On God And Santa

Christmas Manger

When I was a little girl I thought Santa Claus and God were a lot alike. First there was that “making a list and checking it twice” song to let us know that Santa was watching “to see who’s naughty or nice.” Then Sister Anne told us God has a big book up in heaven and when we die we’re going to have to stand in front of everybody in all creation while our sins are read out loud for everyone to hear. I had to think that with a book like that someone was checking it at least a couple of times.

I figured Santa might be more forgiving than God. He judged you on an annual basis and on Christmas morning you knew how you’d done that year. If you were real good you got everything you asked for. If you were real bad, you got nothing. I always landed somewhere in the middle. I never got everything I asked for, but I never got nothing either. I usually ended up with one or two things from my list and some other things that were nothing to write home about. Then there were the socks and underwear that came as a warning to do better in the New Year. I figured he must have checked that list and seen me trying to peek at some answers on a math test or watched me picking on my little brother. He also seemed to know I always tried to do better and found it in his heart to give me a bit of credit for that. I figured that’s how I got my first Barbie.

God is tougher. He expects you to be good all the time and if you can’t quite pull it off, he wants you to tell on yourself. That’s what they call ‘going to confession’ in my church. Then you have do penance and pray for your immortal soul. There are no presents to let you know how you’re doing. Confession was always a problem. What if I forgot something? What if He looked away when I was good and didn’t see how hard I tried? Even a pair of socks would have been some indication of how things were going. I thought God should have a chat with Santa.

During Christmas things got all mixed up and everybody went a little crazy. Jingle Bells and Away in A Manger competed on the stereo. Santa images appeared everywhere. Baby Jesus was getting ready for his birthday and his straw bed was right up there at the front of the church and at home we placed it under the Christmas tree with the sheep and the cows, the chipped wise men and one shepherd with a broken staff. Mary prayed and Joseph stood guard over all of them.

In the midst of all this I heard about some kid seeing his mommy kissing Santa Claus. Imagine something like that happening when everyone is expected to be on their best behavior. It was enough to drive a kid to distraction.

Right after that, we had to practice for the Christmas pageant and get into a solemn state worthy of Our Lord. I tried. However, even with the best intentions I never managed to behave well enough to be considered for the part of Mary. I did manage to be a pretty good sheep once and from that success I moved up to play a well disguised wise man the following year.

As I look back on those innocent years, I realize that as adults we feel the same pressure to be good, to answer to more than one standard at the same time. We grow distracted and fail to see Him in the stars, the morning sun, or the loving eyes of our spouse. We no longer notice the prayer in a child’s laugh. It’s because of times like these that God reminds us to think of others.

It is through Him that we opened our hearts long ago and created a joyful old elf to carry His message. That is why God and Santa look alike to an innocent little girl trying her best to prepare for when the time comes to check that list. Faith comes in many forms but always at the heart of it is a message to try to do your best, to appreciate the gifts that life offers and share our love with family and our community.

Now when people complain about how commercial the season has become, how gifts and parties have taken over, I smile and look into the face of Santa, and I see Him there, smiling back at me with all the love a father holds for a child trying hard to be good.

Merry Chrsitmasfrom the Imperfect Caregiver! I’ll be posting more on caregiving in the New Year.

Note: This story is included in my book of short stories titled, Pencil Dances.

Visions of Sugarplums Danced in Her Head – A Caregiver’s Dream

santa sleeping
One of the most common bits of advice for caregivers is to get a good night’s sleep.

“Goodnight.”

What wonderful images that simple word brings to mind. I close my eyes and see myself drifting off to sleep in the biggest most comfortable bed on the market. I’m covered with a whisper soft blanket. I’m hugging my pillow. A tiny smile hints at sweet dreams to come. When morning arrives I will awake refreshed ready to face another day caring for my loved one.

That is what I was supposed to do, right? That’s what all the experts said. Trust me, it’s what I would l have loved to do.

Enter reality:

“Goodnight, Rodger.” “Goodnight.”

It was eight o’clock in the evening and he had just had his last breathing treatment of the day. Only one round of medication was left to be taken. I had two hours to spend some time with my husband. We were exhausted and only half listening to each other. I kept one ear open in case Rodger needed me. Nodding at my husband to indicate I was paying attention, I was fighting to keep my eyes open.

