“I’m here. I’m not here for this though.”

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As I was sitting with Mom today she said, “I’m here.  I’m not here for this though.”

I’m not sure what she meant, or if she even knew what she meant. She keeps being more confused. She didn’t know my name today, or her John 3:16 Bible verse, that she could say perfectly not too long ago.  She didn’t know her daddy’s name or her mama’s.  But she could still name all nine siblings in birth order perfectly!

I cleaned out some drawers while I was there and found all kinds of little treasures. I found a piece of yellow note pad paper with the full names and birthdays of all mom’s children and grandchildren, recorded in her handwriting.  She has her own birthday written down as well. I wonder if she was afraid she was forgetting….

I found another page where mom wrote down every teacher she could remember and what grade or subject they taught.

I found report cards and diplomas that Mom still had stored for us kids. And birth announcements of nieces and nephews.  And old school assignments and birthday cards. I gave some of the cards to Mom because they are hers and she likes looking at them.  She read them for a bit and then started calmly tearing them up.  That’s what she does now for some reason.

I found an old yellowed clipping from Dear Abby where she shares “A Parent’s Prayer”.  I’m not sure what year the paper was from, but an ad on the back says you could see a matinee for sixty cents at the cinema in the mall.

I found some precious photos, worn out because they were carried in a billfold. I even found my dad’s Air Force discharge papers!

And I’m thinking of all the love and work and tears that are represented by these simple pieces of paper that I’m collecting. What stories they tell!

And meanwhile, Mom is ripping up cards.  And Dad is exhausted because he didn’t sleep last night worrying about how he will get Mom off the floor if/when she falls again.

And I think again about Mom’s quote, “I’m here.  I’m not here for this though.” And I wonder if Dad ever thinks that himself. And how many care-givers might echo the thought.

None of us would choose to deal with Alzheimer’s, but this is where we are. This is where God has allowed us to be.  And this is where we will see His grace as He gives us strength to walk through this.

So I will choose to be thankful that my mom once knew all her children and grandchildren and their birthdays and that she loved us all.  And I will be thankful for all the life and sweet memories represented by the papers I found today. And, as a mom, I will pray The Parent’s Prayer myself.

The last sentence of it is…”And fit me, O Lord, to be loved and respected and imitated by my children.  Amen.”

What a blessing it is that this is the kind of mom I’ve had.

 

 

 

 

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The Shocking Story

I’m slightly in shock. My dad, a retired mechanical engineer who always said fiction was a waste of time, just told me the whole plot of the second Karen Kingsbury’s Christian romance novel he’s listened to.

He requested this one after he heard the first one from the Library for the Blind. He choked up a couple times sharing the story with me. Oh, my sweet daddy.

He says listening to these books reminds him of his own love story with mom. He says, “We knew we loved each other right away. Now she can’t share these memories with me.  She doesn’t even know we’re married.”

So he takes some comfort in these stories.  And he says they take his mind off his worries and give him a break from the stresses.

And I remind him that when they are in heaven together Mom will remember their stories.  And Dad replies with confidence, “Oh yes.  We’re counting on that.”

And so I am choked up and misty now, thinking what a dear and tender daddy I am blessed with.  And I’m thankful he’s discovered what I’ve known for decades—Christian fiction can be worth our time. And in case you are wondering, the novel he just listened to is titled Loving.

And I think that title describes my Dad so well.

The Fall and the Family

Dad sounded breathless and concerned when he called last night. Mom had fallen on the bathroom floor and he needed help getting her up. When I arrived Mom was sitting in the hallway, where she had scooted, and seemed content there as she was pulling up the edge of the carpeting.

I brought a chair over for her to pull herself up on, and we tried to lift her, but she didn’t know how to cooperate and help and Dad and I couldn’t manage it.  I looked at the time and it occurred to me that my son should just be getting home from his work as a security guard.  I called Allen and he came over right away, all strong and professional looking, in his uniform.

