Before I Forget – by B. Smith and Dan Gasby – A Painful but Valuable Resource For Those Facing Alzheimer’s

How do I write a book review on something that’s personal, not just a subject of interest?  How do I write a review on a book that stirs up memories and emotions from the six most difficult years of my life?  That’s my challenge as I try to sum up on thoughts on Before I Forget by B. Smith and Dan Gasby with Michael Shnayerson.

I looked at this book, Before I Forget, and read the description a number of times before I decided to take the leap and read B. Smith and Dan Gasby’s experience on the Alzheimer’s.  I knew it would bring back the memories from the years my mother battled Alzheimer’s; a losing a battle she and our family had to endure.

Before I Forget was indeed painful to read; but I urge you to read it anyway.  It’s made all the more painful because B. is far too young to endure the indignities that Alzheimer’s inflicts on her daily and ultimately the robbery of her memories, her personality and finally physically as she succumbs to this horrible disease.  But I thank God for B. and her beloved husband Dan Gasby who are willing to be open and transparent and be the face of Alzheimer’s to help educate people and raise awareness and funding for this important and hugely impacting ugly, ugly awful disease.

Before I Forget would have been very helpful when I was going through this with my mother.  I would have found relief and comfort knowing that others have felt similar emotions that I experienced.  Dan shared a lot of information about various treatments that may be beneficial and the latest drug research.  Some progress has been made since my mother died in 2008.  One of the biggest advances is being able to diagnose Alzheimer’s with a PET scan.  Just a few years ago that wasn’t possible.

It was alarming and disheartening to read about the disparity of funding for Alzheimer’s compared to other diseases, especially considering the number of people and families affected.  I had never heard about the greater incidence of Alzheimer’s in the African –American community, nor the reluctance of people in that community to participate in medical studies.  I was stunned to read about the Tuskegee research which was unconscionable at best and criminal at worst.  After reading about that, I can understand why some people might be jaded and hesitant to participate in medical research.  I applaud Dan’s persuasive arguments to participate in spite of research history.

I appreciated the detailed explanations of the various stages of Alzheimer’s.  That would have been very helpful, not only to understand what stage my mother was in, but also to know what the road up ahead was going to be like.

What I loved the most in this book was the open sharing from B. and Dan, her husband, as he is watching the woman he loves robbed daily.  How blessed they both are, but especially B. to have a man committed to being there with her and for her and her advocate.  Their daughter Dana has been a huge support and help.

One word of caution, if you are offended by profanity, I want you to be aware that there is some salty language in this book, but not a lot. I found myself sad that Dan and B. do not have the benefit of faith in Christ to undergird them and carry them through each day along with the support of a church family.  I pray that they will meet God in the midst of this battle.

One memorable line from Dan was, “Don’t fear Alzheimer’s.  Hate it!  And Fight Back – with the one weapon we have, money, to develop the drug that finally beats it.”

I highly recommend Before I Forget by B. Smith and Dan Gasby.  I wish I had this book when my mother battled Alzheimer’s.  I recommend this book to anyone who is stricken with this wretched disease as well as the family and friends whose lives have been or will be greatly impacted.

I would like to thank Blogging for Books and Harmony Books for the opportunity to read Before I Forget in exchange for an honest review.  I was under no obligation to give a favorable review.


Five Minute Friday – Only Through Stories

One of the downsides of marrying late in life is that you may not get to know your in-laws.  That’s the case for both Chris and me and we often feel the loss of not knowing them in person, but only through stories.
Actually, Chris was able to meet my mother Gayle when she was in her late stages of Alzheimer’s.  He met her for the first time on Easter Sunday 2008.  It was one of those awkward times you get with Alzheimer’s because she had a mouthful of food that she refused to swallow, nor would she spit it out.  With her mouthful of food she walked arm in arm with Chris back to her room. 
She sat on her sofa, next to Chris and to my amazement answered questions Chris asked her about her stuffed dog.  She even gave him a bite of her brownie.  She seemed to take to Chris right away.  But within a matter of days, Gayle was hospitalized for pneumonia and within a few weeks she was dead. 
In the ensuing months Chris and I were engaged and married.  Things would happen that would remind me of Gayle and I would tell Chris another Gayle story, of which there were many.
Stories like how she used to hide her used Depends in the closet, or when she would sit down on the floor and refuse to get up, or of the many hospital visits.  One of the most memorable was when she tried to “escape to Vegas” by climbing over the wall, only to hit her head and get an ugly gash on her forehead that needed stiches. 
One story that comes up regularly is the logic I had to use with Gayle to get her to do something she didn’t want to do.  I would tell Gayle, “You don’t have to want to do this, you cannot want to all you like, but you still have to do it.”  There was something crazy about that, but it worked.  She was satisfied that I knew she didn’t want to do it. 
I think both Chris and I feel a loss because we didn’t get to know each other’s parents and I often wonder what our lives would be like if we had that opportunity.

