Friday, September 25, 2015

The parenting journey takes many twists and turns ...

Thinking about my precious Mom tonight.  She lives across the Tennessee River in a lovely facility where she is under nursing care at all times, due to Alzheimer disease. This past Tuesday I celebrated her 91st birthday with four friends that know and love Mom -- two of whom helped me care for her when she still lived here with us.  In those days, she still raised tomato plants and various plants & flowers on her deck and delighted in each growth spurt or colorful blossom.

Mom doesn't yet know her children are driving in from various states to celebrate her birthday again tomorrow! She will be so excited when everyone gathers for her party.  Those blue eyes will sparkle and a few happy tears may slip and fall, but that's okay. 

We want to celebrate her life, her can-do attitude, her appreciation for the kindness of those who assist her, her gentle spirit with other residents who are feeling poorly, and even her desire to still keep her room in good order.  (Bless her heart, she double checks the staff's bed-making skills and will "fix" things that aren't lined up just so.  If her mattress shifts a few inches, she wants it straightened, please. Gotta love my Mom's eye for detail!)

I am so very grateful to still have her in my life and want to love and appreciate her every day. We all miss Daddy, who died 24 years ago with a massive heart attack. He was 68 at the time and looked to be in fine health, but atherosclerosis was taking over his blood vessels and, eventually, he had a massive heart attack. Mom still thinks of him and will sometimes ask where he is.  At other times, she doesn't recognize him in photos of them together.

So each new day is another confusing struggle for her on this journey with Alzheimer disease. Bceause she was raised in hard times, Mom is strong in spirit and determination to do what needs to be done.  While we were growing up at home, we often heard her say, when we were being pitiful or whiny to "buck up."

To Alzheimer patients, reality is sometimes unreal.  Some dreams take Mom far away back to childhood or her young adult life and that's where she is upon waking.  This means she sometimes looks around the room and tries to remember where she really is and why she isn't "back home." I am never sure what she is experiencing until I spend some time listening and observing. The Alzheimer journey means you make the effort to step into your loved one's world and let them talk about what they are thinking, experiencing, feeling, etc.  That's what our parents need most - to know they are not traveling this journey alone.  I've found that with Mom, holding hands, singing softly, stroking her hair or patting her back can help. When she is ready to interact, she'll smile or speak.

At other times, Mom naps while I read in a chair at the foot of her bed.  When she wakes up, she will usually remember me being there and smile.  At other times, she will be in a dreamlike-state and say things like, "Johnnie (my father) was sitting in that very chair last  night reading his Bible." I'm sure she is comforted by the thought, and I don't correct her.  Sometimes she will ask if Dad is already gone, and when I see that look in her eyes - that faint remembrance of his being absent for a very long period of time - I answer her question honestly.  "Yes, he is in heaven and at perfect peace." This doesn't happen very often, but when it does, she grieves his death all over again.

Though Mom's mental and physical abilities have been declining steadily, she is very aware of other things -- like a rose blossom in a vase that is needing more water ... or a fellow resident feeling poorly or upset.  On many occasions, she has paddled her wheel chair over to them, patted their arm and proceeded to pray with them!

Music is important to Mom, and she still recognizes tunes of hymns we sang for so many years.  I often see her hand keeping time with the music - even when her eyes are closed. And I think to myself, what a blessing that she still remembers those comforting songs!  We also read Bible verses together, and I will pray with her.  At times I've asked Mom if she'd like to pray, she speaks clearly and expresses herself better to her Heavenly Father than she does with us.  Her prayers are almost always for others, not for herself.

As we continue on this journey ... it's like waving goodbye to a loved one who goes toward the horizon on their travels to a strange land, a loved one you will miss while they are gone.  When communication is infrequent or absent, your eyes will sometimes leak and your heart will get heavy because you know they are farther away with each passing day. But you pull up your courage and smile and wave anyhow and remind them that you're praying for them.

We have no idea how long Mom will be with us, but we will celebrate her birthday together as family and rejoice in the fact she still knows - at this point - that we are her children.  She is still a sweetie, a grateful lady who freely shows her appreciation to caregivers, nurses and assistants.  She likes to be with the other residents who sit around the nurses' station or in the adjoining "day area" to relax and/or catch a few winks.

While this journey has been trying and tiresome for Mom, it is an opportunity for me to grow in things that matter: Patience, courage, love, kindness, wisdom and faith. The end of the Alzheimer journey will not be the end for my Mom.  When she slips from here to there, she will wake up in heaven totally healed of all disease, confusion and loneliness!  Perfect peace awaits those who trust in Jesus Christ as their substitute - the perfect, sacrificial "Lamb of God."  John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-10

1 comment:

  1. Oh Nan,this is a precious post. I didn't know about Alzheimer until recently when my erstwhile neighbor and the town's assistant magistrate succumb to it. Bless you for making your mom's birthday and life so special. xx


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