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Posts Tagged ‘strength’

Curves ahead road sing

Like dangerous curves on a mountain road, no one knows what to expect from Alzheimers.

Do women change dramatically once Alzheimer’s begins its attack on their brain?  Rose and my mother, Irene, remained gentle people, but I don’t believe that’s always the case.  I was told of one woman suffering with AD who seemed to have the strength of a lion.  When she was provoked to anger, the adrenaline really began to pump.  Reaching over the rail of her hospital bed, the distraught victim picked up a nearby chair and hit her attending husband with it.  Quoting my friend Madalyn once again, “They’re all different.”  It would have been interesting to know if that “hearsay” patient was a violent person before AD.  In any event the family and I were grateful that the two mothers in our lives were not combative.  Perhaps I should say there was no occasion to thoroughly test their defenses, and that’s always a good thing.

Both women were cognizant of gratitude, and always managed to say, “Thank you,” for favors and services received.  There was a sweetness which remained as part of their personalities, along with other facets of who they had been before AD.  Their memory was stolen, lost in the shadows making us strangers to them, more than them becoming strangers to us.   The changes taking place so slowly it’s often difficult to recall exactly when they began.

With Rose it was her forgetting that we all noticed first.  Ken would call to ask if she and Dad were going to be home as we were planning to visit.  “Oh, yes,” she answered, “we’ll be home all afternoon. Please come.” When we arrived they were gone.  Rather than drive the 30 miles return trip we waited believing they were probably at the store.  Sure enough, they soon returned with Rose asking why we hadn’t called to let them know we were coming.  We made up some transparent excuse and enjoyed our visit.  She did, however, remember telephone numbers.

“Mom fills my answering machine with one call after another,” Loretta complained as we talked about Rose’s inability to remember her daughter was at work during the day.  When the machine no longer picked up, Rose would call me.  We talked for a while, her asking the same questions with me giving the same answers, and then said goodbye.  Ten minutes later the phone would ring again and, sure enough, it was Rose.  Over and over again, the routine continued until, for my own sanity, I had to let the calls go to the answering machine.  Thirty five years ago, the entire AD experience was new to all of us.  We were all learning, but still in a state of wonder as how to manage and get some constructive advice.

Our daughter, Debbie, came with me one day to visit her grandmother.  Rose was looking at an old photograph album.  With Debbie sitting by her side, Rose looked at the pictures naming her brothers, sisters and friends from the distant past.  Over and over she told the same stories turning the pages back into a circular motion with no beginning and no end.  It was only when Debbie laid the book flat allowing the album to close that brought the book and the stories to a natural end.  Rose read the newspaper the same way —  always stopping and reading aloud an article of interest  (the same ones each time she rotated the paper) over and over until she grew tired and something else sparked her curiosity .  Little by little we began to put the mystery pieces together.

Following Nick’s passing we realized Rose was not only forgetful, she was becoming more and more confused.  The TV dinners we bought had worked for the two of them in the past, but alone she found the boxed meals of no value.   Peeking inside, Rose sampled the contents; the food was tasteless and cold.  She rejected the entire package except for the applesauce, which she ate, leaving the rest of the soggy dinner in the refrigerator, and then placing another frozen meal on the counter to thaw.  Even with my constant visits and Loretta living close by, we realized Rose could no longer live alone.

With my mother, Irene, it was her inability to listen that was one of the first signs she was changing.  She had been a wonderful conversationalist; not only a good talker, but a great listener as well.  Spending time with her, before AD began, was a joyful experience where we could exchange thoughts, ideas and ideals often delving into deep – sometimes controversial subjects – but our exchange was that – an exchange.  It was never an offense/defense debate, merely good conversation between two grown people with each leaving the other a little food for thought to consider until next time. I found the time spent always something to look forward to, but when AD arrived, she stopped listening.  There were no more inspiring tidbits from years of experience for me to take home and no more solid advice.  Her conversations no longer made a point, words became just words and when I spoke up she interrupted as if she were spending time with someone else – or possibly her mind was somewhere else.

Even if no one was with her she often droned on and on without end.  One evening, during dinner, she chattered while the rest of the family ate — her plate nearly untouched.  Finally, my father murmured, “Irene!  Please just be quiet and eat your food.”  She took a few bites then went right back to her endless jabber expressing her rambling thoughts.

Once Alzheimer’s has become an unwelcome part of a family — coming at will – it takes up permanent residence departing only when its victim passes on to a better place.  However, watching for a return visit in other family members becomes second nature to the survivors.  So it was that my heart stopped as Ken and I stood on a grassy knoll where spring-like water gurgled from the ground, and where we had been several times before.  “I have never been here in my entire life,” he claimed after I had mentioned that it looked the same as last time we visited.  I knew then AD had arrived again, its slime once more creeping into our lives like wisps of fog along the shore.  No one’s road signs are the same, personalities become altered, and relationships change.  I go back to my friend Madalyn and her reminding me that Alzheimer’s is different for everyone, yet the end results are, unfortunately,  identical:  No one has ever recovered from the disease.

