“Do not be like them…”

It is so hard to try and break the chains that have bound us in this life. We have chains that stretch back through generations. We inherit tendencies from our ancestors. The world impacts us. And sometimes it can help us break away from these ugly traits, habits, and tendencies. And sometimes it can enhance the ugly, or at least, reflect back what we are putting out there. And sometimes we can glaringly see these chains for what they are. It is then that we have to choose. Do we keep hanging on to them, or do we break them?

When you are a caregiver, or if you have chronically ill family members, you can see these chains in action. You see deep interactions between family members. Every day is a life-or-death day, due to these illnesses. So these expressions of family ties are heightened. You get things flung in your face on a regular basis. Your childhood comes leaping to the forefront. All my life I have been told, “Just don’t be like your mother.” I mean, my entire life. And now my mom lives with me. (Oh, the irony on so many levels!!!) But the interesting thing is that, for the most part, I enjoy my mom’s company. She is very, very difficult, and when she has one of her “forgetting” days, life is a challenge. I have learned to “step to the left” or to remind myself that “it is just a moment.” (I actually have post-it-notes that say that on my bathroom mirror). And today, well, today was not about mom, but it made me reflect on the urgings thrust upon me to not be like her, when the reality was more of “be like me” from my father. And he thinks he is pretty much perfect, always right, and that we all should learn from his example. And that has been for my whole life, too. Sigh. And somehow, even as a child, I tried to tap-dance somewhere in the middle of the both of them. Ha-Ha-Ha. One of my sons pointed out that my father is alone, and a lonely old man, who will probably die a lonely old man. It mades me sad. I think that my father believes it is okay to lash out and blame everyone for his state in life, because he is so lonely. However, he has never taken responsibility for life being what it is for him. He has never faced up to his own choices and the repercussions for those choices. And it makes me sad. I have tried, consistently, to forgive over time, (“Seventy times seven times” Matthew 18:22) hoping for a different outcome. Today’s phone call was much of the same. Silly me.

And sometimes, your genealogy, your ancestral inheritance, slaps you in the face. I had that today. And I hung up on it. Ha-Ha-Ha. You see, I allowed the God Box in the God Closet (see previous posts) that are reserved for this tumultuous relationship I have with me father, to be opened. Again. Sigh. And today my proverbial last nerve snapped. And so I hung up, mid rant. That was hard, because time for our relationship is running out. And that could very well be our final conversation. But I said what I wanted to say, and I chose to break those chains and not repeat all of that crap with my own family, my own children and grandchildren. The revelation for me was that today I was just finally done with it. I was completely overloaded. I just could not find room for more. Part of it is, I am sure, caretaker burn out. But most of it is so much of the same for more than 60 years, that it finally took its tole on my psyche, and my heart and soul.

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8

There are lots of Scriptures I could have quoted about love and forgiveness. But even Christ was angry (money changers in the temple comes to mind) and frustrated. I can only lay out mercy and forgiveness. So if the one I forgive or have mercy towards tramples that, and accuses me of not being forgiving, I can only lay it out there for them. It is their choice to accept it. The person seeking forgiveness, and the person giving forgiveness, can both become better for the experience. Can or may are the key words in all of this. It is still a choice. It is the expression of free will. Today I chose to “not be like them.” I chose to walk away, because “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” He knows what this situation needs. I leave it fully in His hands. Fully. Because I cannot do this, any longer, or again.

Today, I am turning these chains, this history, this inheritance, this genetic thing, all of it, back over to God. And I am, once again, getting out of the way. The Lord will sort it out. I have faith! I hate that I keep allowing this to happen to me. And I am so thankful my Lord and God is so patient with me. The proverbial God Box was shut, and the same God Closet was closed. Again. I am still learning! Ha-Ha-Ha!

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“…and a quieting of my anxieties…”

Ah, “dementialand.” Truly a place you do NOT want to visit if you can avoid it. But we have it living in our house. Don’t be jealous…

I don’t think anyone can be prepared for the absolute drain of caring for someone with Dementia…and there are so many types of dementia.

Dementia: “a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.”

What no one tells you, is that each dementing illness has its own set of symptoms and those symptoms also vary from person to person, family to family, moment to moment. There is nothing static about dementing illnesses. There is just disease progression; no disease regression, or cure.

I am blessed with both parents having a form of dementia. My parents divorced more than 40 years ago, and I find it ironic that they are both now suffering from dementing illnesses, even though they are 1000s of miles apart. Each often asks about the other one, which is also very ironic. (Family history is for another time). My dad is exhibiting symptoms slightly different from my mom. His dementia is sometimes based in a Parkinson’s origin, but his new doctor is disputing that. So his official diagnosis is now up in the air. (Another irony is his wife also has dementia. God has me totally cracking up with that ironic situation). My mom was diagnosed almost 10 years ago with Alzheimer’s, a particularly heinous form of dementia. There are studies emerging almost daily online which promise a cure or abatement of some sort. Once you dip your toe into the water of dementing illnesses, you learn far more than you ever thought there was to know, about neurological diseases, and you find yourself on all these web sites, being referred by other caregivers, touting new discoveries. I think some days it is just a form of hope, written down for others to see. Little strings of hope dangling from this miasma of neurological diseases. But then your loved one does something particularly annoying, or particularly difficult to deal with, or even funny, and those strings of hope are severed yet again.

