Hope’s Introduction

This blog began as therapy for the Alzheimer’s journey in our family. Then it slowly morphed into more posts about hope.

But how did it all begin? What was the impetus for sharing my words in cyberspace?

The thief first appeared as a slight blip on the memory screen. A word forgotten, a key chain misplaced. We laughed — at first.

Then more and more items were misplaced, numerous words forgotten until finally our parents’ identities disappeared.

We no longer laughed. Instead, we sought out doctors and resources — someone who would tell us why Mom acted so strangely, why Dad could no longer drive.

Then the dreaded diagnosis: dementia for Dad, Alzheimer’s for Mom. The Long Good-bye.

The memory thief smirked. He had completed his work and left us bereft.

Sometimes our precious ones forget. Eventually, they no longer remember those they have birthed and raised.

Dad was a gentle man, a Mennonite farmer who lifted hay bales all day and threw them into a truck, then spent the evening softly strumming his guitar.

Henry, often called Hank, was soft-spoken and so introverted that when he prayed or gave advice — everyone listened intently.

How I wish I would have written down more of his wisdom before he became forever silent.

He was a man of faith, with a history of athleticism. A triathlete who was scouted by the Yankees and became a basketball legend at Phillips University in his hometown: Enid, Oklahoma.

Yet not even his faith nor years of exercise and outdoor living could save him from the memory thief.

Like a good farmer, he took care of the land and his home. One November day, a fire threatened to destroy the farmhouse.

He beat out the flames until he was sure everything was safe, then stumbled outside to gulp fresh air.

That’s where Mom found him, with his shirt hanging off his chest, deadly burns all over his body.

After four months in the hospital, several surgeries, daily debreeding sessions, graftings, sleepless nights, scars that roiled our stomachs, the acrid stench of putrified flesh — Dad was finally released.

He returned home, unable to remember how the tractor made ruts in the plowed field or how to create chords on his guitar, why the cows didn’t come home without the gentle farmer calling them in.

Trauma-induced dementia,” the doctors said. “Keep him at home as long as you can, but be prepared for a difficult journey.”

Mom, the nurse, retired from her job. They moved from the farm to town, into a house that could accommodate a wheelchair, if needed.

“I’ll never put him in a nursing home,” Mom said. She became his caregiver, daily, monthly, for ten long years.

My sister moved home to help. Together they fed him, bathed him, rolled him over when he graduated to the hospital bed.

The silencing of his wise advice cut deeply into our lives, and my heart ached when I visited.

We connected through music, so I sang to him. A spark would kindle in his eyes, especially for his favorite hymn, “Blessed Assurance.”

Then one April, when the spring tulips erupted into bright yellow and purple blooms, when the promise of life budded everywhere — the spark disappeared.

I knew it would not be long.

In May, he graduated to heaven. A release for all of us, especially for Dad.

      Sometimes death is a relief.

 

With her mate of 54 years buried, Mom devoted herself to volunteer work. She served meals to the hungry and counted Bingo cards at the nursing home.

One Thanksgiving, she said, “I’m so glad I’m not in a nursing home — yet.”

I wondered later if she had a premonition.

She began to misplace the pots and pans. She safety-pinned her house keys to the waistband of her pants, just in case she forgot how to get back into the house. She parked her car in the same spot at the grocery store so she could find it when she came out.

She coped so well, it took us a while to figure out something was drastically wrong.

Then fainting spells, hard falls, congestive heart failure and a pacemaker. The doctor said, “She can’t live independently anymore. Alzheimer’s and an inoperable benign brain tumor.”

We had already contracted with a beautiful assisted living facility. But she fought us. “Why are you putting me here? There’s nothing wrong with me.”

We lied and hated it. “It’s only for a little while, Mom. Rehab after your pacemaker surgery. The doctor ordered it.”

A partial truth is still a lie.

She lived in assisted living for eight years and now has graduated to the Alzheimer’s wing. Confusion deepens. No more fun trips to the mall with her best friend. No more biscuits and gravy at Braum’s. No more crocheted projects.

She sits quietly in her chair, often in the dark, pretending to read. Not comprehending the words.

Sometimes they forget and sometimes life forces them to forget.

No matter what the situation or the health issue, caregivers are left to figure out a new normal — to search for hope and continue to love while dealing with this brutal disease.

We can find hope in the Long Goodbye. We learn patience and strive for joy. We treasure each moment we can still hold a hand, sing a hymn or stroke a forehead.

Sometimes they forget, but as long as we remember — their legacies continue.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above excerpt is from my book Sometimes They Forget, available on Amazon and Kindle.

When Hope Lives in Third Person

The inevitable happened. I just wasn’t ready for it – yet.

This summer of 2017 seems rampant with the unexpected.piano keys

A visit with my mother in assisted living and BAM – another unavoidable side effect of Alzheimer’s Disease.

