Posts Tagged ‘Alzheimers’

My mother now lives in the downstairs memory care section of the home where my Nana spent the last three years of her life. When Nana was upstairs in the assisted living residential area, one of my former CBS, Community Bible Study, teacher colleagues moved not far down the hall. Kyoko acknowledged me when I’d hug her and said hello then, but she didn’t chat much if I stopped by. She always had a warm smile and responded politely and respectfully. She still had a sweet-nature and was soft-spoken. I think sometimes she remembered me, and sometimes she simply didn’t.

After Nana went home to heaven, I only revisited the home a couple of times. I intended to go back and check on Kyoko, but the demands of daily life and the out-of-town commute soon ebbed away at my best intentions.

When my mom went to live there a year ago, Kyoko had transferred downstairs and was my mother’s next-door neighbor for the first few months before mom got her own permanent room. Most of the memory care residents spend their time in the large community room connected to the dining area.

My mom doesn’t know me or any of my sisters anymore. Shannon, my second youngest sister and mom’s former caregiver, visits mom daily and feeds her one meal, usually dinner on the weekdays on her way home from work, and lunch on the weekends. Kyoko is always there too. Most of my six sisters have come to know her and her gentle ways. She likes to be close to my mother, and she’ll point you to the chair next to mom and bow until you take it.

Many days when I make the commute to visit my mom is sound asleep when I arrive and she’ll doze for hours. It is such a disappointment for me not to catch her awake and alert. She still shows a flicker of a second of recognition, a smile flashes across her sweet face and then she’ll grab for my hand. But when slumbering, mom sleeps deeply. Kyoko is usually sitting on the nearby sofa and she’ll get up, walk over to me and it almost seems like she wants to speak specifically, as a comforting gesture like she can sense the depth of my heartache.

Back when we served together at CBS, we were both core leaders of groups with about fifteen women. One year I was also the secretary and another year I was the Prayer Chairman so our time was interwoven in a variety of additional ways. Kyoko T. was dearly loved by her ladies. She knew God’s word intimately and she lived the grace and beauty of the Lord in every aspect of her petite being. We used to sing together in the leadership meeting circle these beautiful songs of praise and worship and sisterhood. Sometimes we sat next to each other and raised our quiet voices in harmony with fellow CBS sisters gifted with lovely songbird perfectly pitched, and choir worthy cadence.

We also prayed together. That was my closest connection with this humble woman. We shared prayer requests and praises both within the leadership circle and outside of it. She knew all of my sisters names and my mother’s name, Mary. How faithful Kyoko was to remember to ask me about my family, my children, and my husband after a season of intercession.

She shared about her home and the longings in her soul. Those were precious days of special friendship within a circle of women that you often only experience once in a lifetime.

I eventually moved out-of-town and sent Christmas cards which eventually dwindled down over the next decade.

Kyoko’s tender heart remains despite the loss of the memories of herself, her childhood, her family, her country, me and all her other CBS sisters. A loving Father placed her in her current home where she unknowingly continues to be a blessing to my mother and all those around her. I watch the gentlemen and ladies respond to her meek compliance and kindnesses. Her outer image is much altered, but her inner-Christ light shines with a brilliance like a star illuminating a night sky.

I often sing to my mom if she is awake or to Kyoko if my mom is sleeping. Kyoko and I used to hold hands when we sang The Servant Song together in our CBS days. The lyrics hold a much deeper meaning to me now than almost twenty years ago. Kyoko remains a servant-hearted handmaiden of the Lord right where she is. There is hope where there is love.




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mom&Jenny dancing1987My mother has Alzheimer’s.

She has eight daughters she doesn’t remember. I am the second born.

In a way, I have a mother, but I don’t. There are flickers of a second of recognition every now and then after almost fifteen years when we all first realized something was wrong. Subtle at first, which is one of the cruelties of this invasive and devastating disease, most families don’t catch onto the unraveling layers for years.

