Caring for you and your loved ones

There are times when living the life you want may feel so far away that you can’t imagine how you’ll ever get there.

Today I want to talk about how to get through times like those.  And offer a few strategies and books that literally saved my life when I was going the toughest of times — feeling grief from loss or impending loss.

Many of you know that MOTUS, my sweet, 80-year-0ld mother-in-law is in the final stages of her once inspired and vibrant life as a professor at Vassar and world traveler.  She is now in a nursing home with round-the-clock care.

She is on our minds 24/7.  We are on the phone to her almost daily and jumping with dread and alarm when our caller ID shows her nursing home is calling. I know some of you know the scary feeling.

After sharing about my mother-in-law, I have received so many touching emails. It made me realize that caring for loved ones who may be ill or elderly is happening for many of you, too.

You may be responsible for elderly parents; have loved ones who are terminally ill; or loved ones affected by dementia, Alzheimer’s or serious illness.

I hear you loud and clear about needing strategies to get through the more challenging times.

If you are not currently affected by any of this, I am so glad.  It is hard to get through life unscathed by struggle so I hope what I am about to share can help you, too, if you ever face something similar in the future.

I also welcome you to share your wisdom with our community  in the comments section if you have gone through any of these situations and have thoughts or strategies that worked for you. There are some amazing women in our community who have and are forging a path for the rest of us.

The single most important strategy you need to cope is reliable, ongoing support.

Without it you are adrift.

Who is your support team?  Whether it is professional medical, social service or respite care support, family, friends or strangers, you must ask for help and line up a team to help you.

And, you need to identify them before the need becomes a crisis.

Stay close emotionally and physically, if possible, and provide hope.

In the book, Using The Power of Hope to Cope with Dying, the author, an internationally acclaimed expert in the fields of death, dying, grief, nursing, and hospice care, developed the four stages of hope.  In dying (and we are all dying, by the way), there can be great hope.

The very act of asking a loved one “what are you hoping for today” breaths life, light and love into every step of the journey.

Create guiding principles for care. Their care and yours.

I mentioned recently that my husband Rob and I promised each other and MOTUS that regardless of the situation, we would do our best to make sure she stays safe, comfortable, free of physical pain, and that her dignity is maintained.

From the time her health started to fail, these guiding principles have given us a way to focus our attention and resources for the best possible outcome. So far, so good.

Know that this period is temporary.  Nothing lasts forever.  And, neither will this experience.

There are often so many little joys, stolen looks, funny, touching moments — and memories that are created. Writing them down and sharing them with others is a way to lighten your own sadness.

Learn what to expect.

For most women, reading What To Expect When You’re Expecting is required reading for having a baby.  Similarly, my “bible” for understanding the needs of someone dying and practical strategies of what to expect is Final Gifts, written by two Hospice nurses.

I learned more about how to read behavior of someone in end-of-life stages and how to give comfort to someone than in any other single book ever.

If you have worked with me as your coach, you know I’ve likely given you or urged you to buy Final Gifts.  It’s a life-saver and important information to help your loved one if he or she is in the end stages of life.

And, finally, please take extra good care of yourself — and have a plan in place to do that. Your loved one is counting on you and grateful of your gift of love and hope. You’ve got to stay healthy.

Thank you for being a part of this community where “grief shared is halved; joy shared is doubled.”

Whatever you’re going through, we are stronger together.


Facing a tough time?

What do you do when you are facing a crisis or major disruption in your life?   Do you retreat?  Plow forward?  Freeze in your tracks?

Before I found my stride, I reacted this past month with a bit of each.

As you know, Rob and I have been sorting out how to best care for and support his ailing mother (affectionately called MOTUS because she lives near the President in Washington, DC and we desperately needed a little humor!)

In one month, MOTUS transitioned from independent living in an assisted living apartment to 24/7 nursing home care and two hospital stays.  We want to be with her as much as possible and she needs us to.

Add to the mix, we are entrepreneurs with flexibility and freedom yet great responsibility and dedication to the people we serve, and we live hundreds of miles away from her.

In the end, one of the strategies above – retreat, plow ahead or freeze — is working best of all and I’d love to share with you which one and why.

But first …

I am writing to you from Naples, Florida.  More than a decade ago, Rob and I created a detailed vision for the lifestyle we wanted most.

In turning our vision into reality, we chose to live in our geographic homes — on Martha’s Vineyard for most of the year and Naples, Florida for the winter months.  So now is the time of the year when we make our “Great Migration” south.

Having grown up in snowy Ohio, I am still in awe that holiday decorations and palm trees co-exist!

