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Sunday, October 23, 2016

And This Is Why I Write - Precious Memories 13

 Precious memories, how they linger
How they ever flood my soul
In the stillness of the midnight
Precious sacred scenes unfold
As I travel on life's pathway
Know not what the years may hold
As I ponder, hope grows fonder
Precious memories flood my soul
                                                      Hymn written by J.B.F. Wright

My mom loved to read. Growing up, I remember seeing books in various places all over the house. Sometimes mom would have several books going at once.

She used whatever she had as a bookmark. An envelope from an old bill, a torn out magazine page, sometimes a pencil if she was desperate. She devoured books by the stacks. We read all of the time.  In fact, I cannot remember not being able to read.

My mom used to tell me a story about when I was a baby. She would lay me down on the newspaper so I could look at the words. She did this on a regular basis, and also gave me books to look at and to hold. She read aloud to me, and books were as much a part of my life as food, water, or air. They were with me and around me constantly.

My family members often told me the story of how one day when I was about 3, my mom overheard me reading out loud, and she thought I was “pretending” to read. Turns out, I really WAS reading and she was never quite sure how I learned. There was never an intentional reading class or lesson given by my mom. I didn't learn "phonics." I have no idea how it happened.  I inherited her voracious love of books and so much more.

It saddened me when my mom lost the ability to read due to Alzheimer’s. She lost one of her great loves and there was nothing I could do to stop it. People with this disease lose various communication abilities, at different stages. I wasn’t even aware that there were “stages”, until I lived out my own personal experience with this disease.

I did notice that prior to being officially diagnosed, my mom seemed to have trouble following conversations. Actually it was me that I suspected of having the issues! I would feel so confused, sometimes trying to talk to her. I mentioned some of this previously in my Storm Warning post.

She would wander from topic to topic and take rabbit trails. She would become irritated with me, if I wondered what we were talking about. In her mind it was plain as day!  She began telling me strange things, but would sound absolutely convincing as she relayed these "incidents."

For example, she would blame the phone company for messing up the line when I would find her phone unplugged from the jack on the wall, or off the hook.  Good thing I lived close when she was in her own home.  I cannot recall how many times I raced over there, thinking the worst, when we'd have an hour or more of a "busy signal" and couldn't reach her.

When she began using strange words to fill in what she couldn’t remember, that really raised a red flag with me. For example, “There was a rainfall in bed.”  Alzheimer’s translation?  "I took a shower before bed last night."

I learned quickly to play the game, fill in the blanks, and become very good at guessing. I often joke with my husband now that I should go on the $25,000 Pyramid game show, because I am so quick to fill in the blanks and figure out what someone is talking about.

You learn to cope with this illness. You have to.

It wasn’t until after my mom was diagnosed officially that I noticed she was losing interest in books, magazines, word puzzles and the like. She used to faithfully work the crossword puzzle in her daily newspaper when I was at home. She loved word searches and we’d have all kinds of them around. I tried using large print materials to help her, in case she was having issues seeing the print.  I would later learn that vision changes are another factor with dementia patients.

Slowly, over the course of time she just stopped picking up her books. She had her Bible close by, but eventually stopped picking that up as well. It broke my heart.

This was a woman who loved Scrabble, and board games. We played UNO and card games, Chinese checkers, and regular checkers. She was just as active mentally as she was physically and yet, this awful disease was not deterred by her busy brain.  Hoping to keep her engaged mentally, I would read out loud to her when she had an interest.

Sometimes she just wanted it dim and quiet, and I tried to respect that. I would read devotions to her, especially about heaven as the end drew near. She seemed peaceful as I read, intensely watching me with her eyes. I believe her spirit picked up, what her brain could not process.

In honor of her, I could not think of a better way to keep her memory alive, than with words on a page.  And this is why I write. 

Not because I am an aspiring author, or think that I write well.

I write for her, and so I won’t forget.  I write with the hope that maybe someone else will be informed, encouraged, and strengthened if they are facing this too. Although Alzheimer’s played a role in my mom’s life, it wasn’t how I define her.   And it won’t be how I choose to remember her.   She was so much more.

But having walked this painful road, she would have hoped that her personal struggle and journey, might be able to help someone else.  She was a giver that way, always wanting to lighten the load of another.  Sharing her story and what we've walked through, is my way of just sitting next to you and holding your hand as you walk this path too.

