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.

Palliative Care Praises

My friend and I talked recently about palliative care and how it differed from hospice care. I recalled writing a little blog post about this subject, so decided to reblog it today. I hope that it helps my friend and anyone else who is approaching this stage in the care of their loved one. I praise God for leading me to Agrace and for the wonderful palliative and (later) hospice care my dear mom received.

Barefoot Lily Lady

As this mid-stage of Alzheimer’s drags on, Mom is sleeping quite a bit more, not only at night (which I appreciate), but during the day as well – sometimes skippinga meal in lieu of sleep. Unfortunately, her nighttime sleep doesn’t appear to be very restful, as she gets in and out of bed various times throughout the night – sometimes to use the restroom, other times to explore the contents of her purse or her dresser drawer, or watch the real or imaginary happenings going on inside our house or outside of her window.

We have also noticed she has been less content during her awake hours and is more easily agitated. She paces back and forth between her bed and her chair at the kitchen table, never quite settled in either place; never quite sure if she’s going to bed or getting up.

Long ago, when my mother was…

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How Did I Get Here?

A memory from two years ago …

Barefoot Lily Lady

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…

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Butterfly Kisses

The final week I spent with Momma is now a blur; the days and nights run together in my head. What I do clearly remember is an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness. Each day and night that I spent with her illuminated the many reasons I had to be so grateful; many of those “reasons” wore scrubs and a nametag. It did not matter if they were a nurse, a personal care or nursing assistant, or owner of BeeHive, it was obvious that each had a role in providing care, and they all loved my Momma.

Keeping vigil at my mom’s bedside during that final week, I had the privilege of watching each one of mom’s amazing caregivers at BeeHive, together with her hospice team, do their best to make this last part of my sweet mom’s earthly journey as comfortable and pain-free as possible. Every few hours they would check to see if she needed to be changed and reposition her to prevent bed sores and to ease her struggle with terminal respiratory secretions. Medications were administered to keep pain under control and help dry up some of those bothersome respiratory secretions. If there was any sign of pain or discomfort, they were on it, adjusting her medications or finding that “sweet spot” in positioning her. Since Momma couldn’t swallow to drink anymore, they used swabs to soothe her parched lips and keep her mouth hydrated and clean.

Even though BeeHive is a busy place, as the caregivers worked with her, they never seemed to be in a rush. Gentleness was in their touch whenever they moved her. Each person involved in mom’s care spoke to her just as if she could hear and respond. As each one left the room after performing daily cares, they left behind a kind word of care and endearment.

It could have been my imagination, but as her body weakened and she slipped into a non-responsive state, I sometimes felt as though she was peeking through almost closed eyes, searching to see if I was there. Otherwise, in all of this, momma gave no real indication that she was aware of anyone being in the room with her. I honestly didn’t know if she could hear me, but I talked to her anyway. Even though Momma was quite hard of hearing, I oftentimes placed my phone on her pillow next to her ear and played her favorite hymns while I sang along with tears playing in the corners of my eyes. When I sensed that she was agitated, I stroked her forehead to soothe and quiet her, tracing her forehead and nose with soft touches, much as she did for me when I was a child. When I could do nothing else, I just held her hand.

On Saturday night, I noticed Momma making kissing sounds. Her eyes were closed, but her head was raised off her pillow and she was definitely kissing the air. Her kisses were insistent, so I thought perhaps she wanted to give her Dolly a kiss. Momma loved that Dolly, taking care of her (and a host of other dolls) as if they were her children. I put Dolly’s cheek to Momma’s lips and Momma gave her little butterfly kisses. I thought that was so sweet, so tucked Dolly back in with Momma.

But Momma kept making kisses. So I put my cheek to Momma’s lips to receive her kisses. Momma kissed my cheek a few times and I kissed hers. Momma stopped kissing and relaxed her head on the pillow.

It was then that I knew those butterfly kisses were for me. My sweet Momma knew I was there and she was trying to give me a goodbye kiss. Perhaps Momma knew that heaven was drawing near and that she would be with Jesus in the morning.

Alzheimer’s: Signs Along the Way

My dear readers, I think it’s about time to meet up for another cup of coffee and a chat. I thought we could talk about a question I am often asked.

What signs did you see that made you suspect that your mom was experiencing memory loss?

