Tag Archives: Mother

What makes the Hottentot so hot? Courage….the Cowardly Lion.

So I have to prepare a story about courage for a story slam. This may or may not be it.

I think my Mom is one of the most courageous people I know.  She had 5 kids all under the age of 10, and was pregnant with her 6th when my Army helicopter Dad died in a crash. Along with my Nana, she raised six pretty terrific kids (I can say that, I’m the middle child).The problem arises when she mixes her courage with a bit of the crazy.

As you may know, she is a big help to me in my caregiving duties. She is a nurse and was

This pic never gets old!
This pic never gets old!

often  called upon to help me with nonagenarians. She is in charge of all the meds for my brother-in-law. So this lady has got it together.

She gives great advice, except to herself. A few years ago, my mom and my brother Chip, decided to take a trip to Canada. My Mom has had a cabin there since 1972. It’s very rustic. The cabin is nestled next to a little lake. Years ago, my Mom and stepfather, and any other rustic thinking person, would go there all summer long for fishing, wildlife, nature, no electricity, no running water.  The kind of place I would not set foot in.

For the past 5 years or so, my Mom goes only occasionally. She still manages to find people who actually want to go there, but the boat dock is rotted, the trail to the lake is overgrown with weeds, she no longer has a garden the size of the Louvre, and so it’s just a short trip for a few days with those escaping technology or their spouses.

This time Mom and Chip went to check out the new floor that my brothers and brother-in-law had installed. They drove 8 hours from home. They were there approximately 45 minutes, when my Mom tripped on the lip created by the new floor and promptly broke her arm. See, she knew she broke it because she’s a nurse. That and the crack that sounded the minute she hit the floor.

My mother insisted that my brother get back in the car and drive her home 8 hours with that throbbing arm and nasty seat belt, so that she could go to a hospital near home. Now as the one who was probably going to be her temporary caregiver, that was great for me. As someone who tests the limits of courage and common sense. this 83 year old grandmother should have had some sense knocked into her before she hit the floor.

Courage or Crazy…………you be the judge. In any case………..

By the way…that picture IS  the  actual cabin. I made my Mom email it to me….THAT is the next story!

“You just have to Laugh………..”

Cathy Sikorski ©2014



Does your right hand really know what your left hand is doing?

A million and one times, caregivers are told “take care of yourself,” “take time for  yourself,” “you’re going to have to put yourself first.” All of this great advice theoretically has benefit, but putting it into practice can backfire.

My Mom is a 45 year old in an 85 year old body. She is my right hand with much of my caregiving responsibilities. So when I had to include her in my caregiving queue, it was not only distressing but a bit of a last straw.

The first time it happened she broke her hip….no….she corrects me every time…she did NOT break her hip like some old lady. She fell while power walking and broke her femur at the top near the hip. While in rehab, Mom worked like a trained monkey to get out of there. But I still had to bring her laundry to rehab, go and check on her, help take care of her bills and her home, etc. As caregiving goes, it was one of the easier gigs.

Two years later, she needed a caregiver when she went to her cabin in Canada and within hours of arrival, she fell and broke her arm. She forced my brother to drive her  eight straight hours back to Pennsylvania for medical care because she didn’t want to get stuck in a Canadian hospital .

This time I was already inundated with caregiving for my brother-in-law, my mother-in-law and my friend who had recently experienced a traumatic brain injury.

My mother basically has 8 children. I put my foot down. I called a family  meeting and told my sisters (yeah the smart brothers lived far away) that I was not going to be the go-to person this time. I live the closest to my mother, but the rest of my sisters live within 15 or 20 minutes.  My oldest sister, Tina agreed to be the daily coordinator. All my other sisters divvied up the jobs of grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, bathing assistance, etc.  Doctor appointments and pharmacy runs would be done as needed. Any mission that was not set in stone would require a call to Tina, who would either do it herself or ask someone to help.

My go-to Girl!
My go-to Girl!


My mother attended this caregiver summit. She understood everyone’s mission and consulted the chart of who was coming when. Since Mom had been assisting me with all the other people on my caregiving list, she was well aware of the time and energy commitment a caregiver puts out.

The last thing I said to her was, ‘if you need anything, you call Tina first. She will make sure it gets done pronto.”

The first week my Mom was home, I was so busy I barely noticed a week went by.  Day 8 my mother calls me:

“Hey, Mom, how are you? Is everything going ok?”

“Yes, everything is pretty good. I’m feeling good and I can do more than I expected. The doctor said I can’t drive for 6 weeks, but we will see about that.”

“Ok, we’ll see, but don’t do anything crazy.”

“Well, that’s why I’m calling you. I wanted to know if you would take me to the grocery store.”

