Sunday, June 30, 2013

Cousins Reunion

Capps Cousins
My mom and dad both came from big families and I have a hundred or so cousins. Growing up, I knew my Whittle cousins quite well. We saw each other frequently at Grandma and Grandpa Whittle’s house in Stover. The ones close to my age became like additional sisters to me. I even got to know some of the younger kids who seemed like pests at the time, but I still formed that family bond with them.

I never had the same close attachment with my cousins on my dad’s side of the family. My only contact with them was during sporadic family reunions, usually at my Aunt Freida’s house. Because of the reunion location, the cousin I saw most consistently on the Capps side of the family was Karen. I was in my early teens when I met my cousins Charlie and Sharyn, but we became pen pals and they both came to my high school graduation.

Time passed and it seemed that I only saw my cousins at funerals, usually with little time to visit and become reacquainted. When Charlie died, my mom and I went to the funeral. Sharyn was heartbroken to lose her only sibling. We exchanged addresses but our written communication was limited to Christmas cards. Jim was in the nursing home in Marshall where Sharyn lived and we occasionally had lunch together. A few years ago, my Christmas card was returned, and I never received one from her with a new address.

It is easy to lose touch with people and yet with Facebook it is so easy to connect. Last winter, my cousin Karen suggested that I friend my cousin Marge. Soon, we were talking about a cousins reunion in the summer.

As the time grew closer, we firmed up a date. My brother Tommy offered to host the reunion. He asked me to get hold of my aunt and uncle that lived in Sedalia and their daughter. I told him I could do that.

How about Sharyn?” I asked.

Can you call her?”

I’m sure I can track her down,” I said. “I know her married name, and I think she lives at Marshall.”

After we hung up, I placed the call to my aunt and uncle. They were excited about a reunion. Then I tried to find Sharyn on Google. I couldn’t find her, so I pulled out an area wide phone book and there she was—listed at Sweet Springs. I’d been spelling her last name wrong. Oh, well, since all I was looking for was a phone number, I called the number in the book. Busy. After several attempts, She’s probably on dial up Internet, I thought. The next day, I called and a recording said the number had been disconnected.

My phone book was several years old, so I asked a co-worker, Dawn, if she had a newer directory. She said, “I always look on People Find.”

Oh, I couldn’t find her on Google, but I was spelling Sharyn’s name wrong.” I spelled the name and she turned to me and said, “It says she’s deceased.”

What? No one in the family knew that. Maybe it’s not her.”

Dawn plugged the name in Google and up popped Sharyn’s obituary. She had died two years ago.

After I shared the shocking news, I realized how important this reunion was. I knew Marge had lost three brothers that I never really had a chance to know.

The day of the reunion was a beautiful sunny, warm summer day. As we sat in Tommy’s lanai, we took turns talking about what we did, our families, our passions.

When I was growing up, I thought Dad had about fifteen brothers and sisters,” my sister Terri said. My two aunts at the reunion—Rosemary (Runt) and Freida (Dede) both laughed.

Dad is the one that gave us the nicknames,” Rosemary said.

I thought Robert did,” said my cousin Robin. I nodded agreement. Her mother, Shirley (Tot) had always said my dad had given them the nicknames. Aunt Shirley passed away two years ago, and I remembered her saying the same thing many times.

We heard stories of heartbreak, my brother Jimmy and my cousin Mary had both lost daughters. My cousin Karen shared the humorous story of my mom and Aunt Freida’s trip to California to visit her sister “Dude.” My aunt Freida stepped off the train to make sure they were on the correct train, and the train left with my mom, my mentally handicapped cousin Laney, my aunt’s ticket, purse, and luggage. Even without money or proof of identity, my aunt managed to get on the next train and arrived shortly after my mom and Laney. “That’s why we take her now,” Karen finished.

Laney is my favorite cousin,” my brother Jimmy said. “She’s my biggest fan.” Laney beamed from ear-to-ear. My aunt takes her to the nursing home when Jimmy, my mom, and friends play music.

After sharing abbreviated stories of our lives, we moved to the yard for pictures and conversation. My mom, Jimmy, and Mitchell played music with others joining in to sing. Family ties brought us together, but it was the beating heart of family helped us bond.

