Seeking Peace

 

Finding peace for my mother-in-law is an ongoing battle.  She’s almost 95 and she’s getting more confused. She often looks perplexed and says, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.” It has become one of our biggest challenges to find things she still can do, so she can feel satisfied and happy.

She was active with quilting, church activities, puzzles and reading before dementia took it’s toll a few years ago.  She’d already given up reading and crossword puzzles before she moved in with us two and a half years ago. Sewing, and even simple jigsaw puzzles, are difficult now.

We’re thankful she’s taken to adult coloring books. She colors every page of every book we have bought for her and treats it like her mission. Sometimes she says it’s fun. Other times I think it just gives her a sense of accomplishment.

She enjoys a few old tv shows, some music, seeing her great-grandchildren, and sitting outside on a nice day. Sometimes she likes to look through her photo album or help mix up a cake.

But her days are still long. And more often we are hearing that refrain, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

I don’t remember having this issue often with my own mom. But it came up now and then. Like the day I wrote about a few years ago, because it had a happy ending…

I was visiting with Mama, sitting next to her and holding her hand, when she abruptly asked, “What do you want me to do?”
I answered with the first thing that popped into my head, “Be happy.”
“I am,” Mom said. And then added, “I did that.” And she looked at me expectantly, like now that she’d done that I should tell her what to do next.
I didn’t know how to respond, so I said, “I love you, Mama.”
“I know,” Mom answered matter of factly.
“Do you know who I am?”
“No,” she said, with no hesitation or remorse.
“I’m Cheryl. Or Sherry. You can call me Sherry if you want.”


Mom was leaning over in her rocking chair, her head almost resting on the arm of her chair. She looked up at me and said, “Sherry…Sherry Lynn?”


And even though in days gone by, hearing my middle name often meant I was in trouble, this time it meant that some part of Mama remembered my name.

And I was happy, too.

I miss my Mama now every day. She went Home to Jesus almost two weeks before Christmas of 2016. Often my mother-in-law’s confusion reminds me of things we went through with Mama. And though I have more experience now, having already completed a “tour a duty”, I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes I think I don’t have any.

I often pray words like, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. How are we supposed to handle this? What do You want me to do now, Lord?”

I don’t always get a clear answer. But I know, even when I’m muddling through in my own confusion, that Jesus knows my name. First, middle, and last. He knows everything about me. And He loves me anyway.

And that’s why, when I focus on Jesus and trust Him with everything, I can find peace in this challenging journey of seeking peace for Mom.

“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”  John 14:27, NLT

 

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Trusting in God When Mountains Crumble

Sometimes when mountains crumble it is good to be still and know that God is God…

I’m reminding myself of this again, as I see my mother-in-law struggling to remember. She’s almost 95, and has been living with us for about two and a half years because of her dementia. She struggles daily now to know who we are, where her bed is, and what she just did. She was a very intelligent woman, and now so often she shakes her head, and puts her hand to her forehead, and says, “I’m all mixed up. I’m so confused.”

It’s so hard to see her go through this. But it was even more emotional going through it with my own mother. Each new loss wrenched my heart. I still remember the day my heart crumbled…

I had been visiting a few minutes with Mom when she looked at me, as she often did, and asked that familiar question, “Who are you?”

“I’m Cheryl,” I replied.  Usually this answer would cause her to smile and say, “Oh, Cheryl.” Or to ask “Cheryl Lynn?” with some recognition.

But that day she said, for the first time, “Cheryl…Who’s Cheryl?”

“I’m your daughter.”

“Oh,” she answered blankly.  And then politely added, “It’s nice you came.”

I said, “I love you, Mama.”

 “Oh, you do?”

“I do!”

“Okay,” she replied.

I told her about her four children and named all of them. She bit her fingernails and seemed uninterested.  I told her she was a good mama to us and took good care of us all the time. And she answered, as if I was speaking of strangers, “Is that right?”

And I was sitting with Mom in the same living room where she watched over me when I was a little girl, where she threw me birthday parties, where she handed out Christmas presents with joy, where we read our family devotions every night, where she rocked her grandchildren with love…and she was asking me who I was.  And wondering who Cheryl was.

And my heart crumbled and I fought tears.

I took a small Bible out of my purse and asked Mom if I could read to her and she agreed. I opened to the Psalms and read from chapter 46 (NLT)…”God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.  So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea…”  And a little later in the chapter…“Be still, and know that I am God!”

