Well Bless His Little Heart

God's Grace and Mom's Alzheimer's

Dad in the town parade with his dog Dad in the town parade with his dog

Jesus, bless them, please.

Today Mom asked, as she always does, “Where’s Raymon?”

And I answered, as I often do, “He’s out getting you food.”

But then her answer surprised me.  She smiled and looked pleased and said, “Well, bless his little heart.” I chuckled at the comment, but now I embrace it as a prayer…

As I was cleaning at their house today, I continued to overhear Mom ask, “Where’s Raymon?”…even though he was just a few feet away.

And I continued to overhear Dad patiently reply, “I’m right here.” Over.  And.  Over.  Again.

And I had to think, bless his heart for his patience.

Later, Dad and I were in his office, and I was going through his mail with him and making appointments.  Almost the whole time we could hear Mom hollering from the other room, where she sat…

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What Caregivers Know and You Can Know Too

Mama thrilled my heart twice today!

First when I arrived, I checked in on Mom and gave her a drink. As I was leaving to get lunch, Mama said, “Don’t fall down.” And it so warmed my heart. It sounded like such a motherly thing to say, and I feel short on mothering these days.

And then later, as I was feeding Mama lunch, she looked right into my eyes and said, “I like you.” And oh, I can’t tell you how that fed my soul! Even just to have her look right in my eyes is getting harder to come by these days. She most often stares off into space or at pictures on the wall. So to have her look right at me, right into my eyes, is a blessing. And to have her say, “I like you,” at the same time is a victory!

I thought at the time, I can’t wait to share this. Followed by the thought, Will anyone “get” it? Doesn’t it just sound trivial to most people? Or maybe even sad?

But as I contemplated it I quickly concluded that my fellow caregivers will totally understand what I’m saying. And I know they will rejoice with me. And the ones who have traveled this road before me will “get it”. Completely. No doubt. And they will remember their own victory moments. And they will send me a heart high-five!

Because caregivers know, as no others can, how precious and meaningful a simple sentence can be. They know the deep feelings that can come with a look or a touch. They know how priceless a word can be. They know what a trophy a smile can be.

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Caregivers, nurses, hospice workers and aides are in the thick of the battle.They are pouring their hearts and souls and lives out to meet the needs of others. They aren’t sitting on the bench. They are in the game.

And it’s tough and it’s hard and it can be grueling. But I want to encourage any benchwarmers out there by saying this; you miss the bumps and the agonies and the pain when you sit on the sidelines. But you miss the depth of the joys too.

Don’t tell yourself it’s too hard and that you can’t do it. Don’t stay away from your loved one who has dementia, or any illness for that matter, because it’s too hard for you to bear. Don’t say, “I don’t want to see them that way. I want to remember them the way they were.”

Press through that. Take a deep breath. Pray. Trust God to give you the grace and strength to handle it and plunge in. Make that call. Make that visit before it’s too late. And if the visit is horrible and you leave crying, don’t quit. Go back again in a few days, or a week. Keep trying!

Bring a flower. Bring a cookie. Bring a card or a song or a dog. Just bring yourself and show up and be there. Maybe you’re loved one doesn’t know you at all. I know it’s hard. But the important thing is that you know them. So show that you do. And make some memories for yourself. Before it’s too late.

Do it now. Pour out some love today. Someday you won’t have the chance anymore and you’ll regret it.

Brush her hair. Hold his hand. Sing a song. If he is still mobile take him for a drive or walk. Look at pictures together. Talk about whatever they’re still able to talk about if they can still talk. Share your own life with them if they can’t.

Bring a meal. Mow a lawn. Fix a drip. Wash some clothes. If you’re bedridden or housebound, be a prayer warrior. You can change lives that way! You know what you’re able to do. Look for a need you can fill, and do it.

Press through the fear and the sorrow. Press through! You can do it! With God’s help you can certainly do it!