My mother’s eighty-seventh birthday is eleven days away. She doesn’t know who she is, where she is, what year it is, how old she is, or what country she is living in. All once very important facts to her. She was a list maker, organizer, perfectionist, and a hard working woman with a dedicated work ethic. She worked full time and raised seven of her eight daughters with our teacher father who died when they were turning fifty-four.

I miss the mother I knew when I was growing up, when I first married nearly forty years ago, when the grandchildren she so cherished were born, and when mile stone life events happen, like my daughter graduating from college this past December.

There is a hole in my heart that only God can fill with His grace when the loss seems unbearable.

I love the sound of my mother’s laughter, the jibber-jabber she speaks, now the only form of communication she can master, and I love that I can still kiss her, hug her, and tell her that I love her. I know these things even if she does not.

Last year we finally put our mother in a memory care home. Visiting her in a community facility is so different than seeing her in her own home. Something we were able to do for much, much longer than most families because my sister Shannon was mom’s care giver. That blessing took a physical and emotional toll on my sister. She has no regrets, only gratefulness.

Alzheimer’s steals vitality, personality, memory, and eventually mobility. It gives nothing and takes all. It can divide families, another causality most don’t see coming. Each family member deals differently with the onslaught and ravages of Alzheimer’s. Each heart is pierced and broken. Some can talk about it, others never share. But it is always there, ever-present, chippingĀ  away a little more each day.

I find shelter in the shadow of my Savior’s wings. I pour my heart out to Him and he listens and stays as long as I need comfort. Could my mother speak to me, that is where she would tell me to go. She taught me, never knowing the blanks the future held for her, the most important truth. And I know she is not alone in her lullaby land. The God she loved still loves and values her. She has forgotten, but He remembers, cherishes, and calls her by name.

Mom on my chair and ottoman

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Autumn Leaves of Gratefulness

As Thanksgiving draws near, the bounty of blessings poured out is spoken of with grateful hearts and joyful mouths.
Thanksgiving is my favorite celebration. It is the one holiday a year my family of seven sisters tries to gather and families together. Over the years our children have flown the nest and some live on the opposite coast. There are two soldiers that are stationed on the east and west coast also.
This year I am the hostess. For weeks my husband and I have been spring cleaning and preparing to serve. Joe ordered a 30 lb turkey. He likes leftovers.
We are a smaller group of fifteen this year. Everyone brings something to share. Traditionally we play board games, mix martinis in memory of my father ( I don’t drink them, but I do eat the olives), and put out a spread of about half a dozen homemade pies. There were years in the past that a dozen pies delighted all the brothers-in-law.
I look forward to filling our little home with laughter, nieces and nephews, college students, flashing cameras, and mother’s special sausage bread stuffing.
There have been mishaps. One year a brother-in-law ended up in the emergency room at a local hospital after he carved more than the turkey, (he recovered fine) some years the children outnumbered the adults, and my first Thanksgiving cooking, I didn’t shut the oven door tight and forgot to remove the bag of extra parts from inside the bird. That was an exciting year. My jello salad had molded cottage cheese but it was green Jell-o so who knew?
I was only eighteen. Thankfully, no one got ill because they really should have.

What are you most thankful for? Some of our best years were the ones you might have considered to be the worst. My mother has Alzheimers and won’t be with us, and my dad died a long time ago. My sisters and I are now the grandparents. I expect in the next few years a first great-grandchildren will arrive. What a year that will be!
May God’s bounty of blessings bring joy and laughter to the home you share with loved ones this Thanksgiving. Whether you are a small or large gathering, at home or eating in a restaurant, visiting your parent in a rest home, or volunteering to feed the hungry at your church or local food bank, I hope you get the chance to share beyond your inner circle of love.


