Life in the Moment Lane

As all and sundry probably know, I’m in elder care mode this month. Dad is 92, Mom 89, and they are valiant, uncomplaining people, who–somewhere along the way–learned to enjoy being waited on. Then too, each has bouts of confusion, each has physical frailties, and to put a cherry on top of this sundae of challenges, Dad has lost the ability sundaeto sleep through the night.

I’m fried. Later this month, another sibling will rotate into the on-site care provider slot, and then another, but my hitch has been emotionally challenging–these are the people who’ve always been there for me, and now they’re…. sometimes not there are all. And it has been physically challenging–I’ve been at the emergency room at 5 am, up and down all night, and responsible for stepping and fetching to the drug store what seems like daily. Also managing the housework, the meals, and other mundane tasks that my mom alternately tries to “help” with, or outright sabotages.

The difference between the present situation and caring for small children is two-fold. First, we can’t look forward to that proud, difficult and baby-smilinghappy day when the kindergarten bus comes by, and competence in the big world starts easing our responsibility closer and closer to self-sufficiency. This situation can go on for another ten years, and the trajectory is toward ever increasing need and grief.

Second, when a parent is out and about with small children in tow, we see the situation plainly from 50 yards away. “Parenting in progress–either help or stand clear.” Nobody in the grocery store knows I’m so tired and anxious, that trying to park my truck in their stupid little urban So-Cal parking slots is inspiring me to bad words. I’ve coped with situations in the cookiespast few weeks that have honestly horrified me, and there’s more of same in store for me and my loved ones. This doesn’t show, and there’s nobody smiling at me sympathetically at the playground or in the produce section.

A good friend put it this way: When it’s family, you have no choice, but you can look for the Zen moments–the flowers, the puppies, the new babies who beam a smile right at YOU, your favorite oldie coming on the radio as you’re struggling to find a parking space you can fit your truck into.

At the gourmet carry out, the nice guy threw in a half dozen scrumptious chocolate chip cookies for free. The home health nurse verified Dad’s vital signs, and then asked, “But single candlehow are you?” When the CNA started and ended her shift, she hugged Mom, and I could practically see Mom glowing as a result.

We’ll get through this, one moment at time.

What are some of your moments? Times when the kindness of strangers, the benevolence of the universe, the perceptiveness of friends and loved ones lit a candle for you when you thought you were plumb out of matches?

To one commenter, I’ll send an audio version of “The Bridegroom Wore Plaid.”


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43 comments on “Life in the Moment Lane

  1. for me that sort of ‘kindness of strangers’ came out when my dad died in 2010. he and i had ran a pet sitting business for close to 16 years before he got sick and passed on. what amazed me was at the funeral the number of his former pet sitting clients who showed up to support my family and who were constantly dropping by my house with flowers and meals for my brother and i so we didn’t have to worry about cooking. I had not realized how many people my dad had touched over the years as he was talk walking. one person stood out…my dad had saved his dog from a pit bull attack many years ago just as he was finishing a dog walking job and the chap came by the funeral to say thanks again for the fact my dad saved his dog

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  2. Bless you Grace, my prayers and hugs are with you. This is the most difficult duty of children I believe. With my M-I-L, there at the longest time for us, for months we 4, hubs brother,sister,him and I rotated sitting with her. All but one of us still working, my hub took the day time, his brother the evening, my self and the sister did every other nights. I know all your readers are wishing you good vibes. Many have done as you and your family are now, we understand. If I were in the same area I would offer to spell you. Hang in there.

    • Georgie, the siblings who can are rotating through, the ones who can’t are offering support from the sidelines. Fortunately, Mom and Dad can afford some professional help, too. I’m viewing this like many of life’s challenges: It’s what we make of it, and so far, we’re making a family effort of it. That’s a good thing.

