Looking for Bright Moments, Not Bare Branches

I stepped out of my door today and a gust of wind hit the trees and bright yellow leaves swirled around me and over me. I walked through the yard as the leaf confetti showered down on me. And I smiled as I reveled in the unique beauty of the day.

Every day is unique. But some are more beautiful than others. And some are bare branch days.

Like one day last week when I fed Mom lunch and she didn’t say a word. I talked to her. I asked her questions. I sang our songs. I told her who I was several times. She kept opening her mouth and eating, but was unresponsive to me.

Until towards the end of the meal, when she suddenly looked me right in the eyes, took a big breath, and asked, “Who are you?”

“I’m Cheryl, Mom.  I’m your daughter, Cheryl…” Mama frowned and squeezed her eyebrows together and up, in a concerned look.”Or Sherry. Sometimes you call me Sherry…. I love you, Mama. And you love me.”

Mama rolled her eyes and looked at the ceiling and shook her head back and forth a bit.

But today, as my daughter was caring for her Grandma, Mom asked, “Where’s Sherry?” And when Annie told me she’d asked for me my heart was so thrilled.

Annie also said that she told Mom that she loved her. And Mom asked, “What for?”

Annie answered, “For many, many, many, many, many, many, many reasons.”

And Mom replied, “Two more!” And we couldn’t help chuckling at her delightful greediness.

Looking out my window now, I see many trees, their branches waving in the wind on this crisp, fall day.  Some of the trees still have mostly green leaves. Some have yellow leaves. One has bright orange leaves. In the middle of it all is a tree with almost totally bare branches.

It reminds me of the other day.  I was walking home from caring for Mama, and I found a small, red Maple leaf, only about an inch and half long. It was so tiny, but so lovely. For some reason it made me happy and I picked it up and carried it home.

And it makes me think…Winter is coming. But right now there is still beauty to be noticed and cherished in this season with Mama. Someday the trees will all be bare. But now there are still moments of color swirling around in these windy days. Sweet, tiny moments of mercy to pick up and press close.

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is a season of learning to focus on the beauty of the bright moments that are still there and not on the branches that are bare.

It’s a time to stop and notice those tiny touches of tenderness. And someday, when the trees are totally bare, and winter chills away the last bits of color, we can take great hope in spring and an eternity with Jesus.

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Finding Courage for the Caregiving Journey

I was reading my Bible yesterday, and a phrase has stuck with me. Jeremiah 15:19, in the New King James Version, reads, “…If you take out the precious from the vile…”

I’m not looking right now at what the passage is actually saying in context and proper interpretation. I’m just saying this group of words hit me. And keeps coming back to mind.

I think because the words describe my experience with Alzheimer’s in some ways. There are vile, awful, heart-wrenching things caused by the disease. Anyone who has loved someone with  AD knows what I’m talking about here. I have lived through the shock of having my own sweet mother yell and swear at me and shout that she hates me and wants to kill me. She has hit me and bitten me. And even more tragic to my heart, she has forgotten who I am. Vile stuff to be sure.

But there are also precious, poignant things that I’ve experienced on this journey with Mama. It feels strange to say they are because of the disease — I’m sure I would have made amazing memories with Mama if she was healthy. Yet, there is some element of truth that I feel closer to Mom because of the disease.

Maybe because she has needed me so much more than she would have if she was strong. I have bathed her and spoon fed her and changed her and cuddled her. I have sung to her and read to her and brought her to the doctor and dentist. I have tried to comfort her when she’s been upset. I have cried over the changes in her and her losses. I have cheered her victories.

Maybe I feel closer because I treasure the words, touches and moments more because I know they are dwindling. Maybe human nature can’t truly appreciate something until they know they are losing it.

I read a Charles Spurgeon devotional today, Morning and Evening, and his words reminded me of this, too. “There must be shades in the picture to bring out the beauty of the lights.”

Please understand I’m not saying I’m glad my mom has Alzheimer’s. No, no, no! It grieves me that she’s sick. I’ve been living ten years now mourning Mama as we gradually lose her. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’m just saying, since we appear to be stuck with the disease until God does a miracle and/or He gives the medical world a cure, that it helps me to look for the precious among the vile.

When I just think about the things Mama can’t do anymore my heart breaks. But when I say to myself, This is hard, but God will give us the grace to get through it, and I focus on the things I can be grateful for and try to savor the sweet moments, I can have courage to face the rest of this journey. One day at a time.

So I will soak in the cuddles, the smiles, the words of love occasionally spoken, the funny quirky things Mama says, and every time Mama randomly says my name. I will be thankful for each gentle touch or pat she blesses me with and for each time she opens her eyes and looks at me. I will gather the tender times to my heart and treasure them always.

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Mama Comforts

My beautiful picture

I cuddle up next to Mama in her bed. I quote some Bible passages. I sing What a Friend We Have in Jesus. I pray with her. I talk to her about her childhood and life history. And all the time Mama stares at the wall and is unresponsive.

I touch her face and tell her that I love her so much and that she’s been a wonderful mom to me. She doesn’t blink or move. She’s lying on her back, her arms at her side, so immobile. So still.

I notice again that her cheekbones seem more prominent…her cheeks more hollow. She looks older. And she’s so quiet. I long for a word from her. A look. Something.

It’s been especially stressful lately, with my 94 year old mother-in-law in the hospital for a few days and then coming back to our home with ongoing health concerns and some depression.

I know Mama can’t comprehend what I’m saying, but I crave her comfort. I scoot down in the bed and lean my head against the side of her shoulder. I put my arm around her waist and snuggle close to her warmth. I share a few things of the past weeks and tears start to silently flow.

And then I see Mama slowly, as if with effort, raise her arm and place it over mine. And I feel her warm hand pat-patting my arm. Gentle flutter taps and strokes.

And the tears flow again through a smile. Because I feel Mama’s love. And God’s grace.

And Mama keeps softly pat-patting.

Touches of tender mercies from Mama and Jesus.

 

“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you…” Isaiah 66:13 (NKJV)

 

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