Alzheimer’s is a changing world.  It keeps quaking and shifting.  And things we thought were strong and forever, like mountains and like a mother’s love, crumble away and slide into the sea.

There is no safe place in Alzheimer’s. You can never expect things to be better tomorrow. In fact you can be pretty confident they will be worse.

There is no safety or security in Alzheimer’s.  But there is in God’s arms. He is our refuge and strength.  He is our help. He didn’t say we would get through it all without tears.  But He says we can do it without fear.

I can trust Him and be still and know that He is God.

I can’t control this disease.  I can’t make my mother-in-law’s mind remember anything. But I can know that God is with us and that He will help us today and through it all. And I can know that in the end we will be with Him for eternity and all will be restored.

So today I will rest in that.  And I will be still, as the mountain crumbles.  And I will know that He is God.

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Where is Home?

I learned so many lessons as I helped care for Mom. Sometimes people with dementia speak with profound wisdom. Or maybe God is sending a message through them. I remember one day, being amazed by the clarity of truth in Mom’s words…,

Mama was sitting in her rocking chair, in the house she’d lived in for over fifty years, when she said, “I want to go home.”

She said this often. So instead of explaining to her again that she was home, I tried a different approach. I asked, “Where is home, Mom?” And without pondering or delay Mom spoke such clear words of discernment, that I still marvel at them.

“Home is where they want you,” she replied.

I was so struck by this response that it took me a minute or so to reassure Mom that of course we wanted her here. I don’t actually think she was looking for reassurance though. And I’m still not sure if she even knew exactly what she was saying.

But what an insightful definition—home is where they want you. It rings true to my heart. Home is where you feel comfortable and wanted. Or at least where you should feel that way.

It reminds me how important it is to live life in a way that shows people how wanted they are. Because we all want to be wanted. We all need to be wanted.

And what a comfort to remember that we all ARE wanted.

We can know this because Jesus says in John 14:1-3 (NLT) “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me, where I am.”

Everyone is wanted. All who put their trust in Jesus have an eternal home. Jesus wants us with Him. Always. The Creator of the universe wants us with Him so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins. We are wanted. We are loved incredibly.

On this earth some people are homeless. But in eternity no one has to be. Home is where they want you. And we are all wanted.

My precious Mama is Home with Jesus now. We miss her here, but she is wanted there. She is home. And we will all be Home together someday.

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Blurry Banana Bread Recipe

I don’t know if it’s human nature, or just mine, but there was a part of me that wanted to remain in denial about Mom’s Alzheimer’s. After all, even the experts say you can’t know for sure until an autopsy is done. And some days Mom would seem almost normal.

But other days, the confusion would be so obvious that there was no plausible deniability of disease. And some days what we’d lost already, contrasted sharply against what we’d once had. And it became the time of bittersweet tears.

One of these times was the night the banana bread recipe make me cry…

 

Source: Blurry Banana Bread Recipe

Mama’s New Grandchild

Today marks seven months since Jesus took Mama home. It also marks eight days since Mama’s youngest grandchild was born.

It’s been a bittersweet time for me. When my brother gave me the news that he and his wife had a healthy baby girl, I was elated! And then very soon I was in tears. Because Mama so loved babies! I’ve become a grandma twice myself in the last 22 months, and I know there is nothing like it!

I called Dad and told him I was going out to buy sweet girl things for the baby, before I went to the hospital for a visit. (They hadn’t wanted to know ahead of time the baby’s gender, so everything was generic at the showers.) I told him I wanted to buy some gifts to be from him and Mom, too. Because Mom would have done that. He agreed and told me to take as much money as I needed.

I looked in my daughter’s baby book. I saw the photo of Mom and Dad holding my little one, looking at her adoringly. I read the list of things Mama had bought for her. I blinked back tears and went shopping, looking for things Mama would give her grandchild…looking for things I would give my niece. I bought lots of tiny, adorable pink things.

I choked up several times, and blinked back tears, as I shopped and wrapped and drove to the hospital. And then I held my precious niece, so tiny and perfect, and all I could do then was smile! Babies have that effect on me. Holding a sleeping baby puts me in my happy place, and sadness evaporates, at least for those moments.

The next day I held the wee one again, when my brother and his wife stopped to visit Dad with her. Dad’s eyes are so bad he can’t see faces, but I asked Dad if he wanted to hold his grandchild. “Yes,” he said. “I want to hold her hand.” I arranged the baby in his arms and helped him find her tiny fingers. And he sat that way, for a long while, holding his granddaughter, while her little fingers clung to his big one.

