Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Preparing for The Holidays - A Caregivers' Conversation

This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with other caregivers about how we prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I had this online chat on the wonderful site Caregiving.com which led me continue my reflections on holiday preparations yesterday:



I sent this video chat to another caregiver friend to begin a personal conversation about how we prepare for the holidays.  My friend is the mother of two adult children with severe disabilities.  Sadly, one of her boys passed away a few years ago and she misses him still.  Her surviving son requires 24/7 nursing care, so holidays are very different for her family than they are for most.

Here's what she said:
In the old days, every single room in our home was decorated to the maximum. It looked like the Christmas Store exploded in our house. I made numerous fresh floral arrangements (as I was into that for a few years as therapy). I baked. I made candles, pouring wax into assorted forms and decorating them when finished to give as gifts. I hosted parties for our close friends for gift exchange, and made huge meals for the occasion. All of this, I did as a single parent. In our graduate student days, when we were poor, I baked pecan pies, and drove in the freezing snow on icy roads to deliver them in person to our friends. My pies were famous, so I was usually greeted at the door with fork-wielding friends!

My Uncle and Aunt had the largest home, so my Aunt insisted that she hold both Thanksgiving and Christmas. That meant that I got to haul my boys and their chairs, their meds, diapers, changes of clothes, books, toys, and whatever else, along with my pot luck contribution of veggies, and at Christmas ~ all of our Christmas gifts to the family. Then I drove an hour to their house ~ Load, unload, load, unload, arrive home after midnight, put the kids to bed and collapse.

When I insisted that I wanted to host Christmas, my Aunt said, "We're just trying to make it easier for you." I explained that it was far easier for me to cook dinner in my home than it was to haul everything down to their home and back again.

So what happened on Christmas Eve night the first time I hosted? One son had pneumonia, and at 3 a.m., he, my other son, and I were driving to ER in the fog. Got home at 6 a.m. Put the turkey in. Got the boys settled, tended to them, and when the family arrived on Christmas afternoon, I was ready. I pulled it off.

Not anymore. Now, I decorate a bit, with maybe a touch here or there in the living/dining room/kitchen. I don't have the strength or energy to decorate ~ unbox, put out, take down, rebox, put away. It's a lot of work. The Christmas decorations are on the top shelf in the garage, a precarious reach on the ladder for my husband. A broken hip isn't worth the festive ambiance!

Just the little decorating we do for the boys is tiring enough for us. As long as we honor them and bring beauty and sparkling, meaningful surroundings to them, we have celebrated Christmas exactly as we should.

We are just so grateful to spend Christmas at home, as we've spent a few in the hospital; Christmas 2004/New Year 2005. In 2010, our young man was released on Christmas Eve from ICU, but he was not ready to be home, and was sick that weekend, while we waited for a nurse. He was back in ICU by January 24 2011 for 40 days (we watched the Super Bowl in ICU). 

Choose any holiday, and we've been in the hospital with one of our boys. Easter, Valentine's Day, Fourth of July, all of them ... When that happens, I bring the holiday to them. I wear Christmas sweaters, or I bring in a stuffed bunny from the gift shop, or balloons, or some appropriate decoration for that holiday.

As you said in the podcast, we're different. Even after 45 years, my remaining family members don't quite grasp how different we are. That's because I spent so many years trying to be Super Woman, attempting to make everything as normal as I possibly could.

And, as situations changed, we changed with them. We adapted. Because every day here is like the other for us, I have to work a little harder to make sure we acknowledge any holiday. I want to continue to be as normal as we possibly can, regardless of our situation.

In addition to our challenges as caregivers, my husband and I are grieving parents. The holidays are exceptionally difficult for us, because we miss our son. To help us through the holidays, we incorporate our angel son into everything we do. His room holds our tree and family ornaments and presents. 

I guess I've always felt our difference, but it is never more profound than during the Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays. It is such an effort to try to be normal, while also cherishing our difference. It's been an unusual life. To say the very least.


