Even on nights when I am weary and tired, I sometimes have trouble falling asleep. Other times, I fall asleep, but cannot stay asleep. My trouble with insomnia probably stems from being on the plus side of 60; but, I think the main problem is that my mind just keeps whirling with thoughts long after my head hits my pillow. In my search for a remedy, I read about a sleep tactic whereby you count backwards from 50, mindfully counting each breath. Breaths are slow and measured – one deep breath in, hold a few seconds, then a slow breath out. I thought it couldn’t hurt, so I tried it. Lo and behold, it seemed to work, as I don’t recall ever getting past the 20’s on my way to zero.
One recent evening, as I completed my requisite bedtime routine of pillow-punching and fluffing, I decided there might be a more meaningful way to spend my countdown to sleep. Rather than pay close attention to the ins and outs of my breathing, I decided to pray about things that were on my heart as I counted forward, rather than backward.
That night, I prayed for the things God brought to mind: a missionary our church supports, my Christian brothers and sisters in Christ who live and serve in India, my children and grandchildren, my brother as he recovers from surgery, my husband’s various ministry endeavors, my pastor, the friends who are looking for work, and several friends with health needs. As I poured the concerns of my heart out to God, I remember taking my sweet mom’s name before the throne as well, asking God to take her gently Home to heaven in His time. Even though I knew I would greatly miss her, I longed for God to rescue her from a body and mind trapped in the clutches of Alzheimer’s.
One by one, my requests were heard by my heavenly Father, resulting in a heart that was quieted by this little bedtime prayer and praise time. Tucked in my bed and nestled under a blanket of God’s peace, eyes closed in prayer were soon closed in sleep. Something tells me my Heavenly Father didn’t mind one bit when His sleepy child fell asleep mid-prayer.
A few summers ago – 2015, I think – I was sitting on the ground pulling weeds from my front flowerbed when a sweet kitty crawled into my lap. Kitty had me from its first contented purr as I pet his head in response to his gentle head-butting insistence.
The next day, kitty showed up again while I was sitting on the porch glider taking a rest from puttering around in the garden. He hopped up on the glider and then crawled into my lap, kneaded my gardening apron, then did that circular little dance kitties do when they’re about to claim their favorite sleep spot.
I remember thinking, “I think this kitty just chose me as his person.”
One morning I woke up and saw kitty sleeping on the glider. That didn’t look very cozy to me, so I put a folded blanket on the glider for him. Later, I opened the front door to go sit with kitty and noticed that kitty had left a little present on our welcome mat. It was small, furry, and had a tail…but didn’t have a head anymore. It was obvious kitty had chosen us as his family, and had given us the gift of his leftover prey as a token of his devotion. He would continue to give us similar presents several times a week.
Wayne fell for the benevolent kitty too and began leaving food for it on our porch. People food and kitty food weren’t his favorites; Kitty much preferred his food…ummm, fresh.
Now Wayne had a very devoted fur-buddy, who literally followed him everywhere in the yard. Unfortunately, Wayne is very allergic to cats, so we couldn’t bring this stray kitty into our home. Kitty didn’t care – in fact, he seemed to prefer romping around in the great outdoors. He just kept showing up on our front porch, peeking in the front window meowing at us to come out and pet him.
The neighborhood scuttlebutt was that this stray cat had once belonged to a nearby neighbor on the street behind us. Word had it that they moved back to India to be closer to family and left kitty behind.
We named our new porch kitty Smokey because his pretty gray fur had little white stripes that resembled little whisps of smoke. We sometimes called him a “her” because we didn’t REALLY know. If you read my Facebook posts about the cat over the past four years, you’ll see I bounced back and forth calling it a he or she, him or her, and spelling its name “Smokie” or “Smoky,” or “Smokey.” The cat never seemed to mind my indecisiveness, but our veterinarian friend later confirmed it was a neutered male, based on what he didn’t see…and because he had a broader face and deeper ‘meow’ more typical of male cats.
