Tag Archives: care giving

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.

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?

Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You

mom bites blog picMY MOM BITES.

And, she throws a mean left hook. Oh, and while I’m at it, I might as well share the bark part. She barks out words I never, ever heard her say in my entire life (my worst fear is that she may have picked them up from me).

There, I’ve said it … my mom is my little stick of dynamite and should come equipped with a warning sign.

I’ve been told it’s the disease. I have been told it is a primal place she goes when she feels threatened, agitated or confused. I have even been told she has a mean streak. Dementia, old age, constipation, the next stage, whatever … warning, warning, warning.

Now, before you go back and reread all of my blogs and say they were a cover up, or made up, or not on the up and up, please know they are all true. But, so are the things I am describing in this blog.

Mom in a Blanket

Shhh! Let sleeping moms lie.

Most of the time mom is indeed a joyful person. Most of the time she is cooperative and appreciative of those of us who are lending her a hand. Most of the time she lulls you into believing it’s going to be all of the time, but it’s not … and the change, more often than not, occurs without warning.

People who care for my mom love her.

People who care for my mom are wary of her (remember that mean left hook).

And, I am by no means the only one experiencing all of the above. I have friends who I met in the Circle Center Adult Day Care support group who are also primary caregivers for a loved one, At times, my friends look more challenged than who they’re caring for.

No one I have ever known looks forward to waking up in the morning (or middle of the night) to be bitten, hit, or barked at … especially by someone you love.

And yet, when caregivers share their stories with each other, they/we always express that we feel guilty for the way we feel. Or, feeling it must be something we’re doing (or not doing) to provoke the behaviors we’re on the receiving end of.

So, we just take it.

TOM’S WARNING: Caregiving is not for the weak of heart. You must be damn tall to ride this ride.


It takes courage.

It takes willpower.

It takes conviction.

It takes love.

And, if you are not careful, it takes you out.

Word to the wise: TAKE CARE!

Never forget, caregiving is a give and take proposition.

The problem is, we give so much, we forget the mission critical importance of the take part.

Caring for yourself and letting others care for you are the keys to your sustainability.

This is not a sprint … it is not even a marathon … it is a run for your life!


Take time outs.

Take time for yourself.

Take memories.

Take a cry.

Take a laugh.

Take hugs.

Take a hot bubble bath … make a that a double.

Take help from yourself.

Take help from others.

Take care whenever and wherever you can get it and never feel guilty or unworthy.

Take guilt and the feeling of unworthiness and throw them away.

Take pride in what you are accomplishing and applaud the courage it often takes to meet the ever changing, always rearranging needs of your loved one.

Take whatever it takes to protect your individuality and your right to make a life for yourself.

Never forget … caregiving is a give and take proposition. If you do forget, it will come back to bite you.

For every give you give, make sure you take a take.

We’ve all heard the familiar mantra of the airline flight attendants during their pre-flight instructions, “…make sure to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before attempting to help someone else put on theirs.”

The question is, are you are listening?

Make this your mantra!


Serenity Prayer

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and (the) wisdom to know the difference.”










Hysterical Historical Holiday Solution

Guest blog by my wife, Melissa

Kenzie & Helen

Kenzie & Helen

Every year, we celebrate Christmas with Tom’s daughters (Tovi & Lissi), their husbands (Ty & Chris) and the six grandchildren (Thomas, Patrick, Fisher, Livi, Kenzie & Tyli) between Christmas and New Year’s.  Tom and I really get into the planning and have created some fun traditions for “Christmas RVA” that we know are on the kiddos “must do” list each year.

Every morning starts off with a hidden clue as to the magic the day will hold.  And, once all the kids are awake, they look for the clue, decipher it and announce the day’s plans (ex: outdoor ice-skating downtown, hot chocolate at the Jefferson Hotel, The Tacky Light Tours, etc.)  And, each year, in honor of Helen, the kids help plan a birthday party for her and decorate the cake.  She’ll be 95 this year! As of last year, we had to stop using individual candles as we were awfully close to a fire hazard at the 93rd celebration!

And, each year, we try to continue Helen’s legacy and love of history by sharing some of the experiences we know she would create for her great grandchildren if she could.  Last year, we visited Mount Vernon and the year prior, Monticello.  This year, we were considering Williamsburg (Note: For those of you who know Helen, you can rest assured we haven’t waited this long to share her love of all things colonial …  we all know and love Williamsburg dearly, but not everyone has seen it casting its candlelight spell during the holidays.)

