a tribute to Dad

My Dad is suffering from Parkinson’s and Dementia. It has been so very hard for my family to watch our strong, athletic, intelligent, independent father decline to the place where he needs constant assistance living in a memory care facility. 

It is hard for me to live far away and not be able to help much. It is much harder for my sisters who live nearby to visit and care for him regularly. 

My Dad struggles with some delusions and confusion. He knows who I am still – I am grateful for that – but he cannot consistently remember the day, time, or what he did just a few hours ago. 

On this Father’s Day, I am especially grateful that – years ago – I wrote out a tribute for him. I’m not sure he could understand it today – but He did when I gave it to him. 

I encourage you to write a tribute for your father – especially if he can still appreciate it. He may not be, or have been, a perfect father, but I can tell you that the process of writing and giving him your tribute will be a healing and honoring experience for both of you. 

I am attaching a copy of my tribute as an example for you to get you started. 


How have you honored your father? What are your Father’s Day traditions?

————

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I send you much love across the miles. Wish I could be with you today, but you are in my heart. ❤️

What I’ll Say to my Children if I’m Diagnosed With Alzheimer’s

These last months have been very heavy for me – first my mom’s death and now helping with care-giving for my dad with Parkinson’s. This post speaks my heart so well. So grateful for this woman’s ability to express words my pen has not been able to write.

God's Grace and Mom's Alzheimer's

I was skimming some other dementia blogs lately and a reader had written in saying, that though she felt guilty about it, she wished her mother would die in her sleep and not have to continue living through the pain and indignity of dementia.  I’ve heard others say things like, “I’ve told my kids if I ever get Alzheimer’s just shoot me.”

I understand where these comments are coming from, but they make my heart heavy.  I feel like these attitudes devalue my Mom’s life right now. Even though they are not specifically referencing her, they are in effect saying that people like her are better off dead. It is hard to see Mom changing and confused and upset. But she still has sweet times of love and joy, too.  And God still has a purpose for her life.

He is growing our patience as we care for her.  He…

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communicating well

communication

Clear, heart-level communication is often difficult to achieve. Just this week, I’ve experienced various critical conversations and coached others through strained and difficult discussions. Those experiences reminded me of more lessons I learned while care-giving for my Dad.

These communication tips helped me to connect more deeply with him, but they are very relevant for conversations with others too. Let me know what you think!

Enter his world

Because of his dementia, my dad sees people and animals that aren’t there, he accuses us of stealing his things, and he fixates incessantly about past responsibilities that are irrelevant today. Instinctively, I want to correct him, defensively deny his accusations, or demand that he stop worrying about things – none of which does any good!

It works better when I listen carefully for the context or the history behind his comments, rather than arguing their validity.

  • When I ask him to tell me more about the people or animals he sees, I get to hear stories of a younger brother who died, good friends he enjoyed, or favorite pets he misses a lot.
  • If I empathize with his frustration over “lost” items instead of denying blame, I gain insight into his priorities, his passions, and his past care for me and our family.
  • When I reply to his sense of responsibility with “That must be important to you. How can I help?”, he can relax in my care instead of struggling to convince me that his work is important and valuable.

I recognize that these same principles work – and more easily(!) – with people who don’t have dementia.

Know the triggers

Care-giving is challenging, exhausting work. In my case, it is especially difficult when my dad’s unkind or angry comments trigger a deeply rooted emotion from my childhood experience. Old insecurities, differing values and opinions, or negative interaction patterns quickly reappear from my youth.

It is important for me to seek self-awareness of those triggers and remember that what may be a valid memory does not have to determine my response today. He is different now… and so am I.

Self awareness of my emotional triggers is key for all my conversations. My reactions are often more about me than about what others have said. As I identify the root cause of my reactions, I can respond with objectivity, grace, and humility instead of vengeance or self-defense.

Watch the “how”

My dad cannot always understand my words, but he definitely comprehends my tone. How I say what I say is often most important. He responds so much better to anything I say if I am calm, gentle, and patient with my speech, and if I eliminate distractions as much as possible. Positive nonverbals communicate also; changing my position to make good eye contact, relaxed facial expression, and even the added touch of a hand on his arm or shoulder make a big difference.

