Tag Archive | love

Lucky

We are so very lucky, my mom and me. The family visit was everything either of us could have hoped for. Things went smoothly with all three flights – no delays, no major airport hassles, no lost luggage. Mom did just great with all of it, even waking up ridiculously early to catch our flight out of Denver.

We had wonderful quality time with too many family members to list, including some who we hadn’t been able to see on our last couple of visits. We broke bread together. We spent hours looking through boxes of old family photos (as far back as her grandparents) and sharing memories. We played Scrabble. We paid a visit to the cemetery where several generations of family are buried; holding my arm, since the ground is too uneven to push a walker, Mom walked through the cemetery to visit all of the family headstones. We saw beautiful fall colors, and I took lots of pictures for her digital picture frame.

Here’s Mom resting at the grave of her parents.

Mom at Cemetery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s a favorite of the family shots, a kiss from her grandson.

Josh and Grandma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I love you” was the refrain that echoed through this visit. I do believe that every single family member told her that they love her before they said goodbye. I think we were all (except for Mom) very conscious that this may be the last visit. I’m so glad that everyone got a chance to hug her and tell her that they love her, but I’m not dwelling on the “last visit” part. She may surprise us all! She is already, at 86, the longest-living member of her immediate family. And she’s showing no signs of being ready to quit!

Those relatives who saw her last spring all commented on how much better she seems now, and it truly is remarkable. Six months ago, she was going back to bed every chance she got, dozing the days away. Now she’s staying awake and alert all day and well into the evening, as long as she gets a nap around midday. She’s physically stronger and able to walk further without tiring, and her memory has definitely improved. Six months ago, she couldn’t keep track of where we were going for the space of a ten-minute car trip. She would ask me repeatedly where she lived or talk about visiting an apartment that doesn’t exist. As soon as something was out of sight, it was out of mind. But for the entire ten-day trip, she not only remembered that she lives in California now (and not Arizona) but was also able to answer in detail when asked about the home where she lives. Everyone cautioned me that once cognitive function is lost, it will never return – so this is an unlooked for, unexpected blessing.

Catching up on the dementia caregivers message board, I realize anew just how lucky I am that my mom’s personality is thus far mostly unchanged, despite her dementia. She’s not angry or paranoid or delusional. She’s not regressing to childlike behavior. She still knows all of us and retains the emotional connection of the relationships even if she’s lost some of the specific memories. Her essential nature is the same as it has always been – kind and loving and easygoing. For this, and for the gift of a loving family, I am truly grateful.

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Coming Together

This time tomorrow Mom and I will be on a flight bound for Denver. A cousin who lives in Colorado Springs is making an approximately 160-mile round trip drive to pick us up at the airport, take us to our hotel, and spend the evening with us. My nephew is also driving in from the Boulder area to join us for dinner. I am grateful to my cousin for the airport pick-up, as I wasn’t particularly looking forward to getting my mom and her rollator walker and our luggage (two large suitcases, one backpack, one small tote bag, one purse) on and off the airport shuttle bus. And I am very much looking forward to seeing both of them.

On Thursday we will take the shuttle back to Denver International and take another flight to Ohio, where we’ll spend the next nine days at my aunt’s house. This is the trip we had originally hoped to make in May, to be there for the annual Memorial Day family reunion, but had to cancel because Mom was still recovering from the nasty infection that landed her in the hospital in April.

The Memorial Day reunion brings family from other parts of the country. Not everyone makes it every year, but there’s a whole contingent who usually come down from Michigan and a few who make the trip from Maryland. Mom was disappointed that we wouldn’t get to see these folks, since we are making our trip “off season” as it were, but of course looking forward to seeing everyone who lives in the area. My aunt who is hosting us is having a potluck to gather all the family together, so we won’t spend the whole week running around trying to see everyone.

