Shannon Ingram's Place

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Location: So CA

Musings of a woman who left her corporate career to become a caregiver for elderly parents, wrote a book and found her way back to corporate - with love, instead of fear, leading the way.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Midlife Schmidlife

My friend, Jane Haas, called me this morning to ask if I was in a midlife crisis because she had an opportunity for someone from WomanSage to be on a talk show in New York City. I let out a big guffaw and said, "What do you think? My dad's on hospice, my mom's in skilled nursing and may not get to come home, my husband is having an angiogram tomorrow and may need major surgery, my siblings aren't speaking to me, I have a new job after five years of caregiving for elderly parents, I take med's for depression and I've gained 40 pounds in the last three years!!" She laughed and said I'd be perfect for the show.

Unfortunately I had to pass up the opportunity to share my life with the masses because of Gary's surgery; but my conversation with Jane made me think about midlife. Midlife is defined as the period in somebody's life when that person is no longer considered young, usually between 40 and 60. In our youth-obsessed culture, no wonder the word "crisis" has come to be associated with midlife. What happens when you are no longer considered "young?" Do you throw yourself off a cliff because your boobs are sagging or your "worry lines" are now crevaces on your face? Do you focus on death and dying? Midlife schmidlife!!! Do whatever it takes to appreciate middle age and focus on LIVING life to its fullest. You may need to take a brief time out for some inner work the way author Joan Anderson did and chronicled in her books, A Year by the Sea and The Second Journey. You may seek a new spiritual direction to support you in this phase of your journey. You might reinvent yourself in order to make a difference in the lives of others. You could commit to learning something new every day, or at least every week.

The truth for me is that I don't care about being considered "old" now. I'm an attractive middle-aged woman who is dealing with tons of stress that I offset with boundless gratitude for the love of friends and family. My favorite new name is "Granny Shannie," thanks to my grandson. I relish work/life balance and the wisdom to enjoy it. I have found rewarding ways to give back to my community through service to my church and WomanSage. Yes, some days still suck, but I had those days when I was younger too.

C'mon, share your thoughts on this topic with me!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gold Friends

Have you ever moved from one city to another that was more than a three-hour drive away from where you were? After a blessed childhood in one of the country's most beautiful areas, namely Newport Beach, California, I moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands when I was 25. My first husband and I lived there for two years on a 46' sailboat, then moved to Honolulu where we stayed for 10 more years. During those 12 years living on islands, I lost touch with many of my old friends in Newport, people I knew from high school and my college years at UC Irvine. There were five "girls" who stayed in communication with me from time to time, and when I returned to live in Newport Beach after 12 years, they became my "safety net" of girlfriends. It was as if no time had passed.

When I moved to Denver in 1993, I cried buckets of tears leaving the Newport Beach city limits. I didn't want to leave my friends and family, but I had to follow my husband. He insisted on experimenting with a life in the mountains instead of at the ocean. Of course, I learned to love everything about Colorado and I still have dear friends there who saw me through my grief over Bruce's death and my courtship and marriage to Gary.

Gary and I moved to California in 2003 and anyone reading this probably knows about that. What you may not know is that those original five friends - Dru, Kathy J, Marianne, Terry and Laurie - are still my best friends, my "gold friends." When I came home once again to Southern California, it was as if I'd been here with them all along.

A couple of years ago, it was Marianne's turn to move from Newport Beach for the first time in her life. Fortunately, Marianne (pictured here with me) and her husband, Brian, still live on this coast in a beautiful area of Northern CA. She's a frequent visitor to the OC. When she's in town, she often rings my doorbell early in hopes of catching me for a cup of coffee. If we're not home, she sits on our front porch and reads the morning paper. I'm so happy she's still close that way. Marianne is one of the people in my life who sets a fine example of true friendship. During the past few crazy weeks, she has called and left quickie, uplifting messages of love and support for both me and Gary. Like the others in my "gold circle," she is invaluable, and I want the world to know how thankful I am.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Groundhog Day Meets Airplane!

Mom is now at Carehouse, the skilled nursing facility in Santa Ana. We hope she will only be there for a week this time around, especially now that it's costing $128 per day for the Medicare Co-Pay. I'm thinking it would be best to have her come home and hire another caregiver to come in at night. The caregiver could watch over both Mom and Jack. Jack and Saint Norma the Caregiver said they would go see Mom today. My uncle and cousin went to visit her yesterday and I am so grateful to them for cheering her up.

Gary will have the angiogram next Friday to determine if he has an arterial blockage to go along with his bad heart valve. Needless to say, all this health and family stress is taking a toll on our summer plans.