My friend's holiday home experience made me think, "Every year, our celebrations shrink a little.  Soon, we celebrate in one room with just our small family.  But that's OK.  There is love in that room and we know that everyone is comfortable with what we cannot and cannot do. And we are grateful."
Nick's designed his own 'manly' Christmas tree for his room.  Note the World Wrestling Entertainment decorations and crushed beer can for a 'star'.  All the gifts under the tree are from him to us and his helpers. 

My book, The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I've Learned From a Lifetime of Caregiving (House of Anansi Press) is available now from all major booksellers in the USA and Canada.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Good Friends vs Toxic Friends

Telling the difference between good friends and toxic friends is especially important for caregivers.  Caregivers simply don't have the dual luxuries of boundless time and energy to invest in friendships that are not reciprocal.  So, here's a quick guide to recognising good friends and toxic friends.

TOXIC FRIENDS

For caregivers, there are two common types of toxic friends; the troll and the narcissist.  The troll is someone who calls and visits often.  He or she will ask many questions about your loved one and may even visit in hospital to chat over coffee or lunch.  They will appear warm and concerned, while inquiring into the minutiae of your loved one's symptoms and treatments.  This type of toxic friend does not offer help of any kind.  They simply want to know.  The human drama of a caregiver's life provides vicarious interest and fodder for their dinner table chat, but that is all.  This type of friend cannot make the intellectual leap between listening to your experience and offering to sit with your loved one or doing your grocery shopping.

The second type of toxic friend is the narcissist.


Narcissists rarely, if ever, ask how you or your loved is doing.  They are bored by others' experiences, so constantly direct the conversation back to themselves.  No matter how difficult a caregiver's situation may be, it will always be worse for a narcissist - and despite their healthy family status, they will want you to listen and sympathise.

GOOD FRIENDS



Caregivers soon find out that longstanding friendships don't necessarily translate into good friendships when the going gets tough.  Some lifelong friends do show their loyalty and generosity, while others suddenly become too busy to call or drop by.  The messy and often sad events in caregivers' lives may be too difficult for some people to witness and absorb.  The fact is, not everyone is cut out for helping others through the toughest times. The trick is to determine quickly who will be a good friend for the long haul and who may be limited in their ability to walk with you through your caregiving journey.  Wise and experienced caregivers will advise forgiveness in the case of friends who disappear upon hearing your loved one's diagnosis.  Holding on to bitter feelings will only make it more difficult to spot new friends who genuinely want to help.


The extraordinary friend is one who intuits your needs, listens without judgement, visits often and always brings food.  The new friend is an acquaintance who, upon hearing that you are giving care, offers help that is truly helpful.  The kindness of new friends is always a surprise - often the most helpful friends are those you would least expect.  Whether a good friend is old or new, it is clear that your friends are those who truly want to help.  Friends will want to give what they can.  Some may not cook, but their keen wit can suddenly flip fear into hilarity - that is a gift to a caregiver.

KEEPING FRIENDS

Caregivers have the obligation of reciprocating friendship, too.  Most often, this means saying thank you.  The sincere expression of gratitude is not a sign of weakness or evidence that the caregiver is miserably incapable of handling a loved one's needs independently.  The gracious acceptance of help and friendship in the full knowledge that love flows both ways, is the key here.  Good friends say,  "You look tired. Here, let me help you."  That's just what good friends do.

My book, 'The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I've Learned From a Life of Caregiving' (House of Anansi Press) is now available from all major booksellers in the USA and Canada




Wednesday, 19 November 2014

LIFE GETS EASIER WITH CONNECTION TO A CIRCLE OF CARE

This week, I was honoured to contribute an article to The Home Care Technology Report, a publication of Rowan Consulting Associates.  Tim Rowan is a consultant and information broker on everything to do with home care and technology.  I'm pleased to tell you that I've had a huge and positive response to this article from caregivers and health providers alike.  Thanks, Tim!
CLINICIANS IMPROVE OUTCOMES BY CONNECTING TO A CIRCLE OF CARE
Today, my family uses technology to coordinate our son’s complex care in the community, but it wasn’t always so. Nicholas is 26 years old and resides in a small care home in our neighborhood. He is non-speaking and medically complex, requiring one-to-one nursing care 24/7. For the first 22 years of his life, Nick lived at home with us and I struggled to communicate important messages between home and the multitude of home care workers and medical professionals who were part of his care team.

