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!







Mama’s Words

Mama doesn’t say much that makes sense anymore. So any words she says that are coherent stand out more. Yesterday, she asked me, “Do you pay attention?”

“Yes, Mama, I try to.” And I especially want to, because I wonder if her words are clues to what she’s thinking–to what is going on in her mind.

For years now, I’ve often heard her say, “I’m crazy.” And I’m so sorry she feels that way. And I wonder if it helps her more to tell her she’s not crazy, or to tell her it’s okay and we understand and will take care of her. But it tells me at some level she’s aware that things aren’t normal.  And she hollers loudly and speaks of hate. And I wish I could comfort her somehow.

She speaks the most of mama and home. And she asks where Raymon is. Dad answers, “I’m right here, Nina.” And these words sing to her soul of safety and belonging.

She frequently says, “I’m here now.”

And so I answer, “Yes, you are here now. And I’m glad you are here now. And I’m here, too. And I love you so much.”

And Mama says random things. The other day she asked my daughter, “Are you pretty?”

Annie answered, “Yes, I’m pretty. Are you pretty?”

Mama answered, “Yes, I’m pretty.” And I smiled when I heard the story, and knew she was right.

And the other day a caregiver was trying to quiet her hollering while I was talking to the nurse and whispered, “Shhh…” to Mom. And Mama looked at her and shouted, “Shut up!” And we chuckled.

And then today, as I was feeding Mama her lunch, she said, “I want you.”

And I savor those sweet words.

“I want you, too, Mama. I want you always.”

And I’m thankful for the moments and memories we’re still making together. And for the words I can treasure up, as they are dwindling away, for a time when there are none.

And I’m grateful that when the words stop the story will not end. Because when she leaves us she will be with Jesus. And the real story will just be starting.

And someday we will be together again with all of eternity to share words and thoughts. And to sing praises to our God.

“When we’ve been there ten-thousand years, bright shining as the sun…we’ve no less days to sing God’s days praise, then when we’ve first begun.”







Mama’s Smile

My daughter came home this morning from getting my mama up out of bed, bathed, and fed. (Dad pays her to be a care giver which is a huge blessing to us all.) She came in laughing and said, “Do you know what your mother said to me today?”

“No. What?”

“She said, ‘Go to h—.'”

“What?! I’m sorry. You know Grandma would never say that for real.”

“And she said, ‘I hate you.'”

“Oh, I’m sorry. You know she doesn’t mean that either. She would have never said anything like that when she was healthy.”

“I know,” Annie said. “I’m just tattling on her. Grandma also said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And I said, “Be nice.” And she said, ‘Okay.’ And then things went pretty well!”

And I think about a talk I just had with my youngest twenty-something son who recently moved in with my parents. It’s a comfort to know he’s sleeping there at night and available to help if needed. But yesterday he told me, “Yeah, it’s kind of hard to wake up hearing Grandma shouting, ‘I hate you! I hate you!’ and to go to sleep hearing her shouting, ‘I hate you! I hate you!’ I’ve never heard so much hate in my life.”

And I tried to explain again how she doesn’t mean it. It’s not her. It’s not anything I EVER heard her say when her mind was strong. She didn’t allow us kids to say we hated anyone and never said it herself. I told him that she’s confused and something is bothering her and it’s her way of crying– like a baby crying out when it has needs. She can’t explain what’s wrong anymore, so she shouts out harsh words.

But my heart hurts for her. I try singing to her. I try talking to her. I try holding her hand. We change her, feed her, give her something to drink. We give her Tylenol in case something is hurting that she can’t tell us about. We’ve even recently started giving her a mild anti-depressant.

And I’ve gotten used to the harsh words. They rarely phase me these days.

But what I struggle with more is another new loss on this Alzheimer’s journey.

Mama doesn’t smile anymore.

I don’t think I’ve seen her smile for a few months. And I’ve tried all my ways of connecting with her.

I sing our songs and she looks at me blankly. I tell her who I am and she looks at me blankly. I tell her I love her and she looks at me blankly.

Her eyes don’t sparkle anymore.

And I miss her beautiful smile.

And I remember the past few years when I’d say, “I’m Cheryl, Mama. It’s me.” And sometimes Mama’s eyes would light up and she’d smile and say, “Oh…Cheryl Lynn?”And I would feel remembered.

What a treasure it would be to hear that one more time. Or to see her smile again with shining eyes.

But I still cherish the little love pats. As I feed Mama, she often reaches out and very softly pats my arm. And sometimes she stares at my face and reaches out and strokes my cheek or whole face. And I feel seen for that moment. And maybe something in her is trying to communicate love.

And I wish somehow I could gather Mama in my arms and hug and kiss away her hurt and confusion–as she did for me when I was a child. When just her presence could make everything better. 

And I wonder more often why God allows dementia and Alzheimer’s. And I don’t know the answer.

But I do know that He is with us always. And that He gives strength and grace one day at a time. One hour at a time. One moment at a time.

And I know that the end of the story is good. Because Mama trusted in Jesus when her mind was healthy and gave her heart to Him. I know that He has her. Always.

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NKJV)

And I can picture Jesus gathering Mama in His arms and hugging away all the pain and hurt. And I know that just His presence will make everything better. And someday I will see Mama’s beautiful smile again.