Now normally, I would just say, “sure”, or ask what she needed so I could pick it up for her. But some little devil sat on my shoulder and shouted, “TINA.”

“Aren’t you supposed to call Tina?”

“Well, I didn’t want to call her because she lives so far away and you’re just around the corner.”

Through gritted teeth,  I said, “I’ll call you right back.”

And then I called Tina.

Don’t ever think that anyone, even your right arm, really understands caregiving. Which is why……

“You just have to Laugh….”

©2014 Cathy Sikorski




It’s Electric!

I have a great bunch of gals in my book club. Everyone of them is in or has been in some stage of caregiving. What are the odds? Really high, actually.

With permission, I’m repeating a story one of my book club buddies relayed at lunch.

We finally released my mother from rehab a few weeks ago. She relies on oxygen now for easier breathing. At 93, she conceded to use a wheelchair most of the time, as she has trouble with her legs and her balance. Sleeping has eluded her for years, so I am watchful most nights, worrying about her wandering. Any night that we all get sleep is a grace from God.

Out of the blue, I get a call from the electric company:

“Ma’am, this is the electric company.”

“Yes, what can I do for you?”

“Our grid is showing that you have a dangerous connection in the street outside your home. We need to come check that and repair it if necessary.”

“Okay, we’re here most of the time. When can you come?”

“We will be there tomorrow at 2.”

I’m thinking: Wow, tomorrow? That’s really efficient. Either this is a bigger problem than I think or this electric company in New Jersey is so much better than the one where I live in Pennsylvania.

Tomorrow arrives (even though some say it never comes) and so does 2:00. And then 2:30. And then 3:00 . You guessed it. They never show up. I chalk this up to just another utility, service call, cable company, washer repair man….you name it, not showing up like they said they would.

Since they initiated the call, I figured they would get back to me some time.

At 1:30 A.M. the phone rings at my mother’s house. I jump up to answer it so that it doesn’t wake my miraculously sleeping mother and the hired caregiver we have to help at night.

“Hello, ma’am?”

“Yeeeesssss?????” I say, barely cognizant to have a conversation.

“This is the electric company. We are outside your house and need you to go throw the main switch in your basement to turn off all your electric so we can work on the problem out in the street.”

Okay two things here:

1. Really? 2 A.M.???

2. Of course that’s the night my mother sleeps through the night, as I sit on the stoop in my p.j.’s and watch the electric repair guys.

Oh caregiving.

P.S. They told me they couldn’t fix it that night and would put a temporary blah-blah in and come back in a week or two. I mentioned that my mother was on oxygen so electricity was kind of critical. The next day the manager came in his truck, checked the problem and said it would be fixed that day (not night, day) as no elderly person should be worried about electricity. So that’s kind of cool.

(Retold with permission from a great caregiver and good friend who still has a sense of humor 🙂 )

“You just have to Laugh…………”

Cathy Sikorski

The most important meal of the day…..

I wanted to return to ‘my roots’ of why I started this blog. I believed (and still do) that there is a real honest place in caregiving for laughter. There’s no way you can do this day in and day out and not see the humor in all the craziness around you.

Today is an homage to my dear mother-in-law. She was known for her subtle sense of humor. She would laugh at whatever you tossed out there as funny and she could come up with a zinger or two herself when necessary. So I feel quite certain that given the time and the retrospective, she too, would see.

So once my 94 year-old mother-in-law moved into her assisted living facility, she was quite content. She adjusted quickly and enjoyed her feisty bingo games, where the winner got a quarter for each victory(I too became a little over zealous with “BINGO!” when helping her play…to WIN)She seemed to enjoy her table companions at breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well. The facility tried to keep the table companions constant so that they could get acquainted and hopefully, enjoy some conversation at mealtime.

Things were going swimmingly. But as time rolled on and Mom became more comfortable with her surroundings, she actually began to backslide into more childlike behavior. Eventually, she needed more help dressing, reminders to go to meals, and assistance to get ready for and go to bed. Otherwise she would never change her clothes, forget to go to meals, and stay up all night watching TV and dozing in her favorite chair. (This became such a pastime for her over the last 20 years, that I was tempted to put her in that chair for her viewing….most of us would have said “Oh she looks so natural.”)

Then her time clock began to get out of whack. She would put her pajamas on after breakfast, she would refuse to go to meals because she just ate, and she would wonder why no one was coming to get her for a meal, when she had just returned to her room from lunch.

One day I went to see her and she was sound asleep in her bed at 11 o’clock in the morning. This was extremely unusual for Mom. She has been an early riser since the dawn of time, and she NEVER would go back to bed for a nap or if she was sick. She would just get dressed, take to her beloved chair, and snore away the day resting comfortably…but NEVER napping. (I think that’s reserved for lazy people like me who try to nap every day, if possible).

