The Decline: When Birthdays Are No Longer Celebrations

Mom turned 86 years old yesterday. I think I have been saying this for three years, but I honestly believe this may be the last birthday she will celebrate on this side of heaven. Nonetheless, I baked a cake especially for her and brought it to share with her friends at BeeHive.

I didn’t remember to take a picture of my cake, but found this photo and a recipe similar to mine.
Photo credit: https://www.keyingredient.com/recipes/3782245034/ding-dong-cake/

In my heart, I knew the birthday cake probably wouldn’t matter to her. But it mattered to me. My mother’s life is worth celebrating.

As expected, she enjoyed eating the cake, but her birthday didn’t phase her. She didn’t seem to understand or believe it when I told her it was her birthday, and the greetings of her friends and caregivers were met with disbelief and a blank expression. She looked quite confused (and maybe a little mad at me) while her friends and caregivers sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her after lunch. She didn’t want to blow out the candle on her piece of cake, but she enjoyed eating it.

She didn’t want to open the cards from friends and family, or the present her brother sent her. She didn’t seem aware of the sweet gift of balloons and a cute little teddy bear that one of the staff purchased for her – but I basked in their love for her on her behalf. I opened the cards and gifts for her and set them up where she could see and hopefully enjoy them.

The birthday display didn’t seem matter to her, but it mattered to me. My mother’s life is worth celebrating.

As we sat in her bedroom that afternoon, she would talk to me, but her eyes would be closed, or open just a tiny sliver. She would scootch around in her room a bit in her wheelchair, but with eyes closed and directionless. I could tell she really wanted to go to bed and sleep, so I asked the staff to help me get her in bed.

Mom shuts her eyes to her world when she is talking

Today was the first day the staff needed to use a Hoyer lift to help her get out of her wheelchair and into bed. The fact that it was her birthday wasn’t lost on me. This contraption is a gift; a gift which will keep mom safer as she transfers. This gift will also keep those who care for her safe from injuring their own backs as they assist her. Part of me wanted to cry knowing that mom was at the stage of care where this device was even necessary; but the other part of me smiled knowing that it was a blessing.

As I celebrate this woman’s extraordinary life, I pray for those who are caring for her. They are a blessing to me, and a gift worth celebrating too.

Making Memories

BeeHive is the name of the wonderful assisted living memory care where my mom lives. On Thursday evening BeeHive certainly lived up to its name with the buzz of excitement as families and friends of the residents and staff gathered at the hive for a Christmas party.

The gathering had all the makings of beautiful affair with great food, fantastic music, a little dancing, and opportunities to meet and greet the loved ones of the 16 residents I have come to love.

Momma couldn’t hear the fantastic music because she is really hard of hearing, but she had her fill of snacks and pleasant conversations. I think she and Dolly enjoyed themselves. They retired early, as crowds aren’t their thing. As is the way with Alzheimer’s, Momma won’t remember a thing about the party in the morning.

Sometimes there is only joy in the moment for our loved one, and memories we make together are ours alone to cherish and remember.

[Please watch this video if you’d like to learn more about BeeHive Homes of Oregon, WI.]

Aphasia: Word Salad

Momma still likes to exercise her own independence when moving about. It is her right to do so, but it does sometimes result in a fall. Momma had a “doozy” of a fall a few months ago. No one is exactly sure what happened; they just heard her calling “help me” and found her lying on the floor on her side, trying her best to right herself. Thankfully, with a little help, she was able to get back into bed without emergency intervention. In the days following, she was sore and showing signs of having bruised or fractured her tailbone and ribs. I opted not to have her x-rayed, as the results might give us a diagnosis, but would not change the treatment plan. At this stage in her illness, Momma’s plan is for comfort measures only.

Momma (and Dolly) sleep quite a lot these days.

Mom was in a considerable amount of pain following the incident. Hospice recommended we start giving her some stronger medication to help manage the discomfort and quiet her anxiousness. A low dose of morphine was started, but wasn’t particularly effective; plus, mom seemed to have an allergic reaction. Once switched to hydromorphone, she was very sleepy, but pain was much better managed. Before long, Momma was back to tooling around in her wheelchair visiting with the other residents and “borrowing” seemingly abandoned baby-dolls and stuffed animals to care for in her room. That was the “upside” of administering narcotics.

The “downside” is that narcotic medications cause constipation. With an injured tailbone, constipation can become a formidable and painful foe.

Another “downside” is that the medication also makes her more confused – so much so that her speech comes out in an incoherent, rambling, jumble of meaningless words and random thoughts. This confused speech is a condition known in the world of dementia as aphasia and is often referred to as “word salad.” Usually a symptom first noticed in earlier stages of the disease, aphasia makes finding the right word very difficult. It grows progressively worse as the disease marches on, complicating oral and written communication, making interpreting someone else’s words in a conversation or reading a sign frustratingly difficult.

The most frustrating “downside” is non-stop chatter. Usually fairly quiet and non-conversational at the dinner table, the medication caused Momma to talk non-stop. She barely came up for air between one string of jumbled words and another. Mom’s usual table mates at lunch grew very weary of her nonsensical babbling, with one of them growing impatient enough to take a frustrated swipe at mom then slam her fist down on the table demanding, “Please! Someone just make her be quiet!” Thankfully, the impatient neighbor (not the one pictured below) missed in her effort to lash out at her too-gabby neighbor, and I was able to move mom out of arm’s reach and help her focus on eating her lunch.

It makes me happy that mom still enjoys eating and can (most days) accomplish it without help.

Narcotic medications were not necessary to bring on the word salad of aphasia, as it was already rearing its ugly head along with other symptoms which signaled the progression of Alzheimer’s. The medication just tossed the salad, so to speak. If you would like to learn more about aphasia (and 3 other A’s: amnesia, apraxia and agnosia), I highly recommend reading the article “The 4 A’s of Alzheimer’s Disease.

