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Posts Tagged ‘Dementia’

Sometimes we ask, “How does this end?”

But does it really ever end? Or are endings really new beginnings?

Here are some of my favorite “endings” that actually opened the most amazing doors to new beginnings:

The first evening of my mother’s “running away” from dementia, that helped her feel both at home and free from home, all at once.
Soiled toes after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. We thought our beaches would never be the same, but God was gracious to restore in due time, as He always does.
What sea stars do when they free themselves from their captors out of children’s beach pails and escape back to the sea, alive and free again!
The end of a rum runner schooner from 2 centuries ago…nobody has the $ to rescue it, so it just keeps eroding on a remote beach, a treasure to the few who frequent the far reaches of the peninsula, a legend to those from afar…

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The end of a virtual fantasy and the beginning of an indestructible, eternal bff-ship.
The end of life as we knew it pre-Katrina…once the grief passed, the rebuilding was mostly emotional, projected onto the current landscape should you visit NOL.
The end of David’s life, 6 weeks in a coma and no hope…but the doctors had us sign papers to authorize unorthodox treatments and I stood glued to the wall praying as they applied said treatments in the form of laughing gas and yelling at him to hang in there and stay with us….and he did, and turned 19 last month.
Hurricane Ivan’s destruction, 2004, year before Katrina – rocking my baby in my lap singing hymns as our ears popped when the winds hit 130 and we could no longer hear trees falling around us, but had to trust totally in the Lord..our kids remember that night and our faith and serve God with gratitude to this day.
The ending of a century-old era, my Cubbies losing. Oh, ye of little faith! God delivers if You sit tight and see what He has in store!
Elizabeth died some days after this 93rd birthday…but her death was the beginning of a new legacy of strength, courage and untold creativity….Just open your heart to what lies ahead.
Death of hips – yeah, finished the marathon in David’s honor, but was sidelined early in life with titanium and polyurethane shortly thereafter….pace thyself!

The end of anonymity – red flag hair day unexpectedly revealed last Sunday. God reigns in all things!

Thank You, God, for endings, which usher in brand new opportunities and beginnings. You are the Omega and the Alpha, and everything in between. You’ve got this! May we all embrace endings as we would beginnings….both bring new life and growth.

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Depth is critical. Without it, life is two-dimensional and only has length and height.

3D, however, is by far richer because it adds depth. And depth adds dimension, perspective and soothes the mind, heart and soul because it helps bring things to life, and life into focus.

Similarly, in photography, depth of field allows us to discern distance between what is in focus while keeping an eye on what lies beyond.

Note that neither concept embraces looking back.

Ironically, last week before this post came out, I had captured a shot down by the bay that I’d sent to my blogging buddy, Mr. 3D, for his feedback, since he has a really good eye for photography, creativity and all things beachy keen.

My mother’s favorite flower was the camellia, a flower she paid handsomely for to enjoy in her native Chicago, but which grows abundantly here where she chose to live out her last years with me. So I always think of her in the winter when the camellias bloom so beautifully like this.

Some of you may be aware that I laid my mother to rest, summer before last.

Or so I thought!

In an odd and truly unusual religious turnaround, the priest sought me privately after church last week and made a very unexpected confession. “Er, I believe we found what appears to be more of your mother’s ashes, back in the sacristy. What would you like us to do?”

You see, the priest had been hit by a drunk driver the week before mother died (fortunately he was alright after a few weeks of recovery), so the interim priest did the funeral and interred her ashes in the church memorial garden.

I know mother was buried because I and my family was there in vivo to participate in the solemn event. We wept. We joined hands. We sang hymns and prayed. The children scooped grandmother into the earth. Rites were performed.

We said goodbye. Forever.

There was apparently some miscommunication about a second box that turned up long after what the rest of us thought was the actual second box, had been dispersed to the places her ashes were scattered over water. Somehow, the funeral home had created three boxes and delivered them to the church and with the main priest out of commission, nobody knew about Box 3.