  3. Love and hugs to you, Grace, and prayers as well.

    I had a simple moment just last week. It is Summer break time for my boys and I took all four of them to the grocery store, hard enough with four “typical” kids, down right adventuresome with three autistic kids. My three year old wants to push the cart, the twins want to play with all the fruit and veggies. By the time we leave I feel like I ran a marathon. My three year old got in trouble, which gets me a good talking to by one of the cashiers who doesn’t understand that my son doesn’t comprehend. I leave the store near to tears and get everyone loaded in the van and the food loaded too when a stranger comes up to me to put my cart away for me. Just that little gesture made my day a little better. I usually try and park next to the cart return but that day the spots were taken. Sometimes it is the little things that truly brighten someones day.

    • I about cried on my way back to the truck when fellow gave me those cookies. “We shouldn’t be doing the carbs,” I protested. “Then you can share them with your neighbors,” said he.
      We did the carbs, a little at a time, and they were wonderful.

  4. Oh, Grace. When you are going through this, you feel you are the only person in history to suffer quite as badly, even though you KNOW you are not. It’s normal! And afterward (be warned) there are rushes of guilt over what you might have done differently, even though you KNOW you did all in the power of your love and resources. When my sister and I were finally compelled to find a care home for our mother a couple of years ago, we found one full of utter kindliness. Not only did the head lady, the nurses, and all the carers make our mother feel loved and wanted, but also they made us feel as though we mattered and were loved. Like your health nurse, they always asked, as though they really wanted to know, “And how are YOU?” Yes, notice the zen moments. They are always, always there as soon as we look.

    • The scouts are out for the next phase, Mary, and you hit the most important criterion in one: Lovingkindness. Adequate care is a given, and for what these places charge, it should be, but the human touch has no price tag.

  5. Wow, I so admire you!! That is such a special thing you are doing for your parents 🙂

    The kindness of strangers affected me greatly about five years ago. I was checking out my groceries with my two year old and five month old and when I went to pay, I realized I had forgotten my wallet at home!! Mortified and to the point of tears (as everything had already been scanned and bagged up) I told the cashier I would have to come back later after I ran home. The lady behind me, who had like five things and I had a full weeks worth of groceries, paid for my groceries!! I was floored by her kindness and she refused to give me her name to pay her back. She just told me all moms get there and to help out next time I see a mom struggling. I donated a bit extra to the food pantry the following week and always go out of my way now to help new moms get food or clothing if I can. The generosity of a random stranger can really alter how you think!

    • And boy, was she right! All parents get to that point, where the straw breaks that old camel’s back. Never cried as much as I did when I was a young mom. Hard years, but you kept a good memory from them.

  6. Grace, being an only child, the care if my elderly mom is in my court – which can be difficult while balancing a full-time job, husband working a night shift, and pre-teen child. I thank God that she has friends who come to visit and occasionally take her out for lunch or a dr appt. But unless they have experienced it, my friends & co-workers find it hard to understand the mental exhaustion all this brings about. My break in the day is the evenings when I read…and your books bring a pleasant escape at a time when I truly need it. My thanks to you for helping
    make my days more balanced! Wishing you many more unexpected kindnesses to bring a smile to your day.

    • My parents have noted that as they moved through life, they never expected to live into their nineties. In their families, they’re the first, but they won’t be the last. The infrastructure to deal with a growing aging population is only now developing. I’m hoping future generations would be quite as crunched on this issue as we are.
      Because my daughter is an only child too.

  7. My mother was my best friend for most of my young adult life. It seemed to me that she would always be there and that I would always have her to talk to. As the years went by she tried to be there for all of her children and kept up a brave front. We, my brothers and sisters and I helped her to do that especially after our father passed. Eventually she moved in with my youngest sister. A neighbor was hired to ‘sit’ with my mother. When I visited my mother the neighbor would interrupt conversations and even answer for my mother. I remember so vividly the frustration of trying to continue a conversation with my ‘best friend’ only to have a stranger respond in her place. I missed her then as I miss her now.

