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The Alchemy of Caregiving


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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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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Grief Is Grief

My dog died two weeks ago.  Gypsy was her name and she was a sweet girl – my pal.  She actually belonged to my step son but I have taken care of her for so long that she belonged to me in my heart.  She had some health problems that caused her periodic distress but for the most part, her last few months were good.  I spoiled her with bones and treats because I knew she didn’t have much time left.  It got to the point that she expected some sort of hand-out every time I went to the kitchen.  She was rarely disappointed.

I was thinking about it the other day and I realized that, while I may have given Gypsy a good life, I did not help her die well.  Part of …

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Dad Died Two Years Ago

The rose that we planted to honor Dad this Father’s Day got stepped on by someone or something a week or so after we put it into the ground.  One of its major shoots was completely broken off.  We turned over a tomato cage, placing it around the rose to protect what is left.  At only 12” high, the bush is a little hard to notice, and we are having work done on the house this summer.

In spite of its diminutive size, this robust Knockout Sunny rose is already blooming.  Although it is a yellow rose, the blooms that appeared this week on the anniversary of Dad’s death are white.  We have not got the water delivery to the rose finely tuned enough to keep the sprinkler from damaging the blossoms that are …

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A Father’s Day 2012 Memorial

I was in kindergarten when my family moved from the Chicago area where I was born to far away Washington State.  I remember the old pre-war cars containing my parents, grandparents, great grandmother, uncle, me and my baby brother traveling in caravan across the seemingly endless plains and over scary twisting mountain roads until we finally arrived in Seattle.  It was to me as if we had reached the end of the world.

The men in the family were lured to this exotic new place with the hope of obtaining high paying jobs at Boeing.  My father was fresh from an army hospital in Oklahoma, a Purple Heart hero with no idea of what to do tomorrow much less with the rest of his life.  I was five, and had no recollection of a …

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Caregiving, Friendship and a Good Death

Bill and I had not heard that our friend Barbara was in hospice and close to death.  We learned of her passing from another friend who makes a habit of studying the obituaries every Sunday.  Despite her long-standing heart condition, I had expected Barbara to live for many more years.  After all, her mother had survived past 100.  Barbara had been her mother’s long-distance caregiver for several years.

We attended Barbara’s Memorial Service a few days before Christmas.  While the snow fell softly outside the chapel windows, Barbara’s children, grandchildren, friends and loved ones sang and played, recited poetry and shared memories of Barbara and her multifaceted life.  It had been a journey of exploration and connection.  We were struck by how many of her friends and associates had met Barbara unexpectedly on a …

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November Holidays and Alzheimer’s


B-24 Liberator

Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving are the November holidays.  Many people see Veteran’s day as an extra day off or just another workday. Thanksgiving is about overeating and football, and the real holiday event is shopping on Black Friday.

This year, the November holidays are blending into memories.    This was triggered by an email we got from a regular reader.  She wants us to record memories and voices of Alzheimer’s people.    Audrey and Frank, Carol and Judi’s parents, both had dementia, but not Alzheimer’s.  Bernie, Audrey’s second husband, did have Alzheimer’s.  We weren’t direct caregivers but we saw the terrible progression of his disease.

Bernie was a WWII Veteran of the Eighth Air Force which had the highest casualty rate of any U. S. Army unit in the war.  He was …

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“What If’s” and “If Only’s” in the Aftermath of Caregiving

Recently one of our readers wrote to us about some of his feelings following the death of his mother.  “I am overwhelmed with guilt for not always being a good caregiver – giving in to work stressors, tiredness, other concerns,” he said.  “…I go over every detail of caregiving and find the things I believe I did and didn’t do.  It is sad as I wanted to do the best for my Mom, but I feel I failed her.”

We’ve talked to a lot of caregivers who feel the same as our reader.  Years after his mother’s death, one friend who had spent a couple of hours every day after work with her at her assisted living residence confesses that he feels he didn’t do enough.  Now, when Judi, Bill and I look back …

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Canyon Country

"Where are you from? Where are you going?"

Colorado Blue Columbines, Utah, 2011


In My Life

There are places I remember

All my life though some have changed

Some forever not for better

With lovers and friends I still can recall

Some are dead and some are living

In my life I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers

There is no one compares with you

In my life I love you more

From Lennon/McCartney

My motorcycle riding buddy and good friend just had a total knee replacement. He also has had a coronary bypass and has stenosis in his neck. I have a knee replacement and arthritis in my left hand and thumb and in my other knee.

I have never …

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Revisiting the Crocodile: A Caregiver Sums Up

You never know how a death is going to take you until it happens. Even so, I think it is normal to try to prepare by looking ahead–especially during a long good-bye like my father’s.

We can find so much information on grief and mourning that researching the subject almost gets in the way.  After my mother’s death I had a particularly hard time getting past what I’d learned I “should” feel to what I actually was feeling.  In the early days after Dad died, I felt stunned.  Encountering Death and losing Dad left me disoriented and at loose ends.

I needed structure and some way to understand my life now, post caregiving and orphaned.   Three weeks after Dad died, I had this helpful dream:  I walk down a hill to the edge of …

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Dad’s Independence Day Redux

Here it is–another 4th of July and Dad has been gone more than one full year.  We had our quiet remembrance of his passing on Friday.  I decided to re-post a piece from last year because it still says it best.

