Caretakers = Heroes

When you become a caretaker for a family member, you take on a life-changing challenge. Unless you are a licensed nurse or doctor, it’s a whole new skill-set to learn. And even if you are trained, it’s still hard to be a caregiver for a loved one. Speaking from my own experience, you are constantly fearful that whatever you are doing is wrong or causing pain.

Thankfully, my mother had home Hospice for nearly four months before she died. My dad was the main caretaker; I was the secondary. Both of us leaned heavily upon the wonderful and amazing Hospice nurses. They became family to us, and they helped us not only with caring for Mom, but also how manage our time and energy.

My dad and I did the best we could, but felt we were lifted up by those incredibly kind and patient Hospice nurses. Additionally, my mother’s *PEO group organized a weekly menu of homemade meals for us. They were always delivered with love, friendship, compassion and a quick visit with Mom. Dad and I found that their visits and phone calls became a kind of safety net for us; their love and strength helped hold us together.

My oldest and best friend was a skilled nurse for over 30 years. Five years ago, she and her husband moved her mother into their home. Since then, she has been the sole caretaker for her mother, who is nearly 98 years old. I believe her when she says that the most important part of  her caretaker experience is simply listening. While her past nursing experience is extremely helpful in watching for signs of illness or or discomfort, keeping her mother’s records up to date, managing all the medical appointments, paperwork and finances, she feels that just listening to her mother reminisce about times past means so much–to both of them.

My friend is her mother’s advocate and voice, especially during a doctor’s appointment. As her mother is hard of hearing, my friend makes sure that she communicates to her mother what is going on, and in doing so brings her into the conversation. It is sad that medicine has come to a place where a doctor can only spend so many precious minutes with a patient, especially an elder one who is not used to the current “rush and hurry.” It becomes too easy for the doctor to speak only to the caretaker, and not directly to the patient. My friend makes sure that her mother gets the information she needs, and explains it to her in a way that is easy for her to understand.

I can’t tell you how many times I have leaned on my friend for advice and comfort during my mom’s last days. What sticks with me to this day is her telling me, ‘let her talk. Enjoy that time.’ And so we did. Dad and I told Mom over and over again how much we loved her, and how much she meant to us. She told us constantly that she loved us with all her heart.

My friend also told me that anger, fear and frustration are very common for caretakers. Anger because we are losing someone we love so dearly, fear because we are afraid we may make things worse by not doing the right thing at the right time, and frustration because we often don’t know what to do. Again, the best advice she gave me was to simply listen. Because of that simple reminder, my last days with my mom were memorable, wonderful and life-affirming.

I think that caretakers are true heroes. My friend is my hero now and forever for all she taught me, which helped me through my mother’s final days and death. My dad and I miss her, but we have no regrets. What we have is great gratitude for all the time we had with her, and all the love we shared together for years. As I believe that love never dies, I also believe that our spirits never do, either.

My gratitude to my friend, my hero, is never ending.

*For much of its history, the meaning of “P.E.O.” in the organization’s name was a closely guarded secret, never made public.

In 2005, the Sisterhood unveiled a new logo and an “It’s OK to Talk About P.E.O.” campaign, seeking to raise the public profile of the organization while maintaining its traditions of secrecy. Before then, the organization’s avoidance of publicity, and the secrecy of their name, caused it to be considered it a “secret society’.

In 2008, the Sisterhood revised its website to indicate that “P.E.O.” now publicly stands for “Philanthropic Educational Organization”. However, the Sisterhood acknowledges that “P.E.O.” originally had a different meaning that continues to be “reserved for members only”, and so the public meaning is not the only one.

Aliens Are Stealing My Stuff

There’s no other explanation for it; aliens must be stealing my stuff. My favorite black sunglasses that fit so well and made me look like Jackie Onassis (from the neck up, anyway) are gone, gone, gone. I have *no* idea where they went. I had them in my purse and now I don’t.

