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.

Hope Lives in Small Towns

After a recent trip to my hometown, I was struck with the functional differences between the Kansas City metro and Enid, Oklahoma.

In my hometown, most businesses close for Easter, Christmas and even Thanksgiving to allow families time together.

The majority of signs and billboards carry the graphic of either a cross or an empty tomb while the local newspaper prints the Easter story and the “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause” columns each year.

Presumably, many of their consumers actually read them.

Folks in my hometown understand the symbolism of these faith seasons and are not shy about declaring their beliefs.

In small towns, time moves slowly. Folks mosey across intersections, mosey into the stores and lollygag at anyone who has forgotten how to mosey.

In my hometown, you will probably run into relatives or the child of a co-worker or someone from your church.

If you make a new friend at the local Braums, while eating your double-dip of cappuccino chocolate chunk frozen yogurt, your conversation will likely sound like this:

“Weather treatin’ ya’ okay?”

“Yep. You?”

“Can’t complain.”

“You from here or just visitin’?”

Someone who knows my family will inevitably challenge me with the question, “When you movin’ back here to help take care of your mama?”

Folks in small towns grow loyal families to populate the town, support the schools and run the businesses. If you leave, you had better have a good reason for the abandonment. If you’re a decent person, you WILL move back and make your family happy.

Hope grows in small towns, because everyone hopes you will move back, help with Mama and increase the population by at least one.

When I visit my hometown, I pick up the Okie accent that has never completely left my tongue. I drive more slowly and don’t take chances at the yellow lights because — why hurry?

No one will give me the finger unless he is a farmer who lost several digits during harvest and now waves funny.

It is safer to stop on yellow and finish my cappuccino chocolate chunk frozen yogurt while observing everyone around me. I might see an old chum moseying across the intersection.

The Western Sizzlin’ restaurant recently closed. The entire community grieved and wondered what is this world coming to? We ate at Western Sizzlin’ not only to enjoy the amazing buffet of salads, breads and desserts but also to connect with the community.

We waved at strangers and talked about the wheat crop with friends. We enjoyed the commonalities of improving the economy of the region, tasting the fresh-from-the-oven rolls and remembering simpler times.

Although the world continues to change rapidly and who knows what tomorrow will bring, folks in small towns still trust each other. They know how to mosey their way into each other’s hearts.

Obviously, I miss small towns and the heritage they provide. I miss the folks I know and those I have not met. Their lives are simpler, purer — steeped in the values of country traditions.

These precious folks live somewhat sheltered lives, safe within their bungalows and the farm lanes they drive in their pickup trucks. They treasure family and work ethics while hanging on to the faith of their ancestors.

Although my work lies here in the metro where “Everything is up to date in Kansas City,” a weekend visit transports me back to the security of my foundations and the people who keep hope alive.

Hope shines within the treasure of a simpler life and its precious people.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my book Hope Shines, which details more of the places we can find hope.