Measuring Time

This is my mother’s watch.

Momma undoubtedly bought several watches during her lengthy nursing career. But, as she often recounted the story of her watch, she had been wearing this very watch since she graduated from nursing school in 1955. You see, a watch with a sweep second hand was essential in my mother’s era of nursing. It kept you and your doctor on schedule and kept you accountable for the time you spent on breaks. When updating a patient’s medical chart (no computers back then), it provided the time for documentation purposes. Its sweep second hand was the essential tool momma used day in and day out to measure a patient’s heart rate in 15-second increments of time.

Holding my mom’s watch in my hands today, I recalled how meaningful it was to her, even after my mom could no longer tell time (which I wrote about here). A mind clouded by Alzheimer’s loses the ability to measure the passage of time or interpret the face of a watch somewhere in the middle stages of the disease’s progressive march through the brain.

Even after my mother could no longer tell time, I invested a good bit of time in finding my mom’s treasured watch when the paranoia of dementia would cause her to occasionally hide it for safekeeping. I had the band resized when she slimmed down and it spun on her wrist. I even took it in for repairs once and replaced the battery on several occasions. The natural motions of her body would wind the self-winding watch (another clue that it was NOT from 1955), but Momma would wind it anyway because that was what she remembered doing in days gone by. Over time, this damaged the watch beyond repair, but she still loved to wear it.

When my mom moved into assisted living memory care and I saw how she would distribute her things all over the building (and borrow the belongings of others without consent), I decided to take her watch home with me for safekeeping. I hated to take something that was hers, but the story of the watch had also become something I treasured. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to matter much to mom — especially since her friend and BeeHive neighbor Roy didn’t seem to mind if mom (ahem!) borrowed his watch from time to time.

One day I noticed my mom sidle up her wheelchair to another lady friend at BeeHive. She seemed concerned that her friend was slumped in her wheelchair. Here’s the precious thing I was honored to witness with my own eyes. Momma reached over and gently placed two fingers on her sleepy friend’s wrist, instinctively finding that arterial sweet spot nestled between the thumb and tendon. The nurse in my sweet mother looked at her watchless wrist as she felt her friend’s pulse for about 15 seconds, then smiled with satisfaction and patted her sleeping friend’s hand as she said, “You’re going to be okay.”

Six on Saturday: Bees & Birdhouses

It’s the blue-skied, breezy sort of day that lures you outside to just sit a spell and enjoy summer’s final days. I’m sitting in a comfy chair on my backyard deck, enjoying the sights and sounds around me while I sip on a cup of coffee from a favorite mug and spend a little time reading my Bible.

In addition to all the usual weed pulling, deadheading, and watering, we’ve kept pretty busy this week. My hubby has been busy building birdhouses for our yard. He’s been using the lumber salvaged from our former deck in his creations. The birds don’t really care one little tweet if their new homes are decorated, but I have been enjoying getting a little artsy with painting and embellishing them. I’ve got a spot all picked out for the latest creation…a nice spot between two trees in the backyard. I’ll post a pic once it’s in place.

The latest creation needs to find a spot in our yard. The little brass bit around the entry is salvaged from a kitchen faucet we recently upgraded.

Yesterday my hubby and I went to a new eye doctor to have long overdue eye exams. Of course, COVID-19 precautions meant they are being extra careful, so we parked in a shady spot and checked-in for our appointments via phone from our car, then were instructed to wait in our car until someone came out to the car to ask the screening questions.

Waiting in the car for your eye appointment isn’t so bad. Especially if your waiting room looks like this…

Hubby’s eyes had only a minimal change since his appointment four years ago. I had been noticing changes in my distance vision since my last appointment three years ago. Things weren’t quite as crisp and sharp as they used to be. Sure enough, my eyesight had indeed changed significantly, so now I wait for new lenses for my glasses.

The sweet chair garden by my 3-season porch is filling in nicely with a little stand of phlox. You might recall that a few of my granddaughters painted this chair for me last summer. (You can read a little about this chair here too.)

Bees are happy I decided to plant a few zinnia seeds in two of our raised beds this year. I enjoy cutting the zinnias and love creating little bouquets to take to my friends at BeeHive Assisted Living and Memory Care.

I hope you enjoyed the mini six photo tour of my garden this week. Most Saturdays during gardening season I join up with blogging gardeners around the world for a virtual garden tour. Six things, in the garden, on a Saturday. Could be anything – a flower, a tree or bush, a favorite gardening tool recommendation, a gardening dilema, a cool bug or critter…anything at all. Our little show ‘n tell is hosted by The Propagator, who shares what’s going on in his amazing garden, then invites others to share as well. If you’d like to take a peek at the gardens too, just click on The Propagator’s site and give his weekly post a read, then scroll on down to the comments section where you’ll find loads of links to explore. I know he’d love to have you join in on the fun too.

