Someone recently asked me how I decided when it was time for my mom to be cared for in a nursing home or assisted living memory care. I’ve written about that decision a time or two, but decided I should write about it again.
Before I share my personal “Top 3” list, I invite you to grab a cup of coffee (or your favorite beverage) and listen to this video by Dr. Natali Edmonds — someone who has been a virtual mentor for me as I’ve learned about being a caregiver.
Now, here are my Top 3 Reasons
Reason #1: Sleep
Not mom’s sleep. My sleep. I wasn’t getting enough of it and it was beginning to affect everything. Long-term sleep deprivation is brutal. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, it was creating “excessive caregiver stress” and it was showing up in all of the areas of my life that mattered the most to me. It was harming my closest relationships — my time in God’s Word, my marriage, my opportunities to spend quality time with my grandchildren, my friendships. I was a tired and distracted employee and my job performance suffered. I loved teaching Sunday School, but I knew in my heart I wasn’t able to focus on preparation for my ministry and wasn’t as creative in my teaching as I once was. Those in my circle of friends were beginning to comment about how tired I looked.
Reason #2: Personal hygiene needs
Mom’s resistance to help with personal hygiene, to put it politely; bowel incontinence, to be specific. When my mom’s brain could no longer register the “urge to go” with the need to do something about that, life got a lot messier. Literally. Between multiple clothing and bedding changes, multiple loads of laundry, and floor and bathroom cleanup, daily life was getting too hard for one or two people to handle. Mom needed more hands on care and a bathroom that was designed with disabilities in mind.
Reason #3: Safety & Mobility issues
In the later stages of dementia, mom was beginning to forget how to walk. There were days when she needed coaching to put one foot in front of the other. Her legs were growing weak, making her a greater risk for falls. Using a walker helped, but not always. Sometimes she’d forget the walker in another room. Other times, she’d drag it behind her. On a few occasions, she couldn’t figure out what it was, so stuck it outside of her room so it wouldn’t be in the way. My house wasn’t designed for using a walker or a wheelchair. All of the bedrooms and full bathrooms were inaccessible to mom since they were located on the second floor.
We made the best possible use of this half-bath space to accommodate mom’s growing needs, including taking the door off the hinges so we could have more room to maneuver and help her.
The more of a problem “Reason #2” became for us, the more I knew she needed a safer place to live.
I applaud and encourage the many who have made “at home until the end” work. You are amazing caregivers! Please understand, however, that you will still be an amazing caregiver if you make the hard choice to reach out for help in caring for your loved one. You do not cease to be a caregiver by changing the location of where that care is given or who helps you provide that care.
I’d like to leave you with a little slideshow with just a few photos depicting how happy and content my mom was in this abode where opportunities were many, friendships were sweet, and help was always on hand.
Tuesday’s Caregiving Tip: Keep a journal of those special moments with your loved one.
To my fellow caregiving friends who are still in the hustle and bustle of caring for a loved one with dementia, be sure to take time to write down those special moments. I wish I had kept an actual chronological handwritten journal, but am so glad I blogged and took photos…and posted cute stuff on Facebook.
I moved in with mom for a period of about 9 months. It seemed long and tedious in the midst of it, but just a tiny blip on the radar of life in retrospect. I’m glad I posted this fun memory on Facebook and hope it will bring a smile to someone’s face today.
Today I complete another trip around the sun. Most people get a little forgetful as they age – you know, the searching for the glasses perched on top of the head sort of thing. As I now approach the middle of my sixth decade of life, I am keenly aware that I am spending a tad bit more time looking for mislaid things, and much more time trying to figure out the names of people whose names I should remember. My sweet mom had Alzheimer’s in her later years of life, so I will confess that my own little forgetful moments cause me to think about what may be down the road for me. I suspect the day is coming when my memory will fade, and perhaps gradually vanish.