    • One of my sisters has spent a lot of years in third world countries, and points out that in many cultures, grandma would of course be kept in in home, and every body would take a turn keeping an eye on her.

      But your memory reminds us that unless we have the heart for it, taking care of anybody in need can still be negligent. My mom doesn’t hear well, so she takes longer to process what’s said to her, and to formulate her reply. When people speak quickly to her, she shuts down. Trained caregivers know this, not all of the friends and family catch on.

      So I tell ’em.

  8. Hello Grace – my 90-year old dad is my sole responsibility since he and my brother are estranged. Dad is very independent and proud and wants nothing to do with assisted living facilities. To make his desire to live independently in his condo a reality, I do his laundry, take out his trash, and fill his pillbox, and spend every other day with him. He doesn’t like to go to senior centers (only old people there!), and just wants my company.

    When he first broke his hip and then came home, I was amazed and a little put off by how much my own life had changed in response to dad’s new reality. I quickly adjusted my attitude to acceptance and then embraced the situation. I can’t travel right now, but that’s OK. I can’t add many new things to my life right now because I don’t have the time, but that’s the way it is. I’ve relaxed, and come to embrace the quality time I get to spend with my dad. He’s very conservative politically and I’m not, so when he goes on his soapbox occasionally I just let him talk and tell him that we all have our own opinions on issues.

    My personality is not so laid back normally, so this has been a personal growth experience for me as well – a good thing really. I record videos of Dad on my phone quite a bit – I’ll put some of these in the family tree on I encourage him to talk about life in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and his service in World War II – fascinating.

    It can be emotionally draining sometimes, but the rewards are there too. Mary is right, almost all of us go through it and are willing to listen and help where we can.


    • Your dad and my dad should be roomies. I can also get Dad going on his Navy years in WWII, how he met Mom and what High School was like back in Philly decades ago. No matter that he might be vague on when the next doc’s appointment is, he recalls reams of fascinating stuff and is happy to talk about it.
      And you’re right, Donna. These years are hard, but they are what we have left with the people who’ve loved us since birth. Best surrender to the love.

  9. Hi Grace.

    So many people I know right now are in your place. Right now, a very good friend is in the hospital sitting with her mother, knowing that there is a good chance that she will “move on” at any moment, and already preparing herself for the future. My husband’s parents are elderly and his mother has severe dementia. My own mother is very ill too, but I am far away (nearly a continent!) but I spent 1/2 a month recently with my parents, a slightly frustrating but highly rewarding time.

    It’s so painful when the parent who was your best friend and mentor changes due to age or illness, and it’s hard to adjust to the paradigm shift that happens in a child/parent relationship. I’m also finding it frightening, and somewhat daunting, that in a few years that may be me.

    It sounds pat, and I don’t know what your religious inclinations are, but I do find solace in God and my relationship with Him. I hope I do not offend by saying that I will keep you, and all those who care for elderly and infirm relatives, in my prayers.

    Yours, Ally

    • Ally, the religious angle is interesting in my parents’ situation. They’re Catholic, Mom a cradle Catholic, Dad a convert at about age 33. The local parish keeps an eye on them, but not like the little Mennonite churches I’ve become familiar with back East would.
      Dad’s position is “Let Thy will be done, but could I please die in my sleep tonight?” Mom, who has always professed a strong faith, seems to be stumbling the worst. To me, we’re having to do some extra wash, and meet a few new faces. To her, Dad’s situation (not her own, of course) is ridiculous, and she shouldn’t have to put up with it.

      But truly, you have the right of it: Cases such as these require prayer–for starters.

