The pain of memories…

So some days there are moments when your head just explodes. Sometimes it is a result of not enough caffeine (rare in my house) or not enough sleep (becoming the norm), and sometimes it is fall-out from interacting with others. For me, it has been a combination of moving (the physicality of it all, in addition to the emotional stress of relocating) and of trying to restore order and normalcy to our life habits, in addition to the preparation for my mom to come and live with us. So much change!!

My true pain came from a FaceTime session with my ailing mom. I realized how much this stupid disease is stealing from us all. She had no idea who my grandchildren were, nor did she truly understand what she was seeing. I took her on a tour of our new home, and showed her the room she would be living in, as well as her bathroom. Her comment was, “Well, at least I don’t have to go outside in the snow to go pee.” And we chuckled at it. (She has some odd, but common, misconceptions about life in the “Last Frontier”).  And then, as I walked from the bathroom, around a corner, to the living room, she asked me, “Are you ever going to move to a bigger house?” She was back to the house we just moved from, in her mind. It took about 3 minutes. And when my sister and I reminded her that she could not stay where she is, she said, “I’m not leaving here until I die.” And she was adamant about it. My sister and I exchanged looks, knowing this will be such a hard transition for her – for all of us, really.

But what prepares us for this process? Not much, really. I have not taken a course on caring for aging parents (I probably should look into that). I know my mom will probably become a toddler again, in some ways. It hurts my heart for her and her dignity. And dreams we all had of growing old and sharing our children and grandchildren. I am hoping that being around my grandchildren will energize her (or wear her out! Ha-Ha!).

And I am confused, as well, by all this information I keep seeing about why the preponderance of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is so rampant in the USA – some link it to our diets, some to our sedentary life style, or processed foods, or the mercury in all those old vaccinations we were forced to get in the 40s and 50s and 60s. There are now so many dementia patients who are only in the their 40s! And it is not in Europe or elsewhere as pronounced as it is in America. I question standard medical practice and embrace much that is considered alternative. Why? Well, I grew up around medicine and I know they play at it. I have seen doctors create solutions on the fly, going against normal procedures on a whim, and having it work out better than what they would have achieved, had they not been creative. I have seen chemical mistakes turn into cures. My brother broke his hand – crushed his fingers – on a Saturday afternoon when he was, I believe, 14 or 15. He was one of the star running backs at our high school. Did my dad rush him to the local ER? No. He drove him about an hour away, after having called his friends (no cell phones in those days) who met him at the hospital where they all had faculties, and they experimented and came up with a casting system (it was replaced several times during the season) that would allow him to pass the referee’s requirements thereby keeping the season intact. Did my parents pay for that? They did not. Did my brother get excellent medical attention? You bet he did. But medicine and research of his incident was used as the payment. He was their guinea pig. My point? Science can be flexible. There are thousands of stories of doctors and staff using their families as guinea pigs. So I know there is stuff going on out there, for this horrid disease. I also KNOW that big pharma has a hand in all of this. Why cure Alzheimer’s and dementia when there is money to be made off the victims? Why cure many of these horrible diseases when healthy patients don’t need to see their doctor or take their medications as often or as long? When did medicine become pharmacy instead of prevention?? When did dietary and exercise advice become a prescription or a surgical procedure? When did doctors stop treating the person and just focus on the symptom?? It makes my head spin.

After my frustrating FaceTime with my mom, with my head exploding, I laid down on my bed. I diffused lavender essential oil on my dresser. I cuddled with my cat. I cried for my mom. I cried for my kids and grandchildren, too. I have a parent with Alzheimer’s, which means it is more likely I may get it, too. My dad has Parkinson’s Dementia. (I am not sure about my possibility for Parkinson’s, but it is out there). But it seems like the medication he is taking keeps him more with us than when he was first diagnosed. (Shocking result, to be honest. I seriously doubt our pharmaceutical world). He is having more Parkinson’s symptoms and less of the dementia, although he had to stop driving. He has a hard time even walking some days. His speech today was slurred, but as we spoke longer, his voice got steadier and we had a great conversation. I cried. I know my parents are leaving me. And I realized how lonely that can leave you, even with a spouse, children, and siblings left behind with you. And I cried for my future. How long do I have with my husband and children, and grandchildren? Moving exhausts you; it truly does. I am pretty spent. And the future is just so cloudy, surrounded by lots of tears.

I will rise up. I know I will. My exhaustion brings on melancholy and thinking. Ha-Ha. Maybe I just need that cup of tea and a break! I know my world will continue through my sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. And I know I have lots of time to spend with them, making memories for them to hold after I am gone. Right now, I am still facing a garage full of boxes. Many of them contain my memories. So I will bask in those wonderful memories, as well as embrace what is before me. I will also prepare for my future. My hubby and I realize we need to return to our Whole30 eating regime and add back in some supplements for our future health. We need to stop being lazy in food and meal prep, as well as getting ourselves healthier. Mindwise is back on the menu for me!

