Tag Archives: Family

I Confess…I Can’t Do It All.

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It finally happened.  I knew it would some day.   I just didn’t know when.  After five years as my dad’s PFC (primary family caregiver), and fifteen years as the unknowing understudy to my superhuman mother, I had the Mother Of All Meltdowns, which I shall lovingly call MOAM because the word meltdown is unflattering for anyone older than two.

My MOAM included the usual suspects: deep seeded rage, self-pity and worst of all envy.  Envy for all the real or what I perceived to be real — therefore making it real in my crazy mind — free time my sisters have to frolic through life, watching movies, meeting friends, reading books, taking vacations, living lives centered around their needs and wants!  Yes, I know this sounds juvenile, petty, and darn right horrible.  And, I’m not delusional.  I know they aren’t living these idealized lives.  They are busy like every other person on this planet.  And, to be honest, I almost didn’t write about my MOAM since 99.99% of the time I find helping my dad to be the most rewarding part of my life.  I know that my father’s stable health and happiness, at 93 years of age, is a direct result of my actions, combined with his good fortune in the genetic lottery, and his optimistic outlook on life.

At first I attributed my MOAM to going back to work full-time and getting the stomach flu while my husband — who NEVER travels — was out-of-town for almost two weeks.  But, in reality my MOAM was slowly brewing for the past year and I ignored all the warning signs…exhaustion, sleepless nights wondering how to juggle everything for everybody, resentment toward my siblings for not helping, though I never asked for help.

Then one day, I let it rip!!!  And the unsuspecting victim was my sweet sister who, like they say in crime movies, happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.  With the innocent words, “Hi…how are you?” I unleashed my MOAM.  “How am I?  You really want to know, how I am?  I’m done!  I’m exhausted!  I can’t do it anymore.  I’ve had it.  I do it ALL!  It’s your turn!”  There were a few more declarations made during my MOAM but you get the point.  I give my sister credit, she switched on her calm maternal voice, the kind preschool teachers use to reason with toddlers before timeout is issued.  Then the words, I so wanted to hear came over the phone, “How can I help you?”  That’s all I wanted to hear, how could someone help me.

It’s been a few months since my MOAM forced me to ask for help and admit I couldn’t do it all.  I’m happy to report that things have greatly improved.  My sister visits once a month to take care of my weekend tasks and spend time with my dad.  Knowing I have a free weekend is like knowing you have a vacation in the horizon…something to look forward to when things are crazy.  My husband takes my dad for his monthly haircut (it’s their guy thing) and continues to help in countless other ways.  After five years in assisted living, my dad finally used their car service to go to the dentist on his own.  Delegating has freed up my time and also gives my dad an opportunity to spend time with other people, which is good for both of us.  Plus, my dad has more independence, which is a good thing and something I should take advantage of as long as I can.

I see this post as a public service announcement.  If you are the primary family caregiver ask for help before you burnout and have a meltdown.  If you are lucky enough to have a sibling who is the primary family caregiver, volunteer to help before the shit hits the fans and your kind and capable sibling meltdown and you are left to mop of the mess.

Celebrate Keiro-no-Hi

Today is a national holiday in Japan called Keiro-no-Hi (pronounced kay-row-no-hee), which means Respect-for-the Aged Day.  It is a day to thank the elderly for their contribution to society and celebrate their longevity.  In Japan, families celebrate with dinner; communities deliver bento boxes to elders in the neighborhood and school children host performances.

It’s a shame that we don’t celebrate Respect-for-the-Aged Day in the U.S. yet.  If I could jump on my soapbox for one minute, I would shout, “stop, listen and learn from the elders around you.”

I’ve met many fascinating elders at the assisted living community where my dad lives.  Just last week, I attended an hour and a half presentation from Mr. Gray about his six-week trip to Alaska.  His presentation was on par with a National Geographic special with beautiful photos, facts, stats and history mixed in with his personal stories.  And, Mr. Gray wasn’t on some fancy senior cruise to Alaska.  He drove by himself from Marin to Seattle (about 1,000 miles), and then traveled by ferry for three days, to reach his destination where he camped and fished with his sons.  Mr. Gray is in his late 80’s and is a role model.  He’s active and embraces life.  If I didn’t take the time to get to know him, it would truly be my loss.

So even though we aren’t in Japan, let’s celebrate Respect-for-the-Aged Day.  Take a few minutes to call your folks, bring an elderly neighbor a sweet treat or just say hello to someone older and wiser.

Six Minutes That Will Change Your (end of) Life

I travel in a circle of women just like me…childless caregivers.

