Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 1

During the month of November, I want to focus on special gratitudes. Makes sense, right? During Thanksgiving month we should be grateful.November country

But this year, I want to dig a bit deeper than the usual, “Thank you for health, for food, for the roof over my head.

This year, the focus is a series of gratitudes on my current life or the people in my life.

Post One underscores gratitude for the beautiful life my mother lives.

Mom is currently in Stage Six of the Alzheimer’s journey. She can still dress herself, although I’ve noticed her hairdo needs a bit of tweaking. She can still feed herself and she eats well — gaining weight this year.

But confusion still reigns, and we never know which day may be more lucid than the other. She no longer knows her family members as the connections of relationships remain a puzzle. She often exists in the past, waiting for her parents or her husband to come pick her up and take her to town.

Last year, Mom recognized me by the connection with my son. If I said, “Caleb is working at Amazon,” she would nod and call me by name.

But that has changed. She remembers she has a grandson named Caleb, and she has a daughter who lives in the Kansas City area. But connecting us together and recognizing either of us is now gone.

We are in the stage of Alzheimers where it is comfortable and easy for the patient yet harder for the family and caregivers.

Mom is basically happier now that ever before. The Type A personality, busy all the time, is gone. She sits contentedly in her chair and reads her Bible or the same mystery novel over and over.

She sleeps, then rises for breakfast. She eats all her meals when they call her to the dining room. She attends activities, rides the shuttle to see the Christmas lights and plays Bingo several times / week.

No bills to pay. All that was settled long ago when papers were signed with the facility.

No chores to do. Even her laundry is washed, dried and sorted by others.

No stresses from life or job. She has no idea of current events. Rarely watches the news. Reads the paper but who cares about what’s happening when you have no desire to do anything about it?

Her life is filled with adjectives such as peaceful, safe, content.

Sometimes I envy her.

But mostly, I am grateful Mom has these days of quiet rest with nothing to look forward to but the next meal, the Bingo gathering or lights out.

And the only thing that’s better will be her next move – to heaven.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about the Alzheimers journey, check out Sometimes They Forget.

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What Alzheimer’s Cannot Do – Part 6

Alzheimer’s cannot destroy faith.Praying_Hands

During a Thanksgiving weekend several years ago, I visited Mom at the assisted living facility. It was Sunday and per her usual practice, she wanted to go to church.

So she dressed up, picked up her Bible and we walked down the hall toward the dining room. A visiting pastor had volunteered to preach a brief sermon and lead these elderly saints in worship.

The room was filled with Alzheimer’s and dementia residents in various stages of the disease – beautiful shades of white and gray hair, curly perms and a few shining bald heads of the rare men in the crowd.

The pastor kept his words brief, then we sang some of the favorite hymns: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Amazing Grace,” “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Most of the residents hummed along, some fell asleep, a few still knew some of the words. I sang lustily, my mezzo soprano blending with the bass of the pastor. My mother remembered some of the lyrics and hummed through the rest.

Then the pastor said, “Please join me as we all recite Psalm 23.”

I thought, You must be kidding, buddy. These people can’t recite a passage of Scripture. They can barely remember their names.

But they surprised me.

I watched them and listened as around the room – every single resident recited word for word the precious Shepherd’s Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”

The King James version, with none of them missing a beat.

“He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.”

How many of them prayed that God would restore their lives, do a miracle in their bodies and release them from this disease, this long and tragic goodbye?

“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

A righteous life includes reading the word of God and hiding those words in their hearts so that when the end of life comes, when those final years flip over onto the calendar, these residents would hang on to what really matters.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

These saints understood the Psalm better than I because they live within that valley. I could see it in their eyes, in the faces accessorized with wisdom-carrying wrinkles. They knew this valley and only God could help them walk through it unafraid. And they believed he would comfort them along the way and never leave them alone.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”

Food no longer provided comfort because the appetite was gone, the taste buds had forgotten a favorite flavor or the joy of family meals. Yet smiles surfaced around the group – maybe a dim remembrance of God’s anointing on a life, the cup of joy that once ran over and now waited for its fulfillment.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

My mother, her voice clear, her eyes bright – solid in her faith and waiting for her timeline to end.

Each one of them in the room, recited what they believed. I could not speak. Tears choked me as I realized there’s a place deep within us, a sanctuary of the soul that cannot be stolen by whatever is happening in the brain.