I still may have to escape to the mountains for some much needed respite. And believe me, I know that sounds funny, coming from someone who lives in Alaska, in a town of just 8,845 people! But the mountains do call to you! Almost as much as all this green growing all around me gives me peace, the mountains give me stability. I know I am tired. And I know I am blessed. I also know summer is coming. The sun will help. So does God. 

 

 

“…I don’t have to worry about you anymore…”

With Facebook, if you are not familiar with it, you are given prompts each day as you log on to your account, to view posts from that same date in years gone by. They will show you things you have posted on that same date, each year you have had a Facebook account. It is kind of cool. And today I was reminded of some blog posts I had put on Facebook. One was from just two years ago and it was about me and my dad, communicating on a different level. I remarked that we were communicating as peers, and not in that authoritative/subordinate thing we get into with parents. And I was rejoicing. Because it was so very different.

I actually remember dancing with my dad like this. We were on vacation, I think we were up in Northern California, near to Lake Shasta. We were staying at this lodge/hotel place and each evening, we got fancy for dinner (well, it was the 1950s and that is how you did dinner in those days. Fast food had not been invented, yet. I have a story about that, too!). And the orchestra played that wonderful song, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” by Maurice Chevalier, and my dad asked me to dance with him. It makes me cry to think about now. What a precious memory. I believe we have photos somewhere from that vacation. My dad is the same number of years older than me, that I am from my oldest son. And so I measure things with him, to my relationship with my son. I can clearly recall my son and I at this stage, too. Soon, he will be at the same place with his daughter. It’s one of those “circle of life” moments where disparate things gel into a linear relationship and you can clearly see how connected they are.

Ahhh…the 1970s. Gotta love those pants. Yeah; that happened. And something happened with me and my dad. We argued – a lot. I spent a lot of my teen years on restriction for some broken rule or another. I totally get that phase. I cut my long, long straight blonde hair into a Dorothy Hamill haircut. And entered college. When your world explodes because your knowledge is exploding, relationships at home explode. It seems like pretty much all of my friends had explosions here and there with their parents. My parents were “too old school” and too “out of touch,” and being British, just weird. And funnily enough my youngest son recently told me that he and his brothers all think my husband and I are “old school parents.” I sort of took that as a compliment. Ha-Ha. I don’t think that was the reaction he had expected!

Me and my Dorothy Hamill wedge haircut exploded into the world. And my dad was often left out, shaking his head at my choices and decisions. Somehow, in amongst all that exploding that was going on, I kept finding myself at Church in some form or another. I went to the Mormon Church, I explored Judaism, I loved Zoroastrianism. (Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. It was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster in ancient Iran approximately 3500 years ago). I drove my parents nuts when I left my law/medical leaning education for Anthropology. They stopped supporting that exploration because they could not see how it would do anything for a career for me. I compromised by majoring in Forensic Anthropology and Physiology, with a minor in Biblical Archeology. That way, I was still in science (to make my dad happy) and yet I could study history in a concrete way. It made, and still does make, for interesting conversations. I can even recall arguing with my grandpa (my dad’s dad) about Scottish Rite Masonic influences in society, the evils of smoking, and his problem with unions. And my dad always stayed out of those! Ha-Ha! Smart guy! I did cause some concern when I entered the Catholic Church in my late 20s. I think he still has doubts about where my faith is. But regardless of where I stand or where he stands, I still share with him my faith. I share the Psalms with him, and many of the Scriptures that bring me peace, hoping he can grab onto some of that, too. I had sent him an email a few weeks ago, with all these quotes from the Scriptures for him. I thought if he printed it out, he could look at it and find comfort. I did not realize then, how poorly his health had become and that he no longer uses his computer, or even reads. So now, I share verbally with him, when I can.

These day, however, conversations with my dad are never predictable. He has Parkinson’s Dementia, or Lewy Body Dementia, or Parkinson’s with Lewy Body Disease. Whatever way you slice it, my dad is fading away. And very quickly. In many LBD (Lewy Body Disease) patients, their ability to process information and be cognizant in a conversation becomes greatly hampered, until there is no true conversing going on. They suffer hallucinations and become easily paranoid. They can also become increasingly angry and violent. And because of all of that, I am mourning my dad already. He is still with us, but his decline is becoming so very rapid. He is 90 years old. And he has admitted during his lucid moments, that he is just tired. And it makes me sad. The man I danced with can barely walk with his walker. Sometimes there is humor in that, because he did fall last week and no one saw him laying in his driveway. He could not get up but happened to have his camera with him. So, being the creative guy he is, he laid there taking photos of ants and dirt and other bugs. (He loves Macro-photography). He remembered what had happened and related it to me, all the while laughing about it. It was one of our good conversations.

