Home Care for the Vulnerable (Part Three)

Over and over we hear that it is best to age in place. Or if you have a medical condition that requires support from others it is again best to have the help come into your home.

While in theory it sounds like a perfect solution in practise it does not work, unless you have a large bank account.

Both my parents and my in-laws accessed home care at various points. My parents only qualified for it after my mom was released from the hospital with a cracked pelvis. The Home Care worker came in twice a week to help her bath. My mom liked to bathe every other day so on those days she would do it by herself. I tried to make the 30 minute drive out to help because I didn’t want her to fall.

Later on when I was worn out from grocery shopping every few days for them, we hired a lady to come and help out. It cost $25 per hour and she came for three hours once a week. I still supplemented picking up medication and groceries……

If they had a medical appointment, my brother or I would drive them. At their particular age taking a taxi wasn’t in their plans. My in-laws also refused to take taxis so my husband or I would drive them to and from appointments.

We also hired a cleaning lady so that was another cost. Another person was hired for foot care and they purchased meals on wheels.

My in-laws qualified for bathing twice a week, so we hired a cleaning lady and they had meals on wheels. They refused to hire a foot care person.

In our experience Home Care people were often different. How could any sort of trust be gained when different people arrived to do this intimate care?

One my friend’s mothers refused to let a ‘stranger’ in her house. She had mild dementia and was afraid to allow this Home Care Worker she hadn’t seen before come in. Makes sense to me.

When my friend phoned to see why her mother wasn’t bathed she was told her mother refused. While I understand the Home Care Worker could not force herself in, it highlights an issue with Home Care.

Home Care staff were also always rushed as there were time limits set for each ‘service’ they offered. When dealing with people who are vulnerable, as in elderly or medically fragile, trying to rush them only adds to the confusion and stress.

A good friend has a sister who is confined to a wheel chair and requires daily home support, even though she lives in an assisted living facility.

The sister qualifies for three showers each week and is allowed one hour per shower. Because she is incontinent this is not really enough. She copes.

She needs exercises so Home Hare provided a physiotherapist twice a week. As soon as the pandemic started this was stopped. Her sister had to hire a private physiotherapist and can only afford her once a week. This in not helping her to maintain her independence.

The sister has limited use of her hands and Home Care comes in once a week for two hours to assist with laundry, homemaking and cleaning. Even in a small apartment there is no way everything gets done. During the pandemic this limited help was gone. It fell to my friend and later on, to the sister was able to hire a lady to help out. Again this was a financial burden.

As far as meals go, within the assisted living place where the sister resides, meals were provided but because of the pandemic, she is now charged $5 if she asks that they bring the tray up to her room.

Can you imagine someone with limited hand and arm strength opening her door to go out in the hall, wheel herself down the hall, enter an elevator, pick up her food tray and then make the reverse trip. How can this be safe?

So my friend makes meals to freeze that can be warmed up in the microwave. Her sister is getting limited social interaction and my friend is taking on another job.

When Home Care does come, part of the service is meal preparation. The reality is that they are only allowed to make toast, salads or sandwiches. If we care about nutrition this is simply not enough.

The sister requires medication twice a day and Home Care does come in to administer the drugs. Again there is a time limit to these visits so it is quick.

What I have noticed in the condo where my parents resided and now our condo is there are many different Home Care staff arriving at different times of the day to assist people who need help.

I wonder if those visits couldn’t be better coordinated so it was always the same three or four staff who visited a building. Wouldn’t that make more sense, be a better use of time and be easier on those who need the help?

For my parents, in-laws and other friend’s parents and siblings, we step up and help when needed, sometimes at our expense.

For caregivers this can become a full time job and many are wearing out, stressed and financially burdened. We are aging too.

What happens to the vulnerable who have no one? How about those who don’t have the bank account to be able to hire extra help. It is frightening to think of their fate.

I hear arguments about cost and certainly this needs to be considered. Let’s sit down and talk about what could work better? If there a different way that is more humane?

I understand that moving the vulnerable into institutions isn’t popular, especially after we see what is happening in many, and yet for us as caregivers it was reassuring to know that qualified staff was on site 24/7.
Also most residents get more social stimulation which is so necessary to their physical and mental health.

In it’s present state, Home Care is not enough to keep our vulnerable in the best safe spot we would expect for our loved ones.

