Date Night for Seniors…with an Unexpected Twist

January in Wisconsin was unusually cold, courtesy of the Polar Vortex. One Friday, when temps had dipped well below zero, my hubby and I were contemplating whether or not we’d cancel our weekly date night. Since we had a caregiver for mom lined up (who was willing to brave the horrible weather), we decided to go ahead with it, but not travel too far from home. Our evening out would include dinner out at a nearby restaurant that we enjoy, then we would do a little grocery shopping (yes, we’re old enough that we sometimes grocery shop on our date nights).

Me and my guy – photo courtesy of our dear friend Don Yantis

After all that senior excitement, we decided to go home and relax while watching a few episodes of one of our favorite whodunit detective shows. Momma hadn’t been feeling well and was not in the best of spirits all day. Expecting to find her in bed and not feeling very social, I smiled when we walked in the door and saw her seated at the kitchen table working a puzzle with her amazing caregiver. Wayne went upstairs to queue up our show so we could hunker down for the evening watching another episode of Psych.

Momma really enjoys her weekly time with Kathryn, always lighting up when she sees her. Kathryn has a special way about her and easily keeps mom engaged with puzzles, coloring, or looking through picture books together. Honestly, I think Kathryn is better at keeping Momma happily engaged than I am.

On this particular night, Momma was engaged, but seemed just a bit frustrated with placing the puzzle pieces. After putting the last grocery item away, I walked past the kitchen table to head upstairs for movie time and noticed mom was starting to slump forward in her chair (Kathryn had noticed too). The color in Momma’s face drained, her hands and arms were tremoring, eyes were fixed, pupils dilated, and she was making sounds, but I could not detect any words. I recognized it as an episode of vasovagal syncope (VVS) much like the one mom had experienced about a month ago.

Briefly, VVS is a fainting episode which happens when the blood pressure takes a nose-dive, usually during periods of agitation, stress or anxiety. Momma had not had a good day and was physically worn out by stomach pain from persnickety bowels and back and forth trips to the bathroom. Shortly before this episode, she had mentioned not feeling well and that she had to go to the bathroom again. Next thing we knew, she was slumped in a classic VVS faint. Episodes of this nature are generally not serious and last a minute or less. I knelt next to her, supporting her with a little sideways hug so she wouldn’t slump to the floor. Unless you see it coming early and can get the individual lying down and feet elevated above the heart, there’s really not a whole lot you can do to circumvent an episode of VVS once it has begun. I decided to pray out loud for mom and had no sooner said ‘Amen’ when she began to stir in recovery.

The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur, but I remember being thankful that Kathryn was there. In addition to the symptoms I already mentioned, Momma loses control of her bladder and bowel during these episodes. Kathryn was so very helpful in getting Momma cleaned up and ready for bed. Once mom was comfy in her bed, Kathryn sat with mom in her bedroom and shooed me off to join Wayne for what was left of our movie night.

I sensed that life as we knew it was taking yet another detour, the path ahead uncertain, and most likely containing many twists and turns. How grateful I am to have the calm assurance that Someone is traveling with us, leading each and every step of the way.

What Splashes Out of My Cup?

Lest anyone who regularly visits ‘Barefoot Lily Lady’ think that I’m living in an Alzheimer’s caregiving utopia where we are always sweet to one another and I always execute Pinterest-worthy caregiving ideas at every opportunity, let me share a slice of reality.

If you had a little window into our world, yesterday wasn’t pretty. And today I wasn’t exactly setting the best example either.

The fact is, I make mistakes in caring for her daily.

Let me confess that I am sometimes not very kind and respectful in my dealings with her – especially in the wee hours of the morning or after a night (or several nights) with little to no sleep.

Right now, as I am composing this post, I am viewing her via the camera in her room and she is ripping her blanket off the bed. I don’t think I have fingers and toes left to count the number of times I have put her bedding back in place today so that she can be warm and cozy. This gathering behavior is common in this later stage of Alzheimer’s where they derive pleasure from manipulating and touching things.  (Here is a very helpful summary of what renowned Alzheimer’s expert, Teepa Snow, calls the “Gem Stages” of Alzheimer’s. My mom is “Amber,” heading into “Ruby” territory. You can request a free DVD or download on this subject on this page.)

The truth about myself is, I often hear my tired and groggy self barking out requests like a drill sergeant giving orders. Last night it was “Please STOP taking your blankets off the bed!” The “please” was moot given my obviously frustrated (and angry) tone of voice. I sometimes forget that the truth about Momma is that she just does not understand what she is doing and she cannot stop this tactile behavior.  Alzheimer’s has eaten away the part of her brain which helps her understand my words and discern how to implement any instructions I give her.