And today I am psyching up to give him a call. Because with this disease, we just don’t know how he will answer the phone. Last week he did not want to talk at all…he was in an angry phase. And a day before that, we were laughing at his walker episode in the driveway. And I have to prepare for those bad days. I pray for good ones, but I prepare for the bad ones. I have also come to realize that quality of life is truly a concern. With all the dementia styles in our extended family, I have come to see that quite often, if our loved ones knew how they were behaving, they would be mortified. And so I pray for them to find peace. To find calm. To find gentle. And to feel the love we have for them. And I find myself expecting the man in the photo below, whenever I speak to him. But I need to drill it into myself, that is not who answers the phone. Today, I am sad about that. Life is going on and moving past us. I recall a conversation between my dad and his dad. We were walking into a party to celebrate my grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary. I was carrying my oldest son on my hip as a baby. My grandpa said to my dad, “Well, son, I guess you’re old enough now that I don’t have to worry about you anymore.” We all laughed as my dad said, “Gee, thanks, Dad. You do realize I am 60 years old, right?” And here I am, ready to chat to my 90 year old dad, and I am 60. There’s that “circle of life” thingy again…cue the music from the Lion King…I’m going to call my dad, now. Love you, Daddy. I do. Already missing you…and missing the “us” we didn’t get to have.

 

“I am a sojourner…”

It was a loo-oo-oo-ng weekend. Hubby flew out of state to see his mom in the middle of the week, and I was here, trying to motivate our youngest, who is suffering with an extreme case of senioritis, and I was doing that among a myriad of other goings-on. And in the middle of all my personal chaos, I was blessed to have lunch with a newly-made friend. I really enjoy her company. We went to this restaurant that has been around forever. It is decorated in typical-tourist-Alaska style with rocks and bears and mining tools. But it is just such a fun place to hang around. The servers are genuine people. The menu is simple fare and I had the best BLT I have had in ages. It was a double-decker and the fries were to die for. They even left us an entire pot of coffee! What more could two gabbing women ask for?? Ha-Ha! And we were there for 3 and a half, gloriously uninterrupted, hours on a Saturday afternoon. We gabbed, we shared, we laughed; I really enjoyed myself. Oh, and we ate, too! LOL!

The hubby dragged himself in late this afternoon, after the airlines lost his luggage, and then found it again, and after he stopped at the auto supply store to get oil…and then he put oil in our son’s car…he was so tired. And tomorrow at some ungodly hour, which I will be sleeping through, he jets off again for a week of work away from home. With no respite in-between. We knew he’d be squeezing in his visit to his mom, but did not realize how tired he would be.

We are on the precipice of great change in our lives. Our parents are aging and are all at points where their health is not good – at all. We are making huge changes and altering many lives in just a few weeks. And helping to support family members facing their own issues. It seems like we are just waiting for the first domino to fall…and then the rest will follow suit.

We bought a house. Which my middle son told me was the first thing on our list. I guess it is a list. I had not thought of it that way. I read an article today about making lists in our lives to encourage our growth in faith. We need to add things to do, to make time to do all the important things. Things like praying. And reading Scripture. And actually going to church. We are all in different places in our journey to our forevers. My steps are just that – my steps. You may be leaps and bounds ahead of where I would like to be, or perhaps I can turn back and see you, trudging along behind me, making your way.

“I am a sojourner in the land; do not hide your commandments from me.”    Psalm 119:19 

This quote from Psalms stuck with me because I think it describes what we are going through. It is like we are all moving towards that goal – eternity – and many of us are much closer than others. Many of us have taken direct routes, while others of us have a very convoluted journey. Our family is a mixed bag of believers, non-believers; those who practice their faith and those who tolerate faith in their lives. And as a family, it feels like we are making decisions and checking things off our lists, making the pathway a little clearer. And I think that for the first time in my life, I am feeling the journey.

We wake to that alarm, we drink our coffee, we head out into the world. It is the daily grind. We get into traffic and make our way along. But every so often, something happens that makes you draw a quick breath and stop. And in that pause, you can feel the movement, the journey, right beneath your feet. Or within the pumping of the blood through your veins. Or in each breath you subsequently draw in. And in that next moment, the world is different. We sense it; we know it; but some of us refuse to recognize it in any real, and tangible, way. And when people refuse to acknowledge these pivotal moments, they react in sometimes odd ways.

Quite often, when we sense change coming, we react in anger, directed towards where all that movement is coming from. Sometimes people lash out at those they love, because they fear the changes, the movement, the momentum towards whatever it is they sense is coming.

