Saturday, January 28, 2012

Live long and prosper

Here's my Saturday morning epiphany: even though the negative effects of illness can be multigenerational, but so too can the positive effects be......if we do the work. It is possible, even in the face of this, to live long and prosper.

Here's what I've just realized, or perhaps, re-realized: failure to prepare in one generation almost ensures an inability to prepare in the next. The end result of this failure to prepare, is what is referred to in some churches, as a multi-generational curse in which succeeding generations continue to feel the ill-effects of bad choices made years before.

I see the possibilities of this developing in my own family. Mummy's illness and her unwillingness to take a strong stand to prepare for retirement has, for the moment, wiped out any chance I might have to properly fund my own future. Note I say "for the moment". I have a plan you see. Fortunately for me, I'm still relatively young and could potentially have another 30 years of work to catch up, but it will be a steep hill and I will have to marshal every ounce of self-control every day going forward. There will be no pennies for fripperies and foolishness, but so it is. I could also strike it rich or marry a millionaire. Or I could strike it rich AND marry a millionaire. Anything is possible.

My understanding of the long term financial effects to the caregiver, is why I will continue to drill this point frequently: talk with your parents, your old aunts and uncles, about long term care needs. The reality is that either we are strong enough, and mean spirited enough, when the crisis hits to say, "Well, I told them. They didn't listen. Let them fend for themselves" or we find ourselves stepping in to plug the inevitable holes. Once you step in, this thing is like quicksand. You can't just step back out. Once you're in, you're in. For good. For the long haul, however long that might be and wherever that might lead you. So I say again, have those conversations, make some plans, create streams of income because if there is one truth I have learned, it is this: you can't out save your retirement needs. You have to out earn them by creating a never ending flow of new income.

I really believe that the model currently being touted, that suggests that it's possible to save enough for retirement is just straight up wrong. I know it's wrong because my mother followed most of the rules: she saved and she invested. She also did better than most in that she never spent what she'd saved, certainly not at the recommended 4% per annum rate. She simply never spent. It all just sat there and yet, when diagnosed with a chronic illness in the 20th year of her retirement, it immediately became clear to me that all that she had was still not going to be enough for the battle ahead.*

I do not offer any of this to alarm but rather as a warning and an opportunity for you to take action. For her, a solid retirement plan should have included a stream of (growing) income to help cover the shortfalls consequent upon a (shrinking) pension. Simply put, when the cost of bread rises, and the pension does not, the income stream covers the gap. When the cost of staples and necessities, indeed every blessed thing, rises and the pension does not, the income stream covers the gap. And so it goes, until one day, you find that it's the income stream that's doing all the work. The pension can perhaps fill your gas tank or repair a leaking faucet, while everything else is covered by your current income.

When we neglect to think about these things, when those who have experience refuse to share their experience of these things, others suffer needlessly. Please, don't suffer needlessly, cuz I'm out here, sharing. Don't put your family on a path to a multi-generational financial crisis. There really is no need. Creating a successful plan is more doable than you might think and taking small steps today eliminates the need for giant leaps tomorrow.

I must be part Vulcan, because I really do believe that we can "live long and prosper", even in the midst of this.

There's a long road ahead. How do you plan to navigate it? As pretty as this one looks, we really have no way of knowing what's around the next bend or just beyond the farthest point that we can see. So I ask again, what's your plan?

* Current models for retirees recommend a 4% per annum draw down on retirement funds based on a presumption of  about 25 - 30 years post retirement living. The trouble with that is that if you're perfectly healthy (as Mummy was) for the first 20 years of your retirement, by the time illness comes, you've all but exhausted your resources. What recourse have you then, but to turn to your children (who may by then have their own retirements to fund, children to educate, and mortgages to pay) for support?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Coconut Oil treatment? It's worth a try

Take a look at this. And if you've never shared one of my posts before, maybe this is the one to share with anyone and everyone you know who is caregiving. Click the link below to view an extremely interesting (and compelling) video on the effects of coconut oil on one woman's husband's Alzheimer's Disease.

Coconut Oil an answer to Alzheimer's Disease?

Friday, January 20, 2012

J-O-Y aka G-O-G

I promised myself that this year, instead of just writing (complaining? venting?) about the sadness of this illness, I would write about the joy (aka GOG or the Grace of God). If you're not a believer, you can just call it 'joy'. I don't mind. So here's my joy story for January.

I have always hated cooking. I had exalted dreams of my future, in which I would be this professional powerhouse. On the flipside of my 'powerhousedness' however, I had waking nightmares of being in a kitchen in a hot pink power suit and an apron. In this terrible dream, there were two squalling children sitting on the floor behind me (holding the apron strings of course), while I stood slaving over a hot stove, steam wafting up into my beautifully made up face. Yeah, well I have a pretty vivid imagination. As a consequence of this nightmare that I was sure would befall me should I learn to cook, I didn't. I refused to cook though I did quite like baking.

Imagine my surprise then, when just this morning, I realized how much I enjoy (not saying 'love' just 'enjoy') pulling a meal together. It is relaxing even when I'm tired, to create something edible and enjoyable. Moreover, since I didn't learn to cook at my mother's or my grandmother's elbow, it's a very personal accomplishment when I get things done in a timely manner.

Don't get me wrong, I'd still prefer to be working full time and I'm working on that, but it brings me peace and joy (there's that word I promised to use more this year) when I present a pretty, well-balanced, good tasting plate.

So today, after I'd baked West Indian coconut sweet bread and then made lunch and set the lunch in front of my mother, even her, "Miss, I can't pay for this you know" (indicating the plate) couldn't slow me down. I'd already found my joy for the day and her confusion wasn't about to steal it from me.

The truth is, my joy is grace. I don't talk about my faith in this blog because (i) I don't know who reads it and I don't want to offend and (ii) it usually isn't germane to what I'm writing about. Except, today it is. So please allow me just this one time to say, that His grace allows me to find joy in stirring a hot pot in spite of that vivid dream. His grace today allowed me to keep going in spite of Mummy's, "Miss, I can't pay for this you know". Honestly, were it not for grace, there would be no joy and plenty of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And just so you know, these two sweet breads taste (and smell) even better than they look! It's going to be a very good weekend. I can tell. Next up: tangerine muffins. Can't wait!!! Oh joy!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

B, b

My mother can no longer spell her name. Truth be told, there may be days when she doesn't know her name, but that's a whole other story.

When we go out and her credit card has to be used as the method of payment, things get  interesting as she has to be talked through the spelling of her name. B-A-R-B. With increasing frequency, it's at that second 'b' that we get in to trouble. For some unknown reason - who am I kidding, the reason is well known: it's Alzheimer's disease -  Mummy cannot write a lower case 'b', so her signature usually reads BarBara.

Of course, if you see someone being coached through the spelling of their own name, you might be inclined to think something was amiss, so I've now taken to explaining to cashiers that my mother has Alzheimer's disease and sometimes cannot remember how to spell her name. I also have to  remember to carry some form of ID for her, just in case anyone gets suspicious. No one has looked at me askance yet, but I imagine it'll happen at some point.

I'm very tempted to buy a children's handwriting practice book or to download practice pages off the internet, but Mummy is sufficiently aware to resent the implication and yet sufficiently ill to need the help. Que faire? What to do? That's rhetorical question, I'm not going to 'do' anything. I'ma just roll with it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Thinning air

Navigating this disease is like mountain climbing: the air becomes increasingly thin and it becomes ever harder to draw a good breath. The upside of course, is the views. In this case, it's the views of the truth of self that make the journey worthwhile.

The pulling and tugging over the Mummy's new clothes continues. I've had no success as yet in getting Mummy to wear the new pyjamas over an extended period of time. There is comfort, I gather, in her wearing old tired clothing. It's familiar. She knows to whom it belongs. She is not convinced that the new stuff is hers and it is therefore suspect. The wearing of the old clothes is hard for me to watch but apparently, our tug-o-war over new pyjamas is harder still for my sister to watch.

Most dangerous of all in this journey, are the unintended (negative) psychological consequences of our actions - whatever their motivations might be - on self. I feel compelled to get Mummy into some decent looking home and night clothes, but the journey to that place is fraught with tension and dark looks and the reason I insist on making it is not entirely clear to me. And for the onlooker, the whole thing is a painful exercise. My sister just told me she wishes I would stop. Can I? I don't know.

In my posts to this point, I have rarely said much about my relationship with my mother. I have steered pretty clear of that for the simple reason that there ain't much to say. I'm not sure what the relationship was when she was well, and given current circumstances, there really ain't nothing to tell. Whatever it was when it was something, these days my singular goal in this relationship is to be the not Mummy. With our roles reversed, my goal is to not be the Mummy that I so often experienced. It's very hard work and I so often fail.

I mentioned in another post that Mummy was a 'pragmatic parent'. This is true. But with that academic, dietary, extracurricular activity pragmatism came a lot of shouting and anger. Academics, food, extracurricular activities were all well taken care of, but we were shouted at a helluva lot. Mummy was, I think, a very frustrated single parent, deeply disappointed by the turn of events in her life (the parallels to my current universe are alarming) and the only acceptable(?) outlet for that frustration was her children. As a consequence, there was a surfeit of angry outbursts and a dearth of loving kindness. Fortunately, we had our grandmother who acted as a countervailing influence in our lives. Mummy hugged us when we got off planes, not when knees were scraped, egos bruised or hearts broken. Granny on the other hand, loved us abundantly, openly and often. With her, there were nicknames and foolish games. Not so with Mummy.

My efforts to make sure that Mummy goes out looking good or hangs around the house looking decent, are a consequence of my attempts to make her look as though she is loved because, shame on me, I don't know that she is. At a visceral level, the love is there but it's that kind of love that can't be avoided, the automatic love of a child for a parent. That's the love we're hard wired to feel. A more adult, conscious, 'I love you because you're you' kind of love that is built on mutual respect and understanding, has never had opportunity to take root and grow and in the situation where a parent has Alzheimer's disease, it sadly never will.

I speak only truth, hard truth but truth all the same.

Don't get me wrong. Mummy did the best she could. We, my sister and I, are well educated (and at considerable personal sacrifice to Barbs). We know how to eat with a knife and fork (!), have manners (when we choose to use them), have respect for our elders and given opportunity, will work and be good taxpaying citizens. Our intellects have been well developed and we even have a few gifts and graces which have also been developed. We have integrity and are, by and large, decent human beings. None of this happens by accident. And, in spite of all that she was unable to give us, we seem to be able to give much love and affection to the one offspring one of us (not me) has managed to produce, so all is not lost. But the eschewal of anger, remains a bugbear. Perhaps I shouldn't admit that? OK. Let's pretend I didn't.

Honestly, this hill is getting steeper and the air harder to breathe. Still, we climb on and I for one, will continue my quest for a zen-like state of being that gets me to the end of this road; a state that allows Mummy to wear whatever she wants and me to be OK with it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year. New clothes. New issues.

On New Year's Day, Mummy was in a rage because I'd changed her blanket. Someone, she asserted was playing 'damn jackass tricks' on her. I had removed her multicolored comforter (for laundering purposes, nothing more nefarious I assure you) and replaced it with a plain cream-colored blanket. She was angry. Very angry. Getting over that upset slowed the morning routine to the point that I thought I'd have to miss church. Fortunately, that didn't happen. We made it. A little late, but we made it.

We also recently bought Mummy some new pajamas in an effort to ensure that she was properly clad at night. These are not the first new clothes she's received recently, but the other items are for daytime wear. I wouldn't have imagined that new night clothes could be a problem.

Two nights ago, on the pyjamas' inaugural run, Mummy got up in the middle of the night, removed all her clothes and went to bed in something else: a good sweater and a pair of lounging pants. Last night I tried them again. Again, I put her in them, told her that they were her new pyjamas and hoped for the best. No success. This morning, I discovered that she had removed the clothing and redressed herself in a familiar sweater and her underwear. No pants, but plenty of confusion. Of course, she had no recollection of changing her clothes and so she was perplexed as to why she had on no pants.

An hour or so later, after finishing her breakfast, she went upstairs, rested a moment and then came back down, once again robed in confusion. Pulling at the pyjama bottoms, a quizzical expression on her face, she began to formulate a question. Interrupting, I said, "Those are your new pyjamas."
"Who bought them?", she asked.
"I did," I replied.
"Oh ho. Thanks."
But the look of confusion never faded. Clearly there was something else amiss but she was either unready or unable to communicate what that might be.

Several weeks ago, Mummy didn't recognize herself in a reflection. Now it's anger at changed bed linen and confusion at new clothes. What more can the disease possibly hold? Or perhaps I shouldn't wonder.