One place to start when gathering information about Alzheimer’s is the aptly named Alzheimer’s Association. You can click here for their Top 10 list of signs, but here’s my list of signs we noticed along the way:

  • Repeating stories multiple times at the dinner table.
  • Piles of stuff all over the house – very unusual since she was normally very tidy. The guest room bed was covered with several inches of mail and miscellaneous paperwork.
  • Finding everyday objects in odd places: her cane propped up against the fridge on her countertop; her purse in the fridge; keys under her pillow; toothpaste and toothbrush on top of her dresser; odd stuff in her purse…like banana peels wrapped like mummies.

Mummy-wrapped banana peel from Momma’s purse

  • Asking the same question over and over again.
  • A very messy calendar with lots of ‘White Out’ covering myriad mistakes (and her complaining that someone else was writing on her calendar).
  • Mom had always been a list-maker and would usually keep her lists in an organized notebook. Now, her lists were everywhere! You could find her notes to self on the backs of envelopes and snatches of paper; in multiple notesbooks or legal pads; in the margins of her calendar, etc.
  • Missed hair appointments. Her weekly hair appointment had been her habit for decades – it wasn’t like her to miss one.
  • Everyone loses their keys from time to time – believe me, I know! But the key hunt became a daily routine (sometimes several times a day) because she would hide them where they’d be safe.

Our solution to the hidden keys problem was to attach a “tile” which would allow us to use an app on our phones to find them. (Click here for info)

  • Ordering multiple sets of checkbooks; we counted five separate sets of checks for one account.
  • Hiding her checkbooks.
  • Unbalanced checkbooks and a dining room table littered with bank statements with notes of confusion written on each one.
  • Over-purchasing other items too: toilet paper, ballpoint pens, Kleenex boxes, dishwasher soap, spiral bound notebooks, and legal pads.
  • Repeating stories. Oh, I think I already said that.
  • Phone calls from neighbors reporting unusual behavior, including a concern over momma being outside ALL day in pretty much the same spot. And another with concerns about her driving.
  • A diminished desire to attend church or get together with her friends.
  • Hidden stashes of food – especially cookies and chips. We would also find partially eaten food here and there around the house. It made me nervous to think she might pick up spoiled food and begin eating it again.
  • Multiple cans of Coke begun, but not finished.
Momma can’t remember she already has a can of soda open.
  • Unflushed toilets. Mom had always been VERY particular about remembering to flush toilets.
  • Inordinate amounts of junk mail.
  • She somehow got suckered into two vehicle protection plans and two sewer and waterline protection plans. Unfortunately, she never used them because she didn’t realize she had them.
  • She kept renewing her magazines, even if she had YEARS left on the subscriptions.  
  • Losing large sums of cash. She once took $1,500 out of the bank for a vacation I was taking her on, but lost the money somewhere between the bank and home. We never did find that money, and her credit cards were in the same wallet.
  • Hiding valuables and claiming they were stolen.
  • Growing frustration with using a telephone or a once-familiar remote control.
  • When dining in a restaurant, she was no longer able to calculate a tip. Mom had always been an adventurous eater who was always game for trying a new restaurant. Whenever I would visit, she began going to the same restaurant and ordering the same thing each time. Or, without opening the menu, she would say, “I’ll have what she is having.”
  • Eating an entire carton of ice-cream in one sitting (we started buying it in pints and half-pints).

Most of these changes were subtle, but they began to add up. Somewhere in the middle of all of these changes, I knew in my heart it was time for me to make sure I invited myself to my mother’s next doctor’s appointment. I knew that he and I were going to have to become allies in my mom’s future care, so I stopped by her physician’s office and dropped off a copy of my power of attorney for healthcare paperwork so that they could be scanned into her record. I also wrote a letter to her primary care physician outlining my concerns. Now we could begin the process of me being in the loop related to care discussions and decisions. It was a hard step, but a necessary one.

Well, it looks like my cup of coffee is on empty and I did all the talking. Sorry about that. If I may ask, if someone you love has Alzheimer’s, what were some of the signs YOU noticed in your loved one?

In Search of Billy

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I arrived at BeeHive to sit with mom during lunch. Momma was able to stay focused on eating if someone was nearby to remind and coach her. As her Alzheimer’s progressed, she had begun missing meals – sometimes only eating one meal a day – so I tried to be there during that time whenever possible. On this particular day, I was running a bit late and most of the residents were eating their dessert.

