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…

Five Minute Friday: Balance and “Oasis Moments”

This post was brought to you (a day late, I know) courtesy of Kate Motaung’s blog Five Minute Friday and the word “balance.” Writers set the timer for five minutes and then free write on the word of the week. Check out more great posts and find inspiration for writing here at Five Minute Friday.


Things have been quiet on my blog. Good sleep is rare. Interrupted at best. Most days I live life in a sleepy fog. In my exhaustion, I’m having trouble staying focused enough to write.  A few of my friends have recently heard my silence and inquired as to my well-being.

My friend Sue wrapped me in a big hug on Sunday and told me that she was quite concerned. She had observed that caregiving seemed to be taking its toll on me, noting that I looked really tired. I was not the least bit offended by her basically telling me that I looked terrible. It’s really hard to cover up exhaustion. God knew I needed this confirmation of what I already knew. Sue’s concern and assurance of prayer meant the world to me.

Rita caught up with me a few minutes later and kindly inquired as to how momma is doing. This sweet friend is known for her ability to see a need and step in to help. I have been on the receiving end of her prayers wrapped in practical ministries of help. Her loving and thoughtful ways have often helped me find balance as a caregiver as she sits with my mom while I try to get some sleep, or hangout with my grandkids, or take my brother to a doctor’s appointment, or go out to dinner with my husband. Her kindness refreshes my spirit.

Yesterday I heard the familiar “chirp” of my phone indicating that I had received a text message. My heart smiled when I saw it was from my friend Barb – also my sister in Christ, and former co-worker (from way too many years ago).

“How are you and your momma doing? Haven’t seen anything on FB lately.”

It’s been more than 20 years since Barb and I worked together, but we’ve managed to keep in touch via Facebook, chats via Messenger, and occasional lunch get-togethers at a restaurant somewhere between my here and her there. It has been awhile since I’ve been able to get away and have lunch with Barb, but her little “I noticed you” via text meant so much. It felt good to sit in my favorite chair wrapped in a soft blanket and “chat” for a bit about what’s going on in our lives.

Amazing how a timely word from a friend can bring a little balance to your life when life feels weighed down and precariously listing toward one side.

This morning a message from another friend, Danielle, popped up on my phone.

You’ve been in my prayers a lot recently, especially since I haven’t seen too many posts about your mom. I know I didn’t post much about Tim as things got worse, so I’m assuming things are really hard right now.

She was right. Danielle knows firsthand what life as a caregiver can be like, as she takes care of her father-in-law in his struggle with memory loss. She walks this really hard road a few steps ahead of me and knows how to pray…and she does pray.

It’s not just these four friends who’ve helped me find balance. It’s my hubby who helps in countless ways, the friend who buys me a coffee on a whim, or the one who pops a surprise care package or a sweet card in the mail. Or the thoughtful neighbor who recently rang my doorbell and asked me to point him in the direction of something that needed to be done in my garden.

I’m so thankful for each and every one of the wonderful people God has put in my path. Through your prayers and acts of kindness, God refreshes my soul with “oasis moments” and helps me find balance in my life as a caregiver.

 

 

After Midnight Search

Sometimes life is just clearer in retrospect.

I know now that I should have responded to the video monitor’s prompting much sooner. Perhaps I would have been able to get more sleep if I had gone to Mom’s mental rescue sooner. It was after midnight, and Momma was having yet another bad night struggling with sundowning. I watched and listened in on the monitor as she yanked the chain on her bedside lamp and sat up in bed talking to herself. Nothing new; the same questions she always asks – those questions that never go away, even with an answer. I heard the familiar “zip” of her purse as she went through the contents of her purse over and over again. Between each examination of the contents, she would carefully hide the purse beneath her bed sheets. Then, in delighted surprise moments later, “find” the purse and go through the unzip and search motions again.

