Posted in Faith, photography

New Every Morning

“I hurried over so you could take a picture,” said Matt, the lifeguard who was taking over for me so I could home.

Two weeks of working together and he’s got me figured out. How many times has he heard me say, “I need to get a picture of that!” Or, how many times has he seen me grab my phone out of the office so I could snap a shot of the sunrise.

I told someone at Hutchmoot that I was practically giddy over the prospect of working at this job, and that hasn’t changed since it started.

Leaving the house at 5 AM to lifeguard for two hours every morning has been fun.

And stimulating. Adult conversation is such a treat.

The sunrises aren’t bad either.

I arrive in the dark. This morning I stood, looking out from near the pool, and snapped a grainy picture. The white dot in the distance is a lighted lamppost.

Since the pool was redone, it has a wall of windows facing east. The lights are always on in there. In the darkness, the pool area fairly glows when I arrive.

Of course, when working as a lifeguard, I’m not staring out the windows. I’m scanning the pool, in case any of those early morning lap swimmers need help. So far the only help anyone has needed is turning the music down or alerting maintenance that the hot water isn’t working in the showers.

But I love my co-workers. They are such interesting people. And we converse in complete sentences.

I’ve tried explaining to people how being a caregiver for someone with dementia is like taking care of a toddler. Anyone who has had children knows the stage of incomplete conversation. That’s how it is with my father these days. That, or trying to guess what he’s trying to say, or trying to follow the tangents that his mind travels down.

Right around the time I’m getting ready to go home — I can only really afford two hours when I know he’ll be sleeping — the sky is changing.

One day last week, I tried to take a picture of it, but the pool reflected back off the glass and gave me this shot.

So this morning I went from window bay to window bay trying to find a place that didn’t reflect the pool.

“Just step outside,” said one of the other guards, so I did.

Golly, it was pretty.

I stopped again just beyond the pool on my way home.

I wondered if there was a liturgy in Every Moment Holy for the sight of a beautiful sunrise.

Then I realized I already knew one, and recited on my way home —

But this one thing I bear in mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is thy faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:21-23

Posted in elderly, family

Four Questions

This post was originally written in April 2011 when my mother was still alive and still at home. img_1181

Question #1
I asked my mother one day,  “Mom, do you know what Alzheimer’s is?

She knew.  “It’s a condition where people can’t think sensibly,” she responded.

It was a good answer.  Alzheimer’s is not a condition where someone simply doesn’t think sensibly.  They can’t.  And yet, sometimes, they can.  Like being able to answer that question with a pretty concise response shows sensible thinking.
Question #2
Yesterday my mother handed me a sheet of address labels with her name and address printed on them.

“These are for you,” she said.

“I can’t use these, Mom,” I told her.  “They have your name and address on them.”  I tried handing them back to her, but she pushed them over to me again.

“That way you won’t forget me,” she replied.

I felt a little ache in my heart at those words.  “Mom, I won’t forget you,” I reassured.  “Will you forget me?”  I asked it, even though I already knew the answer.

“Oh, no,” she said.  “I’ll never forget you.”

But moments later, she forgot that she had even given me the address labels and took them back to her pile of things.  She removed one and stuck at the bottom of a note she had written herself about dinner with a friend — a dinner that had taken place months or years ago.  She had forgotten.  But she stuck the address label on the bottom of the note.

“This will help me remember,” she said.  Oh, if only it were that easy.
Question #3
Alzheimer’s is a condition where people can’t think sensibly.  The varying pieces of information that are coming at us and constantly being filtered in our mind are no longer being filtered correctly.  It’s impossible for a person with dementia to make sense of it all.

One day we were going through some clutter and my father picked up a kitschy dog made out of golf balls.  “We could probably get rid of this,” he said.

Are you going to get rid of me?” my mother asked.  With the filters missing, that was what she heard.

“You’re too valuable,” he told her.  “We’re not going to get rid of you.”  It was the perfect response.
Question #4
So many people have shown kindness to my mother.  Total strangers, long-time friends and family members have all pitched in to keep her safe and to make life easier for my father.  I know my father appreciates it, but I often wonder if my mother is even aware.

Yesterday, she answered that unasked question.  Are you aware of all the things people do for you?

She was looking for my brother.  “He’s up at his house, Mom, right next door,” I told her.

“That’s right,” she said.  “He has been so nice.  Every night he brings dinner right down to us so I don’t have to fix anything.”

Yes, he does. And I’m so glad you recognize that.  Even if you don’t always recognize me.  I know it’s because you can’t think sensibly.

