Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Caregiving: The good, the bad, the ugly

I watched a documentary called Care about the adult in-home caregiving industry that highlighted a tragically dichotomous situation in which caregivers who take care of elderly people can’t earn enough to live and the elderly people they care for are running through their life savings to pay them.  With the elderly population estimated to double by 2040 and 90% of people saying they want to stay in their own homes, it’s fair to say society has a problem that’s not going away.  

Our own journey into caregiving began in 2014 when my elderly mother suffered a stroke and could no longer move about unassisted.  This introverted, resolutely private woman went from living independently to having her space invaded by strangers 24/7.  Some of the strangers were, indeed, very strange.  In our 2 ½ years with a large, nationally known caregiving agency, we had a couple thieves, some liars and several mentally ill people including a lady who told me the first day on the job with an unsettling fire in her eyes that her husband was missing and the police think she shot him but they can’t prove it.  We also had amazing people with hearts for old people who were more “family” than biological family.  I’d say the really bad people occupied the bottom 10%, the really good people occupied the top 10%.  Everyone else?  Hit or miss and many lacked proper training.  And that’s what $220K a year will get you.  (Yes, you read that correctly.)  But before you say, wow, where can I get that job… understand that the caregivers—the people doing the heavy lifting and toileting and bathing, the cooking and cleaning, the early morning and late night shift work and those suffering the verbal and physical abuse of dementia patients—were earning poverty wages with the agency taking more than half what the caregivers earned.  For what?  I never did figure that out.  The agency provided very little value apart from finding people and scheduling them. Which got me thinking… what if we got rid of the agency? 

Next:  Caregiving On Our Own

Thursday, March 19, 2020

My Dad

Colleyville resident, Colonel John L. Kennedy, Jr., USA, Retired, a beloved husband, father and grandfather, passed away peacefully on March 15, 2020 at the age of 95. 

John was born in Wheeling, West Virginia to John and Katherine Kennedy.  He attended Wheeling’s Linsly Military Institute and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1947.  John received his Master’s Degree in electrical engineering from the University of Oklahoma.

John’s distinguished military career spanned 34 years, the balance of time spent in the U.S. Army’s Air Defense Artillery Branch.  He defended our country in the Korean and Vietnam wars and supported the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.  He was twice awarded the Bronze Star Medal and was a four-time recipient of the Legion of Merit.  John’s career culminated with his work at the Pentagon on the Patriot Missile Project.

Preceded in death by his parents and beloved wife of 70 years, Margaret (Charlton) Kennedy, John is survived by children John (Maria) Kennedy, Thomas Kennedy, Sarah (Todd) Onderdonk, grandchildren Kalyanii Kennedy, John, Colin and Daniel Onderdonk, great-grandson David Kennedy, brother Edward Donald (Patricia) Kennedy, and nephew Stephen Kennedy.  He also leaves behind an amazing team of loyal caregivers and friends.  

John was curious, joyful and exceedingly kind. He loved reading about history, watching classic movies, playing classical piano, cartooning, studying astronomy, weight lifting, and his daily “happy hour.”  Heaven has gained an extraordinary man.  

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation in John’s memory to the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) or the Humane Farming Association.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Coronavirus Madness?

My “day job” is looking after the welfare of my 95-year-old father who lives with the support of caregivers in his own home down the street.  My dad is my oldest best friend, now deaf and wheelchair bound and wholly dependent like a young child.  When the coronavirus hit Wuhan a couple months ago, I saw the probability that this would not be a situation easily contained, and that my sweet Dad wouldn’t survive it if he caught it.  I’ve been planning and, yes, fretting ever since.  

For Valentine’s Day, I gave our caregivers and home health folks a little paper basket with a pack of Clorox wipes, travel-size Lysol Spray, some immunity boosting fizzy things and hand sanitizer.  The gift was met with some good-natured eye rolls and “that’s so you” responses.  Who gives Lysol spray for Valentine’s Day?  Um, me?  When things hit the fan, I plan for the worst and expect the worst, which is a bit of my late mother’s genes on display. I’ve lost my sense of humor and I’m driving everyone around me nuts trying to make sure that people are likewise preparing their own families for the worst.  People not taking it seriously  are testing my patience, and I’m hearing a fair amount of this:  

“When my time’s up, my time’s up.”  

“God knows when he’s taking me and I have no control over that.”

“I’m not worried, I’m praying, and God’s going to come for me at the time he chooses and I’m not in control.”

All true statements, but assuredly reckless ones in the context of the current situation if the centerpiece of “I” and “me” causes people to take a “whatever” approach to “him,” “her,” and “them.” 

