Category Archives: volunteering

Writing Prompts

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Writing Prompts

When you feel vulnerable everything is a writing prompt. Sometimes the thoughts just swirl in my head, marinating until they become a somewhat tasty morsel that spills onto the screen. Not enough for a meal but, with any luck it leaves you hungry for more. Most times though, those prompts just wither on the mental vine. Here are some seeds that are lying on the bare ground, waiting for neglect or nurture to determine their fate.

Backstage Pass

My father is in the hospital again. He’s been in several times this year for various illnesses. We aren’t close and that’s not likely to change. He was out of my life from when I was 9 until sometime in my 30s. Too late for strangers with nothing in common to cling to – I say that with sadness, not hostility. We’ve both made attempts to bridge the enormous obvious gap, we just haven’t found the right the platform.

I find out about his health via group texts from his longtime partner. She’s devoted to him and very kind, which is comforting. It’s just awkward. The man had 7 kids from two marriages. I’m the first born but last in the pecking order. When I do get informed, it’s like having a backstage pass for an act you don’t know.

What’s Normal?

My kids recently went back to school and I feel myself being consumed by my own anxiety for them. I’m outing myself in the hopes that it will get me to ease up a bit. I have two teenagers and I can’t help myself, I think of what I was doing at their ages. Then I wonder, is it normal for parents to do this? If you’re a parent do you reflect on what you were doing when you were the same age as your child? Seriously, this is not a rhetorical question, I don’t know what’s normal.

For the Ladies

You ever get your period and think “Oh that makes sense” as you flashback to the night before when you ate half a chocolate cake and contemplated life with a new identity.

Hospice

A friend asked me how I deal with the mental mind f*ck of caring for people on hospice. This is what I wrote to him:

Hospice is a weird thing. I think what draws me in is the lack of bullsh*t. The small stuff and pettiness that most humans get tangled in tends to fade away when someone has a newfound awareness of how finite our time is here. I appreciate that level awareness and honesty and I get into a – do the next right thing modus operandi. It’s more difficult with people you know versus volunteering for strangers. I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing though, one of the benefits of a dysfunctional upbringing.

There is also a curiosity that pulls me in. I kind of want to know what it’s like at the end of life – I mean, we’re all going to die one day, yet people rarely discuss it. Or maybe my twisted brain thinks…if I am a witness and a helper for so many at the end of their lives, perhaps I’ll be granted a swift departure when my time comes. I don’t want to be subjected to weeks or months of Depends and really dry, chapped lips. So basically what I’m saying is….there is no way to delay the existential head f*ck, you just have to lean into that motherf*cker.

 

 

 

*Featured image used via agreement with 123rf.com image is Copyright of Sila Tiptanatoranin

 

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Demanding to be Seen & Heard While Wrapped in the Cloak of Invisibility

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Demanding to be Seen & Heard While Wrapped in the Cloak of Invisibility

A recent Facebook post in a group for midlife women asked members to comment with their term for the phase in life between ages 45 and 55. For the record, the author of the post prefers midlife meltdown. Up to this point I hadn’t thought of anything original until I read the post and subsequent comments. I let it marinate.

First I reflected on this phase as a work in progress with more self acceptance than prior decades. Some members were elegant – metamorphosis, renewal and awakening were tossed out like flower petals on a soft meadow. One of my favorite responses was the “F*ck it phase”. I gave it some more thought and landed on the title of this post – “Demanding to be Seen & Heard While Wrapped in the Cloak of Invisibility”.

I recently turned 50 so I am in the sweet spot of the poster’s demographic. I find myself balancing opposite ends of the spectrum – acceptance/discontent, reclamation/ surrender, clumsiness/grace. In short, it’s a mixed bag. I am aware of my short comings, of the finite amount of time we all have and yet there is this spark, indeed a renewal of sorts.

In collective society I have become less visible. This happens to women as the radiance of youth is replaced by the fine lines of wisdom. Once the skin suit we inhabit becomes less appealing to the masses, we blend in until we are barely visible.

Here’s an example, our family used to frequent a local restaurant where they immediately recognized us and would (without asking) bring our favorite appetizers. It was our Italian version of Cheers (everyone knew our name). The same people that owned the restaurant also owned a pizzeria. I would stop in from time to time for take out. The owner rarely recognized me when I was by myself. In fact, it happened so often that he actually acknowledged the oversight. I suspect it happened because I wasn’t attractive to the point where I would stand out or unattractive enough to register in this man’s memory without my family to provide cues. I simply blended into the woodwork.