I go to the nurse’s office to see if they know why Mom is in bed.

“Hey, ladies! Do you happen to know why my Mom is in bed at 11:00 in the morning?”

“Ummm, not really, maybe  her aide knows?”

I hunt down her aide, and this is the story:

“She got up around 1:00 AM. I saw that she was out of her pj’s and completely dressed for the day. So I said, ‘Hey M, where are you off to?’

“I’m going down for breakfast.”

“No, darlin’ it’s not time yet, let me help you back in bed. It won’t be for awhile, so you need to get some rest.”

“Ok,” she said.

The aide took her back to her room, put her back in her nightgown and tucked her in bed.

At 3:00 AM, the aide sees my mother-in-law down in the dining room.

“Hey M, what’s going on?”

“I’m here for my breakfast.”

“No, sweetie, it’s not time yet, let’s go rest for a bit and then we will come get you for breakfast.”

Back they go to her room, get her back in her pj’s and tuck her in.

At 5:00 AM, my mother-in-law enters the dining room, perfectly coiffed and ready for breakfast. It’s dark in there and no one is at her table.

“Good Morning, M. you’re down here a bit early,” says the aide.

“I’m here for breakfast.”

“Well, that ‘s not until 8 o’clock, how about I take you back to your room to watch TV until we come get you?”


At a quarter to 8, the aide goes into Marie’s room. She has now changed herself BACK into her nightgown and is asleep in her bed, as the morning sun streams brightly into her room.

“C’mon, M, it’s time to get up and go to breakfast!” says the aide.

“Oh forget it,” says my mother-in-law, and turns over and goes back to sleep.

You just have to Laugh……

Cathy Sikorski

“A girl should be two things: Classy and Fabulous” Coco Chanel

My Auntie J from Australia is  fashion plate.  At 90 years of age and barely 90 pounds, she is a wisp of a girl, who never looks anything but chic. Even her ‘sweat suits’ are more along the lines of Juicy Couture than what I wear to the gym. When I met her almost 30 years ago, she was never without a matching handbag for her beautiful and expensive shoes.  In my ignorance of thinking back then(before I realized now how young 60 really is)that this was an ‘old lady’, I was also thinking, “damn, she’s a fine old gal with great taste!”

Up until last week when we had to take her to the hospital for the first time in 25 years, she had her hair done (as a blonde…..never gray) every week, and her nails done as well. She was an extraordinary example of fine grooming, beauty, grace, and the true benefit  of “just a little lipstick, never hurts.”

So after ten days in the hospital, where she was really very, very seriously ill, we took her yesterday to a rehabilitation center. For very complex reasons, she went to a center two hours away. The ambulance drivers were two young adorable men, who treated her like their very own dear grandmother. By the time we met up with them at the end of the trip, she was holding their hands and kissing them goodbye.

She had been very concerned about the fact that she was transported in a hospital gown, but I reassured her that we would take her clothes and pretty pink nightgowns to the rehabilitation center, so she could be properly dressed there.

My husband and I have been very concerned for her health during this time and my mom, a former nurse has been right by our side the whole way, comforting, advising and just being a strong shoulder. But because my mom was a white uniform, starched hat nurse of the 40’s and 50’s, she has looked askance every day at the ‘sloppy’ nurses, aides, and technicians who have come to care for Aunt J.

“Look at that,” my mom would say.

“What?”, I ‘d reply, expecting an inept stick of the needle to draw blood, or a hospital meal that was not up to snuff.

“Look at how that nurse’s trousers are dragging on the floor, and no one has their hair up in a bun or a pony tail.”

“Well,” I say, “I guess we just have to overlook certain things when we are happy with her care.”

Of course, now I’M thinking something is terribly wrong here. And then I realize that my mom has much higher standards for dress and presentation than I, or the world, does any more.

So knowing Aunt J and her true art of dressing and personal presentation, I start to wonder if this is bothering her too. She never says anything and the following incident makes me realize that for Aunt J, it isn’t about how people look to her, it’s about how she presents herself to the world.

We get to the rehab center, and one of the last things I want to make sure of, is that Aunt J knows how to push the red button to call for help. With my mother-in-law, when she moved to assisted living, and with many stories from friends about their elders, I KNOW that this ‘pushing the button for help’ thing is somehow difficult for them to comprehend.

So I disconnect the button from the clips on the side of her bed, and make sure the cord is long enough so she can have the button at her fingertips. This particular button is like a tube with a bright red button at the top.  So you would hold it in your hand, curl your fingers around the tube, and push on the bright red circle at the top of the tube with your thumb. That would be how most people would use it, and probably the easiest way.