I know some of what you face, and how lonely the grief process can be.

I choose to remember the wonderful (precious) memories she left me with.   I remember, and so I write.

*The Precious Memories posts you read here, are dedicated to my mother, who battled Alzheimer's.  I share snippets of our story, and some things I learned along the way.

You can start reading our story from the beginning here: Precious Memories 1 

You can read my last Precious Memories post here:
A Time To Weep - Precious Memories 12

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Waves of Mercy by Lynn Austin

Chicago socialite Anna Nicholson retreats to the Hotel Ottawa in Holland, Michigan, after breaking her engagement with her wealthy fiancé. Filled with questions about her newfound faith and troubled by a recurring nightmare, Anna finds solace in Derk Vander Veen, a seasonal hotel worker who plans to go into the ministry.

Prompted by a request from her son, Geesje de Jonge begins to sift through memories of emigrating from the Netherlands almost fifty years ago. As she writes them down for the Semi-Centennial anniversary of the town's settlement, her story takes on a life of its own as she honestly and painfully recalls her regrets, doubts, hardships, and joys.

Her story captivates Derk, who sees similarities between Geesje and Anna, and wishes to bring the two together. Past and present collide as Anna and Geesje seek clarity, but neither expects the revelations that await them.

Cafe Lily's Review:

I've said it before, when reviewing Lynn's books, but it is worth repeating.

Lynn is one of my favorite authors and is one of the best writers of historical fiction that I have personally found.  I waited anxiously for her newest book and was not disappointed.

There was just the right mixture of romance, suspense, and history blended into this story.  It was an interesting journey, and the family secrets that kept popping up, kept me riveted until the last page.

Sometimes with dual timelines in a story, its confusing to go back and forth from past to present.  Not so, with this book.  Lynn wrote it beautifully and I was easily able to follow what was happening.

I really enjoyed learning more about the history of Holland, Michigan. Historical fiction is my favorite genre to read, because I learn something new and interesting.

When it's written by Lynn Austin, I know automatically that I am going to enjoy it even more.  I have yet to read one of her books that I haven't recommended.

If you love historical fiction as much as I do, this is one to add to your library.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Time To Weep - Precious Memories 12

The first man who broke my heart was my father. He died when I was young.

As a child, this was my first close experience with the death of someone I knew well. I had a lot of fear and anxiety, watching him slowly dwindle away. I had never been that close to death before. Many studies have been done on the lifelong effects of a child who loses a parent.  Not only do children lose the parent, but the relationship that went with it.

When you are older, you sort of have time to prepare as you are growing up, that at some point in life your parent(s) will die. But as a child, you don’t expect it. At least I didn’t. I wasn’t prepared at all.

I was blindsided, scared, confused, and to make matters worse, I was told not to cry. 

The night my father died, a family member took me into another room and told me not to cry. They said it would make it harder on my mom and if she saw me crying, it would make things more difficult.

And so a pivotal moment took place, and I became an “emotional stuffer.” I would practice this for many years, burying my thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  I squirreled them deep, and kept them hidden away, so as not to hurt others.

I’m sure this family member had no idea the damage they would do to me.

Studies have been done showing that not releasing tears, can be physically toxic. Emotional crying, can produce endorphins to help relieve pain and suffering.  I suffered silently, with no way to release the shock and grief.  I was traumatized.

I never told my mom what was said to me, because I was too afraid of upsetting her.

And so, I walked on eggshells. I withdrew and became silent. I carried deep sadness. I was as invisible as I could be, afraid that she might go away too, if I upset her.

Many years later, when we had a chance to talk about some things, my mom told me how worried she was about me. I was after all, Daddy’s girl. I worshipped him. And when I became so very quiet, and non-responsive, she worried. I still never told her what was said to me. I didn’t want her to grieve all over again.

She mentioned my lost childhood and how sad she was that it was cut short for me.

I was sad too.

I became overly responsible, to the point that it would be out of balance at times. Even now, I have to monitor myself for balance. I was an old soul, and still am. A very tired old woman in a little girl’s body, or so it felt to me.

I was instantly thrust into the world of a grown up, having to be responsible and dependable. No longer a child, I was now my mom’s right hand, her helper, and roommate. I had an instinct that I needed to be strong for her so she wouldn’t shoulder the burden alone. I tried to be as mature as I could, responsible, and self-sufficient so she wouldn’t worry about me.

