Family & Relationships


Guidelines For Visiting A Friend In The Hospital, Rehab Center Or Nursing Home?

by Christine

{Pershing Square}

What are the dos and don'ts of visiting friends in the hospital, rehab centers and nursing homes? Based on the experience with my parents, I have a few guidelines that I follow in terms of visitation of friends and their family in these group situations. My goal is to support my friends during a difficult period but at the same time I don't want to intrude and cause additional stress.  

First, hospitals; I have learned that given today's healthcare structure, when someone is in the hospital, they are really sick or incapacitated. Insurance companies view hospitals as high cost solutions to a medical problem so they will move a patient out to an intermediate facility as soon as the patient is stable or send them home. If someone is in the hospital it is because they need a serious level of care so I would say don't visit. If you want to do something send a card, flowers or make a casserole for family members on hospital duty but don't immediately head off to the hospital. If you feel a real need to visit, call and ask a family member if the patient is receiving visitors. There are various reason that they may ask you to wait until the patient gets home before planning a visit.

If you do go, visit briefly with the patient but take longer and more detailed conversations with family members to the waiting room. Lastly, and this happened to our family twice, once with our father and once with our mother. If the doctor comes into see the patient and their family while you are there, excuse yourself by saying you will be in the waiting room. In this situation, curiosity can get the best of us but respect the patient's right to privacy. If the patient or family has no objections to you being in the room they will tell you.

Second, rehabilitation centers: when it comes to rehab centers, I would suggest give the patient a day or two to get acclimated before making a visit. The slogan of my mother's rehab centers was, "We work you out then kick you out". This was their upbeat approach to helping my mother recover from her stroke and get back home. The workout was hard and tiring but necessary to helping her gain as much strength and coordination as possible so she could return home. As a result by the end of the day she was worn out...a couple of times I found her asleep sitting up in her chair. Also she had workout sessions morning and afternoon taking up most of the day. If in doubt as to whether a visit is appropriate or not, talk to a family member to get the lay of the land or if you decide to drop by, do so after 4:00 in the afternoon and make the visit quick. 

Third, nursing homes: except in rare situations, when someone moves into a nursing home it is permanent. The nursing home is now their new residence. So by all means visit. People dread the thought of being "put" into a nursing home because they are afraid of being abandoned and forgotten. Just like someone's home, nursing homes operate on a schedule so I would build your visits around the meal schedule. Visits anytime after 9:00 in the morning and before 9:00 in the evening will work in most facilities. Lunch is served around noon and dinner between 5:00 and 6:00. The places I have visited will allow visitors to have lunch or dinner with the resident if arrangements are made in advance. While the layout of a nursing home can feel very "medical" it is still home to the people you care about so feel free to visit regularly. 

On Foodie Fridays I am going to write about taking "outside" food into these facilities and share some ideas on foods to share. In the end, we want to offer strength and compassion to those who are ill, injured and recuperating. What are your guidelines for visitation? How would you want to be treated? 



Are You Too Old To Wear High Tops?

by Christine


My daughter and I have an agreement. I made her promise to tell me if I ever started dressing funny. My maternal grandmother and mother both started to concoct outlandish get-ups in the final months and years of their lives. As they aged, their internal thermostat seemed to breakdown. In response, they started to "layer" their look. My grandmother wore a tiny flowered print housecoat over her street clothes and on truly chilly days...I say chilly because how cold does it really get in Florida... added a knitted hat with a pom pom on top. My mother went the other direction, shedding her traditional conservative dress slacks and top for elastic waisted sweat pants and oversized Jaguars t-shirts. I will admit that as a family, we found humor in their fashion choices.

That of course is why I took my daughter aside and asked her to keep on the look out in case I started to dress funny. Kathryn has a wonderful sense of fashion and an even better ability to kindly deliver an uncomfortable message. She is the logical choice to be my official fashion police representative. I am conservative in dress by nature. I love the whole New York black look. It is easy and doesn't show dirt when I travel. Though I admire and actually secretly long to be the person who knows how to select and put together an outfit using vintage pieces. But that is not me...I just look like I have on old clothes.

I recently had a friend share with me that her daughter said she had to retire her high-top Converses. She was now too "old" to wear them.  I don't want to get between a mother and her daughter because a special bond exist between mothers and daughters but I don't think she needs to give up her high-tops. Converse is a classic brand and is a timeless fashion statement. But their exchange has gotten me to thinking about what is age appropriate dress for the over 55 set.  You read that hem lines should be longer, stay away from bright colors, wear red lipstick, lighten or darken your hair as well as a myriad of other rules that come at you after each birthday. 

What is a "good" look as you age? What fashion rules do you live by? Do you find that your style has changed over time? Is there a fashion role model you try to emulate? So what do you think? Do you think there is an age appropriate look for women over 55?





