Why “Momma”?

An old friend recently noted that I refer to my mother as “Momma” in my writings. She wondered whether my mother would prefer to be called “Mom”.

I’m not really sure why I refer to her as “Momma” in my writing, other than it being a term of endearment between us. Most of the time, when I greet her, I say “Hi Mom!” I’ve never really noticed, but would venture to guess that I usually call her my ‘mom’ when I’m talking about her with someone.

‘Momma’ is a decidedly southern term of endearment; two sounds hitched together – Mom+ma. I use the less common spelling of Momma, but you’ll more often see it as Mama – also two sounds hitched together – Ma+ma.

‘Momma’ is not used much here in Wisconsin where I’ve raised my own children. My daughter calls me “Mom” and my son calls me the even more casual, ‘Ma.’ I answer to both without preference for one or the other.

Though my mother has lived in Wisconsin since 1955, she was actually born and raised in West Virginia. In my mother’s world living with Alzheimer’s, her years in Wisconsin have all but vanished along with her ‘accent’ and all but a few words and phrases from her upbringing. In her mind, she is still living in West Virginia. As I recall, most of my cousins call their mothers “Mom,” which to my northern ears sounds more like a slightly drawn out “Mawm” than my “Mahm”. But, oftentimes, when talking about their mothers, my cousins also say “my Momma” too. So, I think it is safe to say it was a pretty common term of endearment for mothers in her earlier years.

All that to say, I don’t really know why I sometimes call her Momma. I just do. It’s the term I use when it’s just the two of us. I hear myself call her that when I tuck her in at night and say “Goodnight, Momma. I love you. See you in the morning.” To which she will usually reply, “Goodnight. I hope I’m here in the morning.”

As I head upstairs to bed each night, I often think, I hope you’re here in the morning too Momma. But, if you’re not, I know you’re in a better place – a place where you long with all your heart to be.

 

I could never forget you

When you have Alzheimer’s you can’t remember that you don’t need to worry about something. So you do worry. A lot.

Mom worries about such things as whether there is food in the fridge and if she’ll be able to afford the things she needs to live. There is, and she will.

When we have guests, she worries about how they’ll get home in the dark, or where they’ll sleep for the night. She will oftentimes tell our guests that they can sleep in her bed if they need a place to sleep.  Sad, but sweet.

Her worries are usually small ones. She worries every night about whether or not she has a toothbrush. She frets about leaves and twigs out in the yard, or the water on the deck after a rain.

Other times, her worries are big. Her biggest worries are about the future. Just today, she came out of her bedroom with a worried expression on her face and said, “Oh, good! You’re here! Can I ask you a question?”

“Well, of course. What do you want to know?”

With tears playing in the corners of her eyes, Momma said, “So, do they have places for people to go when they’re not able to do anything anymore and are just waiting to die?” She paused for a few seconds, then added, “I mean, I don’t have any money. I can’t do anything to earn any money. Where will I go to die?”

As I have done countless times now, I assured, “Momma, you don’t need to worry about that. You have plenty of money.”

“I do? Well, where is it?”

I assured her that her money was safely in the bank and that her son-in-law was taking good care of it by investing it and helping it to grow. Then I added, “And you are staying here in my home. I will take care of you. You don’t need to worry about how much it will cost.”

“Oh, good! Thank you!” She struggled to point her walker in the opposite direction and said as she shuffled away, “Now, I’m going to go take a nap. I feel so much better.”

I smiled as I watched her slowly amble toward her bedroom down the hall. Then, as if she forgot something important, she turned once again and said, “Now, if you move or go any place, you remember you’re taking care of me. Don’t forget to take me with you!”

“I won’t, Mom. I could never forget you.”

The Day Dad Disappeared

Journal Entry – August 3, 2017

The past few days Momma has been paging through the little book of remembrance prepared for her by the funeral home that oversaw my Dad’s funeral arrangements in 2008. While I was preparing breakfast for her this morning, she looked up at me from her place at the kitchen table, tipped the book toward me as she pointed to a picture and said, “Is this how Jerry looked?”

I leaned over the kitchen counter a bit and looked at the page. “Yes, that’s Dad. He’s very handsome, isn’t he?”

