Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sock Snowmen!

I was searching for some sort of way to thank my friends who helped Mom and me so much during those last  years, and I think I hit it out of the park with Sock Snowmen.

I always bought Mom crazy patterned socks just for fun. She was so easy and never complained about wearing Snoopy or purple socks with pink dots. Strangers would almost always approach us and mention how great her socks were. So, as I thought about what to do with her socks, it hit me...

Sock Snowmen!

John and I made basic sock snowmen and dressed them in Mom's fuzzy socks as sweaters. That's Bobbi's below looking in a mirror:

Here's an article I wrote on Squidoo that was already on the front page - an amazing feat:

I've been writing still at Squidoo and December proves to be bringing me the best return on my investment (which is nothing) ever. Free money is really fun! Here's a few of my most popular articles:

Practical gifts for very elderly senior citizens:

Senior citizen gift ideas - from one who knows:

When death looms - the signs and symptoms of the final moments on earth:

Funny Christmas ornaments:

And, after much grumbling, for those of us who have to pay for paper and plastic bags (eh, it definitely helps our landfills), here's Reusable Grocery Bags. Some of these are really nice. I've used one set for 6 months now:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Who will eat the ends?

As I make mondel bread in preparation for Hanukkah festivities, I'm surrounded by the love infused in my soul by my parents. I saw Mom looking in the bowl as I mixed the thick batter and utter her age-old comment: 'Looks too wet to me. Add more flour.' So I did.

When it came time to lick the bowl, I was surprised to be overcome with welled eyes. Mom always was my 'helper' in the kitchen and could be counted on for a good bowl cleaning. Today, I had Sharyn, John and 5 dogs helping. I spread my fingers out and all the dogs had a lick of the sticky batter. Sharyn had the beater and John awaited the final product.

As I put the golden pieces warm from the oven into the sugar/cinnamon mixture, I again welled up - Who will eat the ends? For all the years my folks were with me, I always put the ends aside for my Dad. He would be in the kitchen when the cookies came out of the oven and stayed there until a few cookie ends were dipped in a fresh cup of coffee. I see his eyes look at me and I feel his love again as it washes over me.

As I'm surrounded by the best friends on earth this Hanukkah season, I know that, although my parents are no longer physically with me, they are as with me in spirit as they ever were. When people express their sympathy at Mom's passing with a simple 'I'm sorry for your loss,' my reply is always 'We had a nice long run with her.' And we did. We had a nice long run with both of them.

So, as the brisket awaits entry to the oven and potatoes are cleaned and ready for their transformation into potato latkes this Chanukah season, I shall be surrounded at the dinner table by the best friends on earth - the very people who so sustained my Mom and me those last years. The friends who I've chosen to become family.

And, I know who will eat the ends. Tonight, we all will.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All of my senior care articles in one spot

I finally have gotten around to categorizing my senior care and senior gift articles in one place - there's 61 of them! I'm about to start in on a serious writing career and am going to write a book about caregiving. Lord knows I have the experience!

So, here is the article:

Please leave me comments on the bottom of the article if you visit. Note: you don't have to be a member of Squidoo to comment.

BTW: Mom's birthday found me surrounded by the best of friends. Instead of the day of mourning I had predicted, the day turned into a celebration of her life - much nicer than I had expected. We talked about Mom most of the day - telling stories about her and remembering her with great warmth. She was very much a part of our day. She's very much a part of every day.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October 28 - Mom's birthday

Well, every 'year of firsts' after the death of a loved one includes sad days and this might be one of the saddest yet.

Mother's Day was quite difficult for me - in fact, I was a bit taken back by how hard that day was. Mom and I always had a nice morning together on Mother's Day which usually started with me serving Queenie breakfast in bed on one of the trays she loved. We'd sit and have coffee together, surrounded by many dogs greedily eying her toast - she always gave in and treated each to a small piece. Friends would always drop by and sit a spell. We always had great Mother's Days.

And, today, Mom's birthday, is probably about on the same scale of sadness. Today would have been Mom's 96th birthday and, even though I'm heartbroken at the moment, I'm also warmed by thoughts of what Mom and I considered 'a good run.' We had a lot of wonderful days together for which I will be forever grateful. I never thought that I'd become a caregiver nor have a patient so easy to care for. Mom was a gem to all who knew her well.

John and I frequently speak of how lucky we both were to have known Mom. She accepted John with open arms - they had a very mutual respect. She never failed to light up when he came to kiss her hand. And, she once gave him the best comment ever - she said that he reminded her of my Dad. To any who witnessed the love relationship between my folks, this was a compliment on the highest order. Neither John nor I will ever forget that comment.

And, today, Mom has sent me another gift - it's raining. Mom and I loved rain. Instead of seeing inclement weather as a bad thing, we'd hunker down, head to the kitchen to mix up some oatmeal raisin cookies, or just sit and watch her 'Who's the baby daddy' shows. I see the rain as a sign that she's content in another world, hopefully with my Dad, sister, and other family members. I see the rain as a sign that she's still thinking of me.

So, on this rainy day, I'll go visit her grave and place down the red roses she so loved every birthday. John and I will go about our day and toast to her with a glass of her beloved Harvey's Bristol Cream. And, I'll allow myself to be sad even though I'll be surrounded by many friends who love me. And, I'll still miss her.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dad's Birthday - Sept 7

September 7th would have been Dad's 95th birthday. I felt raw inside - I think it was because this was the first birthday of Dad's since he's been gone that I really got to grieve. After all, Mom is gone so there's no one to prop up emotionally on this day except myself.

Dad loved ripe tomatoes and, quite interestingly, although I hated tomatoes for the longest time, the year he died, I started to crave them. So, on his birthday this year, I piled tuna fish on bread and added a slice of an heirloom tomato which was growing in the garden. Dad would have been proud! Not only that but I honestly think this particular tomato was the sweetest tomato I've ever tasted. Sharyn agreed. So, in our own way, we toasted Dad (pun intended) with a tomato sandwich. I also spent a fair amount of time in his garden sprucing it up for the fall. His garden did beautifully this year - probably because I had more time to tend it.

I've been back to writing at Squidoo and my fortune continues to grow. I love free money! Here's a few of my latest articles:

A year of firsts - surviving the first year after the death of a loved one.

Senior citizen gift ideas - from one who knows.

Practical gifts for the very elderly senior citizen.

Caregiver stress - what it felt like to me.

My mother, myself the art of turning into my own mother.

Daily living aids for the handicapped or disabled.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Who's going to eat the wings?

Although I thought I was done with this blog, Mom's been in my mind so much recently that I knew I had to get this down.

I got up this morning and made Sharyn a lunch for the road as she's headed to NC for a bit. Mom always sent travelers off with a lunch sack - always. Sometimes it was a salami sandwich on rye with mustard, an apple, and some nuts. Sometimes it was a roast beef sandwich with horseradish dressing (my favorite). No matter what, travelers must have food in the car. In fact, when I used to take my folks up to Laughlin in Nevada for their gambling fix, we used to kid Mom as she'd be into her lunch sandwich before I even got to the first light. She was not one to let anyone go hungry.

So, as I opened the rotisserie chicken to slice off some meat for Sharyn's sandwich, I glanced down and saw the two wings - mom's favorite part of the chicken.

I melted. My first thought was "who's going to eat the wings?"

Mom would always be the one who would call the wings when she saw me walk in with a rotisserie chicken. She'd call them early sometimes too as in "If you go to Costco tomorrow and get a rotisserie chicken, I'd like the wings for lunch." This behavior always reminded me so strongly of the times that my sister would call the front seat for car trips. In fact, an hour or two before the trip, we'd find Steph in the front seat, by the window, reading a book, waiting patiently for the rest of the family to appear. Must be an inherited trait.

Anyway, two wings along with a bit of potato salad and a roll would make up Mom's favorite meal. So, as I looked at the chicken, I just sort of dissolved. For the first time ever, I didn't know who would eat the wings, and it was quite a quandary for me. I've never given anyone else the wings. Ever. They were always Mom's.

I'm surprised by the things that set off my grief. I'll be fine one moment and just a puddle of tears the next. I know that it's normal, the grieving process and all that but it still is hard to get through.

And, with this weekend bringing my first Mother's day without Mom, I'm just really emotional.  That damned chicken started it...

So, on Sunday, I shall don her butterfly clip in my hair and wear it proudly all day. I'll put on a pair of her signature goofy socks and walk around the house - heck, I might even go out in them. I'll go visit her grave and drop off some flowers. And I'll try to keep it together. I'll try.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

And that, dear friends, is that

I'm finally strong enough to write up the last post to my Gertie's Galavants blog. It's taken me this long to try and think of what I hope to convey in my final ramblings to my faithful readers who have followed our tale for almost 5 years.

I'll be closing down this blog after this post. The blog will remain on line though if you care come visit periodically. I'm starting up a few new blogs, the first of which is Key West Travels documenting my 6 weeks in Paradise. Please come see me there.

John gave me the best present as a surprise - he had Gertie's Galavants, Travels with a 95 year old turned into a hardback book by Random House. A 400 page book! I've brought it with me to Key West and have been reading it. How far we came in 5 years and how wonderful our adventures have been. I have had many people tell me how lucky Mom was to have me, but I've always felt the opposite. There's not many people who are born to the type of parents I was lucky enough to have or care for.  I was truly the lucky one to be able to live with her for the past years. To get to know her in my adult life. To come so far in knowing how to care for someone.

These last 5 years have been the most important and challenging times of my life. I've learned life skills that will stay with me forever. I may be a Data Manager for clinical trials of 25 years by training, but I'm a caregiver in my soul.

I've learned through caring for Mom to see every single day as a new gift. Mom always woke up cheerful (after her coffee). She never ever complained about the unfairness of life - by the way, life really isn't fair but no one said it had to be. When I consider losing Mom this year and the heartbreak that her death has brought, I think of those who have lost others in a much different fashion. I think of my sister dying at 36 and leaving 3 children behind. I talked to a woman yesterday whose mother died last year at 57 of a third bout of cancer. A quick glance around any cemetery will teach one many lessons.

I've learned that caring for someone, really caring for someone, day in and day out is a true labor of love. We Americans tend to put our elders on the shelf when they become more feeble. We turn our noses up at helping with the daily tasks, such as helping them in the bath, but we expect them to shower as frequently as we younger folks do. Let me tell you - showering Mom was a project that took most of the morning and tuckered her out for most of the day. Toward the end, the bed baths were the kindest way to go and, after some training, they became easy to do.

We're missing out on so much. Not only don't we tend to visit our elders as much as we should, we are cheating ourselves out of learning much from our elders. We don't stop to listen to their stories of the past, we don't have the patience to wait as they search for words, and, sadly, we don't apply what they've told us to the future. History does, after all, repeat itself.

I've learned that the public though, as a whole, is a nice place to be. Young boys were always the first to hold the door for us or smile at Mom. I think it was the fact that she was so open to any kind of contact, looked strangers right in the eye, and expected good behavior. I was always fascinated to watch the 15 year old boys - the ones with the pants that start below their butts - rush to help us do whatever we were doing. They dropped their ghetto talk, smoothed their shirts, and smiled openly at her.

I've learned that it's ok to just be the best you can be, even if that isn't very good. Mom and Dad always stood behind their children and complimented us on the things we tried. I remember bringing my first wheel-thrown pottery "bowl" to Mom 5 years ago. It was lopsided, collapsing on itself. I had clay in my hair, on my face, in my mouth and was proud as could be that I made this "bowl" on my own. Mom was prouder. She told me how beautiful and "unique" that bowl was. I still have it somewhere, in the back of some cabinet.

I've learned that living with no regrets is definitely the way to go. When Mom first died, I felt a sense of relief and was concerned at first that the grief wasn't there. After all, those last few months were pretty hard on all of us who surrounded her and the only thing I really wanted to do was rest in bed - which I did. I had been up the last 3 nights before she died, standing by and watching. I was pooped and rightfully so. I remember Mom rousing from her twilight state just hours before she died. She looked at me standing by her bed, touched my face and told me to get some rest. She was always more concerned about others than she was about herself.

And, I have no regrets - not one. Nada.

Prior to Mom's death, I knew she wouldn't make it much further. With her blessing and her input, I booked a respite to Key West, where I sit today. Key West has long been "home" to me and I feel my strength regaining daily. I tell strangers why I'm here and they all offer their condolences. But, I always say that condolences are nice but not necessary. We had a beautiful ride, my Mom and me. There is nothing to be sorry about or for.

On the ride down to Key West with Sharyn, Killian and Gizmo, we stopped overnight twice. On the first morning of the second day, I felt strong enough to put on a body lotion that I used on Mom for the last two years; a beautiful, light scent that matched her disposition well. As I opened the bottle, the smell triggered a very vivid vision of her and I was very comforted. All day, I sniffed my arm and was instantly transported to her spirit. What a wonderful gift she gave me that day and all days.

As I close this last post, I'd like to thank my readers for their input over the years. The comments you leave here on my blog and in my online caregiving articles have meant the world to Mom and me (I always read them to Mom).

I'd also like to thank my closest friends and family for their support during the last years. I've been blessed with the best friends ever and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And, finally, I'd like to leave you with one thought:

Be kind to your parents, grandparents, or elders in general. Spend time with them. Yes, your life might be busy in its own right but stop for a bit and visit someone who might be wondering how you are. You might just be amazed at how good you feel after carving out an hour to stop by with some fresh cookies or a meal.

And, as my Mom would say, that is that.

With much love, Lori and Gert

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Goodnight Sweetheart

In probably my next to last post on Gertie's Galavants, I wanted to leave you with the eulogy I prepared for Mom. I say "prepared" as it's not the eulogy I delivered. I use written words only as a guide - to be honest, I'm not even sure how much of this written eulogy I spoke of.

Here's 'tis:

I’ve been my mom’s caregiver for 5 years now – since my Dad died April 7, 2007. It’s been both the hardest and most rewarding job of my entire life. And, predictably, this eulogy is the hardest one I hope to ever give. Please bear with me.

Mom was born October 28, 1916. To put that in perspective, she was born the year:
stainless steel was invented, before the zippers, bandaids, the traffic signal, nylon or ball point pens were invented. She was born only 13 years after the Wright Brothers had their first flight. She saw the development of commercial airplanes, saw WW1 and WW2 where she lived without her husband for years. She had a baby while her husband was in the war – she lived 95 very full and wonderful years, 65 of them beside her best friend and lover, my adorable dad. Anyone who knew my parents saw a real life love affair. They were connected both physically and emotionally.

My sister died suddenly in 1989. It was then that I learned of the strength of my mother. She held my father up, physically and emotionally. She held the family together during those very dark days.

When my dad died, the very first words my mom spoke to me were “These things happen.” And, that was her philosophy as she faced the end of her life. “These things happen.” That pretty much says it all.

One of my favorite memories of my mom was when my friend Bobbi, Mom and I were sitting around the kitchen table having cocktails one day – as we did frequently. I had just purchased a brand new Bluetooth for my cellular phone. And, I got one of the first blue tooths on the market. Mom and Bobbi had never seen one before. To those of you unfamiliar with the thing, it’s a very small earpiece with no discernable buttons. You just press an area of it to answer or hang up the call. Anyway, Bobbi was looking the thing over and said “How do you answer this thing?” Without missing a beat, Mom looked up from her cocktail and said “hello?” That one word, “Hello” would send the three of us into peals of laughter all the way to mom’s end.