Copyright (c) June 2013 by L.S. Fisher


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Caregiver Emotion #5 Loneliness

Before I even knew Sarah Harris, her words in the national Alzheimer’s newsletter resonated with me. When she spoke at the candlelight vigil many years ago, she said, “Alzheimer’s is a lonely disease.”

Dementia disrupts personal relationships in a way that few other diseases do. As a caregiver, you will miss the give and take of your relationship with your loved one. Jim developed aphasia early on in the disease. He changed from a man who laughed and joked and shared his deepest thoughts with me to one who seldom spoke a word. He once could play any instruments with strings, but gradually he struggled to play his guitar. Jim had known the lyrics to several hundred songs, but eventually, he would only attempt a few songs and often sang only the chorus over and over. I missed meaningful communication with my husband. Our relationship gradually evolved and each transition increased the loneliness.

Another factor of loneliness is that some friends back away, especially when those friendships involve another couple. Activities are no longer the equal friendships from before and your loved one cannot participate at the same level. Other friends may simply not know what to say or how to react to odd behavior. You will learn to rely on the ones who take the changes in stride and continue to support you in your changing roles. Eating out can be a real challenge. Once, we went out to eat at a nice restaurant with our friends Rick and Robby. We all know how cold restaurants can be, and with Jim on blood thinners, he began to shiver uncontrollably. Robby went to their car and got a blanket that she wrapped around Jim. After our meal came, we discovered that the fish Jim ordered had bones in it. Noticing that it looked like Jim didn’t remember how to remove the bones, his old fishing buddy, Rick, took a steak knife and filleted the fish leaving him only the boneless portion to eat.

Spending time with trusted friends or family who make your loved one feel part of the group is a good way to combat loneliness. These special people can lend some normalcy to a world that at many times seems anything but normal.

We often socialize with friends based on an activity that we have in common. Whether you play golf, play cards, ride motorcycles, or have backyard barbecues, a loss of skill may make continuing as a couple impossible, or dangerous. Your loved one may also become uneasy in crowds or a different environment causing him distress and anxiety for you. People who are more casual acquaintances, may not realize the activity is no longer appropriate for your loved one. It may be simpler to turn down invitations, increasing the gap between you and your friends.

To keep from being left out of all the fun, you can plan a get-together with a small group where your loved one is more comfortable. Or, you may want to find someone to stay with your loved one so that you can enjoy an outing. You don’t want to isolate yourself from people who can support you and offer you companionship.

Widen your circle of friends by joining a club, volunteering, or attending charity events. Being a part of these groups will not only help you find new friends, but it can also keep you busy while making a worthwhile contribution to your community.

I found the best way to battle loneliness was to be comfortable with being alone. After the tough decision to place Jim in a nursing home, I returned to school to earn my bachelor’s degree. Working full time and studying for my classes didn’t leave much time to feel sorry for myself or to feel lonely. One of the better decisions I made was to join a local business women’s group. Our town is small, but our local is the largest Business Women of Missouri club. I’ve made friends with women throughout Missouri that I would never have known otherwise. I also joined two writers’ guilds. I gained a new group of friends where I found encouragement, support, and learned invaluable information to build on my desire to write. Whatever your interests, you can combat loneliness by taking a chance on joining with like-minded people.

Yes, Alzheimer’s is a lonely disease, but keeping active is your best defense. Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone, especially when you are feeling sad and alone. After all, loneliness is an emotional response to isolation, so surround yourself with friends and family who uplift you and fill your need for interaction with others through the giving and receiving of friendship.

Copyright June 2013 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Caregiver Emotion #4 – Worry

Jim used to say I was a worrywart, and I can’t deny that it was (and still is) true. At one time I remember telling him, “I have to worry, because you don’t.”

When we were first married, I worried about money because we never seemed to have too much of it. Paying bills on time and not racking up debt was important to me. I also felt a need for the safety net of putting a little aside for unexpected expenses. Although I was always conscious of our financial situation, one time I made an error in my checkbook. The bank didn’t return the check, but notified me that I needed more money in my account. We had money in another account, but I was worried because I received the notice on a weekend and the bank was closed.

It so happened that Jim was in the hospital in the stress unit and his mom and dad didn’t want me to tell him about the problem with the bank. The minute Jim saw my face, he demanded to know what was wrong. When I told him, he said, “Honey, when a problem can be solved by throwing a little money at it, it just isn’t worth worrying about.” Those were wise words, indeed.

