How Did I Get Here?

There are many times when I walk into my mom’s room and she has this befuddled look on her face. I watch as her eyes wander slowly around the room, studying each piece of furniture, the window, and the doorways. Her eyes will land on pictures of once familiar people and a blankness has slipped over her eyes like a mask – no light of recognition.

In these moments Mom will often ask,

“How did I get here?”

I no longer answer by explaining, “Well, about two years ago I moved you from your home in Milwaukee so that you could live with me and I could help take care of you.” I don’t tell her she has Alzheimer’s. Unless she specifically asks, we don’t dwell on the fact that she can no longer handle money, make decisions, cook, drive, or take care of herself.

That’s too much information.

The answer that brings her the most comfort goes something like this:

“You moved in with me because I love you.”

 

Tidy Mommy

“Who made this mess?”

I’ve heard Mom ask that question since I was a toddler. She still asks this question whenever she surveys the bread crumbs and potato chip crumbles all over the floor surrounding her chair at the kitchen table. It’s best not to be too forthright and tell her that SHE is the guilty party. It’s the truth, but the blunt truth would only injure her fragile mind. Many inadvertent hurts later, experience has taught us that it is best to come at the truth from the backside. “Mom, messes happen. No worries. Let me get out the little broom and we’ll sweep it up right away.”

Hiding the mess
Mummy-wrapped banana peel

My mother’s use of Kleenex tissues is almost exponential. In addition to wadding them up and stuffing her pockets and purse, they happen to be her favorite clean-up tool. Without supervision, she will wrap anything and everything in tissues that she wants to throw away (in a rare moment of clarity, she admitted to disposing of her $1,200 hearing aides in this way).

If I just hand my mom a banana to snack on, she will create a little mummy-wrap for the peel before tossing it in the trash. Surely it is a desire to help which fuels this behavior – to be busy helping is in her DNA and it bothers her to be idle. In talking with others who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, this behavior is common.

Kitchen Clean-up

Our experience thus far in caring for my mom has taught both my husband and I that it is best to address something that is bothering my sweet momma right away, rather than let her obsess over things. By way of example, we have learned to clear the table right after supper, or she will begin wrapping up everything in Kleenex and use still more Kleenex to wipe out the dirty dishes and clean the table. While my hubby and I clear the table, we enlist her help by offering her a warm, wrung out washcloth so she can feel useful in cleaning up after the “messy people in this house.”

Most evenings Mom wants to help with the dishes. If it’s only a few plates, I’ll let her stand at the sink to dry. It makes me nervous though, because her legs are bowed and pretty unsteady, so we improvise a bit by bringing the dish draining rack to her place at the kitchen table. It takes three dish towels to do it this way: one under the dish drainer, one to use to dry dishes, and one to set the dried dishes upon. It does take more time than if I do it myself, but it makes my mother feel as though she is contributing to the household duties in a meaningful way. You can see contentment in her face as she helps, and that make any inconvenience worth it all.

Winter Drags On

Spring keeps teasing us here in Wisconsin, drawing us out of our houses for walks in the sunshine or a little time in the garden, and has us washing the salt off of our cars and sweeping out the garage. Then, BAM! Winter is back!

To think that just a week or so ago I was working out in the garden without my jacket and sometimes without my shoes Continue reading “Winter Drags On”

“What if?”

“What if? What if?” I could hear my mother’s voice asking this question over and over again in her bedroom. Her voice winced with pain as she tried to get out of bed. “What if? What if? What if?”

Pushing aside the privacy drapery that serves as her makeshift bedroom door, I came to her bedside and asked if she needed help. She replied, “No,” gently adding, “I’m just asking myself ‘what if’.”

This was a question she had not asked before, so I said, “What if, what, Momma?”

“What if I can’t get out of bed anymore? What if my legs stop working?”

I asked, “Do you need my help?”

“No,” came her reply, “I think I can do it myself. But, what if I can’t?”

With the most reassuring voice I could proffer, I said, “If you can’t, I can help you.” I could tell Momma really didn’t want my help right now, that she wanted to do this herself, so I stepped out into the kitchen, telling her I would be nearby if she needed help.

As I sat at the kitchen table, I let my mind go there.

There.

There, on that day when her brain could no longer tell her legs and feet what to do, or make her voice form the words to ask for help.

Yes, I went there. That place of uncertainty regarding the future.

Strangely, I felt a sense of peace.

I cannot see what lies ahead of us on this journey with Alzheimer’s. But I know this to be true; God has always been there, and He always will be there. What blessed assurance.

A Grace of Alzheimer’s: a lesson in suffering

My heart was recently challenged by reading a book from the Heroes of Faith series – the biography of Watchman Nee by Bob Laurent. I was so moved and inspired by this man’s faith, his godly wisdom, and courage in the midst of persecution and trials of life greater than I will ever experience. So challenged was I by his life and teaching that I found myself yearning to learn more from him. I reserved two books written by Nee through my local library: “The Normal Christian Life” and “The Character of God’s Workman,” and am currently reading the later.

I take a book with me when I go to the gym each morning, having purposed in my heart to use this time to exercise my body and feed my heart, mind and soul too. I have come to treasure this precious time…an hour on an exercise bike is over before I know it. As I pedaled and read today, something in chapter 3 made me think of my dear mother.  In this chapter, Nee speaks on 1 Peter 4:1, regarding our Lord’s attitude toward suffering and its admonition for Christians to have the same attitude and mind as Christ in our various earthly encounters with suffering. Nee notes that many Christians who encounter trials in life find themselves side-lined, withdrawing from serving Christ. Nee challenges the Christian reader by saying:

“No one who serves the Lord may stay home during rain and go forth only after the sun comes out. If you have the mind to suffer, then you will work on in spite of privation, difficulty, pain, sickness, or even approaching death.”