And when we are dealing with our aging family members who are suffering disease, and all the effects on their bodies, minds, and souls, we can witness moments of lashing out and anger, which is brought on, I believe, through frustration. We have all seen images of little old ladies sitting around tables looking ready for a date, and none of them are speaking – they are staring off into their minds and their pasts. And sometimes you see others in nursing homes or in hospitals, who are yelling and angry at the world. We all react differently to changes in our world, our lives, our bodies, and our minds. It is part of our journey. We bought a house, to bring my mom home with us for the last section of her journey. And we’re all a little agitated. It has been over 40 years since my mom and I lived under the same roof. The hubby and son have claimed part of the 3rd garage as their “space.” Do not blame them, at all. And mom, due to her aging and suffering with Alzheimer’s, doesn’t do change well.

Tonight, as I sat in Church, I prayed for my entire family. My blood family, and my extended family. We fondly refer to extended family members as the “married-ins.” Ha-Ha. I am a “married in” to my husband’s large family, as he is to my much smaller, but fractured family. And I prayed for my friends. My long time friends, and my new friends. I prayed for my sons and their families, and my youngest son (the senior-itis boy!!) as he comes to the close of his high school experience and embarks on his career. Because this journey we are all on, well, we come together once in awhile and we share the road together. And sometimes we need to rely on family and friends to help us navigate this path we are on. It’s when we lean on each other.  And so I prayed for us all.

“Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.” Psalm 71:9

“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18

There is much we can learn from our older generation. They need not be placed into “holding cells” or “old-people prison” or even “gilded cages.”  My mom said to my sister one time, something to the effect that, “It’s nice where I live, but it is still a prison.” And I really don’t want anyone to feel that way. Not ever. Life is to be lived joyously, peacefully, and with love, until our last breath. And ideally, surrounded by family and friends.

Tomorrow will be another busy day; the week will be full. And slowly but surely, we will be checking more things off our lists. The hubby can come home later in the week and not have to leave again for a couple of weeks; he can relax at home for awhile. I can start packing us up to move (*The thrill is gone…* I am channeling my inner BB King). My youngest son can get closer to graduation – it all wraps up in a couple of weeks! We can get in tune with this journey we are all on and the feelings we have, as we take these next steps; steps taken together as a family.

“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15

“Because of your little faith.”

It’s like banging my head on the wall..why do I insist on going my own way? It always, always, is much harder. Ugh. I started out my day taking a couple of phone calls, and then diving into a headache-inducing paperwork snafu and dealing with all sorts of other annoying tidbits (in and of themselves not huge, but together, my own mountain). But I did not start out in prayer, nor in grounding myself in the Word of God. I tried to just carry on and “git-er-done” all on my own. The result? Headache, stress, rushing around trying to accomplish a myriad of small tasks, and then rushing out the door and collapsing in stress in my car.

Some days I just cannot get it together. And then I realized that those are the days I think I can accomplish everything by myself. I don’t seek prayers from people; I don’t actually ask for help; and I never even think to open my Bible or pray. How is it we can rely so heavily on our faith, and then forget to use it??

Last night I attended a talk from a retired police officer about the legal use of force. He was speaking to a group of women who all belong to this wonderful organization for women shooters. (https://thewellarmedwoman.com) Last night, I listened as this officer talked to us about armed intruders. He was saying that when we challenge an intruder with phrases like, “Stop. Don’t move a muscle or I will shoot you” we have to command them, not meekly ask them. And he also said we need lots of hours with our weapons, making sure they are in perfect condition and ready to fire; that we spend hours upon hours at the range, getting comfortable with our weapons, and that we develop muscle memory with our weapon. Then he suggested we wear them (as our conceal carry permits allow) and go about our lives, with a smile on our faces. We are aware of our surroundings, we are armed and know how to protect ourselves, and we can enjoy life – and he said, “Smile.” And it made me think.

I have been working my weapon – my faith. I have become familiar with it, developing my “muscle memory.” I have taken care of it. And I command it when I speak of it, to intruders. Right? Well, it seems to me that when I need to depend on the stores I have built up inside of me, I fall flat. I totally revert to panic mode. Which, in the case of an intruder intending to commit bodily harm, would not bode well for a successful outcome, for me. Reacting, through muscle memory, is how our faith should work. If I were to be cast on an island, by myself, what would I do? I would not have my bible or my study to do; my journals would not be with me…what would I depend on?

There are many stories and many people diverge greatly on their acceptance of these stories, but for an example, the Apostle John (and let’s not argue if it is him, John the Elder, etc) is exiled to the Island of Patmos. Patmos means “my killing” and it is believed to be a sterile island in the Aegean Sea. It was common practice for the Romans to banish from their lands people who disagreed with them. We also know they were very fond of crucifixion as a form of punishment. The story goes that while on the Island of Patmos, St. John penned the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelations. It is agreed that this was around 95AD. On that island of banishment, John did not wallow at being on a sterile island (not much grew there; very little flora or fauna) but instead, He listened to God and he wrote the inspired words of God, and shared it with the world. The book of Revelation. Wow. Me? I more than likely would have died.

