Telling Beautiful Lies


“There is a way of being wrong which is also sometimes necessarily right.” 
~ Edward Abbey

Ah, lovelies, I’m so tired just now.

We’ve been travelling endlessly back and forward between our farm and Brisbane the last two years as one of our elderly family members has become more and more incapacitated. Advancing dementia, mobility issues, deteriorating hearing and sight. We tried to keep her in her home as long as we could by sharing her care among family members, and then one day she went into hospital and the staff told us she couldn’t go home. We needed to find somewhere she could be looked after 24/7. When she went into care it was bittersweet – we cried that we had failed her but it was also such a relief to have that burden of her care lifted from us. It took weeks for her to settle in and then suddenly she was happy again and that new place became home.

Foolishly we thought life would go back to normal a little more. And then she fell.

Since then it has been an endless round of visits to her in the aged home or to be beside her bed on hospital stays where we try to visit daily to ensure that she is eating, and is comfortable and is not frightened or lonely.

Her mind is slipping. She asks us the same few questions over and over. The stories of her youth, once clear and well remembered, are merging into each other. She was a seamstress when she was young. Had loved dancing. Was courted by a young American soldier during the war, but married a local boy who played football with her brothers. We don’t correct her any more when she gets the details wrong. It just upsets her, and us. So we agree with what she says.

Even more than that we actively participate in the space she is in. In recent hospital visits she became distressed, aggressive, distrustful. All she wanted to do was go home. To the home. To her friends, she kept telling us. We could only calm her by telling her she would be released soon. Maybe tomorrow, we would say.

When she was delusional and told us she had been walking around (when she was actually lying in a hospital bed rigged up to countless machines and devices) we asked questions about where she went and what she did. Her mind created elaborate stories to explain what was happening and who these strangers were in her life. In the stories were tiny shreds of truth. We went along with it all if it seemed that it helped her to feel safe and at peace.

When the nurse came on his rounds, the same one who she said had been sent to torture her earlier in the day (she had thrown things at him, and at his fellow nurses, and threatened to call the police if they didn’t leave her alone), I introduced him as my friend – as someone new – and said he was the best and most caring nurse in the hospital. Suddenly she became polite and compliant and sweet with him. Every lie I spoke was worth it. For her and for us all. It broke my heart to see how trusting she was in what I told her. But it helped and she went to sleep calm again and comforted.

Last night she was back in hospital, less than a week after she was last discharged. For a new problem. She was in a lovely emotional space, calm and happy. The conversations we had were lucid and engaged. But she wanted to go home. Not to the nursing home, but her old home. It soothed her when we told her it was all ready for her, that it would be there when she was ready to be discharged. Even her doctor played along. Yes, she could go home soon. He was attentive and patient and repeated himself over and over with kindness and care.

Such beautiful lies. After the doctor left we talked about taking her shopping to buy a new dress or to help me choose one. We talked about Sunday roast lunches at her house and the whole family coming to visit. We talked about her independence when she gets out of the hospital. And none of it is true. And all of it made her smile and helped her settle down and go to sleep.

Such beautiful lies. And we will keep telling them until she goes to her final home, and all the loved ones who are waiting for her. It comforts her, and it comforts us, and that is all that matters.

Holding Hands Because It Matters


“Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible.” ~ Tia Walker

We have an elderly family member in hospital right now. It’s a place she has visited frequently these past few months after her the first major fall. She is old and frail and her health is failing. Things keep going wrong. And so she finds herself alone – a tiny body in a big bed in a big empty room, far from the friendships and care of her usual environment.

She has dementia. Everything is more confusing, more confronting in this space. Each time we visit she is surly to start with. Emotional. Sometimes there are tears. Sometimes there are sharp words. We don’t take it personally. It’s just the time of day. Her mood is always worse at nightfall and in the evenings, but that’s just part of this awful disease.

We’ve learned to ignore those displays of hostility and to keep being loving and kind. We reassure her, and sit close by her, and we hold her hand. We repeat the same stories over and over, and answer the same questions over and over, and somewhere in that space she moves from distress or anger to laughter and a warm, open discussion of life and happy memories from the past.

I have learned that there is nothing like human touch to calm someone who seems otherwise unsoothable. I have learned to take lotion to rub into her hands and face, her arms and legs. To brush her hair. And always, always to hold her hand.

