Friday, February 1, 2013

Lessons Learned...A Baker's Dozen

So…a year ago today…mom fell and broke both legs--right femur, left ankle. It happened here, at our home.
We were getting ready to move her into a lovely assisted-living apartment. We had the furniture all in place, pictures and curtains hung, clothes put away.
She had spent the night at our house because I was taking her to the doctor that morning to see if a change in medications would help her not sleep so much. I had woken her up (from the downstairs study we had converted into her “bedroom”) and helped her get to the powder room to get dressed.
When I left her to go back to go get her clothes, she was standing at the sink. Next thing I know, I heard this THUD…and my heart sank.
I sprinted back to the powder room, only to discover that the way she had fallen had caused her to block the door. So, I just had to keep pushing until my weight against the door caused her body to move enough for me to squeeze through.
As soon as I saw her, I knew her ankle was broken…badly…And, she was extremely addled; so, I just assumed she had suffered another stroke. (But they didn’t find a sign of one.)
After unsuccessfully trying a few times to get her up off the floor, I told her we HAD to call an ambulance. Let’s just say she did NOT want that.
But…within a few minutes, they arrived. Thank God for compassionate, capable EMTS and ambulance drivers--they were WONDERFUL! Before that day, I had never stopped to think about the fact that they typically see people at their absolute worst--injured, hurting, frightened, incoherent, soiled--and they (at least the ones who helped us) respond with compassion, respect, professionalism and humor.
Well, the next few days were a roller-coaster ride for everyone. During many of those hours, we thought mom’s suffering might be ending. In her semi-conscious state (from the drugs, trauma, etc.), she held entire conversations with daddy, Mimi and other of “loves” who have made it Home. The sweetest one was between her and daddy--overheard by my brother--when she said, “Honey, let’s go over there and sit under that shade tree and rest awhile.
But…she recovered from the fall and the fractures. Unfortunately, there is no “recovery” from Alzheimer’s.
However…for the most part…she is happy…content. (One blessing of mom’s Alzheimer’s is she has forgotten all the people and things that have caused her so much pain, frustration and sadness over these past few decades.) There's a lesson in that for me--about the happiness and contentment that forgiving and forgetting can bring. 
This is a picture of mom and my brother, Kevin, 
taken at the recent Christmas Eve service. 

Earlier this week, I shared this upcoming “anniversary” with a dear friend. She asked me, “What have you learned?”

And…that got me thinking, “What HAVE I learned?” I’m sure when I think about it a bit longer, I’ll come up with a longer list. But, for now…shooting from the hip…here are the lessons I’ve learned:

1. You need to get prepared. And…you really should have done it YESTERDAY.
If you’re the care-giving “child” of a parent or other family member, you NEED to at least talk about a plan for WHEN is the time to get Power of Attorney. (And, from the day you have Power of Attorney, carry that form with you EVERYWHERE you go, and make extra copies of it for faxing to insurance companies, etc., because they WILL lose that form the first two or three times you fax it.)
Also, you NEED to make sure you’re listed on EVERY SINGLE HIPPA form at each and every one of their doctors, and each and every time they are admitted to the hospital.
And, you NEED to figure out a way to get your head around their financial situation--bank accounts, health insurance, life insurance, etc. Accomplishing the above isn’t comfortable or easy, and there's typically never a good time. But, the health crises of aging generally don’t just slowly creep up on you. They’re more like, “BAM!!! Here we are! What the heck are you gonna do now?”
So…if they are resistant…try to enlist the help of a good friend or family member whom they trust to go with you to have this conversation.

2. NOTHING about Alzheimer’s is logical; let go of ANY expectations.
Expecting a logical response to a logical question is pointless and fruitless (except it WILL drive you BANANAS). No matter how many times or how loudly you say the word, “Remember,” they are NOT going to remember. Spit that word out of your vocabulary, and throw it in the trash.

You have to realize that you WILL repeat yourself several dozen times during a 30-minute period of time. If you know this going in…it will help you keep that frustration "button" turned off.

3. Get to know the facility’s Social Worker and Business Office employees. All these new, confusing forms you’re trying to fill and obstacles you’re trying to navigate …well, these people have been doing it 5 days a week, 8 hours a day for years. They are EXPERTS! Go to them FIRST; they will save your sanity! Then, bake them cookies!

3. You MUST show yourself (and others) lots of forgiveness.
The drive to see mom is almost a 30-minute drive from my house; so, sometimes--with a family and a job to juggle--even on the days when I had planned to go visit--it just doesn’t happen. And, I’ve learned it doesn’t do anyone any good for me to beat myself up about a missed visit.

