Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Depression's Rx in Two Classic Hymns

This post addresses Christian coping techniques for the reactive depression of dealing with a sad or traumatic life event. It does not address major (clinical) depression.

 Depression is a lurking stumbling block for people who care for loved ones with terminal illnesses.  When a devastating diagnosis is handed down, most of us run like champions out of the gate. The first leg of a caregiving journey has a temporary feel; at first we have no trouble pushing our own  hopes and conveniences aside for the sake of our dear ones who need us.

But after awhile, when the shock has passed and the daily burdens seem heavy, we may become a little bit like Smee. Does anyone remember the character of Smee, Captain Hook's second in command in the film Hook (starring Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman)?  There is a scene in which Smee, who has endured an entire career of enforced service to Hook, has an opportunity to grab some gold and make a run for it. He gives into his darker nature and pays for his treachery, but I'll always remember his Waterloo moment as he said, "What about Smee?  What about ME?" 

I confess that these past few months I've struggled with intermittent episodes of depression punctuated by plaintive cries of "What about MEEE??"

I won't detail my lengthy and self pitying prayers as I outlined for the Lord my sorrow over the loss of the good but thwarted hopes and dreams I'd harbored for these past few years of my life, the years I've spent taking care of Mom instead. But do let me share with you the sweetness of the understanding He provided:

When we pray the salvation prayer, asking forgiveness for the humiliating sins we have been unable to conquer in our own strength, the transaction is completed when we give our lives to Him. The simple prayer that brings the cleansing purchased for us by the Blood of Christ also guarantees the incomprehensibly great gift of eternal life. From that moment, our Lord begins to gently remove the scales from our eyes so that we understand the truth of our situation here on Planet Earth: our lives here are heartbreakingly short. No matter how wealthy or powerful we are, we can't avoid suffering and death. Our only hope lies in throwing in our lot with the God who loved us enough to die for us so that we can live forever with Him. We are not our own, we belong to Him, we were bought with a price, and how He chooses for us to spend our time here is up to Him and not us.

Sometimes we don't even get a vote. This isn't unfair, what would be really unfair is for the Almighty God to go through what He endured for us, and then have us stomp our little feet and say, "I want MY way according to what my pea-sized brain can perceive right NOW. "  If we think about it even for a moment we quickly realize we do not want to dismiss the knowledge and wisdom of the plans of the God who loves us perfectly in favor of our own limited understanding.

It isn't as though He ignores our needs and desires; but when we are in grief over the death of our own dreams, we are blinded to the blessings He's provided. I found a blessed lifting of the sadness that has weighted me the past few months when I finally prayed the prayer that author Jan Karon calls, "The prayer that never fails."  If you are familiar with Karon's Mitford series, you know that prayer is "Thy will be done."   

As my depression began to lift it occurred to me that my secret to feeling better has been a sincere willingness to say, Have Thine Own Way, Lord along with the resultant ability to Count Your Blessings; wisdom epitomized in the two classic hymns of the same titles (if you have time, spend a little while praising the Lord as you read the lyrics to these precious songs--just click on the titles to navigate to The CyberHymnal).

Here are a few of the things I praised God for this morning, along with my prayer that your eyes are opened to your own blessings today.  Hugs and prayers, Linda

The view from my front porch. Locusts singing, birds calling, the air flower-scented; I ask you, how was I able to sink into self-focused sorrow with this outside my door?

Loyalty, love, and goofiness all in one pretty boy. 

The rosebush my kids gave me for Mother's Day 3 years ago. It's now over 6 feet tall and even wider than that. The name of the rose is "Dick Clark;" it was issued in his honor the year he died. That's one of its blossoms in the blog header above. Love it...and those precious grown up children of mine who gifted it to me.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


I don't have energy.

Mornings aren't too bad, but then I am exhausted in the afternoons.

I don't sleep very well.

When I come to the Lord in prayer I continually feel He is saying, "Rest, Child, rest."

Last spring I had a series of viruses and a terrible strep infection, and so at first I assumed my need for rest was from a physical ill. But that was nearly three months ago!  And so tonight I asked, "Why do I need all this rest, Lord?"

I'd no sooner formulated the question than understanding flooded my mind: I have vastly underestimated the weight of the burden I carry for my mother. I am exhausted by my responsibilities to her, depleted by the emotional roller coaster of her verbal abuse alternating with sweet expressions of kindness, and weighted by the grief of what I've lost along with dread of the further difficulties I'll have to face between now and the time my mother's Alzehimer's journey is finally done. I believe that once Mom is gone, my energy will return, but how terrible to know that the doorway to renewal passes through the valley of the shadow of death.

