Learning to Trust in the Fades of Life

I sat on the love-seat with Mom yesterday, after her shower. We talked and sang songs as we waited for Dad and my youngest brother to get back from grocery shopping. I held Mom’s soft, wrinkled hand and she leaned up against my arm.

I told Mom, “Today is your son’s birthday.  He was your first baby boy.”

“Oh?”

“You named him Ricky Ray.”

Mom smiled and repeated, “Ricky Ray.”

“He was cute and had brown eyes and brown hair and he made you smile and laugh.”

We chatted more, and though Mom could name both of her parents and all nine of her siblings, she seemed to have no memories of her own babies.

I helped Dad with some things in his office, checking on Mom periodically. I found Mom had dumped a take-out glass of Coke upside down on Dad’s chair.  Thankfully it still had the lid on it, and was mostly just ice.

Then I found Mom tearing into a box of granola bars and eating them.  A little later I discovered she’d taken the pump out of the bathroom soap dispenser and brought it and her toothbrush into the living room. I told Dad, “Mom is kind of like a busy toddler these days; only she’s taller and can reach more.”  He nodded in agreement.

Dad and I finished our tasks and sat in the living room a bit.  I asked him what time of day Ricky was born and Dad said in the middle of the night. And I pictured Mom and Dad, in their early twenties, driving to the hospital late at night excited and nervous about the birth of their first child.

I can picture them holding him, marveling at his perfection, and elated to have a healthy son. Their own precious baby. Their first born.  Oh what joy he gave them!  What charm he had!

And today Ricky Ray is more than twice the age Mom and Dad were when he was born. But Mom doesn’t know who he is. She doesn’t even remember that he, or any of her children, exists. Somehow that indestructible bond between mother and child seems to have been erased.

And it brings to mind my own children and their growing independence. One son is getting married soon, another is talking of moving out. Our youngest daughter is graduating. The days of cuddling and swing sets and scolding and kissing owies have faded away long ago.

 And more and more the task of motherhood is to trust my children to God as they journey out strong and brave on their own adventures. And I watch and pray and cheer them on from the sidelines, with a heart full of love and tender memories.

My babies don’t need cuddling anymore.  But my mama does. So I will sit close to her whenever I can and hold her wrinkled hand every chance I get. I will tell her I love her, even though she no longer knows who I am.  I will hug her close while she is with us.

Because someday I know, she too will fade away. And then my task will be to trust her to God.  And I will know then that she is standing strong and brave once more in the very presence of Jesus. And I can picture her praying and cheering on her children from there. And then her heart will once more be full of love and overflowing with tender memories.

Lessons From the Trash Can and TP Roll

I unlock the door and let myself into Mom and Dad’s.  I hear Mom hollering from the bedroom and find that Dad has just finished helping her change.

I put away the things I had bought at Dad’s request, clean up a few plops and puddles, and then we sit down in the living room.  Mom is across the room and I say, “Hi Mama.  I love you.”

“You do?” she asks, as if she is seriously questioning my comment.

“Yes,” I answer.  “I really, really love you.”

“Okay,” she says, calmly accepting my love now.  “Do you want me to sit by you?”

“Yes, I do!”

“Okay.”  She gets us and shuffles over and plops down on the love seat a little crooked and with a thud.  “Shut up!” she yells.  She doesn’t mean it, that’s just the thing she says now days.  She looks at Dad, “Who is that?”

“That’s my daddy.”

“Oh, that’s your daddy.”

Then Dad starts talking to me.  He tells me he noticed the grate was off one of the burners on the gas stove. (He’s had the whole oven disconnected for years now, because Mom would play with the buttons and turn the burners on.)  He noticed the wastebasket was heavy and he’d found the grate in there.

And I think how odd and interesting that Mom would throw a stove grate away. She’s also thrown tools and clothes in the wastebasket and even her own precious baby doll. But she throws tissues and food on the floor.

