The High Places

You’re going on a journey through Alzheimer’s. Or rather, you’re helping a loved one navigate the journey. No one recommended this trek to you; in fact, people tell you they’re sorry you and your loved one have to make the trip. But here you are.IMG_2394

As you start out, the terrain looks tough but not impossible. The trail is faint, though, and you wish you had a map. You tried to purchase one, but people told you maps of this territory are sketchy at best. It’s a different trip, they say, for everyone who makes it. So you pray for guidance and start walking.

In the beginning, things go relatively well. Your loved one moves slowly, but the two of you talk about what you see around you. You have plenty of food and water and stop now and then to refresh yourselves.

Before long, though, you find the stops are more frequent and they last longer. The trail is getting narrower, brushier, rockier. For your loved one, it’s slow going. So you extend your hand to steady her, and you pray it gets easier. It doesn’t, but you have to keep moving forward.

IMG_2406As you walk, the truth slowly dawns: this land is wild, but it has its own beauty. You listen and hear birds singing. Your loved one stops and smiles as one flits across your path. You point up at the sky and she lifts her face, admiring, you hope, the colors of the layered clouds: off-white, light gray, dark gray. Only clouds overhead, but they’re easy on her eyes and she stares so long, she sways a little and you take her arm.

The trail continues upward. It’s easier to see it now as it runs alongside a little stream. Tripping lightly down from the heights you’re trying to reach, the water sings as it goes. You wish you felt like singing, but your own breath is running short and your loved one stops again, and again, and again. You find logs for her to sit on, or rocks.

IMG_2393You sit beside her; you breathe together. It’s hard in this thin air, harder for her than for you. But looking around, you see that life has been hard up here. The old skeletons, deformed and bent, wounded by the work of living, litter the landscape with broken white  bones.

Yet, even with the steep incline that makes traveling across it so difficult, the land has rewards for those willing to search for its beauty. Wildflowers wave on tall stems or cuddle against tree trunks or stretch fragile roots toward the streams. Some thrive in the austerity of a boulder field. All become more diminutive as the trail climbs higher.

IMG_2434It’s a gift, you understand, this ability to keep your eyes open to the magnificence of small, beautiful things dwelling in a harsh environment. Each new discovery gives you hope and keeps you looking for the loveliness hidden among sharp rocks and fallen trees.

IMG_2402You continue up. Your loved one is tired, but she’s been called, so you keep going. The trail becomes cruel; each steep rise leads to another, even steeper. You cry silent tears while you put your loved one’s feet on the steadiest rocks and lift her step by step.

You know you’ve been called, too. This trip is ordained. For your loved one, the destination will be freedom, new life. And for you the joy is simply helping her get there. The thought of her traveling this road alone is unbearable. Even now you wonder if she’s really still “with” you. Her face is pale as the clouds; her eyes are glazed like a frozen pond; if she speaks, her words are as sharp as the rocks sliding under your feet.IMG_2404

At last you near the top. But the scene you expected to be lovely and life-giving is stunningly cold and barren. With one arm around your loved one’s back and the other holding her arm, you crane your neck to see beyond the rocky trail and the bare mountaintops. You keep looking, believing: It’s there. Keep going. It’s there.

A few more steps, over the last rise and then down, you’re startled by the sudden beauty of your loved one’s smile. Following her gaze, you too behold at last the beauty of the heights.

IMG_2428A lake, regal in its stillness, is before you.

Water, life, drop by drop, has been collected by the wind-swept mountainsides. Held in an ancient cup formed by primordial fire and ice, the water is green, like fresh ferns and newborn seedlings and spring leaves. An island of rock thrusts its primal shoulder up from the depths; trees, even greener than the water, grow in the steep stone soil.

islandYou’ve made it. You can rest now. Your loved one is safe on the summit of redemption. She has beheld the ancient glories at last. She is new. She’s reborn.

Stay awhile. Reflect on the trip. Did you take the shortest path? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Did you show your loved one every wonder she might have seen? Only the Lord knows.