Be open to the pain and hurt of being there through the hard stuff. Yes, it will be painful. Yes, it will wrench your heart. But you will never know the elation of the victory moments, if you don’t go through the pain. The wins are never as sweet for the benchwarmers. The spectators can’t feel the same elation as the players. The onlookers at the marathon don’t win the medals.

There is someone in your life now who could use a visit. There is someone you could show love to. Press through and do it. You won’t regret giving love. You may deeply regret missing your chance.

Be strong and brave and do it. Maybe this is the day your dear one will look in your eyes and say, “I like you.” Or even “I love you.” Maybe this is the day they will know your name. What if it’s the last day they do? Please don’t miss it.

And as Mama said today, “Don’t fall down.” This is your opportunity. Don’t fall. Don’t fail. Stand up and be part of the team.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2a (NKJV)

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My daughter, Annie, pictured here with my mom, her grandma. Annie is an amazing caregiver!

Her New Happy

A substitute hospice nurse came today, and shared some wisdom that I am pondering. She was kind and wonderful, as all the hospice people seem to be. I think it’s in their contract. Or their DNA, or something.

Anyway, after Christy checked Mama’s vitals, and took care of a toenail concern, she asked how things were going and if she could do anything else to help.

And I sat there, feeding Mama the rest of her lunch. Mama had settled down again after some howling while her toe was being cared for. And I wondered what else the nurse could do to help.

I said, “I wish I could do something to make Mama happy again. She used to smile and laugh. I used to be able to do things to give her moments of joy. And now she’s either yelling and upset, or she’s quiet and blank looking. The best we get is a small closed-mouth smile once in awhile. Nothing I try seems to make a difference as far as making her happy.”

And I realized again what a helpless feeling that is. And I wondered again why I hadn’t done more when I could have given her pleasure just by being with her. Why didn’t I take her on more outings when she could still get in the car and enjoy that? Why didn’t I spend more hours talking to her and singing with her and filling her up so she was overflowing with love and joy when I could? Why didn’t I do more when what I did still made a difference to her?

I ask my husband this sometimes. And he answers, “Because you have your own family and husband and children, too.” And he reassures me that I spent lots of time with Mama. And maybe I did. But of course the “I could haves and I should haves” taunt me now.

And now nothing I do seems to impact Mama positively. I can still make her holler and protest, by changing her or moving her or doing anything with her she doesn’t want to do at that moment. But I don’t know how to add one iota of happiness to her life anymore. I don’t know how to give her pleasure. Nothing I do brings a smile.

I explained some of this to the nurse. And then she said something that I’m still thinking about.

She said, “Alzheimer’s eventually destroys the part of the brain that allows people to smile and laugh. So you need to know that quiet and calm means happy.”

She added, “It took me a few years to learn this. But look at your mom now. She is content. She is peaceful. This is her new happy.”

I sat and looked at Mama. She had finished her whole lunch. She was resting comfortably in her recliner. No one was taking her vitals or washing her toe anymore. She let me hold her hand as she relaxed under her colorful blanket. Dad had just reminded her, a few minutes earlier, “I’m here, Nina. I’m right here.”

Her face still looked emotionless. But maybe she was content. Maybe this was her new happy.

I stopped at Mama’s rose bush on my way home. I’d already brought Mama a rose, but when I held it for her to smell she thought she was supposed to eat it. I’d left it there in some water near her, in hopes that the scent of it might waft over and give her some pleasure.

But I looked at the roses again now. Because I wanted something for myself. The blooms were all overly opened and falling apart already. I couldn’t find any that looked just right. So, I finally picked a bud, gingerly so the thorns wouldn’t prick. I took it home and put it in a cup.

It hasn’t opened up big and beautiful. It’s tiny and humble. But it smells sweet. And something about having Mama’s rose here on my desk makes me happy.

In a quiet, peaceful way.

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Have Faith

Being a caregiver has taught me, among many other lessons, that God has a sense of humor. And He often sends me a smile when I need one.