Dad didn’t quite make it to the Fourth of July, but “independence” was his rallying cry.  Maintaining his independence was his first concern when he moved to Denver two years ago.  Assisted living enabled him to secure the level of independence that he craved.  He had his own apartment there, and that became home to him.   He made the choice to engage hospice care only when he was assured that he could preserve his independence by remaining in his home.

In the final week of his 91years my father was still …

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Deep Inside Aging Parent Care One Year Later

We were both blessed and cursed with the chance to travel with my father Frank down the long road toward the land of death.  We went as far as we could with him.  Then we turned back to make the return trip without him.  We were changed and our lives were changed by the experience of his dying and by losing him.

In just a very few days it will be the first anniversary of Dad’s death.  Last year at this time, the hospice nurses thought he had another two weeks or more remaining to him.  On what turned out to be the last day of Dad’s life, Bill and I consulted with the hospice chaplain.   I was trying to prepare myself for our last days together and to find the words to say …

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My Mother’s Hands–A Poem







My mother’s hands

One day I was slicing tomatoes with my mother’s hands. Gone were my small ones and in their place her wider ones wrinkled knuckles veins like raised relief mountains on an antique globe. I thought I would miss the idleness of my former pair known to sleep in and outsource the vacuuming. But when I touched my cheeks with her cool smooth palms I left them there for a long time understanding that I was now the one he will seek out to feel safe.



Technorati Tags: aging, elderly changes, family memories, grief, mourning

Another Father’s Day

Last year at this time we didn’t know that Dad was less than two weeks from the end of his life.  We knew the end was coming.  But no one thought that he would leave quite so soon.

Since he was weak and frail, our celebration was low key.  We had dinner together in the big dining room at his assisted living residence.  We stayed in because he could no longer leave home for the joyrides he loved.  I don’t remember if we played our regular poker game that day.

Judi wrote the Father’s Day post.  Looking back I notice that all three of us were posting about “caregiver stress” day after day.  I was suffering from insomnia and having faintly threatening dreams when I did sleep.  I recognize now that I was struggling …

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The Father’s Day We’ll Never Have

This is our first Father’s Day without Dad.  If he were still here with us, I would have liked to offer him the opportunity to be honored by Operation Resolve on a trip on a special flight with a group of other WW II vets to visit the National World War II Memorial.

If Dad were still alive at 92, a trip from Denver to Washington, D.C. might have been too much for him in his very frail state and with his nervousness about flying.  On the other hand, if he could have made it, I think that being honored with a group of other WW II vets might well have been a healing experience for him–one that would have eased his mind in his last days.

World War II vets are dying at …

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Spring Color and The Meeting

Carol wrote about the spring blossoms we saw with Frank on one of his last outings last year.   This year the color is not like last year – a dry winter – but I found myself remembering.  Frank lived in Denver two years and I got to know him better than when we were long distance caregivers.

We became friends.  We played poker, went on drives in the mountains and around the city, and visited Red Rocks City Park. He was awed by Red Rocks every time we went there.   He loved nature, and the spring display of color was his last real experience of the turn of seasons.  The color this spring brought back the memories.  I miss the old goat.

This spring has brought a remarkable event for our family.   We had …

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What Happens to Caregivers when their Aging Parents have Died?

One of the things I remember most vividly about my dad’s last days is that on the day before he died, he turned to me and said “How can I help you?”  I realize now that all his talk about living to be “at least 100” was less about him and more to reassure us that he would be there for us for a long time yet.  Before her death, 91-year-old Phyllis Greene said it this way:   It is better to give than to receive. We have heard that cliché for so long that we don’t really hear it when it’s said. But once you accept that you are old and needy, those words hit you in the face—how you wish you could still be the one who is giving.

Dad was a bit …

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The Last Tax Return

I know that I am not alone at this time of year as I gather together receipts and reports and all the other information required by the IRS.  Like so many other caregivers, I have been collecting those envelopes marked “Important Tax Information” for weeks now.  I toss the ones addressed to my dad into their own special basket on a high shelf.  I, like many of you, don’t exactly look forward to doing two sets of taxes instead of just our own.  Especially not this year.

In the spirit of deploying my own oxygen mask first, I do our taxes before tackling Dad’s.  Even so, I notice that I have been putting off contacting Dad’s tax accountant in Florida for two weeks or more—just a simple call to find out what the accountant …

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Times To Remember

By Paul E. Iron

Article reprinted here with the permission of Journey’s Newsletter-published monthly for the Hospice Foundation of America.

When my wife  and I downsized to move to a retirement community, in addition to a shelf full of slide carousels,  several large boxes of old family photographs were a problem. There were pictures from our childhood, our graduations, our wedding, our children.  But there were also stacks of fading browned portrait photos of great-grandparents, girls in high shoes and large hair ribbons, baby boys in long christening dresses.  Some of these people were long-gone before I was born, others I had known as a child.

It was so difficult to decide what to do with all those pictures.  I had a sentimental attachment to many of them, but there was something more …

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Grieving the Death of an Aging Parent Part IV

The French literary giant Roland Barthes has been my counselor through these first few months after the loss of my father last July. Through the journal he kept after the death of his mother at age 84, first excerpted in the New Yorker in September and now published under the title Mourning Diary, he has validated my own experiences in the wake of my father’s death.

An entry in early March reminds me of one of my dad’s overriding concerns as he was approaching death–that we would be all right.  All winter Barthes has dressed somberly.  But now he recalls that his mother preferred to see him wearing color, and he puts on a colorful plaid scarf.  Reading this, I remember my dad asking me on the day before he died how he could …

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