 

Sharing is Hard!

Each day after lunch, Mom and I usually sit quietly together in her room watching all the goings-on outside of her window. There is so much to see: cars and trucks as they drive in and out, people who come and go, the construction happening next door and (best of all) the birds at the feeders just a few feet away.

Today sweet Carol stopped by for a little after lunch visit. Without a word, Carol took me by the hand, urging me to rise from my chair and take a walk with her. I have taken many such walks with Carol, so gave Momma a quick hug and told her I’d be right back. Carol gave my hand another insistent tug and off we strolled hand-in-hand. As I left the room Momma suddenly addressed our friend Carol in an obviously jealous tone of voice blurting, “Hey! That’s MY Momma!”

Here’s a photo of a sweeter moment for Momma and her friend Carol.

Photo credit: Kathleen Zelinski

Simple Blessings: Attending a Grandchild’s Concert

The simple blessing of being able to attend my sweet granddaughter’s symphonic band concert on Wednesday night was not lost on me. My husband and I could both go to the concert. Together. We didn’t have to take turns going to these special events anymore. We didn’t have to hire a caregiver or ask a friend or family member to come spend a few hours with my mom. We could just go.

As we waited for the concert to begin, I looked down our row of seats in the high school auditorium and was caught up in a beautiful moment of realizing I was sitting here with my daughter and her family. I could sit next to grandson Charlie and give his back a scratch while we waited for the concert to begin. I could ask him during the concert what his favorite instrument was – percussion, if you’re wondering too. During the concert, I watched Henry, seated at the end of our row, totally taking in the music. I remember comparing Henry’s silhouette with that of his mother seated next to him – how fun to notice the similarities in their facial features. It made me smile. Even sitting next to wiggly George and helping him cover his ears during the loud or “scary” parts of the music was a special blessing to my grandma-heart.

Our flautist. (Such a strange word.) How fun to see Violet seated next to Izzy, her friend since kindergarten.

Of course, I relished watching Violet play her flute. When did she grow up to be such a poised and beautiful young lady? The obvious enjoyment she had in making music with her friends just thrilled my heart. The music was amazing – I could not believe this band had been practicing together for only two months.

Being able to attend this concert was a grace gift – a hidden blessing of having my sweet mom in memory care. My heart was reminded that I need not regret our decision to place mom in assisted living memory care earlier this year – it was an act of love – for her, for me, and for my family.

Best-Ever Cookies

Did you ever lose a favorite recipe? You know the kind I mean: the recipe card that has been in your recipe box for years and is now a bit tattered and stained from years of use. Well, I recently wanted to bake a batch of cookies I’ve been making since my kids were little, but couldn’t find that handwritten recipe card anywhere. It was one of those recipes copied from someone else with my own “tweaks” scribbled in the margins.

Bummer!

I searched a few of my recipe books and found a similar recipe. It had all the right ingredients, so I mixed up a batch and baked them for my mom’s friends who live with her in assisted living memory care. The cookies baked up a bit thin and crumbly. The ingredients were right, but were obviously not in the right proportions. My friend Lola’s husband is one of the residents who REALLY liked the not-quite-perfect cookies. She heard my lament about losing my recipe card and went home and searched through her cookbooks in an effort to find the recipe for me. Imagine my delight when she surprised me yesterday by bringing in a church cookbook with a recipe that looked to be closer to the ingredient proportions of my tweaked recipe. Unlike my lost recipe, this version had nuts and didn’t have chocolate chips in it (but that problem is easily remedied).

YAAY! I couldn’t wait to give the recipe a try.

Now, imagine my excitement this morning when I stumbled upon a forgotten blog draft I had created back on July 9th when I had last baked the cookies for my friends at BeeHive. Someone had asked for the recipe, so I had actually typed out my tweaked recipe with the intent of posting it on my blog.

Well, here it is!

Best-Ever Cookies

Ingredients –

  • ½ c. butter (1 stick, softened)
  • ½ c. shortening (or another stick of butter, which I prefer)
  • ½ c. corn oil (or canola oil)
  • ½ c. coconut oil (I use solid, but oil would work too)
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. cream of tartar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T. vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ c. regular oats
  • 1 c. flaked coconut
  • 2 c. Rice Krispies
  • 2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips (variation: use a combination of semi-sweet, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, butterscotch chips)

Directions –

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, shortening, corn and coconut oils, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Beat with electric mixer until creamy. Beat in flour, salt and cream of tartar, adding egg and vanilla extract until well combined.

Stir in oats, coconut, cereal, and your choice of chips. Stir until blended. Chill dough for a couple of hours. Scoop chilled dough (~ 1 T of dough) onto ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving room between cookies for dough to spread a bit.

Bake at 350 ℉ for 12-14 minutes – until lightly browned on edges. Let set on baking sheet to cool for 10 minutes – cookie will continue to bake and set-up a bit. Remove from cookie sheet to cool completely, then store in air-tight storage container.

Note: the dough freezes well. I place the rounded scoops on a cookie sheet, then place in the freezer until hardened. I then put the frozen dough balls in a ZipLoc bag and freeze until ready to bake.

There is a lesson for my life in here somewhere. Sometimes my life contains all the right ingredients: church, family, personal Bible study, friends, prayer, ministry, housekeeping, gardening … and the like. But oftentimes the proportions are just not quite right. When I start feeling a little spread too thin and “not quite right,” nine times out of ten, I find the time spent in personal Bible study and prayer have diminished over time. Putting those ‘ingredients’ in the proper proportions in my life allows all the other priorities to meld together into a life that is truly satisfying and sweet – God’s ‘Best Ever’ for me.