I used to collect clocks and watches. My great-grandmother had this wonderful mantle clock and I was lucky enough to inherit it from her. I also inherited my grandmother’s mantle clock. And I have inherited watches, too. My husband can tell you that pocket watches do not go through the washer very well! All these clocks had a wonderful sound all their own. Their ticking and tocking through the day brought me such comfort. I am such a huge fan of the “Winchester” chimes. But now, I really hate clocks and watches, and paying attention to time passing. Why? Because my mom is obsessed. She looks at her watch all the time. She can barely see the watch, even though we bought her a new one for Christmas with a lit and enlarged face, so she can see it easier. She looks at clocks. We have, in our great room, a total of 5 clocks, and she wears her watch. Sigh. She is constantly commenting on time: “What time do you have? I don’t think my watch is working” or “Oh my word, it is 4:15! Can you believe it?” and “Oh my goodness, it is 4:30. Where does the time fly?” And then, “Oh, it is 4:45! It sure doesn’t seem like it.” Followed by, “Can you believe it is 5:00 already?” Yes. All day long. About every 15 minutes. On the drive home from my son’s house on Saturday, a drive that takes about 25 minutes, she remarked on the time every 5 or so minutes. And I am NOT exaggerating. At all. It is just one of the many oddities Alzheimer’s has brought to the forefront for my mom.

Another one that has provided hours of conversation, giggles, tears, and slamming doors, is make-up. Most specifically, eyebrows. Oh my word. I recall more than ten years ago, speaking with my stepdad on the phone and he all-of-a-sudden he yells, “Oh damn. I hate those eyebrows! She is throwing her eyebrow pencil at the mirror and starting over. She has already been in there an hour!!” That was over ten years ago. Eyebrows have always been an issue for mom. She used shave off all but a little puff of hair near the center and pencil in the rest. She now has random white hairs on her eyebrow area, but you cannot even see them. She also wears glasses, so they hide most of her eyebrows, as well. And that gives her free reign to put them wherever she feels they need to be, in that moment. Usually, they are large, dark, vibrant, and on her forehead. The darkness or severity also changes with the color. She bought a color of pencil that I told her was too dark, but she insisted, telling me, “I have always worn this color. It matches my hair.” The next day, her brows became these large, vibrant orange slashes on the forehead of a woman with predominantly white hair. Our family chuckled enough times over the next few days, until I could not take it any longer, and bought her the right color. Well, I bought blonde, but I wish they had a gray eyebrow pencil. Ha-Ha-Ha. A mistake I made was I also bought her some new eyeliner. Huge boo-boo. The next morning, she emerged with eyebrows using eyeliner, and they were a masterpiece. Ha-Ha-Ha. She still does not understand the two pencils are for different purposes (and the eyeliner is dark brown. Yeah). Every morning, mom walks around the corner into the “great room” to say, “Good morning, my children!” in her cheery, annoying morning voice, and already her earrings and watch are on, lipstick applied, and EYEBROWS! Me? I am barely awake, chugging coffee. This morning I woke at 5:00 am because the state bird of Alaska is back – the dreaded mosquito in its various forms. One or two found me this weekend and I was itching like mad. I finally got out of bed around 5:30 from the endless itching and quietly walked to the pantry and applied my Purification Essential Oil to the bites (totally removes the itching) and then I started the coffee. I sat down to check Twitter and Facebook, and out walks mom. Sigh. “Good morning, my children!” Fully prepared for her day in her pjs, robe, socks, eyebrows, lipstick, watch, and earrings. And it was barely 6:10 am.

There are so many aspects to this disease that bring moments of utter clarity and joy. We have times where we are just laughing. And sometimes it is over innocuous things like a certain brand of Depends! We can laugh about our wrinkles and the desire for a milkshake in a random moment. We laugh at the dog’s antics. We joke about her not hearing things. We tease her about “climbing the mountain” and getting into bed each night. Her amazing hugs and, “Goodnight sweetheart.” And we relish those moments. This weekend was filled with all those other moments. And mom’s clarity of thought is becoming more and more diminished. In the dementia community, we realize these phases are sort of milestones or plateaus. Only they are not upward plateaus, but downward spirals that end at a certain point, until the next phase begins. And I believe these plateaus are points our loved ones reach, in a sort of negative way, and they never go back up a step. Never. We may have lucid moments, but we have to lessen our expectations, as they sink further into their own minds. This weekend was a space of two days in which Mom fell deeper and deeper into Alzheimer’s. Her world is becoming simpler and closer to home. She is singular in thought and on Saturday, she took 2 1/2 hours to get dressed. She changed her clothes twice. Her eyebrows, eyeliner, blush, lipstick was applied. She was dressed inappropriately for the weather, but was determined to wear what she wanted. We attended an open house for an amazing agency that has helped us so much, and she hated it. She wanted to leave. She was rude and pushy and did not want to be there. We left, after less than a an half hour (after taking so long to get dressed) and she was happier in the car, getting a cup of English Toffee coffee, and driving to my son’s house. It was so stressful. And after we had dinner, she was looking for her purse and she wanted to go home. Sigh. And then checking the time issue I mentioned above. Every. Five. Minutes. Sigh. (I sigh these days, a lot).

