On Mother’s Day: Make time for Mom to make time

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

On Mother’s Day, we like to turn Mom into Queen for a Day. We buy flowers, go to church, cook dinner and generally spoil Mom for one day. That is wonderful.

However, I have a different gift idea for Mother’s Day this year. It doesn’t cost any money, but I believe it could be considered invaluable to the Mom who receives it.

This year, what about giving Mom the gift of caring for herself?

Stay with me here … I regularly work with women who have cancer and, as a general rule, Moms are especially prone to neglecting themselves. Women feel guilty if they take time for themselves. This refusal to care for oneself can be elevated to the level of martyrdom—as if there is a prize for the greatest self sacrifice.

Tea CupWhile most Moms would never allow their children out the door in the morning without breakfast, many Moms don’t think twice about skipping breakfast—or other meals. Does that sound like a busy Mom or Grandma you know?

You can help change this pattern, this year for Mother’s Day. While many Moms won’t take time for themselves—they’re likely to do it if their family makes the time.

You know what what your Mom might like:

  • A regular meal “out” with family
  • A weekly time to work in the yard together
  • Assurance that she can make it to her church or club or community group—or even her hairdresser
  • An evening of playing cards
  • Simply a time to share tea or coffee and talk in an unhurried way
  • Maybe none of these; perhaps something else

This year on Mother’s Day, tell Mom that you care about her and that you would like her to spend some of her time in the next year doing things that would help her feel good. Tell her you want her to do this—and tell her you’ll help ensure this happens.

What I have come to know over the years is this: Taking time to care for myself makes me a better caregiver. It also helps to ensure that I will be able to care for years to come.

Happy Mother’s Day!

International Pay It Forward Day: Let’s Keep It Going!

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Here’s a challenge:

Let’s keep it going. International Pay It Forward Day came and went last week. (Dr. Wayne Baker wrote a whole series of stories about the importance of this idea.)

But please remember: The whole point of this “day” is to keep it going. The campaign seems to be working. Paying it forward has been gaining momentum over the years. I know of some friends who honor their mother’s birthday by paying it forward and encouraging others to do the same on that day. It’s a nice tribute for a woman who was very generous with her time and talents.

Card for Pay It Forward Day

Want the “official card” as a reminder? Click this snapshot to learn where to download and print one to carry in your pocket.

I had the opportunity to pay it forward (or backwards, depending how you view it), this week, in the drive thru while getting my morning coffee. I picked up the tab for the person behind me. Did the person appreciate it? Did he, in turn, and pay for the next car? I have no idea. I do know it made me feel good—and it made for a good start to my day. Hopefully it improved his day as well.

Why am I writing about this in our We Are Caregivers column? Because, as caregivers, we often are overburdened, stressed, and tired. Frankly, we’re helping so much—each and every day—that most people don’t expect caregivers to go an extra mile and do something like paying it forward.

I have a challenge for you. Sometime in the next week try to do something to pay it forward. Pay for a cup of coffee, ask someone to go in front of you in a long line, pick up trash or drop off some flowers (May Day is Thursday!). I promise you it will make you feel good.

When you pay it forward, tell friends on Facebook that you did it because we suggested it on WeAreCaregivers.com, which is an easy-to-remember web address for this column.

Try it! Talk about it! Let’s keep it going!

Have a great week!

Gardening brings joy, if we are smart about adapting

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Gardening makes me happy.

I love watching things grow, digging in the dirt, moving things around. I don’t even mind pulling weeds. I have mentioned in past columns that I am not the only gardener in my family. In fact my grandma and my husband’s grandfather have bonafide green thumbs.

Through this column, we put the word out a couple of weeks ago that we were looking for caregiving tips we all can use in spring and summer. A number of ideas focused on gardening. Today, I’m going to share my tips and a couple from our readers.

Thanks to Edy Brown for this tip: "We can learn a lot from traditional gardening around the world. Smart housekeepers plant herb gardens in containers they can maintain without stooping over. This example is from Laos. Lots of herbs, onions and other useful crops can be planted in containers you've already got in the garage or basement."