Our family got in on the kitty lovin’ too. Our daughter gave us a rabbit hutch she was no longer using. Wayne painted it the same color as our front door. It fit perfectly in a sheltered corner of the front porch right by the front door. I filled it with old towels and blankets and our Smokey moved right in.
I stopped at Goodwill and bought the kitty a little divided food dish. But, the next thing we knew, we were buying things on Amazon for the cat. Food, of course, as he had now been won over to having most of his meals coming out of a bag. Since he would be an outdoor kitty, a heated pad to keep him warm in his little house during Wisconsin’s nippy winter weather was next. Of course, he also needed a heated water bowl too. And a brush.
Some people have a dog to greet guests at the front door. Not us. Our kitty startled many a guest by popping out of his house as they rang our doorbell. Our mailman LOVED our porch kitty and lavished lots of attention on him whenever he’d deliver a package. The grandkids loved to sit on the glider and brush or pet him. He even kept my sweet momma company when she’d occasionally sit with him on the glider and brush him, or talk with him through her bedroom window.
This past week, we noticed that Smokey didn’t eat his breakfast. No worries. His appetite has grown smaller as he has grown older – and he still sometimes prefers to catch a fresh meal once in awhile. Wayne went out to fill his dish at suppertime and found that his breakfast still hadn’t been touched. Now, that was a bit odd. Come to think of it, Smokey hadn’t been hanging out in his little home all day. I took some clean blankets and towels (fresh from the dryer) out to his house. Smokey usually comes running when I change his bedding and will hardly let me get the new bedding situated in his cozy house before he crawls in and makes himself at home.
He didn’t come. In fact, he didn’t come home all weekend. He’s still not home. Sadly, we know in our hearts he isn’t coming home again.
So, goodbye sweet Smokey kitty. We hope you found a nice cozy spot to lay down for your final sleep. We miss you already. We loved being your family. Thank you for choosing us.
At my sort-of-annual physical, my doctor asked me questions related to my caregiving responsibilities, which led to questions related to my mom’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. One of those questions was, “Does your mom still know who you are?” It’s a good question – one that is a little hard to answer. I usually start with, “Yes. And no.”
Most days I think she knows that I am family. Her face still lights up when she sees me. She knows that I love her. I don’t believe she usually thinks of me as her daughter though, as she usually refers to me as her mom, and every now and again her sister. Other times (this is my favorite), her best friend. Last week, though, she came up with an entirely new one that tickled my funny-bone a bit.
Mom’s hospice nurse was giving me an update when my sweet mom wheeled herself up to where we were seated and apparently decided she had better make some polite introductions. Speaking to her nurse she said, “This is Cindie. She’s my longtime neighbor.” Of course, her nurse knew the truth of the matter, so we both just smiled and agreed with my mom. Mom reached for my hand and brought it closer to her, then placed her hand over mine and said, “Right? We’ve known each other forever. We go waa-aay back, don’t we?”
So stinkin’ sweet.
“Yes, Charlotte. We go WAA-AAY back.” With a twinkle in my eye I added, “In fact, I think I’ve known you my WHOLE life!”
Let me introduce you to Violet. This granddaughter has held my heart for 15 years now and I am quite certain she has a special place for me in her heart too. Any time we spend together is special.
Not only does she love me well, but she also has a special softness in her heart for her memory impaired great-grandmother. Violet goes out of her way to be a bright spot in my mother’s day as often as she is able. Most recently she wrote a few letters to her and asked me to slip them in her purse every now and then so she had something new to read. On other occasions she will come with me to visit her GGma.
Violet and I share in common a love for writing. I love reading what she writes and especially love finding her thoughtful notes sprinkled liberally throughout my house. On a recent visit, Violet picked up a pencil and a notepad and poured out some thoughts on paper about Alzheimer’s. I asked for permission to share them on Barefoot Lily Lady.
