An Excerpt From My Book, SCATTERING ASHES


Care Givers Space has featured an excerpt from my book, Scattering Ashes, A Memoir of Letting Go.  Read it here.


Check out my guest blog post over at Dorothy Sander’s Aging Abundantly, where I talk about Wisdom.

Expert Or Storyteller?


In much of the reading I do to stay tuned in on how to have a lot of followers on my blog and build a following for my upcoming memoir, it is said that you need to be an expert on what you are writing about.

My Scrivener dictionary describes an expert as someone who is, “a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area: experts in child development | a financial expert.”

In order to be an expert, you have to know about something a lot of other people don’t know about and need or want instruction in. Like how to train your dog so that he or she won’t attack the mailman, or how to make a loaf of sour dough bread that tastes heavenly.

In Australian Locker Hooking, A New Approach to a Traditional Craft, the first book I wrote and published back in 1980, I was definitely taking on the role of an expert. My book was an instruction manual with photographs and technical drawings on how to use raw wool that has been freshly shorn to make beautiful hand made rugs. I was an authority. Those who bought my book wanted to know how to make the things I made, often from the wool of their own sheep.

Now I’m writing a memoir.  ME, MYSELF AND MOM, a Journey Through Love, Hate and Healing, is about a portion of my life, during which I invited my mother to come live with my husband and me. Her health was failing, and she needed care. I was not an expert on eldercare when I invited her into my home, and when she died seven years later, I was still not an expert on eldercare.

Seven more years have passed, and I still don’t feel as though I am an ”expert” on eldercare, or how to build a relationship with an aging parent. If you read my book and try to follow what I did in order deal with your aging parent, you could be making many BIG mistakes and end up hating me for sending you in the wrong direction. What works for one person, most often doesn’t work for another.

In my mind, writing memoir is rather like being a scribe or a storyteller. It’s a record of what happened from the writer’s perspective.  It is not necessarily a how-to-book.

When I read memoir, my favorite genre, I am interested in being told a story and being inspired by how a particular person managed to get through a certain period of time in their lives. I am not interested in learning the steps they took to arrive where they are today. What I want, is to know is that I am not alone in my happiness or travails.

Making difficult decisions about how to care for aging parents is something many of us will face, as we ourselves grow older. As I continue to rewrite my memoir, my intention is to inspire adult children who may be taking on that tricky journey, while they try to go about living their own lives. It’s a difficult task.

Mine is the story of why and how I tried to care for my mother. As hard as it was,  I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn so much about myself and human nature.

Are you an expert or a storyteller? How do you feel about being one or the other?

A Close Look At PTSD


IMG_0714Over the last twenty or so years, I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, three times. Though I was never sexually abused, my father who suffered from PTSD himself, beat me and my brothers, and made growing up into healthy adults, almost impossible. His experiences during the Second World War, screwed up his brain, and like so many other soldiers in every war that has ever been fought, my father brought his “invisible wounds” home with him. At the time, veterans such as himself, were said to have, “Shell Shock.” There was no treatment for what would later be called, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those warriors just had to get over it by themselves.

My mother, was abused as a child herself, and later by her husband, my father. She rarely, if ever laid a finger on me, yet her psychological abuse of me made an already difficult childhood, even more challenging. She was also loving, and at times an ally in my never ending struggles with my father. But she’d also threaten me with, “Just wait till your father comes home! He’ll get you to behave.” I was left to pray that she’d forget what I had done to anger her. Mostly though, I simply had to face the music when Dad came home from work. When he turned physical and brought out the leather horse crop he sometimes used to beat me, my mother would completely disappear, never protecting me from who we all, including Mom, called King Kong. Her behavior was confusing to say the least, and her constant betrayals did not help me to build trust or confidence in her.

I’ve struggled with extreme anxiety, depression, and flashbacks most of my life. When I became my mother’s caretaker during the final seven years of her life, my symptoms grew worse. She lived with me, for most of that time, and because I was there, I became bore the brunt of her sadness and anger. We were constantly at war with one another, making my intention to help her to be as comfortable as possible through her waning years, impossible.

I knew that I needed help after my mother died, and for the third time, I was told I was struggling with PTSD. I finally let go of my denial, and sought treatment with a therapist whose specialty was dealing with Trauma. With her help and a village of other supporters, including my husband, I began a slow recovery, pulling together the lost and broken pieces of my life. Writing my memoir about those difficult times has been the act that has most helped me to celebrate who I am and have become. I look forward to it being published soon.

I’m happy to say that eight years later, I feel like a new person. Though I’ll never be perfect, I no longer struggle every day with anxiety. When depression tiptoes in, I know who it is, and it makes a hasty retreat. Yes, I can still react to certain triggers, but now I usually catch myself before I react and cause extensive damage to my own ego and those around me.

Living with the likes of PTSD has an extremely steep learning curve. Just a few weeks ago, I learned an important lesson about dealing with those nasty triggers. I was sitting in the dentist’s chair, being fitted with a new mouthguard which I need to use at night, in order to keep myself from grinding my own teeth away. It was a new product, much harder and stiffer than the mouthguard that I had been using. My dentist, who is the kindest and best of them all, was struggling to get it seated properly. Suddenly out of nowhere, I had a panic attack, and started struggling against him. I was in tears and for a few moments didn’t understand what was happening.