Alzheimer’s cannot and will never destroy faith.

Amen and amen.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Keeping Mom Busy

One of the rites of passage as teenagers was to choose activities that we enjoyed and find the ones that strengthened our natural giftings. Some of these activities led us to pursue life-long interests and even helped us choose college majors and careers.

What I didn’t realize until I became a parent was the importance of activities to keep kids involved and out of trouble. It’s important to keep our children busy while still allowing them some time to rest and play.Bingo

Now, I see the importance of activities for my elderly mother. The activities’ director (Terry) at Mom’s assisted living facility is always busy coordinating fun things for the residents. Most of these activities are not only enjoyable but also a bit mentally challenging – which is a good thing when you’re trying to stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s.

During the Christmas season, Mom and her friends ride the shuttle to see the lights and watch the local pageant. In the summer, they board the shuttle to attend Cowboy Church where they sing Country Western hymns and listen to the pastor talk about freedom in Jesus – with his appropriate Wrangler jeans and silver belt buckle.

Back at the facility, Mom plays cards every day, sometimes three times a day. Usually Uno or Skipbo. I don’t think they keep score, because who cares?

Once a week, they gather for Bingo which reminds me of Roxie, the activities director for Reverend G, who calls out the numbers so that Chris, Bert or Reverend G can win. You can read about Reverend G in the latest book of the Life at Cove Creek Series. http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

Mom often wins a Snickers bar or sometimes a little posey for her apartment. Then she gives it away and forgets that she won a prize. But she’s happy giving something, so that’s what counts.

Other activities include a Bible study called Devotions with Doughnuts, weekly salon appointments and there’s always the walk around the pond or watching the fish swim in the aquarium.

We’re glad Mom is so busy enjoying these activities, but it’s becoming more difficult for my siblings and I to visit her. We have to schedule our visits between Bingo, doughnuts and the ever-present Uno game.

I’m glad Mom is busy. It keeps her out of trouble.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

The Alzheimer’s Slush File

Is there a file somewhere that holds all the things Alzheimer’s patients lose? Sometimes those items are imagined, but even so – the person struggling with Alzheimer’s is convinced the object exists yet has simply disappeared. Where did it go?Alz Slush File

My mother has lost a seersucker pantsuit. As far as I know, she never bought a seersucker pantsuit although she always wanted one. However, this suit is so real to her, it must exist somewhere in the universe, if not hanging in her closet. Perhaps she did buy one, at some point in life, but now – it has disappeared. Where did it go? Does it wait in an imaginary file that is hidden from the world of realism?

We no longer take jewelry to the assisted living facility where my mother lives, because it will disappear. Then Mom will accuse someone of stealing it. And truthfully, when Mom loses something, it cannot be found.

Jewelry has disappeared as well as the infamous seersucker pantsuit. How do you lose a pantsuit? Seersucker or any other variety? This puzzles me.

We dare not take Mom’s hearing aids to her room, because lost hearing aids cost a bundle to replace. So my sister has become the Guardian of the Hearing Aids, producing them only when Mom goes to church or joins us for a family outing. The rest of the time, Mom just doesn’t hear well. She turns up the volume on her TV and when someone talks to her, she asks, “How’s that?” “What?” “Huh?”

Mom has lost socks – but then, who hasn’t lost a sock. They are constantly running away from home or disappearing into dryer vents or someplace where nobody can find them.

Mom has also lost other clothing and important documents. We know better than to leave any legal papers with Mom. Her collection of greeting cards that people send her sit in a basket, waiting for her to reread them. So far, she has not lost the basket.

Because Mom is always giving things away, she sometimes thinks she has lost something when she actually gave it away. She often wins at Bingo, so then she has Snickers candy bars and doesn’t eat them. She gives them to grandkids, then doesn’t remember giving them away – so they are then lost and hiding in the Alzheimer’s Slush File.

It doesn’t really matter, I suppose, if Mom loses some things – as long as they aren’t major items like hearing aids. The problem is that the disappearance of items causes Mom additional stress and we don’t need that.

The other problem is that I’ve wondered lately what has happened to one of my favorite rings. I have no recollection of taking it off and putting it somewhere other than where it belongs. I have looked in every suitcase, every jewelry container and every dresser drawer. My ring has disappeared. It only cost me five dollars, but I liked it because it sparkled and matched lots of different outfits.

