Playing in the Dirt Again

It feels good to be outdoors playing in the dirt again. In a day when COVID-19 has us squirreled away indefinitely in the relative safety of our own homes, spending time in my garden this week has been a welcome repose and heartsome encouragement.

Crocus are already showing off their comely petals in shades of purple, and a few white ones too. Blue muscari brings teeny-tiny punches of the deepest, bluest blue in patches scattered here and there. Brilliant, sunshine yellow clusters of daffodils dot my Schumann Drive landscape, with tulips promising to take their turn in the next few weeks.

As I pull back the winter blanket of leaves and mulch in one bed, then another, I’m seeing hints of more beauty yet to come. Peonies have poked their little red tips about an inch above the ground and I’m already dreaming of their beautiful petals in reds, pinks, white and a very special yellow one too. The foliage of my beautiful daylilies is already several inches high and seem to whisper their promise, “Summer is coming.”

Some flowers are spilling out of the bounds I had imposed on them, so I begin digging up a few of the plants nearest the garden’s edge. Some go in my compost bin, a few are transplanted elsewhere, but most are placed in a big plastic tub marked ‘Free Perennials’ and placed at the curb end of my driveway where they are offered to those passing by in the neighborhood. Each offering of future beauty is placed in its own plastic or paper bag, with any information I can offer about the plant scribbled on the bag. The bin is usually emptied in a day or two. I find it a lovely thought knowing that little bits of my garden’s loveliness will soon be springing up in other neighborhood gardens.

Today, as I plunged my garden trowel into the spring-softened dirt to scoop up one of the plants for my driveway offerings, I was delighted to find a sleepy toad still nestled in the dirt on my trowel. I breathed a sigh of relief that I didn’t injure him; it’s an honor to find toads, as I know they will do me countless favors in the months to come as they feast on slugs and snails and other garden pests. I pried my little plant offering from the dirt, then tucked the toad back in under a blanket of dirt where he could continue his slumber before awakening as my garden helper.

Today’s discoveries included unearthing a bunny nest and getting to see the cute little bunny butts within (I know I will regret thinking they are cute when I start seeing tops of my plants nibbled off as bunny fodder). Unlike toads, bunnies are not known for their propensity for helping in the garden.

While I will not refuse offers of human help in my garden, I rather like the solitude it offers. It’s a time to pray and to reflect on life’s blessings. Any frustrations I might be feeling seem to disappear into the soft earth as I work it. This solitary time in the garden is also a great time to sing (or hum) in praise to God. With the discovery of my little garden friends, it seemed fitting that my mind went to a song I learned when I was 11 or 12 years old, very early in my Christian walk. We don’t sing this hymn much anymore, but I recall learning the song in a club for kids called Awana. Not very long ago, I taught the song to the kids in our Sunday School so they would have it in their hearts too. It would be my pleasure to share the lyrics in the hopes that you would be blessed by them, and that your soul would find rest in the thought of all the wonders He has wrought.

This Is My Father’s World | Maltbie D. Babcock

This is my Father’s world,
And to my list’ning ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world:
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world:
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world:
Oh, let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done:
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

My Psalm

Our pastor likes to give us an assignment at the end of his sermons; something to think about or put into practice. I always take notes, but appreciate this “oh, and one more thing” encouragement to give further thought and prayer to what I heard. Several Sundays ago, Pastor Jeremy suggested that we write our own psalm. A psalmist, I’m not, but here are the thoughts – a prayer, really – which came to my heart and mind as I sat down to write that very afternoon.

A Psalm for Growing Older

Increase my love, my Lord, for your precious Word! Help me to treasure it up in my heart.

May your divine precepts keep my life pure as I remember in all circumstances what you have taught me.

I pray that your Word would lodge in the deepest corners of my mind and guide my steps, words and actions.

Even when my memory fades and mind grows feeble, may your Word remain sharp and firmly anchored in my heart.

