It’s hard to say when I first noticed the decline in my mother’s ability to remember things. In retrospect, there were very subtle hints in 2008, the year that my Dad died. Forgotten appointments. Unopened bank statements on the dining room table. Multiple notebooks for list-keeping. Alzheimer’s has progressed fairly quickly in the past two years, but in the first years, it was a slow backward slide. Easy to dismiss and overlook. Easy to blame on something else.
I know a little bit about the slow backward slide myself.
It was just a few years ago when everyone was noticing my change in physique. Compliments abounded as my hard work with diet and exercise began showing up in the way I looked. My confidence grew with each pound lost. I began to run (well, that’s what I called it). My hard-fought progress was an inspiration to others, encouraging them to reach for goals of their own.
I’m not sure when the backward slide in my physical health began. Like Momma’s memory loss, it was subtle at first. Saying “yes, please” to desserts more often and “not today” to opportunities to hit the gym (ultimately quitting). A contributing factor may have been the more sedentary nature of time spent with mom as my caregiving responsibilities increased. Any way it happened, the equation for weight gain remains the same. More calories in, fewer calories out = extra pounds. My new clothes didn’t fit quite right anymore (and I had given away my larger sizes). My energy level dipped – it was harder to get out of bed.
To say that I was sad about my weight gain would be an understatement. A friend or two took notice and tried to encourage me. But, mostly, friends looked the other way, not sure how they could help, not knowing what to say without offending.
But a day of reckoning came – my annual physical exam. I hadn’t been brave enough to weigh myself in the entire year since my last doctor’s appointment. My stomach did a flip as the medical assistant asked me to step on the scale, and my heart sunk when the scale told me that I had put on another 10 lbs. I had now regained half of what I had originally lost. I had also developed a “soft heart murmur” on top of my known bifasicular block heart condition. Adding insult to injury, I am now quite physically challenged by a problem with my piriformis muscle entrapping my sciatic nerve, causing me to limp like a little old lady in search of her cane. The good news was that all of my labs were good, including my blood sugar, and my blood pressure was under control.
On my way home from the doctor’s office, tears wouldn’t stop as I prayed aloud asking God for wisdom as to how to get back to a better place of health. I pulled over and contemplated my doctor’s printed summary of this visit and resolved to take ALL of my doctor’s recommendations seriously. The minute I got home, I set about the task of making appointments for the tests she had ordered on my behalf. I scheduled that appointment for the mammogram (HATE those!), the appointment with the cardiologist for an ultrasound of the heart, a bone mineral density test, and a consultation with a physical therapist.
Dr. Bennett had told me, in all earnestness, “Cindie, you NEED to exercise. You and I both know you can’t be the best caregiver possible if you’re not taking care of your own needs first.”
Wiping away my tears, I made a decision to go back to the diet that had been most effective for me in the past and asked my supportive hubby for a gym membership for my birthday. [Guys, it’s generally not cool to buy a gym membership for your wife…UNLESS she asks for one.]
Well, I’m beginning week two and enjoying my “me time” at the gym. Just getting away from my caregiving responsibilities for an hour or two is such a good feeling. One of my favorite things to do now is read for about 30 minutes while working out on the stationary bike or elliptical trainer. Something I read today from Donald S. Whitney’s book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health pierced and challenged my heart. The author expounded on the diagnostic question, “Do You Thirst for God?” Just as I had experienced a gradual backward slide physically, I realized I just as surely was plagued with a tell-tale symptom of a spiritual backward slide: a decreased spiritual thirst.
It’s easy to hide this spiritual symptom of decline from the eyes of others. Just be busy in the church and serving others. Attend church every Sunday (and be sure to take notes in your well-marked up Bible). Surely, no one will know.
But God does. And so do I.
To make progress in my spiritual health, I need to do what I already know I need to do. More time in the Word, taking in its life-giving nourishment and meditating on its truths. More exercising of my spiritual faith muscles in prayer, wholehearted service, and sharing the Gospel with others.
Momma takes frequent cat naps, so I’m thankful for the time I am able to read and be challenged in my spiritual growth. The very ability to read is something I take less for granted as I care for my mom. Amazingly, while Alzheimer’s is slowly causing a backward slide in her ability to read with comprehension, the Word of God stored up in her heart over the course of many years continues to speak to Mom’s heart. And the Spirit of God who indwells her, will forever be her faithful companion as she continues her journey Home.