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2017 Mother’s Day Tribute #2

8 May

I believe in love because of my mother. She taught me about love by how she loved (and still loves) all of her children and grandchildren, including the ones that weren’t her’s biologically. She taught me about love by the way she loved my father…her crush, boyfriend, husband, lover, best friend, soul mate, and confidante. She taught me about love through the way she loved her friends. She taught me about love through the way she loves people when it wasn’t easy or convenient to love them (including me!). She taught me to be passionate about love through the way she lives and loves. She taught me about love by how she loved and still loves God.  Thank you, Mom, for instilling in me the belief that love is a powerful choice that I should make all day…every day.

Safety in the arms of Mom

Safety in the arms of Mom

2017 Mother’s Day Tribute #1

7 May

I am who I am because of who my mother is. I am grateful for having a mother whose example makes me know that better is possible and makes me want to be my best self. 

We’ll See What the Lord Will Do

5 May

Whenever closing a conversation where the ultimate conclusion was yet to be determined, my mother was sure to say, “We’ll see what the Lord will do.” She said this so often that almost everyone who knows her ends up using this phrase from time to time. As we journey through the late stages of Alzheimer’s with Mom, I find myself saying it often.

I’m not sure how others move through this part of the journey but my family and I are fully leaning on God’s everlasting arms. We are doing our work and moving through these days knowing that ultimately, we will simply see what the Lord will do…and that’s the best and right thing.

Praying for all us on this journey…this winding road…this rollercoaster…this beast called Alzheimer’s.

You can make many plans, but the Lord's purpose will prevail

How Do You Keep The Music Playing…

4 Mar

I must ask you to stick with me on this one. It’s a bit of a winding road.

cropped-music-is-love

Music has always played a major role in my life and the life of my family. My memories of my childhood are full of music. Lately, I have been enjoying vivid memories of the songs my parents sang to me as lullabies. I am the youngest of 4 children. My older siblings were all involved in music. Someone was always learning a song, a solo, an audition piece, practicing for band rehearsal, choir rehearsal, ensemble rehearsal, piano lessons, or just jamming some 8-track, 45, LP, or tape. Mom was preparing music for Sunday morning worship. Dad was singing some hymn that was in his heart. I was just singing, singing, singing. I loved singing more than talking and that’s saying a lot because I LOVED to talk. I had a terrible stutter as a child. I had to attend speech therapy sessions in elementary school. I had to learn to slow my mind down so that my mouth could catch up. Singing is what my therapist and parents used to help me learn to slow my thoughts down. Stuttering never got in the way of singing. I could close my eyes, see the beautiful colors and patterns and just siiiiiiiinnnnnnnggggg my little heart out. Another trick was that my father would put his hand on my chest and tell me to breathe and then we’d sing together. Dad had a great big tenor voice. I learned to remember that feeling when I would get frustrated or stuck on a word. To this day, putting my hand on my chest forces me to breathe deeply. Dad would often have me read something to him, slowly. He had me convinced that I was reading slowly because he needed to hear it slowly. My mother would gently put one hand on my forehead and her other on my back. That would make me stop, breathe, think and try again. Mom’s trick was to have me read something from her medical journals. That forced me to slow down because I had to sound out all of those complicated medical words. Now I just put my hand on my forehead when I need to stop, breathe, think and try again. My brother, David, would hold me and sing to me or read to me when I got angry or upset. Music and reading were my safe places. My family made them so. My sister, Charmaine, who was my arch enemy in childhood, was also one of my favorite singers. My brother, Milton, my other childhood enemy, could sing like Stevie Wonder and I loved it. I tried not to let it show but I think they both knew that I LOVED to hear them sing.

My mother made everything she sang sound sweet. She was THE alto….one of those people simply born to sing alto! Hearing her sing in the kitchen was one of my joys in life. Even way back then, we connected through music in ways that needed no words.

People would come to our house to practice their parts and solos with my mother during her years of directing the Sanctuary Choir and serving as the Minister of Music at church. Seeing my mother’s beautiful smile when they sang correctly was everyone’s goal (that arched eyebrow when the part wasn’t right was to be avoided at all costs). One thing she knew for sure. I was going to know my part and be able to tell her who was in my section and not singing correctly. As the youngest child, being a snitch was sort of an art form for me. LOL. My mother and I did a lot of talking. There was a lot to learn. She taught me how to cook…and especially how to cook for Dad. She taught me how to assist Dad and her in their careers and the work they did in partnership. She taught me how to be a lady and a woman. She taught me how to read, write, and edit with an eye for detail and thirst for depth. She taught me how to be a woman in a leadership role especially when I was the only woman and/or the only person of color in the room. She taught me about the power of words and the need to tread lightly at times…never as a sign of weakness but as a sign of strength, wisdom, maturity and submission to God.

