Beautiful Hands

This past May our mother passed on to heaven.  We said our final earthly goodbyes to her on May 8, and thus began our year of those firsts.  Many of you know them…….those first special days that you spend without that special person.  Our first “first” came quickly.  Mother’s Day occurred just two days after Mom’s funeral.  Isn’t that just like life?  Life doesn’t wait on us to get ready for the things that are hard.  They happen whether we’re ready or not.

Our next first is tomorrow.  Tomorrow is Mom’s birthday.  She would be 89 if she had lived to see this day.  I know, though, that none of us wish her back.  We had been saying goodbye to her for a long time as the symptoms of Alzheimer’s overtook her brain and body.  What a sad disease it is!  Alzheimer’s takes a person slowly, robbing them of their essence and their personality and their memories.  I’ll never forget going to see Mom last year, in June of 2014.  When Gary and I entered her assisted living apartment with Jan, Mom not only didn’t know us at all, but she didn’t even show any joy that we were there.  She would usually at least act happy to have visitors, but on this visit she was completely devoid of even that.  For the first time, I did indeed feel like a visitor…..and an ignored one, at that. 

Our visit that June was also the one where we gathered around Mom in the kitchen at Jan’s house as we sang hymns. Mom sang with us, surprising us all.  That time was deeply precious to each of us, including Mom.  Her eyes lit up as she sang.  She smiled and she tried to express what she was thinking about each song.  She remembered words very well, and we knew that each song resonated with her deep in her heart and mind. 

Before we left that evening to go on our separate ways once again, Mary Beth wanted us to all put our hands on the table together, and take a picture.  I’m so glad we did that.  Something about that picture is so personal…..so tender.  There is our mother’s hand, nestled among her children’s.  Her hand shows the effects of age….of hard work….of arthritis.  But her hand is beautiful.  And us….our hands also show the signs of age that are creeping upon us.  You can see some spots…..some lumps on our joints…..and several of us have that funny little finger that Mom had. 

 
I look at that picture and I think of how Mom’s hand was always in our lives.  From an early age her hands were ever busy with caring for us five children, and for Dad.  I remember her hands cooking and baking, sewing and cleaning, caring for sick children and looking after busy children.  She used her hands to show us how to make little troll doll clothes out of felt while she sewed real clothes for us to wear.  She used her hands to let us turn the handle on the food chopper as she made Cranberry Salad for Thanksgiving.  She used her hands to fill our table with huge baking sheets of homemade rolls while she pinched off little pieces of dough for us to happily eat.  She used her hands to teach us how to set a table and how to wash dirty dishes after loading the sink just right.

Her hands wiped our tears…..and sometimes caused our tears as she spanked us for disobedience.  Her hands worked to grow beautiful flowers and delicious vegetables, which she froze and canned and cooked and shared with others.  Her hands taught us how to do the laundry and to fold the clothes correctly.  Her hands taught us to iron whatever she had placed in our four baskets, each basket bearing the name of one of us girls.  Where was John’s?  J  Her hands taught us how to clean a house, how to hem a dress, how to play some of her favorite card games, how to make a bed the RIGHT way, how to take care of our varied pets, and how to plan the many practical jokes for which she was famous. 

Perhaps the most important use of her hands was when she would open her Bible in the early mornings as we all sat around the breakfast table.  Dad would have already gone to work, so before we left for school, Mom would be sure that we all opened our Bibles as she did.  She would read from the Our Daily Bread devotional book, reading the selected Bible passage first and then reading the devotion before we prayed.  Her commitment to God and to us was never more evident than during that precious time together every morning. 

Her hands made each of our wedding dresses and bridesmaids dresses.  Her hands cared for us after each of our children was born.  Her hands loved and doted on her grandchildren and great-grands.  Her hands knit literally countless numbers of Christmas stockings for family, friends, friends of friends, friends of family, pets……you get the idea.  Her hands quilted each of us a totally handmade quilt after she retired.  Then those always busy hands made, again, an untold number of quilts for others to enjoy.  Her hands took meals to shut-ins.  Her hands stuffed envelopes for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, for missionaries, and for church. 

Her hands cared for Dad for eight years as he fought cancer.  And it was her hands that he wanted to scramble his eggs that he loved during the final few weeks of his life.  Only her hands would do, and I understood that totally as I stepped aside and let her do this thing that she loved so much.  It was in their little kitchen that I noticed her hands doing things differently than she had ever done…..and I knew that the Alzheimer’s was lurking, waiting to overcome her in the following years. 

