Putting Away Christmas

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.

It says “Author Unknown” but I think most sources now attribute the authorship to Wanda Bencke, whose daughter died just after Christmas in 1997.

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.

Last Christmas, I kept running the last line through my head but could not remember the rest of this old poem. This year in Reminisce Magazine it was printed in their December-January 2010 issue.

Love, Mom

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.

An ornament commemorating my momma’s last Christmas on this side of Heaven

A Family Story Found in an Unexpected Place

According to my Facebook post on January 1st of 2015, on that date in history I found one of my mother’s memories from January 1st of 1955!

How cool is that?

I had been going through mom’s jumble of paperwork, trying to find the important documents I would need as her power of attorney. Mom’s once neat filing system was a jumbled-up mess, due to the confusion of her mind caused by Alzheimer’s. I recall I was making good progress taming that paper tiger and that I found a few delightful surprises in the process.

One such surprise was a file folder labeled “Peet Family.” This file contained many treasures. Old black and white photos. Letters and cards. Newspaper clippings. Obituaries. Genealogy timelines. Tucked into this file category was a simple green pocket folder. I flipped it open, fully anticipating that it had something to do with the Peet family genealogy.

And it did – sort of.

It was a cookbook filled with favorite family recipes which had been compiled for a family reunion in 2000. I had fun taking a break from my sorting project to page through the recipes. The faces of family I had only seen when I was a young child came to mind as their names popped up on the righthand corner of each page. It was exciting to see the name “CHARLOTTE PEET-BOYLES” pop up here and there.

“Charlotte’s Layered-Spinach Salad” was in there, as it should be. It was one of those salads she made often for potlucks or when family would gather at her house for birthdays or holidays. Another family favorite was “Charlotte’s Dream Whip Torte”! My sister would often request that dessert for her birthday. It was not a surprise to find her “Never Fail Pie Crust” recipe was in there too. She never liked making pies until her friend from work shared that recipe with her.  

As I flipped through the cookbook, I noticed that some of the recipes had a family story included. Once I realized this, I went back through the recipes attributed to mom to see if I could find a recipe where my mom had contributed a story. And there it was included under a recipe called “Clara Gall-Peet’s Upside Down Cake.” Clara was my grandma, so I felt like I had found a double-treasure with this recipe and the giggle I received as I read the sweet little story mom told about her early baking attempts.

  

The date confuses me a little, as mom and dad were married in July of 1955, but, at the bottom of the cake recipe, my mom had reminisced,

“My Mom was a good cook and if you arrived unexpected at dinner-time she always had room for you at the table and enough food to go around. This is the first cake I tried to make after I got married. In fact, the date was January 1, 1955. Total disaster for there was no cake – all bottom or top, depending which way you look at it. I had copied 1 ½ tablespoons flour instead of 1 ½ cups. It took me three tries before I got it right.”

Charlotte Peet-Boyles

The Christmas Photo


It’s the last Five Minute Friday blog link-up of the year 2020. Join me and this beautiful community of writers and bloggers who gather on Fridays around a single word prompt to freewrite for five minutes. This week’s writing prompt is Conclude (check out the other posts here). I suspect most of us are really looking forward to the conclusion of the year 2020, which held no shortage of disappointing losses. I could write a few chapters about losses myself, but let me instead share with you about a special lesson I learned…a lesson from a Christmas photo.


Christmas is coming, so I take my cherished photo from the drawer where I keep it the other eleven months of the year.

Boyles Family of Three – Christmas 1957

It seems like just yesterday when I found this photo. In reality it was about five years ago. As I recall, I was busy helping my dear mom sort through life’s accumulation of things, when I found a shoebox tucked away in the corner of the laundry room near the place where mom would iron the wrinkles out of my dad’s shirts. Removing the slightly dusty lid, I found this box to be filled with fascinating photos of years gone by, each filed standing on edge waiting to one day be added to a photo album. As I thumbed through each time-worn photo, I concluded that Momma had at one time been busy putting the years of her life in order, one loose photo at a time.