My Five Minute Friday,I mean Saturday submission is a day late again…but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to participate in The Gypsy Mama’s Five Minute Friday.  Head on over and read the writings of many gifted individuals while you are there.  Perhaps you too would like to try your hand at writing for five minutes and see what comes out.

The Path Not Chosen

On a path
She did not choose
Yet it will willed by God

Eventually all
Would be taken from her

Even there
Blessings were found
In the midst of Alzheimer’s

Once unable
To openly express love
She unashamedly offers hugs and affection

Susan Bunts Wachtel
April 2009

While unpacking the remaining boxes from our move I discovered a writing tablet that I used to carry with me on my visits to see my mom. I discovered this poem that I had written just before her death. The exact date is unknown…but it was in late April 2008 shortly before her death.

My mother Gayle Lorenat feared Alzheimer’s because her sister had died from it. She saw its effects and the devastation first hand. I hated it because it took a smart, bright, proper woman…and robbed her of dignity. Yet at the end of her life…after six years of Alzheimer’s I had to admit…there were a few blessings from God in the midst. One of those blessings was that my mother who had never been one to be affectionate or say I love you was finally able to freely express love.

The picture above was taken of my mother, Gayle Lorenat shortly after we moved her into Brighton Gardens. She was more with it at that time and tried to give the appearance of normal. She had to wear a bracelet that would set off an alarm because she liked to “escape”. I called it her “LoJack” bracelet. She would walk away and have no idea how to get back. She was unable to communicate coherently.

Brighton…Thank You!

I thank you for coming today…to celebrate the life of my mother, Gayle Lorenat.

I am here today to thank the nurses and staff of Brighton Gardens and to testify of the grace, goodness and mercy of the Lord…even in death. Especially in death.

Alzheimer’s was not a road that my mother Gayle ever wanted to go down. Her sister Joyce died from Alzheimer’s following a prolonged battle. My mother saw it first hand. Up close and personal and knew it well. It was her single greatest fear. I didn’t want to go down that road either.

But God frequently has a different plan and directs our steps onto a path much different than that which we would have chosen for ourselves. Thus began our journey with Alzheimer’s six years ago. It was a long time coming…but Gayle’s death was sudden.

As Gayle’s health rapidly declined and her death was immanent I felt as if we both had a divine appointment with death. One of us would be getting on that train and one of us would remain. As I sat by her bedside, prayed and I asked God what He wanted to teach me in these circumstances.

What I learned…was that God may take me into to the fire…but He is right there with me. Though the flames may burn hot and threaten to consume me…He’s standing there with me. He won’t leave me there, but instead He is faithful to bring me through.

I am so grateful that when my mother Gayle was facing death…we could turn to the One who conquered death. Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…I will fear no evil. Why? Because Thou art with me. I don’t have to be afraid or alone…because God is with me. He will never leave, nor forsake me.

I learned that when I recognize my circumstances are far beyond me…and I come to the end of myself, I can surrender to God. It’s there in the surrender and dependence upon God that I find His peace.

I’m glad that my mother and I didn’t have to walk down that path alone. God also brought others to help us along the way. Some of those people are sitting here today. To the nurses and staff of Brighton Gardens…I offer my humble and heartfelt thanks. Thank you for caring for our mother during the most vulnerable time of her life. God used you to love her and care for her.

The day my mother died, I talked to my brother to share the news that she had passed away. When he spoke he was remembering how bright and accomplished Gayle was…all that she had achieved in her life. It seemed so odd…to hear that. Everything that he mentioned was pre-Alzheimer’s….her intellect, her educational and vocational accomplishments…her family, her health and pride in keeping herself fit. All of it came to naught. Just about everything that she had or had achieved had been taken from her by this ugly disease called Alzheimer’s.

Was it in Alzheimer’s that she found that which is of lasting importance and can never be taken away?

Pre Alzheimer’s…my mom was never an affection person. She never said I love you…nor gave hugs and kisses. I’m not sure if that was because she was part of a generation that was more private…or if she bore scars passed down by her family.

It wasn’t until Alzheimer’s that my mother learned to be affectionate. She wasn’t embarrassed about how she looked if she gave someone a hug or a kiss or what they might say if she held their hand. It was in Alzheimer’s that she learned to say, “I love you”.

