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.

Rewind: “He Meets She”

Today is our 44th wedding anniversary. On such an occasion, I thought it would be fun to reminisce about how we got here. I thought I’d bring a few of you, my friends, along for a little retelling of the story. God is good.

Barefoot Lily Lady

Seventeen letters from her and eighteen letters from him later, and it was time for “he” and “she” to finally meet one another in person. The letters between them had been filled with bits and pieces of thoughts shared and information that helped them “get to know” one another. Each letter revealed just a little bit more about the person holding the pen.

About a month before he came home on leave, he sat down to write. The mood struck him to write another poem. The poem took her by surprise – for it was on the theme of love. To this point, none of their letters had even hinted that they might at some point date, let alone fall in love. Yet, she read with interest what he had to write and wondered if it was a measure of what was in his heart:

“Love” – what is it?

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July Gardening – Time for Daylilies to Shine

It has been sheer joy to be in my garden during the beautiful month of June. It has been a few years since I’ve had this much time to play in the dirt. There’s plenty left to do, but they are looking more cared for than they have in a long time.

Momma moved to heaven in May, so being able to tend to the minutiae of my flowerbeds without the extra responsibility of caregiving has been cathartic and heart healing. As I pull weeds with my mom’s favorite garden tool, I think of how much my mom loved to weed gardens. When I don her gardening hat, I see myself looking a little bit more like the remarkable woman my mom was. Flowers that I transplanted from her garden are now blooming in mine and my heart is reminded of her once again. It is so very comforting and beneficial.

Momma in her gardening hat – 2018

Now it is July and the month when my garden explodes with daylily wonderfulness. A few of my daylilies are opening, but many more are standing in the wings with bud-laden scapes, ready to burst into glorious blossom. Oftentimes I look at lilies and I think of a passage in scripture (Matthew 6:25-34) which reminds me I am under God’s care and that there is nothing to be anxious about. I especially love this bit:

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Matthew 6:28-29
Stella de Oro ‘Happy Returns’

Yellow is such a happy color. I love to sprinkle it liberally throughout my flowerbeds. Stella de Oro ‘Happy Returns’ daylily is one of my favorites. A front of the border reliable rebloomer, it stands about 12 inches tall and boasts almost a continuous blooming habit from spring until frost, especially if spent flower scapes are cut back. It comes in many colors, but I think yellow is my favorite (although ‘Ruby Red’ runs a very close second).

Second-hand birdhouse with a fresh coat of paint

Hubby and I stopped at a Goodwill store in Wausau in the Rib Mountain area. Best. Goodwill. Ever! We admired how nicely displayed everything in the store was, how clean and tidy, clearly marked social distancing, friendly staff – you name it, this store was doing it right. Wayne found a birdhouse (see above) that he thought I might like to spruce up a bit. We bought it ($2.99), I (re)painted it, and it has found its place in my yard and is already attracting the attention of potential tenants.

Most of my hostas are flowering now. Isn’t this one sweet?

First zinnia to bloom this summer.

We have three small raised beds – about 4’x4′ each. One of the beds is devoted to strawberries, and the other two have typically been for a few veggies. Other than a single tomato plant, I decided that we’d give vegetable gardening a rest this year and plant zinnias. When I got home from a little holiday weekend today, I was happy to see one lovely pink zinnia had opened.

My guy chose me as his wife 44 years ago when we married on July 3, 1976. I’m thankful for Wayne in so many ways, including his support of my barefoot gardening endeavors.

I’m also thankful to be part of a group of gardeners from all around the world who can be found walking around their gardens snapping photos to post every Saturday. The group is called Six on Saturday and is hosted by The Propagator, who provides the inspiration and forum for a weekly tour of gardens – six photos at a time. If you’d like to take a peek at the gardens too, just hop on over to the Propagator’s site and give his weekly post a read, then scroll on down to the comments section where you’ll find loads of links to explore. See you next week for another six.

What I Think Dad Might Say if He Could Talk About the World Right Now

This is so worth reading – I was so moved by this post today. I can imagine my own dad telling me some of the same things. If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s too, this blog is one I would recommend following.

