Mom’s Report Card Rocks!

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Every quarter Circle Center’s all-star caregiver team compiles a report card for each of their participants.

Mom has always gotten great reviews, but this one took my breath away!

If my report cards had looked like this, I would have brought them home more often.

Therapeutic Activities: Helen participates in the daily A.M. Exercise Group, the Sing-Along, and other Music Programs. Helen is sleeping now during the Chair Dance Group’s sensory stimulation activity.

Memory and Emotional Support: Helen continues to be quite content in her own realm at the Center, drawing upon an inner reserve of happiness and joy.

Relationships: Helen will joyfully interact with just about anyone who passes or takes a moment to engage with her, often speaking or singing in a joyful response.

Snoezelen: This controlled multi-sensory environment (MSE) is a therapy for people with autism and other developmental disabilities, dementia or brain injury. Helen participates in the program 4-5 days a week. She responds well to light touch, is observed smiling and rocking to the music.

Summation: Helen is, as always, an engaging, happy, joyful soul who rocks!

Last night, I helped tuck mom in and then I told her about her report card. I told her how proud I was of her and how much I loved her.

Her eyes were closed now. She asked me who I was.

I whispered, “Tom, mom … it’s Tom.”

She responded, “Tom Laughon! I know Tom … I love Tom.”

After a long pause she added, “I am Helen Martin (her maiden name). She is a pretty, beautiful girl.”

“Yes she is, and yes you are. I am so proud of you. And, you know what else?”


“I love you, pretty, beautiful girl … I sure do love you.”

I pulled the cover up under her chin, bent over and kissed her brow while I gently rubbed her cheek. I stayed in that position for the longest time, synchronizing our breaths until we were breathing as one.

Girls and Their Curls

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Mom was never a fan of hair salons. But she did love it when my sister, Nel, would wash, trim and roll her hair in those godawful rollers stuffed with tissue.

I never hung around for this most sacred of rituals … THE HOME PERM.

One … home perms stink to high heaven.

Two … repeat one!

Three … I never thought about escaping to another room in the house.

Four … I was too busy running for the front door … I was headed for the far side of town and praying the wind was blowing the against me.

Five … rinse and repeat one through four.

How can anything that smells that bad, and looks like it is holding your hair hostage, be good for you?

Fast forward to now, when mom’s Band of Caregiver Angels give her a perm. It is amazing! These angelic perms magically transport mom right back to those bygone days when Nel was in total control of her hair and happiness. Using curlers vs. a magic wand (which I call “joy sticks” … aka “stinky joy sticks”) the Band of Angels transform a regular day into a joyful one.

There’s no disputing that ear-to-ear smile. Mom is one happy dudette!


I love it when mom is happy. There is no pretense. There are no filters. There is just an unabashed feeling of joy that comes over her … and it is contagious for all of us who have the privilege of witnessing this magic moment.

Girls and their curls. I don’t get it. But, when all is said and done, I don’t have to get it.

It is, and will always remain one of life’s big mysteries.

All I have to do is immerse myself in the beauty of the moment … one of those moments I will cherish forever.

Five Sensing the Circle of Life

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Mom, her baby & constant companion, and to her left, going clockwise, are great granddaughters, Kenzie, Tyli and Livi.

Come, join our circle!

Whisper the following as you would a prayer or a chant …

It’s the Circle of Life

And it moves us all

Through despair and hope

Through faith and love

Till we find our place

On the path unwinding

In the Circle

The Circle of Life

– The Lion King


Mom, her baby & constant companion (I told you her baby was her constant companion) and Livi.

This time, take a few deep breaths and look deeply and reverently into the image of Livi and mom … look into their hearts.

Do you feel what I feel?

I feel the gentleness of their touch. I feel the warmth. I feel the desire to care. I feel the need to be cared for. I feel pure unadulterated  love all around.

Do you see what I see?

I see kindness that is instinctual and comes from a special place within our souls.

Do you hear what I hear?

There is no talking. I hear the breathing. The breath of life. The steady sounds slowly cast their spell … they are hypnotic and comforting.

Do you smell what I smell?

It is the purest scent of all. It is not an incense. It is innocence … the scent of a child that is and was.

Do you taste what I taste?

