What I Learned at the Dentist

Last week Dad and I brought Mom to the dentist. It was slightly traumatic for all of us, but I learned some lessons of gentleness, respect and relationships…

Mom had a very hard time getting in and out of the car.  She had a hard time getting in the dentist’s chair.  And she totally didn’t understand why they were scraping around in her mouth.  She howled.  She yelled.  She cried, “Don’t do that!” and “Nobody cares about me!”  And “I want my Daddy” and “Ow!!” I’m sure the whole office heard it.

But the woman cleaning her teeth was so very patient and kind. She kept saying gently to Mom, “Thank you for helping.”

At one point Mom asked, “How am I helping?” And the dental assistant answered, “You’re holding your mouth open.  That helps a lot.” And gradually Mom became calmer.

That, along with some things I’ve been reading, made me think. As I gave Mom a bath yesterday I kept saying, in a gentle voice, “Thank you for helping.” The bath still had its moments, but overall it felt calmer. And so did Mom.

As I got her dressed, instead of just putting her dress on her, as I’ve become accustomed to lately, I said, “Here’s your dress.  Do you want to put it on yourself, or would you like me to help you?”

“You can help me, “she answered. And I didn’t get the screams and anger I’ve been getting lately.

There was still some stress involved, but I was surprised how just these simple things made it easier.

I can thank Mom for helping, in whatever capacity that looks like.  I can stay calm and gentle, with God’s grace. I can ask if she wants help, at least in some areas, and not just take over if it is something she could possibly do herself.

And as I think about it, aren’t those just good approaches for relationships in general? I want to give thanks wherever it is due, and keep a grateful heart. I want to depend on God and His strength to walk through life with a calm gentleness, trusting Him to work all things together for good.  And I want to love and help others in a respectful way.

Now I need to go write a thank you note to Mom’s dental office. And I suppose I should make an appointment for myself.  You never know the good things you might learn going to the dentist.


Lessons from the Crazy Angry Side

I’m learning lessons of provision, focus, and prayer as we crash into another stage with Alzheimer’s, or maybe back into an old one.  And to use my mom’s words, “I hate it!  Crazy people!  I want to go home!  I want my Mama and Daddy!” .

She’s using some other words too.  Some I’ve never heard her say before. She’s yelling and hollering a lot. I know she’s scared and confused.  I know her anger isn’t really pointed at me, but at her own confusion.  But still it’s stressful to be yelled at when you are only trying to help.

I was giving her a bath today, as gently as I know how, and she was screaming.  And she yells things like,  “Don’t do that to me!  Are you trying to kill me!  I hate this! Shut up!”  In a loud angry voice.  And it’s hard to hear that from my gentle, sweet, patient mom.

As I’m getting her dressed  she’s screaming and yelling, “Don’t do that! Stop it!  I want to go home!  I want my Mama and Daddy!”

And I keep helping her, but I’m thinking…I don’t want to be doing this.  I want to go home.  I want my Mama and Daddy!

And even though I manage to stay patient with my mom, when Dad comes home,  from grocery shopping with my brother, I snap at him. And then I want to cry. He’s the hero who is taking care of mom almost 24/7.  What’s wrong with me?

A little later I apologize to him.  I explain what a hard time I had with Mom.  He says, “Oh, she’s like that all the time now.”

“”I know,” I reply.  “How do you do it?”

“I pray,”he answers. “Before I go to help her with something I pray and ask God to help me be patient and kind and to not lose my temper. And that helps some.”

I was feeling worn out, and still had to go through the mail with Dad.  And then clean the house for them.  But my dear daughter, and my son’s sweet girlfriend,came over and offered to help clean. It was easy to accept from my daughter, who has helped often.  But I hesitated to have someone outside of the family help. I almost sent her home.

And then I remembered times when I have wanted to be helpful, and it was satisfying to do so.  And I knew I could use her help.  So I told her where the broom was, and got out a bucket and mop for her.  And by the time I went through all the mail with Dad, the girls had the basic cleaning done that would have taken me so much longer to do.  I was relieved and encouraged.

Before I left I gave mom a long hug.  And she did something unusual.  She quietly said, “I love you.”  She often responds to my “I love you” with ” I love you, too.”  But she said it first this time. She never seemed to know my name today.  But she said, “I love you.”  With no prompting.  And that is a gift. I smiled and I told Dad about it and we were both warmed by the sunshine of it.

