Where is Home?

I learned so many lessons as I helped care for Mom. Sometimes people with dementia speak with profound wisdom. Or maybe God is sending a message through them. I remember one day, being amazed by the clarity of truth in Mom’s words…,

Mama was sitting in her rocking chair, in the house she’d lived in for over fifty years, when she said, “I want to go home.”

She said this often. So instead of explaining to her again that she was home, I tried a different approach. I asked, “Where is home, Mom?” And without pondering or delay Mom spoke such clear words of discernment, that I still marvel at them.

“Home is where they want you,” she replied.

I was so struck by this response that it took me a minute or so to reassure Mom that of course we wanted her here. I don’t actually think she was looking for reassurance though. And I’m still not sure if she even knew exactly what she was saying.

But what an insightful definition—home is where they want you. It rings true to my heart. Home is where you feel comfortable and wanted. Or at least where you should feel that way.

It reminds me how important it is to live life in a way that shows people how wanted they are. Because we all want to be wanted. We all need to be wanted.

And what a comfort to remember that we all ARE wanted.

We can know this because Jesus says in John 14:1-3 (NLT) “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me, where I am.”

Everyone is wanted. All who put their trust in Jesus have an eternal home. Jesus wants us with Him. Always. The Creator of the universe wants us with Him so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins. We are wanted. We are loved incredibly.

On this earth some people are homeless. But in eternity no one has to be. Home is where they want you. And we are all wanted.

My precious Mama is Home with Jesus now. We miss her here, but she is wanted there. She is home. And we will all be Home together someday.

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Blurry Banana Bread Recipe

I don’t know if it’s human nature, or just mine, but there was a part of me that wanted to remain in denial about Mom’s Alzheimer’s. After all, even the experts say you can’t know for sure until an autopsy is done. And some days Mom would seem almost normal.

But other days, the confusion would be so obvious that there was no plausible deniability of disease. And some days what we’d lost already, contrasted sharply against what we’d once had. And it became the time of bittersweet tears.

One of these times was the night the banana bread recipe make me cry…

 

Source: Blurry Banana Bread Recipe

Mama’s New Grandchild

Today marks seven months since Jesus took Mama home. It also marks eight days since Mama’s youngest grandchild was born.

It’s been a bittersweet time for me. When my brother gave me the news that he and his wife had a healthy baby girl, I was elated! And then very soon I was in tears. Because Mama so loved babies! I’ve become a grandma twice myself in the last 22 months, and I know there is nothing like it!

I called Dad and told him I was going out to buy sweet girl things for the baby, before I went to the hospital for a visit. (They hadn’t wanted to know ahead of time the baby’s gender, so everything was generic at the showers.) I told him I wanted to buy some gifts to be from him and Mom, too. Because Mom would have done that. He agreed and told me to take as much money as I needed.

I looked in my daughter’s baby book. I saw the photo of Mom and Dad holding my little one, looking at her adoringly. I read the list of things Mama had bought for her. I blinked back tears and went shopping, looking for things Mama would give her grandchild…looking for things I would give my niece. I bought lots of tiny, adorable pink things.

I choked up several times, and blinked back tears, as I shopped and wrapped and drove to the hospital. And then I held my precious niece, so tiny and perfect, and all I could do then was smile! Babies have that effect on me. Holding a sleeping baby puts me in my happy place, and sadness evaporates, at least for those moments.

The next day I held the wee one again, when my brother and his wife stopped to visit Dad with her. Dad’s eyes are so bad he can’t see faces, but I asked Dad if he wanted to hold his grandchild. “Yes,” he said. “I want to hold her hand.” I arranged the baby in his arms and helped him find her tiny fingers. And he sat that way, for a long while, holding his granddaughter, while her little fingers clung to his big one.

I wondered what he was thinking. I blinked back some tears again, wishing Mama could enjoy this little one as well and wishing this baby wasn’t missing out on knowing her.

The next day I drove Dad to a doctor’s appointment. As we were driving he said, “You know yesterday when I was holding the baby’s hand?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“I was wishing Mom could be there to hold her. You know how much she loved babies.”

“Yes, she did. I was wishing the same thing.”

“But then I thought if that book, Heaven Is for Real, is right, there are babies in heaven. Remember how the little boy met his sister who had miscarried, and he hadn’t even known about her before that?”

“Yes, I do remember that.”

Well,” Dad said, “If that’s right, then Mom has lots of babies to hold in heaven.”

“That’s true, Dad,” I said, through tears. “That’s a beautiful thought. I love that!”