But think about these things, too, as you gaze on the lake of new life: When your loved one was unsteady, you were there to hold her up. When she was afraid, you were there to keep her safe. When she was lost in confusion and chaos, you found her and led her back. You showed her wildflowers. Birds. Streams. And you smiled with her on the heights.

Makes every step worth it, yes?

For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? God is my strength and power, And He makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, And sets me on my high places (2 Sam 22:32-34 NKJV).

Father, you know the Alzheimer’s road. You know our loved ones are weak and confused and you know we’re weary. We rely on Your help every minute, every day. Show us the way, please, Father, and show us the beauty of the journey.

The Biggest Miracle

Mid-morning often found my mother sitting half-dressed, wet, and smelly on “her” couch in the den, while my father and I sat at the kitchen table, defeated.

Mom had said no. When she awoke and we helped her out of bed, she said no to the bathroom. No to dry clothes. No to her chair at the table and the orange juice and tea that awaited her there. No. Clearly, emphatically—no.

Dad and I knew time was the only help we could give Mom as she sat in these dark moods.

So we waited. Dad slumped forward, elbows on the table, head in his hands. I perched on the edge of my chair across from him, with short, desperate pleas for help threading through my mind like a mantra. When I became aware of my thoughts, I would stop, grasp the knots of faith hunkered down in my spirit, and start to pray again, consciously.

Eventually, though, we’d look at each other.

“The sofa’s been wet before, Daddy,” I’d say. “We’ll clean it up.” Then, more quietly, I’d remind him, “You know she always comes around. She’ll be clean and dry in an hour or two or three…we’ll just wait for the right time.”

“Yes, honey. Sooner or later.”  Dad spoke in low tones that rose from between his hunched shoulders. “And you know….”

Here it comes, I’d think. I knew what to expect. Hope was on its way, like a bright balloon, getting bigger and bigger.

“And you know,” he’d say as he straightened his back, “the days aren’t all this way.”  His voice would get a little lighter. “And the whole day’s not lost. In fact, by this afternoon she might be telling me ‘I love you, Daddy. I just don’t know what I’d do without you.’  We’ll just wait a while. Maybe I can get her to drink some juice.”

And there it was. Once again. The miracle of hope. The drive to try again. By the kindness of heaven and the power of the Almighty, my father never lost it. He conceded a battle sometimes, but he always returned to the field.  He remained a valiant, loving, fierce warrior throughout my mother’s illness. He fought for her. He fought to keep her alive, to keep her at home, to keep her with him. Hope helped him fight. He never let it go.

  • Hope. Expect it. Invite it in.
  • Feed it by remembering past events that have seemed hopeless but have ended well.
  • Even when you can’t find your own hope, talk about it to friends, family, other caregivers. Let them share with you.

Hope is the biggest miracle. It opens our eyes to see the other wonders that come to caregivers every day.  We’ll look at more miracles next week.

Meanwhile, will you share your own stories with me and the caregivers who read this blog?  We can give so much to each other, in spite of distance and time.  Just scroll to the bottom of this page and click in the “Leave a Reply” space. We will all thank you!

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…. Therefore we do not lose heart….We are being renewed day by day  (2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 16  NIV).”

Father of all hope and encouragement, open our eyes to the power you give us to care for our loved ones every day. Fill us with the certainty that You are always with us, and where You are present, miracles abound.

 

Waiting in Confidence

Alzheimer’s is a waiting room.

Caregivers live there. Often we feel we are held hostage, helpless. We wait for the nothingness we know will come, watching for it but trying to keep it at bay. Our loved ones just wait—they don’t know for what. One day they won’t even care.

It’s hard to be in any waiting room. And harder still to see we have any power there.

But we do have power. We have options. We can sit in the pain and anticipate the inevitable or we can seize the moments given to us, wringing the beauty from each one. 

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Today we sit on blue upholstered chairs outside the doctor’s office. We were lucky to find three places; most of the chairs were full when we arrived.

Lots of people waiting. It’ll be a long afternoon. My mind goes by habit to the concerns of being in public with Mom.