  10. Grace I can only say I’m sure your parents appreciate what you did for them even though they may not say it. I lost my mother when she was 50, her body just wore out as she’d been sick almost all her life and had only one lung. My sister and I both tried to help her out in her last few years but she didn’t want anything to do with us.
    For those of you who do still have your parents, try to record their memories of their childhood and early years, I didn’t and regret it immensely as my daughter never knew the woman she was named for and her kids won’t ever know her either. I was finally sent a few family pictures last year so I can show my daughter and her kids what she looked like but I can’t tell them the story she told about waking up in the 30’s to her grandmother screaming about an “alligator’s in the back yard”. I don’t remember enough of it to make it really interesting or funny as she could.

    • I know some writers who could so a lot with a scene that starts out, “Honey, come quick! There’s an alligator back here!” Might have to pass that line along to them, Molly.

  11. Oh Grace — Here’s a great big cyber-hug for you. I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH because I just came through that season. I am keeping you and your parents in my prayers. You can feel SO alone at a time like this. I did it all by myself for 4 years. Daddy had dementia (judgement, decision, consequences & short term stuff) and a broken hip. He had to go into care because of the hip & being in a wheel chair. Momma couldn’t care for him. She began to fall and then have small strokes. In 13 months she went from her home of 50 years to assisted living, residential care and finally foster care because I wouldn’t put her in a nursing home. I though I would loose my mind with the night time hospital runs, doctor visits, supplies needed without advanced notice, bills, insurance…the stress goes on and on. I loved my parents so much but it was so hard slowly loosing my best friends. The prayers of others for us gave me the miracle of enough energy to do it all and to have peace through my grief. It seems trite to say I’ll pray for you but there is power in that prayer and I wing that to you and your parents. Take care and make sure you talk to others. You need to vent and I pray there is someone out there who is your listener.

    Oh and by the way at every one of those care facilities the care workers were awesome. It’s a calling for the ones who work there and they have so much love for their patients. I am grateful for each and every one of them who watched over my parents for me when I wasn’t there. I found them through a woman who had a referral service. She used to be an administrator of an assisted living community and it’s a small world in that capacity. She knew the good places and the ones to stay away from. I’m sure there’s such a person in your parent’s community. I hope this helps… glittergirl54 at ymail dot com …if you need to “talk”

    • Thanks! You’re right it’s small community, and when I saw “elder care case manager” and get a blank stare, I know I need to keep looking. Never thought law school would be relevant to this part of life, but I’ve done another adult guardianships that I can speak spend down, plan of care, assisted living and smattering of funeral home, too.
      Which is good–I guess.

      • Then you are a step ahead of what I was.
        On a practical note– Check with their Doctor’s office and see if they have a Nurse/Patient Manager – Social Worker. My Mother’s Dr did and she was a wealth of help and contacts. Also if their is a Senior Services in their community. They will have info on ways to find help.

        I also checked with my parent’s Financial Planner/Broker (they had very little but some investments) and bless their hearts they bought “Long Term Care Insurance”. It helped a lot paying for Daddy’s care and Momma’s for as long as she lasted. Daddy exhausted his 3 years of eligibility and Momma got about 9 months of her 3 years.

  12. I might tell you I would give anything for my parents to have live past their 30’s. The heartache of their loss never went away. And the backup of their support just was never there. Just loving parent memories and I was luckier than my younger brother and sister and my older sister. But that would sound like I don’t understand your pain and I do because I was the hospital accompanier for my husband family for many years. Just knew it was the thing to do. Now my husbands failing health has put me in direct contact with exactly what you are talking about. The times the cancer made him so pained or weak. The times the seizers that followed took away his speech. It came back because he is determined. But I remember walking around the hospital when he would say shoe, for something but we didn’t know what it meant. He’d shake his head. Knowing something was wrong somewhere. He looked years younger right then, nothing was worrying him. I thought to myself I can handle this, He is happy. We walked around the hospital. I never know when the next bad bout will strike. I’ve call 911 enough times to now know the God Lord is giving me a chance to get used to the next crisis. When I fell Ill myself, Jimmy was good and able to do everything I needed for help. I told God how Thankful I was that he gave Jimmy to me to help me thru my recovery. Couldn’t even get myself out of bed for a while without help. Right now we are both up and going. The parents long gone, the grandparents just wonderful memories, the future perhaps harder than I want to think about. Right now is Good. I’m glad you have siblings that will support you with the care. The heartache God has to help with, I don’t think we make it without His Grace. Perhaps you were aptly name. Sending Loving Good Wishes to you, Grace Burrowes you deserve every one.