One question that comes up during our conversations is, who will take care of us when we grow old?  We’ve devoted countless hours to the care of our parents, knowing there is no one waiting in the wings to return the favor.  We hope our spouse will be there but we’ve seen reality.   One of us will pass away first.

To all my friends, regardless if you have children or not, watch this six-minute TED Talk by Judy MacDonald Johnston and visit her website Good [End Of] Life.  She shares information on how to plan for a good end of life, on your terms, based on her experience caring for an elderly couple.  She is informative, inspiring, practical and her website has five worksheets to help you plan for the inevitable.

Father’s Day Gifts for Older Dads

I have a confession…I’m really bad at remembering important dates and I don’t mean the complicated ones — like important dates in history or personal milestones.  I mean common dates like birthdays, anniversaries and major holidays.  I’ve had this genetic glitch, as I like to call it, all my life.

But, there are two dates that I always remember and actually make plans to celebrate.  One date is my dad’s birthday, which is akin to a national holiday around my house.  My husband and I take the day off to spend with him.  And, once he turned 89, I upped the ante and started planning events for his birthday: a party for thirty people for his 89th, a tour of AT&T Park (home of the San Francisco Giant’s) for his 90th and a family dinner for his 91st.  To me, it is the simple act of saying: you are important, let’s celebrate together.

The other date I always remember is Father’s Day, which is quickly approaching next Sunday, June 16th.  As my dad got older, it was harder and harder to pick the perfect gift.  So about ten years ago, my husband and I started taking him to Vegas in lieu of gifts for this birthday, Father’s Day and Christmas.  The flight is only an hour; we go off-season, so it’s less crowded (if there is such a thing in Vegas) and less expensive.  Most importantly we spend three days together and have fun.

If your dad is older and no longer plays golf, lights up the BBQ or wears a tie to work, here are some gift suggestions:

  • BBQ for Dad: Enjoy a meal with your dad and take over as head chef.
  • Home Repair: Offer to do something around your dad’s house that your dad can no longer do, such as gardening or home repairs.
  • Play Tourist Together: My dad is a native San Franciscan but he’s never been to Alcatraz or driven down Lombard Street – the crookedest street in San Francisco.  We are planning to do these things this summer.  I’m sure there are sights your dad hasn’t seen in his hometown.
  • Cheer on Your Dad’s Team Together: Take your dad to watch his favorite sports team.
  • Car Detailing: My dad loved his car and as he got older it was harder to wash and wax it.  So one year, I got his car professionally detailed and it actually stayed clean for several years.
  • TV Ears: If your dad is hard of hearing, and everyone on his street knows what he’s watching on TV, this is the perfect gift.  TV Ears are a wireless headset that are comfortable to wear and have great sound.  Tip: buy the extra TV Ear Tips so your dad can change the pads every few months. (www.tvears.com)
  • Clothing: If you buy dad clothes, think about whether he can button buttons or raise his arms high enough to pull that cardigan over his head.
  • Cards: Everyone loves getting mail.

Whatever gift you pick, I’m sure your dad will be happy…that’s what dad’s do.

A Mother’s Day Memorial

My path to becoming Warren’s Daughter (the one responsible for my sweet nonagenarian dad) officially happened when my mother died suddenly.  Now, almost three years later, it’s the strangest feeling watching everyone celebrate a holiday that I can no longer participate in.

The irony is that my mother didn’t even like celebrating this holiday or for that matter any holiday, even her birthday.  She was the least sentimental person I know and when asked how we should celebrate a special occasion would say, “what’s all the fuss, it’s just another day.”  The best words to describe my mother are tough, tireless and ambitious and until the doctor told us she was dying of cancer with less than a week to live, I thought she was invincible.

My mother had a hard life that I will never truly understand since she refused to discuss it.  Every so often, I would get up the courage to ask about her youth only to be told, “that was the past” and the conversation would quietly end.  I could write an entire book on the subject of the Japanese internment but I will keep it brief.  My mother was one of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry relocated to assembly centers and then internment camps during World War II for fear of being a threat to US military security.  At the start of the war, my mother was 17 years old, a US citizen and living in San Francisco with her family.  The photo below was taken by Dorothea Lange (documentary photographer who chronicled the internment among other historical events) and includes a glimpse of my mother (behind the man with the hat) as she prepared to board the bus to Tanforan Assembly Center.  She looks so calm and beautiful and oh how I wonder what she was thinking.

