Hope Defeats the Toxic

When it happens, it feels like a gift, a treasure to be guarded. Sometimes, I can read faces.

This gifting started during a time when I worked for a nonprofit which helped women who had been abused. All sorts of abuse at different times in their lives. Their faces mirrored the pain, horror and sadness. Or the relief when they found freedom.

Then I started to read other faces: the checker at Target, the harried doctor, the librarian trying to help multiple children at the same time.

Some of the faces reflected frustration while others showed a splash of joy. All of them taught me to be more aware of the hidden waves of emotion we all experience.

In the past few years, I’ve noticed a different type of reading in the faces of those who suffer. It became apparent when one of my dear clients suffered through a double mastectomy, months of radiation and brutal chemo. She beat the cancer but lost all her hair and much of her muscle tone.

But her face. Oh, my — her face. No hair of any kind, including eyelashes and eyebrows. It was completely clean of any type of subterfuge yet carried the sheen of a soul that had been detoxified. The suffering rubbed her raw so that her faith could then heal the wounds.

A glorified face forged from patience and the need for daily trust.

I saw that same type of face a few weeks ago. Another client suffering through cancer and the painful injections that are supposed to cure it. Weeks and months and days of discouragement and struggle, yet placing her trust in whatever God has for her.

A constant goal — to not waste the suffering.

We took a picture together, and I noticed the difference. Her face glorified and peaceful. Mine darker and not so serene.

I do not envy her suffering, but I covet the strength of her faith.

Quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada once said that the truly disabled are those who do not suffer, those who have a smaller God because they do not need him as much.

When every moment is painful, those who suffer must ask for God’s strength throughout the day. He is bigger to them and dearer, because they need him more.

Hope teaches us that the circumstances of life may not be what we hoped for. Our dreams may have died through our own mistakes or what others have done to us. Disease and death are byproducts of our world.

Yet if we keep our hope centered on the One true God, we can find a purpose in the pain. And we can grow to glorify this God who loves us enough to let us suffer.

Then our lives and even our faces can become mirrors of reflection for all to see. As the toxicity of sin fades and the sheen of God’s love takes over.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays on hope, check out Hope Shines. Available in regular and large print.

Grieving in Small Steps

Recently, I met a woman whose son died in a tragic car accident. One minute he was alive with plans for a wonderful future. The next minute, he was lying in a coffin. A terrible event with intense grief.

For families with loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s, the grief comes in small steps. We know the end of the story and while we don’t have any idea what day our loved one will graduate to heaven – we do know the end will come.

But the grief may not be as intense, all at one time, as it was for the mother I met.

Alzheimer’s grief comes and goes with each regression into the disease. This is one reason why it is called, “The Long Good-bye.”

With my mom, the most intense grief happened at the initial diagnosis. Because our family lived through Dad’s dementia, we had an idea of what we faced with Mom. Once that MRI came back with its definitive image, we faced the truth about Mom’s future.

My first grief reaction was actually anger. How unfair that my mother should have to be sentenced to this horrible disease. Then came the sadness, a piece at a time: when she could no longer find her pots and pans in the kitchen, when she forgot to eat, when we had to make the decision to put her into assisted living.

I know what some of the next steps of grief will be: when Mom forgets who I am, when she crosses that line of communication where she no longer speaks, when we have to move her into the nursing home area of the building.

As horrible as it sounds, for caregivers that final grief is actually a release. When our loved one finally graduates to heaven and we know their minds are suddenly clear, we’re happy for them. Our day-to-day sadness turns to joy because we know the sounds of the long good-bye have finally been silenced.

Grief is difficult, no matter how it happens – whether in an intense moment or in bit and pieces. None of us grieves in the same way and no one can tell us how to do it well. We have to find our way through that tunnel alone.

But one thing we do know – all of us at one time or another will grieve. We will feel the emotions of loss whether it’s from death, unemployment or the end of a dream.

The trick is to somehow find hope in the midst of that unraveling of emotions and be grateful for the life our loved ones have lived.

Grief means we have experienced love and whether it comes all at once or in small steps – abiding in love  restores hope.

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

Long Distance Caregiving – Emotional Dynamics

Living with Alzheimers and/or dementia causes a host of emotions—especially for caregivers.hands heart

Mom’s emotions aren’t that difficult. She lives in a contented land where all she has to worry about is where she put her teeth during the night and can she find her underwear the next day. Even then, somebody helps her with those questions.

But for the rest of us—whew boy! Until I entered this journey with my siblings, I had no idea of the emotions that might swirl around us.

As the LDC, there is of course, the emotion of guilt. But it is a false guilt, a self-condemnation because I can’t be in Oklahoma all the time, helping with Mom.

At the same time, I’m glad for my life in Kansas and the work I do. I’m proud of the ministry and the incredible women I help as well as my growing coaching practice and my writing life.

Guilt raises its ugly head whenever something happens, and I’m too far away to help. Then when I visit Mom, guilt rides home with me because I can drive away and my siblings can’t.

Another emotion that affects us is grief. One possible advantage of dealing with Alzheimers is that we grieve little by little rather than in one traumatic explosion. With each change and every increase in confusion, with each memory lapse, we grieve a little more.

We understand that these lapses will grow in frequency until Mom no longer knows who we are.

We also know that some day, Mom will stop breathing and this horrid journey will be over. So we don’t have to deal with a terrible shock of a tragic death. Mom dies a little bit every day, right in front of us.

Each time I drive to Oklahoma and then back to Kansas, it takes about 10 days to process my emotions, journal about them and return to some place of normalcy. I can only imagine the emotional toll on my siblings.

I don’t know if the emotions will ever ease, or if we’ll just grow in the need for more grace.

But that’s why it’s important that caregivers take care of ourselves—whether we’re right in the thick of it or dealing with it long distance.

Emotions can tear us apart or make us stronger. I hope to finish well.