Monthly Archives: February 2018

Demented Perfection

Dementia.

That word strikes fear into the heart of anyone who hears it spoken either in reference to themselves or to their loved ones.  Dementia is a strange death sentence in that it steals your life but leaves you alive; you or your loved one becomes a shell of themselves, unable to think clearly, unable to remember their loved ones, unable to be and do the very things that make them who they are.

And yet I wonder…

Does dementia strip us to our very core, eliminating everything but the nut of who we are? Or does dementia choose for us who we will be? Does dementia twist us out of our own personality and being into some caricature of ourselves, leaving our family with someone who looks just like us but acts like a total stranger?

I ask these things because I am losing my father by degrees, even though he still looks the same.

Only 30 days ago I could talk to my father over coffee and know who he was. He would complain about my mom at length, but eventually he would ask me about my daughters and my husband; he would ask me about my counseling practice and my ministry. We could laugh about the past and tell stories about his childhood and mine.  His stroke in 2009 may have stolen some of his ability to speak, but it didn’t steal his ability to communicate his love and who he was. My father still had his sense of humor and his concern for our entire family.

In late January 2018, my father fainted, fell, and broke all the bones in his face. The injury was so severe that it advanced his dementia dramatically; he lost both physical and mental abilities. The ten days he spent in the hospital made it clear that my father was so demented that my mother would never be able to bring him back home. After a short stay in a skilled nursing facility for physical therapy, we placed my father in a memory care center.***

Sadly, ever since about seven days after his hospitalization, my father has had only one thought: my mother, and why she isn’t taking him home. His anger increases by the day and so does his agitation. I tried bringing my two dogs to visit my dad at the memory care center so that he had something else to focus on, but he continued to have a one-track mind. The staff have been unable to derail his thought process; I have been unable to derail his thought process; sadly, my mom’s visits have done nothing but increase his anger and aggressiveness.

To put this in plain language, when my mom shows up he threatens to beat her severely and has even threatened to kill her several times.

The whole thing just might kill me.

I live in fear that one day dementia will take me down this path and I will suddenly become a monster that terrorizes my own family; I fear that my words will become weapons and I will become a burden they ought not to bear, not even for love.

This is why I wonder if dementia decides who we will be, or if we are simply stripped to our core.

If dementia decides for us, there is much to be afraid of but little to do, except try to remain optimally healthy with low cholesterol numbers and CRP (C Reactive Protein) counts. After all, if dementia decides who we will be then we can only hope to avoid dementia and the various diseases that cause it (strokes, other brain injuries, Parkinson’s, etc.)

On the other hand…and of course, this is the option that causes me even more pain…

I am not even going to attempt to understand how this violence and anger can be all that was at my father’s core. It is very painful to think about, and it wouldn’t change anything or make what is happening easier to bear.

So…

If dementia strips us to the very core, to the nut of our personality, then it is time to examine what sits in the center…the sin, self-centeredness, and cruelty that we try to hide from anyone and everyone. No matter how much I love Jesus and how faithfully I serve, I am only human and there is nothing good in the center, if you know what I mean. I am constantly aware of my own failure and the unkind thoughts that rise in me with every demand to serve or to set myself aside. I am painfully aware of who I am, and the sinfulness to undergirds that. Thinking that this is what my family will face if I am stripped to my core by dementia is terrifying! I never want to be that person, not to anyone else and definitely not to the people I love the most.

This is when I become aware of how important it is to consistently submit to Christ and to the work of sanctifying grace.  I find great comfort in the thought that I can let the Holy Spirit and grace so transform me that nothing but grace will be left at the center; that in the absence of any other part of my personality, what will be left is love, kindness, and mercy. Strangely, I find comfort in the idea of sitting in a memory care unit, sweetly thanking my caregivers and my family, even when I no longer know who they are.

I suppose that I should be grateful that I had this realization while I am still relatively young and healthy, while I am still able to allow Jesus to transform me from the inside out. For that, I thank my father, because I might not have realized this otherwise.

Having said that, I am also praying for a strange dichotomy to occur in my mind. I want to consign my father’s behavior to dementia’s choice so that I can keep visiting him and love him despite his behavior and the pain it causes me. I also want to remain thoroughly convinced that I need to be transformed at the very center to avoid my father’s fate, so that I do not give up the quest for sanctifying grace and Christian perfection in this life.  And if my father’s legacy is that he causes me to seek after grace and perfection, that would be a fitting tribute to his life, don’t you think?

