Monthly Archives: December 2013

Waving the White Flag

“Caring for my mother is teaching me to let go of perfectionism and be in the flow,” a friend recently told me. Learning to occasionally surrender control and move with the flow has been one of the gifts caregiving brought me. Here’s a story I wrote about the art-form of surrender, an art-form I’m still working on.

Waving the White Flag

First, I lost the freelance job that would have supported me for the next two months. Then I discovered I needed outpatient surgery only minimally covered by my insurance. Next, a torrential downpour made archipelagos of my basement furniture. Instead of spending the evening creating a stunning new resume, I was duct taping trash sacks to the dribbling basement walls and sopping up the puddles with towels.  I started upstairs to search for more trash sacks and tripped over a stray board, left over from the rascals who water proofed my basement! I picked up the board and was instantly stabbed with a splinter. Grabbing a sodden white towel to stem, I stomped up the stairs.

wet woman“I give up,” I said to the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. “I can’t take anymore,” I said to the pile of unopened bills cluttering the kitchen table. I shook the white towel and water flew across the counter tops. Then I remembered the old westerns, when the bullet-riddled good guys tie a handkerchief on a rifle butt and waved it at the enemy, just to get a moment’s respite.

It was time for me to officially throw in my towel.

I went outside and tied the towel to the board. I walked into the yard and waved my flag at the sky and said, “I surrender.” It was a good thing too, because I suddenly realized I was ankle deep in water. And I was wearing my good shoes.

I leaned the flag against the porch and dragged myself up to bed.white flag

The next morning, the beat-up-looking flag made me smile. I felt better now that I had officially let go of control. Every time I came in and out of the house, I saw the flag. Despite that constant reminder, I still struggled. Sure, my basement dried up and yes, I got a new client. But I felt “on the edge” rather than brimming with abundance .

“Will you make a white flag for me for my birthday?” I asked my daughter Sarah.

As soon as I spoke those words, I worried: What if I don’t like the way the flag looks? What if it simply isn’t what I envisioned?  What if it’s too large or too small? Then I had to laugh at myself: I wanted control over everything, even the shape of my surrender!

The morning of my birthday, Sarah put a long pole in my hands. It was spray painted gold, with an elegant carved top and held a beautifully proportioned, dazzling white flag. The flag was aesthetic, dramatic and elegant. Slowly I walked outside and hung the flag near my porch light, where it was fully visible yet sheltered from the rain. The flag tilted a little to the right. I climbed onto a chair to straighten it and by the time I climbed down, it tilted again. I tried again, perfect, and yet, the moment I stepped off the chair, the flag became askew.

Then I realized, the flag was already working, reminding me to flow with imperfection, to enjoy what was offered. I saluted my crooked flag and went inside to make a birthday wish.surrender


Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. For a signed copy, contact Rainy Day books:  913-384-3126



Filed under Spirituality

Kindling Holiday Magic During Seasons of Change

brownnies“There’s a story behind these butterscotch brownies,” I told our Thanksgiving guests, as my brother Dan served dessert. “Mom created the recipe when Dan was six and became allergic to chocolate.”

There was a collective gasp as people imagined the horror of being allergic to chocolate. Then there were satisfying sighs as they tasted the melting sweetness of the brownies; Dan had re-created the recipe when my mother, disabled by Alzheimer’s, could no longer bake. Fortunately, Mom enjoyed sweets all her life and we always shared the story of these treats with her, reminding her how much we loved and appreciated her.

These brownies were one way my brother and I honored our mother during the holiday season.

I recently reached out to several exceptional people for advice: how do we take care of ourselves and our loved ones who have Alzheimer’s during the holidays?
Here are their words of wisdom:

Let go of the Past and Embrace a Plan 

Linda Moore, PhD, psychologist and author of What’s Wrong With Me?, reminds us to separate our feelings from the facts. For example, a caregiver might think, “My mother’s Alzheimer’s is going to ruin my holiday,” instead of realizing,  “‘My mother’s Alzheimer’s may make my holiday different.”

“Once you can understand the holiday celebration may be different, you can plan and orchestrate a gathering that supports a person who may be less mobile, less verbal and less able to hear and understand,” Dr. Moore explains. “The planning helps diminish the emotionality in the situation.”   candles

Tailor the Celebration

“Caregivers must be willing to adapt to the condition of the person with dementia,” says Dr. Ethelle Lord, a pioneer in Alzheimer’s coaching. “If people with dementia still enjoy opening gifts and seeing all the decorations, then go for it. If they no longer recognize the decorations/gifts, simplify their celebration.”

Tailor their holiday to meet their needs, while finding ways to honor your own holiday traditions.

Find Comfort in Memories

“Many people with Alzheimer’s can relate to the sights, sounds, and aromas of the holidays,” says health and lifestyle expert Stephanie Stephens. Stephens felt her mother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, still knew that “something was special” during the holiday season.

For Stephens, the holidays brought forth a mixture of joyful and sorrowful emotions. She comforted herself by remembering the many Christmas mornings of her childhood. She reviewed old photos from holidays past and held on to the memories, cognizant that those days were gone and this was now.

“Cherish your memories and find comfort in the spirit of the season,” she advises.

treeTake the Party to Them

“If your relative with dementia is in a long-term care home and it’s difficult for them to move about, take the party to them,” suggests Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide.

Decorate their room in a festive manner. Reserve a private dining area or lounge in the care facility and invite friends and family over to celebrate.  Or encourage family members to visit in small groups over the holiday weekend, bringing food, stories and presents to enjoy.


Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. For a signed copy, contact Rainy Day books:  913-384-3126

Please learn more from and about these wise people.

Dr. Ethelle Lord
Stephanie Stephens
Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD

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Filed under Taking Care of Yourself