What Alzheimer’s Cannot Do – Part 1

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. So I want to focus my posts this month on the subject of what Alzheimer’s cannot do. We know the havoc this disease can play on families and their loved ones affected by Alzheimer’s. We know what it CAN do….but what can it NOT do?

cat with glassesAlzheimer’s cannot delete my memories of Mom. So many memories, but one that seems to surface is my experience with new glasses frames.

As a freshman in high school, I was strongly affected by my peer group. At 14, I wanted to fit in and noticed the appearance of other girls in my high school – especially the popular ones. So I decided it was time for some new glasses frames.


But our family believed in conservative values and saving as much money as possible. We didn’t buy anything until we really needed it – and even then – we thought long and hard about it. If we needed something, we made it from the tools or ingredients we already owned. I knew Mom was going to be a hard sell.


When I begged her for new glasses, she said, “You don’t need different frames, just because the other kids are getting them. We don’t buy frames until you need new lenses, and your eyes are just fine.”

But after awhile, she must have grown tired of my complaints, because she decided to “make” me some new frames. The creative side of her personality suddenly exploded.

To give my new “look” some texture, Mom used a handful of rice kernels and glued them to my glasses frames. Then, to make them even more “beautiful” and noticeable, she painted them with red polish.

You can imagine how excited I was, an insecure little freshman, wearing my red rice glasses. After a couple of days listening to the snickers of kids at school, I stopped wearing them. Then I suffered with horrendous headaches.

Mom decided to take me to the optometrist – just in case – where he pronounced me ready for new lenses as well as new frames. I was overjoyed!

At my twenty-five year high school reunion, one of my classmates actually remembered the red rice glasses.

And so did I.

Alzheimer’s cannot steal that memory away.

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

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Hope Thrives at 88

When I first met Donna, stepmother of my friend, I thought she might be in her 70’s. She invited us to spend several days in her lovely apartment in Denver.Denver

During that time, Donna cooked healthy and colorful meals, she instructed us in the best ways to avoid traffic snarls and she led us in lively discussions about baseball – particularly her beloved Colorado Rockies.

Our time with her included hours of experiencing her hospitality and nurturing gifts. When we left, her hugs were genuine and warm.

So I was amazed to discover that she is 88 years old, just one year older than my mother yet in activity and stimulating conversations – decades younger.

Spending time with this wonderful woman reminded me of what no longer exists when I visit Mom.

When Mom lived independently, my visits were always a source of joy. She served my favorite foods, asked me about my work, rejoiced in my latest books or articles. She drove me to Braums – the Oklahoma version of the best-ever ice cream, hamburgers and fries.

Mom and I worshipped together, discussed politics and the importance of women staying strong and setting boundaries.

When the end of the weekend inevitably came, Mom pressed a twenty dollar bill into my hand and said, “It costs money for gas. This should help.”

Those were times of nurturing, of refreshing sleep and practical love. I always left renewed and encouraged.

Since the memory thief called Alzheimers invaded our family, Mom has not been able to nurture, to provide care or to express love as she did before.

Perhaps it is a selfish desire, but I miss those weekends with Mom and the reminder that I am still a daughter, still respected for my individual gifts yet bonded within our family’s traditions.

Alzheimer’s has ripped that nurturing experience into shreds and left me with only faded memories of shopping trips, phone calls and the desire: “I need to discuss this with Mom.”

So when Donna reintroduced that motherly hospitality into my life on one weekend in Denver, it was a bittersweet reminder of what once was possible with my mother.


If the gift of hospitality and the joy of practical love can still thrive at the age of 88, then hope continues into my own advancing years. I am encouraged that Alzheimer’s does not steal from every family.


If the kindness of a nurturing heart can extend toward a friend of a step-daughter and produce gratitude in the fresh mountain air, then the threat of old age and memory loss need not expand into fear.

Once again, I am filled with the hope that maybe when I reach my 80’s – I can still nurture my son and his family, still use my gifts of teaching, writing and service, still find joy in the beginning of every day.

Thank you, Donna, for grafting that hope back into my soul and giving me fresh impetus to march into my tomorrows with a giving mentality.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of “Final Grace for Reverend G” – http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

Stage 6 of Alzheimer’s – Back to Childhood

As told by Reverend G …

My mother came to visit me last night, and we made sugar cookies together. Then this morning, she was gone and Chris told me it was a dream.

I think he is wrong. It was too real to be a dream.

Psalm 56-3-4When I was a child, I thought like a child. Now that I am an adult with Alzheimer’s, I still think like a child. I would give anything to start my life over and be a child again – a real child – not this fake, pretend sometimes-adult-sometimes-child personhood.