I wondered what he was thinking. I blinked back some tears again, wishing Mama could enjoy this little one as well and wishing this baby wasn’t missing out on knowing her.

The next day I drove Dad to a doctor’s appointment. As we were driving he said, “You know yesterday when I was holding the baby’s hand?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“I was wishing Mom could be there to hold her. You know how much she loved babies.”

“Yes, she did. I was wishing the same thing.”

“But then I thought if that book, Heaven Is for Real, is right, there are babies in heaven. Remember how the little boy met his sister who had miscarried, and he hadn’t even known about her before that?”

“Yes, I do remember that.”

Well,” Dad said, “If that’s right, then Mom has lots of babies to hold in heaven.”

“That’s true, Dad,” I said, through tears. “That’s a beautiful thought. I love that!”

And I do love that thought. I think of two of my own babies, lost through miscarriage. I guess I don’t know if babies stay babies in heaven or not, but I’m assuming they grow up. My children would be older now then, but they are with Mom!

And my nephew and his wife had some miscarriages in the last few years….I picture Mama loving caring for her great-grandchildren in paradise with Jesus! I take such comfort in these thoughts.

Mama is not alone. She is surrounded by loved ones and friends in the presence of Jesus! She has babies to cherish and hold. And I have to think Jesus would let her know about her new granddaughter.

Meanwhile, back here on earth, I’ll try to be the best auntie I can be and tell this little one all about her Grandma Nina! My brother assures me I’m in the starting line-up for babysitting.

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Remembering God’s Faithfulness in the Storms

It’s happening more often these days. It happened tonight. My 94 year old mother-in-law bowed her head and put her hand to her forehead and sat that way, looking perplexed. “Are you okay, Eunice?” I asked.

“I’m confused,” she says.

“What are you confused about?”

“I don’t know where I am, or how I got here.”

“Well,” I say, “this is where you’ve lived for over two years now. You live here with your son, Jeff and me. I’m Jeff’s wife, Cheryl.”

She looks at me and nods, but doesn’t seem reassured. She puts her hand on her bowed forehead and again says, “I’m so confused.” My heart goes out to her. I pray with her and that seems to give her a little comfort.

Eunice was a strong and very intelligent woman. She knew the names of hundreds of children she worked with through the years at church. She knew every verse of probably a hundred hymns by heart. She read profusely, completed crossword and jigsaw puzzles faithfully, and sewed quilts beautifully.

But now she looks at her son and some days asks, “Who are you?”

“I’m your son, Jeff. You’re my mom.”

“I’m your mom?” she says with disbelief, and laughs.

The confusion is showing up more frequently. It reminds me of my own mama’s journey with Alzheimer’s, except I don’t remember Mom ever actually saying that she was confused. But she would very often say, “I want to go home!” Even though she was still in the same home she’d lived in for over 50 years. And she would holler and say, “Mama! Mama where are you?”

My own Mama passed on to Jesus this past December. It was a challenging journey through Alzheimer’s with her. And now we are on another one with my mother-in-law. A reader liked an old Facebook post I’d shared in 2014 today. When I saw the notification I reread the post and it reminded me of lessons I learned back then, that I need again now.

Here is the gist of it….

Thunderstorms are in the forecast for later, so I go over early to give Mom her bath. Afterwards I sit by Mom on the love seat, and the rain begins to pour, and the thunder claps, when she says, “You are me and I am you.”
I’m not sure how to respond to that. So I say, “I love you, Mama”
“I love you, too,” Mama sweetly answers. A bit later she stares at my face and abruptly asks, “Who are you?”
“I’m Cheryl.”
“Who are you?” she immediately asks again.
“I’m Cheryl.”
“Oh,” Mom smiles, “YOU’RE Cheryl.”
“Yep, I’m Cheryl. Who are you?”
“I’m Nina Fay.”
“You’re Nina Fay. Do you love me?”
“Well,” Mom says cheerfully, “I used to.”  
I’ve noticed a scratch on her arm and so I rub some ointment on it while I tell Mom what I’m doing. She says, “Bless your little heart!”  

 

There’s a break in the thunderstorm, so I get up to leave. Mom gets upset and urgently shouts, “Stay here! Stay here!” She’s never done that with me before, so I settle back down next to her. She seems reassured and she pats my arm and tries to rub away my freckles.

And I think now what a strange conversation Mama and I’ve had. And I know a few years ago it would have broken my heart. Well, actually something similar did I’m sure. Alzheimer’s is a journey of heart breaks.