Mom is confused easily. And one of the interesting things is what amuses her. You can give her the simplest objects and they can keep her busy for hours. We are transitioning to these med packs, exactly as the ones above. It is truly going to change our lives. We were given a sample to bring home, filled with M&M candies. Mom literally ready every box. She turned it over and over. It kept her occupied for more than 45 minutes. And when I went to pick it up, she asked me why I was taking it from her. I told her it was a sample to show how her new medications would come. She did not seem to care for that, she wanted the M&Ms inside! Ha-Ha-Ha. I told her it was a sample and I had no idea how old the candy was. She was so disappointed. She then proceeded to fold and flatten the pharmacy bag it came in; refold it; flatten it; and then opened it and started over again. For over 1/2 an hour. I was told about a woman whose father-in-law who lived in a  memory home. They used to ask him to help fold wash cloths in a large basket. He would fold them all and stack them up. They would take them from him, thanking him for his help, and about 30 minutes later, bring him back the same basket with all the wash cloths in disarray, to fold them all over again. He had no idea the basket was given to person after person, all day long. And it gave me an idea. I will bring out that sample packet again later today. We will see if it does the same thing.

I am having a hard time adjusting to this newest phase. My oldest son surprised me with a visit this morning. Mom did not even acknowledge his presence, neither did she even look at us. She snored so loud we both quickly looked over at her, but it did not even phase her. She was still asleep. And she didn’t notice when he left, and doesn’t recall he was ever here. She is still on the couch in her pjs, watching Steve Harvey do his thing. I’m doing laundry and blogging. She never notices when I come and go, nor what I am doing. She is awake – asleep – awake. Not motivated to do much of anything. And this is the backside of taking a step onto that lower plateau. It exhausts her, adapting to her new reality. Her world contracted again. And I am sad. Very sad. I can do nothing. And sadly enough, I enjoy these moments of her just snoozing, waking, and snoozing. She is much happier and not snapping my head off or asking the time. Ha-Ha-Ha. We sit here in companionship, adjusting to this new, lower plateau.

Just be prepared, when you enter this thing called Dementia. It is a journey. It is not an event. It changes literally everything about your life, as a caregiver. It changes the world of the person suffering from it. And you become more than you were before you took this on, and you become much less, at the same time. You learned to “step to the left” and not let all the moments that are horrid undo you. You also learn to take lots of deep breaths and just move on. You get some wonderful hugs and laughs and giggles. But you also get the time with your loved one, helping them transition to that last stage, where they say goodbye for the last time. And that, my friend, is a blessing.

A Caregiver’s Prayer

Dear Lord, help me better understand
and believe I can do what you ask me to do.

Forgive me for the times, even now,
when I question your judgment.

As I go about the many daily tasks of caregiving, give me energy.

As I watch my mom oh-so-slowly walk
across the room, give me strength.

As I answer her repeated question
just one more time, give me patience.

As I look for solutions to whatever
is the most recent concern, give me wisdom.

As I reminisce with her about the
“good old days,” give me a moment of laughter.

As I get to know my loved one in a new way,
seeing both her strength and frailty, give me joy.

As I sit beside my loved mom’s bed waiting
for her pain medication to take effect,
give me comfort.

Lighten my burden, answer my prayer,
and give me the strength to do what
so often seems impossible.

Give me a quiet place to rest when I need it
and a quieting of my anxieties when I’m there.

Change my attitude from a tired,
frustrated, and angry caregiver
to the loving and compassionate
one I want to be.

Remain my constant companion as I face
the challenges of caregiving
and when my job is through
and it’s time for me to let go,
help me remember she is leaving my loving arms to enter your eternal embrace.

Amen.

 

 

 

“No more monkeys….”

I had a rough, rough night last night. My youngest son was rushed to the ER on order of his Chief (he is a fire fighter) and I rushed out to meet them there. He couldn’t breathe. It scared me. We were there for about 4 hours. We learned so much. And he was given breathing treatments, medication, and x-rays. It was a severe asthma attack. We were prepared for bronchitis (because both my mom and I have had it recently) and even pneumonia, but not asthma! We were told that you never outgrow asthma. If you have had it as a child, you will always have it. Once you have had an asthmatic episode, you will always have sensitive airways. I had no idea. (He had asthma as a child, but has had no episodes in more than 10 years. Our previous pediatrician told us he had outgrown it). The staff were shocked he did not have an inhaler at home for emergencies! We never knew we needed one. The respiratory therapist was amazing. The staff was so kind. If we had not been there under those circumstances, I would have enjoyed it! Ha-Ha-Ha.

This was the first time I experienced being a parent in this situation, and yet, I was just an observer. My son is legally an adult, even though he still lives at home. And for the first time in his life, and in my life as his mom all these years, no one spoke directly to me. I was on the sidelines. And it was the weirdest feeling in the world. And this is my last child. I was proud of how he conducted himself, and how he was able to negotiate his healthcare on his own. But it was hard, not to jump in and take over. Due to HIPAA laws and the fact that he is over 18, they technically could not directly address me. And that was weird, too. His fellow fire fighter was able to provide more information for the triage nurse than I was. And that was so weird, too. I came to realize he has a life outside of me and our small family. I saw my son as a man last night. Proud and devastated at the same time.

