Oh Mama Mia…

Today Mom looks at me and asks, “Are you Raymon?”
I take a long pause, looking her straight in the face, hoping she will decide I don’t look that much like a balding, 79-year-old man. She keeps looking at me expectantly, waiting for an answer. 
“No,” I reply.
“No?”Mom calmly answers,  “I’m not either.”

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Why I Can’t Throw Away the Calendar From 1978

I  was cleaning my closet a while back, and found a box of photos and odds and ends I’d rescued from Dad before he threw it away. Much of it I did end up tossing—old maps, unidentified photos of people I didn’t recognize, etc. But I keep looking at the calendar from 1978, and I can’t bring myself to throw it out. It’s covered with little notes of things that happened that year and reminders of birthdays and appointments.  It’s a time capsule, taking me back to that year when I was a senior in high school, and I had a brother in grade school, another in junior high, and an older one who had just become a daddy himself.

It reminds me of the mama I had…the one who was a room-mother, who was driving kids to church, sewing and upholstering for people, meeting friends for lunch, and taking kids to the dentist, the doctor, and even the hospital. It shows the mama that was babysitting her first grandson, the same year that she took a bus to Louisiana to sit by her own dying daddy. Such a loving, capable mama who was so easy to take for granted.

It reminds me to look at my own calendar, and contemplate how I am using my days.  While I have the health and strength and mind, am I using my days in the most valuable ways? While I still have some of my children at home, and all of them close by, am I making the most of our time together?  While my parents are still living, am I taking every opportunity to show them love and gratitude? Am I filling my days with God’s purpose for me?

“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

Lessons from Messes

Alzheimer’s can lead to messes, and today it did. And I learned some lessons.  I had just settled down in my home, after returning from giving my mom a bath, when Dad called in a panic. He could distinctly smell the “mess”, and had touched some of it–but he’s legally blind, with very little vision, and didn’t know where exactly the mess was or how far they had already tracked it by stepping in it. But he knew it was on his shoes, so he took them off and wasn’t going to move until I got there.

Thankfully my dear daughter’s school break has begun, so she went with me back to my parents’ house.  As I cleaned up my mom, Annie scrubbed the floors.  When she came into the bedroom, with her bucket and scrub brush, I told Mom to lay down so she would get her feet off the floor. I got on the bed too, to keep her calm until the floor was clean.

Mom settled in right next to me, so we were lying down closely facing each other. She put her arm around me, her head was just under my chin, and she kept patting my back with her fingers. She seemed to be very content and comfortable in her display of affection.  I asked her if she knew who I was.  She promptly answered, with no shame or embarrassment, “No.”

As I think about the whole experience, I realize that messes come in all kinds of forms. Physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, etc. And I can learn something from my parent’s example. First of all, sometimes I just have to be patient and still, so I don’t make the situation worse. Sometimes when I’m tempted to dive in and quick fix everything I really need to take a breath, take my shoes off, and pray for wisdom.

And then it can really help to call someone with clearer vision to help clarify the situation. An honest perspective from a trusted source can make a huge difference in how I handle problems. And sometimes, when I see things clearly, I know I need help, and I need to humbly ask for it and rest in the assurance that God meets my needs through the people He has blessed my life with.

But, I need to do my part, too.  Dad didn’t keep sitting once the floors were clean.  He took his shoes down to the laundry room and scrubbed them.  Because even though it was stinky, dirty work it was the thing he was able to do even with his limited vision. And so I’ll remember, that even though I may need to call for help in my mess, I can’t just sit back and expect others to totally clean it up.  I have to do the part that I can do, with the strength that God gives.

It seems like I should fit in some lesson here about not being in bed hugging someone when you don’t even know who they are. But honestly that moment was comforting and sweet to me, so I don’t want to “ruin” it with a lesson about not doing it.  And besides, I’d rather believe that in her heart Mom did know who I was.  And that, in the middle of a stressful event, she was hanging on to someone who loves her dearly.  And that seems like a good idea.

