Canine caregivers

While balancing 55 hour work weeks and caretaking responsibilities a few years ago I came to an important realization.

Mom and my husband Richard were both suffering from late stage dementia at the time, and I also had a teen and grandchild at home still needing support.

I was running short on sleep, and even shorter on spirit.

Then one Saturday morning I slid down to the kitchen floor to scratch my corgi Maddie’s belly. In response, she licked my hand and looked up at me with soulful eyes full of love.

Then and there I realized this sweet corgi and the rest of my canine crew were there as my own caretakers.

Specifically caretakers of one very shaky spirit and soul.

I was not alone.

As a result, along with Alzheimer’s non profits, dog related causes have been a yearly recipient of my annual donation dollars.

But this year, those dollars given to the dogs have been less than I’d like due to unpredicted expenses.

I’d been feeling a little guilty, until meeting up with two spirited grade schoolers at a neighborhood festival last weekend.

They both had a love for animals, and a vision.

The first shy brown eyed brunette sat at a table with her father collecting dollars for dogs found roaming in Costa Rica that they’d met on a recent trip. She made brightly colored candle holders out of paint and canning jars to sell for the cause.

I emptied my left pocket and added all the coins I pulled to their bucket.

A few tables down, I met another sweet girl who had a different idea to help out the dogs.

She was busily selling dog toys she and her Girl Scout group assembled to support the pound where I adopted my dog Rex in December.

After asking her to pick out a special toy for my boy, she did so proudly selecting one of deep burgundy and blue that she had made.

I emptied my right pocket this time, knowing these pups needed the donation more than I needed the grilled hot dog I was smelling from the stand behind me.

Driving home, I was happy I’d been able to help the dogs some. Yet I was still a little regretful I couldn’t do more or had the vision to help in a creative way like the two young girls I’d just met.

But then after looking at a newsletter I pulled from my mailbox after pulling into my driveway, I reconsidered.

The rescue group that I’d adopted my chi Grandma Greta from republished a post in it that I’d written in early December right after she passed. I’d talked in the piece about what this old girl meant to my spirit and that of others.

In the same issue, the group mentioned a total of over 700 dogs that they helped last year.

If even half of those new owners donated only a dollar in honor of a second hand dog, maybe I have helped in more than a minor way.

And also in a creative one.

I thought the same as I also looked back on another post that the local pound republished of mine on Facebook in late December after I adopted my pup Rex. I wrote about what this little guy is doing for my soul and spirit today.

The pound received over 700 likes on the piece. If even half of those readers donate as well, perhaps I’ve made more of a difference for the dogs than I’d ever realized.

Though arthritis limits what I contribute by hand, perhaps I can continue giving with my words and as many coins as I can muster.

My canine caretakers have given me so much.

I owe it to their legacy to try and do the same.

Harvesting Joy

Harvesting joy doesn’t come easily to me.

But I’m not giving up.

I continue to pull out the weeds of the last decade of caregiving for my family members with memory loss.

This morning with the falling rain, I reflected back on a few of the thornier broad leaf moments overshadowing me the last few years:

-The call from the neuro-psych to pick up my PhD spouse just five minutes into a two hour appointment. “There’s no memory left to test,” I was told.

-The instant reality check when I realized my husband’s dementia had far exceeded Mom’s during one of her care conferences.

-Discovering Mom had left Dad (with his Alzheimer’s) alone overnight after falling down a flight of stairs. Mom’s own dementia had finally surpassed her judgment.

-Watching some friends fade away when they couldn’t cope seeing my middle aged husband wilt deeper into dementia.

Maybe they thought they’d catch it.

Yet I realize now I’ve been blessed with an iPad and memories as a form of healing, and possibly as tools to support those going through something similar.

Perhaps even as a way to educate those who are not.

I know I’m also fortunate to have my own health as I begin to volunteer as a companion to caregivers who are overwhelmed and often alone.

And there are lots of them.

I know. I was one of them.

With the rains now subsiding, I’ll continue climbing up my hill to gather that spray of bountiful joy.

And to any caregiver reading this, I’m planning on dedicating my bouquet of sunshine especially to you.

So few deserve it more.

We’ll make it a beautiful morning

I hope to get my husband Richard outside this weekend. Just the two of us. The weather should be pleasant and the fresh air will be good for both my husband and me.

I may though bring along one of the dogs. Richard responds to the feel of the soft, silky hair as he pats their long backs. And the dogs respond well to to his gentle strokes.

I’ll bring a contemporary art book he used to like. He doesn’t react to the bright, splashy images very often anymore. But sometimes he’ll hold the heavy book in front of him, and carefully turn the pages just as he always did.

We may hear the church bells chime if I time it right in the courtyard. I find it soothing, and like to think Richard does too. I do know we’ll hear a chorus of cardinals chirping around us by the feeder. We’ll sit together quietly as he rarely utters a word anymore. I will hold his hand.

I’ll bring some chocolates along as a special treat. Godiva, Richard’s favorite. We’ll make it a beautiful Sunday morning, just like we used to do.


With the dark around here from lack of electricity, I became even more behind on paperwork for my husband, Richard. Just trying to function day to day, papers didn’t end up where they should have. I know what I will be doing the next few nights.

But there is one envelope I needed to review that I did find tonight. It relates to a care conference next week for my husband, Richard. I have been through many conferences the last few years with Dad’s Alzheimer’s, Mom’s dementia and now with Richard’s dementia. I find them difficult as I’m never going to hear the news I really want from the nurse or doctor. I’ll never hear the statement proclaiming, “He’s really bounced back from that bout with Alzheimer’s!”

End of life discussions often come up In the conferences, too. Never an easy subject to talk about, even when wishes were clearly documented years before.

However, somewhere in the conversation I expect to hear that Richard is still gentle and still getting along with others.

With that, I will find some peace. At least for now.

Ode to a caregiver and their charge

May a ray of sunshine greet your day

May the scent from the peonies come your way

May the cardinal’s call put a smile on your face

May your hours be filled with peace and grace

Fear of the phone call

I had a phone message today that my husband Richard wasn’t eating and was “more out of it than normal.” The not eating part of the message was the most concerning to me. Normally Richard has a very good appetite. Of course, I immediately assumed the worst.

He seems better tonight, but it reminded me of the fear these types of calls put in me. There have been so many the last few years with Dad, Mom and now Richard that sometimes I wonder if I’ve developed a fear of the phone.

I just did a search on the Internet tonight and found that a fear of the phone is actually recognized as a phobia.

I may have to ask friends and family members to stop texting me and to start calling instead with cheery messages.

They could even recite flowery poetry directly into my voice mail box. That ought to solve it.

And besides, there’s nothing more calming than having a good poem read to you. I may
even try that with Richard.

The caregiver bridge to good health

I’ve heard recovery from caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia takes several years, as the physical and emotional toll on a caregiver’s body is so significant.

I saw the toll it took on my Mom, particularly as Dad entered a late stage with his Alzheimer’s. She was determined to keep him home until a crisis occurred. It finally did, and that took the decision out of her hands. Shortly thereafter, the signs of her own dementia began. I sometimes wonder if the dementia would have occurred so soon, if at all, if she hadn’t been a caregiver so long. We’ll never know.

Try as you might to build an adequate support system, often there’s a point where it just isn’t enough. Night after night of 3-4 hours of sleep catches up with you. So does caregiving when the caregiver is flat on their back with the flu, and no one is there to help.

I wish all current and past caregivers well as they attempt the journey over the bridge to good health once again.

But the waters below are murky, so tread carefully.