HOWEVER, our kids listened to Gary talking about his "Bucket List" and wanting to do more camping and decided to go out and purchase a 28' travel trailer last week. They are going to let us use it in exchange for permanent RV parking on our slab adjacent to the driveway. Last night it only took two hours to park it. The process included tearing out a part of the side yard fence, destroying several perfectly good plants and me on a tall stepladder hoisting a carwash brush to push up the cable and phone lines so the RV wouldn't tear them out. Today I can barely move, even just to type. And to top it all off, our three year-old grandson, Keegan, ate one piece of pizza and proceeded to puke all over the dining room table and chair, whereupon Bindi-Sue (6 month old puppy) seized the opportunity to feast - but was instead whisked out the back door. UGH! I felt like the Lloyd Bridges character in the movie Airplane as I said, "I picked the wrong week to give up booze." Then I opened a bottle of red wine and things got better...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

When Work Offers Balance

Every day I pinch myself that I get to work for Silverado Senior Living. It's an amazing environment in which to spend my days. Our company's operating philosophy is "Love is greater than fear," and I witness that philosophy in action daily. Not only do we give wonderful care to the memory-impaired residents in our communities, the clients we serve in their homes and see our Hospice patients through their end-of-life transitions, we care for each other. When I visit a Silverado community, I see smiling faces on my fellow associates. When I greet the hospice workers who visit my dad, Jack, they want to know how I am doing and what they can do to support me. When I walk from our little marketing suite over to our main corporate building, I'm greeted with smiles, handshakes, hugs and pats on the back. Our people aren't from a Stepford community; their behavior simply reflects the culture this company was founded upon - We give LIFE (love-innovation-family-engagement) to those we serve (including our associates). It's embodied by our CEO, Loren Shook, and flows outward like a warm tropical breeze. It's magical. And my work is currently providing the kind of balance I need to offset all the family drama. Never before have I found that work lessened the stress in my personal life, and I know this works now because of the extraordinary nature of this company. Thank you, Silverado!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Mighty Heart

Ironically, my last post was about my funny valentine, Gary. I posted it Sunday afternoon. Sunday evening, Gary suffered a mild stroke. He's out of the hospital already and still funny; but he knows he has a bad heart valve and will be seeing the cardioligist tomorrow. It sounds bad, but as I watched the heart ultrasound, all I could think about was his MIGHTY heart. He is an amazingly caring man.

On Monday, when I told Mom, still in rehab hospital, about Gary's predicament, she said, "I don't appreciate that, Shannon." I asked her why and she said, "You are trying to make me feel guilty about calling you to come and see me and I don't like it." I took a deep breath and about five seconds to think about my response. "I'm serious, Mom. Gary is in the hospital because he suffered a mild stroke. We are trying to find out what happened and when we do, I'll call you again." After a long pause, she said, "OH, I thought you were telling me a story to make me feel bad about missing you. I'm so sorry about Gary." I told her I loved her and we hung up.

It's really hard being "sandwiched." We want to be there for our parents who are in need of emotional and physical support, but there are other pressing priorities - children, grandchildren, spouses, home, jobs, OURSELVES (always last on the list). This week has been one of the hardest in my life, but I'm still grateful to be living it. I have a great job at Silverado Senior Living that keeps me balanced. I can't wait to get to work in the morning, yet I'm also aware of my obligation as a spouse. And I have my adorable, funny grandchildren and pets. As silly as it may seem, these little treasures bring me back to center when I fall into that scarcity thinking that all is lost. They help me know that everything will be ok.

Thankfully, Gary is choosing to have the painful surgery that will prolong his life so he can spend more time with me, his grandchildren, his son and daughter-in-law, and our precious niece who is like a daughter. We talk about camping and cruises and just living here in our home enjoying life on the front porch. Both of us love our work, so we talk about how what we do makes a positive difference in our lives and in the lives of others. We discuss our church and the unconditional support we feel being part of a spiritual community. We cherish our big circle of friends (including extended family) and we pray for everyone, by name, that their lives are filled with love and goodness. Love-based communication is the foundation of our deeply personal relationship and we know it's our special gift from God.

OK, so all that being said, maybe tomorrow I'll have more of Gary's wit and wisdom to share with you. It will surely help me to get Mom out of the rehab hospital and home again, Jack through his latest hospice adventure, and serve as the simple support for our challenges. Mostly, tonight, I just want to say thank you to our friends. We love you.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Gary the Stucco Guy Speaks...

Gary and I have spent the whole weekend together so far. Actually, our togetherness started on Thursday night when we dined at The Blue Beet" with our friends, Terr-Bear and Bob. Terry is pictured here with Gary. You may recall that last summer we went on a vacation with two other couples. In our little gang of six, we had Terry, Barry and Gary. Pretty funny.

Back to our weekend together. Gary has been funnier than he's been in a long time. So much so that I've decided to start a journal called "The Wit & Wisdom of Gary the Stucco Guy," because he has so many funny things to say that we never remember. My intention is to write all of his quips down and of course, some of them will find their way to my blog. This weekend of togetherness has prompted some of the best of his worst...