    • You and Jimmy grew closer through your travail, and one of saddest parts of the Mom and Dad’s situation is it don’t see it working that way for them. Because Dad is sporting a catheter and has the heart condition, he needs more hands on care, but Mom is forgetting more every day, has messed up her meds repeatedly, and can’t be trusted to watch Dad when they’re home alone.
      Sad, sad, business, but it awaits many of us, so coming to grips with it now will probably make the rest of my life more meaningful.

  13. I am currently fighting breast cancer. My biggest helpers have been my husband and sons, mom and my sister. After my bilateral mastectomy, I could hardly lift my arms to do anything. My sister helped me change bandages, shower, she washed my hair for me. But the best part, instead of being upset about the loss of my breasts she helped me to laugh, by commenting about my still having more breasts than she does! And I did (I had a skin saving mastectomy so I can have reconstruction at a later date), I laughed so hard it hurt. But it felt good too.

    My mom has cooked and cleaned. But its the other little things she has done that have really healed my heart. She brings me flowers, little trinkets and has made sure I have every pink thing under the sun. She has taken me to my favorite restaurants after appointments and tests. My husband and sons have held down the fort at home. My sons are teenagers, busy with girlfriends and sports. They have pitched in cooking, cleaning and doing everything for mom, including reaching into cabinets that I no longer can or opening a jar. But they have also both done projects at school that have brought me to tears, my oldest writing a paper on how his life has been affected by my cancer, they have hugged me and made me laugh by being silly and being them!

    Recently I have been able to more and more for myself, but in 2-3 weeks I will be starting Chemo and all these people and many others will kick back in to helping and making me laugh and smile, as I lose my hair and am sick. But with their love I know I will KICK this!

    • You will kick, trounce, annihilate, destroy and mash the living peedywaddles out of it, Rhiannon. I am sorry this misery has befallen you, but must pass along the following: AARP is forever doing doleful studies, and one of them documents that depression is a growing problem for the elderly. How mizzable we get, when decrepitude stalks us.

      There’s one group of people who seem inoculated against depression, and that’s cancer survivors. Whether it’s having priorities that say life is more important than whether you can hear and see the way you did twenty years ago, or having had the experience of rallying your support system and sharing a victory over disease because of it, the cancer survivor has strengths the rest of us can envy.

      So see that you’re one of those survivors, and let us know ANYTHING we can do to help.

  14. I’ve said here before that my parents died seven months apart, both at home, both with hospice care involved, and I alternated working 10 days in a row (Psych unit RN) and then driving to the other side of the state to care for them for 4 days. My mom was the last to go and she passed near the end of June. I did not return home when I found out as she’d told me there was no need: she wouldn’t be there. A memorial service for both of them was going to be held at a later date instead of a funeral.

    Well, I handled everything fine until my birthday rolled around in mid-November. I was at work and I found out my coworkers got me a cake and I just lost it. My mother had always made our birthdays special and that night I couldn’t stop the tears. LOL As you can imagine I got some strange looks from the Psych patients until I told them why I was crying. I have to say, I have never gotten so many hugs as I did that night. By showing I was human and not just a staff member I was even able to reach some of them that normally stayed pretty closed off from others. And I’ve never forgotten how good they made me feel, both patients and staff.