Here we are at 2017 and my mother is slipping away from me and I’m grasping at straws to hold on to her.  The woman whose counsel I depended on heavily can no longer have a meaningful conversation with me. The woman whose dry wit could make me laugh hard is now difficult for me to understand. I find myself approaching conversations with her as I did with my nieces, nephews, and godchildren when they were little. My mother’s facial expressions let me know that in her mind she makes perfect sense, so I do my best to figure it out. She still makes me laugh. At times she gives me that look that lets me know that she no more understands what she is saying than I do. She also has her moments of clarity when she’ll hit me with one of her witty zingers. I give her the side-eye and we both giggle. My mother, a brilliant, deeply spiritual, witty woman with a vocabulary that often sent me running to the Oxford Dictionary (some of the words could not be found in Webster’s dictionary) is slipping away. That ferocious insatiable beast called Alzheimer’s is annihilating her beautiful mind. We are now 5 years into her diagnosis and the years are taking their toll. Since words are difficult for us, we share music…often. We especially share music in the still of the wee hours, when sleep escapes both of us and she calls out for her mother. We hum, listen to music, connect in ways that do not require either of us to try to understand the other. We simply share our love of the vibrations and power of music. I want to keep the music playing. I want to keep connecting. I need to keep the music playing. As a child I learned to turn to music when words were difficult for me to utter. Now I turn to music as an adult as words are becoming difficult for my mother to utter. Music…it’s been there for me my whole life and I pray that the music never ends.

This song is about two lovers but with the change of just a few words, it’s applicable to my relationship with my mother. This may seem weird to some, but it’s perfect for Mom and me.

How do you keep the music playing?

How do you make it last?
How do you keep the song from fading
too fast?

How do you lose yourself to someone
and never lose your way?
How do you not run out of new things
to say?

And since you know we’re always changing
How can it be the same?

And tell me how year after year
You’re sure your heart won’t fall apart
Each time you hear her name?

I know the way I feel for you is now or never
The more I love, the more that I’m afraid
That in your eyes I may not see forever, forever

If we can be the best of family 
Yet be the best of friends
If we can try with every day to make it better as it grows
With any luck than I suppose
The music never ends

The Past, Present, and Future

27 Oct

past-present-and-future

Alzheimer’s is a tricky disease. My mother is fixated on moving forward. She has her eye on the future. She always has something she needs to do, somewhere she needs to go, and someone she needs to talk with, and things that people real to us both and real to her only need to be doing and saying.  I am the one clinging to the past, longing for what was, wanting her to join me in the past.  When I become aware of this conundrum, it is often driven by my neglect of our present circumstances showing up in ways that disturb, arrest, and/or piss me off.  Undone housework, unmanageable hair, missed appointments, calls left unreturned, tasks uncompleted or even not started at all, relationships showing the wear and tear of lack of atttention on my part, self-care being backburnered for so long that my body and mind are on the verge of a crisis snap me back into awareness that I must refocus…get back to the present.  As my mother’s caregiver, I am slowly learning that I cannot ignore the present. Today, now, this moment, I choose to come back to now. God will take care of us through it all. I can let go…it will be alright. For mom the past, future and present don’t exist separately.  For her they are all happening now.  That’s one of Alzheimer’s cooler tricks and I am doing my best to embrace that.

Be Blessed!

Go Ahead and Cry

9 Apr
J 802-31 tears Ann Marie Young, 25, cries as she grapples with depression brought on by a gunshot wound during a robbery that left her a paraplegic, unable to care for herself or her two young children. After Young tried to commit suicide three times and her mother could no longer meet her serious medical needs, she was moved to the Golden Age Home in Kingston, Jamaica, surrounded by residents who are decades older than her. The children now live with relatives. Food For The Poor staff photo by Benjamin Rusnak

photo by Benjamin Rusnak

The life of being a caregiver for someone you love who has an irreversible progressive degenerative disorder/disease comes with tears. There’s no getting around it.  I remember the day the doctor told me that Mom has Alzheimer’s. It was not a surprise but it was devastating. The memory of that moment still brings me to tears.  Every one of my mother’s doctor visits since that day has reduced me to tears as I describe was been happening between visits and mom is asked questions she can no longer answer. I cannot count the number of times that I have curled up on the sofa in a fetal position and cried myself to sleep, typically after getting mom safely in bed.  I usually tell no one about those moments. It’s not that I feel ashamed. It’s more that I feel like my emotions are way too heavy for anyone else to bear.  I made the choice to move in with mom when she had knee replacement surgery. I make the choice everyday to not walk out the door and never return. I make the choice everyday to assume the responsibilities and  receive the rewards of being Mom’s caregiver. I choose to not burden my family and friends with the weight of my emotions everyday.  There are times when I can’t hide it though. Moments when someone holds my hand too long, hugs me too closely, looks me in the eye too deeply, it all just comes pouring out.  Gratefully the person on the other side has always been strong enough to handle it. We, caregivers, need that safe, healthy emotional release. I know that I do. If I do not cry alone or with someone I trust, all of those emotions turn inward and build up. That’s where the trouble starts. I then try to find other ways to stuff the emotions down, mask them, or simply numb myself.  At this point you maybe thinking, “didn’t she just do a whole 3-part series post on Trusting God?” Why yes I did! I’m a work in progress. I certainly still have my struggles. There are also times that even after turning to God first, I still have tears and a sense of isolation that drives me to cry harder.   Do I think that crying fixes anything? YES. Crying fixes ME. Crying can fix YOU. Crying stops us from being emotionally detached or so overwhelmed that we cannot function and therefore are unable to execute our care giving duties. The trick is to not get stuck there.

