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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Mourning Mama

My precious mama was welcomed into heaven Monday morning. She passed on at home and in her own bed. My daughter, Annie, and I were with her when she breathed her last, and she left us with a gentle smile on her face looking more peaceful than I’ve seen her in years. We miss her already, but take comfort in picturing her surrounded by loved ones who have journeyed on ahead of her and in knowing she is in the presence of our Lord.

Meanwhile, I’m stumbling along here on earth, trying to adjust to life without her. I’m concerned about Daddy, suddenly in a much quieter home, without the coming and going of all who were caring for Mama.

People ask me how I am, and I think I’m doing better than I would expect. I asked my husband if this was all God’s grace or if I was still in shock. He said, “I think it’s the David factor.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know,” he said.  “David was praying and fasting that God would spare his son, but when his son died David got up off the ground and ate and was better.” (2 Samuel 12:15-23)

David’s servants were surprised and asked him about it. “And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.'” (Samuel 12:22-23, NKJV)

And it hit me how insightful Jeff was of my feelings. I have spent years praying and fretting over and caring for Mama. And the last week of her life had been so intense. I had slept with her all but one of the evenings. I had been with her most of each day. I had prayed and hoped and cried. I had called the nurses over and over and followed their instructions.

I had done all I knew to do for Mama and  had tried to make her comfortable. I hoped and prayed I had done it all right. I held her hand and sang to her. I read the Bible to her. I brushed her hair and rubbed her back. I cuddled with her and told her how much I loved her.

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15337656_10211859460628508_7808597532983961028_nHospice kept warning me that we were losing her. But part of me was in denial. And I would keep finding reasons to hope.

And then she was gone.

I sent out the news. Family came over. Friends and relatives messaged and called. Annie and I changed Mama into her pink dress. She looked so beautiful. Papers were signed. I watched as Mama was rolled away from her home and left us for the last time. Oh sweet Mama.

And now I’m learning more about grief. Most of the time it feels like this weight on my heart. I feel close to tears more often than not, but am still functioning okay. My family is watching out for me and doing the cooking and shopping, in between meals kindly given us.

I’m trying to manage my responsibilities. Dad is my new caregiving concern. We are trying to make sure he’s getting enough company. He loved his sweetheart, as he called her, so much and seems so fragile now.

I sat down with my prayer list this morning. And I came to Mom’s name and puzzled over the fact that I didn’t need to pray for her anymore. She is with Jesus now. Everything is perfect for her. So I prayed through tears that Jesus would give her a hug for me and tell her how much I love her.

After lunch I thought I’d better make more progress on my delayed Christmas shopping. I looked at my list and saw Mom’s name and burst into tears. I know she will be having an amazing Christmas this year, but I was struck that I couldn’t give her anything on this earth again.

God understands all my feelings.

“I bowed down heavily, as one who mourns for his mother.” (Psalm 35:14b, NKJV)

He knows there is a special mourning for our mothers.

But what a sweet comfort to know that Mama is with Jesus. And with her own mama and daddy and sister. She is seeing friends and grandparents. She is pain free and clear of mind. She is having the best Christmas ever.

And someday we will all be together again. And for eternity. Because of Jesus and all that Christmas means.

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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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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’s Changing Faces and God’s Unfailing Graces

Dementia seems so arbitrary. After watching it progress in Mama’s life over ten years now, I’m surprised that it can still surprise me.

And yet it does.

Monday was Mama’s birthday. I brought her homemade cake and lit candles and we sang to her. I got no reaction. Not a word. Not even a raised eyebrow or a hint of a smile.

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Later in the evening, my daughter said, “Grandma, it’s your birthday.”

And Mama calmly answered, “I know.”

A few days later, Mama had massage therapy and music therapy at the same time. I usually just watch Dad’s face as he takes joy in the music, because Mama usually sleeps through it all. But this time Mama looked right at Dad, while Becky sang Let Me Call You Sweetheart, and Mama smiled!

Becky told Dad, who can’t see Mama because of his blindness, that Mom was smiling at him. And oh how his chin quivered and his eyes misted and then how my eyes watered. And Mama stayed alert and awake for the rest of the music and looked cheerful and smiled and seemed to join in with the pleasure of the day.

