The Bitter Truth

I’ve tried not to write about this. I’ve restrained myself many times. But maybe you can handle the truth.  And maybe I need to share it…

Mom has developed an “interesting” new thing that she does. I hope it’s not a habit.  But she’s done it at least half a dozen times now. She somehow leaves plops of poo in various parts of the house. But we don’t find any on her hands or clothes.  Just big plops on the floor or bed. Yep. It’s fun.

This is especially “interesting” since Dad has so little vision.  Thankfully his nose works well.

Today I was anticipating a nice visit with Mom while my husband took Dad to the dentist. Instead I got a phone call, from my stressed out daddy, saying he had stepped in poo and he was pretty sure it was all over the floor and could I come over and make sure it wasn’t on his clothes and tell him where he could step.

And thus began my morning of cleaning, which included scraping, scrubbing, vacuuming, and mopping floors and finally shampooing the carpeting.

It all helps me understand a study I read that says one of the main reasons home care givers end up placing their loved ones in care facilities is because of bathroom and incontinence related issues. It can certainly feel overwhelming.

And for some reason, I keep thinking about what I read in my Bible yesterday. I was reading in Exodus 15, as Moses was leading Israel into the wilderness and they went three days and found no water. And then, when they finally find water, they can’t drink it because it’s bitter. The people complain against Moses and he cries out to the Lord. The Lord shows Moses a tree and when he casts it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.

As I was reading this I had questions. Why did God make them go three days without water? He’s God—He could have just given them water at any point. And then when He does provide water—why bitter? He could have made it perfect.

I have no answers to these questions. But I think it is interesting that when Moses cried out to God, God showed him what to do. And He turned the bitter waters sweet.

Sometimes Alzheimer’s, and other challenges of life, leave us feeling dry and parched and worn out. Maybe even bitter. But as we cry out to Jesus and follow Him He quenches our thirst.  He meets our needs and refreshes us. He gives us strength to go on.

As I was writing this Dad called again.  He found new poo on the kitchen floor.  He needed me to do an inspection. I wish I could say I had a great attitude about bundling up to go out in the freezing weather so I could deal with another “situation”.  I didn’t, but I went. I found Dad had cleaned up the gist of it, and I only had tiny bits to deal with.

And as I sat there in the living room afterwards, visiting a bit, I noticed that the carpet looked better than it had in a long time.  It looked fresh and clean. And I found a certain sweetness in that and smiled to myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Startled by Neatness

The glass-door hutch above Mom’s small desk in her living room startled me today. It was all clean and arranged nicely and the clutter was gone.  It just didn’t look right.

It startled me even though I was the one who had cleaned it out a few days ago.  Dad had asked me to months ago and I finally got around to it. For years it had been a messy jumble of Mom’s photos and papers and junk and treasures. I have seen it that way for so many years that I have just become used to it and even though I value neatness it has never really bothered me. It was just the way Mom had always had it.

But Dad is an engineer who likes everything in its place, and now that Mom doesn’t care about her things, he wanted it all put in order. So I went through the shelves and I threw away junk, sorted papers and photos, made a box of give-away items, and set aside a few meaningful things to take home myself.

And then I tried to arrange what was left…the pretty tea set Dad had bought for his mom when he was  stationed in Japan during the Korean War, some family photos, a plate and cup Aunt Harriet had painted, an anniversary plate, a candle holder a grandchild had made, and a few other pretty things. I got it all neat and tidy, and I took the random photos out of the glass pane dividers where Mom liked to stick them, and then I polished up the glass.

I guess it looks better. But somehow it feels wrong. It doesn’t look like Mom’s hutch any more. It feels like I’ve erased something that was hers, while she sat napping on the love seat. A part of me wants to apologize and put it all back.  As if putting all her stuff back the way she had it would somehow bring Mom back the way she was.

And then I would ask her to tell me about the tiny souvenir plates from China Town and Denver. And I’d ask her, “Why do you have this little collection of angels and where did this other tea set come from?  And what about this crystal egg?.”

But then of course, if she could answer those questions I would have much more important things to talk about with her. Oh my sweet mama…why didn’t I realize the treasure you are while you were still completely with us?

I think gratefully of Jesus and heaven, and the total restoration that is coming. And oh how I will hug my dear mama then! And she will know me and she will know my name and she will know she loves me and oh what precious times we’ll have for eternity.

But meanwhile the hutch is shockingly neat. It just doesn’t look right. Maybe I need to stick some photos back in the pane dividers. Maybe that would help…

 

 

 

Learning a New Perspective…Returning the Blessing

I gained a new perspective today.  I hope I remember it.