“When they came to the crowd a man approached, knelt down before him,
and said, “Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic and suffers severely; often he falls into fire, and often into water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him here to me.” Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured. Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17: 14-20).

And today, in the light of my dismal trust and poor faith yesterday, I realize that I do have faith. I do. Because I realized that I was wrong in trusting only in myself. I sought prayer from friends and many offered more in the way of help, as well. I performed a task that I did not wish to do, but was able to do it with a thought and prayer of thanksgiving. In my gratitude journal I wrote, “I am releasing my wants and melding them to the wants and needs of my family and the desires for me that God has in store for me.” That is the start of great faith…trusting in the small things. Because truly, my tasks for the day were small things. There were many of them, but they were small. And God is blessing us, over and over again. Truly blessing us. Sometimes we do not see the blessing, because it is clouded by our wants and desires. I know that I need to subsume my desires and wants, and allow God to direct my steps and my future. Because without Him, I wander, I lose faith, and I panic. How silly of me. He is always here, waiting for me. Always.

 

“…and He shall sustain you;”

For it is not an enemy that reviled me—that I could bear—
Not a foe who viewed me with contempt,
from that I could hide.
But it was you, my other self,
my comrade and friend,
You, whose company I enjoyed,
at whose side I walked
in the house of God.

That is from Psalm 55:13-15. And it was just a small portion of my readings today. But this series of comments from the Psalmist really hit me. It is the lament of a betrayal by someone the writer was intimately friends with. I think that those who we walk in a common faith with, have a certain place in our hearts that is special, and reserved for them in a special way. We tend to trust those we pray with, those we “walk in procession in the house of God,” in a special way. And when those people turn out not to be what they presented themselves as, that presents a special ache in our hearts. However, the Psalmist also says, “God will never allow the righteous to stumble.”(Psalm 55:23)

I took great comfort from this. It is not a matter of one winning and one losing. It is, rather, a protection for both. Because as I read this, I came to see that through my continued prayers and time spent with just God, and His Word, I have been able to control my anger more and more. I journaled about the fact that I am not normally an angry person. I do get frustrated, and that can lead quite easily to anger. But when I have felt betrayal, I have reacted in anger, out of a deep, deep hurt. But God does not allow us to stumble. He will protect us from our worst selves. And he has done that for me. Even when I have felt that betrayal from those closest to me, I have been truly able to let it go. I have quite literally felt the anger, and the pressure of that emotion on my body, leave me. I felt lighter, and so much peace. Our journaling prompt today was to think on how we let our anger go. And I honestly have been able to let things go so much easier, relying on the mercy of God and His Providence over my life, rather than those old patterns of knee-jerk reactions. God has been kind to me. And my continuing growth through this process can only lead to even better outcomes. I love this quote by Saint Seraphim, “Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”

I read this article today about the 5-Second Rule for making decisions and choices…which is not about picking food up off the floor before the germs invade. Rather, it is giving yourself a 5-second delay/review period before making a decision, saying something, reacting in some way to input you are receiving. And after that 5-seconds, you are to do something, say something, react, and be physical in your reaction. That 5-second break is sometimes all we need to stop ourselves from making a poor decision. And it is sometimes the small review period we need to make the right decision. Sadie Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, spoke to how using this is helping her navigate growing up in a world where poor choices are rampant and much easier to make. She was pretty articulate in how this method has helped her be a better person, and make better choices. Well for me, I did not realize that I had actually started doing that, too. In those 5 Seconds, I have been silently saying the Jesus Prayer, when these things happen to me. And it is working! I am finding myself becoming more patient, quieter, and much happier.

“God will never allow the righteous to stumble.” If I truly want God to be in charge of my life, He will not allow me to stumble. All He asks is that we listen. Just listen. There was this popular country song entitled, “Jesus, take the wheel,” wherein the woman is lamenting her life and crying…she was driving home to visit her parents for Christmas and it was snowing, her small baby sleeping in the back seat. She was not paying attention and hit a sheet of ice, coming to rest in a snow bank. And that’s when she asked Jesus to “take the wheel,” because she was regretting the “road she was on” and asked Him to just “take the wheel, take it from me.” And I am thankful I did not need to careen off the road on a sheet of ice (well, okay, the hubby and I recently experienced life in a snowbank, after trying to stop suddenly on an icy road, so I know how she feels) but it did not take that sort of 2 x 4 to my head to make me stop the road I was on. Instead, the Church gave me Great Lent. It caused me to stop, to think, to pray, to re-evaluate, to re-order my priorities. We are so blessed we are given this “annual review period” to get our lives back on track.

