Mothering Moments

Okay friends, you are going to need to cut me some slack on this mothering moment that I’m going to share. I had only been 20 years old for about 14 days when my first baby arrived in the world and probably not even 22 when this story took place.

I was pregnant with baby #2 and exhausted. Usually a good sleeper, lately Matt seemed to sense the moment my weary head hit my pillow. Well, on the night this story took place, I was settling in for sleep for what seemed to be the umpteenth time when my not quite two-year-old little Matt cried out for me from his crib with his loud toddler voice,

“Mommy!”

I shudder to think of what I did now because it is so contrary to good sense, but I was a gullible young mom who apparently believed this ad.

On that night I grew tired of getting my very pregnant self in and out of our waterbed (anyone remember those?). I desperately wanted to get my little guy to lie back down and go to sleep, so I gave him a bottle hoping he would fall asleep and let me get some sleep. I wanted to save the little bit of milk we had in the fridge for breakfast in the morning, so watered down some Tang breakfast drink and put it in his bottle.

Not two minutes had passed after I dragged my weary self back to bed when I heard the familiar squeak of Matt’s crib. We had a tiny house and I didn’t want him waking his sleeping daddy who had to get up early to go to work, so I got up and went to his room. He was standing in his crib again, arm extended out to me with an empty baby bottle in hand.

“More, Mommy, more.”

I couldn’t believe he had drained that bottle so quickly. I made him another bottle of the stuff then checked to make sure his diaper was dry. He took the bottle and snuggled in for what I had hoped would be the last time until morning’s light. Bleery-eyed with weariness, I then crawled back in my own bed hoping not to make too many waves.

Unbelievably, before I could pull the covers up under my chin, Matt was again yelling,

“More, Mommy, more!”

I made the trek of five or six steps to his room again and turned on the little Humpty-Dumpty lamp on the dresser. I couldn’t believe my eyes – his bottle was empty again! Checked his diaper again too – it just had to be wet, but it wasn’t.

Bordering on sheer exhaustion (and also a wee bit suspicious), against my better judgement, I fixed him another bottle. I turned off the light and then headed out of his door, this time waiting around the corner to spy on him and see what on earth was going on. Sure enough, I had every reason to be suspicious. My clever and mischievous little guy sat up in his crib, unscrewed the top of the bottle, then stood up and proceeded to pour that orange drink down the wall, then picked up the nipple end of the bottle and screwed it back onto the empty bottle.

I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. I did know that if he could figure out how to do all of that, he was much too old to still be drinking from a bottle. I took the bottle out of his hand before he could say, “More, Mommy, more” and told him to say “bye-bye” to his bottle.

Matt never saw the bottle again.


Churchly expect Image
Pastor Matt and his wife Kelly

Interesting note: Now, 40-some years later, Matt is an elder and discipleship pastor at Wildwood Church in East Moline, Illinois. On a recent Sunday, Wayne and I were able to worship with Matt’s faith family at Wildwood and were blessed to listen as our son preached from Luke 22 using this story from his childhood as a sermon illustration. I’m not proud of this mothering moment of mine, but it did make a pretty nice sermon illustration. It warmed this momma’s heart (and his dad’s too) hearing Matt sharing God’s Word as he preached. I invite you, dear readers, to give that sermon a listen right here.

Putting Away Christmas

I had planned to keep my Christmas stuff up well into January because it just felt like this year needed a little extra sparkle for just a bit longer. I’m not a perfectionistic white-glove housekeeper (by any stretch of the imagination), but I do like a certain level of tidyness and order. Before I knew it, the niggling longing for order won out and those green and red plastic tubs were making their annual trek back up from the basement storage area so I could begin putting back all those pretty Christmas-y decorations.

Each ornament goes back in its original box, or gets wrapped in newsprint or tissue and placed in a protective box or tin. As I carefully stacked those boxes filled with fragile baubles into one of the three larger bins, there was a sense that I was, in a small way, packing up and setting aside some memories that would be unwrapped and remembered once again in the hope of next Christmas.

“Putting away Christmas” is theologically impossible. Christ’s advent, God’s gift to the world, cannot be wrapped up in tissue paper and set aside the day after Christmas. Emmanuel, God With Us, cannot be stuck in a box to be forgotten about until unwrapped again next year. When I “put away Christmas,” it is our somewhat clouded by glitz and glitter attempt to remember his advent each year that we are really putting away.

