The Things We Do

The things we caregivers do…sometimes they don’t make a bit of sense!

Or do they?

piecesThe other day, looking through the closet where I stash new toys for my grandchildren, I came across some puzzles stacked in a corner on a high shelf. I didn’t remember them at first.

I opened one box and touched the odd shapes of cardboard; clearly the puzzle had never been worked. The edges of each piece were still crisp, not rounded or soft as they would be if my grandchildren had squeezed them into the right—or wrong—places. There were three boxes, each with the same “new” look.

turtleCool! I thought. Must have gotten these a while back and then forgotten them. Clearly they were for children: large pieces; cute pictures of animals; bright, primary colors. The turtle had 4 pieces; the teddy bear picnic, 15; the kitten on the fence, 30. Good! They must have been intended for three different age levels; that would mean years of entertainment.

That thought led to a discovery; the discovery triggered my memory. Looking for the age designations on the boxes, I found instead a neatly cut hole on the side of each lid. I frowned with irritation—who would so intentionally remove that information? Then I remembered: me. I removed it right after I purchased the puzzles.

teddy bearsBack when Alzheimer’s still allowed Mom some good days, I was always looking for activities that would keep her challenged and entertained. The activity had to balance on a thin line: too difficult and Mom would get exasperated and angry; too easy and she’d be insulted and angry.

Somehow I came up with the idea of children’s puzzles. I could get several, each for a different age level. That way I was sure to find one she could do and enjoy. It seemed like a great idea.

Until I envisioned putting the puzzles in front of Mom. What if she noticed the “Ages 4-7” label on the side of the teddy bear picnic box? Or “6-10” on the kitten or “2+” on the turtle box? Surely she’d be confused, even hurt. The thought of her looking at the numbers and seeing I had chosen children’s puzzles for her almost brought me to tears. So I carefully cut away the offending section of each box top.

kitten on fenceAs I recall, when I brought out the puzzles, Mom scarcely looked at them. I’m sure I called her attention to the animal pictures and started putting some of the pieces together. But Mom wasn’t interested. She ignored the bright boxes, and me. I guess I hadn’t chosen the right day to give them to her. And, apparently, the right day never came along.

At times like those, I had learned not to take Mom’s actions personally. A hard lesson, for every caregiver, but an extremely important one. Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia rob those we care for of the ability to consider a situation or a person or an event and decide how they should react. The disease can be as cruel to family and caregivers as it is to its victims. So gradually we must adjust, accepting that it’s the disease acting, not the person we’re caring for.

But what struck me last week when I found the puzzles wasn’t disappointment that Mom never got to enjoy them. Instead, I wondered what on earth I was thinking when I worried about words on the side of a puzzle box! Worried about them to the extent that I cut them off very carefully, hoping that straight lines and un-frayed edges would disguise the holes in the lids.hole in puzzleWhat was I thinking??? So much worry over something so silly!

Looking back, seeing how desperate I was to protect Mom when she was already so far away, has left me with a hangover of sadness. Since then, I’ve struggled to enter that ache, and name it. I know if I can name my pain, I can take it apart, see it for what it truly is, and use it for something good.

So I’ve thought a lot about those neatly cut holes.

Why? Why? Why? If I really believed I was protecting Mom, it was protection she didn’t need. She didn’t read anymore, and even if she did, she was long past being able to understand the concept of age levels.

But…

I understood that concept. And it pained me to hand a teddy bear puzzle made for 5 year olds to my beautiful, talented mother. So I removed the evidence of her decline. For myself. For my father. And I did it carefully, with great precision. In contrast to the crooked and wandering trajectory of our days, I cut out the painful words with straight, controlled strokes. The edges were clean, not messy and frayed like our lives and our hearts.

heart peopleNo, I didn’t see back then that my motivation for removing the labels was anything other than shielding Mom from possible confusion or hurt. But I knew taking that action made me feel better.

And now I know why.

As a caregiver, are you ever tempted to call some of your words or actions “silly”? Look carefully first. Or better still, just give yourself the benefit of the doubt. If those seemingly pointless activities make you feel better or safer or happier, then they are important. They make sense.

mended heartTrust yourself. The same intuition and instincts that make you a good caregiver for someone else will help you take care of you.