Her hands worked hard to care for Dad during that final month that he lived.  He preferred her hands above all others, but he knew that she was struggling, and so he allowed Jan and I to help as well.  But it was Mom’s hand that he reached for as they sat on the couch.  It was Mom’s touch that comforted him when he was so sick.  It was Mom’s hand that he held as he lay in his hospital bed…..her hand reaching through the bed rails as she lay alone in their bed beside his hospital bed. 

Jan took one last picture of Mom’s hands as she lay dying this past May.  There they were, crossed on her lap, still and unmoving.  She was nearing the end of her time on earth.  Her hands, though, spoke volumes to all of us.  I’m again so thankful for the picture that Jan took.  Her hands showed the evidence of years of love and work.  Now her hand’s work was done.  It was time for her to rest.

 
But the work of her hands will never be done.  Her work in our lives does indeed live on.  So much of who we are and what we are is because of her beautiful hands in our lives.  None of us King children would be who we are today without the influence of her godly, kind hands.  Then our children, and their children, show the impact of Mom’s hands.  What a treasure is to be seen in those soft, wrinkled hands! 

I’m pretty sure that her hand is now holding Dad’s hand in heaven.  I doubt that they’ve let each other go since she’s joined him there.  Unless there’s work for her to do, and then I can totally see her using those hands to make something or to keep things straight.  I wonder how many quilts she’s made by now? 

The Proverbs 31 woman was described as one who works with willing hands.  Our mother did just that, and for the rest of our lives we will benefit from her wonderful, willing hands in our lives. 

Happy Birthday, Mom.  Thank you for your beautiful hands in our lives.  You will always be loved.

The Meat Goes ON the Rice!

I stood in front of the greeting card display a couple weeks ago, locating the various categories of Valentine cards that pertained to me.  Husband….sons…..daughter…..friends…..special ones.  I paused at the “mother” category, and then skipped over it as I continued my search for just the right card for each person on my list.  Sometimes it takes forever to find just the right sentiment, and today was one of those days.  I decided on several cards, but there were still some unchecked names on my list.  “Well, I would just have to go to another store and see what choices they offered,” I thought as I went on my way.

I later made a new list in my “brain notebook” that sits in my cool ThirtyOne notebook holder.  It’s the notepad that’s just like the one Mom used…..the one she called her “brain”……..with all of her lists and her scribbled notes.  Just like Mom.  Like my mother used to be.  And there she was, once again, in my life and in my memories……although she is still living, but not like we all knew her. 

My new list consisted of items that I hadn’t been able to find on this day of shopping, and among them were three Valentine cards yet to be chosen.  As I looked at those names, I knew that one was missing, and I felt guilty.  My mother was not on that list.  I had overlooked that section earlier that day, on purpose.  Why get a card for my mother?  She is now deeply affected by Alzheimer’s.  She doesn’t know any of us.  She doesn’t even know that she has children at all. 

Not only that hard fact, but my mother doesn’t know what Valentine’s Day is all about.  It wouldn’t affect her one bit to not receive a card, and it wouldn’t affect her one bit TO receive a card.  And further, my mother doesn’t even know what a card is or what it is for.  It’s all tragic and sad and completely impossible to believe that this is true of my mom.

 
My mother was beautiful, and she was gifted in so many ways.  She was an extremely hard worker, and organized to the max.  She even washed her dishes a certain way, and taught her four daughters to do the same.  I thought of this fact one night last November when our dishwasher sat broken and useless in its place in our kitchen.  I filled the kitchen sink with hot, soapy water and began to place the dishes down in the suds.  I smiled as I thought of how Mom taught us to wash the dishes in a certain order and even to put them in a particular place in the sink.  Obsessive?  Maybe.  But it makes sense, the way she taught us, and I thought as I washed my dishes that night…..in my mother’s order……that I bet each of my sisters would load their dirty dishes into their sinks exactly the way that I was placing mine that night. 

My mother’s teaching and her influence go far beyond how to load the kitchen sink, certainly, but it’s in those practical ways that I find myself often drawn to her.  One of our favorite stories about Mom that make my family laugh is the one about the time that Mom and Dad had all of us over for dinner when we were visiting.  Mom had cooked beef in gravy with rice on the side.  She set the line up as a buffet, and she watched carefully as either Bethany or Martha….don’t remember which……put their rice on the plate and then put the meat on their plate separately from the rice.  Mom pulled herself up to all of her maybe 5’2” frame and announced loudly, “The meat goes ON the rice!”  We all wanted to burst out laughing, and we did roll our eyes when she wasn’t watching……but we all loved her for it.  That was Mom.  “The meat goes ON the rice!” is now one of our favorite sayings.

