It’s Been a Year


It’s been a year
Since I last saw you among the living

Not a day goes by
That I don’t think of you

Your passing would have been easier
If I had the assurance of your eternal destination

Instead of remembering your death
I would have been celebrating the anniversary of your home going

As it is…I’ll have to wait until I get to heaven
To see if we’ll have a reunion

While I hated what Alzheimer’s did to you
I hadn’t known a day without you in my life

In the end the Alzheimer’s won
But only because you gave up

Every time I drive by a place where we went
I think of you and remember both the good times and bad

I remember our Sunday afternoons
Sharing a treat from Starbuck and a movie…sometimes even a nap

Even though my life has gone on without you
I often think, “Gayle would have liked this”

I wished you could have been at my wedding
Sitting in the seat of honor

I’m grateful that you got to meet
The man I would one day marry

On this night one year ago
I sat by your bedside and prayed

I whispered in your ear
Sang hymns and told you about Jesus

Now a year later, my husband and I
Stepped foot for the first time into our new home

I know you would have liked it
It’s bright and open, sunny and cheery

There’s a yard with lots of space to garden
I wish you would have been here to enjoy it maybe even show me the ropes

One day I hope to paint the kitchen yellow
So that I can think of you when I’m in it

It’s been a year now
God has brought many changes, more than I could have ever imagined

But even in the midst of the busyness and change
I think of you…and miss you

Susan Bunts Wachtel
April 28, 2009

Today is one year since my mother Gayle Lorenat died. Even though the last few years were hard because of Alzheimer’s I sure do miss her.

Susan Blog Sig 2

The Path Not Chosen


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


Slowly
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.

Missing You

No one will ever know it
But memories of you
Fill my mind today

I find myself preoccupied
A little sadder…somewhat somber
Because my heart misses you

This year has been filled with many firsts
Shortly after your death
There was Mother’s Day…the first one without you

Today…we would have celebrated your 87th birthday
But instead…it is filled
With remembrances of you

There is no birthday card to write
To tell you that you are loved
No gift will be selected…to bring a smile to your face

When I was married just a few short weeks ago
I looked out at the congregation
If only I could have seen your face

Family and friends came alongside us
But none could take your place
You should have been there to celebrate the long awaited day

Oh dear one
Will I see you in heaven
Will we have an eternity to celebrate your birth

Susan Bunts
October 23, 2008

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.

Gayle Merriam Johnson Bunts Lorenat

A commemorative video celebrating the life of my mother, Gayle Merriam Johnson Bunts Lorenat. Gayle passed away on April 29, 2008.

While I write about many things, words evaded me when my mother died. For woman who hated to have her picture taken…she would have been mortified to think that her picture is on the web for all to see. I love looking at her pictures…especially the ones from her childhood and from when she served in the Army as a WAC and from the early days of her marriage to my dad Frank. The last pictures were taken while she lived at Brighton Gardens and they are of a very different Gayle. In the last picture Gayle is embraced by two men, both named Chris, as she danced. They worked with Gayle in the Rem Unit for Alzheimer’s patients. The man on right is the person who with Gayle when she passed away just minutes before I arrived.

Gayle was born on October 23, 1921 and was 86 years old when she died on April 29, 2008.