While I was with Mom on Sunday, packing her suitcase, I got an email from my cousin in Maryland saying that she and her husband are coming to Ohio next weekend to see us. I read the message out loud to Mom, and she beamed and clapped her hands like a delighted child. Later, at home, I learned that one of Mom’s cousins from Michigan is making the trip down as well. I haven’t shared that with Mom because I think it will be a wonderful surprise. I can’t wait to see her face when her dear cousin walks into the room.

I am so touched that the family is coming together like this. It’s a testament to their love for a sister, cousin, aunt, grandmother who has become the matriarch of the family.

An Attitude of Service

The last hymn we sang in church today was Make Me a Servant:

Make me a servant, humble and meek,
Help me to lift up those who are weak

As I sang that second line, I felt my throat tighten and my eyes sting with tears. How very apt, especially after I had literally helped lift my mom to her feet several times during the service.

I also had to take her to the church bathroom twice, right before the service and again in the middle, causing us to miss most of the sermon. While we were in there the second time, she commented wryly that “Something’s wrong when taking care of your mom becomes more trouble than taking care of a toddler.” I just smiled and tried to shrug it off, but I was pretty frazzled… especially when I had to run to my car, parked a block away because we got there too late to claim one of the few parking spaces behind the church that are reserved for the elderly and handicapped, to get her a clean pair of disposable underwear.  Maybe I should start carrying a diaper bag, just as if she really was a toddler.

She has lost twenty pounds in the last couple of months. It feels like she’s wasting away before my very eyes, and it frightens me. I vacillate between being stressed out (about her health, about finances, about all the responsibilities that fall on me) and just being grateful for every single moment I get to spend with her.

I’m working on my attitude toward all of this, trying to focus on the gratitude part and cultivate a spirit of loving service. Earlier this week I had thought to make my next blog post in praise of the caregivers at her new home, how they go above and beyond what I had previously come to expect of caregivers. Everything they do, even when their residents are querulous, is done with patience and a smile. Nothing seems to rattle them. They take it all in stride, just smile and calmly attend to the needs of the moment. This is what I’m working on, what I’m striving for.

This work, being a caregiver for my mom, this is the work of my soul right now — tempering and shaping my spirit for whatever is to come next. Even when I feel resentful, I know this is where I’m supposed to be right now, what I’m meant to do. I have no idea how much longer I’ll have this job, or what I’ll do with my life when this phase of it is over. So for right now I’m really trying to stay in the moment, to enjoy the little things like holding Mom’s hand in church, and to be grateful for the opportunity to be of service.

In Her Own Words

Going through my mom’s papers, I found four typewritten pages that I quickly realized were her notes for a testimony she gave at a Community Bible Study. There’s no date on it, so I have no idea how long ago she wrote it… but about halfway through it begins to be a story that is very familiar to me, having heard her tell it over and over again ever since I was a child. If you have known my mother for very long, it’s probably familiar to you too. But for those reading this who haven’t met her, and just to preserve her story, I wanted to share it here. So here it is, in her own words.

“My mother, a wonderful woman and a committed Christian, went home to be with the Lord when I was 17 and a senior in high school. Alice was three, Tom was eight, and Bob was 16 years old. Two older brothers were in the Armed Forces. Shirley, age 19, moved back home to take care of Alice. For years to come, Shirley and I shared the responsibilities of cleaning, cooking, laundry and child-rearing. We had both accepted Jesus as our Savior about five years earlier, so God was always there for us. Our father was a wonderful man, quiet and reserved but loving and appreciative. We were a very close and loving family. When Alice started school, we could both work outside the home. Bob joined the Navy.

After about seven years of this, Shirley moved to Detroit for a career. And I wanted her to be able to do that. But – everyone my age in the small town of Leesville, Ohio had gone off to college, gotten married or moved away for better opportunities. My friends were older women in the church and a war widow who had a daughter about Alice’s age. By this time I was probably 25 years old and feeling like my life was passing me by. I might never get a good job or be able to go to college. I might even be an old maid! Mind you, I was still loved – and I felt loved – by my family. But I was beginning to feel trapped, sorry for myself, like a martyr – and I hated it!! My feeling was, if you’re going to do something nice, do it with a loving spirit or don’t bother. None of this “poor me” garbage!

