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Posts tagged ‘Alzheimers Disease’

Honoring Mom

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”  Exodus 20:12 (NRSV)

Mom had Alzheimer’s Disease.  It crept in over the course of ten years, and we noticed little things at first.  Gradually, her memory, comprehension abilities, and interactions with others shifted so that they weren’t as sharp at they had been previously.  Her personality, even though it was much the same was, at the same time, changing so that she was less inhibited, far more anxious than I could ever remember, and less talkative.  Her sense of humor, once something she guarded so it didn’t show too much, began to be delightfully more noticeable, and her opinions were a bit more her own than Dad’s.

She had more physical ailments, and incontinence became an issue.  As the disease progressed, she began to fade away.  My dad has said all along that we lose her twice.  Eventually, the inevitable happened.  We had to move her to a nursing facility where she could be more carefully watched because Dad just couldn’t keep up with her care.  He tried very hard not to move her there, but we children had to intervene after Mom’s doctor said that she should be there.  It was hard: hard to tell Dad that he needed to move Mom, hard to see Mom away from him, hard to have her ask to go home, hard to lose her but still have her physically with us.

Mom died a month ago.  She went peacefully surrounded by my two brothers, my sister, my dad, my brother-in-law and one of my sisters-in-law.  I live 1500 miles away, so I was kept informed through text messages and phone calls throughout the day.  Dad had encouraged me to stay because there was no way to tell when Mom would actually pass away, so my husband and I waited.  However, we were searching for plane fares and ready to purchase as soon as we knew.

The calling hours brought out well over a hundred people, and the funeral had nearly as many.  We celebrated Mom’s life with tears, laughter, remembering, and most of all music.  Mom was far more than her Alzheimer’s Disease tried to make her.  She was far more than someone reduced to half a room in a nursing facility.  Mom was a woman who loved God, loved her family, and shared her gifts.  The greatest gift, besides her faith and love, was music.  All of us sing and play instruments, three of us children have music degrees, and all of us have the love of music in our souls. 

On the day of Mom’s funeral, our family sang, as we so often did, as the choir during her service.  We sang one of her beloved songs, “Beautiful Savior.”  We honored Mom because of who she was to us and the gifts she shared with us and because we love her and didn’t want her to remain on this earth bound to a body that had betrayed her.  We continue to honor Mom as we share the gifts of faith, love, and music that she gave to us, and we believe that Mom’s beautiful, natural soprano voice has joined the heavenly chorus as she sings unencumbered by earthly things. 

As I said in the eulogy at her funeral – her memorial service, actually – when Jesus carried Mom to her new home, he surely said to her, “Well, done thou good and faithful servant, well done.” 

“Blessed are the ???”

This Sunday, the gospel lesson is Matthew 5:1-12 which is commonly called the “Beatitudes.”  In them, Jesus (as he usually does) turns the idea of being blessed upside down.  It would seem that those who are considered poor and needy are the truly blessed.  Maybe it really boils down to what we define as “blessed,” though.

What does it mean to be blessed?  I just returned from nearly two weeks in my hometown visiting my parents and the rest of my family.  I wanted to go before this, actually at the end of November when my mother was moved into a long term care facility because my father wasn’t able to care for her in their home any more.  Mom has Alzheimer’s Disease, and Dad is totally with it, but he is 90 years old and simply not able to provide the medical attention and care that Mom needed.  It was something that had to happen, but it was very difficult for our family.

However, as often is the case for me, I begin reflecting on these events and what the blessings are in them.  The nursing facility where Mom is now living seems to be very good.  I knew quite a few people who are there.  These are folks who were my role models as I was growing up:  girl scout leaders, parents of my friends, leaders in our church, active participants in the life of our tiny town in the Midwest.  Yet, here they are in a nursing facility, most of them sharing half a room, some of them having few or no visitors. 

As my sister and I began cleaning out the closets at Mom and Dad’s house, under Dad’s supervision, I was amazed at how much “stuff” they had.  Dad knew that he would no longer need all the “good” dishes, serving bowls, crystal, Christmas decorations, and other things that were stored in the closets and cupboards.  Mom treasured all those things, even if she didn’t need them or want them.  Why?  Because much of what was there had belonged to her mother, grandmother, or Dad’s mother and grandmother.  Some of it came from us kids and the grandchildren as gifts. 

