“I Wish I Could Help”

One recent thread on a Facebook group for dementia caregivers discussed the topic of how to respond to people who say “I wish I could help.” Most have good intentions, but no concrete offers of help. Others are just making polite conversation and really have no intention of helping. One tongue in cheek caregiver response was, “I’m going to start a list to hand them.”

We all laughed.

One longtime caregiver’s contribution to the post was, “I think we should all make our own list to have ready whenever we hear that offer.” Before long, we had created a rather long list. Some of our responses were a bit of a tease, like the caregiver who said, “If you want to bring me a gift, bring Kleenex! My loved one goes through two boxes a day!” We all laughed because an obsession with Kleenex and toilet paper seems to be prevalent in the world of memory loss.

Let me share a few more of the ideas culled from our group effort:

  • Instead of “let me know if you need anything,” please just show up on my front porch with a good cup of coffee.
  • Another caregiver added her twist on the impromptu coffee date idea: “Yes, show up on my front porch with a cup of your favorite coffee. Then sit down with my loved one and tell me to get lost for awhile while you drink your cup of coffee.”
  • Talk to me. Listen to me. I don’t really have someone I can carry on a conversation with anymore.
  • If you see a need that you can meet, just do it. It will make my day.
  • One woman’s husband asks her each morning, “What can I do for you TODAY that will make your life easier?”
  • Send me a card once in awhile (I have a special friend who does this every single week).
  • Share with me one of your special memories of my loved one. In doing so, you will help me focus on the good and remind me that their life mattered.
  • Tell me that what I’m doing matters.

One item on the list was my favorite: Ask God to show you how you can help. I promise, He will.

Charlotte P. Boyles, RN

Momma was still in bed when I arrived for a visit earlier this week. I learned that she had experienced two nights this week without sleep and it seemed to be catching up with her today. She did NOT want to get out of bed and had already missed breakfast and lunch. The hospice nurse was there visiting and asked me if this sort of thing had happened while I was still caring for her in our home and, if it did, how did we handle it.

I told her that it did happen. It was usually just one night and full day without sleep, but that Momma could sometimes go for 2 or 3 days with little to no sleep. When sleep would finally come, she’d be much like she was today – out cold. I soon learned it was very difficult to awaken her and try to cajole her into doing something she didn’t want to do (like changing clothes or bathing). She would be so groggy and uncooperative. On those days – right or wrong – I would just adjust my schedule to hers.

“So, when she does wake up, what’s she like?” the nurse further queried. I told her she would perk up and she’d be like a different person. The kind and thoughtful Charlotte would replace the grumpier, exhausted Charlotte.

Sure enough, before the hospice nurse left the building, Momma awakened. She was sitting up, got dressed, was chatty and very hungry. Previously verbally unresponsive and only opening her eyes a sliver, she was now bright-eyed and complimenting the nurse on her outfit and telling her how nice her hair looked.

A night and day difference.

I decided that the crisis was over and it was time for me to go home. Momma had already wheeled herself out into the great room and was chatting with one of the other residents. As I exited the building, I threw a glance over my shoulder and saw that my mother had wheeled herself up to another frailer looking resident. There they sat wheelchair to wheelchair with my mother gently stroking the woman’s arm, asking her how she was feeling today and wondering if there was anything she could do to help her feel better.

Charlotte P. Boyles, R.N. was on duty. My heart couldn’t help but swell with love and admiration for my mother, the nurse.

“Pssst! Can you help me get out of this place?”

I have SO MUCH to tell you and can’t believe how much time has elapsed since I updated everyone concerning my journey in caring for my mom. I started writing this post the last week of March. Let me do a little back-tracking and a bit of catch-up writing here.

I already told you the story of her dolly here, but SO much has transpired in the past three weeks surrounding that story.


March 18, 2019

Lord willing, one week from today my dear, sweet Momma will be moving out of our home and into her new place at BeeHive Home in Oregon, WI.

If I think about it too long, it brings tears to my eyes. While I had hoped to care for mom here in my home until God chose to call her to her eternal home in heaven, I know in my heart that it is time to place her in a memory care environment where her needs will be better met.  

The first year we cared for Momma in our home, she would often tell people that our home was HER home and that we were living here with her. She’d point out which side of the house was hers and which side was ours. She’d express concern to anyone who’d listen, saying, “They sure do have a lot of stuff.” To her way of thinking, the gardens that I’ve toiled in for the past 20 years were planted by her many years ago. It blessed us to know that she felt “at home” here and was taking ownership, so we just joined her in her version of the story.

As we approach the two year anniversary of her living in our home, Momma looks lost and confused whenever she walks into the bedroom that has been hers all this time. Confusion clouds her fading brown eyes as she sits in her chair at the kitchen table surveying the gardens and wonders where she is and “how the heck” she got here. Her most often asked question is, “When do I get to go home?” Many times we find her sitting near her bedroom window, expectantly watching for her parents to come and pick her up in their car.

