Hope Pens a Letter for Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

mothers-day-1301851_1280This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I sent you a card. Hopefully, you will understand the words and remember who I am from my signature.

I wish I could be there with you, but since I can’t — please know I love you and celebrate this day with you.

I needed to write this letter as a tribute, because I am grieving at the slow disintegration of the woman you used to be.

Your Alzheimer’s journey has taught me to value each day, love fully those who are in my life and never forget to make that love known.

It wasn’t until I became a mother that I understood how much of yourself you poured into us. More than just the meals, the activities and making chicken soup when we were sick.

I’m talking about the soul-giving that mothers extend to their children.

Everyone knows about the labor you endured during my birth, but you also labored with soul contractions throughout my growing up years.

You defended me when other kids or even adults said unkind things. You taught me how to make the perfect zwieback with just the right dimple on top where melted butter could pool inside. You showed me how to sew a perfect hem so no one except the two of us could see the stitches.

When you were bone tired from working at the hospital, you came home to make supper and still made it to my activities on time. Not once did you complain.

Thank you, Mom, for the late nights when I know you were on your knees for me. You poured out your soul to Almighty God and asked him to keep me safe. But at the same time, you were willing to let me go and let God do his work in my life.

You came to the hospital when I lost my baby — your first grandchild. Even now, I remember coming out of that anesthesia-induced haze. It was your hand that gripped mine, your tears mingling salty with mine.

These days, I grip your hand and try not to cry when you repeat the same questions over and over.

Experts have written about the unique bond between mothers and daughters. We depend on each other, fill a particular emotional need no one else can touch.

You taught me to love books, drove me to the library every week so I could check them out and devour them when I finished my chores. Then you provided the perfect example as you sat under the floor lamp and read your own stack of novels, mysteries and biographies.

Although you no longer comprehend the words, you still love to read — pouring over the same book hour after hour. Another of the sad effects of this demon Alzheimer’s.

You wanted to be a writer. I’m sorry that dream did not happen for you. Instead, you nourished it in me. You always insisted I use proper grammar and that I spend extra time revising school essays.

By assigning me chores, you taught self-discipline and a strong work ethic. I use that same self-discipline to complete books and continue posting each week on this blog.

You taught me how to save money by ignoring the impulses of peer pressure. You showed me how my value lies in who I am rather than in what I own.

Ahead of your time, you taught me women should think ahead and pursue a career, manage their own money and be prepared for whatever life hands us. You said it was okay to vote differently from my friends and even worship in a style different from the norm.

You taught me to think independently, to shush the fear and step into the world with self-confidence and courage.

Oh, you weren’t perfect, Mom. None of us are. But even then, you taught me perfection is not the goal and failure is not the end.

Rather, the goal is in the attempt and in the perseverance to try again. Then if we fail, we give ourselves grace, grieve a bit and go forward once again.

So, Mom — on this weekend of remembrance when people buy flowers and send cards, I want you to know you did a good job.

You brought me into the world and gave me the freedom to discover my purpose. You encouraged me to use my gifts and showed me it was okay to be radically independent.

You labored and prayed, then feasted on my accomplishments.

Even though life has handed you this lousy disease, you’re still trying every day to put one foot before the other and learn contentment within your small room.

Above all, Mom, I thank you for being so brave and I love you for showing me how.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above excerpt is taken from Sometimes They Forget – Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey. Available on Amazon in print and Kindle.

Hope Misses Mom

This is the first year I will not call her on Mother’s Day.Mom

What’s the use?

She cannot hear what I say. She will not remember it is Mother’s Day. She does not care about the passage of time.

Each day is the same as the day before. She waits in the world of Alzheimer’s where time moves backward. Clarity only occurs in the distant past.

She will remember me as a child, finishing my chores, then perched in my tree with another library book or my five-year diary.

But thankfully – although we are hundreds of miles apart, I still remember her. I have already sent the frilly card. On Sunday, I will also send my thoughts and prayers through the universe.

God, oh God, you will whisper “I love you” to her – won’t you?

This Alzheimer’s journey is such an ironic place of memory versus reality.

I could use this space to laud her for years of mothering, for practical lessons taught and for the courage she always displayed.

Appropriate adjectives for her life would include: strong, resolute, determined.

These traits still show up when she occasionally complains that someone has stolen her teeth or broken into her home.