“I don’t remember him looking like this.” It was a great picture of Dad, so I wasn’t sure what to say in response. I decided I should gently inquire, “How do you remember him looking?”

My heart should have been ready for her answer. But it wasn’t.

Tapping her temple as if trying to jog a stuck thought loose, with a heaving sigh and disheartened look she added, “I can’t remember him at all. I mean, I can’t bring him up in my mind anymore.”

I quickly swiped the tears stinging at the corners of my eyes, and then mom added, “Really, I can’t. And it’s really terrible when you can’t remember something you know you’re supposed to, and feels even worse when you can’t remember someone you loved.”

As a caregiver and a daughter, I would like to be able to help Momma create new memories to make the ones that are disappearing less painful. The sad truth is, this disease called Alzheimer’s makes it impossible for her to remember whatever fun thing we do, or pleasant conversation we have today. But, by God’s grace, I will continue to do my best to help Momma resurrect good memories and create new memories to enjoy, if even for a moment.

 

 

 

What Do I Know?

Things are changing once again in Momma’s world. In the past week or so, she has been having increasing difficulty using her legs, especially in the evenings. I can see her willing her right leg to move in front of the left, but her legs just won’t listen.  I have to come alongside her and coach her in how to walk, sometimes assisting her as one would assist a child. Other friends who are caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s tell me that this comes along with the territory in this later stage of the disease’s progression.  We’re adapting to this change, making the best of it, but I can’t help but think about what lies ahead. The unknown can be scary.

I’ve been parked in the book of James lately, preparing to lead a Bible study for a few ladies from my church. In the first chapter, James addresses the reality of trials in life. They’re going to happen to all of us. No one is exempt. My life is getting a little uncertain right now and I am a bit perplexed as I consider what might be the next step I must take in caring for my mom. But right there in the third verse of that chapter are the three little words, “for you know.”

I ask myself, “What do I know?”  I can know that this trial has purpose. That this testing of my faith will produce steadfastness and that God is using it to perfect and complete me – to make me more like Him. And, crazy as it sounds, “count it all joy” that I have this opportunity to grow.

James 1

For this reason, I think it would be wise for me to shift my focus from what I don’t know to what I do know. 

I know my God is truly amazing! He has led me each and every step of the way so far, and He will continue to be faithful in leading me on the next step of the journey. He knows what I need in order to care for my Momma before I even have a chance to pray about it. Just like the chorus of one of my (many) favorite songs says:

You’re parting waters
Making a way for me
You’re moving mountains that I don’t even see
You’ve answered my prayer before I even speak
All You need for me to be is still

Still by Hillary Scott beautifully expresses the wonder of God’s everyday miracles. This song could very well be my daily anthem. Listen and be blessed.

I am not alone

The more I write about my journey as a daughter and Alzheimer’s caregiver, the more I realize I am not alone on this bumpy road. Since I began journaling on Facebook two years ago, and now on my blog, I have been amazed by the number of friends, family and readers who have shared that they have been or are on a similar journey in life.

James 1I shouldn’t be surprised. When I open the pages of my Bible to the book of James, I am reminded in the very first chapter that “trials of various kinds” are to be expected. They are, in fact, necessary in the growing process of producing a steadfast faith.

James even says that I am to “count it all joy” when these trials, testings and troubles in life come my way. Now, I don’t think James was necessarily talking the laugh until your sides split kind of joy, but the inner confidence that radiates from within knowing that, with God, I’m going to make it through this and be stronger in the end. It’s the complete trust that this trial or test will give me an opportunity to grow, to stretch my faith, to seek His wisdom, and to demonstrate to a watching world by my actions that my religion is not vain or worthless, and that my God is nothing short of awesome.

I am further reminded in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that “no temptation has seized me, except what is common to man.” My Bible study companion these days has been Dr. Joseph M. Stowell’s book, The Upside of Down, subtitled, “Finding Hope When it Hurts.” He tells me that the word “temptation” in this verse comes from the same group of words as the word “trials” in James 1:2, and that it could also be translated “troubles.”