That was before Alzheimer’s. Before her mind could no longer put anything in order.

My treasured photo, filed under “Christmas 1957”, captured a moment in my life and a memory I was too young to keep without it. We were a family of three seated in my great-grandparents’ living room. A well-tinseled Christmas tree was in the background, and I was sitting in 3-month-old chubby cuteness on my beautiful momma’s lap. My handsome daddy was seated on the floor next to us, arms casually crossed around his knees. If you look carefully over my dad’s left shoulder, you might spy a portrait of my mom in her wedding dress.

Gracious reader, you probably recall that Jesus took my momma home to heaven this year, which makes this photo more meaningful than ever. Now, as my fingers trace the little gold frame on this precious keepsake, something hits me straight in the heart, making me pause and think about the brevity of life.

Our Christmas present in 1979

I was young like my momma in this photo, just 22 years old when my own daughter was born. Except for the years I spent in junior high school, those first 22 years whooshed by in a flash, and the years from then until now are a blur too. Doing the math, if I live to be 86 like my mom, I conclude that I have 23 years left to spend (a mere 13 years if I live to be as old as my daddy).

The Bible speaks figuratively of our lives being like a mist or a vapor – here one moment and gone the next (James 4:14). It’s so very true. How will the story of my life conclude once the last chapters of my life have been written?

As I set my special photo down in a place of Christmas-y honor, my heart wells with gratefulness for this photo’s poignant reminder to invest these final years God has in His plan for me in what matters most: loving people and pointing them to Jesus for the glory of God.  

The Gift of ‘Present’

Well, it’s Tuesday already, but this post is part of the Five Minute Friday blog link-up ( check it out here) where I’m joining up with a community of writers and bloggers of all ages and stages who gather around a single word prompt to freewrite for five minutes without editing. This week’s prompt is [Present}.


Facebook has a feature I enjoy called “Memories.” One click on the memories tab gives me visual reminders of things I have posted on that site a year ago or more. It’s a virtual photo journal reminding me of special times in my life like birthdays, vacations, Bible verses that spoke to my heart, time with the grandkids, or what was blooming in my garden at that time. Many of the photos from the past decade feature my sweet mom. Those photo memories of my mom generally bring a smile, or a hearty laugh, and (only sometimes) a few tears sprinkled here and there. But this week, the fact that I was able to take so many photos of her served to remind me of the amazing opportunity God gave me to give my mother a very special gift in the last years of her life.

The gift of being present.

Present. The gift I’m thankful I could give.

A Prayer for Grace

It brings me joy when I find a little prayerful note written in my mother’s handwriting. Seeing what was on her heart and mind at certain times of her life gives me insight into the depth of her trust in the Lord.

I recently picked up a little spiral notebook in my stash of things which once belonged to my mom. Giving the pages a quick flipping through, I noticed most of the pages were blank, so I decided to make use of it as my own journal. I thought the journal was blank, but then her handwriting caught my attention on the very last couple of pages.

Let me share with you one of those entries.

Today is March 12, 2016. Life goes on and God has provided. I am so thankful for all who have cared for me.

Jim Meiller – Snow removal; also mow grass.

My caregivers – Cindie and Vivian

Wayne – takes care of my bills. PTL!

And so many more to list.

Lord, I know that I do not have much longer. I ask for grace for these times. It has not been easy, but you have provided for all my needs and so much more. Please give me grace for my remaining time before you call me home.

I do hope Jerry remembers me!

Take care of my family and my friends!!!

So many more but, oh yes, thank you for ice cream!

