Sharing is Hard!

Each day after lunch, Mom and I usually sit quietly together in her room watching all the goings-on outside of her window. There is so much to see: cars and trucks as they drive in and out, people who come and go, the construction happening next door and (best of all) the birds at the feeders just a few feet away.

Today sweet Carol stopped by for a little after lunch visit. Without a word, Carol took me by the hand, urging me to rise from my chair and take a walk with her. I have taken many such walks with Carol, so gave Momma a quick hug and told her I’d be right back. Carol gave my hand another insistent tug and off we strolled hand-in-hand. As I left the room Momma suddenly addressed our friend Carol in an obviously jealous tone of voice blurting, “Hey! That’s MY Momma!”

Here’s a photo of a sweeter moment for Momma and her friend Carol.

Photo credit: Kathleen Zelinski

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.

Rewind: “Her Crazy Little Letters”

He looked forward to receiving her weekly letters so much and one day sat down to put his thoughts about their letter-writing friendship to pen and paper.

Your first note came five months ago
And although it was quite brief
It had a lot of meaning
Like the Spring’s first light green leaf.
It wasn’t very polished
And you seemed a trifle shy
But I must say that didn’t matter
You were a new friend saying “hi.”

After one year on this island
(A paradise to some)
I had lost a lot of interest
And my world was too hum-drum
Still your “crazy” little letter
Though I cannot explain
Gave me words I never had before
And made my days less tame.

Your cheerful, lovely person
Has traveled all these miles
In little paper envelopes
And brought me many smiles.
Your thoughtfulness and kindness
And spiritual uplift
Removed a lot of darkness
And slowed an aimless drift.

Each letter that I open
Contains some new surprise
– when the paper changes color
– when your thoughts across them fly
Though my poem to you is heartfelt
It never can proclaim
The friendship I extend to you
Even though it should be plain…

She loved the poem and read it over and over again. The last line in the poem puzzled her though. It seemed an awkward way to end. What did he really mean? Was there more to their friendship than she knew? Was this the beginning of something more?

He was right – as awkward as the last line felt, the relationship that was just beginning would turn out to be anything but plain.

Rewind: A Letter From Home

February 9, 1951 is the day that God chose to bring my future hubby into the world. Though I would not arrive on the scene until 1957, I recognize that Wayne is truly a gift that God prepared for me. Ten years ago, before my blogging days, I began writing and publishing my stories on Facebook. In honor of Wayne’s birthday, I thought it might be time devote the next few blog posts to retelling a few of those stories. I marvel in thinking that this story of God’s providence took place a little over 46 years ago…

She was 15 years old; a nice, quiet, kind of shy high school freshman.

He was two weeks away from being 22; a sailor stationed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

She belonged to a church that made it their mission to have someone from the church write each and every serviceman or woman from their congregation each month. They would solicit volunteers from the high school and adult Sunday School classes to write letters, and she was one of many who would faithfully volunteer to write a letter each month.

He was one of those servicemen from the church, and he didn’t particularly relish receiving those letters. Most of them were dutifully written by one of the “older persons” in the congregation on the customary sheet of church letterhead included in the pre-addressed and stamped envelope provided for the convenience of the letter writer and, by his own description, “usually general and impersonal.”

She would take home the pre-addressed stamped envelope every month, open the flap of the unsealed envelope, slip out the piece of church letterhead, and dispose of it. Being a teen growing up in the 70’s, that just wasn’t her style. Instead, she would reach for a sheet of colorful lined theme paper (usually neon or pastel) and then sit down with a blue ball-point pen to pour a little bit of herself into the note before popping it in the mail.

He would notice the familiar letterhead envelope from the church in the mail each month, but rarely rush to open it. He knew that it would probably be the same as last month: a rather impersonal letter with a church bulletin and maybe a Sunday School paper or two enclosed.

She had decided one particular Sunday, rather selfishly, that she was not going to volunteer to write another letter. In her experience (short as that was), no one had ever bothered to write back. On this particular day, no matter how she tried to avoid volunteering to write yet another serviceman, she was encouraged…no coerced…into doing so yet another month. (That’s another story for another time.)

He, being properly trained by his mother, would always write everyone back – no matter how boring or impersonal their letter had been.

She really didn’t want to write this month’s letter. Being a bit annoyed that she had been volunteered against her will, she didn’t even bother to dispose of the letterhead this time. She just pulled it out of the envelope and started writing. Oddly enough, once she got past the introductory paragraph, she rather enjoyed pouring herself into another letter to yet another serviceman she didn’t know.

He was the one to whom this letter she wrote was addressed, and he had no idea what was in store for him when he opened this month’s letter from home.

She apologetically and shyly told him in her letter that he’d probably think she was a “nut” for writing because he certainly wouldn’t know who she was. She also told him she would understand if he didn’t answer her letter.

He read the letter on the familiar church letterhead, but this letter was different than the rest. He wrote back and told her, “First of all, let me thank you for the beautiful letter – maybe it didn’t seem so beautiful to you when you wrote it, but it meant a lot to me.”

She didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the beginning of two and one-half years of letter-writing that would change the entire course of their respective lives.

He didn’t realize it either.

To be continued…

Disappearing Friendships

I caught a glimpse of an old friend at the gym today. I don’t think she saw me pedaling away on an exercise bike while she attended a nearby group exercise class. My face immediately smiled when I saw her, then my heart sank with sadness just as quickly. You see, my friend had walked out on our friendship a few years ago. I never understood why.

I still don’t.

I’m usually pretty timid and non-confrontational – but, as I pedaled, I imagined myself boldly giving my old friend the “what-for.” How could she just leave? Never look back? Never say good-bye? Never again tell me that she loved me and cherished our friendship?

Of course, I didn’t really say it.

Today’s ‘disappearing friend’ experience made me wonder about the friends and family who ‘disappear’ from my mom’s life in her world living with the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s. As her memories fade, recollection of friendships forged over many years vanish too. Some of her dear family and friends still send cards. She loves to receive them in the mail (and will read them over and over again, each time as if it is the first), but she really can’t remember the person who sent the card. Sometimes a tiny glimmer of recognition glistens in her eyes if I pull out old pictures, or show her that friend’s photos on Facebook, or retell a story she once told me about this friend.

Not a care in the world when you’re coloring!

Alzheimer’s is cruel. But, I’m thinking it may also be a form of grace in old age. You see, my encounter today with my own disappearing friendship brought up lingering feelings of deep hurt and resentment, highlighting my own need to exercise forgiveness in relationships. With Alzheimer’s, my momma’s hurt feelings last only for a moment. Then she picks up a coloring book and her colored pencils and the hurt just vanishes.