Every day I am as sad for her obvious anxiety and anguish over knowing something is wrong with her brain as I am frustrated with her inability to follow simple instructions.  In those times of frustration, I am sometimes mortified by what comes splashing out of me. As I whipped the blankets off of the end of the bed for the umpteenth time, it certainly wasn’t godliness, love, or the Word of God splashing all around me when life’s cup was jostled.

Today, as I reacted in frustration, God brought to mind a lesson one of my Awana teachers gave years ago (MANY years ago). I am recalling her poignant illustration for life. Our Bible teacher entered the room carrying a cup filled to the brim. Each step was taken slowly and carefully so as not to spill a drop. Just as she reached the front of the room, another teacher abruptly stood up and bumped our Bible teacher’s arm, sending the beverage splashing all over those seated nearby. Yes, it was all staged, but the teacher used that moment to remind us that water came out of her cup. Not coffee. Not soda. Not milk. Water. And the reason that water came out of her cup when she was bumped was because she had put water into her cup. My teacher used that teachable moment to help me understand that if I want godliness to splash out of me when I get bumped in life, then I need to grow in Christ by spending time in prayer and in His Word.

When the bumps of life come along, what spills out of me? 

Lord, please help me take time to fill my cup to the brim with your Word. When Momma bumps me next time, may she be splashed with your compassion in my attitude, loving-kindness in my actions, joyfulness in my countenance, and grace in my words. 

My Mother, My Friend

Momma and Me – a favorite picture

Momma and I sat in her bedroom talking tonight. I couldn’t help but notice she was being extra sweet and using the tone of voice one sometimes reserves for meeting a new friend. As I helped her get ready for bed she eyed me keenly, then said, “I don’t believe I know your name.”

I moved a little closer to my sweet mom and then replied, “My name is Cindie. What is your name?”

“Well, I’m Charlotte. I’ve always been Charlotte,” Momma replied matter of factly as she flashed one of her lovely smiles.

Putting my hand atop hers, I gazed into her brown eyes and proffered, “Pleased to meet you, Charlotte.”

“It’s nice to meet you too, dear.”

I’ve sort of dreaded this day, knowing Alzheimer’s would eventually snatch away my identity from her brain. I imagined that I would be utterly and completely heartbroken. Oddly enough, I wasn’t. For some reason it didn’t sting as much as I thought it would.

Today I wasn’t the daughter, as much as I was a new friend helping another friend.

Where?

Late to the party, but I am joining (on a Monday) the Five Minute Friday writing community, hosted by Kate Motaung, for our weekly writing adventure. Please click here to learn about Five Minute Friday. This week’s prompt is, “Where.”

Where Am I?

Momma asks this question every single day. Every. Single. Day.

I usually answer, “You’re at my house, Momma.” She will then peer about the room with a furrowed expression, and say, “Where?”


My sweet mother is hard of hearing, so I often must repeat what I said. However, it really does no good to explain to Momma where she is or why she’s here. But I do anyway. While she will soon forget, and it really doesn’t matter to her, it matters to me. When I tell Momma that she is here because I love her and want to take care of her, I need to hear myself say that even more than she does. In saying it out loud, I am reaffirming my purpose in my heart.

She will ask again. And again. And again. Each time as though it were the first. It’s at times such as this when I must I remind myself that Momma truly feels lost.

“Where is my purse?”

Where is my money?

“Where do I buy food?”

“Where is the bathroom?”

“Where are the kids?”

“Where are my shoes?”

These, and so many other “where” questions lurk in the worry corner of her mind. Lately, one of her most frequently asked questions is

“Where is my family?”

When she asks this question, she’s really not thinking about me, or her other children, or even her husband. Momma wonders when her parents are going to come and get her and take her home. It accomplishes nothing telling her that they’re already in heaven. If I do that, she stews and is angry that no one told her that they died. Instead, I say, “They’re not going to be able to come today.” Then, I answer her question with my own question, “So, what was your favorite memory with your Dad?” I absolutely love it when she reaches way far back into her cache of childhood memories and pulls out a special one.

While it is heartbreaking to hear Momma struggle with all of the where’s in life right now, I know she has a hope for a future “where.” A place where every tear will be wiped away, every worry and fear erased, and where pain and earthly sorrow will be gone forevermore. Momma is looking forward to her heavenly home – where no more memories will be lost to Alzheimer’s.