Do these people look at her and decide I’m an unfit caregiver? Her hair is dirty and matted against her head. As usual. Her shirt is so wrinkled, it looks like she slept in it last night. (She did.) Her hands are folded in her lap, so her long, uneven fingernails take center stage. That light patch on her left pant leg is the skin of her knee showing through a hole in her favorite black slacks.

I watch for signs Mom is getting restless. I pray she doesn’t start pointing and talking about the other people in the room. If our wait is too long, she’ll just get up and walk out. And I can’t let her do that—it took us too long to get her here. But how will I stop her?

When Mom starts rocking in her chair, Dad stands. With his hands in his pockets, he paces, walking the length of the long narrow room in short but purposeful strides. Back and forth. Back and forth. He’s making me dizzy, so I stare at the floor. Mom’s shamrock tennis shoes—the only shoes she’ll wear—are camouflaged against the dingy carpet.

That’s how time passes in the waiting room. It’s hard to find value in it. We have to bring it here ourselves. A book to read, a letter to write, the internet on a cell phone, music through tiny earbuds—opportunities to make the time count for something before it slips away.

While I listen to the jangle of coins in Dad’s pocket and pat Mom’s hand to keep her from pointing, I tell myself again that worth can be found even in the waiting room of Alzheimer’s. Why do I dwell on the negative, expecting the worst when all is well?

I promise myself, one more time, to turn on the lights and turn up the music in the waiting room. I decide to enjoy the satisfaction of small accomplishments—Mom’s hair brushed, her shoes tied. I marvel at the big ones—Mom being here at all, on time for a doctor’s appointment. I pray in thanks for the receptionist who always comes from behind the desk to give Mom a hug and then stays to talk a few minutes with Dad. I choose  to delight in Mom’s soft smile at a baby in a passing stroller, to relish the temporary quiet of her hand in mine.

Instead of watching for disaster, Lord, I’ll expect Your help. 

You are the light, Lord, and You never leave my side. Help me to stand confident on the rock of Your strength, walk forward in the brightness of Your love, watch faithfully for Your powerful help. When I’m tempted to doubt, to despair, to stop trying, turn my eyes on Your face, and I will be renewed.   

“My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation…I shall not be moved.”   Ps. 62: 5-6  (NKJV)

Finding the Courage

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.  (Zech 4:6   NIV)

The picture behind the shattered glass shows a slim woman, my mother, wearing capri pants and a cardigan sweater. One arm, bent at the elbow, is slightly raised so that her wrist is about level with her shoulder. In that hand she holds a cigarette. With her other hand, she grasps the palm of a little girl maybe four or five years old, wearing jeans and a striped t-shirt. Because the little girl’s head is turned, you can see her wavy hair pulled back into a ponytail. My sister. She’s looking to her left, at another little girl, shorter, younger, three or maybe four years old, with short, kinky curls framing her chubby face. Me.

Earlier this morning, a travel commentator on TV mentioned the Grand Canyon. Dad wanted to remind Mom of our long-ago vacation there so he pulled the framed black-and-white photo out of a drawer. Mom studied the picture, said she didn’t know those people, and threw it into the kitchen where it hit the refrigerator before crashing to the floor. The photo itself survived, but one side of the wood frame snapped off and, of course, the glass broke.

Now, without a word, Dad picks up the frame. He taps it against the table; broken glass rains down onto the tablecloth. While he removes the photo, I dispose of the glass and when he goes out the back door, I follow.

In the garage, Dad retrieves the wood glue from a shelf. Then he opens a drawer, chooses a clamp from among the neatly arranged contents, and slams the drawer shut.

It takes all my courage, and then some, to stand between him and the door, blocking his exit. I’ve prayed for this opportunity, and I recognize the Lord’s power in the words I finally say.

“What if Mom didn’t have to be so angry all the time?”

Dad’s cloudy blue eyes meet mine for a second, two, shocked, I imagine, that I’m confronting him. I stand my ground, and he looks away, down to the floor. It’s littered with sand and grass clippings, a stray screw, a paintbrush in the corner by the worktable.

