Hope Ages

In a few weeks, the calendar will flip over and I will celebrate another birthday. How quickly those calendar pages become obsolete.birthday-cake

In the proverbial quote, if I had known I would reach this age, I would have taken better care of myself. But then – maybe I wouldn’t.

We make choices day by day without thinking of the long-term consequences. We grow busy with life, do the best we can with the passing of time and hope everything will work out.

Occasionally we get lucky. Our arteries don’t grow plaque. Our blood runs clear. Our brains continue to remember.

Or not.

Even with the most preventive measures and the best intentions, life sometimes knocks us down. Alzheimer’s, cancer, the tragedies we never expected.

How do we stay in hope even while our bodies unravel? How can we stay focused on today when each twenty-four hour period passes so quickly?

For Christians, our focus is on living with joy and following the example of Jesus.

But Jesus did not age. We do not have a role model for the Medicare years.

We are left to figure out how much gray we will allow to color our roots. We play the game of connect the dots with the brown spots on our arms. We wonder how to remain in joy when joints ache and we can no longer run the bases like our younger selves.

We have to plan for days of fun, because they don’t spontaneously happen anymore. This is why we stare at little children and listen to them giggle. We’re trying to figure out how we once did that and why it disappeared.

Too much analysis leaves us cynical and afraid.

My bucket list is longer now than it was in my twenties, because the time clock is ticking. I want to do more of the things on my list – immediately – or sooner.

So I have decided to stick with the principles that have governed my life thus far:

  • Love others as much as possible
  • Practice the presence of God and breathe in his vitality
  • Love myself as well
  • Do at least one productive thing every day
  • Stay away from negative people
  • Don’t worry about the next twenty-four hours
  • Look forward to eternity

And I plead with the Psalmist, “Oh, God, now that I am old and gray, don’t forsake me. Give me time to tell this new generation and their children about all your mighty miracles” (Psalm 71:18 TLB).

Ultimately, even as age chases me, I know the end of each day brings me closer to the beginning of my eternity.

So I live with the lyrics of Les Miserables, one more day, one day more – one birthday passing and another on the way. One more opportunity to love and live well.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy

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Hope Struggles with a Birthday

Exfoliates quoteAll day I thought about her, my mother who lives within the shadows of Alzheimer’s Disease. Celebrating her 88th birthday without me and without any knowledge that she had survived another year.

By mid-afternoon, I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I called assisted living and asked if they could bring Mom to the desk for a phone call.

“It will be just a minute,” the nurse said. “She had such a good day.”

“Really? You helped her celebrate?”

“We partied for all the February birthdays, and your mother had such a good time with our Hawaiian theme. She wore a grass skirt.”

“What?” My mother, the dignified woman with perfect posture, who always carried herself with self-respect. Dressed in a grass skirt?

The nurse continued, “Our activities director decided on the theme. Everyone wore a lei and we had a pretend luau with island music. It was such a great idea.”

I know about activities directors and the impact of their work. Roxie, in the Reverend G books, helps each resident find some type of interest that will increase their sense of significance.

These directors walk a fine line. How do you approach these seasoned seniors who deserve honor even while they have mentally become children? How do you celebrate birthdays for the generation that survived World War 2 and the depression, then rebuilt America and sent their kids to college for the education they always wanted but couldn’t afford?

Now they fidget away their days, shuffling with a variety of walkers, forgetting their names and the children they birthed, aware only of the dinner bell when they file obediently into the dining room and eat silently, then retire to their rooms to turn up the volume on the TV and hope sleep will come soon.

“We had pineapple upside down cake,” the nurse said.

“My mother likes pecan pie. I’ve never seen her eating pineapple anything.” I could not erase the vision of my mother in a grass skirt – this woman who raised me with a no-nonsense approach and a duty-bound responsibility to always do my best and use my gifts to the utmost for God’s glory.

“Oh, here she is!” cried the nurse.

