“Oh, how lovely!” More musings on caring for an aging parent

I am so fortunate to have my own business, to have a flexible schedule that gives me the freedom to take my mum here and there as we go about the business of setting up her new life here – the doctor, the bank, the lawyer, the optician, the chiropractor… we have our schedule of appointments and visits and excursions over to our house for tea, or a meal.  She checks her little diary where I write in what is happening at least 10 times a day, because appointment times are one of those things that seems to slip through her mind like water.

But sometimes, when I have a little unforeseen space in my schedule, I pop in on her unexpectedly. And always, the same response. A look of joyful surprise, a huge smile, and these words – “Oh, how lovely, I wasn’t expecting you, how lovely!”

And I think to myself, wow, what a blessing that simply my presence can bring another human being such joy. And then I wonder, in the end, isn’t that all we really need from each other? Our loving presence?

Who can you give the gift of your loving presence to, beloved reader?

It takes a tribe – More musings on caring for an aging parent

I bet we’ve all heard, and probably experienced, the truth of the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. Well you know what? In my experience, the same is true for caring for an aging parent.

Until recently, I’ve been in the rather unusual situation with both my parents that whatever care I could provide, was via long distance support and involvement over the phone and Skype and occasional trips since they were both more than 6,000 miles away in their later years. My dad, bless his heart, decided at the age of 83, with early onset of Parkinson’s, and despite my impassioned pleas to the contrary, to sell his beautiful home a short drive from where I live, leave behind his friends and family and the life he had built here since retiring from his worldwide travels as a plant manager for Goodyear, move with his wife to Italy and turn an old ruin in an isolated village into their dream home. Sadly, although they did manage to build their dream home, my dad’s health deteriorated rather rapidly, my step mom went through a rough patch with her own health, and her kids, who live in her native Sweden (well, actually she was born in Denmark), had to rescue them and help them get set up to live in Sweden, where they had access to much needed medical care and support services.

So I spent a lot of time on the phone with my Swedish siblings during those years – strategizing, decision making, dealing with financial and practical matters, doing what I could on this end, knowing they were bearing the brunt of my dad’s care and needs for support. I am so deeply grateful to my Swedish family for all the love and care they provided to my dad in his last years…  and of course it was hard having him so far away, and not being there. My one trip to Italy and my several to Sweden were bittersweet, lovely to spend time with him and so sad to see his health and mind deteriorate from the ravages of Parkinson’s.

When he passed almost 2 and half years ago, I felt like I had been saying goodbye for the previous 5 years.. as his Parkinson’s affected his vocal chords, I strained to hear him over the telephone, mostly undecipherable whispers on his end, so I learned to have “yes” and “no” conversations with him, and to do a lot of chatting on my end. Email became mostly unintelligible from his end. I was blessed to spend two weeks with him just before he passed, and he would hold my hand, I’d feed him chocolate ice cream, and I played Sinatra for him on my iPad. It was summer in Sweden, and I remember the birds singing outside his open window. My stepmom, when she called me to break the news of his passing once I was back home in California, told me they had flown away the day he died.

I was going to write about caring for my mum, but somehow this is where I ended up. I guess this piece of my story with my dad needed to be told, for today’s story with my mum is woven into yesterday’s story with my dad…. A different ending, as this time I am the sibling on the ground, bearing the burden of care, but way more importantly, enjoying the blessing and privilege of midwifing her through the end phase of her journey, with the help of my California tribe.  

Through the Looking Glass- More reflections on caring for an aging parent

Have you ever had that experience when you happen to glance in the mirror, and for a moment you don’t recognize yourself? Because in your mind you are still the same person you were in your mid 20’s, and there you are, 60’s something staring back at yourself and you think, “Om my goodness, what happened?” “Who is this?”

My mum and I were talking about that the other day. I can see sometimes that she is just so bewildered to find herself in her 88 year old body, with failing eyesight and faltering steps and a very forgetful mind.  Don’t get me wrong, in many ways she is doing great for 88. She is on virtually no meds, she is bright and alert and her intelligence, humor and wit are in no way diminished.

So sometimes we reminisce about those days when she was a vibrant red head who danced the rhumba and the samba at the company parties she used to regularly host as a “Goodyear wife” back in the days of my childhood, or the pianist who practiced the classical composers for hours on end, or the woman who scored a hole in one at the country golf club in Colombia, who flew back to England 35 years ago to care for her own aging mother. And so the world turns.