Give your servant a heart guided by a love for for your Word; may your loveliness be reflected in me all the days of my life.

The Hidden Grace of Social Distancing

I’m a familiar face at Oregon Manor Skilled Nursing Facility in Oregon, WI. Normally, I’m in and out of there several times a week, transporting my brother Brad to or from somewhere or another, or just stopping by to bring him a smile and a cup of coffee (and a donut, if he’s lucky).

Things are a bit different now. Now I can’t go in at all.

On Monday, I rang the doorbell to the skilled nursing facility and then waited on their front porch. Tom, the facility’s administrator answered. I told him I was there to pick up Brad for an appointment at the VA. Tom went to get Brad from his room and then delivered Brad and the necessary paperwork with his medical information to me on the front porch. Tom apologized for being unable to let me in, but I understood; it was for the safety of everyone, myself included.

Even purchasing a cup of coffee for my brother was entirely different, somewhat strange experience.

I usually stop at the Kwik Trip just down the road from where Brad lives and pop in to buy him a cup of coffee to drink on our way to the hospital. Brad likes their coffee, so it’s a treat for him. Today I couldn’t pour him a cup of coffee and fix it the way he liked it because they had suspended all of their self-serve food and beverages. No worries, though. Thankfully, an employee, donned in gloves, poured Brad’s Kona dark into the extra-large cup, then added half & half until I said “when” – he likes a LOT of half & half, so “when” took awhile.

Our route takes us through the UW-Madison campus, normally teaming with student activity. Not this time. No students on bikes. No pedestrian traffic. Businesses that cater to student customers seemed forlorn and bereft of customers – some looked closed. Definitely an easier commute, but sad at the same time.

We needed to answer more than the usual screening questions at the VA’s parking garage, which seemed cavernously empty. In stark contrast to my usual squeal of delight when I actually am able to find a handicap parking spot (with my brother giving me the amused side-eye), we were both in wide-eyed wonder that we had our pick of ALL the prime handicap spots today. In fact, ANY spot would have been large enough to maneuver my brother in and out of the car with his wheelchair. It was like a ghost-town.

The procedures for gaining access to the hospital changed too, so as to minimize the risk of infection. There was a designated entrance with closer scrutiny and screening, and explicit directions to use an entirely different designated exit to minimize contact. There was no wait for an elevator (although there was one man on the elevator who protested that we got on it with him); it’s really hard to practice social distancing when you’re in an elevator and pushing a wheelchair.

Checking into the podiatry clinic was different too. A line of blue tape on the carpeting masked off a safe distance from the clinic’s reception desk. Brad and I had the pick of ALL the spots in the empty waiting room in the Lighthouse Clinic’s waiting room, where we normally have to find a spot within ear-shot in a nearby hallway. Very few patients are being seen, but they wanted my brother to come in because he is at great risk for bone infection and they are concerned about the possibility of him losing his big toe. I’d show you a picture, but trust me, you don’t want to see it.

Working with a skeleton crew in their clinic, the doctor himself came out to call Brad back to an examination room. Normally dressed in standard issue scrubs, today he was wearing a mask and had a hospital gown over his scrubs; the gown wasn’t the usual disposable gown made of blue paper, rather the cloth type one wears if they are an in-patient in the hospital — you know, the ones that tie in the back and leave your backside exposed. He carefully examined Brad’s toe, emphasizing how important it was that we get this problem under control in order to avoid amputation. Brad routinely refuses care in his nursing home, so I’m hoping that this frank discussion put a little more cooperation in him. We’ll see.

In no time, we were headed back to Oregon Manor. Arriving at the same porch where I picked Brad up, we rang the doorbell and reversed the procedure. I thanked Tom and Brad’s nurse for all they’re doing to keep residents safe and healthy, assured them of my prayers for wisdom and protection, then headed home.