I learned don’t wait to say I love you. Don’t wait until someone is dying or leaving to share the most wonderful thing in the world…love. We don’t know when the last opportunity to express our love will come. Don’t wait! Don’t miss it…because it may not come around again.

God granted my mother a relatively cheery disposition. Even when she was willful and uncooperative….she did so with a smile on her face. It was that smiling defiant face that greeted my sister Denise and me in the emergency room when Gayle decided to escape to Las Vegas.

It was in Gayle’s dying days that I began to see how God had used this woman…who had lost everything in her life…to touch people’s lives. With her cheery and funny character…and her openly affectionate ways….she touched people. Perhaps it was in Alzheimer’s that Gayle accomplished the most important thing….because she touched people in her happiness and with love.

When I talked to my brother, he said he wouldn’t be able to come to see Gayle. He loved her too much and that it would nearly kill him to see her like this. That it would be too hard. Indeed it was too hard. Guess what…it should be. But when we obey God…it’s all right…it becomes a new kind of normal.

I had to ask myself…do I let something that is too hard or hurtful keep me from doing the right thing?

“Love suffers long and is kind; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

I need to examine myself in light of God’s word. Is my love longsuffering? Does my love endure all things? Does my love fail? Is my love other centered…or self centered? When my love fails…I’m acting on my own strength, power and wisdom. Instead I can turn to God….and watch Him enable me to act with a love towards others…even when it’s hard and it hurts.

It’s from the depths of my heart that I thank the people that work at Brighton Gardens for what you did for my mom. For being there for her, caring for and loving her.

Thank you Denise for finding Brighton. Thank you for being there…especially during our frequent flyer emergency room visits. Pete…Travis…Reed and Alyssa…thank you for your family’s help each time we had to get Gayle moved. Thank you Gregg for helping oversee Gayle’s finances.

Thank you Kindred’s audio ministry and prayer ministry and congregation…for being a rock of support. Thank you to those of you who came to see my mom. For being willing to come see Gayle in her last days…to ensure that she heard about Jesus.

I thank you God…for being with Gayle and me as we walked a difficult road. Thank you for never leaving, nor forsaking us…and for Your merciful, gracious provisions along the way.

Thank you Chris for being a rock of support during this time…and pointing me back to the Rock Who is higher than I. Thank you for praying with us, crying with us and laughing with us. Thanks for putting up with a sometimes crazy woman.

The last words that I whispered to my mother when I left late Monday night were, “Yes Jesus!” Those are some good last words. Great words…great because I know that salvation is found in no other name, in heaven and earth than Jesus Christ our Lord. It’s in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross….that I can have a hope that I may one day see my mother Gayle again. Hope because I know that our sin debt was paid in full…and is applied to all who call upon the name of the Lord. Yes Jesus!

I pray that you too have that peace, hope and assurance that is found in Jesus Christ. Yes Jesus…today is the day of salvation.

An Appointment with Death

This was the day I’ve dreaded and would have done just about anything to avoid. But there’s no stopping it.

It’s been a long time coming…but suddenly it’s here. Hard to believe…but it was just a month ago…my mom was doing okay…the Alzheimer’s way. Then a phone call about a quarter to 11 pm on April 4th…started a chain of events that seem unstoppable.

My mom was being transported to the emergency room because she was having trouble breathing. I arrived at the emergency room and found her in bed struggling for every breath. It wasn’t just labored…she was fighting for each breath. I was reminded of someone who had just run a marathon and couldn’t catch their breath. Gayle was conscience, but not really. As the night wore on, tests were done, breathing treatments were given and her breathing improved. Despite my protests and efforts to keep her at Placentia Linda, my mom was transported to Anaheim Memorial.

I texted Chris, “Mom in ER, call you in the AM”. Our date and plans for the day would have to be set aside. I headed home about 2:30 in the morning. The hospital promised to call me with confirmation that she would be transferred and when. Before I even lay my head on the pillow I got the call…she would be transferred within the hour. When the phone rang at 5, I tried to focus and answer the nurse’s questions. They would be getting Gayle settled and I went back to sleep…even if it was just a few hours.

I set the alarm for 8. I figured that’s not too early to call Chris and break the bad news. I found Chris awake and getting ready. He was surprised by the news…but eager to come and be my side…even if that was in a hospital room. I can’t tell you how grateful I was to feel the warmth of his embrace and have him by my side as we navigated the hall and maze of Anaheim Memorial.

