Alzheimers at the Wedding

Throughout the pre-wedding activities, Mom functioned well. She attended bridal showers, listened to all the exciting plans and smiled for the photographer.

But we knew our 85 year-old mother might create a few problems on the actual wedding day. It was my job to get Mom dressed, drive her to the church and make sure she made it down the aisle.

I was surprised that from the time I saw her in May until the wedding date in July, Mom regressed further into Alzheimer’s. Her facial expressions resembled those of a child, that naughty rolling-the-eyes look. When we discussed what she would wear to the wedding, we had to go through the scenario several times.

“We talked about this skirt, Mom. It’s a nice skirt.”

“No, I want to wear the red one.”

“Not a good choice of color, Mom. It’s too dark for a summer wedding and besides, it has a spot on the front. Did you tell them to launder it?”

“Yes.” A debatable answer, because Mom’s short-term memory grows shorter every week.

Finally, the chosen skirt was on and I convinced her to wear a beautiful white blouse with a lacy collar. As I fluffed up her hair, I asked, “Don’t you have some pretty pearl earrings? They would look nice.”

“No. All my jewelry has been stolen.” Paranoia is strong these days. Mom is convinced that people, usually family members she loves, have stolen her things.

It does no good to argue, so when she was finally dressed – I drove us both to the church. But pictures were scheduled for noon, and the wedding for two o’clock. Two hours is a long time for someone whose concept of time has disappeared.

First, we ate lunch – slowly. I tried to convince Mom to eat more meat and drink more water, but she refused. However, she sat quietly and waited while I finished eating. My brother came to get her for some of the outdoor pictures, then brought her back to me.

Mom and I strolled through the church and looked at the beautiful decorations. Lanterns along the sides of the pews. Purple and green petals strewn up and down the aisle. Beautiful cascades of dark purple gladiola at the front of the sanctuary. Everything ready for that moment when our Rachel would walk down the aisle to meet her beau, Grant.

“How about the library, Mom? Would you like to see the church library?”

“Oh, yes. I like books.”

So we toured the library, picked out a few to look at and discussed others. “They have a good selection here,” I said.

“Yes,” Mom said. “I like books.”

I remembered when she helped organize and catalog one of our first church libraries. I also remembered when a prayer group met in the library, and my mother was one of the members  ̶  a praying woman who cared about overseas missions. Mom not only prayed for missionaries, but she also gave a portion of her nursing salary to help meet those same missionaries’ needs.

That was a long time ago – before Alzheimer’s stole Mom’s ability to help in a church library or participate in a prayer group.

In a few minutes, Mom tired of the library so we walked through the church again. We watched the photographer shoot pictures of Rachel and Grant. Then Mom grew restless.

“Hey, Mom. Would you like to go see the church library?”

“Oh, yes. I like books.”

Three times we toured the library, each time about twenty minutes apart. Then we sat in the fellowship hall and watched people begin to file into the sanctuary. The wedding planner found us and fastened a flowered bracelet on Mom wrist.

“Why do I have to wear this?” she asked me. “You don’t have one.”

“It’s because you’re special. You’re the only grandparent on both sides of the families. You get to have a special flower.”

“Well, okay,” she said. Then about two minutes later, “Why do I have to wear this thing?”

My nephew Ethan, Mom’s grandson, was scheduled to escort her down the aisle at the appropriate time. But Mom balked. “I don’t want to do that. Everybody will be looking at me.”

“No, Mom. They’ll be waiting for Rachel. They want to see the bride. You just walk in quietly with Ethan.”

“But if it’s just Ethan and me, then they’ll be looking at me and I look fat in this skirt. I shouldn’t have worn this skirt. I should wear a nicer outfit.”

 “Now, Mom. This is Rachel’s special day. Ethan will take care of you, so you just walk down the aisle with him and then sit by me at the front. Remember, this is for Rachel.”