I have, of course, prayed, “Oh God, oh God, I have lost my ring. Please, please, please don’t let me have Alzheimer’s. Please let me find my ring.”

He has not answered. I think my ring might be hiding with the seersucker pantsuit.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo                                                         Finding Hope When Life Unravels

Finding How to Love Mom

During a recent visit to Mom’s assisted living facility, I thought again about the five love languages. greeting card

In his book, Gary Chapman explains the love languages as: touch, gifts, quality time, acts of service and affirming words. When we know the love languages of those around us, we can better relate to them.

As I grew up, I never considered the love languages of my parents. But now that Mom is walking through the shadows of Alzheimer’s, I am looking for various ways to communicate with her.

    Finding her love language is one of my attempts to somehow make a connection with this woman I call Mom.

Gifts are definitely not Mom’s love language. When someone gives her something, she loses it and then accuses someone of stealing it. And even when she wins a Snickers bar at Bingo, she immediately gives it away. Her life no longer exists in possessions, so gifts are not Mom’s love language.

Touch has never been an important part of our family life. Although Mom will receive my hugs, she never initiates them. Touch does not work as a love language for my mother.

Affirming words might be slightly closer for Mom’s love language, but not for long. If I say anything nice to her, “Your hair looks really nice today, Mom.” Or “That color of lavender looks so good against your white hair,” she says thank you and then changes the subject. Or she gives me one of those looks that means, “You’re kidding, right?”

Acts of service. My family has always stressed a strong work ethic. We work hard, and we work for others as much as for ourselves. But performing an act of service for my mom would be empty and wasted energy. She would turn it around and want to do something in return for me.

Besides, what act of service could I do for her? Her laundry is taken care of at the facility. Someone else cooks her meals and serves them to her on beautiful plates. She walks to the salon to have her hair fixed. Her needs are all met.

The only love language that remains is quality time. This is the one way I can show her love, spending time with her whenever I can. Quality time means sitting in her apartment and answering the same questions over and over without becoming grumpy about it.

It means looking through the cards she has received and talking about the senders of those cards – old friends and new friends, relatives and church members.

It means walking around the pond with her and stopping frequently so that she can catch her breath. It means carving some time into a weekend and sitting with Mom even if neither of us has anything to say.

Loving Mom now means just spending time with her. And I’m glad to do it – while I can – before our time together finally ends.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Television Becomes Mom’s Companion

As I entered the assisted living facility and walked down the hallway, I heard Mom’s television. I knew what I would discover even before I knocked on the door.

televisionMom sat in her maroon recliner, watching but not really comprehending the images on what she calls, “The Idiot Box.”

Television was never a revered object on the farm. In fact, the set was turned off after the evening news so that my siblings and I could finish our homework or start reading a new book. The only sound in the house came from the old stereo and Dad’s many classical albums.

So nowadays, it seems odd that Mom’s television booms its sounds not only throughout her room, but also down the hallway.

Whether from boredom or loneliness, the need for some type of humanity in her room, Mom turns on her television and powers up the volume. Her hearing has slowly declined.

She does not use her hearing aid because it only gets lost or in her mind – stolen. Truthfully, the design is not easy for older folks with shaky hands as the tiny battery has to be removed after each wearing and replaced every time she inserts it into her ear. The order of tasks seem impossible, so Mom just ignores it and goes without.

My sister is the keeper of the hearing aid, so she takes it home for safekeeping, then instructs Mom all over again every time she needs it.

Mom turns up the volume on her television and mindlessly watches shows she cares nothing about. I turn down the volume so we can talk.

“I hate the TV,” Mom says. “I’d rather read a book.” She points to one of the many books in her stack that she reads over and over again, reaches for one of the Reader’s Digest condensed versions and opens it. Occasionally, she looks at me and asks one of the many questions we have just talked about.

The core values of the Alzheimer’s patient do not always coincide with their behavior.  What the heart and mind believe does not always jibe with action.

So Mom’s television is another reminder of the difficulties of communication. When Alzheimer’s overshadows a behavior that is not consistent with life’s memory, all we can do is seek patience and another level of understanding.

The television is now Mom’s companion, the noisemaker in the room, but it will never replace the life story of a woman who read voraciously and made sure that her children also learned to love books.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1