I do not have that struggle anymore. A software program called Tyze Personal Networks now effectively connects everyone who cares for and about Nicholas. Tyze is owned and offered by Saint Elizabeth Health Care, a Canadian not-for-profit organization that has been supporting people at home for more than a century. Tyze is a private and secure online network that was developed to combine the efforts of family members, friends and professional supports in a circle of care. It is free to individuals but becomes more valuable when supported by a healthcare organization.
Each personal Tyze network is password-encoded and not publicly searchable. It has enough data storage to allow for a virtual filing cabinet of medical records and even highly sensitive documents such as wills and end of life directives.  Healthcare provider organizations in Canada, the US, and beyond use Tyze to reach out to their clients, inviting them to start their own care networks. Most importantly, Tyze gives organizations the ability to share information with all network owners – for example, education materials, newsletters, videos, updates, and events.

LIFE BEFORE TYZE
Before we were introduced to Tyze, Nicholas had a bedside, hospital-style chart where caregivers recorded both health and personal information. There was also a separate drug chart where staff signed for medications given. If Nicholas’ morphine dose changed, I couldn’t be sure that staff would see the notation in the bedside charts, so we installed a white board above Nick’s bed. There, we wrote important messages in large red lettering, hoping that new directives begun by one caregiver would be followed by the next one, especially if I was not home to point them out at shift change. Too often, a part-time health aide would give the old dose of anti-seizure medicine or morphine, assuming that nothing had changed since the previous week. They simply didn’t see the notes we had left.

LIFE AFTER TYZE
Today, we still use the bedside charting, but we do not rely on it to communicate messages of change in care protocols or important appointments coming up in the diary. Tyze Personal Networks shifts the responsibility for care from an individual model to a network model. A traditional, individual model of care looks like this:

An individual model of care assumes autonomy on the part of an able-bodied patient – someone who is verbal and capable of following through on measures for treatment compliance at home. This was not the case for Nicholas.  No single individual could keep Nick alive and healthy – he needed a team. Tyze gave us the communication tool we needed to effectively function as a network of care, which looks more like this:

The home page of Nicholas’ Tyze site includes all his front-line workers, members of our immediate family, executive staff members at the care home where Nick resides, and his family physician. Staffing agency case coordinators are part of the Tyze network too, and when there are last minute HR issues to be solved, everyone can offer to help and stay in the loop.

Tyze has many features that enhance both social opportunities and continuity of care. For example, specialist medical appointments as well as recreational outings are entered into the calendar feature and network members receive timely reminders on their smartphones. Network members report feeling group solidarity because everyone has shared and equal access to information about Nick. Tyze has made it easy to share resources, to ask for help and problem-solve within the group.

OVERCOMING BARRIERS & ACHIEVING SUCCESS
"How did you persuade medical professionals to be part of a Tyze network?" is a question that many curious friends ask. The answer is not straightforward. In the case of Nick’s GP, he understood immediately that an online tool would help him to manage complex care involving multiple players but he was concerned that he would be bombarded with messages. He was relieved when we assured him that only the head nurse would send him private messages via the Tyze site.  Plus, recent changes in allowable physician billing codes mean that our doctor can now be paid for the time he engages with Nick’s Tyze network.

The trickier barrier to getting Tyze up and running was compliance on the part of frontline care staff, especially after Nick moved out of our home and into a care facility. Every agency or institution has its own in-house communications linkages such as an intranet. At first, it was necessary to remind staff that their intranet excluded Nick’s family members but, eventually, everyone realized that the corporate knowledge of complex care was better managed as an integrated team with equal access to information shared by family and paid staff. Everyone began to appreciate the benefits of a single communication tool.