Looking back now, I realize now how frightened she must have been for the future.  So was I. 

I clearly remember when we were given the news that my dad had passed away. Mom had come home from staying with him, to grab a bite to eat and change clothes. In that short period of time, he died, while other family members were there with him.

I remember following my mom into the bathroom where she was getting ready to go back and be with dad, even though she knew he was gone. She stopped what she was doing at the sink, turned to me, and held me by the shoulders. She looked straight into my eyes and said, “It’s just you and me now.”

I felt so overwhelmed and unsure. I had a pit in my stomach. I felt sick.

I remember being quiet, sort of stunned. I would go through the next few days, and attend the funeral in that same hazy fog, choking back my emotions to stay strong for her.

Many years later, I would again face the loss of a parent to a terminal illness.  I once read a description of Alzheimer’s, as a ‘cancer” of the mind. I couldn’t agree more. It is a slow, painful disease that eats away at the memories. And decades later, I would grieve again, as I watched my mom slowly slip away.

I found it sort of cruel and ironic that I lost my father to cancer, and then my mom, to a ‘cancer” of the mind so to speak. Both were horrible to witness.

Though I was older when my mom passed away, I don’t know that I could have ever been prepared for the journey Alzheimer’s was going to take us on. I had spent more time with her, and developed a very different, deeper relationship with her, than what I had with my father. I loved my daddy and nothing could ever replace him in my heart.  The bond with my mom was just different.

She and I were closer than what she was with my siblings who were much older than me. That’s not to say that she loved me more, or to make it sound like I was her favorite. We were just different.

Because of what we went through, we formed a very different bond. We had battle scars on our heart, the others knew nothing about. 

Mom and I were the ones who came home to the empty house, after my dad’s funeral. We were the ones who had to pick up the pieces and figure out what life looked like. She and I had to learn how to mow the lawn, and shovel the long driveway when it snowed. We learned how to drive the riding mower. We also learned how to bend the aluminum siding on the garage back in place, when one of us dented it with the riding mower.

She and I were the ones who held each other up on the rough days, and kept each other going. I was the one who went with her to the cemetery and watched her shed tears for her first love. She never remarried, even though she was widowed considerably young. In her mind, she had met (and said goodbye) to the love of her life.

She and I were the ones who woke up that first Christmas morning (and all of the other first holidays) and had to start the day without him. She would do her best to become both father and mother for me, and I would attempt to learn the ropes of being raised by a single mom.

It would be a very long time before I was able to shed tears again. Yet when they came, I felt a sense of relief.

I felt human once more.

 *The Precious Memories posts you read here, are dedicated to my mother, who battled Alzheimer's.  I share snippets of our story, and some things I learned along the way.

Precious Memories 1 
Precious Memories 2
Precious Memories 3
Precious Memories 4 
Precious Memories 5
Precious Memories 6
Precious Memories 7 
Precious Memories 8 
Precious Memories 9
Precious Memories 10 
Precious Memories 11 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sunshine & Shadows - Precious Memories 11

 Keep your face to the sun 
and you will never see the shadows 
                                                           – Helen Keller

It was a gorgeous sunny day, right at the start of summer. Spring was at its very end, and the days were warmer and longer. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I felt a sudden urgency to take mom out for some fresh air.

I can’t really explain the nudging I had, other than I knew I had to do it now. I had a sense of foreboding that there was a very short window of opportunity open to me. I dropped what I was doing, and followed my gut.

I arrived at the memory care facility, and headed towards her room. She was asleep but woke up when I walked in. She smiled at me, staying quiet. She had been given her bath and I asked her if she would like to get up. She shook her head yes. She seemed alert and peaceful, so once the staff had her up in her wheelchair, I put a light sweater on her and a big floppy hat to block the sun. She was dignified and fashionable, if nothing else.

I decided to bring her to my home, which wasn’t very far from the facility. I walked there many times, when the weather was nice. My own personal “trail of tears” if you will. I grieved and shed many tears, on those walks. I prayed and asked God a lot of questions as well.

Mom hadn’t been to my home since we moved and I really wanted her to see where I lived. I had this deep, un-explainable need to have her “home” with me, for whatever time she was up to it. I sensed this might be my only chance.

