Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s

Five Days with My Mom (and Alzheimer’s)

Earlier this sumer my dad found himself in the hospital for five days after suffering what was eventually diagnosed as a (thankfully) minor stroke. Being in the hospital meant that I had the honor of spending five days and four nights with my mother, who is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. It was the most uninterrupted time I’ve spent alone with my mother since childhood. I found it a fascinating opportunity to observe her life at this point in her journey through dementia, and to interact with her in her daily realities.

Let me begin by confessing that I am no expert in Alzheimers. Our daughter, Taylor, has had far more experience with, and education in, the tragic disease. I am, however, deeply versed in life with my mother. I began noticing the changes long before her diagnosis. Conversations with her, which have always been pleasant, meandering journeys slowly became stilted and repetitious. I began to realize that there were certain subjects that she clung to like a child hanging safely on to homebase in a neighborhood game. In retrospect, I wish I had forced the issue with her and our family long before it all came to light, as we learned that medications can successfully slow the disease’s progression. C’est la vie.

I also know that Alzheimer’s and Dementia experiences can vary widely depending the patient and his or her own unique circumstances. I am in no way implying that my observations are somehow applicable to every person who suffers from these terrible diseases. For what it is worth, I am merely recording some of the observations and lessons that came from my personal time with my own mother in her current stage of this tragic disease.

First, a few general observations about my mother’s current waypoint in the descent to the cognitive darkness of Alzheimer’s. She has yet to forget any of our family members, though the names and faces of life-long friends have begun to escape her. When talking to me, she now refers to my father as “my husband” as though her relationship with him and her relationship with me have been separated from the mental compartment of “family” into separately labled relationship compartments in her brain. Nevertheless, I am still able to enjoy her recognizing me when she sees me. She has yet to fail in greeting me with the pet name she’s had for me since childhood (“Hello, Tommy Jameses“) and extending her arms for an embrace.

I have heard it said that those with ALZ can sometimes become more childlike, and many become bitter, angry and even violent. Mom has occasionally had momentary flashes of uncharacteristic anger, though more often I’ve experienced that she now lets fly with a blunt honesty about people and things that she’s never exhibited before. To be honest, I tend to find it refreshing. I am thankful that she has mostly exhibited a sweet, childlike humor I’d never seen in her before.

Watching mom now often feels like peering into the little girl she must have been. She is playful and joyous in an almost exhibitionistic way. The woman who who raised me and my siblings was sweet and fun-loving, but she carefully guarded herself, her looks, her words, and her actions. For most of my childhood she wore a partial set of dentures. I can remember her never wanting anyone, even her children, seeing her without her partial in her mouth. The mom I spent five days with this summer could not only care less, but I expect she’d be happy to pull out her dentures and make a funny face to make me laugh. My mother has always been apropriately reserved and “mature” around a camera. Now if I pull out my phone to take a picture she starts hamming it up  and making faces. A part of me asks, “Who is this woman who looks like my mother?” Then I realize that I’m probably seeing an entire side of my mother that has always been there. I just never saw it.

I spent my time with mom in quiet observation. Our days together had a certain cadence. We would rise and have breakfast together. We would ready ourselves and drive to the hospital where we sat with dad in his hospital room. Each day I would take mom out for lunch before returning to the hospital to spend the afternoon with dad. In the late afternoon we would return to their apartment at the retirement community, enjoy a bite together, and spend the evening watching television until mom was ready to retire.

I made a conscious effort not to intervene with mom in the time I spent with her. I’ve observed that her flashes of temper often come when she feels as though someone is telling her what to do or treating her like she’s incompetent. It’s much like a child who barks at a nagging parent and exclaims, “I can do it myself!” So, I never told her what to do or tried to control her in any way. I just let her do her thing and quietly paid close attention. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was only occasionally necessary to “suggest” that she might want to see if she’d taken her pills or double-check this-or-that. As long as I kept my voice tone pleasant and helpful, she always responded positively.