I could be lectured on the sin of worry, and rightly so, because the Bible tells us not to (e.g., Phil. 4:6-7) To worry is fundamentally to lack trust in God, we’re taught, though Jesus, himself, had anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane while he wholly trusted God, didn’t he?  As it relates to the coronavirus crisis, the Bible also tells us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31), and the people with a “whatever” mentality are putting people like my Dad at risk.  

So, forgive my lack of mirth.  I have a sense of humor and I promise I’ll get it back. Give me a pass on your judgments right now and stop waxing philosophical on our numbers being up.  I need you to concern yourself about my Dad and millions of vulnerable people the world over who need us to be putting our faith into action by taking the precautions necessary to keep others safe.  And I promise on the other end of all this, I’m going to try to self-improve and move myself from the edge of the cliff to the curb for the next crisis.  Just don’t expect to ever see me in the middle of the road. 

My favorite laptop tab: cdc.gov

Reminder:  There are vulnerable, elderly people among us who may not have help.  They may be frightened and unable to plan for several weeks of disruptions.  As you think about your own plans to weather the coronavirus, don't forget about them.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

My Guys

On Spotify... Only My Heart Can Tell by Paul Carrack 

Monday, September 24, 2018

More Thoughts on the Empty Nest

Todd and I have had some good fun in the empty nest the past few weeks.  But just when you think it's safe to declare forever party time, some memory or event triggers the tears again. The sadness for me ebbs and flows.  

We were coming home last night from our last parents' weekend for our oldest son, an event blessed and complicated by the fact he has a wonderful career opportunity that will take him 1,000 miles away pretty much forever, I'm guessing.  We invested our time and energies into the quest to help him succeed, so I don't know why the thing we wanted for him inspires such a dichotomy of emotions in the heart of a mother.  So, I had to apply two rounds of foundation this morning because my tears washed away the first application.  I was having, as they say, a moment.  Todd and I hugged him goodbye on the curb outside the airport then headed inside.  Once settled at the gate, I noticed something flying around the ceiling.  "Hey, look! It's a bird!" I exclaimed.  Several minutes later, hopping around about three feet from my shoes were five little sparrows.  Looked to be a mom and dad maybe and three fledglings.  Hopping around the airport looking for pizza crust or bun crumbs at gate C21 at the Raleigh Durham International Airport.  

The cuteness of it all faded fast as the symbolism hit me upside the head.  "Todd, there are five of them... together like we used to be." My eyes welled up with tears and Todd looked at me a little helplessly no doubt thinking, "Oh, no.  Here we go again." Five wee birds.  A little family.  A mom and a dad and kids hopping around them.   Something we don't have anymore. 

I prayed last night for God to help me get it together.  To give me some healthy perspective on where Todd and I are right now and some peace to move on with my own life as I celebrate the adventures of my adult children.  The bird family and its metaphor for the dependence of youth and family love was not exactly what I had in mind.  Then, something really poignant happened.  All five birds flew up and found a resting perch on a window ledge maybe 30 feet high.  There they sat, all lined up, staring out the window at the world awash in rays of late afternoon sunlight.  Unnaturally caged inside an airport.  Together, yes.  Free, no.  

We serve a supernatural God who works in supernatural ways.  Did he direct those birds into the airport so I could see them?  Highly doubt it.  Did he take an opportunity to use those birds to teach me something?  I suspect he did.  The impression they left was far too indelible, far too corrective, far too healing to be coincidental.  Do I feel like skipping through a wheat field now?  Not exactly.  Do I feel slightly better?  Yes.  Did those birds break my heart?  Kind of.  

I called the airport and spoke to someone who said they have animal control look after them.  They can't always be caught and released.  Sometimes they put food out for them.  Mostly, they graze for tiny scraps on the floor.  "What about water?" I asked.  "They drink from the fountains," she said.  

I'm haunted by those birds.  They're captives in an unnatural setting.  Just like my boys would be if they didn't have lives of their own.  

Binge listening to Perpetua. (Live) by charlton n company

Monday, August 20, 2018

Empty Nesting Ennui

I don’t recall crying when they toddled off to preschool; I knew I’d see them at noon. I felt a tinge of ennui when we sent two off to college but I knew they’d be home for fall break. When one left, there were two remaining.  When two left, there was one remaining.  When the third goes in 5 days, 6 hours and 27 seconds, there will be none. I was utterly unprepared for the shackling grief I would experience when my boys became men, hauling back-packs, power cords, plastic tubs and Twin XL bedding into dorm rooms from North Carolina to Fort Worth, finding their own way, independent of the person who spent more than two decades raising them.  I indulged in self-pity this past week, feeling like an old lady on the precipice of assisted living and a soft food diet.  With no one left to nurture, who am I?  The empty nest for many is an existential crisis.  