I checked with the nurses first, to make sure she was safe in the wheelchair, and then I informed them we were going for a walk. I had no idea what I was getting into pushing her all that way. In my enthusiasm I forgot how much she would weigh!  Though she was small in stature, pushing dead weight in a wheelchair, up several hills is a workout to say the least.

But once outside, she seemed to really enjoy the "walk" and took it all in stride.

It was a bit bumpy and rough at times, but we went slow and we made it. My husband and son greeted us outside, and walked the rest of the way with us. Once inside my home, she looked around, wide-eyed and alert.

I got out the curling iron and hairspray and we began to play “beauty shop” which she loved. As I worked on her hair, she started dozing off. She always relaxed deeply when I brushed or curled her hair. It was soothing for her, and for me it was a way of bonding with her.

She was quiet but spoke up a time or two. At one point, clear as a bell, she said, "I wish I could stay here with you."

Maintaining my composure, I said, 'I know, mom." I hugged her tight and offered her a cookie, trying to keep a smile on my face, as my heart ached deep. As I swallowed the huge lump in my throat, she was perfectly content. No tears or acting out. Just a simple wish spoken out loud as she smiled and took it all in.

A few short weeks later, gathered at her bedside, I would hear her voice again in my head. As I experienced the very holy and sacred moment that she transitioned to heaven, it was me this time doing the wishing.

“I wish you could stay here with me.”

Wanting her to stay with me for just awhile longer, but knowing heaven had so much more to offer.

I showed her around my home that day, though it was a bit of a challenge with the chair. Two of my wonderful neighbors stopped by, and doted on her with kindness and love. Mom took to them right away and smiled a lot. She didn’t talk much but seemed very interested in them. They of course were gracious and talked to her, as if she knew exactly what they were saying. As it drew close to her lunchtime, I bagged up some cookies and told her it was time to go back, and she would be eating soon. She was fine and didn’t make a peep.

We walked slowly back to the facility taking in the fresh air and the warm sun. She was relaxed and calm, and I talked more about lunch, preparing her for what would happen next. Routine was critical and she did better when she was told what was happening. I told her was I going to also have some lunch and I would be back in a little while. She shook her head yes.

I told her we would go outside again on another nice day, and she shook her head yes again. Sadly, right after that, her decline was so swift and she became bedridden so fast, that I never had the chance to take her out again. I was so thankful we had that few moments.

Outside, her blue eyes did the talking, when her voice was silent. The look on her face when we first went out was priceless.  She lifted her face to the sun, took a deep breath, and with eyes closed drank in what would be her last time basking in the warm rays.

I can close my eyes and see her even now, and what a peaceful picture she made. Another precious memory to carry with me, in the days ahead.

Someday, she’ll be the one showing me around her new home, and we’ll finally be home for good.

 *The Precious Memories posts you read here, are dedicated to my mother, who battled Alzheimer's. I share snippets of our story, and some things I learned along the way.

Precious Memories Part 1 
Precious Memories Part 2
Precious Memories Part 3
Precious Memories Part 4 
Precious Memories Part 5
Precious Memories Part 6
Precious Memories Part 7 
Precious Memories Part 8 
Precious Memories Part 9
Precious Memories Part 10 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

O Little Town by Don Reid

Christmas, 1958: Elvis is on the radio, Ike is in the White House, the Lord is in his holy temple.  But there is no peace in Mt. Jefferson.

In a small town where everybody seems to know everybody, there are still a few secrets. Three families find they are connected in ways they never suspected: an angry teen, a dying man, a lonely wife, a daughter in trouble.  

Just ordinary people, muddling their way through ordinary challenges. Illness. Marriage. Bad decisions. Friendship. Faith. Forgiveness.

Spanning three generations, O Little Town is a tender tale of love and redemption and a lonely gravesite where roses mysteriously appear every Christmas. It will touch your heart.

Cafe Lily's Review:

I really enjoyed this book!  I found it in my "waiting to be read" pile and pulled it out, on a summer day that was hot and muggy.   

(I love reading Christmas / winter books on super hot summer days.  It's just a quirk I have.)

This was a quick, easy, and light-hearted read.   Definitely a nice "feel good" story, perfect for gift giving.  I loved the time period it was set in, and all of the characters. 

The writing style was easy to follow and the small town dynamics were perfect. I highly recommend this!


