Friday, August 29, 2008


A good portion of the conflicts that occur between my mother and I have their roots in our different perspectives and lack of adequate communication. For example, the other night I offered to hold Mother's fruit cup while she swallowed some pills. She thought I was telling her to give up the fruit cup for good and, not being ready to bid it adieu, she took exception. A misunderstanding ensued as we both got snippy with one another.

I was reading Melody's blog this afternoon, and as she related the story of her frightening brush with wildlife in an unexpected location, I was reminded of another miscommunciation that took place between my mother and myself over thirty years ago.

I was 16 years old and myopic. My face was positioned one inch from the bathroom mirror as I applied black eyeliner and several layers of mascara (it was the 70's). I turned to reach for my contact lenses and saw a movement on the floor. "A tissue fluttering in the air from the floor vent," I thought. I bent down close to examine the object. It was a palm sized wolf spider who, threatened by twin black lashed eyes that must have resembled intruders in its territory, leapt toward my face. I screamed, "SPIDER!!!!!!!!"

My mother, asleep in the next room, thought I'd said, "FIRE!!!" and came tearing out of her bedroom screaming, "WHERE'S the FIRE??????" This misunderstanding continued at top volume for quite a long time and ended with both of us feeling that the other did not have proper compassion for our respective traumas.

This was probably an accurate evaluation, because truth be told, I'm still miffed with Mama for her lack of empathy that day. And, she still speaks ruefully of the time I caused her to believe that her three bedroom ranch was going up in flames.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Grief Analyzed, Grief Released

Last night I watched with the rest of the world as Michael Phelps swam in the 100 meter butterfly for his seventh Olympic gold medal. Phelps wisely chose to take one last frantic, chopping stroke at the end of the race while his opponent, who was leading the race until the last hundredth of a second, glided smoothly into the boards. As the results appeared showing that Phelps had won, the camera panned to his mother's face. With one wide-eyed look of amazement that lady slid right down to the floor, overwhelmed with emotion over her son's victory.

As Phelps' mother reappeared, wiping away tears of joy, I experienced a flash of grief over my own loss of this kind of regard. There is no one left on this planet who is my cheerleader in exactly the same way a mother can be. Of course I've never won an Olympic medal, but as she shared in my small victories I've seen the same joy on my mother's face as Michael Phelps' mother displayed. As children of parents with Alzheimer's disease, we find to our dismay and grief that we are no longer the recipients of that irreplaceable focus of parental attention. There is no longer any human being who cares more about our achievements or heartaches than they care for their own.

If we live long enough we inevitably accumulate a body of grief and suffering. Grief over loss of parents is compounded when it comes as a final, devastating layer to earlier heart blows of loss. Middle-aged caregivers of aging parents are particularly vulnerable, often dealing simultaneously with other difficult life passages such as raising teenagers, giving children in marriage, and becoming grandparents.

Apart from the Lord, sorrows of great magnitude can be survived only through avoidance tactics that provide in-the-moment relief but no lasting solace. Analysis may reveal with fair accuracy the nature of the problem, but can offer no prescription that will provide true relief.

The other night I dreamed that I was a baby alone in a car, pushing buttons on the radio. In my dream state I was able to turn the radio off and on, but I couldn't switch stations, and I kept fruitlessly attempting to do so. As I woke up I smiled as the meaning of the dream became apparent to me. When I spend too much time analyzing my own grief (as in the preceding paragraphs), I'm like a baby playing with controls she cannot understand, pushing random buttons. I don’t know which buttons to push and lack the ability to develop some kind of a logical, systematic technique for trying all combinations of button pushing. My efforts become random, my resolve to formulate some sort of a self-help program crumbles. And yes, I need to be content with the ability to, as the old gospel song says, turn the radio on.

I need to open lines of communication between myself and the Lord with a willingness to release my broken heart to Him, and to quit pushing all those other buttons. I'll never find comfort through self-examination. The more completely I understand the exact composition of my own sorrows, the more discouraged I become.

Scripture: "It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them" (Psalm 44:3).

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Caregiver's Syndrome

A recent newsletter from the Alzheimer's Association told of a newly recognized condition called caregiver's syndrome. It said that exhaustion accompanied by resentment and anger were warning signs (ah oh, I thought) and that people with this condition run higher risk of diabetes, stroke, and death (YIKES).

The statement that really caught my eye said that caregivers who suffer this set of ills may take on some of the characteristics of those for whom they care, for example, someone who cares for an Alzheimer's patient may find herself becoming more forgetful (uh, what was I saying?? Oh, yes)....This portion of the article gave me a jolt because earlier that very day I'd written the following sentence in my journal: I feel resentful toward Mom but am imitating her lifestyle choices, the ones that contributed to her Alzheimer’s.

In recent months I've been diagnosed with low thyroid, high cholesterol, and most recently, lower back pain that has defied a summer's efforts to remedy.

I've begun and failed to follow through with program after program of self-improvement. Becoming a grandmother this spring, an event that I perceive to have been astoundingly joyous and incredibly precious, nevertheless impacted my health negatively. I recalled reading that any emotional life passage can exacerbate Alzheimer's symptoms in those so inclined.

I am tired and discouraged but I am not without hope. No matter what state I'm in, I rest in the assurance that I won't fall apart because I am not the one who is in charge of holding me together: "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together," (Colossians 1:7). I do not have to analyze how I have gotten into the state I'm in because I can't do it. I'm stuck on this particular point on my time line, and the Lord is the only One who is able to inhabit my past and my future, as well as my present.

I'm going to walk forward in faith, because "...he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold " (Job 23:10).

The song, "Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us," is in my mind tonight and provides comfort.

Scripture: "He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out" (John 10:3).