Posted in Faith, family, flowers

Christmas Flowers

img_1016On Sunday the pastor announced that anyone who wanted Poinsettia or cyclamen was welcome to take plants home. The front altar had been filled with plants for the holiday season — so, so lovely.

The cyclamen on the piano had caught my eye. It was looking droopy and sad, kind of worn out. I understood how it felt.

We are invariably among the last to leave. Bud loves to visit with people and I try to wait patiently (albeit awkwardly). I watched plants leave the sanctuary, one by one, but so many still waited to be adopted. The cyclamen on the piano drooped even more. I  grabbed it and a poinsettia to take home before we left.

For my mother — you know? She loved plants. When she was alive, she always had Poinsettia at Christmas. Her Christmas cactus burst into bloom on cue with the season, as did her Crown of Thorns at Easter. It was magical.

Here is part of  a post I wrote nearly 5 years ago:

At the tower of Babel, God scattered the languages of the world, “so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:7)  But He left us some universal languages.

Music crosses cultures and generations.

Art speaks and moves me, though I may know not a word in the native tongue of the painter.

And flowers — God Himself uses this language to speak to us through their beauty.

Flowers may have been the language my mother understood best.  She worked tirelessly in her garden, weeding, tending, making it beautiful for all to enjoy.  Inside the house there was always something blooming — Poinsettia, Christmas cactus, Amaryllis, the crown of thorns, Easter lilies, mums.  She understood the language of the flowers and plants, and they understood her and responded.

As my mother descended into dementia, the plants in the house looked more and more sickly. Nearly all the plants eventually died. Her huge Christmas cactus and Crown of Thorns are gone.

As I left the sanctuary on Sunday holding my sad cyclamen, Bud noticed a healthy one in the vestibule. “Do you want this plant instead?” he asked.

“No,” I told him. “I want to try to revive this one.”

It’s amazing what a little water and sunshine will do.

img_1030

I used to tell myself that I had a black thumb and that I could never grow plants the way my mother did, but I understand better now. It’s not the color of my thumb, it’s the care and attention.

It holds true with plants.

It holds true with people.

Posted in dementia, Faith, family

If You Say So

The following is an edited version of a post first published on January 2, 2012. I wrote it when my mother was still living at home and I was trying to help my father with her.

My sister and I can carry on conversations using just things my mother says.

For instance, my mother often says, “If you say so.”

Making the sandwich #1This is usually in response to something she doesn’t believe to be true.  Like, she’ll be preparing a meal for, say, 150 people.  (150 is her favorite number.)  I’ll say to her, “Mom, there are only going to be five of us for lunch today — You, me, Dad, Mary and Laurel.”

She’ll look at me with a look that says, I don’t believe a word of that.  But out of her mouth will come the words, “If you say so.”

It’s a phony acquiescence.  She’ll continue right on making 150 sandwiches.

Or, she’ll be getting ready for church, and I’ll say, “Mom, today is Tuesday.  There’s nothing going on at the church today.”

She’ll answer, “If you say so,” and then continue getting ready for church.

She started saying it as a cover for her memory loss.  It was easier than arguing.

The reason I wanted to start off the new year with those words, though, is because they tie in so beautifully with something else I’ve been thinking about.  I’ve been thinking about how the earthly life of Christ was book-ended with two statements of yielding.

First, when the angel told Mary she was going to have a baby, she responded with,

Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.

Luke 1:38

I’m quite sure there must be a translation out there that translates her words as, “If you say so,” not in an I-really-don’t-believe-a-word-of-it way, but in the way I would like to be able to say them to God. A yielding.

When Jesus was praying in Gethsemane before his death, he said these words,

Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours, be done.

Luke 22:42

Can’t you just hear the “if you say so” in there?

“Father, take this cup away from me, but, if you say so, I’ll do it.”

When God asks me to go through something, I’d like to be able to say, “Okay, God, if You say so.”

I want 2012 (and now 2017) to be an “If You Say So” kind of year, a year of yielding to the Father’s will.  I want to be like Mary and Jesus,  who, facing trials and uncertainty, still trust God’s overarching plan.

However, I want to be sincere in my words — not like my mother  just saying words to smooth things over.

If you say so.

Simple words from a person with Alzheimer’s.

Words also to live by.

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge

X

Χ 

marks the spot.

My mother would sometimes say, “That hits the spot.”

Hot soup on a cold day. Ice cold lemonade on a hot day. Lasagne with garlic bread and a fresh tossed salad on any day.

I’m pretty sure it’s the same spot.

The one marked by “X”.

The one identifying the location of the treasure, which, as it turns out, may be food.

Contentedness as seen in the perfect food for the day became more common with my mother’s Alzheimer’s.

Or maybe she was just more verbal about it.

So many things were confusing to her. The place. The year. The people around her.

Food, however, was and is universal.

And can be deeply satisfying.

Especially when it’s just what your body is craving.

Hence, the marmalade.

Bread and JamThe way my mother ate orange marmalade reminded me of Russell Hoban’s Francis in Bread and Jam for Francis.

“Well,” said Frances,
there are many different things to eat,
and they taste many different ways.
But when I have bread and jam,
I always know what I’m getting and I’m always pleased.”

When the world is crazy, go with the sure thing — marmalade.

It will hit the spot.

 

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, Alzheimer's

Vulnerable

“Fred” made the mistake of saying the words “crew cut” within hearing of the man with the clippers.

“Everybody has a bad haircut story,” I told him. “Now you have yours.”

What made the whole thing ironic is that “Fred” had just been to a conference from which he took away the importance of vulnerability.

“Failure is an event, not a person,” he told me, repeating a Zig Ziglar quote one of the speakers had used.

“Exactly,” I said, pointing to his head.

Every disaster, whether large or small, brings us to a crossroads. One path pretends the problem never happened and hides the challenge from all the other travelers. The other path is vulnerability and sharing the struggle.

My mother taught me the importance of vulnerability. I remember watching her after her breast cancer surgery. She had a full radical mastectomy back in the days when the plastic surgeons weren’t inserting inflatable boobs even before the radiation treatments.

Her prosthesis was external, a little mass of weighted jell that fit into her bra.

Which she got tired of and did without after some years.

My mother was not defined by her breasts.

Or her breast cancer.

She went to visit women who had had mastectomies before they left the hospital and faced the world.

“This does not define you,” she told them.

And she lived, a walking testament to life after breast cancer.

That open-ness, that vulnerability, helped me to start writing about her and her Alzheimer’s.

I think if she had fully understood, if her brain had not been fogged by dementia, she would freely given her blessing to the whole thing.

“Write about the incontinence,” she would have said. “Maybe it will help somebody else going through the same thing.”

She would laugh and say, “Write about that time when I tried to walk the two miles into town because no one would believe me that I needed to go to a meeting.” I walked with her, and Helen came to pick us up.

“Write about the funny things I said. And how you had to show me that underwear went on first, before the pants. Write about the marmalade.”

It’s not dishonoring to use tough situations so that others know they are not alone in what they are experiencing.

Quite the opposite.

It is most honoring.

I think she would be pleased.

Making the sandwich #1
Mom and her marmalade
Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, family

Long in the Tooth

I’ve occasionally wondered what was in the guy’s trailer by the time he got home.

He started off with an empty trailer and some debts he needed to collect.

At the first stop, he got a dirt bike because the guy didn’t have any money to pay him.

At the next, he traded the dirt bike for a horse.

When he arrived at our house, it wasn’t to collect a debt, it was to look at a pregnant heifer that my dad had advertised in the Pennysaver (<— Craig’s List of 1970). To make the story of the pregnant cow short and tasteful, my brother had been given a Holstein calf which we named Sock-It-To-Me Sunshine.

Peter and the calf, named Sock-It-To-Me Sunshine, with Shetland pony, Rosie, in the background
Peter and Sock-It-To-Me Sunshine, with Shetland pony, Rosie, in the background

It grew up.

Clearly we were not sure what to do with a calf.
Clearly we were not sure what to do with a calf.

The dairy farm next door had a bull instead of an artificial inseminator. The bull and the heifer had a surreptitious rendezvous, and voila.

So the guy showed up with a horse in his trailer. He left with Sock-It-To-Me Sunshine (in the family way) in it instead.

Goldie
Goldie

Peter got the short end of that trade. He lost his cow and I got a horse, a large Palomino named Goldie. (I think, at the time, we also had a cat named Gray Kitty and another named Black Kitty. I would say that we weren’t skilled in naming animals, but I’m not sure if a cow named Sock-It-To-Me Sunshine makes my point or disproves it.)

Goldie was large and docile. I usually rode her bareback because getting a saddle on her and then getting the girth tight enough so that it didn’t slip was beyond my strength. Sometimes I didn’t even put the bridle on but just looped a rope around her halter. She was so patient with me.

I never knew how old she was. I asked my father, but he didn’t know. He also told me, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” and I had to look up the meaning of that saying. It turns out that a horse’s age can be determined by their teeth.

I also learned the saying, “Long in the tooth,” because a horse’s gums recede as they get older so their teeth appear longer.

Goldie was not long in the tooth when we got her. She was young and healthy and brought me great joy. When I grew too busy with school activities, she went on to bring another family great joy.

