Being Momma’s Friend

After lunch today, Mom’s sweet caregiver Nicole gently applied pain cream to mom’s painful knees. I had been busy putting things away in Mom’s room and returning things that she had gathered from other rooms. As soon as Mom saw me approach, her eyes lit up with gratefulness that I was there. Nicole asked Mom who I was, to which Mom replied, “It’s her.” Pressing her a little more, Nicole gently said, “What’s her name? Could you introduce me to her?” Momma thought for a few seconds, but couldn’t. Nicole quickly restored her dignity by saying, “Oh, yes! I remember! You told me she’s your daughter and her name is Cindie!” Momma nodded and smiled.

After a bit of small talk, Momma wanted to take a walk – which means tooling around the building in her wheelchair. I followed behind, sometimes holding onto her wheelchair. At one point she reached back and put her hand on top of mine and said, “I’m just making sure you’re still here.”



Little Bouquets of Floral Joy

Join me today as I link up with our host The Propagator  and a plethora of other gardeners around the world who each post pictures of six things going on in their respective world of gardening. Six things, in the garden, on a Saturday. This week, I decided to show you how I share the beauty of the garden God has blessed with floral abundance.

For as long as I’ve been gardening, Momma always enjoyed it when I shared a little sampler of what was going on in my garden. Last Spring I began bringing her a little bouquet whenever I visit her at BeeHive, her assisted living home. I always put her flowers in her little blue vase she had hanging for years over her kitchen window…you can see the little holes where a rope once looped through to make it a hanging vase. I’ve long since removed the rope, but love this sweet little thing – something I would like to keep as a treasure to remind me of my mom.

Sadly, Alzheimer’s has a way of sucking the joy right out of the things that used to bring Mom pleasure and delight. Mom didn’t seem to enjoy my floral bouquets anymore. One day I decided I’d put her little bouquet on the table where she and 3 or 4 other residents enjoyed their meal. The sheer delight of her friends splashed joy all over me.

It dawned on me that there were two more tables with residents who would love a jar filled with a little floral joy at their table too. The next day, and nearly every day since, I picked a few more flowers and a few little “filler” bits from my garden — three stems of each type of flower or filler. When I arrived at BeeHive to visit Mom, I arranged three nearly identical little bouquets — one for each table.

Oh, what joy the simple bouquets bring!

Flowers leave some of their fragrance in the hand that bestows them. ~ Chinese proverb

Pumping Gas and other forgotten things

Journal entry dated May 30, 2019

My car ‘dings’ a gentle reminder when it needs refueled within the next 50 miles. My hubby usually does this for me, but today I’ll need to care for this task myself because I’ve ignored the dings a little too long.

My Dad had always filled Mom’s gas tank too. When Dad knew he was losing his battle with cancer, that’s one of many things he taught my mom how to do. She tried a few times after he left for heaven, but then found a gas station that would send an attendant out to pump the gas for her for just a few cents more per gallon. My brother Brad thought it was silly to pay extra, so he tried to show her how to pump gas too. Mom just couldn’t remember the steps. Brad didn’t have his own wheels anymore, so didn’t mind filling the tank for her so he could buy himself a cup of decent coffee, a donut and a pack of smokes.

Today I confidently pulled up to the gas pump to fill my own tank and was happy to remember this recently learned factoid: there’s a little left or right arrow next to the gas pump symbol on your dashboard’s fuel gauge – it tells you which side of the car your gas cap is on. I would never have to turn around and pull up on the other side of the pump again. Cool, huh?

Have you ever noticed the arrow next to the fuel pump symbol?

My glib confidence came to a screeching halt when I reached for my credit card. Now, I only carry two credit cards, yet I was stumped. “Hmmmm, I could text Wayne and ask him.” But that would be embarrassing. He has reminded me time and time again which one to use to purchase gasoline. How could I admit that I didn’t remember again?

I used to keep a reminder sticky note on the card, but that had fallen off somewhere along the way. After a few minutes of inner debate, I chose one of the cards and got out of the car. It had been so long since I pumped gas I had to read the instructions on the pump. Twice. I felt the eyes of the kid at pump #3 watching me, trying to figure out if he should assist the confused lady at pump #4. I felt embarrassed.