In his silence, I push my case. “Look at this floor, Daddy. I’ve never seen your garage this dirty. Never in my whole life.” He still won’t look at me. “And what’s with your tools? The rake’s just leaning against the wall and look—you never leave the hoe off its hook. Especially not with the sharp edge facing out.”

 Finally he speaks. “I know.” In his voice I hear the defeat I see in his stooped shoulders. “This garage is a mess. I’ll get out here and give it a good cleaning one of these days.” He moves to go around me but I’m not finished. I wish I were, but I know I’m not.

“When, Daddy? When will you feel comfortable spending three or four hours out here? You can’t leave Mom alone that long. She might decide she’s tired of your seed catalogues and put them in the toilet. She and Charley-Dog might head out the front door for a walk. Or she’ll make her point about medicine by throwing all her pills down the drain.”

 At last Dad raises his head. “She’s mad because she’s depressed. It’s not Alzheimer’s. She’s depressed.” He challenges me. “What’s a doctor going to do about a bad mood?”

“Maybe nothing,” I have to admit. “But maybe something! We won’t know ‘til we try.”

I’m as perplexed as Dad, so the terms of my persuasion must consist mostly of hope. Hope that Mom will cooperate with the doctor. Hope that medication can improve her life, their life together. “Yes, the doctor might say it’s Alzheimer’s,” I continue, “but even so, what if things could be better? What if there’s a way to help Mom and we don’t try?”

With his chin back down on his chest, Dad sighs. I feel myself weakening. I want to rescue him from his fear, tell him he’s right, Mom’s just tired, she’ll feel better in a few days, a few weeks maybe. But it’s not true. So I press my lips together and wait.

At last Dad looks up. “I guess we could give it a try.”

Hope. Is that hope I see in his eyes?

“Yes, Daddy, we can try! We can take her to the doctor, talk to him, let him check things out. Maybe there’s a medication that will help her lighten up. Maybe he can refer us to a specialist. Maybe with some medical help, Mom can be happier. Maybe both of you can have some peace. Maybe you can have your lives back.”

As we leave the garage, all the maybe’s echo in my head. I wonder—do I believe those things myself? 

I pray. I pray to believe. I pray for faith in God’s love. For strength to rest in His care and His power and His mercy. I pray for any kind of hope I can hold on to, and pass along to Dad.

Thank You, Lord, for convincing me to face reality. Thank You for showing me that truth is the right—the only—path to help.

Truth says Dad may indeed have to face his life without Mom in the house with him. Truth means I must finally grow up, be an adult with my parents, even if that means I may say or do things they don’t like.

But Truth also lives  in Your promise You will never leave us. In the hectic hours of day and the lonely hours of night, You will bring us Your mercy and comfort. That is Truth.

When You assure me of your love for Mom, for Dad, for me, I believe.

 

 

Family Ties

“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”   (2 Cor 6:17  NIV)

Despite my resolve, I sit here day after day, swallowing the words I should say. I try to swallow my anger as well, but it just won’t go down.

I’m angry with Mom, though I doubt she can control her wild behavior. I’m angry with Dad, though I know he’s afraid.  

Mostly I’m angry with myself.

Anger. It lives in this house. Mom’s anger dozes on the green couch, oblivious to the smells of urine and cigarette smoke that cling to the cushions.  Dad’s stares out the kitchen window, cursing the weeds in the lawn. Mine sits at the kitchen table, drumming its fingers on the vinyl cloth.

As I look at Mom now, I remember the scene just a few days ago: her eyes ablaze with rage over a comment Dad made about her hair, her hand slamming down on the table, hot coffee erupting from a cup and spilling onto the floor. That irrational behavior isn’t going to change on its own. In fact, it doesn’t take much for me to imagine that scene ending with someone burned by whatever hot liquid might be on the table next time.  I can even see the day when Mom might slam her hand against Dad instead of the table. 

Deal with that thought, I tell myself. Deal with that.

If only I could see these people—my parents—as strangers. Just an older couple I happened to meet. If they were anyone other than my parents, maybe I would take charge, with common sense, strength.

“Get your wife to a doctor, Sir,” I could say. “And if she won’t go, find a doctor to come to your home. She’s irrational. At times she’s out of control. She’ll hurt herself. Or you, Sir. It’s just a matter of time.”