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Today, the hospice nurse practitioner came to see if Mama still qualifies for services. And though Mom is typically quiet and mellow in the morning these days, today she was agitated and yelling. But the nurse practitioner mentioned how nice she looked. And our regular hospice nurse, Terri, said, “I think pink is her color.” I agreed, thinking Mama looked so pretty in her pink dress with her white hair brushed back from her face.

After the nurses left, I told Mama, “You’re so pretty.”

And she answered, “Yeah, I try.”

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And I think how much her reactions fluctuate. And how startling it can be that though Mom doesn’t know her own name anymore, she can still quickly reply with fitting or witty words at times. Even though other times she says nothing at all.

Dementia still surprises me. Mama uses the word crazy often. She said something about it today and a caregiver asked, “Do you think I’m crazy?”

And Mama calmly replied, “Probably not.”

Dementia is a wild ride with sharp curves and sweet mountain highs and gloomy valley lows. And the thing that keeps me from just crashing is God’s grace.

I was in one of those gloomy valley’s this week and shared some concerns with our understanding nurse, Terri. I told her, “Life is hard. And then it gets harder. At least the end of the story is good though. At least we have heaven.”

And she spoke words of wisdom, learned perhaps through her own valley times.  I wish I’d written down her words, so this isn’t a perfect quote, but basically she said, “God gives us grace each day. Sometimes He seems stingy or slow, but He gives us grace enough.” She spoke with a smile and with the gentle authority of someone who knows she speaks truth. And her words sung courage to my heart.

And I know she is right.

Dementia is arbitrary. The surprises keep coming. We never know what the next day, next hour, or next minute may startle us with. Maybe it will make us laugh. Or maybe it will make us weep. Often it will be heartbreaking. Sometimes breathtaking.

But this we can know. God is with His children. All who trust in Jesus and follow Him can know that He will give grace. Grace enough. For every day. Always.

And the end of the story will be amazing!

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV)

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Someday…and Their Love

Dad and I both had quivering chins and tear filled eyes. Becky, the music therapist from hospice, came again today. Dad requested love songs. And so Becky strummed her guitar and sang out one beautiful old melody after another.

She sat closest to Mama, who didn’t respond in any visible way to the music. Mom was settled in her recliner, mostly sleeping the whole hour. But across the room, in his recliner, Dad made requests. And his face lit up. Sometimes he clapped his hands and said, “That was good!” Sometimes he smiled and his eyes shone. And at least once I saw him wipe away a tear.

From where I sat I could see Mama’s pale, peaceful profile and Dad’s changing emotions. We enjoyed Tennessee Waltz and Let Me Call You Sweetheart and I Love You a Bushel and a Peck.  And many more I can’t remember the names of now.

The one that especially touched me though was “Somewhere My Love”. Dad used to play it on his keyboard. The melody is hauntingly beautiful, the words equally so.

Somewhere, my love,
There will be songs to sing
Although the snow
Covers the hope of spring.

Somewhere a hill
Blossoms in green and gold
And there are dreams
All that your heart can hold.

Someday we’ll meet again, my love.
Someday whenever the spring breaks through.

You’ll come to me
Out of the long ago,
Warm as the wind,
Soft as the kiss of snow.

Till then, my sweet,
Think of me now and then.
God, speed my love
‘Til you are mine again.

by Francis Paul Webster and Maurice Jarre. Also known as the Love Theme or Lara’s Theme
from the movie Dr. (Doctor) Zhivago

As I heard Becky sing these lyrics, I looked at Mama. Her eyes were closed. She was so still and unresponsive. I actually looked to make sure she was still breathing.

And then I looked at Daddy, his face so full of life and love and emotions, and my eyes filled with tears as I saw his do the same.

And though there was honestly sorrow in the tears, for what Mom and Dad have lost, there were also tears of hope. Because I picture them meeting again in heaven someday. And then Daddy will have his eyesight back and he will be strong and able again.

And I can just picture him looking for his first glimpse of Mom. And Mom will be vibrant and full of life and health. She will sing with Daddy again. Her face will light up for him like old times. And most importantly she will have her memories back. And she and Daddy can share them together once more.

I see the joy in their faces as they find each other again. I see the long hug and embrace. I can picture Jesus watching them and smiling.

I’m thankful Mom and Dad still have each other now. And I’m so grateful I still have them both. But I am immeasurably more grateful that they both have put their faith in Jesus, and have the sure hope of an eternity with Him to come.

 

 

 

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.”