He said, “Hi Grandma!” in his warm, cheerful voice. “I’m going to help you get up now.” He went behind her and put his arms under hers and lifted her easily. And then she was standing and walking out into the living room and everything was fine.  She sat down in her chair with no more mention, or probably any memory, of being on the floor.

Dad and I sighed with relief and thanked Allen with grateful hearts. I sat and visited with Mom while Dad got some things done. I was so thankful to see she wasn’t hurt. We chatted a bit.  She asked where Dad was.  I said he was in the bathroom.  Mom answered, “I thought that’s where I was.”

She pointed to a couple of throw blankets on the love seat and asked me who they were.  Twice. But she seemed pleasant and cheerful in what she shared, though obviously confused, as usual.

But before I left I said, “I love you, Mama.”

And she smiled and answered, “I thought you did.”

And that made me smile as I went home. And I thought about my family and how blessed I am. I remembered the encouraging conversation I’d had with my older daughter earlier in the day.  I thought about how one of my sons had picked up my younger daughter from school when I couldn’t, and how another son had picked up my mom off the floor.

And it made me think how good God is to give us families and how rich I am to have six children. And how sweet it is to have three generations living close by each other. And how encouraging it is that we can all help each other in different ways.

And how precious it is to know we love each other.

What the Fruit Flies are Teaching Me

I’m learning lessons from fruit flies these days. Truly.

My dad always has a big bowl of bananas. And it seems every year at some point fruit flies suddenly take over the house.

They are especially persistent this year.  Dad can’t see them and Mom doesn’t care, but the flies are kind of driving me crazy. They are drawn to the mirrors in the bathroom and bedroom for some reason.  So, I’m spending a lot of time spraying Windex on the flies and wiping them up as they drop off.  The mirrors have never been so clean.

But the population keeps growing.  So I looked for ideas on the web, that fountain of knowledge just waiting to be asked.  I read about a trap you could make by twisting paper into a funnel and putting it in a cup with some fruit for bait.

So, I made a few funnels and taped them to some small empty bottles with bits of banana in them.  And they are working!  The flies are attracted to the food and easily find their way down the wide opening of the funnel.  But few find the small opening to get out.

And the whole thing reminds me of a Bible passage. ..

 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

The easy wide road has its appeal.  Living life for self and pleasure can seem the logical thing to do.  The idea that you only live once and all that.

The narrow road looks more challenging and lonely. But it’s where the real joy is. Surrendering your heart to Jesus leads to an abundant life now and eternity with Him.

Sometimes He calls us to do challenging, tough things.   Beyond our ability even. But He gives us His strength and He stays with us.  He helps us break away from the sin that draws us in and the crowd that is going the wrong way. He shines His light on the path of obedience that leads us to freedom!

Sometimes He leads us through shadowy valleys as we see our loved ones losing thoughts and memories and personalities. We could easily drop into despair. But we can take shelter under His wings and know that He is with us and He will get us through it all.

Jesus calls us to a life of love and peace and forgiveness and challenge and growth and adventure, as we follow Him through the narrow gate and stay close to Him for the journey.

And sometimes He may teach us lessons from fruit flies.

 

When Mountains Crumble

Sometimes when mountains crumble it is good to be still and know that God is God…

I’m sitting visiting a few minutes with Mom when she looks at me, as she often does and asks that familiar question, “Who are you?”

“I’m Cheryl,” I reply.  Usually this answer will cause her to smile and say, “Oh, Cheryl.” Or to ask “Cheryl Lynn?” with some recognition.

But today she says, for the first time, “Cheryl…Who’s Cheryl?”

“I’m your daughter.”

“Oh,” she answers blankly.  And then politely adds, “It’s nice you came.”

I say, “I love you, Mama.”

She answers, “Oh, you do?”

“I do!”

“Okay,” she replies.