How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures….All creatures look to you….when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. (Ps. 104:24, 28 NIV)

We need You, Father, every day. In every circumstance, we need Your guidance. Show us what our loved ones need, and open our eyes to our own needs also. Thank You for Your care for all of us.

Promise Kept

Crossing Beaver Creek on I-45 headed north out of Houston, I marveled at signs of the warm winter. The shoulders of the highway were freshly mown. Beyond the fences, pastures had claimed green victory over their thin brown blankets of last year’s foliage, and trees already boasted a light beard of adolescent leaves. I glanced up at my dashboard thermometer: outside temperature, 80 degrees. December 21 in southeast Texas.

“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan….” The words of a favorite carol filled the car, borne from front seat to back on an air conditioned breeze. “Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow….” I found it difficult to imagine myself traveling through a cold afternoon, headed toward a colder night in Bethlehem. The earth was green around me, not white. Not even the sky would cooperate. Pushed north by a wet south wind, clouds overtook me. They crowded out the blue overhead and made shifting shadows across the fields.

The warm, humid afternoon moved relentlessly on toward a warm, humid evening and what would be a dark, starless night. If this weather held for the next four days, and it almost certainly would, modern-day shepherds would have no beacon to lead them to the stable.

“Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone….” Cruising up the highway, I was glad for an easier trip than Bethlehem’s sheep herders had faced. I made it back to my own tiny flock just about dark. They were pretty much where I had left them on the sunny day before, but bleak midwinter had moved in with a chill, as it was wont to do. Mom sat in her chair, shuffling her feet, restless with confusion and fear. Dad slumped in the chair beside her and, lethargic with fatigue and hopelessness, half-watched the six o’clock news on TV. This room was even darker than the sky over Beaver Creek—no haloed moon, no twinkling star, not even a fluffy white cloud.

I brewed tea for Mom, let it cool to lukewarm in her cup, then held it out to her. “Tea, Mama?”

With a slap at my hand, she declined.

Dad didn’t want tea either. You can lead your flock to the kettle, but you can’t make them drink. So we sat in silence—Mom still shuffling her feet, Dad still watching the news—while I prayed for a Christmas miracle.

When it arrived, as I knew it would, it was heralded in song.

The kindergarten class from a local school closed out the newscast with five minutes of Christmas songs.While they bounced on their toes through Jingle Bells, Mom asked, “Who is that?” When they made snowball-rolling gestures through Frosty, she stopped shuffling, reached out to touch my father’s arm, and said, “Look, Daddy. Look what they’re doing.” And when they warned us with stern faces that we better watch out because Santa Claus was coming to town, Dad’s chuckle became a laugh. Mom looked from the TV to his face, then turned back to the screen and the singing children. And smiled.

The clouds of confusion and fatigue broke. “Angels and archangels may have gathered there/Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air.” In the bleak midwinter of Alzheimer’s, Mom and Dad and I lived the Christmas miracle. We saw the star and heard the angelic choir, their singing as sweet and innocent as a Babe, as simple and strong as a Promise kept.

Caregivers are shepherds. We care for our sheep in lonely pastures, often in the dark. But, like Christmas, the miracles come. We know angels are singing, and sometimes we can hear them. We know the guiding star is bright, and sometimes we catch sight of it through the clouds. Regardless, we know. We believe. We give thanks.

“What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.               Luke 2:8-20 (NIV)                                                  

For a song in the night, we thank You, Lord. For the star and its light, we thank You, Lord. For the Promise kept, we thank You, Lord.

The Power of Need

As much as we love them, we still get tired.

As much patience as we show them, we still get frustrated.

As many times as we come back to the caregiving task, and come back and come back and come back, we still wish it were easier. More pleasant. Or over.

But the task goes on and here we are.

Why?

For the same reason we showed up that very first day: need. When we look at our loved ones, the need we see in them has the power to pick us up and keep us going. It makes us dig deep for more patience. And it draws us back to the caring, day after day.

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Need. In my parents’ home, I could see it, yes, but I could also feel it, like an atmosphere that weighted the air.

I left the early morning scent of grass and pansies behind as I stepped over the threshold.

