When Hope Lives in Third Person

The inevitable happened. I just wasn’t ready for it – yet.

This summer of 2017 seems rampant with the unexpected.piano keys

A visit with my mother in assisted living and BAM – another unavoidable side effect of Alzheimer’s Disease.

She no longer knew me.

“Hi, kiddo,” her greeting for everyone who enters her room.

As we started talking, I knew the connection had failed. I was being addressed in third person.

“My oldest daughter lives in Saint Louis,” she said. “She works there. I forget what she does.”

“I’m a writer, Mom. And it’s Kansas City – not Saint Louis.”

No response. No affirmation. Just a tilt of her head and a puzzled look. “Who are you married to now?”

Now? As if I’ve been married several times with a revolving door for relationships. Who am I in her plaque-infested brain? Okay. I can play this game. Mom will forget this conversation five seconds after I leave.

“Who are you married to now?”

“Colin Firth.” Might as well make it good.

“Oh. Does he treat you right?”

“Yes. He’s the best.”

“Does he know how to use the litter box?” Somehow Mom switched from Colin to cats.

“Uhm – yes. He’s British and they’re trained to properly use the litter box.”

Before we could continue this ridiculous conversation, Mom was called to the dining room for supper. I decided to sit at her table, even if she didn’t know me.

She introduced me to the rest of the residents, “This is my company.”

Company – a safe term. No connection. No relationship.

A sweet lady on my left asked, “Do you play piano? Could you play my favorite song?”

I wondered if she asked everyone that question or did she somehow assume that I knew how to play. She adjusted her walker and I followed her to the piano. “Please play ‘There’s Something About That Name’,” she said with a slight catch in her throat.

Give this lady some joy and play her favorite song. Maybe it will help erase the fact that my mother is unaware of who I am, carefully spooning into her chili and cornbread mixture.

So I started playing the song, then joined in a decent duet, singing with my new friend. We segued into “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “Amazing Grace.”

From the other side of the room, I watched Mom rest her chin on her hands, her face a beatific spread of happiness – enjoying the music. Did she suddenly remember all the years of piano lessons, as she sacrificed time and money so I could learn what she had always longed to do?

I wanted to memorize her face, to never forget the contentment reflected there – not certain I would ever see it again.

Thank you, Mom, for making piano lessons possible for me. I’m giving joy to this unknown woman beside me, but I’m playing for you, Mom – the daughter you no longer know.

The mini-concert ended and I returned to Mom’s table. Another woman asked her, “Is this your daughter?”

Mom just shrugged.

We walked back to her room, and I kissed her goodbye. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Okay,” she said, already punching the TV remote, oblivious as to what “soon” means. It will be months before I make the trip back to Oklahoma from Kansas City.

Not Saint Louis. Not so soon.

And when I return, will a blip of memory reappear? Or is the knowledge of who I am gone forever?

Have I mentioned how much I hate Alzheimer’s?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author and Writing Coach

Sometimes They Forget

 

How does a family deal with caregiving 24/7? What does the Long Good-bye involve and what are some practical tips for dealing with it? “Sometimes They Forget” helps us find hope as caregivers in the Alzheimer’s Journey. Order your copy here. 

 

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Hope Risks a Picture

Five years ago, my first author pictures were taken by a good friend and wonderful nature photographer, Ken Ratzlaff. It was time for an update.

An author photo plays many roles. It has to suggest my brand, exude professionalism yet introduce a friendly style. At the same time, it has to look good on social media, the back covers of books and every online vehicle for sales.Rjt - favorite 7

Taking a photo is difficult for me because it triggers some hurtful experiences from my childhood. The things we say to children really do follow them throughout life. We all need to be careful about the words that spill out of our mouths.

But through the years, God has reminded me those past words were spoken by hurting people who had their own problems. And I didn’t have to believe their lies.

So whenever I am faced with any type of personal pictures, I visualize Jesus standing beside the photographer – loving me. I’ve been told the soul of our emotions can be seen in the eyes. I hope that is true for me.

A photographer in my area was available for a photo shoot so I connected with her and we emailed back and forth: availability, the look I wanted to convey, possible sites for the shoot.

She was professional and creative, skilled and patient as we took several poses with a variety of motivations. Check out her website here.

When the photos came, I chose my favorites but I knew it would be wise to ask for a second opinion – or third – or fourth.

So I asked my son and my critique group to help me decide. All of them liked the colors and the various settings. The final decision would be based on my smile, the tilt of my head, the look on my face.

Was I relaxed enough? Did I look friendly yet professional? Was it a picture that would invite new followers?

The results astounded me. No one chose the photos that were MY favorites.