Not Momma. She had already toodled away from the table in her wheelchair and was calling out, “Billy! Billy! Where are you, Billy?” Now, I didn’t know anyone there by the name of Billy (not even one of her dolls had that name), and had never heard her call out for someone in this unconsolable way. Mom seemed almost frantic to find Billy.

I put my things down near her place at the table, then approached her and asked if I could help. “No! I want Billy!” insisted Momma. “Well, let me help you find him,” I replied. “Can you tell me what he is like?”

Momma seemed glad to have someone help her find Billy. The staff was nearby beginning the cleanup process after lunch, so I asked if any of them knew who Billy was. No one did.

Then, with tears in her eyes, Momma brought me back to the situation at hand and plead, “Please, help me find Billy. He’s my friend and he’s so kind. He helps me.”

That description was all I needed to give me a strong hunch as to the mystery of Billy’s identity. Going with my hunch, I asked one of the gals if Momma had been hanging out with Andy that morning. Why, yes! Andy had paid quite a lot of attention to Momma earlier that morning, strolling with her around the building and helping her with daily cares.

Photo credit: Kathleen Zelinski, BeeHive of Oregon’s Activity Director

Andy is one of the owners of BeeHive of Oregon. Like the other co-owners, Josh and Gina, Andy has more than just money in the business. He puts his caregiving heart in there too.

Andy showed his interest by taking the time to notice the photos I had placed in mom’s room. As he looked them over, he would ask questions about them so he could learn more about my mother’s past – important because Momma was living in the distant past in her mind. Knowing more about a someone’s past is helpful in caring for those with any number of conditions which cause short-term memory loss.

Andy often told me how much he adored my mom. He wanted to know about her and took a genuine interest in hearing stories from her past so he could better understand what made her tick. Though Momma probably didn’t say so, she trusted him and I think she sensed how much Andy loved her.

And Momma loved her ‘Billy’ too.

Falling for Dolly

Momma rested comfortably after Vivian and Jess left, so I decided to go home for a bit that evening to have dinner with Wayne and repack my bag. I knew in my heart that I would be staying with mom until the Lord called her home, so stuffed my backpack with a week’s worth of clean clothing, my Bible, a book, and a few movies to watch. I was just getting in the car to make the 12-minute drive back to BeeHive when I got a call from Kate, one of her sweet caregivers, who was calling to let me know that, weak as mom was, she had somehow managed to get herself out of bed and had fallen once again.

When I arrived a few minutes later, mom was back in bed and resting comfortably. The bump on her forehead from a previous fall had been in the healing stages, but now looked fresh again. Momma was chatty, but more difficult to understand. I did manage to cipher at one point that she was talking about her baby. Dolly was seated across the room in a chair, rather than in her customary spot in bed with her. It was then that I surmised Mom had been attempting to get out of bed earlier so that she could bring her baby to bed with her, but had fallen as a result. I placed Dolly in Momma’s arms and she patted her and spoke soothing words to her for quite some time.

I shared my theory concerning why mom had tried so hard to get out of bed with the staff. We all agreed that Dolly was very real in momma’s mind and that we should make sure Dolly was always in bed where Momma could see her.

I always loved watching my sweet mom tenderly caring for her beloved Dolly (and other dolls and stuffed animals), so I took a little video of Momma interacting with her Dolly that evening. When I would watch her care for Dolly, it seemed as though I had a glimpse of what my mother was like when I was a baby.

I will always treasure this sweet and special memory of Momma and Dolly.

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.

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.”

Turning the Last Page

From the moment I arrived at BeeHive, it was apparent to me that we would be experiencing the final chapter of Mom’s remarkable sojourn on earth. The stroke had dealt a crushing blow, adding further injury to Alzheimer’s furtive chipping away of her mind and body.

I will forever be grateful to the staff of BeeHive for graciously allowing me to stay at my mother’s side during her final days. It was a hard week, filled with opportunities to be a comfort to my mother, and moments both endearing and bittersweet. My overnight vigil afforded a rare opportunity to observe the night shift at work, deepening my appreciation for those dear ones who watched over the residents at night.

On May 24, 2020, a beautiful Sunday morning, as I held her hand in mine, the final page of Momma’s life was quietly turned. My sweet mother’s story on this side of Glory ended just as I hoped and prayed: Alzheimer’s lost and God won as He called her gently Home to begin the story that never ends.