Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Unsigned List

When someone lives in skilled nursing care, you must sign them out when you take them outside or off the premises.  I was heart broken when I signed my mother out for the 3rd time in three weeks and no one else had been signed out on the chart. 

Recently, I took her out for a stroll.  We sat by the pond and enjoyed the water fountain, the turtles who popped their heads up once in a while and the frog who plopped himself near us, just to entertain, it seemed.

I have this growing compassion in my heart for the elderly and some days my tears are not just for my mother. It’s for many who sit there day after day just watching time move on.  Because my mother is in that stage of life right now I see a lot of things when I visit her.  But to see an empty, unsigned list of residents who don't get to go out and enjoy the sunshine with their family grieves me in the depths of my soul.  Just going for a root beer float or a pecan roll and hot chocolate at Panera Bread does a person a lot of good.  I realize there are probably many factors that contribute to the unsigned list, but I hope it's not because people aren't visiting their loved ones.

Years ago when I had to move my mother from her cottage to an inside apartment, a grounds keeper came by and shared his observations with me.  He has witnessed a lot since he's worked there many years. "Families only tend to come around when the older person is moving, as if to take what they want and leave", he said.  I've never forgotten that conversation.

If you have a loved one in a facility somewhere, please do all you can to visit them and give them some sort of experience that keeps them in touch with the outside world.  A phone call, a card or a letter can do so much good if you don’t live close. In fact, in these days of technology, a hand written letter is really special.

Even now as I'm writing this, I realize that I need to do better with my father-in-law. He lives in Michigan and we rarely go see him, but I can at least write him letters.  In fact, I just sent him a card last week because of writing this blog.  I get so wrapped up in caring for my mother that I forget he needs to hear from us too.  Fortunately, my husband calls him weekly.

We all have very busy lives, but don't forget your loved one who sits day after day waiting for someone to be a friend and keep them connected to the outside world.  Don't let the list go unsigned too long.  bv

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Apple Juice

She lifted the glass of apple juice with her shaky, skeleton-like fingers, barely able to hold the glass and said "thank you, Lord, for this apple juice".   I choked back the tears.  My heart whispered in agreement.  It's the small things these days that my mother needs on this wilderness path of aging.

She doesn't have much of an appetite lately, but my hopes were raised for a short moment when she suggested a menu that she might enjoy. We were going to have steak on the grill, baked mac and cheese (like she would have made it) and fresh corn on the cob.  But in the end, even with my offer to make a home-cooked meal, she was too tired to stay at my house and eat.  So I took her back and tucked her into bed.

Today when I visited her over the lunch hour, she mentioned that once again she was not hungry.  I suddenly remembered that she loves apple juice.  In her old room they had learned that about her and would give her apple juice at every meal.  She doesn't remember to ask anymore and I forgot this small detail in the process of all the changes that nursing care brings.  I'm trying to find things that appeal to her and it's not easy.  I was glad to remember this and bring it to their attention.

I told the nurse that she would like to have it at every meal. I didn't expect that they'd get the message in time for lunch but when her tray arrived with apple juice on it, I was so grateful.

Apparently she was too and for one moment, all was peaceful as she sipped her apple juice.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Mother's Prayers

My mother used to tell me that for years she prayed for a piano player.  God apparently answered her prayer because I play the piano and I LOVE to do it!

There's another prayer she used to pray often.  She would ask God to heal my feet.  I have absolutely no arches and two large-sized bunions.  It's not the foot of a model, that's for sure!

I had a flashback to childhood when I was at my first appointment with the physical therapist a few weeks ago.  He looked at my feet and I could tell he was a bit taken back.  When he saw the big calluses I have on the bottom of my feet, he asked if I ever rub them.  That's when I remembered the days when I was a little girl and my mother would offer to rub my feet.  She would use 'bag balm' that she swears by (if she were a swearing woman, which she's not) into my feet and pray that God would heal them.