Unfortunately, many of the worries you have as a caregiver cannot be solved with money. Being a caregiver to a person who has dementia is demanding and requires a lot of patience. You might worry that you don’t have the qualities you need to take care of your loved one. Sometimes a bigger worry is that if your loved one is being cared for by someone else, substitute caregivers may not meet all of his needs. You worry that your loved one feels abandoned or is lonely and afraid.

You can even worry about worrying! It can become an endless cycle of worry that can put gray hair on your head, or worse, bring on other health problems.

What can you do to break the cycle? I’ve found a few good diversions that help me keep worry under control. First, stay active and busy. This will give you something else to think about other than the problem that is worrying you.

Second, look for solutions. Instead of just worrying for the sake of worrying, calm down and think about ways to lessen your anxiety. I worried about Jim falling when he was in the nursing home. He was trying to get up in the mornings before the aides came to help him out of bed, and they were finding him on the floor. Jim had always been an early riser, so I suggested they wake him up about five in the morning and help him out of bed. Problem solved.

Third, share your worries with friends, family members, a support group, or a therapist. When you share your worries it accomplishes a couple of things. Talking about it can result in thinking out loud and you might be able to find a solution or at least come to grips with your emotional dilemma. Other people may suggest ideas that you never considered.

Many of the big problems in life that fill our days and nights with worry cannot be resolved, and with those problems, you will need to find methods that help you manage your worry. It may be as complex as regular visits to a therapist, or as simple as reading a good book at bedtime to take your mind off your worries so you can go to sleep. The important thing is to find what works for you.

Copyright (c) June 2013 by L. S. Fisher


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Caregiver Emotion #3 – Anger

When you are a caregiver for a loved one with a serious health problem like Alzheimer’s, you might find that you need anger management classes. Of course, you are going to be so busy with day-to-day duties that you aren’t going to have time for any additional activities.

What does it take to push your buttons and make you see red? Something that normally doesn’t bother you can trigger a rise in blood pressure when you are emotionally vulnerable. It is important to learn to recognize and address the issues that cause you to react with anger, especially if it is your loved one you are angry with.

The characteristics of Alzheimer’s can grate on the caregiver’s nerves. Repetitive behavior can be distressing to the caregiver. One of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s is loss of short term memory which causes your loved one to forget they already asked you a question and that you answered them. It will do no good to point out that you already answered and to let your irritation turn into anger. It is better to answer the question again. Be aware that although your loved one might be asking you one question, due to failing communication skills, he may actually intend to ask a different question. Be vigilant to make sure your loved one’s needs are being met. Often, you can distract or redirect your loved one.

Pacing is another repetitive behavior that can bother a caregiver. Jim used to pace through the house constantly. The bad thing was that the minute I was distracted, he would pace right out the door and down the gravel road. He would never turn around and come back, so I would have to get in the car and go after him. After about five or six trips to pick him up, I would find that I was seething. Sometimes, it helped if I just went for a walk with him. Although, he might take off again given a chance, at least the walks were a good stress reliever for me!

Another thing that can anger a caregiver is unfair criticism of how you are caring for your loved one, especially from someone who isn’t helping. You may not feel like explaining every situation, but until someone has been a primary caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s, they can’t comprehend what it’s like to walk in your shoes.

You may be angry at the disease that is taking your loved one away. Alzheimer’s has no cure and treatment only addresses the symptoms. To help assuage my anger at the disease, I became an Alzheimer’s volunteer. The Walk to End Alzheimer’s was a way to help the Chapter provide support and services to help families coping with dementia. I became an advocate to add my voice in support of research to find a cure. By helping others, I helped myself more.

You can’t predict every situation that is going to make you angry, but you can alleviate some of the tension by taking a step back before you react. You don’t have to count to ten but take a few deep breaths and think before you do or say something you will regret.

Humor helps tremendously. If you can see the humor in the situation, it may keep you from ever being angry in the first place. As long as your anger causes no harm to your loved one, you can also see the humor in that. 

Occasional anger is a normal emotion, and as long as you control your anger and not let it control you, it should not affect your ability to be a calm, patient caregiver. Of course, regularly taking a break from caregiving helps your mood and energizes you to continue providing a loving and safe environment for your loved one.

Copyright (c) June 2013 by L.S. Fisher