Last year, the stars aligned and we were able to celebrate together for 6 days.  This year, we’ll have to condense our plans into 3 days which we anticipate to be quite the challenge.  So, this past weekend, we drove down to Wilmington to celebrate Lissi’s birthday and help with Tovi’s move, so we decided to do a little research with the kids.  Which activities would make the cut?  Ice skating and opening presents tied for first.  The “historical” trip ranked low (although they all said yes to Williamsburg if we had more time).

On our last night, as we were gathered around a fire at the Heffron’s and were revealing the results of the kids’ poll with Tovi & Lissi, we shared our dilemma.  Tom and I would have to find a way to fit in the historical experience because we knew we had to make Helen proud.

As everyone considered possible solutions, Kenzie (age 9) piped up with a straight face, “Helen’s historical.”

All eleven of us looked over at her and busted out laughing in unison … problem solved!

Oh, My Lord, Priceless!

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Me: Mom, did you ever meet Jesus in person?

Mom: Yep. Many times.

Me: Well, who is Jesus, anyway?

Mom: Everybody knows that. He’s God’s boy.

Me: (speechless)


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Mom is, has been and always will be, hell bent and determined to do it her way, to follow the strength of her convictions and I pity the fool who stands in her way.

Her role model and father, Dr. Berkley Hancock Martin, was like that, too.

My grandfather would summons me by issuing his usual three word command, “Come here, boy.”  And, believe you me, I would come running.

He would grab me in arms that could hold the universe, lift me high in the air, then bring me back to earth, plop me on his knee and say, “Boy, always look someone right in the eyes. If that person doesn’t look back into yours, forget them … don’t trust them … they aren’t worth it.”

He sounded like what I think God must sound like. Powerful, all knowing and sure.

“Yes sir, PaPa,” I would say … while making sure my eyes were fixed on his. I didn’t even dare blink.

He frightened my younger sister, Nel.

He gave me comfort.

My mother has always had that same strong, assuring voice as her father’s … and it has always brought me comfort, too. The tone was firm, swift and sure, but there is love and admiration in it if you listen well enough … and don’t blink.

High assertive doesn’t come close to describing this trait. Hell bent and determined or damn the torpedoes … full steam ahead, comes closer!

So, like her father, whatever mom thinks is right is right. And you know what, most of the time it really is. She has always been a bold, fearless leader and has lead with passion, courage, inspiration and conviction. She credits her father as to why she is who she is. She refers to him as daddy or Dr. B. H. Martin. She always adds, “He was something. Powerful. The most powerful man on this earth.”

Mom’s mother, Neville, passed away when mom was only six. She left four children, mom being the youngest, to be raised by a very focused, dedicated,  horse and buggy doctor, my grandfather, Dr. B. H. Martin.  He loved his children and was a steady, steadfast provider for them and left them a legacy that still benefits the generations that followed. Dr. Martin also loved his calling and left a legacy of compassion for the rich and poor alike, healing and faith and dedication to his Lord.

We grand kids called him PaPa. Since I was the first, I may have started that. I will surely lay claim to it until someone (and I don’t know who that would be) begs to differ.

Pa Pa didn’t have what you would call soft bedside manners with his patients, children or grand kids for that matter, and he could care less. He was direct, no, blunt. If he thought you were going to die, he would mince no words, he would just say, you are going to die.

Penicillin was his sword and the enemy was disease. He would fight mightily and that demanded his full attention, with no time for emotion or idle git chat. He fought to beat disease, not to win your approval or accolades. And, if you did what he said, more times than not, you would live to see another day.

Mom still says as if it were gospel, “My daddy was the greatest man in the world because he made everyone well.”

As the luck of the draw would have it, we were mom’s dad’s first grandchildren. And, as a result, he would give my sister, Nel, and me his undivided attention. He loved us with all his heart and soul and would parade us around as if we were trophies representing his finest of a long list of accomplishments. After all, if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be on this earth. To him, that was as much a fact as it was his reward.

He didn’t have to tell us he loved us. You could feel it. You would yearn for it. You knew your visits to Richmond would always be extra special because it was PaPa’s kingdom. And Nel and I would be the princess and prince. The power of his hugs. The pride his steady eyes communicated was all we needed to know how totally he cared about us. He was constantly lifting us off the ground, high above his head, into the heavens where we knew he must live and be in charge of.

PaPa was a mighty man, and we knew he loved all of us … and yet, I always knew I was special. I was the first and I was the only one who could look him straight in the eyes and not blink. I knew I was special and it instilled a confidence early on that is at the core of who I am.

Being a doctor, he delivered my sister and me. He assisted in the operating room in both of my hernia operations as a kid. He sewed two finger back on my left hand with a plain old sewing needle and thread after I stuck it in a washing machine wringer just to see if the wringer really worked. It worked all right. And Pa Pa gave me a piece of his mind for being so dumb while putting me back together again.

He loved me passionately. And I know how my mom felt about him, because I felt that way, too. And in so many ways, PaPa was why we, mom and me, turned out to be who we are.

Whenever I face a major challenge, I hear my grandfather say, “Come here, boy”, as he lifts me high into the heavens. “You have got what it takes, boy. Just look ’em in he eye and do what’s right.”

However … there are sometimes this idea of what’s right is just not always right! And … you knew this was coming … bathing and changing clothes at 91 is not mom’s idea of what is right by a long shot.

When the professionals at mom’s day care threw in the towel when it came to bathing mom, I knew that Mr. Clean (my adopted Super Hero personification) had probably met his/my match. But, PaPa kept whispering, well more like roaring like a freight train, “You get your mom fixed up, boy. That’ is your duty. We Martins always dress to reflect who we are. And, tell her to hold her head high and …”

“I know, PaPa, look her straight in the eyes”” I heard myself saying out loud as I looked toward the heavens, not blinking.

But looking my mom straight in the eyes is easier said than done when she has her mind fixed on something. I call it the Martin Way. And when I say it, it comes out sounding like a disease that PaPa could only cure with penicillin.

I wish I could say Mr. Clean swooped down and saved the day, but I did, without even knowing it, what turned out to be the next best thing … I flew alright, but it was out of town!

Melissa and I had a consulting assignment in Orlando so the big face-off between Super Heroes (My mom is the real deal in so many ways and I am just a pretender compared to her) would have to be put on hold.

Now I don’t like excuses, but I made this one sound noble indeed. When a client calls, you come running or in this case flying. In other words, I got out of town while the getting was good!

Somehow the Beatles’ song, HELP!, couldn’t stop playing in my head.

HELP! I need somebody. HELP! Not just anybody. HELP! You know I need someone. HELP!

And, HELP, in all caps, was on the way and it came from both expected and unexpected sources. The expected one came from Tovi, my oldest daughter. She gave me four of the coolest grand kids the world has ever known. That team, plus my youngest daughter Lissi’s oldest daughter, Kenzie (are you following all of this?) decided to take on the dirty work together! (UNEXPECTED)

So, this team lead by Tovi and my grand kids, ages 6 to 13, headed to Richmond under the auspices of staying with mom while Melissa and I were gone, but they had bigger things in mind. The were going to bathe mom, change her clothes and cut her toenails to boot!

Another song is playing in my head as I write this, The Impossible Dream, from Man from La Mancha!

But, you know what, as it turned out, it wasn’t the epic battle as I imagined it would be. It wasn’t even a challenge match or a fight of wills at all!

That was Tovi and the grandkids’ genius. They made it play!

Tovi would ask who wanted their nails clipped and all the kids would laugh and say, “me, me first … do me!” And, one by one, as they sat on mom’s bed with her, they had their fingernails and toenails clipped and you know who wasn’t going to miss out on the fun … mom!

There was so much laughter going on that she missed Thomas’s (great name for my oldest grandson) comment to Tovi. “Mom, Helen has toenails that could go in the Guinness Book of Records!”

Next came hair and clean clothes and … before you knew it … there was one beautiful group of humans, all spic and span and feeling great about themselves. It was a fashion show, a Disney movie, an extravaganza. It was Sound of Music, The King and I and Mary Poppins  all rolled into one. It was fun and they all had a ball!

It’s a great reminder that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down … even for Super Heroes hell bent and determined to do it their way!

The HELP! Team took the fight out of the match up. It was like Tom Sawyer painting the fence! Who wouldn’t want to join in!

So, when I yelled HELP! I didn’t need just anybody. I didn’t need the Clean Helen Team pros at mom’s day care. I didn’t need my Mr. Clean outfit, all I needed was the Joyful Team. And they did it!

It was just what the Doctor ordered … PaPa that is!

They brought joy and good clean fun to the world and mom couldn’t get enough of that wonderful stuff.

And when they looked mom in the eyes, they didn’t even worry about blinking … they just did a lot of winking. And, my mom winked back!

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