She no longer knew me.

“Hi, kiddo,” her greeting for everyone who enters her room.

As we started talking, I knew the connection had failed. I was being addressed in third person.

“My oldest daughter lives in Saint Louis,” she said. “She works there. I forget what she does.”

“I’m a writer, Mom. And it’s Kansas City – not Saint Louis.”

No response. No affirmation. Just a tilt of her head and a puzzled look. “Who are you married to now?”

Now? As if I’ve been married several times with a revolving door for relationships. Who am I in her plaque-infested brain? Okay. I can play this game. Mom will forget this conversation five seconds after I leave.

“Who are you married to now?”

“Colin Firth.” Might as well make it good.

“Oh. Does he treat you right?”

“Yes. He’s the best.”

“Does he know how to use the litter box?” Somehow Mom switched from Colin to cats.

“Uhm – yes. He’s British and they’re trained to properly use the litter box.”

Before we could continue this ridiculous conversation, Mom was called to the dining room for supper. I decided to sit at her table, even if she didn’t know me.

She introduced me to the rest of the residents, “This is my company.”

Company – a safe term. No connection. No relationship.

A sweet lady on my left asked, “Do you play piano? Could you play my favorite song?”

I wondered if she asked everyone that question or did she somehow assume that I knew how to play. She adjusted her walker and I followed her to the piano. “Please play ‘There’s Something About That Name’,” she said with a slight catch in her throat.

Give this lady some joy and play her favorite song. Maybe it will help erase the fact that my mother is unaware of who I am, carefully spooning into her chili and cornbread mixture.

So I started playing the song, then joined in a decent duet, singing with my new friend. We segued into “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “Amazing Grace.”

From the other side of the room, I watched Mom rest her chin on her hands, her face a beatific spread of happiness – enjoying the music. Did she suddenly remember all the years of piano lessons, as she sacrificed time and money so I could learn what she had always longed to do?

I wanted to memorize her face, to never forget the contentment reflected there – not certain I would ever see it again.

Thank you, Mom, for making piano lessons possible for me. I’m giving joy to this unknown woman beside me, but I’m playing for you, Mom – the daughter you no longer know.

The mini-concert ended and I returned to Mom’s table. Another woman asked her, “Is this your daughter?”

Mom just shrugged.

We walked back to her room, and I kissed her goodbye. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Okay,” she said, already punching the TV remote, oblivious as to what “soon” means. It will be months before I make the trip back to Oklahoma from Kansas City.

Not Saint Louis. Not so soon.

And when I return, will a blip of memory reappear? Or is the knowledge of who I am gone forever?

Have I mentioned how much I hate Alzheimer’s?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author and Writing Coach

Sometimes They Forget

 

How does a family deal with caregiving 24/7? What does the Long Good-bye involve and what are some practical tips for dealing with it? “Sometimes They Forget” helps us find hope as caregivers in the Alzheimer’s Journey. Order your copy here. 

 

Hope Fills in the Gaps

Stuck. Between the third and fourth chapter of the gazillionth revision of my novel. Somewhere a segue exists but currently – I can’t find it.

I know it will come – somewhere over the rainbow. But the frustration of the moment calls for a break from writing and a massive piece of comfort chocolate.

AsMind the gap I reflect on life in general and writing in particular, I realize life is filled with gaps. Those years between holding a newborn and watching him walk across the stage to grasp his diploma. A quickly-passing gap. Overwhelming emotion at both ends of said gap.

The gap between the germ of an idea and holding the published book in hand. Multiple revisions and gnashing of teeth. Still stuck between chapters three and four.

But the most telling gap underscores the fragility of life – imaged perfectly in cemeteries. A name engraved on the headstone. A birth date.  A death date.

But it is the gap between those two dates that determines the legacy of that life. What occurred to that person and because of that person during that gap? How many people did she influence? How many friends did he make? Who will mourn the presence of the owner of that gap?

I bring out my journal to analyze my thoughts. Think of the people whose gap moments affected my life: parents, siblings, perhaps even ancestors who prayed for me – folks I have never met. I know them only through faded black and white photos and those headstones in the cemetery.

Teachers. Writers – oh yes – the numbers of writers who have influenced my life and also my calling to write. Innumerable.

Pilgrims within and beyond my family. My  students through the years. My clients now – how much I learn about writing from the actual process of coaching writers!

My son. The brave one who beat cancer. We celebrate every July 4th and believe the fireworks are for him.

The people I know who live with chronic pain and complain far less than I about their daily struggles. These warriors encourage my own gap-living and remind me to endure, to persevere, to grit my teeth and keep trying.

Although we celebrate births and mourn deaths, we don’t pay as much attention to the gap in between. Yet that gap is where hope exists, where it is nurtured and grows, where it expands to affect other gappers.