More of the hysteria of dementia.

Since the present is so unpleasant, we have only past memories to connect us.

My sister will read my card to her. Mom may wonder at my signature. She will not fathom that who I miss is not the present mother but the one who became confidante, friend and encourager.

I am grateful her brave heart still beats. The connection still exists.

To lose a mother is to cease hearing the heartbeat that nurtured us in the womb.

To lose the one person who is eternal cheerleader, even when we both age beyond the boundaries that held us close.

So I will pray for her on Mother’s Day, knowing the eternal Abba will hold each of us close.

And I will look at her picture, miss the woman she was, even as I hope for Alzheimer’s end.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy



Letter to Mom

Dear Mom,Arlene Renken - nurse

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I sent you a card. Hopefully, you will understand the words and remember who I am from my signature on the bottom. I wish I could be there with you, but since I can’t – please know that I love you and celebrate Mother’s Day with you.

I know you will not read this blog post, but I need to write it anyway – for me – as a tribute to you and as grief therapy for me.

Because I am grieving, Mom, at the slow disintegration of the woman you used to be. Your Alzheimer’s journey has taught me to value each day, love fully those who are in my life and never forget to make that love known.

But you are disappearing piece by fragile piece, and every time I see you – I am more aware of it.

So this letter to you, this blog post, is my way of telling you and the cyberspace world what you mean to me.

Many experts have written about the unique bond between mothers and daughters. We depend so deeply on each other, filling a particular emotional need that no one else can touch. I think you and I are especially close because we share some of the same personality traits, not to mention a love for Jamoca Chocolate anything.

You taught me how to bake bread, using our ancestors’ Mennonite recipe, but you also showed me how to test when the bread was ready. Bread dough wears a specific sheen and feel when the kneading ends and the rising begins. I can still bake bread by touch.

You also taught me how to crochet and embroider, making those tiny stitches that look great on both sides of the fabric. I make hand-woven gifts and pray a blessing over each project, asking God to touch the heart of the recipient. I think of you whenever I give something away.

By your example, you taught me to love books. We read 7-10 books/week, and I still love reading. So do you, even though you no longer comprehend the words and you read the same book over and over. To me, that is one of the saddest effects of this demon Alzheimer’s.

Do you know, Mom, that I am a published author? All those years of reading finally resulted in the birthing of my soul’s words. My novel, “The Unraveling of Reverend G” is dedicated to caregivers and many of the examples in the book come from my experiences with your Alzheimer’s and Dad’s dementia. I am hoping my words will encourage others.3D Rev G cover

You always insisted that we use proper grammar and by insisting that we do chores on the farm, you taught self-discipline and a strong work ethic. The weeds I pulled in the pecan orchard, the hours I spent milking the cow and helping during wheat harvest – those qualities also play into my writing life. In fact, today I am using self-discipline to write this blog post when I would rather be digging in my garden, planting yellow blooms with red centers. You taught me the value and joy of planting seeds that result in happiness.

I remember your fingers pulling my long hair tight and weaving it into the braids I wore every day. Your skills as a nurse helped keep me healthy, even when I hated taking medicine. You spread fabric on the floor, cut it into puzzle shapes and then sewed it into a dress – all for me.

You worked long hours so that I could attend the Christian high school of my choice and the college that offered the best education in my field without the burden of student loans that would follow me into adulthood. Thank you for that, Mom.

You taught me how to save money by ignoring the impulses of my peers. I learned that I didn’t have to look like everybody else or own the same things as my friends. You showed me that my value lay in who I am rather than in what I own or what I look like.

I never realized how totally exhausted you must have been after a day’s work. Even then, you cooked our evening meal and drove to school activities to cheer me on. Only the love of a mother enlists that type of strength.

Ahead of your time, you taught me that women should think on their own and pursue a career – just in case. That it’s okay to vote differently from your friends and even worship in a style, different from the norm. You taught me to think independently and not be afraid to step into the world with self-confidence and courage.

Oh, you weren’t perfect, Mom. None of us are. But even then, you taught me that perfection is not the goal. Perfection teaches that if we can’t always be perfect, we feel like failures.

Rather, the goal is in the attempt and in the perseverance to try again. Then, when we fail, we give ourselves grace, grieve a bit and go forward once again. It is in the attempts and the perseverance that our character grows, no matter what life throws at us.