And I realized, with overwhelming clarity, that raising my last child was over. He can still learn along the way. He can still grow up to be a wonderful young man. He can still be taught life skills. But my job of helping to develop him as a person, well, is pretty much done. He is who he is. He was even approved for his own health insurance last night. They did not even ask me a single question. They only spoke to him. He was the only person to sign anything. While we drove to get his prescription, we discussed the fact that he now was truly his own person, with his own insurance, separate from his dad and me. When we got there, the pharmacist only spoke to my son, not to me. He set up his own account, with his own phone number, and his sole reference to his parents? His address. I was profoundly moved. I mean, you have these little people around you for so long. And some days, as a mom to young kids, the only time I had privacy was when I was going to the bathroom. (Even then, I was given notes slid under the door. I think they knew I was hiding. Ha-Ha-Ha). And you think you have so many years stretching ahead of you. You think it is endless, amidst the piles of laundry and runny noses. And last night, I realized that journey with our youngest child, was over. It was a pivotal moment for me.

And so we move on to the next phase, I guess. All adults. No shenanigans going on with toys and noise and dirt and chaos. We are a household of adults. Such a weird thing to wrap your head around. I mean, you wake up each day and deal with each day as it comes. And this morning, I realized everything had changed. My last baby is a grown up. Wow.

“…I will restore you…”

There was a story told by an author I admire (Peter Kreeft) and to paraphrase that story, it goes something like this:

“In our hearts and minds, we need to envision a closet, or large box, and we need to label it, “God’s Box.” And in this box, imagine smaller shoe boxes, all with labels on them. Each smaller box is filled with the things in life we cannot handle alone. We need God to take the burden from us, because it cripples us. And once we hand these things over to God, we need to shut that shoebox, put it on its shelf, and close the closet, leaving it to God. The trick is to truly leave it there, door closed. We cannot open the door unless we are adding another box. We are not supposed to open the individual boxes and peek in at them. We have left them to God.”

And I have tried to live like this. I have a God Closet in my heart. There are many, many issues that I simply cannot handle without the help of God. And every, single, time…and I really mean every, single, time I think I can take one of those little boxes out of God’s Closet and handle it on my own, life explodes. Every, single, time. And today was no different. Ha-Ha-Ha. You would think, at my age, I would have learned better.

A little singeing of your fingers is one thing. I can recover from a slight burn. But once again, life blew up. Why is it that we cannot just allow the Lord His Provenance over us? Why do we humans, with our over-confident free will, continually think, “I got this?” Ha-Ha-Ha. I really and truly do not “got this” today.

As a child, we are impressed so deeply by simple things in life. My mom is continually reminding me about laying on the grass with her grandpa as a 6 year old little girl, looking at clouds. Every time she sees the clouds in the sky, she is talking about her grandpa. She marvels at the clouds and always talks about her grandpa, and she is 88 and suffering from Alzheimer’s. But she has not forgotten that moment in her life. I have moments like that. Some are great, some not so much. And today, when my emotional explosion occurred, I was thrown back into a not-so-good moment, even though my brother and I made it better than was intended.

I was about 8 years old, and my brother close to 6 years old. We had done something we were in trouble for. We had to sit in my room, next to my bed, on the floor, in silence. So I grabbed my troll dolls and my brother and I were hilariously playing with them, in total silence. We were waiting for my dad to get home in the typical 50s parenting style of, “You just wait until your father gets home”!!! And my dad was a talker. We preferred being disciplined by him because he just talked our ears off. My mom, on the other end of the spectrum, preferred slapping. Usually on the face. (That’s another worm hole). But she would slap and be done with it. When we were in real trouble, we got slapped and then the dad lecture later in the day. And this was one of those days. We screwed up badly. But I also recall that we hid the trolls from my dad, continuing to play silently with them while he droned on. Ha-Ha-Ha. To this day, when I see troll dolls, I remember that. And how Barbie gave them rides in her pink car, along with my brother’s GI Joe dolls. Ha-Ha. Memories!! My Barbie kicked butt with those GI Joe dolls out in the dirt in our yard, too!

The point of this is that today, when that God Closet was forced open and one of the boxes had its lid torn off, I was immediately thrown back to this memory of waiting for punishment and trying to make the best of it. I recall the dip in my stomach when my dad started lecturing us, and that is what I felt this morning. I was being lectured by someone who had snuck into my God Closet and torn the lid off their box, without my permission. Well, that is not true. I allowed them access by continuing to allow them a place at my table, in my life, so to speak. And I have been burned again.

And you know what? I am okay. I can pick myself up and move along the path. The Lord is with me, and He is allowing these things to happen to me, in order to strengthen me and help me grow. I am stronger. And each time I am burned, I get wiser (well, hopefully wisdom comes to me). I share this so others can peek over the fence and see how I handle it, perhaps helping them light their path. The Lord gives us the tools, and we only need to allow Him to rule our lives, and not go on like we are the supreme commanders of our lives. We are sorely mistaken if we think God is not needed or required. This world is getting worse and worse, because we are shutting God out of it. We kicked him off the TV, the radio, and out of our schools. Prayer not allowed. I know there are TV channels reserved to programs of faith, and the same holds true for the radio, but the mainstream channels most people watch or listen to are devoid of God. We see all sorts of things God does not approve of, nor which Scriptures support. We have allowed the minority of faithless dictate to those of faith. And there is social fallout. Today, I allowed my self-confidence to come and hit me square on the chin. And I deserve that, because I chose to take the reins, when God needs to be firmly in control.

