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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Finding the Riches in Mourning

It has been a little over a month since my Mama passed on to the presence of Jesus. I continue to learn about grieving. And about how tears can flood your eyes because of the littlest memory. Or because of nothing at all. It’s an emotional time.

I was at a group last week for church. A woman I believe is older than me, talked about her mother. And I confess, I fought a little jealousy that she still had her mom. And I got a card from a friend’s mom, who is in her nineties, and still able to think clearly and give advice and help to her daughter. She wrote such an eloquent note on the card. It made me wonder what it would be like to be my age and still have a mama’s wisdom and guidance. I marveled at how rich my friend is to be so blessed.

The thought hits me sometimes that I don’t have a mom anymore. And I feel instantly sad and lonely and lost. But then I remind myself, I still do have a mother. She’s just in her true Home now. She’s healed and well and in the presence of Jesus. And I will see her again, and for eternity!

It helped me to read this part of a sermon,  “Fallen Asleep” Sermon #2659, January 29, 1882, by Charles Spurgeon, from the book We Shall See God by Randy Alcorn:

Did you ever notice, concerning Job’s children, that when God gave him twice as much substance as he had before, he gave him only the same number of children as he formerly had? The Lord gave him twice as much gold and twice as much of all sorts of property, but he only gave him the exact number of children he had before. Why did he not give the patriarch double the number of children as well as twice the number of cattle? Why, because God regarded his children who had died as being Job’s still.

They were dead to Job’s eye, but they were visible to Job’s faith. God numbered them still as part of Job’s family, and if you carefully count up how many children Job had, you will find that he had twice as many in the end as he had in the beginning. In the same way, consider your friends who are asleep in Christ as still yours — not a single one is lost.

Mama is not lost. She is still mine. I still have a mother. I always will.

And my Dad is still here on earth with me. Though I’ve mostly been concerned about him and trying to take care of him, today he called me. And he asked me how I was and how I’d slept and what was going on. When I told him I was tired, he told me to go take a nap. And as I hung up the phone, I realized…I’m rich, too.

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Back Home

We were watching an old Dick Van Dyke Show the other night, when I just started crying. Grieving is like that. It catches you by surprise.

The character Sally was doing a song and dance at a show for inmates at a prison.  She sang Cotton Fields, by Huddie Ledbetter…

     When I was a little bitty baby my Mama would rock me in the cradle, in those old cotton fields back home…

     It doesn’t seem like a tear-jerker. But my mama was raised in Louisiana and her daddy grew cotton. And picking that cotton was one of the last childhood memories to leave her.
     Mom also told a story over and over, about how her own Mama would put the baby of the family (Mama was the third of eleven children) on a big gunny sack that was tied around her waist. And she would pull her baby along near her while she filled the sack with cotton. This was the last story I remember hearing from Mama about her childhood. The story that stuck and held firm through the decay of dementia.
     Years later, when she didn’t tell the story anymore, I’d ask her if she picked cotton when she was young.
     “Oh-h, YES!” she’d answer, with no doubts. Until eventually even that memory melted away.
     Anyway, so there I was watching a sit-com with an upbeat song and dance, crying away. When I calmed down I called my dad to check in with him. He was doing well that night, so I told him about the song and how it made me cry, choking up again as I did.
     Dad said, “Well, she hasn’t picked cotton for many, many years.” And then he added, “I’m sitting here thinking about all the things my sweetheart is enjoying in heaven, and it makes me happy.”
     I don’t want to imply here that my dad isn’t having his own emotional times, because he is. But I caught him in a good hour. And his words soothed my soul.
     It’s okay for those of us left behind to cry. And we will. Often. But what a precious comfort to picture the truth of heaven and the indescribable joys that Mama is relishing there.
     She’s not in those old cotton fields back home. Mama is Home with Jesus.
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Christmas Mourning