I savor the taste of savory. Just imagining what it taste like makes my mouth water.

The Japanese word for savory is umami … it literally means “delicious essence”.

That’s what I taste … I taste the delicious essence of life when it is lived to the fullest.

Please join us, share with friends, and for heaven’s sake, savor every second of the delicious essence of life.

We are all in this amazing Circle of Life, together.

Feel it. See it. Hear it. Smell it. Taste it.

Be brave, be kind, be caring, be grateful … enjoy.

NO BITING: Earth Angel or Me!

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Nine months ago, Carolyn flew our way … not in an airplane … don’t you know angels have their own set of wings?

We call her our high-flying Earth Angel. She has been, in so many wonderful ways, our saving grace.

The problem was that Carolyn brought Jovi, her uber faithful companion, watchdog, and protector with her.

Carolyn had convinced me of just how kind, caring and loving Jovi was, so I thought, what the heck … angels don’t lie.

Jovi and Carolyn instantly fell in love with Mom, but Jovi had a big problem. And, it turns out his big problem was me.

Jovi saw me as an intruder … make that the INTRUDER!

Since Jovi doesn’t speak people talk, he let me know how he felt with his bark and his bite.

Jovi loved biting me. Little nip, nip, nip bites. Nothing life threatening, but nip, nip, nip is not what you wake up in the morning and long for (especially in your own Mom’s home).

What was incredible was that Mom instantly fell in love with Jovi, but Mom had a big problem. And, it turns out her big problem was Carolyn.

Mom saw Carolyn as an intruder … make that the INTRUDER!

Since Mom doesn’t speak angel talk, she let Carolyn know how she felt with her bark and her bite.

Mom loved biting Carolyn. Little nip, nip, nip bites. Nothing life threatening, but nip, nip, nip is not what an angel wakes up in the morning and longs for.

So, Carolyn and I took matters into our own hands. NO BITING was our end goal.

Our plan: The instant you feel your dog’s or Mom’s teeth nip, nip, nipping you, give a high-pitched yelp. Then immediately walk away. Ignore him or her for 30 to 60 seconds. If your dog or Mom continues to try to nip, nip, nip at you, leave the room for 30 to 60 seconds. After the brief time-out, return to the room and calmly resume whatever you were doing.

If none of this works, practice the “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” tactic.

Bite me and food is off the table.

Luckily, Jovi and Mom both learned, often the hard way, NO BITING was the number one rule of engagement … period.

This took time, patience and most of all faith … but hey … I had an angel on my side.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the picture of Jovi and me, Mom and Carolyn says it all.

NO BITING rules and it is indeed heavenly around here these days … absolutely heavenly!

Thank goodness my winged warrior and I never had to put our last tactic to the test … BITE BACK.

But hey, you do what you have to do!

Do you hear me, Jovi?

Do you hear me, Mom?

Month of May: A Reflection on the Last 5 Years

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“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven …”Ecclesiastes 3 

May … Five Years Ago

Melissa and I picked up stakes, our business and our lives, and moved from Tallahassee, Florida to Richmond, Virginia.

The sole purpose was to be caregivers.  My mom, Helen, and sister, Nel lived together and were both having dementia related challenges that were getting worse by the day. We had observed this for some time, but didn’t even know where or how to help.  As time went on, we saw more and more disturbing signs when visiting, and we learned even more through conversations with friends and relatives in Richmond.

The whole rationale for moving to Richmond seemed simple at a distance. My family had always been there for me. I had to be there for them. It was the only choice I could make. And, Melissa supported that choice all the way. The challenge was we hadn’t googled “primary caregivers” to even know what our new role really meant.

After arriving in Richmond with no plan in hand, exploration, discovery and being totally overwhelmed at every turn would be the be the best way to describe it. We had dealt with hurricanes, sinkholes, alligators, sharks and other dangerous things … but nothing prepared us for this.

And, this didn’t even include being homesick for Tallahassee, where Melissa and I started our leadership development firm, Catch Your Limit, had a home, friends and the Gulf of Mexico as our playground. Did I mention we loved to fish?!