Alzheimer’s By Violet Cynthia Schultz
Family becomes strangers ‘Home’ becomes lost Books become confusing Memories become a maze. Guests become intruders Flowers become weeds Shouts become whispers Old stories are forgotten making them new again.
Yet the smile of a stranger can still brighten up the day Help from a friend becomes a blessing when you’re lost. The old photo album jogs memories new and old. The surprise intruders become a highlight of the day. The countless weeds spark the old passion of gardening And the whisper of a voice ensures comfort, rest, and security.
The past few days have been especially wonderful. Even though it sometimes felt like I was always cooking, having our kids and grandchildren gathered here and being surrounded by family refreshed my spirit.
Three nights in a row of good sleep didn’t hurt either.
Yesterday, our children, along with our three lovely granddaughters, lovingly came alongside us in support of a decision that Wayne and I had already prayerfully made. A spot in a lovely memory care home has opened up for my mother. Together as a family, we acknowledged that my mom deserves to receive the 24/7 care I can no longer give her.
This has been an especially hard decision for me, as it has always been my desire to walk Momma all the way “Home” here in our home. Now that mom is under home hospice care, it seemed like we were almost there. But God has given our family wisdom and showered me with peace in the midst of my tears.
Last night, Mom was out of bed before our Friday date night caregiver left our home at 10:30 p.m. Bless sweet Kathryn’s heart, she tried so hard to get mom to bed and asleep before her shift was over. It was not meant to be. Sleep would not come for Momma until a few minutes before 5:00 a.m.
Today I’m feeling physically worn out and emotionally spent. The frustrations of my sleepless night and my groggy, bone-weary body served as confirmation that the decision we made as a family is the right one.
Nine days from now it will be different.
Round-the-clock care will be available to redirect my tired and anxious mother back to the safety of her bed while I am sound asleep in my bed a few miles away. There will be no more trips up and down the stairs between my bedroom and hers all night long. No need for cameras and a video monitor to keep tabs on Momma. No need for baby gates, a multiplicity of grab bars, wheelchairs, walkers and bedside potty chair. Someone else will vigilantly monitor and carefully dispense drugs, change and launder soiled clothing and bedding, cajole her into bathing (and washing her hair), and keep her from wandering away.
I find comfort in the hope of being able to attend school concerts, participate in church activities, go to the gym more regularly, travel with my hubby, take an unhurried bath, have impromptu play dates and sleepovers with my grandkids, and play in garden dirt whenever I want. The list of all the things I’d like to do now is very long indeed.
As much as I look forward to finding our new normal, I also understand the transition will not be easy–for her or for me. The tears which trickle down my cheeks without warning remind me that I will miss taking care of mom. It has truly been an honor and a privilege and the hardest thing I have ever done.
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.
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.
Late to the party, but I am joining (on a Monday) the Five Minute Friday writing community, hosted by Kate Motaung, for our weekly writing adventure. Please click here to learn about Five Minute Friday. This week’s prompt is, “Where.”
Where Am I?
Momma asks this question every single day. Every. Single.
I usually answer, “You’re at my house, Momma.” She will then peer about the room with a furrowed expression, and say, “Where?”
My sweet mother is hard of hearing, so I often must repeat
what I said. However, it really does no good to explain to Momma where she is or why she’s here. But I do anyway. While she will soon forget, and it
really doesn’t matter to her, it matters to me. When I tell Momma that she is
here because I love her and want to take care of her, I need to hear myself say
that even more than she does. In saying it out loud, I am reaffirming my
purpose in my heart.
She will ask again. And again. And again. Each time as
though it were the first. It’s at times such as this when I must I remind
myself that Momma truly feels lost.
“Where is my purse?”
Where is my money?
“Where do I buy food?”
“Where is the bathroom?”
“Where are the kids?”
“Where are my shoes?”