I write this post for any of my readers who are faced with loving and caring for someone they love who has heard their physician say “Alzheimer’s” when delivering a diagnosis. My dear family, I especially write these words to help you in the event that I someday hear my doctor say that dreaded word, or any other diagnosis which spells memory loss and dementia. You will likely need to make many hard decisions on my behalf – like taking away my car keys and deciding when it is time for me to live somewhere else. You were there when I made those difficult decisions on behalf of my mom and likely remember how hard that was for me. Take heart, God will give you wisdom for each decision and shed light on every step you need to take.
If I get Alzheimer’s, don’t ask me to remember; instead, reminisce and tell me stories from our past. What do you remember that we did together? Tell it again and again to me.
If I get Alzheimer’s, and I perchance do tell you a story from my past (or yours), you might want to write it down or record the story I’m telling you. I may tell you that story over and over and over again, just like your grandma did. Do you remember her talking about how she made her blue flower pots when she was in West Virginia, or how she dug the purple tablecloths out of the trash, or the stories about her wedding day? Just remember that the day will come when I will tell my story for the very last time and you will one day wish you could hear me tell it once again.
If I get Alzheimer’s, I might stubbornly refuse to bathe. The fear of bathing is the sad and stinky reality of this horrible disease. There might be a lot of fussing and crying, so let me tell you right now that when this time comes, you might find that hiring someone to help a for a few hours a day or two a week will be just the thing.
Tip: You might also find that dryer-warmed towels, blankets and clothes will calm my anxiousness. If all else fails, those disposable washcloths you can warm in the microwave are wonderful.
If I tell you I am cold, more than likely I truly am cold. In Alzheimer’s, the part of the brain which regulates body temperature and thyroid function goes kerflooey. Rather than subject yourself to turning up the furnace year-round, when you help me get dressed, start with a soft sweatshirt, then add lighter layers and keep soft blankets and throws handy.
If I get Alzheimer’s, I probably won’t remember to brush my hair. Will you please do it for me? Please use a detangling spray when you brush my mane of hair. I use a detangling brush, working from the ends and then all the way up to gently coax the tangles out. I like my hair long, but cut it short if you must. I might be mad at first, but will likely soon forget what once was.
By the way, if I tell you my hair hurts, I am not confabulating or telling a fib. When my hair gets dirty, my scalp truly hurts. It feels like bruises on my scalp, so please try to keep my hair clean. Perhaps a weekly trip to the hair salon for just a wash will be just the thing.
If I get Alzheimer’s, it might be challenging to keep me occupied, so here are some ideas for you to try. Gardening is my happy place, even if it’s just my own blue pot or three, encourage me to play in the dirt as much as I possibly can.
I also really love to work on puzzles, and might enjoy working on one with you.
Oh, and I like crafts. I once helped my grandkids create things with beads and paint; maybe, in time, it’ll be their turn to help me.
Baking was a joy to me when my mind was clear, so I might enjoy helping you in the kitchen. Even though I am old, remember that my mind is becoming child-like. What can a child do to help? Perhaps I can stir the batter, whisk the eggs, or pour in the bag of chocolate chips.
I could set the table, dry the dishes and wipe off the countertop. It won’t be perfect, but I will feel like I have made a contribution. It’s very important to feel useful.
If I get Alzheimer’s, remember that I’m a blue-jean wearing momma who likes pretty knit tops – ones with interesting details like ruffles on the sleeves and pretty buttons and lace. When you buy clothing for me, I suggest you buy two of each of my favorites. This will help you cope with me when I insist on wearing the same shirt over and over again. Unless you’re handy with a sewing machine, you might even want to buy two in the next size down, as those with Alzheimer’s lose interest in food as time goes on.
Perhaps you have noticed that I practically live in an apron. I wear one in the kitchen, while I’m cleaning, or when I’m gardening. If I get Alzheimer’s and the day comes when I become ‘messy momma’ at meals and perhaps need a bib, you might spare my dignity and try an apron instead. If I need to graduate to a bib, please make me some pretty ones…with lots of flowers.
If you can’t get me out of my pajamas in the morning and I stubbornly refuse to get dressed, just put on your pajamas and declare it “Pajama Day”! Conversely, if at day’s end I refuse to put on my pajamas, please remember that there’s no harm in wearing my clothes to bed. Unless the clothing is soiled, it truly isn’t worth the battle.