Charlotte P. Boyles

Looking at the date on her journal entry, I am surprised by her clarity of thought for writing out what was on her heart, as Alzheimer’s had dealt some harsh memory-robbing blows. I recall we were in the midst of packing her belongings and getting ready for her big move at that time. In just over a week, she would leave the place she had called “home” for the past 55 years and move 90 miles away to a little place near me, and I was having trouble with mom unpacking the boxes that I had spent hours packing. Finding her prayer for grace during what was a very stressful time for her, well, it just speaks to my heart about how I can trust God for my future too. Even if it includes Alzheimer’s.

Best Dementia Staging Explanation EVER!

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know I love to write about gardening and share some of the 4,987 pictures of flowers I have on my phone.

You also know that I cared for my mom in the last years of her life while she battled Alzheimer’s. I documented and photojournaled our journey on my blog (and a bit on Facebook too).

You may not know that I have also been overseeing the care of my brother who has significant medical needs, including a form of short-term memory loss called vascular dementia, due in part to unchecked diabetes.

Having both a mother and a brother with dementia weighs on me. Add a grandparent from each side of my family to the equation and every forgetful moment takes me to the edge of tears every time I forget something more significant than where I left my car keys.

"Caregiving is a constant learning experience."

Because dementia has struck so close to home, I have diligently sought to educate myself about the subject and have made it my goal to share with anyone who is interested any knowledge I glean or resources I discover.

I honestly think I have read nearly every book ever written for dementia caregivers. This book is my personal favorite.

If you check my Google activity log, you’ll know why the ads that pop up on my Facebook account relate to items specific to dementia care. I belong to two Facebook groups for caregivers. I even have a Pinterest board related to Alzheimer’s. I listen to podcasts and follow the blogs and Instagram feeds of others who write or photo-journal about Alzheimer’s and caregiving. I belong to a caregiver support group sponsored by Agrace, the hospice that helped take care of my mom in her final year of life. I have often surfed YouTube channels in search of information related to caring for someone with dementia.

Today I would like to share information from the YouTube channel of one of my favorite medical experts, Dr. Natali Edmonds, founder of a dementia support community called Careblazers. In this video, Dr. Natali discusses the various stages of dementia and the three most common tools for measuring where a loved one with dementia (LOWD) is in the course of their dementia decline. In my opinion, it’s the best explanation you will ever get in 13 minutes and 24 seconds.

If you are caring for a loved one with any type of dementia, I highly recommend subscribing to the Careblazer YouTube channel. Dr. Natali posts informative, compassionate, bite-size videos on most any subject a caregiver might encounter on their caregiving journey.

Measuring Time

This is my mother’s watch.

Momma undoubtedly bought several watches during her lengthy nursing career. But, as she often recounted the story of her watch, she had been wearing this very watch since she graduated from nursing school in 1955. You see, a watch with a sweep second hand was essential in my mother’s era of nursing. It kept you and your doctor on schedule and kept you accountable for the time you spent on breaks. When updating a patient’s medical chart (no computers back then), it provided the time for documentation purposes. Its sweep second hand was the essential tool momma used day in and day out to measure a patient’s heart rate in 15-second increments of time.

Holding my mom’s watch in my hands today, I recalled how meaningful it was to her, even after my mom could no longer tell time (which I wrote about here). A mind clouded by Alzheimer’s loses the ability to measure the passage of time or interpret the face of a watch somewhere in the middle stages of the disease’s progressive march through the brain.

Even after my mother could no longer tell time, I invested a good bit of time in finding my mom’s treasured watch when the paranoia of dementia would cause her to occasionally hide it for safekeeping. I had the band resized when she slimmed down and it spun on her wrist. I even took it in for repairs once and replaced the battery on several occasions. The natural motions of her body would wind the self-winding watch (another clue that it was NOT from 1955), but Momma would wind it anyway because that was what she remembered doing in days gone by. Over time, this damaged the watch beyond repair, but she still loved to wear it.