And I’ve needed them a lot lately. Because caregiving is hard. It’s stressful. It can be grueling.

The last few weeks have been especially tough. My daughter, Annie, and I feel the weight of Mama’s care and all the decisions and work and pressure that surround that. And my Dad has strong opinions and is grieving as he is slowly losing his beloved wife.

And sometimes the stress of it all clashes loudly and we say things we don’t mean and emotions pour out in strong words and flowing tears. And I cry out to God, “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are upon You!”

And then we pray. And we apologize. And God speaks wisdom through my husband. Calming wisdom.  And we are learning to walk in that wisdom, but stumbling along on the way.

As new challenges come up we have begun to tell each other, “It will be okay.” And “Have faith in God.” And we look for the next wise step to take.

Yesterday, we were having another challenge. Our caregiving agency had assigned a brand new caregiver without giving her any training with Mom yet. They usually have a new person shadow an experienced caregiver first. Thankfully, Annie was available to be over with Mom at the same time, or it just wouldn’t have worked.

Anyway, the good news is that according to Annie, the new caregiver has great potential! And when she was introducing herself to Dad, who is hard of hearing, Dad said, “Fay? Your name is Fay?”

And she answered, “No. Faith. Like faith in God.”

Someday, Not Today

Sometimes Mama says such profound things that I can hardly believe it. Especially since she has so little vocabulary left and her sentences are generally very short.

Today my daughter and I were discussing summer hopes and dreams and vacations. And logistics. Because Mama needs so much help transferring now, and many of us have strength and back limitations, we have become dependent on a few for moving Mama. And sometimes the strong backs are the ones who need the vacations.

So we were discussing these things and figuring out alternate schedules that might work, so Mama still got some moving and changes of scenery, and a chance to stretch her legs a bit.

Later Annie went over to Mama’s to feed her supper. And she came back and said, “Do you know what Grandma said, Mom? She said, ‘Someday, not today, things will be different.’

And Annie and my husband and I all looked at each other amazed. One, because this is a long sentence for Mama to say at this point. And two, because there is so much meaning in that sentence.”

Because someday things will be different. Someday, only God knows how soon, we won’t need to plan around Mama’s care to go on vacation. Someday we won’t need to go over every few hours to feed Mama and change her and move her. Someday we won’t hear her yelling anymore. Someday we won’t be counting out her pills or talking to the nurse or bathing her skin. Someday we won’t be brushing her hair or helping her brush her teeth as she yells and bites the brush.

Someday, not today, things will be different.

Someday I won’t be able to feel her baby soft skin. Someday I won’t be able to smooth back her silvery hair and look into her blue eyes. Someday I won’t be able to hold her arthritic hand and feel her close her fingers around mine. Someday I won’t get to snuggle next to her at nap time and feel her put her arm around me and pat my arm and back. Someday I won’t hear the comments she makes and be amazed.

Someday, not today, things will be different.

Annie finished feeding Mama supper tonight and was saying good-bye to Dad and Mom. Dad said, “Good-bye, Annie.”

But Mama started saying, “Hello! Hello!”

Which makes me think, that the moment we say good-bye to Mama on this earth, she will be saying “Hi!” to Jesus in Heaven! Mama knew Jesus and trusted in Him when her mind was strong, so she will be with Him for eternity. And there with Him her mind will be healthy and clear again.

And I can picture her greeting family and friends. I can see her hugging her own mama. I see her smiling and laughing again. And never in pain ever, ever again. And I know someday I will see her again. And I wonder what our first words to each other will be.

Someday, not today, things will be different.

So today I will treasure up the sweet moments…the shared meals, the hand holding, the cuddling, the singing, and the words Mama says. Today I will hug Mama close and know that she is here and I am blessed to care for her and love her. Today I will kiss her wrinkled cheek and tell her that I love her.

And with God’s help I will serve faithfully on this holy ground He has given me as my mission now.

And I will remember…someday, not today, things will be different.