Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Loving Like He Did

I read this Andrew Murray quote the other day and it has troubled me since. I'd snapped a lovely phone photo of spring trees, and as I worked to create a word picture of Murray's quote superimposed upon that picture (see above), my sense of guilt increased.

I've read that we should treat one another as we would treat the Lord Himself, and I have failed.  "As ye have done to the least of these, my brethren, ye have done unto me..." is how I remembered the Scripture passage from Matthew 25:40.

To make matters more uncomfortable for me, I'd read a blogpost by a beautiful lady who spends most of her time with her Alzheimer's mom cuddling and telling her how much she is loved. But she also said that she is fortunate to have several paid caregivers for her mother. I, on the other hand, am my mother's all-in-all. I bathe her, shampoo, cut, and curl her hair, change her soiled adult diapers each morning, remind her to take bathroom breaks every two hours during the day, prepare and serve all her meals, do the daily cleaning chores in her apartment, etc. etc. We do have respite care once a week so I can buy groceries, and my husband and I usually go out to lunch together on that day.

All this isn't as bad as it sounds; my mother pays me a small salary, the work is fitted to my stamina level, and I've been spared the sorrow of putting Mom in a nursing home before she was ready for such a placement. However, I'm firmly cast in the role of "needs provider" in my mother's mind, and this is not conducive to her seeing me as a loved one. She resents me as a child might resent a strict teacher.  I rub her back with lotion, I see that she is bathed thoroughly, and I wash her feet, but the Lord sees the attitude of my heart. The actions may be loving but my heart does not feel kind, especially when Mom berates me as I carry out these ministrations.

I took my sense of failure to the Lord, and was blessed by His response.

First of all I felt the comfort of interpreting Matthew 25:40 a little differently than usual. Today it occurred to me that whatever I do for those in need, I do for the Lord rather than to the Lord.  Instead of thinking of Jesus as the poor victim of Alzheimer's, I was led to think of Him as standing beside me as I minister. Mom often lashes out at me, and my attempts to think of her as I would of Jesus  made me prone to receiving her condemnation as though I were receiving from the Lord Himself.

It helped me to think of Mom as being beloved of the Lord, and as though I'm caring for her on His behalf. It's as though He's standing next to me, giving instruction, nodding approval as I tend to her needs. And sometimes He gives me a hug of compassion when my heart gets hurt. On the occasions when she's crossed a line of verbal abuse to a degree I can't bear any longer, He's escorted me from the room, soothed my heart, and enabled me to go back and finish my assigned tasks.  

The difference in this visualization keeps me from feeling chastised by the Lord.  I had thought I was to imagine my ministry to Mom as being ministry to Jesus Himself. So if I lost my temper with her, or had to leave the room, I thought I was betraying the Lord.  Even for those who don't envision ministering to the Lord, ministering to a parent carries some of the same hazards. We aren't supposed to feel negatively toward our parents. But if we think of the Lord as being our helper rather than our chastiser, the burden lightens.

Here is what I'd say to someone facing similar caregiving emotions: 
The Lord is at your side. He is encouraging and helping you. When your heart is hurt, He feels compassion and love for you. He understands your sorrows, He supports you as you are being abused, and He is actively at work on your behalf. He sees that you have continued in ministry, even when it is difficult, for the sake of the love you know He holds for your care recipient. Minister, not so much on God's behalf, as in His strength. The Lord is with you. 

For those of you who have graciously supported Mom and me with your prayers, I'll share that I believe we are drawing near the time that I will place her in the care of others. Please pray for us that at the end of Mom's Alzheimer's journey we can have a season during which we effectively communicate the emotional and spiritual nurture of loving one another in the Lord, unclouded by those inevitable caregiving tussles. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Did you get Mom out of the drawer?

Baby monitors let us hear Mom call even if she is unable to reach her one-touch phone.
The title of this post probably has you a little concerned, but it isn't as bad as it sounds. Let me explain quickly, before you navigate away from this page in dismay.

My mom has her own living area attached to our house, a mother-in-law addition if you will. Mom's cat isn't allowed in our part of the house because of the grandkids' allergies, but when her door is closed I don't have confidence we could hear her if she called. And so we have a baby monitor in Mom's apartment with two parent units in our part of the house, one upstairs and one downstairs. But during the day, Mom's music selections emanating from the monitors bother me. She loves jazz, I do not, and I'm one of those people who have trouble concentrating if music is playing constantly (yes, doctors' offices drive me nuts...).