Mom and Dad were extremely proud of their children. But, they didn’t coddle us – my parents were the type of parents who stood behind their children 100%. We all had a safety net but we didn’t take advantage of it. My parents taught us how to live with life’s ups and downs. They taught us how to survive on our own by letting us all fall and then teaching us how to get up. I think that’s the most important lesson they could have given us.  That and seeing the love they had for each other. They had a marriage to admire. They had a relationship I’m lucky enough to have found late in my own life with John. Mom loved John almost as much as I do and gave me the ultimate compliment one day when she said that John was very much like my Dad.

I remember one time when my parents were trying to correct me as I slid under my new car (at the tender age of 18) to change the oil. By my side was my trusty “car repairs for dummy book.” Dad and Mom were standing by the car as I was trying to get the nut loose in the oil pan. Dad tried repeatedly to warn me that I was about to make a big mistake and, in 18 year old fashion, I just told him to leave me alone. I do though remember looking out and seeing their shoes, next to each other as they waited to see what was going to happen. I was too far under the car when I  finally got the nut loose and came up sputtering oil. It was in my mouth, my nose, dirty oil coated my eyes and ears. I remember bolting from under the car, mostly blind and deaf. I do though remember my mom and dad holding each other up. I’m not sure I ever gave them another laugh like that. To her credit, Mom did take me in the house and clean me up. From then on, I (mostly) listened to them.

I remember Dad telling a story of being out late with his brother-in-law, Uncle Harry. They went to a dive diner for steak and eggs and were half toasted themselves. The waitress, at 3 am, was very slow so they concocted a plan to buy the place. And, if they hadn’t returned home finally to sleep it off, I believe we’d own the Tasty Diner in Bethesda, MD.

They drove to Florida one time in our large yellow Chrysler Imperial and returned 7 days later in a Triumph convertible. Dad saw it, liked it, and bought it. He was born with the philosophy of a Costco shopper – if you see it, get it now. Sometimes, quite sadly, I have the same impulsive quality. I’ve been known to make some pretty quick decisions – some have worked out and some, well, never mind.

After my folks moved to Arizona, Mom and Dad would return to Maryland to spend the summers so Mom and Dad lived with me 12 years in my current home.  I had the pleasure of knowing them, not just as their child, but as the adult they had molded. We had a lot of fun in those days – days filled with laughter, good friends and treasured family dropping by, poker games, and just quiet times of sitting on the balcony. It didn’t take much to pleasure them nor me. Just being with them every day was a treasure in its own right.

Mom and Dad were movers and shakers. I remember one time, they disappears for 3 weeks! Ronnie, Mike, Steph and I were quite worried about them. Mom’s siblings had no idea where they were, they weren’t in any hospital beds – they just disappeared! One of us finally thought of checking with travel agents in the area and we got a hit. They got a great deal for a “that day” flight to Budapest and that’s where they were. Budapest! Now, Mom would get angry at Sharyn and me if we were an hour late coming back from the senior citizen bar in Arizona but they disappeared just fine…

My Mom and Dad sacrified for their children. They ran Town Hall together for 25 years or so, working opposite shifts most of the time so one was always home with the kids. But, when retirement came, that was their time. They traveled the world, Alaska, they were one of the first people into Russia, they almost lived in Laughlin where they’d gamble into the night.

After Dad died, Marlon, Craig and I took Mom to Atlantic City. I bellied mom up, in her wheelchair, to a blackjack table and told her that I’d be right behind her at the craps table. My craps table got hot so I turned around 25 minutes later to check on her and she wasn’t there? Now, how far could a woman in a wheelchair go? I went to the blackjack dealer and asked him if he had seen her. His reply floored me! He said that Security had her. My next words pretty much spell out who my Mom was. I said “What did she do????” The dealer laughed and told me she was tired so she’d flagged down a security guard to take her to her room.

My Mom was the type of mother who wouldn’t sleep soundly until I was home. I went on a trip one time with some school friends and a teacher. The teacher drove and was driving us all to our houses – this was before cell phones. We were running very late – in fact, I was supposed to be home around 6 and it was 11 pm by them time I got in. When Mr Allen was driving me to my house, he bet me that my mother would be waiting up for me. I took the bet – but shouldn’t have. There she was, in the doorway. The only mother waiting up. And, at my tender age of 53, she would still tell me to wear a coat if it was cold out. She never failed to utter the words “be careful” when I left the house. And, to this day, even transcending her death, there are things I’m not allowed to do because I promised her: I can’t use a chain saw, I can’t use a pressure cooker, I’m not allowed to cross against a light, and I’m not allowed on a motorcycle.

The last one, not being allowed on a motorcycle, I actually tested once after I started dating John. He had a motorcycle.  I argued with Mom a few times about wanting to get on it and she finally said that “if I don’t see you.” Well, I took that as a nod to go ahead, which I did. And, the very first time I climbed atop the bike, I suffered a nice third degree burn on my leg (why they put the muffler right there is beyond me) which sent me to the hospital. She never ever said the words “I told you so.” She expected that I’d learned my lesson and I did. I’m not allowed on motorcycles.

Hillary Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child. It’s not only children who need our support but the elderly. It takes a village to walk someone to Heaven’s door and I had the best village of anyone I know. I’ve become used to the comments about how wonderful my friends are. Throughout this whole period in our lives, my friends have dropped their own lives to help us along. It was nothing for Bobbi to cancel two business trips to be here with us today. She just did it as she thought it was the right thing to do. That’s what my parents expected of their family and friends – you did it because it was the right thing to do.

