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.

Hope Lives in Small Towns

After a recent trip to my hometown, I was struck with the functional differences between the Kansas City metro and Enid, Oklahoma.

In my hometown, most businesses close for Easter, Christmas and even Thanksgiving to allow families time together.

The majority of signs and billboards carry the graphic of either a cross or an empty tomb while the local newspaper prints the Easter story and the “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause” columns each year.

Presumably, many of their consumers actually read them.

Folks in my hometown understand the symbolism of these faith seasons and are not shy about declaring their beliefs.

In small towns, time moves slowly. Folks mosey across intersections, mosey into the stores and lollygag at anyone who has forgotten how to mosey.

In my hometown, you will probably run into relatives or the child of a co-worker or someone from your church.

If you make a new friend at the local Braums, while eating your double-dip of cappuccino chocolate chunk frozen yogurt, your conversation will likely sound like this:

“Weather treatin’ ya’ okay?”

“Yep. You?”

“Can’t complain.”

“You from here or just visitin’?”

Someone who knows my family will inevitably challenge me with the question, “When you movin’ back here to help take care of your mama?”

Folks in small towns grow loyal families to populate the town, support the schools and run the businesses. If you leave, you had better have a good reason for the abandonment. If you’re a decent person, you WILL move back and make your family happy.

Hope grows in small towns, because everyone hopes you will move back, help with Mama and increase the population by at least one.

When I visit my hometown, I pick up the Okie accent that has never completely left my tongue. I drive more slowly and don’t take chances at the yellow lights because — why hurry?

No one will give me the finger unless he is a farmer who lost several digits during harvest and now waves funny.

It is safer to stop on yellow and finish my cappuccino chocolate chunk frozen yogurt while observing everyone around me. I might see an old chum moseying across the intersection.

The Western Sizzlin’ restaurant recently closed. The entire community grieved and wondered what is this world coming to? We ate at Western Sizzlin’ not only to enjoy the amazing buffet of salads, breads and desserts but also to connect with the community.

We waved at strangers and talked about the wheat crop with friends. We enjoyed the commonalities of improving the economy of the region, tasting the fresh-from-the-oven rolls and remembering simpler times.

Although the world continues to change rapidly and who knows what tomorrow will bring, folks in small towns still trust each other. They know how to mosey their way into each other’s hearts.

Obviously, I miss small towns and the heritage they provide. I miss the folks I know and those I have not met. Their lives are simpler, purer — steeped in the values of country traditions.

These precious folks live somewhat sheltered lives, safe within their bungalows and the farm lanes they drive in their pickup trucks. They treasure family and work ethics while hanging on to the faith of their ancestors.

Although my work lies here in the metro where “Everything is up to date in Kansas City,” a weekend visit transports me back to the security of my foundations and the people who keep hope alive.

Hope shines within the treasure of a simpler life and its precious people.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my book Hope Shines, which details more of the places we can find hope.

 

Hope Forces a Rest

During November, 2017, I spent some time in Oklahoma. My sister’s left knee was replaced with a titanium joint, so she needed some company during recovery. We watched ballgames together, fed and petted the cats and spent a week doing what sisters do.

bench in winterSome days, I worked on my laptop – especially during the hours when Kris needed to rest.

A surgery – or any type of trauma – often pleads for extra resting time. We may be surprised by the lack of energy we feel during recovery, after an illness or even as a side effect of grief.

It’s important to listen to our bodies and take the extra time to rest. As we stop all busy-ness, curl up for a nap or just sit and listen to music – we invite healing.

Likewise, during our spiritual journeys. When we’ve been cut by the comments of unkind people, when we’ve been downsized out of a job, when a search for belonging ended in emptiness – we need rest.

When the soul takes a hit and emotional trauma threatens, we need to pay attention and rest. It’s vital to find those places of retreat where we can hear God whisper, spend time getting to know ourselves better and invite healing.

Examples might be:

  • Listening to a peaceful concerto
  • Coloring a new page with unusual swirls and designs
  • Journaling about whatever has forced the need to rest
  • Savoring a cup of hot chocolate while watching the first snowflakes fall
  • Just sitting and intentionally doing nothing

When we give our souls time to heal, we find our way back to wholeness. Rest fosters hope and reminds us how much the inner life is connected to the outer persona.

Let’s make 2018 a hope-filled year and determine to find more time for healing rest.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to start the new year with a good book, check out “Hope Shines.

Hope When Christmas Changes

Throughout our city, wherever we went, we heard it.

In grocery stores, libraries, Target and WalMart – even during church services where it occurred in stereo sound – one person in the aisle echoed by someone across the room.

I called it The Great Cough of 2016.pharmaceutical-symbol

In spite of our vitamins, clean eating and daily spraying through the house with Lysol, my son and I both caught the Christmas bug.

With all our plans for the holidays suddenly deleted, we dragged our pitiful selves to our respective recliners. The cat glanced back and forth as we coughed, trying to rid our bodies of what the doctors called “Upper Respiratory Infection.”

So Christmas plans changed. None of our usual holiday foods. I wasn’t cooking anything except chicken soup. Unwrapped presents waited in Amazon boxes. Worse, we were not able to spend Christmas with the family in Oklahoma. This was the first year since I served as a missionary that I did not see my mother for Christmas.

But we could  not force ourselves into the car for a five hour trip. And why take our germs across the state line to risk the health of the entire family?

We found an urgent care open on a Sunday – bless the hearts of that staff ! We armed ourselves with legal drugs – thank you to the hard-working pharmacy staff ! We stayed in bed and slept late – when the coughing didn’t wake us up.

Then Christmas happened in spite of illness. My son’s girlfriend and her family invited us for a delicious meal and an evening of fun – playing table games with hygienic gloves on, trying not to cough on anyone.

The next day, we piled cough drops into my purse and escaped the sick house for a movie. I highly recommend “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith’s poignant performance of a man dealing with intense grief. The twist at the end gave us plenty of conversation starters as we managed an evening breakfast at IHOP.

Then we collapsed into our recliners again – still coughing. The Grinch tried to steal Christmas from Cindy Lou Who while George Bailey learned how to live a wonderful life.

Our Christmas may have looked different and not what we planned but we survived it. The promised Messiah still came. The beauty of Luke chapter two remained solid and the twinkle lights on our tree reflected a glowing  angel at the top.

Hope survived our Christmas changes as gradual healing brought us upright to face a new year. The Great Cough of 2016 did not win, because Christmas is not about food, health, presents or travel.

Christmas incorporates the beauty of music, joy, light and a Love that forever transforms lives. No matter how we celebrate the season, the root of its beginning cannot change. And in that security, we find hope in the eternal promise – Immanuel – God with us.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy 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 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/

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/