My mother was long-in-the-tooth by the time she died. Not literally.

But she was 87.

I’ll never forget the young doctor meeting with us and beginning with the words, “Mom is very sick.”

Here she paused and looked slowly around the room at the gathered family members. She wanted her words to sink in.

“And she has been sick for quite a while,” she continued.

She boldly laid all the cards on the table, face up, so we could all see the hand that had been dealt.

Long in the tooth, when it comes to elderly dementia, means a deteriorating brain.

She wasn’t just losing memory. She was losing the capacity to live.

Hours. We spent hours talking about my mother’s condition. I grew longer in the tooth in those few hours than I had in my whole life.

Weight piled upon weight piled upon weight.

I felt that I would never be able to stand under all of it.

When the meeting was over, we had acknowledged a trade.

Not a horse for a cow, but a new existence by letting go of this old one.

When we got home, my sister found the health directive my mother had written years before. We had followed my mother’s wishes, and that brought peace.

In trading, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I think both happened that day.

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, Alzheimer's

Kind

The ABC’s of how I’m feeling:

A is for ANGRY

B is for BITTER

C is for CRANKY

Clearly I’m doing this A-to-Z Challenge all wrong.

I feel angry.

And not kind.

I hung up on Time-Warner yesterday. Told them we were switching to Direct TV.

I’m not happy with them.

I posted a rant yesterday and almost immediately the person I ranted about contacted me. I was in the midst of a conversation with a different friend.

“I should have said something to her before I posted it,” I told my friend about my other friend — are you following this? Too many unnamed friends, I know.

But I knew the right way to handle the situation — and I didn’t do it. I posted a stupid blog post. (It has since been edited.)

This is how not to do things, kids. Talk to people who upset you. Don’t rant on your blog. Do as I say, not as I do.

I believe in handling things the right way and in kindness. Sometimes belief isn’t enough. We have to actually do it.

I’m working to memorize Isaiah 58, a chapter where God is dealing with a people who are oblivious to their sin.

“Look at me fasting,” they say to God. “Look at my sackcloth and ashes. Look how humble I am. Why aren’t you noticing any of this?”

And God says to them, “I really want you to be nice to each other. Don’t be grumpy. Don’t strike out at people. I want you to fast from your meanness. Put that aside instead of food. Undo someone’s yoke. Feed a hungry person. Invite a homeless person into your home. Sheesh!”

He didn’t really say the “sheesh” part. I added that.

But you get the point.

Can I just say here, in the depths of this post where few people will probably read, that life is hard right now? My father is struggling — and he doesn’t even know he’s struggling.

“You’re not thinking clearly,” my brother and I told him, ganging up on him to persuade him to have a medical test which may put us on a path to improvement.

“That’s what they keep telling me,” he said, in a tone that showed that he clearly didn’t believe a word of it.

It reminded me of a post that I had long since taken down. The post, from April 2011, had been called “Four Questions.”

It ends with kindness — which works for “K”.

****

Four Questions

Mom -- April 2011
Mom — April 2011

Question #1

I asked my mother this question one day when we were in the car, “Mom, do you know what Alzheimer’s is?

She knew the answer. “It’s a condition where people can’t think sensibly,” she responded.

Yes, it is. It’s not a condition where someone doesn’t think sensibly. They can’t. And yet, sometimes, they can. Like being able to answer that question with a pretty concise response shows some sensible thinking.

Question #2

Yesterday my mother handed me a sheet of address labels that had come in the mail to her.

“These are for you,” she said.

“I can’t use these, Mom,” I told her. “They have your name and address on them.” I tried handing them back to her, but she pushed them over to me again.

“That way you won’t forget me,” she replied.

I felt a little ache in my heart at those words. “Mom, I won’t forget you,” I reassured. “Will you forget me?” I asked it, even though I already knew the answer.

“Oh, no,” she said. “I’ll never forget you.”

But moments later, she forgot that she had even given me the address labels and took them back to her pile of things. She removed one and stuck at the bottom of a note she had written herself about dinner with a friend. It was a dinner with a friend that had taken place months or years ago. She had forgotten. But she stuck the address label on the bottom of the note.

“This will help me remember,” she said. Oh, if only it were that easy.

Question #3

Alzheimer’s is a condition where people can’t think sensibly. The varying pieces of information that are constantly coming at us are no longer being filtered correctly in the mind of someone with Alzheimer’s. It’s impossible to make sense of it all.

When my parents were going through some of the clutter that had accumulated at their house, my father picked up a kitschy dog made out of golf balls. “We could probably get rid of this,” he said.

Are you going to get rid of me?” she asked. With the filters missing, that was what she heard.