At 10:00PM I got up and took Rodger his last doses of the night. He took it without complaint. Yea!

“Goodnight, Rodger.” “Goodnight.”

I was too tired to brush my teeth. Tomorrow was another day. I hadn’t had much to eat anyway. Did I take a shower that morning? I couldn’t remember. I’d do that that the next day too. After saying my prayers, I closed my eyes and waited for sleep to come. My thoughts looped and circled around on themselves. What ifs and why didn’t I competed with I should have until I finally lost consciousness.

12:15 AM – His bed alarm went off. He hated the alarm. He hated the bedside commode and he resented me for making him use them. I ran down the hall to discover he had scooted down to the foot of the bed and managed to squeeze through the space between the bedrail and the foot of the bed. He was clinging to the rail, trying to keep from falling.

“Here, let me help you.” I eased him over to the commode and helped him stand to pee. He refused to sit. “I’m not a girl!”

“Why didn’t you call me if you wanted to get up?”

“I didn’t want to bother you. I used my short cut.”

“Short cut?” It took me a few moments to understand he was talking about the gap between the bedrail and the end of the bed.

“You aren’t supposed to get up unless someone is with you. You could fall. That’s why the doctor ordered an alarm for your bed.”

“The doctor sent it?”

“Yes, last month?”

“How does he know if I go to the toilet? It’s none of his business.”

Five minutes later we were both back in bed.

12:45 AM– His bed alarm went off. That time he tried to climb over the rail and was stuck half way. “What are you doing?”

“I have to pee.” I got him up and helped him to the commode. He stood for a couple of minutes. Nothing happened.

“I thought I had to go.” We went back to bed.

2:00 AM – The bed alarm went off. He was stuck half way out of the bed again. We repeated the scene above.

2:10 AM – Alarm went off again. His foot is stuck in the rail.

3:05 AM – Alarm went off again. He had scooted down to the foot of the bed and was trying to get up. “I have to pee.” That time he did.

3:15 AM – Alarm went off again. “I’m thirsty.” I went to the kitchen and mixed some thickener in water and helped him spoon it into his mouth.

4:00 AM – He was calling for me. I rushed to room. His covers were tangled around him and he couldn’t move. I got him into a chair and arranged his bedding. Had him pee while we were up.

5:15 AM – The bed alarm went off again. I knew I was up for the day.

The next day, and the next, and the days after that? Repeat the above actions from the beginning. Sometimes it was the voices that woke him. Some nights he thought it was day and he was ready to start his routine.

Believe me, I followed all the suggestions, I kept him up during the day. It didn’t matter. I put him in adult pull-ups so he didn’t have to use the bedside commode. I’d find them torn to shreds the next time I went to his room. I followed all the advice about soothing music and quiet time before bed. I tried it all again and there we were night after night. Sometimes I made a bed for myself on the floor beside him so he knew he was not alone. Still the alarm went off through the night.

Get a good night’s sleep? I was ready. I even drifted off for a while, and then his bed alarm went off. Again.

Caregivers do need a good night’s sleep and they know your suggestions are well intended and sincere. What they want you to know is that it’s not that simple. Their days and nights are full, minute to minute, crisis to crisis. So if you are wondering what to give a caregiver for Christmas; one suggestion is a gift certificate for a few hours of respite each week so she or he can take a nap. If you do, drop me a note so I can thank you. gift certificate

How to Claim Your Power: Seek Family Help in Caring for Your Loved-One

I am proud to have Nancy D. O’Reilly ,of Women Connect 4 Good,  contribute her expertise to The Imperfect Caregiver. Seeking family help is difficult for caregivers who often feel powerless when asking.

Dr-Nancy-OReilly-headshot-2013How to Claim Your Power: Seek Family Help in Caring for Your Loved-One
by
Nancy D. O’Reilly, Psy.D.