Like any tool, Tyze is only helpful if users populate it with pertinent information. When frontline staff members forgot to input appointments, I reviewed all my communications strategies and looked for ways to improve compliance. I realized that posting ‘need to know’ information on Tyze, such as staff shift rotas and holiday schedules would draw people to Tyze. Eventually, Tyze became the go-to site for all Nick-specific information. Now, if Nicholas has an emergency hospital admission, his network members know they have access on their phones to his medications list as well as his care plan.

Nicholas does not use Tyze himself, but it is only because he would rather use his laptop and iPad as sources of sports news and social media. Still, Nick reaps the benefits of being cared for by a well-coordinated team of people who love him and share his care. And for that, we are all grateful to Tyze.
Donna Thomson began her career as an actor, director and teacher.  In 1988, when her son Nicholas was born with severe disabilities, Donna embarked on her second career as a disability activist, author, consultant and writer. She is the Special Advisor for Caregiving at Tyze Personal Networks and is the International Advisor to the PLAN Institute for Caring Citizenship.  She is the co-founder of Lifetime Networks Ottawa, a PLAN affiliate and is a member of the Cambridge University Capability Approach Network.  Donna is also an instructor at the Advocacy School (Ottawa, Canada), teaching families how to employ best practice political advocacy tools when advocating for care. Donna holds degrees in Fine Art (Theatre), Education and Theatre in Education.  Donna’s interest in new modes of social engagement for marginalised families led her to sit on numerous boards such as the London International Festival of Theatre, Women for Women International Leadership Circle and Dovercourt Community Association. Donna can be reached at donnathomson.com. For more about Tyze Personal Networks, visit tyze.com.
BUY MY BOOK AT ALL MAJOR BOOKSELLERS IN THE USA AND CANADA!  


Friday, 14 November 2014

A Caregiving Story: The Fonseca Family

                   Q: Tell us about yourself and your family.

We are the Fonseca family - Dad is Joe, Mom is Christine, and our son is Ethan.  We are high school teachers and Ethan is 12 years old, in grade 7.  Our family used to include 3 beloved pets - 2 ragdoll cats, Emmy and Iris, and one big white dog - Thom, a Great Pyrenees.  But all of our pets have passed on. 


Q:  Who do you care for? 

Like all parents, we look after our son.  However, Ethan is 100% dependent on others for everything, so in addition to being his Mom and Dad, we are also his main caregivers.  Ethan's medical conditions include quadriplegic dystonic cerebral palsy, global developmental delay, breathing issues, and reflux disorder. He is g-tube fed and communicates via facial expressions as well as laughing, or crying.

Q:  What do you love about caregiving? 
We don't really think about this question.  To us, it's just "uber-parenting" (parenting turned up a few notches).  But we feel rewarded and honoured knowing that we are here to help him live his life in the best possible way.


Q:  What do you find most difficult about caregiving?
It is never ending and there are no breaks.  Even though we have help with nursing at school and at night (we've had the night nursing since Ethan was 9, which has been a Godsend), and other short term care workers , we are always "ON".   Even when we are not with him, we are always in a hyper-vigilant mode.

Q:  Do you have any life lessons or truths about family/community you would like to share?
We have proven that we can do this.  Joe calls it "battle-tested parenting".  However, we have had support from others, and we are very thankful for that.  Many helpers (care workers, nurses) who have come to support Ethan began working with our family during Ethan's most difficult days.  Many continue to support us.  We felt and continue to feel very blessed.

Q:  Tell us a story.  What was a lovely and intimate moment that you shared with Ethan recently. 

