Caregiver duties wrap up for now

Being on active duty as my mother’s caregiver/spokesperson is wrapped up – for a time.

I hope.

How long this period will last is one of those unknowns dumped on us by life. Although only in her 70’s, her health is nowhere near the robustness of her parents who were taking trips, still living in their house, and making weekly treks to mow their son’s lawn.

I always imagined Mom’s journey would run on similar lines. Strong genetics. However, I should have factored in the fact that life lobbed many emotional projectiles at her. She’s coped as she could, creating a soft-colored environment in her home, buying dozens of “pretties” for the joy of it. Seeking quiet spaces and focusing on collecting reams of ancestral data.

So the cycle of active worry and care ends for a time. Life seems changed since November when Mom’s being unable to manage to walk and care for herself, pitched her and myself into a flurry of lists of agencies to contact for help, and visits with and from health care providers.

What alterations will stay, I wonder?

The final visit with a home therapist is scheduled for later this week and the focus will be on helping Mom learn how to use the bath bench that arrived by mail last week. I hope – I will encourage her – to use it.

The prescribed walker is still hanging out unused in the living room. Sometime soon I’ll be faced with hauling it back to the local Lion’s Club where we got it.

A Meals on Wheels volunteer showed up yesterday morning with another bag of food. I deliberately retreated to my room so I wouldn’t have to watch Mom struggling to slot the culinary offerings into the freezer, filled already with her treasure trove of frozen meals. The service with freshly made meals will continue. And the frozen meals will stay . . . .

Later in the day, Mom and I tackled the challenge of finding her a supplemental dental plan. Mom dialed the number but got overwhelmed by the automated instructions. She handed me the phone and I switched it to speaker mode so we could both hear.

A male representative came on line and I explained what my mother needed. He lavishly praised me for the great job I was doing for my mother – with Mom hearing every word.

I buried my face in my hands. Those words were sweet to hear – but Mom was trying to speak for herself.

Will she be able to do that more now as part of the changes? I really don’t know. Being able to advocate for ourselves, voice what we want, need, think is such a basic part of life.

So here we are – and I’m hoping for calmer days ahead with Mom relishing her life – and me, her daughter, being glad she can do so.

© 2017 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.


Good bye 2016. Adieu!

Good bye 2016. Adieu! Also good riddance!

2016 showed itself to be a teeth-grinding, heavy weight time for many of us. I will say particularly for me in the past couple of months. Particularly in regards to my great and grand aspirations for writing a new novel – and having reality strike.  describe the sensation as the jarring noise that occurs when someone smacks a piano keyboard with the flat of their hand. Notes that would sound just fine by themselves, converging together into one loud din.

And the realities of care giving. Experiencing major quantity and quality time with an elderly relative – and wondering exactly how strong is the bond that binds us. Before I scuttle out the front door, madly seeking me.


Then there were the occurrences beyond my control – Politics. Major persons passing. Politics.

Okay. Dusting off my hands here. Be banished oh realities of 2016.

Well, be gone as much as is possible. I don’t own any magic pixie dust to banish the troubled times to the bottom of the nearest dumpster, swathed in plastic and tied firmly with my best knot.

What I do possess is determination. 2017, you WILL help me unearth opportunities to show how determined I can be. Even if I have to pinkie wrestle you for the honor.

True, my creativity took a serious beating for a couple of months. But I am ready to haul my novel out of the mental closet, brush it off and get going again. Chapter 4 awaits – and the realities experienced by a man who is struggling to live up to his family’s lofty scholastic achievements.

He and the other four major characters (yes, I write in multiple character perspectives) have a lot of stretching – think pretzel dough here – and “larning” to do – and we’ll see where he and all of them are at by the time I type Finis.

I’m also making a promise to myself – I suppose it could be called a resolution – to seek out the company of people. I am sooooo really overwhelmed at times – and it’s time to seek more of what refreshes, renews, restores me.

Like earlier this week and visiting a museum where the elderly gracious lines of a mansion and some stunningly beautiful artworks in material are displayed. Where the spirits of the past are present – strongly I might add.

I greatly appreciated viewing antique pieces belonging to the original occupants. A baby’s cradle carved from wood. A high chair. Smiling as I savor the joy ahead later this year for my son and daughter-in-law as they welcome their first born.

I am signed up for a class on Tuesday nights. Nothing with college credit to it, just an opportunity to meet with others and discuss our mutual thoughts on the text. Maybe some cooking classes to extend my culinary abilities.

A gym membership? Of course that is probably the most common resolution made by adults – “I’m going to get to the gym. Every day. I swear it.” But if I’m going to successfully wrestle determination out of 2017, I need to keep honing my muscles. Both mental and physical.

K. I’ve nattered on long enough here. You have your own good-byes to make to 2016. A word to describe what your goals are for this year – and possibly even purchasing that gym membership.

