Always

“I love you,” I say to Mom.
“Well, I did, too,” Mom says. And then she adds, “Always.”
“You always loved me?”
“Yes, I did,” she says with confidence.

I smile, and even though I’m guessing she doesn’t really know what she’s saying, I still know her words are true. She has always loved me. Always.

And something about hearing her say so makes the day glisten, like bright sunshine after rain. It feels like a gift from Jesus….a moment of fresh mama love and memories of her sweet faithfulness.

And I know I am blessed. Always.

Seeing the First Signs of Alzheimer’s and Hearing the Diagnosis

I got home from Mom’s today and received a phone call from a friend whose loved one is showing signs of dementia and who is seeing a neurologist next week. And I remembered the concern and confusion when we first began seeing Mom’s personality changing.

She was still working, but was having continual conflict with a co-worker, which was unheard of for Mom. Then she started misplacing things. Every day. She would get so upset, and would search for hours for the lost item, and often it would finally be found in plain sight. She accused family members of taking her things or hiding them.

She started struggling with sewing projects, a thing she was so gifted in. She pretty much stopped cooking, but would get upset when Dad would step in and cook himself. He was taking her job, she said.  Her bathing and grooming habits changed. And she would get mad so easily, especially at Dad and I. We were “interfering” with her life as we tried to help her.

Because of Dad’s vision loss, he could no longer drive. And Mom was sometimes confused even in familiar areas. So Dad tried to always go with her when she left the house, because he could still help her navigate. Then one day she was making a left-hand turn and Dad noticed an oncoming car had to brake hard to stop. Dad told her she should have yielded. Mom answered, “Well, I had my turn signal on!”

That’s when we became very concerned. Dad didn’t want to ride with Mom anymore, and we didn’t want her out alone. Dad would call me whenever Mom said she was planning to go out, and I would show up planning to go the same place and saying I might as well drive her.

It was such a hard time. Such a scary time. We didn’t have a name for it yet, but we knew something was wrong. Mom’s doctor had referred her to a neurologist a year or two earlier, but she had refused to go.We had tried to live in an uneasy denial, but now we got another referral and made the neurologist appointment happen. It was time to deal with the truth.

The neurologist asked questions. He looked at the MRI the family doctor had already ordered. And then, with a gentle professionalism, he said, “Your mom has Alzheimer’s. In a couple of years she’ll need a lot more help. She can’t drive anymore. Let me get you some information.”

He quickly left the room and I was relieved because I was choking back tears and struggling to comprehend the truth even though it was already so evident.

Mom was angry. “He can’t tell me I can’t drive! I can still drive.” But I was so thankful that it was an official doctor’s order. Now we could “blame the doctor” when we told her she couldn’t drive.

When the neurologist came back in, he asked if we had questions. I said, “I read that Alzheimer’s couldn’t be officially diagnosed without a brain autopsy.”
“That’s true,” he answered. “But with everything I see here I’m 95% certain she has it.” I remember nodding in agreement. I was 95% sure too. And my heart ached.

The next morning Mom called me. I wondered if she would remember the diagnosis. But she brought it up. She said, “I have Alzheimer’s, Cheryl. I hope you never get Alzheimer’s.”

And that was such a picture of my dear mama. Concerned about her children instead of herself.

And that’s the only time she ever talked about her diagnosis with me. I wonder how long she remembered it. I wonder when that knowledge slipped away for the last time. I wonder when exactly she forgot she had children.

And thinking of this all now brings me to tears. Alzheimer’s does that. I open my Bible and notice a verse I’d previously underlined in Psalm 35. It says, “I bowed down heavily, as one who mourns for his mother.” God understands. He knows there is a special kind of mourning for one’s mother.

And then I remember Psalm 34:18 (NKJV), a verse I underlined earlier today. “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart.”

And I know that He is. Our hearts are mourning and broken. But Jesus understands and He is always near. He never stops knowing us. He never stops loving us. His angels encamp around us, His mercy surrounds us, His faithfulness shields us.

He is so good. His grace is sufficient. And I am so thankful.

You Have Me and I Have You

The other day Mom said, “You have me and I have you.” And I’m so grateful for this moment that it is true. Because I’ve seen shadows from the future lurking around. Shadows that I want to ignore.
A week or so ago I was talking to Dad and he says, “You know if Mom becomes immobile she’ll have to go to a nursing home. She’ll just have to.” He’s sitting close to Mom on the love seat, holding her hand. I’m choking up, thankful for the moment that his vision is so poor and that he can’t see my overflowing eyes.
 Dad adds, “But it would devastate me now. When she’s not hollering and screaming she’s still pretty nice. Like right now, when she’s holding my hand and patting my arm…I like that. And sometimes she still comes up behind me when I’m sitting in my chair and says, “I love you.
”I’ve been trying to convince Dad to allow me to get him more help. So, after a silence to regain my composure, I manage to say, “But you need more help now, Dad.”
“Why?” Dad says. “It’s all I have to do. And it’s a labor of love. I just love her so much.” I choke back more tender tears.And then a few days ago, I am sitting on the love seat with Mom chatting and singing with her. She is cuddling up next to me and patting my arm and trying to rub the freckles and spots off of it. And I’m singing one of “our” songs. “Oh we ain’t got a barrel of……”
And I pause and wait to see if Mom will say “money” or “nothin’”.
“Maybe we’re ragged and…..”
Mama plugs in, “Funny.”And we continue through the song this way, Mama adding the last word of each stanza. Until I get to the verse, “Through all kinds of weather, what if the rain should fall, just as long as we’re together, it doesn’t matter…” And I’m suddenly crying. Because it hits me hard that we won’t always be together.Someday I’ll be sitting here alone. And Mama won’t be singing with me. And she won’t be hollering and shouting and being difficult and making big messes. And she won’t be smiling and laughing and patting my arm. And who else will ever try to rub the freckles off my arm with their finger?

We won’t always be together. We won’t always be side by side. And I’m crying tears and Mama looks at me and doesn’t know what to do. So she starts chuckling. And I wipe my tears away and hug her and chuckle too.

And I think now of all the tears I’ve shed on this Alzheimer’s journey. And I think how very, very precious the truth of heaven and eternity and restoration have become.

And so for today I’ll ignore the shadows. And instead I’ll walk in the sunshine with my Jesus, holding His hand and trusting Him for grace for the future. And I’ll cuddle my mama and say with her, “You have me and I have you.”

And I”ll listen and know that Jesus is whispering, “You have Me and I have you.” And I’m so grateful.