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.

7 Tips for Caregivers Reviewed

When life unravels into Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s important for caregivers to carry survival tools. As I speak in various venues throughout the metro and beyond, I share these survival tools.This week, I had the opportunity of sharing these tips with professionals at the Chem Council in Kansas City.

With 43 million caregivers in the U.S., I hope these tips – from the viewpoint of Reverend G – will offer hope and sanity to caregivers who choose to implement them.

Tip # 1      Talk to Me – it’s easy to ignore someone who has Alzheimer’s. Since they can’t always      respond, we sometimes forget they’re even in the room. We need to look at our loved ones, smile, communicate and talk to them

Tip # 2      Don’t Argue with Me – when memory loss or paranoia sets in, it’s easy to get into a debate. But arguing with an Alzheimer’s victim is pointless. Reverend G would remind us to ask questions instead. Questions help our loved ones figure out a solution or completely drop the subject.

Tip # 3      Keep Laughing –laughter helps keep us healthy. Many funny stories are included in “The Unraveling of Reverend G.” I included them on purpose, because we need to somehow find the humor in the situation and keep laughing.

Tip # 4      Remember the Life Story – knowing the life story of the Alzheimer’s patient helps caregivers utilize pet therapy, music and various other ways to connect. One patient used to watch the sun set with his wife, so the caregivers made sure to sit with him each evening and watch the sunset together.

Tip # 5      Take Care of Yourself – 70% of caregivers struggle with clinical depression. 20% will develop a chronic illness and may even die before the Alzheimer’s patient. Stress is a killer. It is vitally important that caregivers take vacations, utilize daycare centers, join support groups or go somewhere and have fun.

Tip # 6      Forgive Me – none of our loved ones planned to get dementia or Alzheimer’s. They hate what the disease does to us, and they never wanted to be a burden to us. Reverend G often tells her son, Jacob, “Please forgive me.”

Tip # 7      Pray – when the 36-hour day blends into the next, pray. When you need extra patience, pray. When you can’t bear watching the symptoms of this horrid disease, pray. Ask God to help your loved one through this disease and to give you the endurance you need. Pray for a cure for Alzheimer’s and medicines to reverse it.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia websites have a plethora of resources, but these seven tips come from the heart of Reverend G and are addressed within the book. In my presentations, I address each of these tips and give personal examples.

Chem Council  RJTPerhaps you’d like to hear me speak about the “7 Tips for Caregivers.” If so, let me know at rjthesman@yahoo.com.

In the meantime, keep praying.

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