Seniors and those living with degenerative diseases deserve the respect and care we give to children. We need more doctors, nurse practitioners and trained staff who specialize in this care.

CARING FOR THE VULNERABLE…..(PART TWO)

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Thank you to all who made comments and called me after part one of ‘Caring for the Vulnerable’ where I talked about having patient-based care and single rooms for all who live in care facilities.

If politicians are serious about making a positive difference to the care of the elderly and those with complex health needs, new thinking must be implemented.

A one hour planned visit does not give anyone the true picture of a facility. In order to make economically wise decisions while keeping patient needs first, talk to family who visit regularly, residents and staff.

My parents were part of a survey, yet they didn’t want to say anything negative that would upset the staff that they were dependent on. I suspect some staff felt the same way when asked for opinions.

Those of us who visited often, and spent years in and out of facilities have much to offer. We have watched staff interact, seen residents arrive and later fade as their health needs become more complex. We see the caring staff who take time to visit, the cleaning staff who sing while they work and the laundry people who sew buttons on, using their own time. I watched the handyman cheer so many people as he went about his work, calling residents by name and asking questions they could answer.

For the most part the staff I saw were professional, worked hard and cared about their residents. There were just too few and there were too many patients for them to be successful. I could sense frustration when they couldn’t reach all residents in a timely manner.

I think that the buildings need to be utilized differently.

When I visited my parents, I always thought how wonderful it would be if high school students, who were in alternative programs/classes used the eating areas for classes. They would arrive after breakfast, have a break for lunch and sit with the seniors as they all ate together. After lunch they could resume classes.

It would give residents something to look forward too and it would afford students an opportunity to connect with the residents. It would promote conversation at the tables.

I could see some residents just coming and watching the students or sitting in on the classes. In Alberta there is required program in high school called Career and Life Management (CALM) that would work well.

If once a week classes were held in a care faculty all kinds of enrichment would occur.

My parents had so many wonderful stories to tell of growing up. They rode horses to school, trapped weasals on the way to school, that were later used for the Queen’s coronation and had memories of going to and later teaching in a one room school. The first job, on cold winter days was to light the fire and gather snow to rub on children who arrived with frost bite.

What rich experiences students, who perhaps missed out on grandparents, could have when these readily available resources were so accessible. The rewards would be two-way.

When I have visited in assisted living and long term care facilities there are always some common rooms not being used. How about hosting adult classes there? Classes such as Writing Memories, Arm Chair Travel, Crib Club, Yoga, Balance Classes, Knitting or Craft Groups. What a treat for the residents to be able to sit in or participate with their outside community.

Residents are often bored and feel useless. I could see making rag rugs or adding to discussions a great opportunity for all. People sitting around doing a craft together would encourage talk, something many seniors in institutionalized care crave.

Most residents have a regular church service, why not offer groups a place to hold regular meetings? When members arrived they could stop by rooms to invite the residents. My dad and uncles would have loved to hear about the new farm machinery available and what it was capable of. Others would enjoy watching demonstrations of word craving or watching an artist paint a picture.

When I think of the atrium at my parents spot, if artists were to come in and set up their canvases I could see residents watching, possibly interacting and simply enjoying something different.

How about a local band or school band coming in monthly to practise and present a concert? Or a small group such as the jazz band or string quartet setting up in small areas to practise and offer more intimate concerts.

Book discussion groups, politicians, gardeners, a genealogy group, local museum group or those interested in royalty are often looking for space to hold meetings. Offer up a room for an hour or two at the local care facility.

If more people were coming in and out I believe the residents would be more stimulated and willing to participate. Also ‘the public’ would begin to see what goes on in these facilities and perhaps discover ways to help out or lobby for more care.

While some people can’t hear and others can’t see the fact that there is more going on around them in the public areas would be excellent. I remember one fellow would be looking out the window in the hall when I arrived. I asked him what he was seeing and he told me he was watching a farmer seed. Everyone else was in their rooms. He wanted and needed some conversation and stimulation.

It’s not just seniors in these facilities. One fellow I got to know was probably in his early fifties and he watched movies from morning to night, all alone in his room. If I engaged him in a discussion he was knowledgable and enthused. What a rich resource that was not being utilized.