We eat lunch together and then Dad has me call his sister, a favorite aunt of mine. We have a nice chat, and she asks about Mom and my brothers.  I tell her how my kids are graduating and getting married.  She asks how old I am and when I tell her fifty three she says, “Holy cow!”

And then she says, “You know from the time I was in my little house (when she first got married and had kids) to now when I’m in this assisted living home– feels like about two weeks.  Life goes that fast.”

As I was talking to Dad later, I told him what she said.  And he added, “Yep.  The older you get the faster life goes.” I remembered an analogy he’d told me years ago.  He said, “When you get older life goes faster, just like toilet paper at the end of a roll.”

It all makes me think that life is a gift and I want to be sure I’m living it to please the One who has given it to me. I want to throw out the garbage and the things that distract me from my purpose. And I want to make sure I hold firmly onto the meaningful, important things so that they don’t somehow slip away.

 

And as life whirls away faster and faster, I pray I’ll walk the path God has for me, holding His hand securely and faithfully loving the people He has put in my world until the end…when eternity with Jesus begins.

Sweet Moments

A few memories of today…

I walk in the house and say hi to Mom and Dad. Mom, standing by the hallway, doesn’t look my way but asks, “Where are you?”

“I’m right here.”

“Oh, okay,” Mom responds happily, still without looking at me, and walks down the hallway.  I think she sees her own reflection in the hall mirror and believes that is me speaking to her, but who really knows.

I get the bathroom prepped for her bath, and then seeing her walking out of the bedroom, I open my arms for a hug.  She walks into my embrace and I savor the hug.  “I love you, Mama.”

She is quiet for a bit and then says softly, “I love you too, honey.” Such sweetness to my soul!

The bath and dressing process has its usual challenges. But then we sit together in the living room while Dad is busy with his own things. And we sing a couple songs together as she plugs in phrases here and there. And then I sing “How Great Thou Art” and she keeps gently nodding approval and at one point interrupts to say, “That is good.”

When Dad comes back in with Mom, I do some cleaning. I don’t enjoy cleaning, as some say they do, and yet there is something satisfying in seeing muddy floors made clean and crumbs swept and vacuumed and wiped up.

I sit to cool off a bit and wait for floors to dry.  Lawrence Welk comes on and I see Dad, closing his eyes listening, soaking in the sweet sounds. And I see Mom so peaceful, resting her head against Dad’s shoulder and gently patting and tapping her fingers up and down Dad’s arm.

And I think how very grateful I am that I still have both my parents.  And how very blessed I am to see Dad’s faithful, sacrificial caring for Mom. And how precious it is to see a love that has made it through sickness and health and through richer and poorer.

And how indescribably thankful I am that death won’t part us forever. Because of Jesus it has no hold.  Because of Jesus we will have eternity together in new bodies that are healthy and able. And I can picture Mom and Dad, walking straight and strong and sure on those golden streets singing, “How Great Thou Art.” And it is good.

But for now, they are snuggling on the love seat, and I will hold these tender moments in my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Father’s Love

My four adopted children found out last night that their biological papa passed away this week. The boys were 8, 5, and 3, and Annie was one, when their mother died. Their papa had previously suffered from leprosy and had lost many of his toes and fingers and couldn’t care for his children. About a month after their mother died, with all the children showing signs of serious malnutrition, their father surrendered them to a children’s shelter.

He was illiterate, and maybe couldn’t hold a pen anyway, so he made a stubby finger print with his deformed hand on the paper to show he was giving up his parental rights. I wept when I saw it more than three years later as we were in the process of adopting.

I’m grateful these dear children had a papa that loved them enough to want them to have a healthier life.  I’ve thought of him and prayed for him often through the years. My youngest son said that the last time he saw his father, his papa told him, “Now don’t worry about me.  I have lots of friends.” What a loving, unselfish thing to say.

In 2012 my two oldest adopted sons went back to the Philippines and visited their papa. He was so happy to see them—the answer to his prayers, he said. And they brought him gifts and photos and letters from the two younger children.