I discovered that she had a very specific routine each morning:

  • Turn on the coffee pot. This is always prepared before bed the night before, another part of her daily ritual.
  • Sit on the couch and turn on the television. Any morning news channel will do. It seemed to be randomly different each morning.
  • Drink one cup of coffee while watching television. She doesn’t really watch television or take anything in, but she likes to have it on. I think it allows her the illusion (for others) that she’s doing something while her mind struggles to make sense of her moment. Interestingly, when she watched baseball with me she would regularly comment on things that happened in the moment (e.g. “Boy, hit that ball a long way.”) which is something she didn’t really do with any other kind of program. One night I took her to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. Surprisingly, she wanted to sit at the bar. She actually found all the television screens interesting. There was so much to look at and steal her attention.
  • Set the table for breakfast. This included placemats, spoons, and plates. The east and south sides of the table were where the settings went. This seemed important. If I was working on my laptop where the placemat was supposed to be set then I could tell this threw her off a wee bit, but didn’t rattle her.
  • Eat one yogurt with her second cup of coffee at the table. In the evening her meal was a Boost protein drink and another yogurt.
  • Wash her cup and spoon along with the coffee maker.
  • Go into the master bedroom/bathroom to get ready. Putting on make-up and “fixing herself” in front of the mirror is one of the things she gets lost in. One morning I finally had to “suggest” that we get going to the hospital in order to get her out of being lost in her endless loop of putting on and fixing her make-up.

I was pleased to observe that there were things that her routine helped her to remember and how much she still did without me prompting her. I watched her, at times, silently straining her mind to organize her world even if she quickly got lost in the process. If dad’s doctor started to give instructions she would get out a pen and note pad. She knew that she was supposed to do that. She might even pretend to pay attention and write “Dean’s Instructions” at the top of the page. Nothing else would be written as she would then get lost in another moment.

The mother I grew up with would NEVER have allowed this picture to be taken. 🙂

Much of my time spent with mom was me experimenting with, and even catering to, this playful, child-like spirit that has emerged in her as the Alzheimer’s has progressed.

Take chocolate malts for example. Mom’s appetite at this point is almost non-existent. A year-or-so ago her doctor said that she was, medically, at the point of starvation. Her weight was just under 90 lbs. Props to my dad and sister who have worked tirelessly to get her to eat. She’s gained weight and has been doing much better. Nevertheless, she is never hungry and will, like a child, refuse to eat almost anything you put in front of her. The one exception is chocolate malts.

Mom has developed an insatiable appetite for chocolate malts. When I asked her, “What sounds good to you?” it was the only answer she ever gave and she gave it every time. And, if I got her one she would actually eat the whole thing. So, I joyfully indulged her appetite. I mean, the woman’s almost starving and, in the near future, she’s going to forget the joy of tasting anything! Good nutrition, be damned! I decided that I would buy her chocolate malts as often as she’ll eat them. I soon learned that three chocolate malts a day was perfect.

Three times a day I would ask her “How about a chocolate malt?”

Every time I asked she’d look at me wide-eyed like a little little girl and responded, excitedly, “Oh, that sounds good!”

I started going to different places (DQ, Culvers, Bauders, Smokey Row, etc.) to see if she liked certain chocolate malts better than others. Smokey Row was clearly the winner, so that became our usual stop. It was during our thrice daily chocolate malt runs that I had another epiphany.

Mom’s ALZ has a certain repetition to it, but there’s also a routine to the repetition. Driving down I-235 always brought about the observation “I wouldn’t want to live in any of these houses along here.” Driving through the neighborhood around the hospital always brought out the comment, “I just love these big, old houses.” Pulling into a restaurant’s parking lot always brought out the comment, “Oh, I haven’t been to this place in a long time!” This statement was made the first time we pulled into the drive-through at Smokey Row even though I knew my mother had never been there before. And, it came out again four hours later when we returned for the chocolate malt she loved so well.

Two, make that three, observations sitting in the drive-through with mom at Smokey Row.

First, we often wax poetic in our culture about living in the moment:

  • “Forget the past.”
  • “YOLO.”
  • “Tomorrow is never promised.”
  • “Enjoy the moment.”

