Church at the Kitchen Table

Sometimes “church” doesn’t just take place on Sunday morning seated in a pew in a sanctuary.

Last night Momma sat at her end of our kitchen table smiling. Seated around our table were some pretty special dinner guests: my girlhood pastor and his wife, Ed and Diane Fuller, and their son and daughter-in-law, Scott and Dianne Fuller.

I told Momma about the visit shortly after she awoke in the morning. It’s funny how certain future events linger in the mind of a person experiencing significant short-term memory loss, yet other things slip right through like sand through a chicken wire sieve. Continue reading “Church at the Kitchen Table”

A Smile from Dad

My 3-season porch is looking more like a porch than a moving company warehouse. Slowly but surely, the boxes are being emptied, things are finding their home, and order is being made of boxed chaos.

I’ve been spending time sorting through dozens of photo albums over the past few days. It’s been a trip down memory lane – complete with laughter, a few embarrassing moments, rushes of happy thoughts, a few tears and momentary sadness.

My sweet Momma spent countless hours at a little table in her basement putting the incredible number of photos my Dad took through the years into carefully labeled photo albums. Dad took LOTS of pictures. A CrAzY number of pictures. Every time you scratched your nose or stuffed something in your mouth (or so it seemed to me), he was there snapping a photo. But, he captured a LOT of family memories too.  Continue reading “A Smile from Dad”

Where do Garbanzo Beans Come From?

Good HousekeepingEvery now and again – at least once every summer – I get a hankering for a good Three-Bean Salad, so I pull out my trusty “The Good Housekeeping Cookbook” circa 1976 wedding shower gift and turn right to page 395. (I’m baffled as to why I can remember something as obscure as a page number in a cookbook I use once in a blue moon, but can’t remember where I put the book I was reading a few minutes ago). 

Momma and I aren’t the only ones who have difficulty keeping our thoughts on track though. Case in point. Continue reading “Where do Garbanzo Beans Come From?”

Beautiful Forgetfulness

It’s amazing how living with a loved one with Alzheimer’s changes the way I view the world around me.

There is a lovely park within walking distance of our home. In the eighteen years we’ve lived in this neighborhood, I’ve spent many hours at this park walking its paths, playing with my grandchildren, thrilling at the occasional firework display, and enjoying the park’s quietude and simple beauty. Today, I stumbled upon something beautiful along one of its meandering pathways. It’s a wild rose, a beauty hidden from the view of the casual observer as it scrambles up the trunk of a somewhat scraggly pine tree. I “discover” it there every year without fail, yet it always seems to momentarily surprise me when I spy it for the first time each summer. Continue reading “Beautiful Forgetfulness”

Lipstick, Eyebrows and Senior Discounts

My friend Shannon Berry Popkin’s Facebook post today had me in stitches. She is an author and had her eyebrows “embellished” in preparation for a taping session (I’m a bit challenged in the eyebrow department, as you can see in this picture of me and my sweet Momma). Well, her story reminded me of a story I wrote about 6 years ago. Time does pass so quickly. Now, I’m 6 years closer to flying away…and perhaps a full set of eyebrows.

I hope I wasn’t staring – I certainly did not intend to be rude.  But, even though I was on a hurried mission and just passing through the mall’s grocery store to get where I was going, I couldn’t help but pause to notice one particular lady. Her time-worn face returned my smile with a red-lipsticked grin of her own. Vestiges of her beauty still lingered on her face of 75 or so years. Her fresh from the beauty parlor hair was wrapped in a chiffon headscarf, geriatric but stylish sensible heels adorned her feet, and she wore a smart gray woolen suit accessorized by a gold necklace and matching brooch. What made me smile (and giggle inwardly) was the wide-eyed look she had tried to create by drawing thick reddish-brown  eyebrows in a place on the forehead about an inch and a half above where they once grew on her face.

[I inwardly muse, what makes women do that when they get old? Now that I sport a pair of bifocals, I realize the challenges associated with plucking my eyebrows or wearing eye makeup. With or without my bifocals, it’s tricky. I theorize that when you upgrade to trifocals, there’s no telling where your makeup (or your eyebrows) will end up.]

Back to the sweet elderly lady…

Having paid for her groceries, this darling lady was now gingerly walking toward me on the arm of her more elderly than herself husband. With his tri-pod cane in hand, this dapper-looking gent sported his own sense of style in a pair of black wing-tips, baggy brown corduroy slacks, a tweed jacket, and one of those beret-type hats. No two ways about it…they were cute and they made me smile.

I had apparently stumbled upon the senior discount day at this particular grocery store (which explained the multitude of oddly parked cars in the parking lot).  I stopped for a minute to take it all in. In every checkout lane I spied more little old ladies with eyebrows drawn on in pencil, and silver- haired (and barely-haired) men clad in sport coats of an era gone by. The visual scene was also punctuated by the scent of too much perfume competing with too much aftershave and the sound of a nearby walker scootch-scootching over the bumpy tile floors.

I felt young and spry compared to my present company. The truth of the matter, though, is that I have  only recently begun filling in my own thinning eyebrows with eyebrow pencil. [A note to my daughter: Please! Hide my eyebrow pencil if I ever start shaving off my eyebrows and drawing them closer to my receding hairline than my eyes! Oh, and don’t forget your promise to clean my glasses and pluck my chin hairs.]

The psalmist recorded in God’s Word that man lives about 70 years…80 if we’re healthy and strong; even with modern medicine, not much has changed about that number.

“The length of our days is seventy years–or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10 (NIV)

In all probability, the reality is that I have now lived more of my life than I have left.  “Tomorrow” I will be the little old lady at the grocery store. The choice is mine as to how I use my remaining years before I “fly away.”

