Finding Hope at Christmas

Especially at Christmas, caregivers and families feel the sting of Alzheimer’s and dementia. We hang ornaments and remember past Decembers when our loved ones decorated the tree, sang Christmas carols and laughed while opening presents.christmas_baubles_and_candles

Smells from the kitchen spike memories of Christmas cookies, cinnamon and nutmeg, that special family recipe for peppernuts.

Yet now – everything has changed. Our loved one sits quietly in a chair, unaware of smells and colorful lights, breathing in and out, communicating with no one.

It is the passage of time and the ache of what this disease can do.

Somehow, we must look for joy by searching for its source.

Think back on Christmases past and be grateful for the memories and the legacy preserved within family.

Treasure the presence of your loved one, even though he or she seems mentally far away.

Remember that Christmas is about a baby in a manger who became the Savior on the cross. Someday, in eternity, all Alzheimer’s genes will be nonexistent. No disease there. No memory loss. No sadness.

Be grateful for these moments together, because you, too, are creating a legacy for the generations to come.

Sing a Christmas carol together. Music connections are the last part of the brain to die. You can still communicate with your loved one through music.

With all the excitement and chaos of opening presents, be alert for anxiety in your loved one. He or she may need to return to assisted living long before all the Christmas activities are finished.

Find your own joy in being with family. Each day is a gift. Each time we get together, we make memories. Even if the day is difficult for you, treasure it.

Several years ago, my sister Kris – who is a talented poet – wrote these words:

            “While striding on life’s pathway, fill up your days with cheer

Just laugh at rainbows, small or great, to banish every fear.

Hold tight to what life offers, content with all you do

For all adventures help create the treasure that is you.”

Remember that seasons end, and the season of Alzheimer’s will also end with the death of your loved one. So try to enjoy your time together and know that somewhere deep inside, Mom or Dad, Sister or Brother dearly loves you and wishes you a Merry Christmas.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books




Hope Wrapped in a Tree

I didn’t get the tree, even though I prayed hard and believed it would be mine.

Several years ago, I participated in one of those home tours where beautiful and historic houses are decorated by members of the Junior Service League as a fund-raising activity.

One of the houses sent me into covet mode. From the moment I entered, I knew this was my kind of house. In fact, I knew the owners. They were members of my church – the perfect family, the perfect couple. Tall, thin and both of them professors at the local college. I envied not only their house, but also their life together. I wanted my life to be that content, and I desperately wanted to live in their house.

I know – we’re not supposed to covet our neighbor’s house. But on that particular Christmas season, I did it anyway.

The entrance opened into a large living room – on the right, a Mission style staircase leading to the upper floor which had one entire wall of bookshelves filled with all sorts of books.

To the left of the living room stood a grand piano – one of my life-long dreams. The master bedroom had its own fireplace and an expansive window that opened to the back forested area filled with various Kansas-style trees and salt licks for the deer.

To the right of the staircase lay the room I coveted most – a study with a desk, windows on the north and the east, the perfect place to write. I could see myself writing there – actually envisioned myself at that desk, watching the morning sunrise turn from pink to coral to turquoise as I pecked away on my laptop. A love seat perched against the opposite wall, a place to sit and edit and think about the next chapter. Oh, my!

Off the study was an incredible kitchen / dining area / family room with a massive stone fireplace and a mantel that held all the stockings for this happy family. A mudroom led to the garage area, but on the west side – patio doors opened onto the deck.

Then I saw the tree. The owners cut down a small pine and loaded it with bird seed ornaments and treats for outside treesquirrels and deer. Such a beautiful way to celebrate the outdoors and feed God’s creatures, and I vowed to myself that someday I would do the same – erect an outdoor Christmas tree for the animals.

So when I entered a bookstore that was liquidating its assets and saw the metal spiral Christmas tree – I knew it was mine. Finally, I would put a tree on my deck and fill it with bird seed ornaments, bread crumb stars and peanut butter-slathered bagels for all the little animals.

But at $40, it was too expensive. I asked the owner, “Would you possibly take $20?”

“No, because I’m trying to make as much as possible on this liquidation. But come back closer to Christmas and we’ll talk again.”

So I went home, made plans for that tree and prayed. I knew it was supposed to be mine. I felt joy and anticipation as I imagined it on my deck. It gave me hope that even though I did not have the perfect happy family nor that beautiful house with the grand piano or the absolutely wonderful writing study – I could at least have the tree outside.

So I went back this week, to negotiate again with the owner and discovered that the tree was gone. Someone paid the full price and took it away. I drove home dejected, crying through the blur of Christmas lights.

But God said, “Don’t give up.”

“What does that mean, God? The tree is gone. It was perfect and there aren’t any others. What do you mean, ‘Don’t give up?’”

I think he meant that hope isn’t just centered on a replica of a dream, on a metal tree that represents somebody else’s life. Hope is focused on the actual dream and on living the life of that dream.

Maybe there is another tree somewhere for my outdoor friends and a house in the country with the perfect writing study, a grand piano and a wall of books. Maybe there is another life for me that includes happiness, peace and love.

I will leave it up to God and stay in hope, because that is the best place to be.