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/

Rejuvenate with the Holy Nap

People either laugh at me or stare when I tell them about my holy naps.

I guard my Sabbath. Because I work about 60 hours/week and much of that involves ministry, I need to observe the 4th Commandment. I desperately need rest on Sundays.

Yes, I go to church and then usually, I spend some quality time with my son. The rest of the day is for rest and about an hour of that includes the holy nap.sleeping puppy

Naps are under-rated. We demand them of our young children, because we know that rest helps them grow and thrive.

But why not also for adults? A restorative nap of even 10 minutes can help refresh our minds and hearts.

So what happens during a holy nap? How is it different from a regular siesta in the middle of the day?

For me, it’s more than physical rest. My holy nap also involves handing over to God the burdens that have been placed on me during the week: crises in people’s lives, the uncertainties of our times, Mom’s Alzheimer’s.

We sometimes forget that ministers need encouragement, too. Reverend G reminds us that “Life is a puzzle. As we age, life adds layers to our personalities and our experiences. We learn more about trusting God, then we begin to see the great cycle of history play out in our genes. But Alzheimer’s, dementia and other crises exfoliate us. They takes away the layers of life until we’re back to childhood, no longer wise.”   http://amzn.to/11QATC1

So during my holy nap, I lay down the burdens of the week. I rest in the arms of God, usually starting with a prayer where I ask Jesus to intercede for all the people I know who need prayers.

When I fall asleep, the Holy Spirit takes over and I often wake up with new ideas for writing or a Bible verse to share with someone or a new and creative plan for a coaching client.

Always, I wake up refreshed – ready for another week and more of the ministries God has called me to.

So I recommend it – this small respite on a Sunday afternoon. Say “No” to extra activities on that day and put a guard around your busy heart.

Take a holy nap and be grateful.

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