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The Alchemy of Caregiving

Rebirth

Carl Jung compares the process of psychological transformation to the magical operations of alchemy.  Change begins with a period of dissolution and chaos—a time that alchemists called the Nigredo.  Pain and confusion are the emotional hallmarks of the psychological Nigredo.  Everything seems to be falling apart both in outer life and within.

Half in fun, I began to note the similarities in Jung’s alchemical stages of transformation to the phases of our recent kitchen remodel.  Ripping out walls and tearing up the floor, accompanied by loud banging  and grinding noises—this is the Nigredo of home improvement.

The Albedo is the second stage of the Great Work.  It is a period of cleansing and purification.  In psychotherapy, the Albedo corresponds to the long process of becoming conscious of dysfunctional life patterns and …

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Another Look at Dreaming at the End of Life

Jungian therapist and wise woman Leta McDonald shares more fascinating insights into the dreams of elders nearing the end of life.

Death Dreams: Father by Leta McDonald

Two years after my mother’s death and already into my fifties, I decided to work toward a doctorate in Jungian Studies at the Union Institute.  During this time I was also caring for my father.  Our relationship had never been close, as he was an alcoholic and could be verbally abusive.  However, with age and loss, he became less angry and seemed to be just a sad old man.  I helped him move out of his house and into assisted living when he was ready.  Then he moved again when he needed more care and eventually he lived in a nursing home.  All this time …

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Dreaming at the End of Life

Wise woman and friend Leta McDonald shares some of her experiences with dreams of the elderly and dying with us.

Death Dreams:  Mother

by

   Leta McDonald

I am a retired Jungian Therapist and have worked with dreams for many years. Dreams have guided and informed my actions regarding the illnesses and death of loved ones. Many dreams have a prophetic, all-knowing quality that is reassuring to the dreamer and points to an intelligence vastly greater than the human mind.

For this essay I will use my own and family dreams. However, those of my clients reveal similar insights.

People often die in our dreams; most often this is not a premonition of actual death, but an indication that some quality needs to transform.  I used to …

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The Caregiver’s Journal–Help for End of Life Planning

I learned a lot from being the primary caregiver for my father, Frank.  He had chronic COPD and other illnesses that required us to work with doctors and medical care providers often.  I knew that he needed and wanted my help to figure out his medical needs and treatment options, but there were many things I did not know about how much help he wanted from me and the details of what kinds of treatment he was most comfortable with.

Dad did have a medical power of attorney and a living will.  He considered his wishes about whether or not he wanted to be resuscitated if his heart stopped on several different occasions.  These documents were helpful to all of his caregivers, but now there is more help for the aging and ill and …

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Suicide and Assisted Suicide

Carol and I watched a PBS Frontline program The Suicide Plan  on suicide and assisted suicide last week. The show was well done and highlighted what has been happening in this area since the Jack Kevorkian days.

The focus was on Derek Humphry, author of Final Exit, the best-known book on suicide and assisted suicide. There is an organization called Final Exit Network  that uses Humphry’s book in aiding people to end their lives because of a terminal illness. This is a highly controversial subject with many legal, moral, and ethical issues. Washington and Oregon have legalized doctor-assisted suicide for people with a terminal diagnosis to relieve their suffering. In all the other states, assisted suicide is a crime. The Final Exit Network is enmeshed in legal proceedings in several states. Their members assist …

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Another Look at Alzheimer’s

Fear

Alzheimer’s, Dementia.  The two of the biggest fear words for someone of a certain age and their current or future caregivers.  There is so much fear of becoming a mindless vegetable or the caregiver of one that very few people do any clear thinking or planning around the issue.

A good article from the Mayo Clinic addresses this problem. The author clears up some misconceptions about the disease and what it may mean for the elder and the family.  A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is never a good thing, but it is not necessarily a complete horror for everyone concerned.  Good information and a family meeting  about the possibility and what to do are important steps.

What about testing for Alzheimer’s?  First, testing is not yet well developed enough to give a truly …

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Thanksgiving Memories

Frank With the Missing Check

It is Thanksgiving, but for some, thanks come a bit scarce.  Alzheimer’s, other forms of dementia, terminal cancer, congestive heart failure, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s, the list goes on.  Aging parents and caregivers alike face these dreaded illnesses.

How then can we give thanks?  Old age is hard.  Caregiving is hard.  Life is hard.  However, in every state, there are rewards.  Even with advanced dementia, there are those moments of lucidity we later cherish.  With a terminal illness, families are drawn together, sharing the pain of losing a loved one, but becoming closer because of the ordeal.