Continued prayers and blessings for an amazing Lent this year.

“You shall rise before the gray headed…”

hands

Many of you who have read, or have been reading, my blog understand that I have elderly parents. Of course, I could never say that directly to them, because they would vehemently deny it! My mom (87) has Alzheimer’s and is now suffering with basal cell cancer at the site of her 40-year-old mastectomy. She is a trooper, that is for sure. With her new cancer showing up, the doctor offered to make it “look better” in the sense of presentation. He offered some options and one of them was to remove skin from mom’s cheek to place over the site. Her response? “You’re not taking skin off my face!” Ha-Ha. When she was initially diagnosed with cancer all those 40+ years ago, she told me, “This is not what is going to take me out.” And she meant it. She doggedly took her radiation treatments, even if they made her weak and ill. And she soldiered through them. My dad had recently declared his marital independence at the same time (his timing was not the best) and she was left with just me there, to pick up the pieces. (My younger brother had recently gotten married and I was the sole child left at home). Some of those days were particularly rough. Some were filled with laughter – trying on prosthesis after prosthesis for her mastectomy often left us breathless and crying with laughter. Coincidentally, I just happened to work at a department store in their lingerie department at the time, and had actually been trained in fitting them. We used to have one on our counter, and we used it as a pin cushion. I never looked at it the same after my mom’s surgery.

mastectomy-prosthesis

My dad called me this morning…with his current list of ailments. Mostly he is concerned with the affects of aging. Dementia, slurred speech, dropping things. He’s 90 years old. We discussed his continued driving. Boy, did his dad hate it when he had his license taken away at 80 years old. But I don’t think my dad sees it as that “line in the sand” issue of once he crosses it, lights out! But he does realize he is old school. I teased him that he can barely boil water to steep a teabag. He’s always had the women in his life take care of him – since birth. And he realizes his days of contributing to this world are winding down. He feels superfluous and I can understand that. We laughed that I am 60 years old and we were chatting about some of my adventures from childhood and high school, where he swore I would be the death of him! We also discussed how our society reacts to older people. As someone who has allowed her gray hair to just be there, without hiding, I can attest to this. It amazes me how people treat you when they see your gray hair. (Not to mention a tattoo!! Oh my word!!)

“You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:32

Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is old. Proverbs 23:22

You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:14

A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness. Proverbs 16:31

The glory of young men is their strength, And the honor of old men is their gray hair. Proverbs 20:29″

There are so many verses in Scripture where we are admonished to honor our parents and our elderly who reside among us. Unfortunately, very few people do. We house the elderly in nursing homes, basically feeding them and giving them a roof until they die. I wish we could return to the days where extended families lived together, tripping over one another as they grew older together. I was blessed in that I spent a lot of my free time in the presence of my paternal grandparents. As a child, I spent weekends there on a regular basis. As a teenager, I would drive out just to visit them, eating dinner or taking a swim in their pool and chatting. As a college student, I would go and stay weekends with my grandparents. They were my friends, not just my grandparents. My grandma came to live with us in the last days of her life, and my children knew her, and loved her very much. We were all together as she passed away. It was a quiet and lovely death, as I held her hand. She knew she was loved and treasured.

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And today these things made me think. Someone we know was just diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, out of the blue. Time is constantly ticking and our quality of life can be limited, severely, by things outside of our control or influence. As we age, our health become precarious, at best. My biggest fear is falling in all this snow and ice. I am scared to death I will break something. As I have quoted many times, a priest friend of ours once said, “We are not guaranteed our next breath.” And it is becoming more and more a stark realization. I am getting to the age where my parents and my friend’s parents are dying. We are going to become the oldest generation living. (Well, there are always a few, wonderful, exceptions!). But overall, we are moving towards the wall every, single, person we know hits. Death. [A weird, bright spot (squirrel!) is that our new president is 70 years old. My dad and I marveled at how full his days must be. And the mantle of responsibility many young people would never want, let alone a successful businessman who could, very easily, have retired and taken life very easy for the rest of his days. But I don’t think he’s wired like that! Ha-Ha!]

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As so, after conversing with pretty much my entire family today, I am reminded that life is, indeed, so very short. I am intimidated about the world ahead of me, with family and friends passing away. I am tremulous in my heart at having to face these things, in the not-too-distant future. But I also know My God has my back. He knows when I need His strength, when I just cannot take another thing. He also knows who He needs to place in my life, to assist me through these rough times. In the same vein, He also knows who He needs to remove from my life, in order to help me maintain my peace. And I am very okay with that. Life is fleeting and drama is highly over-rated. I am content to be at home, enjoying the snowfall, and seeing my kids and grandchildren grow and mature around me. Occasionally I love a nice cup of coffee in a cafe with a friend. I enjoy some alone time with my best friend – my husband – and preferably not in a ditch (sorry, had to tease you). Life is pretty good. Fleeting and shorter than it was, but I know how Blessed I am.

