Hope Struggles with a Birthday

Exfoliates quoteAll day I thought about her, my mother who lives within the shadows of Alzheimer’s Disease. Celebrating her 88th birthday without me and without any knowledge that she had survived another year.

By mid-afternoon, I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I called assisted living and asked if they could bring Mom to the desk for a phone call.

“It will be just a minute,” the nurse said. “She had such a good day.”

“Really? You helped her celebrate?”

“We partied for all the February birthdays, and your mother had such a good time with our Hawaiian theme. She wore a grass skirt.”

“What?” My mother, the dignified woman with perfect posture, who always carried herself with self-respect. Dressed in a grass skirt?

The nurse continued, “Our activities director decided on the theme. Everyone wore a lei and we had a pretend luau with island music. It was such a great idea.”

I know about activities directors and the impact of their work. Roxie, in the Reverend G books, helps each resident find some type of interest that will increase their sense of significance.

These directors walk a fine line. How do you approach these seasoned seniors who deserve honor even while they have mentally become children? How do you celebrate birthdays for the generation that survived World War 2 and the depression, then rebuilt America and sent their kids to college for the education they always wanted but couldn’t afford?

Now they fidget away their days, shuffling with a variety of walkers, forgetting their names and the children they birthed, aware only of the dinner bell when they file obediently into the dining room and eat silently, then retire to their rooms to turn up the volume on the TV and hope sleep will come soon.

“We had pineapple upside down cake,” the nurse said.

“My mother likes pecan pie. I’ve never seen her eating pineapple anything.” I could not erase the vision of my mother in a grass skirt – this woman who raised me with a no-nonsense approach and a duty-bound responsibility to always do my best and use my gifts to the utmost for God’s glory.

“Oh, here she is!” cried the nurse.

“Hello?” answered a shaky voice.

Too fragile. Not the strong tone I remembered from my visit at Christmas. “Hi, Mom. It’s me, and Caleb is here, too.” I was certain the name of her grandson would trigger a memory.


“Happy birthday, Mom.”

“Thank you. Hello?”

I ground my teeth and prayed for wisdom. “Did you have a party today?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

She was probably refusing to remember being dressed up like a perky five year-old and forced to wear a stupid grass skirt. I could do nothing to help her. I wanted to scream, but tried a different thought. “Did you have a piece of cake?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

My mother, who used to call me with hour-long conversations, asking about my writing and my work, interested in everything her grandson accomplished – now responding only in mono-syllabic words, phrases she somehow chose from the fog of a plaque-infested brain.

Surely, she would talk to her grandson. “Here’s Caleb.” I handed him the phone.

“Hi, Grandma. Happy birthday.”

“Thank you. Hello?”

“Grandma, it’s me, Caleb. How are you?”

“Hello? What?”

He looked at me, helpless. “Talk louder,” I whispered. “Maybe she can’t hear you.”

“Grandma, we love you.”


Finally, I took the phone again. “Mom, we’ll see you soon. We just wanted to tell you happy birthday and we love you.”

“Thank you. Hello.” I wondered if all the hello’s really meant good-bye.

Then she was gone, and I imagined her shuffling back to her room, not caring that she is now 88, unaware of 2016, a presidential election coming soon and spring flowers eager to burst through the crust of winter soil.

For a minute, I felt the guilt of being the long-distance caregiver assuaged. We tried to help her celebrate the day, tried to let her know we love her and miss her, wished we could be there.

But it wasn’t enough. The echoes of her voice followed me up the stairs as I hurried to my bedroom to cry.

I hate Alzheimer’s.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyhwedding - rj, ct, mom

Guest Post – Lip Reading Mom

LipReading Mom, aka  Shanna Groves, was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss after the birth of her first child. She was 27. Since then, she and her husband have added two more children who provide creative fodder for her writing. Her books include “Lip Reader” and the just-released “Confessions of a Lip Reading Mom.”    Confess_Cover_with_frame

Through her blog and speaking events, Shanna advocates for hearing loss awareness through projects such as the Lipreading Mom Captions Campaign, Show Me Your Ears, and Stop Hearing Loss Bullying. Follow Shanna’s blog at LipreadingMom.com and learn more about her other activities at ShannaGroves.com.

Q: Tell us a little about your background and how you became interested in writing.

A: My first foray into writing was in middle school when I joined the yearbook staff. One day I learned that I had won the Outstanding English Student Award for my school. A gigantic trophy and tons of writing confidence followed.

I grew up in Oklahoma and Texas and developed quite a memory for people I met and places I saw. All those memories came in handy years later when I became an aspiring novelist. Knowing how to write helped channel my feelings about living with progressive hearing loss.

Q: What led you to write “Confessions of a Lip Reading Mom?”

A: Biographies and memoirs are my favorite genre. A writing instructor once asked what was so special about my life that it warranted a book. It took eight years for my life story to materialize into “Confessions of a Lip Reading Mom.”

I had to live life, not just write about it, in order to have a story worth telling. My book is about living with hearing loss while taking care of children, living with depression, and trying to make sense out of a progressive health issue. Writing this book was my therapy. Shanna

Q: What is “Confessions of a Lip Reading Mom” about?

A: In 2001, I became a new mom to a healthy seven-pound boy. While on maternity leave, I noticed a persistent ringing inside my ears. The doctor’s diagnosis: progressive hearing loss in both ears; cause unknown. My book spans the first six years of my life as a hard-of-hearing mom.

How could I take care of my babies if I couldn’t hear their cries from the other room? Would I become completely deaf and if so, how would I communicate with my children? The doorbell’s chime, the phone ringing, and my toddler’s first words were silent.

After two years of denial, I began wearing hearing aids, but I didn’t like them. They magnified the sounds I didn’t want to hear, such as temper tantrums. Eventually, I learned to navigate the uncertain waters of hearing loss.

I became an online hearing loss community advocate, known as Lipreading Mom. This wasn’t my lifelong plan, but it is something I have come to embrace. Besides being a wife and mom, I believe my purpose on earth is to tell this story.

Q: Where can readers find your book?

A: “Confessions of a Lip Reading Mom” is available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle, as well as my publisher’s website: www.CrossRiverMedia.com.

Shanna’s contact info includes: Email sgrovesuss@msn.com Twitter www.Twitter.com/LipreadingMom Facebook www.Facebook.com/AuthorShannaGroves