One outstanding characteristic of the human spirit is that adversity and tragedy brings people together.  It doesn’t even have to be a hurricane.  All it takes is for an aging parent entering into …

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The Caregiver’s Journal: Death of a Loved One

I am constantly amazed at how quickly life can change for the better or for the worse.  Less than a month ago, Bill and I were in New York City to celebrate his 70th birthday.  We visited Zabar’s and Central Park.  We viewed the Picasso Black and White exhibit at the stunning Guggenheim Museum.

On the day of Bill’s birthday, after a lovely early dinner, we attended an amazing concert presented by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.  Earlier that day we had taken the Grayline Tour bus all the way downtown to Battery Park.  It was a warm sunny afternoon only requiring a light jacket.  We rode the subway back to the Natural History Museum, a short one block stroll from our brownstone home away from home.  All in all, it was …

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Caregivers and Cancer

Caregiver and Cancer Patient

Caregivers and cancer is an important topic for me because my mother died of cancer.  At the time, treatment was relatively primitive and there was no hospice or palliative care.  She had surgery and radiation, but neither was effective against her disease.  She then had a number of months of wasting and intense suffering before she died.

Today, her cancer would probably kill her as well, but she would have had to endure chemotherapy along with surgery and radiation.  The main benefit for her is that in 2012 she could have hospice.

In expressing my opinions on this matter I must point out that I am not a physician nor do I have any special training in medicine.  I am not an expert, but I do consider myself a …

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I Used to Ride My Tricycle to His House

A Boy and His Trike

 

My old friend Tedd just died.  We went back a ways.  I used to visit him on my tricycle.  We would eat mulberries in the tree behind Jimmy’s house.  We would fight on the way home for lunch and make up on the way back to school.  His mother served both whole wheat and white bread at meals.  My family didn’t have bread on the table for meals.

In high school, Tedd wanted only to be District Attorney for a day.  All the county elected jobs were available, and I didn’t care which job I got, I just wanted to go, so I ran for every job and lost.  The last office to be chosen was District Attorney.  I won, Tedd didn’t go.

I was best man at …

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Caregivers Look to the Future

As we family caregivers become aging parents themselves, more and more of us will be  confronted with a terminal diagnosis.  As much as we are experts in the caregiving of the older generation, how do we care for ourselves and our family and friends when it is we who are on the line?

Here is some help from our friends at Insurancequotes.org:

How to Cope with a Terminal Diagnosis

There’s no worse news than being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Most people around you won’t be able to relate and won’t know what to say, so it’s important for you to find the best ways to come to terms with it yourself. You can lean on friends and family for support, but much of the strength will have to come from inside you. If …

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Dementia and Alzheimer’s in the Family

Can’t Remember

As caregivers for aging parents, Carol, Judi, and I dealt with dementia for years.  Carol and Judi’s stepfather Bernie had Alzheimer’s. He had some other health issues before dementia began robbing him of self.

Bernie and Audrey, Carol and Judi’s mother lived in Tryon, North Carolina down near the South Carolina line and in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  A beautiful place, we visited several times.  Bernie started his decline with sleep apnea.  I know something about the condition and it was clear that Bernie would stop breathing for a while asleep, gasp for air, breathe for a while, and then stop again.  That went on all night.  When we told his doctor about it, she just blew us off.

A couple of visits later, Bernie mostly slept, and …

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Revealing the Mysteries of the Elders

Some of the very old can be rather vocal, but my father Frank was not one of them.  He was quiet by temperament and particularly shy about sharing his inner life.  Often I wondered what was going on in his thoughts in later years. How did life appear to him from its pinnacle at age 90 or 91?

He had very few words of wisdom for us, but he enjoyed confounding us with his humor.  “The secret to a long life?”  There was a gentle twinkle in his eye as he answered himself, “Don’t die.”

At least he said something.  Other elderly people may stop speaking altogether.  Ironically, the well-known expert on adult development stages, Erik Erikson, chose to become completely mute in his last years.

There are a few who attempt to penetrate …

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Bill, a Good Patient and Convalescent, and a Poor Liar

A Bit Laid Up

I wrote about the lump on a tendon in my forearm a couple of weeks ago.   I had surgery-a biopsy-last week to make sure the lump was not cancerous.  No cancer, but my left arm is in a splint from my elbow to my fingers.  My wrist has to be immobilized to allow the tendon to heal.  The splint and bandage come off next week, which is about two weeks late by my reckoning.