And these are the lessons I learned from messes.

Talking to the Cookie Jar

An American Bisque cookie jar using the Funny ...

An American Bisque cookie jar using the Funny Animal theme popular in America during the 1950s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a brand new Alzheimer’s experience with mom today. After she took her bath and got dressed, she went off looking for Dad. I was cleaning up in the bathroom and could hear her getting frustrated that she wasn’t finding him. So, I left my cleaning and followed her out to the kitchen and said, “Dad is still gone, but I’m here.”  Mom didn’t realize my voice was coming from behind her.

She looked up at the ceramic, squirrel shaped cookie jar perched on top of the broom closet, and asked, “Oh, is that you?”

“No,” I said.  “I’m here, behind you. Turn around.”

She kept looking up at the cookie jar.  She asked it, “Is Dad up there with you?”

“No,” I said. “Can you come over here with me?”

She didn’t turn around.  She just kept looking up at the cookie jar.  She answered it, “I don’t know if I can.” She opened the door to the garage, which is right next to the broom closet, still looking up at the cookie jar. She seemed to think that if she opened that door somehow she might be able to get up and visit with it and maybe find Dad.  I walked up closer to her and led her out to the living room, slightly shocked myself by the whole thing.

Mom can’t help her confusion, of course.  But we can. The pleasures of the “cookie jars” and the “wisdom” of the world, will try to distract us and distort truth. How important it is that we are in God’s Word and spending time with Him daily so that we know Him. And so that we know His still, small voice that prompts us to follow Him.  We need to stay close to Him so we won’t be deceived. We need to be close to other followers of Jesus, so they can call us out and turn us around if we start being deceived. We need to keep our eyes and focus on God.

Called to Cling

398913_3714116178060_1077433954_n.jpg  I learn important lessons from my mama. Today she taught me about clinging. I had a sweet, cozy visit with her last night. She was in her bedroom when I arrived, so we ended up cuddling on her bed for about an hour before she wanted to look for Dad.  I was surprised; she usually lasts only a few minutes before she needs him.

She read one of her life story pages (pictures and memories of her life I have printed up for her) to me over and over. And I read it to her. She sang “How Great Thou Art” many times and off key, and would pause to ask me how she did.  She would stop and smile lovingly at her baby doll, Annabel, who was tucked between us. She told Annabel that she was cute and that she should be a good girl.

When Mom did get up to find Dad I heard him mute the TV and ask her, “Where’s Cheryl?”

“She’s still in there.”

“Well go visit her.”

“She’s been there all day.”

“But she came to visit you.”

“She did?” Mom asked.  “Did she say that?”

“Yes, so go visit her.”

“Okay,” she answered pleasantly, though maybe reluctantly.  She came and found me and climbed onto the bed by me again.  We chatted for a few more minutes and then she asked, “What do you want to do now?”

“I don’t know.  What do you want to do now?”

“I was thinking about trying to find Raymon.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go find him.”

We got up and mom looked me sincerely in the face and said, “He’s not crazy.” (H-mmm.  Not sure where that came from, but okay.)

We walked into the living room, and she found Dad and snuggled down right next to him on the couch. She was where she wanted to be…close to Dad. She could enjoy a little time with me, but her heart wanted Dad. He is her refuge and she clings to him.

As I was reading my Bible this morning, I was reminded that I am called to cling, too. I am called to “…love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days…”  Deuteronomy 30:20. I am to love people and enjoy time with them, but I am to cling to God. He is the one I should most desire time with. I should hunger for His presence and yearn to be close to Him. He is to be my refuge, my shade in the heat, my shelter in the storm. He is to be my life. I am called to cling.

Loving my Beloved Stranger

Today I’m learning about loving strangers. It started out as a typical day with my parents. I gave mom a bath. She howled and cried. I got her dressed and she said the process was stupid and that she hated it.  I read the mail to my dad (he’s legally blind), scheduled a doctor’s appointment for mom, ordered some vitamins for dad, cleaned out the cupboard under the bathroom sinks when I found a leak, and then did some more cleaning and vacuuming.