Even though we have it down pretty well, our annual migration to Florida involves moving not only our car, clothes, and computers but our much-loved, 17-pound cat Wilber!

Wilber, tucked under the seat, has flown so often that he receives frequent flyer points as a card-carrying member of JetPaws!

So, as the situation and needs of MOTUS and the demands of our work and life and move to Florida collided, we set these goals and a strategy for best getting through this period in all our lives.

First, our goals for MOTUS:

1)   To feel and know she is loved

2)   Safe

3)   Comfortable

4)   Dignified

Then, for ourselves:

1)  Continuous forward motion

2) Increased self-care in this time of stress and crisis

That’s right, moving forward with our regular plans, even though they had to be changed frequently, has turned out to be our best strategy to help MOTUS and for us to feel a semblance of normalcy in the midst a difficult and often sad time.

Steady forward progress proved the wisest strategy for us even though flights, meetings and appointments have had to be cancelled and rescheduled.  Rob and I also took alternating turns in Washington caring for her and cleaning out her apartment so we saw less of each other.

Still, we are farther ahead and more at peace by proceeding as best as possible with our regular plans than if we would have retreated, frozen in our tracks or given up everything to tend to her this past month.

And, believe me, there have been moments when I felt frozen or thought I should stop everything and move to DC.

As of this moment, MOTUS is holding steady and is well cared for and loved in her nursing home community.

Rob and I are home together in Naples. Wilber is sunning himself on our screened-in porch, endearingly called “the catatarium.”

On a moment’s notice, we are prepared to return to Washington.

Our strategy has allowed us to have a stable base of operations with everything in place to take care of both her and us while we live through this temporary phase of her and our lives.

I hope if you are facing a similar situation or worse, you can take the time to find the strategy that will help you make it through.  And, that you have all the love and support you need.

Giving each other support is one of the reasons I started Women on Fire.  And, I am so deeply grateful for all the loving concern from so many of you in the past weeks!  Thank you.

Wishing you a wonderful week filled with lots of love,

Kindness of strangers…and a blue-eyed boy

Today’s post  is a little different.  It is about what happened when I was happily, busily going about my business – and life intervened.

A week ago Rob and I were celebrating his mother Connie’s 80th birthday at her lovely and spacious apartment in an assisted living home in Washington, DC.

Today, seven days later, we tucked her into a hospital bed in the nursing home section down the hall from her apartment.  Only a few feet away and yet a million miles away from the life she once led as a popular college professor and vibrant worldwide traveler.

She made it to 80 but her health and wellness is rapidly declining.  In a week, she slid from living independently to needing full-time care.  I know many of you have faced this kind of challenge in your own world, too.

It’s been an awful roller coaster these past few days for us all to sort out the next steps for her care and comfort and dignity.

And, yet, in the midst of the confusion, commotion and sadness, my heart has never been more open and grateful for the love and support of friends and family and for the kindness of strangers.

The outpouring of love and support has made me wonder whether I’ve been there enough for others. And, has made me vow to redouble my efforts to be sensitive when others are going through difficult times.

Without even knowing our situation, so many strangers came to my rescue this week.

One night after leaving the hospital where Connie had been admitted, I found myself alone in the dark in the middle of nowhere.  There were no cabs so I grabbed the first bus that came by.

I told the driver I was lost and was he going anywhere near my destination?  He wasn’t and there were no more buses for the evening.  But if I stayed on his route until he finished, he would take me to my hotel.  And, he graciously did.

The next angel I encountered was in a drug store.  I was in search of some supplies for Connie, and a clerk sent me on a wild goose chase and still I couldn’t find the items.

Normally patient and calm, I felt frazzled and teary as I approached another clerk to ask for help again.  This one reached out and gently took my hand and guided me to the correct aisle.  Instinctively, she knew I needed comfort. It was a tender act of kindness I will not soon forget.

And, then there was Eastman, a handsome Husky with eyes the color of a swimming pool and fur like a polar bear.  When I asked if I could pet him, his owner smiled and said, “of course, he’s working today.”

Eastman is a service dog who visits Connie’s nursing home.  I fell to my knees and Eastman snuggled me and propped his chin on my shoulder. I leaned my head on him and hugged him.

Words elude me to express the sadness I feel as I watch my sweet mother-in-law, with tears in her own eyes, struggle to bring a cup of tea to her mouth and resign herself to her new living arrangement.

I didn’t have to say a word. Eastman understood my heartache.

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving surrounded in love and joy.  I am deeply grateful that you are a part of my world and our inspiring circle of phenomenal women.