Friday, December 26, 2008

Love Remains

Before I become elderly myself, I must help my children to understand that my love for them does not depend upon my ability to perform acts of service for them. I have not understood this truth in my interactions with my mother.

"If you love me, then you will 'do' for me." That’s been my heart belief in relation to my mother; that her acts of service for me were one and the same with her love for me. Many of the battles I've fought with resentment toward Mom have come because of my difficulty accepting her inability to support me as she used to do; with gifts and acts of service. Resentment told me that her continued adoring looks and loving words have to do with her dependence on me; but in my heart I have really known this is not true. Mom loves me deeply and dependably. She doesn’t do one thing to help me with the burdens I carry—no housework, or cooking, or help with any of my responsibilities, in fact I now perform those duties for her. But she does love me. I haven’t been able to receive her love very well apart from her doing things for me. When the acts of service stopped, I stopped feeling loved.

During devotions the Lord directed my mind to this question: "Does your father still love you?"

My father's been dead for twelve years. My answer was quick and a little bit sullen, "My father is asleep in death."

The immediate reply came in the form of another question, "Do you love your children when you are asleep?"

Without hesitation I replied, "Completely and unreservedly."

And then I knew that of course my father, who is at home with Jesus, still loves me. Of course he does. He loved me in life. I never had doubt of this fact. And now that in my perception he is asleep in the silence of death, he is yet very much alive in Christ--of course he loves me still.

Yet I have harbored an ongoing feeling that I am bereaved. My loneliness and grief do not bear the weight of close examination; my father loves me still and my mother also loves me. “Faith, hope, and love abide…” For all eternity this love they have for me will remain. And so in what way do I consider myself to suffer a deficit?

Love often expresses itself through actions, but when no more actions are possible because of illness or death, love yet remains. Love itself is powerful and protective apart from any act of service, and I have been well loved.

Scripture: "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Caregiver Readjusts, Finally

Since Mom's lived with us, I have often felt irritation with her over the way she speaks to me when I'm performing some service or another for her. There is a tone one uses when speaking to waitresses and store clerks-- polite but certainly not the familiar tone used with family members--and I have been offended when my mother used that tone with me.

Yesterday I asked, "Would you like a cup of coffee?"

In that impersonal tone I've come to dislike so, Mom replied, "Yes please. Black."

Her reply stopped me in my tracks. My pre-Alzheimer's mother would have been well aware that I've known how she likes her coffee since I was a toddler. I suddenly understood why Mom responds to me as she does--not always knowing where she is or why, not always certain whether this harried, middle aged woman who cares for her is her daughter or some hired person, she takes her cues from me. And so when I offer to bring her coffee she quickly assumes I'm her hired help!

Mom masks her confusions so well and she still looks and sounds like the mother I've always known, and so I had not recognized the degree to which she needs me to help her to stay oriented to her surroundings. Just a small shift in my words and actions can solve this problem that has bothered me for the past four years; when I offer Mom a service I need to cue her as to who I am in order to clarify that it is her daughter offering to help her, not a stranger.

Today I said, "Mom, I'm going to get myself a cup of coffee, want me to bring you one?"

"Oh yes, Sweetheart, that would be nice," she replied.

Too bad it took me so long to catch on.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hope in the Lord

I haven't posted an entry here for over a month, since the day I found that the future of the book I've written is uncertain. My book, God, Mom, Alzheimer's and Me, contains not just a record of the emotional and spiritual journey that I went through as I became my mother's caregiver, but also the inspired words of guidance that the Lord so graciously provided Mom and me during that terrible time following her diagnosis. I put so much of who I am in the Lord into the manuscript that the threat of losing it feels to my heart like losing record of my ministry. Writing a book can be compared to a long and arduous labor to bring forth a child, and I feel that I've completed the labor but have no child to show for my efforts.

The Scripture that's been going round my head since this analogy of labor and childbirth first occurred to me regarding my book is this: "God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill" (Numbers 23:18-20). This passage goes on to say that when God has ordained blessing, then blessing will arrive. "No one can deliver out of God's hand" (Isaiah 43:13).

I believe that I will have the blessing of seeing the heartache Mom and I have endured transformed into blessing as we see the record of our travail bring strength and encouragement to others; I do believe that the book will go to press and that it will reach those who need it.

It has been nearly five years since Mom's diagnosis and incredibly, she continues to linger at the mid stages of Alzheimer's. She is still able to take care of her own basic needs and is mobile, needing no help to transfer from bed to chair to bathroom. She is lucid in each moment that she is in, although she has no memory of moments immediately past, and so she needs my support to know when it is time to bathe, dress, and eat (she doesn't know if she's done these things already or not). I don't know how she is able to enjoy reading, but she apparently does. She reads the same books over and over with apparent enjoyment.

The ongoing grief is difficult but when I abide in the Lord I am fine. The instant I take my eyes away from Him I am in trouble, like Peter when he took his eyes off the Lord and found himself sinking in the waves.

Book or no book, I praise God, who has been our help. He has been so very gracious to us.