God is Here

It’s been a tough week. On Saturday we thought maybe God was taking Mama home to Him. She wouldn’t wake up no matter what we did. She was unresponsive. She was so cold. Her breathing was erratic, with long, scary gaps. I was sending messages to people asking for prayer. I was comforting my crying daughter and trying to stay calm myself.

But after many hours she did wake up! And she ate a very late supper. And we all exhaled a big breath and smiled. We hadn’t lost her. Not yet. We could savor some more cuddles. We could still hold her hand and feel her squeeze back in response once again.

The next day, Sunday morning, Mama told my daughter, “God is here.”

Annie answered, “Yes, He’s here.”

Mama said, “He is bigger.”

And we continue to take comfort in those precious words. Because even though Mama rarely seems to know who we are anymore, if at all, she knows that God is here. God is with her. God is with us. And He is bigger. Bigger than Alzheimer’s. Bigger than our pain and sorrow. Bigger than our stress and worries and fears.

God is bigger.

I’m so thankful Mama knows this. I’m so thankful God continues to teach us through the few words Mama says these days.

Other concerns and stresses weigh down on us too. Our prayer list is long. This is a challenging season of life as we oversee the care of three elderly parents, one who lives with us. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and cry and call out for help and prayer.

And I feel the comfort of God in kind words and offers from friends. In family members who step in and help. In devotional passages and Bible verses I read. Like one I read today…

“If I say, ‘My foot slips,’ Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:18-19 (NKJV)

Yesterday I cuddled Mama before supper, “Mama, it’s me…Cheryl.” She repeated my name so clearly! I rarely hear her say my name and often it sounds slurred. But yesterday she said it clearly twice! “You said my name, Mama! Thank you!”

She answered, “Yes, Ma’am.” Which made me smile even more and gave a nod to her Southern upbringing. I’m grateful for this gift of hearing Mama say my name again. And especially for the pricelessness of hearing her speak of God’s presence.

God is here. He is bigger.

GOD is here. God IS here. God is HERE!

And He is bigger!

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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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You Really Do

Last night, after going through Mama’s night time routine, I tucked her into bed and then I climbed in next to her for a few minutes. The quilt was tucked up around Mama’s shoulders and underneath her chin as she laid on her side facing me. She seemed more alert than usual, and kept looking at me with her blue eyes wide open, looking so sweet and content all tucked cozy into bed, she reminded me of an innocent child.

I put my arm around her and patted her back. I recited a few favorite Bible passages. I stroked her hair and prayed with her and sang “What a Friend we Have in Jesus.” I reminded her what her own name is and listed her siblings and her home town and so forth. She didn’t respond, but she kept looking at me like she was interested. 

After a few minutes her eye lids began drooping, so I thought I should leave and let her sleep. I said, “I love you, Mama.”

I got no response. I tried again, “I love you so much, Mom.” Again, no response.

I kissed her cheek, and said once more, “I love you, Mama.”

And she answered, with no question in her voice, “You really do.”

“Yes, Mama. I really do.”

And I left smiling, with my own sense of sweet contentment. Dad would soon take his place in bed, cuddling up to Mama. God was watching over them both.

And Mama knew I really loved her.

 

“I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm4:8

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Back in Time

It finally came!

My aunt had called me several weeks ago to check in about Mom. She’d mentioned that she’d found a few pages from a letter from my mom, in one of my grandma’s old cookbooks.

“The letter has a recipe for doughnuts in it.”

“I don’t ever remember Mom even making doughnuts.”

“Well, you must have been young when she wrote this, because Michael wasn’t born yet. She says she made cinnamon rolls too, that your dad loved. Would you like the letter?”

“Yes! I’d love it!” I answered.

“Okay, I’ll mail it to you.”

And I’ve been checking the mailbox daily, like a child waiting for a prize to come, ever since. I almost missed it today, as it hid between bills and charity requests. And then I saw it– and my heart soared!

I do have a few recipes in Mama’s handwriting already. But letters and cards have sadly disappeared over the years. And something about reading a letter Mama wrote herself to her own mama brought me back in time.

Back to a time when Mama was younger than my oldest daughter, but living a whole country’s length away from her own mama.  A time when long distance calls were expensive and no one had computers or texting. A time when thoughts were written by hand on paper and a stamp was required. A time when Mama didn’t have her own car and had to figure out a way to get that stamp.

A time when doughnuts were homemade by Mama and her cinnamon rolls were loved by Daddy. A time when she had to stop writing so she could go take care of her little daughter, Sherry.

I wish the whole letter had been saved. But reading even these two pages paints misty memories of a sweet, joyous era. I can almost smell the freshly baked cinnamon rolls. I see my smiling Mama carrying me into the kitchen. The letter to Grandma is still on the table, waiting for that stamp. I see Daddy coming home and enveloping us both in a big hug.

I choke up just picturing the tender scenes. I read the pages through blurry eyes.

It was such a precious time. And now as we take care of Mama, it’s a challenging time, but still rich with moments to treasure. There are still cuddles. There are still sweet words shared and moments of laughter. There are still songs sung and soft touches. And I think the love keeps growing even deeper. More sacrificial. More full of tender mercies.

We haven’t had any homemade doughnuts or cinnamon rolls for decades… maybe I need to make that happen.