That never happened in my 20’s or 30’s. It’s a jagged pill to swallow especially if you relied on your looks in your youth. I was aware of the perks of being an attractive young woman but I never fully appreciated the power, I miss it.

Like a lot of women, I fell into a bit of a cliché. I was a upwardly mobile career girl who transitioned into a SAHM in my mid 30’s. When my kids were headed toward middle school the internal panic started.

1) What have I done?

You put your family first, not yourself. That bit about putting your oxygen mask on first in the event of an airplane emergency….you didn’t do that. Tsk, tsk, too late to dwell on it.

2) What will I do now?

Should I go back to school? I already have my BA…what industries are hiring? If I spend X amount on education how long will it take to recoup that and do I have time? Will I go back to school, incur debt and be unable to get a job? What contacts do I have from 2003?

This cycle of self-doubt and reflective reasoning is the stuff of insomnia and panic attacks. It’s painful and no one can walk you through it. People can make suggestions and offer guidance but it’s your brain on the hamster wheel at 3am.

3) Will anyone hire me now?

Maybe, maybe not. Another Facebook group of women were recently discussing ageism in job interviews. One women was considering dying her hair because she thought it would help her odds of getting hired. Others try cosmetic surgery, injectables and most shave decades of experience off their resumes to make the math more difficult for a potential employer. Ageism is real, combine that with a large gap of employment and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. I volunteered for a local hospital for 10 years and could not even get an interview for a data entry job. Eventually I started my own business because it was that or retail.

Many of us wake up at some point and wonder all of the “what ifs” and decide some changes need to be made. I’ve noticed this in myself and others, there is a certain burst of energy and creativity that comes at midlife. Whether it’s writing, painting, sculpture or throwing yourself into a charitable cause or activism, ladies tend to get revved up in the middle. I don’t know if it springs from a new well or one that was previously blocked by fear and expectation. I suppose it doesn’t matter because I jumped in without knowing the answer. That has been the gift of this phase, the willingness to dive into previously uncharted waters.

 

 

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_yuliialypai’>yuliialypai / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I Might Be Terrible

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I Might Be Terrible

I’ve been doing cringe worthy crap my entire life. This week has been off the chart, here’s a recap:

Last night I was in a doctor’s office with my daughter. She needed to get an X-ray. I saw a close friend with her daughter also waiting for an appointment. Instead of just saying hi like a normal person. I go over and say “What are you in for?” because people love to announce their private medical concerns in a crowded waiting room. I might be terrible.

One evening at bedtime my daughter mentioned that she has fears of someone breaking in and killing everyone. She asked if I would run in and rescue her. I said, “Hell no, I’ll be running for my life. You’re smallish, hide in a closet, play possum, figure it out.” Now I’m wondering if we should just put her college fund toward therapy. Probably terrible.

A dear friend has been dealing with a kid with a foot injury. Her kid is pretty delicate so the pain tolerance level is – butterfly kisses chafe. One morning this week she was trapped in bed with her tween, afraid of waking her daughter if she moved. I don’t know how long she was pinned, arm going numb as her bladder begged to be emptied. Most parents have been held hostage in this way – desperate to escape, afraid to rouse the sleeping child.

The injury happened over the weekend and the effects lingered for several days. She kept her daughter home from school on Monday, concerned that she wouldn’t be able to use the bathroom without assistance. Later that day she sent me a picture of the balloon animals they made out of an excess of desperate boredom. I texted her…If your kid can make a G-D balloon dog she can pull up elastic pants, that’s all I’m sayin’. My friend insisted the issue was with putting weight on her injured foot, but still…moderately terrible.

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This is the balloon animal my friend made. It appears to have some kind of balloon animal medical issue. I don’t know what it is exactly but my visceral reaction is concern for the balloon and my friend.

I was assisting an 80 year old client with bathing this week. Three minutes into the bath she mentioned that she felt an urge to go. I may have said “please don’t sh*t in the tub” repeatedly under my breath. She has really good hearing. Sh*t in the tub is a horror show so, probably not so terrible.

This weekend I accidentally took my son’s phone. Not too terrible, EXCEPT when he suggested that I might have accidentally picked it up and I immediately dismissed the idea. In fact my husband and I thought that perhaps our son was scared that he lost the phone and was desperate for a scapegoat. Then my husband and son searched the path of a walk they took the prior evening (the search took place in cold, rainy conditions because of course it did). Approximately an hour later the phone was found in my car. Clearly my son’s suspicions were proved correct. Moderately terrible, I apologized.