God's Grace and Mom's Alzheimer's

I’ve been wishing I could talk to Dad about all that ‘s been going on with the pandemic, and world unrest, and heated debates about to mask or not mask, etc. Dad was so intelligent and usually had an opinion. But he’s been with Jesus for over two years now. I can’t discuss anything with him but I can remember his example and learn from it…

I can remember the days, when Mom’s walking was getting weak and unsteady, I’d have to put a gait belt on her and coax her to stand and hold onto her as we walked. Dad was blind by that time and not as steady on his feet himself. But I would notice, as I was walking with Mom, that he’d be whispering fervently. And I’d catch words and realize he was praying. And he’d keep praying until I had Mom settled wherever I was…

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Six on Saturday: It’s a Dirty Job

It’s midnight. Given all the time I’ve spent the past few days in my garden, you’d think I’d be sleeping. This week has found me out in my garden tidying up flowerbeds. The casual passerby probably won’t notice what I accomplished, but I see it in the little things. Buckets and bins full of weeds and garden debris. Dead branches trimmed out of trees and bushes (courtesy of my wonderful husband). Spent peony blossoms removed. Bits of this and that moved here and there. Korean lilac bushes trimmed back by a third. Flowerbeds weeded and mulched. There’s much more to do, but it feels so good to see progress. Without further ado, here are my six:

  1. This week I’m seeing Japanese iris blooming. They always seem to wait until their German bearded iris and Siberian iris cousins are finished blooming before they unfurl their lovely petals. This one is my favorite and it looks adorable next to my painted mailbox (I keep a spare set of garden hand tools in there). The purple is not as vibrant as it was last year, but they are still gorgeous.

2) There’s a cute not-so-little backyard garden center on the edge of a nearby town. The lady pots up divisions of her perennials and sells them for $5 each. I try to visit her each Spring and bring home a new treasure (or two or three). Last year I added this lovely bit on the front edge of a very sunny front yard flowerbed. It has doubled in size, has very interesting and attractive crinkled foliage, and is loaded with flower spikes in the prettiest shade of purple. I think I’d like to add a few more of these to my garden next year (might even be able to divide this one).

Stachys monieri Hummelo –

3) I volunteered some time earlier in the week to tidying up the gardens at BeeHive, the assisted living memory care facility where my mom lived for the last year of her life. I was trimming up a dwarf crabapple tree and found this sweet little robin’s nest with three napping babies.

Snuck a quick photo while Momma Robin was out shopping for breakfast.

4). My clematis vines on my arbor entrance to the backyard are definitely climbing and just might meet up in the middle by summer’s end. The pink clematis on the left is ‘Princess Diana’, a lovely bell-shaped rebloomer. I should have trained it to the trellis earlier, as doing so now might damage some of the blossoms. I’m still not sure what the purple one on the right is called, but it’s a transplant from my mom’s garden in Milwaukee and I’m just happy it’s thriving and blooming at relatively the same time as ‘Princess Diana’.

I’m considering painting the arbor next year. It’s about 15 years old, but still in good shape; however, it seems to be made of 2 different metals, which are aging differently too. As you might have noticed in previous SOS posts, I’ve painted a lot of things purple as garden accents, but am unsure what I’d do with this. Should I leave it more neutral, or give the arbor a punch of color? (Please leave a comment below if you’d like to weigh in and help me decide.)

5) The surprise Asiatic lily bulb (a surprise only because I forgot that I planted it last fall and had NO IDEA what color it was) is now open. Definitely a pretty shade or orange.

6) And what would a garden be without lush greenery? I’m loving how much this hosta bed next to the deck on the north side of my house is filling out this year.

That completes my better late than never “Six on Saturday” post for this week. Here’s my invitation to join with me and gardeners from all around the world who post photos (words optional) of six things in the garden on a Saturday. Let me tip my hat to The Propagator, the creator of Six on Saturday, who provides the forum for gardeners to virtually traipse through one another’s gardens every week. It’s a lovely way to show off our gardens (both the pretty and the yummy), share knowledge, and even glean some advice for how to deal with our garden failures. Have a great week, friends.