And as I face another let-down, albeit not unexpected when I consider the source, I am clinging to my faith and resting in the promises of God. And I KNOW, with complete certainty, that God has got this. Ha-Ha-Ha. I just need to pile everything in that box, re-affix the lid, and close that closet. The trick is still to not allow the door to be re-opened. And that comes through subsuming our will to God’s will for our lives. It also means that we cannot take back our gift to God of our problems and our ultimate control of the things in life we simply cannot handle. It is trusting in God’s plans for us, and resting in those promises.

Today a lid was blown off a box, allowing me to peek inside. I remembered many things, after looking into the box. And it brought me home to the fact that there are many things in my life that I am not fit to handle by myself. Things that are not properly handled when I insist on doing it myself. And you would think that after 60+ years on this planet, that I would instinctively know that. Ha-Ha-Ha. Oh no, that darned old free will is inherently strong. And that is why, my friends, faith is a journey. It is a series of events, not just one event and then “BANG” your entire world falls into place. I wish. There is no magic wand that “makes it all better.” Nope. Every day we are faced with decisions we make. Each decision takes us a step closer to God, or a step away. And in those deeper moments when we realize we cannot do this on our own, that is when we get out the marker and label another box, fill it up, and place it in God’s Closet. He can totally handle it. And He wants to handle it. Let Him. I’m going to go close that closet door now. You should, too.

Musings of a daughter on Mother’s Day…

Time is just racing by. Already it is May and here we are at Mother’s Day this weekend. And my mom is no longer visiting us (like the photo above) but rather, she lives with us. And I have been thinking about the whole mothering thing. Mom often comments to people that I am in charge now; that the roles have changed; that she is now the kid. And it is hard for us all to adjust to. We’ve had discussions the past few days about needing to further intervene and supervise, because she just cannot, any longer, function well without it. There are so many skills we all take for granted, that as we age, and especially with the added inclusion of Alzheimer’s, quickly rob us of our independence. I took another freedom from her yesterday. One less choice she is able to make. She balked, and complained, but only the first time. After doing it again today, she was in full acceptance. What did I do?

Well, we prepare her pills for her in a dispenser just like the one above. Mom can no longer determine which section to open next. She has been opening the AM sections in a row, or the PM sections in a row. And it is messing so badly with her brain functions. My brother suggested to just put out what pills she needs to take next to her water, and to remove the confusion of having to find the right lid to open. So he suggested we just put the pills in a cup! Mom was not happy. She was angry. And I felt bad that I had taken another choice away from her, or another opportunity to do something for herself. But when her medications are not given at the right time, the levels of the medication in her blood stream are affected, and it affects her ability to function. I mean, she is so off, she is in PJs for days, until her meds settle back in. I just cannot function when that happens. Seriously. It affects our entire family…down to our grandchildren.

This morning I set out her water and her pills in a cup…and she thanked me. She just took them, no questions, no comments. She then grabbed her coffee waiting on the countertop, and sat in her spot on the couch, happy as could be. Another weird thing? She brushed her teeth this morning – no prompting, no preparing of the toothbrush with the toothpaste. I am in shock! There are so many odd things like this with Alzheimer’s.

We have such good laughs. In amongst the difficulty, there is the joy of just being together. Yesterday mom got a manicure. She was so joyful and had the whole salon laughing. We then went to her favorite thrift shop to donate some clothes, and we picked up a top for her. They gave her a discount because of her donation and the shirt had a red tag and was 50% off. She paid $1.75 for it. And was so excited. We then went to Home Depot. Mom was chatting up people and then she just disappeared, while our heads were deep into which doorknob we needed! I panicked and found her in the patio furniture area, snoozing in a gliding chair. We then chose to go out to dinner at iHop, as it was on our way home. Mom wanted French Toast. She refused my help at cutting it for her, insisting she could do fine. And as we watched her, we knew she thought she had ordered just toast with a side of bacon. My husband silently tapped my thigh, asking me to let it go. She ate French Toast with her fingers, as it dripped in syrup. Ha-Ha-Ha. We ignored the entire thing, handing her extra napkins as we chatted. It was fine. When we got home around 7:00pm, she put on the new blouse, which she did not krecall she had purchased earlier, becoming concerned it would be too large. I reminded her we paid $1.75 for it and it was okay. She said, “Well, what a deal! I think I’ll keep it for summer.” And then she modeled it for us, telling us we had to wait for summertime to see her wear it all over town. LOL. We laughed!

The picture above is my favorite photo of the two of us. It was her first week here, last August. She was angry most of the time, but at this particular moment, she was enjoying all the attention. My stepsister and her husband had arrived. My son and daughter-in-law, and our grandchildren, were all over for a bar-be-que. It was a lot of fun. And I had no concerns about this journey, at all. (Naive that I was then!!).

Mom looked at me the other night, and I could tell it was a clear moment, and she said to me, “I am so glad you are taking care of me. We can laugh, can’t we? And we can share so much. You are strong, and I know you can do this.” And she is right. I am a lot like my mom. But I am also like other women who have mothered me in my life. My neighbor, Donna, who came into my life when I was 9 years old. I love her like another mother, but also like an older sister. And she has mentored me when my mom could not (due to the timing in our lives). I have friends who have mothered and mentored me. I have friends who are my life-lines and often an anchor; people I can turn to who will hold me up. My daughter-in-law literally held me up as I collapsed a couple of weeks ago, when I had to euthanize my 14-year-old cat. I could not have done it without her strength. My mother-in-law came and stayed with us when our middle son was born. I was so grateful she was a nurse because both our older son and I were sick. I remember waking up and she was putting my baby on my breast to nurse! What a blessing. She had the entire house running smoothly! I needed her strength, then, too. So many of us are blessed by the women in our lives. Some come to stay; others come when they are needed and leave when they are done. But these relationships with other women are a blessing in our lives. And I am so thankful for each woman who has touched me, as I have grown into the person I am now.

