Friday, May 15, 2015

Advocacy 101: When it's time to spill your guts!

Stepping into the role of advocate for your aging parent is hard.  Duh! As an advocate you speak and act on behalf of him or her.  You may choose assisted living or nursing care, discuss medical issues with providers and settle issues with caregivers.

You'll meet authority figures:  doctors, lawyers, social workers, nurses and more.  If you're like me, you'll be tempted to see yourself as less able, given their higher level of expertise.

Remember this: You are the authority on your parent.  Don't ever forget the power your knowledge and experience gives you.  Working together with professionals, you can get good outcomes.  And especially if you know when to spill your guts and when not to.

Spill your guts when...the professional needs as much information about your parent as possible
to help you reach your goals.  I work as a senior referral agent with Silver Age Housing & Care Referrals, helping adult children find the right assisted living, adult family home or in-home care for their parents.  I ask family members, "Tell me about what's going on with your parent?" "How are you coping with the situation?" and "What are your parent's hobbies and interests?"  I feel privileged to listen to the long version. The more I hear, the better I know the older adult and the family.  That knowledge helps me to find excellent care options.

Another place that's safe to spill your guts is in a caregiver support group.  You don't have to worry that if you vent, people will judge you.  They absolutely won't.  Group members are all in the same boat. They can laugh at situations others would find deplorable.  And if you talk too long, the leader will gently ask you to wrap it up so others can speak.

Don't spill your guts when...the professional needs the short version.  Doctors only have 10 or 15 minutes to solve your parent's problems, so it's best to discuss only the most pressing concern.  If you do need to talk about other things, make a list and speak briefly about each item.  Of course, there are doctors who do allow you to spill you guts, but do so sparingly.

Over time you'll know which people can take the long version and which need the condensed version of your parent's story.  But remember, no matter what initials are to the right of his or her name, you have a Doctorate in Parentology.  Use the knowledge wisely.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mourning After Mother's Day; Why the Tears?

It's the morning after Mother's Day.  The flowers are beginning to fade, the goodies are gone, and the rest of the holiday's trappings set aside.  But today, when everything is supposed to be returning to normal,  you may feel empty. You may be mourning the loss of your mother.

Perhaps your mother has passed and you long for her presence. Whether it's been a decade or a month, there's a hole in your heart that may never totally be repaired.  So you cry, with good reason. Or, perhaps you are grieving for the mother whose inner strength has been stolen from her through dementia, mental illness or other debilitating disease. She can't be the nurturer, the encourager and the cheerleader.  You feel sad--for you, for her, for her other loved ones.  That sadness is normal.

Mother loss is hard.  My mother died in 2003, but mental illness took away her vitality decades earlier.  Years of  heavy duty psychoactive medication left her flat, unable to initiate contact, and barely able to respond.  I remember hearing my six-year-old son say to me," Why does Grandma look mean?  Is she mad at me?"  I tried as best I could to tell him, "Grandma loves you, but she has a sickness that makes her sad." 

My clients tell me of similar experiences.  A mother who used to be the life of the party but now isolates due to dementia. A mother whose mental illness causes her to be incredibly needy and unable to see others' points of view.  A mother who used to recognize the family but no longer does.

I wish I could change those situations but I can't.  I can tell you what Msoshi, a friend who'd immigrated from the Congo, said to me when I told him about the loss of my mother.

"Je suis une orpheline, " I told him.  That's French for "I am an orphan."  The two of us could speak in French about things I'd never say in English.  "Ma mere es morte et je suis triste" (My mother died and I am sad.) 

He looked at me and said nothing for a while as I fought back the tears.  Then he said something that I'll never forget.  "Vous avez un Pere en ciel.  Dieu est votre parent."  (You have a Father in Heaven.  God is your parent.)

The ache in my heart didn't go away.  But it was made bearable by a truth that I'd known in my head but now experienced in my soul.  God would carry me though.  He was--and is--my loving parent.

Have you experienced mother loss?  And if so, what comfort have you found in the midst of grief?
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