Hope Within a Stalled Memory

Our family has suffered a tragedy, and we are all trying to process it.

Last week, a favorite cousin suddenly had a cardiac arrest. No warning. Nothing wrong with her heart.

Madeleine (a pseudonym to protect her privacy) was only 54 and in good health. She was bright, beautiful, a wonderful person with everything to live for.

The paramedics worked tirelessly for 40 minutes and shocked her heart multiple times. Finally, Madeleine began to breath again. But the damage to her brain was extensive. She was basically gone.

As the news traveled via text throughout family around the nation, we prayed. Grieved. Believed for a miracle. Tried to make sense of it.

The double tragedy was that Madeleine’s mother, Clare (also a pseudonym) is a favorite auntie. Across the miles, we all felt the emotional slam.

Madeleine and Clare were a team: business partners, besties, always there for each other. We connected them together. “Clare and Madeleine will be at the wedding.”

“Clare and Madeleine made it to the top honors of their corporation – again. They continue to be Number One in all categories.”

“Clare and Madeleine have started a side business. They are so much fun.”

And they were. Both believers in staying positive and sharing a laugh each day. Both settled in the arid Southwest to avoid the humidity and colder temps of the Midwest. Both tall and graceful, expansive huggers and accepting of all our flaws.

Always together.

Yet now … Clare was left to wait in the ICU as her daughter struggled to breathe. Organ donors waited in line. Doctors shook their heads.

The “Why” question bobbed near the surface.

How could we pray? “God, save her life. But not as a vegetable. She wouldn’t want that. Oh, God oh God oh God.”

How could we let Madeleine go and how could Clare survive without her?

Across the miles and without the benefit of a cell phone or any direct communication, my mother sat in the nursing home. Her brain cells not connecting at the age of 93, muddled by the plaque of Alzheimer’s.

Yet when my sister visited her during this tragic week, Mom held a greeting card from Clare. Spoke no words. Just held it.

Did she sense her sister and niece were tangled in a traumatic battle? Did the Alzheimer’s plaque somehow lift so the emotions of Mom’s heart clearly sailed through?

Was my mother on some higher plane, breathing her own prayers for some sort of miracle?

And the miracle did come. Not the one we wanted, but the miracle of a soul released from the confines of this earth to find its forever home.

At the age of 54, Madeleine stopped breathing and joined her dad, her grandparents, my dad in that glorious place where spiritual hearts beat together. Where love reigns. Where death never enters.

And we are left with a bittersweet answer to our prayers. Grateful Madeleine is free yet shattered for the grief Clare suffers.

The veil between earth and heaven, between earthly life and forever life, is thin. We sometimes glimpse a taste of it as faith and hope merge.

Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.

Yet hope continues somehow in the stalled memory of my mother’s brain. She holds a greeting card. She cherishes her family somewhere in her deprived days. She whispers prayers only God can hear.

And we all look forward to the day when Alzheimer’s will be defeated, death will be conquered and good-bye will no longer be spoken.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Finding How to Love Mom

During a recent visit to Mom’s assisted living facility, I thought again about the five love languages. greeting card

In his book, Gary Chapman explains the love languages as: touch, gifts, quality time, acts of service and affirming words. When we know the love languages of those around us, we can better relate to them.

As I grew up, I never considered the love languages of my parents. But now that Mom is walking through the shadows of Alzheimer’s, I am looking for various ways to communicate with her.

    Finding her love language is one of my attempts to somehow make a connection with this woman I call Mom.

Gifts are definitely not Mom’s love language. When someone gives her something, she loses it and then accuses someone of stealing it. And even when she wins a Snickers bar at Bingo, she immediately gives it away. Her life no longer exists in possessions, so gifts are not Mom’s love language.

Touch has never been an important part of our family life. Although Mom will receive my hugs, she never initiates them. Touch does not work as a love language for my mother.

Affirming words might be slightly closer for Mom’s love language, but not for long. If I say anything nice to her, “Your hair looks really nice today, Mom.” Or “That color of lavender looks so good against your white hair,” she says thank you and then changes the subject. Or she gives me one of those looks that means, “You’re kidding, right?”

Acts of service. My family has always stressed a strong work ethic. We work hard, and we work for others as much as for ourselves. But performing an act of service for my mom would be empty and wasted energy. She would turn it around and want to do something in return for me.

Besides, what act of service could I do for her? Her laundry is taken care of at the facility. Someone else cooks her meals and serves them to her on beautiful plates. She walks to the salon to have her hair fixed. Her needs are all met.

The only love language that remains is quality time. This is the one way I can show her love, spending time with her whenever I can. Quality time means sitting in her apartment and answering the same questions over and over without becoming grumpy about it.

It means looking through the cards she has received and talking about the senders of those cards – old friends and new friends, relatives and church members.

It means walking around the pond with her and stopping frequently so that she can catch her breath. It means carving some time into a weekend and sitting with Mom even if neither of us has anything to say.

Loving Mom now means just spending time with her. And I’m glad to do it – while I can – before our time together finally ends.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Forgetting Mom

What a crazy week!

I worked at the day job 10-12 hours, rushed home to water the flowers before they bent their sad little heads and shriveled up, exercised a bit, ate a few bites – then sat down at the computer to write, fell into bed and did it all over again the next day.

You know the routine.

But this was a different week, because I forgot Mom.

Each week, I send Mom a card. I go to the Dollar Tree and buy cards for 50 cents – fun cards with little animals or happy faces – usually in the kid’s section.

Then I go home and write a little something to Mom about my work or about her grandson in college. I pray over the card, ask God to help my mother through another day of Alzheimer’s and stamp it for mailing the next day.

As the long distance caregiver in the family, this is my weekly attempt to assuage the almost daily guilt I feel because I can’t be there for Mom. I send a card and hope that somehow through the miles, she will hear my love and know how sorry I am that I can’t do more.

But last week – with all the extra activities – I forgot to send the card. greeting card

I romped along in my busy life, helped several women with their issues, coached some clients, wrote a blog post, spoke at a church event, worked on my novel – and totally forgot about Mom’s card.

Guilt sandwiched between two slabs of more guilt.

On one side of my heart, I know it doesn’t matter. Mom never remembers that I send cards and sometimes – even with my signature scrawled on the bottom – she tells people that my cards are from her sister.

But even if she can’t remember, I need her to receive my cards and to know that I care. I need it because even if she doesn’t care about the cards, I do.

And yes – I know I will someday deal with the guilt, when life isn’t so crazy – I’ll grieve my way through it and write pages in my journal or enough of these blog posts to somehow bandage the grief.

In the meantime, I’ll send another card – right now – and hope Mom will open it in a couple of days, laugh at the graphic on the front and tell somebody, “This is from my daughter in Kansas.”

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