I’d stop him when he claims she’s just tired, maybe depressed. “This goes ‘way beyond tired, Sir. And I don’t know enough about depression to say if it can cause behavior like hers, but I know she needs a doctor. Just waiting for something to change won’t help.”

At this point the older man might have his head in his hands. Or he might be staring at me, pain in his eyes, or fury. But I’d continue, no matter how sad or angry he looked.

“I can see what you won’t acknowledge,” I’d tell him. “I see how bad it can get. Your wife’s actions will hurt someone if you don’t intervene.”

Maybe he’d say, “I’m here! Nothing’s going to happen I can’t handle.”

But I’d keep the pressure on. “You can’t be with her every second. And even if you could, she fights you. I’ve seen it. What will happen when she hurts you? Worse, what will happen when your hands bruise her or your fingernails scratch her or when she fights so hard to get away from you she falls and breaks a bone? How will you feel then, Sir?”

By this time he might have tears in his eyes. Or he might turn and go out the door, slamming it behind him. Regardless, I would have said what needs to be said. He would have heard what he needs to hear.

But these people aren’t strangers. It’s my father I’d be talking to, my mother I’d be talking about. I am their child. The one who feared making waves, who always tried to please, who’s still programmed to accept her father’s words as fact, as law.

I am their child. But I have to be the adult here now. If anything can be done to set their lives on more stable ground, I have to do it.

God help me.

Lord, you know me. You know my parents. And you know Alzheimer’s. As I look at those three things, I see weakness, denial, and destruction. But when you look at them, you see hope. A plan. Miracles. Strengthen me, please, to see as You see and act according to Your inspiration. Remind me to expect miracles.   

Clues

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”  (Jer 33-3   NIV) 

Time passes and the signs accumulate, pointing more and more directly toward Alzheimer’s. Although some are ambiguous—anger, for example—others are more obvious, like the questions and confusion.

This morning brings a new one. Mom can’t put on her shoes

First, she couldn’t find them.

“Shoes, Baby!” Dad’s voice was loud enough to rattle the teacups as he rose from the table to get the shopping list off the refrigerator door.

Mom lifted her napkin and peeked at the table beneath it, then said, “They’re not here.” So I brought them from the closet and set them on the floor by her feet. With a smile on her lips but not in her eyes, “Thank you, child,” she said.  

Now she sits, still barefoot, bent at the waist, knees apart, with her hands dangling over the shoes. “I don’t know,” she says. “Are these shoes? Are these for me?” She sits back and, one at a time, lifts each foot about half an inch off the floor.

Confusion takes on a whole new meaning. I turn toward Dad, lift my eyebrows, frown. “How long has this been going on?”

He’s walking out of the room and gives no response beyond a slight pause and a shrug of his shoulders beneath his blue plaid shirt.

Shoes, Mama. You taught me how to put them on.  I bend down and, with strength that could come only from the Lord, I manage to laugh while I put the shoes on her feet. But I have to turn away and wipe my eyes before I stand up again.

The familiar question runs through my mind again. How long has Dad been hiding this? We live in the same town and visit regularly. My husband and I come here; Mom and Dad come to our house.  Yes, even before our fatefull trip to Colorado, a few things had caught my attention, but I just chalked them up to Mom getting older.

What I see in this moment is more than Mom aging. Much more than the fatigue and depression Dad says she feels. How long has Dad been hiding Mom’s condition? Or hiding from it?

And why didn’t I see the big picture? Most of the changes I noticed were small, like Dad always answering the phone, Dad finishing Mom’s sentences, Dad’s handwriting on the shopping list instead of Mom’s.

But some changes were bigger. Mom used to cook every night. But for months now, the freezer has been stocked with frozen dinners. Dad brags he and Mom have a new variety every night.

Even the abbreviated vacation to Yellowstone, two years ago. Dad said they wanted to take their time, enjoy the Park and every sight along the way, so my husband and I were set to keep an eye on their house for three weeks or so. But the trip lasted just five days: two spent driving there, three coming back to Texas. Dad wouldn’t talk about it. All he said was, “Your mother changed her mind.”