These, and so many other “where” questions lurk in the worry corner of her mind. Lately, one of her most frequently asked questions is
“Where is my family?”
When she asks this question, she’s really not thinking about me, or her other children, or even her husband. Momma wonders when her parents are going to come and get her and take her home. It accomplishes nothing telling her that they’re already in heaven. If I do that, she stews and is angry that no one told her that they died. Instead, I say, “They’re not going to be able to come today.” Then, I answer her question with my own question, “So, what was your favorite memory with your Dad?” I absolutely love it when she reaches way far back into her cache of childhood memories and pulls out a special one.
While it is heartbreaking to hear Momma struggle with all of the where’s in life right now, I know she has a hope for a future “where.” A place where every tear will be wiped away, every worry and fear erased, and where pain and earthly sorrow will be gone forevermore. Momma is looking forward to her heavenly home – whereno more memories will be lost to Alzheimer’s.
In his sermon last Sunday, our pastor reminded his congregation that it is easy to miss the beauty of God’s grace in our every day lives. We are so accustomed to receiving his daily gifts and benefits we often grow blind to His goodness and loving kindness toward us. Pastor Jeremy challenged us to watch for ways God demonstrates His abundant grace toward us. To do this, he gave us an assignment asking us to take out a sheet of paper and list 20 things God has given us that we do not deserve.
I’ve been watching and taking notice this week – here’s my list with a little bit of explanation on each.
My copy of God’s Word – with real pages I can turn and plenty of room in the margins to jot special notes. By God’s grace, my granddaughter Violet loves God’s Word and has the same Bible.
The Grace of Family. Growing up in a family who lived several states away from our kinfolk, I recognize full well the grace of having my family close.
Veiled grace. Our friends had their baby on Thanksgiving Day. My first thought was, “Oh no!” Their wee girl wasn’t due to make her debut until February. While ‘Baby K’ was more than a mite too early, she arrived on the day that was just right on God’s timetable. By His grace, she weighed 2lb 14oz – a good weight for a babe who arrived much too early. Also by His grace, she was delivered by emergency cesarean in a hospital equipped to handle the very special needs of Baby K and her mommy. A careful look at the circumstances surrounding Baby K’s arrival reveal God’s veiled grace in everything.
Grace for Rough Days. Momma struggles with the little things in life. Just getting out of bed is rough. Walking hurts. Underwear are disposable, and for good reason. Sleep comes…eventually, and not always when everyone else wants to sleep. Grace for rough days comes in many forms – usually shaped like people who care.
Hugs. If grace could be measured in a currency of hugs from grandkids, I’m one very wealthy woman.
Testimonies of God’s Grace. We attended a Thanksgiving Eve Service at Wildwood Church where our son serves as an elder and missions pastor. It was a blessing to sing favorite hymns together with brothers and sisters in Christ we were meeting for the first time. We listened, sometimes with a laugh, other times with tears in our eyes as members of this congregation shared their testimonies of God’s grace in their lives.
Grace in having a furnace to keep our house warm. Our thermostat is set at 72 – mostly because my mom is always cold. My body must have grown used to her temperature preference; at times, I felt a bit too cold at my son Matt’s house where it was 63 degrees. Then my mind recalls my husband’s recent trip to India where he discovered winter temps can fall into the 30’s at night. Many folks there don’t have heat in their homes. Or insulated walls, windows and doors. Or a fireplace. I’m thankful for a warm house, socks for my usually bare feet, and money to pay our heating bill.
Grace in owning a washing machine, a convenience totally foreign to many in the world. A blessing for the umpteen loads of wash in the week of a caregiver.
Grace in laughter. A cheerful heart really IS good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). Yesterday, one grandson with especially infectious laughter was riding in the back seat of our car and his giggles blessed my heart.
Grace in a Spirit Who prays for me. Sometimes I am so fatigued and emotional, or tired and discouraged. I don’t know how to put my needs into words in prayer. My gracious God knows what I need, and the Spirit of God dubs in the words my heart utters but my lips cannot speak.