I was catching up with some volunteer work the other day. To be honest, I’ve wanted to “retire” from this particular project but the benefits are so good it’s hard to walk away. That’s a joke the benefits are a significant loss of personal time, a severe lack of appreciation and agita. I was emailing another volunteer and she was getting a bit testy with me. I decided to use the exchange as a writing prompt and somehow managed to send her a text with my observations which I intended to flesh out into a fictitious blog post. Bottom line is I hurt the other person’s feelings. So I’m terrible AND an idiot. I apologized, definitely terrible.

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From this day forward, all the sh*t that goes sideways will be known as a writing prompt. What terrible cringey things have you done this week?

I leave you with this gem – How to Make a Balloon Poop Emoji –

 

 

 

 

 

A Peek at Dementia

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A Peek at Dementia

Her mind is a jumble of thoughts that misfire and get hung up midway. She’ll start a task and forget what she was doing somewhere in the process. The other day I came in and she had all the ingredients spread out on the counter, she just didn’t have any idea how to put them together. She wanted to make a sandwich for her husband of 67 years. She’s probably made a thousand over the course of their marriage, this day the how-to’s of assembly escaped her.

She’s highly sensitive, aware of changes in the moods of those around her. Her feelings are easily hurt and she isn’t shy about expressing herself. I visit with her several times a week including one evening when the goal is to get her fed and dressed for bed. Getting dressed is a long process. It’s a series of repetitive steps that have to be done in a certain order. She can usually stay on task but there have been exceptions.

One day last week she insisted that she had to take her pants off over her sneakers. I had to explain why that would not work, she remained stubborn about it. Then it clicked for me, she must have been afraid of something. Fear is usually the root cause of her resistance. Earlier that week, her husband commented that he couldn’t tie her shoes any more, he was physically not able to do it. This is why she wanted to take her pants off over her sneakers, she was afraid of being shoe-less. Once I explained that I would put her sneakers back on, she complied.

She has dementia, a moderate case. The thing about dementia is that it only gets worse, never better. Sure there are days when she is more lucid but her baseline status will only descend from here. Any major change such as the death of her husband or a move at this stage will hasten the spiral and she’s one of the lucky ones.

Her family is engaged and loving. She sees a relative at least five times a week and speaks with them a minimum of three times a day for medication reminders. Companions like me visit her each weekday. She has a small army of compassionate caregivers and she still lives with her husband. There are millions of people facing this condition without these benefits, what will happen to them?

https://www.dementiasociety.org/

It’s estimated that 9 million Americans are living with some form of dementia. They don’t all have the financial and familial resources to remain safe and comfortable. Families are stretched thin trying to triage caregiving while managing their own lives including; children, careers, personal illnesses and a home.

https://www.alz.org/facts/

This situation will overwhelm our healthcare system within the next decade and beyond. Dementia, including Alzheimer’s, effects one in nine people after age 65 and that rate increases with age. People 85 and older have somewhere between a 30 – 50% chance of acquiring some form of dementia. This condition is impacting more people as life expectancy increases.

What can you do to prepare for this? I suggest having direct conversations with aging loved ones while they are well. Discuss specifics of financial resources, care preferences and have an Advanced Medical Directive and a Will. All adults should have these preferences documented.

https://www.medicinenet.com/advance_medical_directives/article.htm#advance_medical_directive_facts

If someone has been diagnosed, you may want to tour some facilities that specialize or have a wing dedicated to memory care. If you have a male loved that will need these services, get them on a waiting list as soon as it is reasonable. Many facilities have beds that are assigned male or female. Since women tend to outlive men, they have historically had more beds available to them. It can take years for a male patient to get into his desired facility due to a lack of available beds.

Many people opt to care for loved ones at home due to financial, emotional or other reasons. It’s wonderful if you can find a caregiver within the family. At some point that person will need assistance as well. AARP has put together a thoughtful list of resources for caregivers.

https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/local/info-2017/important-resources-for-caregivers.html

To all the caregivers reading this, you are not alone. Please take a moment for yourself to find support. When you need help, ask for it from those that can assist. That may be an individual, an agency or a non-profit organization. When you don’t need help, prepare for when you do, your work is so important. Self-care is not indulgent, it is a necessity.

 

Photo Credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_victor69′>victor69 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

 

Why Hospice?