Mom wouldn’t want us to draw this out. When she was done, she was done. And so am I with just one more thing:

Every single night of her married life, Mom would kiss my Dad and say “Good night, Sweetheart.” Once dad was gone, she uttered the same words to me as I tucked her into bed.  So, “Good night, sweetheart. Sleep well. You deserve it.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I got the most amazing email today...

...from my dear friend Joni. Joni is a nurse and used to live around the corner from us. She came running every single time I called with a question or concern. She would always run over to check Mom out and spend a moment or two quelling my concerns, which, upon occasion, were many.

Here is the email - I was so honored and read it with tears streaming down my face.

From Joni:

Something I wrote for you on Thursday:

It is raining a peaceful steady rain as I walk into the chapel. 
The room is warm, fully occupied and quiet, Gertie is at the center of thoughts, feelings, love and attention.

The Rabbi brings dignity and tradition to the gathering.

Avis speaks with such compassion and wonder, inspiring celebration on a day of sadness and reflection.

I watch my friend Lori, her family surrounds her including her closest friend and best man beside her.
Then my friend Lori steels herself, stands with pride and determination to give tribute to her mother. 

She looks out at us, standing with such poise and sureness, speaking with such love and admiration.

I see in my friend the wonderful woman she is, and I see in her some of what she learned from her mother – the gifts of honest humor, true compassion, unshakeable tenacity, and love that knows no bounds.

I am so proud to be a part of their lives, my son and I were adopted and loved as well as any member of the family.

And in my heart I see Gertie with Joe now, sharing Jelly Bellies.

How amazing is that to read? As I've mentioned time and time again, friends are the family you choose and I clearly have chosen well to have a woman such as Joni in my life. Thank you my dear friend and thank you again to all my friends. I could not have walked this journey without you all by my side.

A shout out to Family & Nursing Care

This post is a personal review of the exquisite personnel employed by the agency Family & Nursing Care. I hired a lot of home care aides over the last 5 years and had some genuinely horrible experiences with the same. One agency I worked with sent over a woman who ran from the kitchen when she cracked an egg with a double yolk. Evidently, a double yolked egg is an omen of the devil in some cultures (who the heck knew THAT?). It was this one time that cracked the camel's back - I quite my job to stay home with Mom knowing full well that, with no training at all, I could care for her better than a paid worker of this caliber.

That is, until I found the company Family & Nursing Care, operating in MD and DC. Unlike other agencies, Family & Nursing Care has a different pay scale which is much fairer. The workers actually pay the company a commission for finding the job so the home care aides retain more of the money. The result is an employee base which far exceeds any other in quality (other agencies I worked with paid the employees less than 1/3 of what Mom was paying for care - no wonder we weren't getting quality workers).

I had a few different home care workers through Family & Nursing Care. First, Rebecca spent the nights at Asbury while Mom was there in rehab. The aides are not allowed to sleep at night so poor Rebecca spent the nights sweltering in Mom's room in a chair which was wholly uncomfortable - I know of what I type as I spent the days in that same chair. But, with Rebecca on duty at night, I could rest assured that Mom's needs were tended to.

When we first came home after rehab, Carina and I resumed our regular duties. She was on during the day and I was on at night. That is, until the duties became more strenuous and then we had to "double team." This meant that I had to make sure there were 2 of us at the house at all times. So, I went back to Family & Nursing Care for help and help they did. They sent a worker over that very night (Grace) who was every bit as good and caring as Rebecca was. Grace was kind enough to thank me for giving Mom the level of care and love which I thought she so richly deserved. Grace said it was a pleasure to work with us - how sweet. But, Grace had another assignment, and I was leery of having to "break in" another home care aide as it's almost easier to do the work yourself rather than retrain anyone. Little did I realize that I was the one in training. Each home care aide patiently taught me some sort of new skill - I became efficient at changing the sheets of a bedridden Mom by myself (well, mostly - Mom was still able to roll to one side mostly on her own). I learned how to make sure Mom was in the right position at night for the most peaceful rest. I discovered ways to ensure her safety when I was out of the room for even a moment. I learned how to give a bed bath and change her with virtually no effort on her part. All of this is thanks to the home care aides excellent instruction.

The last home care worker I had from Family & Nursing Care became a part of our family - that was dear Elizabeth. With her South American accent, Elizabeth would teach me more than I thought possible. She showed me how to gently moisten Mom's mouth for comfort, how to prop pillows around Mom so that she's rest easier and not hit the bars in the hospital bed with her arms (causing painful bruises), and how to put on a happier face around Mom. The dying don't need to see a bunch of tears although that obviously can't always be helped.

Elizabeth went so far out of her way to help me learn these skills that it's impossible for me to thank her. I do though consider her a friend forever. She stayed late the morning Mom died to help Mike, Sharyn and me with the transition. She held our hands, she prayed with us, and she timed Mom's last breath and gave a quiet nod which said it all. I am so very grateful to have had her by our side.

If you need an agency, I can 100% vouch for Family & Nursing Care. Please use them instead of anyone else. They truly stand out from the crowd. And, when you're in the position that we were in, that's exactly what you need.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

After much thought...