But, I find that we rarely do any of these things. We allow ourselves to be haunted by the past or refuse to deal with resentments, injuries, and relational baggage. We worry incessantly about tomorrow. We crank through our days with little or no introspection, observation, or enjoyment.

Our dinner date sitting at the bar of Buffalo Wild Wings. Mom actually found all of the television screens fun to watch.

For my mother, the present moment is her only constant reality. The past is a fog. The future is cognitively unreachable. There is only this moment. Certain stimuli bring out the same reaction time and time again. I can’t will my mother to remember. I can’t correct her brainwaves to help her conceive of the future. I can only be her companion right now, in this very moment. My brain is the one that functions “normally.” When my mother’s “moment” repeats itself in intervals of five minutes or five hours I am the one who must compassionately choose to forget the last time it happened, let go of the annoyance I feel in the knowledge it will happen again (and again, and again, and again…), and simply be fully present with her in this moment.

There is also, I realized, compassion to be had for my father who is my mother’s constant companion on this journey. That was my second take-away from the moment.

I believe that my father’s Dutch sensibility long-ago convinced him that there is a black-and-white, right-and-wrong aspect to everything in life. Add to this a touch of perfectionism and he’s always been a bit OCD, and vocal, about the correct way to approach everything. My dad was a great accountant. The books always balanced perfectly. He was also a master craftsman with anything he built or made by hand.

Of course, living with a person who forgets almost everything means you’re living with a person who gets almost everything wrong. My father’s compulsion for everything to be right means that whatever is wrong must be corrected just like an incorrect number on the spreadsheet. Alas, correcting a person with ALZ is a fruitless, even counter-productive, exercise. Here I cross-reference the culturally popular definition of crazy: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. You can correct my mother all you want, she’s going to make the same mistake when she repeats herself in five minutes. I’ve watched my dad struggle to adapt to these difficult new realities. He’s done remarkably well, considering.

Once again, I found child-like-ness to be a good vehicle to understand that I needed to surrender any compulsion I felt to correct my mother. Life for her, much like a child, is a never-ending game of pretend. Sometimes she doesn’t remember and I watch her make up an answer just like our daughters did when they were toddlers and you asked them a question that was just beyond their comprehension. Sometimes her brain is permanently confused about a fact or a memory, and nothing is going to change that.

Because she can’t remember the past, however, I began to notice that each moment can be a bit of an adventure, a new revelation, and an exploration. When I decided to play pretend with her and to even encourage it, I suddenly found it easier to give up any need I felt for anything she did or said to be right. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s a game, and I am simply playing along. And, I sometimes found it to actually be fun.

Btw, our daughter Taylor wrote a great piece in which she observed that a conversation with a person who has dementia is a lot like a playful theatre exercise. I highly recommend it. It’s a quick read: https://storiicare.com/blog/carer-amusement-absurd-conversations/

Which brings me to my third observation sitting in the Smokey Row drive-through. During our first visit that day I noticed a cemetery across the street. Mom was, as usual, staring out the passenger window trying to make sense of her moment.

Look at that cemetery over there,” I said.

Yeah,” she answered as she looked to where I pointed.

They say people are just dying to get in there,” I dead-panned.

She laughed, and laughed, and laughed. “Oh, Tommy Jameses, you’re so funny!” she giggled.

When we returned a few hours later for her third chocolate malt of the day she experienced her routine “I haven’t been here for a long time” moment. It was then that I realized: If she forgot that she’d been there a few hours ago, then she also forgot my joke. So, like a stand-up comedian working a different audience at a different club on a different night, I used my cemetery joke again just as I had before. She thought it was hilarious again! She thought it was hilarious every time I used it (and, I used it a lot).

Yes, the repetition of my mother’s dementia can be really, really annoying, but it also affords me the opportunity of repeatedly giving her a laugh or a happy moment over and over again with minimal effort. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

As I began to embrace the fun of playing with my mom in her moments, I had other discoveries. I’d read that the Church of England has started to conduct services in which they’ve consciously returned to the hymns and liturgy of 60-80 years ago. They did this because church members with dementia remember and connect with the hymns and ritual in the compartments of long-term memory they could still access. This gave me an idea.