In the 3 ½ days at the hospital my mom’s interactive abilities declined steeply. While not able to engage in a conversation…she was able to respond. Some of the nurses we encountered were very good. Kind, sweet and made the effort to help someone who could not function on their own. Some of the nurses left me asking why in the world they are working in nursing. Nothing in their personality or skills gave any hint of compassion and caring.

As difficult as that was…it paled in comparison to what we would experience over the next few days and weeks. The bad dream would soon become a nightmare. Her title was discharge planner. But I was certain I had seen her in a movie and her name was Nurse Ratched. Wretched would be a more apt description. I begged her to try and get Gayle transferred back to Brighton Gardens. She said she’d try and even took down names and contact numbers. But because she was unwilling to give the information they needed to evaluate if she could be returned…it remained in limbo. It was only after I talked with the folks at Brighton I discovered that this woman had lied to me. Her lies, laziness and lack of compassion resulted in Gayle being transferred to St. Edna’s.

That’s the place where I first realized…my mom is going to die soon. The smell of the place left me with the overwhelming impression that she was going to die there. Her pneumonia was gone…but she was scared and depressed. She had given up. St. Edna’s was the death knell or the proverbial nail the coffin that would lead Gayle on the path to a divine appointment.

St. Edna’s was also the place where I was introduced to Hospice. These people worked miracles to get my mom transferred back to her home. A place where she is known as Gayle and not the patient in bed 40 C. She is well known and well love. A place where tears are shed at her impending death and hugs given in love.

She was transferred back to Brighton on a Saturday. While I knew she wouldn’t regain all her skills and functioning…I figured that she’d bounce back a bit. But I was wrong. Her improvement was short lived. She had given up…and that was most evident in the fact she had stopped eating.

That first day back she was looking quite ragged. Knowing that any girl feels better when they look better, I had her go to the beauty shop for a hair cut. Something short and much different than she had before. But I wanted something that would look good, even when she wasn’t doing good.

Her fading began and was more evident with each passing day. Oh she took a couple of bites of pudding and drank some juice…but that was it. Soon she would be eating nothing. Getting thickened juices down her would be considered a triumph. At first she was up and about in her new wheel chair. Before long she would be in bed, 24/7.

Then came the call from the Hospice nurse. She’s in the process of dying. Maybe a couple of weeks. My regular weekly visits now became a daily thing. At first she was awake for part of the time…interacting a bit. But soon…she’d sleep the whole time through…except when the pain awakened her.

While my mom’s state of salvation has been on my mind for many years…I now find myself desperate to make sure she is a daughter of the King of kings. If her salvation was based on works…she’d be saved. If one could go to heaven because they are good person…she would be welcomed through the Gates of Heaven.

But I know my scripture. I know salvation is not based on works, nor how good a person is. The Bible plainly tells us that there is no one righteous, no not one. If you confess with your mouth and believe with your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, you will be saved.

To my knowledge my mom had never openly shared her believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and that He died to pay the penalty for our sins. That His death and sacrifice is applied to our sin debt when we receive Him as our Lord and Savior. My mom had been in church for many years…but I couldn’t say with assurance she is in Christ.

That’s why every visit now…I’m telling her about Jesus. I’m reciting the sinner’s prayer. Reading scripture, knowing that even now, even in her advanced state of Alzheimer’s that God can reach her. I’ve put in request after request that people pray for her salvation. When I get upset and cry, people try to comfort me and ask if they can do anything. My one answer is please pray for my mother’s salvation.

I’ve been surprised by people’s reactions. Not so much from unbelievers. They think that if someone is good they will go to heaven. But the responses that surprise me the most are from Christians. They assure me that she’s good and will go to heaven. She’s dying but she seems to be at peace.

That assurance brings me no comfort because I know that if she hasn’t accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, this will be the last peace she will experience. I have been burdened and desperate for her salvation. My concern is for the eternal consequences of any unredeemed sinner.

At times she seems peaceful. But I’ve been there at night. That peace was exchanged for torture. A grimace crosses her face. Her glazed eyes seem to be following something along the ceiling. She is shaking her head no and can not be calmed.

While I claim no divine revelation…I believe it’s entirely possible that Satan has sent his demons to taunt her at the prospect that she will be joining them with her impending death. I look up at the ceiling. There’s nothing there visible to the eye. But she is seeing something…and is quite tortured.

That’s why I’m desperate for her salvation. I would rather she experience discomfort this side of heaven…and enter in to eternal rest and peace when she dies. That’s why I’ve ask my friends to go see her and pray with her and for her salvation. That’s why I called Chris on my cell phone and asked him to pray with us and for us. That’s why I don’t care what anyone thinks when I put the speaker on and place it next to Gayle’s ear as Chris prays for my mom and her salvation. That’s why I’m kneeling by her bed and praying on the phone with my beloved man. Where two or three are gathered together…even over the phone.