I tell her about her four children and name all of them. She bites her fingernails and seems uninterested.  I tell her she was a good mama to us and took good care of us all the time. And she answers, as if I was speaking of strangers, “Is that right?”

And I’m sitting with Mom in the same living room where she watched over me when I was a little girl, where she threw me birthday parties, where she handed out Christmas presents with joy, where we read our family devotions every night, where she rocked her grandchildren with love…and she’s asking me who I am.  And wondering who Cheryl is.

And my heart crumbles and I fight tears.

I take a small Bible out of my purse and ask Mom if I can read to her and she agrees. I open to the Psalms and read from chapter 46 (NLT)…”God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.  So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea…”  And a little later in the chapter…“Be still, and know that I am God!”

Alzheimer’s is living in a changing world.  It keeps quaking and shifting.  And things we thought were strong and forever, like mountains and like a mother’s love, crumble away and slide into the sea.

There is no safe place in Alzheimer’s. You can never expect things to be better tomorrow. In fact you can be pretty confident they will be worse.

There is no safety or security in Alzheimer’s.  But there is in God’s arms. He is our refuge and strength.  He is our help. He didn’t say we would get through it all without tears.  But He says we can do it without fear.

I can trust Him and be still and know that He is God.

I can’t control this disease.  I can’t make Mom’s mind remember anything. But I can know that God is with us and that He will help us today and through it all. And I can know that in the end we will be with Him for eternity and all will be restored.

So today I will rest in that.  And I will be still, as the mountain crumbles.  And I will know that He is God.

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Changing Channels of Alzheimer’s

Sometimes Mom’s communication reminds me of a radio where someone is turning the dial trying to find a station. She will say something so sweet one second, and then the next she will shout angrily. A few seconds later she might sound like an innocent child crying for her mama and in another few seconds be making nonsensical noises.  And you never know what “station” she’s going to be at or how quickly she’ll change to the next.

Except if you are trying to get her cooperation about a bath or something like it. Then you know she’s going to be on the angry station. Today she was yelling and swearing and shouting.  She was even using a mimicking and sarcastic voice to respond to me. So not like my sweet mama I grew up with.

At one point I told her, “Mom, I’m just helping you like you used to help me, when I was your little girl.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes.  You used to help me take a bath every night. You were my mama and I was your little girl.”

“Well!”  She shouted, “I don’t know and I don’t care!”

It is just one of her phrases she says these days. I know she would have never said it to me before Alzheimer’s.  It’s not really her yelling at me now.  It’s the disease.  And I should be used to it.  And usually I am.

But sometimes it still hurts.

And it makes me think, with horror, that some children grow up with a mom saying hurtful things all the time, much worse than I’m hearing.  And their moms mean it.  And how do those poor children process that?

It reminds me too, of times I’ve lost it with my own children, and said hurtful things out of anger that I really didn’t mean.  And I would regret the words as they were coming out of my mouth. And I remember going back to my children and apologizing, and being so thankful for their forgiving hearts.

Words are such powerful things.

I wish I could somehow go back into the past and collect and record all the loving, thoughtful words Mom said to me when she really knew I was her daughter.  And then I could play them back over and over. I wish I had more things in writing.  I know Mom sent me letters when I was at camp—but I don’t know what happened to them. Cards have long vanished, too, though I don’t remember her writing much in them.

But I do have one thing Mom wrote to me.  She wrote inside the cover of a scrapbook she gave me when I was in my first high school play.  It says, in her lovely handwriting…

“We give this Scrap Book to you, Cheryl, so that you may preserve all your wonderful, happy memories of your High School Days.

May you always be the same sweet girl you are today and have always been.  Always trust in God and seek his guidance in each and every thing you undertake to do and I’m sure he won’t steer you down the wrong path.

May God always bless you- “

Love,

Mom + Dad

And oh… reading these words brings tender tears. The “station” is back at the mom who knew me and loved me so well. And the words she left me are just what I need. And I am so very, very grateful.