I’ve reached out to every human with a pulse who has grown children and scavenged online forums looking for someone, anyone who can make the pain hurt a little less by virtue of the fact they do have a pulse and lived to chat about it. What I learned is that my boat is full of people who feel they are adrift at a sea that alternates between unpredictable, onerous waves and menacing, indigo clouds (the crying jags) and a calm that looks like miles and miles of monochrome blue beneath a barren horizon (the feelings of emptiness).  Of course, this isn’t everyone’s experience.  I’ve encountered plenty of people who are chirping with delight over newfound freedoms and opportunities to re-discover who they really are independent of others.  I hope my train pulls into that station at some point real soon.  

I’m hardly an expert, but I think a plan is a good idea, and this is mine:

1.    Start a dialogue with others.  I’m not a joiner and the kids have been the epicenter of my life (I know, I know… that’s a problem), so this is new to me.  But, I’m reaching out to people who have adult children and chatting online with people in transition.  It helps.
2.    Make “to do” lists.  I need carpets cleaned, the window with condensation replaced, broccoli and chicken from Walmart for dinner, a solution for the weeds out front, a new binge-worthy Netflix show, etc.  Starting immediately, I’ve got the time to make some lists and check them twice.
3.    Look outward. My kids are all in a great place. It’s me that’s a mess.  It’s not incumbent upon them to fill this void of mine. It’s up to me to make some adjustments in my life and move forward, one measured step at a time.  No one has died.  No one slammed the door, moved to Greenland and vowed to never again visit.  We are embarking upon a new version of us.  I love kids and dogs.  Maybe there’s a volunteer opportunity when really leaving the house seems like a good idea?
4.    Be real. It’s OK for adult children to know that you are sad.  This helps them sympathize and one day empathize when they have kids of their own who will grow up and leave. Just resist the temptation to pull them back to assuage your hurt.  Don’t leave them with the sense that they alone are responsible for your happiness, that you’ll never enjoy another movie, mall trip, or meatloaf dinner without them.  This becomes 50-pound potato sack on their backs and really and truly, you raised them to be joyous and free.  

That’s my plan, and thoughts from someone in the throes of an existential crisis who maybe shouldn’t be giving advice. Thanks for indulging me.  Now, I’ll update my to-do list and throw on a slicker in case it’s a stormy day.  Oh, and I’ve got some extra Ritz Bits that didn’t get eaten by the kids if anyone on the boat wants to share.  


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Proximity Effect Out Now!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Fickle Fans and True Love

The trajectory of celebrity is a mercurial thing.  Its arc swings up and down or levels at the fancy of the fan base which can go from hot to lukewarm to cold faster than Miley Cyrus changes hairstyles.  From time to time, an arc that seemed destined for oblivian reverses.  Mickey Rourke comes to mind.  I’m struggling to think of others. 

Yesterday, I blogged about Bob Dylan’s reinvention and how I, personally, enjoyed the “new” artist (or this permutation, anyway) a lot more than the “old” one.  For every one of me, there are probably 1,000 others who feel cheated when old familiars—iconic songs—are spun differently, both musically and lyrically. I can think of a number of once-popular musical groups whose changes over the years have left me sulking.  There’s disappointment when a favorite artist strays from his roots. Music fans, for the most part, want consistency.  Regardless of how many years or decades have passed between the chart-busting hit and the live performance, fans want to hear what they are familiar with.  They want a fuzzy blanket not a polar splash.  They go to concerts, maybe in large part, to recapture a moment.  Changing out lyrics or mixing up a beat or dropping some notes is like putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.  Meanwhile, the artist is thinking, how do I stay current?  How do I keep breathing in a dub step world?

The end result of this is fan base erosion and, more often than not, the artist just kind of fades away.   Venues get smaller and smaller.  Groups that could pack an amphitheater are playing at apple festivals or, arguably worse yet, not at all.

So, people are both generally fickle and lacking a certain loyalty.  Imagine if the creator of the universe went hot and cold on his creatures or walked away and never looked back on us when we became less amusing. Chilling thought, huh?

Theologians write about the “immutability” of God.  This means that God doesn’t change with respect to his nature, character or attributes. God will always be an all-powerful God impeded by nothing and capable of accomplishing all he envisions.  God is the same today as he always was, undiminished or reshaped by time, and will be the same forever.    

Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is form above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17)          

Looking for something to celebrate today?  How about that?

In my DVD Player…  The Last Lions.  Love, loss, loyalty and courage are not exclusive to the human domain.  This is a suspenseful, heart wrenching and ultimately redemptive film that shows us life is both hard and precious.        

Photo from Pastor Lynette Santiago's blog.

Friday, November 02, 2012

On Reinvention and Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
I had a really interesting experience at the Mark Knopfler/Bob Dylan concert in Grand Prairie last night.  A huge fan of Mark Knopfler’s music from his Dire Straits days up until, well, the album before last,  I was thrilled that he was finally coming to Texas!  When I heard that Knopfler and Dylan were playing separately, I was beyond happy.  My fear when I first heard about the concert is that they would be playing together and I really didn’t want to listen to Bob Dylan on top of Mark Knopfler.  Call me shallow, but I don’t get Dylan.  The greatest songwriter of all time?  Really?  And who can tell?  You need sheet music to understand what he’s saying beneath the plugged-nose warble.  (Not trying to be mean here… just a small critique… sorry.)

Knopfler did not disappoint.  Backed by what must have been some of the best musicians in the world, he and his band beat out mostly newer fare.  Only two songs, however, hearkened back to the "older" Knopfler I most enjoy:  Brothers in Arms and So Far Away.  So, I had to kind of get past the new Knopfler’s bluesy, folksy, Appalachian story-telling schtick.  Still, a dazzling show.

So, then Dylan takes the stage with a back-up band that was probably going straight to somebody’s wedding reception.  It mystified my husband and me as to how this iconic legend couldn’t pull together a better group of musicians.  It’s not that they were awful.  It’s not that they were bad.  It’s just that the opening act’s band blew them out of the water.  The contrast between Band Knopfler and Band Dylan was like chocolate and vanilla. 

So, anyway, Dylan’s up on stage.  We were in a tiered-seating venue in the mid-section.  Lots of people down front were standing up, but there were no obstructions to our view.  We could see fine until some guy in front of me decides to stand up, too.  Hey, it’s a concert.  That’s what people do.  But, I was not really in a stand-up mood.  And neither was anyone behind or around me.  We were all sitting down in our section.    My husband immediately wanted to change seats with me.  I didn’t want him staring at this guy’s back.  So, I declined.  Then my husband said, “Why don’t I ask him to sit down.”  I thought about this for a second.  My biggest consideration was the people behind me, because I really didn’t care.  I’d already seen what I came to see (Knopfler). Maybe Todd should ask for the people behind me, I thought.   But, I could see that this guy was having a moment.  He was watching someone he really admired… so obviously thrilled to be there. I didn’t want to mess with the vibe.  So, I just put my head on my husband’s shoulder and was content to let #1 Dylan Fan soak in it.        

So, this guy was really into the performance, swaying back and forth and grinning, for about four songs.  Then, he sat down and I noticed his attention seemed to wane.  He was a little bit more conversant with his wife and looking around a bit. Dylan saved his three biggest songs for the end:  Like a Rolling Stone, All Along the Watchtower and Blowing in the Wind.  Dylan did wildly different interpretations of all three songs.  In fact, it wasn’t altogether clear until he got well into the songs what they were.  As soon as it became obvious that he was playing Like a Rolling Stone, #1 Dylan Fan did something bafflingly, crazily unpredictable.  He got up… and left.  #1 Dylan Fan up and walked out just as the artist was getting down and legendary.   Why?  Could have been an emergency?  It was more than a bathroom break, because he and his wife kind of packed up and left never to return.  Who knows?  But, my guess is that #1 Dylan Fan had come to the concert, maybe, hoping to recapture some of the magic and what he got, instead, was a reinvention.  History rewritten.  The song did not remain the same. 

Then something else happened that took me by utter surprise.  As #1 Dylan Fan was walking out, I got a chill and goose bumps and suddenly got Bob Dylan.  I not only got him, but think I fell in love. It all clicked for me.  And it took a reinvention to do it.  I don’t like old Bob Dylan.  It’s the new Bob Dylan I fancy.  It’s the new take on the old songs that did it for me.  #1 Dylan Fan, I suspect had a totally opposite experience.  He came for the old Dylan and walked out on the new one.  Which is kind of the way I feel about Mark Knopfler, frankly. 

I think there’s a spiritual application to this story.  But, we got home at midnight, the dog needed to go outside four times before 5:00 a.m. and I’m really tired.

Pondering it, though.

 On my iPod... thinking I got to get some Dylan