And these are the lessons I’m learning in this angry, shouting stage of AD…

 I need to accept the help that’s offered sincerely, with a grateful heart, knowing that God provides in many ways and through other people.  

 I need to look for the bits of sweetness that are still there in Mom’s life and expressions, and embrace them.  Maybe if I magnify and focus on the sweet stuff the angry stuff will fade and fuzz in my thoughts and be a blurry background to the better mom memories.

 And I need to remember to pray. I can’t afford to forget the power of prayer and God’s presence. I need to cover my mama in prayer.  I need to sing His praises in the storm. I need to remember that He is with me, and as I serve my Mama I am serving Jesus.  I need to hold fast onto the truth that He is  with me, and that I can take refuge under the shadow of His wings, and that He’s always saying, “I love you.”  First.  

Saturday Nights

Photo of bandleader Lawrence Welk and singer N...

Photo of bandleader Lawrence Welk and singer Norma Zimmer from the Lawrence Welk television program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mom used to help us kids take our baths and get in our pajamas before a Walt Disney movie was on TV. Then she would pop a big bowl of popcorn and we would sit on a blanket on the living-room floor and have our movie night.

Now, on Saturday nights, I help Mom with her bath and into her flannel nightgown. I kiss her goodnight and leave her seated next to Dad on the love seat, eating supper, and watching The Lawrence Welk Show.

Sweet memories and simple pleasures in the circle of life.


Evidence of His Presence


My daughter Annie and I took Mom and Dad shopping one day.  As usual, Dad had Mom sit in the front seat, because it’s a little easier to get in and out of than the back. The only problem with this arrangement is that Mom can’t see Dad. She asked if he was in the car.  I tried to adjust the mirror on her visor so she could see him sitting behind her, but it didn’t work for her So, I told Mom, “Dad is sitting right behind you.”

“Oh, okay,” she said. A minute later she asked, “Raymon, are you here?”

He patted her on the shoulder and said, “Yes, honey, I’m right here.”

The reassurance Dad’s voice and touch gave her was tangible.  She visibly relaxed and sighed, “Okay.” The car was chilly, so I tucked a blanket around her, and she soon dozed off in peace as we drove.

Sometimes, even though I know God is with me, I long for a more tangible evidence of His presence. At times like those, when He moves someone to care, to say “I’m here with you”, to give a hug, or a word of encouragement, or meet a need—that is His body at work.  That is His comfort. That is being wrapped in His love and peace. I want to be sensitive to His leading and promptings, so I can be a part of His comfort to others. And together we will know that God is right here.


Seven Words of Wisdom

When the neurologist told us that Mom had Alzheimer’s he had two pieces of advice.  One was to contact the Alzheimer’s Association and request the free book they gave out, written by a coach, whose wife had Alzheimer’s. His other advice was seven words he said, as he looked me in the eyes with a calm compassion,  “Remember, she’s doing the best she can.”

I ordered the book right away. And I’ve always remembered his words. Such simple words, but wise ones. No one has come back from having Alzheimer’s to explain what it’s like to experience it personally. I can’t understand what is going on Mom’s mind. My mind is (relatively) strong, but I find it so hard to comprehend what it must be like to not know your own home, to not recognize your own family, to not understand what a bath is or why it’s needed, and to not know how to say what you want to say.

When I try to imagine what that must be like, I start to think Mom is doing incredibly well for her situation.  It’s no wonder she hollers and screams and cries sometimes.  It’s pretty amazing that she smiles and laughs as much as she does.

She is doing the best she can. I just opened my Bible and happened to open to this verse, “No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s spirit…”     I Corinthians 2:11a (NLT).  In the same chapter, vs. 9, it is written, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Mom’s mind and life is more difficult that I can truly imagine right now.  But the future God has planned for her with Him is more incredible than I can imagine. And for all who trust in Jesus as their Lord.

Mom is doing the best she can.  And God is doing beyond what we can imagine!


Honoring Heroes

Today God is teaching me about honoring heroes. But it started with Mom yelling at me while I was helping her with her bath and getting her dressed. She was angry and shouting, “Don’t do that!”
When I’d ask her calmly to do something she’d yell, “I don’t want to!” She also loudly declared, with much passion, “This is stupid! I hurt! I want to go home! I want my mama!”