Perhaps we need to do more of this – to celebrate each other while we have life. To invite another gap-traveler for coffee, to toast each other and determine we will pray for each other. Maybe we need to underscore reasons for more parties, for cake and ice cream just because we love the taste of life.

Should we not celebrate with writers, artists and every day workers who persevere and heroically make it through another day?

And there it is – suddenly the segue I wanted, hiding within the paragraphs of journaling. A nugget of hope within my own gap.

This moment will not be engraved on my tombstone, “On this day in the 2017th year of our Lord, RJ Thesman figured out a way to move from chapter three to chapter four.”

But in the totality of my gap life, I believe the divine One will cheer for me. He will understand the joy I feel in moving forward with my words.

And when he reviews this life with me, he will remind me how important it was to find that segue. His whisper of “Well done” will be my trophy.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of  Sometimes They Forget and the Reverend G Trilogy

Hope Misses Mom

This is the first year I will not call her on Mother’s Day.Mom

What’s the use?

She cannot hear what I say. She will not remember it is Mother’s Day. She does not care about the passage of time.

Each day is the same as the day before. She waits in the world of Alzheimer’s where time moves backward. Clarity only occurs in the distant past.

She will remember me as a child, finishing my chores, then perched in my tree with another library book or my five-year diary.

But thankfully – although we are hundreds of miles apart, I still remember her. I have already sent the frilly card. On Sunday, I will also send my thoughts and prayers through the universe.

God, oh God, you will whisper “I love you” to her – won’t you?

This Alzheimer’s journey is such an ironic place of memory versus reality.

I could use this space to laud her for years of mothering, for practical lessons taught and for the courage she always displayed.

Appropriate adjectives for her life would include: strong, resolute, determined.

These traits still show up when she occasionally complains that someone has stolen her teeth or broken into her home.

More of the hysteria of dementia.

Since the present is so unpleasant, we have only past memories to connect us.

My sister will read my card to her. Mom may wonder at my signature. She will not fathom that who I miss is not the present mother but the one who became confidante, friend and encourager.

I am grateful her brave heart still beats. The connection still exists.

To lose a mother is to cease hearing the heartbeat that nurtured us in the womb.

To lose the one person who is eternal cheerleader, even when we both age beyond the boundaries that held us close.

So I will pray for her on Mother’s Day, knowing the eternal Abba will hold each of us close.

And I will look at her picture, miss the woman she was, even as I hope for Alzheimer’s end.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

Hope Finishes a Book

The idea began two years ago when I read “How to Blog a Book” by Nina Amir. Since that time, I have recommended Amir’s book to many of my writing clients.

The jist of her book is the process of using blog content – already written, edited and published online – to create a hard copy print book.

When I finished Amir’s book, I looked up and said, “Well, duh!

After blogging for five years, I had enough content for several books, but I wanted to focus on only one theme, one category and one idea.

The decision was easy. “Sometimes They Forget” – the collection of essays I have written about the caregiving journey through Alzheimer’s Disease.bookcoverimage-stf

This book, unlike the Reverend G trilogy, tugged at my desire for authenticity as the long-distance caregiver and forced me to dig deep – then deeper still – to reach those painful places in my soul.

I needed to record how the awful reality feels when Alzheimer’s invades a family.

From the cemetery wanderings when I visited my ancestors’ graves to the honesty of admitting how we must sometimes lie to Mom. The inclusion of holiday tips for caregivers, the seven stages of Alzheimer’s and caregiving tips I share when I speak at events – all these posts present some practical ideas for families dealing with this brutal disease.

I am hoping families just entering Stage One will feel encouraged to know others have gone before them and survived.

As I re-read my essay asking the why question, it caused me to review my faith values and underscore the truth that even if I cannot understand why God allowed this disease to enter my mother’s life, I will still trust his heart.

My goal was to finish the book before Christmas 2016, but then the Great Virus invaded. Illness interrupted my timeline.

The deadline changed with a new target date which I am pleased to announce – I WILL meet.

February 3rd is my mother’s birthday – 88 years. “Sometimes They Forget” will be released on that day and soon after – on Kindle. The book is an acknowledgement of her courage and a small way to honor her.

You, my blog followers, have encouraged me with your comments and with your appreciation of my words. I hope you will also consider this new book as a memorial to my mother and as a way to make it through your own Alzheimer’s journey – or share it with someone else.

The sub-title of “Sometimes They Forget” is “Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey.” My prayer is that hope will multiply and the ripple effect will bring some measure of peace to those families who live with the Long Good-bye.