I know some of my mother’s favorite songs from her childhood. She used to tell me stories about playing the song Sh’ Boom by the Crew Cuts so many times that her father yelled at her. So, as we left the apartment to head to the hospital I pulled up Spotify and played Sh’ Boom. My mother came to life. She knew almost every word to the song and began dancing in her seat. I then queued up Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Doris Day. We sang together and danced in our seats together all the way to the hospital.

Then, we did it again the next day and the day after that. The moment was new to her every morning, and I had the joy of singing and dancing and sharing a special moment with my mother each time. I realized that these moments are all I have left with her in this life. Alzheimer’s will eventually steal them, too.

My father and my sister are my mother’s constant care-givers. I recognize that my time with mom is grossly minimal in comparison, and I honor their love and perseverance.

Thank you for helping take care of me,” my mom, nevertheless, said repeatedly to me in the days I spent with her.

Each time she said it I repeated the same answer. “Are you kidding me? Mom, you gave me life. You and dad have given me so much over the years. Helping you out right now doesn’t even compare. I am so deep in your debt.”

Repeating that answer was somehow therapeutic for me, as was the realization that doing so brought to mind. I’d learned some important life lessons in those five days that I will always carry with me. I also enjoyed some precious moments of laughter and joy with my mother that I will always cherish. Even with Alzheimer’s, she was still giving.

The debt can never be repaid.

Amusement in Absurd Conversations

When caring for someone with Alzheimers or Dementia, you learn  that conversation is a lot like an improv exercise in theatre. You can’t control what the other person is going to say or do. You simply say “Yes, and” then go with the flow no matter where the absurdity takes you. As a care giver you can let it bother you, or you can choose in to the amusement.

Our daughter, Taylor, is working and writing for a company in the UK that provides web applications that help Dementia and Alzheimer’s care facilities called Storii Care. The following is a post she wrote on their blog that I’m reposting here with her permission.

Confessions of a Carer: Finding Amusement in Absurd Conversations

I used to work as a CNA in the dementia unit of a long-term care home, located in a small town in Iowa. 

I haven’t worked as a nurses aide for many years now, but have continued to be around people with dementia both personally and professionally. 

If you are reading this, you probably already know that having a conversation with someone in the later stages of dementia can be completely nonsensical. In the moment, inside their mind, they are often in a completely different time and place than you. 

The fact that I sort of delight in having these wacky conversations feels like something I must confess (as opposed to simply telling you), because I am fully aware that the confusion and distress that someone may be experiencing in their mind is real and concerning. It is sad when someone endures the loss of their memory and grows increasingly disoriented from reality. There is no doubt about that. There is a time and place for indulging in illogical chat and there is a time and place for redirecting. One has to know when to make that judgement call. 

But, why not meet people where they’re at? That’s all I’m saying. It can be refreshing. Even fun. Especially if you have a flair for the dramatic arts. 

Scene I

Case in point…one time working as a CNA, I passed by the TV room where Lois beckoned me to come over. 

When will the valet bring the car around?

The valet? You see, this is like being in an improv scene where the situation and your identity is provided only through prompts. 

You car should be here shortly, ma’am. 

Oh, wonderful. Thank you, sweetie. And the luggage? Will they bring the luggage down?

Ah, it appears we are in a hotel. 

Yes, I will make sure every item is loaded in the vehicle for you. 

Even the two horse saddles?

Horse saddles?! Alright, then…

It might be a tight squeeze, but we will do our best to make it fit. 

Yes, Gerald spent a pretty penny on those, you know.

Oh, that Gerald. Has to have the best of them, doesn’t he? 

She touches my arm. 

Isn’t that the truth? 

Then Lois chuckled and turned toward the TV, seemingly happy to know everything was in order and would be just fine. 

Scene II

Another time, a different resident approached me. 

Excuse me, could I ask you something?

Sure, what can I do for you? 

She brings my head down so that she can whisper in my ear. 