Mom rolled her eyes. I fully expected her to stick out her tongue, but after another grimace, she took Ethan’s arm. I joined my son, my sister, my aunt and her daughter in the second row and watched as Ethan and Mom came down the aisle.Mom and Ethan

Even within the horror of Alzheimer’s disease, my mother is a trooper. Uncomfortable with any kind of public display, there she was – standing tall and doing her part for her granddaughter’s special day.

Mom paraded down the aisle with Ethan and smiled while doing it. I was proud of her and also relieved. We made it through our two hours of waiting and our few minutes in the spotlight. Rachel married Grant and Mom got to be part of that special day.

wedding pic - famEven in the shadows of Alzheimer’s, we somehow find joy.  

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

Researching Blueberries

Ever since I moved to this area of Kansas City, I’ve wanted to experience The Berry Patch.

Nestled just outside the honking city and barely over the state line into Missouri, The Berry Patch offers fresh bounty from God’s earth as well as a respite for this particular farm girl.

It began in 1975, as a farm for peaches and then blackberries. Both crops died. Then by accident – one of those accidents in life that remind us God loves to plant surprises – the owners began planting and harvesting blueberries.

Now over 10,000 customers come each year to pick their own berries, buy the specialty treats in the country store and enjoy the picnic areas. www.theberrypatchonline.com

But for this particular author, The Berry Patch was more than just an opportunity to pick  fresh blueberries and enjoy the country  – it represented another research trip centered around my main character.Berry Patch

If you haven’t yet read the book, one of the themes you will find in “The Unraveling of Reverend G” is how much she loves blueberries. She globs them all over cheesecake at her retirement party, heaps them onto her oatmeal and (here’s a clue in the third book of the series) … Reverend G wakes up one morning with a terrible craving for those tiny blue dots.

So to replenish my own stock of berries and to do a bit of research, I drove out to The Berry Patch. The drive itself was enough to convince me this needed to be an annual adventure. Large acreages with winding roadways that ended in beautiful scenic homes, a man-made lake with happy ducks and colorful boats sharing its tranquility, a herd of black angus – slowly digesting the summer grass.

I joined other berry pickers by checking in and getting my buckets. A large wooden sign gave directions to the best patches for picking on that particular day as well as instructions on how to pick – palms up and carefully, so as not to squish the berries and end up with purply-stained fingers.

I learned that the reddish berries are more tart – great for cooking but not so much for eating fresh from the bowl. The darker berries are best, so I looked for dark ones about the same diameter as a dime.

What I also learned about was the over-30 varieties of blueberries. The Berry Patch includes several: Blue Crop, Duke and Liberty, to mention a few.

Birds chirped around me as I picked, my straw hat protecting me from the morning sun. Families with little children used the day as an outing and a teaching opportunity. I heard one teenager in the patch behind me say, “I’m from the inner city of St. Louis, for Pete’s sake. I don’t know how to pick something off a bush and eat it.”

But this farm girl from Oklahoma sure knows how to eat from the land, and now I have several pounds of fresh blueberries in my freezer – just waiting to plump up my gluten free pancakes or decorate my steel cut oats.

After I paid for my berries and transported them to the car, I took off my hat, fluffed up my hair and sought out the manager for a chit-chat about a certain fictional character and how her book might sell in the country store.

Sure enough, we struck a deal and “The Unraveling of Reverend G” is now for sale at The Berry Patch.

So you never know what might happen on a Saturday morning when you’re looking for an adventure outside of the city. You might have a fun time picking blueberries, meet some nice folks from all over the place, enjoy the sights and smells of a country store and at the same time – market your book.

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

7 Tips for Caregivers Reviewed

When life unravels into Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s important for caregivers to carry survival tools. As I speak in various venues throughout the metro and beyond, I share these survival tools.This week, I had the opportunity of sharing these tips with professionals at the Chem Council in Kansas City.

With 43 million caregivers in the U.S., I hope these tips – from the viewpoint of Reverend G – will offer hope and sanity to caregivers who choose to implement them.