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Young hand with older hand

The helping hand of service comes to young and old alike.

“Do I have to go?” whined my 14-year-old son, hanging up the phone.  “Go where?” I asked. “And who was on the phone?”  “It’s that old guy from church.  He reminded me that I’ve been assigned to be his junior companion,” he continued.  “We’re supposed to go visit some more old people to make sure they’re all right.”

Although his description was lacking in cheerful good manners and enthusiasm, I had to admit it was honest and somewhat accurate.  I smiled in spite of myself knowing what he was talking about and I also knew who had called.  In our church, the goal is to have every member visited by another lay member of the congregation, representing clergy, on a monthly basis to make sure that all is well in the home, and to leave the family, or member, with a Gospel message.  The old guy to whom Keith had referred, those many years ago, was about the same age as Ken, and each old guy had a junior companion called to do this “duty” at age 14.

“You don’t have to go,” I reminded him.  “You do have a choice, but you know you should go — and with a willing heart.  It really won’t take very long, and guess what?  When you’re finished you will feel good about yourself because you have extended service to those who may be in need.  Perhaps just your visit and concern will bring someone a bit of unexpected happiness.”

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t grown up doing good deeds and giving service.  He was a wonderfully thoughtful young man.  Helping his grandparents on their little farm out of Sebastopol was service, but it was also something he wanted to do.  Carrying in groceries for a neighbor was what he chose to do.  Being kind and doing favors for others was part of his nature. Being a junior companion was an assignment by clergy, and different from what had been familiar. He wasn’t really certain if it would fit into his comfort zone.  It was also a step up the ladder in extending service.  Nevertheless, he also understood he was free to accept or refuse the assignment.  When the doorbell rang, though, he greeted his senior companion with a smile and a hardy handshake.

An hour or so later he popped back into the room wearing a happy face, and informing me that he “Kinda liked the old guy.”  Then he added, “You’re right mom.  I do feel good and I’m glad I went.”

Whatever the ingredient that makes us feel good following service to others appears to be a mystery; must be some kind of magic that fills our soul and lifts our spirit.  Or, possibly, it isn’t a mystery at all, nor is it magic. Wasn’t Jesus the example for extending service as He healed the sick, paused to give counsel to the wayward, blessed the children, caused the blind to see – the crippled to walk, and cured the lepers?  Could it be that our hearts are somehow touched by His Spirit when giving Christ-like service?

Many are drawn to serving others through career choices: doctors, nurses, health care providers and caregiver professionals just to name a few, but that isn’t the service to which I am referring – although greatly needed and appreciated.  It’s the giving of service without compensation that is true charity: service such as provided by the valiant sisters of the order and Mother Teresa.  While we all can’t dedicate a lifetime to mankind, it’s that spirit of charity which needs to be embraced.  For many, however, this kind of understanding, learning and making it all a part of our lives is a process.

Granddaughter Kristina and her boyfriend Chris had dropped in Valentine’s evening to say hello and stayed for dinner with me and Ken. Then they were off, but not to a party.  Instead the two visited with a disabled couple she had worked for during the past year.  A few days later she told me it was the nicest Valentine’s Day ever.  I asked her what she did that made it so special.  “I spent it with some people I love,” she answered, smiling at me.  I gave her an extra hug saying that I loved her too — and brushed away a tear.

Was her grandfather fun? Was I fun?  How about the disabled couple?  I doubt any of the four of us were a barrel of laughs.  Yet, she felt good about the visits, and I said to me, “She is learning.”  It tells us in Proverbs, “Your own soul is nourished when you are kind.”

So it is as we journey through life we mature and appreciate that our time here needs balance and is made better by many experiences, both good and bad.  It is never made whole with only pleasure and fun.  Actually, it’s just the opposite beginning with some kind of sacrifice —  extending the hand of help and service that helps build our firm foundation – the most important part of us for a truly balanced life.

Admittedly, there are times when we feel we are out of balance.  When the weight of what seems to be never-ending adversity causes us to wonder and ask, “Why me?”  The old axiom, “You have to keep on doing it ‘till you get it right” might be funny when applied to justifying your bank statement, but caring for someone stricken with the likes of AD seems to make one crumble in frustration of doing the same thing day after day wondering if you’ll ever get it right.  Will there will ever be “a time for me “ – a time when this weight will be lifted?  Maybe “yes” maybe “no,” but it’s in that interim where we can concentrate on and accept “what is,” savoring the positive which can come from the negative: the positive being the building of our own strengths and character.  Have I arrived at this destination?  Goodness no, but I’m striving daily in that direction.

Ken and I are into the eighth year in our battle with Alzheimer’s, and I’ve come to accept it as the way of our life for as long as it lasts.  His mind is without memory or reason, but his physical health is very good.  Through these past years I have felt the highs and lows of just about every emotion I can name, gnashing my teeth, shedding tears (I still do), and pounding my fist into a pillow (not anymore) with little changing except Ken’s AD becoming worse. I am certain most caregivers have felt the same anger, frustration and defeat until they reach up to Him who can bless them with peace.