Facebook: Do You Know Rule #11?

by Christine

{Town Center in Peekskill, NY}

In our family we have a set of rules and rule #11 is "Don't write anything down that you don't want printed on the front page of the New York Times". All my business and personal letters have been judged by this criteria and it has served me well. My sister and I have had many "I can't believe they wrote that down in a letter" conversations over the years after reading what people thought to be private correspondences in the New York Times. We just couldn't believe they didn't know about rule #11.

Given that philosophy you can imagine my incredulity at the no holds barred posting that has developed on Facebook. I have a distinct mental picture of Facebook in my mind as a town square where people gather. In my vision, I am sitting at a lovely cafe table people watching, even interacting with some of the folks that come by my table. A young couple walks passed my table and I hear the woman say, "You are the best husband in the world...thank you for cleaning up the kitchen". I smile.  Or I hear the woman in running clothes at the next table say, "This is the best day of my life and I am going to make the most of it" at which point she jumps up and starts running down the street as she sets her sports watch. I think I need to start exercising again. Or I over hear two women agreeing to start a prayer chain for a friend who is ill. I say a quick prayer of healing for their friend. Then I run into a friend I haven't seen for years and we are able to spend a few minutes catching up. I feel happy.

But as I am enjoying my cup of tea in my imaginary town square two very determined people show up with soap boxes under their arms. They toss down their soap box not two feet from one another and proceed to rant about the failures of the other's political beliefs.  Their speeches are loud and unrelenting. I turn away; I know the issues are more complicated then the vitriolic responses belies. Next a woman storms passed me shouting that the world would be a better place if her ex-husband, the father of her children would just disappear. I frown in sadness for their children. Right behind her is the man shouting out profanity at a person that he believes has wronged him in some way. I tune him out.

On Facebook as well as in my imaginary town square, I allow a little of the gritty world of life to pass by my table because each of us occasionally has a bad day . But when it become too much I take control. Too much hate and profanity. I hit the delete button. I ignore the plethora of negative posts that fill the mind of the unhappy by hidding their posts. 

We no longer have to wait for the New York Times reporter to find that tell-all letter we wrote in a fever. All we have to do is go to Facebook and shout out in the first person what comes to mind. Many bare their inner most thoughts and feelings...some good, some not. Through Facebook, I witnessed a friend make the long journey back from brain tumor surgery, reconnected with high school friends and learned of the meaningful moments of their lives and I was able connect with others nationally during crisis such as the Boston Marathon bombings and the Sandy Hook shootings. I am a fan of FB but if I could impart one piece of advice to other users. Remember people are reading what you write and forming opinions about your life philosophy. Think about what you say when you are in public.






Nursing Homes: A Blessing or a Curse?

by Christine

{Rock Stacks in Maine}

How do you respond when asked if the glass is half empty or half full? The answer to this question is a popular culture personality test. If you respond by declaring it to be half full then you're an optimist and if you say half empty you're a pessimist. Of course with most tests in life, I make them more complicated than others seem to do. My response to this question is more like...well that is an 8 ounce glass so the reality is that you have 4 ounces of liquid. That's neither positive nor negative, it just is. But I understand the test... it is not the question in and of itself; it's your response to that question that allows people to categorize your worldview.

As you can see my worldview is rather practical. I go about ascertaining the reality of a situation and work to come up with the best solution available. I naively believed that as my mother aged, there would always be a "best solution" to her failing health issues. When it came time to discuss the next level of care for her after she suffered multiple strokes, it became clear the best solution was not only illusive but also painful to make. As we started exploring various options, we did tour multiple nursing homes.  Our emotional response to a nursing home was strongly negative and we were trying to avoid that for our mother. I have yet to hear anyone declare they want to move into a nursing home no matter how sunny and bright the facility.

I understand the negative response but it is not the place so much as what it represents. Rarely do people entering a nursing home return to the life they were living prior to the loss of their physical or mental ability. It means moving, it means a transition for the individual and their family. A feeling of failure and despair hit us as we worked to come up with a workable solution that did not include moving mom into a nursing home. But the realities of her diminished physical and mental capacity required that we consider that option. Mom was no longer safe alone at home. Ultimately, Mom did return to her home after leaving the hospital and lived out the last couple of months in her own home. 

Candidly, the reason she was able to return home was because she only lived weeks after her last stay in the hospital. We were spared that end of life decision on behalf of my mother. Our family saw clearly that if my mother had lived longer we would have needed the assistance a nursing home. My mother didn't have enough money for 24-hour care in her home on a long-term bases and the physical and emotional toll of her care on our family had already started to show. Caregiving stress has a real impact on the health of the caregiver and our family was no exception. 

