think. It’s hard to live your entire adult life as an independent person and then have some stranger try to tell you what to do. I strive to find ways to empower my clients and ask them to steer the ship as much as possible. Laura was upset that the last helper was only available after 11am so I asked if she preferred a 9am or 10am start, she perked up. Everyone wants to be heard and validated, sometimes it’s a simple fix.

Today was my first time working for this family and I was tasked with running some errands with Rob. Rob is delightful, he has a smile like Dick Van Dyke and a kind soul. Our first stop was at a Quaker School that he co-founded in the 80’s. This school was created to offer an inclusive educational environment for children that have learning issues. When we came through the door, Rob was greeted with genuine affection and adoration. As we were walking to the front office Rob told me how he always wanted to skateboard down the halls which, he noted, have some peaks and valleys that could make the ride interesting.

Then I got to hear stories about some alumni and the positive impact my new friend had on their lives. It was overwhelming and I felt fortunate to be in his presence. Of course we were there to drop off a fruitcake because everyone over 90 is required by law to make no less than 27 fruitcakes each December. It was presented in a practical yet festive way. The treat was on a square holder (I suspect cardboard) which was covered in aluminum foil. The wreath shaped fruitcake was placed in a extra large Ziploc bag and attached to the base with festive red ribbon and holly. It was quite attractive and if I attempted such a presentation it would be a complete disaster.

Our next stop was at a feed store. I didn’t know feed stores existed until I moved to this somewhat rural area 15 years ago. We were there for two kinds of birdseed something with corn and black sunflower seeds. I have no working knowledge of birds or their seeds, I suspect I will become somewhat familiar, at least at filling the feeders. Once I filled the car with seed, we were on our way, this time to the post office.

The post office was in an old house that was converted from a general store. This building is on a minimum of it’s third life. It offered two ways to get to the door – traditional steps or a ramp. Rob decided to chance the stairs. I get nervous with new clients that have mobility issues using stairs fortunately, we made it without incident. We were there to check their post office box and to mail some…guess…yup, fruitcakes. After about 10 minutes we were on hour way back home.

In between errands Rob and I chatted in the car. He told me that he was only in the Navy for a year during World War II. He was discharged due to medical reasons, he had melanoma. For those unfamiliar, melanoma is the most lethal of skin cancers, he was 19 when he was diagnosed and treated. At 94, he has certainly exceeded longevity expectations. Rob mentioned that he is now the lone survivor from his high school class. I commented that it must be lonely to outlive most of your peers. He gave me a snort with a “you bet”.

When we got back home, his wife of nearly 70 years was preparing to host a book club which, is heavy into discussion and light on actual books. There was some interesting jockeying of cars in the short driveway that borders a busy road. I needed to drop off 50 pounds of bird seed, park their car and move my own vehicle. While we were parked in the driveway working out logistics, a friend offered to walk Rob to the door. I could tell he was uncomfortable with the offer and yet he smiled and made his way up the walkway with his friend. I suspect this family will find it’s way into my heart in no time.

 

 

That’s My Business…

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That’s My Business…

I recently met with client who used the word “f*ck” as a noun, a verb and an adjective. She switched tenses with the finesse of a linguistic ninja, it was spectacular. The fact that this person is an ordained minister is the icing on the cake. I love my job.

I started a small business in 2014. I fill in the gaps for people when life gets complicated. My usual clients are elderly and they need a little TLC. I check in on them while their adult children work. I share a meal, do some light housekeeping and socialize. I am the eyes and ears for loved ones when they can’t be there.

I’ve visited clients in their own home and at nursing homes. I used to visit a 97 year old man who was in a nursing home. Twice a week I would take him out for lunch at Chick-fil-A and each time he acted like it was the best meal of his life. Every week he would hold up his drink with the wonderment of a young child at Christmas.

“What is this?” Jack would ask

“Sprite” I’d reply

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever had” Jack would say that every week.

It’s incredibly rewarding to be the best part of someone’s day, even if they don’t always remember the details. My lunch date never could get my name straight but he always leapt out of the day room chair when he saw me. He walked across the room with a happy stride and a wide smile planted on his face.

One time around the holidays, I told my nonagenarian (great Scrabble word) friend that he looked festive, things got jumbled a bit. But I liked his version better than mine so we went with that.

“You look festive Jack!” I exclaimed

“Did you say I look sexy?”

“I sure did.”

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Sketch by Lisa McMillen – http://www.cicalisadesigns.com/

It isn’t always so fun and carefree. There are often medical concerns lurking in the background, potential embarrassing moments and the sad realization that this friendship likely won’t last that long.

I used to visit Edith, she was 88 and had severe dementia. One day I came in for my usual lunch visit and she wasn’t wearing pants. How do you handle that you ask? I said “Edith, you didn’t tell me it was no pants Monday” and I promptly got her dressed.

I have a client now who has dementia and a feisty sense of humor.  Last week we were walking in the hallway (“airing out” as we call it) when I had a brilliant, awful idea. The residents put a lot of thought into the decor around their front doors. Wreaths, plaques, photos and other seasonal tchotchkes line the narrow shelves that flank the apartment doors. I suggested that we switch a few of the wreaths around and then watch to see what the residents would do. She thought it was the best idea ever. Of course we didn’t do it, we only dream of being that rotten, but it made her laugh.

I always look for ways to add humor and preserve a person’s dignity. If someone doesn’t want to be checked on I’ll tell them I’m there to walk the dog or do laundry, we a find a way to make it work. My goal is to make them feel like a friend is stopping by to visit because inevitably that’s what it feels like.

I meet most of my clients through a friend or family member. My business is based exclusively on referrals. I tend to have one or two clients at a time because I can serve them better that way. The family dynamics vary with each client but they all love their family member and are so grateful to find reliable help. They each hold a special place in my heart and I am honored to be entrusted with their care.