Until this week. They’ve been doing a head-to-toe cleaning of the church as they prepare for the regional Diocesan Convention to descend upon our church later this week.

Mother was a photographer and she also had a great sense of humor, so I’m sure she was LHAO from all points beyond, when we learned she had actually been haunting the church for the past 18 months.

So when the priest asked me what I wanted him to do, for a split second, mother’s funny story about what to do with her ashes (pre-death) danced across my mind.

At some point in her 80s (she died at 93), some funeral home solicitor kept calling her every week trying to get her to buy a funeral plan. They were, as pesky solicitors are, relentless.

So one day mother, anticipating their call, decided to rig up a sure-fire way to get them to stop calling. Sure enough, the phone rang that day and she answered with a wry smirk on her face and when they asked yet again she’d decided yet to buy a plan with them, she said without skipping a beat,

“Yes, I’ve finally decided what plan I want. I want to be cremated and for my ashes to be divided into four. Each one of my children will get a portion of my ashes to keep in the trunks of their cars. That way, should they ever get stuck in the snow somewhere, I can still be of help to my children.”

The hapless funeral solicitor never called back. And I decided against suggesting this to the priest, although I might save the story for him for a lighter time in the future.

So yesterday, mother was officially laid to rest with the rest of her ashes, in the church garden where we thought we’d been going to visit (all of) her all along.

The garden happened to have many different-colored camellia bushes behind the memorial section, so I picked one for mother this morning and located her plot, which was newly disturbed with broken grass and unearthed dirt.

Rest finally in peace, Elizabeth Anne – and may you take some awesome photos in Heaven!

Thank You, God, for the gifts You have given me through my mother – love never ending, a happy spirit, an abundance of laughter, a zeal for learning, an eye for Your creation, a passion for seeking You…and for 3D and depth of all fields.

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A different take on “new” for this week’s Photo Challenge:

When you have dementia or Alzheimer’s, what’s old is brand new. Every day is a new day, every experience is brand new.

Most of us are inclined to feel pity or sadness for people who live out their last days with such a diagnosis, but really, you’d have to see the brand new joy it to believe it…

My mother with dementia became utterly enamored with the wind-up cymbal-clashing chimp she “gave” her six-year-old grandson this Christmas – the very gift she gave to me when I was three.

She had forgotten what joy such a toy brought, and when he opened it, she latched on to it, began to talk to it and babied it, wound it up multiple times and clapped with delight!

what's old is new

(take note of the fruitcake she was enjoying at the time, a gift her brother sent her…he sent the rest of us “mixed nuts.” We tried unsuccessfully not to laugh at the subliminal parallels…)

Meanwhile, our fourteen year old son with Down syndrome had talked for over a month about wanting nothing but a baby for Christmas. At first we thought he was bluffing or we were misunderstanding his convoluted speech, which is still at an infantile level.

We thought he was over the “baby” phase years ago. But he wasn’t kidding (here, his six-year-old brother helped him unwrap his gift):

joy

Again, what we thought was old or not age-appropriate, was brand new all over again – and brought new joys that we, in our worldly “wisdom,” never would have anticipated.

David was thrilled – and takes her everywhere he goes, is mindful to feed her when he eats, takes her to the potty when he goes, dresses her when he dresses, tucks her in when he is tucked in, and holds her hand together to pray when we pray. He makes for a very attentive daddy, despite his disabilities…

love

The lessons I learned from these who we might label as weak or incapable, were much larger than any lesson I myself could have taught.

The lessons being that

1.) It’s not up to us to judge what’s appropriate;

2.) You never know how something will affect or transform or touch another person; and

3.) What we consider old or outdated just may be the spark that someone else needs to embark on a brand new journey of joy.

Hey, God – thank You for an unimaginable 2014 and for the wonder that 2015 brings. Thank You for the blessings you brought, and for the unknown surprises You will bring us this year.

God, help us to have the courage to embrace things that are new – things that we didn’t see coming, things that may not match up to our idea of what’s right or appropriate or acceptable – help us to see that You operate out of the box more than any of us ever could.