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Alzheimers Lullabys

I used to help out with my mom’s care giving but for years now, I’m just a visitor. It is my sister, Shannon, the second youngest of eight daughters, who is our mother’s main care giver. Shannon is now the nurturing devoted Mama and our mother is now the child ~ a sweet little girl with a heart full of love.
Back when I home schooled, I took my son and daughter with me to spend the day with my mom when my sister Shannon went to work. Those were some of the richest days of our lives. Though emotionally and physically grueling, nothing has compared since.
A decade has past since my mother still knew who we were, could say our names, and interact with us.
During my children’s junior college years mom’s memory faded, her language diminished, and she began to physically shrink away.
I could still take mom for rides in my SUV back then. I’d commute into town, drop the kids off at college, take care of her at her home, take her with me to pick up my students from the campus, get an ice cream cone, and wait until Shannon got off work, then I’d drive back home to the rural countryside.
Mom usually called me by another sister’s name in those days ~ Shawne, Maureen, Bridget, Kelly, Shannon, Meghan. Even once in a great while, Erin, our sister who’d died as an infant.
I began longing to hear my mother say my name, Kathy, and it was a great joy when she did, like a brief, sweet sing-song.
One time I filled in for a sister on her care day. When I arrived my mother had set the dining room table with six paper plates, six napkins, six forks, and each plate had equal portions of nuts, olives, and slices of cheese and deli meat. She sat weeping at the head of the table waiting. When she looked up and saw me, a smile broke through and she patted the chair next to her. After we finished our lunch she looked around the table and asked me when the other girls were coming home from school. Tears welled up in her eyes once again. I knew she meant, St. Mel’s. That we were all back in elementary school in her mind. No matter how much I tried to comfort her, there was no consoling her confused, aching heart. I just held her.
My mother grieved when my oldest son went to war in the middle east. She forgot him while he was away and when he returned, she thought he was a polite young man that came to her door.
In those dark days and nights God bottled all my tears.
Alzheimers is a battlefield and the casualties are strewn about, wounded, bleeding, in need of triage and sometimes, major heart surgery.
I go for treatment into the Book of Psalms and the Songs of Solomon. I crawl up on my Father’s lap, lay my head on His shoulder and weep. Loving arms wrap around me and an inner peace fills the gaping whole nothing, and no one else can mend.
Last Sunday My husband and I visited my mom after she and Shannon missed a beautiful family baby shower celebrating my sister Bridget’s first granddaughter. We brought hamburgers from the BBQ, cake, and paper baby shoes with little candies tucked inside.
I sang lullabies to my mother. She’s bent over forward now so I had to kneel on the floor, bow my head and hope she might catch a glimpse of me.
I sang all the songs she used to sing to me when I was a little girl, you know, songs like ~ Daisy; Row, Row, Row Your Boat; Little Playmate…but it was Lavender’s Blue that she sang two verses right back to me. That was my favorite. And she looked me right in the eyes.
So I sang old hymns next ~ Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Be Thou My Vision… Mom tried so hard to join in. She’d get a word or two out, but then it would leave her.
I was silently praying off and on. It came to thought to call her, “Beatotz”. I know I am spelling that wrong. It’s the Sicilian dialect for my Noni’s village, Piana dei Albanesi, and it means, “Daddy’s girl”. I kept repeating it, Beatotz, Mary. My mother raised her head, turned to me, and eyes open wide, she began speaking a few short words. Then she smiled, took my hands and held them tight for the next half hour. During this time I repeated her sister, Sara and brother, Peter’s names to her. My mother now lives in the early days of her childhood. These were her happiest, before her mother passed away when mom was seven. For me it was a breakthrough. For slips of a moment, my mother remembered.
I left full of joy.
My sister Shannon lives this mixture of joy and heartache every day. Her own body is weary, spent, and aging beyond her years as she loves our mom with grace and tenderness as if Christ Himself is the one lowering His head to reach her.

There is no greater love.

Beatotz, Mary ~ Daddy loves you.

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