Dementia-friendly Activities

Helping a loved one with dementia feel content is sometimes a difficult task. I’m by no means an expert on the subject, but thought I’d share a few photos depicting several ideas that we tried.

There came a time when caring for my sweet momma in our home was no longer best – for her or for me. God knew what we both needed and provided a wonderful place for her to live a 10-minute drive from our home. Momma lived the last year of her life here on earth as a resident at BeeHive Homes of Oregon – an amazing assisted living memory care community. The amazing staff did so much to help her be as content and happy as possible. Let me share just a few photos of those wonderful activities and opportunities she was privileged to take part in.

Group Activities to Encourage Movement

Momma loved her snacks! BeeHive always had something she loved.

Though her deafness was sometimes a barrier to fully enjoying the music, Momma and the other residents had many rich opportunities to hear and participate in a variety of musical forms.

This lovely harpist was a regular and well-loved visitor to BeeHive. I do believe I saw “rapture” on the faces of some of the residents as they listened to her play – some of them singing along.

BeeHive is blessed with visits from many musical groups and choirs
Momma obviously enjoyed the accordian – it was certainly easy for her to hear. Just look at the joy on her face!

Several dance troupes brought their lively performances to BeeHive. What a sweet treat!

I’m thankful for the churches who faithfully held services for the residents. This photo is of mom and her friend Roy listening to one of the pastors.

So many creative people and groups shared their time with the residents helping them make a variety of lovely crafts.

Momma gets a little crafting help and encouragement from a sweet volunteer.
The intergenerational activities were SO meaningful. The local school sent students over every week to read to the residents. I just love seeing this photo of momma and her armful of babies listening to this young boy read aloud.

Please, let me take just a moment to speak to those of you who are facing the decision of whether or not you should place your loved one in a care facility. Looking back on my caregiving experience, I am so very glad that I spent time with my momma helping her in any way that I could during the last few years of her life. When the time came for her to move out of my home, it was a very difficult decision. My body was telling me it was time. My emotions were telling me it was time. My husband was telling me it was time. Yet, I felt a little like I was giving up. However, I now realize that if I had insisted upon keeping my momma home with me until the very end, she would have missed out on so many wonderful opportunities and friendships.

Momma and Carol didn’t know one another’s names, but they were nonetheless sweet friends. I’m so glad they were able to be there for each other.

May God bless you who are caring for a loved one or friend with memory challenges. May you be blessed with creativity for your very long caregiving days, strength and patience for the long and sleepless nights, and wisdom and grace for each decision you make on your journey of love and care.

Butterfly Kisses

The final week I spent with Momma is now a blur; the days and nights run together in my head. What I do clearly remember is an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness. Each day and night that I spent with her illuminated the many reasons I had to be so grateful; many of those “reasons” wore scrubs and a nametag. It did not matter if they were a nurse, a personal care or nursing assistant, or owner of BeeHive, it was obvious that each had a role in providing care, and they all loved my Momma.

Keeping vigil at my mom’s bedside during that final week, I had the privilege of watching each one of mom’s amazing caregivers at BeeHive, together with her hospice team, do their best to make this last part of my sweet mom’s earthly journey as comfortable and pain-free as possible. Every few hours they would check to see if she needed to be changed and reposition her to prevent bed sores and to ease her struggle with terminal respiratory secretions. Medications were administered to keep pain under control and help dry up some of those bothersome respiratory secretions. If there was any sign of pain or discomfort, they were on it, adjusting her medications or finding that “sweet spot” in positioning her. Since Momma couldn’t swallow to drink anymore, they used swabs to soothe her parched lips and keep her mouth hydrated and clean.

Even though BeeHive is a busy place, as the caregivers worked with her, they never seemed to be in a rush. Gentleness was in their touch whenever they moved her. Each person involved in mom’s care spoke to her just as if she could hear and respond. As each one left the room after performing daily cares, they left behind a kind word of care and endearment.