Carol is a fine caregiver, but she can be a bit of a nag.  “Keep your arm elevated.”  “Don’t carry that.”  “Don’t get it wet.”  “Elevate.”  I guess all that indicates how diligent I have been about following instructions.  I am not a very good patient, despite the title of this post.  I don’t like …

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Ageism in Health Care Creates Big Problems for the Elderly and their Families

Ageism:  Oppression’s Best Kept Secret

“Ageist attitudes see older adults as primarily deteriorating bodies that have limited value….The prejudice of ageism is not harmless.”  These words are from the introduction to Part II of the video A Call to Action:  From Ageism to Sageism posted below.

Bernie was Mom’s Prince Charming.  Together they made a delightful retirement home in the North Carolina Piedmont.  Summers were kind of hot, but the springtime and autumn seasons redeemed any seasonal discomfort.  Bernie could do no wrong in Mother’s eyes, so when he said that their increasing aches and pains and loss of function were “just old age,” that’s how it was.  No point in even mentioning it to the doctor.

Except that he was wrong  Diseases associated with aging such as osteoarthritis, vascular dementia and even …

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A Hospice Alert

Hospice Hands

We have many references to our positive view of Hospice and Palliative Care in this Blog.  Our experience with Denver Hospice was entirely positive.  Frank, Carol and Judi’s father had an easier death because of Hospice and Palliative care.  Our only regret is that we did not call on them sooner, when it became apparent that Frank was failing.

Unfortunately, not everyone has had the same positive hospice experience.  We have a relative who works for Bloomberg  in New York.  She sent us a link to an article in their ongoing section about Hospice .  The piece is from last year and about  for-profit hospices that do not seem to have the patient’s best interests in mind.  Rather, they have more profit for the corporation in mind.  The article is “Preparing …

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Exit

The Dying Gaul

“The Onion”, a humor newspaper, ran a story  last week allegedly reporting on a new drug that will prevent Alzheimer’s.  Take the drug before you get Alzheimer’s, it kills you, and you won’t get the dreaded disease.  The story goes on to say it may prevent cancer, heart disease, and AIDS.  Well, you bet.  If you kill yourself, no disease worries.  I am not sure that is very humorous for us older folks who are looking at a relatively near future that may involve one or more of those diseases.

A large number of seniors live in some degree of terror that they may die a slow, lingering death in some horrible place tethered to tubes monitors, catheters, and beeping monitors that are steadily tracking the decline to death.  The …

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Family Meeting 2012

Family Meeting

We had our family meeting over the weekend.  It had the usual problems, people having schedule difficulties, bad Skype connections, and a missing participant.  The important thing is that we had the meeting.  The main focus was the Five Wishes, a vital document outlining a person’s wishes for end of life care.

The most important part of the annual meeting, however, is that we met and discussed topics that make most people uncomfortable–hey, are uncomfortable enough that they avoid thinking about them until there is a crisis. The crisis is an aging parent having a life-threatening illness, a gradual memory decline that has reached a critical stage, or the death of a parent.

It is then that the family comes together and finds that little or nothing is in place to guide …

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Mad As Hell….Not Going to Take It Anymore

Back in 1976, it was shocking and thrilling to see Network star Peter Finch,  playing news anchor Harold Beale,  lean out of his window and shout into the street, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” at the top of his lungs.  The conditions he was addressing are interestingly similar to those we face in today’s world.

Except that now with the so-called graying of American becoming a growing concern, some things are even more complicated and frustrating than before.

Recently I have started to run across references to a condition called “hospital induced delirium in the elderly.”   Suddenly this idea is coming up almost daily in my reading.  Here is what geriatrician and family caregiver Dennis McCullough says in his recommended book  My Mother, Your Mother:

The fragile …

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Oh, My Drip Irrigation System

This post is dedicated to Catherine Hope, Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop leader and fellow work-shoppers Bill, Heather, Meg, Molly and Catherine

It has spread its tentacles throughout my entire garden, front and back.  And yet, it is barely seen.  Fat black hoses feed into smaller green tubes underground. The only hints of the considerable network below are tiny towers that, here and there, thrust up out of the soil.  Each little tower is topped by a small swirling, spraying or dripping jewel called an emitter.

For most of the day, the system sits quiet.  But at certain set times it bursts into life.  Water is flung into the evening air in tiny droplets that are like sparkling gems.  The lowering sun touches the swirls and sprays with rainbow colors and lights up the evening …

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