Dear family of mine, you know that I love the Lord with all of my heart and go to church every Sunday. If it is within God’s providential plan that I get Alzheimer’s, may I ask you to please take me with you to church for as long as I am able? It will do my heart good to gather and worship with my family and friends. One day you may find that I fidget too much or speak out of turn, then you will know it’s time for me to stay home with a caregiver while you go praise and worship our Lord, fellowship with your friends, and feed your soul. I’m God’s child and He will be near, whether I’m at church or at home, so don’t feel as though you are leaving me alone.
If I get Alzheimer’s, help me stay in touch with friends, be they old or new. I loved to have family and friends come for dinner. Much like your grandma did, I would probably enjoy company, but may get overwhelmed with crowds, so make it just a few. They may not understand what is happening to me, so gently explain before they come.
Remember how I used to take a photo of your grandma with her guests (or snag one off of Facebook), then give her the card to hang onto when her guests arrived. I would add their names and how she knew the people, then laminate the cards. It helped her remember their names. Maybe it would help me too.
If I get Alzheimer’s, please get me outside as often as you can. I always enjoyed walks in the park, so you might try that again. Push me in a wheelchair if you must, but let me enjoy nature and a bit of fresh air for as long as I’m able (and willing).
If I get Alzheimer’s, one day, you may find, I’m terribly unwilling to leave the house where I live. Going outside may become a terror, rather than a joy. If that day comes, try to create a comfy spot where I can sit near a window and enjoy the beauty of flowers and trees planted nearby, or a grandchild-painted birdhouse within view where a sparrow family might keep me occupied with their comings and goings.
If I get Alzheimer’s, you might like to know that I love to listen to music and would enjoy Christian radio. But if I’m anxious, you might find instrumental piano or guitar will help me to relax. I especially enjoy listening to great hymns of the faith. You’ll find what I enjoy on my Spotify.
If I get Alzheimer’s, please remember my children and grandchildren are especially dear and I hope they will visit when they are near. If they can’t come to love on me, please tell them to send me cards and sometimes include a photo for me to treasure.
If I get Alzheimer’s, I might like to carry a purse even though I don’t carry one now. When memories no longer stay tucked away in my mind, a purse might give me a handy storage space where I can pull out special memories any time I like. You might want to tuck a few of my treasures inside: little photo books filled with family (be sure to label who is who), something to color and an array of colored pencils, little books of flowers and butterflies to help me enjoy the things God made. Oh, and finding milk chocolate or a cookie in my purse would be especially nice.
If I get Alzheimer’s, the day may come when watching television is my thing. I really enjoy mysteries, but nothing super scary. Put on a gardening show or gentle children’s programming and I think I’d be content. I don’t like to watch television alone, so would you occasionally sit with me?
One more very important reminder. If I get Alzheimer’s and ever forget your name, please know that my heart still loves you and someday (sooner than you realize), the day will come when God will take me Home and make all things new, including my memory of how special you are and how very much I love you.
This is the third in a series of posts inspired by an article from Alzheimer’s TODAY called Tiny Gifts That Are TREMENDOUS, where Mary Kay Baum shared a helpful A-to-Z list of caregiving suggestions Thus far, I have given you my spin on A-B-C and my thoughts as a caregiver regarding D-E. Let me invite you to join me this week for F and G as I share how these excellent tips have played out in my own caregiving journey.
Thus far, I have given you my spin on A-B-C and my thoughts as a caregiver regarding D-E. Let me invite you to join me this week for F and G as I share how these excellent tips have played out in my own caregiving journey. [Click here to read the original article].
Fear not if I take a break from commotion.
We were celebrating a birthday at our house. Mom sat at her place at the table and enjoyed watching the festivity and seeing a few of her great-grandchildren. Though she didn’t contribute much to the conversation, my heart was warmed by her smile as she watched the birthday boy bask in the attention. After the candles were blown out and the cake was served, mom quietly stood up with the help of her walker and then scootched down the hall the short distance to her room. She was done with company. And that was okay.
