Shining moments and Alzheimer’s World….

 

Today I watched as my mom blanked out, again. “Alzheimer’s World” is a term I am coming to grips with. She calls commercials, “little movies.” She loves watching the news on OAN (One America News), because you get the entire world in one hour and then it repeats. She is shocked every time she watches some of the news, even though it is the 2nd or 3rd round today. She only drinks coffee in the morning (but then grabs a bowl of cereal when she sees us eating) and watches the news. Over and over. And as I showed her a cute kitten video while the news was cycling through, she just turned her head away with a blank look on her face, completely confused at what she had seen. It was kittens playing. It was not the news. She had entered “Alzheimer’s World” and our moment of clarity was gone.

I have come to realize, through reading some great material in a class I am taking online, that when someone has the attention span of 5 minutes, expecting more from them is a waste of energy and emotion. We went to breakfast on Sunday and she sat there, looking blank. She did enjoy watching her 5-year-old great-grandson color, but she did not interact too much. She forgot how to eat French Toast and when I offered to help her, she snapped at me. But I know it was because she realized she was confused. So I did more with less and spoke with my kids, allowing her to eat French Toast like regular toast. Watching movies or TV programs does not resonate – she cannot follow a storyline. She will watch golf or football, because she says sports is just what it is and you don’t have to figure it out. She does enjoy “The Chew” because I think they laugh a lot and are noisy. She loves Steve Harvey and especially loves “Family Feud,” so we laugh together at that. I enjoy those short moments of joy with her. But, those moments of understanding are spreading further and further apart, and it seems to be happening so much more quickly these days.

These are my mom’s hands, This is how she holds them. All day long. She fiddles with her fingers and if she is stressed out, they clang against each other. Her fingers were going nuts on Sunday, as the grandkids played in front of her. It was just too much stimulation. As she enters into Alzheimer’s World more and more, she loses her hold on those of us around her. Her connection gets more and more frayed. My mom is highly verbal. But it is just recitation that is on constant rewind and replay. She can fool some people, who think she is pretty good for having Alzheimer’s, but those of us close to her are in shock she lived alone until August. I still don’t know how she did it, other than tons of notes everywhere and rote repetition of each day. But I also know her clothes were not clean, and personal hygiene is hard for her. The fact that she can still use a mascara wand and eyebrow pencil, and her thin, tiny eyeliner brush, amazes me (I don’t even use them well!). But it takes 2+ hours to do make-up and sometimes she just gives up. There is usually liquid make up all over the bathroom and mascara and eyeliner everywhere when she walks out of it. Sometimes we do our nails, just to connect. I am learning to wear polish just to do something together with her. She loves painting her fingernails!

I saw a new decline yesterday. She could not eat spaghetti, calling it “dinner by the yard.” She complained she could not twirl that thing (her fork) to get the noodles onto it, nor could she manage to eat them. It made me sad (especially since she did not call it a fork). She got all snotty with her comments, but it was to cover her frustration. So I cut her food into little bites and she completed her meal, commenting on how good it was, completely forgetting her struggle with the fork. I am noticing more and more her inability to do common things, and my heart hurts for her. And one of her major strident things is to always match. She will not use a black purse with a tan outfit; she will not wear black trouser socks with any color of pant other than black. Thanks be to God I had tan trouser socks one day recently (they are now hers) because just changing her sock color changed our entire process and her mood became joyous…just because her socks matched. It’s another way of doing more with less. (I’ll talk about that below). Changing sock color allowed us to process leaving the house with happiness instead of anger. Win-win.

So how do we do this every day? For one thing, I am learning, sometimes with a seeming 2×4 up the side of my head, to do more with less. Less communication and less worry. If we have 1-2 moments in her 5 minute attention span, I have a little success. So our days are down to 5-minute spans. And we can move on. The kids got a big hail storm last night and “face-timed” us on their phone. So I walked outside to see if we had the hail. Mom saw them on the phone and followed me. She wanted to close the door. I explained I was looking at the rain to see if we got hail, just like the kids were getting on the phone. She had no idea we had just been on the phone with the kids, seeing the hail, and wanted to close the door. Doing more with less, I continued to watch the rain and chat with the kids, as she closed the door on me and went to sit back down on the couch.