It could have been my imagination, but as her body weakened and she slipped into a non-responsive state, I sometimes felt as though she was peeking through almost closed eyes, searching to see if I was there. Otherwise, in all of this, momma gave no real indication that she was aware of anyone being in the room with her. I honestly didn’t know if she could hear me, but I talked to her anyway. Even though Momma was quite hard of hearing, I oftentimes placed my phone on her pillow next to her ear and played her favorite hymns while I sang along with tears playing in the corners of my eyes. When I sensed that she was agitated, I stroked her forehead to soothe and quiet her, tracing her forehead and nose with soft touches, much as she did for me when I was a child. When I could do nothing else, I just held her hand.

On Saturday night, I noticed Momma making kissing sounds. Her eyes were closed, but her head was raised off her pillow and she was definitely kissing the air. Her kisses were insistent, so I thought perhaps she wanted to give her Dolly a kiss. Momma loved that Dolly, taking care of her (and a host of other dolls) as if they were her children. I put Dolly’s cheek to Momma’s lips and Momma gave her little butterfly kisses. I thought that was so sweet, so tucked Dolly back in with Momma.

But Momma kept making kisses. So I put my cheek to Momma’s lips to receive her kisses. Momma kissed my cheek a few times and I kissed hers. Momma stopped kissing and relaxed her head on the pillow.

It was then that I knew those butterfly kisses were for me. My sweet Momma knew I was there and she was trying to give me a goodbye kiss. Perhaps Momma knew that heaven was drawing near and that she would be with Jesus in the morning.

In Search of Billy

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I arrived at BeeHive to sit with mom during lunch. Momma was able to stay focused on eating if someone was nearby to remind and coach her. As her Alzheimer’s progressed, she had begun missing meals – sometimes only eating one meal a day – so I tried to be there during that time whenever possible. On this particular day, I was running a bit late and most of the residents were eating their dessert.

Not Momma. She had already toodled away from the table in her wheelchair and was calling out, “Billy! Billy! Where are you, Billy?” Now, I didn’t know anyone there by the name of Billy (not even one of her dolls had that name), and had never heard her call out for someone in this unconsolable way. Mom seemed almost frantic to find Billy.

I put my things down near her place at the table, then approached her and asked if I could help. “No! I want Billy!” insisted Momma. “Well, let me help you find him,” I replied. “Can you tell me what he is like?”

Momma seemed glad to have someone help her find Billy. The staff was nearby beginning the cleanup process after lunch, so I asked if any of them knew who Billy was. No one did.

Then, with tears in her eyes, Momma brought me back to the situation at hand and plead, “Please, help me find Billy. He’s my friend and he’s so kind. He helps me.”

That description was all I needed to give me a strong hunch as to the mystery of Billy’s identity. Going with my hunch, I asked one of the gals if Momma had been hanging out with Andy that morning. Why, yes! Andy had paid quite a lot of attention to Momma earlier that morning, strolling with her around the building and helping her with daily cares.

Photo credit: Kathleen Zelinski, BeeHive of Oregon’s Activity Director

Andy is one of the owners of BeeHive of Oregon. Like the other co-owners, Josh and Gina, Andy has more than just money in the business. He puts his caregiving heart in there too.

Andy showed his interest by taking the time to notice the photos I had placed in mom’s room. As he looked them over, he would ask questions about them so he could learn more about my mother’s past – important because Momma was living in the distant past in her mind. Knowing more about a someone’s past is helpful in caring for those with any number of conditions which cause short-term memory loss.

Andy often told me how much he adored my mom. He wanted to know about her and took a genuine interest in hearing stories from her past so he could better understand what made her tick. Though Momma probably didn’t say so, she trusted him and I think she sensed how much Andy loved her.

And Momma loved her ‘Billy’ too.

Falling for Dolly

Momma rested comfortably after Vivian and Jess left, so I decided to go home for a bit that evening to have dinner with Wayne and repack my bag. I knew in my heart that I would be staying with mom until the Lord called her home, so stuffed my backpack with a week’s worth of clean clothing, my Bible, a book, and a few movies to watch. I was just getting in the car to make the 12-minute drive back to BeeHive when I got a call from Kate, one of her sweet caregivers, who was calling to let me know that, weak as mom was, she had somehow managed to get herself out of bed and had fallen once again.

When I arrived a few minutes later, mom was back in bed and resting comfortably. The bump on her forehead from a previous fall had been in the healing stages, but now looked fresh again. Momma was chatty, but more difficult to understand. I did manage to cipher at one point that she was talking about her baby. Dolly was seated across the room in a chair, rather than in her customary spot in bed with her. It was then that I surmised Mom had been attempting to get out of bed earlier so that she could bring her baby to bed with her, but had fallen as a result. I placed Dolly in Momma’s arms and she patted her and spoke soothing words to her for quite some time.