After an eleven year Alzheimer journey (we had paced ourselves for a predicted three year stint) I am  beyond discomfort over the thought of eulogies and choosing an outfit for the deceased to wear; I have rehearsed these things so often that I believe I will handle my responsibilities with aplomb. But my heart, dear Lord, my heart.  I am so weary.  This morning I prayed for a little sign of encouragement, but if the Lord has placed it before me, I haven't recognized it.

As I prayed about all of this, snippets of Scripture began coming to mind...pressed but not crushed...though they stumble they will not fall, for God will help them at break of fear in love... 

 I've just clicked through to Biblegateway to find the references for each of these verses and lo and behold, here is my encouragement...the verse of the day at Biblegateway's home page is my life verse, Isaiah 41:10: "So do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand"(Isaiah 41:10 NIV).  

Tonight I'm really appreciating the Lord's promise to hold me up.

Fellow caregivers, don't underestimate the energy draining effects of the burdens you carry for your loved ones. Even if the physical labor is not intense, the emotional burden can affect you in ways you may not recognize. We have arranged for Mom to go to adult daycare at an area nursing home one day a week so that I can have another day away each week--I do grocery shopping and run errands on Thursdays when a local church lady spends the day with my mom, but I never take a day just for myself--I'll report back here to let you know whether it helps!

Here are ideas for finding options for respite care (remember, "respite" is support provided to the caregiver--for example, our respite care lady cleans my kitchen and bathrooms once a week as well as spending time with my mom):
  • Your Area Council on Aging
  • Your state's Department for Aging
  • The Alzheimer Association's 24/7 helpline -- 1.800.272.3900
  • Alzheimer's is a terminal disease, so consider calling your local hospice to see whether there are services such as bathing and administration of medications available through them
  • Familiarize yourself with services covered by Medicare--here is the link for the official booklet about medicare home health services: Medicare Home Health
  • Your local church, friends, word of mouth--this has actually been our best support base over the years. I always say that the little lady who spends time with Mom each week has saved my life, and I found her through our church.  
Prioritize rest and don't be hard on yourself if you need an afternoon nap.  Naps have become a fact of my life the past few months, and I praise God for the time and circumstances that quite often allow me to indulge this need. The difficulty with many of us is that we allow that feeling of "ought to be accomplishing something" to rob us of rest the Lord would provide.  Remember, He gives to his beloved sleep...(Psalm 127:2 RSV).   

Praying for you and grateful for your prayers,


Monday, July 6, 2015

Insights into a Mind Damaged by Alzheimer's

Coffee stained section from Mom's journal.
Yesterday I was shocked when I read Mom's journal entries for the day. I felt appalled by the complete disconnect with reality; the brokenness of expression revealed the extent of the brain damage she's suffered. There was an almost frightening singsong, sometimes rhyming but nonsensical pattern to some of the words she'd written.  I suppose the brain shrinkage from Alzheimer's along with the plaques and tangles that destroy neural connections can cause symptoms similar to those suffered by the mentally ill. After several pages of disjointed, sometimes illegible entries, Mom ended with these heartrending words:
Where is she? Her ticket say MO
That is where her farm home is.
(Mom grew up on a farm in Missouri)
I realized that I've underestimated the degree to which Mom's thinking processes have been compromised, and because of this I've been unkind when I have only intended to spur her to do for herself what I thought she was still able to do. 

Because my mother has a pre-Alzeheimer's established habit of recording her thoughts in spiral notebooks, her journaling has helped me make a list of reminders for myself that may help other caregivers as well: 
1) Don't assume that our patients understand more than they do. Pay close attention to their responses, even (especially) those that seem at first to make no sense.   
2) Do respond with love and acceptance to irregular behaviors.
3) Don't respond according to the past rules of our relationships with our patients.  In the past it might have been appropriate to respond to our loved ones' seemingly unjustified hostility with self defense or logical argument, but now such responses are ineffective and even cruel in light of the patients' compromised ability to think clearly. 
4) Be willing to try one strategy after another until we find ways to communicate effectively. 
5) Don't assume too much.  Arm ourselves with knowledge about the brain damage of dementia and how it impacts behavior. 
6) Remember that although the mind is damaged, the heart remains intact. Our loved ones still need  kindness, expressions of love, hugs, and approval.  Our disapproval still has the power to hurt.