There is nothing profound or new here, but it amazes me how hard it is to apply the right “how” in my everyday conversations with my dad – and with others. I have to intentionally focus on giving my full attention and my best presentation with the content. When I do manage to watch the “how”, our communication improves greatly.

Entering their world, knowing my triggers, and watching “how” I communicate deepens my connections with others.

So, are any of these true for you? How do you communicate well with the people in your life?


(You can read my first post about “life lessons learned from dementia” HERE.)

lecciones de vida aprendidas de la demencia

sunset

Experiencias duras a menudo enseñan las mejores lecciones. El cuidar a mi papá genera recuerdos de la adolescencia y reacciones, temor por el futuro y todo lo peor de mí a veces. El resultado positivo generado es tiempo para reflexionar y aplicar lo que aprendo a otras áreas de mi vida también.

Tengo mucho que aprender, así que aquí están las tres primeras lecciones de mi visita reciente:

Aun cuando no puedo vencer, todavía puedo servir.

Me gustaría nada mejor que curar de mi padre del Parkinson’s y la demencia, pero no puedo. Los medicamentos, terápias, visitas, oraciones – excepto un milagro – no van a restaurar a mi papá. Sin embargo, puedo servirle. El verdadero servicio está determinado por él que está recibiendo el servicio. Mi papá necesita una simplificación en la comunicación y las tareas, y ajustes continuos y creativas a medida que sus habilidades cambian. También necesita mi paciencia cuando él prefiere hacer algo (¡muy lentamente!) por si mismo y mi respeto, incluso cuando él está confundido u olvidadizo. Las dos últimas necesidades son mucho más difíciles para mí.

Además de la enfermedad de mi padre, hay muchas cosas que me gustaría cambiar en este mundo: la paz en lugar de la violencia, el fin de las iniquidades y las desigualdades, las injusticias reconciliadas, la sanación por los dolores, la desesperación encontrando la esperanza. No puedo hacer que estas cosas pasen… pero puedo servir. Yo puedo ir a donde me necesiten, dar mi mejor esfuerzo en todo lo que hago y pensar primero en los demás antes que a mí mismo – un día a la vez. Puedo considerar como ayudar mejor a otros en lugar de lo que quiero hacer o lo que es más fácil para mí que ofrecer.

Yo no necesito tener la razón.

Aprendí rápidamente que no puedo ganar una discusión con una persona que sufre de la demencia. Para la persona con demencia, su percepción es la única cosa que es cierto. Los delirios, la paranoia y la negación de mi papá son su realidad. No puedo razonar, argumentar, convencer, o ganarle a mi punto de vista. Sólo le puedo ayudar con lo que él cree.

Eso sucede a menudo con otras personas también. Incluso cuando vemos un escenario pasar en frente de nosotros, las personalidades individuales, las experiencias pasadas y los valores nos dan diferentes perspectivas de ese incidente. Puedo discutir, persuadir o presionar durante horas, pero nunca voy a ser la única que tiene la razón. Estoy aprendiendo – lentamente – que no siempre tengo que estar en lo cierto. A menudo mi verdad no es la única verdad de una situación. Sólo puedo ayudar a la gente si me importa y trabajo con lo que la gente cree.

La actitud es de gran poder.

Pensarías que esta lección ya yo hubiera entendido. No puedo cambiar la actitud de mi padre, pero puedo cambiar la mía. Puedo mirar a su enfermedad como un vaso medio vacío y me centro en todo lo que ha perdido y quién era él, o yo puedo ver el vaso medio lleno y concentrarme en lo que todavía podemos disfrutar juntos – caminadas por el vecindario, descansas tranquilas en un banquito del parque, la alegría de ver unos conejitos en el pasto, una puesta de sol de Nuevo México rayando el cielo. Mi papá puede sentir mi actitud y él reacciona en consecuencia.

Él no es el único afectado por mi selección de actitud. Mi familia, los amigos y los compañeros de trabajo también reaccionan a mi medio-vacía o medio-llena actitud. Mis acciones pueden ser buenas, pero mi actitud tiene la influencia más poderosa sobre su respuesta.