Doing more with less means taking just a small thing and learning that it is the crowning moment of your day, and not worrying about the entire day. Each day is made of moments. It’s the moments we have to focus on, and cling to the good ones, allowing the others to fade away. So today, I will watch her go to Alzheimer’s World and not worry about those moments. I will cling, however, to those moments when she looks at me and I know she really sees me and is connected to me.

I used to read – a lot. But not much anymore. Nine o-clock rolls around at night and I can barely stand up. I have reached the end of my rope, and I am exhausted. I walk around, doing stupid things like taking vitamins and giving the cat her water, making sure mom is getting ready for bed, checking for locked doors, getting the dog settled and myself ready for sleep. Read a book at that point? I can barely make it under the covers.Hubby and I chat a little, and ironically it is me who goes right to sleep; a few months ago I kept him awake while I read late into the night. Yesterday morning I realized how tired I was (and overwhelmed by taking care of everyone else and forgetting time for me) when I arrived at the restaurant, to meet our kids for breakfast on a crazy Sunday morning, wearing my slippers. Yeah. It is like that every day. But there are those shining moments. Those I will cling to.

 

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“Preach the Gospel at all times, and …”

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Communication is such a large subject. There are college majors – several of them – in communications. (Small group, interpersonal, etc). We all know the different types of media – we have TV, radio, internet. Then there is print media like books, newspapers, magazines. I have embraced “e-books” and love my Kindle Paperwhite. I read every day and carry more than 450 books in my purse on it. Love that technology. We communicate so much without even using words. The opening quote is from St. Francis of Assisi and the full quote is, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” It is amazing how much we share without even speaking. Our clothes, for example, say a lot about us. I know as the mother of sons, I am often distressed at some of the fashions I see young women wear. But then I remember my parents having fits about my very tight fitting jeans, most of which were low riding bell bottoms worn with crop tops and platform shoes! Ha-Ha! Those were the days – the 60s and 70s (Think Saturday Night Fever). I don’t think I could walk in my old platform shoes these days! And what sort of car we drive also speaks volumes about us, especially when we splatter the backs of them with stickers. I’ve seen some pretty funny ones about stick-figure families on lots of vehicles. We share who we are, without speaking, for most of our lives and we probably don’t even realize it. Body language is now a science, too. We are told how to conduct ourselves for interviews and meetings. There are professionals who read body language for attorneys in cases with juries. And with our friends and families, we may have short-cuts to communicate, as we have grown together over the years. Twins are said to communicate in their own language as children and often still do, as adults. The way we look at others, the way we hold ourselves in public, the terminology we use, says more than we realize. I won’t even get into hair, make-up, and scents (to wear perfume or not?). I am an avid user of essential oils, and scent is a powerful medicine, as well as something that affects our mental health. My sons tease me that they get the benefits of the oils I wear just by hugging me! Truer words were never spoken, my son! Ha-Ha! Communication is something complex, difficult to grasp at times, and when there is an error in communication, it can cause all sorts of problems.

Within our faith lives, we have “buzz words” or specific terminology, as well as symbols we use and others of a similar faith get it, without explanation. I had a cross on my car in my 20s. I went to a gas station late one evening and the attendant (in those days you did not pump your own gas) asked me when I had been “saved.” He went on to tell me his story about his particular date and time. For me, I always felt I was “in process” and could not pin down one of those overwhelming moments when I turned around and life was different, and I was “saved.” So I told him my birthdate. He gave me a funny look and quit talking to me. I just chuckled and drove away. We communicated, but we also mis-communicated. I knew what he meant but I wanted him to see that some of us look at it differently and that words mean different things to different people. Within the large tent of Christianity, there are many words that offend, and many that gather; many that forgive and many that separate. Sometimes I think St. Francis had it right – we need to share our faith by how we interact with those around us, and then add words if they don’t get it. 

