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.

Five Minute Friday: Love Without Measure

My daughter gave her grandma a baby doll – a Goodwill find. Except for the fact that its eyes don’t close, the doll baby looks and feels convincingly enough like a real baby. The baby doll is wearing a cute little dress  embellished with sweet, girly-looking smocking – reminiscent of a favorite outfit our daughter wore when she was a itty-bitty girl. 

Why give an 85-year-old woman a doll?

My mother has Alzheimer’s and the list of things which bring her joy grows smaller with each passing week. We had hoped the baby doll (we’ll call her ‘Dolly’) would bring her a measure of joy in the midst of the stress that her life had become – especially the stress she did not yet know she would experience with the next day’s move from our home to her new place in memory care assisted living.

On this final night in our home, Momma sat on her bed with Dolly propped up against her bed pillows. I sat in mom’s comfy chair in the corner of mom’s room and watched the encounter between the new would-be friends. Seemingly oblivious to my presence, Momma talked to Dolly a bit, patting the doll’s dress and stroking her hair, telling her how pretty she looked. She seemed a bit troubled by Dolly’s inability to reciprocate in the conversation, skeptically watching the baby for a response, then looking concerned when none would come.

Just when I thought Momma would give up on Dolly, my sweet mother leaned in real close, gently stroked the baby’s cheeks, then held Dolly’s face between her time-worn hands. Momma then demonstrated the measure of her big heart when she gazed into the unblinking eyes and said something to the baby that astounded me.

“I’ve learned in my lifetime that if you’re trying to have a conversation with someone and they don’t talk back and they just stare at you, it sometimes means that they have been deeply hurt and had trauma in their life.”

Momma gently kissed the baby’s cheek and added, “You’re safe with me.”


This post was brought to you courtesy of Five Minute Friday (hosted by Kate Motaung) and the word “measure.” Writers set a timer for five minutes, free write on the word prompt and publish it on our blog so the whole world (well, our little corner, anyway) can read it! Learn more about the writing challenge at Five Minute Friday.