Christmas 2018 – Seven Differences

I love Christmas. My husband would tell you that sometimes I go a little too crazy with the cleaning, baking, gift-wrapping and preparations. And he would be right. But the joy of a family gathering together makes it all worthwhile.

Our Christmas was different this year. Very different. In fact, I can think of seven differences right off the top of my head.

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The ornament that commemorates our first Christmas in 1976

Difference #1 – I didn’t go crazy decorating this year. I put up and decorated our Christmas tree. And that’s it. And I didn’t even hang ALL of the ornaments. No garlands and lights. No wreaths. No candles, or anything else lurking in the bins marked “Christmas” in my storage area. I didn’t even put out Christmas napkins or plates.

And, you know what? I still loved it.

img_1603Difference #2 – Less Sugar. LOTS less sugar. My children and grandchildren have grown accustomed to favorite home-baked cookies and candies being stacked one atop the other in a special set of aluminum stacking trays I inherited from my mother-in-law. Every year each of five layers of trays included our favorites: Snowball cookies, candy cane cookies, chocolate fudge, peppermint patties, and soft ginger cookies dipped in white chocolate.  Eyes would open wide whenever I’d bring the tray full of goodies out of the 3-season porch (our second fridge in the winter). Everyone knew yumminess was contained within those five layers.

This year, we’re all more conscious of sugar and what too much sugar can do to the body. I made one sweet treat and skipped baking Christmas cookies (with the exception of a batch of gluten-free snowball cookies for my hubby). There also weren’t candy dishes throughout the house filled with M&M’s and chocolate candies.

We still enjoyed Christmas – sans the sugar high.

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A back pack – Miss V’s all too grown up gift choice prompts her beautiful smile

Difference #3 – The guests. The people gathered were a sweet mix of family and friends. Our daughter and her family were part of the usual cast of characters at our celebration, but our son and his family could not come because they were using this time off of work and school to go on a family vacation. This year our gathering included our new friends and adopted family of the heart Herim and Waldely, and their sweet daughters Fabiana and Alexa. If that weren’t blessing enough, as a bonus, our celebration also included Herim’s visiting cousin Anna and Anna’s nephew Luigi.

In addition to hearing a lot of Spanish floating around the room, our little family relished spending time with our new friends as they shared with us more about their country of birth, Venezuela. We learned about the similarities and differences in customs, and laughed together over the cultural differences that one stumbles upon when being immersed in the language and traditions of the United States. Waldely shared the humor she found when Americans are introduced to a new food  they don’t particularly like. We don’t just come out and say, “I don’t like it.” With a little raise of our eyebrows, we say, “Mmmm…interesting.”

I only wish I had taken pictures!!

Difference #4 – The meal. It was an early lunch, rather than an evening meal together to accommodate everyone’s schedules for the rest of the day. It was rather simple fare with ham and cheese sliders on the menu, rather than the egg-laden brunch casserole I had originally planned. There were a few equally simple go-withs such as deviled eggs, a little fruit tray, a few cut-up veggies with dip, potato chips, pickles/olives, and the like. Waldely added quesillo, a delicious traditional Venezuelan flan to our buffet spread. Oh, so yummy! Estaba delicioso!

GF Wisconsin Buns

Difference #5 – Gluten Free Options. In our family, we traditionally enjoy what we call “Wisconsin Buns” on Christmas Eve.  It’s a recipe handed down to me by my mother-in-love.  She made it almost weekly in their family, but I reserve making this special (highly calorific and very bad for you) “coffee cake” for Christmas Eve morning (and will also make it as the birthday treat for any family member who requests it). This year I also made up an experimental batch of gluten-free Wisconsin Buns. Not the same by any stretch of the imagination, but a surprisingly tasty alternative treat for my husband, who now finds allergies to be a daily struggle.

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Papa helping Charlie crack open his gift – new geodes

Difference #6 – The shopping. All of our shopping was done by Wayne on-line this year – mostly via Amazon. No trudging around in malls. No being tempted by impulse purchases placed strategically at every check-out line. The kids and grandkids made lists on their wish-lists and the purchased gifts came to our door only needing to be wrapped. I love watching the faces of each grandchild as they open a gift they really wanted.