Now Mom doesn’t even know what rice is…..or meat…..and often doesn’t know what to do with the meat and the rice that might be on her plate.  Jan sent us a video last night of a recent visit with Mom.  She wasn’t sure that we would want to see it, but we told her yes……please send it and let us see our little mother.  It was heart wrenching and sad to see her so completely unaware of anything and anybody.  To see her showing fear, shaking and scared.  Our mother is gone.  The woman who bore us and raised us, and instilled in us so many amazing values that were her own, is now gone.  But her body is here, and she is loved by all of us……and excellently cared for by Bob and Jan, and John and Jeanie.

It’s all we can do…..love her and care for her and definitely to pray for her.  And for me personally, to buy her that card.  Yes, I added her name to my list and I went to the “Mother” section of the Valentine cards.  I found just the right card, surprisingly enough…..one that talked about what my mother had done, not what she was doing now.  And what she HAS done is plenty!  All of her children and grandchildren are reaping the benefits and blessings of all that my mother HAS done in her life well lived. 

I really know that I sent her that card, not for her, but for me.  I needed to remind myself of all that my wonderful little mother was, and of all that she is still doing in my life today.  In that way, I honor her, though she is unaware of that. 

Remember now:  The drinking glasses are washed first, then the plates and the silverware…..with the silverware in front and the plates behind them….

And the meat goes ON the rice, for crying out loud!
 

The First Snow

 

The first thing I did when I got up this morning was to look out the window to see if we had gotten any of the possible snow that has been talked about over the past few days.  If you look hard, like between the cracks of our brick walkway out back, or on our roof, you can see a little faint dusting of snow.  It’s just a tiny bit, but it would have been enough at one time to keep up our old family tradition.

 

My mind goes back on this cold morning to other cold mornings of my childhood.  I remember how Mom would always be up very early, faithfully fixing breakfast for Dad before he left for his job at the railroad station nearby.  Then she would do the same for us, getting five breakfasts ready for us kids before we left for school……and somehow getting herself ready to head out the door for her own job.

 

But in the fall or early winter, there was often one magical morning that we would wake up to the sound of Christmas music.   Christmas music didn’t start playing at our house full time until after Thanksgiving.  One holiday at a time, please, in the King household.  However, there was one moment that Christmas music was played before the allowed time…….one day that it was perfectly fine to hear the early strains of We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

 

That time was on the occasion of the very first snowfall.  It didn’t matter if the first snowflakes fell in October.  If there was a bit of snow falling from the sky, Mom would put on a Christmas record……and if it was in the morning, we would wake up to the sounds of Christmas in the house.  And we knew…..we knew without even getting out of bed……that there was snow on the ground.  Of course, we would rush to the windows to see if there was enough to allow us to stay home from school, but there rarely was.

 

Mom and Dad loved snow.  Even when we all moved away from home, there was that one special day that our phone would ring and when we answered we would only hear a Christmas song being played.  None of us would have to guess or wonder what that was about.  We knew!  It was Mom and Dad announcing with delight that they had gotten the first snowfall of the season.  We all had a little contest going, hoping that we would beat them to the punch and be the one to call first with that Christmas music playing loudly, holding the phone up to the speakers so that they could clearly hear it.   Then we would put the phone to our ear and hear them say, “You got snow?!”  Yes, we got snow and it’s so beautiful, and on and on we would go…..laughing as if this was the greatest day ever.  And it was, in a sense, for Mom and Dad passed their love of snow on to all five of us children……and it was simple and sweet and so much fun to share that first snowfall of the season tradition over the years.

 

But it makes me a little sad this morning to know that I can’t call Mom to share my first little snowfall with her.  Well, I could call her…..but she would wonder who I am…..and why am I playing that music to her……and just what is that song, anyway?  Mom has Alzheimer’s and she doesn’t remember our old family tradition.  She doesn’t even remember our family.  So a phone call like that would only frustrate and confuse her, and would be upsetting to me as well.

 

I’m thankful for the sweet memories, though.  For the special traditions that our family had, as all families do.  I’m thankful that during the time Dad was dying of cancer, God allowed him to enjoy lots of snow during that November.  I remember him sitting in his wheel chair at their sliding glass doors, watching the snow and enjoying the hungry birds crowding their bird feeders on the deck.  Thankful that he got to see the beautiful Christmas tree all decorated the way he loved and listen to the pretty Christmas music.

 

It makes me realize how much we need to cherish our families and our times together, for it all goes by so quickly.  We live together for such a very short time before everyone scatters.  Brothers, sisters, children…..living here and there in this busy world.  So build the bonds of family strong while the children are young……develop the traditions…..and stay in touch over the years.