And I do love that thought. I think of two of my own babies, lost through miscarriage. I guess I don’t know if babies stay babies in heaven or not, but I’m assuming they grow up. My children would be older now then, but they are with Mom!

And my nephew and his wife had some miscarriages in the last few years….I picture Mama loving caring for her great-grandchildren in paradise with Jesus! I take such comfort in these thoughts.

Mama is not alone. She is surrounded by loved ones and friends in the presence of Jesus! She has babies to cherish and hold. And I have to think Jesus would let her know about her new granddaughter.

Meanwhile, back here on earth, I’ll try to be the best auntie I can be and tell this little one all about her Grandma Nina! My brother assures me I’m in the starting line-up for babysitting.

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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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Twelve Things I’ve Learned About Grieving These First Six Months

Today marks six months since Mama went home to Jesus. I’ve learned some things about grieving in these days.

I’ve learned, with God’s grace, I’m stronger than I thought. I’ve often wondered how I would ever go on when she passed. And yet I have. I’ve continued getting up each morning. Some days, especially early on, I didn’t get much done, through the weight of emotions, but I did get up. I did keep living.

And I was surprised I was able to buy and wrap Christmas presents even while I was planning Mama’s memorial service. I actually spoke at her service, something I never thought I’d be able to do.

I’ve learned I’m also more emotional than I knew. I can go along seeming fine, and a thought or word or picture of Mama can suddenly bring tears to my eyes. I mist and leak often. I choke up when sharing stories. I’ve learned that’s okay. It’s the new normal.

I’ve learned that genuine sympathy from others is healing. Each card that we received with a personal note in it was a comfort and read multiple times. Each meal or flower or gift given out of a caring heart made a difference.

I’ve learned it’s never too late to send a card or kind word. And that it’s worth the effort to buy the card and stamp and find the address and get the card in the mail. Because whenever it comes, even months after someone passes, it will bless a grieving heart to know they and their loved one are remembered.

I’ve learned that people who show up at memorial services help carry the burden of grief, and make it lighter and more bearable for the family. There is a tangible comfort in the presence of people who care enough to show up.

I’ve learned that when people you expected don’t show up, and/or don’t express care and concern, it can add to the pain and loss. As a friend said years ago at his mom’s funeral, “You find out who cares.” And you’re surprised by some that apparently don’t.

I’ve learned that when people share memories of your loved one it is such a gift. And that when relatives drive a thousand miles and risk ice storms to be with you, it is a priceless comfort.

I’ve learned that when you start misting up at odd times, people don’t really know what to do. But they don’t have to do anything. A sympathetic look is all that’s needed.

I’ve learned that even though I prayerfully did my best for Mama, and sought advice, I still wonder at times if I did all I could, or if I should have done some things differently. “What if…” questions sometimes taunt me. I have to remind myself that we were praying for wisdom. I have to picture Mama’s peaceful smile when she passed.

I’ve learned to remember Mama in my daily blessings. I think of her when I read the Bible she and Daddy gave me, the one her signature is barely legible in, because dementia had taken a toll. I think of her when I stir up her chocolate cake recipe or smell lilacs or see petunias.

I smile and cry when I look at old photographs. I feel her love when I notice our dresses in an old photo are made with the same fabric, and realize that she sewed the mom and daughter dresses…emblems of her mama-love.

I sense Mama’s delight in babies, as I play with my own granddaughters. I feel her smiling with me as I play with their toes, sing Jesus Loves Me, hug them close, or push them in a swing. Her legacy lives on.

I’ve learned that heaven is more real and precious to me than ever. And that knowing Mama is with Jesus in paradise, with no pain or tears, is the sweetest comfort of all. And knowing that all who trust in Jesus will be together with Him for eternity, is the greatest gift of all.

I’ve learned some things about grieving in the past six months. And on the toughest days I remember what Mama said a week before she passed, “God is here. He is bigger.”  I’ve learned these words are true. And I’m thankful.

 

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Mama Memories All Around

A couple days ago I saw that a purple iris had popped open in our garden right behind the house. I’m trying to remember if I got the plant from Mom, because she grew purple irises behind her house too. I can’t look at it without thinking of her.

So many things have that effect on me. I miss Mama. I miss the person she was before Alzheimer’s. I miss the quirky and endearing and even angry ways she expressed herself with Alzheimer’s. Any little thing, or nothing at all, can trigger a memory that makes me smile or tear up.

When I hang sheets on the line, I remember handing Mom the clothespins when I was young as she hung our sheets and how wonderful they smelled at night. When I bake a cake I’m usually using one of her recipes and thinking about her as I mix it up.

