Lessons From the Crazy Stuff

It’s all kind of crazy.  And we might be crazy.  My mom said so.

Life with her is “interesting” these days. (That’s Minnesota code for strange.)  She yells often and loudly, usually for no apparent reason.  Today I was putting out bathroom rugs, prepping for mom’s bath.  Dad walked in carrying some towels to put in the linen closet.  We could both hear Mom yelling angrily from the bed room, where she was sitting on the bed alone, “Stop it!  Don’t do that to me!  Don’t do that to ANYBODY!”

“Wow,” Dad said, “You’re really making her yell today.”

“Yep,” I replied, as I made sure the rugs covered the whole floor because she cries out that it’s cold if her bare foot touches it. “I’m pretty mean.”

She often sits alone yelling things like that. Sometimes she stops using words and just shouts, “Buh,buh,buh,buh, buh, buh……” Or she rolls her tongue and says, “Rd-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d…..”  She’s surprisingly good at that.

As I was helping Mom get dressed today she said, “I’m crazy.”

“Are you?  Do you really think you’re crazy?”

“A little bit,” she calmly said.

“Do you think I’m crazy?”

“Maybe,” she answered seriously.

“Are we all crazy?”

“Probably,” she replied.

After I got her bathed and dressed she went out to the other room, while I stayed behind to clean up the towels and bathroom.  I heard her yelling for her Daddy.  By the time I was out to join her I heard pounding.  I found her in the kitchen, pounding on the stove with her fist, shouting, “Raymon! Come out!” …as if he was in the oven. Then she saw me and calmed down.

We sat down in the living room and she asked where Annabel was.  I handed her the doll and Mom held it and looked into its face.  She smiled and said sweetly and lovingly, “How are you?  Are you a good little girl?”

And my heart melted a little as I saw that the gentle care-taker in my mom is still there. And a part of me wishes she would look at me like that again. I can’t remember the last time she asked me how I was, though she was always a very concerned mom when she knew she was one.

Somehow, this little baby doll draws out her mothering and her love. And it makes me smile to see a glimpse of the mom she was, and grateful for all the love she gave me. And sorry for how easily I took her love for granted.

And it makes me think how crazy and unpredictable life is. And it spurs me on to love the people around me now, while I can.  While they’re here. While I know who I am and who they are, because who knows what life will bring.

So now, today let me make the most of this time. Let me dance with my husband in the kitchen, and hug my children tight. Let me take time to marvel at the lake diamonds with my friends and to stand shoulder to shoulder in worship with my church family.

And I pray I’ll be sensitive to God promptings, and reach out to those He nudges me towards. And I’ll lift all who I love up to my Abba, Father in prayer.

And I’ll do what I can for my Dad and treasure the tender moments with Mom.

In the crazy hum of it all.

 

 

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The Perfect Driveway and the Whys

Sometimes I don’t know the why. Well, often I don’t know the why.

I sat on the porch with Mom this afternoon, and watched an older neighbor lady I’ve known my whole life edging her driveway.  She started with a manual pair of grass clippers, and then a neighbor I never met before came with a power edger and cut into the lawn that was slightly over growing her driveway, making a sharp, neat break line between the sod and the cement.

He went all around the curb, too. And the neighbor lady followed behind him with a broom, energetically sweeping up the dirt and grass.

And I sat there watching, next to my mom, as I tried to have a muddled, broken conversation with her.  And I wondered why some older ladies are still so alert and active that they care about their lawn edges, and why others struggle to have a conversation.

I held Mom’s hand and I said, “Mom, do you know that you’re my mom?”

She looked at me, confused, and answered, “You’re my mom?”

“No,” I said. “You’re MY mom.”

She still looked puzzled and repeated slowly, “You’re…..MY…mom…”  And then she innocently asked, “Why?”

And I sat there, watching the neighbor lady, who is just a few years younger than my mom, making her driveway perfect…sweeping with diligence and attention. And I asked, “Why?” too.  And I saw the perfect straight lawn edge.  And I wondered why life could be so different for two elderly ladies living across the street from each other.

And I didn’t know how to answer the why. And it occurred to me that this neighbor had been living alone for years, because she and her husband were separated, and maybe she wondered herself why that happened to her.

I don’t know the why. And it’s clear that sometimes we don’t get to choose what problems we have in life.  (Though some, admittedly, we create for ourselves and just have to own.)

So, what do we do with the “whys”?  With the seeming randomness and unfairness of Alzheimer’s and other diseases and problems?  Is it wrong to ask why? Is it lacking faith?

