I am a daughter in the time of COVID-19.
I am a daughter whose mom lives in a care facility. It is a really wonderful place with caring and compassionate staff. She is doing well, and I am happy about that. Because of the threat of COVID-19, there are current restrictions that prevent mom and me from our personal visits. It is tough to deal with these changes over the past three months, but I know the restrictions are in place for a reason –to keep her and the other residents safe. I am thankful for the decisions, however hard it was to make them, which keeps them safe. And, I do miss being with her.
I reflect on what I value about spending time together with mom. When we visited before the restrictions, I noticed something inside me would bubble up when I arrived. There was a combination of “feels” that I would consciously and subconsciously look for. It was a “ground zero” of sorts.
One part of the combination was in the form of confirmation. This was in the form of noticing to see and feel the answers to how is she doing overall? Is she happy? is it a good day? Is something off? I recognized this is the caregiver role in me.
Another part of the combination was in the form of familiarity. There is comfort in being with and witnessing the predictable gestures, attitudes, and nuances that I identify her with. A history together my whole life long. I recognized as the daughter role in me.
The last part of the combination was seeing the newness of her, as an individual she is. Someone doing her best in a new environment, someone in the current stage of her life and confronting all the beliefs that life rubs up against. I recognized this as the “seeing mom as a fellow human being” role.
So, our visits over the past three months have changed to mostly phone calls. We are grateful for our weekly Skype calls which are wonderful to be able to see each other as we talk. Sometimes we color pictures in front of our screens. We are separated but together and we show one another our progress as we talk about nothing and everything. I can share my screen and so we can look at old and new photos together. Time goes quickly. Hopefully, the remaining time with the virus and the restrictions will go by quickly too so we along with other families and their loved ones, can be together- in person again soon.
We are all doing our part to keep each other safe. Thank you for that!
April is almost over. We have all been social distancing for over a month. Everything has changed and we have even noticed a shift and acceptance of a new normal. When going out walking, it is now a habit to widen the distance between myself and the person I pass. We still say hello or share a smile as our invisible bubbles of space slide beside one another. There is now a regime when preparing for an outing. A mental reminder of all the precautions, a heightened awareness of what I need to bring, where I need to go, what I will be touching and the most efficient route to take that will bring me home sooner. I am not frightened to go out. I just do it with purpose and minimize the frequency. I am reassured when I witness others taking the same or similar concerns into account. It further establishes a new normal –normal for now.
From time to time, I have thought back to what would “normally” be on my mind during April. Prior to COVID-19, I would be preparing for events like the Didsbury Expo and the Airdrie Home and Lifestyle show. I would have been preparing for Easter supper with family earlier in the month. This year was so different from the others. This year, my 84 years young mom wasn’t there to make the stuffing, to ever so carefully and with the greatest efficiency fold the tinfoil tent over the turkey and tuck the edges under so all the wonderfulness would stay inside and keep the bird tender and juicy while creating the brown bits on the bottom for the gravy. It made me sad and miss her. I could not help but imagine for a moment some time in the future when she would not be around anymore. I caught myself and my thoughts. She is here and just a phone call away. That is something.
I am so grateful for the care and attention to detail that the care staff at mom’s care facility are providing all their residents -particularly during this pandemic. Regular updates from them are reassuring. Phone calls to talk with her and opportunities to connect through Skype to see and talk with mom are priceless.
This month, our newsletter has numerous resources to help one another stay safe and healthy- not only physical health but equally important is being well mentally.
We are doing well. Everyone doing their part to keep each other safe and healthy. We will get through this together. Thank you!
Inside each one of us is a Reticular Activator System (RAS). It’s the part of your brain that accepts a job that you give it (whether you are aware of it or not!). It receives the job based on the words you speak and the thoughts you think. Its mission is to bring more of what you say or what you think into your experience – regardless of whether it is real or perceived, just more of it. And it doesn’t matter if you want it to take on the job or not, it just does! It looks for things that are familiar, unusual or problematic.
Let’s say you have bought a new car. Haven’t you noticed that from the moment you made the decision to buy it, you suddenly see that same car everywhere? Have you caught yourself in a less than desirable mood? When you take the time to notice the thoughts that trail along, each are equally or increasingly less desirable. The opposite happens too. When you are in a really great mood and you feel like you are walking on air, all of the sudden everything just doesn’t seem to be a bother and it feels like there are no time constraints or barriers. It’s all just good.
No doubt we are in a very trying time for everyone. Regular routines, feelings of loss of productivity, restrictions and restraints in most every form and fashion are present and an over arching element of fear feels close by.
I want to invite you to think about your RAS and be mindful to use it to look for those moments in each day for what feels good. Your nervous system, your brain, those around you (both near and at a distance) will be positively affected in ways that will feel good. And that would be a very special thing to spread!
Please click the video below.
So, after watching, I want to ask you:
What action or routine would your loved one enjoy more if it was broken down into simpler steps?
What are the first few steps a daughter (or son) can take when they suspect mom or dad is having memory issues or struggling on their own?
Chances are you know your parent quite well including all her nuances, the details of all of her stories and how she ticks. You may have also noticed some changes after spending time together over the holidays. It can be quite concerning and downright alarming when something out of the ordinary presents itself. Perhaps a story you have heard too many times to count was missing a detail or two. Could it be a simple memory blip –it happens to all of us! Perhaps you noticed her confused, trying to find something and looking in what clearly would be the wrong part of the house for the item. Could it be she has too much on her mind to concentrate –very unusual for her but after all your parent is a human! Or could it could be something more and if so what now?
First things first, there is no use in flying off the handle when you first encounter a misstep. Talk with your parent and get her point of view. You are still gathering information. Be sensitive to what she says so she doesn’t feel belittled because of what happened. Keep lines of communication open to maintain a healthy, supportive relationship that is respectful and trustworthy.
What happened? Gather the facts – as you know them and watch yourself if your imagination starts filling in the story with assumptions. You just want the facts. Write it down like a story.
Were there consequences and if so, what impact did they have? –nonexistent, mild or more? If it was a case of looking in the wrong area of the house for an item, there is minimal consequences other than possible frustration and time lost. However, if she is forgetting to lock her door when she leaves the house or getting misdirected once she is out and she is having a hard time finding home again, those have greater consequences and additional support needs to be in place quickly. Write this down too.
Are there potential risks if this happens again and if so what are the risks? Without overthinking, assess what kinds of risk to safety to her, safety to others and her own wellbeing are associated with what happened. If the incident was a few missing details in a family story, the risk is too minimal to measure as no one will be hurt. If the incident was leaving the door unlocked when she went out, the risk for an intruder to harm or steal from her can potentially increase. Write down the risks.
What next? Depending on the incident, the consequences and the risks associated with the incident, you will have a clearer idea as to what you need to do next. Is it that you need to contact her family doctor or Home Care? You can share your concerns and receive guidance and perhaps arrange for an in home assessment and learn about community supports available? Is it that you need to make a date for the two of you to go through the photo albums and together you record the stories with all their details? It would be a wonderful archive of knowledge and history to pass down to the generations.
Regardless of what you decide is your next step, I encourage you to use a journal or a notebook and write down any and all incidents and unusual happenings. The facts, the consequences –if any and potential risks associated. Be sure to date it. You think you will remember but you won’t. Your journal will be a valuable source of information that you can bring to her family doctor or to Home Care for a discussion about your concerns. Keeping your loved one supported, safe and happy is your topmost priority.
For many, the holidays mean a time of traveling to visit with loved ones. It is a chance to catch up, spread some cheer and enjoy each other’s company. So much can change over your time apart and sometimes those changes are having a significant impact on your loved one’s quality of life. If you do notice such changes during your visit, what can you do? How do you bring up the subject while maintaining the peace? You will need to know what to do if you notice such changes.
If your loved one lives on her own, the first (and best) thing you can do after you arrive, is to give her a big hug! Not only will it feel great for both of you, but you can learn so much. Feel the level of her strength –is it stronger or weaker than expected. Has she lost weight? Use your nose –is personal hygiene compromised? A simple hug can uncover so much information quickly without anyone feeling like you’re imposing.
During your visit, have a look in the fridge. Is there a variety of food that’s still in good condition and not expired? Look around, are there any differences from her normal standards? Is the mail piling up? Are items put away in unusual areas of the house or is everything where it should be?
If you notice some changes or something unusual, this is reminder to continue to remain calm and simply put your detective hat on to investigate a little further. Avoid the twenty-question interrogation. You want to start by having a casual and relaxed conversation to simply gather more information while being her confidante. From her point of view, you may find out what the difficulty really is. You can then research solutions or services available and arrange for added support so she will feel more empowered in her home and less stressed trying to manage it all.
If your loved one lives in a Care Facility, when you first arrive is a great opportunity to talk with the staff. How is she doing day to day? Is she participating in the activities and spending time out of her room? How is her sleeping and eating overall? Has she made friends with other residents? When you arrive to her room, how does it look? If your mom has always preferred a neat and orderly environment and you see piles on every surface, something could be worth investigating.
Using the communication cues mentioned above, you may uncover the hidden source of stress that is compounded by the clutter and you can advocate a solution or work around. If she tends to stay in her room a lot, a relaxed conversation may reveal she feels overwhelmed during group activities. Perhaps having the option of one on one activities and outings would be better suited.
Coming together during the holidays can be a very important time for you and your loved one. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reconnect and to learn so much about each other, which can mean so much more than you may already know.
Happy and safe travels this holiday season!
Currently we visit seniors living in Calgary, Airdrie, Didsbury and Olds. My vision is to expand A Friend Indeed through Western Canada and beyond. Too often I hear the words, “If only you were in Edmonton/ Kelowna/ Victoria" (to name a few).
We are intentionally and creatively building this business in such a way that we will be able to enter new areas easily and swiftly to begin and maintain the high level of service we have today.
One day, if we’re fortunate enough, we will be seniors ourselves. This will be one contribution towards improving the lives of both the seniors and their families now and in the future.
Starting a business from scratch is a big endeavour. In the beginning, there are so many hats to wear, decisions to make and things to do – seemingly all needing to be done at once!
My biggest challenge when starting A Friend Indeed was identifying who my customer really was. I know it sounds funny but it was true. I knew I wanted to be in the lives of seniors, to be of service to their needs. I knew how I wanted them to feel while working with us. But the result of my efforts at that time seemed to be off the mark. I made a few inquiries with several seniors and then with their families. I soon realized in many cases there was a huge difference in perception, to their loved one’s situation. (Now I reminded myself that every family, every senior and every situation is unique and the inquiries I made are not all inclusive.)
From one point of view, life was good. “Everything more or less is taken care of and it’s nice to see my daughter or son when they come by to help or to take me somewhere.”
From another perspective, that daughter or son is feeling pretty stressed. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, enough days in the week to get it all done because of work, the kids, the commute, appointments and other responsibilities that are in daily life. Stress, along with another prevalent factor- guilt, is what these adult children carry with them like an old backpack. Their efforts to help and be company for their loved one comes from a place of good intentions, but the fact is we live in a very busy world. We have to pick and choose where our time, effort and energy goes and if we don’t take care of ourselves, then it’s a downward spiral that affects everyone.
I understood that my customers are the adult children. What a feeling to be spending time and serving seniors as we do and causing a wonderful and positive impact in the lives of their adult children as well. The ripple effect is enormous!
In a world that never sleeps, where more is perceived as better, where most things today are disposable and what others think of you online or in the all-too-rare “face-to-face” encounters, I believe a significant lesson can be learned from our more vulnerable seniors. The lesson is to slow down and make a conscious and deliberate choice to be present in the moment with not only yourself but also the other human beings around you.
There’s something unseen that’s exchanged when this happens. The experience can be with or without words and the activity itself is really secondary to the feelings that develop when two human beings really connect. I feel we, as a society, have forgotten this. It’s a wonderful experience to return to when we decide that it really does matter.
Another lesson (and there are so many!) we can learn from seniors is remembering to appreciate the small things. While visiting a gentleman in a Calgary facility, I couldn’t help but smile so wide, I was sure it was ear to ear the whole time I was with him. I took him out for a drive around the area and he was so impressed by everything he saw, it was as if it were the first time seeing it. The other vehicles on the highway and how far technology has advanced! The children at the playground and how inquisitive and smart they were! The size and architecture of the building he lived in – when we returned, all of it was amazing! He appreciated everything he saw without judgment and with so much gratitude for it simply being as it was! It was infectious and made a big impression on me and everyone he came in contact with. The world changes when we see things as miraculous.
Growing up in a small town in BC, I stayed close to my mom. I was pretty shy and timid for the longest time. She was one of those ladies who would stop in and check on individuals in town, visit, bring the church program if they requested it and just see how they were doing overall.
When I grew up and moved away, I would hear stories from her about how this person shouldn’t be living on their own anymore due to this reason, and this person’s wife was in the hospital and he was trying to manage on his own, someone else had a spouse move into a care facility and it was a huge adjustment for both, etc.
Fast forward many years later while walking our dog, I posed to the Universe the question: “If I could do anything and knew I couldn’t fail and had all the resources available, what would I do?”
Immediately mom’s stories flooded my mind. They led me to understand it was small obstacles (sometimes seemingly insignificant to a younger adult) that were in the way of many seniors being able to thrive where they live. As a naturally curious and creative person, I thought “how could such obstacles be minimized or removed altogether?”
Every senior is so different, every situation is unique. However, having another person, a friend, to help out in such a way that it didn’t seem like help could be a viable answer!
Whether it’s support at home or in a care facility, having that special Friend available to come in means it’s not all on the family. For mobile seniors, that special Friend gives them access to outings, which means the visit doesn’t have to stay on site. It means opportunities to get back into the community, to be seen, to be included. It means family doesn’t have to take time off work to bring their loved one to appointments. It means so much more to everyone.
It’s important to me that seniors are not only supported but feel valued and significant. Giving them a chance to escape from the usualness of the day, I see so much potential for access to creativity, fulfillment and active living with the support of a Friend. This is how we can ward off loneliness and isolation. This is how obstacles are identified then removed or reduced. This is how quality of life can be elevated, through friendship and one-on-one time together.
I’m a family caregiver myself, I know I’m able to understand things easier and support my mom better when I come from a place of ease, spaciousness and flexibility instead of from anxiety or annoyance or guilt. I do better when I feel better!
On an added note, if you believe in coincidence (or not), A Friend Indeed was created and in operation for six years before my mom started experiencing changes. To have the education, the experience and the wonderful friends in place to access in our time of need was true preparation from the Universe into our lives. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for it all!