 

Merry Christmas, everyone!  It’s a little early, but there IS some snow on the ground.  If you look real hard, you can see it.  But it’s enough.

Singing With Our Mother


My mother was raised in the little coal mining town of Welch, West Virginia.  Born in 1926, she was the last of six children born to Guy and Lillian Hollandsworth.  Grandpa was the principal of the school in Welch.  He and Grandma worked hard to raise their six children deep in those West Virginia mountains.  They instilled in them a love for God; a love for family; a love of culture; and a love of good music.  
Mom, fourth from the right on the front row
I loved hearing our mother talk about how she met my dad.  They met when Mom’s brother, Luther, married Dad’s sister, Mary.  Beth saw in Jack the sort of man she had never come across.  He was kind and thoughtful, a man of quality to whom she was drawn.  And as they became acquainted, they each learned something that helped seal their interest even further……they both loved classical music.  Dad was just a farm boy from Oakvale, West Virginia, who worked for the Norfolk and Western Railroad………and Mom, from a coal town deep in the mountains, was teaching Home Economics.  But quality music was important to them, so their mutual love for the same music was important as well.
Our home was full of music as we were being raised in Princeton, West Virginia.  It seemed that music was always playing on the old record player, and later the newer huge stereo cabinet in the living room.  Most of what we heard was classical, but Mom and Dad also loved the hit musicals.  I bet all five of us kids still know the words to the songs from Sound of Music, Carousel, South Pacific, and Oklahoma.  Christmas was full of beautiful and fun Christmas music.  I remember children’s records full of fun songs, too. 
Mom, on the far right, as part of the Laidley Hall Trio, 1946-47
Mom, fourth from the right on the front row
Mom didn’t just love to listen to music.  She also had a beautiful voice, and sang in choirs and madrigal groups during her high school and college years.  She was an accomplished soloist and sang in many area churches for revival services and other occasions.  A favorite song of hers…….her signature song, really……was “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”  This is the song she was singing in a little church during a revival service one night in the early 1950’s.  Jimmie Jones was preaching that night.  Mom stood up to sing, and God used the words of that song to pierce her heart.
 
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
Refrain:
Than to be the king of a vast domain,
Or be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.
As Mom sang those words, she knew in her heart that she had never asked this Jesus into her heart to be her Savior.  She knew that she was standing before those people singing a lie with her beautiful voice.  She walked down the aisle that night during the invitation, and Preacher Jimmie led her to the Lord.  Dad had accepted Christ months earlier but hadn’t said much to Mom about it for fear of angering her.  Now they were united not only in marriage, and children, and their love of music…….but they were spiritually united in their love for the Lord that grew and grew over the following years.
Now our family had the completed element of being raised around God’s Word, and being active at Johnston Chapel Baptist Church where Preacher Jimmie was our pastor for all of our growing up years.  Now, too, were added beautiful hymns to the music that graced our home every day.  
All of us sang and soon we children were singing together for church.  I remember one Saturday that we even sang…..live!…….on our small town radio station.  We sang and Preacher Jimmie preached, and I have no idea how we sounded way back then.  We continued to sing as we got older, and were known as the King Sisters when John left.  And during all this time, Mom was still singing solos and blessing many with her pretty voice.
Many years have gone by since those days of early marriage and raising five children.  Dad went to heaven in December of 2008, during the season of Christmas carols and Christmas joy that Mom and Dad loved the most.  And now our mother has Alzheimer’s, lives in assisted living, and doesn’t know any of us five children or our spouses……or her grandchildren or great-grandchildren……or even her Jack, her husband…..Dad.  We can’t ask her for advice or ask her to tell us a familiar family story or ask her for a favorite family recipe.  All of that is gone.
Gary and I went home a few months ago.  Everyone was there except for Jimmy and Kathryn.  As we gathered at Jan’s house, near the end of our day with everyone, I suggested that we sing to Mom.  A friend of mine, Bev, had told me about singing to her mother who had Alzheimer’s and how her mother remembered the words……and it was their last real connection.
So we stood around Mom that evening at Jan’s and we sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”  To our surprise and delight, Mom joined in.  She knew most of the words, and then to our complete surprise, she sang the descant at the end…….her voice still beautiful and sweet.  You can click on the link below to see the video of her singing that song.
We sang a few other hymns as well, and then we decided to see if we could make it through our family song…….Dad’s favorite song……”Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus.”  Again, Mom sang most of the words in her sweet voice.  And at the end, as you can hear in the below link, she tried to describe how special that song was.  She couldn’t put her finger on why it was special……she couldn’t remember exactly……and she couldn’t find the words……but she knew.  Deep inside she knew that this song was a very dear part of our family, and a dear part of her Jack……of Dad.
I’m so thankful that we sang with Mom that evening.  We were all blessed beyond measure for that time with her.  Her heart was happy as she sang.  What memories those songs stirred in all of us, including Mom. 
Memories of wonderful parents who taught us about the Lord…..who filled our hearts and our home with music……but more importantly, filled us all with love.  And over the years, as we’ve all experienced both joys and sorrows, we can fall back on the love they gave us and the Lord they made sure that we knew personally.  Many parts of our early life are gone…..and now the Mom we’ve always known is gone……but the hope we have in Christ will never be gone.  The certainty of heaven will never be gone, where we can sing together forever! 
Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday.  She will be 88 years old……and she won’t know that it’s her birthday…..or how old she is.  But as friends and family gather around her, I hope that she knows how much she is loved.  And I hope that she joins in as everyone sings “Happy Birthday!”  
I bet she will, with a smile on her happy face and a twinkle in those beautiful eyes. 
We love you, Mom!  Happy Birthday!
And thanks for showing us over the years that you really meant it when you sang, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”  And that we needed to mean it, too.   

