Tag Archives: friends

Chaos and Comfort

Friend card

My friend Sharon has been laughing at me all weekend. It started soon after my arrival when I began straightening up, knowing that her family was coming in the next day.  It’s what a good guest does, I said. But she and I both knew the truth. I’ve become a teence obsessive, an aftermath, perhaps, of feeling that things were so out of control as my father lay dying a few months back.

Every time I open one of her cupboards, my palms literally itch to organize them. Most of the cans are on an upper shelf, but why are the canned clams on the shelf below it? Why is the sugar in a baggie on the floor?

I itch, but I don’t fix. I realize that this is her home, and she likes it comfy.

Walking Saturday, our conversation turned to families. She has been “an orphan” for some time, one of four children born within a five year span. I talked about my evolving relationship with my brothers. A recurring question for me in the months since Dad died has been, “Who is my family now? Who are we to each other?”

There is choice involved now, you see. Dad gave us a reason to come together for birthdays or holidays. He was the draw. Though there may still be obligation, it is less compelling.

In families like ours, where there are more than two siblings, there are affinities. A pair might feel more like-minded and naturally confide in one another. Or having the distance of a couple of years and a sibling in between, they might feel less competitive. A common interest — like trout fishing — may foster a bond.

We grow up with a natural place in the family architecture. My Dad’s family referred to the eldest brother as “the handsome one,” the youngest brother as “the sweet one,” and my Dad, the middle child, as “the smart one.”

My friend and her siblings are finding their way. It’s hard to say if their paths will draw them together, or push them apart. They may become more intransigent, or, like my Dad, more tolerant.

You can rearrange cupboards but you can’t rearrange your siblings. Their comfort may be my chaos, but we are the only people in the world who carry the precious and intimate knowledge of our family from childhood forward.

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A bittersweet cousin “union”

cousinsfeb162013

Tall row: Isaac Campbell, Vincent Campbell, Thom Stone, Sandy Campbell Kaduce, Marc Campbell, Henry Campbell, Madeline Stone. Front row: Eileen Campbell, Alison Campbell, Oleg Kaduce, Max Kaduce (Max was a little tired but he had a great time!)

What do you call a reunion with people you’ve never met before? Or people you hadn’t seen since they were infants? At my father’s memorial on Saturday, my brothers and I brought all of our children. And they brought all of their children. The result was a first for our family: all of the cousins and cousins-once-removed in the same place at the same time.

As much as they enjoyed each other, taking advantage of the bowling alley next to Pour at Four where the family met to share wine, food and memories following the memorial service, for my children, at least, there was a sadness to it. They know what it is to have close cousins, living within an hour of their four Stone family cousins in California. In seeing cousins they had not seen in many years, and meeting others for the first time, they recognized what they had been missing.

Growing up, my brothers and I never saw much of our cousins. Although we have developed close relationships some, especially with Louise (on Dad’s side) and Lynn (on Mom’s), our family seems to be missing the cousin gene. There are plenty of practical reasons that we didn’t spend time with our cousins: divorces that pushed cousins away from one another, family estrangements, distance and finances. (Despite these forces, we were surprised and delighted that two of Dad’s nephews came from Yakima to honor Dad: West Campbell and Ed Campbell, Jr.)

The memorial was a gift in so many unexpected ways, but one of the loveliest was the chance for our children and children’s children to spend a little time together. Remember this, dear ones, when it is time for you to foster relationships between your children. You belong to one another. Hold on tight.

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How to Renew Your Faith in Mankind: Read About Team Henry

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 3.09.04 PM

[Updated Jan. 16, 2012, after Dad’s passing.]

As a caregiver, you always carry the feeling that you are dodging disaster on a daily basis. And then, something actually does happen and you find yourself careening from one thing to the next. That’s how the past month has gone for Dad: first, unusual and extreme shortness of breath; then, a muscle pull that had him almost non-ambulatory; and, this week, a sudden inability to urinate at all, which sent Dad to the ER to have his bladder drained twice in one week.