Thanks to Edy Brown for this tip: “We can learn a lot from traditional gardening around the world. Smart housekeepers plant herb gardens in containers they can maintain without stooping over. This example is from Laos. Lots of herbs, onions and other useful crops can be planted in containers you’ve already got in the garage or basement. You can re-purpose many plastic, metal and other containers. I’ve even seen several container tomatoes grown together in a children’s wading pool.”

People who don’t share the love of gardening don’t always understand the draw to be out in the fresh air making sure everything is the way you like it. But it isn’t as easy with age. As our grandparents have aged I have observed a few things.

1. Telling a gardener not to worry about their garden is not going to work. They care about their plants and want them to look good and flourish. That means risking a fall or a sore body in order to keep up with the maintainence required. Try to see these plantings through the gardener’s eyes: An unruly flower bed may make no difference to you, but it can be deeply troubling to the gardener whose loving labor originally planted it.

2. If you are assisting a gardener with the tasks that need to be done, please make sure you are doing what is important to them and to their standards if at all possible. When my grandma had to stop mowing and weeding it drove her crazy when others blew the lawn clippings into the flower beds and flowers were pulled instead of weeds due to lack of knowledge.

3. Less can be more as we grow older. My grandfather is the ‘Tomato Man’ at his large assisted living residence. Having once had a huge garden, he now sticks to a small space and grows only tomatoes that everyone wants to be the recipient of. It satisfies him and his need to garden.

4. Raised beds are a good thing. They can be built at all levels, allowing accessibility to those in wheelchairs or people with walkers that have seats built in to sit and garden. Take a look at the photo from Laos that a reader recommended, today.

5. Even a small container that grows herbs can be satisfying to a gardener. And growing things is good for the soul.


Gardening for Seniors by Patty CassidyA couple of readers recommended books by Patty Cassidy. She is one of the nation’s best-known horticultural therapists as both a master gardener and counselor with years of experience with seniors. She occasionally shows up in the New York Times as an expert on these issues.

We recommend her very practical and beautifully illustrated book with a long title: The Illustrated Practical Guide to Gardening for Seniors: How to maintain your outside space with ease into retirement and beyond (although you’ll only find it for sale by re-sellers at this point) and her newer book The Age-Proof Garden: 101 practical ideas and projects for stress-free, low-maintenance senior gardening, shown step by step in more than 500 photographs.

In Patty’s view from her website: “Tending our gardens is a lifelong pleasure. As we age, our energy and physical abilities become more limited, but gardens are magical, evolving places, with the potential to keep us young at heart and physically fit.” So she—and other experts in adapted gardening—focus on choosing lower-maintenance plantings, adjusting the location and height of beds, choosing gardening tools designed for people with a range of disabilities.”


Are you a gardener or do you take care of someone who is? Tell us your favorite thing to grow or leave us a tip that has helped you through the years. We’d even welcome a photo from a corner of your garden that you especially enjoy. Contact us at [email protected]

As caregivers, we need to listen …

… which means we need to speak honestly—now

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

EVERYBODY is talking about this. America is aging. Millions of us are either caregivers—or the recipients of care. But are we really sure all of that care is aimed in the right directions?

Anyone who picked up the New York Times on Sunday found two prominent stories asking this very question. Nicholas Kristof wrote A Loyal Soldier Doesn’t Deserve This about a disabled veteran struggling with inadequate long-term health care. Janet Steen wrote My Mother’s Keepers about the painful choices of caring for her mother in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. Janet calls this journey “impossibly hard.” Of course, she’s right.

I found myself talking about this with colleagues at a nursing home in the Alzheimer’s unit.

I was working there that day as an occupational therapist. First thing in the morning, three of us found ourselves helping residents of the home at the breakfast table. I was checking on a resident to see how well he was able to feed himself. Near me, an aide was helping another man eat breakfast and a nursing assistant was helping a lady do the same.

The aide worked for hospice and she had been caring for this gentleman for more than a year. The gentleman’s condition had declined to the point that he no longer spoke, his body was rather rigid and he communicated only with an occasional smile. The aide was great with him: kind, connected, everything you would want from a loved one.

The nursing assistant noticed her care and asked in a light tone: “Will you take of care of me when I am like that?”