If my mom dies without Jesus…it won’t be because she’s not heard about him. It won’t be because no one has shared the Gospel message. It will be because she has a hard heart and wants to come to God her own way. Not the prescribed way that God has laid out in the Bible.

When I see the tortured look on her face and see that she can not be comforted…it’s a small preview of what her eternity will be like if she dies without Christ.

That’s why Jesus may be the last thing she hears from me as I’m desperate that God will use anything to bring her to a saving faith in Christ Jesus…before her divine appointment with death.

Her divine appointment has become mine. I’m not sure what God is teaching me in this. But I know He is at work, in both me and my mother. I would rather her death be painful and her eternal life be peaceful and joyous.

The nurses tell me her time is short. A day or two. It’s in the Lord’s hands…as is her salvation. Her inability to speak and give visible acknowledgement of faith is a reminder to me that our salvation is all a work of God, not of us, least any man should boast.

One of the blessings in these last days of her life is that I get to meet the nurses that work the overnight shift. Offer my thanks and encourage them as they work with people in the most critical time of their life. All too often when family is absent.

So…would you please join me in praying for my mother’s salvation? I would be most grateful. Her divine appointment is drawing close. Salvation is a work of God…and I pray that if she is not saved, that He will bring her to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Spirit of Christmas

Michael was right…well mostly.

I think yesterday was my first real Thanksgiving dinner since before my step-dad Joe died in 2001. In the year or two preceding his death…Thanksgiving and Christmas were much different than early years. The large family gathering had dwindled greatly. It was either Thanksgiving or Christmas that found Joe, Gayle and me in the car looking for a restaurant to dine at. While it’s good to be with family and loved ones…there’s just something about a sandwich at a restaurant that doesn’t evoke the feelings as a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at home.

After Joe died…the next Thanksgiving was spent with my mom Gayle…who about seven months later would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. With the foresight of hindsight…I finally understood why she was acting so odd. What seemed unusual then…would soon become our reality over the next six years and continuing to this day.

So when the invitation came to join the Morgan family for Thanksgiving I was most grateful. I so looked forward to a regular Thanksgiving. My sister Denise and I stopped by to see Gayle in the morning before heading off our separate ways. In some respects I did feel bad that I didn’t spend the day with Gayle. In recent years…we have had a “new kind of Thanksgiving” which included me spending the afternoon with her…watching a Christmas movie and putting up her Christmas decorations. But this year…I was eager for a normal Thanksgiving Day.

This was my first time over at the Morgan’s. As I drove down the tree lined street…I knew I would fall in love with the house. A house with old wooden floors and antiques…and pictures of ancestors hanging on the walls. Let’s just say…I could spend the afternoon looking about at all the treasures. From hearing stories of the tree planted in the backyard almost 50 years when Daniel was 2 years old…to the story of great grandfather who lived during the Civil War…I was enchanted as I beheld his picture and heard the wind blowing the leaves of the tree planted so long ago.

A meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce was topped off by a slice of yummy pumpkin pie. An afternoon walk seemed just right as I looked up at the trees that lined the street and was regaled with stories of what it was like to grow up in the neighborhood.

It’s odd because just a couple of miles away…I spent my sixth grade year…sharing an apartment with my mom. She was in nursing schooling following the death of my dad. I was what would be termed a “latch key kid”. It made me wonder…did we ever pass one another at the store or meet each other all those years ago?

Just as I was thinking I was being obnoxious for staying so late…I planned to bow out at half time during the big USC vs. Arizona State ball game. But that plan was quickly laid to rest as we chatted about movies. Jerry and Louise told me about one of their favorite movies “Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines”. Half time came…and on went the movie. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. The movie was made in 1965 long before ethnic humor was a no, no. I found myself quite smitten with Stuart Whitman…and looked forward to his movie scenes.

So after a wonderful day like that…how could I be downcast, tearful and feel devoid of the Christmas spirit? Let’s just say…I’m wrestling with God again. This time over His timing and trying to trust His good and perfect plan for me. I found myself…walking by sight…not faith as His word commands.

This morning I was greeted with an email from Mike Paddison as we exchanged post Thanksgiving greetings. Mike reported that he and his wife Jo had a nice Thanksgiving and were getting started on putting up Christmas decorations.

I filled him in on my Thanksgiving Day…and my struggle with God. I ended by telling him…I wasn’t even sure if I would decorate for Christmas. Mike encouraged me to put on some Christmas music…and the Christmas spirit would follow.