We cannot objectively judge ourselves, either outwardly or inside the sanctum of our souls. We bring too many experiences to the judgment hall – either those hurtful moments from the past or massive pride in the present.

We never see ourselves as others do – either with a positive spin or a negative connotation.

Yet being our authentic selves helps us walk through life with dignity and hope. We feel joy with a new haircut or a fresh mani/pedi. Losing a few unwanted pounds fills us with the expectation that we somehow look younger, appear more attractive.

But the transparency of peace is the one factor we cannot trick our faces into showing. Nor can we substitute true inner peace with any man-made behavior.

Our souls are made up of emotions, the power of self-will and the acceptance of who we are. Taking the risk to show our true selves through a photograph will either enhance our self-value or remind us we have much more to work on.

I am grateful for a new photo to send into cyberspace and paste into the proper place on book covers and social media.

I am also grateful because I know God has healed those raw places that were once afraid of taking a picture.

Have you learned anything about yourself from a recent photo? I’d be interested to know what you think.

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

 

 

Hope Celebrates the Younger

One of the joys of coaching writers happens when I watch clients succeed.

We brainstorm a title idea together and the a-ha lights our faces. The perfect cover dresses the front of the book while a teasing blurb fills the back.

But oh the best – is the content that soars from an initial idea while a synopsis in black and white merges into sentences, paragraphs and chapters.

We talk about it as a birthing – a coming to life of a project. And truly it feels like the stretching of flesh, the contractions of laboring for that perfect word, the expulsion of life on the page.

A recent birth occurred as Sara Brunsvold launched her book, “Uncage My Brave.”Uncage my brave

It is a relatively small tome with only 51 pages. No “War and Peace” masterpiece needed. Yet within Sara’s work lies her experience with courage, her exhortations to find her source of bravery and uncage the dreams God placed in her heart.

What I like about Sara’s writing is how it has expanded. Not with longer sentences or flowery distractions. Rather, Sara’s gift has deepened. Her communication now draws from a divine well.

I sense in her the role of prophet although I don’t believe she would label herself such. Yet a prophet speaks truth and often expounds with a poetic rhythm that catches the breath and cries for more.

A highlight phrase from Sara: “Carry me, Abba. Hold me still in Your strength. Press my ear to your heart.”

Words such as these cannot emerge from a fanciful wish to communicate. They are conceived in the valleys of grief and the plateaus of doubt. They are wrung out by stepping forward to believe in what cannot be seen, to taste what is not plausible.

When I hold my copy of “Uncage My Brave,” I rejoice that I have had the honor to watch Sara’s dream become reality.

The joy of writers helping writers underscores our purpose in Psalm 45:17, “I will perpetuate your memory through all generations.”

This writer, this Sara Brunsvold, is a younger wordsmith who now surpasses my generation. I rejoice in her accomplishment.

Check out Sara’s blog and order “Uncage My Brave.”

You will no doubt discover hope in her pages and celebration in the unfolding of Sara’s dream.

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

 

 

Hope Repurposes a Life

I love to find something that has been discarded and repurpose it. Sometimes it’s a piece of furniture from a dumpster find, a pot made from an old bowl or a scarf that becomes a wall hanging.vintage door

My repurposing gift probably stems from growing up on a farm and “making do” with whatever we had. DIY projects began on the family farm.

Need to make a straight row for the garden? Use sticks and baling twine. Create a toy out of a piece of cardboard and/or leftover wood from another project.

The farm rules stated, “If you don’t have it, make it with whatever you already have.”

Creativity thrived but we didn’t think of our projects as displayed creativity. More like survival. Repurposing became our way of life.

The process of repurposing has now expanded beyond furniture, wall hangings or garden projects.

I find myself taking the pieces of a former life and remaking them into something new.

After a lifetime of ministry with people, I am now focused on the ministry of words – a solitude of sentences and intentional rest.

Still in transition, I wonder how to stop being who I was? How can I best become the “me” for this season of life?

Henri Nouwen writes, “The task is to persevere within the solitude.”

It is not a struggle to write, edit and create in the quiet of my home. This is the creative side of me that has always existed.

It is just different, a new normal and I have to discover the best way to function within my changing role.

When I repurpose an object, I sit awhile and look at it from all angles. How shall I paint it or redesign it? How can it be used most effectively?

Think Tom Hanks in “Castaway as he sat on the beach staring at a piece of metal until he imagined it as a sail.

To repurpose a life requires even more thinking. How can I use my gifts to bless others when my audience lives in cyberspace? Is this moment best used writing a blog post, editing a book, taking a creative walk or reading a novel?

Which choice will strengthen me in this new role and allow me to end the day with a sense of productivity?