Don't compare

In Christianity, there are words used that would be unfamiliar to those who practice Buddhism or Judaism. And there are words used within Protestantism that are mostly unfamiliar to those who solely practice Catholicism. Within the practice of faith in the Eastern Churches, there are words we use that set us apart from the West. And these words delineate who we are. For example, we celebrate the “Divine Liturgy,” we do not have a “Mass.”  All forms of corporate worship are liturgies.  But there is only one Divine Liturgy. It is when we share the Word of God, as well as the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ in Holy Communion. Hence, it is a Divine Liturgy.  Our physical communication during the Divine Liturgy is different from the west. Every time we hear the word “Trinity,” or when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are mentioned, we make the Sign of the Cross. The first time I shared our Divine Liturgy with some Roman Catholic friends, that was one of the things they noticed, how often we crossed ourselves. We also rarely sit. The explanation I was given was that because we believe Christ is as present in His Word as He is in Communion, we stand. When someone important comes into a room, we stand (a dignitary, or our superiors) and Christ present among us deserves our respect. So we stand in His presence. We bow when the Gospel Book is processed in, and when the Holy Gifts are processed in. We stand from the time the Gifts are presented until after they are consumed and the Deacon cleans the Holy Table. And this is an example of when I am using terminology that is readily understood. Because I am sure my Byzantine and Eastern priest friends and my deacon-husband are cringing, as it is not really a “Holy Table,” but you will understand that if I call it that, rather than its proper name of the “Prothesis” or “Table of Preparation.”  The Prothesis, or table, used by the Deacon and Priest is not the same as the side table used by Eucharistic Ministers in the Roman Church. We have an enclosed Holy Place, behind the Iconostasis. It is not a raised platform and altar area, as is common to the West. Only those who have been ordained in the Church are typically supposed to go behind the Holy Doors. In some parishes altar boys are permitted back there, but it is not the normative practice. I remember one year, preparing the Church for Pascha.  We ladies arrived on a crisp Wednesday morning (always before Holy Thursday) to begin cleaning. I was on a ladder (yes, I actually climbed a ladder) cleaning our beautiful candelabras, and as I watched one of the older ladies, trying to clean the Holy Place, entered on her knees, making the sign of the cross over and over again. She had a headscarf securely wrapped around her, and was continually praying as she scrubbed the tile floor (still on her knees and barefooted). She continued praying the entire time she was in the Holy Place, asking for blessings and praying for forgiveness for entering such a Holy Place, backing out on her knees as she finished cleaning. It made me tear up and realize how I did not respect it the same as she did, having gone back there on several occasions to speak to our priest or my deacon husband. I have not entered the Holy Place in any parish since. She communicated so much to me by her actions, and her bodily expression. I was humbled and awed, and I have never forgotten that moment.

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Communication is fraught with danger and pitfalls, and the use of our words is one of the biggest danger zones to misunderstanding one another. But words also can define who we are and give us our spiritual identity. They can give us a personal identity. Many women no longer take the last name of their husband upon marrying, and some couples take each other’s names. They wish to be known as both of them, rather than just the husband’s last name. It is an identity that is important to many of us. Quite a number of modern women hyphenate their names with their husband’s, and many eschew the use of the term, “Mrs.” in favor of “Ms.” I have had my married name much longer than my maiden name, and no longer really identify myself with my maiden name. More than a decade ago, I was a Roman Catholic and the language of Roman Catholicism is quite often forgotten these days, and not used, because I identify more as a Byzantine, Melkite Greek, Catholic. Our words and our traditions are different and unique and we should embrace them to assist us in identifying ourselves with the Church to which we belong, in my humble opinion.

Gerontissa Gabriella.2

Words help give us our identity and help define us, but still, our actions speak so much louder. Who we are remains into eternity, as well as what we say. I recall a saying that goes something like, “One hundred years from now, it won’t matter what car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much I had in my bank account, nor what my clothes looked like, but, the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child.”  We can take that and apply it to our souls. When we stand before God, how we conducted ourselves in this world certainly will matter. And our verbiage as we conducted ourselves definitely counts – it is part of our character. Even if you do not believe in God, there is nothing to lose by acting as though there is a God. (Also known as Pascal’s Wager – that’s for another post). 

I bring all this up because people seem to want to impose sameness everywhere. “We should all be the same.” No, we need to respect our differences and celebrate them. We need to respect the differences of others, and warmly embrace them. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Cor 13:12) I am often angered when people want to impose their standards upon my reality. And quite often, at least for me, it is in my practice of being a Byzantine, Eastern Rite, Catholic. I am not a Roman Catholic. I speak a different liturgical language in many instances, and my spirituality, the spirituality of the east, is different. Not that we do not believe the same things, we just express them differently. And if you attend a Byzantine or other Eastern Rite Church and cannot tell the difference between a Divine Liturgy and a Mass, someone is doing something wrong. 