On a previous occasion, when mom was living in a senior apartment, the residents were hosting Trick-or-Treat for the neighborhood kiddos. During our city’s Trick-or-Treat hours the residents gathered in their activity room and waited for the steady stream of costumed guests. I thought mom would enjoy seeing all of the kids and handing out candy with all of the other seniors in her building. She stayed for a few minutes, then went back to her apartment; it was just too much for her. I had invited a few kids from church to come to the event. When they arrived, I invited them to visit mom in her apartment. Mom enjoyed the smaller gathering so much more.
During this phase of her journey with Alzheimer’s it became my mission to keep her engaged by inviting people to see her. One or two people would join us for lunch; another day someone might come over to say hi and work a puzzle or engage with her by sitting with her at the table coloring. One family from church brought us pizza for supper one evening, then stayed for a bit so the girls could sort through a jar of buttons with mom.
Go with me and others on quiet nature walks.
Truth is, in the later stages of dementia, most days it was nearly impossible to get my mother outside of the house for a little fresh air. It was a treat when it happened.
If the weather was nice and I could coax mom outside, I’d get her seated in a wheelchair and push her to our neighborhood park.
She enjoyed watching the children play at the splash park, seeing dogs being walked along the pathways, and would occasionally engage a perfect stranger in conversation.
We didn’t stay long, as the charm of our outdoor excursion would soon be replaced by the fear of being able to find our way home. By the time I got her back in the house, she had already forgotten our little trip. Even though it was forgotten, the benefits of the fresh air and the infusion of joy would linger in her demeanor.
One day, out of the blue, mom wanted to “check the mail,” so I let her go outdoors with her walker. She enjoyed that little trek down to the curb and back.
Since she was in a good mood, dressed decently, and it was nearly dinner time, we decided to put her in the car and go for a drive to the nearest Culver’s for supper.
She thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it…especially the frozen custard.
Once my mom made the move to assisted living memory care, getting her out of the front door was even more rare. This photo shows one of those sweet occasions when her great-granddaughter Violet managed to get her outside to sit on a shaded patio.
As Alzheimer’s continued its relentless march claiming bits and pieces of my mom’s brain, it was evident that mom’s world was shrinking right along with her memory. All too soon there came a day when the world outside of Mom’s front door became too scary of a place for her to venture.
That was the day when “go with me” became “be with me.”
I work a few days each week as a baker of all things sweet at a beautiful assisted living and memory care home – the very same place where my dear mom spent her last year on earth. The people who reside here are placed for various needs, most of them needing more help than family can provide with matters related to living life with short-term memory loss. In my short time there as an employee I am getting to know and love each resident, but I do have a few favorites. One of those favorites is as sweet as she is feisty. One minute she can be doling out compliments and kisses, the next she’s telling me to stick my mixer where the sun don’t shine.
But I love her to pieces.
I think she holds a special place in my heart because she reminds me in small ways of my mom (pictured here), who also had some bad days as she wrestled with Alzheimer’s in her later years of life.
In the years before Alzheimer’s, my mom was never one to use foul language; the worst I ever heard come from her mouth when I was a kid was an under her breath, “Shhh-ugar!” Yet, in the throes of the later stages of Alzheimer’s, my mom would occasionally make me blush with her language. If she were in her right mind, she’d be truly embarrassed.
Not long ago my new friend had a really bad day — I knew from the minute I walked in the door that morning that it was going to be a doozy when she began swearing at me for just saying, “Good morning.”
When any of our residents are having a bad day, I can’t really help much, as I’m “just the baker” and not directly involved in resident care. However, there is always one thing I can do. As my hands keep busy at the work of baking desserts, I can pray for those caring for the special needs of the residents. On that morning, I prayed for everyone involved in doing what was best for her, each one doing so with compassion and grace. All the while, I fought back tears for this dear woman who was living out one of my biggest fears for my future. You see, I struggle with the fear that Alzheimer’s may one day strip the filters from my tongue and that I might use uncharacteristically foul and abusive language.