“This is Us” kind of Grace. When it feels as though my caregiving responsibilities are sucking the “us” out of our marriage, I am reminded that God gifted me with a husband whose generosity goes beyond material things. He lovingly supports me in this decision to care for my mom in our home by unbegrudgingly giving of his own time while I give of mine.
Grace notes. Musical ‘grace notes’ are tiny ornaments decorating a musical piece with beauty. I’m blessed with three granddaughters who love to leave little surprise notes for me to discover as I go about my day. I call them my grace notes. I don’t deserve granddaughters who love me like that, but God blessed me with them and I am SO grateful.
Grace in the ability to hear and enjoy music. Momma lives in a rather silent world. Oh, how I wish she could hear the beautiful music I heard this week. Two “hymn sings” in one week; lovely piano pieces played by special granddaughters; my daughter-in-law singing and humming to Christmas music while prepping food in the kitchen, to name a few. I found special joy in watching my daughter teach her daughter to line dance while my son-in-law sang a little boot-scootin’ country tune. I cannot imagine a world devoid of the grace of music.
Grace in Technology. I confess, I really enjoy Facebook. Frustrating as I sometimes find my laptop and iPhone, the ability to see the faces of loved ones near and far gathered around their own Thanksgiving table is priceless.
Diet Coke and Coffee. Enough said.
God’s grace of comfort as I sleep. One of the missionaries we support shared a picture yesterday that made me realize how blessed I am to have a comfortable bed, an abundance of blankets, and pillows that are just right. His photo was a reminder to pray for refugees in Iraq whose city had been hard hit by recent heavy rains, drenching their dwellings and meager belongings. Lord, as I fluff and arrange my pillows at night, remind me to pray for those who have no place to lay their sleepy head tonight.
God’s gracious gift of helpers. Momma’s Friday and Sunday caregivers, Kathryn and Kathi, are an amazing grace gift, allowing a bit of time away from caregiving each week. And I must not forget my friend Waldely, who helps keep my head above water (and dust) by helping me with housework.
Amanda and Lisa. As my caregiving responsibilities grew, I contemplated stepping down from my church ministries, including teaching Sunday School. Then, just as Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses to hold up his weary arms, Amanda and Lisa stepped in to help me with teaching responsibilities. They are a gift of God’s grace in my life.
Grace in a basket of warm, freshly dried laundry. Momma so relishes feeling useful…and handling warm laundry in need of folding brings her extra-special joy.
Grace in the next generation. Tomorrow about 24 young faces will look up at me as we sing praises and learn more from God’s Word in Sunday School at Memorial Baptist Church – evidence of God’s grace continuing to the next generation.
Now, it’s time to flip my list over and start again. Would you join me in the comments below by sharing evidences of God’s grace in your life? One or two will do, but I’d encourage you to begin your own list too.
Our son Matt and his family are hosting our family’s Thanksgiving celebration this year. This is the second year they’ve hosted us in their splendid home set on the bluffs of the Mississippi River in Hampton, Illinois. I enjoy helping out in their spacious and well-appointed kitchen.
I am thankful my sister is hanging out with mom so Wayne and I can get away from the responsibilities of caregiving for a few days.
What a blessing. God bless her.
On Sunday my daughter mentioned she is bringing the pies…lots of pies. I hear there will be pumpkin, French Silk, and chocolate pecan. On Monday she stopped by my house to borrow a few extra pie plates and Tupperware pie carriers.
Lord, help me.
Knowing Beth will be the bearer of pies made me wonder what I would be bringing. Other than an email asking for my stuffing recipe, I hadn’t heard whether I should bring anything. I sent my son a text which read
Did I miss a memo on what to bring for Thanksgiving?
His reply –
Just yourselves! 🙂
Wow! Another life change happened when I wasn’t looking. Not cooking anything for Thanksgiving?