I immediately thought of my mom when I read that bit today, causing me to reflect on some of the ways she handled the trials in life.

When she was faced with having to take early retirement from her nursing job due to budget cuts the county was facing, my mom rejoiced. Now she could serve the Lord more in her local church.

My parents’ ministry to their family also carried on – cancer, headaches, bad knees and all. Where most retired couples have empty bedrooms, my parents had a steady stream of children and grandchildren occupying those rooms. It didn’t matter if they were out of a job, or cash-poor students, there was a bed with clean sheets, and a fridge full of favorite foods.

Each time my Dad faced a cancer diagnosis (five different cancers in his lifetime), mom was by his side for his surgeries and treatments. She could have used that as a perfectly plausible reason to back out of her ministries, but she kept on serving in the church, working her ministries around helping him. She also encouraged my dad to persevere in his church attendance and ministry as long as he was able. Only the final debilitating scourge of sarcoma took my dad away from his volunteering as a handyman at his church, and as a driver and treasurer for Christian League for the Handicapped.

When my dad died, my dear mother grieved, but she didn’t wallow in her grief and discontinue her ministries. Quite the contrary! She and a friend who was also a recent widow set their minds and hearts toward forming a ministry to other widows and widowers.

As I look back over her numerous notepads and journals that I packed when she made her move from Milwaukee, I can see that she was aware her memory was failing long before it became noticeable to anyone else. If I read between the lines, I can see there was a certain amount of fear that came with the awareness of memory loss and where it might lead. Knowing that her memory was fading didn’t stop her from serving in her many ministries. Even when the disease reared its ugly head enough for her friends to take notice, she never said, “How can I possibly take on the Lord’s work when I can’t even care for myself?”

Though my mother certainly had a “mind to suffer” in whatever hard things life threw her way, there did come a time when Alzheimer’s dealt a life-altering blow. The day came when driving to church was no longer an option. Another day came when planning anything was an insurmountable obstacle. Then, a time when remembering names was an impossibility. Everything about life was changing and becoming very hard. Only then did her ministries begin to fall away – not because she wanted them to, but because it was time.

Even now, in this time of life “approaching death,” I see in my sweet mother’s life yet another “grace of Alzheimer’s” – the grace of Christ-like suffering.

 

“Jesus, Help Me!”

Even as my sweet mother’s memory slowly fades, one thing remains strongly present. Her faith in Jesus. Many times during the day (and night), I will hear her pray, “Jesus, help me.” She prays it as she walks from her bed to the bathroom, or as she tries to get her knees to cooperate with her as she travels from the kitchen back to her bed. Continue reading ““Jesus, Help Me!””

This Too Will Pass

I am fondly remembering when my children were small. So much energy and love went into making sure they were dressed, well fed, clean and safe. I mothered my children back in the days before baby monitors and wifi cameras helped monitor the safety of a sleeping child. I remember hesitating to even walk outside into the backyard to hang my laundry on the clothesline to dry, always wanting to be within listening distance of my sleeping babies.

Mealtimes with my little ones could be fun but, if I turned my back for an instant in our teeny-tiny kitchen, one of my children could spread his meal all over himself and the floor beneath before I could count to three. The other child made highchair sitting into a baby Olympic event going from being seated in her highchair to standing on the tray in record time.

Little stinkers.

I remember making an effort to make bedtime routine, but special. The process of getting ready for bed was the same every night for our two little kiddos. Baths. Jammies. Brush teeth. One favorite book (each child picked a book) and a Bible story. Then tuck each one into bed with plenty of kisses and hugs.

This weary mommy looked forward to bedtime, but our kiddos didn’t always stay in bed. Someone was thirsty, or hungry, or scared, or had to pee. “Can we read ONE more book, Mommy?”

There was always something.

Now, in this circle of life, it’s my sweet mother’s turn. Meal times can be a bit messy and challenging. She cannot be left unattended. And bedtime ritual is just as important for her as it was for my children. Soothing ritual brings a small measure of security to her sometimes frightening world living with memory loss.

I try to get mom to wind up her coloring and activity about an hour before I want to settle in for the night. I get her toothbrush ready for her and make the suggestion that she brush her teeth and use the bathroom. I get her tucked into her bed and say our goodnights, “I love yous,” and turn off the lights.

Before I can settle into a movie with Wayne or a project on my laptop, I hear Mom’s walker scootching and clunking down the hall. In fact, right now, as I write, she’s up again even though she went to bed not more than five minutes ago. This will go on four or five times (sometimes more than that) before she’ll settle in for the night.

Sometimes she’s hungry. Sometimes she’s just confused and wondering what she should be doing now. Other times she’s worried about where her money is or when she will have to move some place else.

It’s always something.

Just like the young mom caring for a little one who just can’t stay in bed, the caregiver of an elderly parent gets weary too. But tonight I’m remembering how sweet it was so many years ago to wearily carry my pajama-clad little ones back to bed, and give them one more hug and one more assurance of my love. As exasperating as it may have been, the very last time I carried each child back to bed came when I wasn’t even aware it was the last time. It so soon passed.

As a daughter and caregiver, I am fully aware I am now doing the same thing for my sweet mother. I can guide her back to her bed, tuck her in once more with my tender assurances of my love for her, knowing full well that the last day will come when I least expect it, and this time with my mom will too soon pass.