“Hello?” answered a shaky voice.

Too fragile. Not the strong tone I remembered from my visit at Christmas. “Hi, Mom. It’s me, and Caleb is here, too.” I was certain the name of her grandson would trigger a memory.

“Hello?”

“Happy birthday, Mom.”

“Thank you. Hello?”

I ground my teeth and prayed for wisdom. “Did you have a party today?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

She was probably refusing to remember being dressed up like a perky five year-old and forced to wear a stupid grass skirt. I could do nothing to help her. I wanted to scream, but tried a different thought. “Did you have a piece of cake?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

My mother, who used to call me with hour-long conversations, asking about my writing and my work, interested in everything her grandson accomplished – now responding only in mono-syllabic words, phrases she somehow chose from the fog of a plaque-infested brain.

Surely, she would talk to her grandson. “Here’s Caleb.” I handed him the phone.

“Hi, Grandma. Happy birthday.”

“Thank you. Hello?”

“Grandma, it’s me, Caleb. How are you?”

“Hello? What?”

He looked at me, helpless. “Talk louder,” I whispered. “Maybe she can’t hear you.”

“Grandma, we love you.”

“Hello?”

Finally, I took the phone again. “Mom, we’ll see you soon. We just wanted to tell you happy birthday and we love you.”

“Thank you. Hello.” I wondered if all the hello’s really meant good-bye.

Then she was gone, and I imagined her shuffling back to her room, not caring that she is now 88, unaware of 2016, a presidential election coming soon and spring flowers eager to burst through the crust of winter soil.

For a minute, I felt the guilt of being the long-distance caregiver assuaged. We tried to help her celebrate the day, tried to let her know we love her and miss her, wished we could be there.

But it wasn’t enough. The echoes of her voice followed me up the stairs as I hurried to my bedroom to cry.

I hate Alzheimer’s.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyhwedding - rj, ct, mom

How to Find a Legacy Within Alzheimer’s

Because October is my birthday month, my thoughts often center around the woman who birthed and raised me. Although Dad was a prominent faith figure in my growing up years, it was Mom who pushed me out of the birth canal and then pushed me to become who I am.Arlene Renken - nurse

She was a fighter and an extrovert, unlike the rest of us who liked to disappear within our private worlds to write, listen to music or find our energy in the beautiful solitude of the Oklahoma landscape.

Odd that I speak of Mom in the past tense, even though her brave heart still beats as she stares at the wall opposite her chair. That’s what Alzheimer’s does to a family. We say goodbye, one stage at a time, one regression after another so that when death finally releases our loved one – much of the grieving has already been done. “The Long Goodbye” is aptly titled.

Mom grew up poor, walked to high school (yes, miles away, even in the snow and rain) and wore the same two dresses until her Sunday dress became too worn for church. It was then relegated for school wear as her mother sewed a better one for the Sabbath or one of the cousins passed down a Sunday outfit that wasn’t yet worn out.

As part of her legacy, Mom was determined none of her children would ever be ashamed of their clothes or feel embarrassed because they didn’t fit in. So she learned how to sew, spread out the material on the farmhouse floor, cut, pinned and put together whatever clothes we needed to look like we had some cash in the bank.

Then she made certain that each of us understood the importance of a quality education so that we would never feel the sting of poverty. We grew up with a solid work ethic, attended college, saved our pennies and never bought anything we didn’t really need.


It was a simpler time – a beautiful segment of history, without traffic snarls, school shootings or adultery in every family tree. I miss it every day.


Mom was willing to live in an old farmhouse and fix it up gradually, learning how to wallpaper and restore old pieces of furniture. Much of our house looked like the early-attic variety, but none of us minded. It was a safe place to grow up although cold in the winter and hot in the summer. But who minded when the kitchen smelled like fresh-baked bread, the fields sprouted a golden harvest that supported us all year and the animals taught us about life and death.