I have learned that she may not eat because the food is too hard to see, or she doesn’t know what it is or how to open it, or it’s too hard to cut up, or she can’t get the drinking straw or juice cup to her mouth. So an uneaten meal may not mean she’s not hungry but that she simply needs help to eat. I have learned to feed her like you’d feed a child. She opens her mouth like a little bird and I pop morsels of food in, and she smiles at me and makes me promise not to tell people I am feeding her when she could really do it herself. We pretend that is true and I keep feeding her until the food is gone or she is satisfied.

Every visit becomes a blessing. Something that soothes and restores something in me as much as it calms and reassures something in her. Once upon a time she was a woman who held herself apart. I am grateful that this illness has allowed me the chance to become close to her, and for us to find a way to say things that might not have ever otherwise been said.

Sending much love to you, especially all of the carers and those who are looking after elders, Nicole ❤ xx

That Day We Always Knew Was Coming…

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” 
Robert Frost

I’m feeling achy and sad inside today. Late on Monday afternoon, we sent Ben’s elderly mum to hospital. She’s in her nineties and has always been stubbornly independent. And she’s been able to stay at home on her own with help which is just the way she wanted it.

But she’s been in increasing pain from a degenerated hip. Her vision is failing. She’s moved into dementia. Bit by bit we’ve watched as she’s stopped driving, stopped shopping, stopped cooking. We’ve all worried over her, and what to do for her, and what might happen when she moved into that place of no longer coping.

Now, over the past few days she’s not been eating, not drinking water, and all she’s done is cry from pain no matter what we’ve done or with what home doctors have prescribed. So off she went in the back of an ambulance – with a small bag packed with nighties, a hairbrush and toothbrush, a dressing gown, her house keys.

We met with hospital staff yesterday and we realised we’d reached that time we’d always known was coming. She won’t be able to go home to her own home. The hospital will do their best to manage her pain, and to find the best options for her. But when she leaves hospital it will be to go into care.

So last night after we left her in her hospital bed, Ben and I went over to her house to take the perishables from the fridge, water the pot plants and put out the bins for her.

We didn’t think we’d cry, but of course we did. It’s hard to believe that she left in her pyjamas with that tiny bag, and now she won’t be coming back to her home and all the memories and everything she loves.

The only thing that matters to all of us is that she is safe, well cared-for and most importantly that she is not in pain. So she’s in the right place, and this is the right time, but oh, I didn’t think it would be so terribly hard, so terribly sad, or that we would be this emotional.

Maybe it’s better like this. No big dramas, no long-winded goodbyes. No big scenes about putting her into a place she said she’d rather die than have to end up in. She’s happy to stay in hospital or ‘medical places’ until they can get her pain under control. It was a blessing to say goodbye to her yesterday and see her face a little less drawn, and watch her burrow down under the covers and go to sleep in clean sheets, a hot meal in her tummy and kind nurses checking in on her.

Still, we’re struggling with it. Still, we’re wishing there was another way.

Love cracks you open, doesn’t it? But isn’t it fiercely, beautifully worth it to feel it all so deeply.

Biggest hugs to you, my lovelies, from your slightly broken-hearted friend,

Nicole ❤ xx

 

Before the madness, tea…

“If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you.” 
~  William Ewart Gladstone

 

In the middle of all of this editing and birthday excitement we’ve also been dealing with madness of another kind this last little while.

Ben’s elderly mum, a staunchly independent woman in her early nineties, is needing more and more help to stay in her home. Which is where she wants to stay!

The family has rallied around; bringing her food, taking her to doctors’ appointments, paying bills and managing her household, proving company and care. But things are changing quickly. Suddenly I feel like I need to check in on her every day. Will she remember to take her medication? Is she eating? Is she safe? Is she okay emotionally?

It’s a place many families suddenly find themselves in.

And we live far away for most of each month, although we’ve radically modified that recently to be able to keep a better eye on her.

This morning I’m sitting with a cup of tea, thinking about what to do next, and how best to support my mother-in-law. It’s comforting to know that all of her family are thinking about that too, and we’ll find a way, together, to navigate this next stage of her life, but it’s a sad and worrying time.

Meanwhile, my Melbourne Breakfast Tea hasn’t quite fixed everything, but my goodness it helps.