The aide from hospice said, “Of course!”

But the conversation had just begun. From that beginning, the nursing assistant said that she didn’t really want to be around if she couldn’t enjoy life. When I asked her what that meant she didn’t hesitate to say that she wanted to be able to feel the sun on her face and interact with her family. Without that, she said, life wouldn’t matter any longer.

We both agreed with her. We all know the reality about such conditions. Neither of us wanted to end up like that.

I have been thinking about that conversation ever since. I keep asking myself: What if we all spoke honestly about what we want—while we can still speak clearly about it? Of course, as caregivers, we need to listen to people as they express their wishes. Even if their wishes aren’t the same as ours, we should respect them by not pushing endless care and treatments and procedures—sometimes far beyond what they really want.

Take a look at the video below, produced by the St. John Providence Health System. An advance care directive is one way to speak honestly—while we can.


Love the sun? Help us make a spring list!

Apple tree blossoms in the spring sunlight

In the spring sunshine, trees finally are budding!

LIGHTbright light—poured in my window this morning!

I haven’t seen much of it in the last few months, but I remember it well. Sunshine! Thank God for sunshine!

With the sun and warmer temperatures comes a list of things that need to be done to help my house and yard transition over to my favorite time of the year: summer. I know that I am not the only one that has a list.

Last fall we asked for your help to provide some tips and topics for caregivers to get through the holidays and winter months. This week we are asking again: What is on your to do list this spring? How do you enlist help for tasks? What are the challenges that you are facing? What has been helpful for you in earlier spring and summer seasons?

We’ll share more spring and summer tips—with a particular focus on caregivers—in coming weeks. Please help …

Leave your comments below and we will compile them soon.

And, maybe by then the snow will have melted out of my yard!

When caregiving roles are reversed …

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

My husband and I have always considered ourselves a team.

Like any good team, we each have roles and at this point we know them well:

  • I am the grocery shopper (although my daughter is getting pretty good at that); he is the laundry guy.
  • I am the talker; he is the listener.
  • I am the patient; he is the caregiver.

This week the tables had to turn when he went through a procedure to have his ACL repaired. He tore it while coaching football last fall but waited until now to get it fixed. So I found myself in the waiting room for once. Just so you know, I have had around 10 surgeries since we have been married in 1995, not to mention all the other cancer stuff. He has now had two.

We have it down to a science when I am sidelined. He is an amazing caregiver. He is good at taking over the things that need to be done and anticipating my needs as well.

Just some of the new accessories in our home.

Just some of the new accessories in our home.

Me? Well … maybe not so much. I knew I needed to up my game as he got in to the van to go home. I was half way around the vehicle before I realized that someone needed to shut the door and it shouldn’t be him. Duh.

It got better when we got home. I attended to all of his needs, from pillows, to special request foods, to a painkiller schedule for meds. But this arrangement just isn’t natural for us. I find myself forgetting that he can’t get around well, or that due to the crutches he may need something carried to where he is sitting. I’m happy to do whatever he needs—I just need to remember to think about what that might be.

So I am praying we get through the next week or so unscathed. I hope he doesn’t hurt himself because he tried to do something more than he should because he didn’t want to ask. I hope that I can keep my focus on the fact that he needs a little more help right now. Fortunately, this is a relatively short term thing for us.

I don’t want to be the patient anytime soon, but I have to say, it really does work better that way.

What are your stories or ideas from such times of role reversal? Leave a Comment here or visit me on my Facebook page.

‘As he shared his story … something was missing’

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

We need to talk. Those four words can ease many of our stresses and strains as caregivers—and as human beings. That’s why I welcome conversations at my Facebook page—and I love to see our writers engage in honest dialogue. This prompts us all to sit down, pour a cup of something—and talk. Right now, Paul Hile and Benjamin Pratt are talking about the dangers of unresolved anger and the potential of forgiveness. This conversation started with Ben’s column, Clearing Boulders, and continued with Paul’s Forgiveness Is More Than Skin Deep. Today, Ben gives us …

‘Did I Say Anything about Anger?’


