Mama’s Legacy

Four months ago today Mama had her last night on this earth. She was taking long gaps between breaths. Scary long ones. It seemed like she was taking her last breath a hundred times over. I remember shaking her arm and pleading with her to breathe. “Breathe, Mama, please breathe!” I felt like I was holding my own breath waiting for the next gasp to come.

I was crying and praying and calling for family to come over and be with us. And through it all I was somehow also praying for my nephew and his wife. Because I had gotten the message that they were at the hospital, in labor, struggling through the birthing pains of their firstborn.

Then I got the news. They had a healthy baby boy! I leaned close to Mama and said, ” You have another great-grandson, Mom! Simon has been born!” And I smiled through tears and prayed that Mama would make it past midnight, so she didn’t pass on his birthday.

And then, after hours of agonizing breaths, she started breathing regularly again. Only now there was a gurgling sound. And that was even scarier, in a different way. My husband called the hospice nurse, who got there about midnight. She confirmed that Mama was passing. It could be hours. “Make the most of this time,” the nurse said. “Talk to her.”

And I remember thinking, I’ve been making the most of this time for years now. I’ve spoken my apologies. I’ve expressed my love and gratitude. I’ve sung and read the Bible and told her stories of my life and hers. I’ve spoken to her about heaven and how beautiful it will be and who she will see there. I’ve reminded her that Jesus saved us and we trust in Him and we’ll all be together again.

I was thankful I’d said it all over and over again through the years of dementia. I only wish I’d said more of it while her mind was still strong. But I had taken the time to say every word I could think to say, every word I had needed to say, over and over again through the years. And now as Mama lay dying, I was at peace about that.

She never opened her eyes that night. I don’t know if she heard anything or not. But I played a CD of hymns and I held her hand and I told her I loved her, again and again. And I cuddled up next to her on the bed.

In the morning, as my daughter and I were giving her medications and repositioning her, we suddenly noticed she had passed somewhere in the process. The hospice nurse later told me this was very common. We cried. We sat on either side of Daddy and told him and we all held onto each other and wept.

I went to look in on Mama again, and I noticed a gentle smile on her face– so slight. And she looked so incredibly peaceful. It brought me such a comfort to see a peace I hadn’t seen for years– if ever. My daughter, and others, marveled at it, too.

And now we’ve been adjusting to life without Mama for the last four months. Last night I was babysitting my youngest granddaughter. I can’t see anything in her that resembles my mom, and yet she wouldn’t be here if Mom never had been. My sweet granddaughter is part of Mama’s legacy.

And then it dawned on me that God gave each of my brothers and I precious gifts, the same year he took Mama Home. He gave me my first biological grandchild in April. He gave my older brother his fifth grandchild in October. He gave my younger brother his first grandchild, as Mama was slipping away. And He gave my baby brother the news that he will be a first time daddy this July!

Mama, your love lives on! Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren are beautiful and strong! And I can’t wait to meet your newest grandchild this summer! Thank you for passing on a heritage of faith and love that is rich and warm and deep. Your heart beats on in the legacy you have left behind.

We will do our best to tell your great-grandchildren about you, Mama. And we will pass on the family recipes and songs and stories. And most importantly we will teach them about Jesus, and share the faith you shared with us. And someday, because of His tender mercies and our faith in Him, we will be together again.

My beautiful picture

My sweet mama with my baby brother

 

 

 

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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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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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.

 

 

 

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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Two Brief Shining Moments

Today my daughter came home from feeding Mama breakfast excited to share the news. “Mom,” she said, her face glowing, “Grandma smiled today!”

Neither of us had seen Mom smile for months, maybe longer. We had pretty much decided she didn’t know how any longer. “What?! Grandma smiled?” I asked, teary eyed with awe.

“Yes,” Annie said. “I was telling the hospice aid about Grandma and mentioned the town where Grandma grew up in Louisiana and she smiled! She didn’t show her teeth, but she smiled!”

We were both so thrilled! And I so wished I had seen it, too. We wondered if it had anything to do with the new anti-anxiety medication that Mom had started last night.

A couple hours later I went over to feed Mom lunch. And in the middle of it she looked right at me and smiled! A closed mouth smile–but definitely a smile! I was so thrilled! It was like the first time I saw my first child smile in recognition of me. It so delighted my heart!

And then a second later Mama hollered in complaint again. But I had seen that precious smile.

Mama also seemed more talkative today. She said, “I need something.”

“What do you need, Mama?”

“Something for me,” she replied, but she couldn’t tell me what.

“Are you in there?” Mama asked me.

“Yes, Mama, I’m here.”

At one point Mama seemed irritated and I asked, “Am I annoying you, Mom?”

And she answered, “It’s possible.”

And this whole conversation actually makes more sense than most of ours have lately.

But her walking  and standing were too scary tonight. So we propped her up in bed and fed her there. And I scrambled to mix an Ensure with some ice cream to get more of something in her, before she dozed off.

And then I cuddled up next to her in bed and put my head against her shoulder and quoted some Bible verses and sang some hymns as I held Mama’s velvety soft hand and as I stroked her hair and as I blinked back tears.

I came home exhausted, grateful my husband had picked up supper and ready to crash. This time of hospice is hard stuff. But God is with us. And His angels surround us. And the prayers of His people lift us.

And for TWO brief shining moments, Mama smiled!

 

 

 

 

 

My Anchor in the Storm

The hospice workers are pretty amazing. Such compassionate, gifted people. Today Mama had her hair shampooed and nails filed, by a hospice aid. And then a massage therapist came and somehow gently massaged Mama, as she reclined in her chair, for at least half an hour. And Mama never hollered once!

The hospice nurse visited as well and had some suggestions for us for her care. I’m so thankful for the support.

And yet I come home, after Mama is tucked in bed for a nap with Dad, and I feel exhausted. And I just want to curl up and cry.

It’s hard to see Mama struggling so much to get up. And to know she is bending over and struggling so to walk. It’s heartbreaking to see her stare blankly. I just want to do something to make her all better. I want my Mom back. I want to see her smile again. I want to hear her laugh.

I want her to look at me and know me again.

My eyes are misty. I feel weak. My heart literally aches.

As I fed Mama lunch today she reached out and gently patted my arm and played with my sleeve. And it was a sweet comfort. A loving touch.

And before Dad laid down in bed to nap with Mom, I took his place for a few minutes. And Mama snuggled against me and patted my back.

These are the tender mercies I savor.

I have brothers that do what they can to help. I am blessed with a husband who is so understanding and supportive and helpful. I have a daughter and son that are incredible caregivers to their grandma. And we have other great care givers that faithfully help us and now we also have the resources and support of hospice.

And these are the pillars I count on for help in holding Mama up.

And most importantly we have Jesus, the savior of our souls. And because of His death and resurrection, because He took the punishment for our sins, and because Mama believed in Him, I know she will be better than okay. She will be in paradise when God calls her Home. And we will be together again someday.

And then I will have my mom back. And I will see her smile again. And I will know she knows me. And I will hear her laugh once more.

And this is the certain hope I have, the anchor to my soul, in this turbulent storm.