Help us to be tolerant of new horizons, to be flexible and to face all things NEW without judgment, without fear and with curiosity and reverence, knowing that You just might be behind those things You have in store for us – that they are all part of the journey that hopefully brings us closer to You.

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For all new followers, a warm, sunny welcome. And for my tried-and-trues, a big thank you – without your support and encouragement, this blog would not be turning 2 years old today.

A recent post by our WordPress gurus reminded me that I had gotten too absorbed in catering to what people like instead of why I started the blog in the first place, doing what others expected instead of doing what I might otherwise do best. (Thank you, WordPress, for nudging me back to my blogging roots!)

I noticed readers REALLY like photographs. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words around here, at least for this fledgling blogger. Posts I thought were some of my best work, stats showed otherwise. And things I thought nothing of, garnered the most “likes.” (If you get to the bottom of this one without scrolling fast, I double-dog-dare ya to “like” it.)

In thinking about it, though, I realize that pictures are recognized and appreciated across cultural borders, and, based on some of my new friends from various countries, I can appreciate this. Don’t worry, the photos will still be coming.

I’ve been vaguely aware recently that the subtitle to my blog has always been, “little ponderings with the Big Guy,” yet many of my posts recently have excluded Him. And excluded my ponderings. Not because I quit pondering, but because I got caught up in what I thought YOU wanted. I got sucked up into the world of not talking about God and of posting more pictures. That’s what it seemed people wanted…my posts about faith or spirituality or my walk seemed to give people the willies.

Like a polite group of Southern ladies who quietly stop inviting someone to their gatherings because of some unspoken social gaffe, it was made clear to me that my ponderings about God were not as popular in the blogosphere as were my more worldly wanderings. This came as little surprise to me, since one frequently teeters on thin ice with religion or politics.

So for any who are reading now who are offended by Jesus, go ahead and click off right here, if you haven’t already. Or scroll down to the profound picture below, then click off – that is certainly okay, I understand and appreciate your visiting anyhoo, and I don’t ask that you share my views. Take what you wish, leave what you will – it’s all good.

Some posts ago I described my mother’s decline into dementia as reflected in some spontaneous freestyle painting. It has been just over a year since she tried to run away from her illness by literally running away from her Chicago home of 88 years and coming here to the sea.

Now, a year later, she has come to the realization that she can run, but she can’t hide. Time and her illness march on, and with each week a new limitation seems to be imposed on this fiercely independent woman who lived through the Great Depression, World War II and forty years of wearing an apron.

She later burned both apron and bra and returned to college to finish her degree, going on to do great things outside the home. A timeless Rosie the Riveter, of sorts. She only just retired a few years ago, shortly after she was chosen to display 50 of her best photos in a prominent municipal venue in a major U.S. city. Which she did with zeal and the energy of a 25-year-old. (I’m not into zodiac stuff, but she embodied her Taurus birthday in everything she did with the utmost of bull-headed resolve).

Today, she can’t even operate the children’s camera we got her for Christmas that only has two buttons.

For most her life, Mother shook her fist at religion, although she had her own ideas about God. She stood by her beliefs and scorned those of us who believed in Him. Less than a year ago she stated out loud that she hoped she’d go to Hell before she’d have to suffer the latter stages of dementia. I figured she’d either be a deathbed conversion or that her wishes would sadly be realized.

So last week while decluttering Mother’s room, I came upon this image she had doodled on a random piece of cardboard:

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To me, it appeared to be a self-portrait: all her knowledge tumbling out of her faster than she can control. Desperately trying to scoop up and keep the knowledge… to no avail.

One eye signifying only being able to see half of what she used to (she has a cataract she opted, at the doctor’s recommendation, not to have surgery to correct). One ear, only able to hear half of what she knows is going on (she has significant hearing loss in one ear, and can’t wear a hearing aid because she would surely misplace it).

Half a mouth, only able to speak partial sentences, because nouns, pronouns and adjectives have turned into whatchamajiggers, whoozits and “damn it, you know what I mean!”