Apstls_Trips2

When Christ asked His Disciples to go into the world and to baptize the entire world, they were obedient (as far as they could travel in those days). The map above is hard to read, because it is so condensed, but here is what it shows: Bartholomew preached in Mesopotamia (Iraq), Turkey, Armenia and India. James the Lesser preached in Damascus (Syria), and was the first Bishop of Jerusalem.  Andrew preached in Georgia (Russia), Instanbul (Turkey), Macedonia, and Greece.  Peter was acknowledged as the head of the early Church and preached to Christians in Jerusalem, Judea (Palestine) and in Antioch (Syria) where he is considered the first patriarch (Bishop) of the Orthodox Church. He finally went to Rome, where he established the Roman Catholic Church and was its first Bishop. John preached mostly with Peter, but went into Asia Minor (Turkey) and was banished the the Island of Patmos, but returned to Esphesus (Turkey) where he eventually died. Thomas was one of the first to preach outside the greater Roman Empire and reached Babylon (Iraq), Persia (Iran), China, and India. He established the Church in India and was stabbed to death in Madras, India. James the Great (brother of John) preached in Iberia (Spain) and later returned to Judea at the spiritual request of the Mother of God. (His history in Iberia is amazing – Google “Santiago de Compostela”). Philip preached in Greece, Syria, and in Turkey and usually accompanied Bartholomew. Matthew preached in Ethiopia (Africa), Judea (Israel), Macedonia, Syria, and Parthia (northwest Iran).  Jude Thaddeus preached in Judea (Israel), Persia (Iran), Samaria (Israel), Idumea (near Jordan), Syria, Mesopotamia, and Libya.  It is believed he traveled and preached also in Beirut, Lebanon, and traveled with Bartholomew to Armenia. Simon the Zealot is believed to have preached in the Middle East, North Africa, Egypt, and Mauritania, and even Britain. 

Why did I share all of that? To demonstrate that our Church is universal, and made up of unique cultures, each one diverse and equal.  And each time an Apostle established a Church, it was established where they preached and where they were. What they did not do was change the cultural norms in the places where they established the Church. The beliefs are the same, but they were practiced in ways the local Church understood. One is not better than the other. They are different. We love our universal our Church is… Christianity is in itself a universal faith. If you wear a cross around your neck anywhere in the world, you are communicating your faith to others without saying a word. In the world of the Egyptian Coptic Christians, because there was such persecution, they took to having a small cross tattooed on their inner right wrists. It is a practice they still have, delineating themselves from other faiths in a very diverse culture. Even today, in the USA, Coptic Christians will be given a cross tattoo on their wrists, to let everyone know their faith. They speak volumes without saying a word.

Dostoevsky

I have been struggling with my anger when people do not respect the verbiage of the faith I practice, where they insert terminology that is not common to the practice of Eastern Catholicism. It bothers me when traditions are set aside because people are not familiar with them, coming from a western mindset. I majored in Anthropology and Biblical Archeology in college. I have a different mindset, in that I love learning new things, new cultures, new traditions. I love embracing new things. But I also realize that I am only a sojourner. I am temporarily on this earth. Even if I cringe when a term is used that should not be, a practice is done that should not be, clothing worn that should not be, I am struggling inside myself to offer up prayers and to also pray for understanding, while remaining silent. I have come to realize that essentially, we are all the same. It has been hard won, that knowledge. We are Christians and we want the same thing – we want to be granted an eternity with Our Lord. Our goal is to welcome and include, not to be exclusionary and isolating. Our words can have devastating effects when we say them in anger or out of frustration.

Arm around shoulder

So I am trying to guard my tongue. But I also pray that others will respect the differences, and perhaps want to learn about them. Let’s exult that we are different, that we worship differently, and that we are not the same as every other Church on every other corner. It is what draws us in and keeps us there – our unique expression of our Christian faith. So pray for me that I have more patience, a quiet tongue, and can pray for others rather than be angry with them for not coming fully into communion with our Byzantine faith.