I should have realized something was wrong, should have cornered Dad and made him talk to me. If I had, would Mom be able to put on her shoes today?

I’m careening toward shame when the chorus of guilt is suddenly silenced. Instead of “should have, should have,” I hear the Lord’s words: “Before [you] call I will answer; while [you] are still speaking I will hear (Is. 65:24).” His hope. His comfort. His promise to be here. With us.

Squaring my shoulders, I step back into now. “Ready to go get some groceries, Mama?”

“Ready,” she says. Holding on to the table for balance, she lifts one foot high and points it at me. “See? I have these on!”

Her smile is triumphant. In Him, mine is, too.

Thank You, Father, for reminding me it’s not good to look backwards. Standing firmly in the present, facing forward—that’s where I need to be. That’s where I can help. And that’s where You always meet me, offering Your wisdom, Your power, Your comfort, Your strength. Here and now. Always. Thank You, Lord.

Facing Forward

“The truth will set you free.”   (John 8:31 NIV)

We do not have to surrender to the fear-breathing monster that lives in Mom’s mind. With the Lord’s help, we can fight it. But before we fight it, we have to face it.

I come to my parents’ house almost every day now. And almost every day, I see the quality of their lives slip a little farther downhill. I feel myself sliding too, toward confusion and panic and smothering sadness.

Their days have changed dramatically.  Mom, formerly a perfectionist in the area of housekeeping, sits for hours at the kitchen table or on the loveseat in the den, smoking cigarettes, staring at the television.  Dad used to spend the daylight hours working, outside if possible, on the lawn or the house or his vegetable garden. Now he sits in the house watching Mom watch TV.

Even more distressing than their lack of activity is the drastic alteration in Mom’s appearance. She used to manicure her fingernails weekly; now they’re long, jagged, dirty.  She wears the same clothes for days at a time.  Her blouse is usually stained with food.  And worse, much worse, is the way her clothes smell. Is she no longer aware of needing to go to the bathroom? Or is she just choosing not to go?

This morning while I pour my coffee, I’m shocked to hear Dad comment, with a distinct edge in his voice, that Mom takes a bath only when he insists, and sometimes not then.

“And when was the last time you washed your hair?” he asks her.

Marveling at Dad’s lack of tact, but happy he’s finally speaking up, I take my place at the table, between them as usual.

Mom doesn’t answer. Instead she reaches slowly toward the ashtray and picks up her cigarette.  With her elbow planted on the table, she holds the unfiltered stub between index finger and thumb.

Then WHAP!  Her other hand slams palm down on the table.  Coffee sloshes out of my cup. The fire falls from the cigarette and lands on the tablecloth.  Instinctively Dad reaches over and puts it out with his hand.

“Stop talking about my hair!” Mom shouts.  “My hair is fine!”

As I mop up my spilled coffee, my almost bald father glares across the table at Mom, who is glaring back at him from beneath her oily gray-brown hair.  

Today is the first time I’ve seen Mom as loud and aggressive as she was a couple of weeks ago in Colorado. But maybe she acts that way more often than I realize. I wonder yet again what happens when I’m not here.

I’ve asked Dad, but only in the most general terms: “How are things, Daddy?” His answer is always the same. “Fine. We’re doing fine.”

Now he rubs his palm, sighs, and turns back to the TV.

This isn’t “facing it.”

Something has to change.

Lord, please help me face the truth. Things aren’t ok. Mom and Dad aren’t fine. And I’m afraid—of what these changes might mean, what a doctor might say, what we might have to do to take care of Mom, what might happen next if we just keep pretending. So many might’s. But here is more truth: You are powerful—beyond all uncertainty, beyond all my fear. Beyond human knowledge and human strength. Thank You for shining your mighty light on the truth, Father. Help me believe that it will set us free. 

Right Now

“They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back.  I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble.”    (Jer. 31:9)

One lovely evening and one fine day.That’s all the grace Alzheimer’s gave us. At least for now.