Christmas + 3 grandsons = LOTS of Legos

Difference #7 – Momma was here, but absent. Though our house was full of people laughing and the sounds of children playing, Momma pretty much missed all of the Christmas activity as she retreated to her room and slept throughout the day. Last year she was able to join us in the family room and watch in delight as her great-grandchildren opened gifts. This year, Alzheimer’s has noticeably taken away her delight in all things social. Her inability to participate in our celebration was a little sad. In spite of that, I’m glad her number on the wait-list hasn’t come up at the memory care facility we have reserved for her. It brought me peace of mind being able to peek in on her in our home.

If Momma had a wish-list for next year’s Christmas gift, heaven would be at the very top of her list. No more tears or confusion. No more memory problems. No more excruciating knee problems. And together with her Lord and Savior FOREVER!

Now, wouldn’t THAT be an AWESOME Christmas?

Change is in the Air

 

God used last year’s hospitalization to help me see Mom needed to live with us.

Just over one year ago I wrote, “Honoring Your Parents: Nursing Home or Your Home?” (I invite you to read it here.) In that piece I endeavored to describe the process which had guided my decision-making related to caring for my mother as she slipped further and further into the horrible world of memory loss. Countless decisions have been made since moving my mother from Milwaukee to our home in Fitchburg. Each decision to be made along the way was generally preceded by some sort of adversity which required a change. We prayed about each change, each process, and each decision. Our faithful God always answered, shedding light on each uncertain step.

Change is in the air once again.

Mom’s advancing Alzheimer’s and a few recent difficulties have made it abundantly clear that we need to prepare for what the next level in mom’s care might be. There have been many “nudges” toward planning for the possibility of mom’s future care taking place outside of our home setting. But three things in particular:

  • A gentle nudge in the form of a well-timed question from Diane, mom’s palliative care nurse practitioner. “So, have you considered what the next step in your mom’s care might look like?” We had a good chat about that, and she gave me several helpful suggestions.
  • My hubby’s trip to India. I had to ask myself what I would do if something happened to him and he could no longer help me. Even though my family and friends rallied to help me out during his trip, it became very clear that caring for mom on my own would be at too great a risk to my own health and welfare.
  • My own frailty. I took a fall down a short flight of stairs in my own home. Aside from a scrape to my leg, a few sore muscles and toes, the greatest injury I sustained was to my own pride. The fall served as a wake-up call causing me to consider how Wayne would care for mom if something happened to me.

In the past year, I’ve looked at the websites of many assisted living places, have talked with a few representatives on the phone, traded emails with yet a few more, and even toured three that I liked and thought might be able to at least provide some respite care. In each case, I could not imagine my mother living there. After my little chat with Diane, I looked into a newer one she suggested and rated very highly.  BeeHive is a 16-unit specialized memory care facility designed to look and feel very home-like. It is ideally located in Oregon just a few miles down the road from us, and about a mile from the nursing home where my brother resides.

Wayne and I scheduled a visit in early September before his trip to India. I was favorably impressed as I watched staff interact with residents. Compassion and respect were palpably present. We met Gina and Andy, two of the owners, and felt their pride of ownership and desire to serve their residents.

Standing on the sidelines, I watched one sweet lady receiving a hand massage. As the aide gently applied lotion and stroked her delicate hands, she looked into this resident’s eyes and spoke with her like she was a familiar friend. I knew in my heart this was the right place. A puzzle was in the works at a nearby table and I could hear one resident talking to another in friendly banter. Yes, I could definitely picture my dear Momma sitting at one of the tables, working on a puzzle and telling (or re-telling) one of her many tales.

After some discussion and prayer, we decided we would put down a deposit to reserve a place for mom. She is currently number four on their wait list. While it is still my heart’s desire to keep my mom at home with me until God calls her to her heavenly Home, I have great peace knowing I have another level of care reserved for her. My greatest comfort comes in knowing the One who is guarding our steps as He walks before us paving the way for whatever our future holds.

I know in my heart that my dear mother would skip along to heaven tonight if she could. Nearly every day she tells me so. Momma’s greatest comfort comes in knowing that Jesus promised He has a placed reserved for her in heaven.

Growing in Patience and Kindness

“For when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete.”   James 1:3-4 (TLB)

Awakening from a decent night’s sleep, I pushed ‘snooze’ to buy myself just a few more minutes beneath the covers before throwing on my workout clothes, grabbing a quick breakfast and heading out the door to the gym. I remember being grateful for six hours straight of good sleep. The serenity of my cozy space beneath the blankets was quickly invaded by the sound of Mom’s voice on the video monitor on my nightstand. I distinctly heard her say, “Oh, no! Oh no! Oh no-no-no!”

That’s usually not a good thing. Continue reading “Growing in Patience and Kindness”