I remember that I was trying to sleep one night and I just felt SO desperate that I prayed “God help me!” with every fiber of my being. And He did. It was a miraculous, instantaneous answer! God’s Spirit filled me with JOY! It was a beautiful, blessed gift from God and the only immediate answer to prayer that I have ever received. If I had any lingering doubts that there is a God who hears and ANSWERS prayer, they were gone forever. It’s a very good thing that I didn’t try to tell God HOW to help me, because I NEVER could have imagined anything as glorious as this.

Now, nothing in my outward circumstances changed. Alice couldn’t grow up overnight; my family still needed me. But these same circumstances no longer had the same impact on me, because I was changed – bubbling up and overflowing with God-given joy! More importantly, perhaps, I was no longer worrying. I was trusting God. And God is completely trustworthy!

Several years later, I did get to go to college. I got a degree and worked as a speech therapist. I did get married, and I have a wonderful husband! When hard times come (like being diagnosed with Lupus), God is always there to comfort and sustain. God CAN change our circumstances by changing us – changing our attitudes and our perspectives. If we can’t do or feel what is pleasing to God on our own, we just need to ask God to help us, to do His work in us. And He will.”

Not Much to Her Life?

She has fallen twice this week, once in her room and then yesterday in the dining room. Because a urinary tract infection is one of many things that can cause muscle weakness, I bought some UTI home test strips at the drugstore and took them over to her first thing this morning, before I went to work. She was in bed, of course, but I don’t think she had been sleeping. I sat beside her and held her hand. When I leaned over to kiss her on the forehead, she stroked my hair with shaking fingers.

“I’m lucky to have you,” she said. “There wouldn’t be much to my life if you weren’t in it.”

I hate that it’s come to that. I hate that I had to take her away from her life – her friends, her church, her community – in Arizona and bring her to a place where she has nothing but me. I hate that she seems content to doze through the hours between my visits, showing little interest in meals or activities or anything.

People tell me it’s not my job to make her happy; my job is to keep her safe and ensure she gets good food and appropriate medical care. But when it was her job to take care of me, she did so much more than that. My father provided the comfortable home in a good school district, the medical care, the food on the table… and Mom provided the TLC. She held my hair when I was sick and let me crawl in bed with her when I’d had a bad dream. When I was too shy to join Girl Scouts, she became a troop leader to encourage me. She instilled in me a love of books and music – reading to me every night, teaching me the old songs that she sang with my aunts and uncles around the campfire. My childhood is full of happy memories and my mom is at the heart of most of them.

I don’t know how much time she has left in this world, but I don’t want her dozing it all away, just placidly waiting for the sun to go down. I want it to be filled with happy moments, even when I’m busy elsewhere and can’t be with her, even though she won’t remember those moments later. I just don’t know how to make that happen.

So this is Christmas…

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over and a new one just begun…”

Many years those opening lines from John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” have haunted me with a sense of a wasted year. Another year over and no closer to writing my memoir or getting out of debt or accomplishing any of the other goals that I set for myself at the start of the year.

Not this year.

What have I done this past year? I moved my mom out of her apartment and into assisted living in January. I took on the responsibility of having her power of attorney, managing her finances and being her healthcare advocate. With the help of my brother and sister, I cleaned out her storage unit. Then I found her an assisted living facility close to me and, again with my brother’s help, moved her from Arizona to California. I think I can confidently check off “be there for my mom” on my list of resolutions for 2013. Done and done.

So, for once, it’s with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that I look back on my year.

With so much going on, and especially with my mom being ill most of November, I’ve had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit this year. I never got around to sending cards or putting up any decorations. But last night I had the opportunity to do a small thing that filled me with holiday joy.