My “trouble” or “trial” in life at the moment is being a caregiver to my mother who struggles with Alzheimer’s. It would be foolish for me to think that I am alone on this journey. In addition to having the Lord with me, there are countless others who have been here before me. I need only look in the “comments” section of my blog or on Facebook, or to the private messages I receive from those who do not want to comment in public, to know that there are many others who even now are on the road with me. A plenitude of websites and Facebook pages are devoted to those who are facing the trial of caring for someone with dementia. I currently am part of a support group at www.myALZteam.com, whose stated purpose is to provide a social network for family and friends caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. I write about my journey for them – and for those who are yet to sojourn here too.

If you are suffering through a trial, rest assured, what you’re going through is common to others. You can find someone else who has been there. My trial is the sometimes brutal and heart-rending task of taking care of Momma, a trial which pales in comparison to the trials of many others I know. Yours might be the devastating loss of a child, or estrangement from a spouse of many years. Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown due to a job loss, a scary medical diagnosis, or a financial upheaval. Or, just this week in the news, the many who suffered a sudden tragedy or loss at the hands of someone whose mindset was diabolically evil. No matter what your trial might be, look for someone who has been there before – someone who brought glory to God in the end.

Maybe you’re the one who is already on the other end of that trial – already experiencing the joy in seeing how God was at work in your life – securely resting in the knowledge that the trial was for your good and God’s glory. If that’s you, please reach out to someone who is still trudging forward in the muck and mire of their personal journey with pain. Put your hand on their shoulder and tell them that you understand. You’ve been there. For you, my friend, are the one who can honestly say from your heart, “Let’s talk. Let’s pray about this together. We’ll get through this together, by God’s grace and for His glory.”

Are You the One in Charge Here?

Lately, my sweet mother has been more than a bit confused about her living accommodations, referring to our home as “this facility” and “this place.” Not long ago, she swept her hand out in gesture as if encompassing her living space and said, “Are you the one in charge of this place?” I told her yes it was our home and that Wayne and I both welcome her to live here. “Oh,” she replied, “are my meals and laundry included?” I assured her that they were. To which she replied, “Well, they haven’t fed me all day, and I think they’re stealing my laundry. I can’t find it anywhere.”

Not long ago, she was telling Wayne that “someone who works here” had given her some pills. She wasn’t sure who it was, but figured they knew what they were doing, so she took them. It was Tylenol, and it was me giving them to her just moments ago. Oh, and the “people who clean this place” and do the gardening around here just aren’t doing their job. The floors are always dusty. The gardens have so many weeds. “You should talk to them,” she insists.

I can watch Momma’s nighttime activity on a WiFi video monitor that sits on my nightstand. That’s a blessing because I know when she needs something…and a curse because sleep is interrupted quite often. On a few occasions, I’ve come down in the middle of the night to check on Momma because I could see on my monitor that she was crying. Sometimes it’s just confusion about where she is, but oftentimes it is her worrying about how she is going to pay for this place when she can no longer work and earn money. She’ll sometimes tell me that “they” are going to kick her out when her money runs out. On those occasions, I’ll sit with her for awhile and reassure her that she is loved, that she is retired and has plenty of funds, and that we will always take care of her no matter what.

One of Momma’s blue pots

Momma can make you smile with her wild tales about how she came to live here. On Saturday, a friend from church and her two young daughters spent the morning with Momma so that I could attend a Bible Conference with my husband. They had a delightful time, but, oh, the stories Momma told them while I was away. She enjoyed telling how this house was hers and that she shared it with us, describing how we had divided it up into her side and our side. And, of course, she had planted the gardens, adding to them over the years. (Mind you, she has only lived here since May!) She even shared with the girls that she had made her three blue flower pots when she was in kindergarten!

Of course, all of this is very real in Momma’s mind. That’s just a little taste of the confusion and disorientation that happens with the progression of Alzheimer’s. Not only is Mom confused about her accommodations, but also about the relationship of people to her.

“Mr. Winquist” and yours truly

Most days, she still knows us. Wayne is often referred to as “Mr. Winquist” – her term of endearment for him. Other days (mostly in the evenings), in her mind, I’m her sister Carolyn. As we look through picture albums or recall stories from her childhood, she tells tales of her youth as if I had been there too, sparing me the details with, “Well, you know. You were there too.”