When my husband was ordained a deacon, he took the name of St. Joseph the Worker, because that really reflects who he is – a gentle man who works so hard for us all. At the same time, I took the name of Ruth, as I could identify with her. I felt that I was walking with my husband on this journey of life, and I would always be where and when he needed me. The Book of Ruth is an amazing book, filled with stories of incredible women. One of my favorite quotes is,  “But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17).

My mom has been strong for much of my life. And when she is weak, it is just so hard to wrap my head around. It is one of the role-reversals that is hard to adapt to. Many of my friends and I are in the same or similar situations – we are having to learn to care for our aging parents. It’s funny, because we also shared the times in our lives of dating, and marrying, and having our children. But at this point in our lives, and in the world, Alzheimer’s and other dementing illnesses are becoming commonplace. Our senior population is growing. And we are learning to function in this “new normal.” However, in many ways, we are returning to our roots. Hundreds of years ago, families stayed connected. We lived next door to our parents, or on the next farmstead. We kept grandma with us when grandpa died. We sometimes had 2-3 generations under one roof. And you know what? Being around our elderly is good for all of us. We learn to be empathetic. We learn to adapt and put others’ needs before our own. We learn to give, first. Our children absorb stories of our family history and develop a strong sense of where they come from. They learn to serve others, and to be quiet and listen to the wisdom of our elders. We all become better people, better citizens, and better children of God.

And this Mother’s Day, I am thankful. There is so much to be grateful for. I had not lived with my mom since I was in my 20s. And in those more than forty years since we were last roommates, we both have changed a lot. She is still my mom, and I am still her daughter. I have born and lost children; my mom has buried a husband; we have both buried friends and extended family. We have made amazing friends, and have had some wonderful experiences. We don’t agree on politics, or faith, or clothes, or tattoos, or hair color,  or make up or…you get the idea. One thing we usually agree on is food! We both adore our pot roast and gravy, and a good cup of tea. And we do agree on how blessed this time together truly is – for both of us. We are engaged in sharing the best, and the worst, of what life has given us, and is still giving us. Mom is safe, housed, cared for, and loved. She is living out her days surrounded by people who love her. I can think of no better Mother’s Day gift than to be with family.

 

“…let her care for them…”

It was after 10:00 PM and I was spending a few minutes – alone. Ha-Ha. I know that sounds weird, but when you have someone with you 24/7, you need some space. I recall putting our kids to bed by 7:30pm. In the summertime it was so hard because it was still so light outside and they would complain. Up here in Alaska, it is light in the summertime until 3:00am, when it goes sort of dusk and the sun is fully up by 7 or 8 am anyway. It is why we have black out shades and curtains, just like we got for our kids when we lived in California. And we put our kids to bed early, because they needed sleep, and we needed grown up time. Last night, I was startled by my youngest son walking up to me and saying, “Mom, there is poop all over the bathroom.” Ugh. Did I mention it was 10:00pm? And off I went, to clean up after mom. Yeah; not a 3-year-old, but my 88-year-old, Alzheimer’s-ridden mom. Again.

The hard part about all of this is that it is like potty training a 3-year-old, only we are going backwards. I did not realize what taking in mom would encompass. I knew there would be issues around memory. I knew she would forget things. I just did not realize how pervasive this horrible disease is. Her doctor has told me several times, “Whatever your mom was meant to know, she knows. There is no more teaching. No more learning. It just is.” I did not realize how deep this would go. My mom has had bronchitis for the past three weeks, today, as a matter of fact. It has been three weeks of medications, coughing, more medication, and more coughing. And so many Depends. We added a second pillow to her bed to elevate her head and help during the night to ease her coughing. But during the day, every three or so minutes, she exclaims she has a tickle in her throat and has no idea why she is coughing. Let that sink in for a minute or two…or three. Ha-Ha. Three minutes is the generous turn around time for mom’s world.

One of the hardest parts in all of this, is that someone with a dementing illness focuses on a person and that person becomes their anchor. And when their anchor is missing, they flounder. For mom, her anchor is me. She has forgotten pretty much everyone else in her life, unless they make an appearance, aside from me. If I am not home, she is constantly walking around, looking for me. She will not settle down and relax until I am home. It is a lot like a toddler, always upset until mommy is home. I had one child I could not leave with anyone, for the longest time. He just was not happy unless I was in view or even holding him. Even as he got too big to carry around, he wanted to be carried. Or at least be touching me. It took so long to ease him away, into his own world, apart from me. And now mom is regressing to the point that I am the sole person who can feed her, help her bathe, clean up after her potty messes, etc. I am home for her. What a tremendous burden. And somehow, it is so very different than when I parented my kids. It seems far more onerous and burdensome. And I am not sure why.