Well Michael wasn’t far off. Following a trip to the Main Place Mall I felt ready to get out the decorations. I ran into a snafu with my new Christmas tree…which necessitated a trip to the store to make an exchange. In the car…I put my new Josh Grogan Christmas CD in the player. As I was driving home on this clear windy night…Josh was singing The Little Drummer Boy.

That song has never impressed me to any degree…so I was surprised when I was quite moved by his rendition. My mind was flooded with thoughts…on being poor and having nothing to offer my Savior. I was reminded of one the beatitudes “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.

Suddenly my “sight walking faith” seemed to bear witness to my being so poor in spirit. But thank you Lord that I have the assurance of being with You in heaven in spite of my poor spirit.

Jesus…I’m sorry I keep looking with my physical eyes…and looking at my past. I haven’t been looking at my Savior who has power over sin and death. He who can bring victory over all my circumstances. Like Mary and Martha looking at dead Lazarus, I cry out “Where were you Lord? If only you had been here.”

But Jesus was about to work a miracle. Where their faith and sight walking ended…Jesus was going to perform a miracle. Oh Jesus I pray that You will work a miracle in me and my life too. I confess I am so poor in spirit. But nothing, no nothing is impossible with You!

Far Away & Once Upon a Day

Once upon a day,
I was your mother.

Far away,
In a foreign land,
We adopted you, took you in,
Made you part of our family.

When your own mother,
Had left you, abandoned you,
To a precarious uncertain future,
I took you in.

I mothered you,
I loved you,
I supported you,
I encouraged you.

Once upon a day,
You visited,
You called,
You cared and were there…but that was before Alzheimer’s set in.

Today I forget,
Even who I am,
Thinking clearly,
A thing of the past.

I might not recognize you,
But I’ll know you,
These days I might not be able to do anything for you,
But I need you.

So far away,
Birthday, Mothers Day, even everyday,
Not a card, not a call, nor a visit,
You tell yourself it’s too hard to see me this way.

Where are you?
How long has it been?
What do you tell yourself, to ease your conscience?
Now that you’ve abandoned me!

Once upon a day,
You loved me too.

Susan Bunts
September 3, 2007

Each Sunday after church I go over to see my mom Gayle who is in an assisted living place for Alzheimer’s patients. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago. With the foresight of hindsight it was easy to see that she had this for sometime…it just wasn’t bad enough to interfere with her daily functioning to the point of having to take control of her care.

It seems so long ago now. These days I’m most curious as to know what’s going on in that mind of hers. As her disease has progressed she has her ability to have a conversation that makes sense has diminished. She has days where she is more with it than others…but it varies…and her ability to function continues to decline.

Recently the nurses told me that Gayle likes to write. To keep her occupied…they’ll give her a sheet of paper and pen and let her write to her heart’s content. Normally Gayle won’t let them see what she’s written. Instead she hides the paper and goes to her room, tears up the paper and throws it away. I asked if they would try to get some of those letters she writes…and they have been able to snag some of them for me. Her handwriting is at times difficult to read and her thoughts are like her conversation…some what gibberish and not always based on reality. On occasion…there will be something profound or gripping.

The above picture is from a letter I got from the nurses yesterday. Most of the letter rambles on about who knows what…but the last couple of paragraphs she kept writing “Write to me and I’ll write you back. Write to me. Write to me.”

While the person who once was my mother has all but disappeared…the above letter is all too telling.

I am most grateful that she has found favor with the nurses. She is usually rather chipper and funny. I also learned recently that Gayle likes to play Gin Rummy…and at night she plays cards with the nurses and frequently wins.

Now you have a little picture of why Gayle was kicked out of a Baptist College in her youth. Between the dancing, smoking and card playing…not to mention the boys…she wasn’t quite ready for a prim and proper existence at a Baptist College back in the 1930’s.

There are days…when Gayle is being difficult that I fully understand why my grandmother noted that Gayle got a number of spankings as a child. She still likes to push the envelope. Contrasted with her sister Joyce…Gayle was a bit of a rebel.

The above poem may express some of what Gayle feels and why at times I feel frustrated and perplexed.

So many folks don’t feel comfortable in nursing homes or assisted living places. To some extend when you enter these places you feel the pall of once vibrant healthy people…now waiting to die. Most folks that check in will die there. Honestly…I can’t say I feel comfortable there. But it’s like anything…the more you do it…the more familiar it gets.