In the sermon I heard in church this Sunday, our pastor encouraged us to complain to God, but not about God.  He pointed to King David and the Psalms and told us that God can handle our honesty.  He will hear our hearts.

I look in Psalms and see in chapter 142, “I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble.”  And…”Refuge has failed me; No one cares for my soul.”  And…”Bring my soul out of prison, That I may praise Your name.”

And I’m thankful for my God that I can be real with.  I don’t have to pretend everything’s okay.  He doesn’t even want me to. He knows this is hard.  It’s hard to have Mom with me, but see her fading away. It’s hard to have a mom who doesn’t know she is a mom…who has no clue what that even means.

But my God is faithful. I don’t know why He allows AD.  I don’t know why He doesn’t just wipe it off the face of the earth along with all other disease and heartache in the world.  I don’t know why. But I know He is with me. And I know He will get us through it all.

So, maybe today I’ll sit at His feet and pour out my heart.  I’ll tell Him all my troubles. I’ll give Him all my complaints and my “whys”.  And then I’ll rest in His presence, knowing that he cares.  Knowing that He loves me.  Knowing that He’s my Abba, Father and that He will never forget that I’m His child.

I don’t know the why. But I do know the Father.

My Melting Maybe Gift

I’m thankful for this sweet little, mostly depleted candle.

Somewhere in the earlier years of Mom’s AD, before we even knew that’s what was wrong, she stopped buying gifts. I suppose it’s hard to keep up with gifts when you don’t know what day it is, what month it is, or even what season it is.

I remember when the doctor gave Mom her first quick in-office dementia test and it shocked me that she didn’t even know what season it was. She just answered, “I don’t pay attention to those things.” It’s a loss of understanding that hides well, because how often do we ask another adult what month or season it is?

So anyway, when Dad was cleaning out the basement and found a box of things he was going to get rid of, he asked me to look through it first. I found a few brand new items, still in packages, that I figured Mom had bought and put away to give as gifts.

One of the gift boxes had a metal can, decorated with pictures of grape vines, with a scented candle in it. I took it home with me, and wondered if it might have been a Christmas gift for someone. What if Mom thought of me when she picked it out?

What if this candle was the last gift she picked out for me, but never gave me?

I’ve been using the candle. It’s purple and smells “grapey”. Today I wanted to have it burning while I read my Bible. I was saddened to see the wick was burned down almost to the bottom of the can. The wax in the center of the candle has melted down, like a miniature Grand Canyon.

But I lit it anyway. I can’t see the flame from even an arm’s length away. I have to peer down into the can to see the tiny flicker holding on to the remaining wick. But the grapey scent is still strong.

I’m surprised how emotional I feel about this simple, little candle. This maybe gift. I want to be able to light it and enjoy its brightness and scent and beauty indefinitely. But it’s melting away. Gradually. Slowly.

And now I can see bare metal at the bottom of the candle, barely covered by the clear melted wax. I wonder if the flame goes out, if I’ll be able to relight it. The wick may be gone. And then this gift will be just an empty can with melted wax.

I don’t want to blow it out. So I sit and gaze at the flickering flame. I wonder how long it will last. Will I know when it’s taking its last breath?

And I’m grateful, as I look at this flickering, mostly used up candle, that God made souls to live forever. And that those who love and believe in Jesus will be with Him for eternity.

And I’m thankful to know that when Mom takes her last breath on earth, her new life with God will be just beginning. And there her light and essence and beauty will shine brilliantly. Brightly. Forever.

I’m thankful for this sweet little, mostly depleted candle. And I will stay close to its warmth while I can.

Jesus, Please Take Your time

Oh Jesus, please take your time.

The phone call this morning was full of love and concern, but part of it made me cringe. An uncle called from across the country to see how our family was doing. I updated him honestly about my folks, and then he said, “Well, hopefully the good Lord will take her home soon.”

He’s done more care-giving than I have.  He was the only child of his mother, who he cared for while she died of cancer.  At the same time he went through twenty years of fighting cancer with my aunt. He knows more than I do, and maybe someday I’ll have the same thought. I know being with the Lord in heaven will be the gift beyond measure. But I’m in no rush to lose my mama here on earth.

Jesus, please take your time.

I know life would be easier if Mom was with the Lord now.  But we’d miss so much, too.  Mom’s life gives Dad purpose every day and grows his patience strong. His love and devotion for Mom is a beautiful testimony.

Jesus, please take your time.

If Mom were already gone, I would’ve missed this day of memory moments.  This day when I took Mom’s hand in mine, and she looked at me and said, “I like you.”

And then I asked, “Do you know who I am?”

And with no hesitation she calmly answered, “Cheryl.” There was no doubt in her voice.

Jesus, please take you time.

If Mom were already gone, I would’ve missed the interesting little things she said today.  Like when Dad and James came home with groceries and Mom lit up and said, “Hi!”  And then very matter-of- factually added, “We’re crazy.”

A while later she said, “Maybe you did, and maybe I didn’t.”  And “I think Daddy undid what he should have.”  And, “What do you do when you don’t?”

And maybe these are just senseless jumbles that mean nothing. But yet they make me smile and think.

Jesus, please take your time.

If Mom were already gone, I would’ve missed out on our time together on the porch today.  I wouldn’t have combed her silver white hair with my fingers. I wouldn’t have sung hymns with her or sat still next to her observing the day out her window.  I would have missed the long hug and the smell of her freshly washed hair.

Jesus, please take your time.

I don’t want to be selfish.  I don’t want to keep Mom from heaven and the glories of living with God. But these things are in His hands.  The Bible says, “Man’s days are determined; You (God) have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed” (Job 14:5).

So, I will trust Him to call her home at the perfect time. And I will believe that when He leads us into the valley of the shadow of death He will be walking with us, directing us, and comforting us.

And meanwhile, I will gratefully hug Mom and soak her up. I will put my hands on either side of her soft  face, and I will look into her blue eyes, and I will say, “I love you, Mama. I’m here. I’m Cheryl. We’re together today.  You’re my Mom and I love you so much.”

Dear Jesus, please take your time.

The Overcast, Downcast Going for Upcast Day

The day is overcast.  My mood is downcast. It seems like every phone call I answer, every bit of news I read adds to the weight of the grayness of the day. A cold and some chronic health issues I have add to the gloom.

I read my Bible passages for the day and find, in 2 Corinthians 7:5, “…but we were troubled on every side.  Outside were conflicts, inside were fears.” And then in verse six, “Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”

God comforts the downcast.  I wonder exactly what the definition of downcast is.  So I look it up in my old Webster Dictionary. It means…

  1.  Directed downward
  2. Sad; very discouraged; dejected

I feel downcast.  I’m sure other people have better reasons to be than I have. But I do feel a definite “downward directedness”. God says He comforts the downcast.  I pray and wait. And like the woman in the old “Where’s the beef?” commercial, I wonder…where’s the comfort?

I feel drowsy and discouraged.  I take my I-pod and crawl under my cozy blanket. I listen to songs of praise and hope as I almost doze off. As I lie there, soaking in the songs, I realize I’m lying on a quilt my daughters made me one year for Christmas.  A quilt stitched with hours of time and threads of love.

And the fuzzy nap blanket that’s over me was a gift from one of my sons. And my pillowcase was embroidered by my mother-in-law.  And the I-pod was a gift from my husband.

I think about how I am cocooned in gifts of love that are just symbols of the real relationships that surround me and hold me up. And my heart warms.

And it points me back to the Bible verse—God sent comfort by sending Titus. He didn’t send an angel or a miracle or even an expert.  He sent Titus, a young pastor who had his own struggles in the ministry God had given him.

And it reminds me that we are meant to be God’s comfort to each other. We all have our problems and struggles and things that discourage us.  Some of us have parents with Alzheimer’s.  Some of us have health problems.  Some of us have spouses out of work or children in trouble. Some of us are mourning deep losses. All of us have challenges.

And so I pray I will have eyes to see the comfort God sends me through the people He has blessed me with. And I pray I will have ears to hear God’s quiet whisper when He is sending me to be someone else’s comfort.

And I start to feel “upcast”.  I didn’t know this was a word when I typed it. But I looked it up and it is and it means, as an adjective…

  1. Thrown upward
  2. Turned or directed upward

Maybe I will make the definition my own version of a new perspective. It will be about looking up, not down.  It will mean keeping my focus on God, not the gloom. It will be about casting my cares upward towards God and trusting that He has caught them and that He will hold them, and that He will work out all things for good.

The day is still overcast. In fact it’s raining. But maybe I will dance in the rain as I fling my cares up to God.  I’m going for upcast.

Chopping Onions

Everyone knows that chopping onions makes you teary.  So, it’s no surprise that my eyes were blurry  today.

I was having lunch with a couple of dear friends, and decided to make Mom’s tuna salad recipe for the sandwiches.   I almost never make it, because it has chopped pickles in it and I’m the only one in my house now who likes pickles.  And it has hard boiled eggs in it, and that takes time and effort, and it’s just easier to make tuna salad without them.

