Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Where to begin? A year ago, six months or perhaps only three weeks ago. This has been a life-changing, earth shattering time for our family. It was about this time last year that I noticed my father acting differently. Usually cheerful, our rock and our strength, Dad began to complain more than ever about how he was feeling, how difficult it was with Mom's worsening dementia, every bill he got in the mail, etc. Dad always had such joy talking with me about Spring and flowers and seed planting and birds. Simple morning conversations that I could live on for the rest of the day. That ended around this time in 2016. Little did we know we would lose Dad later that summer. That he was winding down, and the time had come for his well-deserved rest with Jesus.
Now our little family is going through this with Mom. Words cannot describe the feeling in my chest--of my heart splintering into tiny fragments, each one burnished with a memory good and bad alike. Only three short weeks ago we were able to take her out to eat, go for drives to her favorite stone bridge and listen to the creek. Three short weeks ago we saw a high school play and Mom sang along to the Disney tunes she knew and loved so well.
Yesterday we moved our mother into a care facility. I saw a woman before me that I barely recognized, completely devoid of emotion. Gone is the laugh that was so cute. Gone now are the stories told over and over, stories we all knew better than her, but listened patiently as they were told once more.
Her eyes hold a tiny spark of light when she sees either me, my brother or son. But I'd give anything to rejuvenate life back to her; of memories that would fill her with emotions once again.
She was wheeled into her new room and as she looked around at perhaps a few familiar items, my brother handed Mom a beautiful dolly he got her a few Christmases ago. One story our mother always told us was about a doll she received one year from a family friend. She would describe the beloved doll in great detail, and my brother tried to replicate one by searching many sites and finding one that Mom claimed looked exactly like the one she'd had.
Mom sat in her wheelchair stroking her dolly, covering her with the blanket that lay around her own shoulders. My eyes filled with tears and it was difficult to remain stoic. I stayed with her until much later in the day, watching old movies, trying to get her to eat in the dining room with new friends, seeing if talking about cooking and baking would bring her around just a little.
I left last night with the feeling of a tight band around the upper part of my stomach. The band of fear and uncertainty, for it was with me last August when my father was in the hospital. It is a hated companion this familiar tight knot of tension and worry.
I cannot find my laughter right now. I am not enjoying much. My work days are filled with stress and I don't like who I've become. I snap in anger over situations that I used to handle a little better. I'm not reading for pleasure, doing much writing, except these cathartic blogs. Most of my thoughts are of Mom and wondering how her day is going when we cannot be there with her every minute.
I've read about others who have gone through this before me. I see their smiling faces, their grandkids or trips they've gone on. I see that life does return and there will be rainbows and sunshine again. This is a season in my family's journey. The tale of two parents both so very loved and a life so very missed. My brother and I will hold on to what we have of our mother until her own story ends. And then we will make new memories and remember with fondness the old ones so lovingly tucked away in our hearts.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Several years ago I read a book by a then unknown author. It was called "The Shack," and it had a feel to it as if I was not only reading a great story, but learning a lesson in the process. The story stayed with me as all good tales do, and I would think of it on many occasions through the years.
Nothing prepared me for the reaction I would have to the movie, however. Seeing such a heartfelt, deep story playing out before me on a huge screen would leave me with many, many emotions. I felt anger and horror along with the main character and what he was going through, yet there were many moments of humor and delight. I believe that I learned more about God's love than I ever thought possible while watching it. Deep thoughts and questions began to form. I knew I wanted to share this movie with loved ones who may not understand the nature of God, and I prayed for the right timing.
One of the biggest things I realized is, we all have our own "shack." As the author, Wm. Paul Young pointed out on a television special, there are deep places of hurt within all of us, our own shack, so to speak. A place where unspeakable issues may exist. Perhaps trauma from childhood, rejection, an unfair situation that occurred in our lives. Loss of loved ones too early, physical problems or situations that feel unbearable as we are going through them.
Some of the shacks in my own life were built by me; there were times I went my own way and made the stupidest mistakes, yet other shacks were thrown at me with their splintered wood and rusty nails.
We can think of one instant or several in our lives where we cried out to God for His help and mercy. We had never felt so alone or abandoned, thinking He was nowhere to be found. It was in these darkest nights of the soul that I learned more than ever to keep my eyes focused on Him.
There's a scene in the movie where Mack, the main character is on a boat. Clouds gather, the water turns murky, and the boat begins to fill with water. It was the PERFECT metaphor for what it's like to be overcome by trauma. I loved it when Jesus said, "It's not real! Look at ME, look at me, keep your eyes on ME!" It was then that the storm and the flood waters began to calm. If only we could remember to keep our eyes on Jesus in times of trouble.
Recently I felt overwhelmed by fear and I pictured laying my head against Jesus and holding His hand. I cried out for Him to give me the courage to go through the situation. Peace settled on me almost immediately, and I found the strength to go on.
In the movie, Jesus is an ordinary, likeable guy. Mack feels the closest with Him because He is human. We put Him in a "holy box" sometimes, thinking He is too far above us because He is perfect, good, righteous and holy. We forget that He came as a man for US. We are His delight. It blows my mind, but also humbles me. He calls us friend.
What is your shack? What do you hide in the secret recesses of your heart? Do you think it's unforgivable? Are you so ashamed of something you've done, secrets you keep, or hurts that were done to you? Let them go. Free yourself of the bondage. Forgive the person who hurt you, maybe not to their face, but in a letter you may never send. Write, write, write. It's very cathartic. Keep a journal and pray about the things you write.
There was pain in my childhood of times when I wasn't sure my mother would be restored to our family after the stigma of mental illness. There were moments of bullying so bad in middle school that I would cry every day, and retain some of the hurt for many years. There was the betrayal of a husband in my early twenties, a man that I thought the sun rose and set on, and the feeling of unworthiness attached to the fact that he chose another over me. There was a dark time in my son's teenage years that I felt my heart was breaking.
Keep Your Eyes on Me. Jesus says.
Well if my eyes are on you, Lord, then they aren't on my problems any longer. If my eyes are on you, then I'm not seeing the past and the breaking of my heart. I'm able to let go, forgive those who hurt me and hurt my loved ones. Forgive myself for bad choices and mistakes.
What about death? Can we keep our eyes on Jesus then? For we've all lost someone we love. There's another scene in the movie "The Shack" that fills my heart with such happiness, I feel like I could burst. I want to sing and clap my hands. I want to cry beautiful tears of joy. Mack is permitted to see his daughter Missy playing with other children in Heaven. Missy knows her father is there watching, and walks over near him and with the most incredibly joyous glee, she shows her happiness, her contentment, and her love. Her father sees her as she is, not who she was, and his own heart is filled with hope. It is then that he realizes he was not at fault for her death, and that perfect love does indeed, cast out fear.
My mother had a near death experience in the early nineteen seventies. She had a cardiac arrest and felt herself being pulled into an unexpressable love. She could barely describe the feeling of warmth, all-encompassing love as if she was the only person who mattered. When she returned, she told us that she wasn't afraid to die. I think that scene in the movie with Missy conveys that feeling of absolute joy--a joy that nothing can ever take away. Think about it. If our departed loved ones feel that rapturous joy, if their eyes are fixed on Jesus, then even death does not triumph.
I hope if you have the chance, you will see this life-changing movie. Is it one hundred percent gospel, well, is anything except the Bible? Take from it what the author intended. A story of healing and forgiveness; a story of God's perfect love. I happen to think you, too, will come away changed and with a new sense of wonder, awe, and your eyes on the One who matters.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
I'd been planning this little excursion for weeks. One of Mom's favorite Disney cartoons had been "Beauty and the Beast." She watched it over and over with her grandson, my Matt, when he was very little, and then with me just as many times. I knew she would enjoy the local play.
Sunday arrived, and with her dementia, Mom kept asking, "Now what is going on today?" I'd explain that me and Matt were taking her to a high school production of one of her favorite movies. She seemed okay. Okay, that was, until we got her out. She complained about the weather; it was way too cold. The wind was blowing, and she had to walk pretty far to get inside the school and into the auditorium. What if she had to go to the bathroom? The list went on and on. I had a really bad moment where I lashed out and said, "Fine, if you're going to be like this, let's just turn around and go home." I meant it. All my planning for a perfect day, shot down with her negativity. I couldn't remember her Alzheimer's in that moment. All I could think about was me.
When the lights finally dimmed, Mom innocently asked, "Is this "Cats?" It was a question she would repeat at least twenty-five times or more. For some reason the musical "Cats" was stuck in her head. Then when the cast broke into a song she knew from "Beauty and the Beast" Mom would sing along, out loud mind you, and she appeared as if she was enjoying herself immensely. Then all over again, she'd say, "I want to see "Cats." My stress level was through the roof. I thought about getting up and leaving with her, but something said: stay until the end. This is a day for everyone to enjoy. Don't worry if she's embarrassing you. Don't think about the people around us who were hearing her say things out loud every so often. And not that I don't care for the feelings of others, but there have been many times in my life when I've sat near special needs children or adults. Yes, I'd always been understanding of what was going on with them.