“You’re too valuable,” he told her. “We’re not going to get rid of you.” She still has value. She needed to hear that.

Question #4

In difficult situations, so many people show little kindnesses. With my mother’s Alzheimer’s, people have been so kind. Total strangers, long-time friends and family members have all pitched in to keep my mother safe and to make life easier for my father. I know my father appreciates it, but I often wonder if my mother is even aware.

Yesterday, she answered the unasked question I have had for a long time. Are you aware of all the things people do for you?

She was looking for my brother. “He’s up at his house, Mom, right next door,” I told her.

“That’s right,” she said. “He has been so nice. Every night he brings dinner right down to us so I don’t have to fix anything.”

Yes, he does. And his wife does. And I’m so glad you recognize that. Even if you don’t always recognize me. I know it’s because you can’t think sensibly.

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge

Juggling

“Can you still juggle?” I asked Helen the other day.

She picked up three somethings — I don’t remember what they were — pom-poms or apples or Easter eggs — and juggled them quite handily.

I’ve seen her do it before. We have a video of it. As she focuses on juggling golf balls, she keeps her eyes on them and her mouth is wide open.

Like a ukulele player who presses his lips together or sticks his tongue out to the side while playing.

We aren’t all professional.

When jugglers juggle they have to focus, and something else may fall by the wayside in order to keep the balls in the air.

I guess I’m back at imperfection.

This is supposed to be about my mother.

And juggling.

***

My mother was most at home in the kitchen. She cooked for our family, for her church family, for special occasions, and for the every day. Huge spreads. Humble soups. Everything always delicious. (Except the beef heart. And the lamb burgers.)

Her juggling took place in the kitchen. She had an amazing talent for getting all the food on the table piping hot for us to enjoy. Her timing was perfect.

I, on the other hand, serve lukewarm green beans with hot meatloaf and cold potatoes. I forget to heat the plates the way that my mother did. I can’t get people to the table on time. I have not yet figured out the art of juggling many food dishes in the kitchen.

When my mother began struggling in the kitchen, we should have seen it for it was, a sign of dementia. She couldn’t keep all the balls in the air anymore. She called me for help more and more.

And I was resentful.

Critical.

Unsympathetic and unaware that she was moving into a strange vortex that left her confused in the kitchen.

“You make such good scalloped potatoes,” she called one day to tell me. “Could you make some for Dad and me? We have company coming tonight.”

I bristled inside. I was home with seven or eight children, tired, frustrated — and honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was make scalloped potatoes for my mother so she could go golfing and still have a nice dinner to serve her guests.

But I did it.

In retrospect, I think she was worried about her cooking — and how sad that is for me to realize today!

But she had dropped one of the balls she was juggling and asked me to help pick it up.

If only I had known. If only I had understood better in those early days.

People — be patient and kind. Don’t mock the open mouth of someone keeping the balls in the air.

We’re all juggling something.

And we all drop balls.

We all need help, not criticism.

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, Faith, family

Community

John 5 begins with the story of Jesus at the Bethesda pool where lay “a multitude of invalids.” The belief was that after an angel troubled the waters, the first one in was healed. Jesus spoke with a man who had been there for thirty-eight years.

“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked him.

“Sir, I have no one,” the man replied. No one to put him into the pool when the water is stirred. A multitude of invalids, but each concerned for himself.

To have no one.

In contrast —

C is for Community.

My father and mother enjoyed traveling after my father retired, but as my mother’s dementia grew worse, traveling became more difficult.  One night in New York City, my father awoke to hear the heavy hotel door click shut and realized that my mother was no longer in the room. He found her in the hallway. Another time she got away from him at the airport, and still another time she wandered off in Greece.

On that trip to Greece, their last big trip, the other ladies in the tour group saw the need and began watching out for my mother. What began as a group of strangers ended as a caring group.

My mother and father on their trip to Greece
My mother and father on their trip to Greece
Strangers at the start, friends by the end
Strangers at the start, friends by the end

“Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.”  Anthony J. D’Angelo

Community doesn’t have to be intimate to be functional.  Even a small thing, like holding the door open for someone struggling with mobility, can be an act of community. It says, “I am willing to help you, even if it inconveniences me a little.”

Sometimes community is very intimate. I was horrified to see that my mother had had an incidence with incontinence while visiting an old friend of my father. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” I had said when my mother stood to go. “Let me get something to clean that!”

“No, no,” the woman had said. “Your job is to take care of your parents. I can clean this up.”

Community.

Looking out for one another.

Circling the wagons in Greece, in Florida, in Cooperstown.

We can be community to those we encounter. We just need to be willing.