In the wee hours of the morning she decided to get out of bed. I pushed my head deeper into my pillow and watched from my own bed via the video monitor as she “furniture-walked” without her walker, opening and closing each drawer in her room, rifling through the contents and rearranging everything to her liking. She seemed to be looking for something. Momma was safe enough, just restless and confused. She left the room twice to use the bathroom, but always came back to her bed promptly.

I felt guilty just lying there watching, but I felt utterly exhausted and was in a bit of pain. You know that feeling you have in your leg after a middle of the night leg cramp? Well, I haven’t had a muscle spasm, but I’ve been having that type of “after pain” in my right leg all day. Add in a brewing migraine headache and a mom who just won’t go to sleep, and you have an equation that equals not enough sleep.

At two thirty, I got up to take some more ibuprofen, then drifted off into a state of semi-sleep, still listening, still peeking to see what Momma was up to. By four in the morning the tone in her voice changed to one of frantic agitation, so I made my way down to her bedroom to see if I could help, or at least redirect, so we could both get some rest.

Not wanting to startle her, I flipped on the hallway light so she would see me coming, rather than just have me appear out of nowhere in her room.

Bleary-eyed, I said in my loudest sleepy voice, “Momma, you really need to get some sleep.”

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“Well, I’m not going to bed until I figure out who the guy in this picture is.” Momma held out a photo she normally carries in her purse. It was a picture of her with my Dad. I told her, “Well, that is you and Dad.” I could see her beginning to process that information and quickly realized that she was processing the word “dad” and couldn’t make the transition in her brain from my dad to her husband. I added, “Momma, that is your husband, Jerry.”

“Oh, Jerry Robert! Well, now that I know that, I can go to bed,” declared my sweet Momma as she crawled into her bed and nestled her weary from wondering head into the pillows I had fluffed for her.

It was a little disheartening to know that she was struggling to remember her husband’s name, and that I had let her struggle with that search for so many hours, rather than helping her fill in that piece of information so she could feel more settled. How scary that must have been for her.

I sleepily climbed the stairs and went back to my own bed with a prayer in my heart for Momma and me. This time, sleep came easily. Four and one-half hours of sweet sleep.

A Gift for Momma

I know it has been quiet on the “Barefoot Lily Lady” blog. A surprise ambulance ride with Momma on April 30 brought about a whirlwind of activity and change. I will undoubtedly write about that in the future, but wanted to share the next big thing on our horizon.

We have been preparing a special Mother’s Day gift for my mother over the past few days at my house. Our dining room is being transformed into a special place for my sweet Momma. It will be her new bedroom starting this Tuesday.

For more than seven years now, I have been spending extra time with my mother, trying to help her navigate life with advancing Alzheimer’s. Up until last year, Momma was able to live in her home in Milwaukee, with me commuting back and forth at increasingly shorter intervals (and for lengthier stays) as the years and the wicked disease progressed. By late fall of 2015, it became apparent that it was time for her to move to Madison to be closer to me.

We moved Momma into a nearby senior apartment in March of 2016. It is a lovely 1-bedroom place that suited her needs just fine. We would drop in often, eat with her every evening, do her grocery shopping, and help her get wherever she needed to go. Because her mobility was tenuous, we decided to install WiFi cameras so we could keep an eye on her when we weren’t there, making sure she hadn’t fallen. Momma settled into her new place nicely; however, by September, the combination of her frantic phone calls and rapidly declining cognitive abilities, made it abundantly clear that a new change was necessary. I moved in with her full-time because it was no longer safe for her to live alone. With the help of family, paid caregivers, and a few friends, this worked well.

Until April 30th.

God has a special way of shedding light on the next step I need to take. This time it was an ambulance ride and subsequent hospitalization. God has used Mom’s recent hospitalization and short-term nursing home stay to help us make another important decision. God was making it clear that now is the time to move her in with us.

Moving day cannot come fast enough for my mother, who is in short-term rehabilitation in a nursing home following a brief hospital stay. I visit her twice a day and always find her with her bags packed and ready to go. She pleads under her breath, “Get me out of here!”