St Ambrose

I know that keeping a Holy Silence is an honor to God, but I also know that not speaking right away also honors God. Because in keeping our tongues silent, we grow closer to Him and also gain wisdom. I will continue to feel blessed for discovering this wonderful Byzantine faith, this faith of the Eastern Church. And I will also continue to feel blessed that I grow closer to God each time I bite my tongue! Lesson learned.  Well, learning…

“God had planned something better for us” Hebrews 11:40

Orthordox Church.interiorThere is a synergy at work in the world, and sometimes I just marvel at it.  There are times when meeting new people, or just hanging with people you know, that some other odd connection pops up.  It makes the world seem smaller, and less daunting, somehow.

I saw a posting on Facebook today where all these people were opining and it was so fun to see disparate people, who I know do not know one another, chat and yet, I know both of them.  It was pretty neat because they live on opposite sides of the country, and still found common ground, and I was able to witness that.  I had nothing to do with it, either, I just happened upon it.  I think that is so awesome.

I was reading about some guy on a reality show tweeting something that people found offensive.  He made a couple of statements about how the “US is a great place to live, but you need to know there is a lot more out there.”  And with all that is going on in Ukraine, with Russia, and our part in Afghanistan, with Britain giving its input, and stories out of South America, stories of things happening in Africa, it does seem like the world is smaller these days.  When my kids were traveling from Hawaii back to Alaska, we were talking about the long flight (with a 4-month old and 2-year old, and a husband on crutches, it was LONG) between the two places.  But imagine going on “vacation” where you had to travel by boat?  From Alaska to Hawaii?  Days and weeks, not hours.  When my parents immigrated to the USA, they came via steamer from New Zealand.  It took weeks and weeks. And I remember as a child, we had to schedule, in advance, a phone call with my grandparents in New Zealand, to talk on Christmas Day, from California.  There was only one cable linking the two places, and phone calls were very limited.  We only spoke briefly, and rarely, to my grandparents.  They received some news, fashion, and the latest technology usually a year or two behind us.  We were separated by an ocean.  Much the same was happening to my husband’s family still living in Russia, and with his family here. The only conversation allowed was by letter, and that was spotty, at best.  Technology has changed all of that.  We are now smaller, and closer, and more quickly connected than ever before.

Wireless CommunicationI’m not, technically, Orthodox, although we call ourselves, “Orthodox In Communion With Rome,” but I had to share that photo!  There has been all sorts of communication going on, otherworldly, and worldly, for thousands of years.  And every once in awhile, God allows us a little glimpse of His handiwork.  And today, seeing disparate friends communicate through Facebook, neither knowing that either of them knows me, was a peek of how awesome Our God truly is.  He gave me a little smile, caused by a little glimpse into how He is working, constantly, in our lives, even when we don’t have the hard and fast physical evidence in front of us to “prove it.”

We are now completing our first full week of Lent.  And God continues to move across His landscape.  I’ve seen some amazing sunrises lately, and I’ve seen some beautiful sites in our little world up here.  I’ve gazed into the face of my adorable grand daughter, and seen a priceless smile as she gains my eyes and recognizes me.  My grandson’s unfiltered laughter just makes my heart sing.  Watching my granddaughter on a video on my phone (she lives far away) smiling and laughing into a toy phone (that’s my girl!!).  These are precious moments captured for me, that show the goodness we have in our lives…and the overabundance of Grace working in them.  There is so much to be grateful for, and difficulty (all on our side) of receiving that gift from God seems ridiculously easy…just faith in God.  So simple. So uncomplicated.  And yet we buck conformity to religion all the time.  God left us His will in His Apostles, and His Tradition was exercised in His Church for 100s of years before we even had a Bible.  We trust in all of it because trust is part of believing.  The Book of Hebrews, chapter 11, talks about the faith: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1) It goes on and on, telling us what we believe is based on faith and trust in God.  So many examples from Abel and Abraham, to Isaac and Moses – the faith we were given goes back 1000s of years, to the beginning of time, itself.

In her wisdom, the Church has asked us to focus these 40 days on our faith.  Today I saw that faith revealed in such simple ways.  It is amazing what you see when you take the time to focus.

Blessings on our continued Lenten journey….

Easter Bunny....