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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Birthday Tears

I thought I was doing quite a bit better in this whole mourning process. I haven’t been feeling weighed down and on the edge of tears for the past month or so. Not that tears don’t sneak up on me sometimes. Because they do. But the emotions came in briefer blips, and haven’t been lingering for hours and days.

But even though the day is bright and sunny, the birds are singing, the apple trees are blooming and it’s my favorite time of the year, I feel the heaviness of heartache sitting on me again. I think it’s because my birthday is tomorrow.

It feels strange to me that my birthday would make me cry. It’s not about getting older. I think it’s because this is the first birthday I’ve had in fifty seven years without my mother. And I’m surprised it’s impacting me so much, since my mom hasn’t really known me for years. But there was still such a comfort in visiting her and just being with her.

Here are memories I wrote last year….

“Mom, it’s me– Cheryl. It’s my birthday today.”
Mama looks at me and asks, “What do you want to do?”
“I want to have a party with you.”
Mama looks at the massage therapist on the other side of her and raises her eyebrows and frowns a bit. It almost feels like she’s rolling her eyes at me.

But a minute later Mama reaches out and takes my hand. And she holds it securely for about ten minutes. And she taps my hand with her thumb as she holds my hand.
And I smile.
The massage therapist says, “What a gift!”
And I agree.

Thank You Jesus for my sweet Mama. For the life and love and example she gave me.
And for her soft hand holding mine today.

And here’s a memory from 2015…

I sit on the love seat and ask Mama if she wants to sit by me. She gets up from her rocking chair right away and shuffles over and plops down next to me. She leans her head on my shoulder and says something she’s never said to me before. She asks, “Will you take care of me?”
“Yes, Mama,” I answer. “I will take care of you.”

She pats my arm. She sings a bit of “I love you a bushel and a peck” with me.

I start “our” verse, “For God so loved the world…” I pause waiting for her to finish it.
But instead Mom says, “He did, I guess…”

I take out the bag of Mini Pecan Delights I brought Mom for Mother’s Day and we eat a few of them as we cuddle. And for a few minutes I forget about all the other challenges in life. And I soak in this gentle softness of sitting next to Mama.

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I miss Mama this year. I suppose I will every birthday. And I’m a little bit dreading Mother’s Day. But I’m so thankful for all the years I did have with my precious mama and all the memories that we made. I”m thankful for every word I wrote down, so I can picture and relive the moments again.

And I’m forever grateful that God DID so love the world, that He sent His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) And because of that, I know that even though I may miss a few birthdays on this earth with my Mama, I’ll have an eternity of birthdays with her to come!

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Laugh When You Can

I have developed my own personal philosophy of survival for being a caregiver of someone with dementia. Laugh when you can, cry when you have to, and trust God for grace and strength for each day.

Yesterday, Mama gave me a good chuckle. I’ve titled it What to do in That Awkward Moment When Someone Says They Love You and You’re Not Sure if You Love Them.

I had already gotten Mama all ready for bed and tucked her in, and I climbed in next to her for a little goodnight cuddle before I had to leave. I said, “Mom, I love you.”
And she responded with a HUGE, LOUD burp.
“Wow, Mom! That was a big burp!”
“Very big,” she calmly answered.

And so the question was cleverly averted.

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A Mother’s Touch

I tucked Mama into bed for her nap today, after lunch, and climbed in next to her for a little cuddle. And then Mama said, “You’re ‘purdy’.”  And my heart was warmed.

And I chuckled to myself and thought, Oh, if only she’d said that to my face instead of my back. 

“Thank you, Mama. You’re pretty, too,” I said. I wanted to face her, but she usually gets agitated when I do that. So, I kept my back to her.

And she patted my back and rubbed my arm. I sang, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”– one of the last hymns she still sang herself up to a year or so ago.

The fan on the nightstand blew a gentle breeze over us. And Mama’s soft touches and flutter taps were sweet on my back.

From where I was, my head on Daddy’s pillow, I could see an old photo of Mama framed in gold on the wall above his dresser. Mama was young and healthy and gorgeous.

 

The photo was taken before Mama married Daddy. Before she gave birth to four children and raised them. Before all the meals she cooked for her family. Before all the dresses she sewed for her little girl. Before all the laundry she washed and groceries she shopped for and fevers and scrapes she worried over. Before all the Christmases and birthdays and holidays she made so special for us.