Forgetting Time

A look back at defining moments in my Alzheimer’s journey with Momma.

Barefoot Lily Lady

Tissue alert.

This post is another in a series of my Facebook posts from 2015 related to caring for my mother. It’s really hard for me to re-post it without shedding my own tears. Those who are walking alongside a loved one struggling through the various stages of Alzheimer’s will probably relate very well. By the time you realize that the momentary lapse of memory is something more than the natural aging process forgetfulness, hints at “forgetting time” or how to tell time have already begun.

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If we were having coffee…

Today I am imagining that we are enjoying a cup of coffee (or your favorite beverage) together. In my imaginary coffee klatch, you are asking me a few really good questions. Let me share with you how I would probably answer those questions.

“What things did you like best about having your momma in assisted living memory care?”

  • I was blessed to be able to sleep at night (all night).
  • Momma had more than one pair of eyes keeping an eye on her when she struggled with sundowning and couldn’t seem to stay in bed all night.
  • Momma was safer. Yes, she would fall, but she would fall at home too. At BeeHive she had more than one person available to help her get up again and a whole team of people assessing whether or not she was hurt.
  • I slept in a peaceful and quiet house. There was no longer the need to listen to a video monitor’s static hissing at my bedside as I drifted off into never-long-enough sleep.
  • There were no more bleary-eyed trips to her room in the middle of the night to help with toileting, clean up accidents, change clothing or bedding, or try to reassure her that she was safe from the imaginary people she would see lurking in the shadows at night.
Just a few of mom’s incredible caregivers

“What did you miss the most about being a caregiver once your mom was at BeeHive?”

  • I would tell you that even though I no longer had the responsibility of caring for her 24/7, I was still her caregiver. While some caregiving loved ones seemed able to separate themselves for a few days at a time, I found myself visiting my mom daily, providing care in the following ways:
    • Sitting with her at lunch to better ensure she would eat something without wandering away from the table.
    • Being visibly present for a few hours of her day.
    • Being her advocate. I communicated on her behalf with the staff at BeeHive, the nurses and doctors, and the hospice workers.
    • I simply cared for her by making sure she had everything she needed to be comfortable.
Momma had some very sweet friendships at BeeHive.

If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently in caring for your mom?”

I’d probably tell you, “Not much.” Each step of the journey with my mom was prayerfully taken. Decisions I needed to make were made with the help of God and those who love me best.

“What do you want your children to do if they someday have to deal with you having a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s too?”

I would tell my children …

  • Re-read my blog. I wrote it for you. You might find some helpful insights there.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be specific about what you need.
  • I want you to feel comfortable making the decision to entrust my care to a place like BeeHive sooner, rather than later. Even if I protest at that time, it will be okay. It will be good for us.
  • Even if you’re not there every day, please don’t forget to visit me.
  • But most of all – even if I’m unable to remember who you are, I love you very much and always will.

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.”

Pretty bird, pretty bird

I thought I’d bring this little story back again. These memories of caring for my mom make my eyes sting a bit, but my heart rejoices in having had the honor of spending much time with her in her last few years of life’s journey on earth.

Barefoot Lily Lady

One of the things we have discovered along the way as we have cared for my mother in our home is that she seems to enjoy taking care of little animals for vacationing families. Her most frequent guest is a sweet little guinea pig named ‘Mr. Nibble.’ Whenever he visits, Mom has purpose … and something to over-feed for a few days. 

So, when a “free” parakeet became available, I jumped at the chance to add a little pet therapy to our home caregiving. My daughter and her family kindly offered to go pick up the bird from the paint store where he was temporarily residing. Momma watched with curiosity as my daughter carried the towel-covered cage through the kitchen and placed it upon an old toy chest. Once she figured out what it was, rather than be delighted, Momma chaffed at the sight of the bird in the cage…

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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.