And I know I need to remember, that even the very best memories I have here pale in comparison to the ones we’ll make together someday in heaven, because of the love of Jesus and His sacrificial love for us.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”    I Corinthians 2:9 (NKJV)

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Oh The Things Mama Says

A couple weeks ago, Mama looked right at my oldest daughter and said, “I want to buy you a duck.” And Amy and I both laughed. And we wondered where that thought came from.

I often wonder about Mama’s thoughts and words.

Some days now she is so quiet. Sometimes I feed Mama a whole meal, and she opens her mouth faithfully to eat, but doesn’t say a word, even though I try to engage her. Some days she doesn’t even look at me and just gazes off at random things. I often wonder what she’s thinking.

And even when she does speak, and her words are clear enough to understand, I still don’t know what she’s thinking.

A few days ago, I was feeding Mama lunch, and she kept looking right at me.

She asked, “Did you?” And she looked at me intently, waiting for a response.

“Um-mm, maybe.” I said. “I might have.”

“Did I do it?” Mama asked, with a concerned look on her face, her eyebrows knitted close together.

“I don’t think so,” I answered.

A bit later Mama said, “No one knows.”

“Well, that’s true,” I replied. “There is a lot that no one knows.”

A little while later Mama randomly asked me,”Why do they do that?” her blue eyes fixed on me expectantly.

I was thankful Mama was actually talking, but I wished I could understand what she was thinking about. I longed to truly communicate with her.

After lunch and clean up, I cuddled in bed with Mama for a little while. I quoted Bible verses. I sang hymns and other songs. I told her that I loved her.

Finally I said, “I need to go now, Mama. Should I go get Dad to come take a nap with you? Would you like Raymon to come in here?”

And Mama very clearly said, “Oh, shut up!”

Well, at least I understood that!  And though it’s still strange to hear Mama say words she never said when her mind was strong, I laughed. I think it was just refreshing to hear a whole thought from her that I could comprehend.

But as Alzheimer’s progresses, and language dwindles, every word becomes more precious. It’s a clue to what is going on in Mama’s thoughts. Or at least I want it to be a clue. And I search for meaning. And whenever she mentions my name or speaks of love, my heart is thrilled.

A week or so ago I told Mama I loved her. And she answered, “I know that.” And my heart was warmed and I smiled. Because even though she doesn’t know who I am, or what my name is, or if she loves me — if she knows that I love her, I can be content.

Because someday we will be together with God, and Mama’s mind will be restored. Then she will know my name again. And I will know her Mama’s love again. How sweet and perfect that will be!

And then I’ll just have to ask her– why did you want to buy Amy a duck? And I can see us laughing together about that one!

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What a Friend we Have in Jesus

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear…

I was in tears. Becky, the music therapist, came again today. Dad requested more hymns this time. And hearing Becky sing How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace was balm to my soul.

Because it’s been a tough week. A few days ago I had called 911 for my mother-in-law with fears that she was having a stroke. Thankfully she wasn’t, and she’s doing well now. But she spent a night in the hospital with all the anxiety that surrounds that.

We’ve had other stresses I won’t share here, except to say caregiving can strain relationships. And life doesn’t stop because you are caregiving or since someone you love is in hospice. It keeps flowing on, and problems and conflicts and emotions keep crashing like waves, threatening sometimes to flood your heart and pull you down under.

But something about hearing the strum of a guitar, and a lovely voice singing, O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer, becomes a life raft to collapse on in the storm.

I looked at Mama reclining in her chair, as Becky sang. Mama looked so pale and still. She seems more quiet this week and I’m afraid maybe I really am losing her. Because even though she’s in hospice care, there’s a big part of me that’s in denial. I’ve heard of people living two years in hospice care and I’ve been counting on that all along. At least two years.

But when I see her eating less. And talking less. And moving less– it’s harder. And more fearful. I looked at her today and made sure she was breathing. I remembered how, a few years ago, Dad had called me to come help because Mama had fallen. When I’d walked into the living room Mama was lying on the floor on her side singing, What a Friend we Have in Jesus. And I thought, at the time, what a perfect song to sing when you’re stuck on the floor and waiting for help.

And I wished Mama could join in and sing with us again. But she just rested, pale and quiet. And I blinked back tears.

Dad told Becky that he had altered some of the words to You Are My Sunshine. Instead he sings:

You are my sweetheart, my only sweetheart. You make me happy when days are gray. You never know dear, how much I love you. Won’t you be my sweetheart today.

So Becky sang the song Dad’s way. And Dad’s chin quivered. And my eyes watered. And Mama opened her eyes. So Becky sang it again.

It’s been a tough week. It’s been a hard day. But I’m thankful for the support of our hospice team as they surround us and hold us up with love and caring hearts and hands-on help.

And I’m thankful for the gift of music and the comfort it shines on us, like sunshine breaking through a storm cloud. It’s still raining, and yet somehow we are warmed and cheered in a ray of sunlight at the same time.

And most of all I’m thankful that we truly do have a friend in Jesus. And He does bear my sins and griefs. And I can go to Him in prayer and pour out my heart to Him and know that He is carrying me, and Mama and Dad and my family. We are in His strong arms. We can trust Him always.

Jesus won’t drop us. He won’t let go. He can calm the storm or He can walk on the waves. I can rest in Him and know that He is faithful and good always. What a friend we have!

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