Another young person who had some kind of advanced muscular disease always looked so lonely as there was no one her age to chat with. While frail, she needed something to look forward to. I only ever saw her at meals, sitting at a table with non-verbal residents. No wonder she spent all her time in her room.

When the recreation director had an exercise class with all the residents sitting in a circle throwing a ball to each other I can understand the reluctance of residents to attend. Why not have community yoga classes where instructors can adapt movements for residents who attend and other residents are able to watch the outside people participate. I bet over time conversations after classes would be rich for all.

Preschool and kindergarten programs could be offered and residents would love to watch the children and teachers interact. Many residents would enjoy having children read to them or residents would happily read or simply chat with the children.

Why not have raised flower and vegetable beds in atriums so some of the more agile residents could plant gardens or help to keep them weed free. Young children could help out too. These kinds of adaptations would give the residents a feeling of being needed and worth.

Because my parents were in a small town care facility, the staff mostly stayed the same. This should be a requirement of all institutions. When staff are hired they are offered full-time or part-time positions and only work at one location. Staff also need to work with the same residents so all begin to understand each others idiosyncrasies.

For residents to never know who is going to show up to bathe or administer medications is upsetting and confusing. As they need more care, the staff understands them and is able to offer much more compassionate care.

My mom’ personality changed over the four years she was in her long-term care facility and what comfort for her to have familiar caregivers. It was comforting for me to know that the caregivers knew what she was like before her disease took away some of her former personality traits.

At my parents’ long-term care facility there were registered nurses (RNs) who were their case workers and had many residents under their care. They worked Monday to Friday during the day. Who believes that these residents’ needs are only a day job with no week ends?

There was a also a part-time nurse practitioner. This person was not visible on the wards, unless there was an issue. Do the ‘experts’ who staff these places think residents need to have prescriptions filled, medications changed or adapted or bed sores checked, infections diagnosed only a couple of days a week?

When my mother got an urinary infection it seemed to usually occur on Fridays….if a urine sample was collected we didn’t hear the results until Monday….by this time she was often confused and uncomfortable. She was taken to the hospital a couple of times when all she needed was to start on an antibiotic. Why?

If there was a nurse practitioner on-site, 7 days a week and Registered Nurses on 7 days a week many ambulance trips to emergency departments at the hospital would be saved.

It was a common occurrence to have an ambulance idling at the front door of the care facility as I drove up. Keeping residents in familiar surroundings with staff who understand their unique needs just makes sense. Emergency room staff, not knowing the history etc. were not in the best position to treat these vulnerable human beings.

Trips to the hospital are costly, confusing and frightening for the vulnerable. Let’s treat these people in a more humane way.

The lack of staff has been highlighted during the COVID pandemic. Seniors buzzing for assistance to get to the bathroom are often waiting over 45 minutes, residents are lined up in halls to be wheeled to a meal and then later falling asleep at the meal tables because no one was around to take them back to their rooms. The staff, I observed, were not sitting around, they simply could not attend to the number of patients they were responsible for. Let’s acknowledge that care facilities need an update on staffing levels.

With modern medicine, seniors and those with complex health needs are living longer. The requirements of 20 years ago are not the same as today.

Staffing levels need to reflect this new reality as does that fact that we need qualified health professionals in place 24/7. The wages must reflect this level of care we insist on. Training must be rigorous and on-going.

The money saved, if hospital wards where seniors are in holding pattern until a room in a care facility comes open,would be better spent on care facilities that meet the needs that are now evident and as we baby boomers age will become more critical.

In Part Three I will look at why Home-Care does not work in it’s present stage unless you have family members or friends willing to augment the limited care as mandated by the government regulations.


Protecting The Vulnerable (PART ONE)

As I listened to federal and provincial politicians talk about the crisis in caring for the elderly I felt hope. They all appear to want to change the way we care for those in any kind of elder care. Now it’s up to us to advocate and turn the talk into thoughtful action.

If we were to run day cares or any child care the way elder care is operated there would be a huge outcry and rightfully so. Let’s maintain those same standards for those who grew our country. Let’s look at dignified and specialized care for our elders.

As I watched my grandparents live out their last years in institutionalized care I always thought it was a crime that my one grandmother was in a room for two.