Legal Matters Matter

Wayne and I recently checked one more thing off of Momma’s to-do list mentioned in the following story posted on Facebook in 2016. We met with our local funeral director and pre-paid Mom’s funeral. It’s nice to have that one out of the way. There are so many financial planning and legal matters to attend to when it comes to caring for a loved one who can no longer care for themselves. I hope by sharing this information, light is shed on someone else’s journey.

Facebook journal entry – February 4, 2016

As far back as I can remember, Momma was always a list maker; life just rolled better once her thoughts and plans were written down on paper. I know the feeling. I enjoy the physical act of checking things off of my to-do lists too. Some may think me crazy, but, when I accomplish an unexpected task, I add the job to my to-do list just so I can experience the euphoric mini-rush of being able to check it off as “DONE!”
Two summers ago, Momma’s memory loss was beginning to advance. I had been noticing changes since 2010, but Mom had been able to disguise her forgetfulness and few people knew she was struggling. In the summer of 2014, she was still having more good memory days than bad, but her memory loss was making its ugly presence known – and others were noticing the changes too. Her friends at church would patiently listen to her tell the same story several times in a conversation or ask the same question repeatedly.
That summer Wayne and I began to make more frequent trips to see Mom. While Wayne would help her with household handyman projects and matters related to finances, I would work with Mom puttering in her garden or working indoors with her on various decluttering projects.
As we spent more time with Mom, I believe that God helped us see that stress – real or perceived – adversely affected Momma’s memory. I began spending more time at Mom’s house helping her tackle the paperwork that was threatening to overwhelm her. The bed in my old bedroom was hard to find beneath the sea of junk mail, bank statements, file folders, binders and clipboards. Scattered throughout this paper jungle were various legal pads, notebooks and miscellaneous pads of papers where mom was obviously trying to jot down tasks on her to-do lists. Mom had boxes and boxes of files, but didn’t have a system for filing that was working for her. I started taking home a box at a time and, with Wayne’s help, weeded out the stuff she didn’t need to keep, condensed the duplicate files, and then created a much smaller A-Z file system for her. Our son Matt got involved in this project too, helping create a more streamlined household filing system for her.
That summer, Wayne and I chose to spend time reading her various lists and couldn’t help but notice one theme showing up quite often: Momma wanted to take care of end-of-life legal and financial matters. We decided that this needed to be a stress-relieving priority, given the relative clarity of thought she was having now versus the unknown path her thought process might take in the future.
Gathering up her legal documents and financial statements, Wayne and I started to wade through and organize them making our own lists of things that needed to be updated, questions that needed to be asked, and people we needed to meet. Then, with mom’s blessing, our first stop was to meet with Mom’s lawyer. Now that Dad had gone to his heavenly home, Mom wanted to make sure that everything was updated. We made an appointment and were so glad we did. We worked with Mom’s lawyer to update her will and, while we were at it, updated both her financial and healthcare power of attorney (POA) legal documents (Power of Attorney for Healthcare and Durable Power of Attorney). This step alone came in handy for many of the tasks we would want to accomplish over the next few months.
Wayne’s review of Mom’s retirement accounts caused him to raise his eyebrows. The funds were being managed by two different advisors; one doing a respectable job, the other – not so much. Numerous unreasonable fees were eating away at any gains her accounts were making. Together with Mom, we decided to move one of her two accounts into a Fidelity account and allow Wayne to oversee and manage them. With her Durable Power of Attorney paperwork in hand, we were able to handle these financial decisions and changes on mom’s behalf. Receiving all of the investment related documents in the mail was very confusing for Mom, so we changed the mailing address to our own. Wayne then condenses the information into a single page summary document listing her current balances in her various financial and investment accounts.
The next stop on our “Momma’s to-do-list journey” was to take her to the cemetery where Dad is buried. Several years ago, Mom and Dad had purchased two plots from a friend who had a few plots she had inherited that she wanted to sell. Based upon the paperwork I had in hand and a few phone calls I had made, I was confident that everything was in order. Mom just wanted to double-check that everything was pre-paid and in order for her own future interment. We stopped at the cemetery’s office to speak with the attendant and were assured that all of the necessary prepayment was in order.
We then drove to the section where Dad was buried and set out to find Dad’s grave marker. As we slowly moved through row upon row of tombstones and markers, I was reminded that there is more to getting ready for the inevitableness of death than taking care of financial matters. I whispered a prayer of thanksgiving that both of my parents had taken care of the most important thing. Well, actually, Christ had taken care of that on the cross for them…Mom and Dad just accepted His gift of salvation by faith.
We found the marker. As Momma and I stood arm in arm reading the grave marker together, it seemed odd seeing her name on the marker too. Glancing at Momma to see how she was doing, I saw a peaceful smile.
Over lunch following our visit to the cemetery, we talked with Mom about what her wishes were concerning her future burial plans. An incredibly tough discussion, but I am quite sure her concerns over the future were visibly replaced by a gentle peace of mind.
At the end of our summer of checking many things off mom’s to-do lists, I created a special binder to house all of the important documents related to end-of-life matters. This binder includes:
  • Power of attorney documents
  • Original copy of her will (along with a copy)
  • Cemetery and burial plot titles and documentation
  • Mom’s wishes related to her funeral service – including the hymns and scriptures she would like to include
  • A list of people mom would like me to notify concerning her home-going
  • A list of legal tasks I will need to complete.

Admittedly, this reference binder is more for me, than for mom. When God chooses to call my mother home to heaven, my job of honoring her final wishes will be much easier. On this side of Glory, we will enjoy our time with mom and rejoice in knowing our summer of checking things off her to-do lists brought her great peace of mind.