My prayer for you is that you can come to understand that life is personal. I need to stop reading all this political and social stuff. I need to pick up my laundry and cook my meals. I need to ensure my family is cared for, and that each one knows my heart and how very much I adore them. I need to work on bolstering all these long-standing, but long-distance, friendships I treasure. We all need to take care of our own, private, little orbits of life. Just think of the peace we could share if all our own worlds were in order!

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Forget-me-not…

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My mom has “stage 3” Alzheimer’s disease. It is not static; it is progressing. And so, I had a long chat with my sister yesterday. I call her my sister, but she is officially my “step sister.” And that seems just weird to call her that. We are sisters in our hearts. And she does not have a sister from her parents, and neither do I – it works out perfectly. We met when we were both in our 20s. Our parents fell in love and began living together, and after much pressure from us kids, were eventually married. My mom’s husband, aka my other dad, passed away just three years ago, from a very short and ugly bout of cancer. And it seems like he’s been gone forever. He will always leave a hole in our lives. To my children, he was their grandpa, not their grandma’s husband. He always made sure to let each of us know how much he loved us. And we all returned that love. He was an incredible man. And he loved my mother so very much. She knows he is gone. She kisses his framed photo each morning upon rising, and each evening at bedtime. My sister reminds her so very much of him. And she loves my sister as her own; even loving all of her husband’s grown children as her own. And her grandchildren through him, too. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple of years before my stepdad became ill. But at his death, it became obvious we could not let her live by herself. So, we moved her to a retirement home just after my stepdad passed away. My brother could not take her, and I live thousands of miles away. She is so attached emotionally to my sister, and we gratefully found a place just 5 minutes from her house, in sunny Southern California.

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Today, we came to the conclusion that where my mom is living is no longer working. We’ve skirted this issue for months now. Not only is she beginning to require more care, and this facility is not a memory care facility, but she is also no longer happy there. She knows she is not with her family. (She calls it her “prison.” She says it’s a beautiful one, but it is still a prison). She is missing the interaction with her kids and grandkids, and even the great-grandchildren she has. And we came to the almost inevitable conclusion that we need to move her up here, to be with me (I am the oldest and sort of expected this to happen – eventually). But, to actually live with me. And now my stomach is in knots. We are almost an empty nest, and I just turned 60 years old. My mom is 87 and healthier than I am (other than this horrific disease)! I. Am. Scared.

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God never gives us more than we can handle. I know this. I do. He also has a great sense of humor and irony. Do you see that flower up there? The Forget-Me-Not? It is the flower of the Alzheimer’s movement, as is the color purple. I recently got my first tattoo (don’t be too shocked) and it is purple. I love purple. I reside in Alaska. Do you know what the Alaskan state flower is? Yep – the Forget-Me-Not. See? God is smiling at me and my panic.

“…but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.” 1 Timothy 5:4

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” Exodus 20:12

Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you.” Isaiah 46:4

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

On and on go the admonishments to care for one another. The admonishment is not just to our own flesh and blood – “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Galatians 6:10). We need to be taken outside of ourselves and our own needs, to care for the “least of these.” (Matthew 25:10). And I am being called in a very personal way, to care for my mom. And still, I am scared.

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It’s rather ironic that we just celebrated our youngest son’s 18th birthday and are talking almost daily about his future and college and becoming an adult…yada yada yada…and then I talk to my sister. I jokingly offered to let my mom live with her. She said that she and her husband are actually thinking of retirement and selling their big house…maybe even living in a motorhome for awhile. They love having an empty nest. Ha-Ha. Further irony? We downsized when we relocated here. We gave away and sold everything and put what we could squeeze into a 25-foot u-haul trailer to live here. My husband and I were recently discussing our dreams of a camper/trailer we could haul all over the state, going from fishing hole to fishing hole, in our old age. Sans kids. Possibly allowing grandchildren! Ha-Ha.