“’Mornin’, Katrinka!” Dad bellowed from the kitchen.

I smiled as I always did when Dad called me by the name that only he used. But my radar had already detected a something’s-not-right signal in his voice. Couldn’t be Mom; she sat at the table, tea in front of her, a little orange juice left in her glass, and toast spread with her favorite plum jelly cut into bite-size pieces on her yellow breakfast plate. Charley-Dog sat at her feet, waiting for the treats that were sure to drop down to him. Everything in order—but not right.

“How are you this morning, Mama?” I asked as I made my own tea in the kitchen.

No answer.

I sat at the table and tried again. “You doing ok, Mama?”

She shifted in her chair, smiled, and tapped one index finger against her cheek.

Dad sat down hard and gave a loud sigh, like steam escaping from a pressure cooker. “See that?” he said, nodding toward Mom. “That’s all she’s done all morning. Drank her juice ok, but took one bite of her toast, spit it out, and won’t eat another thing.”

When I looked back to her, Mom’s lips were still smiling. But the rest of her face frowned.

“What is it?” I stood over her and studied her cheek. When I touched it she backed away. “Does something hurt, Mama?”

Again, the tapping. Again, Dad’s sigh, to which he added harsh words: “Marie, tell us what you want to say.” Then, to me, “I looked in her mouth. Can’t see a single thing wrong.” And back to Mom, softer this time, “Marie, eat some of your toast. You’ll feel better.”

Surprisingly, Mom complied. She picked up a little square, one with a big glob of jelly on it, and put it into her mouth. As soon as she closed her jaws, they snapped open again. She worked her lips and tongue until the toast fell out.

“Daddy, it has to be her teeth,” I said. “Or something with her jaws.”

“I thought so too. But I checked and her teeth look fine. Her jaws? How could she hurt her jaws?”

By now Dad’s voice was so loud, it had blown the smile from Mom’s face.  She half stood, sat again, shuffled her bare feet on the floor beneath her chair. While she shuffled, I gently touched her jaws. “Will you open your mouth for me, Mama?” She lifted her head, but kept her mouth closed. “It’s ok,” I said. “I won’t touch anything; I just want to look.”

In this blog, we’ve talked about the drastic decline in Mom’s personal hygiene. Barely often enough, I managed to get her into the bath tub. Far less often, I sneaked in a shampoo. But her dentures? I hadn’t ventured there. Getting them out, cleaning them, and getting them back in? The right way? No. I had drawn the line at teeth. A perforated line, maybe, but broad and bold. Dad used to run a toothbrush around in Mom’s mouth occasionally, but she hadn’t allowed that in a long time. Years. So I really wasn’t anxious to examine Mom’s mouth and teeth.

But, need. This room—Mom with no breakfast and that tapping finger, Dad with the anger he always wore when he was worried about her—this room was full of it. Scooting through a gap in the line I’d drawn, need demanded I help.

When Mom opened her mouth, I saw the problem immediately: a line of teeth pointed down into her bottom gums. The dentures on top were fine, but the bottom ones were upside down. Teeth-side down. So when Mom tried to chew, the top teeth pressed the bottom teeth into her guns.

“It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.” In the course of our caregiving days, Dad and I had come to believe in that principle. Heartily. So despite my promise to “just look,” I reached into Mom’s mouth and grabbed the bottom teeth. Immediately, her torso drooped, in relief, I’m sure. Mine stiffened as I realized what I held in my hand. Without looking too hard or thinking too long, I turned the dentures over and dropped them, right side up, back into Mom’s mouth.

This time her smile covered every feature of her face. Dad sputtered his relief, though he simply couldn’t understand how in the world Mom had managed to engineer a way to bite herself. “Oh, I know she didn’t mean to do it,” he said as I washed my hands. “But she did it! No wonder she couldn’t eat!”

A still greater wonder to him was the fact that he had looked in her mouth but hadn’t seen anything wrong. I waited till later in the afternoon to tell him that, in a case like this, he must call me to check things out. His macular degeneration made us unable to trust anything he saw, or didn’t see.

Once the problem was solved, we had a good laugh about it. Mom ate all her toast and wanted more, so Dad made more and we all had some.