As I was going out the door Dad thanked me sincerely and Mom cheerfully asked, “Are you Eva Miller?”  (Eva was her maid-of-honor almost sixty years ago.)

“No, Mom, I’m not Eva.”

“Oh, you’re not Eva?”

This got me thinking what a labor of love Alzheimer’s is. I’m not saying this for myself; I have it so easy compared to most.  My dad is the primary care giver. And his mind is strong and he tells me often things like, “Words can’t describe how grateful I am for you.”  I’m getting thanked and appreciated.

But I started thinking, what about all the care givers, who are dealing with a loved one on their own?  Who sacrificially give up their own lives, or much of it, to care for someone who is angry with them and unappreciative? Who probably get yelled at and sometimes even abused for trying to help? Who give all their energy to someone who can’t even remember their name?

Then this passage from Matthew 25: 34-36 and 40 came to mind…

“…then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’… ….”Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “

All of these things literally apply to Alzheimer’s patients, as they lose the ability to care for themselves and become prisoners in their own homes or care facilities or beds, needing help with food, drinks, clothes and medical care.  But the one that stands out to me now is, “I was a stranger and you took me in.”

A person with Alzheimer’s, in a very real sense, may become a stranger.  Their personalities change, sometimes drastically. They lose the shared memories and the knowledge of where they are and who they are with.  Even in the home my mom has lived in for more than fifty years; she doesn’t know where she is. She wants to “go home.”  She is a stranger in a strange land. She is my precious, much loved mama—and yet she’s a stranger, too.

But we are called to “take in” the stranger….to meet their needs, to make them feel welcome, to offer acceptance and friendship and love.  What an honor and blessing we have, to know that as we humbly care for the beloved stranger in our lives, we are actually caring for Jesus.  And when no one else sees, He does.  And when no one else appreciates it, He does. And when no one says thank you, we are assured He will.

I Don’t Want my Mom to be Erased

I feel like my mom is slowly being erased.  Yesterday I went to the bank, with my file of power of attorney papers, to make some money transfers for my parents.  As I was there the financial planner asked questions about my folks.  He said, to protect the accounts, we should get a letter from her doctor saying she’s incompetent to deal with financial decisions and that we should take her name off  the accounts.

After the meeting I kept feeling crabby, and I didn’t know why.  As I was driving to an event later that evening, I realized I was dealing with another loss.  I thought I was used to them.  The first time the neurologist told us mom had AD it felt so crushing, even though we suspected the truth. And then the first dozen times or so that she asked me who I was—it broke my heart.  Even though I knew it was going to happen because of the nature of the disease.

Dad and I both hesitate to get rid of things that belong to Mom, even though she doesn’t use them anymore. Maybe it’s too confirming that she never will.  Her sewing machine sits unused. Her china and crystal dishes are dusty. She can’t drive or cook anymore.  She can barely read. She doesn’t know she’s a mother.  She doesn’t remember my name half the time. She obviously isn’t competent to make financial decisions.  She hasn’t been for years.  So why does it bother me to request this letter from her doctor?

Maybe because it’s the confirmation of another loss.  We’re removing her name from something that’s hers.  It feels like we’re erasing her. And like she’s slowly fading away.  And I wish I had some kind of big, powerful magic markers that I could somehow use to “color” her back in and make her strong and bright and vivid again.

But I sense Jesus close by and He reminds me that there will be a “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21).  And He lifts my chin and says with love, that though my concerns are real and He cares, it will all be okay.  Because even if Mom’s name were to be totally erased on this earth, she loves Jesus and her name is written in heaven. (Luke 10:20)  And Jesus tenderly tells me to rejoice in that!

Mom’s name is written in heaven and it reserves a future with Him. A future that does not end and will never be erased.