It’s a beautiful spring day and it was late-morning, so I decided to make McKee Farms Park my destination on my way home. The luscious fresh air is still a little nippy, so I buttoned up my jean jacket and headed to the paved walking path. It’s my custom to pray as I walk. Today I thanked God for the people who, at risk of their own health and welfare, take care of my brother and my mother. Walking, praying, and enjoying the beauty, I couldn’t help but notice how social distancing is evident even here at the park with people keeping the recommended 6 feet of distance between themselves. The playground was eerily quiet, with no children enjoying it, even though they are all out of school.

But you know what? I noticed something else at the park too – something nice. Families. They weren’t hanging out at the playground with the kids running around and parents seated on benches looking at their cell phones. Moms, dads and kids were out walking or riding their bikes together. They were talking, smiling and laughing together. One dad was out there teaching his little one how to ride a bike. Another dad was helping his kids fly kites while mom pulled a little picnic blanket and snack out of her backpack for them. One family was taking a walk ahead of me on the path, and the kids were having fun practicing what we’ve come to know as ‘social distancing’ as they held onto the ends of 6′ ropes.

As I continued my little prayer walk, I thanked God for showing me another hidden grace of this difficult time when we’re being advised to shelter at home and practice social distancing: families truly enjoying this slower pace of life together.

I would love to hear from you! Please share in the comment section below one of the “hidden graces” you have noticed during this crazy time of responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

My Mothers Hands

Since our nation, along with much of the world, is in “stay home” mode so we can stop the spread of COVID-19, a very real threat to public health, I decided it was time to work on one of my unfinished projects – a photo album. It’s a heritage album, I guess. A place where I am putting together memories that my mother has long since lost and that I hope to keep for her.

While working on my special album, I found something very special and totally unexpected. The dictionary calls moments like this serendipity: finding something amazing when you are not looking for it.

My serendipitous find happened while I was flipping through a pocket-folder where I had tucked various photos, cards and personal letters mom had kept through the years. I had always hoped to find time to examine them more closely at a later date. That day had now arrived.

My love to you all

As I thumbed through the folder, my eyes fell upon something lovingly familiar. It was one of my great-grandmother’s many handwritten notes. I would recognize her handwriting anywhere. I sat down at the kitchen table to read it. I first examined the lovely floral note card on which it was written, and remembered having received little notes from her on that very same stationery. This one was addressed to her granddaughter, my mom, and its content was sweetly characteristic of her newsy and thoughtfully written notes. Like many of her era, great-grandma always used a fountain pen – which I thought looked extra-special. This particular note was undated, but in the same general pile as another letter she had written to my brother in 1972. As I read the final paragraph, my eyes stung with the tears of realization that I was quite possibly reading the treasured last note my great-grandmother had written to my mom. I pondered the last sentence, which read:

“I will always remember my Charlotte and her hands.”

Bessie Hamilton Peet (~1972)

As I read the last sentence, I wished I knew the story behind those words. In what special ways had my mother’s hands touched her grandmother’s life? Suddenly, I remembered a photo I had taken that very day. It was this photo of my mother’s beautiful hands. I snapped the picture because I didn’t want to ever forget my mother’s gentle, loving hands either.

A Special Moment

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:17 (ESV)

I’m not going to sugar-coat it. This leg of mom’s Alzheimer’s journey is rough. To this point in our journey together, there has almost always been a spark of recognition and joy in mom’s eyes when she sees me. In her mind’s eye, I am not always her daughter, but I’m always someone special: sometimes her mom, other days her sister or best friend. Gina, co-owner of BeeHive, and also Mom’s nurse, pointed out that I am all of mom’s favorite people rolled up into one. That was a sweet thought – something I hadn’t thought of before.

Not today. The light was gone out of her beautiful brown eyes. In those eyes which once held kindness, joy, and sometimes a bit of mischief, today there was only a blankness, ambivalence, and a lack of recognition that goes deeper than the momentary blips I’ve seen thus far. I know that this is part of the disease process as Alzheimer’s claims more of her mind and beautiful spirit, but it’s still rough on the heart.