 

***  We were assisted by SeniorPlanning.org, an organization that helps families with a variety of housing needs for seniors who cannot live without assistance. They charge no fees to the family and are comprehensive in their services. I cannot recommend them highly enough and encourage you to take the time to acquaint yourself with them. They are sensitive to each family’s needs and do not try to fit every family into the same solution. Their help saved us weeks of trying to find our way to the right memory care facility for my father.

 

Advertisements

Oh, Poop!

I have a friend who is very near to death, and last night I had the honor of sitting at her bedside while her husband caught some needed shut-eye.  I watched over her, dispensed her medications, and cleaned up her poop.

Yep…I wiped my friend’s rear end.

Why not? I did it with my children, and it wasn’t pleasant to clean their bottoms just because they were my children, believe me.  That was some rank stuff…stinky, sticky, and nasty.  But I love my children, and their childhood needs were okay with me, so I did what it took to take care of them no matter what their needs were or how unpleasant those needs were for me to deal with.

I love my friend, too…and her needs are okay with me, no matter what they are. I am, however, really aware that some people are freaked out by the idea of dealing with another person’s waste.

I understand that feeling. I wouldn’t want to do something that private for just anybody, but I would do it for anybody who really needed it.

I guess I’m just weird.

No, seriously, I’m weird, because lately I have been reading a book called The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George.  ***

We are blessed in this country with things that we take for granted—life saving things that have changed our society, like clean water and waste management/sanitation. So often we forget these two things are tied together and that without them both, our children and our elderly stand to die of simple water-born diseases like cholera and dysentery. Diseases like these are quickly fatal and yet easily cured with oral re-hydration salts. In the past, developed nations like the US have compassionately focused on providing inexpensive packets of oral re-hydration salts to countries without adequate sanitation and clean water.  After all, no one should have to die for the want of a small packet of salts that costs mere pennies to provide.

But what is it to save a life, if you do nothing to stop that person from risking their life by taking another drink of water? What is it to save a life, if you leave the person you saved in the same horrific conditions that made them sick in the first place?

“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food and one of you says to them ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”  James 2:15-16

That’s a good question, isn’t it?

While I have no hard and fast solutions to offer, The Big Necessity has educated me on the connection between sanitation and clean water, and the following video offers a chance to do something about providing clean water.

Clean water will not solve all the problems of these developing countries, but I cannot continue saying ‘Go in peace, drink your fill of water and be well!’ and do nothing.

Please, watch the following video and join me in trying to make a difference.  If any of you have other charities or organizations that you know are addressing sanitation and clean water, feel free to post links here in the comments. Finally, buy The Big Necessity and educate yourself about the thing that no one likes to talk about.  Flush toilets are not the only answer. If fact, they are not the best answer to our sanitation needs and they are unwisely using our scare water supply, a resource that we can ill afford to waste.

https://www.facebook.com/charitywater/videos/345530615923943/

www.charitywater.org

And that, for this week, is the whole poop, so to speak.

 

***  https://www.amazon.com/Big-Necessity-Unmentionable-World-Matters-ebook/dp/B004SICIVY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1518124999&sr=8-1&keywords=the+big+necessity

 

It Takes a Village For What?

I remember that when I was a young mother, that I used to look at my mom who seemed to be constantly handling one crisis after another and wonder why she couldn’t seem to get things settled into calmness. My teenage brother was out of control, emotionally and behaviorally. Her mother needed back surgery, but her heart was too weak to allow it. Her father had colon cancer. Her friend was dying of breast cancer. My mother’s overall health was a problem. My dad’s job involved so much overtime that he didn’t have time for doctor appointments, even though the stress of his job was so great that he needed a doctor’s care. My grandmother had to be flown to Mayo Clinic in Rochester so that she could have her back surgery. My grandfather had to be put into hospice. My dad ended up with major medical issues due to stress and overwork. My mom’s health continued to degrade. My brother continued to be a problem at school and at home.

I remember thinking ‘Wow…you can’t get a handle on your life, can you? What exactly is the issue?”

