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

 

 

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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.

“Hello?”

“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.”

“Hello?”

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

What Alzheimer’s Cannot Do – Part 6

Alzheimer’s cannot destroy faith.Praying_Hands

During a Thanksgiving weekend several years ago, I visited Mom at the assisted living facility. It was Sunday and per her usual practice, she wanted to go to church.

So she dressed up, picked up her Bible and we walked down the hall toward the dining room. A visiting pastor had volunteered to preach a brief sermon and lead these elderly saints in worship.

The room was filled with Alzheimer’s and dementia residents in various stages of the disease – beautiful shades of white and gray hair, curly perms and a few shining bald heads of the rare men in the crowd.

The pastor kept his words brief, then we sang some of the favorite hymns: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Amazing Grace,” “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Most of the residents hummed along, some fell asleep, a few still knew some of the words. I sang lustily, my mezzo soprano blending with the bass of the pastor. My mother remembered some of the lyrics and hummed through the rest.

Then the pastor said, “Please join me as we all recite Psalm 23.”

I thought, You must be kidding, buddy. These people can’t recite a passage of Scripture. They can barely remember their names.

But they surprised me.

I watched them and listened as around the room – every single resident recited word for word the precious Shepherd’s Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”

The King James version, with none of them missing a beat.

“He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.”

How many of them prayed that God would restore their lives, do a miracle in their bodies and release them from this disease, this long and tragic goodbye?

“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

A righteous life includes reading the word of God and hiding those words in their hearts so that when the end of life comes, when those final years flip over onto the calendar, these residents would hang on to what really matters.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

These saints understood the Psalm better than I because they live within that valley. I could see it in their eyes, in the faces accessorized with wisdom-carrying wrinkles. They knew this valley and only God could help them walk through it unafraid. And they believed he would comfort them along the way and never leave them alone.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”

Food no longer provided comfort because the appetite was gone, the taste buds had forgotten a favorite flavor or the joy of family meals. Yet smiles surfaced around the group – maybe a dim remembrance of God’s anointing on a life, the cup of joy that once ran over and now waited for its fulfillment.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

My mother, her voice clear, her eyes bright – solid in her faith and waiting for her timeline to end.

Each one of them in the room, recited what they believed. I could not speak. Tears choked me as I realized there’s a place deep within us, a sanctuary of the soul that cannot be stolen by whatever is happening in the brain.

Alzheimer’s cannot and will never destroy faith.

Amen and amen.

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

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

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/

Hope Respects the Alzheimer’s Patient

The blog post for this week was already written, edited and almost scheduled.Alz lady - nurse

Then I had second thoughts.

It was a post about my mother and shared one of the family secrets she told me years ago. I felt it was a great post, and I hoped it would interest my followers as well as give them insights into the life of my mother.

But somehow – I couldn’t post it.

Mom is an extrovert but she has also been a rather private person, hiding her secrets in a sacred soul place. That’s what women in her demographic learned to do.

Never would she have shared her life via social media nor would she want me to do that by proxy for her. I understand. Further, I respect that piece of her personality and choose to keep aspects of her life – and ultimately my family’s life – private.

I know some of the secrets because I snooped in her hope chest years ago and read the beautiful love letters my parents wrote to each other.

Other secrets were told to me by caring and not-so-caring relatives while my instincts picked up on some of the more private stories. When I asked Mom to explain these missing pieces of history, she pursed her lips and changed the subject.

Off limits – even though I am family.


So just because I am a writer, that does not give me license to share with the world all about my mother’s life.


I will say simply that she lived life well. She raised three children and loved her husband with all her heart. She served as a nurse, made sure each of us checked out books from the library each week and inspected our ears after bath time.

And because I respect her and the life she lived, I will keep her secrets in that sacred place of my own soul – a pact between us that no one else needs to know.

I love you, Mom.

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

Hope Returns with a Bossy Mom

Several weeks ago, I drove to Oklahoma and spent an afternoon with Mom. For the first time in months, she was fairly lucid, bossing me, like her old self.heart - sunset

We took a walk around the perimeter of the assisted living facility, discussed the geese who sometimes fly onto the pond for a drink or goose fellowship – whatever geese do.

Mom remarked how nice the facility is and how glad she is to live there – a reversal of the attitude she sometimes displays when she demands, “Why am I here? Why did you kids do this to me?”

Heartache piled upon guilt.

But on this day, she seemed grateful, and I saw in her the personality I grew up with – the bossy Mom who made sure her kids read at least seven books each week, practiced their musical instruments and worked hard to complete their chores and finish their homework.

Suddenly, we were transported decades back as Mom became herself:

“You need to hem up those pants you’re wearing. They’re dragging on the ground.”

“I did hem them, Mom.”

“Well, you need to do it again – another inch at least.”

“Okay, Mom. When I get home.”

Then we walked to the dining room. Mom instructed me where to sit. “Grab that chair over there. Someone else will sit beside me.”

As the meal was served, Mom worried that I wasn’t eating. “How come you don’t have a plate? Do you want me to order one for you?”

“No. I stopped at Braum’s two hours ago. I’m not hungry.”

“Well, you’ll be hungry by morning. Do you want a cookie? I’ll get you a cookie.”

“No, thanks. I eat gluten free.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m allergic to wheat.”

“Well, that can’t be right. You grew up on a wheat farm and we had bread for every meal.”

“Exactly. That’s why I have an allergy to wheat.”

“Are you sure you don’t want a cookie?”

The nurturing of children continues into old age, even when the brain is infected with Alzheimer’s plaque. A mother longs to feed her children, to make sure they are never hungry, even if they’re just visiting, even if they’ve just eaten.

After the meal, we walked back to Mom’s room. “Do you want to watch the idiot box?” (Mom’s description for the TV).

“No. I’ll just sit here with you or read a book.”

“Yeah. There’s nothing on but junk anyway.” We sat in silence for a while, then suddenly – Mom looked at me, her glasses slightly askew. “Are you dating?”

“No. I’m pretty busy.”

“Well, you should be dating someone. I don’t understand why some wonderful man hasn’t snatched you up.”

It was the nicest compliment she has paid me in years. My throat began to fill with the tears of missing my mom, of not being able to call her and discuss my latest book, of no longer sharing a shopping trip or the latest crochet pattern or the encouragement of a Psalm.

“Thanks, Mom. That’s nice.”

“Well, I’m just askin’.”

For a few hours on a hot July afternoon, Mom and I connected on a level long past. She was again the bossy Mom, demanding answers and commanding me in directions she wanted me to take.

Once again, I was the daughter and our roles were clear, not reversed or confused in the dynamics of what Alzheimer’s does to families.

And for a few hours, we sat together in peace, two women – still joined by an emotional umbilical cord.

It was sweet. I know that may never happen again.

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