When did that happen?
Wasn’t it just yesterday that THIS happened?
I found these photos while working on a long overdue project of creating some family photo albums. Matt must have been 4 years old and Beth almost 2, so it must be 1981.
I love everything about these memory evoking photos. The teeny tiny kitchen in our first house on 49th Street. The hand-me-down kitchen table and chairs from my in-laws. The 1950’s wallpaper. The orange tiles on the kitchen floor. Our tiny refrigerator barely had room for the turkey to thaw.
At the corner of one photo I spied the shelving Wayne custom built for our itty-bitty kitchen. The shelf now has a couple of coats of blue paint on it and sits in a place of honor on our three-season porch holding memorabilia of years past. As I examine the photo below more carefully, I see on one shelf a turtle cookie jar (I used to collect turtles), which I have since passed along to my son.
Thirty-seven years later, I still use that very same turkey roasting pan…and the brown-striped kitchen towel!
I love Matt’s facial expression as he examined his messy little hand after helping stuff the turkey. I think we need to recreate this photo.
And my little blonde sweetheart Beth! Look at the cherubic face of my little helper. Be still my heart!
These old photos have taught me the importance of capturing images of special moments we have together as a family. Tomorrow we will have Matt and Beth and their families gathered together in one place.
Eventually, with very few exceptions, all those afflicted with Alzheimer’s lose the ability to remember names. In the beginning stages, it’s an occasional inability to remember the name of a friend. Somewhere in the middle stages of this mind crippling disease, my mother began having more trouble with names. I noticed names scribbled in notebooks, on church bulletins, on 3″ x 5″ notecards, and backs of envelopes. It was her tool for hiding the fact that she was beginning to forget the names of her close friends.
Momma belonged to a group of ladies from her church who called themselves “The Lunch Bunch.” Each lady friend took turns choosing the destination for their culinary adventures. It was a sad day when Mom decided she could no longer meet up with her friends. She told me it was because the lunch venues were so far away. In retrospect, the unspoken truth was Momma was embarrassed she could no longer navigate driving to unfamiliar places. Even sadder and more difficult to admit, remembering the names of her closest friends was becoming impossible.
Our church family has become Mom’s surrogate church family now that she lives with us. My mother enjoys visits from her new friends, but is nervous about not knowing their names. To ease her transition toward knowing the names of these new friends, I borrowed an idea from a friend I’ve never met who lives in Yorkshire, England. A fellow caregiver to her own mother with mixed dementia, Heather and I “met” on Creative Carer, Heather’s Facebook page dedicated to inspiring and giving ideas to caregivers for those living with dementia. Our mothers seem to be travelling parallel paths in the progression of their individual journeys in the uncertain world of dementia. Heather is amazingly creative in her approach to caregiving, capitalizing upon her mother’s lifelong passion for all things artsy and crafty (you’ll also find many creative art therapy ideas on Heather’s blog here). As her mother’s memory began to fade, Heather created some laminated pages for her mum, depicting life events, useful information, and snippets of joyful events that had happened in her lifetime.
With Heather’s brilliant idea as seed thought, I made some little laminated photo cards mom could keep in her purse. Each card has a photo of friends and family who come to visit, with names written on the card and perhaps a little reminder as to how mom knows that individual or family. I love seeing Mom discover these cards in her purse. It’s a perfect sundowning activity for her, as she loves to go through the contents of her purse during her late-night purse rummages.
Whenever a new friend comes for a visit, I take a picture of them with my mom, then create a card for her before their next visit. About an hour or so before a guest’s next visit, I take that card out of her purse and show it to her. She really appreciates having the card as a reference.
Next project on the horizon: create a few cards featuring her childhood, family, nursing school and wedding. Memories from her early years are still relatively intact; these cards may help Mom tell (and retell) her stories to visiting family and friends willing to sit with her for a moment and listen.