Back in Time

It finally came!

My aunt had called me several weeks ago to check in about Mom. She’d mentioned that she’d found a few pages from a letter from my mom, in one of my grandma’s old cookbooks.

“The letter has a recipe for doughnuts in it.”

“I don’t ever remember Mom even making doughnuts.”

“Well, you must have been young when she wrote this, because Michael wasn’t born yet. She says she made cinnamon rolls too, that your dad loved. Would you like the letter?”

“Yes! I’d love it!” I answered.

“Okay, I’ll mail it to you.”

And I’ve been checking the mailbox daily, like a child waiting for a prize to come, ever since. I almost missed it today, as it hid between bills and charity requests. And then I saw it– and my heart soared!

I do have a few recipes in Mama’s handwriting already. But letters and cards have sadly disappeared over the years. And something about reading a letter Mama wrote herself to her own mama brought me back in time.

Back to a time when Mama was younger than my oldest daughter, but living a whole country’s length away from her own mama.  A time when long distance calls were expensive and no one had computers or texting. A time when thoughts were written by hand on paper and a stamp was required. A time when Mama didn’t have her own car and had to figure out a way to get that stamp.

A time when doughnuts were homemade by Mama and her cinnamon rolls were loved by Daddy. A time when she had to stop writing so she could go take care of her little daughter, Sherry.

I wish the whole letter had been saved. But reading even these two pages paints misty memories of a sweet, joyous era. I can almost smell the freshly baked cinnamon rolls. I see my smiling Mama carrying me into the kitchen. The letter to Grandma is still on the table, waiting for that stamp. I see Daddy coming home and enveloping us both in a big hug.

I choke up just picturing the tender scenes. I read the pages through blurry eyes.

It was such a precious time. And now as we take care of Mama, it’s a challenging time, but still rich with moments to treasure. There are still cuddles. There are still sweet words shared and moments of laughter. There are still songs sung and soft touches. And I think the love keeps growing even deeper. More sacrificial. More full of tender mercies.

We haven’t had any homemade doughnuts or cinnamon rolls for decades… maybe I need to make that happen.

And I know I need to remember, that even the very best memories I have here pale in comparison to the ones we’ll make together someday in heaven, because of the love of Jesus and His sacrificial love for us.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”    I Corinthians 2:9 (NKJV)

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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!

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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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How Different Would Life Look if Everyone Did Their Part

Sometimes life is heavy. And though I cherish time with my Mama, I wonder if I’m really doing what God has called me to do.

I was reading today in Acts 13:2 and God clearly called out Barnabas and Saul and told the church to separate them to Him and send them off on mission work.

And sometimes I envy that a bit. Because my mission doesn’t feel very adventurous and I’m just trying to figure out what ways to serve in my church and how to find time to bring a meal to a new mom as I juggle helping care for my mother with Alzheimer’s and my mother-in-law with dementia.

And it’s not very glamorous. Or exciting. And often it is just plain hard work.

I was praying about it the other day and I randomly opened my Bible and it “happened” to open to I Timothy 5. And I read, “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable to God.”

And then in verse eight, of the same chapter, I read, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Wow! These are strong words! From God’s Word.

God IS calling me to care for my mother and mother-in-law. This is a responsibility He has given me, and really all believers.

It may look different for everyone. Some people live far from family. But that doesn’t excuse Christ-followers from making provision for parents and grandparents who need help.

It is our God-given job. And everyone can do their part, even if those parts look quite different from one another.

And it makes me wonder.

I wonder how loved and cherished aging parents would feel if each of their children and grandchildren did everything they could to meet the needs of their elders.

I wonder how many phone calls and meals would be shared. I wonder how many spirits would be lifted with cards, flowers, letters and gifts. I wonder how many songs would be sung together and ring cheer into hearts.

I wonder how clean houses would be and how lovely yards and gardens would be. I wonder how many errands would be cheerfully run and how many repairs would be promptly finished.

I wonder how many stories of the old days would be shared. And how many home-cooked goodies would be relished. I wonder how many puzzles and games would be enjoyed together and how much laughter would fill the rooms.

I wonder how many prayers would be lifted up together to our Lord. And how many wrinkled hands would be held tenderly by younger hands.

I wonder how excellent personal cares would be, and how comfortable and well fed every bed or wheel-chair-bound person would be.

I wonder how many loving hugs would bring tears. And how many conversations would build up faith and courage.

I wonder how many blessings would be poured down from Heaven.

If everyone did their part.

Because God is watching. And He sees the sacrificial love given by some.

And He sees the neglect and loneliness and unmet needs that wouldn’t have to be there. If everyone did their part.