    • If anybody knows about strong at the broken places, it’s the psych population and the people who try to help them cope. Sorry this much sorrow befell you, but glad the love was there when you needed it most. I bet Christmas wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either, or Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day…

  15. Hugs. You are just a little ahead of me on this journey of life and dealing with parents. I am listening and learning from your experience to help me be prepared for when my time comes. I appreciate you sharing your feelings and experiences.
    The zen experience I experienced was when I was fostering and I came home early from work and fell asleep. I slept right through picking him up from after school care. The phone call asking where I was is what woke me up. I was extremely sorry and embarrassed but no one yelled nor asked me to come get him. They actually drove him to me. They knew how tired I must have been and how unusual this situation was and they helped me out. Totally unexpected. Like your story with the chocolate chip cookies–the unexpected kindnesses–they get you through. And they make you want to do them for others.

    • Kathy, I recall Loretta Chase getting up at the Romantic Times conference a couple years ago to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award. She held the award in her hands and peered around the room, her expression bewildered. “I never realized my stories meant that much to you…”

      What is it in us that is surprised by support and affirmation? Why do the very people who are the slowest to judge anticipate judgment?

      I must ponder this.

  16. The care of the care giver is so often overlooked and so critically important. I wish I could wrap you up in a GREAT BIG HUG. I’m sending a virtual one, thoughts, and prayers. Take the moments you can take. They are vital to making it through. And learn to ask for what you need. It’s a journey that will change how you see some situations and some people. That’s both a difficult awareness and a unexpected joy in the midst of an exhausting situation.

    • Myrna, you said it: The experience of dealing with very Aged P’s has changed much in my outlook already. The instant I get back to Maryland, I’m ordering that treadmill desk.

  17. Let me brighten your day just a bit…My last moment came when I turned on my Kindle to find Ethan waiting for me. Thank you Grace. Take care of yourself.

  18. Ethan was excellent! Read the ebook yesterday and as all your books it is a keeper! I have your books in both printed version for my library and ebooks for my travels.

    I hope that you will consider a book on Avis…I think she would make a fascinating character and I think we would all like her to find a little happiness.

    I can’t wait for the release of Beckman…I already have it on pre-order.

    • Rhonda, do you recall a certain Hadrian Bothwell, the Kissing Vicar from “The Soldier”? Do you recall that he was supposed to return to Cumbria at his brother’s request? Did you know Blessings was up in Cumbria TOO? Hmm? Hadrian has plans for his neighbor Avis…

  19. My father died of brain cancer 4 years ago and my Mom who will be 80 in September is learning how to live her life again without my dad. They were married for 50 years! She is already thinking ahead to when she will need care and putting money away for that purpose. I refuse to entertain the thought that she will stop being the energetic, self sufficient person she is today but I know it is in my future. Kudos to you and your siblings for making your parents feel loved and wanted in their golden years. <3

    • My grandma had seven years of widowhood, but after the first year, she said in some ways, it was the happiest time of her life. My mom took great good care of her, she didn’t have to fret over an exacting husband’s standards of housekeeping, and she no longer worried about his health, his heart condition, his moods…

      I hope your mom enjoys the years left to her too, and that having her “to yourself” is a blessing you enjoy for a long, long time.

  20. Oh, Grace. Hold on to those good moments. They, and your siblings, will support you.

    Last fall I had the worst class. EVERY got to listen to me complain about them (including you). Then one day I had a student give me a note as she was walking out the door. I sat at my desk and cried. Sometimes the cookies are exactly what you need.

    • The cookies, and the guy’s persistence. He was going to do me a kindness over my own objection. Maybe he could see that exhausted/bewildered aura, or maybe he’s served many people who stop by to pick up gourmet carry out for the Aged P’s. They were terrific cookies, too.

  21. When my fifth child was born, I had three under five years old. The gracious lady next door, whose 6 children were older, drove my older two to school every morning. What a relief not to bundle up three little ones on those cold Illinois mornings. When I asked how to repay her, she simply said someone had done that for her, and I was to pass it on. We still communicate every Christmas. What a blessing she was!!!