Women Connect 4 Good

Women are born to be caregivers. My least favorite aspect of our society is the way it continues to assign women the task of being the primary caregivers for life. As a result, we put ourselves last on our priority list and feel guilty when we take time out for ourselves—if we take time out for ourselves. So after we take leave to birth and raise our children and accept lower wages for our lesser business role, now we provide over 60 percent of caregiving services for parents or other loved-ones in their elder years.

Caregiver.org reports that women provide from $148 billion to $188 billion annually in informal caregiving. In fact, we are the backbone of caregiving. While it can be empowering to learn to juggle your priorities, responsibilities and emotions so you can carve out some time for yourself and be in control of your life, it can be overwhelming without cooperation from your family. The most empowering thing you can do for yourself is use your considerable communication and organization skills to enlist the aid of your family members to accept their responsibility for caregiving when a parent is involved.

I know that’s not as easy as it sounds. You may have a lifetime of conflicts with brothers and sisters to overcome to get their cooperation. But you are not children any more and you have skills you’ve built up through adulthood and career building that you can use to accomplish this task and claim your power. The first thing you must establish is open communication.

When my sister and I talked about how to handle our mother’s passing, I said I would do whatever was needed. My sister was so relieved to hear me commit to planning a memorial service and have family all gather and celebrate her life. We have a very large family spread out from coast to coast. This is no small task. My sister was so comforted to know that she would not have to face this alone. Our mother lives closer to my sister than to me, making it more convenient for my sister to have more day-to-day involvement. But by talking openly about my commitment to help plan mom’s future memorial my sister knows that I love her and support her. The most important thing is that you must not take this loving support for granted. A hand-written note and greeting card thoughtfully selected is very special among the abbreviated sentiments of texting and e-mail. Take the time to share your love. And don’t be hesitant to ask for it also.

Communication goes both ways. It is your most powerful tool and perhaps the most difficult to use with family members. Try to focus on the goal: providing quality care for your loved one. It will help you keep your emotions in check and allow you to work through problems more objectively. Be sure to thank your family for all they have done and/or are doing, even if you have to be creative to think of something. Use gratitude as a positive preface for telling them what you need. Do not expect them to read your mind. People can be amazingly focused on their own problems when you need them the most. You have to speak clearly and with specific requests to get them to help.
The most critical thing you will need is time off. If none of your family can provide respite care and you are the primary caregiver, what about helping financially, so you can hire someone to sit in while you have some quiet time or pursue your passion? One woman I know actually said that she felt so overwhelmed, she wanted to run away. Of course, she didn’t, but when she let her feelings be known, she got the help she needed from other family members.

This brings me to another important point about the need for communication. There is nothing empowering about whining around the water cooler or to friends on the phone. If you want change, you have to speak to the people who can create that change. You may have to practice this method of empowering communication, but it’s a fairly simple formula and can be applied to almost any situation. Start the conversation with something like, “When you criticize my ideas, I feel like you don’t respect me. And that makes me angry and defensive.” Fill in the blank with your issue: When you X, I feel like Y and that makes me Z. The important point here is not to be accusatory. Never start the discussion with “You always XYZ!” That is always interpreted as direct confrontation and is guaranteed to stop communication in its tracks.

Of course the healthiest method of caring for your loved one is to share the work among the whole family. Team work is always easier and far more rewarding than going it alone. Think about other things in life: a team you played on as a kid where you all worked toward winning a championship, or being in a play or working on fundraising in a community organization. Whether you won or lost, met your goal or fell a little short, you felt a bond of sharing the load. This is the most empowering approach to caring for your loved one. Whether you are the primary caregiver or helping out now and then, talk about your family and how your loved one needs all of you. Make the others feel they are not alone. Share your appreciation, your praise and your responsibilities and you will be amazed at how relieved and empowered you will feel.

Find out more about how to “Claim Your Power” in my e-book on WomenConnect4Good.org. You can create the life you want by taking care of you and devoting your energies to healing yourself. That’s the path to gaining strength and living the vibrant, vital life you deserve.
~
As a clinical psychologist, philanthropist and founder of WomenSpeak.com and WomenConnect4Good Foundation, Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, devotes her energies to helping women claim their power. Her lively, humorous and engaging presentations have educated and inspired audiences across the country. She authored the self-help book, Timeless Women Speak: Feeling Youthful At Any Age and is at work on a collection of essays, Empowered Women Change The World: 20 Thought Leaders Show You How.
A Nationally Certified Crisis Team Leader, she served in New York City after 9/11, in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and in Joplin, Missouri after the tornado. She has spent years helping people reclaim their power after weather disasters, fire, divorce, health crises and job loss.
Dr. Nancy received a Missourian Award in 2010; chairs a United Way Women’s Initiative; and participated in the 2011 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. She serves on many boards including the Missouri State Committee of Psychologists Board of Directors.