The petunias my daughter gave me for Mother’s Day remind me of Mama’s planters overflowing with petunias. The lilacs my husband picked for me from our bushes, shout of Mama’s love for them and how she’d fill big vases with bouquets every spring. The aroma that fills the house sings of Mama.

Today I was scrubbing our kitchen sink with Comet, and I smiled, because Mom used Comet. And somehow as I sprinkled it in the sink I felt connected to her, when she was younger and strong. I scrubbed the powder around and then left the paste to set for awhile, as Mom did.

On Monday we washed our sheets. After I stripped the bed, I thought about how it was a cooler spring day and how Mom would often open the windows and close the bedroom doors on such a day, so the bed could get a good airing as she washed the sheets. So I did the same. I smiled as I cranked the windows open.

So many things through out the day whisper or shout Mama to me. I’m thankful I had a mom who gave me so many sweet memories. She gave me lessons and smiles that linger. She gave me unconditional love that continues to comfort me through my tears. She taught me to believe and trust and follow Jesus which gave me certain hope for eternity.

Even when the memories make me cry, I won’t avoid them. I’ll embrace them. I’ll treasure each memory because they are gifts from my Mama. They are my heritage. And they keep Mama close to my heart.

I think I’m going to go pick that iris now and put it in a vase.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

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Making a Plan for my First Mother’s Day Without Mom

I’m planning ahead this time. My birthday took me by surprise– I was so emotional the day before and the day of. I was missing Mom and at the brink of tears much of the time. I didn’t think my own birthday would hit me that way. But I’ve been somewhat dreading my first Mother’s Day without Mama. And now it’s nearing like an ominous black cloud.

So I thought I’d take some time to think and pray and prepare myself. And here’s what I’m thinking I’ll do, God willing…

I’ll remember that grief will be what it will be when it chooses to be. I can’t control if or when the waves of emotion hit.  I’m guessing Mother’s Day will be especially hard, but I could be wrong. Some days I can talk about Mom and feel strong. Other days I’ve had upbeat songs on comedy shows push me to tears! I just don’t know. But it’s okay. The Bible says, “There is a time to weep…” If it’s time, who am I to say it isn’t? It’s okay to cry when I need to. My friends and family will understand.

I’ll go to church, even though I know they will be talking about moms. I’ll go to worship God and to love my church family. I’ll remind myself that I still do have a mother, she’s just in heaven before I am. She trusted and loved Jesus and is with Him now having the best Mother’s Day she’s ever had!

I will take time to be grateful for the wonderful mother God blessed me with and for all the sweet memories we made together. I’ll look at some of our old photos. Maybe I’ll sing some of our favorite songs or write a letter to her. Maybe I’ll eat Pecan Delights because they were her favorites.

I will take time to enjoy being a mother and grandma. I will cherish whatever moments I have with my family. I will hug my grand-babies as much as they’ll allow and tolerate. I will kiss their chubby cheeks and delight in their charming ways. I will listen to my adult children and appreciate the people they have grown to be. I’ll even try to believe the sweet things their cards say. I will soak in the joy of seeing them together and feeling their hugs and love.

If weather permits, I plan to spend some time outside relaxing in sunshine and nature. I’ll picture how Mama brought me a small bouquet of lilacs and crab apple blossoms about twenty years ago, when my husband and I lost a baby to miscarriage. I found such comfort in those blooms grown in Mom’s own yard and picked by her own hand. I’ll pick my own bouquet and bury my nose in them and remember Mama’s love and thoughtfulness.

I’ll take some time to pray for others who are missing their Mama’s too. And I’ll pray for those who are struggling with other losses and hurts. I’ll pray for a mom I know who just lost her teenage daughter to suicide– a pain I can’t even imagine. I’ll pray for a dear mom friend who recently lost her own mother to cancer and now is facing her own scary cancer diagnosis with such faith and courage. I’ll pray for a young mom I know who is battling serious and debilitating health challenges. I’ll lift up family and friends to our  Abba Father who loves us all.

I’ll remind myself to depend on God’s grace. God gave me grace to get through more than eight years of Mom’s declining with Alzheimer’s. He gave me grace to keep her in her home and help care for her as she was fading away. He gave me grace to kiss her goodbye and sit down with my Dad and tell him myself that she had passed. He gave me grace and strength to do and bear things I never would have believed I could handle.

He will give me grace for each day, each hour, each moment of mourning that is yet to come. “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'” 2 Corinthians 12:9a (NKJV)

And finally, I plan to visit my Dad. And if I’m not choking up too much to speak, I want to tell him, “Thank you for picking such a wonderful woman to marry. She was an amazing mama and I’m forever blessed!”

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