At 92 she deserved to have her own space. The lady beside her never seemed to get out of bed or have visitors. My grandma had dementia and she would ask me who the lady in her room was. It must be so confusing to suddenly be in such as place.

I often visited a former boss who was in a long term care home and his roommate groaned and called out. I felt such sadness that he could not live in the dignity he offered his staff throughout his career. If he was up I would take him to another area where we could visit without interruption.

I had hoped that would have changed. It did not. As my friend, here in Calgary, sought out placements for her dad, the only ones available offered shared rooms.

Why, when in your 80s or 90s should you be thrust into something that even University students now complain about! It seems cruel.

My first wish would that seniors or those needing 24 hour care all have single rooms with their own bathroom.

When my parents moved from Assisted Living to Long-Term Care they were not allowed to bring their own beds. They would now use hospital beds. I understand this as some residents needed care that was better administered if the bed was lowered or raised.

At 6’2″ my dad did not fit in a standard-sized hospital bed and there were no extra-long beds available. We explained to the staff what dad would need, weeks ahead of the move.

However Dad suffered, scrunched up or trying to get comfortable laying on an angle until one was located. How was this making the place feel welcoming? What happened to those vulnerable patients who did not have advocates?

Second I would look at patient-based care. This would mean that once a person entered into care, they did not move again. The care came to the person, not the person having to move to another facility.

Moving is upsetting and while most of us find change difficult those with even mild dementia find any change totally confusing. Aging in place would allow staff to get to know their patients and patients would feel more comfortable in their familiar surroundings as they moved from one level of care to the next.

My parents were able to be moved together, from an assisted living place to a long-term care placement. We had to choose a place in a different town as five years ago there were only two placements available for couples.

We were lucky as at 90 and 89 years old they had the security of each other, so didn’t feel quite so vulnerable. While both friendly and out-going, it was extrememly difficult on them to make this transition. I can imagine how difficult it would be to be moved and feel and be all alone. Both had complex health needs and I spent hours working with the new staff to ensure their needs were met.

We expect these vulnerable elders to move to a new facility, a new room, new people, new routines and new staff. Is this humane? In some cases couples are split up and other times these patients are moved miles and miles away from their original placements. If they did have family and visitors near by, this often means that those who want to visit are driving hours to see them.

Care aids, licensed practical nurses, cleaning staff, physio therapists, occupational therapists, the handy man, the registered nurses and the nurse practitioner all became part of my parents new care team.

My parents also had to change family doctors and we wanted to find one who would visit the facility. These strangers were providing, in most cases, intimate care, and trust needed to be gained on all fronts. Why do we expect our elders to move and then adapt? We need facilities to offer all levels of care in one location.

My brother and I were a united team and toured facilities before making a choice as to which one we thought would best suit our parents. My husband and I had done the same for his parents seven years earlier and let me tell you, once through the door, we certainly got a feel for the building. There was absolutely no consistently between facilities.

We liked to tour the facility without an appointment. It is often eye-opening.

Some seemed impersonal and cold while others immediately felt welcoming. I always wondered what happened to the seniors with no advocates. It is heart-breaking to think of their bleak future.

We were conscious of how residents were being treated. We watched how staff interacted with each other as well as residents. While some places had luxurious facilities our focus was on the care our loved ones would receive.

We looked for smaller eating areas and clean, happy places where residents weren’t marooned in the hall or at the table. We looked for light. Some places seemed so dreary and as we age we know our eye-sight isn’t as sharp.

One big sign for us was when we were on a tour did the guide stop and chat or smile with residents. Was there a sense of community? Did staff know residents by name? Were there doctors, hair dressers, hearing technicians etc. who visited the facility or would caregivers be responsible for taking the residents to medical and personal care appointments?

Trying to get both my parents into a vehicle, storing their walker and wheelchair and then doing the same thing once at the appointment was an exhausting experience, not just for them, for me too! I looked for accessible transportation but that was a red tape nightmare…….after multiple phone calls, getting numerous letters attesting to the fact my parents actually needed accessible rides finally found me giving up……it was just too much. Why does it have to be so difficult? It felt like everything I tried to access to make my parents life easier was two steps forward and five backwards.

I was a family caregiver for over twenty years and most of my friends have either experienced or are experiencing it now. It is time to actually do something. No more studies! Save the money and actually make some changes.