Sometimes I struggle with my own attitudes and feel like it’s all too much. But this is the mission in my life right now. And I know I don’t do all I could do. And I pray that the Holy Spirit will direct me and help me so that I’ll make better use of my time for His purposes, in this season of precious ministry.

Because life isn’t all about personal pleasure or comfort, though God often blesses us with both. Life is about loving God and others. And that is where the real joy and fulfillment is anyway.

It reminds me of a quote from Mother Theresa…

“Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right where you are—in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools…You can find Calcutta all over the world if you have eyes to see…”

Sometimes life is heavy. But I know I’m where I’m supposed to be. And I’m thankful for the grace and strength and blessings He gives for this mission.

 

 

 

Mama’s Lilacs

Whenever I smell lilacs I think of Mama. Mom and Dad planted a  whole big border of them in the back yard when I was growing up, and they are still flourishing  there today. Mom used to pick big bunches of them and fill vases with their beauty and the house with their scent.

When we were in grade school Mom would send bouquets of them with me for my teachers, the stems wrapped in wet paper towel and tin foil.

And I still remember, the year I miscarried a much wanted baby. Mom brought over a bouquet of lilacs with some crab apple blossoms mixed in. And the scent and simple arrangement brought a gentle comfort to my heart.

Now I walk right through a gap we cut in the lilac hedges, as I use my backyard gate, and walk into Mama’s yard. And when the lilacs are blooming I always stop and smell them and revel in their abundance and aroma. Because they are short lived. And their beauty is fleeting.

I cut branches from Mama’s bushes, and from our own lilacs that we grew from runner shoots of Mom and Dad’s bushes. And I fill vases in my house. And I break off a few stems for Mama.

I put them in a vase and set them close to her. But she doesn’t look at them. I hold them up in front of her, close to her face, and say, “Mama, do you want to smell the lilacs?” But she just looks confused, or tries to bite them.

So I leave the vase on her side table. And hope that the sweet smell brings back memories of sunnier days. And of smiles. I hope they bring a gentle comfort to her heart.

And before I leave, I stop and bend close to Mama. And I take in the beauty of her softly wrinkled face. I stroke her silver hair. I hold her hand. I kiss her forehead and say, ” It’s me, Mom. I’m Cheryl. I love you, Mama.”

And I walk back home, through the gap in the lilac hedges, that Mama planted and loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons in Aging

A couple years ago I had a day of lessons in aging…

Mom asked me twice how old I was. The first time I answered, “Fifty three.”
She said, “Oh my goodness!” I asked her how old she was. She tilted her head back and said, “H-mmm, let’s see…” And then she abruptly looked at me, startled and with wide opened eyes and said, “I don’t know!”
“Do you want me to tell you?” I asked.
“No,” she replied, suddenly unconcerned.

A few hours later she again randomly asked me old I was and I told her. This time she calmly replied, “Oh, fifty-three…okay.” So I asked her how old she was and she replied, “I don’t know.”
“Do you want me to tell you how old you are?”
Her eyes sparkled, as if I was letting her in on a great secret, and she replied, “Why don’t you!”
“You’re eighty years old,” I said.
“EIGHTY!” she exclaimed, in a loud shocked voice. “You’re CRAZY!!”

I was still visiting with Dad when an aunt called. She is in her eighties and lives in a house by herself in the country. Thankfully she has relatives that live close by. She told Dad that her brothers and sisters all call in and check up on each other every day or so.

Shortly after I got home another elderly relative called me. She is in her nineties and had gone to see “The Church Basement Ladies” with a group from her own church. Though not a weepy person, she said tears were streaming down her face as she watched this comedy—because it reminded her of her own mother who was always cooking big meals in their small town church basement. After the show she went home and got a phone call about her older sister being moved to hospice care.

It all makes me think how brave older people have to be. The longer they live the more people they have to miss and the more adjustments they must make.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why God planned families and children and grandchildren. And why God so often speaks of caring for the widows.

Growing old is shocking and crazy. Losing loved ones is brutal. But knowing you have family and friends loving you and checking in on you can make all the difference.

Today I read a quote from Mother Theresa, “Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right where you are—in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools…You can find Calcutta all over the world if you have eyes to see…”

I pray I will do a better job of caring for the lonely in my own world. Someday Jesus will call all who believe in Him Home and age will be meaningless in the glow of eternity. But meanwhile, the elderly are treasures that we are to tenderly cherish and care for. And in that tender caring there are special blessings found no where else.

God's Grace and Mom's Alzheimer's photo.

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.