To such a bright, creative, independent woman, dementia surely is the ultimate insult.

When I went to see her yesterday, she was nervously flitting around the entryway at her assisted living facility, looking completely bewildered. I could see she was not having a good day. When she saw me, she urgently approached me and said she didn’t know I was coming .

She said she was at a crossroads; twice that yesterday morning she had to be reminded that she had already eaten breakfast, but her nerves and mind kept her worrying that she had missed breakfast – over and over.

Her frantic eyes searched mine as she described what awareness she had left, being aware that she is more unaware than aware. (Reread that sentence if you must!)

She knew that she was slipping faster, and it terrified her. She described being lonely and scared. She clutched a magazine someone had left with her back in January, a copy of LifeWay’s Mature Living which had an article about Alzheimer’s, it’s inevitable course, and how one needn’t be lonely when the Lord is in their life.

Even though she had no interest in changing her notions about God all along, she had been trying to socialize more to keep what mind she has left – going to all the activities, even the Bible studies and more recently, to church at times, but she justified it by maintaining it wasn’t for religious purposes, only to keep her mind sharp. Or to see her grandson play in the church orchestra. Or to flirt with the cute man who moved into the facility recently. Any reason BUT God.

But not today.

Today, all my wanderings away from daily prayer, Bible reading and bloggy ponderings didn’t seem to matter. He called me up when I wasn’t looking, after all these years of wondering what use I am since I’ve never led another soul to Him, never done anything spiritually outstanding, never felt I measured up when it came to All Things Religious. I am just another sinner getting caught up in the throes of the world, flowing toward Him in convenience or crisis, ebbing from Him when the flesh lured me astray.

I never dared suggest to Mother that she reconsider her views about God or life or death – you just don’t do that without incurring her wrath. But yesterday she came to me and asked…despite my recent wanderings instead of ponderings.

She asked where I found my peace. She asked for assurance that she wouldn’t have to face the quickly-approaching end stages alone, when she will someday no longer be able to recognize me or anyone else. She asked me to share what I knew about her Bible-believing parents, against whom she spent a lifetime rebelling. She asked me how I found Him.

After nearly 90 years of hardened disbelief, she asked me to share Jesus.

So I did.

I told her how after years of studying different religions, I finally asked God why there were so many and which one was THE truth; He then introduced me to Jesus Christ, in no uncertain terms.

After over an hour of talking, prayer, weeping, laughing and showing her things in the Bible my brother had sent her, she accepted Christ as her Savior.

I never knew she would do that. I never knew He would call me to do that. I never knew He was saving my first experience in doing so for THE most hard-headed, free-wheeling woman most people who know her would never have guessed she’d ever do.

She was astonished to hear so many people had been praying for her for so, so long, and she took comfort in knowing that God calls us to do these things in quiet privacy, without pressure, without fanfare.

She said for the first time she felt “full,” “complete,” “relieved,” “at peace.” She described how so many things suddenly made sense, as though nothing was a mistake: it was all so very purposeful all along (indeed!), and this excited her.

This reawakened me, as well, so I suppose I should find it no surprise that it coincided with the blog’s birthday – a time of celebration, rejoicing and marking time – His time. A time of thanks – to those who have supported my blogging, to those who have been in the forefront and in the wings, to those who made my mother’s salvation possible. And to those who “get” me and my ponderings, as well as they “get” me and my wanderings. Possibly the best birthday present? You got it!

Never give up dreaming, hoping, seeking, pursuing. Yes, don’t go away!

Just when you think you aren’t looking, He shows you even greater things, like a magnificent sunset distracting us from all our fears.

Thank you SO much – happy, happy birthday – and hugs from the beach ~~

~~ssm

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Most y’all know I’m surrounded by various and sundry bodies of water, so the challenge of finding a unique reflection to share was even more of a challenge. Rather than evoke a widespread, involuntary yawning response by posting another water-related picture, I found a different sort of reflection I wanted to share with you.