I Think I Should Know You


Today is my birthday.  I’ve been enjoying special messages and phone calls and cards and gifts.  It’s wonderful to be remembered on this special day, even though I don’t expect all that kind attention.  But on this one day, this day of my birth, it really is nice to know that I am thought about and loved.  
I’ve heard from friends, some old and some new…….even some that I have never physically met.  Facebook has opened up some friendships with people that I feel like I know well but have actually never seen face to face.  I’ve had messages from friends that I have known from all the different places that we lived during our military career.  Of course, I’ve also heard from family in various ways today. 
The person I have not heard from today, and that I know I will not hear from at all on this special day, is the woman who is responsible for this day of my birth.  My mother.  I no longer expect a card from her, or a gift, or even a call.  The woman who gave birth to me no longer even remembers that day years ago that she came in from mowing the lawn while Dad was at work, and ended up in labor at our local hospital.  Not only does Mom not remember that day, she no longer remembers me.
Gary and I went home to West Virginia last week for a brief visit.  It had been far too long since we had been home to see family.  It was past time to go.   And it was also past time for my mother, who has Alzheimer’s.  I knew from what family said that Mom wouldn’t know me.  To experience that reality, though, is far different from just hearing about it.
Jeanie, my sister-in-law, took Gary and I to see mother at her assisted living home.  She lives in such a beautiful setting in those West Virginia mountains.  We’re all thankful for the good care she receives there and for how happy she has been……she and her precious cat, Princess.
We walked in to her apartment with Jeanie just as Mom was coming out of her bedroom, pushing her walker in front of her.  Mom realized that somehow she knew Jeanie, although she doesn’t really know how she knows Jeanie or who Jeanie is or what her name is.  But as for me and Gary…….there was hardly a glance in our direction, for Mom had other things on her mind as soon as she saw Jeanie’s familiar face.  She and Jeanie talked for a minute, and went to check on Mom’s concerns, with still no notice of Gary and me. 
When they returned to the living room, I went over to Mom but still she didn’t have any reaction to my being there.  No hello…..no “How are you?”………no “It’s so good to see you.”……..no hug…….no emotion at all.  And certainly no recognition.  I patted her shoulder, wondering if I should hug her, and still she hardly acknowledged me.  
Jeanie and I sat on the couch, Gary sat on the recliner, and Mom sat in her chair with the ottoman in front where she could lift her legs, her feet somewhat swollen.  It was then that Mom seemed to realize that we were there and that she didn’t know who we were.  I felt strange, as if I had entered the home of a casual acquaintance or was visiting a shut-in for church or something.  I didn’t really feel like I was sitting with my mother whom I hadn’t seen in way too long.  It was the first time in my life that my mother had not seemed glad to see me.  There was no rudeness, just distance and unfamiliarity.  
Mom was so polite, so gracious to these people that she didn’t know.  Again that feeling of unfamiliarity hung over the room.  Here sat the woman that I had known for my entire life, who loved me like no other…..like a mother loves her child………yet who at this moment was puzzling over who we were and why we were there.  
She talked about her concerns over her colitis issues, although she doesn’t understand that it’s colitis.  To her this is new and serious and has never happened before until recently, and so Jeanie kept assuring her that Dr. Pam knew all about it and that there was no cause for alarm.  I listened to Mom as she tried to talk about other things as well, seeing that many words were lost to her.  Common words like window or cat or bed.  She struggled to express her thoughts in every area because the words escaped her, and I could tell that this frustrated her.  She knows that she doesn’t know, to some extent, but the ability to bring up the correct words is largely gone.  
And there was still the matter of this strange couple sitting in her living room, smiling and talking as if we knew her.  Mom would stop and shake her head, and then say, “You just seem so familiar.  Now who are you?”  
“I’m Patty, your daughter,” I’d hear myself telling her.  Telling my mother that I was her daughter…….how odd.  I was prepared for this.  I wasn’t really surprised, but still that feeling of unfamiliarity was hanging over the room like an unwelcome presence.  It dawned on me as we repeated the introductions over and over that what I wasn’t prepared for, totally, was that when we told her who we were……….when I was identified as her daughter and Gary as my husband…….that she basically showed no joy at that revelation.  Again, she was polite and she smiled and even showed some surprise……but she didn’t show the joy that a mother would show at seeing her long absent daughter.  The connection to that emotion was gone.  Again, unfamiliarity.
