What Alzheimer’s Cannot Do – Part 2

Alzheimer’s cannot destroy my mother’s legacy.

She was a registered nurse – not because she loved nursing or even because she had always wanted a career in medicine. She was a nurse because that was her only choice.cross necklace

During World War 2, the war effort needed more nurses. So they put out a plea for women who might be interested (male nurses did not exist at the time). If a woman signed up to be an Army nurse, the government would pay for her training and her license.

My mother wanted to be a writer, but she had no possibility of pursuing a degree at a liberal arts college. The only way she could somehow earn a degree beyond high school was to accept the Army’s offer and become a nurse.

So that’s what she did. It was her only choice, and she made it a good choice because she worked hard all her life to care for others.

Mom finished the training, but just before she was to be sent overseas, the war ended. So she never really served as an Army nurse, but her degree served her well.

I used to watch her dress for work. White uniform (always a dress, slacks were not allowed), white hose, white shoes polished every day, the starched white hat and no jewelry except a simple wedding band.

But one day, I watched as Mom slipped a tiny cross necklace underneath her uniform.

“I thought you weren’t supposed to wear any jewelry,” I queried.

“That’s right, but I wear this next to my heart,” Mom said. “It’s a reminder of who I am.”

“What do you mean?”

“This cross reminds me I’m a Christian. It helps me remember how I should behave when a doctor yells at me, when I have to tell a family that their baby is dead or when I have to clean up someone’s poop. I am serving others because I love Jesus, and he came to earth as a servant. I am serving in his name.”

I have never forgotten that moment. It is part of Mom’s legacy, a piece of who she is.

Alzheimer’s cannot take that away.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Advertisements

How to Find a Legacy Within Alzheimer’s

Because October is my birthday month, my thoughts often center around the woman who birthed and raised me. Although Dad was a prominent faith figure in my growing up years, it was Mom who pushed me out of the birth canal and then pushed me to become who I am.Arlene Renken - nurse

She was a fighter and an extrovert, unlike the rest of us who liked to disappear within our private worlds to write, listen to music or find our energy in the beautiful solitude of the Oklahoma landscape.

Odd that I speak of Mom in the past tense, even though her brave heart still beats as she stares at the wall opposite her chair. That’s what Alzheimer’s does to a family. We say goodbye, one stage at a time, one regression after another so that when death finally releases our loved one – much of the grieving has already been done. “The Long Goodbye” is aptly titled.

Mom grew up poor, walked to high school (yes, miles away, even in the snow and rain) and wore the same two dresses until her Sunday dress became too worn for church. It was then relegated for school wear as her mother sewed a better one for the Sabbath or one of the cousins passed down a Sunday outfit that wasn’t yet worn out.

As part of her legacy, Mom was determined none of her children would ever be ashamed of their clothes or feel embarrassed because they didn’t fit in. So she learned how to sew, spread out the material on the farmhouse floor, cut, pinned and put together whatever clothes we needed to look like we had some cash in the bank.

Then she made certain that each of us understood the importance of a quality education so that we would never feel the sting of poverty. We grew up with a solid work ethic, attended college, saved our pennies and never bought anything we didn’t really need.


It was a simpler time – a beautiful segment of history, without traffic snarls, school shootings or adultery in every family tree. I miss it every day.


Mom was willing to live in an old farmhouse and fix it up gradually, learning how to wallpaper and restore old pieces of furniture. Much of our house looked like the early-attic variety, but none of us minded. It was a safe place to grow up although cold in the winter and hot in the summer. But who minded when the kitchen smelled like fresh-baked bread, the fields sprouted a golden harvest that supported us all year and the animals taught us about life and death.

As a registered nurse, Mom followed the habits of “old school” nursing. Always dressed in white, her uniform and hat starched and gleaming, her white shoes and hose the perfect accessory. In those days, no jewelry was allowed except a simple wedding band.

But Mom, always a bit of a radical, wore a cross necklace under her slip. “To remind me I’m working as a Christian,” she said. “To keep me focused on what matters when I have to clean someone’s bottom or tell a family their child just died.”

Strength of character. Rock solid faith. Those qualities are hard to imagine in the woman who now rocks back and forth and accuses strangers of stealing her digital clock.

Yet it was those very qualities that taught me how to work well even when no one is watching, how to pray my guts out, how to deal with life when it hurts by working hard and moving forward, how to fight against traditions that are based only on men’s interpretations rather than the powerful voice of God.

Even now, as I have journeyed through a faith crisis and wondered how to find a church that will accept my calling – I know Mom would understand. If I could just communicate with her, she would get that steely gleam in her eye and tell me to “Stop whining. Just get busy and do it.”

She was probably one of the first parents who envisioned the concept of giving your children roots and wings. She taught us well, then let us go and cheered us whether we succeeded or learned hard life lessons through failure.

Never demonstrative with her love, if anyone attacked her kids – they would face the wrath of a woman who knew how to struggle through the worst of life’s catastrophes and conquer them through sheer determination and grit.

No one dare beat up her kids, either emotionally or physically. She would stand tall in her 5’8” frame and declare, “One more word, and I’ll jerk a knot in you.”

So I am proud of the legacy Mom has shared with me, a strength of character that dares to question the establishment yet humbly accepts God’s will.

Even in the shadows of Alzheimer’s, I see Mom’s resolve to finish her course well, to find contentment in the every dayness of Bingo, planned meals and assigned seats during movie night.

The strong woman who raised me still exists somewhere deep within, even though the outer shell gains fragility, age spots and graying hairs.

The legacy continues. Thanks, Mom.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G Books http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

Finding Mission in a Memoir

A few weeks ago, I finished the first draft of my memoir. While I know I will add more pages – when the future unfolds itself – I feel a sense of accomplishment.

I wrote it because I wanted to leave some type of legacy for my beloved son.memoir

I wanted him to know about a time in history when we weren’t afraid to leave our houses unlocked and our cars warming up without a driver – a time when life was rich and full even without the internet and all the gadgets that control our lives today.

I wanted my son to know why I do some things – what happened in my past and how that affects me today.

And I wanted a truth-telling of our personal history so that he can someday read it and understand more of his own past.

It’s important to pass on these types of books to our children and grandchildren. The history books will not tell them how their great-great grandmother’s house smelled of green beans cooked in homemade lard.

The experts of economy will not tell this generation how we lived with cash only and saved money by buying only what we needed.

Social media will not explain how we trusted in God through tornadoes, recessions and wars.

Our children can only hear these stories from those who lived them.

I want my son to know exactly how God has faithfully taken care of us throughout the years – the miracles that have happened to keep us fed and secure with a roof over our heads.

Through the pages of my memoir, I want him to walk with me through our personal history and discover more of the miraculous within the every day.

I encourage you, my readers, to transcribe your own memoirs – to write down the stories you want your children to know about, the tales that tell your history.

Savor them as you write them. They will remind you, too, of how God has blessed you and brought you through this earthly life.

Start writing your story and you’ll be amazed, as I was, at the richness of your own history.

Someday your children and grandchildren will be grateful that you presented them with the story of their lives.

And eternity will thank you for praising God through it all.

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