It’s a panicky time for caregivers. Although I pride myself on trying to handle things, I know I can’t fix all the problems, or keep Dad safe, or keep myself well without asking for help. Sometimes the “ask” is as small as asking a neighbor to make a Target run for a fresh pair of sweat pants. Other times, the ask is pretty big. In December, I initially reflected on my incredible fortune in having built a “Team Henry” to shore both of us up. Today, four days after his passing, I wanted to update it to make sure I would never forget all of the wonderful people who helped Dad and me along the way.

1. Dr. Michael Flaningam, Sutter Internal Medicine – Dr. F agreed to see Dad even before he lived here, when he came for long visits. And since Dad moved here in 2006, he has proven to make savvy adjustments in Dad’s medications (balancing stroke and cardiac conditions), carefully considering the risk-vs-reward of treatments in keeping with Dad’s wishes. I also appreciate his caring interest in Dad; his inquiry about Dad’s WWII experience on the anniversary of D-Day led to my first post on The Henry ChroniclesHe’s called me back when I needed him to, and been a real Trojan at responding to my emails. I’d be embarrassed to admit how many emails I’ve sent him through Sutter’s secure email system (like the rather desperate message ending, I am frantic about the idea of doing this watch for 5 more days. I’m a rock, but not THAT much of a rock. He religiously responded, and was always helpful. Monday evening, as I shared my last dinner with my brothers before they went their separate ways, he called to offer his condolences, as well as compliments for the care we have provided to Dad.

2. Angela, Dr. Flaningam’s medical assistant – You can’t leave messages on Sutter Internal Medicine’s voice mail anymore, but while you could, Angela was Dr. F’s stalwart ears. She always tracked him down and called back.

3. Amber Kwiatkowsky, Dad’s nurse with Sutter’s AIM program – In June, my Dad was referred to Sutter’s Advanced Illness Management (AIM). It took me a while to understand how it worked, but eventually I got it. And Amber, the nurse that oversees Dad’s care telephonically, is why. Amber was my “go to” person for problems I didn’t know how to solve, and she always had great practical ideas, as did her colleagues – the nurses who visit in the home when Amber recommends it. Their goal was my goal: let’s keep Dad out of the hospital and as comfortable as possible. As long as I’m confessing, let me admit that I placed 10 calls to Amber during the difficult week prior to Dad’s hospice admission. I didn’t call the pediatrician that much when my daughter Maddie was a newborn.

4. Pamela, Debra, Dee, Maria, Jo  Jo, Mai, Hayat, Lina and all of Dad’s caregivers at his assisted living community. As Dad has become more emotionally dependent, a host of people have stepped up when Dad is at his apartment. I don’t know their names but I am especially fond of the staff in the dining room; as soon as they see Dad seated, they immediately say, “I’ll get your glass of milk.” That more than anything else reassures Dad that these people know him and are looking out for him. One of the team even brought Dad a lemon tart she’d made at home. (Future hint: Dad’s a chocolate guy but I’m sure he appreciated the thought!)

5. Adam Batten, “Dad walker” – Dad’s quality of life hinged largely on his ability to take a daily walk outside. When I was out of town, Adam came by for 45 minutes before Dad’s lunch to help him exercise safely. Adam teaches an exercise class at an independent living community, and he’s 6’5″, so I figured he could handle my 200 lb. Dad!

6. Chi, Dad’s pedicure champion at Eastern Nails – It’s toenails like Dad’s that led to the expression, “tougher than toenails.” Not only is Chi up to the task but she provides service with tender care.

7. Abigail Kane-Berghash of American River Therapeutic Massage – Dad’s back was extremely sore following a muscle pull. Abigail brought her portable massage table and gently eased his very tight muscles. After Dad was admitted into hospice, we made massage a weekly date. Dad loved it when Abigail massaged not only his back, but his hands and feet. Massage is about more than mechanics, and Abigail knows it. It’s about healing, and honoring the person. Afterwards, he looked not only more relaxed, but happy.

8. My brothers, Scott, Bruce and Dean – I am not an unsupported daughter-caregiver. When I needed my brothers for respite, vacation coverage or just personal support, they came. They also called to say, “How are you holding up?”