4. There's this "#5"...that has something to do with "honoring."
This is NOT an easy disease to watch. There are days when it is so tempting to just not go. After all, less than 5 minutes after I leave, she’s going to have NO memory of me being there. But, how can I claim to be a Jesus follower if, at the same time, I’m “copping out” on her? Especially when honoring her made #5 of the Top 10 Commandments...I call this the spiritual discipline of “Doing The Next Right Thing.” (Personally, I think it needs to be up there with prayer, Bible reading, fasting, etc.) John Mayer is right, “Love is a verb.”

5. (Another #5.) LAUGH!
I cannot stress the importance of giving yourself permission to laugh. As my life-long friend (who shall remain anonymous) advised me, “You should look for something to laugh at it in every nook and granny.” Trust me…we aren’t mean-spirited with our laughter…and, quite often, she laughs with us. But, be intentional about doing so-- every day there is something about this disease that could make me cry if I let it. Laughter is one of my ways of not letting this monster win! It is taking enough--I will not allow it to take our humor!

6. When life takes you to your knees, stay there.
This year has helped sweep away any idea of quick, clean, neatly-tied-up answers to prayer. One day as I was praying, it finally hit me, “He knows exactly the sadness and anxiety I’m feeling--I might as well tell him about it myself.” And, I’ve learned He can handle it. Often these days, I engage my imagination during my prayers (Hey…if it’s good enough for C.S. Lewis it’s good enough for me) I imagine that I’m leaning my head against my Abba’s knee; it’s truly amazing how much more “real” that helps me be.
Throughout this year, I often remember words from my very wise father-in-law,
Prayer doesn’t always change things, but prayer always changes us.”

7. Remind yourself often WHO God is.
In His Sovereignty, He has allowed this thing to happen--not caused it or willed it, but allowed it. After all, we live in a fallen world. But, He IS Sovereign. He is Love. He is Faithful. He does care. He IS With us. And, one day, He WILL make everything whole, right, just. In the meantime, He gives us grace and strength for the next step and has promised to transform everything that happens to us into “good” IF we keep trusting Him.

8. Take care of yourself.
When we’re stressed, sad, depressed, it’s so easy to make unhealthy choices…right when our bodies and minds need us to be at our healthiest. So, drink more water; walk; take a multivitamin; get more protein; limit carbs and bad fats; and BREATHE…deeply and often.

9. Give yourself permission to say NO.
No one can do that for you. If your NO makes someone mad or hurts their feelings… well…to repeat some words that came out of my mouth several years ago (and which I and others have now used COUNTLESS times, “They need help that you cannot give.”)

10. It’s OK to CRY.
I find myself crying at the oddest things. I almost always cry a little on my way home from visits with mom, especially if she’s been sad or anxious. And WHEN will I learn to take tissues to church?
Recently, some words found me that painted such a beautiful, spot-on painful picture of this disease that I wept for a long time after I closed the magazine. Well, here, I’ll let you read them too:
“….So today my father is with us, but only in a half-life stage….I can hold his hand and tie his shoes, button his shirt and take him for a walk, but the essence of him, my real father, no longer resides (there). Each time I see him, it takes me a moment to re-register his condition. This present reality requires a painful recalibration of my heart, and I approach him with shifting sensations of (love), devotion, horror and profound sadness.” (Lee Woodruff)

(See #5.)

12. Live Fully…Right Now.
It’s probably no coincidence that, during this past year, I’ve been more intentional about learning to “celebrate” the simple. My mama is both a reminder and a mirror. So, I’ve begun actually doing some things I’ve always said “one day” about--like playing piano again…and, heck, I even auditioned to be a back-up singer in a band!
Again, Lee Woodruff’s words say it so beautifully, “(I’m already) teaching myself to slow down….I stop at the top of a hike to savor the view. I pay closer attention when my children have something to tell me. The gift of fully understanding that you will die is to come to terms with how you want to live.

13. Do NOT look too far down the road. 
Shortly after mom was admitted to Shannondale, I looked WAY TOO FAR DOWN THE ROAD, and it took me to a pretty dark place. Jesus promises us grace and mercy and strength for this day--not for the imaginary "what-ifs" six months from now. 

So...these are some lessons I've learned this past year. Trust me, I'm sure there will be days when I'll forget them. That's one reason I decided to write them down. You see, I've come to believe it's not that we QUIT believing so much as it is that we forget what it is we believe. So...this list is my reminder...for the days when I forget. So I can tell myself, "Remember...."
"Remember, therefore, 
what you have received and heard;
hold it fast...."
(Revelation 3:3)


  1. Lessons we can all take to heart! Thank you for your wise and beautiful words of wisdom! Love you!

  2. Karen your Mom is a beautiful person. If we could all learn something from this is that love remains. A mother's love has no boundaries and she has loved much and she has loved often. Thank you for your words of wisdom.