She calmed down once she was dressed. We ate lunch together, and I did little chores and cleaned the house there for a couple hours. I thought I was okay.

And then I got home, and I ached all over, and I started to cry and couldn’t stop for more than an hour. I thought about the hard part of my day with Mom and I wanted to repeat all the words she had. I wanted to tell Mom, “Don’t do that!” when she got mad at me. And when I think about going through the whole bath ordeal again, a part of me wants to yell: “I don’t want to!” as strongly as she did. 

And truly I want my mama. I want my real mama. I want her wisdom and her comfort. I want her concern and her love. I want her to know me, and to hug me close, and to tell me that everything will be okay.

And so I pray. I ask God, “What am I supposed to learn from all this? It’s just painful. Why are so many people suffering this way?” I think about my dad, with his bad back, almost total blindness and diabetes, and how he is caring for Mom pretty much 24/7. And he is almost always patient and cheerful. And I marvel at that. And I feel so weak to be stressed over the little I do, compared to what Dad does. 

I think about how he followed me to the door today, when I was leaving. And he said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are so precious.” And it reminds me of the times I just drop by to visit, and how even then he thanks me and says, “It’s so nice to talk to someone….”

And I realize that’s the lesson I’m learning. I don’t know why Alzheimer’s and other illnesses and painful things happen. But I know God has called His children to help each other out, to love each other, and to care. I know what we do (or fail to do) for others we are doing (or failing to do) for Jesus.

I just read this morning in John 15: 12-13, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (NKJV)

Not many of us will be called to die for our loved ones. But those who care full-time for someone with AD, like Dad does, are in a very real way laying down their lives. And they need our help and support and prayers.

They need hugs and visits. They need an hour to go outside by themselves, or maybe a day to get away. They need grandchildren and relatives and friends who ask, “How can I help?” And then follow through. They need to be honored as the battle-scarred heroes that they are. 

And they need to know that, whether they are getting that support or not, our Heavenly Father sees all their sacrificial acts of love. And I can imagine Him smiling and saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are so precious.”


Of Howling, Groanings and Grace

It was a howling kind of day. A lot of them are now. But I’m learning lessons of groanings and prayer and grace without end…

Mom is struggling more and more to communicate. Her words are often confused. Many of her sentences don’t make sense. And she doesn’t know where we are or understand what we are doing, even though we tell her over and over again. She must feel powerless.

She doesn’t understand why arthritis makes it hurt when she walks. She doesn’t know why we are giving her baths or changing her clothes. She doesn’t like it. And she tells us, loudly and with boldness. With words and with howls. She reminds me more and more of a toddler, who can’t yet talk well.

But the difference is, of course, that a toddler’s communication and knowledge continue to improve. Whereas Mom’s, without a miracle, will continue to decline. People who’ve been through AD to the end have given me sad and knowing looks and have said things like, “There is so much they never tell you.” It’s scary to think of the future. I got a book from the Alzheimer’s Association, and Dad doesn’t even want to hear the last stage stuff. It’s too painful to think about.

But as I was reading my Bible tonight, I was comforted by a couple things. One was the story of Jehoshaphat, in 2 Chronicles 20. King Jehoshaphat was told a vast army was coming against him. And he was understandably afraid. And then, instead of gathering his troops, he “set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast…” (vs.3, NKJV)

And he prayed a simple, profound prayer that I’ve often clung to and repeated in my own days of fear and confusion…”For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” (vs. 12, NKJV)

Alzheimer’s disease is one big battle after another coming against us. I’m powerless to stop it, or to protect Mom from it. Unless God gives us a miracle, or Jesus returns soon, we will have to go through the whole war of it. I don’t know what to do. But God does. My job is to keep my eyes on Him, to pour out my heart to Him with a heart of faith and trust, and do what He tells me to do.

I take comfort in that prayer. Lord, I don’t know what to do…but my eyes are upon You. He will give me grace, day by day. He will get us through this. He is faithful.

And if/when the day comes that Mom can no longer communicate at all, and for the days that I am depleted and have no words, I will take strength in knowing that…”the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Romans 8:26 (NKJV)

Wow! The Spirit Himself will pray for Mom. In that sense, she will always be able to pray—no matter what. Thank You, Lord, for the comfort of that truth and for Your love and grace that will never end.