The welcome wagon was not exactly here to greet us when we arrived in Richmond.  My Mom and sister were an extremely strong, independent, self reliant duo. We had talked with them at length about our decision to move to Richmond, but the reality of us coming hadn’t sunk in (or possibly even registered with the dementia challenges) until we walked through their front door after our 12 hour drive. Nel, greeted and hugged me, and immediately said, “Hi, Tom … great to see you, when are you leaving?”

Mom had even asked someone to call Henrico County Sheriff’s Office upon seeing the moving van arrive to let them know that we were not needed or welcomed here and to have us escorted from town if necessary.  Our move was threatening to them in so many ways.  But, Mom and Nel were running out of options.

The dangers surrounding Mom and Nel’s challenges with dementia were increasing.  But, we were limited in what we could do from afar.  Below are just a few examples:

  • Once on a visit, we talked with them about driving and took away their car keys and disconnected the battery only to have “friends” step in, override our family decision and enable them to get on the roads and endanger themselves and others once more (Nel could no longer find her car when parked in the 7-11 parking lot … the 7-11 she and mom visited multiple times daily to get Big Gulp refills). And, there were lots of dents all over their car that they could not explain. No telling how many they left on other people’s cars.
  • Mom and Nel collectively refused medical attention of any sort.
  • And, in the year before we moved, Mom’s attorney had contracted with 24/7 caregivers, which was most needed, but the estate was hemorrhaging so much money that we were already having discussions about when their assets would need to be liquidated.

Only once we moved were we able to dedicate the time necessary to navigate the available resources, build a team and understand how to ask for help. Fortunately, within a couple of months, we found a doctor who would make a house call and my sister’s behavior was diagnosed as early-onset Alzheimer’s.

May … Four Years Ago

My daughters and I were grieving for Nel, she had passed away March 28th, just  a little over one month shy of turning 65 on May 10th.

One year to the day after we moved to Richmond, I started this blog … I decided to keep the domain name, and celebrate her new age and stage every Christmas Day. Yep, mom was a Christmas baby … and this coming Christmas, she will be 96.

This was my introduction to the blog …

“If you are, have or even anticipate caring for an elder parent, sign up for my blog and join me on my journey with my 91 year old mom. You’ll find laughs, tears, insights, and lessons learned (often the hard way) all along the way. One thing I promise you on this journey (that has no road maps), no two days are ever the same! So , join us … mom and I could both use some company.”

May … One Year Ago

I wrote a blog titled “Step Mom”. It was about having permanently grounded mom, but not for bad behavior, goodness no!

You will have to click on the title to read the rest of the story.

This Last Day of May 2015 … Today

Between that first May date (that seems like one part yesterday, and one part an eternity ago) and now, so many things have happened. So many lessons learned. So much still to learn.

I am grateful for my mom for continuing to be my inspiration and my teacher.

I am grateful for becoming a caregiver.

I am grateful for my entire family that supports me, even as I learn.

I am grateful to you for being a part of our journey.

I am grateful for learning so much more about life, love, caring, grief, hope, faith, sorrow, joy … to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven …

That choice Melissa and I made to move here in May, five years ago … it was the right choice … it has changed our destiny, who we are and who we will be, forever.


The Sequel: A Joyful Noise

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“Isn’t God the one who urges us to “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord”? Why do we always think that means singing? Seems to me the most obvious joyful sound on earth is laughter …” – Charles R. Swindoll

OK … Mom has a hit on her hands!

“You speak my language,” seems to be the resounding consensus from fans, followers and drop-bys alike after viewing mom’s first video, Our Secret Language.

The sequel, A Joyful Noise, was also a one-take, no-editing-needed video. And … for now … these are the two and only two videos I have of this incredible exchange between mom and me.

It may sound like babel (with a pinch of Frenglish) to some, but to me, it is mom’s and my secret language … one that somehow connects us both … in it the illusive meaning of life may be just a translation away.

No subtitles included or needed. After all, love and laughter are the universal language.

Our Secret Language

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I will never know why or how this crazy idea came to me.

I had just started shooting video with my smartphone, and boom, here is the one-take result. No, I don’t know how to edit, but I do know how to hold a pretty steady camera and keep it rolling when all I wanted to do was laugh.

Grab a handful of popcorn and take a look. Don’t worry, you won’t need subtitles. Just go with flow and enjoy this shorter-than-short take on what is pure fun, and pure mom.


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