I gave Mom her bath and got her dressed as usual.  And as usual she hollered and shouted. And she yelled “I hate you!” and “I’m going to kill you!” as loudly as she could.

I’m getting used to it, but it is still hard to hear.  I told my Dad about it and he said, “Yeah, she shouts that to me these days too.  I don’t know where she even got that language.  It’s nothing she would have said in the past.  She wouldn’t even have thought it.”

And I agreed. So I did my best to shake off the hurtful words as I helped Mom with her lunch. And then I just sat for a while by Mom, on the love seat.  I held her hand and marveled at how soft her skin was. And she was so peaceful and dozed off in a sitting up nap.

And as I sat there, holding her hand, I thought about how Dad tells me she is usually quiet when he sits right next to her. That’s when she’s most calm.

And it made me think of babies—and how sometimes they just want to be held. And when something’s not right in their world they scream and holler and cry. It’s their only way of communicating.

And it made me think of Mom. Because she’s losing understanding and she’s losing language.  And she doesn’t know why we are putting her through the trauma of a bath or why we need to change her.  And it makes her scared and angry so she cries out as powerfully as she can, with the strongest words she knows and at her loudest volume.

Mom doesn’t mean the words. I’ve always known that. But I need to remember, this is just the best way she knows how to communicate right now. It’s an adult form of a baby’s cries. And just like I wouldn’t take a baby’s cries personally, I shouldn’t take her words that way either.  I just need to meet her needs and comfort and soothe and love her.

And I’m thinking the comfort Mom takes in sitting close to someone is similar to the comfort a baby takes in being held. She needs the touch and the closeness of those who love her. It makes me wonder…studies show babies don’t thrive if they’re not cuddled and held enough. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is true for the elderly too, and especially those with dementia. They need the security of our presence and the warmth of our closeness.

And I’m thankful, that just as I found joy in cuddling my babies, I find joy in sitting by my mama. There is a sweetness in holding her velvety hand and feeling her fingers tap-tap on mine. There is a pleasure in brushing her silvery hair… there is a sunshine in singing her songs, and a comfort to seeing her content.

And so I thank God for inventing families and the whole circle of life.  And I’m so grateful that I had a mama who always loved and comforted me. And I pray I will return the blessing well

My Honey

Mom came walking down the hall as I was going into her room. I stopped and gave her a hug.  “What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m getting ready to go home,” she answered. I followed her back into the living room and she opened the door to the porch and then exclaimed, “”Oh!  That’s cold!” and quickly shut the door.

She sat on her rocking chair and took her medications as I gave them to her. Then she pointed over to where Dad sat on the love seat and said, “That’s my honey.”

I don’t remember her ever telling me that before.  I said, “That’s your honey?”

“Yep.  That’s my honey.”

She soon got up and sat down beside Dad, throwing one of her legs over his nearest one.  She likes to sit that way often these days.  It’s not the “sit like a lady” way that she taught me when I was young, but it  just makes me smile.

And so I sat there, as we listened to the news … Mom with her leg across Dad’s leg and Dad with his arm across Mom’s lap and me across the room on the couch.  I waved at Mom, and she stopped biting her fingernails for a second and wiggled her fingers back at me, while Dad concentrated on the news.

And though I was still chilled from the bitter cold outside, my heart was warm.  I’m so thankful that even though Mom doesn’t always know Dad’s name, she knows he is her honey. And I’m so grateful they are snug in their home. Together.

I am Weak but He is Strong

Some days Mom’s new normal hardly fazes me. Other days it totally exhausts me. Today is one of those other days.

I was over at Mom’s less than two hours, but I came home depleted and wanting to curl up and cry. I just felt weak and vulnerable, hearing my sweet mama vehemently screaming, “Shut up! I hate you! I’m gonna kill you!”

I know she doesn’t mean it and doesn’t really understand what she’s saying. Her own fear and anxiety is agitating her. I tried to comfort her and hug her. And I wished she could comfort and hug me.

As I drove home I prayed and I wondered why. Why Alzheimer’s? Why my dear mama? Why is it so hard? Why?

And the only answer I thought perhaps I heard was, “Sometimes it is hard. I never promised easy.”

It wasn’t especially comforting.

But as I think about the people God used in the Bible, who did have it easy? Joseph was almost killed by his brothers, was sold into slavery, and was falsely accused and imprisoned. Yet, God worked good out of it all…for his whole family and the people of that time.

Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den, and his friends were thrown into a fiery furnace, and Job lost all of his children and his health and riches for a time. We could go on and on, looking at all the unfair and challenging things that happened to people in the Bible. We could ask why over and over. And sometimes we might see answers, and other times not.