As acceptance became a focal point for me I have learned to be more relaxed, relying on another sage bit of advice, “Let go and let God.”  I strive to do that for I know I am not alone.  I know that my Lord is with me bringing comfort when I despair and guiding me along this rocky path.

I am constantly learning and looking for new ways to be more helpful to the man I married; the man to whom I promised my love through sickness and health, and to care for him in his time of need.

In my role as caregiver, delivering service to Ken who has been my loving companion for more than 5 decades I am reminded, and will quote once again one of my favorite scripture passages.  This one from Matthew when Jesus said, “For I was hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink.  I was a stranger, and ye took me in, naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me. I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 

 Then shall the righteous answered him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee and hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

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 When Ken and I first married, television was brand new with a lot of wrestling and a small handful of almost good variety shows.   That was about it for TV, with radio still being the major source of home entertainment for most people.  Gravitating to the living room after dinner, I recall our family members easing into his or her own comfortable spot, settling in and relaxing while tuning in our favorite programs.  With great fondness I remember my father’s chair next to the radio so he could push the buttons of the big Philco console.  My mother always had some sort of hand work to do (such as darning my father’s socks) while we all listened to an array of wonderful shows:  Lux Radio Theater, I love A Mystery, Bob Hope, Jack Benny or Fibber McGee and Molly.   Who needed to see a screen to follow the plot when our brains created the scenery, did the makeup, the costumes and even the set, placing the entire production on the never-ending stage of our individual minds. 

Moving into our first apartment where Ken spent most of the evenings studying formulas and math for his engineering classes, there were a few radio programs we both enjoyed, thereby allowing him to pull away from his books for a half hour or so.   One of our favorites was about problem solving.  Not the cute family drama-sit coms of today, but stories of life struggles; accounts of ordinary people.  The component used for their problem solving was their own personal discovery of the power of prayer.  Try though I may, the program’s name is long forgotten, but not their sign-off line which I have remembered all of these years:  “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams.”  I believe that with all my heart.

At times, I have noticed while watching Oprah a guest will say something like, “And then I prayed.”  Oprah will counter the statement with, “Why was your prayer answered and the prayers of others who are equally deserving not answered?”  Good question.  Garth Brooks had a song out several years back titled, “Sometimes I Thank God For Unanswered Prayers.”  So what does that mean?  For me it means that prayers are answered, but often we don’t like the answer we get, at least not at the time, as illustrated in Garth’s song.   It’s later that we understand the Father’s wisdom.  And sometimes our Father just says, “No,” and how often He answers in the negative because the die is already cast.  Our ways are not His ways, nor is our understanding His understanding.

I am a person of faith, but if I tallied up my life time of prayers I would be remiss in constant prayer.  Perhaps I would be kinder to myself if I said I was remiss in constant formal prayer.   I doubt I have ever gone through the day without some small needy prayer, quick thank you prayers and  hurried blessings on the food.  When life is bright and sunny it becomes so easy to take everything for granted, forgetting from where all blessings come; and then like others, I find myself turning back to The Father when that same life gets dark and dreary. 

It was a turbulent time when my adolescents passed through their teen years and how often Ken and I angst over their choices which we knew would bring them unmeasured sorrow.   One day, while driving to work, feeling particularly melancholy, an incoming storm poured down rain from the sky as if the Heavens were weeping with me.   I adjusted the wipers so I could better see the road and in so doing, the storm seemed to ease.  “Not really,” I told myself, “the storm is not gone, the windshield wipers are helping you see the way more clearly.”   The thought, “Just like prayer,” popped into my mind.  “Prayer and windshield wipers?”  I pondered aloud.  It seemed almost insulting to Diety to compare communication with Him to a part from an automobile, and yet the two shared that commonality.  Our family was going through one of life’s storms and prayer, like the auto part, while not removing the problem, guided us step by painful step through that particular storm until it had cleared.

When Ken was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I spent a lot of alone time weeping and praying.  Never did I ask my Heavenly Father to perform some miracle and take away Ken’s AD.  Obviously, this was another of life’s storms we had to bear.   Instead I prayed for courage and strength to see us through this awful thing.   There were, and are, hectic days which pass in a blur with nothing accomplished except caring for him: getting him shaved, showered, dressed and fed.  Days when I walk on egg shells to avoid his outbursts, or giving in to my own anger and frustration, spewing out hurtful remarks and despicable words, which prior to AD would have never crossed my lips; afterward glancing toward Heaven and whispering, “I’m sorry, Father, forgive me.” 

And then there are days when the first line and title of a favorite hymn runs through my mind giving me councel, “Ere You Left Your Room This Morning, Did You Think To Pray?”  So I strive to rekindle the habit and, truly, it helps.  Does it remove the storm?  Of course not.  But on those days when I pray with real intent, having faith in Christ, I am calmer, more patient, more appreciative of those rare moments when he is Ken and he knows me and loves me.  And I pray for him, that he might have some peace in his tortured mind, and I am reminded of the last line of the hymn, “So when life gets dark and dreary, don’t forget to pray.”

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