So, how should caregivers deal with the foul language issue in their loved one with dementia? To answer that question, let me share a link to a super-helpful article from Very Well Health which discusses this problem and lists many suggestions. You’ll also find some internal links to explore on related issues: Relationship Between Foul Language and Dementia
My personal go-to tactic is the one in this article called “Redirect and Distract”. Where my mom was concerned, I would say something like, “Are you hungry? Would you like me to fix you a sandwich?” My mom loved sandwiches, so I kept a little stash of halved sandwiches in the fridge.
Other times I would distract her with an activity. I’d just walk away from her angry outburst and grab her coloring books and colored pencils and begin coloring. Nine times out of ten, she’d join me in a few minutes.
Another thing I did on many occasions was to grab my collection of buttons and pour them out onto a towel on the kitchen table. I’d just quietly start sorting the buttons into color groupings, or line them up in rows. Mom could not resist this little sorting activity. Before long, she’d be calm and would join me.
I wrote about these two and several other activities in my post Dementia Friendly Activities. The key thing was for me to be quiet and resist the urge to argue or add defensive words. Talking during one of her outbursts would only add fuel to the war of words raging uncontrollably in her head.
My friend at work has a similar calm-down button: her sweet tooth. I can sometimes redirect her downward spiral by offering her a cookie.
Since I’m the baker, I’ll sometimes say, “I need your help. Could you taste test this for me?” My friend also likes a slice of buttered bread with a cup of milk. Paying attention to what she enjoys and asks for in her calmer moments equips me with ideas for dealing with the tense moments.
While I dread the thought of ever having Alzheimer’s, I do trust the Lord with my future knowing that He will provide what I need should this be in His plan for me. It is my prayer that the Lord will keep my tongue sweet and gracious, and that the “law of kindness” will always be on my tongue. (Proverbs 31:26)
We call them caregivers. Some caregivers are paid to do the job (and I’m SO thankful for them), but most are not financially compensated.
They just care. And give.
I hope my second article will be an encouragement to caregivers. My little series is based upon an article from Alzheimer’s TODAY called Tiny Gifts That Are TREMENDOUS, where Mary Kay Baum shared a helpful A-to-Z list of caregiving suggestions [Click here to read the original article]. My caregiver friends, come along with me as I share how these tips played out in my own caregiving journey. Last week I gave you my spin on A-B-C; this week, I’ll share my thoughts regarding D-E.
Do mention your name, looking at me.
One day I was helping my mom look for her checkbook (a frequent activity in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s). As I sifted through the contents of her purse, I pulled out a list of names. Taking a closer look, I could see that the names were those of some of her closest friends at church. Each name was written out several times, as if she were practicing, trying to cement the names in her mind. I could imagine my mom sitting in her Bible study trying so hard to recall the names of people she had known for years.
It was during this period of time that I realized just how much mom was struggling with the names of the people she knew and loved. In retrospect, it was probably the reason she began declining invitations to social events and had not been regular in her church attendance.
One way we tried to help my mom was to create laminated photo cards which listed the names of the people in the photo and how they were connected with mom. I would get that photo out for her when that individual came for a visit. It helped mom save face by prompting her with the visual cue she needed to remember the names of her guests. As her dementia progressed, she just liked carrying all of her laminated cards around in her purse and seemed to enjoy sorting them and reading the captions.
ENJOY quiet times with me like reading to me.
Reading to my mom was a bit tricky. She was pretty hard of hearing, but I’m so proud of my grandkids (her greats) who did their best to include their great-grandma by reading with her. My youngest grandson George was amazingly good at this. He knew how to put on his loud voice and would snuggle up to her and look at books with her whenever he would visit.
Mom had a special spot at our kitchen table. Whenever the great-grands would come, they would try to do something at the table. Sometimes she’d join in the fun, other times she would just watch.
I’m not going to lie. Having a front-row seat to the heartbreak associated with mom’s onset and advancement of dementia was a hard place to be, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to be a blessing to her during that time. My bank of memories is full to the brim with more special moments than difficulties.