Nights are long and many of them are being spent without sleep – for her, or for me.  During those late nights of making and remaking her bed because she has repeatedly removed and folded up her bedding (in preparation for the move she thinks she is making), I find it disturbing to find my compassion is beginning to be replaced by exasperation. I can hear it in my voice and actually feel my blood pressure rising. Sleeping in our comfy bed next to my husband has been replaced by dozing in the chair next to her bed. Even if that were comfortable (and it’s NOT), it’s not particularly restful sleep and definitely not the coveted “restorative sleep” when it’s interrupted a dozen times or more with toileting needs, painful cries, bad dreams, and her shaking me awake to ask me if I’m okay. “You look so sick. I thought I better check on you.”

One year ago, Momma still knew I was her daughter. She knew my name and she knew Wayne’s as well. Now, she can sometimes come up with my name, but usually thinks I’m her mom or sister. Sadly, Momma no longer remembers Wayne’s name. She calls him “that guy” most of the time and thinks he is just a guy on the staff here.

Today Momma beckoned me into her room with a look of desperation and a ‘come-here’ wave of her hand. As I drew near she said in a whispered hiss, “Pssst! Can you get me out of this place?!”

Little does she know that she IS moving into a new home next week. I’m still not sure how (or if) I will tell her. I do know this. I’ve said it before and will say it again. God will give us the wisdom we need when we need it.

Five Minute Friday: Love Without Measure

My daughter gave her grandma a baby doll – a Goodwill find. Except for the fact that its eyes don’t close, the doll baby looks and feels convincingly enough like a real baby. The baby doll is wearing a cute little dress  embellished with sweet, girly-looking smocking – reminiscent of a favorite outfit our daughter wore when she was a itty-bitty girl. 

Why give an 85-year-old woman a doll?

My mother has Alzheimer’s and the list of things which bring her joy grows smaller with each passing week. We had hoped the baby doll (we’ll call her ‘Dolly’) would bring her a measure of joy in the midst of the stress that her life had become – especially the stress she did not yet know she would experience with the next day’s move from our home to her new place in memory care assisted living.

On this final night in our home, Momma sat on her bed with Dolly propped up against her bed pillows. I sat in mom’s comfy chair in the corner of mom’s room and watched the encounter between the new would-be friends. Seemingly oblivious to my presence, Momma talked to Dolly a bit, patting the doll’s dress and stroking her hair, telling her how pretty she looked. She seemed a bit troubled by Dolly’s inability to reciprocate in the conversation, skeptically watching the baby for a response, then looking concerned when none would come.

Just when I thought Momma would give up on Dolly, my sweet mother leaned in real close, gently stroked the baby’s cheeks, then held Dolly’s face between her time-worn hands. Momma then demonstrated the measure of her big heart when she gazed into the unblinking eyes and said something to the baby that astounded me.

“I’ve learned in my lifetime that if you’re trying to have a conversation with someone and they don’t talk back and they just stare at you, it sometimes means that they have been deeply hurt and had trauma in their life.”

Momma gently kissed the baby’s cheek and added, “You’re safe with me.”


This post was brought to you courtesy of Five Minute Friday (hosted by Kate Motaung) and the word “measure.” Writers set a timer for five minutes, free write on the word prompt and publish it on our blog so the whole world (well, our little corner, anyway) can read it! Learn more about the writing challenge at Five Minute Friday.

Our Family’s Decision

The past few days have been especially wonderful. Even though it sometimes felt like I was always cooking, having our kids and grandchildren gathered here and being surrounded by family refreshed my spirit.

Three nights in a row of good sleep didn’t hurt either.

Yesterday, our children, along with our three lovely granddaughters, lovingly came alongside us in support of a decision that Wayne and I had already prayerfully made. A spot in a lovely memory care home has opened up for my mother. Together as a family, we acknowledged that my mom deserves to receive the 24/7 care I can no longer give her.

This has been an especially hard decision for me, as it has always been my desire to walk Momma all the way “Home” here in our home. Now that mom is under home hospice care, it seemed like we were almost there. But God has given our family wisdom and showered me with peace in the midst of my tears.

Last night, Mom was out of bed before our Friday date night caregiver left our home at 10:30 p.m. Bless sweet Kathryn’s heart, she tried so hard to get mom to bed and asleep before her shift was over. It was not meant to be. Sleep would not come for Momma until a few minutes before 5:00 a.m.

Today I’m feeling physically worn out and emotionally spent. The frustrations of my sleepless night and my groggy, bone-weary body served as confirmation that the decision we made as a family is the right one.

Nine days from now it will be different.

Round-the-clock care will be available to redirect my tired and anxious mother back to the safety of her bed while I am sound asleep in my bed a few miles away. There will be no more trips up and down the stairs between my bedroom and hers all night long. No need for cameras and a video monitor to keep tabs on Momma. No need for baby gates, a multiplicity of grab bars, wheelchairs, walkers and bedside potty chair. Someone else will vigilantly monitor and carefully dispense drugs, change and launder soiled clothing and bedding, cajole her into bathing (and washing her hair), and keep her from wandering away.

I find comfort in the hope of being able to attend school concerts, participate in church activities, go to the gym more regularly, travel with my hubby, take an unhurried bath, have impromptu play dates and sleepovers with my grandkids, and play in garden dirt whenever I want. The list of all the things I’d like to do now is very long indeed.