Sending much love to you and your families, Nicole  xoxo

Some thoughts on Dementia, Alzheimers and the End Stage of our Journey

Image from the Dark Writer

Image from the Dark Writer

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”Edgar Allan Poe

 

Recently, my friend Catherine contacted me to ask about her grandmother Phyllis, also known as Little Nana. Her Grandad has already passed over, and Little Nana is in a nursing home. This is what Catherine wrote:

My Nana is in a nursing home and has been for a while now. She can’t walk and so is hoisted in the air as they change her nappy which is degrading and I know she hates it. It makes her cry. She hates them showering her. She hates all of it.

Now dementia is taking over and she knows it. Some days she is great and others you can’t understand what she is saying. And she knows it. She keeps hiding/losing her hearing aid and so now she can’t hear at all. Sometimes she yells at people we can’t see, although once she told my mum (who I’m not close with) that Grandad was there but he wasn’t saying much. She tells me she is frightened but doesn’t know why. She says it a lot. I think she is frightened of dying, but without her hearing aid in, she can’t hear me tell her that there is nothing to be scared of, and that Grandad and others will be there to help her.

I sat on my bed tonight and cried as I told my Grandad that I hate seeing her like this. She is sad and defenceless. She’s scared and terribly sad. She gets confused and doesn’t understand what is going on. I asked Grandad to please take her peacefully in her sleep as it is too cruel to let her lose her mind first. It breaks my heart to see her like this, even in her moments of clarity she is still so sad.  Do you think he heard me? Do you think he understands that it breaks my heart to ask him to take her more than my heart breaks watching her slowly fade from her memory? Am I a bad person to ask this of him? I’m just so sad for her.

I asked Catherine for permission to share her letter, and my response. Many of us have been, or will be in this situation at some stage in our lives as carer or patient.

As a psychic, over time I have come to hold a different view of what happens to those experiencing dementia, or a loss of cognitive function and connection to the world as they age, or their health deteriorates. This is not just restricted to the elderly. What I am about to say can be experienced by someone during deep trauma or illness, and at the final stages of their life, no matter what their age.

Image from The DailyPedia

Image from The DailyPedia

Catherine, you are not a bad person to have these conflicted feelings about Little Nana. No-one likes to see their loved ones suffer, and it is a terrible feeling to be so powerless at the face of that suffering.

Your beloved grandmother is in the end stages of her life now. I know that she is losing the things that have defined her to herself, and to others; her independence, her ability to communicate, to problem solve, and to function in the way that she did before this decline.

I also understand this place from a personal perspective, having been there myself. Ten years ago, when my own health, motor skills and cognitive function were in serious decline, my husband was advised to place me in a nursing home, as it was expected that I would continue to deteriorate, requiring round-the-clock nursing care.

What was it like for me to be in that space? I often forgot where I lived, I couldn’t walk properly, I had lost the ability to read and write, and I could no longer function independently.  I was angry and confused. I felt helpless and depressed, and I raged against this nameless thing that was eating the life that I had known. I hated where I was too. I was frightened, and lonely and sad.

But not all the time.

Sometimes I was here. Right smack-bang in this life, and engaged with the world around me. At times I was miserable. At times I was more myself, and happy just to be in the moment.

Sometimes I was totally absorbed in a rich inner world, or a place that I accessed through my inner world. This place that gave me great comfort and great insight. It was a place that made total sense while I was there, but which I struggled to explain once I came back into my body. Even now it comforts me to think of it, although all I have left is a feeling – no images, no information, nothing concrete at all – and I retain the understanding that in that place I could travel backwards and forwards along the timeline of my life, and beyond my body’s current limits.

Image from Pane Andov

Image from Pane Andov

Little Nana is beginning to connect into that space too. There is much work that she can do from that space. Spiritual work, work for the growth of her soul. Much healing happens in this space; forgiveness of self and others, understanding of our life events. Little Nana’s physical body will become less and less important to her. She will become less distressed about herself and her situation. Engaging with this world will become less and less important too. She will live with one foot in this world, and one in the next.

Some souls move from this world to the next quickly, some slowly. Each of us has the experience that our soul most needs.

Some years ago I sat with my grandmother in hospital during a serious illness that nearly claimed her life.  For months she walked between two worlds – the third dimensional world of the living, and the world of those who have departed.

During that time, my grandmother, who was always the most polite and well-mannered person I know, would sometimes hurl abuse at the nursing staff, and swear with words I hadn’t realised she knew. She’d become violent, even as she became frail. She was not the person I’d known, and it was distressing to watch.