After planning a summer trip to Portugal for the 3 of us this past year, which included many things (such as arranging private duty nursing, a hospital bed, etc.), Ethan got double pneumonia.  It was July, 2014.  He was very ill and ended up being on oxygen at home for 9 days.  We didn't think that we would be able to go on our trip, but on the 24th of Julywe literally put Ethan on the plane - with oxygen.  It was a horrible plane ride, but we got there, and he healed beautifully in the ocean air. The most amazing moment was when a local cafe in Torreira, Portugal (Cafe da Praia) let us try out their beach wheelchair!  With the help of 2 lifeguards, Ethan was able to get down to the ocean's edge and put his feet in the water (something that he has not done since he was very small).  That's when we all took a moment, and reflected on how awesome it was that we had made the trip.   And we felt especially thankful for the help of strangers - the lifeguards - who didn't even know us. 




Q:  How do you think caregivers can be better supported by their communities and their governments?
As for communities; it's so great to see Inclusion becoming more common in society today.  We feel very thankful that our son was born in this day and age, not in the mid 1900s!
Regarding governments; it took a long time for us to get the okay for overnight nursing, an essential service in our family.  It was only after Ethan was found unconscious at 2 different times within 5 months when he was 9 years old, that we were finally granted night nursing.  Although we are very glad for it, we just wish we had had it a lot sooner.

Q:  Take this opportunity to share anything else you would like to say about your caregiving experience!
We are so thankful when, at the end of each day, all is " stable" with Ethan and with both of us.

My book, 'The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I've Learned From a Life of Caregiving' (House of Anansi Press) is available now in the US and Canada from all major booksellers.


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Helping Family Caregivers Face the Future

November is National Caregiving Month, so I could think of no better reason than to tell you about two new trends in caregiving.  And they're both good news for families.

The first is called The Greenhouse Project.  It's an international movement in humanising eldercare, but it was a small project in Wyoming that caught my eye.  Green House Living for Sheridan (Wyoming) is about as far from a traditional nursing home as you could imagine, and the residents of Sheridan like it that way.



From the Green House Living for Sheridan website:   We envision homes in every community where elders and others enjoy excellent quality of life and quality of care; where they, their families, and the staff engage in meaningful relationships built on equality, empowerment, and mutual respect; where people want to live and work; and where all are protected, sustained, and nurtured without regard to the ability to pay.


So what makes Green House Living for Sheridan (and other Greenhouse Projects) different?  A list of core guiding principles will give you an idea of how radical this project is:

Elders rule

This is the person’s home.

The individual is not the sum total of his/her age and ailments.

No decision is taken without first asking "Would a person have this in their own home? Would they do this?"

(Typical day: based on elders – eg. When people wake up, they can wake up whenever they want. They can have breakfast at 10am and choose whatever they want. They sit at a long table like  a family.)

Eldercare Solutions That Respect Family Relationships

Everyone dreads aging and becoming dependent.  Why?  We envision being isolated from our family, being forced into nursing homes where cries for help go unanswered.  Loving family caregivers worry about what will happen when dependency needs become to great to manage at home.  The founders of the Greenhouse Project designed living for elders with these concerns in mind - have a look at this video (sorry, it's Vimeo and I couldn't figure out how to embed it, so you'll have to click the link): http://vimeo.com/102882205

Activities must be meaningful, not just made to pass time.


The name Shahbazim is given to house managers (Greenhouse trained Certified Nursing Assistants) and they decide how the house will run.  Registered Nurses partner with house managers as experts, so medical model power relationships are flipped in the day to day running of the Greenhouse.  12 elders live in each home.

Middle management is diluted and the Shahbazim are trained to be full care professionals, so they manage the home as well as individual care of elders.  In the Greenhouse model, there is no dietary department or housekeeping staff.  The Shabazim multi-task as family members would at home - they are the midwives of eldercare.  Because families and community medical experts respect this model and this role, the Shahbazim have a respected and meaningful career path.