Chris brushes my hair and tries to braid it, because I have forgotten how to weave the strands in and out, up and under.

My mother does the best job with my hair and tonight, I will ask her to fix it for me.

When I was a child, just yesterday I think, I wanted to stand in front of people and tell them about God. I’m not sure if I ever did that, but that boy, my son – he said I used to preach.

I hope I did it well as I cannot remember any subjects I might have preached about.

The only thing I do remember is what I am reading now in my Bible. It is from a book with a funny name, Psalms. The numbers are 56:3 and 4, “When I am afraid, I will put my confidence in you. Yes, I will trust the promises of God. And since I am trusting him, what can mere man do to me?”

The nurses do funny things to me as they bathe me and try to coax me to eat. I don’t like those little brown cookies with vanilla pudding on top. Too mushy. I like little blue rocks…some kind of berries…on top of Chunky Monkey ice cream.

But no matter what they feed me, somewhere inside me is the God I trust. And since the Bible says I don’t have to be afraid … then that’s what I will hang on to.

Even when I cannot brush my own hair, I will keep my confidence in the God I can trust. He will not let me down.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G Books – http://bit.ly/1RH27AT

Hope Finds a Memory

monuments menOne of the Christmas gifts I gave my son was a DVD of the movie, “The Monuments Men.” The movie wasn’t popular with the critics, but we thought it was great – inspirational, historical and cast with several quality actors.

Besides the plot line and the suspense, the reason I enjoyed it so much was because we made a memory together.

My son took me to the movie. When your children start taking you to movies, you realize the role reversal has begun and your offspring are indeed becoming mature human beings.

But this wasn’t just any movie. This was the Fork and Screen Cinema where you sit in complete ecstasy in chairs designed for comfort. You order from a menu of culinary delights. It’s like a dining room merges with an entertainment system and you get to enjoy it without doing the dishes.

Since I wasn’t hungry, I only ordered from the dessert menu and thoroughly enjoyed a piece of raspberry cheesecake.

With the background music, the surround sound, George Clooney as a main character and an occasional bite of cheesecake, my afternoon was complete. Plus, my beloved son sat beside me enjoying our time together.

And did I mention – watching George Clooney in living color?

When I clapped after the movie ended, it wasn’t only for the great acting, the cinematography and the feel-good ending.

I was also applauding my grown son and what a good man he has become.

As a reminder for my son, I bought the DVD and wrapped it with the hope that during some icy snowed-in day this winter, we might watch it again – to relive that historical era when a group of brave men returned art objects the Nazis stole from the Jews.

I found hope in the action of a son who experienced joy spending an afternoon with his mom, so I conclude this post with a reminder to my readers:

Sons, spend some time with your mothers this year. And mothers, treasure the memories made with your sons.

©2014 RJ Thesman – author of the Reverend G books – http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

What is the Value of a Cast-Iron Pot?

It may seem a bit premature, but we have started dividing up Mom’s things. She no longer needs a cabinet full of Tupperware containers, because she no longer lives in her house or cooks and puts away leftovers.

In one kitchen cabinet, the cast-iron pot sits like a lonely sentinel of Sunday dinners past. Every Sunday morning, Mom put a roast in that pot. It sizzled and brewed in its own juices while we learned about God at the worship service. 20140410_220251_1

When we came home, Mom took the roast out. It was magically perfect every time. She had no clue that someday Alzheimer’s would rob her of the ability to cook.

When I thought of Mom’s cast-iron pot and how it might be destined for a garage sale, I asked my sister if I could have it. It’s amazing how a kitchen item evokes so many memories. Our family sitting around the table, discussing the sermon or the music from that Sunday’s worship time.

“Wasn’t that offertory by the organist amazing?”

“I loved that choir song at the end. Marilyn hit that last note perfectly. Was it a high C?”

“What exactly did the pastor mean about free will? I don’t get that.”

Dad would explain while Mom nodded in approval. We all added to the discussion, passed the roast beef around once more and made sure the gravy lasted for the final helping of potatoes and carrots. Cherry jello melted next to the hot veggies.

After dinner, we all helped clean up. Mom, my sister and I worked on the dishes and any leftovers, hiding them in those same Tupperware containers that Mom no longer needs. My brother and my dad pushed the chairs back under the table, then settled themselves in the living room with pieces of the Sunday paper. The sounds of a football game’s broadcast echoed throughout the house.

Back in my home, I lift the cast-iron pot to my face and try to smell the pot roast. But it has been many years since it held the meat from cattle my dad fed, then butchered so his family could eat.