While shopping for stocking stuffers for Mom and me at the drugstore, I saw these soft fleece throw blankets on sale 3 for $10. I bought three, one for each of my mom’s table mates at the retirement community, and I also picked up some chocolate truffles for each of them. I delivered the wrapped gifts at dinner last night, telling the Muslim couple with a smile that I understand they don’t celebrate Christmas so they can call these “Happy New Year” gifts. The woman looked in the bag I handed her and exclaimed that it was too much. No, it’s not, I told her. They’re just little things, to say thank you for making my mom welcome here. Her husband smiled at me across the table and said “Thank you, habibti” (Arabic for “sweetheart”). I was touched by the endearment and he seemed pleased that I knew what it meant. They put the gifts aside to open when they visit their daughter.

But the real joy came when my mom’s other table mate, an Italian gentleman I’ll call Dominic, chose to open his gifts right there at the table. He opened the truffles first and told me that he loves chocolate and he would save them to eat on Christmas Day. “I’ll be here alone,” he said, “having a cold sandwich or whatever they send to my room. And now I’ll have chocolates for dessert!” A little piece of my heart broke hearing that. Dominic was alone on Thanksgiving, too, and I don’t understand why he doesn’t spend the holidays with his family. He has a wife and a daughter, and I’m pretty sure that the wife at least lives locally. Dominic has to be in assisted living because he has Parkinson’s Disease and his elderly wife wasn’t able to care for him anymore. Bad enough that they can no longer live together, but to be apart on Christmas? To me, it’s just unthinkable. When he opened the fleece and felt how soft it was, he looked across the table at me with his eyes just shining – deep wells of appreciation and surprised pleasure – and he must have thanked me a dozen times.

As we all got up to leave the table, Dominic told us that he was going back to his room to wrap up in his new warm blanket and watch TV. After wishing the other couple a happy holiday, Mom and I followed him out of the dining room – patiently waiting as he struggled with tremors and made slow progress with his walker. At the door to his room, he turned to wish us a Merry Christmas and to tell me he wished he could reciprocate with a gift. I smiled and told him “Dominic, the best possible reciprocation is to see you smiling and know that my little gifts made you happy. Merry Christmas.”

I still hate to think of the poor gentleman alone on Christmas day, eating a cold lunch in his room in front of the TV. But when I bring Mom back to the community on Thursday, I’ll bring Dominic a plate of leftovers from our Christmas dinner. I think he’ll like that.

And so happy Christmas
We hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones,
The old and the young…

Emotional Moments

I expected packing up my mom’s things to stir up some emotions, but I wasn’t expecting to find myself in tears my first morning here when I opened the cupboard to get a tea bag and saw this.

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There’s nothing special about this teapot, except that I gave it to her when I was a girl. I can’t remember where I got it or even how old I was, so it’s likely that my dad actually paid for it. What I do remember is that this teapot was a replacement for the old family teapot that had been handed down to her… and that I broke. Or maybe my dog Heidi broke it, jumping up and pulling on the tablecloth. I can’t remember. But seeing that teapot in the cupboard for some reason reduced me to tears.

And everywhere I look – in the computer desk, in the drawers of the Bible stand, an entire drawer of her big antique dresser – there are greeting cards. I swear she’s saved every birthday card, Christmas card or Mother’s Day card she was ever sent. In her nightstand were several years’ worth of Valentine’s Day cards from my dad. I wouldn’t have said that my father was ever a particularly romantic man. He certainly wasn’t given to outward expressions of emotion, either verbal or physical. But these cards, some of them downright mushy, tell a different story. “All my love, always,” he had signed one of them. My parents were married for 44 years and these cards were sent in the last decade of their time together. I remember they used to hold hands a lot when I was a little girl, but I hadn’t witnessed any such displays of affection in a very long time. It makes me glad to know that the love was still there, right up until he died.

I was blindsided by grief yesterday when I came across the announcement and program from my wedding tucked in between a couple of my mom’s books. So much hope there, so much love… and so short lived. We were madly in love until the day he died, but we had only six short years together and less than a year as husband and wife. Sometimes I envy my mom – 44 years and a family with the man she loved. I hope it’s not too late for me to find a love that will last into old age.