Do you happen to have any sanitary pads? You see, I’ve just gotten my period. 

There is absolutely no way this 82 year-old woman is still getting a visit from Aunt Flo, but I go along with it.  

Don’t worry, dear. I have some in my purse. I’ll just go grab you one. Would you like some ibuprofen as well?  

She nods and winks at me, mouthing a silent “thank you”. Sisterhood.

I come back with a pad and she stuffs it in her cardigan pocket with the stealth of covert ops mission. 

Later, when I went into her room to start the bedtime routine, I found the pad open and stuck to her nightstand with an oatmeal raisin cookie lying on top. Well, you know, I’m glad she found a use for it. 

A New Perspective 

Sure, these exchanges are illogical. However, at the time, I was invited into someone else’s present reality. Even though it involved being a bit off the wall on my part, the result is that these women stopped worrying. Their demeanors shifted. All was right once again. Who wouldn’t find a little joy in that? 

Building up life stories is such a large part of what care staff focus on in senior homes. When the opportunity presents itself, perhaps you can be part of a resident’s life story by acting out a scene with them. You both might like it.

AuthorBio: Taylor Vander Well heads up Best Practice + Communication for StoriiCare. She lives in Edinburgh, UK with her partner and son. 

The Christ-likeness of Mothers

…rather, [Jesus] made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant…
Philippians 2:7 (NIV)

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. Wendy and I had a chance to stop and see my mother on the way to the airport. We brought her some of her favorite treats from Jaarsma bakery. I’m grateful that medication has successfully slowed down the progression of Alzheimer’s. She never ceases to remember family, which has been of great encouragement to all of us. There are other signs, however, that the disease is slowly progressing, and I know it’s only a matter of time. It’s a sobering reality.

At this point in my life journey, I find myself at a fascinating crossroad. I look back and grieve watching my own mother recede, as she and my father continue to faithfully trek in the late stages of their own earthly journeys. At the same time, I look forward and watch Taylor struggle through those draining early years of motherhood when so much of life and ego is drained out you and into this little, helpless person. I watch as Madison prepares for marriage and thinks about her own dreams of motherhood. I watched yesterday as Wendy sat and poured love into my mother as she shared Madison’s engagement photos with her. I’ve watched as she prepares to pour herself into both girls, into all of the wedding plans, all of the travel plans, and into Milo.

I read this morning’s chapter and what is a well-known theological passage about Jesus “making Himself nothing,” quite literally emptying Himself, in order to love all of us. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I thought about this theological concept in conjunction with motherhood in all of the many facets I’ve witnessed. I’ve learned along the way that motherhood is more expansive than I once thought in the ignorance of my youth. It is not confined by biology and the transfer of DNA. It is a matter of Spirit. When a woman embraces motherhood, she empties herself in countless ways. God has surrounded me with amazing women. I witness it in so many ways at so many levels.

In the quiet this morning I’m meditating on the Christ-likeness of mothers. I’m whispering a prayer of gratitude for all of the ways mothers of all types, and ages, and generations have made a difference in my journey.

Thank you, mothers. For emptying yourselves into me, into us.

From Generation to Generation

The Lord said to Moses, “These are the names of the men who are to assign the land for you as an inheritance….”
Numbers 34:16-17a (NIV)

I called my parents yesterday afternoon as I journeyed home from some afternoon meetings. My dad was at his weekly poker game with the boys but mother picked up the phone. This was a pleasant surprise. As mom’s Alzheimer’s progresses she is less and less apt to pick up the phone if my dad is not around. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation and a few laughs together, though I knew with near certainty that within a few minutes she would forget that I had called and all that had been said between us. Mom’s journey with Alzheimer’s continually reminds me to fully enjoy the moment. I am equally reminded that the opportunity for even these passing moments will soon be gone.

Yesterday I wrote about the new stage of life into which Wendy and I are about to embark. We are being ushered into this new stage, in part, by the impending arrival of our grandson (get ready for grandpa’s photo barrage next week!).

One generation fading. Another generation arriving.