As a registered nurse, Mom followed the habits of “old school” nursing. Always dressed in white, her uniform and hat starched and gleaming, her white shoes and hose the perfect accessory. In those days, no jewelry was allowed except a simple wedding band.

But Mom, always a bit of a radical, wore a cross necklace under her slip. “To remind me I’m working as a Christian,” she said. “To keep me focused on what matters when I have to clean someone’s bottom or tell a family their child just died.”

Strength of character. Rock solid faith. Those qualities are hard to imagine in the woman who now rocks back and forth and accuses strangers of stealing her digital clock.

Yet it was those very qualities that taught me how to work well even when no one is watching, how to pray my guts out, how to deal with life when it hurts by working hard and moving forward, how to fight against traditions that are based only on men’s interpretations rather than the powerful voice of God.

Even now, as I have journeyed through a faith crisis and wondered how to find a church that will accept my calling – I know Mom would understand. If I could just communicate with her, she would get that steely gleam in her eye and tell me to “Stop whining. Just get busy and do it.”

She was probably one of the first parents who envisioned the concept of giving your children roots and wings. She taught us well, then let us go and cheered us whether we succeeded or learned hard life lessons through failure.

Never demonstrative with her love, if anyone attacked her kids – they would face the wrath of a woman who knew how to struggle through the worst of life’s catastrophes and conquer them through sheer determination and grit.

No one dare beat up her kids, either emotionally or physically. She would stand tall in her 5’8” frame and declare, “One more word, and I’ll jerk a knot in you.”

So I am proud of the legacy Mom has shared with me, a strength of character that dares to question the establishment yet humbly accepts God’s will.

Even in the shadows of Alzheimer’s, I see Mom’s resolve to finish her course well, to find contentment in the every dayness of Bingo, planned meals and assigned seats during movie night.

The strong woman who raised me still exists somewhere deep within, even though the outer shell gains fragility, age spots and graying hairs.

The legacy continues. Thanks, Mom.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G Books http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

Birthday Changes

All my life, Mom made my birthday special. One year, she made the most decadent gooey chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted. I walked into the house after a long basketball practice, plopped into my chair at the kitchen table and eagerly sliced a piece of that wonderful cake. It tasted like love.

During my first year of college, I lived far away on my birthday. But Mom somehow managed to send a message to the dorm mother who arranged for a chocolate chip creation that I shared with all the girls on my hall.

Mom never forgot birthdays for any of us. She schemed and planned for weeks in order to make the best cake, find the perfect present and make the day special. Then she lustily sang the Happy Birthday song, to ensure that each of her children knew what a special day it was for her, too.

This year, my birthday seemed bittersweet. For two hours, I signed books at my hometown Hastings. It was a great time of connecting with friends and family, talking about Reverend G and sipping an iced chai. Afterwards, my siblings and I feasted at the local Western Sizzlin’ where I treated myself to a dish of blackberry cobbler a la mode.

Then I drove to the nursing home to spend the rest of the evening with Mom. We watched television together as she asked me over and over about my son’s major in college. I didn’t tell her about the book signing, because she would have regretted that she couldn’t come.

Every five minutes, she pleaded, “When can I go home? Why can’t I go home? I want to go home.”

No birthday card. No mention of the day. No cake.

I felt guilty for my self-pity, knowing that for me it was only a birthday. For Mom, it’s the rest of her life in a facility and a gradual eating away of her brain by that brutal Alzheimer’s.

But still, I missed the fact that for the first time in my life, October 12 came and went without a birthday acknowledgement from Mom. And there will never be another birthday card from her or a decadent chocolate cake or a colorful balloon. Those days are over.

As I drove back to Kansas, a song on the radio reminded me to hang on to the only One who never changes, the Christ who saved me and now upholds all of us in this Alzheimer’s journey with Mom.

“When my world is shaking, heaven stands. When my heart is breaking, I never leave your hands.”