I shared my theory concerning why mom had tried so hard to get out of bed with the staff. We all agreed that Dolly was very real in momma’s mind and that we should make sure Dolly was always in bed where Momma could see her.

I always loved watching my sweet mom tenderly caring for her beloved Dolly (and other dolls and stuffed animals), so I took a little video of Momma interacting with her Dolly that evening. When I would watch her care for Dolly, it seemed as though I had a glimpse of what my mother was like when I was a baby.

I will always treasure this sweet and special memory of Momma and Dolly.

If we were having coffee…

Today I am imagining that we are enjoying a cup of coffee (or your favorite beverage) together. In my imaginary coffee klatch, you are asking me a few really good questions. Let me share with you how I would probably answer those questions.

“What things did you like best about having your momma in assisted living memory care?”

  • I was blessed to be able to sleep at night (all night).
  • Momma had more than one pair of eyes keeping an eye on her when she struggled with sundowning and couldn’t seem to stay in bed all night.
  • Momma was safer. Yes, she would fall, but she would fall at home too. At BeeHive she had more than one person available to help her get up again and a whole team of people assessing whether or not she was hurt.
  • I slept in a peaceful and quiet house. There was no longer the need to listen to a video monitor’s static hissing at my bedside as I drifted off into never-long-enough sleep.
  • There were no more bleary-eyed trips to her room in the middle of the night to help with toileting, clean up accidents, change clothing or bedding, or try to reassure her that she was safe from the imaginary people she would see lurking in the shadows at night.
Just a few of mom’s incredible caregivers

“What did you miss the most about being a caregiver once your mom was at BeeHive?”

  • I would tell you that even though I no longer had the responsibility of caring for her 24/7, I was still her caregiver. While some caregiving loved ones seemed able to separate themselves for a few days at a time, I found myself visiting my mom daily, providing care in the following ways:
    • Sitting with her at lunch to better ensure she would eat something without wandering away from the table.
    • Being visibly present for a few hours of her day.
    • Being her advocate. I communicated on her behalf with the staff at BeeHive, the nurses and doctors, and the hospice workers.
    • I simply cared for her by making sure she had everything she needed to be comfortable.
Momma had some very sweet friendships at BeeHive.

If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently in caring for your mom?”

I’d probably tell you, “Not much.” Each step of the journey with my mom was prayerfully taken. Decisions I needed to make were made with the help of God and those who love me best.

“What do you want your children to do if they someday have to deal with you having a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s too?”

I would tell my children …

  • Re-read my blog. I wrote it for you. You might find some helpful insights there.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be specific about what you need.
  • I want you to feel comfortable making the decision to entrust my care to a place like BeeHive sooner, rather than later. Even if I protest at that time, it will be okay. It will be good for us.
  • Even if you’re not there every day, please don’t forget to visit me.
  • But most of all – even if I’m unable to remember who you are, I love you very much and always will.

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.

Reading the Last Chapter

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you may have noticed that I have been candidly sharing what is happening in my mom’s world living with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The story has been a few years in the telling; parts of her story are not easy to tell, other parts are sprinkled with joy and little bits of humor. The part of her story that we are in right now is very hard to write about, but telling her story has been important to me because I know there are others traveling on this path and perhaps our experience can shed a little light on the path of those traveling behind us, and comfort and companionship for others.

In addition to blogging about mom’s story, I have been finding great comfort in listening to audiobooks while on this somewhat solitary part of mom’s journey Home. Books are great companions. As a wanna-be writer, I enjoy seeing how various authors tell their stories, develop characters, and weave their story lines. One of my friends likes to jump ahead to the last chapter of books and read how the story ends before she decides whether the book is worth reading. If she likes how the story ends, she’ll read the book. She explains, “Knowing how the story ends doesn’t ruin the story for me.” For my friend, there is enjoyment in knowing where the plot is headed. She loves noticing how each character is introduced and how the little twists and turns in the story line fit into how the story will ultimately end.

A phone call I received on Sunday night makes me feel like I’m about to skip ahead in mom’s story. My phone rang at 7:09 pm and lasted only one minute. The call was Kate from BeeHive calling to tell me that they believed my mom had suffered a significant stroke. Kate’s voice was filled with compassion. She didn’t have to say it, but we both knew that this new twist meant that we were most likely in mom’s final chapter of life.

I told Kate I would be there in a few minutes and then hurriedly tossed a few changes of clothing in my backpack, grabbed my Bible and my favorite pillow, then headed toward BeeHive.

I am so thankful I already know the end of the story. Alzheimer’s loses. God wins.

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.