I remember thinking then that I would never be like she was, desperately trying to maintain control of the many things that defied any attempt to bring them under control. I swore to myself that I would not allow myself to fall into that fate.

Would you like to know how I fared in avoiding my mother’s fate?

Let me tell you: I am 53.

My parents are aged.

My children are adults, and not always in my control.

My parents don’t always make the wisest decisions, at least not according to my thinking.

My husband works too many hours trying to take care of everyone he needs to take care of.

I work too many hours trying to take care of everyone that I need to take care of.

My dad has dementia.

My mother is chronically ill.

I am a minister and a licensed mental health counselor. Everyone wants my attention and my time, and I am doling myself out in little pieces to pretty much anyone who asks me for time or attention.

Brace yourself, because here it comes.

I have turned into my mother!!!!!

No woman of my age wants to say those words, not ever. I’m not really sure we want to say that we have turned into our father or our grandmother, either.

In the end, we all wish that we could escape this crazy, drama-laden portion of life known as the SANDWICH GENERATION…and we cannot avoid this mess because there is no way to avoid the middle portion of life and all the implications of aging parents, growing children, and an aging body.

I find myself reaching out for support, sometimes directly to friends on the phone, sometimes via email, and at other times via social media on Facebook.

“Pray for my parents. My father fell and broke all the bones in his face…”

“Pray for my friend’s family. Teri and Andy have three autistic children and Teri is dying of stage 4 breast cancer…”

“Pray for my neighbors Sheri and Mike. They discovered a number of aneurysms in Mike’s major arteries after his TIA earlier today. Never thought I’d praise God for a stroke…”

“Pray for…pray for….pray for…”

Those posts always receive a flood of reactions and comments, each one offering support.  Some people take the time to offer you a prayer right then and there, on Facebook. Others promise personal prayer; still others offer to meet for coffee and give you a chance to unburden your heart.

I feel like a drama queen at moments like these, crying out to those who have ears to “PAY ATTENTION TO MY DISTRESS!”  And good Lord, don’t they listen?  Most of the people you reach towards pay attention to your distress at moments like those usually using 140 characters (or less).  At the very least they press the right version of the ‘Like’ button, and at the very most they comment.

Do you want to hear a funny thing?

It helps.

It really does.

I read those comments and reactions and I don’t feel so alone. Occasionally someone offers their own experience in a comment, reminding me that I am not the only person walking this difficult path. Sometimes close friends express their love in a post, and others call directly, asking how they can help.

I feel like a drama queen when I post, begging for love and attention.

By the time I’m done, I realize that God provides a mountain of people to lean on.

Some of them are virtual, responding only on social media.

Some reach out farther, emailing to ask how they can be most present to your distress.

Others call, giving you a chance to shed a few tears and relieve the stress just a little.

Some offer to accompany you to the hospital, offering support while dealing with the cold hard facts of all that has gone wrong.

And others do all they can to make room for your stress, offering to take on tasks, eliminate your workload, and do any small thing possible just to get something off your plate.

It’s at moments like these that I realize just how wrong Hillary Clinton was when she said “It takes a village to raise a child.”

The truth is that it takes a village to deal with every single stage of life. It takes a village to lean on. It takes a village to handle all the tasks that support a family. It takes a village to hear the pain of a single person. It takes a village to lift up a family in distress and let them know that they are not alone, no matter how bad things get.

It takes a village…no matter what the issue is.

If you ever wanted an answer to the question “Why does it matter if I go to church?” THIS would be it.

It takes a VILLAGE…and often the only village that you live in consistently is the one created by the people sitting in the pew next to you.  All the other villages you take part in are far more transient and disconnected than you realize.

My village is mostly made up of other pastors and other counselors (my two professions) and the few folks I know well in my neighborhood.  In the end, the majority of my ‘village’ is dispersed all over the state (although they are mostly in the East Valley) because I met them through my church.

Thank God for the village that is lifting me up while I make like a drama queen. I know that most of you don’t feel like I’m being a drama queen, but I do…and I love you all the more for not getting tired of my requests for prayer and emotional support.

I love you all and want you to know that my family could not survive without you. You are our hope and our greatest support, and God puts skin on and takes care of us through your hands.

It takes a village…to put skin on just one God and give Him feet and hands to get things done.

Praise God for the village.

Amen.