The photo was taken before Mama invested her life into loving us all so well.

I turned over to face Mom. I combed her white hair with my fingers. I held her wrinkled face between my hands. “You are beautiful, Mama. You are so beautiful.You have been a wonderful mom to us all. I wish I’d been a better daughter to you.” And my eyes filled.

I wanted to climb into her arms. I wanted to be her little girl again. I wanted to have her warm hug envelope me and have her stroke away the fears and hurts and hear her say, “It will all be okay, honey.”

But she started hollering, because my closeness was agitating her. So I rolled back over and she calmed down. And she patted my back again, with her arthritic hands. And she pulled on my shirt here and there. And her fingers flutter tapped my arm.

But I felt the gentle touches…such tender wisps of mothering. And I smiled.

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A Tender Mercy

Sometimes, in this heart-wrenching journey with Alzheimer’s, God sends moments of blessings that need to be gathered up and held close to the soul, and never forgotten…

Last night, after I fed Mama supper, I cuddled next to her on the bed. She was propped up on pillows, so I was lower than her. And from that angle her face looked thinner and older. I put my arm around her and laid my head next to her shoulder. And I cried.

And Mama kept tapping my arm and stroking it softly, as she lay there half asleep. Patting and tapping with her hand is a habit she has now. In reality it may not have meant anything to her.

But it still was a tender mercy to me.

Because I felt like my Mama was comforting me again. Like somehow she knew how I was already mourning her, and she was reassuring me with her gentle flutter-tapping on my arm. And her moments of mothering felt like a gift from God to be treasured.

And it felt like Mama was saying, with her tap-tapping, “I know you’re sad. I’m sorry it’s hard. It will be okay. Mama’s here.”

And then I said, “I love you, Mama.”

And she replied, “I love you, too.” And the moment was perfect.

 

 

 

 

Be Happy

I tried to talk to Mama as I fed her the Easter dinner I’d brought over. But she’d mostly either holler or speak gibberish.

It reminded me of the time we’d just had with my six-month old granddaughter. She seemed to have whole conversations with my husband as she stood in his lap and very expressively spoke garbled words.

And Mama would do that, too. She’d look at me and speak. Often I could tell she was asking questions, but I couldn’t decipher enough of the words to guess at what she meant.

Except for a few exceptions. “I hate you!” still came out clearly. I answered Mama, “But I love you. Do you love me?”

“No,” she answered.

And yet we had a couple sweet moments. My daughter and husband came over to help me get Mom up from her nap, because her walking is so bad these days. My daughter and I changed her and got her in a fresh dress. Then my husband came in and helped us get her into the wheel chair.

As I was rolling her out of the bedroom Mama said, “Thank you.” Which is pretty much unheard of these days.

I was so pleased and said, “Mom, that’s so nice that you said thank you!”

“Yes, it is,” Mama answered. And I chuckled.

And then later, as I was cleaning up the dishes, after Mama’s meal, she said, “Be happy. Be happy.”

And that made me smile.

Alzheimer’s is such a tough road. There is so much to be burdened and sad and stressed about.

But today I can rejoice that Jesus died for our sins and rose again, and because of that all who believe can be forgiven and have a relationship with God and eternity with Him in heaven.

And today I can take joy in the time I had with my children and granddaughter. And I can smile because Mama said thank you.

Today I can be happy, because my mama told me to be. And those sweet words bring tears to my eyes. Happy tears.

I hope you have some today, too.

He is risen!

 

 

She’s My Baby

Last night, like most nights now, I fed Mama her supper. She doesn’t pick up her spoon much anymore, so I mostly feed her myself and she mostly cooperates.

She tends to study me as she’s eating these days and often reaches out and touches my face or gently taps my arm. Sometimes she asks questions that I can answer. Sometimes she hollers her outrage. Sometimes she speaks garbled words that I don’t understand.

When she finished her meal, last night, I helped her walk down the hall and got her changed all clean and fresh. Then I guided her back down the hall and, holding her gait belt, directed her as she took tiny, shuffling steps to the love seat. She sat down next to Dad, and I tucked her in with a cozy throw blanket.

As I was getting my coat on, to go home to my own supper, I heard Mama say, “She’s my baby.”

And I smiled.