It certainly gives me pause for reflection, wondering what my life will look like in another 25 years when I reach her age. So I watch her and learn, and I notice what gives her joy, and I see it is the simplest of things. A beautiful piece of classical music on the radio. The birds pecking away at their seeds on our birdfeeder. A bowl of ice cream. But most of all, the joy of being near her family and sharing our lives. In the end, isn’t that what it’s really all about? The love that we share?

Walking with my mum – reflections on caring for an aging parent

Taking a walk with my 88-year-old mum is a rather slow process these days. There’s the walker, or the two walking sticks, and my arm for support. Yesterday she was having trouble with her eyes, so there’s the inevitable conversation about the damn glasses that keep slipping off her nose, or wearing the distance glasses vs. the reading glasses, or the sunglasses that are too dark, or the “when are we going to see the eye doctor”? question for the 26th time.

So, I answer. Again. And again. And when she’s is one of those frustrated places I try to distract her with the flowers along the pavement, or the blue sky, or “What kind of tree do you think that is?”  Then we get in the car to wherever we are going, I turn the radio on to her favorite classical music station, and all is well.

But allow me to back track a bit. Up until about 8 months ago, my mum was a fairly independent woman. She lived with her husband of 35 years in a flat in a small English village, and with the nearby support of her wonderful stepchildren she and Graham managed along. Until she had a fall, and he fell ill, which led to a series of hospital and nursing home stays for both of them. In September, I went back to help settle them both in back in their flat with the help of 24 hour in-home care. Sadly, Graham’s illness soon took a serious turn for the worse, and just over a month ago, he passed away and I brought mum back to California to live. My husband and I had always imagined she would eventually live at home with us, but after much soul searching, we realized that her condition was too frail, and that she needed too much care, for that to work as we are both busy working and out of the house a lot. So I found her a sweet little care home, 20 minutes drive away, where she is safe and cared for.

The past 2 weeks since we have been back has been a process of helping her to settle in and adjust to the enormous changes –the loss of her husband, missing her step children and grandchildren, going from her own home to a strange new home, from a quiet English village to a busy California city.

So I remember all this when I have my impatient moments. And I take my hat off to her for her courage to make such a big change at this point in her life. For her love for her children, and grandchildren and great grand daughters that pulled her away from all that is familiar to start a new chapter of her life at age 88.

So we are learning the balance, between her needs and ours. I call her every morning, visit her most afternoons, bring her over for lunch, or tea or dinner. She joins us for family outings, and our dinner parties where she joins in the dinner table conversations with our friends.  This weekend, she celebrated my birthday with us at the beach. We rolled her in her wheelchair down the boardwalk, and she hummed a childhood song, and practiced her rhumba and waltz steps holding on to the wooden rails, and soaked in the warm California sunshine. She used to be the belle of the ball, my mum, back in the day in Guatemala at the Goodyear company parties – but that’s another story.

And so, we are learning a new dance, she and I.  The mother- daughter two step, the role reversal that has taken place, where I lead and she follows… or so it seems. But really, I realize, my job is to attune to her rhythm, to support her where she wants to go, to help her find her own song again, her own place in the midst of our crazy family tribe, and to realize how blessed I am to share this end phase of her life journey with her.


Birthday musings: Reflections on turning 63

It’s an interesting situation – I can feel that my body isn’t quite what it used to be… you know - an achy joint here and there, a new wrinkle, noticing that bedtime is getting a tad earlier, forgetting what I was going in to that room to get. And yet my spirit feels ever younger– more joy, deeper peace, a sense of freedom in being who I am with no apologies, more laughter, a greater ease of being.

It’s just a question of whom I choose to identify with. The part of me that is subject to the laws of gravity and the passage of time, or the part of me that is timeless, limitless, forever unbound?  The dance of life on planet earth – infinite beings inhabiting these physical temples, souls on an earth voyage, Spirit on a soul journey.

I listened to Rev. Deborah Johnson at the Center forSpiritual Living speak about reconciliation yesterday. She reminded us that although we certainly don’t have the power to control what happens to us – change happens, our loved ones get sick or die, our body ages – we do have the power to name our experience of what happens – to give it the meaning we choose. Therein lies our freedom.

So, although I acknowledge the reality of the passage of time, the changes in my body and mind, the events of life, the passing of loved ones, I remind myself, as many times a day as necessary, of the Truth of my being - birthless, timeless, changeless Spirit.

And so begins another year of adventure in my soul journey on this beautiful planet earth at this very interesting time in history– and I revel in the simple delights of warm sun, the smell of ocean breeze, birdsong, leaves glistening in early morning light, avocadoes and dark chocolate, the embrace of loved ones near and far, the light in my grand daughters eyes.