When the play was over, Mom sat crying with the story she'd loved so much. The Beast is dying, and Belle's love saves him. It was a tale she'd told me as a little girl many times. And it was in this moment, that the little girl began to emerge in my mother. As we walked out of the auditorium, we spotted many of the characters from the play talking with friends and family. The lovely Belle posed for pictures with little girls who seemed enamored of their favorite character. Mom shyly asked, "Can I have a picture with Belle?" My heart cracked into two right at that moment. That little girl again, showing up through the wrinkled skin, thinning hair, and wheeled walker. "Of course," I said, and we snapped away at a few poses. In them, I can see Mom almost puzzling out why she was standing next to this lovely princess. In her mind, she may have been eight or nine again, believing in magic, beauty and love. Who was I to take that from her?
I think back on that day right now, and feel a pang of guilt at my impatience at Mom. Yet I also glow when I see how much she enjoyed herself.
The next morning, my mom woke up and on her way to the bathroom, she fell and hasn't been the same since. After a short hospital stay, she is now in a rehab facility. She can only speak in soft, garbled phrases. They aren't sure yet if she's had a stroke, or what might have brought this on. More childlike than ever, she is smiling and sleeping a lot. She talks in hushed whispered tones and can't answer most questions posed to her. I watched her during one of her moments of slumber and noticed she was talking to herself a little. I wonder if she's chatting with my father, her own Prince Charming who passed on before her. I wonder if he's there even now near her, whispering the words of love he's always said to her. I see her smile in her sleep and can only imagine.
Monday, March 6, 2017
I lay awake at four in the morning, totally unable to find that cozy spot once again or to stop the thoughts which pummel me from all sides. Will Mom be alright today? Will she eat and take her pills? What if she missteps and takes a fall? Is her health okay?
On the days I am with her, I try to give her my all. We begin with a scrumptious breakfast, bacon, french toast and coffee. I do my best Lumiere impression from "Beauty and the Beast" for her to "Be My Guest" as I serve her. I love to make Mom laugh, and it's no easy task always thinking up a barrage of chatter so she won't go down any of the paths of depression. Dementia is enough without the added sadness she sometimes carries.
I glance around for tasks which need done; wanting to be of help to my brother who is her nighttime caregiver. He does so much, and I want to make life a little bit easier for him too. I'll begin the wash, take care of the cats, do a light dusting, help Mom to dress or heaven forbid, take a shower. For this has not been easy and on the days I can coax her, I end up getting almost as wet as she does. I know she feels badly. It can't be easy having your daughter insist you do something that has become almost scary. For the tub isn't easy to maneuver with her bad leg, and getting her onto her shower seat takes patience and a little muscle as well.
Some days I take Mom for a drive to a favorite spot near a lovely creek and small stone bridge, knowing she and Dad loved to drive there each week. We may even grab a little food while we are out, but taking a walker in and out of the car and making sure she doesn't fall, gives every trip a little added stress.
I orchestrate all her doctor, dental, eye and foot appointments like a well-oiled machine, seeing that she is cared for. And getting her to them is another feat in itself.
Once she is situated back home, I make sure that Mom has taken her late afternoon pills; or days when I am not there, try talking her into taking them on the other end of the phone. It's exhausting, these simple tasks, and sometimes as part caregiver, I want to vent and scream and even run away.
My friend Goldie reminded me that we must care for ourselves. We are no good to anyone if we don't first take time to do something nice for us. As another of my friends, Paula mentioned the other day, if you were traveling on a plane and in an emergency the oxygen masks came down before you, you would first put the mask onto your own face so that you'd have enough breath to take care of your loved ones around you. We cannot help someone else if we can't breathe.We cannot thrive without oxygen, and that's what the caregiver needs; sometimes one small breath at a time.
It's been easy to fall into a trap recently--an endless pit of despair at times. Poor me, why me, etc, etc. But when I actually listened to these two remarkable friends, my spirits lifted and the shackles of depression began to abate. Some people find a little solace in having their nails or hair done, or purchasing a fun new outfit. Others enjoy a good workout at a local gym. There are those who take in a movie with a good friend, or share a cup of coffee with another. A long, hot bath, good music, all great for the caregiver. And some of these are easily accomplished.
I took in a movie the other day. And I've been taking time to read good books, listen to music I enjoy, and on occasion, even paint my nails with glitzy, fun colors. Yes, it's true--we must give care to ourselves a bit from time to time or we lose a little of who we are and all that we can do for others.
So, buy the new shirt, read that book, indulge in the dark chocolate you've been wanting. Call a friend and vent. Then vent some more. Laugh at a funny movie, or be inspired by a touching one. Do something for you! It makes the spirits soar and helps us to be a much-improved caregiver. Remember to breathe.