We are almost at the end of our chapter-a-day journey through the book of Numbers. In this morning’s chapter God provides Moses with a list of tribal leaders who will assist in the division and establishing of tribal boundaries in the Promised Land. If you remember, the very first chapter of Numbers had a list of tribal leaders who were to help Moses with a census of the tribes. The names in today’s list are different. They are different because an entire generation has passed between chapters 1 and 34. A new generation of leaders has taken over.

Welcome to life’s realities. One generation passes, another generation emerges. Life goes on.

Along my personal journey I’ve interacted with many, many people. In my personal life I’ve had the privilege of blessing babies, officiating weddings, baptizing people, and presiding over funerals. In my professional vocation I’ve had the opportunity of working with businesses, owners, leaders, and employees as they transition through organizational changes, leadership changes, and ownership changes. It’s fascinating to walk with people through life’s transitions.

I have experienced that the fear and anxiety I talked about in yesterday’s post (you can read it here) is common to all of us. It’s intrinsically human to have fears and anxieties when transition occurs. Fear is what God created within us as a survival instinct.

I observe, however, that we respond differently to that fear and anxiety churning within us by:

  • resisting transition
  • denying change
  • shrugging off the changes and going with the flow
  • leveraging the transition for personal advantage
  • embracing the transition, even assisting it

I’d like to think that my experiences have led me to a better understanding of how to manage my own fears and anxieties. I can’t stop change and transitions any more than I can give my mom her memory back. Acknowledging my fears, naming them, and sharing them with a capable confidant is my first step in managing change and transition well. That helps me embrace the changes and frees my spirit to be able to find the good things within it.

One generation passes. Another generation arrives. Life moves on.

Yes.

The Latest 08-21-2016

Ugh. It’s been several weeks since I’ve written to catch everyone up on the latest. Summer is winding down already and life has been so amazingly full.

We spent the end of July and first week of August at the lake. It was great to have our friends Matthew and Sarah spend the weekend with us. The weather this summer has been sketchy every time we’ve been at the lake and this visit was no different. Nevertheless, we found time for some fun in the sun. Always a great time to relax.

Wendy and Kim (Treasurer and Secretary) keeping everything straight for the annual election of officers.
Wendy and Kim (Treasurer and Secretary) keeping everything straight for the annual election of officers.

A year ago Wendy and I stepped down from a decade of leadership in our local community theatre. Earlier in the summer Wendy was asked to step back into the position of Treasurer and was asked to continue into this next year. I was asked if I would consider running as President for another year. After some long discussions Wendy and I agreed that it was the right thing to do. So, here we go again. I’ve been joking that it feels like my Godfather III moment:

Speaking of community theatre, Wendy held auditions this past week for the holiday musical, The Christmas Post. This is the third time she’s taken helm of this show. It was ten years ago the last time she directed it. Auditions are going great. Call backs tomorrow night. The show will be the first two weekends in December.

Nephews Sam, Sol and our new niece Christina!
Nephews Sam, Sol and our new niece Christina!

Wendy and me with niece Lydia
Wendy and me with niece Lydia

We’ve added two new family members in recent weeks. Our nephew Solomon married Christina in a small private ceremony in Des Moines. Wendy and I got to meet the sweet Christina at family dinner in Des Moines. The couple are in the Navy and are shipping out to international waters in the near future. Wendy’s brother, Josh, married Ellie in Korea. Dad Hall was the only family member who got to make the trip for the ceremony. We can’t wait to meet our new sister-in-law.

VWs and McQs enjoying a summer evening of baseball at Principal Park!
VWs and McQs enjoying a summer evening of baseball at Principal Park!

Yasiel Puig makes a minor league start in Des Moines.
Yasiel Puig makes a minor league start in Des Moines.

We’ve been enjoying a lot of our usual joys of life. Lots of socializing with friends and baseball (Go Cubs!). A few weeks ago we got to watch MLB superstar Yasiel Puig playing for the Oklahoma Dodgers against our Iowa Cubs. Puig launched a no-doubter in his first at-bat. Our I-Cubbies stunk up Principal Park, but it was a wonderful summer evening with friends Kevin and Linda. We also enjoyed a wonderful evening at Kevin and Linda’s house this past Friday celebrating their birthdays and Kevin’s retirement with the most exciting, eclectic social gathering I think Pella has ever seen.

