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.

Still no angel

There’s a middle school picture of me still hanging up in a busy brick building in a nearby town.

There I am.

Perfectly rigid.

‘Old pizza face’.

But at least my eyes are open for once.

I’m probably about thirteen.

And not looking happy at all about having my picture taken.

I’m wearing a long white polyester robe.

And it’s confirmation time.

Though not quite fitting the part of an angel in the shot, at least I was faking it pretty good.

I’ll be walking right past that fading portrait in my parents’ old church soon. I’ll be meeting with the coordinator of a group that helps caregivers, and those directly under their care.

It’s another one of my ’50 by 60′ bucket list items.

I’ve just offered to visit caregivers’ homes on Saturdays and spend time with their spouses or parents while they get a chance for some respite themselves.

Although the group has many opportunities, it’s the one way I can help right now while I’m still working.

This group acted as another set of valued eyes on my parents when they were still living. It’s now my turn to return the favor.

I expect to do my visiting loaded down with fresh flowers to brighten moods of caregivers.

And tactile puzzles and art projects to engage their loved ones.

I’ll also be sure to pack plenty of extra hugs in case they’re needed.

And I’m thinking they will be.

I hope I’ll make at least one small difference in each caregiver’s day as I stop by.

Though I expect I’ll be getting much more out of the experience then they will.

I’ll still never be an angel, but as I continue to age I’m happy my self absorption as a teen is now many decades behind me.

And that finally I smile a lot more in pictures, even knowing my eyes are probably closed yet again.

Animal of a different feather

As I work to create a new life after the recent death of my husband, I announced to a friend I should be more like a lion.

“Maybe I’ll leap into my new world and roar,” I mumbled.

But she had a different idea.

She quickly pointed out that I’d been ‘chameleon like’ the last few years.

Much like the sea dragon here in the picture, hiding out in the weeds.

My caregiving role has in fact kept me in the background, busily preparing myself to adapt to constantly changing challenges, and the occasional crisis.

She suggested I choose instead to be like a peacock.

Proudly strutting forward and showing off my bright feathers.

I kind of like that.

But it’s going to take some practice before I’m ready to display my own full fan.

Though I did put a peacock feather in a vase on my desk at work last week.

I’m thinking that just might count as a first step.


I can help…

Bring joy to those afflicted with memory loss.
Bring joy to caregivers assisting them.

I will share gifts of:

-Tai Chi
-Hand holding
-Back rubs for those tired and stressed.
-Time, listening to stories I’ve heard before.
-The warmth of friendship.
-Love and lots of it.

My mission statement for this year.

I better get busy.

A different path

While taking a walk Sunday, I realized this was one of the first weekends in over 13 years I haven’t been involved in caregiving for someone with memory loss. With Dad’s Alzheimer’s, Mom’s dementia and also my husband Richard’s, there were always caregiving related tasks to tackle.

I was feeling noticeably different as I marched up the snowy path while enjoying the fresh air.

Possibly a little lighter?

Definitely less out of breath.

Maybe it was the massage I bought on Saturday, but I was actually somewhat relaxed.

Since I’ve always worked full time while caregiving, I’d try and save up as many of my caregiving related tasks as I could for the weekend. As a result, I’d find I was just as tired on Monday mornings as I was on Friday nights.

Plenty of chores are still needing to get done around here, yet the urgency is not quite the same.

Though I’m not one to write New Year’s resolutions, I will be updating my old ‘to do’ lists soon. Tasks and goals from long ago may be dusted off and added back on. And I’ll be adding some new items such as volunteer work related to memory loss.

I’ll also add ‘working harder on having fun’ and ‘smiling more’, too. Though it will take some practice with my stoic personality.

But it will sure feel good to try.

While I continue to miss my spouse and parents, I think I’m going to like this new path I’m climbing.

And I do believe Richard, Mom and Dad will be watching and cheering me on from the sidelines.