Estas son las tres lecciones en las que estoy trabajando esta semana. Voy a compartir otras en las próximas semanas, pero esto es suficiente para mí por ahora!

¿Y tú … ¿cuál de estas tres lecciones es más difícil para ti?

¿Qué has aprendido acerca de servir a los demás, preocuparte por lo que creen, o la elección de la actitud correcta?

 

life lessons learned from dementia

sunsetHard experiences often teach the best lessons. Helping care for my elderly dad triggers childhood memories and reactions, fears for the future, and all the worst of me at times. The positive result is time to reflect and apply what I learn to other areas of my life. I have a lot to learn(!), so here are my first three lessons from my recent visit:

Even when I can’t “fix” it, I can still serve.

I would like nothing better than to cure my dad’s Parkinson’s and dementia, but I can’t. Medications, therapy, visits, prayers – other than a miracle – will not “fix” my dad. However, I can serve him. True service is determined by the one being served. He needs simplification in language and task, and continual and creative adjustments as his abilities change. He also needs my patience when he would prefer to do something (slowly!) himself and my respect even when he is confused or forgetful. Those last two are much harder for me.

Besides my dad’s illness, there are many things I’d like to change in this world: peace in place of violence, an end to inequities and inequalities, reconciled injustices, healing for hurts, desperation to encounter hope. I can’t fix those things either… but I can serve. I can go where I am called, give my best in all I do, and think of others rather than myself first – one day at a time. I can consider what will best assist others rather than what I want to do or what is easiest for me to offer.

I don’t have to be right.

I learned quickly that I cannot win an argument with a dementia sufferer. To the person with dementia, his perception is the only thing that is true. My dad’s delusions, paranoia, and denial are his reality. I cannot reason, argue, convince, or win him over to my perspective. I can only help him with what he believes.

That is often true with other people also. Even if we see the same scenario play out in front of us, our individual personalities, backgrounds, and values give us different perspectives of that incident. I can discuss, persuade, or pressure for hours, but I will never be the one who is right. I am learning – slowly – that I don’t always need to be right. My truth is often not the one truth in a situation. I can only help people if I care about and work with what they believe.

Attitude is powerful.

You would think I would know this one by now. I cannot change my father’s attitude, but I can change mine. I can look at his disease as a glass half empty and focus on all he has lost and who he was, or I can view the glass as half full and concentrate on what we can still enjoy together – neighborhood walks, quiet rests on a park bench, joy at watching fat rabbits in the yard, a New Mexico sunset streaked across the sky. He can sense my attitude, and he reacts accordingly.

He is not the only one affected by my choice of attitude. My family, friends, and co-workers also react to my half-empty or half-full mood. My actions may be good, but my attitude has the most powerful influence on his response.

These are the three lessons I am working on this week. I will share others in the weeks ahead, but this is enough for me for now!

How about you… which of these three is hardest for you?

What have you learned about serving others, caring about what they believe, or choosing the right attitude? 

discover and develop your strengths

coreclaritybannerI have a new passion. No doubt about it. I love coaching people through discovery of their talents and strengths. Absolutely love it.

Successful people
understand
their talents and strengths
and build their lives upon them.

My husband and I attended a CoreClarity training last spring. That week prepared us to explain Gallup StrengthsFinder results for individuals and groups. This summer, we had numerous opportunities to coach family members, individuals, and couples.

Every time we talked through top talents with people, I watched eyes open wide in recognition, hearts soften with greater understanding, burdens of frustration and self-condemnation wash away, and hope reappear in the soul. 

It was amazing actually.

It is an encouraging experience to grow in self-awareness and self-acceptance, but it is even more powerful to grow in understanding and appreciating the important people in our lives. 

Successful marriages (or teams)
dont just accommodate differences in each other,
they capitalize on them.

If you have never done the StrengthsFinder assessment, I highly recommend it. There are specific assessments you can choose for adults, college and highschool students and even middle school students. After you receive your top five results, find someone trained in CoreClarity to review your results with you. You can do this for yourself, as a couple, for your family, or in a seminar format for your whole team.