Our girl Madison learns how to crab!
Our girl Madison learns how to crab!

Taylor is still in Edinburgh, Scotland working at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She’s having a great experience and we’ve loved getting to FaceTime with her a wee bit. A September homecoming is scheduled for our lass. Maddy Kate continues to help make the fairer sex beautiful in her work for Laura Geller. She’s getting more familiar with South Carolina and even did a little crabbing with a friend. You go, girl! Madison plans to join Wendy and me at the lake in a week or so. Can’t wait to spend some time with our girl.

The highlight of recent weeks has been my mother’s 79th birthday. As her Alzheimer’s continues to progress, we relish out rare opportunities to gather as family. Dad put out the call for family to gather, and we had all my siblings and a good representation of grandchildren yesterday afternoon. It was a simple agenda. We just met at their home and spent the afternoon chatting, eating Wendy’s cheesecake, and playing cards. We headed to Cracker Barrel for dinner. After dinner Scott invited us to the shooting range he manages to have some fun exercising our 2nd amendment rights.

When I was just a little kid my dad would take all four of us kids to the shooting range at the downtown Des Moines YMCA. We learned safety and marksmanship. It was a lot of fun to all be on the range together for the first time in over 40 years. We fired a number of different firearms, including Wendy who more than held her own on the range. At the end of the evening the guys all had a little one-shot competition with a .50 caliber Desert Eagle. Scott won, but me and the other bros were only a couple inches off center, which wasn’t bad considering it was our one and only time firing the massive handgun.

Embracing Our “Lot in Life”

“…but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.”
Joshua 17:18 (NRSV)

Yesterday afternoon my sister, my father, and I met with a medical professional in the retirement community where my folks live. We met to discuss my parents current needs. We needed to talk about my mom’s progression of Alzheimer’s, how it’s affecting my dad’s health in his fight against cancer, and to map out thoughts and ideas for how we monitor and address the situation going forward.

These are strange conversations that we weren’t even contemplating just a few years ago. It’s strange when things in life don’t turn out as you had envisioned. It can be unsettling, to say the least.

On the drive home my daughter asked me how I was doing with all of this, and what I was feeling. I was honest with her that I’m feeling all of the natural stages of grief that come with such events on life’s road. I then shared with her something that I feel God has been impressing on me in recent days.

Jesus said that He came that we might have “abundant life.” We often interpret that to mean life that is void of pain, sorrow, struggle, tragedy, or suffering. Yet, elsewhere in God’s message we are told to rejoice in our suffering, to consider it joy when we encounter trials, and to give thanks in all circumstances. We are told the godliness with contentment is the “means of great gain.” I’m beginning to understand that abundant life is not the absence of pain and struggle but the contented embracing of life in all of its diverse circumstances from tragedy to victory.

In todays’ chapter the family of Manasseh were not content with the inheritance they’d been given and they complained to Joshua. They wanted more. Joshua told them they could have the forest (which would have to be cleared), and a valley filled with strong enemies that would have to be overcome. The tribe complained that they weren’t happy with what Joshua was giving them. Joshua countered that his decision was final. In essence, Joshua countered their complaints by saying: “This is your lot in life.”

Today I’m reminded that we don’t always get to choose our lot in life. Things are not always going to turn out the way I planned. I can gripe and complain and play the victim. Or, I can embrace life in all of its diverse moments. I can learn to find contentment amidst the struggle, to consider it joy in the trials, to rejoice in my suffering. I’m slowly learning that an abundance of life includes the tough lots as well as the easy ones.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

The Latest 02-28-2016

It was one year ago today that Wendy, me and a small army of friends, moved our stuff into our new house. It was a typically chilly February day in Iowa and the snow was falling ere we finished lugging in all the boxes. What a difference a year makes. It was 70 degrees and gorgeous yesterday as Wendy and I walked around the neighborhood. We sat on the glider rocker on our front porch, soaked in the sun. We reminisced about all the ways VW Manor has taken shape over the past twelve months, talked about our queue of things we still need to do, and dreamed of possibilities way out in the future. Bottom line is that we are continuing to feel extremely grateful and blessed.