Guess what? That quality also helped me become a published author.

So, Mom, on this weekend of remembrance when people buy flowers and send cards – I just want you to know that you did a good job.

And even though life has handed you a lousy disease, you’re still trying every day to put one foot before the other and learn contentment in your new apartment at assisted living.

Above all, Mom, I thank you for being so brave and I love you for showing me how.

©2013 RJ Thesman

5 Ways to Approach Mother’s Day – Part 5

The Mother Who Forgets

On this Mother’s Day, one woman stands in the forefront of my heart. My own mother who put up with morning sickness, adolescent questions and teenage angst so that I could grow up. This was the woman who worked extra hours to pay for my piano lessons. Although tired from a twelve-hour workday, this mother attended every recital, cheered me through every softball game and applauded every dramatic performance. Mom sewed new clothes to help me fit in with my peers. She saved from every paycheck to make sure I would graduate from college without debt. She drove me to the library each week and helped me check out stacks of books; then cheered my first published article.

This is also the woman who now forgets when I call and loses the cards I send. Alzheimer’s slowly and brutally takes my mother away from me.

During Easter weekend, I wrapped her Mother’s Day present and left it with my sister. She’ll give it to Mom, but then it will mysteriously disappear or some invisible person will steal it. One of the horrid symptoms of Alzheimer’s is paranoia, and my mother oozes with it. Mom will forget that I gave her a gift, and she will wonder why I forgot.

On Mother’s Day, I will call Mom and once again tell her that I love her. She will forget that I called, but I need to do it anyway – for my sake, if not for hers. Someday she will not be able to answer the phone. I grieve her gradual disappearance, because I know how precious it is to be a mother. I am certain that somewhere deep inside, she also hates the woman she has become.

Life changes so quickly, and every day is precious. From the desire to conceive to the longing to remember, mothers wrap themselves around our hearts. No matter how old we become, no matter how many miles separate us – that love never lets us go.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the incredible women out there – whoever you are and whatever season you are in. Treasure each day and the loved ones who surround you. Memorize their faces and cache their voices in your heart. Then pray to God that you never forget.

5 Ways to Approach Mother’s Day – Part 3

The Woman Who has Birthed a Healthy Child

This is the woman we usually think of on Mother’s Day – the woman who the holiday was designed for. Twenty-six years ago, I finally had the privilege of joining that cadre of women. On November 10, 1985, a health baby boy joined our family. For some reason, my womb suddenly healed and God gave me a child – a man child named Caleb.

“Give me this mountain,” the biblical Caleb cried. My son was named for the strong man who stood up against his culture and said, “We can take the land. God is with us.” A talented boy with musical gifts, he brought joy to our home and laughter to my soul. Shortly after his 21st birthday, we almost lost him, due to a brain tumor. But God had mercy and healed my Caleb. He bears the scars of surgery, chemo and radiation but today, he is strong at heart, working hard and growing into a fine man.

Whether through natural birth or adoption, motherhood is a treasure. I still own every card and every withered flower my son ever gave me. His pictures are posted all over the house and when the tornado sirens roar, the first thing I grab is my Mommy Picture Book. Throughout the challenges of life, the sleepless nights and the scary moments in emergency rooms, I have been honored to call Caleb my son. Nothing fulfills me as much as being a mother. Of all the titles and job positions I’ve held, my favorite title is still, “Mom.”

So how do we best honor our mothers?

  • The greeting card companies make it easy. Some of the cards Caleb has given me are framed, hanging on walls and sitting in prominent places on bookshelves.
  • Yes, flowers are always welcome or a plant that keeps growing outside and reminds us with each bloom how much we treasure our children.
  • Jewelry. I wear a bracelet Caleb gave me with silver letters that spell out, “MOM.” Upside down, it says, “WOW.”
  • The usual ideas still work: Chocolate. A Starbucks card. A gift certificate to Kohl’s or Gordman’s. Breakfast in bed. Breakfast out of bed.

A new commercial on television says it well, and I cry every time it rolls across the screen:

Tell me you’re proud of who we are

Tell me I taught you something

Tell me I did it right, even if I did it alone

Just tell me.