But how is it paid for?
Financing for Green House homes comes in a variety of forms.  In addition to commercial loans, Green House homes have being developed using bonds and government backed loans, as well as non-traditional loans. Through our partnerships with RWJF, AARP Foundation and The Weinberg Foundation, we are able to provide special financing for organizations serving low income elders.  To learn more about financing opportunities, visit The Green House website

The second model of care I want to tell you about today is from the UK.  U-SHED is a cooperative, a bit like AARP - each member pays the small amount of 4 Great Britain pounds to join and that money forms a fund to help seniors top up old age pensions and pay for basics that they need.  It's a model based on seniors helping seniors.  

From the website:
USHED was formed by senior citizens for senior citizens to enable us to help ourselves and make life easier without relying on the government who seem unwilling to recognise us.
By registering you become a member and we would hope to build an organisation where we can rise up and be able to offer senior citizens savings on everyday essentials and commodities. The funds will sit in a central "pot" and will be used to buy from source and subsidise services for members.
Registration forms will be available at GP offices, Post Offices, in newspapers and online.
Interested? Then please take the time to complete the registration.
Shown below is a break-down of the services of U-SHED:-
  1. For a small monthly membership fee we will enable members to save between 10 and 50% on everyday essentials such as food, insurances, community tax, gas, electric, water e.t.c.
  2. Mobile dentists, opticians and audiologists could make these routine examinations much more accessible to elderly, immobile and infirm.
  3. Funds could be used to buy larger items from source and offer them to members with substantial discounts rather than going to the high street companies who do not offer special rates for pensioners.
  4. A lot of the older generation do not like using computers or shopping online. It is rare these days to find somewhere which offers the facility to call and be able to buy in confidence.
  5. It is hoped that we will grow and eventually have enough funding to enable us to sponsor hospital wards and care homes.
The cost of the above benefits is £4 per month.

The more members we have the more savings we will be able to offer.


Stan Stearman is the founder/creator of U-SHED and he told me that UK municipal governments have begun to take a real interest in the project and are supporting it.  The fund is already helping seniors become more connected to their communities while staying in their homes longer.  

As family caregivers, we want our loved ones to have a good life.  We want to support them, but we cannot do it alone, especially when their needs increase over time.  Knowing that some communities are creatively rising to the challenge of helping families keep their senior loved ones safe, secure and happy is 'chicken soup for our caregiver souls'.

My book, The Caregivers' Living Room: Lessons I've Learned From a Life of Caregiving is available in Canada and the USA from all major booksellers.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

November 11, 2014. Lest We Forget

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada, Veteran's Day in the United States.

Today I remember my father, James Edward Thomson, who fought in Europe with the Royal Montreal Regiment and won an award for bravery from King George and was mentioned in dispatches. Near Antwerp, my Dad was off-duty and walking back to barracks when he noticed a crowd gathered around a field. He went over to investigate. Two children had been collecting chestnuts, not realizing the area was mined. A mine exploded, very badly injuring one boy. Everyone in the crowd was afraid to enter the area. My Dad crawled to the boy, checking for trip wires with the barrel of his pistol. He brought both children out, saving them. Lest we forget.


In 1973, my Dad suffered the first of three strokes.  Over the next two years, he would lose his speech and his mobility.  He passed away in 1975 and he is still missed every day.  


Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Psyche of the Caregiver: A Story of Eldercare Devotion

This is the second in our National Caregiving Month series of blog posts from YOU, our readers and fellow caregivers!  Judy Fox and Andrea Hurley are the co-authors of one of my favourite eldercare blogs, "When The Table Turns".  Thank you for telling your story here at the Caregivers' Living Room, Judy! 


It happened suddenly…from one moment to the next, my then 93 year old mother went from living independently – driving, cooking, shopping and playing bridge – to being hospitalized with a restricted aortic valve. She came out of the hospital forever changed. From that time onward, my mother began to live with a professional Aide, Pat.  Mom stopped all the activities she was doing before and just let go. Surprisingly she didn’t seem to miss her previous life. It was as though she was waiting to be able to just stop. When that happened 5 ½ years ago, I began to live with her for longer and longer stints of time until about two years ago, after she had a massive stroke and could no longer walk.  I moved down to Florida permanently. She is now 98 years old.