“Your voices just sound like someone I should know,” she said several times as we talked.  And she would again shake her head, trying to piece together in her mind what she very vaguely remembered but what was mostly lost.  She was especially fascinated with Gary, more so than with me, and this made us smile. 
“You’re so tall and so handsome,” she said to this new man in her living room.  “Now who do you belong to?” she asked him.  Gary would point to me as his wife, and Mom would look at me and say, “So you’re his wife?”  I laughed and wondered why she was surprised.  She wanted to know, over and over, if Gary worked.   “What is it you do?” she would ask.  And over and over, in various ways, he tried to answer her question as simply as possible.  
Later, as we got up to leave, I hugged and kissed this dear woman who is my mother…….though she didn’t know that she is my mother.  That evening, we picked her up for church.  Jeanie had asked me to curl Mom’s hair.  Mom sat in her chair as I carefully rolled her fine, baby-soft hair around the hot curling iron……so fearful of burning her.  I thought of how many times this dear woman had no doubt curled and cut and combed my hair.  Now here I was, doing the same for her…….except she had no idea who this nice woman was who was fixing her hair.  It was a sweet time, mixed with the bittersweet.  My mother and I…………the once cared-for now doing the caring.  
We walked into the church foyer, Mom rolling her walker in front of her.  Her body is more stooped and frail now, which makes her even shorter than she always was.  She motioned for me to lean down close so that she could say something to me.  She pointed to John and said, “Look at that one.  I think I should know him.”  I just smiled as I told her that that one was John…….her son.   The preacher.  And she was surprised and she smiled at that news……….as she has now for months when she is once again told that the preacher is her son.  
John later motioned for me to come over.  He told me that Mom had come over to him, pointed to me, and said to John, “Look at that one.  I think I should know her.”  So we laughed.  Poor Mom.  That one……and that one……and that one.  Who are all these people that I think I should know?  The familiar is now so unfamiliar, yet she is aware that she should know.  
The next day we had a family gathering at Bob and Jan’s house.  It was a wonderful time of talking and laughter, of catching up with each other and enjoying time together.  Mom still asked who that one was or who that other one was, but eventually she just settled in to enjoying the commotion and the conversation.  As the day wore on, I came to the conclusion that Mom doesn’t really even know what the word “son” or “daughter” or “grandchild” means.  I don’t believe the relationship those words conveys really registers with her anymore.  
She, in typical Mom fashion despite her lagging mind, called a little family meeting in order to talk to us about her colitis concerns………though she didn’t refer to it as that.  She just told us that this worries her and she thinks it might be the end of her, but then she showed that spirit she’s always had as she firmly said, “But I’m not going to let it get me down!”  That’s our mother!
We sang hymns, which I want to write more about in another blog.  It was incredibly sweet and touching to all of us.  And before I knew it, I was hugging my mother good-bye and kissing her soft cheek.  She had no clue whom she was kissing or why, but she welcomed the love and she returned it to this woman that she no longer knows.  And she once again noticed Gary before she left to return to her apartment…….that tall, handsome man.  “Now, are you married?” she asked one more time.  We think Mom has her eye on Gary!
My dear little sweet mother.  She doesn’t remember Dad.  At least she is not grieving his death anymore.  None of us can change this disease of Alzheimer’s or the sad effect it has had on her.  She is lively, yet vacant.  She is kind, yet reserved.  She is talkative, yet clueless.  She is aware, yet at a total loss. 
John and I talked on Wednesday night.  He said that Mom is gone.  Yes, the mother that we’ve known and loved is indeed gone.  What made Mom our Mom is forever gone.  We love and honor this dear woman that is in our lives now, and we remember her as Mom.  But she is no longer in that role in our lives.  
Mom said it well, too, when we were visiting her in her apartment.  She was talking about her physical worries, and she said, “I just don’t know why this is all happening……but I know I’m going to a better place.”
John has said that he sees evidence of the Lord in Mom’s life……..of the work of the Holy Spirit……..even when she’s not aware of it.  I saw it then, in this truth that Mom spoke.  Such a blessing!  “I know I’m going to a better place.”  
We have hope, despite the ravages of Alzheimer’s.  And someday, in that better place that Mom talked about, that unfamiliar feeling will be gone……..forever!…….to be replaced with healing and wholeness and love. 
She’ll know us all.  That one…..and that one…..and that one, too. 