Wishing you determination!

© 2017 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved. For more information contact the writer at .

November train wreck

Oh November. What a train wreck you proved to be!

I switched my calendar to you, November, with glowing bright ambitions to complete writing a novel in one month. Struggling to hope that somewhere out there was an affordable home meant to be mine. Content to be a caregiver during long weekend shifts and to chill out in my room during my off-hours.

Well, November, you had other plans for me. Smashingly, derailing plans as I discovered.


The writing contest I was participating in dared me to write 50,000 words in one month, or approximately 1,667 words a day to meet the goal. That’s a lot of words – and a lot of energy.

But I felt up for it. Hungered for it. Time to reclaim my inner novelist.

Well I made my start, kept on track for the first week or so. But then my mother got sick suddenly and couldn’t walk or manage life details without needing my assistance.

I had to stop. Focus on her needs.

I should have been more prepared for that, I suppose. Part of middle age is reluctantly giving up the illusion that ones’ elderly parents are hearty, and will remain healthy and be around for a long time to come.

But November, you definitely slammed that illusion. Each of my parents has health challenges. My dad struggling to recover from bypass surgery. Mom and mobility challenges – and well, having her associated life issues popping up.

Holing up in my room and staying on track with my writing wasn’t possible.

So I learned Mom prefers drinking water that isn’t hot or cold. Found myself sitting with her in waiting rooms, hoping medical staff would call mom’s name soon. Wheeling her down corridors to the examination rooms.

At home time was spiked by health care workers knocking on the front door. Sitting down with them to discuss the details of mom’s illness and how to make life more accessible for her.

I told them while I play a role in her recovery and ongoing health concerns, I want to be my mother’s daughter. Not a paid caregiver for her.

I’m still unclear on where the boundaries between those two are.

Even with December here now, there’s still so much to do. Paperwork for a caregiver program for which thankfully she qualifies. Getting a walker for mom to use – even while I fear she probably won’t use it much – and it will sit in a corner of the already overcrowded living room. Perhaps she’ll use it to hold  bags of groceries yet to be eaten or drape it with scarves she might wear some day.

The novelist inside me is stirring. Visions of characters and the next chapter to write  simmering. Waiting to emerge as my energy grows to encompass the newest realities of my mother’s life – and of mine. No home of my own for now.

So November, no, you don’t get the final word. But I cannot say I will remember you fondly.

© 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint go to:

Parental concerns

Highs and lows. This past month has conjured up  both extremes on the parental front.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my elderly dad’s quintuple bypass surgery. It was a very difficult surgery for him, followed by a second operation to stop internal bleeding, and since then he’s been back to the hospital again. And is home now, hopefully with no more complications.

This week spilled out fresh challenges (no, I’m not talking about our elections). No, this time occurred Wednesday with a soft knock on my door and Mom saying she was experiencing numbness in her legs and feet.

“All right, we need to go see your doctor. Today.” I said.

Mom refused. Nope. Seeing her doctor would cost money. I phoned Medicare to verify her coverage with them and the fact that she’d satisfied her medical deductions. It took a few minutes even then to reassure her that it was safe to go.

The coin flipped when I called the doctor’s office and asked for an appointment. Upon hearing mom’s symptoms, the nurse told me to get her to the Emergency Room. Fortunately my sister was with us through a very long afternoon of waiting to be seen, tests and more tests, and finally the news that mom had neuralgia, meaning an intense nerve pain in her lower joints and feet.

An E.R. nurse advised Mom to begin wearing warmer socks to help circulation in her feet, instead of her usual nylons and delicate shoes. “I can’t do that, none of my shoes will fit,” Mom protested.

I wanted to laugh, to groan at the same time at her determined expression. We will see her doctor next week and hopefully the cause of the pain can be identified.  Possible medications include pain killers and topical creams. However, Mom won’t use a topical cream, because it’s a sticky substance and would “ruin” her nylons and shoes.

So it will be my role to advise the doctor of that particular concern. And to make sure the office has my name and phone number as the contact person. They called mom the day after her E.R. visit, and she lost the notes (taken during the call)  in her piles of “must keep papers.”

All of this is concerning and draining. Somewhere between the parental concerns, I’m scraping together enough energy to forge on, for my two “paid” caregiving jobs and for writing, and staying sane.

Wish me luck..

(C) 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

Hurrah for “Me” days

 I am learning to soar. To dance.

In a life crammed with care-giving responsibilities,  it is easy to forget about  snatching moments for myself. So I recently invented what  I call “Me” days. Times when I drop those heavy responsibilities that feel like a carrying a backpack crammed with college textbooks — and soar free for a few hours.

 Admittedly, the learning curve is jagged. My primary occupation at the moment is care giving. This  involves paying close attention to the details of other people’s lives. In this setting, I work with people who live with steep challenges. Individuals who move about, courtesy of wheeled mobility devices such as wheelchairs. Who struggle with learning to use I-phones and use one hand to lace up sneakers.

This job calls for vast amounts of energy, humor, empathy and patience. Fortunately, the agency I work for trains us on how to best assisting clients. My role is to support each person, to engage with them. Help them find ways to accomplish life goals they have set for themselves.

Recently, I realized although I was supporting my clients — and rightfully so —  I was failing to support me.  I felt like the residue that remains at the bottom of the cup after I’ve finished drinking tea. So what roadblock stood in the way of me advocating for myself.

Even caregivers need time to pursue the lighter side of life.

Re-setting one’s focus is difficult. For many years my time away from home was spent working, either on free-lance writing projects and as a customer service representative for companies. I got together with a friend for occasional walks but that was about it. I questioned the value of doing that after my (now ex) husband suffered a serious stroke, and I added being the only driver in the family and trying to look after his needs as well to my weighty list of “must do’s.” When I got too tired, I made myself repeat over and over, “I am strong. It’s my job to take care of everything. Mine.”

Well,  my must-do’s list has shifted. But it still exists.  My mother needs assistance to sort through the many (never-ending?) boxes of her life’s possessions. I continue to worry about my youngest 20-something son as he works to establish himself in a demanding job.

Can i really say this is my time?  My time to find joy, to do more of what I want to do?

The answer is yes. One reason is depression. I am prone to chronic depression and will live with knowing it can crop up — if I don’t take care of myself.

Only I can make myself seek out times for fun and growth and chill-axing, such as a few weeks ago when attending an outdoor concert with a friend. Flowing Celtic style music buoyed my spirits, the pizza and salad she shared with me was crisp, tangy, sweet. At evening’s end, music soared and I bounced up and danced. Like a butterfly. Dip and spreading my arms. Laughing as my friend recorded the moment with her camera.

A time to be me.

(C) 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke.  All rights reserved.



Solutions and care giving


Do you appreciate those moments of unexpected joy? I know I do.

Yesterday’s joy was watching a person getting up from her chair by herself.

Now, I realize that is terribly ordinary. People sit down on chairs. People stand up. So what?

This woman can’t stand by herself, due to a permanent injury. She reclines in a lounger and watches life unfold outside her window. But the lounger requires that someone else (such as me) crank the foot rest up and down and help her struggle to her feet.

Dependence. Frustration.

However, this new chair is equipped with a remote and mechanisms that lift the seat and allows her to stand, on her own. It belonged to another person who no longer needs it, or any other physical assistance. The family chose to honor their loved one’s memory by gifting the chair of freedom.

As a caregiver, I relish solutions. Finding answers to those thorny problems that keep people from truly experiencing their lives. Having to wait endless minutes, days, months – not my way of dealing with things.

But reality – we all know Ms. Reality don’t we? – has a way of putting its foot out and tripping us up or making us taking extra seconds to have to veer around.

Head in Hands
Cain by Henri Vidal, Tuileries Garden, Paris, 1896

I remember another woman I cared for, as a nursing assistant. Mary was a kind woman and she fiercely valued her independence. She didn’t want to think she couldn’t rely on herself – with a dab or two of assistance – for handling life details. One night, I answered her call light and discovered she’d had an accident. I attempted to comfort her as I scrubbed away the mess. She wasn’t having any of it and told me to go – so she could wrestle with frustration on her own. It was a few days before I had the joy of seeing her smile at me again – and I missed that.

I struggled to ensure my (now ex) husband could get out of the house as needed after he had a stroke. But that backfired. I remember searching for him in the dark, driving the car, peering out the window hoping I would spot him. Spotting him wrapped me in joyful relief. His explanation was the bus hadn’t come and well, what else was he to do? Call me, I would say. It seemed a simple solution. However, come the next time he wouldn’t remember (or choose) to do that.

Care giving can be a frustrating occupation. Thanks be for those moments when joy flits in.

© 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

Mary Louise Van Dyke is finding the peanut butter, aka middle years of her life both sweet and challenging as she spends time working and sharing time with friends and family.

Permission to just be

My primary job (well one of three jobs) calls for giving support to people who are working to live their lives to the fullest. Yesterday was a tough day — for a valiant person who was wracked with pain. I held their hand for a short time, tried to soothe away the hurting, while marveling at the strong spirit inside their fragile shell. Shared with others, the frustration of hoping medications would ease the torture.


And afterwards I made sure to take some special time for myself before hopping on the bus to return home. Supporting others — care giving is a privilege — and I realize more and more the value of making sure I have time to renew and engage in something that gives me quiet afterwards.

I am naturally inclined  to think I should keep going and going — yes, like that proverbial energizer bunny — but that’s not reality. Not a reasonable reality. Life drains. We need those moments to recharge. To find stillness within ourselves.

Time to just be!

Today I invite us all to do just that!

(C) 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.