The more I have thought about it, the more I am leaning towards introvert. LOL. Those who know me and know how much I love to gab and laugh and hang out, well, they may question this. But you know what? I think this is one of the reasons I have become so emotionally exhausted after hanging out. And I have really noticed it in recent years. I do love to be public, to be in public environments, and to share who I am with people. I can do that pretty easily. But on the flip side, after a day or two of being out and about in public, I am so raw. I am exhausted. My nerves are stretched so taut. And I discovered this about myself when I allowed myself some alone time. When we first moved onto a dairy farm in 1989, I learned something. I learned that I did not want to leave my isolated farm. And pretty soon, I had friends flocking to our house just to hang out. We would have a cup of tea and the windows would be open, and we would relish the sounds of crops being watered, cows lowing in the pens, horses neighing in the distance, or a tractor making its way across the acres. It was heavenly. The scents on a farm are just so relaxing – freshly hewn grasses, or the scent of the trucks arriving with fruit rinds or almonds for the cows. I loved it. The scent of a hay truck filled with green hay was pretty much the best smell I could imagine. I am instantly relaxed when I smell it, even to this day, almost 30 years later.

This morning, we had snow. Sigh. Last night, we had rain. Sigh. I want Spring and green and daylight. Mom has been coughing so much today, and she is sleeping deeply in between all this coughing. It is exhausting for both of us. I did not get too much alone time, and I am feeling emotionally exhausted. Which is something I am truly not used to feeling. I was thinking about fences all night. I know that sounds weird but we walked our property on Saturday (me for the first time since moving in here) and were planning what we were pulling out and what we wanted to plant, and where. We were also discussing what types of fencing we want (because we have no fences, at all) and were planning the exact type of fence to erect and where we wanted to put it. We also discovered we think very differently about fences. Ha-Ha! Even after 33 years of marriage. Who knew??? Ha-Ha-Ha! But when I was thinking and dreaming, my mom was not here any longer. It was weird. I had an empty nest, aside from my husband, in my dreams. We were doing what we wanted with our home, and we were so happy, alone. And so today, examining myself, I am overwhelmed with guilt. LOL.

“If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” 1 Timothy 5:16

“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8

“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.” Psalm 71:9

The Bible has so many instances wherein we are encouraged to care for our elderly. Reconciling that with reality is sometimes hard. Which is why I am blogging today. I am pondering and musing over my duty versus my wants. Ha-Ha. It is an eternal struggle. The Holy Writers of the Bible, we believe, were divinely inspired by God. When the Church, in Her Wisdom, compiled what would and would not be included in Holy Scripture, all of these verses about caring for our own were written and included. And so, in light of my belief that God directed all of this, how can I reconcile my selfish desires for alone time?

Well, I pray. I cling to my faith. And I keep getting back up. I keep caring for my mom. I am resigned to the fact that I am her sole caregiver. I know her days are numbered. She is fading. And it makes me sad that someday, and probably soon, I will have my alone time. I will have an empty nest (that youngest son is itching to be on his own) and probably have days where I am so very lonely. The hilarious juxtaposition of it all. Ha-Ha-Ha.

And sometimes what we want, it slams into us at the most inopportune times. Ha-Ha-Ha. The sun is peeking in and out of the clouds. Mom is coughing. Mom is sleeping. She woke suddenly, looked at me, and said, “I wonder why these men climb these tall towers. Makes no sense to me. Oh look, I like that Kelly and Ryan couple.” And right back to sleep. It is unnerving. It is frightening. This disease is ravaging her body and her mind. And there is nothing I can do to stop it. And I feel so guilty when I wish she would just be quiet or asleep, because some day soon, she is not waking up. Ever again. God, the guilt is bad.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”  Romans 3:23

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” James 1:14

“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1Peter 5:7

“And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:7

And I return again to the Rock of my Faith, the Words of God and His Prophets. They are my solace and wherein my peace lives. And I know I cannot do this without God. I am selfish some days, wanting alone time. I know I need to recharge. And I also know my days caring for my sick mother are not infinite, but will end. And my life will be forever changed, because I will not have my mom in my life. And that makes me so sad.

Living this life is what we all do. I have very few problems in comparison to some. Hawaii is literally melting under lava in some areas. There are people being blown up in the Middle East. There are people starving just miles away. Our government here is failing its citizens. The world is flailing in its own mess. But this is our here and now. It is our life. And so, it is what we all need to do, to get up and do it again and as the ad says to, “Just do it.” And I am. Again today. Cough, awake, weird comments, sleep – on and on it goes. There is sun shining at the moment and it makes me smile. Things are quiet and even the dog is snoring right now. On her back, legs in the air, not a care in the world. I think I will emulate the dog. Ha-Ha.

 

“When a door closes…”

A swirling vortex. There is so much going on all around me. And sometimes I just want to step out of this swirling vortex of crap and drama and just breathe. LOL. And one of the things that bothers me is how people treat one another, when they hide behind their computer screens. So much vitriol and anger. I have always been leery of this entire technological movement towards computers versus pencil and paper, or face to face communication.

I recall when I was working at a company on one of the very first studies on the HIV/Aides virus. We had an entire room devoted to our “Wang” computer system. And we got these amazing Xerox typewriters where you could see two lines you had typed at a time, so you could correct it as you went. We were thrilled when we saw the first desk top computer. I was just telling my mom that I have more computing on my iPhone than I used to have in my IBM desktop computer back in the day (well after those typewriters!). When we were working on that Aides project, we were so excited to have our own fax machine, wherein we had scheduled times to send information to our sister lab in the Netherlands. We would all stand around and watch the fax machine whir to life, and watch that paper coming out, with their reports and graphs actually printed on it. Through a phone line! So exciting!  Ha-Ha. We had to schedule our phone calls overseas. Amazing how far we have come since then. In some respects.