We took a break from the fitting and in a few minutes I realized that I had been reacting to some unremembered trigger event. I confessed to the doctor, that I have a history of abuse and have struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had never considered telling him about it. What does dental care and PTSD have to do with each other? Having been a military dentist in Iraq before opening his practice here, he knew exactly what I was talking about.

At the time, I had to admit that there is still a bit a shame involved in owning my PTSD. But it is nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing I did caused it. And just because it isn’t on the list of ailments we’re supposed to check off when we see a new caretaker, doesn’t mean it should be ignored. True self-care is learning to accept ourselves as we are and honoring our own minds and bodies.

Finding my center amidst the panic, I learned that it is important to let caregivers of any kind know about the problem I have. My general practitioner has known all along, but being upfront about PTSD with everyone is important.

Is there anything in your life that you’re ashamed of owning?

Finding Forgiveness While Writing Memoir

DSC00291.JPGHi Folks,
I’m over at Kathy Pooler’s, Memoir Writer’s Journey, today with a piece about  how I found forgiveness for my mother as I wrote my memoir, ME, MYSELF, AND MOM, A Journey Through Love, Hate. and Healing.  I’m working on the second draft right now. As soon as that’s done, I’ll ship it off to a developmental editor.

I plan on being back here next Tuesday, July 29th, with a follow up post to, Is There A Robot In Your Future?.

Is There A Robot In Your Future?

Me and My Mom

Me and My Mom

According to the Population Reference Bureau, by 2050, the elderly population is estimated to be 16 % of the global population. That’s 1.5 billion of us, over the age of 65, tottering about, needing health care, doctors, nurses, and other caregivers to help us navigate our dotage.

When a first child is born, he or she does not come with an instruction booklet.  Parents learn how to care for their new baby through advice from friends and relatives, and plain old experience.  When the child’s parents start aging and ailing, the kid is in the same boat that the parents  were in when they first arrived.  Unless the parents die suddenly while they’re still young and capable, the kids become the ones in charge of of their parent’s  latter years. There is no instruction manuel on how to care for the elderly.

Faced with what to do when my mother’s health started going down hill in 2000, I wanted to help make her last years more comfortable. .  She lived near-by in her own home.  Depending on traffic, it could take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour to get to her in the event of an emergency.  She had been having mini strokes, and the chances of her falling and doing major damage to herself was a worry.

When she’d first moved here to Virginia, a few years earlier, we visited a number of local senior citizen communities with both assisted living and nursing facilities.  Mom and I were in agreement that she wasn’t yet ready for that and strongly believed that one should be around people of all ages until the very end of their lives.  She was able-bodied, had her faculties about her, and said, “I don’t want to hang out with a bunch of old people.”

But when her health started failing a few years later, I had to make a decision about what to do.  Our relationship wasn’t of the best quality. But I loved her and wanted to help her in some way. Friends told me to put her in an assisted living facility.  They said, “She’ll be well taken care of and you won’t have a thing to worry about.” But on our earlier tour of those facilities, I wasn’t keen on what I saw happening there.

Having been the family caretaker and problem solver all of my life, I spent a number of difficult weeks trying to decide what to do, before I chose to bring her home to live with me.  In my upcoming memoir,  ME, MYSELF, AND MOM,  A Journey Through Love, Hate, and Healing, I tell the story of the seven years I spent being Mom’s primary caregiver. It was a nightmare, as Mom, narcissistic and an  alcoholic, was diagnosed with lung cancer and died a slow, painful death.

Would I do it again?  To be honest, I don’t know.  If I was the person I am today, I’d seriously think about it. But it’s downright terrifying for all parties involved, and is not for those with their own problems or challenging emotional ties with the person needing care. For me, it was a tempestuous,  yet amazing personal growth experience, filled with heart wrenching despair. My own difficulties with an anxiety disorder and forgotten memories of childhood abuse, made those years living with Mom more than contentious.

At the time, robots were not part of the health care scheme. Right now, Japan, is experimenting with elder-care robots in nursing homes.  The thought of being in a nursing home being fed by a machine that talks, is far beyond what I want when I can no longer take care of myself.  Now going on seventy-two-years of age, I hope that by the time robots are on staff in every assisted living and nursing home, I will be a thing of the past. But what about those beyond my generation? Are robots capable of expressing compassion, love, and caring for those who need it as they die, often scared and in intense pain?

While finishing his Phd at the University of Salford in Manchester, England, Antonio Espingardeiro, developed a model robot, that could monitor aging patients, communicate with their doctors, and provide companionship and basic care. I get the monitoring and the communicating with doctors part, but can a robot provide a hug, and the knowing that you are loved and truly cared for?

I am making my wishes known right now, folks. Should they be ready before I move on, NO ROBOTS FOR ME!  I want to be cared for by humans, even with all of their faults and difficulties.  A metallic hand will never take the place of holding the hand of someone who understands our human condition. Only another human being is capable of that.