Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Importance of That Daily Walk

On this day our son took my place for the daily walk, and I became the somewhat shaky photographer.

Each afternoon just before Mom's supper time, we take her for a walk.  With my husband, John, on one side and me on the other, Mom links her arms through ours with fierce strength.  The sensation is somewhat like wearing a too-tight blood pressure cuff with a bucket of water attached as ballast. My bicep quickly begins to ache and so after one circuit around the driveway John and I switch sides, a procedure with which Mom has little patience.

"Oh my you poor thing," she says.

You can't really blame her.  The poor woman is 88 years old, has been dragged from her comfortable chair to suffer unwanted aerobic exercise, and her young, strong daughter is wimping out (I'm neither young nor strong but Mom can't be convinced of this).  By the time we return Mom is breathing heavily and her usual good humor has completely evaporated.  She mutters resentfully to herself as she pushes her walker back to the recliner. "Can't leave an old woman in peace...have to have everything their own way..."

We put Mom and ourselves through this fifteen minute fiasco each night because we've learned there is a dramatic correlation between both her mood and the quality of her cognitive functioning as a result of those few minutes of daily exercise.  When Mom doesn't have her daily walk she is much more likely to suffer "sundowning" (increased confusion and restlessness after dark).  The last time we missed Mom's walk she called me at 3:00 a.m. to ask if it was night or day.  She had made herself toast and didn't know why there was no coffee in the pot.

It seems strange to me that just those few minutes of exercise make such a dramatic difference for her, but time and again we've noted that she is in a more positive mood and is less restless just as a result of that little daily walk.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Everything We Need

There is a scene in one of the Lord of the Rings movies in which the angelic and powerful Galadriel struggles with temptation to take and use the ring of power for her own.  There is a frightening moment in which the filmmaker's special effects cause Galadriel's voice to become eerily amplified and demonic.  As she imagines the power she would yield as possessor of the ring, her eyes blaze red and she grows in stature, transforming into a nightmarish creature looming over the little hobbit before her.  At the last minute she chooses not to appropriate this terrible power for herself, and as she shrinks back down into "just Galadriel" says, "I have passed the test."

I watched this scene with my daughter, Melinda, who was not impressed with Galadriel's flirtation with evil.  Melinda said in disgust, "Yes, she passed the test..but just barely!!!"

I was thinking this morning how often I have "just barely" passed a test the Lord has allowed me to face, and how graciously and skillfully He creates challenges custom tailored to my need to grow in faith and strength.

We aren't usually able to see God's hand in a situation that is painful until the trial is past, and this makes faith a necessity.  I've lost count of the times I've had to remind myself, "Remember the way He's provided for you in the past, trust Him for the future!"  Even so, I still struggle with worriment.

Due to budget cuts, I lost my position as a reading teacher due two years ago, and rather than be reassigned I chose to retire early to care for Mom  (a strategy I felt forced into by circumstances but do not recommend for others; see the reading entitled "Don't Quit Your Day Job" in my My Mom Has Alzheimer's...)This morning at 3:00 a.m. I awoke, literally in a cold sweat.  I came to the Lord in a panic and prayed, "We are farmers! We've had two drought years back to back!  How are we going to cope financially?  How will we survive?"

God was so gracious to me.  Most times when I suffer this kind of panic I'm led to read Biblical accounts of His faithfulness to others and am able to pray through to peace that He will care for me just the same way.  But this time He reminded me of a savings plan I initiated when I began teaching school years ago.  A few minutes research revealed that in two months I will reach the minimum age to withdraw from that account without penalties.  Then in about 3 years I will reach the minimum age to begin drawing Social Security.  So I returned to bed feeling somewhat more peaceful about finances.   

Sometimes the Lord asks us to trust Him and does not share with us the particulars of how His provision will arrive.  It was this way when I quit my job; there was just this overwhelming knowledge that this is what God wanted me to do and I couldn't see the path before me.  But once in awhile, in His great compassion for His frightened child, He will say, "There, there.  Look.  See how I've provided for you.  Don't be afraid."  That's what He did for me this morning and I'm grateful.

Fear has always been my Waterloo, and I'm not happy with myself about that.  Fear is the antithesis of faith and dishonors the Lord.  If you are reading this and thinking, "But I have no forgotten savings plan, no way of surviving but for God's grace," please be assured that His provision will meet your need as you trust in Him.  Cry out to Him with your need and place your faith in Him.  He won't let you down. 

Scripture:  "Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord"  (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).  

"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3). 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Comic Relief

As caregivers, we need comic relief from time to time.

A few years ago a well meaning friend gifted me a beautiful book about a woman who had cared for her loved one who had Alzheimer's.  "I thought you would enjoy reading this," she said, "I found it so inspiring."

 I delved right in but found the book to be heart-rending rather than uplifting, and soon cast it aside.  When in the midst of a battle, graphic descriptions of the battle scars of others are not what is needed.  My devotional for caregivers keeps this fact in mind; inasmuch as possible I avoided too-graphic descriptions of my suffering and focused instead on the Lord's solace and help.  