Ask those of us who have lived the experience and are looking at our future and do not want to put our children through what we went though or go through what our parents endured. We understand. We know the restricitions these facilities live under. Ask staff and listen.

A politician visiting sees an entirely different view than those of us who have spent hours negotiating ‘the system’ watching staff and interacting with residents.

Many more of my thoughts and recommendations are coming soon. What do you think?

An Unexpected Gift

Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

Self isolation during this pandemic has given us the gift of time…something to savour or save for later. For me, it is to consciously slow down. It’s been an interesting exercise.

I am now aware of my speed when eating, I don’t rush when I’m cooking or baking, I try to focus on the job at hand and not accomplish two or three things at once and when I phone a friend I don’t multi-task. Most times I’m successful and when I find my mind wandering I try to rope it in!

This really isn’t in my nature so when I’m reading I now have a piece of paper close by and I attempt to write down whatever pops in my mind so I can concentrate just on reading. It’s an on-going difficult exercise because even as I’m writing this I am thinking of things to do and what I want to accomplish next.

My exercise of choice has always been walking. I enjoy walking with a friend and chatting as we go. The time passes quickly and I come home stimulated and happy. The struggle has always been… do I want to waste the hour on walking when I have so much I could accomplish.

My husband strongly believes that when retired one of our jobs needs to be our daily fitness. So if I can keep his mind-set I must work walking into my day. We live on the 16th floor of a condo apartment building and walking the stairs would certainly be advised even when I think …do I have time and how boring. Now, I have absolutely no reason to avoid the stairs. I have the time……

I’ve never been a movie or television watcher and when I do watch I play on my IPAD, sort papers, clean silverware, walk in and out of the room as I like to accomplish some other task. Now I am consciously trying to just concentrate on the show or movie. Not easy at all and I’m still not successful!

By nature I’m messy. Piles of things don’t bother me and so in our small condo I am trying to find places for everything. I have to consciously think if I take it out, it must go back. When a task is completed I am trying to clean up immediately. I know I have the time. I don’t have the excuse that I must rush off to the next event.

I’m not always winning this one as right now I have clothes that need ironing and folding draped over a living room chair…..learning new habits take 21 days and while we have been in self-isolation for 57 days I guess I’m still trying to change this life-long habit!

I am also thinking of new ways to connect with friends and family. Phone calls, ZOOM meetings and writing letters have become an important part of my day. I took the time to write all our grandchildren a letter.

I do wonder if our 17 month old grand daughter will think we live in the IPHONE! The other grandkids happily chat to us on FaceTime as they wander around the house so we get excellent views of the ceiling, floors and walls…sometimes I need a anti-nausea drug after these chats!

COVID is giving us all the gift of time. How are you using yours? What has been your biggest learning during this COVID 19 pandemic? How do you think you will change once we begin to venture back into our world?

Be An At-Home Hero

BE AN AT-HOME HERO

We have been home from our winter spot for 27 days and it amazes me how our time becomes filled. When the sidewalks aren’t slippery, we head outside for a walk.

My husband had saved his dumbbells from high school and I resented the fact that they were gathering dust in our closet. Now we are both happy to have them! He says he went from a zero to a hero in minutes! I suppose he did……

Being self-isolated gives us a whole new way of looking at our lives. I so look forward to FaceTime calls from our kids and grandkids.

Another friend has set up a weekly 30 minute happy hour on Zoom and it is reassuring to see the faces of the other 9 people and know they are all coping and even learning new things about themselves.

My husband has been phoning friends he hasn’t connected with for at least two years (in some cases 10) and that has been rewarding for him.

We play cards some days and are certainly reading more. We have even begun to watch a series on Netflix, now we have watched all the curling we missed over the winter!

Our groceries are delivered to our door. Today items from Costco arrived. There are certainly ways to cope with remaining safe and trying not to infect others.

Many of our friends were so connected with their adult children, babysitting, helping out where they could etc. We all enjoyed the role. What we are talking about now is how our adult children are coping just fine without our help!

In fact, we think that as this self-isolation continues they are slowing down and enjoying their families in a new way, without our interference. (help!)