Here’s another confession, I find that when I get myself together enough to make it to workout with my BNFIT family at 5 AM, I am better off physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I even get my morning devotions done earlier too. Find a way to take care of your body. Sweat! Sweat so hard that no one can even tell that you’re crying.  One of the phrases my trainer likes is “No one ever drowned in a pool of sweat.”  He’s intense but I need that level of intensity. Find what works for you. Go for a walk. Go for a run. Take a workout class. Go to the gym. Workout with a group. Workout with a personal trainer. Just do something! (I’m preaching to myself on this one!)

Now back to what I was saying,  if you find yourself unable to stop the tears, that’s a clear sign that you are emotionally overloaded and need to seek help. I am an advocate for therapy. Find a professional. Talk to your pastor or spiritual leader and get their advise on professionals they may recommend for you.  Tears should not be feared. Embrace your tears. When you are done, wipe your tears and continue being your fabulous self.  I can tell you from experience (last week in particular) that crying does not kill you. Go ahead and cry, my friend and then…smile.

Next up…We’re going to talk about a caregiver’s role as patient advocate

Let’s Talk About TRUST, Part 2

17 Mar

Trust God

Are you brave enough to confess that you are afraid to trust God? Are you beat down enough to admit that you are afraid to trust God? Are you afraid to trust God? I confess that I have been, I am, and I am hoping to stop this cycle. Trust has been a major issue for me overall.  As I’ve stated before, my trust issues went into overdrive when my father died suddenly. I clung to the belief for YEARS that God had made an error and was simply too embarrassed to admit it. I can kinda laugh about that whole way of thinking now but there is still a part of me that is open to accept God’s apology for ruining my life! LOL  I let that pain fester and grow into a deep lack of trust for anything that made no sense to me, that could not be documented, or that materialized outside of what I found logical even if not my taste.  All along though I still acknowledged God, loved God, and kinda sorta served God (insert side-eye here).  There is no way to fully serve God without trusting God. There is actually no way to be engaged in a healthy loving relationship with ANYONE without trust.

Trusting God requires passion and commitment. I’m not just trusting God to hold my hand as I cross the street. I’m trusting God to BE THE PATH. I’m trusting God to reveal my future and guide me as I do what God says do. I’m trusting God to be my everything. The trick though is that I have to give up all of my notions of who and how I should be. THAT’S MAJOR! This must be why God sent His Son, Jesus, to be our example. This trusting God thing takes sacrifice and not just giving up Ben and Jerry’s for Lent. It requires giving up your life so that you can live. It requires seeing God in everyone. It requires knowing the will and Word of God. It requires embracing a love that is not always cuddly, but a love that disciplines, that corrects, that cuts to the bone, that sheds blood, that comes with HIGH accountability. That kind of love demands and breeds passion and commitment.  Now that I think about it, the question is not just will I TRUST God, it’s also do I LOVE God. Do I love God enough to TRULY surrender all of me to all of Him?

I Surrender All  – Judson W. Van DeVenter 1896

  1. All to Jesus I surrender,
    All to Him I freely give;
    I will ever love and trust Him,
    In His presence daily live.

    • Refrain:
      I surrender all,
      I surrender all;
      All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
      I surrender all.
  2. All to Jesus I surrender,
    Humbly at His feet I bow;
    Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
    Take me, Jesus, take me now.
  3. All to Jesus I surrender,
    Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
    Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
    Truly know that Thou art mine.
  4. All to Jesus I surrender,
    Lord, I give myself to Thee;
    Fill me with Thy love and power,
    Let Thy blessing fall on me.
  5. All to Jesus I surrender,
    Now I feel the sacred flame;
    Oh, the joy of full salvation!
    Glory, glory, to His Name!

Those are some POWERFUL lyrics! In my heart I want these words to be more than a plea. I want them to be a testimony. I want my love for and trust in God to be a complete surrender.  Let’s just marinate there for now