The truth was, she was very ill, and not in her right mind. What happened to her happens to many of us when we are ill, losing our cognitive function, or dying.

Sometimes she was in her own little world, and sometimes she was completely engaged with people we could not see.

Except that, as a psychic, I COULD see, and I came to understand that my grandmother wasn’t just going crazy. Something else was happening.

Many times, I watched my grandmother’s physical aura become dimmer, and the monitors would show a decrease in her vital signs.  Then my grandmother’s etheric aura – the soul’s vibration or essence – would gently disengage from her body’s centre and move a few feet upwards from the bed, so that it was still connected but only just.  At these times her face would light up and she would often speak to her mother, brother and other family and friends who had passed over.  A great calm would descend upon the room, and when her etheric aura settled back down into her body once more so that her aura was fully re-integrated, she would sleep deeply and peacefully.

My grandmother’s doctor and a number of the nurses would tell me that she was delirious but one gentle nurse held this old lady’s hand, and soothed her brow and told me she had seen this many times when someone was near death.  That they began to see and move into another world beyond this one, sometimes even experiencing great emotion as they made restitution or communicated with souls they had not seen for many years.  Always they talked about deceased people, never the living.  “Just help her make up her mind”, said the wise nurse.  “Let her know that it’s okay for her to go if she wants to.”

In the end my grandmother turned the corner and her health improved.  She later remembered nothing of her experiences, but also no longer feared death.  That was a significant shift for her.

So, how can we help our loved ones in this time of losing the self they have been in this lifetime?

We can look after their basic human needs, with compassion and kindness. We can offer comfort, and keep them safe. We can manage their pain and their medical conditions. We can keep loving them in the moment, for who they are now, as much as for who they have been. This is a time where, more than ever, our loved ones need our ongoing love and acceptance. Our being in this space helps them, and helps us too.

We can reassure them that they are safe, and that it is okay for them to leave us. We can tell them that we love them, and we can remind them that their life has mattered and that they have been of value. We can tell them about the things they have done that have shaped and helped others. We can share happy memories and tell them our latest news. We can share new moments of being together. We can hold their hands, brush their hair, rub soothing creams into their skin, eat a meal with them, and help nurse and comfort them when they move beyond conversation and into that space where we cannot follow.

Two extra things stand out for me. The first is that those suffering dementia, or who are asleep or comatose, can still hear us on some level.I know this because one of my clients who was in a coma for several months, remembers her brother and sister sitting with her, reading to her, holding her hand and talking to her. Telling her how much they loved her, even as she remained unresponsive. She has enough specific details for all of them to believe her to be telling the truth about that time.

I know this because I remember my husband holding my hand and reading to me and telling me silly stories, when I was too ill to walk or talk, and too ill to let him know that I knew he was there except by squeezing his hand. Even then I sometimes thought I was speaking or squeezing his hand but all of that just happened in my head and poor Ben had to keep going, not knowing that where I was, I was interacting with him…

The other thing that stands out for me is prayer. Last year I spoke at length with a young man who had crossed over after he had suffered a violent and traumatic death. The dead man’s mother had prayed for him, regularly and often in the time after his death, and the young man told me that he felt every one of those prayers and the prayers helped him come to a good place in himself and to be calm and resolved.

Prayers are heard by those who have crossed over. Please be assured of that.

We can never begin to understand all that happens within a person, in the place that we cannot reach. That is part of the enduring mystery of life.

One thing I do know.

Love matters. Kindness matters. Compassion matters.

It may not feel like these gifts are enough for your loved ones, when all you want to do is restore them to themselves and take their suffering away. So you see, your loved one is teaching you too. Giving you the opportunity to learn new things. Growing you in ways you might not have imagined.

All of life is a beautiful lesson, where we are sometimes the student, sometimes the teacher, and often both at once.

Keep loving. Be love. Be your loved one’s advocate, and their voice when they have none. If you cannot be with them, send them kind and loving thoughts. Talk to them in your head, which is, after all, a kind of prayer. Trust that there is a part of them that will hear you.

Love your family and friends, no matter what. They are not their illness. They are not their behaviour. They are not just what’s visible to you. They are souls, who will endure and keep shining, just as you are. So live from love. That’s how we connect. That’s the most important thing of all.