Moving an aging parent in with you is not always an option, and may not always even be the most loving thing to do. We recognize not every one makes that choice when it comes time for their parent to receive extra care, but, Wayne and I both believe it is the right decision for my mom’s well-being at this time. I am very grateful for a supportive husband who allows me to follow my heart in providing home-based care for my mom.

We are in this together. I suspect this is somewhere tucked in the “for better or for worse” part of our marriage vows.

Together we have discovered there is an amazing amount of stuff you need when preparing to live with a loved one experiencing Alzheimer’s. For us, it means, two baby gates, a door alarm, a special lock for the basement door, a hospital bed, special bedding, grab bars in the bathroom, a video baby monitor and WiFi camera, to name just a few.

We’ve made some other important discoveries too.

Together we have discovered what an incredible family we have – those related by blood, and those related by heart. Our daughter, in particular, has taken the bull by the horns and worked tirelessly to get her grandmother’s apartment cleared out. Our friends have also found numerous ways to show they care.

Together we have discovered what an awesome, prayer answering God we have. He has provided everything we need in so many gracious, only-God-can-do-this ways. Here’s my Facebook post from May 11 with just one example:

moms room
Dining room to bedroom transformation in progress

 

God’s answer to prayer. Almost paid nearly $1,000 for a refurbished hospital bed. But God connected me with a sweet elderly lady whose husband was admitted to a nursing home. She had just sold their home and needed to get rid of this 1-year-old bed. The same bed I was going to buy…but, He answered our prayers and put a blessing on top…the bed was only $50.

And, together, we will give my mother an awesome Mother’s Day gift. A loving place to call her home, God willing, until her next move to heaven.

Spreadsheets (and other scary things)

Math has never been my strong suit. My earliest memory of my aversion to mathematics goes back to grade school. Details are fuzzy, but flash cards and standing with chalk in hand at a blackboard with snickering classmates behind me were involved in the torture. No amount of remedial help or after supper tutoring from my dad could erase the ill feeling of dread and fear whenever our teacher would stand in front of the class with a stack of paper and ask us to put our books away and take a pencil out of our desks. I can still picture her walking up and down each row of evenly spaced desks, placing a sheet of paper face-down on our desks, instructing us not to turn it over until she gave us permission. The only thing pleasant about the dreaded math quiz experience was the strangely pleasing pungent aroma of the alcohol (spirits) on the fresh, purple-inked quiz paper freshly printed on a “spirit-processed” Ditto machine (now I’m really dating myself).

“Ditto” ad and resulting sample of the purple-inked math quiz…obviously not my paper.

I dreaded getting my paper back after my teacher graded it too. That purple ink on the page would more often than not be accompanied by numerous red check-marks next to each wrong answer. Oftentimes, right next to the grade at the top of the paper, there would be a little note from the teacher that said “See Me” or something like that. It was embarrassing to never quite “get it” when everyone else around me (so it seemed) was catching on just fine.

In marriage, opposites often attract. My husband enjoys math. It’s probably not an exaggeration of facts to say that

playing with numbers brings him great satisfaction. On a related note, he truly enjoys spreadsheets. Creating them. Updating them. Analyzing them. Sharing them. He’s the type of guy that looks at pieces of information and says with a smile, “Hey, let’s build a spreadsheet for that!”

While I struggle with remembering which credit card to use in each purchasing situation, drag my feet at keeping spreadsheets updated, struggle with understanding investment principles, and chafe at always being asked for receipts for updating those spreadsheets, I can be thankful my husband is strong in those areas. His love of managing details means we can pull up a piece of needed information with a moment’s notice when caring for my mom and brother. It means he is a natural choice to be their financial power of attorney (a job I very willingly relinquish). It means our own budget is always balanced. Our retirement investments always well-tended and growing. Our bank account never lacking. Our vehicle and home maintenance always scheduled at appropriate times. Our emergency fund always available. Our taxes always done on time and without error. Our giving always done wisely and with generosity.
For this man, I give thanks to God.