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.

A Love Letter from an Alzheimer’s Caregiver — The Healthcare Marketer

(Note: Healthcare marketers and communicators have always fallen short when it comes to developing a deep understanding of the patient and caregiver’s mindset. The recognition of that failing is what motivated this post.) On June 11, 2012, my father sent this letter to all five of his children. My mom had been suffering from dementia […]

A Love Letter from an Alzheimer’s Caregiver — The Healthcare Marketer

Being the hands and feet of Jesus

As my dear mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s grows increasingly difficult to manage, it is becoming harder for me to leave the house for any length of time. While my hubby is very capable and always willing to help in many ways, sometimes the help mom now needs is very personal in nature. For this reason (and many more), it’s such a blessing to have a daughter who lives nearby who often helps her grandma when I need to be away. I recently had to take my brother to the doctor and the timing of the appointment didn’t work out for Beth’s schedule. Thankfully, my friend Rita was more than willing to help.

Rita – the hands and feet of Jesus

It would be my heart’s desire that caregivers everywhere had someone like Rita in their lives. Someone with the ability to read between the lines. A friend who puts their own life on hold in order to be a blessing. Seriously, if I post something on Facebook or my blog about being tired, I can almost guarantee that shortly thereafter I will hear the “ding” of an incoming text and it will be Rita offering to help look after Mom.

Just last week Momma was having a very hard evening. I had called hospice to let them know that she was having high levels of anxiety and breathing difficulties. Before I knew it, two hospice nurses were at the house helping me with her needs. Toward the end of their visit, I noticed a familiar look on Momma’s face and a slight slump in the way she was sitting. I told the nurses that it looked like Mom was going to faint. And faint she did – she slumped over hard and for a much longer period of time than her usual syncope episodes. Even though I’ve been through this several times now with mom, this one felt a bit different and, I must admit, this time was a little scary.

Unbeknownst to me, in the midst of the ordeal, my hubby Wayne put out a prayer request on our church’s Facebook group and several in our church family began lifting her name up in prayer.

We had a hard time getting Momma to recover from her faint and struggled to get her limp form into bed where we could better help her. I was so very glad to have two nurses there to witness the episode, help me care for her during the episode, and help get her cleaned up and ready for bed afterward.

Momma was now resting comfortably in her bed and the nurses were preparing to leave. I heard my phone ring. Rita called to see if I needed any help; specifically offering to come spend the night so I could get some much needed sleep. I smiled as I listened to her kind offer and quickly responded with my “Yes, please!”

As I said my goodbyes to the nurses and awaited Rita’s arrival, I offered up a prayer of thanksgiving to God for sending TWO hospice nurses tonight and for giving me a friend like Rita – a friend who is truly the hands and feet of Jesus in my life right now.

Momma’s Afternoon Visitor

My Momma just turned 85 years old a few days ago, so I was a little surprised to hear that her grandmother stopped by for a visit this afternoon. Momma said that her Grandma Peet seemed a little confused, but she enjoyed their sweet little chat about this ‘n that.

My great-grandparents, much like the way I remember them.

I apparently missed seeing my great-grandmother by just a few seconds. I heard my Momma talking to her (well, Mom’s side of the conversation, anyway), but the minute I poked my head into Mom’s bedroom door to see who she was talking to, Mom says Great-Grandma disappeared!

Momma is concerned that her grandma just, “Poof! Vanished!” She hopes I have her phone number so I can give her a call just to check to see that she is okay. She would call herself but, “You know, my hearing’s not that great on the phone.”

Tuesday Caregiver Tip: The Christmas Letter

It’s a dilemma you might face as a caregiver. The one you’re caring for customarily sent out Christmas cards. How do you help them now when they can barely sign their name? Continue reading “Tuesday Caregiver Tip: The Christmas Letter”

Change is in the Air

 

God used last year’s hospitalization to help me see Mom needed to live with us.

Just over one year ago I wrote, “Honoring Your Parents: Nursing Home or Your Home?” (I invite you to read it here.) In that piece I endeavored to describe the process which had guided my decision-making related to caring for my mother as she slipped further and further into the horrible world of memory loss. Countless decisions have been made since moving my mother from Milwaukee to our home in Fitchburg. Each decision to be made along the way was generally preceded by some sort of adversity which required a change. We prayed about each change, each process, and each decision. Our faithful God always answered, shedding light on each uncertain step.

Change is in the air once again.

Mom’s advancing Alzheimer’s and a few recent difficulties have made it abundantly clear that we need to prepare for what the next level in mom’s care might be. There have been many “nudges” toward planning for the possibility of mom’s future care taking place outside of our home setting. But three things in particular:

  • A gentle nudge in the form of a well-timed question from Diane, mom’s palliative care nurse practitioner. “So, have you considered what the next step in your mom’s care might look like?” We had a good chat about that, and she gave me several helpful suggestions.
  • My hubby’s trip to India. I had to ask myself what I would do if something happened to him and he could no longer help me. Even though my family and friends rallied to help me out during his trip, it became very clear that caring for mom on my own would be at too great a risk to my own health and welfare.
  • My own frailty. I took a fall down a short flight of stairs in my own home. Aside from a scrape to my leg, a few sore muscles and toes, the greatest injury I sustained was to my own pride. The fall served as a wake-up call causing me to consider how Wayne would care for mom if something happened to me.

In the past year, I’ve looked at the websites of many assisted living places, have talked with a few representatives on the phone, traded emails with yet a few more, and even toured three that I liked and thought might be able to at least provide some respite care. In each case, I could not imagine my mother living there. After my little chat with Diane, I looked into a newer one she suggested and rated very highly.  BeeHive is a 16-unit specialized memory care facility designed to look and feel very home-like. It is ideally located in Oregon just a few miles down the road from us, and about a mile from the nursing home where my brother resides.

Wayne and I scheduled a visit in early September before his trip to India. I was favorably impressed as I watched staff interact with residents. Compassion and respect were palpably present. We met Gina and Andy, two of the owners, and felt their pride of ownership and desire to serve their residents.

Standing on the sidelines, I watched one sweet lady receiving a hand massage. As the aide gently applied lotion and stroked her delicate hands, she looked into this resident’s eyes and spoke with her like she was a familiar friend. I knew in my heart this was the right place. A puzzle was in the works at a nearby table and I could hear one resident talking to another in friendly banter. Yes, I could definitely picture my dear Momma sitting at one of the tables, working on a puzzle and telling (or re-telling) one of her many tales.

After some discussion and prayer, we decided we would put down a deposit to reserve a place for mom. She is currently number four on their wait list. While it is still my heart’s desire to keep my mom at home with me until God calls her to her heavenly Home, I have great peace knowing I have another level of care reserved for her. My greatest comfort comes in knowing the One who is guarding our steps as He walks before us paving the way for whatever our future holds.

I know in my heart that my dear mother would skip along to heaven tonight if she could. Nearly every day she tells me so. Momma’s greatest comfort comes in knowing that Jesus promised He has a placed reserved for her in heaven.