So here I sit in the physical therapist's office needing healing in my foot.  Apparently my foot structure did not tolerate the ice skating venture.  There has been no specific injury, but a gradual intolerance of all that I was asking of my foot, based on my poor structure.  The orthopedic doctor said he doubted I'd ever be able to skate because of it, but the physical therapist believes they can construct a support system for my ice skate that will allow me to skate in the future. I choose to believe the P. therapist.

It's been a terribly long journey of healing and it's not over yet, but this morning I was told that I can take a 15 minute medium-paced walk and see how it goes.  From there I can begin to increase the amount of time, though not the speed.  I have renewed hope.

I'm sure I will have a much stronger ankle and overall body when I go back to skating because I am faithfully doing all the exercises they are giving me and doing them on both feet so that both ankles will be strong.

I'm so glad God answered my mother's prayer for a piano player and that He chose me as the recipient of that gift.  I use it with joy.   I wish that God would answer her prayer for my feet and that I would have arches and no bunions.  He hasn't answered that one....yet. But I'm learning a lot about developing my feet in preparation for going back to skating and it will pay off in the end.

There is one big prayer that my mother prays regularly and I have joined her in the prayer.  She wants to go home to heaven.  I want her to be able to go, since that's what she prefers.  She's tired.  She's lived a long, full life.  She's lost two sons and two husbands and she's a tad weary of life here on earth.

I don't understand why God doesn't answer this prayer of hers, but I think somehow in the long, drawn out process of aging, there is some therapy that is strengthening her, and I, until the day He does answer that prayer.  She and I would prefer the 'quick fix' but that's apparently not the road we will be granted.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Do You Know Where We Are?

We were only a minute from my mother's little box of a room when she asked me this question.  She had put her root beer float down on the floor of the van because she was full.  She thought the idea of a root beer float was a great invention.  I guess it's the dementia that keeps her from knowing they were her specialty not too long ago.

When she suddenly said to me, "do you know where we are?" I had two answers. One was in my head.

1)  Yes.  We are on Scotland Avenue, in Chambersburg, PA, near your room.

It's the room we are trying to embrace as your new home.  We've driven this way a million times.  But it feels foreign right now.  I asked her the same question in return.  "Yes", she replied with confidence.

The other answer was in my heart.

2) No.  I have no idea where we are, mother.

In fact, right now I feel very lost.  One minute you are your normal self and the next minute you say things that don't make sense. I used to laugh and sometimes still do, but mostly, I feel very sad.  Sunday you were shopping for birds.  When I asked the nurse just to be sure, she shook her head in slow motion.  "No - no one went shopping today".  She confirmed what I feared.  It wasn't true.

I know that I'm your daughter and that you still know who I am.

I know that I am struggling with what is the best thing for this stage of your life.  You wanted to move here to this retirement community and loved it up until the past year or so.  It's probably not the Home's fault. It's just that you like to do things that are impossible for you now.  Gardening, cooking, reading....things that are basically a personal retreat. You're not interested in card games, movies you don't understand and can't hear and services that just don't appeal to you.

Now my heart breaks when I leave you each time.  You sit in your chair like a lost child or a stray animal looking for a home. Worst part of it is, there are so many like you in this position.

I know that I feel completely helpless, but I'm doing all I can to find the right situation for you.  Today a contractor comes to look at our house and give us an estimate on building a room for you here.  I'm afraid of so many things.  Can I really properly care for you?  Will agencies that say they will help, really help us?

I'm looking into another facility 5 minutes from me, but they don't have a bed right now.  That would be handy and I could bring you home and fix you good meals and take you with me to church and let you be part of a faith community again.  I will also be checking out another facility that is not as close, but has many of your high school classmates there whom I know would shower you with love.

No mother,  I guess I would have to say I don't know where we are right now.  But we'll find our way on this road together.

Peace.  Much peace to you.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Not Just A Cup Of Tea

This morning there is steam rising from my cup and tears flowing down my face.  I can't seem to stop the bouts of tears these days once they've started.

For months I've tried to be strong while moving my mother to a new room, hobble on crutches and plan a Christmas show. I have had to forfeit exercise and motorcycling - both things I love and that help keep me sane.

Saturday the dam broke.  I found my mother with wet hair, sitting in her wheelchair wearing mismatched clothes and her shoes on the wrong feet.  I was horrified.  I took the necessary steps to notify whomever was in charge and let them know this was unacceptable.

You think a mama bear is nasty when her cubs are in danger......have you met a baby bear who's mama is in danger????  Just as scary, let me tell you, but this baby bear feels helpless to defend her mama.  Of course, those in charge were very apologetic but my heart took a severe blow that I am still recovering from.  It feels like Big Foot is stepping on my chest and I can't breathe.  I felt this way when my father died.  It's the familiar feeling of grief.

Tears poke a hole and let some air in so you can start to breathe again.  The tears just keep falling.

But this morning, on the other side of Saturday, things are looking more positive as I look into changing her care, whether it be bringing her home to live with me or moving her closer to a facility where I can get there in 5 minutes, bring her home for dinner and take her with me on jaunts...just to have some kind of normalcy again.

I am about ready to have a cup of hot tea.  The mint garden leaves are brewing now and their smell takes me back to the farm where we grew our own tea.  Mother would serve it in a yellow teapot that has a cracked lid, which none of us want to part with.

It's more than just tea.  A dear friend grew it in her garden and a few weeks ago I went to get some from her to grow in my own garden.  I took my mother along so she could get out and see a garden again.  That was one of her favorite things to do and she was good at it.  We all stood and talked about life and soil. My mother soaked it all in as she sat there with us.

When I drink this tea this morning, it will remind me of that morning with my friends, my mother and my home growing up.  The hot tea is like a warm blanket in my soul as I grasp the cup with my hands. My heart seems to need a lot of comfort these days as I walk through this aging process with my mother.

It's not just a cup of tea anymore.

My lips will sip and my heart will drink.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A New Edge - What If I Bring My Mother Home?

What if I would bring my mother home to live with us?  THAT would be a new edge.

I originally started out blogging this year with ice skating in mind.  That was my edge.  And it was life-changing for me, inside and out. But I encountered a setback with my ankle and so I turned to blogging about life on crutches.  An edge I would prefer not to experience.

I’m off crutches now but I’m still healing and tired of writing about crutches. You’re probably tired of reading about it too.  I can’t skate yet, so I won’t be writing about that either. Hopefully, I can return soon.  I'm now allowed to exercise from the knees up.  That should be interesting.

So thus begins my new line of thought. This will be a very crazy journey. But since there is a growing amount of readers, like you, who are participating in my journey, I have come to love sharing my thoughts in the blog. I love the feeling of this community.  You offer support and insight that is personally very valuable.

So back to my question:  What if I would bring my elderly mother home to live with us?  What if I could help usher her into her next phase of life, eternal life, with love and special care.

I have so many questions and thoughts churning in my heart and mind, as you can imagine.  I am sure this is a troubling question for many of us who have aging parents.  What is the right thing to do?  I suppose that I might make a decision that everyone won’t agree with either, but I’m taking that chance.

Someone recently came across an older blog post and sent me this message through an email. It was pretty timely because I haven’t heard from them for years and they have no idea what I have been contemplating. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I feel like I need to pursue this and see where God takes it.  So here’s what I’m doing…….
  • Talking with my husband, researching the possibility and gathering information. It always affects our family when we live on the edge. 
  • Contacting friends and family to see if anyone might be able to help me care for her.  
  • Meeting with the Office of Aging to find out what resources there are for this type of adventure.  I found out there is a whole program for this type of transition.
  • Meeting with Hospice.  
Thanks for joining me in this new phase. I’m actually excited about learning about this process and giving it much prayer and consideration.  Maybe it will help others who are facing this very situation in their own family.  I’m not sure how it will all end up and it will be hard either way, but I am enjoying thinking outside the box.