He said he wanted to see all his children again before he died.  And I prayed he would. But it didn’t work out.

And I think about how a man on the other side of the world longed for his children. And I think about how my mama longs and cries out for her own mama and daddy, who died years ago.  And I think about how, even though I can hold my mama’s hand and kiss her cheek and take care of her, I long for her to know me as her daughter.

And my heart hurts and I wonder why life is so hard.

And I remember that we all have a Heavenly Father who loves us more that we can comprehend. He never lets go of us.  He always was and always is and always will be. And He never, ever forgets who His children are.

And he loves us so much, that He allowed His very beloved, only begotten son to die for our sins—so that we can be redeemed and forgiven and have a future with Him for eternity. What an incredibly loving, unselfish thing to do!

And all who believe in Jesus and follow Him are adopted into God’s family and are allowed the privilege of crying out “Abba, Father!” to the Creator of the universe. We are children of God.  We are loved beyond measure.

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 (NKJV)

Our Abba Father is so good and loves us so much. Forever.

As They Say, “You Have to Laugh or You’ll Cry”

Alzheimer’s can be so random.  Sometimes it makes me smile…

I walked in the door at Mom and Dad’s today and found Mom happily unrolling the last bit of a roll of toilet paper.  She had a heap of TP in her lap. I told Dad about it, in case he was unaware, and he calmly said, “Yeah.  She does that sometimes.”

When Mom spoke her voice was so hoarse.  I said, “Mom, your voice sounds different.  Have you been shouting a lot today?”

She stared back at me angrily and hollered as loudly as she could, “NO-OOOO—OO!”

Dad managed to get her up off her chair and I managed to give her a bath. Afterwards, as I was helping her get dressed she stopped and looked at me and asked, “Are you crazy?”

“Maybe,” I answered.  “Are you?”

“Yep.  I’m crazy.”

She did pretty well with her socks today. She tried to put one on, but had problems so I helped her.  Then she really wanted to put the second sock over the first.  But that’s better than wiping her nose with it, which she often does these days.

And sometimes I tell her, “This is a sock.  It goes on your foot.  Put it on your foot please.”  And  she just obediently lays it on top of her foot and thinks she’s done.

After she was dressed she went out to the living room and sat in her rocking chair.  Dad said from the love seat, “Nina, do you want to come sit by me?”

“Do you want me to sit by you?”

“Yes,” Dad says.  “Come sit by me.”

“Okay,” Mom says cheerfully as she gets up and shuffles over to Dad.  She gets close to him and calmly says, “I’ll sit on your lap.” And she starts looking like she will.

“No!”says Dad, in a slight panic.  “You’re too heavy!  Don’t sit on my lap! Sit next to me.” He helps ease her into the right place.

Then Dad puts his arm around Mom and says, “I love you big bunches!” And in a little bit he moves his arm down and puts his hand on Mom’s far knee and Mom clasps her hands around his arm and lays her head against his shoulder and all is as sweet and peaceful as Mister Roger’s changing into his sweater and tennis shoes and singing.

I’ve learned its okay to smile at Alzheimer’s, and to laugh whenever I can.  There’s more than enough to cry about. I think God sends the smiles because we need a little comic relief. And someday in heaven maybe Mom and I will watch re-runs of all of this, and I can just picture her laughing with me.

A Letter to Caregivers

Dear Full-Time Caregivers of Loved Ones with Dementia—

I want to give you a standing ovation right now, but I’m too exhausted. I don’t know how you do it, but I applaud you.  And I hope you can get a nap soon.

I’m only part-time support for my dad who is the full-time caregiver. But I want a nap, too.  I’m sure I don’t deserve one compared to what you deal with, but I am worn out.

It’s been a week of Mom needing help getting up off furniture and of multiple messy clothes changes within hours. Each time Mom has to be changed she is shouting at the top of her lungs death threats and hatred.  I know she doesn’t mean her words, but the stress is real for both of us.