The same with the extra two pairs of black yoga pants I bought last year; they needed hemming, and they are no longer in the basket in which I put them. Same with the new blue jeans I bought last summer. Also missing are these:

  • the hot pink nail polish I bought last July to cover up the fact that my little toenails have turned into horns
  • the ‘perfect’ silver chain I swear I put in my jewelry armoire
  • the expensive packet of saffron threads I bought to make the perfect chicken soup
  • the nail clippers for the cats (they probably hid them on me)
  • the lucky blue marble with bubbles in it I had as a child

Now this is what my mother would have called ‘having a sloppy mental attitude.’ She felt that, if you couldn’t get your thoughts together, you probably would end up losing some of your stuff–or your mind.

As I have always been interested in the idea that alien beings have helped our civilization along for thousands of years, you would think that they would be much too dignified and highly evolved to hide (or take) our stuff. Or maybe their sense of humor is so intellectual that this is one of those epic alien pranks that they all laugh about at the alien bars located on one of the obscure rings of Saturn. Or who knows–maybe they are collectors who love to decorate their subterranean homes with knick-knacks and doo-dads as we do.

…or it could just be that I put all that stuff somewhere and just do not remember where……

Everybody Eats When They Come to Our House!

We have a little black and gray striped cat

Who shows up morning and night for this and that–

A bowl of water, and one of food–

A box lined with blankets to suit his mood,

If he wants to stay the night

And sleep there warm and tight,

He’s welcome to our hospitality

To keep him in good vitality.

As weather grows warmer both day and night,

I hope he’ll still come by to get a bite—

Knowing he is welcome to a healthy share

Of our good fortune without care.

Of course, there’s the occasional raccoon,

Clever bandit who shows up by the light of the moon–

The odd skunk or squirrel or flock of birds,

They too are welcome, beyond all words.

Come one, come all, both large and small—

The strays know that we will feed them all!



To Those Who Did Not Grow Up With Rotary Phones…..

Way back in the 1950s, telephones were not as  ubiquitous as they are today. As a child of the ’50s, telephones were kind of awe-inspiring, and rather serious. Hardly anyone I knew just called to chit-chat; telephones were used to communicate important information or to call a doctor, etc. Our telephones back then were heavy, black and had a rotary dial.

It was a rare home that had more than one telephone, and it was a privilege and a grave responsibility to use it. Most telephones looked like this:


The rotary phone had a relatively short cord, which meant that everyone in the area could hear you. Later on, longer cords became available, allowing lovesick teens to drag the phone into a closet or pantry and shut the door. When you dialed the number, forefinger in the correct hole, the dial made a satisfying ‘click-click-click’ as it spun back into place.

The first time I was allowed to use the phone (and yes, back then children did not use the phone without first asking permission), I called my grandmother. When the operator (yes, there were real, live operators back then who manually connected you; see photograph below) answered, saying “number, please,” I said, “692, please,” and was connected.

Often when you picked up the phone, you knew the operator by her voice. It wasn’t at all unusual to recognize the familiar voice of Myrtle, Jeanette, Annie or Trudy. Many people started their conversation with ‘hiya, Trudy, how’re you?’ She’d answer back and then connect you. I remember one time sneaking into the living room to make an unapproved phone call. I got the operator named Annie, who said, “Janie, is that you? You know your daddy doesn’t want you to use the phone! Now hang up before you get into trouble.” I did.

In my circle, it was pretty unheard of for kids my age to use the telephone at all. You had to be deemed responsible enough to use it properly, usually with a parent standing by. Also, if the phone rang, parents generally answered it. I was sternly instructed in ‘telephone etiquette’ early on in life. If allowed to pick up a ringing phone, I was to say something to this effect:

“Hello–this Jane; who is calling, please?” If the call was for my mother or father, I was to say, “Would you please hold? I’ll go get them right now. Thank you.” Anything less than this was deemed rude or worse, frivolous or time-wasting. I was also well aware that using the phone cost money.