Can I be content to just “be?”

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “We need to take time away from busy-ness, time to be. Taking ‘being’ time is something we all need for our spiritual health.”

To repurpose my life, I often just sit and “be.” This is hard for me – the natural “doer,” the “planner,” the “initiator.”

But as I am learning the principle of quiet reflection, I find a stronger creativity emerges when I return to the words.

Projects are completed. New ideas nurtured.

The beauty of this personal repurposing project is the assurance that God loves me no matter what I do. He saved me to “be.”

Perhaps this transition will change me into a different person. That’s okay, too.

Because hope thrives when we can be ourselves, embrace life and move forward with joy.

Who knows? I may find a new purpose for myself and be more authentic than ever before.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Hope Finds 3 Options

Number 3When security officials train employees for active shooter situations, they present three options:

  • Run – get out of the building and run away – fast
  • Hide – blockade the door to your room and hide inside
  • Fight – if you cannot run or hide, be prepared to disarm, injure or kill the shooter

Unfortunately in our scary world, we need to be prepared to use these options.

But we can also exercise these three options when life unravels and we need to find hope. What are some examples from history and also from the present?

Run:

  • When boundaries are not respected and a workplace grows unhealthy, we leave.
  • When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, the only way he could respect his employer and obey God was to run.
  • If a woman is living in a destructive relationship, she calls 9-1-1 and hurries to her safe place.

Sometimes the most courageous choice is to run.

Hide:

  • When Elijah was exhausted and afraid, he hid in a cave. God empathized and sent ravens to feed him.
  • When exhausted ministers need a break, they take Sabbaticals. They hide from the many needs so they can recover and return refreshed.
  • When a young mother is overwhelmed with the diapers and the late night feedings, she calls a friend and takes a break. She hides away for a while.
  • When the 36 hour-day overwhelms a caregiver, he calls a friend to sit with his loved one and hides inside the theatre to watch a movie.

Sometimes the healthiest option is to hide for a while and let healing happen.

Fight:

  • When the enemy of our souls attacks with fear, we fight with the sword of the Spirit. We repeat our trust verses – outloud – because the enemy needs to hear our courage and he is a slow learner.
  • When we are charged unfairly for a medical bill, we call customer service. We don’t stop until our questions are answered and the situation resolved.
  • When we see someone being abused – whether it’s a woman, a person of a different color or a child – we report it to the proper authorities. We speak up against injustice. Think Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson and Carolyn Custis James.
  • When Jesus experienced injustice, he often took action and fought back. Sometimes he spoke up, “Get behind me, Satan.” Sometimes he pitched tables across the church foyer.

Confrontation feels uncomfortable yet sometimes it is the only way to make our point and speak our truth.

Three options move us toward hope because in each scenario, the situation deserves some type of action. Run, Hide or Fight. Then we wake up the next morning feeling safer and glad we chose wisely.

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

 

 

When Connections Alter Hope

She seems more content now with her life in assisted living, but the contentment itself tears her farther away from family.

Have I mentioned how much I hate Alzheimer’s?

Several weeks ago, I drove 250 miles to be with family – a precious time with siblings, extended family at a reunion and quality time with Mom.

But my plans did not fit in with the plaque-infested changes in her brain. My plans included several hours in her room catching up, a walk around the lake to watch the ducks and geese placidly float, maybe a stroll through the facility – greeting her friends.

Instead, she dismissed me. “Thanks for coming. ‘Bye.”

So instead of parking my car and walking arm in arm into the facility, I watched as she opened the door – all by herself – and walked inside.

A few months ago, she stood at the door and waved goodbye. Not this time. Once inside the comfort of her routine, she marched toward her room.

Away from the door. Away from me.

On one hand, I am grateful she has acclimated to her studio apartment. She feels comfortable with the activities planned for each day and the white-haired friends who sit beside her in the dining room.

These people now represent her world and the building has become her home. I am only an occasional visitor – a person from her past who sits next to her until she grows tired of me. Then the inevitable dismissal, “Thanks for coming. ‘Bye.”

Alzheimer’s Disease not only steals the memories and names of loved one, it also alters familiar patterns. The relationships that once defined our lives become blurred in the needs of the present.

The shopping trips we shared, the laughter around a game of Scrabble, cheering together for our favorite team – all these familiar activities now relegated to a life once lived.

And the people who colored those events are now just human beings who happen to be visiting. The familial connections fade. The absence of recognition will soon follow.

Time with others is precious, especially while we know how to communicate and relate to each other. Once that connection disappears, we have only the memories to treasure.

Enjoy your time with family while everyone still understands what family means.

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