God, in His grace, knew I would need extra encouragement today, so He had prepared three special gifts for me.

The first gift was breakfast with Maureen, a friend I haven’t seen in a few decades. We met up at Hubbard Avenue Diner in Middleton and enjoyed one another’s company and two hours of sharing where our individual journeys had taken us over the past few decades of life. What a blessing.

My pastor met up with me in the parking lot at BeeHive bearing today’s second gift: encouragement in the form of a favorite salad he had purchased for me. BeeHive is under precautionary lock-down due to the coronavirus threat, thus the parking lot meeting place. Truth be told, the greatest gift was actually not the salad – it was his listening ear and being wrapped in a prayer in the middle of a parking lot.

Today was a mostly eyes closed kind of day.

God had my momma deliver the third gift. Mom hadn’t recognized me at all today, so this gift was quite unexpected. I was watching her blindly fiddle-footing around in her wheelchair when she sidled up to where I was seated and, without a word, took my hand in hers and began examining it and stroking it with gentleness. Patting my hand in hers, she looked into my eyes and let me see the love in hers.

The Decline: Falls & Playing on the Floor

My poor mom! She’s got quite a few nasty facial bruises and abrasions sustained in recent falls. Let me be quick to say that my mom receives EXCELLENT care in her abode at BeeHive. None of the falls she has experienced have anything to do with her not being closely monitored. The staff does their best to keep an eye on her, and so do I.

Case in point: earlier this week I was just a few feet away from her when she suddenly decided she was going to attempt to transfer herself from her wheelchair to a nearby recliner. She ended up unceremoniously dumping herself onto the floor in the process. Thankfully, she wasn’t injured this time, but that just demonstrates how quick and stealth-like she can be when she sets her mind to doing something.

Much thought and effort goes into “how to keep Charlotte safe” at BeeHive. I surely appreciate the staff’s diligence, their willingness to keep tweaking medications, schedules, and processes in order to create an environment where she is as safe as possible. I make every effort to work with them and support them in their endeavors, and her team of caregivers is always more than willing to give my ideas a try.

I know some of the readers of my blog may be experiencing similar difficulties with their loved ones, so thought I’d share a few things we have tried which seem to help.

A floor alarm is in use by her bed, which helps the staff know when her feet hit the floor. She also has a wheelchair alarm which will alert them if she lifts her weight off of the chair. Unfortunately, alarms only let you know that the loved one is already in motion and caregivers may not be near enough to respond before the incident occurs. The greatest strength of an alarm is that it brings help sooner than later.

Learning her habits and “reading” her signals is a very important part of anticipating her risky behavior. For instance, they know that mom can no longer reliably sense when she has to use a toilet, and her ability to voice a need to “go” varies greatly daily. However, through observing mom and recording her habits, they know that it is wise to wait about 45 minutes after lunch when she’s getting a bit sleepy to take her to use the restroom, and then put her in bed for an afternoon nap.

Mom likes to tootle around in her wheelchair, but can get into a bit of trouble as she explores the rooms of other residents and tries to get in their beds or chairs. Restraints aren’t allowed, but her caregivers have learned that mom will stay put and sometimes take a quick nap if she is placed in one of their comfy recliners (and reclined). She also likes to sleep on one of the roomy couches; if she seems sleepy and is trying to transfer herself to a couch, they help her get comfy by bringing her a blanket and pillow. Dolly sometimes joins her for a little snooze.

Mom’s risk for falls is complicated by the fact that she seems to enjoy being on the floor. Sometimes she is playing on the floor like a small child, inspecting the wheels on her wheelchair, or scootching around on her bum in a crab-like crawl (see the sassy video below). Other times she just wants to sleep on the floor. It’s HOW she gets down onto the floor that is risky and causing her injuries (that and falling asleep in her wheelchair and then toppling out). If the staff sees her attempting to get down on the floor, they have learned she will become agitated if they keep picking her up and putting her in her chair or bed. It truly is best to help her get down there safely and let her hangout down there until it’s time for the next meal or activity.