Tip # 1      Talk to Me – it’s easy to ignore someone who has Alzheimer’s. Since they can’t always      respond, we sometimes forget they’re even in the room. We need to look at our loved ones, smile, communicate and talk to them

Tip # 2      Don’t Argue with Me – when memory loss or paranoia sets in, it’s easy to get into a debate. But arguing with an Alzheimer’s victim is pointless. Reverend G would remind us to ask questions instead. Questions help our loved ones figure out a solution or completely drop the subject.

Tip # 3      Keep Laughing –laughter helps keep us healthy. Many funny stories are included in “The Unraveling of Reverend G.” I included them on purpose, because we need to somehow find the humor in the situation and keep laughing.

Tip # 4      Remember the Life Story – knowing the life story of the Alzheimer’s patient helps caregivers utilize pet therapy, music and various other ways to connect. One patient used to watch the sun set with his wife, so the caregivers made sure to sit with him each evening and watch the sunset together.

Tip # 5      Take Care of Yourself – 70% of caregivers struggle with clinical depression. 20% will develop a chronic illness and may even die before the Alzheimer’s patient. Stress is a killer. It is vitally important that caregivers take vacations, utilize daycare centers, join support groups or go somewhere and have fun.

Tip # 6      Forgive Me – none of our loved ones planned to get dementia or Alzheimer’s. They hate what the disease does to us, and they never wanted to be a burden to us. Reverend G often tells her son, Jacob, “Please forgive me.”

Tip # 7      Pray – when the 36-hour day blends into the next, pray. When you need extra patience, pray. When you can’t bear watching the symptoms of this horrid disease, pray. Ask God to help your loved one through this disease and to give you the endurance you need. Pray for a cure for Alzheimer’s and medicines to reverse it.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia websites have a plethora of resources, but these seven tips come from the heart of Reverend G and are addressed within the book. In my presentations, I address each of these tips and give personal examples.

Chem Council  RJTPerhaps you’d like to hear me speak about the “7 Tips for Caregivers.” If so, let me know at rjthesman@yahoo.com.

In the meantime, keep praying.

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

Who Are My Readers?

A royalty check arrives from my publisher at CrossRiver Media. My novel, “The Unraveling of Reverend G” has traveled to more homes and more hands. Someone is reading my words.3D Rev G cover

I look at the list and marvel at the numbers of people who read the story of Reverend G – these folks who follow her journey into Alzheimer’s and learn to love the characters: Gabriel, Chris, Roxie and all the others.

Who are these people who order my book and read it?

Some of them order directly from my publisher. That is good. I want my publisher to succeed and thrive.

Some use the popular Amazon site while others download my book onto Kindle with its electronic convenience. Are some of these people like my friend who has multiple sclerosis? Kindle makes it easy for her to turn pages.

Or are some of my readers like me who love to feel the texture of a book, to highlight favorite phrases, to read and reread the same page and experience the wonder of the words.

I stare at the list and pray.

Maybe some of these readers are like me, long distance caregivers who wonder how they can help their loved ones deal with Alzheimer’s when they live so far away.

Maybe some of them are the primary caregivers who live in constant stress within their 36-hour day. They need a respite, a place to laugh at the similes of Bert and the antics of Gabriel. I included funny stories in my book on purpose. We all need to laugh and seek joy.

Maybe some of my readers are ministers such as Reverend G, who know how it feels to have an Edna Simmons in the pew, an EGR – Extra Grace Required. Or maybe they are looking for ways to provide hope and encouragement to people in their congregations who struggle with Alzheimer’s and dementia, with death and discouragement.

For all of these, I pray.

Because this is why I write. This is why I come home from my ministry job and then work another couple of hours at my writing job. This is why I sit in my office and type on my laptop and let the words flow from my soul to yours.

I write to somehow share the hope that God is with us on this journey. We are not alone. That whether we are the readers or the writer, the words do have a purpose.

And although I may not know your name or where you live, I do know that God loves you and somehow he will use the words he has birthed in me to send you a message.

So I thank you, my readers. I thank you for the royalty check because life is reality and I need the money.