We all say how relieved we are that we aren’t doing the home-schooling with our kids as we know how stressful being a parent as well as a teacher must be. Yet as the weeks roll on, routines fall in place and life goes on. We can be cheerleaders we just can’t be on the front lines.

Yesterday a friend said she had been transplanting seedlings in her greenhouse, one is meditating daily, another was making masks and one was finishing off long-forgotten knitting projects.

Others are busy making bread, resurrecting comfort recipes their mom and grandmothers made, and some are finishing off long-forgotten knitting projects.

Perhaps we are all a little more mindful or our time. Instead of rushing from activity to activity we can now take time to think about what is important. We sure don’t have any pressing time commitments!

Before you post something negative on social media, think about your reason. Whose need are you filling? We have 24 hour news channels that torment us minute by minute with conflicting messages. I, for one, don’t need more.

It’s time to focus on what is right with the world instead of what is not. Leaders, who are making huge decisions, are under significant stress. Let’s try to understand that most of these people are doing the very best they can. While we won’t agree with everything, let’s give them a chance.

I believe that as seniors one of our jobs should be to remain positive about what is happening. We have life experience. We know life has many ups and downs and we must continue. It’s time to stop with negative talk, focus on what is right with our world instead of what is wrong and make a difference in the lives of those you love.

Slow Down and Enjoy…give yourself permission

We are now on our 11th day of self-distancing. Our condo is cleaner than it has ever been. Most of our drawers are tidy and our fridge, freezer and pantry cupboard are finally clearing out.

The graham crackers I took out to make squares were rancid but I found out-of-date yeast still worked. It just took a little longer….don’t we all as we age?

While we always go through social withdrawal when we journey back from Palm Springs. This time it has been Cold Turkey!

Thank heavens one good friend started a journal titled “14 Days of Self-Isolation”… it seems to be going ‘fairly well’ for them with the exception today’s instalment which is titled “14 Days of Incarceration!” The updates have kept us laughing.

We have plenty of time to think. What we have noticed is how we have been forced to slow down and contemplate what really is important.

If you are finding that you too can fill your days and you are thinking about ways to incorporate some of these new habits into your daily life here are

10 Tips for Slowing Down

  1. Control the Controllable
  2. Notice the Small Things
  3. Do Not Compare
  4. Choose 3 Things to Accomplish Each Day
  5. Breathe
  6. Single Task
  7. Take a Day a Week Off
  8. Eat Slower
  9. De:clutter
  10. Count Your Blessings

When we slow down we make a conscious choice to embrace a healthier lifestyle. We can nurture our close relations and feel a sense of self satisfaction with life. Begin your guilt-free slow-down today!

The Urge To Purge…things to do while in self-isolation

We are home from our winter spot and are on Day 6 our our self-isolation. What better time to begin to purge? As I put clothes away I decided there was no time like the present tackle jobs I have been putting off.

I went on various websites and blogs for information on how to transform our closets. We now have a carry-on sized suitcase full of clothes that can go to charity once we are out of isolation.

Here are some tips if you have the time and feel the urge to get rid of some of your closet clutter.

  1. Pick up a piece of clothing and ask yourself:
  • Have I worn it in the past year?
  • Does it fit properly?
  • Is it out-of-date?
  • Do your clothes fit your present lifestyle?
  1. Have a pile for charity, a pile for consignment, a pile for the garbage and a pile to keep.
  2. Most sites said that 2-3 purses were quite enough and the same with shoes. Shocking isn’t it – until you think about what you have actually used in the past year.

There is more to purging clothes than the simple act. Clothes are very personal and some bring us guilt, when they no longer fit, remind us of happy or sad history and even reflect our personalities. Be gentle with yourself.

I liked the idea that once you are done that you arrange your remaining clothes in colours. It gives you a sense of whether or not you have a coordinated wardrobe. When we were selling our home this was also a tip the ‘home stager’ gave us.

Sorting through closets isn’t just for women – children and men can usually find things they no longer use. Check out your dresser drawers as they might be overflowing with items too.

Now when I look in my closet and see room between the hangars I actually smile. It feels good and even gives me some peace of mind.

Tomorrow I will begin on the kitchen drawers……

How are you doing? Any tips you’d like to share?

Capturing Your Memories

After my parents passed away there have been times when I have wondered about the story of a memento or thought I have had.