     I’m missing Mama so much today. Having a day of tears in between trying to get some things done. It is such a strange mix to have Christmas and mourning together. But how much deeper would our grieving be if we had never had Christmas and all that it means. I can’t imagine.
     So I call Social Security and wait on hold for forty minutes to tell them Mama has passed, as I’m surrounded by boxes and gifts that need to be wrapped. And I tuck thank you notes, for meals and memorial gifts, into Christmas cards. And I open an envelope of death certificates that came in the same mail with a mix of sympathy cards and Christmas greetings.
     And I miss Mama. I think about our last week or so together. The last way that Mama really communicated to me, when she had lost her ability to speak, was holding onto my hand. A few days before she died she still had such strength. She would grip my hand so tightly it would almost hurt. Sometimes I’d have to move and pull my hand away for a minute, and it was actually difficult to do. I marveled at her strength.
    And then I missed it, that last day or so, when her hand no longer squeezed mine. I’d slip my hand under hers, so I could feel like she was touching me. And I’d hold her hand, but receive no pressure back.
     This is a tough Christmas. But I keep reminding myself of one of the last things Mama said to my daughter, “God is here. He is bigger.” I say that to myself often these days.
     And I was wondering what the last words she said to me were, that were responsive. So I just looked back at some notes… On December first I had said, “I love you, Mama.”
And Mama had answered, “I know that.”
     And I smile through tears and am thankful.
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God is Here

It’s been a tough week. On Saturday we thought maybe God was taking Mama home to Him. She wouldn’t wake up no matter what we did. She was unresponsive. She was so cold. Her breathing was erratic, with long, scary gaps. I was sending messages to people asking for prayer. I was comforting my crying daughter and trying to stay calm myself.

But after many hours she did wake up! And she ate a very late supper. And we all exhaled a big breath and smiled. We hadn’t lost her. Not yet. We could savor some more cuddles. We could still hold her hand and feel her squeeze back in response once again.

The next day, Sunday morning, Mama told my daughter, “God is here.”

Annie answered, “Yes, He’s here.”

Mama said, “He is bigger.”

And we continue to take comfort in those precious words. Because even though Mama rarely seems to know who we are anymore, if at all, she knows that God is here. God is with her. God is with us. And He is bigger. Bigger than Alzheimer’s. Bigger than our pain and sorrow. Bigger than our stress and worries and fears.

God is bigger.

I’m so thankful Mama knows this. I’m so thankful God continues to teach us through the few words Mama says these days.

Other concerns and stresses weigh down on us too. Our prayer list is long. This is a challenging season of life as we oversee the care of three elderly parents, one who lives with us. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and cry and call out for help and prayer.

And I feel the comfort of God in kind words and offers from friends. In family members who step in and help. In devotional passages and Bible verses I read. Like one I read today…

“If I say, ‘My foot slips,’ Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:18-19 (NKJV)

Yesterday I cuddled Mama before supper, “Mama, it’s me…Cheryl.” She repeated my name so clearly! I rarely hear her say my name and often it sounds slurred. But yesterday she said it clearly twice! “You said my name, Mama! Thank you!”

She answered, “Yes, Ma’am.” Which made me smile even more and gave a nod to her Southern upbringing. I’m grateful for this gift of hearing Mama say my name again. And especially for the pricelessness of hearing her speak of God’s presence.

God is here. He is bigger.

GOD is here. God IS here. God is HERE!

And He is bigger!

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Finding Courage for the Caregiving Journey

I was reading my Bible yesterday, and a phrase has stuck with me. Jeremiah 15:19, in the New King James Version, reads, “…If you take out the precious from the vile…”

I’m not looking right now at what the passage is actually saying in context and proper interpretation. I’m just saying this group of words hit me. And keeps coming back to mind.

I think because the words describe my experience with Alzheimer’s in some ways. There are vile, awful, heart-wrenching things caused by the disease. Anyone who has loved someone with  AD knows what I’m talking about here. I have lived through the shock of having my own sweet mother yell and swear at me and shout that she hates me and wants to kill me. She has hit me and bitten me. And even more tragic to my heart, she has forgotten who I am. Vile stuff to be sure.

But there are also precious, poignant things that I’ve experienced on this journey with Mama. It feels strange to say they are because of the disease — I’m sure I would have made amazing memories with Mama if she was healthy. Yet, there is some element of truth that I feel closer to Mom because of the disease.

Maybe because she has needed me so much more than she would have if she was strong. I have bathed her and spoon fed her and changed her and cuddled her. I have sung to her and read to her and brought her to the doctor and dentist. I have tried to comfort her when she’s been upset. I have cried over the changes in her and her losses. I have cheered her victories.

Maybe I feel closer because I treasure the words, touches and moments more because I know they are dwindling. Maybe human nature can’t truly appreciate something until they know they are losing it.

I read a Charles Spurgeon devotional today, Morning and Evening, and his words reminded me of this, too. “There must be shades in the picture to bring out the beauty of the lights.”

Please understand I’m not saying I’m glad my mom has Alzheimer’s. No, no, no! It grieves me that she’s sick. I’ve been living ten years now mourning Mama as we gradually lose her. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’m just saying, since we appear to be stuck with the disease until God does a miracle and/or He gives the medical world a cure, that it helps me to look for the precious among the vile.

When I just think about the things Mama can’t do anymore my heart breaks. But when I say to myself, This is hard, but God will give us the grace to get through it, and I focus on the things I can be grateful for and try to savor the sweet moments, I can have courage to face the rest of this journey. One day at a time.

So I will soak in the cuddles, the smiles, the words of love occasionally spoken, the funny quirky things Mama says, and every time Mama randomly says my name. I will be thankful for each gentle touch or pat she blesses me with and for each time she opens her eyes and looks at me. I will gather the tender times to my heart and treasure them always.

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Are You Happy?

I was feeding my mom a meal the other day and I asked her, “Mama, are you happy?”

She turned her head to face me and looked me directly in the eyes and then abruptly and very loudly shouted, “NO-OOO!”

I couldn’t help laughing in the moment, at her bold, startling reaction. But now I feel like shouting the same thing. Though we’ve had some sweet blessings lately, it has been a very stressful time. And we don’t see anything changing for the better soon. In fact we mostly see dark clouds that hint at worse things to come.

And if anyone asked me right now if I was happy, and if I answered them frankly, I would want to shout with Mama, “NO-OOO!”

No, I’m not happy. This is such a hard time. I feel like life is heavy right now, and news from many directions is depressing. I know I have so much to be grateful for, but life is changing, and more sacrifices are required. And I’m so tired.

I know I have more help than so many people. And I feel guilty complaining. And I wonder where my faith is. And I ask God what He is teaching me.

I open up my Bible and read…

I pour our my complaint before Him; I declare Him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path. (Psalm 142:2-3, NKJV)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite. (Psalm 147:3-5, NKJV)

The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy. (Psalm 147:11, NKJV)

And I find comfort. Because I have a Lord I can pour out my complaints and troubles to. He knows when I’m overwhelmed. He knows the paths I’m on and the ones to come, and He will be there with me. Guiding me. Guiding us.

We have a Lord that is compassionate and heals the brokenhearted. A God so mighty that He knows the name of each star He created, and the name of each wounded servant of His on earth. And He binds our wounds.

And as we look to Him with trust and hope, He is pleased that we are depending on Him. He is pleased when we hope in Him for mercy and grace for each day. He is pleased when we realize we can not get through this on our own, but have faith that He is with us and that He will preserve us and keep us and sustain us.

And someday when this hard time is over, because we know this too shall pass, we will be stronger for having lived through it. And we can declare His truth and love with greater boldness for having been held up by it in the storms.

Earlier today my daughter showed me a video she had made of Mama some time back. She asked Mom, “Are you happy?”

And with a very grouchy voice and tone, Mom had shouted, “Yes, I’m happy!”

Annie asked again, “Grandma, are you happy?”

And with a slightly less grim tone Mama shouted, “I’m happy…all the day!”

I can’t honestly say that I’m happy all the day. This is a tough time of life. But I KNOW that Jesus is with me all the day. And I know that He won’t leave me. And I know that He will give grace and mercy enough for each moment as I hope in Him.

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