But I knew these friends ate pickles, and I was suddenly craving Mom’s tuna salad. As I minced the onion and chopped the eggs and pickles, I kept picturing Mom….

In the memory “movie” of my mind she is young and vibrant and smiling and knows how to do everything. She is laughing and her eyes are sparkling.

And she makes the best food ever.  She spreads the tuna salad between two pieces of Wonder Bread, cuts the sandwiches in fourths, and serves them with potato chips as we sit around the Formica table. They are perfect.

I try to follow Mom’s recipes. But they never taste quite the same or quite as good. And sometimes I get teary.  But everyone knows that chopping onions will do that.

Blurry Banana Bread Recipe

I don’t know if it’s human nature, or just mine, but there was a part of me that wanted to remain in denial about Mom’s Alzheimer’s. After all, even the experts say you can’t know for sure until an autopsy is done. And some days Mom would seem almost normal. 

But other days, the confusion would be so obvious that there was no plausible deniability of disease. And some days what we’d lost already, contrasted sharply against what we’d once had. And it became the time of bittersweet tears.

One of these times was the night the banana bread recipe make me cry…

It’s strange that a banana bread recipe can make me cry like this. It’s in my mom’s handwriting, on a three by five note card. It’s slightly stained, a little bent and torn, and some of the ink is blurred where moisture has dropped on it.

It’s been a faithfully used recipe, and the bread was a favorite growing up. Mom used to make big batches of it. She would bake smaller loaves and give them out at Christmas, to teachers and neighbors. I even asked mom to bake the bread for my wedding. Which she did. Along with all the food for the reception except the cake.

One night a couple years ago, I walked across my back yard and hers to visit Mom, through the damp, humid air that reminds me of Mama’s hometown in Louisiana…

I often visited her in the evenings, lying on her bed with her, watching “The Walton’s” and talking. Or we’d sit side by side on the edge of her bed and look through a couple of her dresser drawers that were filled with old photos, greeting cards, letters, etc.

The drawers had become jumbled time capsules of Mama’s life, giving us glimpses into every decade of her almost eighty years. She spent hours each day sifting through them.

Lately Mama had taken to reading her daddy’s obituary over and over to me. She would say she wanted to go to Louisiana and visit her people. But she wasn’t sure if her daddy and mama were still there…

That night I answered, “No, Mom. They died a long time ago.”

“They did?” she asks curiously, “How do you know?”

“You told me,” I answer honestly. “Remember, Grandpa died the year I graduated from high school? You took the bus to Louisiana so you could be at his funeral.”

“I did?” she says, with surprise. “I don’t remember that. I wish I could go to Louisiana again. I want to see my mama and daddy. But I don’t know if they are there anymore…”

“No, Mom. They’re in heaven now. They believed in Jesus and loved Him, so they are in heaven. And someday you will get to see them forever.”

“That’s right,” she nods, and seems reassured.

“Here Mom, let’s look at some pictures. Who’s this?” I hand her a picture of my dad and three brothers, when James, the youngest, was probably two or three. She looks at it intently.

“That looks like Dad, and…the boys.” I smile, glad that she recognizes them.

Mom adds, “Who are the boys?” I point to each of her sons and tell her who they are.

I show her a picture of my wedding party. “Look at this, Mom! You sewed every dress in this picture!”

“I did?” she asks, pleased and surprised.

Yet some of the pictures she does recognize. She knows her maid of honor, who she hasn’t seen for years. She always seems to know her mama and daddy, but gets confused about her siblings.  She loves looking through pictures. I start labeling some of the photos that aren’t marked. It reassures her to read who they are. I tuck away some special ones in a scrapbook.

It’s getting late. I better leave so Dad can have his side of the bed. We share our “good-nights”, and I walk out of her room. I’m saying good-bye to Dad, when Mom joins us in the kitchen, carrying a small, white card.

“Here,” she says, reaching out a smudged looking card to me with her gently wrinkled, slightly arthritic hand, “do you want this recipe for banana bread?”

I already have a copy of it at home, but I somehow feel that I shouldn’t turn down this gift. “If you don’t need it anymore,” I say.

“No, I don’t need it,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever made banana bread.”

I thank her, and take the card. I walk back out through the humid night to my own home. I spend some time with my family, but after they go to bed, I keep looking at the tattered, worn, stained recipe card, with the blurred ink splashes. And it seems incredibly precious. More precious than I ever knew.

banana bread