What to do When the Shouting Hurts

Mama hollers so much these days. Loudly and sometimes for hours. We try to make sure all her needs are met, but we often can’t figure out what is upsetting her. She shouts so loudly that it hurts our ears and we marvel that her voice doesn’t wear out. There is little we can do. But one thing helps more consistantly than others…

I sit by Mama. She props both her legs up over one of mine, so it feels like she’s half sitting in my lap. She rubs and pats my arm as we chat. I name her siblings with pauses between each one and she says, “Yes, that’s right.” And, “Go ahead.” I count to two and she takes over and counts to ten herself.

I tell her things about her family and her childhood and she nods and says things like, “That sounds right.” And then I sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” And Mama sits quietly listening to the whole thing until I’m done. And then she says with enthusiasm, “Good!”

And her praise warms my heart.

And it all makes me think how the world is hurting my ears and my heart right now. There is so much shouting. There is so much anger.  It doesn’t seem to end. I wish I knew how to calm it all down.

I open up an old hymnal and I look at the words of the hymn I sang Mama…

“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in Prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful, Who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Saviour still our refuge—take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer; In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, Thou wilt find a solace there.” (Joseph Scriven, 1819-1886 and Charles Converse, 1832-1918)

And the hymn of our fathers calls me to my knees. It reminds me that there have always been sins and griefs and sorrows and cares. There has always been despising and forsaking. And that thankfully we have always had prayer.

We have a precious Savior. He is still our refuge. He is always our solace.

And He is always good.

I can sit close to my Abba Father. I can know His strong arms are around me. I can pour out my heart to my Jesus, my faithful friend.I can share His love with others. And when the shouting gets too loud, I can keep my hand in His and just keep singing, “What a friend we have in Jesus…”


Sunny Days

I’ve been sick and haven’t been to see my folks for a week.  But I’ve had times in the week when I’ve felt well enough to scan some slides, and so memories of childhood have been peeking at me…making me smile…reminding me of sunny days…

I saw pictures of Mama laughing with her babies and cuddling them. I saw her at her sewing machine creating things. I saw her providing picnics and birthday parties. I saw her smiling and beautiful. I saw her alert and intelligent looking, loving and blessing her family.

Dad is blind and can’t see the pictures obviously, but he loves to hear about the slides and the memories. So I called him and tried to describe them to him. And while I was talking Mama was hollering near the phone on the other end.

She was sitting next to Dad and almost drowning me out, shouting, “Mama! I want Mama! Raymon, where are you?” And in-between shouts, she’d say quiet, irrelevant things like, “I guess so. Okay. Where is it?”

She kept repeating the irrational shouting and talking during our whole conversation. It doesn’t surprise me. It’s just the way she is now. We will check and make sure she’s dry. We’ll offer her a snack or drink, in case something is bothering her that she can’t communicate. But often, we never figure out why she’s agitated.

I’m used to her acting like this, but it stood out to me this week. It stood out to me in sharp contrast to the pictures I was looking at. The photos are a fresh reminder of the mama that was. And I’m struck by how blessed we were and how much I took for granted.

And I wish I could run back into one of those photos—like an “Our Town” moment—and give Mom a big hug. And I’d tell her how amazing and beautiful she is and how blessed I am to have her as my mom. I would thank her for sewing and cooking and caring and listening. I would tell her how sorry I was for all the times I didn’t appreciate her or was rude.

I would sit at dinner and relish every bite of her cooking. I would ask her to look in my eyes and say my name and I’d know that she knew me. And I’d know that she knew I was her daughter and she was my mom. I would ask her stories of her childhood and record them. I would ask her for stories of my childhood and do the same.

And I choke up thinking about this all. And then I think, I don’t need an “Our Town” moment. Because I will have heaven for eternity.  And all who know Jesus will be restored. And the glory of God will be our light and give us the sunniest days ever.


A Time for Every Purpose

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Mom sits by me on the love seat. I start singing our song. “I love you…” I pause, waiting for Mom to sing her part, “…a bushel and a peck.”

But instead she says, “You do?! Thank you! Go ahead!”

I try some of our other songs, but none of them are connecting with Mama today. I start naming her nine siblings with many pauses. She only fills in one name…Charles.

“Who are you?” she asks me.

“I’m Cheryl.”

“Oh, Churl. Okay.”

“What’s your name, Mom?”

“I don’t know,” she says.

“Are you Nina?”

“Not really.”

“Are you Nina Faye?”

“Yeah. That’s right.” And then she shouts, “Nina Faye, where are you?”

“Mom, look…here’s some pictures.” I hold out my phone to her. “See, my son got married yesterday! Bo is married now!”

Mama looks at the picture and says, “Good gracious!”

I long to connect with her. I start counting, “One, two, three…”  I stop.

After a long pause Mama says, “Four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…” And something about that simple counting reassures me.

And I realize that a part of me believes that if I can just keep Mama responding to “our” things that I can somehow keep her with me.  That if I just try hard enough I can keep the shadows away and somehow keep the sun from setting.

And I think of the wedding last night. The love and the tears, the dancing and feasting and laughing and joy. And I’m grateful there is a time to laugh and a time to embrace and a time to love.

And I know there is a time to weep and a time to mourn and a time to lose. And I know they are coming. But I can’t bear to think about it. So I trust my Heavenly Father to give me grace one day at a time.

And now Mama leans her head against my shoulder and grows quiet and falls asleep. And I’m thankful for a time of peace and a time to keep. And a time to treasure.