Was this how my mom felt when she knew she was forgetting things?

I pumped the gas and printed the receipt for my hubby’s use in updating our budget spreadsheet, then headed to visit my mom. Hot tears overwhelmed me as I drove those 9.9 miles. I cried because I was pretty sure I had guessed wrong on the credit card. I cried because I now understood how helpless Momma felt. Mostly though, I cried because forgetting things scares me. I’m walking this road of memory loss with my mom and I know it’s hard (and sometimes harder) on the one who is the caregiver. It truly grieves my heart to think that my husband, daughter or son, or a grandchild may walk this road with me some day.

I sat in the parking lot of mom’s assisted living facility and blotted my tears before heading in to see her. My heart smiled as Mom exclaimed a little yelp of joy when she saw me, and even told the friends seated at her lunch table, “See that lady there? She’s my best friend.”

After that heartwarming visit, I made a quick stop at a nearby gas station to buy a cup of coffee, then headed another block or so to the nursing home where my brother resides to visit a bit and bring him a cup of his favorite coffee. He was sleeping, so I left his coffee on his nightstand and headed home to get busy on my laundry. When I arrived home I gave Wayne the day’s receipts and was bummed to learn that, yes, I used the wrong credit card for the gas.

Alzheimer’s is a frighteningly hard path in life, but my walk alongside Momma has also given me firsthand experience seeing how God walks with us each and every step of this road paved with memory loss. While an underlying concern of personally having to experience this disease is always present, I have an even greater confidence God will give those I love much wisdom in walking alongside me if Alzheimer’s is ever my future.

In the meantime, I’m going to smile, grab my Sharpie marker, and write “GAS” in great big letters on my credit card as a visual reminder for the next fill-up.

In Search of Charlotte’s Bathroom

Momma has had trouble for a number of years now finding the bathroom. Even the last year or so that she lived in her own home (since 1962), it was often “invisible” even though it was located right across the hall from her bedroom. She had a little better success finding the necessary-room when we moved into her senior apartment, but was still perplexed in finding it if she happened to get up on the side of the bed that was not facing her bathroom. With her back to the door, she could not see the bathroom, so it stood to reason that it just didn’t exist.

Later on, when we moved Momma in with us, our tiny half-bath became her bathroom. Even though she passed it oodles of times per day in her trek between the bedroom and kitchen, its location still eluded her. We came up with a very helpful solution by placing a sign above the bathroom door which could be read no matter whether she was seated in the kitchen at her usual spot at the table, or seated on the edge of her bed. [I wrote about that sign here.]

Momma now has a beautiful ensuite bathroom and shower combination at BeeHive, her home over the past several months. Even though her bathroom is just steps away from her bed, she oftentimes still does not “see” it. It’s understandable that she might be confused because the toilet itself is tucked away in the corner and all she can really see from her vantage point on the other side of the door is the walk-in shower and sink. So, I decided to try painting another sign that she could read from just about anywhere in her bedroom.

Wayne cut an appropriate length of board, primed it for me, then put some little hangers on it. I got out my paintbrushes and acrylic paints and had a little fun decorating a “Charlotte’s Bathroom” sign to hang over her bathroom door. I borrowed a ladder from the staff at her assisted living and hung it up for Momma just after lunch today. Mom sat on her bed watching me. As I “tap-tap-tapped” with my little pink hammer driving in the first nail, she read the sign over and over again. “Charlotte’s Bathroom.” She said it was a pretty sign, so I told her that I made it especially for her and was glad she liked it. She thanked me for making it for her and again read the sign as I reached for the second nail.

As I was pounding the second nail into the wall, Momma made me laugh when she said (with great urgency), “Now, where’s the bathroom?”

Well…I tried.

Five Minute Friday: Willing

Hubby asked me earlier this year if I wanted to travel with him to India where he and two other men from our church will be serving in a teaching capacity (I wrote a little more about that in Enlarging My World). I don’t think I answered right away, as I had just placed my mother in assisted living memory care. But there was definitely a tug of willingness and a sincere longing in my heart to travel with him and see firsthand this ministry.

After prayer about the ‘what-if’s’ related to mom’s care while I’m away, I decided to go. God had put the willingness in my heart. Momma was, is, and will always be in God’s very capable hands. 