I bring the tube close to her, and I pantomime what I want her to learn…pushing the button. And I’m telling her, “if you need help, you push this red button.” I put the tube in her hands and tell her:

“Now you practice. If you need any help, I want you to PUSH THE BUTTON.” And again, I show her what to do.

My darling, beautiful Aunt J, shakes her head in the affirmative, looks me straight in the eye with her beautiful blue-green eyes, looks at the tube that I have placed in her hand with the bright red button on top, takes her other hand, rubs the top with her index finger and promptly ‘applies’ the beautiful shade of red lipstick I have given her to her luscious lips. Classy and Fabulous.

You just have to laugh………………….

Cathy Sikorski

Trick or Treat…Mother Nature’s Halloween joke.

One beautiful crimson and golden day in October, and I mean beautiful, I was required to go on a ‘shopping spree’ for a rehab center for my brother-in-law, “L.”  He was recently hospitalized and needed a few weeks or months to get his strength back, so he could return home. The first place they sent him was too challenging, and they basically kicked him out for not trying hard enough to get better. Who am I to judge? The guy has MS, and he knows what it means to exercise or not exercise, the choice is his. But they said, “nope, you’re not trying hard enough and it ruins our success rate.” Well, ok they didn’t say the last part, but we all know that’s what’s going on.

So I had to find a new place and quickly, because he would be booted in a day or two at the most. My Mom and I spent a very long day looking at five different facilities, trying hard to stay with in a 10 to 20 mile radius, so that I could be there on a regular basis to check on him and make sure he was not being neglected.

O my God, what horrific nightmares are out there. The first place was in this absolutely gorgeous, wooded, bucolic setting. And every resident was passed out, drooling, and not engaged in anyway. AND THAT WAS IN THE LOBBY!  The staff was setting up for a Halloween party, and the decorations were as shabby and pathetic as the lobby. The next place, it smelled….and not good.  The next two places were over-crowded, had teeny, tiny therapy rooms and were dirty. O mon Dieu! Je ne sais quoi! Yes, I was thinking in French because I couldn’t even process this in my native tongue.  Finally, we get to the fifth place, and it is okay. And I really mean just okay. I would like it to be cleaner. I would like to hear less commotion in the hallways, with residents who are clearly distressed. I would like there to be more visible staff. But the therapy facility is enormous, the therapists seem very knowledgeable and have specific tools for dealing with MS patients. And there are some younger men here. L gets a private room because there are so few men in rehab. So all in all, we’ll take it. I’m running out of time, I’m exhausted, and I have seen the worst so “okay” will suffice for now. If I need to keep looking, I will, but it’s just temporary and even though it’s the furthest from home, I will come every day in the beginning, to make sure he is properly cared for.

We take hours to complete all the paperwork to get him in there tomorrow. Ugh….me and my Mom are pooped. This is how I thank  her:

“Don’t you dare go to the hospital tonight. I don’t care that you are perfectly healthy.  If anything happens to you, don’t call me. Call your brother, call all of your other five children or any of their offspring, But I cannot deal with one more hospital, medical team, or medical issue for at least three days.”

Mom just laughs at me. She’s perfectly fine and there’s no reason to think otherwise.

The next day, Saturday, I go out to run a few errands, and it begins to snow. ON OCTOBER 29th, WE HAVE A FULL BLOWN BLIZZARD. Now normally, that wouldn’t be so crazy to have snow in October. But we have so much snow and the trees have not yet lost all their leaves. Trees begin to bough and cover everything, and break power lines and hearts with their cruel, beautiful snow-covered, orange and gold autumnal CRAP. I live in the woods. I can’t get down my driveway, until I call my husband who says: “Shake the trees, Cath, the snow will fall off.” (he’s like a genius)

AND THEN, AND THEN, AND THEN, the phone rings.

“Hi, this is Grandma’s assisted living place.” (of course they don’t say that, but you get the idea)

No big deal, I think, they always call me for Depends, or toothpaste, or nicely scented body wash. HA! Nice try.

“Um, your mother fell and is being ambulanced to the hospital 20 miles away (in a blizzard) because she may have hit her head and that’s the only head trauma unit.”

“Ok,” I say weakly, because I forgot to tell my 93 year-old mother-in-law not to dare go to the hospital today.

My husband comes home, and off we go, in the blizzard to the hospital. She did indeed break her hip and will have surgery(and then I will have to find a rehab for her).  Five hours later, we slowly drive home on snow-covered roads, reach our driveway, which now has broken snow-covered trees all over the place. We park in the street, walk gingerly through the snowy trees, and least you think this is some Robert Frost romantic moment,we find out we have no electricity and no heat.

You just have to laugh…..

Cathy Sikorski