Evacuation to Tanforan Assembly Center (Source: UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library)

Evacuation to Tanforan Assembly Center (Source: UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library)

From what I’ve read, my mother and her fellow evacuees lived like the horses, which once called Tanforan Racetrack home before it became an assembly center.  The horse stalls became housing, hay became filling for mattresses and the unsanitary conditions suitable for horses became reality for about 7,000 people of Japanese ancestry.  After five months at the assembly center my mother and the other evacuees were sent to the Topaz internment camp in Delta, Utah.  Topaz (one of ten internment camps) was located in the remote Utah desert, where temperatures ranged from a high of 110 degrees to below freezing in the winter.  Guard towers dotted the landscape, along with rattlesnakes and scorpions.

Tanforan Assembly Center - Housing

Tanforan Assembly Center – Housing

My mother left the internment camp shortly after arriving to work as a maid in Detroit.  After the war ended she eventually returned to San Francisco and began a new life, which included marriage, motherhood and jobs as a beautician, florist, assembly line worker at a canning factory and keypunch operator among others.  She was industrious like many people of her generation.  Even in her 80’s she asked my husband to teach her how to use a computer and started learning how to drive again at the age of 84.

Knowing about my mother’s past I understand why she was who she was.  And, I marvel at her resiliency instead of wishing she was someone she wasn’t.  After my mother’s death my two sisters and I began the process of preparing our family home for sale.  The first step was to take all the keepsake items.  I’m sure my sisters thought I was crazy.  I had no interest in furniture, china, silverware or the few pieces of jewelry she had.  One of the few things I took was a piece of pink paper that hung nonchalantly on my mother’s kitchen corkboard next to reminder cards for doctor’s appointments, grocery store coupons and their old rotary phone.

What Is LifeThis pink slip of paper was from her senior center newsletter.  Without my mother ever uttering these words, I truly know this is how she saw life and how she wanted her children to live.  We never had a memorial service for my mother since she didn’t want a fuss.  So dear mother, this is my tribute to you on this Mother’s Day and how I will always remember you.

How Baseball Led to a New Friendship at 89

The most joyous time of the year is here!  And, it’s not Christmas.  It’s the start of baseball season. My dad has been a Giants’ fan since the team arrived in San Francisco in 1958.  And, baseball is more than 162 games played between April to September and hopefully all the way to the postseason (fingers and toes crossed).  For my dad, baseball has been the link to the most wonderful friendship, community, family connections and a lifetime of learning.

  • Friendship:  My dad met Len, who would become one of his best friends, on July 6th of 2010 at the age of 89.  Len lived directly across the hall from my dad’s room.  And, as fate would have it, the day my dad moved in I found out that Len was the father of friends of friends.  And, even better, he was lifelong Giants fan, a native San Franciscan, funny and kind.  They became instant best friends.  Len showed my dad the ropes, introduced him to new people and helped him transition to his new life in assisted living after my mother passed away.  For more than a year and a half my dad ate breakfast, lunch and dinner with Len.  Depending on when the game was, their conversation was either post-game wrap-up or pre-game preparation.  The joy they shared watching the Giants’ win the 2010 World Series and seeing the victory parade is priceless.  Sadly, Len passed away in Spring of 2012 and at the gathering to celebrate his life everyone sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”.
Assisted Living Activity Board - Orange Friday Schedule

Assisted Living Activity Board – Orange Friday Schedule

  • Community:  Just as baseball fans form a community, my dad’s fellow residents rally around the Giants.  Just yesterday, I saw the above notice on their activity bulletin board announcing the schedule for Orange Friday where residents breakout their orange clothes and Giants’ gear to show support!
Baseball Season Essentials

Baseball Season Essentials

  • Lifetime of Learning:  I believe my dad’s passion for baseball keeps his mind sharp.  He reads the San Francisco Chronicle including the sports page.  He knows what time the game is coming on, what channel it will air on, which team the Giants will play, what city they will play in, who’s pitching, what the score is and other stats of the game.  He has his 2013 Media Guide filled with every fact imaginable and reads up on the players.
  • Family:  My dad has passed on his love of baseball to me.  I love watching the game with him.  And, to celebrate my dad’s 90th birthday our entire family (my sister, our spouses and kids) all took a tour of AT&T Park where the Giants play.  It was a magical day full of memories for everyone.  We had the most amazing tour guide who let my dad sit in the dugout, see the visitors’ clubhouse and press room.  Over the years, I’ve learned the most important things in life are the experiences we have and the memories we share.

Go Giants!  Another World Series would make a great memory.  (I couldn’t resist.)