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Why Hospice?

I get this question a lot, why hospice? Why volunteer to insert yourself into the lives of strangers when they are going through a gut-wrenching experience. The answer is simple, because I can. I realize it isn’t for everyone so those that can, should. You couldn’t pay me enough to work with little kids or Hedge Fund Managers. For some reason, I can lean into this end of life situation.

I should probably back up and explain a little bit about what hospice is for the uninitiated. Hospice is palliative care. Comfort measures for someone who is terminally ill. This includes pain medication, durable medical equipment, oxygen, things that will provide pain relief for the patient. Hospice is not curative care. When a person gets transferred to hospice they generally have a life expectancy of six months or less. Hospice care can take place in an institution or at home. It is covered by Medicare.

When I was in my late twenties my Aunt was dying and she made me the executrix of her estate. She didn’t have much so that sounds a lot loftier then the actual task. Basically, I was in charge of making sure her final wishes were realized and distributing what monies and valuables remained after she died. She selected me for the task because she knew I could handle it and her sister would be too emotional. Through that process I got to know my Aunt better and got a glimpse into what it’s like to know you’re time is limited.

My Aunt was a chaplain. I couldn’t of asked for a better teacher to demonstrate grace through her final months. We had very direct conversations about what she wanted, I could ask her anything. I remember a particular conversation when I asked specific medical questions. I was frustrated that more wasn’t being done medically to cure her. She was young, 59, and she had an acceptance that was mind boggling. She got breast cancer in her 40’s and had a mastectomy, chemo, the works. I remember celebrating her 5th year cancer free declaring herself cured. A decade later she had leg pain while on a trip to Greece. When she got it checked out she learned that the cancer had metastasized. The younger and healthier a person is, the more aggressive the cancer. She understood clearly that this was her death sentence.

It was an intense time. At one point she broke both of her legs while bathing. We hadn’t finalized her Last Will and Testament yet so I raced to the hospital to have her sign it before she went in for surgery. That was an odd position to be in. It felt awful to put “business” as a priority before surgery and yet I wanted to fulfill her wishes if she didn’t survive. Remarkably, she made it through the surgery and got to celebrate one last Christmas.

Through this process I became aware that sometimes the person that is dying doesn’t have anyone to talk to. Sure there are usually family members and friends around but sometimes they need a buffer friend. Someone they can talk to with no skin the game. Someone who won’t break down because they can’t bare the thought of their loved one dying. A friend at the end who will listen without judgement or a history of emotions that can complicate a conversation. I sincerely wanted to be that person.

I was 29 when my Aunt died and the seed for hospice work was firmly planted. I knew that I wanted to get involved at some point. The next decade was divided between a busy career, starting a family, moving and health scares. Finally when my youngest was in Preschool, I signed up to train to become a Hospice Volunteer. That was 10 years ago.

In 10 years I have probably visited with 100 or so hospice patients and their families. Each case varies with some overlapping commonalities. The hospice team is consistent regardless of the individual workers. Hospice nurses and home health aids are a special breed.  They are on the front line of death every day and they face it with a humility and strength that amazes me.

As a volunteer, I get to select the cases that I am willing to take on, the paid help doesn’t have that luxury. Sometimes I get to fulfill that wish of being their confidante. Most of the time though, I just sit by reading a book at their bedside while they rest. This is also rewarding as it provides respite for their caregiver. Caregivers are stretched so thin, anything you can do to help them should be done without hesitation. I’ve met people that have cared for their spouse for a decade or longer prior to getting on hospice. That’s an incredible length of time to sacrifice yourself for someone else.

Sometimes you get a hard case, something that hits close to home and guts you. I had a patient about a year and a half ago that still haunts me. We were the same age, her birthday was one week before mine and she had a kid the same age as my son. I visited her for a couple of months. Once a week I would stop by, make her tea and give her a pedicure. We talked about everything and anything. If she asked me a question, I gave her an honest answer and she did the same. What can I say, it’s just not fair. Despite the pain, it’s rewarding work which is why I still do it.

Do you have questions about hospice? If you do, feel free to comment and I’ll respond. If it’s too personal, you can email me at – thebrycewarden@gmail.com – if you do email me, please comment that you did so I get back to you in a timely manner. If you currently have a loved one on hospice, my thoughts are with you. I hope you can have the conversations of your heart while your loved one is still here. That is the gift of hospice, the ability to realize that time is running out, so say those words while you can.