I close with the message I received in response to “Crutch, Crutch, Goose”.

“Dear Frances,

I was searching some things on the Net today and happened upon your site, and the blog, "Crutch, crutch, goose".  It touched me deeply.  My mother had a severe stroke at age 72, in 1998, which left her completely left side paralyzed and wheelchair bound.  It changed her life and our life forever.  This was very traumatic for our family since she was "our rock" and so independent.  We cared for her, at her home or in our home, until she went to be with her Lord in 2011.  I then continued to care for my 95 year old father until he went home in March of 2013.  I resigned my job of 16 years and slowed down our ministry to do what I felt I needed to do.  I absolutely have no regrets. 

During this process and the many years of caregiving, I wrote the following.  It has comforted me on many occasions, and I'm hoping it can be an encouragement and comfort to you also.  I hope you do not mind me sharing this, but I felt compelled to do so. 


Just as they once shielded us, we now begin to shield them. Their eyes become a little dimmer, their walk a little more unsteady, and their talk a bit softer. Slowly they begin to slip through our fingers. No matter what we do or how much we offer, each smile, each step, and each word takes more effort than before. 

Who are these people who take so much of our time and unknowingly tear our hearts in two? They are called mom and dad; mother and father; grandma and grandpap; nanna and pappap. They are the forgotten ones of our new technological generation. The ones who have somehow become acquainted with the daily aches and pains of every day living. The ones who have learned that a simple task is no longer simple, but a long, drawn out process for which they always need assistance. The mundane is now elaborate, and every morning brings challenges beyond their control.

But then again, for us as their next generation, each day somehow offers new possibilities in caring and serving. We learn patience and understanding, often seeing ourselves in their struggles. We learn that love is more than receiving from these individuals who have given every breath so we could take our first.

It is not our duty, but our privilege to care for them. It is our chance to act on servanthood, and offer unconditional love to them for one last time. It is our chance to return the favor. Remembering this, let’s offer one more day, one more hour, one more conversation or word, one more act of kindness. We just never know when that "one more" may be their final step to eternity.” - Darlene Scott, Heirborne Promise 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

When She Calls "Yoo Hoo"

My mother has a bird feeder hanging outside the window of her little room in the nursing center. It was empty when she moved in and I inquired as to how we go about getting it filled.  Since it's up to the family to keep it filled, I take bird seed with me every time I go.

When I first filled it, I would ask if the birds had come - with desperate eagerness every time I talked with her on the phone. They didn't come for days. I pleaded with God to please give her this small favor and send some birds. I knew they would brighten her day.

One day I visited her and sure enough a gold finch landed on the feeder and I about jumped through the roof with excitement. She did too, in an elderly woman kind of way.

When I go to see her, I usually fill the feeder first. She doesn't know I'm coming so it usually surprises her when she suddenly sees me appear right outside her window.

One day, recently, because of the glare on the window with the rising sun, I couldn't see well. I bent down and peeked in her room to see if she was in there.  I was about to give up when I heard something I haven't heard for years. Her familiar "yoo hoo". It starts up high for the "yoo" and goes down a few tones on the scale for the "hoo". Same way, every time. I smiled and waved.

A chill ran up my spine. The power of those two words, within a nanosecond, flung me back into childhood and a lifetime of being her daughter. I could see and hear glimpses of moments in time when I heard that familiar call.

...calling my father in from the fields

...calling up to me in my bedroom on the farm

...a call that sometimes irritated me like crazy

...a call that I have considered using when my own natural voice doesn't seem loud enough, but then wonder if I really have the gall to do what used to drive me nuts.

But today it was the most welcomed sound. A moment from the past, as if all was normal again.

I don't know when the Lord will call her home. She prays almost daily that it will be that day and usually asks me to pray with her that it will be soon and so I do. I know the Bible says that His sheep know His voice. I wonder if He will call "yoo hoo".

I'll probably have chills up my spine and tears down my face when He calls her.