As dementia progresses, the ability to interpret the words written on the page becomes more difficult. Since mom enjoyed coloring, we purchased adult coloring books with simple devotional thoughts and Bible messages so that mom could continue to read. Members of the family also created photo albums with brief descriptive captions–she truly enjoyed looking through those too. Those same photo albums gave less familiar friends and paid caregivers something to do with her too–a connection and something to talk about and enjoy together.
It is my hope and dream that by sharing my own experiences – the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful – someone else will be encouraged in their life as a caregiver. Sometimes, sharing just one caregiving idea will give another caregiver the hope that they can DO this hard thing.
For more helpful information about Alzheimer’s please visit:
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America puts out a fine publication aimed at providing helpful information for those who love and care for others with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia including vascular dementia (what my brother has), Lewy Body dementia, Parkinson’s, alcohol-induced dementia, and others. Their purpose is stated in this way:
Mission: To provide support, services and education to individuals, families and caregivers affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias nationwide, and fund research for better treatment and a cure.
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I have a similar mission or purpose in writing. In addition to sharing the fun stuff in life that comes from my joy in barefoot gardening, grandkids, and following Christ, I have a deep desire to encourage those who are in the trenches of caring for a loved one or friend with Alzheimer’s. We call them caregivers. Some caregivers are paid to do the job (and I’m SO thankful for them), but most are not financially compensated.
They just care. And give.
Today, I’m sharing an article from Alzheimer’s TODAY which should be of great help to ALL caregivers. Tiny Gifts That Are TREMENDOUS is a thoughtfully written A-to-Z list of caregiving suggestions compiled by Mary Kay Baum of Time for Us Camp in Dodgeville, WI. [Click to access Alz.-Today-Vol.-15-No.-4-LR.pdf]
This article resonated with me. As I read each point the article made, I could think of several examples from my own caregiving journey with my mother. Over the next few weeks, with the permission of Alzheimer’s TODAY, I plan to share a few of the things I learned along the way. It is my hope and dream that by sharing my own experiences – the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful – someone else will be encouraged in their life as a caregiver. Sometimes, just one unexpected word of encouragement can help someone have the courage to keep going. Sometimes, sharing just one caregiving idea will give another caregiver the hope that they can DO this hard thing.
So, caregivers everywhere, come along with me as I share how these tips played out in my own caregiving journey. We’ll start with ABC.
APPROACH me from the front and avoid startling me.
Gracious, this is so important! Many people do not realize that as the brain deteriorates, the field of vision and the ability to interpret what is in that field of vision becomes increasingly limited. I learned early on to approach my mom slowly from the front. Swooping in from the side, or reaching around her from the back, even if it was just to give her a hug, would cause her to jump. When she was frightened, she was less likely to be cooperative and sometimes even became combative. When mom entered into assisted living, those who followed this guideline had greater success in encouraging her to take medications, get dressed, eat…whatever. Those who would approach from the side and hurriedly shove a cupful of meds or a spoonful of food into her mouth could almost count on resistance.
BEND DOWN or sit down near me if I am in a wheelchair.
Even if a loved one is not in a wheelchair, no one likes to be hovered over. In addition to being seated in a wheelchair, imagine trying to understand what is being communicated when your field of vision is so small. Before you read any further, please put your hands in front of you. Next, touch the tips of each thumb and each index finger (the pointer) together. Your hands have created a small circle. Now, put your eyes up to that circle and look through that small circle. That, my friend, is the field of vision through which the typical person afflicted with Alzheimer’s interprets their world. Let that little exercise, imperfect as it is, inform the way you approach your loved one.
My mom needed to see my smiling face, read my lips and facial expressions, and observe my actions. I would try to have lunch with her every day that she was in assisted living. Mom had a tendency to wander away from the table during meals. Having me there eating with her helped her stay at the table and gave her the visual and social cues she needed to eat.
CALL my name gently and with a smile.
I’m notorious for talking to my husband from the other room, or worse yet, as I’m walking away from him. It’s a bad habit – lazy on my part, and disrespectful, actually. Precious caregivers, we can NOT do that with those who have Alzheimer’s.
