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.

Taking Mini-Breaks for Creativity

I have all sorts of excuses for why I’ve been a little hit-or-miss in the blogging department. The best reason I can proffer is that I’ve been taking little breaks for a bit of creativity of a different sort.

First up, a very special sewing project. My son sent me a text one night asking if I would make a Christmas stocking for a teen who is staying with them. I had made a stocking for each of my grandchildren prior to their first Christmas and he was hoping Danni could have a similar stocking too. I was so very glad he asked because I had it in my heart to do something for her, but wasn’t sure what she would enjoy. This would be fun!

Continue reading “Taking Mini-Breaks for Creativity”

The Lunch Bunch

Some of the signs of advancing memory loss can be seen most easily when viewed in retrospect.

Several years ago, when mom was still living in her own home in Milwaukee, I noticed that she wasn’t making it to her weekly “lunch bunch” restaurant gathering with a few friends. If I’d ask her about it, she would have a plausible reason. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon an envelope where she had written down the names of her friends in this group that I began to understand. Mom was in an earlier stage of memory loss – a very difficult stage where she knew her memory was failing. In this stage, mom had many strategies in place to help her remember things, including creating little “cheat sheets” for herself. One can only imagine her angst in forgetting the names of her good friends. As I looked at the envelope, I could see that, as the names came to mind, she would write them down – over and over again, as if willing herself not to forget.

Looking back now, I think it was just easier on her ego and heart to just stop going. My heart was sad when she stopped having lunch with her sweet friends…and even sadder when she stopped going to church altogether.

Looking back in the rear-view mirror of life, I can now clearly see that pulling away from the friends she loved was one of the huge signs of her advancing Alzheimer’s. As much as she loved these ladies, she can no longer remember their names – even with prompting. But I remember and am thanking God for these ladies. May I be the kind of friend to someone else that you were to my sweet mother.

A Little ‘Hello’

What a blessing to receive a little ‘hello’ in the mail. I know I’ve told you about my friend Suzy who sends a beautiful handmade card each week. At first her cards were addressed to my mom (but always meant a lot to me too). About the time Momma moved to BeeHive, Alzheimer’s began to chip away at her ability to read and appreciate her mail. Suzy asked if she should discontinue sending the cards. I hesitated in answering because I loved them so much. The very next week, Suzy began addressing those encouraging notes to me. Each note always brightens my day, but this particular note was extra-special. Suzy chose to inscribe an encouraging quote from one of my favorite authors:

Life is hard.

God is good.

Glory is coming.

Therefore, stand firm in His grace.

John Piper

It is amazing to observe how many times my friend’s weekly ministry of written encouragement and exhortation “just happens to be” exactly what I need on the day I receive the mail and zip open the envelope.

The day I received this ‘hello’ included several personal challenges for me and even harder physical challenges for Momma. God, in his goodness, allowed me to better understand just how hard life is for my sweet mother, and how incredibly blessed she is to be in a place where she is so loved and so cared for. I could definitely see His goodness in the midst of this hard day.

Glory is coming, Momma.

Assisted Living: What to Expect

When one wrestles with the thought of placing a loved one with memory loss into assisted living, many questions come to mind while making that life altering decision. Thankfully, there are many good books related to caring for a loved one with memory loss…and I’ve probably read most of them. If I could only recommend one, it would be Jolene Brackey’s, Creating Moments of Joy. [I wrote a little book review about this book here.]

I love this page. I live this page.

It’s important to have realistic expectations concerning assisted living memory care.

It has been almost four months since we moved Momma into assisted living at BeeHive Homes of Oregon, WI. She has made a great transition – not without its hiccups, but BeeHive is definitely a gift from God for my sweet mother. In these four months I have fallen in love with each resident who lives there with her and each one responsible for her care.

There are 16 rooms at BeeHive–at any given moment you might find my dear mother in any one of them–although she has her favorites. She loves to nap in Carol’s room, enjoys the sunny window in Caroline’s room, and can often be found rearranging pillows and tending to every one else’s babies in her neighbor Kathi’s room.

On any given day, my mom might be wearing her favorite outfit…or might be looking cute as can be in another lady’s pajamas. The other day I noticed mom wearing her nearby neighbor Roy’s watch; she also had his remote control and he had hers. I’m really not sure who has her colored pencil set, it’s been on the lam for a few weeks, but know they’ll turn up some day…she probably put them in someone else’s drawer for safekeeping on one of her daily adventures tooling around in her wheelchair.

Momma is a gatherer. If something is missing from someone else’s room, it can reasonably be assumed Charlotte probably has it for safe-keeping in her purse, or wrapped in a blanket and tucked away in a drawer in her room. Toilet paper is irresistible. An unattended doll or stuffed animal won’t be lonely for long if she can help it. She even managed to pick up an unattended cell phone that belonged to one of the hospice staff. I half-jokingly remind the staff that if something is missing, just check Charlotte’s purse and drawers…it’s probably there.

Only one of these dolls belongs to Momma – but they are all equally cared for and loved. [Photo credit: Kathleen Zelinski]

Slowly, but surely, I’m learning whose stuff belongs to whom (most of it is labeled). I spend the first few minutes of my daily visit returning things she has borrowed and retrieving things she has tucked into places where they don’t belong and returning it to the right place.

One thing is for sure…Momma belongs and is in the right place.