You know, it shows how silly this entire electronic communication has become when you realize, duh, you let it affect you. Most of the time, people are not who they say they are. I love some of the memes that say things like, “We are friends in real life. I know you do not look like that.” or “I know you and I know your life is not like that, stop lying on social media.” They crack me up. Ones that say, “Why don’t you post a current picture? That one is at least 20 years old” also make me laugh. Some people never change their photos and you can tell…unless you just communicate via social media and have never met in person. And that brings me to today, and my most recent musings…

Things change. We all change. We have interests and we follow them. Rarely do people keep at the same thing for years. In our family, one of our biggest fads was windsurfing. Oh my. I was at the breastfeeding stage with our middle son when my husband discovered windsurfing. (Eye rolling here). So, imagine wind, water, wind, sand, wind, breastfeeding, young children, water, sand, wind. Ugh. Did I mention wind? So glad that passed us by. Oh, let’s not forget kids, wind, sand, water, and sun burn. And we did this tent camping! LOL! I had a broom with me to try and corral the sand out of the tent and sleeping bags. Joyous vacations, great memories, but thrilled that is over. Ha-Ha. But my point is things change. And it is okay to make changes.

We got brave about 9 years ago and relocated from Southern California to Washington State, to Maple Valley. It was our first move out of state since our marriage. It was dramatic and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was green everywhere. The rain was glorious. The sunshine so very different. And the flowers. The vegetables. NO SMOG! It was heaven. And then our eldest son invited us to move to Alaska. Deep breaths. Lots of prayers. And five years ago last month, we leapt. I mean, why not? The Last Frontier has been fraught with changes for us. We have learned to leave our things behind and be less encumbered by “stuff” because there is only so much you can cram into a 25-foot u-haul. We have learned to deal with some pretty drastic encounters with wildlife. (Reference husband and fishing, bear, and running – Kodiak Island). We have become increasingly comfortable with cold weather, snow, and living and driving in a snow state. We have come to love Alaskan foods and culture, the clean air and wide open spaces. We have also made friends, which is difficult as adults with pretty much all grown children. We made friends easily when our kids were small, because we were involved with like activities. We got together for kids’ activities and had bar-b-ques and camping trips. As parents of grown children, and grandparents, we have had to slowly make our way up here, finding friends as we go about our daily lives. Friends have not come as easily as when our children were small. And it is always hard for the new guys (which we still pretty much are) to feel a part of the local scene, especially when people they meet have lived here all their lives, or more than 20 years. We are slowly finding our way into groups who most resemble the people we are. We relocated further north almost a year ago, and I still get lost! LOL! But we are making ourselves part of a community, and it feels good. But still, things can change.

As we have grown older, we seem to prefer quieter activities on a daily basis. Things like working in the yard, or having dinner with friends, watching movies with mom and having the fire going, reading a good book, or like my husband is now, sitting at the table, cleaning our weapons. When we get adventurous, we go shooting. LOL. We love learning about new weapons and gaining confidence on the range or at local shoots. It is a lot of fun. We have found a gun club we are thinking of joining. They have skeet and trap shooting, and we have always loved that. We are really looking at our new yard and planning fencing and raised bed gardens. We are looking at constructing things inside our home (bookcases!!!) and making our last home truly our home. But what we do not need is more drama. Sigh. We have my mom living with us, so we have a lot of responsibility in caring for her. Sometimes the days with her are not good days. I do not need extra stress or drama. Some days the best I can do is get dressed and provide three meals for everyone. And add posts on my blog, like this one.

One of the best things I did was to unfollow almost everyone except for friends I know in person, see pretty regularly, and my family, on Facebook. It is amazing how your newsfeed changes. Another thing I am doing is leaving groups. Today, I left a group I had come to see as friends. But the drama, well, it was hurtful and over-the-top, and the people posting were pissed…I mean really mad. So, I left. It was hard, but now I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my back. I have wanted to leave for some time. Whew. Today I was pushed beyond what I think is kindness and helpfulness, which I was under the impression was the point of the group, into bitterness. And, along the way, I found people I thought were friends had “unfriended me” anyway, so to me, no worries. LOL.

I can do this. I can simplify and make changes. Even though some of the changes are hard, it can be an opportunity to grow as a person. I am slowly leaving a lot of groups, and am working up to unfriending people who are really not my friends. We have had things in common, causes we felt strongly about, but we no longer do. We used to hang out and participate in activities together, but we no longer do that. And the button to unfriend and trim down my friends’ list is calling me. Some “friends” only call you when they need something. Some only contact you when they are broke and think you can pay their way. Some only like you when you can help them. Some people friend you because it is a way of garnering perceived power. There are very, very few real friends in our lives – lots of acquaintances. And the people who “friend” us on social media, most of them are not really friends. We gather together in like-minded groups to feel safe and to uplift ourselves and our concerns. But, sometimes that is no longer a pressing concern in our lives…it is time to move on. And so, I am moving on and I am weirdly excited. LOL.