As I filled the third bin with my tissue-wrapped baubles, I noticed the corner of an envelope hiding in the bottom of the bin. It was tucked under a box of lights I haven’t used in years. I pulled it out and discovered a gift I hadn’t opened this year. It was a letter addressed to me in my mom’s familiar cursive script.

Years ago, Mom had taken the time to write out the words to the poem “My First Christmas in Heaven.” I’ve read it many times before — maybe you have read it too. I know that a few of you, my friends and loved ones, experienced the fresh sting of grief in your heart because a loved one was missing at your celebration this Christmas, so I will include an image of the poem here for you.

It says “Author Unknown” but I think most sources now attribute the authorship to Wanda Bencke, whose daughter died just after Christmas in 1997.

The postmark on the envelope was clearly stamped 10 DEC 2009, so it was fitting that when mom copied the poem’s title, she neatly crossed out the word “First” and wrote above it, “Second.”

Mom’s little personal post-script penned beneath the poem sheds light upon the reason why.

Last Christmas, I kept running the last line through my head but could not remember the rest of this old poem. This year in Reminisce Magazine it was printed in their December-January 2010 issue.

Love, Mom

I just love this little find, yet another of God’s little grace gifts in my life. You see, she sent it on my dad’s second Christmas in heaven, and here I was re-reading it 12 Christmases later, just after she celebrated her first Christmas in heaven.

An ornament commemorating my momma’s last Christmas on this side of Heaven

A Family Story Found in an Unexpected Place

According to my Facebook post on January 1st of 2015, on that date in history I found one of my mother’s memories from January 1st of 1955!

How cool is that?

I had been going through mom’s jumble of paperwork, trying to find the important documents I would need as her power of attorney. Mom’s once neat filing system was a jumbled-up mess, due to the confusion of her mind caused by Alzheimer’s. I recall I was making good progress taming that paper tiger and that I found a few delightful surprises in the process.

One such surprise was a file folder labeled “Peet Family.” This file contained many treasures. Old black and white photos. Letters and cards. Newspaper clippings. Obituaries. Genealogy timelines. Tucked into this file category was a simple green pocket folder. I flipped it open, fully anticipating that it had something to do with the Peet family genealogy.

And it did – sort of.

It was a cookbook filled with favorite family recipes which had been compiled for a family reunion in 2000. I had fun taking a break from my sorting project to page through the recipes. The faces of family I had only seen when I was a young child came to mind as their names popped up on the righthand corner of each page. It was exciting to see the name “CHARLOTTE PEET-BOYLES” pop up here and there.

“Charlotte’s Layered-Spinach Salad” was in there, as it should be. It was one of those salads she made often for potlucks or when family would gather at her house for birthdays or holidays. Another family favorite was “Charlotte’s Dream Whip Torte”! My sister would often request that dessert for her birthday. It was not a surprise to find her “Never Fail Pie Crust” recipe was in there too. She never liked making pies until her friend from work shared that recipe with her.  

As I flipped through the cookbook, I noticed that some of the recipes had a family story included. Once I realized this, I went back through the recipes attributed to mom to see if I could find a recipe where my mom had contributed a story. And there it was included under a recipe called “Clara Gall-Peet’s Upside Down Cake.” Clara was my grandma, so I felt like I had found a double-treasure with this recipe and the giggle I received as I read the sweet little story mom told about her early baking attempts.

  

The date confuses me a little, as mom and dad were married in July of 1955, but, at the bottom of the cake recipe, my mom had reminisced,

“My Mom was a good cook and if you arrived unexpected at dinner-time she always had room for you at the table and enough food to go around. This is the first cake I tried to make after I got married. In fact, the date was January 1, 1955. Total disaster for there was no cake – all bottom or top, depending which way you look at it. I had copied 1 ½ tablespoons flour instead of 1 ½ cups. It took me three tries before I got it right.”

Charlotte Peet-Boyles

The Gift of ‘Present’

Well, it’s Tuesday already, but this post is part of the Five Minute Friday blog link-up ( check it out here) where I’m joining up with a community of writers and bloggers of all ages and stages who gather around a single word prompt to freewrite for five minutes without editing. This week’s prompt is [Present}.


Facebook has a feature I enjoy called “Memories.” One click on the memories tab gives me visual reminders of things I have posted on that site a year ago or more. It’s a virtual photo journal reminding me of special times in my life like birthdays, vacations, Bible verses that spoke to my heart, time with the grandkids, or what was blooming in my garden at that time. Many of the photos from the past decade feature my sweet mom. Those photo memories of my mom generally bring a smile, or a hearty laugh, and (only sometimes) a few tears sprinkled here and there. But this week, the fact that I was able to take so many photos of her served to remind me of the amazing opportunity God gave me to give my mother a very special gift in the last years of her life.

The gift of being present.

Present. The gift I’m thankful I could give.

Grandma’s Wonky Christmas Tree

My Christmas tree is a little wonky-looking. A bit oddly shaped, no matter how I fluff it, stubbornly refusing to stand up straight in the rotating base. It has a bit of a wobbly jewelry-box ballerina pirouette going on as it twirls round and round slightly askew. But I love how my wonky tree sparkles as it does its little lopsided twirly dance.

Continue reading “Grandma’s Wonky Christmas Tree”

A Prayer for Grace

It brings me joy when I find a little prayerful note written in my mother’s handwriting. Seeing what was on her heart and mind at certain times of her life gives me insight into the depth of her trust in the Lord.

I recently picked up a little spiral notebook in my stash of things which once belonged to my mom. Giving the pages a quick flipping through, I noticed most of the pages were blank, so I decided to make use of it as my own journal. I thought the journal was blank, but then her handwriting caught my attention on the very last couple of pages.

Let me share with you one of those entries.

Today is March 12, 2016. Life goes on and God has provided. I am so thankful for all who have cared for me.

Jim Meiller – Snow removal; also mow grass.

My caregivers – Cindie and Vivian

Wayne – takes care of my bills. PTL!

And so many more to list.

Lord, I know that I do not have much longer. I ask for grace for these times. It has not been easy, but you have provided for all my needs and so much more. Please give me grace for my remaining time before you call me home.

I do hope Jerry remembers me!

Take care of my family and my friends!!!

So many more but, oh yes, thank you for ice cream!

Charlotte P. Boyles

Looking at the date on her journal entry, I am surprised by her clarity of thought for writing out what was on her heart, as Alzheimer’s had dealt some harsh memory-robbing blows. I recall we were in the midst of packing her belongings and getting ready for her big move at that time. In just over a week, she would leave the place she had called “home” for the past 55 years and move 90 miles away to a little place near me, and I was having trouble with mom unpacking the boxes that I had spent hours packing. Finding her prayer for grace during what was a very stressful time for her, well, it just speaks to my heart about how I can trust God for my future too. Even if it includes Alzheimer’s.

Measuring Time

This is my mother’s watch.

Momma undoubtedly bought several watches during her lengthy nursing career. But, as she often recounted the story of her watch, she had been wearing this very watch since she graduated from nursing school in 1955. You see, a watch with a sweep second hand was essential in my mother’s era of nursing. It kept you and your doctor on schedule and kept you accountable for the time you spent on breaks. When updating a patient’s medical chart (no computers back then), it provided the time for documentation purposes. Its sweep second hand was the essential tool momma used day in and day out to measure a patient’s heart rate in 15-second increments of time.

Holding my mom’s watch in my hands today, I recalled how meaningful it was to her, even after my mom could no longer tell time (which I wrote about here). A mind clouded by Alzheimer’s loses the ability to measure the passage of time or interpret the face of a watch somewhere in the middle stages of the disease’s progressive march through the brain.

Even after my mother could no longer tell time, I invested a good bit of time in finding my mom’s treasured watch when the paranoia of dementia would cause her to occasionally hide it for safekeeping. I had the band resized when she slimmed down and it spun on her wrist. I even took it in for repairs once and replaced the battery on several occasions. The natural motions of her body would wind the self-winding watch (another clue that it was NOT from 1955), but Momma would wind it anyway because that was what she remembered doing in days gone by. Over time, this damaged the watch beyond repair, but she still loved to wear it.

When my mom moved into assisted living memory care and I saw how she would distribute her things all over the building (and borrow the belongings of others without consent), I decided to take her watch home with me for safekeeping. I hated to take something that was hers, but the story of the watch had also become something I treasured. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to matter much to mom — especially since her friend and BeeHive neighbor Roy didn’t seem to mind if mom (ahem!) borrowed his watch from time to time.

One day I noticed my mom sidle up her wheelchair to another lady friend at BeeHive. She seemed concerned that her friend was slumped in her wheelchair. Here’s the precious thing I was honored to witness with my own eyes. Momma reached over and gently placed two fingers on her sleepy friend’s wrist, instinctively finding that arterial sweet spot nestled between the thumb and tendon. The nurse in my sweet mother looked at her watchless wrist as she felt her friend’s pulse for about 15 seconds, then smiled with satisfaction and patted her sleeping friend’s hand as she said, “You’re going to be okay.”

The Decline: Praying for Moments of Clarity

“Touch can reach through the fog, confusion, and fear of dementia. Reassuring touch grounds those who are spatially disoriented, bring people back to their bodies, and increases their awareness in present time and space. One touch can affirm that they are not alone and they are valued by the person who is beside them.”

Teresa Stecker, R.N., Hospice Nurse, excerpt from Creating Moments of Joy Along the Alzheimer’s Journey, by JoLene Brackey

Following mom’s recent and very life-altering stroke, I wanted to make sure my sister Viv would be able to share some special time with our mom. Between the restrictions related to COVID-19, my sister’s work schedule, and her car that needed tires and brakes, Viv hadn’t been able to see mom, and I felt time was running out. I phoned Viv and told her that I thought mom would be going Home to heaven soon and encouraged her to visit if she could.

In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, visiting a loved one in a care facility was limited to window visits. But there was an allowance for residents who were in end of life or needed “comfort care.” Mom had been under hospice care for quite some time, but had now officially transitioned to end of life care, so family was permitted to gather as long as certain precautions were taken.

Viv didn’t have reliable transportation, but said she could come on Wednesday when her daughter would be able to bring her. In my heart, I was worried that mom wouldn’t make it until Wednesday, but didn’t want to burden Viv with trying to pressure someone else to bring her or tempt her to drive a car that was not roadworthy. By Tuesday, Mom was sleeping a lot and had completely stopped eating and drinking, so I prayed that Viv would be able to make it in time and that she would find a measure of peace for having been here.

I noticed that mom was a tiny bit more alert in the minutes immediately following being changed and turned, so requested that her caregivers do her daily cares shortly before Viv was scheduled to arrive at 1 pm. They say that when a person is in the end stage of life there is often a rally, or a short time of clarity. I hoped and prayed Viv would get one of those moments.

Mom was weak and groggy when Viv and her daughter Jessie arrived, but she had her eyes open and was more talkative than she had been since her stroke on Sunday. Viv lotioned mom’s hands while she visited, which was something that seemed to be very soothing for mom. Mom started talking and tried to tell her, among other things, that her arms and mouth didn’t work anymore.

It was the moment of clarity I had been praying for. My heart rejoiced seeing God’s answer to prayer as they had that little moment together.

May 20, 2020 – A weak, but sweet smile from Momma, pictured here with her youngest daughter Vivian and youngest granddaughter Jessica.

Rewind: Ice Cream & Car Keys

Another look back at defining moments in my Alzheimer’s journey with Momma. This is a subject that comes up often in caregiver circles: I know my loved one needs to stop driving, but how do I take the car away? This is how our story of that defining moment unfolded . . .

Facebook Journal Entry – September 15, 2015

Momma loves ice-cream. She often tells me she has not met a flavor she does not like. But, it is quite obvious she absolutely loves butter pecan.

My mom oftentimes reminisces about a favorite childhood memory while enjoying her favorite treat.  In this memory, her family would take her grandmother grocery shopping every Thursday evening in Clarksburg, West Virginia. On the way home, the Peet children just knew their daddy (equally passionate about the creamy confection) would stop and treat them all to ice-cream.

Momma’s paternal grandparents, Wilbur and Bessie Peet

This story is deeply etched into mom’s memory – a lovely memory that rises to the surface whenever she scoops her favorite treat. I love to hear my sweet momma share the stories from her youth, from her days in nursing school, from my childhood, and from her many years dedicated to her profession of nursing.

The memories that are stored in this special place deep within her mind come easily. Sadly, not all things in life are so easily remembered for mom these days. We all sometimes forget where we put our phone or our car keys, or struggle to remember a name. This is different. Mom’s memory loss is no longer confined to temporary lapses like occasionally forgetting the name of a friend at church, or where she put her purse, or what she ate at her last meal. The disease that is robbing her of memory has now captured her short-term knowledge of whether she has eaten at all. She will sometimes serve herself bowl after bowl of butter pecan ice-cream, single-handedly polishing off an entire carton in a few hours, then ask if we can go shopping because she hasn’t had ice-cream in ages.