Coping with Caregiver Guilt – Guest Post on The Caregiver Space

Caregivers often experience feelings of tremendous guilt. I know I did. I share my thoughts and feelings about this often devastating emotion in a guest post on The Caregiver Space.

http://thecaregiverspace.org/blog/2013/12/12/coping-caregiver-guilt-crushes/

A Time and Place for Everything

country_decor_kitchen2

Rodger came to live with us 2002.  Frail and with growing memory problems, he kept us on our toes as he struggled to navigate through a world that refused to make sense. Routine was vitally important; without it he wound down into confusion so complete all movement came to a halt. He was stuck somewhere in time.

We would come upon him staring into space, mumbling softly about a missed appointment made fifty years ago or reliving a day in the life of a long ago soldier.

Sometimes with pity, always with patience, I would gently bring him back. “Orienting him to time and place,” as the doctor said.

His favorite room was the kitchen. Small and bright with sunshine, it opens onto a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hills he called them, telling me about the fabulous peaks he once climbed in the mountain ranges of Italy. For a short time his memory was as sharp and clear as the cold mountain air of days gone by.

A charming boyish smile crossed his face as he spoke of his mother making polenta before going to church each day. Of rolling up the rugs and dancing on Saturday night in a kitchen glowing with firelight and youthful dreams.

In the kitchen, with no need of persistent voices orienting him to time and place, he was able to move. He was home again.
***
Caregivers, do ever have to orient your loved one to time and place?  Does he or she have a favorite room or place that brings comfort? If so, please share your story in the comment section. It may help another caregiver to read about it.

Alzheimer’s Blues by Erica Herd

I am pleased to be able to share this amazing video with you. Performed by Erica Herd, Alzheimer’s Blues, is a beautiful and touching depiction of a caregiver and her loved one.


Erica Herd  says,
I have written a solo play, “Alzheimer’s Blues,” about my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. She was diagnosed in 2010, and I have been and continue to be her caregiver. The play shares our experiences in navigating the comedic, strange, and unknown terrain of Alzheimer’s, mental illness and federal and state bureaucracies. “Alzheimer’s Blues” premiered in June 2013 at Stage Left Studio in NYC and the show has enjoyed numerous subsequent performances.

Our goal is to raise money to cover the costs of rehearsals, performance space, publicity and travel—we are planning to take Alzheimer’s Blues on the road in 2014-15 to as many audiences as possible. We’ll be taking it to festivals as well as trying to bring it to audiences where caregivers of all types can see their experiences through a different lens, hopefully leaving with a reinvigorated perspective.

Please go to WWW.ERICAHERD.COM to donate. You can use your credit card with the secure PAYPAL donate button. No donation is too small and is respectfully appreciated.

Background on the performance
My mother was my original inspiration to write this play. She was an incredibly gifted actress and singer who was struck first by mental illness, then Alzheimer’s, making it impossible for her to continue working at her chosen career. In a diversion from my office job, I have used the skills from my sketch comedy days to explore my family’s experiences with health/procedural dementia. My husband, L.E. Swenson, is the co-author and we strive to find meaning, hope and sanity through humor, storytelling and music.
Thank you!
Erica

The Imperfect Caregiver December Giveaway – Hello God, Are You There?

HelloGod

Register to follow the The Imperfect Caregiver during the month of December and your name will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win to win a signed copy of, HELLO GOD, Are You There, by Vickie Fisher

“In today’s difficult time when we seem to be losing everything, have we lost God too?”