Thank you for your support and for your prayers as this book is released on February 3rd.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

 

Hope Finds Gratitude

gratefulDuring this season, it is expected that we give thanks. Most of the time, I do the required thank you’s:

  • Food – especially the whole berry cranberry sauce
  • A roof over my head – even if it feels weird from all the decluttering I’ve done. 
  • My son and my family – of course, always

Yet this year, I want to dig deeper and find my place of gratitude within the corners of my soul – those places I hide from others.

This year, I want to be more vulnerable with my blog followers and maybe in turn – remind all of us that gratitude is more than words.

Perhaps we should consider gratitude a heart condition and thus worthy of even more reflection.

This year, I am thankful because the fragility of life on this earth became graphically personal. One night, a bullet screamed through my bedroom. One inch closer and I would be writing this from heaven instead of Kansas.

Throughout the decluttering exercise and the staging of the house, I have grown more grateful for baring the walls and clearing the floors. Some of my stuff was comfort junk, bought to fill the hole left over from a damaging relationship.

Now I am more determined to surround myself with the essentials, yet achieve balance. My writing office still needs some creative, funky stuff and I am still determined to keep my piano.

As a believer of many years, sometimes I fail to thank God for redemption. All those years ago, my childhood heart opened to the Savior of Nazareth as I ran – yes, ran – down the aisle toward salvation.

May I never forget the wonder of that moment and expressly thank God for the healing of my soul.

Even as I wait for the agent’s response, I am grateful for the opportunity to fly to Denver, stay in a beautiful hotel and pitch the book I hope will be published soon. Thank you, God, for the creativity you have gifted me with and the words that morph from heart to fingers to computer screen to the printed page.

A brief foray into my journals finds entries where I asked God questions and sometimes railed against the answers. I am grateful God lets me be honest with him and I love it when he gives me verses of scripture which may not provide the answer I want but confirms I am forever and gracefully loved.

More than ever before, I am grateful for how God has brought me through the struggles:

  • The loss of two babies
  • Abuse and assault
  • Divorce and all its protracted consequences
  • Watching my son suffer from cancer
  • Dad’s dementia and Mom’s Alzheimer’s journey

While I am not grateful FOR these particular obstacles, I am so thankful that during the struggles and in the aftermath, God has been present. Because he helped me survive, my faith has grown and perseverance has deepened.

And with these experiences in my mental backpack, I have written about realistic topics and helped coach women past the crises.

May we never take for granted how God continues to save us every day.

Because I am a life-long learner, I am still trying to grasp more of the lessons which life and God are teaching me. Thank you, blog followers, for giving me this forum to work out the kinks in my spiritual armor and find the sacred place God longs to purify.

So as we sit around the tables this Thanksgiving and dip into that whole berry cranberry sauce, let’s go deep into the reasons for gratitude.

Forever and always, let us listen hard for the divine One who longs to hear us say, “Thank you, dear Father.”

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Embraces A Stranger

country-cabinShe was introduced to me as a stranger, this woman who shared the drive to a writer’s conference.

But within five miles we connected – as women often do when they share about their broken hearts, lifelong dreams and always always – their beloved children.

We discovered a common link as women betrayed by husbands in long-term marriages where the happily-ever-after morphed into legal paperwork and the dividing of household goods – in itself a sharing of suffering.

Who gets the family albums? The china great grandmother carefully transported from the old country to America – land of the free and home of the brave.

Women freed from the shackles of toxic relationships. Women who found their brave although it took us several decades.

We saw in each other the heart hidden under years of denial and co-dependency – how we had ignored the truth because we could not manage the raw stream of reality.

We connected through the pain, but shared the lifelong dream of writing. So after we finished baring our souls, we stopped for a refill of iced tea then concentrated on the positives of life.

She – a devotional writer with a quirky sense of humor I admired. My writing – more creative fiction with the trilogy of Reverend G and blog posts such as this one.

Both of us with degrees in education. She with a lifetime of teaching and a recent retirement. My focus on ministry and teaching women how to cope.

Another connecting point – both of us mothers of sons, proud of the men they had become, blessed because we made it through those adolescent years when the larvae of manhood simultaneously made us grit our teeth and laugh into our pillows.

Since that conference, we have shared several meals and the iced tea we both love, the large version for only a dollar at McDonald’s.

Then we found another connection in our love of the country. She – blessed with several acres where she plants gardens, decorates with bird houses and roams with her loyal dogs. My life currently stuck in limbo land, living in the city yet craving for sunsets without buildings and the solace of quiet labor.

Yet with all our emotional connections, the one fiber that spans any differences and winds itself through eternity is that we love the same God. Neither of us quite understanding why he allowed us to be members of the gray divorce club, yet both of us certain we will trust him with the rest of our lives.

Hope grows when we meet other pilgrims along the road of life and discover common connections, heart stirrings and reasons to pray for each other.

Then as we embrace our eternal connection, we no longer call each other strangers but instead lock hearts as family.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh