By Kathleen Brown –
My mother sits, obviously exhausted but still erect, on the brown hand-me-down sofa in my son’s apartment. He hasn’t come home from work yet. Thank goodness.
When we arrived in Colorado after a two-day trip from Texas, Mom was dozing in the back seat of the car. “We’re here! We’re at Mark’s house!” I sang out, certain she’d be happy to see him.
But I’m not sure she ever heard his name. “Where are we?” she asked. “What is this place? Take me home. Right now!” Her voice grew louder with each word.
As I parked, I discovered what panic tastes like.
Somehow, Dad coaxed Mom out of the car and into the apartment. Separately and together, we explained to her where we are. Her response was to kick off her shoes and begin shouting again. “Turn on the TV! Sit down and be quiet!”
The look on Dad’s face told me he’d been through this before so I followed his lead. Together, we obeyed. Silent and still, we sat like rabbits in a thicket waiting for the fox to pounce.
After half-an-hour, the full absurdity of the situation hit me. I motioned to Dad to follow me as I walked down the hall toward the bedroom. Simultaneously, Mom announced she was going outside. For a walk. In the early dark of autumn, barefoot, in a neighborhood strange to her. She insisted she was going, and going alone.
What happens next runs through my mind like a horror movie. Dad and I standing between Mom and the door. Her mouth open, yelling; her eyes wild; her hands beating at us. Dad breathing hard, grasping her shoulders, holding her at arm’s length. Me pleading, “Stop, Mom! Stop! That’s Dad!”
Dad eventually maneuvered her to the sofa. Her body still taut with rage, she fell into the cushions, landing slowly, clumsy, like a thrown log.
Now dead calm rules the room. I’m afraid to talk, afraid I’ll ignite Mom’s rage again. Dad sits in a worn leather recliner, looking at his knees. His face shows no surprise, only weariness.
Finally, Mom lays her head on the arm of the sofa. Soon she’s asleep. Thank You, Lord. Still Dad and I don’t talk. Lips set, hands limp in his lap, he won’t even look at me.
Is all this for real? It must be. No grown adult could feign that kind of tantrum. But my mother yelling at my father? Hitting him? This isn’t confusion; this is rage. Maybe she didn’t realize it was Dad?
Finally I must say in my mind the word that won’t be set aside any longer. Alzheimer’s. Is this Alzheimer’s?
When Mark walks in from work, Mom’s awake. Whatever tempest ravaged her earlier has been calmed for now. She’s smiling, calling Mark by name. My father’s face can scarcely contain his happiness.
So we eat. We laugh. Just for tonight, I pretend nothing happened.
I’ll deal with tomorrow tomorrow. And I won’t be alone. I’ll have help. Infinite help.
God, my Father, I know it was Your power that stilled the storm in my mother’s mind. Your compassion gave us moments of peace and the comfort of familiar pleasures. Thank You, Father. I trust You to lead us forward, one day at a time, down this unknown road we travel. You know me, Lord. Don’t let me race ahead toward panic. Remind me to let You go first. I will follow wherever You lead.
By Kathleen Brown –
Of all the miracles we experienced during my mother’s illness, few compare with the day of the wheelchair ride.
Despite the ravages of Alzheimer’s, Dad was able to keep Mom at home until just a month before she died. But eventually the disease forced a change. Because Mom couldn’t do the rehab necessary after she broke her hip, her doctor insisted she must live where she could get professional care.
With only 24 hours before Mom was to be released from the hospital, I despaired of finding a place good enough, in Dad’s eyes, for Mom to live. Would she have a room to herself? Were there plenty of nurses? Would everything look nice? Smell nice? Would the other residents be friendly?
I needn’t have worried. The Lord led us to the place He had prepared.
Dad often tried to describe for Mom the beauty of “Golden Acres.” The landscaped grounds, the parlors, the artwork hanging in the halls. The courtyard, the gift shop and the nice ladies there. He promised her she would see it all, and she, eyes blank, looked back at him and, sometimes, smiled.
But Dad didn’t take a promise lightly.
I knew nothing about the wheelchair ride until a phone call early one evening.
“Guess what, Katrinka!” Dad boomed into my ear. “Your mother went out in the wheelchair today! The nurse put her socks and robe on her, and the physical therapy people lifted her into the wheelchair. It didn’t bother her at all! No pain! She sat up and looked around at everything.”
“We passed the nurse’s station,” he went on, “and I showed her the big TV. People waved to her and she waved right back!”
I asked if a nurse or an aide came along.
“Nope! Just your mother and I! We went everywhere. She really liked the gift shop. I knew the ladies would offer us coffee—I carried your mother’s ‘til we got out to the courtyard. It was warm enough to sit out there, so that’s where we drank our coffee.”
Before I could wonder aloud how he managed two Styrofoam cups and the wheelchair, Dad had moved on to introducing Mom to the receptionist and then sitting for a while on the walk outside, beside “those tropical-looking ferns.”
I hadn’t heard such satisfaction in Dad’s voice in years. He had wished for something: to show Mom that he had searched out, and found, a nice place for her to live. The best place. And, of course, he wanted her to see it his way—all at once, on a grand tour, led by my father himself. And he had gotten his wish. Against all odds, Mom sat in a wheelchair for two hours in the middle of the day. She had, Dad boasted, smiled, waved, enjoyed coffee, pointed to flowers, smiled some more, responded in some fashion to his undoubtedly animated commentary, and, in his words, “really had a keen day.”
All this in two hours. A true miracle.
Love may be hard to define, but it’s not hard to recognize when you see it. Those who saw Mom and Dad tooling down the halls of the nursing home that day saw love. In action. And I heard it in Dad’s voice that night. I would hear it again each time he told the story of the wheelchair ride.
From the Giver of all good gifts, love given and received and given and received. From my Father to my father. From my father to my mother.
For love at once immediate and eternal, we thank You, Lord.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17 NKJV).
By Kathleen Brown –
Hot coffee. Thank you, Lord.
The café next to the motel is a classic—breakfast served all day, coconut and chocolate cream pies displayed in frosty glass cases, endless refills of coffee. I lift the mug to my lips and tell myself everything is fine.
But the confusion continues this morning. In the tiny motel room, Mom couldn’t find the toilet. It was plainly visible, but she couldn’t find it.
What should I do about this? I don’t even know what “this” is.
Across the table from me, my parents have their heads together over the breakfast menu. I hear my father suggesting ham and eggs. Or French toast. Or how about good ole’ oatmeal? His voice is loud, too loud, but she doesn’t correct him as she normally would.
While I was awake last night, I came up with a mental list of things Mom is doing differently. Or doesn’t do at all anymore. Like answering the phone. It’s always Dad now, though he hates to talk on the phone. And ironing. Every shirt he wore to work for 34 years was washed, starched, and ironed by my mother. Even the pants he wore to work on the car were scrubbed and pressed. Now his khakis are wrinkled and his collars look tired. And gardening. The plants and shrubs she tended so carefully are my father’s charges now.
When did she become so inactive?
Bacon? Ham? Sausage? Dad tells her to just make up her mind, just choose. But Mom keeps repeating, “Whatever you’re having. That’s what I want. The same as you.”
Just choose? An hour ago she couldn’t choose what to wear from her little brown suitcase. If I hadn’t helped, would she still be standing there?
Is Dad doing this at home? Helping her get dressed?
I look at them across the table. Mom’s eyes are fixed on my father. His are scanning the café, probably homing in on the goodies in the frosty glass dessert case. But when he turns from the pies, he meets her gaze in a way I have watched since my childhood. About this, there is no confusion. Their eyes speak clear devotion to each other.
The world seems to settle back on its axis. With a silent promise to expect only good things, I drink my coffee and look forward to the day.
Thank you, Father, for parents who still love each other, in spite of the changes the years have thrust on them. But Lord, I’m scared. Have I overlooked too much for too long? Has Dad been hiding this from me? Why? What do I do now? Who knows how Mom will act tonight? Tomorrow? Ahh, yes. You do. You know, Father. You have always known what this day holds. You have a plan and this day is part of it. Thank you for helping me to see the truth. Open my eyes to see the things that have changed; open my spirit to trust in the things that haven’t.
By Kathleen Brown –
The techno tree stood on a maple table in the den. An unlikely hero, less than two feet tall counting the motorized revolving base, it thrust stiff green branches into the darkness of the room. A Christmas tree totally unadorned save for Fiber-optic lights that at the flip of a switch glowed in changing colors from the tip of each branch.
My sister gave the tree to my parents in the hope it would brighten this holiday dimmed by Alzheimer’s. But as I went to their home each day to help Dad care for Mama, I saw no signs this year would be better than last.
A year ago, Dad and I wrapped gifts, lit lights, and hung ornaments on a small, fragrant fir tree. I draped a white sheet over a side table and there, on 250-thread count snow, I arranged the old figures around the shaggy stable. Joseph held a pottery lantern in his upraised hand. Mary gazed on her sleeping Son. Even the donkey and the sad-eyed cow looked to the manger where Jesus, Light of the World, dozed in the flickering rays of Joseph’s lantern.
But Mama had forgotten about the stable and the Baby. And the gifts evoked so many questions, I finally put them out of sight. We took the tree down Christmas afternoon.
So this year, until the gift of the funky little tree, we made no Christmas preparations.
Almost forgotten, the tree sat dark until late evening on one of Mama’s difficult days. Her face still wearing the anger that had propelled her through the afternoon, she perched crooked and stiff on a chair at the kitchen table.
Dad and I sat with her. Our spirits were brittle with fatigue and the house was chill with despair. Perhaps it was desperation that turned Dad’s gaze away from the heaviness that shrouded the table. Abruptly he rose and walked toward the den.
“Where are you going?” Mama’s voice was hoarse and hard. She half stood then sat again and watched Dad walk to the table where the metal tree stood. He said nothing, only bent down and flipped the switch on the tree’s plastic base. From the Fiber-optic branches, tiny beams of color, delicate as starlight, ventured out across the room.
With a tiny hum, the tree turned ever so slowly. And ever so slowly, Mama relaxed. Her frown melted away and her shoulders sagged into the back of the chair.
“It’s a Christmas tree, honey.” Dad’s voice was low and soft. “Do you like it? It’s a Christmas tree.”
Just as softly, I began to sing. “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are thy branches….”
The old German carol. My mother’s favorite. As a child, I waited each Christmas for Mama to hear “her” carol playing on the radio. She’d stop and sing along every time, lifting her chin and raising her eyes to a long ago past. When the music ended, she always said the same words: “We learned that song in school.” It was like a story to me—Mama’s singing and her words.
That was Christmas, Mama taught me, using only her memories and the words of her favorite carol.
Apparently, not even Alzheimer’s could steal that remembrance from her. Somehow, evoked by the techno tree with its sweet hypnotic light, the melody of the old carol had survived in Mama’s memory, like a gift still wrapped in bright hope.
“O fir tree dark, O fir tree fair…” I sang on to her. Then at the end, “You learned that song in school, right?”
Here, in the December of her life, unaware, Mama reminded us what the season is about.
Peace, the heart of Christmas. A tree. A Gift. The sweetest story. The oldest, the eternal carol.
Glory in the highest.
By Kathleen Brown –
“You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (NIV Psalm18:28).Though I can’t name the destination yet, I know my life has taken a turn. I’ve started a new journey. I sure hope the Lord has the map.
The motel room is tiny. Two beds, one for my parents, one for me. Each covered with a plain, but practical brown bedspread. A beige, Formica-topped table. A sink on the back wall, shower and toilet on one side, dresser and mirror on the other. Tiny, but fine for a quick overnight stay on our trip to visit my son.
The only crowded spot in the room is the corner by the door where my father stacked all the things my mother insisted on bringing in from the car. Not just the luggage, but the maps and the flashlight, all the tools and the battery jumper cables. Dad didn’t object until Mom started dragging out the floor mats. I laughed, as though it was just a new eccentricity she’s developed. But anxiety buzzed like a mosquito in my brain as she went back and forth to the car, closing the heavy metal door to the room each time she went out, knocking on it when she wanted to bring in another load.
I think back to my surprise a couple of weeks ago when I first mentioned this trip to my father. I expected he’d jump at the chance for a trip to Colorado in the fall. Instead, he hesitated. He wasn’t sure about Mom, he said. “She changes her mind a lot. It’s hard to plan things now.”
But here we are, halfway to our destination, and the trip has been just fine.
Once she rests from unloading the car, Mom stands and then turns in a full circle around the little room. She turns once more and finally asks where the TV is.
“Right here on the dresser, Baby,” my father tells her. “See? Right here.” He takes her hand and places it on the television.
“Oh, of course! What am I thinking?” She stares at the TV until Dad turns it on.
I should ask. I should take my father outside and ask him what’s up. But I don’t. I tell myself I don’t want to embarrass him, or Mom. Surely everything’s ok.
During the night I awaken to the sound of her voice, high-pitched and anxious. “Where are we?” she asks my father.
Almost immediately she asks again, “Where are we? I need to go home.”
The square brown clock on the bedside table reads 2:43 am. Too early to go home, I tell myself. Or too late.
Where are we, Father? What’s going on? The smooth road of my life has changed, with a sudden curve in a different direction. Where does this road lead, Lord? I feel like I’m driving in the dark with no headlights. But in the night I remember Your goodness. Your power. And I tell myself You won’t leave me in this darkness. You know exactly where we are and You will be with us as we move forward. Our strong refuge, today, tonight, right now. Thank You, Lord, for lighting the way.