My sister has been coming every other week or so to stay with Momma for a few days so I can get a little down-time. A few hours before each visit, I remind her that her daughter Vivian is coming. Sometimes she’ll give me a quizzical look and ask, “So, help me remember. Is Vivian my daughter? Or is she your daughter?”

On one of Viv’s recent visits, Momma came out of the bathroom and was looking for her Mom. Rather than remind her that her mother has been deceased for many years, Viv just went along with her and said, “Your Mom is not here right now. Can I help you with something?” Mom replied, “I just need to find my Mom.” I peeked my head out of the laundry room door and waved. Momma spied me and said, “There she is!”

So, in my mother’s mind right now, I’m her mother. That’s okay by me. She took good care of me for many years. Now, in this circle of life, it’s my turn to take good care of her.

 

“So, how many names should I put in the pot?”

The phone rang on Saturday morning. I answered, already knowing it was my dear mother, and I could almost guess what she would ask. She had a hair appointment every Saturday morning and would go grocery shopping on her way home. “So, how many names should I put in the pot?” That was mom’s way of asking us to come over for dinner.

It was our family tradition most Saturday evenings when our children were tweens and teens. Sometimes we’d hop on our bikes and pedal the 3 miles over to my parents’ home. Other times we’d pile the kids and the dogs in our car or mini-van and make the short drive to Mom and Dad’s place. Our Cocker Spaniels would be hanging their heads out the window, long ears flapping in the wind, their little nugget tails a waggin’, sniffing the air, and dancing with excitement when they sensed we were to Grandma’s street. Sometimes we’d purposely drive by the 105th Street turn-off and the dogs (one dog in particular) would cry and whine until we made a U-turn and turned on the right street. Momma would always have a treat for those granddogs…and they knew it. Sometimes just a dog biscuit or two (my dad always lost count of how many dog biscuits he’d toss them), or a little rawhide chew, other times a pig’s ear for each of them (their favorite)!

And Momma always had something delicious for us. Her barbecue spare ribs were fall off the bone scrumptious, and she made a homemade potato salad that became one of her most-requested recipes. She sometimes made a casserole we all liked; usually something she called Yumasetta (said to be an Amish recipe), or a taco-ish dish covered in Frito’s corn chips, or “Hearty Beef N Potato Casserole,” a recipe that was served at a Christmas luncheon at her church in 1986. On a hot summer’s eve, she made this seafood pasta salad that was better than any I have ever had. Oh, and her potato soup. Oh, my! Her creamy potato soup was SO good that our daughter Beth wanted it on her 15th birthday menu – along with crescent rolls (from a can), deviled eggs, and cherry juice!

Sometimes I’d bring a side dish or a dessert, but Momma usually told me I didn’t need to bring a thing. “Just bring yourselves,” she’d say. I think the kids preferred when I didn’t bring dessert because they knew they could count on Grandma having a favorite treat in her freezer – a Klondike ice-cream bar, which can best be described as a huge chunk of ice cream covered in a thick shell of chocolate. And if Grandma was out of ice cream, Grandpa Boyles could be counted on for a cookie (he always kept a stash in a Tupperware by the back door to share with the kids in the neighborhood, who sometimes affectionately called my kind-hearted dad “Cookie Monster.”)

We’d usually just watch a favorite television show or two together. I can’t remember what all we watched, but recall “The Dukes of Hazard” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” being part of the line-up at one time or another. I mostly remember the lovely feeling of coming home to the house I grew up in, and being thankful that our children had grandparents close by – something I didn’t have when I was growing up.

I have a few of Momma’s favorite recipes filed away in my recipe box. I can almost duplicate her creamy potato soup, but have never come close to duplicating her potato salad. Nowadays, Momma no longer cooks, as I wrote about in my story, “When the Good Cook Can’t” some time ago.

Yes, the table has definitely turned. Momma now lives with us and enjoys meals at our table. My children are all grown up and have homes and families of their own. Now they pile their own kids in their own mini-vans (no dogs, though) and come over and cook for her too, as they have opportunity. We are so thankful that we can do this for her as she wrestles with memory loss related to Alzheimer’s.

Momma, now it’s our honor and privilege to return the abundant blessings you lovingly showered upon us. May we be as gracious, open-hearted, and generous as you.