Paul Hile wrote a very personal account of his life as a caregiver and his efforts to forgive—in response to my tale of forgiveness by my father-in-law. In his story, Paul confesses his wide range of deep feelings, from joy and gratitude to guilt and anger. This admission is so necessary for healing the broken pieces of our souls as we move toward forgiving others and ourselves. It’s not easy to reach the point of honesty Paul shared with us.

Let me tell you about a different conversation I had recently.

BEN PRATT says: "I'm such a big believer in sitting down to talk over a cup of coffee that a logo of two coffee cups pops up on special pages in my book 'A Guide for Caregivers.' I invite readers to plan a future conversation with a friend." (Click this photo to learn more.)

BEN PRATT says: “I’m such a big believer in sitting down to talk over a cup of coffee that a logo of two coffee cups pops up on special pages in my book ‘A Guide for Caregivers.’ I invite readers to plan a future conversation with a friend.” (Click this photo to learn more.)

Michael phoned me at the suggestion of his parent’s pastor who had told him I was a caregiver writing a book for caregivers. We met at a local coffee shop, sat at a corner table, and, as the coffee cooled, we introduced ourselves. There was a quiet moment and then, he began to tell me of his long-toiling, faithful commitment as a caregiver of his parents. I was moved by his honest, compassionate, straight forward, sincere rending of his life tale. Midway through his story, I sensed there was something missing—something I had experienced in myself and in other caregivers.

He began, “I was about two years from retirement at a job I liked, when my mother called to say that Dad wasn’t doing well. She asked me to visit. What became clear soon was that neither one of them was doing well. I talked to my two sisters about the situation, and they said they couldn’t really help. I made a rather impulsive decision: I had enough money and resolve to quit my job and move back home to help care for my mom and dad.

“It may be that I moved home because I had guilt about not visiting them enough. I know I felt some shame about my testy relationship with my father. He pushed me and I pushed back—that was our history.

“I moved home and life got pretty intense and difficult very quickly. I was feeding, bathing, and cleaning my father when he soiled himself—stuff I never even imagined I would be doing. It was difficult full time work, and I was doing most of it because my mother was becoming more confused and less helpful. She would leave the stove on, ruin food and fail to function in the kitchen or at other simple chores. I was losing sleep, not eating well and gaining weight. My sisters seemed to drop off the map—they called but didn’t come.

“After about 10 months, my father had a stroke and died a week later. I did something I have rarely done, I cried and felt very sad, but mostly, I felt guilty. I blamed myself for not doing enough for him. Over the next few months, Mom became more confused and unable to care for herself. It was one thing to bathe my father but I didn’t want to do all those personal things for my mother. I got her into a care facility and, before too long, she often didn’t know me. I visit every day. I never know whether she will recognize me or not. I keep thinking I let them both down—I should have done more.”

We sat quietly, as men often do, with our hands clasped, leaning in, elbows on spread knees, eyes staring at nothing on the floor. I had time to feel and then to think.

I finally said, “I’m touched by your care of your parents. You have told me about your love, your compassion, your long-suffering faithful commitment. I am honored to sit in the presence of such a loving, sacrificial man. You gave and continue to give a remarkable gift to your parents. But I get the sense that I am more grateful for your generosity than you are. You don’t seem to value your gift. I’m also puzzled.  Can you tell me more about your anger?”

He slowly raised his head, “Did I say anything about anger? I don’t think I mentioned it.”

“I know you didn’t. You told of your shame and your guilt. You did what many caregivers do: You gave your whole self, body and soul. Then instead of appreciating what you have done, you pronounced yourself guilty! You blame yourself for not being all powerful. You feel guilty for not being powerful enough to make their last days tranquil.

“One of the things I have learned is that guilt and anger are often two sides of one coin. Guilt has its root in the daunting shoulds of our lives. We should be able to do it all! Anger is also rooted in our helplessness. Anger gives the illusion that we are powerful and not helpless. Each of us has plenty of reasons to feel legitimate guilt, but I can’t detect one thing in your story that deserves that indictment.

“Your guilt may serve only to keep you from acknowledging and realizing your anger. Both guilt and anger are empty answers in your journey of respectful caregiving.”