"Husbands never have to remember because their wives will always remind them."

"I don't need to know all the answers because I have you..."

"Real men don't need a day planner because their women keep the itinerary."

"My mouth opens and her words and voice come out."

"Orange County women are like old cars - a little bondo, add some new paint, rub and polish the knobs to keep them shiny; but you can still only drive them occasionally."

"In Beverly Hills, a recession means buying your 16 year-old daughter a Lexus rather than a Hummer."

"Apparently in LA, the cheapest way to drive hands-free with your cell phone is to get a stretchy headband, sweatband or for evenings, a silk scarf, and put it on in a way that holds your cell phone to your ear. I've seen it more than once."

We went to see Mom yesterday at the rehab hospital. She was in pretty good spirits. We talked with her roommate, Sharon and Sharon's daughter, LuAnn. Turns out Tustin Rehab referred LuAnn to Silverado At Home for home care. They beat me to it! I was delighted to know that this hospital I've been to so many times in the past couple of months thinks highly of Silverado and our OC Silverado At Home rep, Karyn.

Off to spend more time with Gary the Stucco Guy at a South OC party. One thing I know for sure, he will have observations!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Groundhog Day

My experience of Mom's recent health challenges as a result of her falls is like a way slow version of the movie, Groundhog Day. After her first fall, Mom went to the ER, then to a rehab facility, then to skilled nursing and finally went home. A few days later she fell again and now we're in the exact same pattern. She even had the same ambulance drivers for every move both times - the ones who tell her she's pretty. Mom has been in good ol' rehab for nearly a week now and will be going to the same skilled nursing facility today or tomorrow for who knows how long. The rehab doc says probably one to two weeks. Amazingly, I never took either the rehab place or the SNF out of my cell phone contacts list the first time. Perhaps I should do that immediately after her next discharge from the SNF.

Speaking of SNF - that's jargon in the health care and senior services industry. Everyone here at Silverado Senior Living refers to a skilled nursing facility as "sniff" - that's how it sounds. I finally figured out what people meant by "sniff" - which had nothing to do with coming down with a cold. Now I get to use this catchy term when I speak with Mom's doctors and nurses, which makes me feel very cool (as in savvy, not cold). I love my job.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Welcome R&R

It's almost here - a three-day weekend. I've been back to work full-time for three months and this is my second holiday. It couldn't have come at a better time for Gary and me. We need a break.

Mom didn't get to go home yet, which is just as well. She's not what I'd call ambulatory. The doc decided she needed both physical and occupational therapy, so she was transferred to Tustin Rehab yesterday. She was there five weeks ago, so she knows the place and was pleased that many of the staff remember her. Gary and I are happy because this means she'll be safely in one place with nursing support over the long weekend and we can relax. I'll take her a burger and milkshake on Saturday to make her smile.

Lunch time is almost over here, so it's time for me to get back to work. Thankfully, I love my job, no matter how busy we are.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Pushing the Envelope

We learn what we must learn.

How many people do you know who won't take "no" for an answer? Is that a good thing, or could it signal a learning experience? My thought is that it's a win either way. Either you win or you learn something.

Tonight Gary and I watched a funny reality show called "Wipe Out" and cringed as contestants dove into dreadful activities. We had a great conversation about how difficult it is for a woman with breasts to plow into certain challenges. I don't know if anyone makes steel bras - maybe they do. But it looked like the women were wearing flak jackets. They may not have been as adept as their male competitors at accomplishing challenges, but at least these women were committed. The guys had difficulties, but the women seemed to be be pushing the envelope.

Earlier this evening, Kathy J and I attended our first Hula class. We're attempting to learn this graceful Hawaiian dance we both love because we don't want to die without having tried it. In front of the big mirrors that let you see every flaw or graceful move, Kathy and I bent our creaky knees and straightened our ungodly arms to do what the Kumu instructed. We were serious about the movements - but we laughed from time to time and nobody scolded us. Hula was our "Wipeout" - and we won the big prize because we stayed and danced till the class ended. With sweaty brows, we were "little brown gals" who embraced the funny mirror images and danced till Kumu said to stop. We pushed the envelope.

Life gives us many opportunities to push the envelope. We get to choose our responses - yes, no or maybe. Mom said "No" today. She could have pushed the envelope and gotten out of the hospital; but for whatever reason, she was tired and "no" was ok. Mom wanted a good nap and a decent meal. She didn't want to win a reality show contest. She chose an easier path, and for that I salute her.

Sometimes we feel inspired to push the envelope. Other times we feel that where we are is good enough for the time being. Intuition is a gift that helps us know the safest and best path. We must know that certain cirumstances dictate whether or not it's enough to simply stay present or move forward. Sometimes pushing the envelope, which sounds so seductive, attractive and good, may be the quickest way down a slippery slope. Think before you act.