But now, as Mom lives in half a room with only the essentials in clothing, some pictures, a few “trinkets” that she really doesn’t care about, the whole reminder of what is truly important in life was brought home to me once again.  Mom doesn’t need “stuff,” nor does she want it.  What she needs, even though she can’t think of it or realize it, is us.  It’s her family and friends that she needs:  those who love her and who are willing to stand by her side even to the end, even in her unawareness and inability to advocate for herself.  Sometimes she breaks through the mumbling and the seeming lack of recognition to a moment of clarity, but in an instant, it is gone. 

The blessing is that she has someone who cares and who is with her.  She and my dad have been married for sixty-seven and a half years, and my dad sees her twice a day.  When I watch him look at her, I see the heartbreak in his eyes, but it doesn’t stop him from going.  That’s blessing.  Love transcends things, disease, heartbreak, and even death on a cross.  Maybe that’s part of what Jesus was talking about in the “beatitudes.”  Maybe we are truly blessed when we can forget about “stuff” and connect with the love we are offered both from family and friends as well as from the One who loved us enough to give his life for us.  May you be blessed this day and every day as you love others.

Do Not Be Terrified

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”  Luke 21:9 (NRSV)

This past week, we saw the horrible devastation and loss of life in the Philippines.  One U.S. army general flew over a residential area and reported seeing thousands of bodies on the ground and houses washed away or leveled to the ground.  Those who are left have no place to sleep, they have lost their homes and many of their family members.  People are starving, thirsty, and trying to figure out what to do next.  Looting has begun, and relief efforts are slow in arriving.  It must seem like the end of the world to them.

When we think back to last year, it must have seemed the same way to the folks in New York and New Jersey with Hurricane Sandy, or to those in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, or Japan following the tsunami, or the earthquake in Haiti, the attacks on the World Trade Center towers in 2011, or the Vietnamese people when a horrible war broke out in their country, or in Korea, or during World War II and the Holocaust or World War I or the American Revolution or the tribal wars in Africa or . . . or . . . or.  We could go on and on with the list of times when everything seemed to be crumbling around the people of that era.  Surely, they believed that it was the end of time.

The Jesus followers of the early church believed that Jesus would return any moment, but he didn’t.  All the signs were there of false prophets, earthquakes, famines, plagues, persecution, and devastation.  It must have seemed like the end of time and that Jesus would be coming back to establish the eternal kingdom on earth, but it still didn’t happen.

Jesus doesn’t promise that we won’t suffer; in fact, he assures us that choosing to follow him will actually bring us more suffering, alienation, and hardship.  What he does promise is that he will be with us.  Luke 21:19 hold this promise:  “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  (NRSV).  The thing that always assures me is that Jesus knows what I’m going through in my every day life as well as what it is like for others to suffer.  He gets it!

He knows what it is like to lose a father to death (even though we don’t read about that in the scriptures, his earthly father Joseph clearly is out of the picture by the time Jesus begins his ministry).  Jesus knows what it is like to laugh, play, cry, grieve, be betrayed by friends, love others, be an outcast, be a leader, be abused, and any number of other human experiences because he WAS human.  He was God in the flesh, and because Jesus experience the full gamut of human life, God also understands what we are going through.  Jesus is with us all the way on this journey.  “. . . I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”  (v. 15 NRSV).

When the 9/11 attacks happened, people flocked to the churches.  Some were terrified and seeking answers.  Many have since wandered away, not satisfied or willing to make a complete commitment to Christ.  And yet, perhaps some seeds were planted so that the next time their world seemed to be coming to and end such as the death of a loved one, loss of job, or illness, they might have a sense of the presence of Jesus with them.

Our family is dealing with my mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease.  This past week, we moved her to a long term care facility.  For my dad, it was a heart wrenching decision, and for my siblings and me, it was so hard to see them going through this.  But they both have a strong faith that is helping them get through this – along with our support and care.  Last summer, Mom and I had a conversation during one of her moments of clarity when she told me she talked to God all the time and wanted to be with God.  She said that she would see her parents and was ready to go.  I pray, for her sake, that she will have her prayer answered soon.

For us, as a family, it may seem like the end, but through our faith and drawing together as a family, we recognize the presence of Christ in our midst as we take this journey.  The essence of who my mother is here on earth has gradually faded away, but her soul is strong.  My dad is strong, and at 90 years old, he has great wisdom and perseverance.  I see the presence of God personally in them and in my siblings who are all strong in faith, and I’m grateful for God’s love in our lives.

Do not be terrified, Jesus said.  My mom isn’t terrified.  For her, the return of Christ will be when she meets him face to face in the near future.  For the rest of us, it’s a matter of faith and trust.  We don’t know the future, but we do know that Jesus has already gone on ahead of us and has paved the way, and he is with us throughout our lives and through all of the world.  Thanks be to God!

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