I have learned that if I will turn the upstairs unit to the lowest setting and slide it into the top drawer of a bureau in the hallway, I can still hear Mom's outside door alarm, her smoke alarm, and her voice if she calls loudly, but the music is blocked out. At night we always turn the monitor to it's loudest setting so we will be certain to awaken if there are unusual sounds from Mom's rooms. Thus, when my husband and I go to bed each night one of us usually says to the other, "Did you get Mom out of the drawer?"

This has made me think about how easy it is to be misunderstood when one is taking care of someone with dementia. Appointments with Mom's physician can turn into a comedy of errors as the doctor, following good patient protocol, addresses all questions to Mom rather than to me as her caregiver. With a short term memory of about 5 seconds but still very bright in the moment she is in, Mom utilizes her ample store of creative imagination as she replies. This has led to some interesting situations. The poor doctor often receives two very different accounts of the reason for our visit, and though inevitably inaccurate, Mom's version often sounds more credible. 

Mom is proud of her pretty apartment and has no idea she is not the one who works hard to keep it that way. If the windows are clean, she must have washed them; if the afghan on the couch is attractively displayed, she must have arranged it thus. She once told our pastor that she uses vinegar and water to wash the windows, which caused him justifiable concern because Mom is short and the windows are at a height that require a step stool. I could see by the concerned expression in his eyes that he believed I had allowed my 91-year-old mother (who uses a walker) to climb a ladder to do my household chores.

If any messes are apparent though, Mom is fully convinced I am to blame and doesn't hesitate to absolve herself of responsibility before guests. She knows she would never allow such a situation.

However, as the story at the opening of this post proves, my husband I are perfectly capable of fostering misunderstanding even without Mom's input. For example, in order to mute Mom's music in our downstairs area, the living room baby monitor is often pushed beneath a cushion on an overstuffed chair, a maneuver that allows louder noises to gain attention but mutes the offensive-to-me Jazz selections. This evening I was on my way into the kitchen to work and was afraid I might not hear the monitor. As I left the room I turned back toward my husband and said, "Would you get Mom out from beneath that chair cushion?"

Thank the good Lord no one else overheard that one. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Hug a Baby, Pat a Dog, Stew a Chicken....

Depression is a horrid side effect of taking care of someone who has dementia. I am worn down not only by my mother's illness, but also by wearisome physical problems of my own, and I have an embarrassed suspicion that some of those symptoms are magnified by depression and grief.  Why embarrassed? Because of long schooling that such suffering is not "real."

But it is.

Grief and depression can feel like a bad case of the stomach flu. Logic tells us it is temporary, but our suffering hearts and bodies don't really believe it.  I was weeping before the Lord this morning and was reminded--and want to remind my fellow caregivers--of His compassion. He knows our hearts. He loves us. He won't let go.

This morning I felt overwhelmed by upset over our messy yard, dandelions peeking through the grass, and a broken down chain link fence (courtesy of our great big yellow lab named "Moose").  Everything seemed horrid.  I can't even express the despair I felt over the hedges that will need to be trimmed and the stains on the side of the vinyl (vinyl-ugh!!)) siding.

I took a nap.

When I woke up I still felt despair. But I pulled out my phone and scrolled through the photos of our baby granddaughter. She visited for a few hours yesterday, and the photos show her full repertoire of expressions, which, for a four-month-old, are truly amazing. She is adorable whether pouty, flirty, mad, sad, or joyful. 

I then donned an eccentric looking sunhat (necessitated by my newly diagnosed Rosacea) and, averting my eyes from the mirror next to the door, went outside.  The dog-who-destroyed-our-fence came dancing up to me and bowed, hind end in the air, tail wagging. I relented and patted his head. He went into an ecstasy of blundering happiness and offered me his favorite bone (when I reached for it, he changed his mind, but still).

I wandered out to last year's flower garden. I couldn't pick up a hoe or get to my hands and knees because of a fibromyalgia/arthritis flare, but I found that the sage had overwintered and plucked a handful. And last year's rosemary is still fragrant; it was such a mild winter. I love the scent of rosemary.

I came back inside, cleaned the kitchen, and put a chicken on to stew. Onion, sage, celery, garlic, and rosemary--oh my goodness; aromatherapy!  I went back outside, shooed the dog away and sat on the porch.  It is absolutely amazing how much better things looked.  The lawn was still unmown, the fence looked terrible still, but I felt better. And I like my little yellow house, vinyl siding included. 

On some days the heaviness of sorrow nearly paralyzes me, but if I can just open my Bible, pray, and maybe go ahead and cry, I'm released to move forward.

God is good.  We are blessed. The Lord is with us in the sorrow and He will bring us through.

Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow, 
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.  
--from the Hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness