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 … my91yearoldmom.com. 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.

Bolt from the Blue

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Splash of Blue

Topped Off with a Splash of Blue

Melissa: Hey Helen, Tom‘s on his way back from the Eastern Shore. He went fishing this weekend, so I wanted to come over and wish you a happy Mother’s Day! (Pause) Helen, who is Tom?

Mom: Who?

Melissa: Tom.

Mom: He’s that boy who loves me.

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”  Thomas Merton

Heavenly Message From Our Earth Angel

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Our very own Earth Angel

Two nights ago my mobile device let me know, in no uncertain terms, that it had received a message on my behalf. My first reaction was to be mad at who messaged me, and my second was to be mad at myself because I hadn’t put my message signal on mute. Damn the world and damn me!

Melissa and I had rushed home after a visit next door with mom and her live-in caregiver, Carolyn, aka our earth angel. We were eating a quick fix dinner in front of the TV because “The Voice” was on. And, we really love that show. I repeat, we really love that show. In fact, we tell our clients, students and everyone in our friendship circle that they can call us anytime day or night … except the nights that “The Voice” is doing its thing. That is a nonnegotiable-no-no, plain and simple.

But, when I saw the message was from Carolyn, I immediately focused on it. Even though Carolyn and mom were right next door, I knew I had to read the message. You never know what it could be, so your whole body goes on high alert.

So, with “The Voice” in the background, here was the message tree as it unfolded:

Our Earth Angel: What a nice visit tonight! It’s amazing to see the impact you have on your mother. The human spirit … wild!

Have a good night.

Mortal Me: Now you’ve done it, Carolyn … your kind message has my tear ducts working overtime. 

How do you expect me to watch “The Voice” with massive tears in my eyes?

BTW, from now on, if it’s not an emergency, only message me during commercials.

(Whoops … I meant to be funny, but maybe it came off as a bit harsh. I sure didn’t mean to ruffle any feathers. I better message back quickly.)

Mortal Me: By the way, you will never know just how much your message means to me.

(Oh, my God, yes you will. You are an angel. You know everything about our family and more.)

Thank you, thank you, thank you … and most of all thank you for being you! Like I said, you are an angel … our genuine, one-of-a-kind, Earth Angel.

(Even after this message, I felt I still needed to make sure our Earth Angel knew how much we appreciated her and her original message. I only paused long enough to ask Melissa who didn’t garner enough digital votes to make the night’s final cut on The Voice. She assured me all of my favorites would live to perform another day, so all was right in my world.)

Mortal Me: OK, Carolyn … I am having second thoughts … with messages like the one that kick started this conversation, you may message or call me anytime … day or night, 24/7/365 (Yes, even if/when “The Voice” is in full swing.) Operators standing by!

(That had to do it! I was bee-lining it to the kitchen to create the world’s greatest caramel sundae for me, myself and I. I was a happy dude. Whoops … there’s the signal … another message!)

Our Earth Angel: Laugh on!

You and Melissa are a blessing to me. This arrangement has helped me to rediscover so much about myself. I was at a major crossroad last year, and now life is so much clearer. Thank you for the opportunity to care for your mother. This is truly a God Thing!

Good night.

(At this stage, I knew I didn’t need to message back. After all, she is our earth angel. She hears my heart and my soul. She cares for all of us.

All I had to do was whisper, “Good night”.)

Sun, Sun, Sun, Here It Comes

Little darling
It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter
Little darling
It feels like years that it’s been here

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I’m celebrating and commemorating my little darling’s epoch-making 95th winter almost ending and 95th spring almost beginning with two exclamation points!!

I thought about doing it with ninety-five exclamation points, but that would be a little over the top. So, I’ll just silently count ninety-five of them, point by point, as they prance and dance around in my head.

This has been one mighty long, cold winter and mom, as usual, has been a mighty warrior standing up to Old Man W.

Mom may have had the sniffles a time or two, but she never missed a day at Circle Center Adult Day Care. She has traveled by wheel chair from her home to her waiting chariot, to Circle Center and back in rain, sleet, snow, wind, and cold, cold, cold!

Did I mention cold?

She never complained, never hid under the covers, never did anything but get bundled up and go like a windup toy. How many of you can hold a hand up and count yourself as one with mom?

Mom is tough stuff. Even with a father who started his career in medicine as a horse and buggy doctor, she never took advantage of it. She never got sick.

Do I hear an exclamation?

Exclamation!

Amen!

Little darling
The smiles returning to the faces
Little darling
It seems like years since it’s been here

I smile every time I’m with my ninety-five year old little darling, because she always smiles at me first. And, when she smiles, I smile. It’s as simple as that. It can be cold as ice or hotter than hell … I know I’ll get a smile out of her, guaranteed!

For the rest of the us, spring will be heating our lips up enough to have smiles returning to our faces, but for mom, that patented smile of hers never left.

That’s ninety-five, unstoppable, smile filled years … yep, you guessed it … !

For mom being a smiling mom through thick and thin, I brought her a handpicked daffodil.

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Little darling
I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling
It seems like years since it’s been clear

No matter how promising it sounds when the Beatles sing their song, Here Comes the Sun, ice slowly melting is not nearly fast enough for me.

Today, I had to bundle up and replace a dripping outdoor water spigot (funny word) at mom’s. It was making unwanted icicles, and and adding unwanted expenses to the water bill. How cold was it? So cold that I was one of only a handful of people who braved the cold to be in a Walmart … that’s how cold (time for another exclamation)!

Two days ago, Melissa and I were hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains, experiencing spring springing up on one side of the mountain, the same time it was snowing on the other. Even the wildlife looked confused.

Tom Spring Springing Melissa Spring Springing Spring Springing Tom Melissa Snow Mountains

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
And, I say, it’s all right

Mom is still aware of the seasons. In the winter she points to trees and calls them naked. It the spring and summer, she knows they turned over a new leaf. She likes to have the window cracked just a bit when she is in the car. She loves the feel of the warm breeze.

Having spent the majority of my life in the Sunshine State of Florida, I love the sun. In fact, it was one winter, after a long career in Richmond, that was the straw that broke one frozen camel’s back and sent me packing back to Florida for seventeen years before coming full circle back to Richmond to care for my mom and sister.

Call me crazy, but I’ll take light over dark any day. And, I’ll take warm over cold the same way. The only places I really love ice are in my tea, my cocktails and when it’s cooling off a cooler full of beer.

So, again I look up to the lady who has been shorter than me for most of my life, that little stick of dynamite, my mom. My little darling, mom, is a mom for all seasons, but as for me, I’m a sunshiner!

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
And I say, it’s alright

Sunshine Daffodils

 

 

 

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