 Caregivers need respite, and I find mine through writing about subjects other than Alzheimer's.  Writing a book isn't much different than scrapbooking, quilting, or any other craft.  It is a creative process that requires focus and concentration, and there is something incredibly refreshing about becoming so immersed in a project that time slips away.  I urge all caregivers to find some "away-from-caregiving" respite that brings this kind of refereshment.

Meantime, if you are in need of a bit of comic relief today, head over to my other blog and read about Farmer John and his cows.  You can't get much further from taking care of a dementia patient than that!!!  Click here:  The Cow Whisperer. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Growing Into the Role of Caregiver

Taking care of someone who used to take care of you is beyond difficult. 

Resentment and grief of loss swirl together to form a cocktail of anger that, if drunk to the dregs, can cause broken relationships and long term damage to the spirit. Negative emotions can't be contained tidily in a box labeled with the name of the one who "deserves it."  Toxic feelings seep out of their  container and are expressed toward innocent bystanders.

 In my early days of caregiving I began with resentment and blame toward my mother, but my attitude poisoned every close relationship I had. My poor husband had to dodge my blame-filled words, an overflow of hurt that didn't belong to him. It is so odd that we are able to shape our circumstances to fit our emotions.  My attitude was "If I feel angry  then you must have done something wrong!"  

Alzheimer's causes an egocentrism that is especially painful to bear when the loved one once was focused on the caregiver's needs; it is heartbreaking when someone who was once your champion becomes demanding and rude.  Separating the disease from the person is nearly impossible at first, because the behaviors exhibited are so familiar.  My mother's anger was familiar to me; who hasn't seen a parent angry?  But it was as though the volume had been turned up, and her target was always me, the one she once had believed was nearly perfect.  I was unable to protect my heart from hurt.

So, I had to grow up.

I had to learn that my mother's anger and disapproval did not have to break my heart.

I had to stop depending on Mom for sustenance and to figure out how to draw my strength from God.
I recognized that the place in my heart that had once been filled with my mother’s nurture and care now needed to be filled with the Lord. A Scripture memorized long ago, Isaiah 6:1, came to mind as I remembered that Isaiah saw the Lord in the year that his king died. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers refers to this revelation given to Isaiah and says, “Our soul’s personal history with God is often an account of the death of our heroes. Over and over again God has to remove our friends to put himself in their place, and that is when we falter, fail, and become discouraged. Let me think about this personally—when the person died who represented for me all that God was, did I give up on everything in life? Did I become ill or disheartened? Or did I do as Isaiah did and see the Lord?”*  from My Mom Has Alzheimer's: Inspiration and Help for Caregivers
Caregiving is not easy, but we don't have to sustain emotional injury when our care recipients display vindictive, angry behaviors.  With the Lord's help we can follow His example and respond to negative behaviors with love.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1) . 
  1. *Taken from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, edited by James Reimann, June 13 deovotion, The Price of the vision © 1992 by Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd., and used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI 49501. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Responding to a Wrong

Taking care of a dementia patient offers regular opportunities to respond in a Godly way to being offended.

It also offers numerous opportunities to respond in a negative way.

If someone kept a record (and I fear very much that Someone really is), on a good day my score would be about 50% Godly responses and 50% negative responses.  These percentages take into account the phenomenon of ignoring Mom's irritating or hurtful remarks, tallying those on the negative end of the spectrum.  A few years ago the Lord led me to the understanding that ignoring a wrongdoing is not the same as responding in love.  A love response requires action; a loving action.

So when Mom makes a rude remark about the intelligence of someone who wears a shirt with hearts all over it even though Valentine's Day was WAY back in February ("that's kind of dumb of you, isn't it?") it is not loving for me to feign deafness and ignore her (ok, I admit it, that's what I did).  This response might be better than snapping some rude comment back at her, but it does not acknowledge her attempt at conversation (Alzheimer patients know they are losing ground cognitively and look for opportunities to display knowledge--Mom was showing me she knew my shirt was not seasonal).  It would have been kinder for me to have laughed and said, "You are absolutely right.  Tomorrow I'll try to find something more appropriate!"

But I didn't.  Sigh.

Here are the Scriptures I've looked up today from The Voice version of the Bible, newly available at Biblegateway.  I hope they bless and challenge you as they did me:

Colossians 3:13
Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind.
Matthew 6:14
Jesus says to declare forgiveness of those who have wronged us. This is because forgiveness of other people emulates God’s forgiveness of us. If you forgive people when they sin against you, then your Father will forgive you when you sin against Him and when you sin against your neighbor.
Mark 11:25
When you pray, if you remember anyone who has wronged you, forgive him so that God above can also forgive you.
Ephesians 4:26 When you are angry, don’t let it carry you into sin. Don’t let the sun set with anger in your heart