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Need. It’s always there for caregivers. It’s the enemy we fight and the reason we keep returning to the battlefield.

And there is another, more personal way need can help caregiversSurely we have needs of our own. We crave rest to battle exhaustion. Relaxation to replace stress. Certainty in the face of confusion. Hope to overcome despair.

How do our own needs serve us? They remind us to look up. They turn us to the Lord, the one Source of all power and strength and courage and mercy. Our needs teach us to ask for what we need, and to be grateful for what we receive.

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I (Isaiah 58:8-9 NIV).

Lord, remind us to look to You every day and night. You alone can give us the strength, wisdom, and perseverance to meet the needs of our loved ones. You alone can comfort, strengthen, and encourage us. You are All in all. We praise You. We thank You.

The Sudden Yes

I kneel on the damp rug in the pink tiled bathroom and let my arms drop to my sides.  Turning my palms up, I bend forward until the backs of my fingers touch the fuzzy loops of the rug.

“Thank you, Lord,” I whisper.  Smiling with relief.  Tearful with gratitude.  Still amazed by the miracle He worked here just a while ago.

Mom consented to a bath.

“Thank you, Lord.  Thank you.”

This bath is Mom’s first in three weeks or more.  I have suggested or asked or pleaded with her almost every day, sighed when she said no, then prayed that tomorrow will be the day she says yes. Her refusal to bathe is stacked among myriad other refusals, like so many boulders stuck in a muddy road.  No to breakfast, no to medications, no to combing her hair, changing clothes, putting on shoes.  So many no’s from Mom, so many prayers from me.

And so many answers from the Lord! Answers delivered in a stunning way, like sunlight breaking through a storm cloud.  “Yes!”  My mother’s sudden yes.  Yes, she will eat.  Yes, she will walk outside for a while.

Today, yes, she would take a bath. A miracle.

Now the tub is rinsed, the shampoo bottle capped, the towels back on the rack.  Mom is settled in her chair facing my father’s, with Charlie dog between them.   I linger in the bathroom, savoring the sweetness of the past hour, listening to my father’s booming praise for the woman he still loves so patiently, so dearly.

“Look at you, Honey!  You look beautiful!”

“My hair is all wet,” she says. I can’t see her, but I imagine Mom patting her head, a smile flitting around her lips, settling in her eyes. Her words are single syllable notes I can scarcely make out in the loud chorus of celebration from my father.

“It’s shiny!” he fairly roars. “Clean and combed and shiny!”

“Thank you, Lord.” I must say it once more before I rise from the rug.  For my father’s joy, my mother’s calm, my own relief.  They will be fuel for our hope for many days to come. 

The Lord met us here today with His sweet provision.  With wisdom, the promised reward of patience.  The wisdom of warm water, slow movements, a daughter’s perseverance, a husband’s devotion.  This bath, this one miracle in the string of daily miracles we are given in answer to our prayers, will light our steps forward.  Small steps, and slow, but taken with the Lord of all hope leading the way.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up  (Galatians 6:9 NIV).

We pray to You, Father, in weariness, but with faith. We pray in desperation, but with hope. We pray in confusion, but believing that You hear, trusting You will answer our prayers with power and mercy. Great is Your faithfulness. Thank You, Lord.

Good Night

As morning problems have to do with getting started, the evening challenge is to wind up the day and get some sleep. Fatigue adds stress in any situation. In an Alzheimer’s household, fatigue can make evenings seem unbearably long.

Dad and I are exhausted, but we can’t rest til Mom is safely in bed.

Mom is tired, but she doesn’t understand how to “fix” that feeling, and is in no mood to cooperate when we try to help her.

Seems we’re all trapped in the dark.

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I concentrate on five strategies to get us all unstuck and tucked in:

1)  Don’t argue with Mom. Agree with her version of reality.

2)  Use actions, not words, to calm her anxieties.

3)  If she refuses to go to bed, be ready to back off and try again.

4)  Old behaviors and routines can help Mom cooperate.

5)  Talk works well as a distraction when I’m maneuvering Mom in a direction she doesn’t want to go.

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 These strategies take time, but they work.

Arguing with Mom—or any Alzheimer’s patient—is worse than pointless. Trying to convince her of what is clear and reasonable to me only increases her frustration and confusion. So when she says she’s afraid a fire might destroy the house during the night, I do not try to convince her that the house is safe. Instead, I agree that a fire in the night would be a problem. Then…

…I take action. Instead of relying on words to convince her the house is safe, I walk through it, every room, “checking it.” Mom sees that I take her fear seriously. Watching me act on her reality helps her accept my words.

If Mom refuses my first suggestion of bedtime, I have two choices. I can use physical strength to make her cooperate, or I can back off and try again later. As I pointed out in the previous post, I always do the latter. For one thing, trying to force Mom to do something would likely get one or both of us hurt. And Mom still wouldn’t be in bed. Waiting a few minutes gives Mom time to forget my earlier request and her earlier refusal. I ask her again, as if for the first time. Sometimes she says yes in relatively short order. But if not, I don’t ask any more. I move on to the next strategy.

Old behaviors and routines can help your loved one cooperate. If you remember a habit your loved one used to engage in, use it to accomplish what needs to be done. For example: my mother used to love to share trivial information with me or my sister that she pointedly refused to tell my father. She enjoyed feeling she knew things he didn’t know. So some evenings when she doesn’t want to go to bed, I coax her into the bathroom on the pretense of telling her something important. I whisper that “Daddy doesn’t need to know this; this is just for you and me.” I’m not sure she understands, but clearly something in her mind reacts to my drama of secrecy, and she accompanies me to the bathroom. Once there, I just talk girl talk – what I should wear to a non-existent party, who’s dating whom in Hollywood – it doesn’t matter as long I keep whispering and giggling. All through the difficult clean-up jobs, the persuasion to change her clothes from the skin out, the washing of hands and face – girl talk.

Talk has another useful purpose. In the evening or at any time of day when you must persuade your loved one to move in a certain direction, non-stop talk can be the distraction you need. In the evening, for example, whether during the trip to the bathroom or from the bathroom to the bed, I could take Mom’s arm and maneuver her with the bulk of my body. If she was inclined to resist, I’d start talking, laughing, asking questions. The non-stop chatter drew her attention away from where we going, and by the time we got there, she had usually forgotten she didn’t want to go.

Finally, the one strategy that applies across the board in caregiving bears repeating here. We must believe. Believe that the day can end sweetly, sleep will come, rest will refresh us all, and – whether through the night or in the light of day – we are never alone. Knowing and believing give us strength, energy, and compassion to pass along to our loved ones. They keep us moving forward.

When we’re tired, Lord, it’s not easy to remember You’re with us. At those times, remind us, please, of evenings in the past when You turned stress to calm and fatigue to peaceful sleep. Those memories give us strength in the present and confidence for the future.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

(Matthew 11:28.NIV)

Christmas Carols

The techno tree stood on a maple table in the den.  An unlikely hero, it was less than two feet tall counting the motorized revolving base.  Forest green branches stuck out from its black metal trunk, short and spiky at the top, longer toward the bottom, giving it the approximate shape of a fir tree. A Christmas tree. Totally unadorned save for fiber-optic lights that, at the flip of a switch, glowed in changing colors from the tip of each branch.

My sister gave the tree to my parents in hopes it would brighten a holiday dimmed by Alzheimer’s. Dad had little faith anything could penetrate my mom’s darkness, and I had to agree. As I made daily trips from my home to theirs to help him care for her, I saw no signs this year would be better than last.

A year ago Dad and I made cookies, wrapped gifts, lit lights.  I draped a white sheet over a small table and there, on 250 thread count snow, I arranged the old figures around the shaggy stable.  But Mom had forgotten about the stable and the Baby, and though she ate most of the cookies, she professed to like “those regular ones” better.  The bright gifts evoked so many questions, repeated hour after hour, day after day, eventually I put them out of sight.

So this year, until the gift of the funky little tree, we made no Christmas preparations.  Twelve months had stolen so much more from Mom and filled the vacuum with new fears, more confusion.  The good days were rarer; the bad ones, worse.

Almost forgotten, the tree sat dark until late evening on one of those bad days.  As she sat at the kitchen table with Dad and me, Mom’s face still wore vestiges of the anger that had propelled her through the afternoon.  She perched crooked and stiff on the edge of the chair.  Her feet shuffled like children who couldn’t be still.  Our spirits were brittle with fatigue; the house, chill with despair.  Perhaps it was desperation that turned Dad’s gaze out of the kitchen, here, there, away from the heaviness that shrouded the table.  Then his feet followed his eyes into the den.

“Where are you going?  What are you doing?” Mom growled as he walked toward the tree.

Dad said nothing, only reached down to flip the switch on the plastic base.  From the fiber-optic branches tiny beams of color, delicate as starlight, ventured out across the room.  Green, blue, violet snowflakes floating into the grey air, across the brown carpet, dancing on the furniture.

With a tiny hum, the tree turned ever so slowly, and ever so slowly Mom relaxed.  Her feet were still.  Her shoulders sagged into the back of the chair.

“It’s a Christmas tree, honey,” Dad said, almost whispered, afraid, as I was, to break the sudden calm.  “Do you like it?  It’s a Christmas tree.”

Just as softly, I began to sing.  “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are thy branches….”

The old German carol.  My mother’s favorite.  In the time of my childhood when the first strains of Christmas music opened my heart like a jewelry box ready to receive all the bright treasures of the season, I waited each year with great anticipation for Mom to hear “her” carol playing on the radio.  Because when she did, she would stop what she was doing and sing along, while my sister and I watched and smiled in wonder at the change in her face.  Every feature would soften as she lifted her chin and raised her eyes to a long ago past.  I could feel the room grow warmer as she sang.  And then always the same ending: “We learned that song in school.”

It was like a story to us, Mom’s singing and her words, “We learned that song in school.”  Most of the story was told in the look on her face and the emotion in her voice, with the outcome always the same:  love for the fair fir tree.  Peace.  Happiness.

Apparently not even Alzheimer’s could steal that remembrance from Mom.  Somehow, evoked by the techno tree with its sweet hypnotic light, the melody of the old carol had survived in her memory, like a gift still wrapped in bright hope.

“O fir tree dark, O fir tree fair…” I sang on to her.  Then at the end, “You learned that song in school, right?”

And the gift unwrapped itself on Mom’s face.  Anxious lines opened into softness and, subtle as candlelight, her eyes flickered in recognition of…what?

Peace: the heart of the Christmas story.  A tree, a Gift.  The sweetest story.  The oldest, the eternal carol.

Glory in the highest.

Thank You, Father, for Your miracles of love, given at Christmas, given all year long. You gave us life, and You gave us Your Son. Your Son gave us new life, and He gave us His Spirit.

And when we cannot even imagine the magnitude of those gifts, You say, “Look here, Child. Look at Christmas. This Christmas. This evening. A tree that broke the hold of dementia. A song that opened a mind and a heart. Light and melody that brought peace and joy. That is how much I love you. Believe it: that is how much I love you.”

I believe, Father. Thank You.

“My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….For the mighty One has done great things for me—holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-47,49  NIV).

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.

 

 

Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog, Living With Miracles!

Here you’ll find devotionals written specifically for those who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, along with their families, friends, and anyone who supports them. 

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I had no formal training, no experience, and no friends or associates who could share their insights regarding the caregiving job I was about to undertake. I was hungry for help, but also for hope and encouragement. I wanted to guide Mom, protect her, and do all in my power to help her and Dad continue to enjoy life. 

But the road through the wilderness of Alzheimer’s was filled with questions. What did we find as we searched for answers? Hard realities, yes. But also…

Miracles! As we wound along the dark path, we found guideposts and warm cottages where we could rest. We found shortcuts and scenic byways. We traveled through times and places and events of almost unbearable sadness, but we were also refreshed by moments of humor, when laughter rang loud and true. We met kind people all along the way, ready to help, encourage, sympathize, or simply smile.They were the biggest miracles of all, the ones for whom we were most grateful.

I pray these devotionals remind you of God’s power and mercy working with you, for you, every day. I’ve been where you are. I’ve held a hand very like the one you are holding. I saw God’s miracles. Be watchful; I know you’ll see them too.

You have my prayers. May you know His peace.