“Vickie Fisher’s HELLO GOD ARE YOU THERE? is page after page of inspiring words and photographs showing us how God uses nature to speak to us. A genuine treat for the eyes! (Bestselling author Loree Lough, author of nearly 100 award-winning books, including reader favorite A MAN OF HONOR)

The photographs and inspiring words of Vickie Fisher’s HELLO GOD, ARE YOU THERE? filled my heart with joy and reminded me to look for the blessing of each day. (Susan Meier, bestselling Harlequin author of A FATHER FOR HER TRIPLETS)

“Vickie Fisher lives on a nineteen acre farm in Westminister, MD. It was on this farm she was inspired to write this book. She enjoys spending time with her children and grandchildren, whom she believes are God’s greatest gift.”

View Vickie’s website at http://vickiefisher.com/

Winner will be announced January 1, 2014

Caregiver, Be Careful What You Pray For

Praying for help

“Please God, grant me strength.”

I have said those words many times. Like most people I have experienced love and loss, joy and pain, happiness and grief. During the good times I pray to say thank you for my blessings and to ask God’s protection for my loved ones. I pray for peace. Quite often I pray for things I want. (I’m no saint, after all.)

During the hard times I used to pray for the strength to see me through. I knew no matter how hard things became there would be an end to my suffering. I just needed to be strong enough to see it through. When I lost a baby via miscarriage I paced and prayed well into the night until exhaustion finally overtook me. I prayed so long so hard when my sister died I barely slept for weeks. As a single mother of four I dealt with the many challenges with hope and prayer every day.

Despite my almost constant request for strength my prayers never seemed to be answered. Instead of giving up I prayed more and I prayed harder. After all, God is busy and it often takes time for our prayers to be answered. I dug in and did my best to get through each crisis and when it was over I’d pray for the strength to get through the next one. I always knew more trouble would follow.

Then one day, as I was sharing my woes with a friend, I ended my tale with the same words I so often repeated. “God, grant me strength.”

“Oh Bobbi, don’t say that,” she said. “Look what you’ve been through. What you’ve survived. You’re strong enough already, don’t you think?”

“I know I’m strong but I never know what I’ll have to deal with next. I have to make sure I’m ready for whatever comes my way.”

“That may be true but the last thing you need is to become stronger. Think about what you have to do to get strong. If you want to build muscle you lift heavy weights. The stronger you want to become the heavier the weight you have to lift and the more often you have to heft it. Is that what you want?”

“No. I want the burden to be lifted. I want help. I want to know how to solve the problem before it becomes too much for me.”

“Then that’s what you should ask for. Don’t forget that God endowed us with an intellect and free will. We are in charge of our lives. He assists us when asked but he doesn’t take over and fix our problems. He provides us with opportunities to work them out in our own way. When you ask for strength He provides you with opportunities to become strong. If you ask for patience you will be given opportunities to learn how to wait. Be careful what you pray for. Consider what you really need and ask for that.”

“What do you mean?”

“If you need help, ask for help. If you are lost, ask Him to show you the way. Whatever you do stop asking for strength.”

I thought about her advice for a long time. It made sense and it wouldn’t hurt to change the words to my nightly prayers. I stopped asking for strength.

Years later, after I had been a caregiver for a long time and things were especially hard, I prayed almost constantly for weeks.

“Please send help. Dear God, I need help. Please send help any way you see fit.” Despite my prayers Rodger ended up in the hospital again. Still I prayed. Even on the way to sit at his bedside and feed him I prayed. “I need help. Show me the path you want me to take.”

When I arrived at his room a man was standing at the door waiting for me.  He was a hospital social worker. “Mrs. Carducci, do you need help?”

Not sure I’d heard him right, I asked him to repeat what he’d said.

“I see in Rodger’s files that you’ve been caring for him for a long time and his needs are extensive. Do you need help?”

After taking the time to say a silent prayer of thanks in recognition to God for answering my prayers, I assured the man I did, indeed, need help. Before I left the hospital that day we were enrolled in a respite program that would mean I would have in-home help eight hours a week. I could finally get some rest. I could go to the grocery store. I could go to church and say a proper thank you.

Each night when I say my prayers I ask God to hold me in His love and light and show me the path He wants me to take. The road is often long and bumpy but I always end up where I need to be and I am grateful, and I am strong enough.