It’s certainly not what Gayle signed up for…she is now living out her nightmare. It’s certainly not what I signed up for. But isn’t that kind of what life is like? I think we are most fortunate when we get the good stuff in addition to the stinky. Hopefully at the end of the day…the good will outweigh the bad. When the bad is overwhelming…that’s when I’m aware that God is carrying me through.


If I’d have known what the last 5 ½ years with my mom would entailed…I wonder if I would have had the courage to make the same decision? I must say…I’m very grateful that I don’t know what my future here on earth holds for me. I’m glad it’s taken, step by step and day by day. I’m grateful that Jesus walks each step with me…even when I don’t feel His presence. It’s not about what I feel…it’s about what He promised in His word.

I never know from week to week what a visit to my mom will entail. She’s 85 years old and has Alzheimer’s. From all appearances…I’d say she is in the later stages of this wretched ugly disease. But it’s been a long time…and there is no end in sight. Not for her and not for me. There are times I’m positively weary from this awful disease.

It seems like all I see is the disease and not my mom.

Alzheimer’s robs human beings of every ounce of self and of dignity that they have. I guess the one merciful thing is that Gayle is blissfully ignorant, unaware and undisturbed by her current state. As she aged and before she was diagnosed she was terrified of getting Alzheimer’s. Her sister died of it…so she knew first hand the ugliness of Alzheimer’s.

I hate Alzheimer’s for what it’s done to my mother and what it’s done to me. What it’s made me feel…and how sometimes I feel nothing. At times I feel calloused and hard hearted just so I can get through this mess without loosing my sanity.

For my brothers…it’s as if my mom rode off into the sunset to die. A nice peaceful, painless and easy death. They haven’t been here for the last five years and haven’t seen just how ugly it can get. They haven’t seen her for over 5 years. They don’t call her, they don’t send her cards or letters. Christmas comes, her birthday, Mother’s Day, Easter…and there is nothing…only silence. It’s almost as if she’s already dead or never existed at all.

Here she is at the end of her life…and going through what she feared the most and they are no where to be found.

While I’ve known that what they are doing is wrong…a friend put it in perspective when she said that she couldn’t imagine that at the end of her life her children wouldn’t be there for her. Stephanie is a young mom of two toddlers…and she lives for those children. Each day brings another story of learning or discovery as her precious little ones grow up. Stephanie and Greg’s lives are centered around their children…they give them so much…love and time and sacrifice for these little ones who are the apples of their eyes.

There once was a day…when Mike and Pat were the apple of my mother’s eye. When they were the center of her life…when her days were filled with delight as she watched these young boys grow. So what happened that would make them turn their back on their mom? I don’t have that answer…I just know I struggle with carrying this burden.

In some respects this may be God’s hand of protection on my mom…keeping people who would not be good for her away. But I find it hard to believe that they don’t even send a token card or letter now and again. But I guess if they did that…they would be reminded she still alive…and they would have to deal with that. I just don’t understand.

Mostly I hate the way Alzheimer’s makes me feel. There are times…I want to walk away from that place and never go back. I regularly pray that God will be merciful and let her pass away peacefully in her sleep.

Any memories of good times are so dwarfed by the last six or seven years…or maybe more. You see Gayle was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 5 ½ years ago…but looking back you can see the signs that were misread as someone just getting quirky in their old age.

Well it wasn’t quirky…it was a disease that causes a plaque to build up in the brain and it interferes with thinking and memory among other things. When driving down the street I can point to place after place that holds bad memories. Places Gayle and I visited when the Alzheimer’s was taking over her brain more and more and causing her to behave irrationally. Going places became difficult at best and embarrassing at worst.

A couple weeks ago I went to see my mom and found her sitting in the activity room nodding off. I went to awaken her so we could spend some time together and watch our Sunday movie. When she woke up she was quite adamant that she didn’t want to see me. It had already been a bad day…so this was just icing on the cake. Some of the newer resident’s in the Alzheimer’s unit are in the earlier stages and more rational. The lady sitting next to Gayle told her, “You should go with her. Some of us don’t have anyone that comes to see us. You are lucky.” But Gayle would not be dissuaded.

I thought that being rejected was bad. But I discovered on my next visit…I’ll take rejection any day of the week over what happened next. I don’t want to go into the ugly details and bring embarrassment or shame to my mom. But let it suffice that Alzheimer’s robs human beings of every ounce of dignity that they have.

I walked away that Sunday and felt shell shocked. I needed to decompress. I was emotionally numb for a couple of days. While I knew that God carried me through that day…I wanted to put up a wall. I didn’t go to Bible study the next night because I just wanted some space. I wasn’t in the mood to read my latest book by Beth Moore. Instead I opted for something a little lighter in the form of Christian fiction.