As you can imagine, the sight of a frail-looking, elderly sweetheart crawling around on the floor is a bit disturbing to visiting family and guests who sometimes assume that the staff is just not paying attention.

To keep the staff safe from undue criticism, my granddaughter Mia helped me decorate a few little fabric signs for her back which help communicate that she is safe and happy. The staff pins the little signs to her sweater so she can play to her hearts content and everyone knows she’s okay.

Mom’s ability to communicate her needs is definitely on a course of swift decline. I know I say this a lot, but I am incredibly grateful for those who lovingly care for my mom. I couldn’t possibly meet mom’s needs as well and keep her safe if I were caring for her on my own. How wonderful that, through BeeHive Homes of Oregon, Agrace Hospice, and Bluestone Physicians Group, I have doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, personal care workers, a cook, a pharmacist, a social worker, and an activity director who ALL care about my mom so very much.

Mom is safe. I am blessed.

The Decline: Bumper Car Wheelchair

As a kid, there was one ride at a carnival or theme park where you would rarely see me: bumper cars. I hated them. Sorry, I don’t have a photo to illustrate this paragraph; if I did, I would be the terrified looking kid (or adult) stuck in the corner with everybody crashing into me. There was nothing fun about it. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have allowed myself to be in a bumper car. Each of those times my participation was only under great duress from a friend. The last time was when my kids were small (and super cute), with big eyes and sweet voices that pleaded, “Puhlleeeze, Mom!” So, I acquiesced and ended up in another corner – this time my own kids taking devious joy in crashing into me. I can smile about it now, but back then I couldn’t wait to get out of that car!

You might be wondering why I even bring up this crazy aversion related to bumper cars. Something I saw in my momma’s world today reminded me of my scary experience with bumper cars. Let me tell you about it.

As I mentioned in one of my last posts (you can read it here), mom has been closing her eyes to the world around her. Perhaps she is just tired, but I think it is her way of shutting out some of the confusing stimuli. Living life with her eyes closed may offer a measure of control over her world. In combination with her inability to hear, closing her eyes may bring peace and control to her chaotic world of life with Alzheimer’s. Nowadays, she eats most meals with her eyes closed; a bit messy and effectively shuts out any interaction with her table-mates. When she is offered the medications she takes, Mom often refuses by closing her eyes tight. In effect, she makes the unpleasant things in life disappear, much like a child who thinks you can’t see them if they cover their eyes and can’t see you.

Mom’s latest eyes closed activity has been fiddle-footing around in her wheelchair with her eyes closed. Watching her bump into walls and other obstructions in her path reminds me very much of driving a bumper car with her eyes closed. Over and over again, she’ll try to propel herself through a doorway, not bothering to open her eyes to see that she is hung up on the door frame. As afternoon anxiety seeps into her consciousness, she will bump-bump-bump her way around her room, sometimes getting stuck in a corner and then whimpering that she is stuck. When offered help, she often refuses and continues to whimper about her stuck-ness, rather than accept help from someone who cares about her.

As I watched my mom struggle with this today, I was reminded of another person who has similar self-imposed blindness.

Myself.

How many times do I keep bump-bump-bumping into obstacles to growth in my life without bothering to open my eyes to my need for help?

In an effort to encourage us to apply the truth of God’s Word in our lives, our pastor likes to give us homework at the close of his sermons. I try very hard to complete at least one of the three suggested assignments each week. This week’s sermon really challenged me (you can hear “Declaring War in 2020 – Part 3” here), and one of his suggested assignments really resonated with me. So here’s the assignment I’m prayerfully considering this week:

Who have I invited to help me grow spiritually?”