Nursing homes are our society's practical response to caring for the elderly when they themselves or their families can no longer do so safely. As your parents age, you may find that you will need this group arrangements to support you as your parent's mental and physical capacity degrades. Nursing homes, as a solution is not a bad or good just is. What we rebel against is the fact that being old, I mean really old is messy and complicated and we don't want our parents to suffer that indignity. We don't want them to die. Entering a nursing home signals the beginning of the end and we grieve that end. As you and your family make this decision, be gentle with each other. 




Mothers, Memories and Food: Savoring The Past

by Christine

{Mom's Coconut Pound Cake}

A coveted belonging of my mother's was her recipe box. During the last years of her life, my mom misplaced it and we thought it was gone forever. My sister and I were delighted to find it when we were cleaning out the garage...why it was there, neither one of us could figure out but we were pleased to have the treasure trove that held all the favorite family recipes. The "box" is not made of some oil rubbed wood but of plastic and it is Smurf blue. The recipe box was jammed packed with recipe cards, newspaper clippings and random bits of paper. 

I volunteered to organize the contents of the box and give copies of the recipes to anyone in the family who wanted them. Surprisingly, the task was more complicated than I thought. Apparently, mom was the kind of cook that only needed a mental trigger, not a full-blown recipe. Yes, there were some fully flushed out recipe cards but mainly it was bits of paper with a list of ingredients and a notes on lessons learned about preparing the dish.

Mom was a true Southern cook who early in life used Crisco to fry chicken or okra and real butter to make mashed potatoes. Mom and Dad's diet changed over the decades as they moved away from fried foods and rich desserts to healthier choices. The blue recipe box followed the timeline of their culinary journey. Fat laden dips gave way to Weight Watcher's inspired substitutes while the sugar infused Strawberry Cake was replaced with sugar free Jell-O parfaits made with fat free Cool Whip. 

I am now on the hunt for the perfect pound cake and I started by looking in my mom's recipe box. Her Coconut Pound Cake jumped out at is not a healthy choice by definition. Butter, sugar and white flour are its main ingredients and it is delicious. The smell of the baking pound cake brought back many memories of meals and good times with my family particularly at holidays. I have included it in this post so you can decide for yourself. 


Mom's Coconut Pound Cake

3 sticks of butter or margarine
3 cups of sugar
6 eggs
3 cups of plain flour
8 oz of sour cream 
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of soda
1 package of coconut
1 teaspoon of vanilla


Preheat oven to 300 degrees
Grease and flour tube or Bundt pan

1. Sift flour, salt and soda together and set aside.
2. Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar well.
3. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each egg.
4. Beat in sour cream completely.
5. Mix dry and wet ingredients together.
6. Add vanilla and mix well.
7. Fold in coconut.
8. Pour into tube pan and bake 1 hour or until done. 
9. Take out of the oven and cool for 15 minutes. 
10. Remove from pan and finish cooling. 

**To avoid cake failures, bring eggs and butter to room temperature.
***I found that this cake took 90 minutes to bake. 



Once Your Parents Are Gone: Time To Heal

by Christine

Off and on for the last two months, I have had periods of sadness. Nothing as serious as depression or melancholy just a bit of sadness. I recognize that my feelings are tied to the death of my mother last June and truthfully that surprises me. The last year of her life and the months after her death were difficult. Doctors, hospitals, hospice, funeral planning, lawyers, distribution of my parent's property and mounds of paperwork consumed my life and the life of my family. For months, all family conversations centered on Mom or business related to mom. But after the last document was signed and submitted to the state, I believed I would be able to return home and pick-up life as it was before Mom's end of life journey.

I arrived home with an eye to the future but surprisingly; the past keeps coming to the forefront. Turns out grief is not as easily dispensed of as the paperwork needed to sell my parents home or the tools in their garage. The process of grieving is further complicated because I am not grieving one "thing". I am not only grieving the loss of my mother but the loss of my father too. My mother was the last physical connection to my father. In my mind and heart they were a matched set, like a Santa and Mrs. Claus pair of salt and pepper shakers. Mentally the Santa may have been in the dining room and Mrs. Claus in the kitchen but they were both around. Now the set is gone. I feel I lost my father again when my mother died. 

Also, I am grieving the loss of an era. The adults from my childhood are now gone. I once heard a friend say that with the death of his parents, the only remaining people who knew him as a baby were gone. Worst yet, I find myself saying to my grandchildren how much they look like my parents or the parent's of their paternal grandfather. Bless their hearts...what can they say? Because they love me, they politely listen and then change the subject to whether Justin Bieber is a dork or not. 

One of the lessons in life I worked to teach my children was "nothing lasts...not the good times and not the bad times. Enjoy the good times and remember that the bad times are only temporary". The ebb and flow of life can be smooth or rocky but it will continue to change. I want to will away the feeling of sadness but I know it is part of the process. I just want it to move a little faster.