As much as I look forward to finding our new normal, I also understand the transition will not be easy–for her or for me. The tears which trickle down my cheeks without warning remind me that I will miss taking care of mom. It has truly been an honor and a privilege and the hardest thing I have ever done.

Caregiving truly is the hardest job I ever loved.

Six on Saturday: My Favorite Gardening Reads

A deep blanket of snow is covering my garden right now. Of this I am glad. As much as I long for warm Spring weather and the accompanying tulips and daffodils, I really want my gardens to be protected by a thick blanket of snow for as long as this crazy on-again, off-again cold weather lingers. Rather than show you pictures of snow, snow, and more snow, I thought I’d follow the lead of one of my favorite gardening bloggers and share some of my favorite garden-related books. (You can read Carolee’s inspiring post on her blog Herbal Blessings here.)


If I have to pick a favorite, it would undoubtedly be Creating a Perennial Garden in the Midwest by Joan Severa. I read it nearly every winter gathering ideas, hopes and dreams for the garden sleeping beneath the snow in my own little corner of the world.

Joan Severa passed away in 2015, but I was blessed to meet her in the days before I began caring for my mother. Back then, before momma’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, I actually had time to attend an evening garden club meeting that met in my neighborhood. One sultry summer evening our garden club members got together for a little neighborhood walking tour of area gardens. Joan’s garden was one of them. I was so delighted to learn that she lived within walking distance of my own home and garden. It was a “two-fer” tour, as she and her next door neighbor and best friend Chris had seamlessly merged their adjoining gardens into one lovely gardenscape. It was so very inspiring.

Back to my favorite gardening book. It’s my personal favorite because Joan shared things I need to know as I garden not only in this USDA Zone 4 Midwest area, but in this very neighborhood. Lovely photos of her own garden compelled me to keep turning pages, and her engaging writing style made me feel much like we were sitting on a porch overlooking her backyard paradise whilst we sipped tall glasses of ice tea. Joan’s engaging writing included suggestions for how to choose and create a garden site, plants that do well around here, how to care for said plants, step-by-step instructions for the best way to create and use mulch…and most importantly, for me, what plants to avoid. The book is filled with photographs too. Absolutely LOVE it!

My second favorite? A Gardener’s Journal, a 5-year garden record book. I’m the author of this book as I make notes of how my own garden is doing in a given week, what I planted, what came up (and what didn’t), when certain bugs appeared (and how I tried to get rid of them). I also note ideas for next year and jot down the names of plants on my ‘wish-list’ (just in case someone wants to buy me a present). Here is a peek at one page in my journal.

Favorite #3 – Further Along the Garden Path, by Ann Lovejoy. My friend Judy gave me this classic book out of her own garden library. As I page through this beautiful book and guide to the gardening year, the amazing photos taken by Mark Lovejoy actually remind me of Judy’s garden paths which meander through her mostly wooded landscape. A lovely surprise awaits around each and every turn in the path.

When I moved from Milwaukee to Fitchburg in the summer of 1999, I left behind my own beautiful garden. Even though I had dug up divisions of various perennials to plant in my new garden, I didn’t get the diggings planted soon enough and lost many of my Milwaukee garden treasures during that brutally hot summer. Judy generously shared pieces of her Verona garden with me, helping me create new gardens in my new gardening space. I think of her with love and gratitude whenever I read this book or see a flower that she shared with me.

I have spent hours browsing through this little book, filling my mind with landscape plans and ideas for my gardens. Beds & Borders contains 40 professional landscaping designs. You can use the sketches and plant lists as a do-it-yourself guide to creating your own oasis of floral loveliness, or you can order blueprints of your favorite designs to hand off to a professional landscape artist. In addition to too many hours of gardening daydreams within, novice and expert gardeners will find the book to be filled with oodles of gardening tips and design techniques.

And one more pleasurable read. An Island Garden, by Celia Thaxter with pictures and illustrations by Childe Hassam.

Beautiful. Enchanting. Educational. It’s the inspiring story of her Appledore island garden, written in vivid detail, every word a delight to the senses.

If you love gardens as much as I do, you simply must find a copy of An Island Garden. Once you have the book in hand, clear your schedule, make yourself a cup of tea and find a cozy spot near a window – preferably one which overlooks one of your snow-covered gardens. As you read, I promise you will be transported to Celia’s island garden, hear the crash of the waves, smell the sweet aroma of carefully tended blossoms, gaze in wonder at the sight of magnificent old-fashioned hollyhocks swaying in the warm ocean breeze, and hear the sweet song of nesting birds.

Whenever I read this book, I feel as though I’m kneeling in the dirt right next to Celia helping her tend her beautiful garden while she mentors me in tending my own little patch of this earth.


It’s a bit warmer today and the snow is beginning to melt. I think I even heard a robin singing, but the closest I’m going to get to gardening this week is filling the bird feeders for our hungry squirrels. I will probably get my gardening fix by paging through the gardening catalogs which seem to be arriving daily or re-reading one of my favorite books. Of course, there’s always visiting all of the other Sixes, courtesy of our meme host The Propagator at https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/

Signing off to dream of daffodils and tulips.