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Work Of Heart - Precious Memories 10

 She opens her arms to the poor 
and extends her hands to the needy.
                                                                                   Proverbs 31:20  NIV

My mom was a hard worker and instilled the importance of a strong work ethic in me.

She stayed busy from the time I woke up until I went to bed at night. She had her cup of coffee with her at all times, while she was ironing, hemming clothes, cleaning, mopping the floors.

I even remember her washing the walls.   Who washes the walls anymore? 

We were not wealthy by any means but what we had was kept clean. I remember my mom saying, “Soap and water don’t cost much.”   In other words, no matter your socioeconomic status, you can keep yourself presentable.

In my mind, she functioned on very little sleep. This would ring true in her later years, when she worked long hours as a nursing assistant.

Growing up, I remember her being up before my dad went to work, making his coffee. “The Star Spangled Banner’ played promptly at 5 am on the radio she had in the kitchen. I have no idea what station she was listening to. I just knew what time it was, based on that tune.

When I was sick and feverish, I remember the icy cold cloth she would place on my forehead and change dutifully when it became warm. I remember the feel of her cool hand on my cheek and forehead, when she thought I was asleep. Always hovering, checking on her baby, praying the fever had broken.

Whenever I smell “Vicks salve", it reminds me of my mom.  It's commonly known as "Vicks Vapo-Rub."   Just one more scent that smells like love.  

She would dutifully rub it on my back and chest, chasing away a cough and cold.

My mom loved her job, as a nurse’s assistant and provided private home care. She loved taking care of those in need, and would often work overtime, weekends, and holidays so her patients would be comfortable and their families would have a break. I still have some of the letters she received from the families she worked for, thanking her for the care she provided.

My mom took her job very personal. Her patients became her family. She went above and beyond what she was asked to do, and cared for some of her patients 12 to 15 years. My mom never quit a job or removed herself from a case, that I can remember.  She was dedicated, loyal, and trustworthy. The families she worked for knew their loved one was in good hands.

I remember many times, Mom receiving job offers and she had to turn them away, because she was already committed. She felt terrible when she had to turn a family down. She was in high demand, because word quickly spread and families began to seek her out.

She was the type of caregiver, that those of us who need caregivers DREAM about.  She was always on time, she always showed up, and she always went above and beyond.

If she would have been paid based on what she was truly worth, no one would have been able to afford her.  But she didn't just care for others based on the money - it was truly her calling and passion.

She retired well into her 70's when she could no longer physically handle the work.  Had her body of cooperated, I fully believe my mom would never have retired. She loved her job and her patients that much!

As I grew up and watched her work, my mom taught me to respect and esteem the elderly, and those who could not care for themselves. To be patient with them and love them.  She always reminded me that a gentle human touch, goes a long way.

Little did she know, she was preparing me for the journey ahead of us decades before we would take it.  Though I wasn't her only caregiver, I would need many of the lessons she had taught me.

As the tables began to turn, my mom needed patience, love, gentleness and understanding.

And so I began my own "work of heart", attempting to follow her example.

*The Precious Memories posts you read here, are dedicated to my mother, who battled Alzheimer's. I share snippets of our story, and some things I learned along the way.

Precious Memories Part 1 
Precious Memories Part 2
Precious Memories Part 3
Precious Memories Part 4 
Precious Memories Part 5
Precious Memories Part 6
Precious Memories Part 7 
Precious Memories Part 8 
Precious Memories Part 9

Friday, September 9, 2016

Harpsong by Rilla Askew

I love the cover of this book.

It intrigued me, and made me want to know more about the folks in the photo. This book is fiction but covered the "dust bowl" depression period, and so I was interested in reading more about that time period.

Sadly, I did not enjoy the book that much.

It was a very heavy, gritty, hard read and I felt wrung out mentally and emotionally. This story follows a 14 year girl who runs off with a drifter. The book details their adventures, heartaches, and what I considered to be a horrible way of living!

I didn't like the way Harlan treated Sharon and what he put her through.  She finds him charming and tempting, but he doesn't take care of her properly and chases only after his own dreams. 

He aggravated me with his lazy, selfish lifestyle and the heart wrenching sorrow he puts Sharon through.

For more sensitive, conservative readers, there is some profanity laced within the story.  While it reflects the scene and what is taking place, it could be offensive to those who choose to avoid profanity in their reading. 

I'm noting it here, for those readers as I usually try to do.