I kind of felt like Elijah whom God cared for when he was overwhelmed, depressed and afraid. God nurtured me during that time. God likes to use people. He used the heartfelt prayers of friends…and an encouraging card to help build up my spirit. Or listening to sermon that God in His perfect timing brought my way. I also found encouragement from the movie “Facing the Giants”.

I feel like I’m facing my own giants. At times they feel quite daunting…even bigger than Goliath. I want to slay these giants…giants of aloneness, solitude, lack of faith, hurt, bitterness, anger, confusion, bad memories and so much more. These are not giants that will fall by my own frail, feeble efforts. But instead I need to invite God into this battle and seek Him, trust Him, obey Him and be filled with His word. These giants are much too big for me…but not for Him. That means I’m a candidate for a miracle. Whether it sustaining power in overwhelming circumstances….or deliverance through a situation….I need God in my circumstances.

Even if I feel alone…I’m not. He’s right there beside me…His Holy Spirit is within me and my Lord and Savior sits at the right hand of the Father interceding on my behalf. So Jesus I invite you into my circumstances. My burdens are much too heavy for me to bear. I’m giving them over to You and seek Your help in these overwhelming circumstances.

1/14/07 At the End of the Day…Mixed Bag

Being that it’s Sunday…I almost feel obligated to have a post of a more spiritual nature. Indeed God was part of my day…as He is every day. Church was most excellent today. As I close everyday…I thank God for brining me to such a loving and wonder church as Kindred Community Church. Also I give thanks for living in this amazing country…in which we are able to freely worhsip and study the Word of God.

However…my post this evening may seem relatively frivolous. Each Sunday after church I go to see my mother and we watch a movie. Some old movies…some new. It’s the one time during the week…where I may actually sit down and rest for an hour or two.

This week…I chose to watch “The Goodbye Girl” dating all the way back to 1977. It’s one of my all time favorites. (Good golly…that’s 30 years ago. Jeepers creepers…I’m getting old!)

The Goodbye Girl is a charming, funny, touching romantic comedy. Richard Dreyfuss’ character Elliot is ever so cute and charming. Who could resist falling in love with one so fun, whimsical and romantic…okay, okay and sexy too? What a charmer he is. I find that I still identify with Paula, Marsha Mason’s character…one who has been hurt and is vulnerable…but covers it up with her quick, witty attitude…hiding her softer side for fear of bearing more scars.

I find that old movies that I once loved have become like comfort food for my emotions and soul. All too frequently I avoid romantic movies…since they seem to act as a painful reminder of my single status. But every once and while it’s nice to wrap around the thought of a nice romance…try it on for size. Boy oh boy…it feels ever so good. It reignites the hope that one day that deep longing and prayer will one day be answered.

Despite sneaking in a short nap…watching “The Goodbye Girl” was just what I needed.

On an uglier note…have I ever told you how much I hate Alzheimer’s? I hate it! Well my mom has Alzheimer’s as do all the residents of her section of the assisted living facility.

One of the ugly things with Alzheimer’s is how it robs you of your dignity. It’s wretched. There are days…when time with my mom is reduced to me reminding her to chew and swallow or wipe her nose when it’s running.

But that was the least of today’s ugliness. In the middle our time together in walked Floyd. Normally he is the sweetest man around…with his smile and easy going disposition. It’s not uncommon for the patients to get confused and disoriented and forget which room is theirs. So I gently try and steer them in right direction.

However today…Floyd would have none of that. He was quite agitated and wouldn’t cooperate. Something as simple as taking his hand and showing where he needed to go…wasn’t working. It’s amazing…for an elderly person who is quite frail and unsteady…how strong they can be. So I was surprised when not only did Floyd resist me leading him back to his room…but he was pushing me away.

It was a rather disconcerting situation. Alzheimer’s patients don’t always listen to reason. So trying a normal tactic like speaking in a soft, calming voice, taking his hand…didn’t get me anywhere. There’s no telling what Floyd was actually agitated about. The whole situation left me with a pit in the middle of my stomach…and a prayer that this won’t go on much longer. Somedays I feel like I can’t take much more of it…someday I just don’t want to take much more of it.

Not a pleasant day visiting my mom today. More and more…she is loosing her ability to relate. She doesn’t speak too much…and regular conversations are a thing of the past. Right now it’s mostly time spent together…hopefully doing something she enjoys.

To end on a good note…she does enjoy her Frappuccinos or Ice Blended drinks. I do have fun trying to select a new or different flavor to bring her each week.