What will happen tomorrow is anybody’s guess. I must keep my attention on today. Already I understand that right now must be my focus.  And I thank the Lord that “right now” is His specialty. His favorite place to work.

Right now, it’s time to get home. I’m driving this time. Very fast. 

The tension erupted this morning as soon as Mom awakened. By the time we loaded the car, she would scarcely tell Mark goodbye. She wasn’t speaking at all to me or Dad.

As I drove out of the parking lot of Mark’s apartment, I looked back at him. Standing beside the two lawn chairs where we planned to sit and have coffee, he waved, then raised his arms over his head and put his hands together, palms touching, fingers pointing straight up.

A few miles down the road, Mom started finding things to complain about. The car was too small, she wanted a different shirt on, she couldn’t see the sun through all those clouds. Mostly, though, she wanted to go home. She insisted. She demanded. She ordered. When normal volume brought no results, she began shouting.

I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to explain that home is exactly where we’re going.

I’ve tried being nice. “Oh, Mom, look! The mountains are behind us now. Texas is just ahead!”

I’ve tried the truth. “It’s a long way, Mom, but I’ll get us there as fast as I can.”

I’ve tried lying. “We’re almost there. Why don’t you try to take a nap and when you wake up, we’ll be home!”

Dad has tried begging. “Please, honey, don’t yell. We’re going straight home right now. Ok? Please don’t shout.”

And he’s tried anger. “Marie! Stop that! You know it takes a long time to get home from Colorado. Just be quiet and ride.”

Right now we’re trying tunes. I thought maybe soft music would calm Mom, but she just kept yelling that I shouldn’t be in her car and I better leave the radio alone. So the music is for Dad and me. I’ve turned the volume up and sometimes we sing along. Not to annoy Mom—at least I hope that’s not our purpose. I admit I feel furious with her. And clearly she’s furious with us. But I’m acting out of desperation, not anger. I think.

Gasoline, snacks, a bathroom, though Mom refuses to go.  The shouting from the back seat at last becomes silence. Dad stares straight ahead. I keep driving.  Numb, I guess. Numb to fatigue and noise and the anxiety that drums on my mind like tires on pavement. Me too, Mom. All I want is to get home.

Hours later, I’m unlocking their front door. As I help Dad unload the car, I look around their house, dark and stuffy in the middle of the night. 

Dad seems to read my mind. “I’m fine,” he says. “You got us here non-stop.  We’ll be fine now. You go ahead home.”

Fine? I don’t believe him. How can I just drive away and leave him? 

But I do.

Remind me, Father, that Your love is sufficient to care for my parents.  Sweet Jesus, You promised never to leave us or forsake us.  I believe You.  Help my unbelief.  Holy Spirit, guide my father to the necessary things – rest, nourishment, the comfort of the familiar.  Your peace is hard to find tonight, Lord.  Yet I thank You, because I know peace will come.

Ups and Downs

Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.        (Neh. 8:10)

It’s over. I think we’re ok again.

Yesterday’s angry stranger, the one who looked just like Mom, is nowhere to be seen. This morning, the real Mom came out of the bedroom smiling, saying she was ready for breakfast.

So here we are, Mom and Dad and Mark and I, at one of Mark’s favorite diners. The smell of bacon and pancakes and the weight of the thick white coffee mugs are comforting to me. 

Again Mom doesn’t order; she just looks at Dad. Still, she’s smiling! The waitress pours another round of coffee. Mom eats her eggs slowly. She has a little trouble with the slice of tomato, so I cut it for her. 

I was certain we’d be headed back to Texas this morning. Instead, we set out on a drive through the Poudre River canyon. As we make our way up the winding road, some instinct tells me to keep Mom awake and alert. Beside her in the back seat, I maintain a continuous chatter, pointing to the fading blooms of miner’s candles beside the road and marveling at the pine and fir and juniper, their trunks twisted and gnarled among the boulders beside the river. 