When my mom moved into assisted living memory care and I saw how she would distribute her things all over the building (and borrow the belongings of others without consent), I decided to take her watch home with me for safekeeping. I hated to take something that was hers, but the story of the watch had also become something I treasured. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to matter much to mom — especially since her friend and BeeHive neighbor Roy didn’t seem to mind if mom (ahem!) borrowed his watch from time to time.

One day I noticed my mom sidle up her wheelchair to another lady friend at BeeHive. She seemed concerned that her friend was slumped in her wheelchair. Here’s the precious thing I was honored to witness with my own eyes. Momma reached over and gently placed two fingers on her sleepy friend’s wrist, instinctively finding that arterial sweet spot nestled between the thumb and tendon. The nurse in my sweet mother looked at her watchless wrist as she felt her friend’s pulse for about 15 seconds, then smiled with satisfaction and patted her sleeping friend’s hand as she said, “You’re going to be okay.”

5 Thoughtful Gift Ideas for Someone with Alzheimer’s

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last month we celebrated my grandson George’s birthday. I cannot believe my youngest grandchild is eight years old already. Like many 8-year-old boys, he’s into all things Legos and Minecraft. This year he asked me to make his cake and surprised me when he went a little retro in his decorating request. Pac-Man!

When it comes to birthdays, I am so very thankful that my daughter helps her kids create Amazon gift lists. They make shopping for my loved ones so much easier. A “click” or two and the shopping is done and I can be reasonably sure that I am purchasing something my grandchild really wants and will appreciate.

But shopping for a loved one with Alzheimer’s (or any type of short-term memory loss) can be a little tricky. What they once enjoyed may now hold no meaning at all, or may actually cause agitation. My mom had Alzheimer’s. It took a little bit of experimentation to find out what she liked, but I learned things along the way and hope my experience will be helpful to someone else. Here are a few of the gift ideas my mom enjoyed:

Something cuddly soft and warm (and very washable) – like a new blanket, a pretty sweater, or a beautiful shawl. In my experience with my momma, being cold was always a problem. I could be fanning my sweaty self and my sweet momma would be in the same room looking for something to wrap herself in because she was cold. We bought her several plush bed jackets and soft sweaters with pockets. Momma was not alone, as being perpetually cold was a problem with many of her friends in her assisted living memory care. I would suggest something in a favorite color, but nothing with a busy pattern; I learned the hard way that patterns can turn into terrifying objects when a loved one is in a stage where hallucinations and delusions are common (you can read about one such experience here).

This one is handmade and belonged to her assisted living community, but mom loved it.

The quilt hanging on the railing in the photo below was a gift for my brother sent by his friend Cheri and the church quilting group to which she belonged. It was such a nice gift and sweet gesture of love and care. He may not remember who gave it to him, but he will appreciate its warmth in the coming winter months.

My brother, enjoying a cup of coffee and a little fresh air on his nursing facility’s front porch.

Coffee (or another favorite beverage). Mom’s eyes lit up when I brought her sweet tea or a Diet Coke. My brother always enjoys a good cup of coffee (with lots of half & half) whenever I visit him.

This size photo book was perfect for my mom to tuck in her purse to enjoy discovering later.

A photo book. Photo books are a perfect icebreaker when visiting a loved one who no longer remembers your name or connection. Just paging through a photo book takes away some of the awkwardness of memory loss, giving you something to enjoy together. In the photo above, my granddaughter Violet is spending time with her great-grandma going through a photo book that features Violet’s family. In addition to your corner drugstore, there are any number of on-line sites where photo books can be created.

A favorite treat – as Alzheimer’s progressed, mom developed quite a sweet tooth and loved it when I brought a cookie or a donut. Please don’t be too worried about nutrition; it’s all about your loved ones favorite things and bringing them joy at this stage in life. I would occasionally put a cookie in a ziplock bag, then tuck it in her purse for her to discover later. Your loved one may not realize it is from you, but trust me when I say your surprise will bring a bright spot to their day.