It’s been quite a journey. There are many details which I have left out, but I am sure there is much that overlaps to some degree with all caregivers – the times when there are many medical decisions to make, so much uncertainty;  the times of intense anxiety and worry and the times when the clouds part and light streams through, and everything in-between.  I am also aware that everyone’s situation is unique but it seems that for many of us caregivers, we are unprepared for what initially unfolds. How could we prepare for so many possible scenarios?  My experience is, and I’m sure that I am not alone, that I had to plunge in and learn fast.  It was not easy.  Luckily, I had friends and relatives to support me.

In many ways, being in a caregiving position, as I live with my mom 24 hours a day, has forced me to slow down- literally and metaphorically. I have had to slow down to tune into my mother’s needs, moods and on-going changes. From being in this position I appreciate so much more the role that a mother plays. I realize that caring for another human being does something to our psyche. It really does change one and hopefully for the better. Over this time, I have developed patience, a quality that never was so strong in me, and an ability to step back, observe and reflect. There are always subtle and then not so subtle changes happening all the time that need to be responded to when you hold another being’s life in your “hands.”  My mother is so fragile now in a way that “forces” me to be more sensitive.



A story to tell you about that just happened today. My mother has been eating less and less as so often occurs with the very aged. She doesn’t see, taste, or smell very well and basically lying in bed all day, she has very little appetite. This is a radical change from the Jewish mom who loved to feed her children and loved to eat as well. The challenge, as you can imagine, is to find food she will eat and at the same time not force her in any way. It’s a balancing act. So today I was thinking about what to give her for dinner – something she hasn’t eaten for a long time which might entice her. I offered to make blueberry pancakes and she said “Yes,” to my surprise.

Now, I am a bad pancake-maker – always have been – never learned the trick to making them and hardly ever eat them myself, but I found a recipe and we had frozen blueberries so I proceeded to make them. The first one was a total disaster, but the next few came out reasonably okay if you didn’t mind how they looked. The good news of this story is that my mother ate the whole pancake and liked it.  Given that at this point she hardly ever likes anything, I was SO happy. The happiness of a nourishing “mom,” whose child has not been eating and finally does. That is how it felt. And that is when I thought about how the psyche really does change when one cares for another.

This has been so much the journey that I am on. As my mother has changed, softened and in many ways sweetened, so have I and so has our relationship.  It’s of course challenging, intense and difficult at times but the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. A love has blossomed between us that I would never have thought possible and I live in gratitude for my life that has been forever changed and enriched.




Judy Fox is an artist. She was born in 1947 in New York City. For twenty-five years she worked for a nonprofit educational organization helping with graphic design and overseeing the print production of books and magazines. Previous to that, she taught English as a second language and got seriously involved with Buddhist meditation practice. For many years she worked at retreat centers in the US and UK. This spiritual interest, sparked initially by Buddhist practice, has continued throughout her life manifesting in many different forms.
Over twenty five years ago, she became the primary caregiver for her older brother who was dying of Aids and spent literally eight months by his side. From that experience, she understood the choiceless nature of caring for someone who you love deeply and because of her spiritual background she was able to gain a priceless perspective that helped so much during this very challenging time.
For the past five years, Judy has been helping to care for her 98 year old mom. Two years ago, she started a blog site with her good friend Andrea Hurley called” When the Table Turns” (www.whenthetableturns.com) where they write heartfelt philosophical essays on the care and love for their elderly moms. Recently they have expanded their contact with other caregivers and started a virtual caregiver’s circle (www.whenthetableturns.com/caregivers-circle-virtual). They are very excited about this as a way to share and learn with others. They are also honored to be featured in a chapter of Nina Lesowitz and  Mary Beth Sammon’s deeply spiritual book about the power of gratitude called, “The Grateful Life: The Secret to Happiness and the Science of Contentment.”