I am flummoxed. There is just so much to consider, becoming the caregiver of an elderly relative. We did that for my paternal grandmother. We still had all our kids at home. She lived with us during her final stages of life, which ended up being just a few months. The house we owned was large enough to accommodate her and her hospital bed, as well as all the other equipment and space she needed. We met an amazing hospice staff and they came and went at all hours of the day and night. But it was such a blessing to share in that with my grandma. I treasured those last months and moments with her. I was glad to do it. I loved her dearly, and still I miss her. She made us laugh all the time. She was like a second mother to me. My mom and I have always had a rather contentious relationship, because I am somewhat like her, but also like my dad. I infuriate and frustrate her because of how much I am like my dad, her ex-husband. I moved out the moment I was 18 and only moved home when I was around 20-21, coincidentally right when my brother moved out to get married, and my dad left. I was there with her through her divorce and subsequent bout of breast cancer. But that was more than 40 years ago now. We held each other many days and nights, mourning the loss of our family unit, and her health. It was a devastating time for both of us. My mom is not a quitter. During those months of radiation and chemo, she announced, “This is not what will take me out.” And she meant it. She fought cancer with everything she was. She asked the American Cancer Society to leave our house one afternoon, disappearing into the back of the house. She called me back to her and said, “Please ask them to leave. If I listen to how depressing they are, this disease will kill me. And I have no intention of dying. Get rid of them!” And I did!  She is cognizant that she has Alzheimer’s. She hates it. When she is lucid and we can talk about it, she bemoans the fact that she knows she forgets things and people. She thinks others will think she is stupid, because she cannot remember them or events. We re-assure her that she is not stupid. We just repeat things so she can grasp onto them. But nowadays, that ability to grasp new things is passing her by. And her ability to remember all of the people in her family is also passing her by.

sadfaceAlzheimer’s is one of the worst diseases I know. My mom is a healthy woman. She isn’t on medication, except for the Alzheimer meds, which are no longer effective. She has only gone to doctors for illnesses, like her cancer or when she hurt her shoulder and needed surgery. She rarely even catches a cold. But this disease is ravaging her mind. And it hurts to see. If my mom knew she was like she is, she would hate it. She was always so put together. Her outfits always matched. She still wears matching jewelry, even if it is the same couple of pieces every day. She always wears make up (which I don’t even do) and her hair is always done just so. She used to iron her denim pants. (She never calls them jeans). My mom is a proper, little, British woman. And her life in New Zealand and her years as a young woman are now where she is living, mentally, most of the time. And it makes me so very sad. She remembers the 60s and 70s…she recalls outfits and events from the 1950s. But she does not remember some of the people she knows and loves. And that is hard. And I am scared of having the responsibility for her. Total responsibility. It is almost like thinking of having another baby in a couple of months, at my age.I just had a grandchild! My fifth. That I can do. But this? It intimidates me.

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And every time I forget something, I wonder if I am getting this disease. Each time life gets confusing, or when I try to recall something and can only conjure a white wall in my mind, I am fearful. Will this be my fate? My dad is now 90 and has dementia. Because it is a type and function of Alzheimer’s disease, and it is on both sides of my genetic tree, will this be me in 20 years? My mom is only 27 years older than I am. Am I headed in this direction, too? How will I care for my mom if I start slipping away? Will my husband, or my sons, be burdened with all of my family? Will I become that which I fear in my mom? That is a terrifying thought.

But back to my panic and my faith. Back to my current reality. I know that the Lord will watch over us. I know that He intends for us to bond, as a family. Caring for my mom takes me way outside of my comfort zone, but perhaps it is where I need to go. One of my friends, and a leader in my company, said in a live feed yesterday, that whatever it is we are fearful of, is probably what we need to tackle next. And I am deeply fearful of taking care of my mom. My entire world will be turned upside down. We will have to move. Seriously. Like in the next few months move. And packing up this house and relocating again – I am seriously tired of moving. Horribly tired of moving. I don’t know how many moves I have left in me. It’s that bad. We’ve been here for almost 5 years, so I guess it’s time! Ha-Ha-Ha. But this move is so very different. This is a necessity for my mom. For her last years. I am not ready to say goodbye to my parents, to my mom. It frightens me because it is sort of like a final curtain; a devastating ending. I know it is inevitable. I know time marches on and we all come to an end. But having it thrust into your face, into your little cocoon, that is a different experience. I love my mom. Sometimes I need my mom. But she is no longer capable of being my mom, in the sense of me relying on her. And I know, that in her lucid moments, being dependent on me is not something she is comfortable with. Getting in a nurse to assist her is not something she will like, but having me bathe her or dress her would make her even more uncomfortable, although I have done it in the past. The first time I saw what her mastectomy honestly was, and when I had to assist her with her bandages, I broke down (literally fell onto the floor) and just cried. She was standing there, wet and naked in the bathtub/shower, trying to comfort me! My mom is an amazing woman, truly she is. Difficult? Yes. But I will treasure those moments when my mom held me while I was sick. When she held me as I wept. When she comforted ME – over the loss of her breasts and her health and her marriage. My mom has done so much for me, just being her, in all that she is. And I am so not ready for this last stage. Being with my mom, as her caregiver, is almost as frightening to me as losing her, once and for all.

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