What Alzheimer’s Cannot Do – Part 4

Alzheimer’s cannot change lifelong habits.lifestyle image

Although some routines will change as the disease progresses, many of the lifelong habits remain ingrained in the behavior of Alzheimer’s patients.

Mom has always loved to read. She goes to the Hospice sales and buys a stack of books. Then she reads the book on the top of the stack. She no longer comprehends what she reads, and she forgets that she read the top book on the stack – so she reads it again. And again. Then she takes the entire stack to another Hospice sale and buys another bunch of books so she can read the top book on the stack.

She is content as she reads because that has always been one of her habits.

She also reads her Bible every day and a page from her “Our Daily Bread” devotional book. This has always been her morning exercise, so even though comprehension is gone, she continues her devotional practice.

On Sundays, Mom dresses up for church and carries her Bible with her. She can no longer find the passages in the Bible as the order of the books is gone. But every Sunday, no matter what, she has her Bible with her and if the weather is good – she goes to church. Because that is what she has always done.

She begins every morning with coffee, a little cream, no sugar. Morning coffee begins her day. Never tea. Never hot chocolate. Always coffee. Alzheimer’s has not yet destroyed her taste buds.

Even though osteoporosis has shorted her 5’8” frame, Mom continues to demonstrate careful posture. She walks tall, her congestive heart failure causing a bit of breathlessness – but still – her shoulders back, her head erect, her poise intact.

A cartoon bubble over her head might say, “Don’t mess with me. I know who I am.”

Like many in her generation, desserts were always part of the meal, so Mom continues to love her sweets. She plays Bingo every week and often wins. With choices of candy, peanuts or trail mix – she always chooses a Snickers bar.

She cannot understand when I turn down cookies or a piece of cake on the menu at the assisted living dining hall. Sometimes, to treat Mom, I drive her to Braums for an ice cream cone.

Maybe because she has been a lifelong reader, Mom hates the television. She calls it, “The Idiot Box” and only watches the news or turns it on for some noise to break the loneliness.

These habits of life define my mother. They make her real and vulnerable and show her personality. They cement our memories of Mom and remind us that Alzheimer’s cannot steal all of who she is.

The reader, the tall woman, the lover of sweets and hater of TV – these traits characterize my mother. Alzheimer’s cannot take that away from her.

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

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.”