5 Ways to Approach Mother’s Day – Part 2

The Woman who has Lost a Child

After those six infertile years, I suddenly found myself gloriously, miraculously pregnant. I bought tiny baby clothes at garage sales and fixed up the nursery. My husband wallpapered some Disney characters on a yellow background. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs danced around the border of the room. We bought a crib and my brother repaired it to make sure the individual slats were close enough to prevent injury. An antique walnut rocker waited in the middle of the nursery, ready to rock my precious child.

Every night I prayed for my baby. So it seemed the utmost cruelty after three months when that tiny life slithered out of my womb. The spirit of my baby boy, Ryan, floated immediately to heaven. My empty arms ached. The crib stood empty. My heart broke into a million pieces.

Two years later, another pregnancy surprised everyone. I fought the morning sickness but also welcomed it. This child represented God’s makeup plan for the first loss. Again I prayed and thanked God every day. Then my little girl, Rachel, joined her brother in heaven. Again, empty arms reminded me that Mother’s Day represented a cruel joke.

How should we approach this holiday with mothers who have lost a child? Whether through miscarriage, SIDS or some other tragedy – mothers’ hearts bleed each time a child’s voice is silenced.

  • Think before you speak. The mother who has lost a child is going through the grief process. She wants to hear about your growing family, but not yet. Do not, under any circumstances, repeat a Bible verse you think this woman needs to hear. Let sympathy be your first response and silence be your watchword.
  • Wrap this woman in your arms and weep with her. A comforting hug is a thousand times better than empty words.
  • Send a sympathy card on the due date or the birthday of that child. Even now, decades later, I remember the dates when my babies traveled to heaven.
  • Send flowers. Especially with a miscarriage, no funeral and no cemetery plot offers closure. After we lost Ryan, someone gave me potted mums and again, another mum plant after Rachel died. I planted those flowers in the yard. Every year when the mums bloomed, I thought about my children. Even now, whenever I move to a new house, I buy mums and plant them as a living memorial. Whenever I prune them back or cut blooms to take inside, I ask God to take special care of my babies until I join them in heaven.
  • Bake a nice casserole and wrap it with prayer. Especially with a miscarriage, nobody offers a funeral dinner. That mother still needs to eat, and no woman wants to cook while she grieves.

After you’ve done all or any of the above, go home and hug your children.

5 Ways to Approach Mother’s Day – Part 1

As a woman who has experienced several types of dynamics on Mother’s Day, I’d like to use this forum to suggest some different approaches to our somewhat-hallowed holiday. Certainly, we need to celebrate our mothers and the incredible work they do to nurture, teach and birth the next generation. But for women in various seasons of life, Mother’s Day can be either a blessing or a curse. For example:

The Infertile Woman

For six years, I tried to conceive. Each month brought another disappointment even while I bought baby gifts for friends and attended so many baby showers I was sick of cake with blue or pink frosting. For me, Mother’s Day represented the day in which I could not share joy. Instead, it was a poignant reminder that like Hannah, Rachel and Elizabeth before me – I could not bear a child.

I hated to attend church on Mother’s Day, because the pastor or the worship leader always recognized the mothers in the congregation. He asked them to stand proudly to their feet while everyone applauded. I, too, clapped for my “sisters” and posed with a fake smile. But there I sat, in the soprano section of the choir, almost as if a spotlight centered on me – the only woman of child-bearing age not standing. I felt disgraced.

After the service, mothers were handed prepackaged gifts, usually a pretty little potted plant or a packet of wildflower seeds.  I drove home empty-handed with the question imprinted on my heart, “Why, God?” or more often, “Why not?”

So how should we approach Mother’s Day while many women in our lives cannot bear a child?

  • Send a card. Find one that says, “I’m thinking of you today” or a card with a funny sentiment such as, “When life hands you lemons, forget the lemonade. Go for the chocolate.” Or design your own card that reminds this woman she has value to Christ and significance in your life.
  • How about some flowers, a tin of homemade cookies or a Starbucks card? Any little gift that reminds the childless woman she is not forgotten.
  • Remind your church leaders to acknowledge all women on Mother’s Day, not just the ones whose ovaries work properly. Better yet, let’s not celebrate Mother’s Day in our churches, but rather let it be a private family observance.

If you’re a woman who has your quiver full of children, say a prayer of thanks. But also pray for the childless woman. She needs God’s comfort this weekend, and she needs your love.