I've decided to retire this blog. I just feel like it's the right thing to do now that Mom is gone. I will have a few more posts though before I officially sign off so stay tuned.

Here's Mom's obituary:

She is, indeed, greatly missed. I've mentioned to a few people that I feel a bit like a lion who has lived in captivity for a long time. The door to the cage may be open but I forget that I can walk through. I still seem to think I have to be home at 5 pm to relieve caregivers, I still wait for the phone to ring to coordinate schedules. In fact, when John and I were out of town recently for 3 nights, my phone didn't ring once. The silence was deafening.

John and I were recently talking about taking a 9 day cruise. My immediate reaction was "I can't leave for that long" and, the minute the words entered my mind, I remembered that I now can. It was a bittersweet moment.

I have, though, been getting on with life. I cleaned Mom's closet - good quality nightgowns and robes are going to a senior citizen home in Brazil where they have next to nothing, new items (tags attached) are going to some of my friend's Moms, and a few items will remain here with me. I have to do the room in pieces though as it can be a bit overwhelming to do it all at once. Her presence is still felt everywhere as I hope it will remain for a long while.

I am also in deep awe of the support my friends, both near and far, have given me. For an example, just this morning, I've been sitting and reading the volumes of comments on one of my last articles Death and Dying - dealing with the restless patient.  Just read some of the comments (hit the "more comments" button at the bottom to load another page). I know my Mom would be proud of these types of writings and I always read the comments to her, even as she lay dying.

My friends have been instrumental in keeping me sane these last weeks, and the acts of kindness I've seen are amazing. One of my online friends, ChrissJ, challenged other Squidoo writers to promote my articles while I was on hiatus. How very sweet that was. And, as a thank you to my closest online friends, can I ask that you visit their profiles and select a few articles to comment upon? Here's some of them (more will be posted later):

ChrissLJ (Chriss Jones)
Peggy Hazelwood (ScarletOhairy)
Virginia Allain (Vallain) 
Nancy Carol Harding
Joan Haines (MiddleSister)
Kathryn Yount Aqua (Frischy)
Mark Goodwin (Zut_Moon)
Beaucee Panz (BossyPants)
Joyce Mann
Carolyn Martin  (AlleyCatLane)
VeryIrie (Pam Irie)
Priscilla Benfield (PriscillaB)

As I mentioned, I will be adding more names in future postings prior to retiring Gertie's Galavants.

As to my physical friends, they're the most wonderful group of people I could ever have chosen. Friends are, after all, the family we get to choose, and I just couldn't have done any better. The day Mom died, I came home to find the hospital bed out of the living room (it had already been picked up), my dear friends had already rearranged the living room into a very nice seating area and everything was sparkling clean due to Carina, Joni, Bobbi and Sharyn's attention and true love. Sharyn et al handled all of the vendors picking up oxygen equipment, the other hospital bed, commode, etc. I didn't have to deal with any of that stuff. What a burden off my back.

I hope that all of my friends realize that I will repay the honor of their friendship any time they need me. As I'm the last year of the baby boomers, my friend's parents are aging and some of my friends will be faced with the caregiving role. I hope to be able to pitch in and help them learn how to deal with this challenging role with good humor and grace and give their patients dignity in their last years. That will, hopefully, be a legacy I pass on. My momma taught me well. She guided me every single step of the way. I could not have hoped to care for a more compassionate, gentle souled lady. Up to the very end, she wanted to lessen my burden and would do anything I asked her to do - sometimes even painful things as help me turn her to her side. She never shed a tear and only spent quiet moments staring deep into my eyes. I felt her love and still do.

 I have more pictures that I haven't even seen yet - haven't downloaded them from my digital camera but I know I have some beautiful pics of my Mom during the times she rallied. So, stay tuned. There will be more to come before my final chapter is through.

Much love to all of my friends, near and far and to all of my readers. Your presence has made all the difference in the world. I love you all very very much. Lori

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

At peace, finally

Mom passed away at 7:11 this morning - a very fitting moment as we're gamblers over here. She went quite peacefully in her sleep.

Still in a holding pattern...

Well, Steph's birthday (Feb 12th) came and went, Valentine's Day (14th) came and went and here we are on the 15th. Mom is mostly comatose at the moment and I think we're in the last phase as her breathing pattern has changed. She's in no pain but it is difficult to watch her grasp for breath. Hospice did a great job of preparing us for this stage - it's much worse on the family than it is on her. I just medicated her to hopefully ease the breathing.

The human soul is amazing though. She'll go when she goes. I just pray that she remains in no pain.

Monday, February 13, 2012

She's one strong cookie

Mom continues to weeble but she's not falling down! In fact, she gave us quite a gift last night when she awoke from a very long nap totally lucid. She knew all of us in the room and even looked at brother Mike and said "Hi, Sweetheart." How very nice. Truly a gift I will always remember. She ate a few cheerios, had a sip of brandy which was shared by all around the bed and then went back into the twilight.

Friends Robin, Bill and Jeff spent yesterday afternoon with us so that was a nice diversion. Linda brought dinner again which was, as always, welcomed and very very tasty. John and I have mostly rebounded from the flu.

Thankfully, Mom has absolutely no pain and what a blessing that is. She continues to weaken but that's ok - as she put it when Dad died: These things happen. She's surrounded by love, some laughter, and a bunch of dogs who periodically sit on her lap.

I've had caregivers at night which is another huge blessing. I did this so long on my own that I really didn't realize the level of exhaustion until it's no longer there. I'm feeling peppier, although I got up at 3:30 this morning to check her and have been up since writing. Just got the urge. Here's the article I wrote:

Preparing for the death of a loved one

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stephanie's birthday - Feb 12th

My 36 year old sister died December 3, 1989 in a one car auto crash. It was an incredibly tough time on our family, most notably, on my Dad who Steph always relied upon. It was during this time that I first saw the strength of character in my Mom, Gertie.

I'm sort of hoping that Mom holds out until Sunday so that she can go join Dad and Steph on what would have been my sister's 59th birthday. Part of me hopes so but part of me just wants her to go in peace whenever.

It is now, as she lies in her hospital bed in my living room, facing the last moments on earth that I see that strength of character again. Hospice workers are amazed that she's still here with us but I'm not. I've seen that strength many many times during the past 5 years that I've been her caregiver. She's taught me many important lessons and we've shared many good times and laughter. We've known the warm love surrounding us from friends and family - my online friend have been an incredible support system to us both as I read their words of love or encouragement to her.

Here's my latest and probably last article for a while: Death and Dying - dealing with the restless patient.

 Mom is waning so I doubt I'll have much time to write. I will try to update the blog though. The picture above is Mom with Bobbi's grandson (I call him Squared) - they have a special connection. My connection with Mom can be seen below:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gertie-isms - still funny

Mom was lying in bed yesterday, Sharyn and I were in the room. Mom sits straight up in bed and says "Gertie is white!" Well, you know, we just cracked up. She looked at us again and said "Gertie is white!" Sent Sharyn and I over the edge of the abyss into deeper laughter and Mom was smiling too. She was, of course, just smiling at us laughing but it was funny.

Later, Sonia, our wonderful hospice nurse came by to check Mom out (btw, her blood pressure is way better than mine...). Sonia mentioned that, at this stage of life, Mom is awake but might be dreaming inside so her words might not come out as an awake persons would (depending on how much vodka they'd imbibed). So, what she says is not what she means. Which is where I come into play. Being the one who knows her so well, I can generally (important word: generally) guess at what she wants or needs. But, it does lend for some interesting conversation.

Sonia also mentioned that Mom might get agitated by being touched too much. I've noticed this when others have visited and tried to warn them but to no avail. At this stage, she can't process as much outside stimulation - she might yell to turn off the TV or to stop talking. Similar to when a cat will turn and bite the hand that is petting it, Mom is overstimulated in certain situations so my job now is going to be to make sure I read the signs right and protect her from this. This caregiving gig is getting more and more interesting. I sure have learned a lot. I just went back through and updated this article with more information that I've gleaned:

When death looms - the signs and symptoms of the last moments on earth

I personally think everybody should read it and know this information. It's much easier to be more compassionate and kind when you realize that aggression or withdrawal is not directed at any one person. It is, very simply, part of the process.

Here's the companion article if you haven't read it:

The long goodbye - when your job as a caregiver is ending

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Superbowl Sunday... noon and Mom is having a cream sherry. Yep, that's right. It's not exactly her breakfast but it's what she wanted afterward so it's what she got. She ate pretty good yesterday and had 1/2 piece of french toast and some yogurt so far today. I, for one, feel a little better when she eats something.

I managed to eek out another Squidoo article today - this one came out to be pretty funny. Here tis:

Senior Citizen Flash Mobs

And this one just needs some views. I'm trying to keep it in the top tier (top 2000 articles on Squidoo) because the payout is around $60/month if I keep it there. So, please share!

Taking the elderly on a cruise

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fresh as a very old daisy

Hospice workers are just amazing. Watching the latest Hospice worker bathe Mom in bed was just like watching a ballet. It was obvious that the woman had rehearsed the moves time and time again and worked very hard at preserving Mom's dignity - which she did. Mom even had her hair washed while lying down (I see a Squidoo article coming). I'm just constantly amazed at the process.

Mom didn't eat much yesterday so she's weak this morning but I think she'll make up for it today. She's already had most of a full cup of coffee and oatmeal.

It's really heartwarming to see Mom's face light up when John comes in the room. She always reaches up with her hand to draw him close for a kiss. Sharyn noted that she does this with men only - I think Sharyn's right. Mom is a flirt any way you look at it. I asked Mom if she was in love with John and her reply was a weak "I'll never tell." Very cute indeed.

I've been blessed with yet another wonderful homecare worker, Elizabeth, who has been spelling me over night. With her help, and that of Doris (another great homecare worker), I've been able to sleep mostly through the night - a huge gift for any caregiver. I'm very very grateful to their support through this time.

Carina and Sharyn are here today so John and I are headed to DC for the day. We rarely have visited the city in the last 4 years so we're overdue. Adam's Morgan is on the menu today - a unique little neighborhood outside DC. There's very interesting restaurants and stores in the area. Since it will be 50 degrees today (what happened to my winter?!), it's convertible weather so even the ride will be nice.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

There's one good thing about being bed bound...

..At least to Rita. More time in Mom's arms. When Rita was recovering from eye surgery last year, there was nowhere she'd rather be but in Mom's arms. Mom held her 8 hours a day. It was the cutest thing. And, I caught her there again this morning.

Mom continues to rally and ebb throughout the day and night. She periodically tries to "make a break for it". I just saw her trying and asked her what she was doing. "Hanging out" was the answer. Cute. She's still on the chocolate milk binge and is at the bottom of her second bottle right now. Off we go to make a chocolate milk run.

John and I took the opportunity (with Mike and Sharyn and Carina at the house) yesterday to head to Annapolis where we had a beautiful day walking around in the 70 degree weather. The convertible was a great ride and much laughter was had to and fro. A great time was had.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Update finally

Those of my readers who have been checking in on Gertie's Galavants blog might be wondering about my rather long hiatus from writing this time. I've taken breaks before but never 2 months. Life has just changed significantly over here during the last two months but I will give an update today.

First off, Mom is still fine although we're coming to the end of the road. Her rehab from her broken hip went very well and she rapidly gained strength. She and I were delighted to get her home in December and she was, if not back to 100%, back to walking a bit between the kitchen and the living room where I had her bed set up. In fact, she was doing so well that I moved the bed back upstairs into her bedroom. I had plenty of friends dropping by and we even took a few trips out to lunch with Carina and Sharyn.

On January 24th though, she started to feel differently. Sharyn and I had been out for the day while Carina stayed with her. When we returned, she was very weak and slumped over in her chair, laboring for breath. Interestingly, she'd been fine earlier in the day but, when we returned, it was a very rapid decline in status.

I called hospice and the nurse came out immediately - she thought that we were coming to the end so I called Ron and Mike. But, as is typical of my Mom, she has rallied- sort of. Mike flew in the next day and has been instrumental in keeping me sane as we watch her come and go. She's still lucid and not in any sort of pain at all which is a total blessing.

Hospice instructed me to change her medications to comfort meds only. This meant that I was to hold everything except one blood pressure pill and a pill which helps with breathing. We added in morphine which actually helps relieve strained breathing and a "feel good" drug which relieves anxiety.

The hardest thing in the world for me though was to hold the Megace medication which increased her appetite. I'm a feeder. I was raised that way and that's who I am. My mom never failed to put together a tray of cheese and crackers when company dropped by and I have adopted the same attitude.

It was really very difficult for me to hold this medication while knowing that Mom would not eat nearly as well and would eventually weaken. I talked this decision over with my brothers, and we were all uneasy with this. I spoke again with hospice and got a new perspective.

As we age, our bodies slow in all ways. Food is digested much more slowly which is why the elderly might not be hungry as often as younger people. By giving Megace, Mom's appetite would out run her ability to digest food and would, in fact, make her feel bloated. So, at that point, Megace would not be a "comfort med" and would make her feel worse. Once I saw the whole picture, I got it.

This doesn't mean that I've stopped feeding though. John and I found a chocolate milk that she's wild about. It comes in the old fashioned glass bottle and we've had a few nice discussions about memories of having milk men deliver fresh eggs, bread and milk daily. She drank a whole bottle in two days so I sent Mike and Sharyn off yesterday in search of more which they found.

So, that's pretty much where we are. I can't say enough about the wonderful hospice workers we have coming in daily. Mom receives baths in bed 5 days a week (I premedicate her as she's still a fighter...), a nurse is here every day and, of course, I have the best friends and family in the world. Andi and Howie stopped by a few days ago and spent the whole day with us. What a nice time that was.

Although this is a sad time, it's also a very interesting and amazing time. Mom's rally moments are quite amazing. And, even her down times are sort of amusing - if you keep your sense of humor which, thankfully, I inherited from her.

For instance, here's a typical morning:

Set the stage - 4 am, I'm on the sofa watching her, watching tv. She sits straight up in bed and says "Good Morning, Sweetheart! COFFEE!"

Me: You want coffee now??
Mom: Yes (with rising intensity): COFFEE!!!!
Me: Ok, I'll be right back. I go to the kitchen and make her a cup of fresh coffee. This takes approximately 3 minutes, round trip.
I enter the living room with a steaming cup of coffee.
Mom: Jesus Christ! Where have you been?!
Me: I went to the kitchen to make you coffee. I've been gone 3 minutes!
Mom: Thank God! I haven't had coffee in days!

Short term memory loss is an amazing thing. Now, to get the full impact of this situation, you have to understand that the exact conversation (minus the time of 4 am and the Good Morning, Sweetheart..) goes on about 4 times a day. She forgets I was around at all until I reenter the room. Never fails to crack me up.

So, that is the up to date story. I will start new blog entries with a status update and then try to write as I normally would. I really haven't been writing a lot lately - just haven't felt like it. I was honored though the other day to find one of my articles selected as lens of the day on Squidoo. Here's the one that hit that high honor (note, there are over 2 million articles on Squidoo):

Taking a Cruse with the elderly

And, here's a few other articles that I've managed to squeak out:

Practical gifts for the very elderly
Things I promised my mom I'd never do
Making Valentine's Day special for a senior citizen

And, the one article that was the hardest to write:
The long goodbye, when your job as a caregiver is coming to an end

So, that is that. I'll update as often as I can. And, you can look forward to the following blog posts:

Mom's 95th birthday party
John's new boat and my trip into the Chesapeake Bay's 38 degree water