As soon as I said yes, I learned there was a job for me to do. I would be teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). I’ve been busy preparing for that ministry from the moment I learned what my responsibilities would be. There’s a passport to be obtained (check!), immunizations to be received (done!), shopping for appropriate clothing (dragging my feet on that one), and reading nearly every library book I can get my hands on related to ESL. Most days you’ll find me listening to experienced ESL teachers share their teaching tips on YouTube.

Even with this preparation, I have felt for a few weeks now like I’m spinning my wheels. My foot is on the gas, but I’m getting nowhere, and digging myself into a rut of negative thinking. When I find a great idea and try to incorporate it into a lesson plan, ten reasons why it won’t work pop up in my mind.

I have five lessons to teach while I’m there. Five hours to give the students a better grasp of conversational English. Five lessons and five hours — that’s all. I want to make them count.

I’m finding myself melting into a puddle of anxiousness as I wrestle with what to say, what to teach, and how to do this thing I’ve never done before. This wrestling match has driven me to spend more time praying about this ministry opportunity. I know that all of my willingness and preparation in the world won’t matter one iota if the plans that I’m making are my plans alone. I have been reminded once again that my heart must be willing to seek and rely upon the Lord’s wisdom and guidance. 

Here I am, Lord. Please take my willingness to serve You and guide my steps of preparation in the way I should go. Direct my paths to the resources that will be helpful. Shield my heart and mind from that which discourages. Keep my mind focused on what you want me to teach. Your will, not mine.

Interesting how, once I released my tight grip on what and how to teach this class, the Lord directed my steps by allowing me to find the teacher’s edition of the English Grammar and Composition book I had loved using when I home-schooled my daughter eons ago. I thought the book was long since given away, but the Lord knew it was going to be helpful in the future.

Although I’m a little late to the link up, this post is inspired by the writing community at Five Minute Friday. Each participant writes for just 5 minutes on a one-word prompt – last week’s prompt being “willing.”

Assisted Living: What to Expect

When one wrestles with the thought of placing a loved one with memory loss into assisted living, many questions come to mind while making that life altering decision. Thankfully, there are many good books related to caring for a loved one with memory loss…and I’ve probably read most of them. If I could only recommend one, it would be Jolene Brackey’s, Creating Moments of Joy. [I wrote a little book review about this book here.]

I love this page. I live this page.

It’s important to have realistic expectations concerning assisted living memory care.

It has been almost four months since we moved Momma into assisted living at BeeHive Homes of Oregon, WI. She has made a great transition – not without its hiccups, but BeeHive is definitely a gift from God for my sweet mother. In these four months I have fallen in love with each resident who lives there with her and each one responsible for her care.

There are 16 rooms at BeeHive–at any given moment you might find my dear mother in any one of them–although she has her favorites. She loves to nap in Carol’s room, enjoys the sunny window in Caroline’s room, and can often be found rearranging pillows and tending to every one else’s babies in her neighbor Kathi’s room.

On any given day, my mom might be wearing her favorite outfit…or might be looking cute as can be in another lady’s pajamas. The other day I noticed mom wearing her nearby neighbor Roy’s watch; she also had his remote control and he had hers. I’m really not sure who has her colored pencil set, it’s been on the lam for a few weeks, but know they’ll turn up some day…she probably put them in someone else’s drawer for safekeeping on one of her daily adventures tooling around in her wheelchair.

Momma is a gatherer. If something is missing from someone else’s room, it can reasonably be assumed Charlotte probably has it for safe-keeping in her purse, or wrapped in a blanket and tucked away in a drawer in her room. Toilet paper is irresistible. An unattended doll or stuffed animal won’t be lonely for long if she can help it. She even managed to pick up an unattended cell phone that belonged to one of the hospice staff. I half-jokingly remind the staff that if something is missing, just check Charlotte’s purse and drawers…it’s probably there.

Only one of these dolls belongs to Momma – but they are all equally cared for and loved. [Photo credit: Kathleen Zelinski]

Slowly, but surely, I’m learning whose stuff belongs to whom (most of it is labeled). I spend the first few minutes of my daily visit returning things she has borrowed and retrieving things she has tucked into places where they don’t belong and returning it to the right place.

One thing is for sure…Momma belongs and is in the right place.