The smell is gone, but the soul ties to memory live on. I slide the cast-iron pot into my own cabinet, wondering if I will use it – probably never put a pot roast in it as I rarely eat beef any more. Maybe I’ll try a chicken, season it with rosemary and lay tiny shallots around the perimeter.

Will my son remember our meals together with such fondness? Will he someday hold my pots and pans and treasure special meals? I doubt it. We have such different schedules, we eat together only once a week, our Sunday ritual that is usually take-out.

Is this cast-iron pot another remnant of a generation gone that spent quality and quantity time together? The soul of my mother’s preparations, of the farmhouse kitchen, cold winters and abundant harvests ̶ the joy of being family. I miss that piece of cultural history.

Mom’s cast-iron pot is now my treasure. Maybe I’ll take it out of the cabinet and place it where I can see it often, to remind me of the love of family and the importance of every day.

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

 

 

Does God Care About Characters?

We sat around the table at the house where my critique group met. Each of us took our turn, reading our precious words and waiting for responses from the other writers.

Intermission 3D Cover-1I knew my group liked my main character – Reverend G, that feisty little minister who struggles to find her purpose within the shadows of Alzheimer’s. But what about the writing itself? What about the content, the plots and the dialogue? Did I do it well enough to intrigue my readers?

I truly wanted to know how to make the book the best it could be. Caregivers needed it to be credible and practical yet also entertaining. The readers who followed the story during Book One deserved a Book Two that would interest them, draw out humor and pathos — a belief in the story.

I wanted my readers to believe that a fictional tale might be real.

So I waited for the critique of my words with anticipation. The man of the house, who is also a writer, suddenly appeared from another room and started to climb the stairs. As if he echoed instruction from the divine source, he said, “Make the Alzheimer’s a character.”

It was one of those moments in life when you know God has sent a prophetic message through another traveler. When you not only appreciate the message but you know that message must be obeyed.

When you feel that jolt of supernatural electricity that helps you believe God is present.

And so I rewrote the book. And as I recrafted each paragraph, I saw how right it was to make the Alzheimer’s a character. I experienced with my dear Reverend G how real this disease is and how it torments the mind.

My mother lives with this disease and daily fights the fear of losing her hold on memories and people. I imagine my mother, just like Reverend G, talks back to the Alzheimer’s and fights it with every mental muscle she can summon.

How right it was to add the Alzheimer’s as an antagonist who attacks beloved Reverend G and forces her to mentally and emotionally battle with an invisible yet imperative force.

Does God care about our characters? As surely as he designs the written word and breathes its creative nuances through writers. He wants this story to be an encouragement to caregivers and to remind us all that even when memory fails, God still abides within us.

So I thank that writer for being the voice of an idea, and I thank my critique group for helping me polish the manuscript.

I also thank the Holy Spirit who birthed this series in the first place and continues to pave the way for the story of Reverend G.

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

Why Write About Alzheimer’s

Someone recently asked me, “Why write about Alzheimer’s? Isn’t that depressing? What caused you to choose that kind of story?”

"The Unraveling of Reverend G"

“The Unraveling of Reverend G”

With the second novel in the Life of Cove Creek, “Intermission for Reverend G” soon to be released, I wanted to answer those questions.

Five million Americans live within the shadows of Alzheimer’s Disease. And with the progressive live-longer-and-fight-stronger attitude of the Baby Boomers, it is likely that many more BB’s will join that statistic.

Several nonfiction books deal with the subject, but why a novel and why write it in the first person, from the brain view and heart pulse of the main character?

Because it’s unique. My marketing research found one or two books about Alzheimer’s written from the third person – as outside observers of the destruction of a life.

But hopefully, my books are different. They invite my readers into the soul of this woman who struggles with the fear of losing memories and possibly losing contact with the God she loves more than anyone else.

This series reminds us that inside each person who sometimes forgets, there is still a soul and some type of thought process. Connections may be flawed, but communication is still possible.

These books needed to be written to remind caregivers to search for hope and believe that their incredibly difficult work has eternal significance.

Reverend G asked to have a voice so that all of us can look differently at Alzheimer’s victims, to appreciate the people they once were, to love the souls they still are.

Finally, these books are a legacy to all those people who so patiently care for those who forget. They are mirrors that reflect my family – my dad who died within the shadows of dementia, my mother who fades away daily within the plaque of Alzheimer’s.

But ultimately, I wrote this series because one day I woke up with a story in my head and characters who begged to escape.

I wrote these books for you, my readers – to enjoy, to learn from and to pass on so that the next generation never forgets.

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