We need to practice the art of getting close and putting a gentle smile on our face as we speak to our loved ones. When I needed my mom’s attention, she needed to hear AND see me say her name. A smile made communication more pleasant for both of us. Mom could read frustration on my face even when she could not hear my voice well (she was profoundly hard of hearing). I could save both of us frustration by just remembering the ABC’s.
Approach her from the front
Bend down or sit near her (get my smiling face in her field of vision), and
Call her name gently.
For more helpful information about Alzheimer’s please visit:
Today I’m linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given word prompt. This week’s word is OBSERVANT.
My eyes followed the two women as they pushed a cart together through our local Aldi – the younger woman guiding and steadying the older. There was something endearing and precious about the scene…and personally familiar.
Even though my eyes are growing weaker with age (cataracts are forming, I am told), my eyes have become more observant in their ability to pick out the caregivers I encounter in everyday life. I believe this deeper level of awareness is one of the hidden graces of my personal journey in being an Alzheimer’s caregiver for my sweet mom.
Because I have been there, I see this loving daughter guarding her mother’s dignity as she slowly guides her through the store. My eyes see the mask of confusion in her momma’s eyes, and see the gentle way the daughter helps her mom choose groceries to put in their cart.
Because I have been there, my eyes see the caregiver in the waiting room of the dental office trying to convince their forgetful loved one that they just went to the bathroom and didn’t need to go again. I can show empathy because I remember that taking a loved one to the bathroom is not a 5-minute job.
Because I have been there, I see the caregiver in the parking lot trying to help their agitated and combative loved one buckle their seatbelt. I see and know the sheer exhaustion of it all.
My Alzheimer’s-aware eyes see the frazzled caregiver trying to go through the Culver’s drive-through as her daddy repeatedly unbuckles his seatbelt and tries to exit the vehicle. I see her anxious eyes in her rearview mirror as she waits to place their order. Tears are pooling there, ready to spill because she feels hopeless and alone.
May my eyes never be blinded to the needs of caregivers God places in my path. I pray God will help me see each caregiver through His loving and compassionate eyes.
I had planned to keep my Christmas stuff up well into January because it just felt like this year needed a little extra sparkle for just a bit longer. I’m not a perfectionistic white-glove housekeeper (by any stretch of the imagination), but I do like a certain level of tidyness and order. Before I knew it, the niggling longing for order won out and those green and red plastic tubs were making their annual trek back up from the basement storage area so I could begin putting back all those pretty Christmas-y decorations.
Each ornament goes back in its original box, or gets wrapped in newsprint or tissue and placed in a protective box or tin. As I carefully stacked those boxes filled with fragile baubles into one of the three larger bins, there was a sense that I was, in a small way, packing up and setting aside some memories that would be unwrapped and remembered once again in the hope of next Christmas.
“Putting away Christmas” is theologically impossible. Christ’s advent, God’s gift to the world, cannot be wrapped up in tissue paper and set aside the day after Christmas. Emmanuel, God With Us, cannot be stuck in a box to be forgotten about until unwrapped again next year. When I “put away Christmas,” it is our somewhat clouded by glitz and glitter attempt to remember his advent each year that we are really putting away.
As I filled the third bin with my tissue-wrapped baubles, I noticed the corner of an envelope hiding in the bottom of the bin. It was tucked under a box of lights I haven’t used in years. I pulled it out and discovered a gift I hadn’t opened this year. It was a letter addressed to me in my mom’s familiar cursive script.
Years ago, Mom had taken the time to write out the words to the poem “My First Christmas in Heaven.” I’ve read it many times before — maybe you have read it too. I know that a few of you, my friends and loved ones, experienced the fresh sting of grief in your heart because a loved one was missing at your celebration this Christmas, so I will include an image of the poem here for you.
The postmark on the envelope was clearly stamped 10 DEC 2009, so it was fitting that when mom copied the poem’s title, she neatly crossed out the word “First” and wrote above it, “Second.”
Mom’s little personal post-script penned beneath the poem sheds light upon the reason why.
I just love this little find, yet another of God’s little grace gifts in my life. You see, she sent it on my dad’s second Christmas in heaven, and here I was re-reading it 12 Christmases later, just after she celebrated her first Christmas in heaven.