FADING AWAY

 

I called my mother on Sunday afternoon – Mother’s Day.  The phone rang a few times and her answering machine picked up.  Just as the familiar recording began, I heard Mom’s voice faintly say hello.  I knew then that I had awakened her from a nap.  I waited for the recording to end, for the beep of the machine to subside, and then I spoke to her.  She was confused for a minute as she tried to clear her mind.  Being roused from sleep always causes her to be very confused.  I told her who I was and that I just wanted to call her on her special day – Mother’s Day.  She was pleased, and as always, her ingrained politeness kicked in as she thanked me for calling.  It was almost as if she was talking to a casual acquaintance and not her daughter.
When I asked how she was doing, Mom told me that she had been in bed for awhile and that she really didn’t know why.  As we talked and her mind cleared, she was still very uncertain about herself.  Each time I talk to her, I can read between the lines and I know that she is failing mentally.  Actually, I don’t even have to read between the lines.  Her end of our conversations are most often very vague and this vagueness speaks so clearly of just how unclear she now is mentally.
We didn’t talk very long on Sunday.  Once the answering machine went off, she couldn’t understand me.  We said goodbye and hung up.  I called Jan then, and she told me that Mom was suffering from a bout of her severe colitis.  Bob and Jan, and John and Jeanie, take care of Mom as she lives in the beautiful assisted living center that she has called home for nearly two years.  They know all too well how her mental state is changing.  One of the saddest things that Jan told me was when Mom opened her Mother’s Day card from John and Jeanie, and she asked who John and Jeanie are.  It’s not the first time that she has shown that level of forgetfulness, but it’s always alarming to see.
When I call Mom and tell her my name, I’m not so sure that she always knows that this Patty is her daughter.  Her realization seems to come and go as we talk.  She never asks about our children by name but will instead ask me how the family is doing.  She is always pleased when I give her a report on Gary and each of our children.  Mom has that social politeness that is a part of her fabric, so she exhibits happiness as she hears about Aaron, Andrea, and Andrew.  But does she even know that these are her grandchildren?  And this polite conversation lacks the depth of familial closeness that we always shared.  Something is missing.
What’s missing is………Mom.  Her very being has slowly been drifting away as the effects of her dementia increase.  She is living and breathing and talking, but MOM is fading away.  We still have her with us, and yet we don’t.  It’s a different sort of death.  We watched Dad fight cancer for eight years……….eight mostly good years.  He kept his mind all through this time.  His kindness……his wit……..his dear humor and sweetness and awareness never left him.  We could still share life with him, hard as it was, even as his own life was slipping away.

But with my dear mother, there is very little sharing now.  There is surface talk and politeness, but the soul and the connections are mostly gone……..from her side.  For us – her children and grandchildren – we are always connected to her in ways that she probably no longer feels.  We must accept, though, that the motherly affirmation and expression that even as adults we still long for……..are for the most part gone.

So many times I have found myself thinking that I would call Mom and ask her for some advice……….ask her how she made a certain dish……..ask her for a bit of family history that I wonder about.  But then I know that most or all of this part of her is gone.  Forever gone.  This is a sobering realization.  My totally competent, amazingly organized and gifted mother, is now the one who needs Jan or Jeanie to organize and manage her daily life.

 

She no longer looks at her calendar and knows that March 20 is her anniversary or that May 2 was Dad’s birthday or that September 14 is her own birthday.  This past Christmas, Jan wrote a note that was taped on each of  Mom’s presents under her tree.  The note simply said, “Do Not Open.”  Yet shortly before Christmas day, Bob and Jan walked in to Mom’s apartment and found that she had opened every single present……….and was ready to put the tree away.  We smile as we see in that episode a side of our organized mother that is still there.  Let’s get the show on the road and then clean up the mess!