I thank you also for encouraging me to stay the course, to keep writing and telling the rest of Reverend G’s story.

I thank you for letting me enter your lives and share God’s hope.

©2013 RJ Thesman

Finding Hope on the Dream Shelf

When I first started freelancing, I wanted to set an attainable goal – something I could work for beyond the publishing credits and the paychecks.

So I cleared off the top shelf of one of my bookcases and created a dream shelf. It was my goal – my dream to fill that shelf with my books and have a tangible reminder of encouragement.Dream Shelf

Freelancers must possess persistence because success comes slowly and is papered with many rejections. We hone our craft, learn and grow while working several jobs to survive and trying to find as many writing gigs as possible.

Gradually, I began to fill a notebook with copies of my printed articles. Then – one by one – my words were accepted in anthologies: Chicken Soup books, Cup of Comfort books, Guideposts prayer books and others.

After several years, I also became an editor so I included those books next to mine. They represented a collaboration with writers – a joint effort to birth a finished product we could both be proud of.

Now, after 40+ years of freelancing, my dream shelf is full, and I am expanding to a new dream shelf.

The new one does not stand in my office, but it represents the hard work, persistence and many prayers that brought about the filling of my first dream shelf.

3D Rev G coverThis new shelf stands in a library, within the Johnson County Library System. One of my readers recommended, “The Unraveling of Reverend G”, and the librarian agreed to put it into their system. Hopefully, people will regularly check out my book and find encouragement within the story of a woman who bravely faces her Alzheimer’s struggle.

Do I have a new dream, another goal? You bet I do. I want the second Reverend G book and then the third to also grace library shelves. I want my books in the hands of as many folks as possible so that they find encouragement within the words that God and I wrote.

And someday, I want even more books on my dream shelf, because I’m not finished with ideas and I’m not ready to give up on my dreams.

Words still stir within my soul and more empty shelves beg to be filled. I need another bookcase.

©2013 RJ Thesman, Author of “The Unraveling of Reverend G” http://amzn.to/12NUghB

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

Living in the Saturdays

A pocket of time separates Good Friday and Easter Sunday – a day we often ignore because we don’t celebrate that day – we just wait.

We live through Saturday, anticipating Sunday.calendar

After the execution of Jesus, the disciples – both men and women – huddled together in fear. At least one of them, Peter, hid alone, ashamed at his refusal to acknowledge the Lord.

They waited during Saturday, daring to hope and waiting to see what Sunday might bring.

We are often stuck in the same time warp.

My son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In one moment, an astrocytoma’s ferocious prognosis changed our lives. Surgery, chemo and radiation. Five years of MRI’s, oncologist appointments and medical bills.

A lifetime of Saturdays, waiting, hoping, praying. Then the glorious ending – a miraculous healing.  The Sunday arrived with joy, but the Saturday required guts and perseverance.

A seed germinated in my creative soul – the idea for a novel. Hundreds of Saturdays working, revising, praying and submitting to publishers. Then the good news and more Saturdays until finally – the finished manuscript became a book, “The Unraveling of Reverend G.”

My mother stepped into the shadows of Alzheimers. Thousands and thousands of Saturdays morphed into 36-hour days as she changed from a mature and intelligent woman into a child-like version of herself.

Day follows day and years repeat until one day it ends. We will lower her shell into the ground. She knows this. We anticipate and dread it each day.

The crosses of our lives thrust us into expanded weekends as we experience pain, separation and the perseverance of waiting.

We know on some level that the pain does end, that Resurrection follows Crucifixion.

But it is the waiting during our Saturdays that tends to shove us into discouragement. Our Saturdays seem interminable as we beg God to send us Easter sunrise.

Yet within our Saturdays, as our character is tested and our perseverance questioned, we learn the most about faith.

For hope that endures requires massive faith and teeth-grinding strength for the length of the journey.

Because we must wait through the Saturdays, the end result seems that much sweeter when Easter Sunday finally arrives.

©2013 RJ Thesman