“…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.

 

Reflection on the “long goodbye…”

after the rainWe had a beautiful spring weekend! Easter arrived amid sunshine and scattered, white, fluffy clouds.  Downtown was absolutely gorgeous; women were wearing bright, spring colors, and it seemed like all the flowers were wide open and smiling at us.  Pink-flowered trees lined all the streets and the glow of spring was on everything.  Today is dark, wet, and rainy.  What a contrast!  The temps have dropped a little; on Easter it was 72 and right now it is just 49, but 58 is expected later on.  Not too bad for April, I would say; Spring is still working its way in!  But the contrast over such a short period of time is startling.  And with the change in sunshine came a change in mood today.  I was pretty excited yesterday about our move…we are now counting down the days.  In less than three weeks, we will be on the road, driving through Canada; the famous AlCan Highway!  I am so excited to see many of the places I saw as a child, whilst visiting distant cousins and enjoying the Canadian summertime.  As a child I visited Canada, all the way from California, in a camper.  I remember laying above the cab with my brother, watching out the window as we drove. It was pretty exciting and the change in climate and foliage was just as exciting as being in a camper!  My family usually camped during summers at the Colorado River on the Arizona side, to spend days and weeks water-skiing. We would sleep on cots under the star-filled skies, never in a tent or other camping arrangement. So for my brother and me, being in a camper was pretty exciting stuff.  The memories of that trip are etched on my mind and I can pull them out from time to time and just smile.  Honey-comb candy; horseback riding in the rain; the city of Banff and Lake Louise; my cousin’s pool that was inside a dome; the mountains and running through fields.  Glorious summer for a kid!

Jan and Mark 1960sMe and my brother in the 1960s!

Childhood can be a glorious time, if we remember to spend some time, enjoying the moments with our children.  My husband and I realized, as I stated in an earlier post, that time has suddenly passed us by; our children are almost all grown and parents themselves.  Did we make the sort of memories with our children that they can look back on and smile?  We are hoping this trip through Canada with our youngest son will create some joyful memories for him.  I find myself in a position with my mom where I am the only one who is remembering these past times spent together.  My mom has Alzheimer’s disease, combined with some dementia.  Alzheimer’s is called the disease of the long goodbye and it is that and oh, so much more.  My mom and I can carry on conversations but they repeat themselves about every 10 minutes or so. She does not remember yesterday, let alone last week, or last month.  Time becomes a blur for Alzheimer patients.  It is especially difficult when it comes to life-altering events, decision making, and the ability to care for yourself on a daily basis.  Eventually my mom will have to be declared incompetent and my brother and I will be making all her decisions for her.  One of the hard parts about Alzheimer’s is that those who suffer from it, realize they have it, as it begins.  She sat there, and heard from her doctor, exactly what was happening to her; she was completely lucid at the time.  My mom will often slap her forehead and say, “Stupid disease!” and know she has forgotten something or said something incorrectly.  Her moments of pure lucidity are dwindling, though.  And it is truly the long goodbye because from moment to moment, I am loosing a little bit more of her.

My mom has always been a very strong willed person.  It created lots of drama in our house, especially with me.  As a teenaged-daughter, my hormones were raging, I was learning a lot (you know how teens can be!!) and we clashed.  Oftentimes it was vociferous and nasty.  My mom and I never really got along that well, until I moved out of the house during college. I am sure my parents sighed with relief when I left, as I know the pressure was released a little bit with me gone. My mom and I have only really developed a good relationship since I have been married.  So the past 30 years or so have been wonderful.  She has been a great mom in that she never interfered or told me how to raise my children, neither did she tell me how to be married.  She was married to my dad for 26 years, but they divorced when I was in my early 20s and before I had even met my husband.  She met her second husband the same month I met my husband and our lives have been intertwined since then.  It has been so nice. My kids love their grandma, although she can put the pressure on!  We would prepare for her visits, first of all by cleaning the house, and second of all by cleaning up ourselves!  My mom never wore white gloves on her hands, but you can bet they were on in her mind!  When we cleaned the house, my boys would ask, “Grandma clean or our clean?” and more often than not, I would ask for Grandma clean!!  She is what I would call a clean freak.  Growing up, she would literally move all the furniture out and polish our floors…weekly, if not more often. The entryway was marble and you can bet there were no smudges or marks to mar the perfect surface.  The counter tops were never allowed to have things on them, and our clothes had to always be picked up.  We had play clothes, school clothes, and nice clothes.  It took a lot of convincing to allow me to wear jeans!  My parents are British and the jeans craze had not crossed the pond, yet. Once I reached high school, she gave up cleaning my room for me (before that, she would come in and re-arrange things and put things away and polish and vacuum while I was out of the house).  The running joke was about what color the carpeting in my room was, as you could not see it.  I hung posters on the ceilings, played my guitar, and bemoaned lost relationships up in my room and she allowed it to be my sanctuary away from the world.  So dramatic.  And my mom just stepped back from that and did not interfere, which was rather nice of her, as now I know how much it must have driven her crazy!  She also always wanted me to cut off my hair.  In those days, it was long, blonde, and straight.  Half-way down my back, parted in the middle…gee, does that give away my age?!?  I never got too hippy-ish, but just enough to be cool. My mom allowed me enough rope to hang myself, as she was fond of reminding me.  I appreciated that about her.