Many other changes are evident to her family and friends, and it is very concerning.

Today is the day we have to tell Momma that she can’t drive anymore. Our family has discussed this and we all believe it is time. My heart has ached all day in anticipation of our talk with Mom. How grateful we are for our friends and family who are praying for us as we have this hard discussion with Mom.

We enjoyed dinner together while listening to Momma tell her stories and ask the same questions over and over again. Wayne and I give one another knowing glances, acknowledging that the time is now. After clearing the table, we sit with mom in the living room. I fidget quite a bit then begin by saying, “Momma, you know that Wayne and I love you very much, don’t you?” Oh, yes, she acknowledges. She knows that full well.

“Momma, you know we would never do anything to hurt you, don’t you? You know that all we’re doing for you is with your best interest in mind, don’t you?” Well, yes, she knows that too. Then Momma starts to fidget and get a little worried look in her eyes.

We share with her that we have decided that it is time for her to stop driving. As we gently shared with her the reasons why, I could see the tears brimming in her eyes, ready to spill at any moment. I think Wayne’s eyes were tear-filled too, but I couldn’t rightly tell, for my own eyes were stinging as I fought back the urge to cry.

The discussion was at times difficult, then sweet, then funny, but always with a heart-rending undercurrent that life was taking a turn that none of us wanted to take. In the end, Momma agreed, suggesting that we take the car with us so we could come and visit and help her more often.

Tomorrow Momma will wake up to a new day and she may not remember this conversation. She will probably call me in a panic when she gets up in the morning and discovers that her car keys are missing and that her car is not occupying its usual spot in the garage.

But, right now, in this moment, we will enjoy butter pecan ice-cream together.

The Decline: Forgetting The Love of Your Life

My parents, Jerry and Charlotte Boyles, were married on a sultry hot day, the third of July in 1955. From time to time, mom told a few wedding day mishap stories about that memorable day, one of which was that her little sister (and flower girl) came home from summer camp that morning and had head lice. I can’t imagine what it was like taking care of that problem along with the usual hurry and scurry of a wedding day.

The other story that I rather like was best told by my granddad – the short of it was that he couldn’t find his brand new pair of dress socks, so subbed in a pair of his well-worn Sunday socks. He said that his feet hurt something fierce that day. As he told the story, it was because the “lost” socks were actually not lost. Rather, they were stuffed for safe-keeping in the toes of his dress shoes; a fact that was not to be discovered until after the wedding.

Except for candid photos and snapshots taken by family and friends, many of which are fuzzy, there weren’t many photos from their wedding day. My daughter took the photos we could find and created a beautiful memory book for their 50th anniversary – they loved to page through it. Though there were no professional photos taken on her wedding day, Momma had some beautiful formal portraits taken of her in her wedding dress prior to the wedding. She was a strikingly pretty bride in her waltz-length lace gown with a matching jacket. For her flowers, she carried a small white, lace-covered Bible with a sweet corsage on the cover and little ribbons tied with flowers streaming from it.

Twenty-one years later, I carried the same little Bible with my own choice of flowers on my wedding day.

Momma honored her wedding vows in every way as she loved, honored and cherished my dad. Her commitment to him shone most brightly in her keeping of the “in sickness and in health” part. She walked alongside dad through battles with five different types of cancer in his lifetime until the day God took him Home in 2008.

Forgetting is one of the harsh realities of Alzheimer’s.

It’s hard to pinpoint when mom forgot dad. There were signs along the way as her memory of dad dimmed. I grew a little suspicious when I’d find notebooks and scrap bits of paper where she had written his name over and over again; perhaps willing herself not to forget. Some days, the memories could be resurrected or refreshed as we would look through photos together. Other times, they were harder to conjure up.

One night when mom was still living with me, I thought I heard her crying so peeked in on her to make sure she was okay. I could see that she had a photo of herself and dad in her hands. Her back was to me, but I could also see that she was dabbing at her eyes with big wads of Kleenex. It broke my heart to see her look at that photo and say through her tears, “Oh, Jerry Robert. Where are you? I think you died, but I just can’t remember.”