Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Mother's Journey

What started out to be a nursing home disaster ended up being a nursing home miracle.

My mother, known lovingly as Grand Mary, lives in a land far, far away. Does she live in a foreign country or another state? No to both, she lives in a land, that without God’s intervention, a land of no return… Alzheimer’s. It’s a world the patient enters totally alone. Not even their memories can go with them.

This morning began with a meeting with the nursing staff. I was informed that my mother was in the last stages of level six out of seven stages of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, coupled with Parkinson ’s disease. In addition, the nursing home had undergone many staff changes that was affecting everyone.

It was now evident that my mother would require more care than ever. This would necessitate a room change and careful consideration as to the location and the temperment of her new roommate. My mother had been so unhappy that we all faced these changes with with much, much prayer.

The home’s new hairdresser had not yet arrived . My mother’s rapid physical deterioration and need for an overdue haircut made her barely recognizable to anyone I had ever known much less my mother. My mother had once been a petite little blonde that very much resembled Doris Day.

What good could possibly come out of this negative report? The day was heading South before my second cup of coffee.

The onset of this horrendous disease puts the best of relationships to the ultimate test. The deterioration of the mental capacities is accentuated by the physical limitations and the disappearance of communication skills. The exasperation of watching your loved one disappear daily before your eyes is gut wrenching. I compare it to the attempt to grasp a shadow.

Key facts about Alzheimer's disease

5.3 million people have Alzheimer's

172 billion dollars in annual costs

7th leading cause of death

10.9 million unpaid caregivers

Lack of pre-planning and inability to make decisions force feeds you into the epicenter of your loved one’s most private affairs.

As if there were not already a laundry list of symptoms associated with this disease. The disease itself brings a devil all its own – called “ Blame.” Alzheimer’s patients can become unpredictable with the full range of emotional changes, even to the point of becoming violent. There has yet to be published a pamphlet or support group formed that can prepare you for the personal heartache of this disease.

My mother has lived a solitary life and was best known for her independence. Our relationship could be described at best, challenging. Alzheimer’s not only erases the good memories, but the bad as well. Perhaps we still had a chance. Life’s circumstances has forced me to love her at arm’s length.

At the height of our conflict the Lord gently reminded me that He alone chooses the family dynamics and we must trust His decisions regardless of natural circumstances. He also spoke these words to me… Proverbs 31:28a “Her children stand and call her blessed….” Not because she did or did not win the “Mother of the Year Award.” He further said, “This was one of the main purposes’ of my life. “ WOW! God was depending on me to stand and bless my mother in every stage of her life.

More and more with each visit her eyes would fill with increased desperation and silently plead for help even from the one she has believed was her ‘betrayer.’ Consumed with guilt. My mother’s loss of control translated to my loss of control. I very much love my mother and deeply admire her ability to overcome horrendous tragedy in her life.

Maybe if I had never seen hundreds of miracles or experienced them myself this would make more sense. I wondered if my prayers were making any difference in my own mother’s life. I needed to know.


I decided to take matters into my own hands, and if she could not go to the beauty shop I would bring the beauty shop to her. After all, this was the second generation of my family to be here. My beloved grandmother was in this nursing home for five years. The staff would give me the keys to the tiny beauty shop and I would cut and curl my grandmother’s hair. I do not have a license, I would just pretend I was drawing a picture and would paint with the scissors and make-up.

I wiped my eyes and went to gather my supplies. Armed with shampoo, scissors, a variety of sprays, mousse, nail polish, lip gloss, etc. I was determined to reclaim my mother to the best of my ability.

As feeble as my mother now is I knew I would need help, so I enlisted the help of my husband. What should have taken an hour max. took a full two hours. She could not remember the most basic of instructions, “Hold your head down or be still.” Every cut was a challenge. My husband painstakingly and lovingly helped guide her head for her new hair-do. He pulled the chairs and her into every necessary position. He held her trembling hands steady as I painted metallic gold polish on her nails.

With every clip, life came back. She was very aware and thrilled as to the transformation. Ten years disappeared. Hair dried and curled, lip gloss applied…”Welcome back Grand Mary!”

Just as we were reveling in the excitement of my mom’s make-over one of the staff members walked in with a quilt that had been missing for two years. Not just any quilt, but one of the last hand-made quilts made by my grandmother! She asked my mom, “Is this yours?” My mother remembered, and cried.

Her trip back down the hall was like being in our own private parade. She glowed amidst all the o-o-o-o’s and a-a-ah-h-s. We rolled her back to her NEW room, with her NEW hair-do, and her Old quilt. I tucked her in with my NEW grace and surrounded by her mother’s hand-stitched love. I had not seen that kind of peace in her face or eyes in years. She looked up at me and said this was a wonderful day and when could we do it again? Soon mom … I pray …. Soon.

P.S. Just tonight I discovered from a long time employee of the nursing home that mother had been moved into the same room and spot my grandmother spent her last years. I hope my heart can stand it.

t-t-f-n (ta-ta-for-now)