How Do You Give Comfort and Peace to a Friend in Pain?

by Christine

I am still enjoying the warm glow of time with my family and friends during Christmas and New Year's. It was a special time. Though I do keep coming back to conversations I had with friends and acquaintances on Christmas and New Year's Day. Each conversation started the same, we talked of the holidays, of the past year, and of kids or grandkids but eventually, we came to what was weighing most on the hearts of my friends. Their aging parent.

One friend's mother is physically healthy but her mind, the essence of who she is, is disappearing. They were forced to put her in a locked down facility because she kept wandering away from her Assisted Living home. Fortunately, strangers would find her and kindly bring her back. They are grateful and choose not to think of the multiple "what if" scenarios that could have befallen their mother. My friends have taken over their mother's finances and are making the hard decisions required to acquire the money to pay for her new living arrangement. This period of their life is stressful and at times painful. 

Another friend is struggling with his strong willed mother. It has become obvious to everyone that knows her that she can not longer live alone but she clings to staying in her house. The panic phone calls from neighbors come regularly to my friend and he is trying to transition from son to...father-son, caregiver or power-of-attorney. He is still trying to find a solution that won't necessitate change on his mother's part and allow her to remain in control of her life's decisions. 

I want so much to bring comfort and peace to my friends. I have walked in their shoes and I know first hand the pain, the frustration, the fear and the sadness they are experiencing. My vision for this blog was one of a traveler or travelers on a trail who would share insights about the journey that would make it easier for those who were to follow. But sadly I am afraid the lessons I have learned won't bring much peace to my friends during this time in their life. 

How do you tell a friend that what they are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg and that today is the healthiest your parent is ever going to be again? Or how the phrase "this too will pass" keeps coming to mind but what will pass is the ailing parent. Even the positive feels unfair and negative at this point in the journey. I could tell my friends one day the panic calls will stop, you will no longer be called upon to make decisions for the ones who raised you and the anxiety of making the "right decision" will go away. One day your mind and heart will be lighter but that day is weeks or months after the funeral you planned for you last surviving parent. I have written before about embracing the seasons of your life but this period is just plain hard. So while it feels inadequate, I will do what I can for my friends, listen and pray. 

I know this is pretty heady stuff for the first Monday after New Year's but it is what is on my heart. 





No Farewell Words Were Spoken...

by Christine

If tears could build a stairway, 
And memories were a lane,
We would walk right up to heaven
To bring you down again.
No farewell words were spoken,
No time to say good-bye.
You were gone before we knew it,
And only God knows why.
Our hearts still ache in sadness 
And secret tears still flow,
What it meant to lose you,
No one will ever know.
When we are sad and lonely,
And everything goes wrong,
We seem to hear you whisper
"Cheer up and carry on."
Each time we look at your pictures, 
You seem to smile and say,
"Don't cry, I'm only sleeping,
We'll meet again someday."


The Art of Balancing The Kids, Ex-Spouses and the Holidays

by Christine

Our community has had multiple major thunderstorms this fall. Trees including one in my yard have come down as a result of the high winds that whipped through the neighborhood. One large oak in front of the local nursing home snapped in half, leaving a large exposed trunk. I was sad to see the shade tree go and mentally calculated the cost of removing such a large tree. Fortunately, the owners of the nursing home had other ideas. They hired an artist to come in and carve a series of bears romping in and on the tree trunk. Daily I see people stopping to take a closer look at this clever and whimsical addition to the grounds. 

I no longer feel sad at the loss of the tree; I am happy to see the new art that enhances our community.  I see this as an analogy for my life. Not so much the concept of when you get lemons, make lemonade but more like make sure you don't miss a positive opportunity. We can spend our time grieving for what was lost or look for a new, equally positive opportunity. It may be different but that different "thing" can still bring us joy. 

This is our first Christmas since my son's divorce. I now see this change to our family as an opportunity to come together and create new and inclusive traditions. We can celebrate in the traditional way with good food and gift giving around the Christmas tree. But is also an opportunity to build something new and equally as meaningful as the Christmas celebrations of the past. This is our chance to take the exposed tree trunk and craft something clever and whimsical. It is our choice as to whether we will have a good experience on Christmas. 

As a grandmother, I believe that grandparent can be a steady force that welcomes new traditions within the framework of a newly fractured family. We can love, support, suggest and even, when requested implement the new ideas at the holiday. Our Christmas is still evolving but I know the most important traditions such as being together on Christmas day will be honored while new traditions such as a Champagne/ Shirley Temple Brunch will be started. What about your family? Does divorce influence your holiday plans? How do you handle it? Let me know, we are all still learning.