It’s been a week with a dear aunt gradually leaving us as she’s in in hospice care and a mother-in-law who needs comforting. There have been extra responsibilities at church and cars that aren’t working right. There’ve been the little things like bills I haven’t had time to pay and groceries I haven’t had time/energy to shop for.

And then there is my dear dad—an engineer by profession.  A driver and a doer who wants to always improve things.  He has good and right plans. But they all require help because he can’t see to drive or shop or do all the things he’s so capable of doing if only he could see. And though I’m thankful I can help him, the to-do list never ends.

And so here I sit, grateful to have a home to come to that is quiet and peaceful. And I marvel at all you full-time care givers and I hope you have relatives and friends that marvel at you, too. I hope you are being covered in prayer and offered help that is cheerfully given.

And most importantly I hope you’re able to spend time with the Lord. I hope you hear His words of love and that you know He hears your heart as you pour it out to Him. I hope you get chances to go to church and that you surround yourself with music that blesses you.

And if no one is encouraging you, please know that God is watching.  And as you feed and clothe and care for your beloved stranger, know that you are feeding and clothing and caring for Jesus Himself.   (See Matthew 25:40)

And whether you are a fulltime or part-time care giver, or dealing with other challenges, I pray that we will all find our refuge in Him. And that we will take comfort under the cover of His wings and sense the presence of His angels bearing us up. (See Psalm 91.)

And through it all, I pray that we will learn to give thanks and keep praising God. He is good and worthy of praise, even when days aren’t. May God give us the strength to declare His lovingkindness in the morning and His faithfulness every night. (See Psalm 92:2)

Oh dear full-time care-givers, God bless you! And know that as soon as I eat some supper and get some energy back, I’ll be giving you that standing ovation.

Lessons of Aging

I learned lessons of aging today.

Mom asked me twice how old I was. The first time I answered, “Fifty three.”

She said, “Oh my goodness!” I asked her how old she was. She tilted her head back and said, “Hmmm, let’s see…” And then she abruptly looked at me, startled and with wide opened eyes and said, “I don’t know!”

“Do you want me to tell you?” I asked.

“No,” she replied, suddenly unconcerned.

A few hours later she again randomly asked me old I was and I told her.  This time she calmly replied, “Oh, fifty-three…okay.” So I asked her how old she was and she replied, “I don’t know.”

“Do you want me to tell you how old you are?”

Her eyes sparkled, as if I was letting her in on a great secret, and she replied, “Why don’t you!”

“You’re eighty years old,” I said.

“EIGHTY!” she exclaimed, in a loud shocked voice. “You’re CRAZY!!”

I was still visiting with Dad when an aunt called.  She is in her eighties and lives in a house by herself in the country. Thankfully she has relatives that live close by.  She told Dad that her brothers and sisters all call in and check up on each other every day or so.

Shortly after I got home another elderly relative called. She is in her nineties and had gone to see “The Church Basement Ladies” with a group from her own church. Though not a weepy person, she said tears were streaming down her face as she watched this comedy—because it reminded her of her own mother who was always cooking big meals in their small town church basement. After the show she went home and got a phone call about her older sister being moved to hospice care.

It all makes me think how brave older people have to be. The longer they live the more people they have to miss and the more adjustments they must make.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why God planned families and children and grandchildren. And why God so often speaks of caring for the widows. Growing old is shocking and crazy.  Losing loved ones is brutal. But knowing you have family and friends loving you and checking in on you can make all the difference.

Today I read a quote from Mother Theresa, “Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right where you are—in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools…You can find Calcutta all over the world if you have eyes to see…”

I pray I will do a better job of caring for the lonely in my own world.  Someday Jesus will call all who believe in Him Home and age will be meaningless in the glow of eternity. But meanwhile, the elderly are treasures that we are to tenderly cherish and care for.  And in that tender caring there are special blessings found no where else.