And I open my Bible and “happen” to open to this passage, “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ 2 Corinthians (12: 8,9, NKJV)

Oh, I do feel so weak. And in the pain and muddiness and despair of it all I fall at His feet and curl up there and weep and ask why.

And then He lifts me up from the ground, and He comforts me and wipes away my tears and breathes courage into me. And He knows that its hard road we are on. And He knows that I’m weak. But he holds me up and reassures me that He is strong. He is powerful and so very strong. And He will be with me through it all.

And He holds my hand firmly and smiles warmly into my eyes and says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

And I know it is true.

Counting Hairs

Some days when I just feel like pulling my hair out, I need to just stop and brush it instead. And as I’m brushing, I need to pause and be thankful… because God knows.

But I wasn’t feeling thankful last night or this morning. I was feeling discouraged. The challenges in this time of my life were looming particularly large and I was feeling especially weak and insignificant.

And God seemed quiet about it all. I wanted Him to step in and do something big and encouraging and obvious. I wanted to feel special and loved and blessed. But He seemed quiet and far away.

I had no energy, but I went to take care of Mom. I asked her if she knew who I was and she said, “No. No, I don’t.”

“I’m Cheryl.”

“Cheryl,” Mom answered. “I don’t know her.”

We got through Mom’s bath and lunch. I brought out the new doll I had bought and had a few sweet moments as Mom told her new Annabel (whose name Mom remembered) that she was cute.

And I went home, fighting gloomy clouds and wondering if God liked me. Finally I decided I should read my Bible. I opened it to where I’m currently reading in Matthew and read, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matt. 10:29-31.NKJV)

Such a familiar passage, but such a comforting truth. Even though I am weak and insignificant, I am valuable to my Heavenly Father. I am so precious to Him He has numbered the hairs on my head.  My mother doesn’t know who I am, but my Abba Father knows me so well He knows how many hairs I lost today.

And I need to remember that. Maybe God mentions this hair counting because He wants the very hairs of our heads to be a constant reminder. And every time I comb my hair, or wash it, or look at it, or touch it I can remember—my God has it counted. He loves me that much!  He cares that much about every detail of my life. He counts every hair.

So I don’t need a big obvious anything to make me feel important to God. I don’t need a miracle to feel valued by Jesus. All I need to do is brush my hair and remember His love.

And this is true for you, too.

And if you’re balding, or totally bald, know that you are equally loved—just easier to track.

Lessons of Love and Amazing Grace

Such lessons of love I see. Oh, dear sons and daughters, please pay attention.

As I prepare things for Mom’s bath, I hear Dad talking to Mom as they cuddle on the love seat. He says, “You’re my sweetheart and I love you big bunches!”

“Is that so?”

“We’ve been married for almost 59 years now. I met you just about this time, 59 years ago and you’ve been my sweetheart ever since!”

“Oh, my goodness!” Mom replies.

“And I love you big, big bunches!”

“I like you,” Mom answers.

Dad starts singing “Amazing Grace” as I finish getting things ready. I manage to get through The Battle of the Bath. It’s not pretty, but it never is. And then Mom, all clean and fresh in her flannel nightgown, finds Dad again.  And after I clean things up I join them in the living room.

We watch the end of the news and chat a bit, and then Lawrence Welk comes on.  It’s an old, black and white episode. And I sit there watching Dad concentrating on his beloved show, his arm lying across Mom’s lap, his hand near her knee. And I see Mom, leaning close up against him with her damp hair, as she strokes and pats his arm.

And it is such a picture of sweetness that my heart and eyes overflow.

And I think of one son, recently married. And of another son planning his wedding. And of sons and daughters yet to come to that point in life. And I want them to be with me right at this moment.  I want them to look at their grandparents and see real love for what it is. I want them to get it.

I want them to understand that strength can falter, eyes may grow dim with age, and beauty will fade. But love keeps going. Love can keep growing even as legs get weak, and shoulders bow, and memories disappear.

Love can survive your spouse not knowing your name. Love can overcome dementia and Depends and the darkness of blindness.

And so I pray for my children. And I tell my daughters, when you look at a guy pay attention to how he treats his mom and sisters.  That is a great indicator of how he will treat you. And I tell my sons, pay attention to how a girl treats her dad and brothers.

And I tell them all—find someone who loves God.  Who really, really loves God. And who loves you.

And now I want to tell each of them….look at your grand-parents. And if you are ever tempted to divorce, think about them and all they’ve been through. And know that marriage can get sweeter with time and grow more precious with history. And love can last through overwhelming challenges with Jesus.

And someday, if the Lord tarries long enough, I hope you will be cuddling on a love seat with your dear one, after 59 years of marriage, singing “Amazing Grace, ”arm in arm.

(Watching Lawrence Welk is optional.)