If only I had asked them, I think. I was at a huge advantage as both my parents lived until they were 92 and were excellent at reminiscing.

Still there are times when I wish I had just a little more information. I bet many of you think the same thing.

Over the past three weeks I have been facilitating a course here at Outdoor Resort Palm Springs called Preserving Memories.

The purpose is so that participants can capture their childhood memories for their families. Most of us our in our 60s, 70s and 80s and have begun to think about what is important to leave for our children and grandchildren.

Perhaps a grandchild asked about what we did for fun when there were no computers or our own kids were surprised when we talked about an important event in our life and they had no knowledge.

My role has been one of encouragement and supplying story prompts so that they begin. I’m a big believer that if we simply begin…interesting pieces of information surface.

What we have all learned is that when a member of our group shares a memory it often ignites our own thoughts and something we had long forgotten comes to light.

It’s also important to remember that our written memories don’t have to be long and detailed. Simple thoughts jotted down will delight our intended audience.

One of the first exercises we did was begin to write our own personal timeline. Don’t be overwhelmed simply divide it into ten year periods. I just label a page 0-10, another page 10-20 etc. You could also further break it down into school, family and work if you wish. Some people choose to use a different colour of pencil for each of those categories.

Write down all memories you can come up with during that time. Significant and insignificant things may come up that remind you of another thing and so on. Just keep it near and as you remember jot something down.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When you look at the hammer, can you smell your grandpas’ garage or your dad’s workshop? What did you do there? Were you allowed to help? Did you learn how to use tools? Did you ever hit your finger? How old were you?

How many of you used a rotary phone? For some of us this was a huge upgrade over the wall phone with no numbers. We used the handle at the side to ring or had to call an operator.

Think about your senses as you write and jot down memories including some of the things you saw, smelt, felt or heard.

Who can smell homemade bread after school? What about the feeling when you won a crystal marble during a game at recess? Who had school clothes and play or work clothes?

We have so many rich memories to capture why not start to today?

Travelling is Good Medicine!

We just got back to our winter home after a fabulous trip. We were gone from home from December 10th to February 1. We cruised around South East Asia and New Zealand and spent land days in Australia.

As we were on the last long fight I began thinking about the memories we were planting. I remember my parents sitting in their easy chairs reminiscing about holidays. Another aunt had kept detailed journals and she said they spent many long winter hours reading the journals and reliving the happy travelling days.

I’m not a journal keeper. When a friend said that she hoped I would keep a record of our travels I decided to take her advice. I only wrote a short page each day in a journal a friend had given me. It was a chore yet I was determined to be successful. Now I’m happy I did.

With cell phones we are able to kept photo records and my smart phone even tells us where the photos were taken. I find the written record record gives me that many more memory prompts…something I need more and more these days.

I also decided that travelling gives seniors confidence. We had to navigate large airports, Amsterdam, Singapore, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Los Angeles and Vancouver before touching down in Calgary. And we made it!

We mostly mastered money exchange, reading maps as we walked and explored and found delight in new experiences. We ate food we had not before, went to places we had only read about and met people from around the world.

An added bonus was my brother and his wife joined us on the 13 day cruise around New Zealand. We found as children grow, parents pass away and life becomes more complicated plus energy wanes, we don’t spend much time together. This was a time to reconnect.

One of my uncles has always encouraged us to travel. He and his wife did some great trips and his advice is “Do It Now!.”

My parents went away each winter and I remember missing them and yet I also didn’t feel I should make time to see them or give a phone call. When raising kids and working I was busy and while I never begrudged the time spent with phone calls and visits it was a relief when I was in my 30s and 40s to have a bit of a break!

So I encourage my readers to pack their bags and explore. You will be building memories, gaining confidence and between you and me “Giving your kids peace of mind that you are happy and healthy.”

Memories of my Grandma

Grandma in her hockey uniform in the late 1800s.
Grandma in her hockey uniform in the late 1800s

I sometimes wonder what memories I’m planting for my grandchildren. Here are memories of my beloved Grandma Cora…

I could see Grandma out in her yard pulling weeds. Her sack-like patterned dress billowed in the breeze just like fresh clean shirts on our clothesline. Her stockings gathered up like loose skin of an elephant around her ankles and her hair was wound into a tight braided bun low on the back of her head.

