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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You Really Do

Last night, after going through Mama’s night time routine, I tucked her into bed and then I climbed in next to her for a few minutes. The quilt was tucked up around Mama’s shoulders and underneath her chin as she laid on her side facing me. She seemed more alert than usual, and kept looking at me with her blue eyes wide open, looking so sweet and content all tucked cozy into bed, she reminded me of an innocent child.

I put my arm around her and patted her back. I recited a few favorite Bible passages. I stroked her hair and prayed with her and sang “What a Friend we Have in Jesus.” I reminded her what her own name is and listed her siblings and her home town and so forth. She didn’t respond, but she kept looking at me like she was interested. 

After a few minutes her eye lids began drooping, so I thought I should leave and let her sleep. I said, “I love you, Mama.”

I got no response. I tried again, “I love you so much, Mom.” Again, no response.

I kissed her cheek, and said once more, “I love you, Mama.”

And she answered, with no question in her voice, “You really do.”

“Yes, Mama. I really do.”

And I left smiling, with my own sense of sweet contentment. Dad would soon take his place in bed, cuddling up to Mama. God was watching over them both.

And Mama knew I really loved her.

 

“I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm4:8

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What a Friend we Have in Jesus

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear…

I was in tears. Becky, the music therapist, came again today. Dad requested more hymns this time. And hearing Becky sing How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace was balm to my soul.

Because it’s been a tough week. A few days ago I had called 911 for my mother-in-law with fears that she was having a stroke. Thankfully she wasn’t, and she’s doing well now. But she spent a night in the hospital with all the anxiety that surrounds that.

We’ve had other stresses I won’t share here, except to say caregiving can strain relationships. And life doesn’t stop because you are caregiving or since someone you love is in hospice. It keeps flowing on, and problems and conflicts and emotions keep crashing like waves, threatening sometimes to flood your heart and pull you down under.

But something about hearing the strum of a guitar, and a lovely voice singing, O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer, becomes a life raft to collapse on in the storm.

I looked at Mama reclining in her chair, as Becky sang. Mama looked so pale and still. She seems more quiet this week and I’m afraid maybe I really am losing her. Because even though she’s in hospice care, there’s a big part of me that’s in denial. I’ve heard of people living two years in hospice care and I’ve been counting on that all along. At least two years.

But when I see her eating less. And talking less. And moving less– it’s harder. And more fearful. I looked at her today and made sure she was breathing. I remembered how, a few years ago, Dad had called me to come help because Mama had fallen. When I’d walked into the living room Mama was lying on the floor on her side singing, What a Friend we Have in Jesus. And I thought, at the time, what a perfect song to sing when you’re stuck on the floor and waiting for help.

And I wished Mama could join in and sing with us again. But she just rested, pale and quiet. And I blinked back tears.

Dad told Becky that he had altered some of the words to You Are My Sunshine. Instead he sings:

You are my sweetheart, my only sweetheart. You make me happy when days are gray. You never know dear, how much I love you. Won’t you be my sweetheart today.

So Becky sang the song Dad’s way. And Dad’s chin quivered. And my eyes watered. And Mama opened her eyes. So Becky sang it again.

It’s been a tough week. It’s been a hard day. But I’m thankful for the support of our hospice team as they surround us and hold us up with love and caring hearts and hands-on help.

And I’m thankful for the gift of music and the comfort it shines on us, like sunshine breaking through a storm cloud. It’s still raining, and yet somehow we are warmed and cheered in a ray of sunlight at the same time.

And most of all I’m thankful that we truly do have a friend in Jesus. And He does bear my sins and griefs. And I can go to Him in prayer and pour out my heart to Him and know that He is carrying me, and Mama and Dad and my family. We are in His strong arms. We can trust Him always.

Jesus won’t drop us. He won’t let go. He can calm the storm or He can walk on the waves. I can rest in Him and know that He is faithful and good always. What a friend we have!

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What Caregivers Know and You Can Know Too

Mama thrilled my heart twice today!

First when I arrived, I checked in on Mom and gave her a drink. As I was leaving to get lunch, Mama said, “Don’t fall down.” And it so warmed my heart. It sounded like such a motherly thing to say, and I feel short on mothering these days.

And then later, as I was feeding Mama lunch, she looked right into my eyes and said, “I like you.” And oh, I can’t tell you how that fed my soul! Even just to have her look right in my eyes is getting harder to come by these days. She most often stares off into space or at pictures on the wall. So to have her look right at me, right into my eyes, is a blessing. And to have her say, “I like you,” at the same time is a victory!

I thought at the time, I can’t wait to share this. Followed by the thought, Will anyone “get” it? Doesn’t it just sound trivial to most people? Or maybe even sad?

But as I contemplated it I quickly concluded that my fellow caregivers will totally understand what I’m saying. And I know they will rejoice with me. And the ones who have traveled this road before me will “get it”. Completely. No doubt. And they will remember their own victory moments. And they will send me a heart high-five!

Because caregivers know, as no others can, how precious and meaningful a simple sentence can be. They know the deep feelings that can come with a look or a touch. They know how priceless a word can be. They know what a trophy a smile can be.

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Caregivers, nurses, hospice workers and aides are in the thick of the battle.They are pouring their hearts and souls and lives out to meet the needs of others. They aren’t sitting on the bench. They are in the game.

And it’s tough and it’s hard and it can be grueling. But I want to encourage any benchwarmers out there by saying this; you miss the bumps and the agonies and the pain when you sit on the sidelines. But you miss the depth of the joys too.

Don’t tell yourself it’s too hard and that you can’t do it. Don’t stay away from your loved one who has dementia, or any illness for that matter, because it’s too hard for you to bear. Don’t say, “I don’t want to see them that way. I want to remember them the way they were.”

Press through that. Take a deep breath. Pray. Trust God to give you the grace and strength to handle it and plunge in. Make that call. Make that visit before it’s too late. And if the visit is horrible and you leave crying, don’t quit. Go back again in a few days, or a week. Keep trying!

Bring a flower. Bring a cookie. Bring a card or a song or a dog. Just bring yourself and show up and be there. Maybe you’re loved one doesn’t know you at all. I know it’s hard. But the important thing is that you know them. So show that you do. And make some memories for yourself. Before it’s too late.

Do it now. Pour out some love today. Someday you won’t have the chance anymore and you’ll regret it.

Brush her hair. Hold his hand. Sing a song. If he is still mobile take him for a drive or walk. Look at pictures together. Talk about whatever they’re still able to talk about if they can still talk. Share your own life with them if they can’t.

Bring a meal. Mow a lawn. Fix a drip. Wash some clothes. If you’re bedridden or housebound, be a prayer warrior. You can change lives that way! You know what you’re able to do. Look for a need you can fill, and do it.

Press through the fear and the sorrow. Press through! You can do it! With God’s help you can certainly do it!

Be open to the pain and hurt of being there through the hard stuff. Yes, it will be painful. Yes, it will wrench your heart. But you will never know the elation of the victory moments, if you don’t go through the pain. The wins are never as sweet for the benchwarmers. The spectators can’t feel the same elation as the players. The onlookers at the marathon don’t win the medals.

There is someone in your life now who could use a visit. There is someone you could show love to. Press through and do it. You won’t regret giving love. You may deeply regret missing your chance.

Be strong and brave and do it. Maybe this is the day your dear one will look in your eyes and say, “I like you.” Or even “I love you.” Maybe this is the day they will know your name. What if it’s the last day they do? Please don’t miss it.

And as Mama said today, “Don’t fall down.” This is your opportunity. Don’t fall. Don’t fail. Stand up and be part of the team.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2a (NKJV)

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My daughter, Annie, pictured here with my mom, her grandma. Annie is an amazing caregiver!

Have Faith

Being a caregiver has taught me, among many other lessons, that God has a sense of humor. And He often sends me a smile when I need one.

And I’ve needed them a lot lately. Because caregiving is hard. It’s stressful. It can be grueling.

The last few weeks have been especially tough. My daughter, Annie, and I feel the weight of Mama’s care and all the decisions and work and pressure that surround that. And my Dad has strong opinions and is grieving as he is slowly losing his beloved wife.

And sometimes the stress of it all clashes loudly and we say things we don’t mean and emotions pour out in strong words and flowing tears. And I cry out to God, “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are upon You!”

And then we pray. And we apologize. And God speaks wisdom through my husband. Calming wisdom.  And we are learning to walk in that wisdom, but stumbling along on the way.

As new challenges come up we have begun to tell each other, “It will be okay.” And “Have faith in God.” And we look for the next wise step to take.

Yesterday, we were having another challenge. Our caregiving agency had assigned a brand new caregiver without giving her any training with Mom yet. They usually have a new person shadow an experienced caregiver first. Thankfully, Annie was available to be over with Mom at the same time, or it just wouldn’t have worked.

Anyway, the good news is that according to Annie, the new caregiver has great potential! And when she was introducing herself to Dad, who is hard of hearing, Dad said, “Fay? Your name is Fay?”

And she answered, “No. Faith. Like faith in God.”

Someday, Not Today

Sometimes Mama says such profound things that I can hardly believe it. Especially since she has so little vocabulary left and her sentences are generally very short.

Today my daughter and I were discussing summer hopes and dreams and vacations. And logistics. Because Mama needs so much help transferring now, and many of us have strength and back limitations, we have become dependent on a few for moving Mama. And sometimes the strong backs are the ones who need the vacations.

So we were discussing these things and figuring out alternate schedules that might work, so Mama still got some moving and changes of scenery, and a chance to stretch her legs a bit.

Later Annie went over to Mama’s to feed her supper. And she came back and said, “Do you know what Grandma said, Mom? She said, ‘Someday, not today, things will be different.’

And Annie and my husband and I all looked at each other amazed. One, because this is a long sentence for Mama to say at this point. And two, because there is so much meaning in that sentence.”

Because someday things will be different. Someday, only God knows how soon, we won’t need to plan around Mama’s care to go on vacation. Someday we won’t need to go over every few hours to feed Mama and change her and move her. Someday we won’t hear her yelling anymore. Someday we won’t be counting out her pills or talking to the nurse or bathing her skin. Someday we won’t be brushing her hair or helping her brush her teeth as she yells and bites the brush.

Someday, not today, things will be different.

Someday I won’t be able to feel her baby soft skin. Someday I won’t be able to smooth back her silvery hair and look into her blue eyes. Someday I won’t be able to hold her arthritic hand and feel her close her fingers around mine. Someday I won’t get to snuggle next to her at nap time and feel her put her arm around me and pat my arm and back. Someday I won’t hear the comments she makes and be amazed.

Someday, not today, things will be different.

Annie finished feeding Mama supper tonight and was saying good-bye to Dad and Mom. Dad said, “Good-bye, Annie.”

But Mama started saying, “Hello! Hello!”

Which makes me think, that the moment we say good-bye to Mama on this earth, she will be saying “Hi!” to Jesus in Heaven! Mama knew Jesus and trusted in Him when her mind was strong, so she will be with Him for eternity. And there with Him her mind will be healthy and clear again.

And I can picture her greeting family and friends. I can see her hugging her own mama. I see her smiling and laughing again. And never in pain ever, ever again. And I know someday I will see her again. And I wonder what our first words to each other will be.

Someday, not today, things will be different.

So today I will treasure up the sweet moments…the shared meals, the hand holding, the cuddling, the singing, and the words Mama says. Today I will hug Mama close and know that she is here and I am blessed to care for her and love her. Today I will kiss her wrinkled cheek and tell her that I love her.

And with God’s help I will serve faithfully on this holy ground He has given me as my mission now.

And I will remember…someday, not today, things will be different.

 

 

 

Keep the Love

Sometimes I truly believe God speaks His wisdom through Mama, despite her severe dementia, and sends me the words I need to hear…

It has been such a hard week. Without going into details, let me just say, that when a family is sharing caregiving responsibilities, people can feel over worked and overwhelmed. And when we see a loved one declining emotions run strong, and sometimes too loudly.

Even the most loving people can disagree about what needs to happen when and how, and what is best for all concerned. And sometimes people speak in the stress of it all and say things they don’t really mean. And backs and bodies can be injured moving Mama and feelings can be injured by attitudes and words.

Sometimes you cry the whole drive to church and wonder if you should even go in to offer worship to God  when you know there is a whole wall of hurt between you and a family member that needs to come down and the weight of it all sits on your heart.

And I’m thankful for my wise husband, who sympathizes with me, but urges me to give grace. And reminds me of the stress we’re all under and the grieving we are all going through. And he says to me, “The important thing is to keep loving each other.” And keep forgiving. And don’t let Satan win ground here. And I know he is right.

So some of us apologized. And talked. And we cried and hugged each other. And others of us somehow found a wordless peace.

And then my daughter texted last night, as she was putting Mama to bed.

And the text read, “Grandma says…’Keep the love.'”

And my eyes misted and my heart warmed. And I felt like God was advising me through my Mama once again.

Keep the love.

What perfect words.

Yes, Mama, with God’s help we will. You raised a loving family. And you nurtured us well. And you poured love into your children and grandchildren. You filled us up, Mama.

And I pray that through all these challenges we won’t lose a drop of that love. I pray rather that our love will grow stronger, for God and each other. And that He will help us persevere through the hard stuff. And I pray that His love will fill us to overflowing and spill out so all around us know His love.

And I pray that you feel and know that love, Mama. I pray that you know how cherished and honored you are.

And with God’s help, we will keep the love, until we are all gathered together again for eternity.