Drinks, Cuban Cigars, and treats on the patio at McQuade Pub!
Drinks, Cuban Cigars, and treats on the patio at McQuade Pub!

The weather was warm enough last week for Kevin and I to enjoy the year’s first cigar on the deck at McQuade Pub. I had been given a precious gift of Cuban Cohiba cigars late last year and have been itching to have one. Miss Linda prepared a lovely tray of goodies for Kevin and I to enjoy as we quaffed and puffed away in the bearably chilly evening. The Cuban contraband was awesome (thanks, Matthew!).

The past couple of weeks has been marked by concern for my folks. Dad has had a long struggle with his heart going out of rhythm. Meds haven’t worked to remedy the problem and last week he was scheduled for a heart ablation that was abandoned after it began when his heart abruptly went from atrial flutter to atrial fibrillation. He spent three more days in the hospital as they tried yet another nasty med (when they require hospitalization for the first three days of taking it, you know it’s not aspirin). While Wendy and I were with the folks at home on Thursday afternoon his heart went back out of rhythm again and now there’s a big question mark regarding what’s next. Dad’s string of health issues from cancer to cardiac arrhythmia, coupled with mom’s slow but unstoppable descent into Alzheimer’s, has layered life with  a certain worry-tinged melancholy. Nevertheless, we’re so thankful for their supportive and loving community at Woodlands Creek, and we’re looking forward to taking them out for dinner tonight!

One of the things that I’ve learned as the father of young adults is that they will incessantly make a liar out of you. Two weeks ago when I wrote my last installment of The Latest I reported that Madison was staying in Colorado Springs and had made application for an apartment there. A few days later she called to report that she’d decided to make a counter-offer on a job she’d turned down in South Carolina and it was accepted. So, Maddy Kate is making plans for a move to Columbia to work as a territory manager for Laura Geller cosmetics. Well done, MK!

Taylor has continued to make inroads with the Alzheimer’s Association as she passionately pursues her creative calling to tell the stories of those with early onset Alzheimer’s. She continues to apply for positions on both sides of the pond and to do whatever she can to make ends meet and pay the bills. We were so blessed that Taylor was able to (put that CNA training to work) help out with grandpa and grandma this past week.

Playhouse high water mark
The line of dirt across the yard and sidewalk shows how high the flood waters reached over the holidays.

I made a business trip to Tennessee this week, taking the opportunity to make the drive and make an overnight visit to the lake on both the way there and the way back. It was great to check on the Playhouse and make sure all was well. There was record flooding on the lake back during the holidays and it was fascinating to see the dark line of debris across the yard marking the high water. It was good to be there, even if was only for a few hours. It means summer is coming and we’ll soon be grilling out, taking sunset rides in the boat, and enjoying listening to Pat and Ron calling the Cubs’ game as we sip our drinks on deck and/or dock!

Director Kevin McQuade directs Spence Ver Meer and Jana DeZwarte in USP's "Almost, Maine."
Director Kevin McQuade directs Spence Ver Meer and Jana DeZwarte in USP’s “Almost, Maine.”

Rehearsals for Almost, Maine continue. We’re just over six weeks from opening night and are off-book. Wendy and I continue to relish the opportunity of working with our friend and director, Kevin McQuade. Our fellow cast members have been focused, hard working, and a joy to work with. It is going to be an amazing show! Do yourself a favor right now and mark your calendar for a date night on April 14, 15, 16, or 17. Make a trip to Pella for dinner and a really inexpensive evening of  really good live theatre. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Theatre Central "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"

Speaking of dinner and live theatre, Wendy and I enjoyed a night out with the VLs on Friday night and last night we had a date night ourselves with dinner and a performance of Theatre Central’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Pella Opera House. We then enjoyed drinks and conversation after the show with the McQuades and a few of Central’s profs.