 

Mom’s wit and her love of jokes and puns is almost legendary.  Yet now, at least when I talk to her, she seems rather flat.  Conversation lags between us because she has trouble with making important connections.  It’s hard to find something to talk about when she can’t even remember what that thing is that her cat, Princess, sits in front of………and I gently remind her that it is a window.  “Oh yes!” she says.  “The window!”  And I am struck with just how deeply she is affected……….and how deeply then we all are affected by this fading of her mind and memory.

 

I love this picture of her, though, still working at The Hunger Challenge at Johnston Chapel.  Still serving and smiling and enjoying being able to help.  That part of our mother is still there, as is her kindness and her concern for others.  This exemplifies my mother to her core, and I’m thankful that she can still physically do these things, though somewhat limited.

 

This gradual letting go…….this sitting on the sidelines of her life and watching her gradually slip away……..is heartbreaking for all of us.  There is really nothing we can do but be there for her, as Bob and Jan, and John and Jeanie, are every day.  We can tell her about our families, even as we sense that she’s not sure exactly who we are talking about.

 

And we can, and do, tell her how much we love her.  Someday even those words won’t really reach her.  But we reach into our hearts and into our memories, and we recognize her value to each of us in so many different ways.  Our love for her is not based on her memory or lack thereof.

 

I also realize how important it is that I say to my children the words that I want them to hear from me.  Someday I may not be able to say them, even though I may still be here physically.  Words of encouragement, instruction, family history, and love………words I hope they store away in their hearts forever.

 

Our sweet little mommy is fading away, but her example and influence is as strong as ever.  In fact, her impact in our lives is eternal and we are all so thankful for that fact…..and for her.

 

We can smile through our tears and be thankful for all that she was…….and still is today.

 

 

The Legacy

We just went on a very special trip to visit my mother. Actually, it was a surprise for her 85th birthday. And was she ever shocked when she walked into that banquet room at the steak house and saw all of her five children there, as well as many grandchildren and great-grands! The look on her face was priceless; the tears, hers and ours, were genuine; and the love shared was a treasure. I’m so thankful that all of her children were there for her and that we got to rally around her at this very important time. You see, it wasn’t only her birthday. She has also just moved into an assisted living center and so we were able to visit her beautiful new home, help her with a little of the settling-in process, and get a close-up look at her lovely surroundings and amazing staff.

One other thing we kids did while we were there was to meet at the home she just vacated. This home isn’t the place where she and Dad raised us five children. They sold our family home in 1996 in order to downsize and make their lives simpler as they aged. Through Dad’s two cancers, and two more moves, they continued to downsize a little more with each change. Now as I walked into the garage where many of her smaller items were sitting in boxes or on shelves, perched on chairs, or leaning against the walls, I was determined to approach this as objectively as possible. Even in the kitchen and the living room I was able to remain composed. However, when I walked into the bedroom and began to help take clothes out of her closet, I was overcome with emotion. This was the last home that she and Dad had shared together. This was where I had spent the last month of his life as I helped Mom care for him. Memories of that month, especially, washed over me. Mom is now living in a place that Dad never got to share with her. The change in her life is striking, and the end of one chapter is really the beginning of the last chapter of her life.

It would be easy to look at the “stuff” in the garage and scattered throughout the house and think, “Is this all there is now?” As we children divide the casserole dishes and Tupperware that she’ll never use again, or discuss what will become of the larger items later on, is there something of more value to my parent’s lives than just “stuff?” Eventually, Mom will perhaps have to downsize even further if she moves into the nursing care section. Bit by bit, her life is being sifted of all earthly belongings. Eventually, she’ll be left with absolutely nothing. On the day that her body ceases to live and her soul is in heaven, she will not take even one little spoon or one little memento with her. And what will matter on that day?

What will matter the most is that my mother knows Jesus Christ as her Savior. She has the confidence, as do her family, that she will join Jesus and my Dad in heaven. And we, her children, have the legacy of a godly heritage left to us by parents who dearly loved the Lord and dearly loved their family. While earthly items are divided, our godly heritage is safe in each of our hearts and homes. Now this heritage, this legacy, is being multiplied as we have tried to raise our children to know and love the Lord. There is no earthly value that could ever be placed on such a spiritual treasure! No executor of an estate ever oversaw a will that held anything more important than this God-honoring example that our parents have left to us. This legacy isn’t an item that will be put on a shelf in our homes to later be divided among our children, but is carried in our hearts and hopefully lived by our example and passed to our children each day of our lives. Thank you, Mom and Dad. You have left us rich indeed.