9. My husband, Todd, daughter Maddie and son Thom – My immediate family really tops the list of Team Henry but I’m not going to re-order this list! I wrote about Todd “the unsung hero” and our “opposites attract” 30-year marriage in August. Maddie was living at home until October and always went out of her way to converse with Dad, which isn’t easy given his 90%+ hearing loss. One night, when I was especially tired, she told me to go take a break and rest while she watched Dad. (And she went right to work tidying up the kitchen!) It was Maddie’s brainstorm to read Dad’s favorite Shakespeare passages to him just hours before he died, which gave me the idea to read Sonnet 130 as he took his last breaths. And Thom holds “Papa” in a special place in his heart, and vice versa. Something as simple as asking Dad, “How are you, Papa?” — and really meaning it — went a long way. Thom’s medium is music, and he composed one of my favorite pieces of his, “96 Years.” I just wish my Dad’s hearing was good enough to understand it.

10.  Cousin Louise Ulbricht and her daughter, Mary, the only relatives from Dad’s side of the family that keep in touch, always responded when I told them Dad was lonely and asked them to send him an email via his “Presto” automated email printer. Their loving notes and sweet thoughts were so welcomed.

11.  My girlfriends – These are the friends that kept me sane by calling, texting, sending funny cards – and in the case of Collette Johnson Schulke, standing by for a weekly “caregivers’ social club” over wine at my house. Lisa Steele, Tracy Campbell, “Berrendo Babes” (fellow exercisers Kylee Wosnuk, Doreen Mahoney, Erin Celli, Rhonda Heath, Sarah Clutter and Jenny Bittner), Ellen Palmer Carleson and her siblings, Nancy Moffett, Cheryl Tyler Clark, Debbie Hoppe, Tamalon Littlefield and Wendi Taylor Nations… you rock my world. Nancy Moffett, from afar in Tacoma, WA, was a constant source of humor and support.

12. My in-laws – You hear people complain about them? I don’t. My mother and father-in-law Ray and Mary Lou Stone are wonderfully caring, always sympathetic, always trying to make my Dad feel at home despite his hearing challenges. Same goes for my sister-in-law Mary Wemer and her husband, Ken, and my brother-in-law Mike and his wife M’lisse.

13. Dave Delehant, estate attorney – I know Dave didn’t charge the full freight when he helped rework Dad’s will to conform to California laws. Sure, he did the work and did it well, but I especially appreciated his patience with Dad as he explained things over and over. Giving freely of his time was a little thing, but it helped.

14. Sutter Home Health – After being referred by the AIM program for Sutter Care at Home, we had a whole flurry of incredibly helpful visitors. Home nurses included the stylish and delightful Sondra (who knows a thing or two about accessorizing on top of nursing), Angie and smart and in-charge Marie Boyer, the nurse who specializes in the acute stage of advanced illnesses. Rhonda, the physical therapist, came up with a host of ideas about how to minimize strain on Dad’s back. Simple stuff but I hadn’t thought of it, like using the electric lift in his chair all the time, use the wheelchair instead of a kitchen chair at the table because it has arms, etc. And “Jan the Bath Lady.” It doesn’t get any more personal than bathing someone, and it takes a very special soul to make it feel like a day at the spa rather than an intrusion. I’m telling you, this woman made a huge difference to Dad and to me.

15. Karen Rhodes, my lovely housekeeper  – I’ve been fortunate to have Karen’s services for seven or eight years. She has always greeted my Dad cheerily, and she makes him feel special. When I was facing a gap in my caregivers’ schedule, Karen stepped up and changed her schedule to be here to help me, and visited with Dad one evening so that I could take a break with my husband, Todd. When Dad died, Karen cried along with the rest of us.

16. Jim Jennings, my go-to spiritual and emotional counselor – Jim, where do I even begin about Jim? I met Jim when he was the co-director of the US health care practice of Hill & Knowlton where he was liberally consulted for guidance. During my mother’s terminal illness, it was Jim I wrote in the middle of the night when I was tired or in emotional pain. He was alway there for me, returning my written vomitus with a human and helpful response, Since retiring moving to Hawaii with his partner, Dudley, he has become a volunteer and now chaplain with Kauai’s hospice program. He is the guardian angel who encouraged me to identify the five top things I would do to take care of myself as caretaker, which I wrote about in this post. He’s also the “beloved mentor” I turned to when trying to figure out whether I could or should move Dad to my house – which I also wrote about in a post. In the last weeks, he was a constant source of support and advice about the final stage in Dad’s long life journey.

17. Visiting Angels – My caregivers were an integral part of Team Henry. Erin Fraker found a great caregiver, Keyanna Hicks, to watch Dad through the night on six hours’ notice when I realized that Dad’s catheter bag would need to be changed during the night. As Dad’s needs rapidly changed, she constantly adjusted the team, eventually providing support for 17.5 hours a day given the rapid decline in Dad’s leg strength. Keyanna Hicks was a lifesaver and Natalie Posey did a wonderful job on night duty during Dad’s difficult last few days. Though not with Erin’s organization, Tonia Johnson certainly deserves the moniker of “angel”; she was referred by a family friend and joined us Dad’s final week. The coq au vin that she lovingly made on Wednesday turned out to be Dad’s last real meal – and he ate and enjoyed every bite.

18.  Sutter VNA & Hospice – A few lifetimes ago (or so it feels) I became aware of the value of hospice when, as a newbie marketer, I worked for Sutter Memorial and had a chance to be introduced to the concept just as it was gaining ground in the United States. Michael Tscheu, a social worker, explained how this coordinated style of care could provide better quality of care and quality of life for those that didn’t have life stretching ahead of them. Then in 1999, I came to know hospice much more personally as a member of my mother’s hospice caregiver team, after she was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer in Tacoma, WA. Hospice was not as accepted among the medical brethren as it is now; the physician directing her care in the hospital in Tacoma tried to tell me that “it would be kinder for all parties concerned if she just winked out in the hospital.” Convenient for whom? Him? She did come home with hospice and lived a surprising 3 months. And now it’s Dad’s turn. We weren’t sure he would qualify — which I worried about in this post — but I sure knew we needed it. And yesterday we were approved for hospice. Since then, I have met Vina, who does “intake,” Mary the nurse, who evaluates patients for their appropriateness, GC Low, RN, who responded to my telephone inquiry about morphine dosing by visiting. GC spent an hour trying to help me get Dad’s shortness of breath under control. It was GC who responded to our urgent call on Saturday morning, Jan. 12, when she confirmed that Dad was actively dying; she then gave us a very specific dosing regimen for comfort medications to help ease Dad’s passing (which we, overwhelmed, had to have her repeat three times). Over Dad’s 22 days on service, we also received visits from nurses Tony and Barbara, and lots of helpful phone advice from Tracy, a supervisor in the office. In December, Tracy spent a half hour explaining to me how best to transfer Dad after he stopped being able to stand. Dennis Armstrong, the social worker with an amiable, wise soul, visited in the first 24 hours after we were admitted into the hospice program, followed later by Brooke Zakar. We also are grateful for Diana Skinner, RN, our care coordinator, and delightful Rebecca, Dad’s bathing assistant. In Dad’s last week, we also took advantage of the services of Dale Swan, hospice chaplain. Although my Dad teased Dale and said he wasn’t sure he trusted “a church man” (maybe teasing, maybe not), Dale was an important resource to me in what turned out to be Dad’s last two days.

19.  The “Hair Care” Ladies – For at least five years, Dad has gotten his hair cut (along with other extraneous hairs) at a little quick cut place at 5150 Fair Oaks Blvd. They have always been sweet to Dad and supportive of me. So much so that one of them, Hang, one of the ladies, even came to the house to tidy Dad up. Helping him keep his own standards was a small way of demonstrating love for him, one made easier with nice people like Hang and the other women who work there.

20.  James Coyle, DDS, and all of the wonderful people who work there – I was sad when I called to let them know Dad wouldn’t be returning for his six month checkup. They’ve not only kept him healthy, but been part of the broad network of people who have praised his longevity, and well, just his essential “Henry-ness.”

21.  My cousin, Lynn Whiting and her husband, Henry — My cousin, who lives in Bliss, ID, has built a life out of art, poetry and prayer. It just flows out of her spirit naturally, and she shared it with me as things became more difficult for Dad. I referred to her as “the angel on my shoulder” in this post. And I’m about to post the beautiful email and photo she shared with me on the day of Dad’s death.

22. Jennifer Johnson, all-around friend and helper — It seems like every industry has a word for someone who is versatile and helpful. Baseball calls someone like this “a utility player”; in medieval times, someone who was competent with many skills was called a “jack of all trades” (the “master of none” came later and certainly doesn’t apply to Jen!). Jennifer, my friend Collette’s granddaughter, would house sit, walk with my Dad, visit with him, or, when I was out of town, take him Sunday meals at his assisted living community. She didn’t just do it – she got a kick out of my Dad. She’d relay stories to me, such as the time they were walking on the American River Parkway and he’d have little commentaries about the people passing by: “Nice hat. Too bad she must have sat on it.” By letting me know that Dad was okay, she helped me to care for him and keep him comfortable.

23.  Kylee Neff, personal trainer  – In October, I wrote about my list of the top five things I pledged to do to take care of myself as a caregiver. Featured first was working out with my neighbors under the encouraging tutelage of Kylee Neff. I have often said that I lived with future; I saw how important balance was to overall health and wellbeing when you get as old as my Dad was. I started working out with Kylee not long after I turned 50. Training with Kylee was good for every part of me, but above all, she has been a friend. Kylee had a terrible series of things happen to her in November and December but she still managed to be a source of support and inspiration for me. Her little boy, Will, couldn’t have a better mother.

Team Henry, I am so very, very grateful for your part in this story.

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I’m Not Alone

morning candles

It’s been almost seven years since I moved my Dad to California, knowing that his cardiac disease was catching up with him. We’ve had quite a few scares since then: a small stroke that temporarily interfered with his ability to speak, a strange seizure, numerous falls and illnesses. During one of those scares, my husband was in Mexico, unreachable, and I was alone at the hospital with Dad, afraid.

I hate being alone when Dad’s life is at risk. I can handle the decisions that need to be made. I can handle the physical challenge of the long hours. I can be strong for Dad so that he is not afraid.

But I want to be able to cry and have someone to hold and comfort me when am afraid. I just don’t want to be alone.

Yesterday my first morning thought was of all the people who are, as one friend puts it, “holding me in the light.”

In recent days, I have heard from a college friend with whom I have been out of touch in recent years. My spiritual and artistic cousin, Lynn, has become the angel who perches on my shoulder with frequent, loving messages, like this one:

Whenever I read your ardent posts as I did just now.. and look at your exquisitely poignant and palpably tender photographs.. I am reminded again and again of the Rumi stanza..  that I am sure you are familiar with but I can’t help writing:“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” –Rumi    

 Mostly, I want you to know this New Year’s eve that even though it may seem I am in the background I am a part of that large net beneath the high wire you are walking– where by the way, you are dazzling in your diamond light.  I am not quite breathing with you, but almost…

My dear friend, Lisa, who spent the day on the 18th hanging out with me and cooking for me, is in Italy with her family where she is lighting a candle in every church she encounters. When traveling, Lisa normally devotes her laser-like focus to something food-related, like tasting lentil soup in Turkey, but on this trip, she says she is thinking of Dad and me. She wrote:

It is making me feel slightly better — but marginally so — wish I could be with you to help you through this important time. Your dad is a great man, and you are the best daughter and friend anyone could hope for. Miss you.

Yesterday I wrote my oldest friend, Ellen, about how she had rescued me when we met as lonely adolescents. She wrote back:

I have loved walking this current path with you. I have felt your sadness and pain. I have cried with you. I have wondered, and asked, and railed with you. I have grown with you. I have deepened and broadened who I am with you. I want to be there with you, but also know that you would be caring for me, and worrying about me, while at the same time you are caring and worrying about everyone else in your life. It’s your nature.

This is a hard path. But it’s far harder on Dad as he struggles. The love and support of family and friends makes all the difference. It holds me up so I can hold him up.

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What’s on your list of 5 self care things you do?

My friends and I seem to have entered a new phase. Once upon a time, our calendars overflowed with weddings. Then it was baby showers, and until recently, children’s graduations. Now our email and text exchanges are more likely to pertain to a parent’s health crisis. Usually coupled with news of challenges facing our young adult children.

We’re savvy enough to know that we need to take care of ourselves as we care for others, but busy and stressed enough that it’s really hard to actually do it.

My friend just texted me to say she was leaving town tomorrow to look in on her Mom, who’s had a setback in her recovery from surgery. True to form, she asked me how I was doing, and I replied that things are a bit better on several fronts.

She then asked, “So what are you doing for you?”

To which I replied, “What are YOU doing for you?”

I wasn’t trying to play the “gotcha” game (this isn’t politics, after all), but that’s kind of how it turned out:

Crap. I knew you would turn that one back on me! You know I’m the worst at putting myself in the top 10, or 20, on any list!!! At best, I’m trying to learn to be a bit more compassionate for my own frailties. It’s a start.

I’ve actually been thinking about this self care thing since my guardian angel, Jim, instructed me to list 5 things I would do for self care. That it’s taken me three weeks to think of five things tells you something.

My five are below. I’d love to hear what YOU do to take care of yourself as you care for others. We can all learn from each other — and maybe encourage one another to actually follow through on these things.

1.  Work out with others.

I often say that I live with the future. When you’re around a 95-year-old you realize the importance of strength and balance. I walked but I knew that wasn’t enough. I admitted that I couldn’t motivate myself to do things like – ugh – sit-ups or pushups.  I also thought it was unlikely I’d get my butt out the door to a gym class given my caregiving responsibilities. So, my big plan was to work out 4-6 times with a trainer and then miraculously carry on alone, having formed a virtuous habit. During my first workout, I was shocked at how poor my balance was – that and the fact I couldn’t do 10 sit-ups without holding on to my thighs to heft my upper body from its prone position.

That was four years ago. After a year or so, my neighbors who walked together twice a week for years expressed interest in trying it on for size. Now my driveway is a boot camp at least twice a week. Scheduling that time, and keeping it, is absolutely at the top of the list in terms of things I do for myself.

I figured my trainer, the amazing Kylee Neff, was an absolute liar when she told me I’d have more energy from working out. For about three months, I wanted to go to sleep early on the days we trained. But she’s right. Now if I can’t work out for a week, my energy and outlook isn’t as good. It’s as important to me as – gasp! – coffee once was. (Strangely, I also feel almost no need for caffeine.)

Working out with one or more friends also makes it hard to slack. After all, they show up in my driveway. But the group banter has the extra advantage of taking my mind off the momentary pain of whatever circuit Kylee has dreamed up for that day.

2.  Comfort read.

You’ve heard of comfort eating? I comfort read. My literary diet changes completely when I’m under stress. When my mother was dying of cancer, I was soothed by re-reading The Wind and the Willows. I’m a big fan of Mr. Toad, with or without the Disney attraction. Though I still read heavier fare (for example, The Looming Towers), I am drawn to cheesy and breezy. I read things like Deborah Harkness’ Discovery of Witches series (all two of them), J.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (a.k.a. Game of Thrones), and the utterly ridiculous Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. Apparently I find fairies, witches and vampires comforting.

3.  Spend time with girlfriends.

My friends save me, over and over. Just knowing they are there is a huge source of support. Nothing against guys, and my husband is the Rock of Gibraltar, but there’s something about deep conversation with trusted female friends. It’s better than wine and chocolate. Recently, a friend and I agreed to set up a weekly time to meet. Her husband has Alzheimer’s and both of us have to coordinate social activities around caregiving tasks. It just works better to put something standing on the calendar. And, yes, it involves wine. Duh.

4.  Stay connected with Facebook.

I actually surprised myself with this one. So much is written about Facebook as a time suck, or about how Facebook is no substitute for deeper, face-to-face connections. But caregiving is isolating, and Facebook helps me to feel there’s still a world out there.

I love the pictures of kids and the quick posts about the sweet or funny things kids say. I travel vicariously through some of my friends whose jobs or travel budgets seem to take them everywhere. I salivate over my foodie friends’ posts about the amazing seasonal recipes they’ve dreamed up. I read the links to articles that appeal to my interests and appreciate the fact they were shared. I catch up on a friend’s recovery from a brutal cycling accident. I feel for the people (and animals) in Eastern Washington when my friend in E-burg posts update on the terrible fires there. It may seem a little strange but I even love the beefcake pictures posted by my gay friends; it makes me happy to know someone’s romantic life is more exciting than mine! Pictures of weddings, funny bits from George Takei, updates from nonprofits I care about… I enjoy almost everything in my news feed. And of course, I can always block the political posts that get a bit annoying this time of year.

5.  Find quiet time.

I’m not a true extrovert, although most people would assume I am. It’s hard for me to find an hour when I can be alone in the house, or at least alone before anyone else is awake. I crave and need moments when NO ONE WANTS OR NEEDS ANYTHING FROM ME. You may have figured out that I blog during these rare quiet moments. And when I say quiet, I mean just that. I feel so over stimulated that I need moments without music or TV. Silence is a balm.

So I’ll ask it again: what do YOU do to take care of yourself? This inquiring mind wants to know.

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Turn off, brain, and let me go the f* to sleep!

The lovely view from where I didn’t sleep

Just when I feel overwhelmed by my Dad’s declining health, it seems that the sleep gods conspire against me.

My anxiety – and accompanying sense of hyper-vigilance – built to a pitch over the weekend, even while my husband and I attempted to relax in Northern California’s playtime paradise of Lake Tahoe.

Over the past month, the medication that had been working so well to control the symptoms of Dad’s long-term congestive heart failure sputtered and stalled in its effectiveness. His weight dropped from 204 lbs. to 188.5 over three weeks, and then, when we cut back the dosage, spiked back up to 198 in less than a week.

My brother, who came into town to “spell” me for my anniversary trip, called me Saturday night. His voice was choked with emotion as he explained that Dad looked as weak and worn out as he’d seen him. When he asked Dad how he was doing, Dad replied, “I don’t think I can pull through this…”

That night, I left my cell phone on in case my brother needed to reach me in an emergency. Then starting at 1:30 a.m. that night, I started this exchange via text with my young adult son, who was finishing up packing for a 5 day cruise the next day. What’s funny about this is that I just couldn’t let go. I felt utterly driven to ensure that my son did not – gasp! – make a mistake packing:

Him: Do I really need a carryon? I was just gonna keep it simple with a rollaboard.

Me: It if fits that’s fine

Him: Fits what? I was gonna check it

Me: Rollaboards can go in the overhead bin. Then it can’t get lost. If you are going on a cruise your bag will never catch up if it gets lost. When you connect there is more of a chance of it not getting on the 2nd plane. It’s up to you but it’s safer

Me: ‘nite

Him: I have the red one, will that fit? [The red rolling bag is ginormous.]

Me: No. It has to be one of the small black ones. Sounds like you don’t have a choice unless you have a duffel that qualifies as a carry on. Southwest is pretty good about getting bags there so you’ll probably be fine. Don’t check your computer – keep it with you.

Me (again): The carry on can’t be longer than 24″ [Note: I have now gone on SWA via my cell phone to actually check the limitations.]

Me (again): Be careful not to oversleep

Me (yet again): Can I go back to sleep now?

Him: Yeah, sorry, I’m just gonna check it

Me: OK but keep your computer with you. Put your name and home address on a piece of paper inside the checked bag. Make sure it has a luggage tag too or put a paper one on it at the airport. Travel safely.

Me (again): Got your passport? Keep that with u too

Him (now at 2:02 a.m.): Found a duffel, using it instead & I’m not bringing a computer

Me: OK but if they make u check it remember to keep your passport with you, preferably in something by your feet. Passports can get stolen out of backpacks in bins. Students get targeted by thieves.

Me (finally): OK goodnight. I love you. Have fun.

Him: Gnight mom! Love you too & I’m sure we will

You can guess how the night went after that. I didn’t fall gently back into slumber.

On Monday, I made a record 20 phone calls to my father’s doctor, to friends and family who visited my father at his assisted living apartment, and to family to report in. At the time, Todd and I were attempting to complete a 7 mile hike.

That night, I was awake from 3 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. I’d drift into sleep and pop right back out of it.

I know I am not alone. Over the weekend, a dear friend lost someone she’d known and loved since childhood. She texted me last night, “Just took pill… haven’t slept in five days.” My brother who had been upset over the weekend texted me Tuesday, “I slept finally last night, though I had a 90 minute break in the middle.” Another close friend posted on Facebook: “Being the ‘sandwich’ generation and responsible for taking care of both parents and children sucks! Why do both generations have issues at the exact same time?????”

Five question marks is about right.

“Grief is a journey, I’m told,” my friend texted last night.

Yes, it is. But I am fortunate to not be on the trail alone.

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