We stop occasionally and walk a bit, Dad and Mark tramping ahead with boundless vigor. I hang back with Mom, walking slowly, resting often. Much of our talk consists of one of us saying, “Oh look!  Isn’t that beautiful?” to which the other replies, “Oh, yes!  It’s lovely!” That seems to be the full extent of Mom’s conversational ability, but she seems genuinely happy and I relax in her pleasure.

The only difficult incident of the day occurs when Mom and I make a visit to the bathroom on one of our stops. From the stall next to her, I can tell she’s using copious amounts of toilet paper. I ask if she needs help. 

I’m amazed to hear relief in her voice as she answers, “Oh, yes, do you mind?”

Disguising my dismay so as not to embarrass her, I help Mom clean herself. But I needn’t have worried. Showing not a hint of embarrassment, she’s like a child who knows she can rely on me to make things right.

I spend the rest of the afternoon smiling on the outside, cringing on the inside. In spite of my morning delight, we are most certainly not “ok.” I’m torn between the absurdity of pretending nothing is wrong and the despair of acknowledging the problems I’m seeing—little ones like not being able to cut tomatoes, and big ones like incontinence.

By evening, though, I’ve reminded myself that I can fight the unknown enemy. We can identify the source of Mom’s confusion and then consider our options to eliminate or at least diminish it.  

Now is the time to enjoy the last few hours of this fine day. Let tomorrow bring what it may. The Lord will be with us.

I’m never alone, Father. I’ve reminded myself of that so often these last two days. No matter where we find ourselves— mountains or plains, river or desert, in sunshine or rain—You are already there, waiting to answer the prayers we lift to You. Remind me, please, that I always have joy, because I always have You. You make me strong. Thank You, Lord.

Move Forward

Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.  Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.      (Prov. 4:25-26)

Still in my son’s little apartment in Colorado, I sit in the recliner, close my eyes, and try not to listen as Mark settles my parents in his bedroom.  He’ll sleep on the floor tonight.  I’ll be on the sofa.

I want quiet and calm as I go over the events of this day: Mom’s confusion and hostility when we arrived, my panic and fear as we fought to keep her inside the apartment, and the miracle of the lovely evening we just spent with Mark—the laughing, happy, normal evening.

Normal. I could use a little more of that, please, Lord.

When Mark emerges from his room, I see him holding the Lord’s answer in his arms: laundry. The basket he carries is full to overflowing with towels and sheets, T-shirts and running socks and blue jeans. He almost loses the whole load when he bends to pick up the detergent.

Peace can be found doing ordinary things.

“Got any quarters, Mom?” Mark doesn’t even have the good grace to look sheepish, just grins and jerks his head toward the door. “Almost midnight.  Laundry time.”

The door closes behind us and I know I must tell him. But how? We walk together past a line of doors and windows that open on rooms where, I imagine, life hasn’t changed much from yesterday to today.

In the darkest hours of the night, in the steamy little laundry room at the end of the apartment sidewalk, I talk to Mark. While the washer churns a super-size load of his jeans and flannel shirts, I lean against the coin-operated dryer and describe the nightmare we lived while we waited for him to come home from work.  I can’t hold back my tears.

When Mark was a little boy, he never admitted to crying. He maintained his eyes were leaking. They leak again tonight.

I’m still talking when the buzzer sounds on the dryer. While I fold and stack, Mark stands and listens. My words tumble over each other like rocks pushed downstream in a fast-running river.

At length, the torrent slows and Mark has a chance to speak.  He asks if he should drive us back to Texas. Suggests I start making notes for when we talk to the doctor.  “You’ll see someone right away, Mom, right?  If you’re going to fight this, you need information.” 

No trace of panic in his tone or his words, just that look in his eyes I recognize so easily.   I saw it when he climbed his first tree, wrestled with his older brothers, filled out college applications—that look that saw past  the circumstances, the obstacles, the pain, or whatever else stood between him and his goals.  I find strength in that look. 

Thank You, Father, for showing me the way forward. We’re not stuck in darkness; we can move toward the light, one goal, one step at a time. Help me focus my efforts on what is possible. I know I can get information. With information I can find out what kind of help we need. Once I know what we need, I can go after it. I ask for courage and determination and insight as I begin this quest.  With You, no mission is impossible.