Maureen Rogers Massoth 1960sMy Mom in the early 1970s

These days, after talking with my mom, I find myself sick to my stomach.  I am angry with her for her stubbornness, and I am also reminded that this disease is a cruel one.  The nice mom I have enjoyed for the past 30 years is slowly being replaced by an angry old lady…almost a stranger, and reminiscent of the mom I had growing up.  Not quite yet, but I can feel it coming on more and more, each time we interact.  And I am deeply saddened.  My brother and I are faced with questions we never dreamt we’d be facing.  How do you care for someone who, one day, will not even know you or recognize your face? Especially when it is your own mother?  How can you force someone to go where they do not want to go, especially when they do not realize it is beyond our control, or beyond their wishes?  My stepdad and I, as well as my brother, had talked about the future for my mom several times since her diagnosis with dementia.  Once she had progressed in dementia and added Alzheimer’s, we had still more discussions.  It was commonly agreed between the three of us, that I would care for her. I had cared for my paternal grandmother (she lived with us for the last few months of her life) and I am willing and able to care for my mom, and my husband is supportive of that.  The hard part about Alzheimer’s is that the patient thinks they are lucid and in charge of themselves, when reality can be far from what they imagine their lives to be.  There are not many options left to my mom, since my stepdad passed away.  Eventually, she will need to come to live with us, because her financial options are so very limited.  The dilemma for me is that she has no desire to do so.  She does not like cold weather and has become a desert baby and loves all things Southwest.  We are relocating about as opposite that as is possible, and to still be living in the USA. As of yesterday, she is bound and determined to stay in SoCal, in her own home, surrounded by her friends and her things.  I greeted that information in silence, with a prayer on my lips, for us all.

Which brings me to my reflection today.  How do I reconcile these changes? One day there is sunshine and the flowers are out, and today it is wet and rainy.  My mom was a vibrant woman, full of life and love for her husband and family; today she is descending into a darker place, a place of anger and frustration and also fear.  How do I help her adjust to this? How do I hold her up during this descent into her mind? She is a stubborn woman and has no desire to be with us in a cold climate. She does not want to leave her familiar home or community. She wants life to continue on as it has.  But the reality is, it cannot continue on as it has.  She will not be continuing on as she has, in a place that is familiar to her.  Very soon, very little will be familiar to her.  Her future is so cloudy and her world is contracting at such a quick pace, I find myself just sitting…unable to make decisions for her; unable to take this on right now; and filled with sadness and an impending sense of confrontation and unhappiness all around for her…and for me.

I know the Lord promises us that He will not give us more than we can handle (“No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.” 1Corinthians 10:13) but every so often, I find myself looking heavenward and making the time out signal at Him.  I often think God thinks way more of my capabilities than I do!  I feel so overloaded some days.  And then I think of this past week…I contemplate again His passion and death…and I realize that these burdens are carried by Him as he fell those three times.  The weight of my burdens were carried by Him, suffering along His way to His death for me.  Then I am filled with an overloaded mixture of thanksgiving, guilt, shame at my weaknesses, and again with thanksgiving that He would do that for me.  I also know He was carrying my mom’s issues along with Him, as well.  Mark Hart, the Bible Geek, posts regularly on Facebook.  His comments are always timely and his sayings are usually right on the money.  Whether he realizes it or not, he coined a phrase that has become my new mantra, “God’s got this.” It is so simple and so profound.  God truly does have all of this. He has all my worries and love for my mom.  He has her future and my future all taken care of.  Now comes a time in my life when I must truly step out in faith, knowing that “God‘s got this.”  There are moments when I want to take back these burdens and carry them myself, but I know that is my stupid pride speaking. I am working hard to remember that He does truly have this day, and all our days, in His hands. Do I let go and let God?

This is taken from an article on a site called, “www.gotquestions.org” titled, “Are we supposed to let go and let God?”~

“Furthermore, when we struggle, we assume the problem is that we are not letting go and letting God. The reality is that we struggle for a variety of reasons. One is that we have a weak faith. We just don’t have enough confidence in God to rest in the reality of His nature and have the peace that comes with a strong faith in Him. For instance, when trials come or we experience illness, financial ruin, or the death of a loved one, do we really believe that “God works all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28)? If we don’t know God intimately, it’s very hard to trust that He is working all things together for good. But if we do know Him, if we have spent time digging into His Word and meditating on His works and His nature, we have faith in His plan and purposes, His love for us, His sovereign control over all circumstances in life, and we rest in the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). But if we don’t know Him, we will always struggle against life’s hard circumstances.

On the other hand, there is a positive reason for struggling—it is good for us and is God’s plan to grow and mature us into the people He wants us to be. Struggles are just one of the ways He strengthens us for the hard things life throws at us. Each one enables us to be stronger and better able to handle the next one. Trials are designed to show us and others that our faith is real. “Your faith will be like gold that has been tested in a fire. And these trials will prove that your faith is worth much more than gold that can be destroyed. They will show that you will be given praise and honor and glory when Jesus Christ returns” (1 Peter 1:7). In Christ, we can face the trials of life with grace and good humor and complete faith that whatever God has for us is okay. This comes from years of walking with Him, trial upon trial, struggle upon struggle.”

I think that rather than hiding, inert with fear, from the trials that are facing me, I would instead “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11) and “fight the good fight in faith” (1Timothy 6:12) and “endure hardship… like a good soldier of Christ” (2Timothy 2:3).  This life is so short.  There is much to overcome and much still facing me.  Through the lessons this Lent in keeping the Holy Silence and enduring these trials through my re-invigorated faith in Christ, I can reach for the sunshine instead of the shadows.  I can choose to be the eternal optimist and placing my trust in Christ and His promises, I can step out in faith.

Psalm 142,3