A smile creased my face and heart as I ran towards her. I snuggled in for a hug and cuddle as I reached up and put my arms around her face. I loved the way her wrinkly soft skin brushed my cheek like crushed velvet.

I placed my hand in hers and we headed into the house. As the door opened I caught a whiff of something that brought tears to my eyes.

“Are you making lye soap Grandma?”

That noxious smell permeated the landing and up the two stairs into her tiny kitchen.

Mom stepped forward and gave me the evil eye so I knew better than to make a comment that might hurt Grandma’s feelings.

I felt like a pop bottle that had been shook. When was mom leaving so I could start my summer holiday with Grandma?

The table was already set for lunch. Cold tomatoes nestled in a little fruit dish placed at the tip of the knives, canned sausages, fried brown and crisp butter-fried potatoes. Relief flooded through me as I saw only two place settings. Soon Grandma Cora and I would be all alone. Then the fun would begin.

Fun for Grandma and I was different than with my other younger grandma. Grandma Cora told me stories about growing up in Quebec, playing on a hockey team with a long skirt and tobogganing on the snowy cold hills.

She didn’t talk much about packing up her steamer trunk, boarding a coal train and heading out west at 19 years of age to teach school in the prairies so she could decide if her love for my grandpa would last the prairie winters. One year later they were married.

We talked about politics, how I was doing in school, and stories of her youth. Then she would play the piano and I would sing. She taught me many songs and while I loved to sing I never had the patience to learn the piano even though my parents invested time and money in lessons.

Grandma Cora would often tell me the same stories and I loved to hear about the naughty little boy who when asked to say grace at a dinner party said “Darn dittie darn, dittie darn ,dittie dittie darn” and then was spanked all the way to his bedroom. The mother was absolutely mortified at her son’s strong language. Needless to say the dinner party was a much talked about event!

When I stayed with her I had to have a nap in the afternoon. Mom had given up on those for me when I was two. Grandma had a special grey bedroom suite with drawers in the headboard and a beautiful great dresser that “would one day be mine” and that was where I was to lay quietly and rest.

I would lay for a really long time, at least in my brain, then tiptoe toe into her room and listen to her breathing to make sure she was sound asleep. Then I would sneak back to “my room” and amuse myself by snooping through the dresser and headboard drawers drawers. I can’t even remember what was in them, it was just fun to do something naughty!

Even in junior high I loved to stay with Grandma. Her house had a Grandma Cora smell and I always felt loved and safe there. Grandma always had a twinkle in her eye and was quick witted. She didn’t suffer fools and her humour often was black.

My family moved and my visits were less frequent through high school and yet when Grandma came to our house I knew we would share laughter, great jokes and lots of fun. I would hear her favourite stories and bask in the traditions I loved.

When I was in university Grandma took a fall and broke her hip. She was transported to a city hospital and because she was malnourished and dehydrated the doctors couldn’t operate until she was “built up”.

She was in the city where I went to University and I went to visit her and was shocked at how tiny and frail she looked. I could also tell she was mixed up and emotional. She didn’t realize where she was or that she was hurt. She kept asking where Doug was – her bachelor son who she was living with when all this happened.

Eventually she had the surgery and was placed in a Calgary Nursing Home. I often stopped to visit on my way home from university. I would reminisce and remind her of the stories she had once lovingly told me. Sometimes I helped her to the toilet and often took her to her meals. I’d light up a a cigarette for a lady who sat in the hall so she could smoke with supervision. Grandmas eyes would glint and she’d say “Aren’t you the brat, I’ll not tell your dad or mom if you don’t!” We had another secret.

While I could see her fading before my eyes I knew she was a ‘grandma” and this was simply the way life evolved. At 92 she was moved to another level of care and spent most of her days in bed. I got married and had our first child and my visits to grandma weren’t as often.

When I did visit I would hold her hand and often sing to her. If she was having a good day I’d wheel her to the piano and request she play Red Wing or Oh Them Golden Slippers and she would play them by ear just as she had done since she was five years old. After one or two songs she would say “Enough Joanie, you’re going to kill this old lady, take me back to bed.” We’d both giggle and head back.

Grandma Cora passed away at 94. Her aging process, as well as my maternal grandparents was simply part of life. I naively thought as my parents and in-laws aged, I was ready.