This photo is a reflection of my eighty-eight year old mother, who was diagnosed last year with mixed dementia. She conked her coconut on the money-machine of a CTA bus in Chicago a couple of years ago, after an errant pedestrian darted in front of the bus and the bus driver stopped suddenly, propelling my about-to-deboard-mother, forward toward the front of the bus.

She remembers the riders going, “Ooooooooh,” as she hit. Then, as if once wasn’t enough, the bus lurched a second time, launching my mother yet again into the Tower of Tokens, prompting a twice-as-loud “”Ohnoooooo!!” from the passenger peanut gallery.

The tearful driver, seeing his job flash before his eyes, apologized like all get-out, but my stubbornly independent mother insisted she was fine and got off the bus and valiantly crossed six lanes of traffic and two loading lanes to get to her uppity condo down the street from where Oprah lives.

Two hours later she sat at home afraid to get up as something slowly passed through her forehead, like a clot, afraid she’d kill herself if she moved, realizing something was terribly wrong. The clot passed, but minutes melded into hours and hours to days, and before long, her prefrontal cortex defied her, and suddenly it wasn’t so funny anymore when Grandma couldn’t find her glasses when they were right there atop her head.

The “mixed” part of the diagnosis undoubtedly comes from the fact that she was a writer, and had to write everything – compulsively. Writers beware, if you do NOT get it out, it will overtake your brain – you MUST write! Else it clogs your neural arteries, mark my word. And hers. She put a lot of stuff out there, published and unpublished, but if the every-square-inch-covered envelopes and scratch papers I’m having to sort through in her storage are any testimony, please, friends, just WRITE! Put it out there! Don’t let it take over your brain.

Mom began to lose track of bills, the credit card fell out of the purse God-knows-where, medication became a blur whether or not it was taken and ultimately she began to wither because it simply became too much trouble to get to the store to buy groceries – in typical Scarlett O’Hara fashion, even meals became something “I’ll worry about tomorrow…”

As the illness began to suffocate her sense of independence, she ran away from her diagnosis and decided to settle here with the rest of the elderly snowbirds who frequent this climate, if for no other reason than to buy herself a fraction of time before various authorities were about to declare her officially incompetent.

Her plan worked, she still signs her own checks, and even though she needs a tad of assistance discerning whether she’s coming or going on any given day, she still knows that a day with her toes in the sand sipping a cool iced tea in a 76 degree December day is better than any rat race she was running from in the icy city from which she fled.

She is also learning to appreciate SEC winners in collegiate football (ahem!), Jimmy Buffetisms and my personal favorite, How To Drive With The Windows Down and the Music Very Up.

A practitioner and believer in art therapy, I set about one day recently by trying to connect with her through paintbrush and canvas. We did an exercise in collaborative creation – she made a stroke, I made a stroke, turn-taking until we both felt it was finished. The rule is, the paintbrush can only touch the canvas once, be it swoop, sweep or dot, then it’s the other person’s turn. When finished, each stands back, admires, and offers their interpretation. This was what the canvas reflected of her mind:

Reflections of Dementia

I asked her to go first in the interpretation. I was unable to follow her with my own, speechless, I was.

I had splotched the grassy patch at the left because I love green, and when I see green, I can’t resist orange or pink, and I didn’t have orange on the palette, so I mixed red and white to get pink and dabbed when it was my turn. I still can’t say what I was thinking; her interpretation overshadowed any cause for pause on my part.

She said, “I screwed up the circle at the top and the more I blobbed, the worse it got and the more it began to look like an eye. And the more it began to look like an eye, I realized I had painted my face…but I only have half a face left because the dementia has robbed me of the rest. I only have half my head left. The rest is slipping, flying, dragging me into the grave, the green grassy spot below. And you planted flowers…”

We wept and hugged.

Some of my best memories of my mother, as she slowly departs in the cruelest of ways, have been captured in the reflections of her departure.

God, thank You for making us rich in the face of cognitive poverty. Truly, You elevate the lowest, strengthen the weakest and bring new life to the dying. Thank You for reflecting Yourself in our trials.

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