You will learn :

  • why it is more important to develop your strengths, rather than focus on improving your weaknesses
  • how to develop your talents into strengths
  • to correct the myths that everyone thinks the same way we do or that everyone has the same talents we do plus what we see in them that we do not have
  • how your top talents affect each other and how your combination creates the unique you
  • how different talents intensify, combine, or collide with other talents
  • how talents understanding helps build and repair relationships, improves problem solving and teamwork
  • how to use your talents to enhance your career

You might also want to attend a facilitator training so you can coach others!

Do you already know your top talents? How have you applied that knowledge to your life and relationships?

Please leave me a comment if you have any questions about CoreClarity or StrengthsFinder. I’ll be glad to help in any way that I can!

who will he be today?

Old Man 14037671409_bbb2f90095_cOne day he seems almost normal – making jokes, telling stories, expressing gratitude, communicating lucidly.

The next day he feeds animals that don’t exist; is irrationally paranoid and fearful, freezes in the middle of thoughts and sentences, and cannot remember how to accomplish basic life tasks, how old he is, or even his daughters’ names.

I do not know which father I will greet each morning.

That is dementia.

I have decided it reminds me of living with a teenager – one moment “almost” mature and grown up: making wise decisions, communicating with confidence and respect, interacting as an adult peer. The next moment acting like a child again: thoughtless of action consequences, emotional or surly, insecure and overly dependent. A roller coaster of crisis and climax.

That is dementia.

I am learning again how to help. Stay calm and do not escalate the situation by attempting to reason or argue. Use a quiet, clear, slow voice, respect, and a gentle touch. Do not let his response trigger my past father/daughter issues; do not react defensively, with anger, or with impatience. Do not surprise him with a change of plans or expect him to learn something new or hope for consistency from day-to-day.

I long for a standardized to-do list that I can follow faithfully each day. A defined cause and effect that I can rely on. A “2 + 2 = 4” dependability.

Dementia does not offer that.

Instead I need to face each day with grace, flexibility, prayer, and love-motivated sacrifice of my wishes and desires.

Unlike rasing a teenage, there is no chance that this situation will improve, that he will grow out of this stage, that he will get better. I can only anticipate more of the same or something worse. He is not making progress; he is declining towards the end.

That is dementia.

Who will I greet in the morning? An elderly man. A child of God. A test of my character. My father.

How do you face the challenges in your life that will not get any easier? 

_____

**If you are a person of prayer, please pray for my father and my family… wisdom for future decisions, strength for daily choices of love and sacrifice. Thank you.

“Ok, my dear. Thank you.”

terry and dadMy dad has never before called me “dear”.

That word brought tears to my eyes. Such a little thing, and yet a such big emotional impact.

We are spending a few weeks living with my dad – helping him with daily care, giving my sister a few moments of respite from her herculean job of care giving.

I was initially nervous about staying here with him. I was not sure about his abilities to function and interact. I worried that he might not want my help or that I would not know what to do. I haven’t lived close to my elderly grandparents or parents, so am not very comfortable with their lifestyle and needs.

My dad suffers from Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and alcoholism. My dad who was always the extreme self-made-man, strong character and body, intelligent, and absent of affection has become a very dependent, weak, forgetful… sweet and appreciative old man.

He certainly has his moments of confusion, frustration, and stubbornness, but in general, he is not the rough, tough, intimidating father he was before.

Caring for my dad is not easy. It requires patience, flexibility, research, and a lot of new perspective. It means different standards, norms, and routines that would have been unheard of in earlier years. Lucid conversations mixed with confused anxiety. Time, worry, initiative, firmness, creativity, and continual second-guessing and questioning decisions and choices.

Dad’s care is the epitome of living with tension – giving respect and still enforcing new restrictions, allowing for independence and restricting freedoms, offering choices while simplifying options, providing quality of life and ensuring safety, protecting privacy and dignity while also hovering with care.

I do not have any official training for the role of elder care-giver, but care giving is training me. I am learning to slow down… lowering my accomplishment expectations for each day, choosing my words carefully and enunciating as I speak, walking protectively at his side, moving with tenderness and intentionality. None of that is easy for me.

The most important lessons are a repeat of earlier experiences – living fully with the realities of each life-stage and finding contentment there. Just as I learned to overcome fears, serve others, and treasure special moments with infants, toddlers, teenagers, and adult children, I can do the same with my dad.

Every person is important. Every life is valuable. I consider it a privilege and a joy to care for him. I am willing to help my dad without expectation of getting anything in return, but every now and then, I receive a special gift – a “thank you” or a “dear” – from a special person who has nothing more to offer. It is enough.

What has been your experience is caring for elderly loved ones? Do you have any tips for me?

grief comparisons

sadness

Photo credit: Wendy Longo photography / Foter / CC BY-ND

It has been three months since my mom died. Sometimes it feels like years ago. Sometimes it feels like yesterday.

I have not been able to write a blog post since that day. My mind has been foggy, scrambled, gray, and unclear. Some days my heart felt heavy, sad, and lifeless. Other days, I have sensed the warmth of her memory in the flowers and sunshine that she loved so dearly.

During the past months, some friends have asked how I am doing and others have kept an awkward distance, unsure of what to say.

Family members have all processed their grief uniquely, sometimes drawing close to each other, sometimes pulling apart because of tensions, anger, or a desire to process pain alone. Some have cried; others held their emotions in check; still others could not find tears even when they tried. Some went right to work arranging details; others were paralyzed by their loss.

In these three months, numerous other friends have also lost loved ones – children, siblings, parents, friends. Sometimes the deaths arrived as expected, peaceful, a long-awaited transition to a better place. Other deaths came suddenly, violently, shaking family foundations of faith and security.

Some of my friends experienced death much like I did… at the bedside, providing care and comfort, counting the minutes as they turned into hours. Other friends had no opportunity to sit nearby at the end or intentionally chose not to go there. Some appear unaffected by their grief; others are clearly rattled, and others experience a bit of both depending on the day.

I have found myself occasionally comparing my particular experience and my emotional response with others. However, I am learning that we cannot compare our different experiences with death any more than we can compare our different experiences with life. 

There is no right or wrong way to do this. There is no standardized approved amount of time, feelings, involvement, or impact that death brings to a person. Each birth, each person, each death is unique.

And so, for me and for you…

Take all the time you need.

Feel whatever it is you feel.

Do what you can and leave the rest.

Give grace, especially to yourself.

Chose safe people and safe places.

Sleep. Cry. Dance. Work. Laugh. Yell. Remember.

Don’t judge.

Don’t compare.

It is grief and so it will be.

∼∗∼

powerless

IMGP1826The irony of it.

I chose my word for 2015 – empower – just a few weeks ago.

While we are still in the first month of the year, I found myself in a situation where I had no power at all.

My mother was on hospice care, and I had joined my siblings and my aunt in her end-of-life care giving.

It was a sacred time – simultaneously a sweet privilege and a suffocating responsibility to accompany her on her journey.

We wanted to beg her to stay, while at the same time we pled with God to mercifully take her quickly because she was so very ready to finish living.

We laughed with her sense of humor, we debated the best choices for her care, and we wept as we watched her suffer.

Her lucid moments provided us precious memories; her confused thoughts and agitated actions forced us to struggle for understanding and responses of grace.

Both her body and her mind were failing, but her faith, her gratitude, and her fighting spirit continued strong.

We imperfectly attempted to give her peace, encouragement, and comfort. We told her we would miss her, but that we would be ok when she chose to go.

There was nothing else I could do. I could not control the process. I could not choose the final moment.

I could only remain present, serve, pray, and love.

Those days there was One with great power in charge of the time… and it was not me.

(My amazing mom left us to live eternally with her Heavenly Father on January 19, 2015.)

There are times when power is a gift, and we are accountable for our strength and our influence. There are times when our greatest power is in submitting to another.

It may be that one of the most important elements of empowering others is helping them to discern the difference.

What has been your experience with power or empowering others?