But please hear this…God keeps healing the brokenness and the cracks. His love seeps in and soothes and repairs and heals until you find out that your heart is much stronger than you ever thought it could be.

And on this unwanted journey, God keeps raining grace on us. He gives strength to get through the day. He sends lessons we would have learned no other way. He gives tender moments and smiles that are more precious seen through the pain.

My dad was just saying today, as we heard the thunderstorm crackling overhead, that he liked to sit out on the porch during storms so he could hear the power. I know what he means. God is powerful and mighty and there is something about a thunderstorm that reminds us of that.

And there is something about walking through Alzheimer’s with a loved one that reminds me of His power, too. Because I know I couldn’t bear it without Him. I know He is surrounding us with His love and growing us in new ways. I know He is with us through it all.

So I can sing the words of a favorite song of mine, (by Casting Crowns) with confidence and faith, “I will praise You in this storm….”
“……And every tear I’ve cried, You hold in Your hand. You never left my side. And though my heart is torn, I will praise You in this storm.”

He is so good. He is worthy of our praise!

 
I’m so thankful I read this today. It reminds me how faithful God is. He was with us through the Mama storms. He will be with us through the mama-in-law ones, too.
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Twelve Things I’ve Learned About Grieving These First Six Months

Today marks six months since Mama went home to Jesus. I’ve learned some things about grieving in these days.

I’ve learned, with God’s grace, I’m stronger than I thought. I’ve often wondered how I would ever go on when she passed. And yet I have. I’ve continued getting up each morning. Some days, especially early on, I didn’t get much done, through the weight of emotions, but I did get up. I did keep living.

And I was surprised I was able to buy and wrap Christmas presents even while I was planning Mama’s memorial service. I actually spoke at her service, something I never thought I’d be able to do.

I’ve learned I’m also more emotional than I knew. I can go along seeming fine, and a thought or word or picture of Mama can suddenly bring tears to my eyes. I mist and leak often. I choke up when sharing stories. I’ve learned that’s okay. It’s the new normal.

I’ve learned that genuine sympathy from others is healing. Each card that we received with a personal note in it was a comfort and read multiple times. Each meal or flower or gift given out of a caring heart made a difference.

I’ve learned it’s never too late to send a card or kind word. And that it’s worth the effort to buy the card and stamp and find the address and get the card in the mail. Because whenever it comes, even months after someone passes, it will bless a grieving heart to know they and their loved one are remembered.

I’ve learned that people who show up at memorial services help carry the burden of grief, and make it lighter and more bearable for the family. There is a tangible comfort in the presence of people who care enough to show up.

I’ve learned that when people you expected don’t show up, and/or don’t express care and concern, it can add to the pain and loss. As a friend said years ago at his mom’s funeral, “You find out who cares.” And you’re surprised by some that apparently don’t.

I’ve learned that when people share memories of your loved one it is such a gift. And that when relatives drive a thousand miles and risk ice storms to be with you, it is a priceless comfort.

I’ve learned that when you start misting up at odd times, people don’t really know what to do. But they don’t have to do anything. A sympathetic look is all that’s needed.

I’ve learned that even though I prayerfully did my best for Mama, and sought advice, I still wonder at times if I did all I could, or if I should have done some things differently. “What if…” questions sometimes taunt me. I have to remind myself that we were praying for wisdom. I have to picture Mama’s peaceful smile when she passed.

I’ve learned to remember Mama in my daily blessings. I think of her when I read the Bible she and Daddy gave me, the one her signature is barely legible in, because dementia had taken a toll. I think of her when I stir up her chocolate cake recipe or smell lilacs or see petunias.

I smile and cry when I look at old photographs. I feel her love when I notice our dresses in an old photo are made with the same fabric, and realize that she sewed the mom and daughter dresses…emblems of her mama-love.

I sense Mama’s delight in babies, as I play with my own granddaughters. I feel her smiling with me as I play with their toes, sing Jesus Loves Me, hug them close, or push them in a swing. Her legacy lives on.

I’ve learned that heaven is more real and precious to me than ever. And that knowing Mama is with Jesus in paradise, with no pain or tears, is the sweetest comfort of all. And knowing that all who trust in Jesus will be together with Him for eternity, is the greatest gift of all.

I’ve learned some things about grieving in the past six months. And on the toughest days I remember what Mama said a week before she passed, “God is here. He is bigger.”  I’ve learned these words are true. And I’m thankful.

 

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