As time and telephone technology evolved, there were some changes in the old heavy, black telephones. I remember when the much-desired “princess phone” came into being. It was the dream of most pre-teen or teenage girls at that time was to have that prized possession:

Back in those days, we never dreamed of anything as futuristic as a cell phone. If you were driving somewhere and your car broke down, you had a couple of options: you could get out of the car and hoof it to the nearest store or gas station to use a pay phone, or you could take your chances and hitchhike to the nearest place with a pay phone. No one thought a thing about it; that was just the way things were back then.

I don’t think it ever occurred to any of us that we needed a portable telephone with us at all times. Life went at a slower, more comfortable pace back then. It was actually an oddity to see someone impatient about much of anything. Traffic was a lot lighter, probably because there were far less cars on the road. There were fewer driving accidents, too. The cars driven at that time required the driver to shift gears, manage the headlights, turn signals, and also muscle the car themselves–no power steering in those days. You had to actually pay attention while driving.

I never heard anything about “road rage,” either. The pace of life was slower, and there was time to do whatever you needed to do. It seemed that no one was ever in a great hurry. You knew how long it took you to drive to work, so you planned your time accordingly. People drove with caution, and kept a car-length or two behind the car in front of them. There was no need whatsoever to ride someone’s back bumper, either. The ‘impatience factor’ just wasn’t an issue back then.

But back to telephones. Even seeing an old 1950s rotary phone brings me back to my childhood. Those days are far behind us now, and I wonder if all our new technology is doing us more harm than good…… I miss that friendly old click-click-click of the rotary dial!

Don’t Shame the Sweaty Bettys

Last year at this time, I found out that I had DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) breast cancer. Luckily, after I had a lumpectomy, my mammogram came out clear months later. Although I understand that this can re-occur at any time, I felt I had dodged a bullet. Prior to this, I was taking a homeopathic hormone which reduced my night sweats and hot flashes to nearly nothing. It was heavenly not to be hot all the time, or suddenly break into a dripping sweat–which, by the way, always seemed to happen when  I was around lots of people. There is just no hiding turning instantly soaking wet.

Because of this brush with cancer, I had to stop taking my wonderful hormone therapy and now am officially a Sweaty Betty. I cannot take any kind of hormone for five years, which means that I have and probably will spend most of my time dripping wet. This happens in any type of weather or season (even in the dead of winter), and especially when there is no moving air.

To say that it is embarrassing just skims the surface. I hate it that I have no control over it–I will be fine and dry and than BOOM—soaking, wringing wet. The ends of my hair drip sweat down my face and neck, and I wish that I could just sink out of sight.

I know quite a few women who also must live with this. For now, all we can do is to grin and bear it, or like me, make jokes about it when I want to run and hide my sweaty self. But this is my life for the next five year or so, and like it or not, I am going to be caught blotchy and sweaty from time to time and there isn’t a whole lot I can do about it.

I carry a paper fan wherever I go, plus lots of cloth handkerchiefs to mop myself off. There are times when I am home that I will just open the freezer door and stick my head in there to cool off. I confess to feeling envious of all those women who can walk around confident that sudden sweat is not on their radar. While I wish them well, I am jealous as hell.

So, the next time you see someone like me walking around dabbing at her face and neck, cheeks bright red and looking as though she would love to be invisible, remember: this is probably something they just can’t help. They are all too aware of what they look like, and staring at them, or worse; commenting about them is hurtful. We wouldn’t laugh or whisper about someone in a wheelchair or someone with a prosthetic leg, would we? Believe me, the SBS (Sweaty Betty Syndrome) is about the least funny thing I can think of.

I once saw an inscription on a tombstone that read, “Where you are now, I once was. Where I am now, you will be.” I used to think it was pretty mean-spirited, but now I apply it differently. I’d love to have a button that reads: “Where you are now, cool and dry, I once was. Where I am now, hot and sweaty, you may be.” No judgement, just fact.

So, to all of you normal ladies out there, enjoy your blessed dryness and cool comfort. To all you fellow Sweaty Bettys out there, I feel for you and I am with you, wet or dry.