A birdhouse. Many residents have birdfeeders, which are quite enjoyable; however, they require someone willing to keep them clean and filled with seed, which isn’t always practical. Birdhouses are quite lovely to look at and don’t require a lot of upkeep. Seeing bird families coming and going is sure to bring a smile.

What are your gift suggestions? Please share them in the comments.

If I Could Have a Caregiver Do-Over

“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

James 4:14b (ESV)

God gave me the honor and privilege of taking care of my mother in the years that her mind waged war with Alzheimer’s. I am thankful that her brave battle with memory loss and frailty of body is over–the victory won as her affliction gave way to the ultimate healing when Jesus took her home to heaven.

My regrets are few, but if I could have a do-over of one caregiving thing, I think I would listen more carefully to the stories she told about her childhood. In my do-over, I would sit next to her more often looking through old photos, paying attention to the memories she shared. I would take care to write down all of the memories the photos coaxed from the places in her mind where the old stories still lingered.

With the help of my daughter, I did create a memory album for her, but it would have been nice had I started on the album sooner, capturing those stories for her to read and re-read as her memories slowly faded away.  

While I cannot roll back the hands of time, I do find joy in knowing she is free from the bondage of memory loss and frailty of body. I find hope in knowing that those precious moments we did share are only a glimmer of the immeasurable time we will share together in eternity.


This post was written for Five Minute Friday. One word. Five minutes to write about it. Today’s word: COULD

Rewind: Swimming Faces

Another post in my “Rewind” series. This post originally appeared on October 23, 2016 as a Facebook note in my pre-blogging days. As I journeyed alongside mom with her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, I learned through her experience many things about the affect this disease had on her world. As my mother’s caregiver, I have leaned heavily on the experiences of those who have traveled this road ahead of me. In sharing my experience, it is my hope and prayer that someone else will be helped and encouraged.

Even though Momma lives in a little one-bedroom apartment, many days she has a hard time remembering where her bedroom is located. A few minutes ago, I overheard her talking to herself saying, “Now, where is my bed?” Groaning with each step taken toward bed, I could hear my sweet mother then exclaim as she entered her room, “Oh, there you are! I can never remember where you are.”

I’ve been staying overnight at Mom’s house since September 11th. That was the night when mom had a severe separation from reality, scary hallucinations, and I had the realization that it was no longer safe or wise to leave her in her apartment alone. Sadly, she was so afraid to stay in her room. Every time I would get comfy and start drifting off to sleep on her couch, she’d come in the living room, flip on the light, then stand in front of the couch asking me if I was awake. I would get up, gently guide her back to the bedroom, do the room search (looking for the intruders she was so sure were there) and I would try to reassure her that everything was okay.

I noticed that even during naps taken during daylight, mom wouldn’t sleep under her quilt. I would often find it pushed to the corner of the bed or on the floor. On the third night of no sleep, Mom told me that there were “faces swimming” on her bedspread. She was clearly disturbed by its presence. So, I replaced the bedspread with an extra blanket and mom finally settled down enough to sleep for a few hours.

The next day, a very kind friend from church came to sit with mom so I could take my brother to a medical appointment. When I returned later that day, I related the story about the bedspread to her. She took one look at it and said, “Of course there are faces! Look here! See the eyes?” In all the years that the paisley bedspread had been covering my parents’ bed, I had never noticed that.

As I thought about my sweet friend’s observation, I recalled reading in several articles related to caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s that busy fabrics give some patients great anxiety and that it is helpful to use solid colors in clothing and decor choices. Even busy wallpaper patterns can take on frightening proportions that terrify the confused mind. With that information in mind, that very day, I stopped at my local Target and purchased a plain, simple white bedspread for her.

No more swimming faces – and every so often, I catch a heartwarming glimpse of mom gently fingering her new bedspread, running her hands across the soft fabric as she drifts off to a much more peaceful sleep.

First posted as a Facebook “Note” on SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2016