Treasured: A Look at Caregiving and Alzheimer’s Disease
Editor’s Note: This is fifth in a series of articles written by Ms. Linda Lawrence that addresses the challenges and blessings in caring for an aging parent.
Mom has lived in a nursing home since her Alzheimer’s progressed to the point that she forgot how to sit or walk. Twice she has mentioned not having her “treasures.” I think about her few possessions that lie in a trunk in my basement and wonder what she feels she is missing.
“Is it the pink pitcher, Mom?”
“No!” she laughs as though I’m being silly.
“What is your treasure?”
I give her my whole attention, silently waiting and hoping for her to find her thought, and then the words.
Suddenly her eyes light up. She reaches for me and says with a sigh, “You’re my treasure.”
We laugh and sing.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy…
But I keep thinking about what might make Mom feel treasured. Earlier, I had brought her cherished photo of her Daddy holding her as a toddler. This has been Mom’s treasure as long as I can remember. It always hung in her bedroom in a large oval frame. Mom’s father died when she was five years old, but she still has sweet memories of him.
I recently held up a picture of my Dad in his 40s and asked Mom the name of the handsome man. “I don’t know,” she said. “It’s just some old man.”
There are 60 ribbon-bound letters in Mom’s trunk written during Mom and Dad’s courtship. I read her the letters she kept for over six decades. “First love is sweet,” she said, seeming to have forgotten how Dad resented Mom also loving Jesus. She seemed disconnected from the people in the letters – not remembering the pain that came from being unequally yoked.
When I showed her pictures taken during their courtship she recognized herself but asked if the man in the pictures was the man in the letters. It doesn’t appear she connects these letters, the photos or her wedding dress with her marriage to Dad. There’s just a pleasant remembrance of being loved once upon a time.
I’ve been reading Mom stories from In Grandma’s Attic. One story was about difficulty with button fasteners on the back of a dress. I thanked her for putting a hidden zipper in the back of the wedding dress she made me, so I didn’t have to struggle.
“But your wedding dress had buttons down the back, didn’t it, Mom?” I asked.
“I think so….” she said.
Suddenly I had an idea. “I’ve got it!” I exclaimed, remembering her wedding dress hanging in a garment bag in a closet at my house. “Would you like to have your wedding dress here? Is that one of your treasures?”
“Oh, honey, that would be lovely,” she said wistfully.
We sang a song that for years has brought Mom tranquility.
I am my Beloved’s and He is mine
His banner over me is love…
She swung into the second verse with a lilt in her voice, eyes aglow.
He brought me to His banqueting table
His banner over me is love…
I reflected on the day Mom danced with joy grasping the reality of Jesus as her Bridegroom. It was two years after Mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and Dad told me he knew he was not cut out to be a caregiver.
Then Dad had a stroke, and Mom spent her days at the hospital caring for him. On Thanksgiving Eve Dad was in a coma. Mom had said and sung all her last good-byes to him and slipped away for an hour to attend a Thanksgiving service at her church – and when she returned he had slipped away into eternity. It was finished. Her days and nights of rejected love were over. She phoned her children, went to bed and slept.
In the morning she woke up, alone, now fully conscious of having neither father nor husband. Then, she remembered God’s promise to support the fatherless and the widow. Slowly the words of Isaiah surfaced: “… Do not fear… you will forget the shame of your youth… the reproach of your widowhood… the Lord has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit…. For your Maker is your husband… I will have mercy on you – says the Lord, your Redeemer.”
“I qualify!” Mom shouted in the empty house and began to dance with joy.
All the painful memories have now been forgotten. Hoping that peace and joy can be nurtured and sustained, even as pleasant memories fade, her ivory satin wedding dress has been hung in her room alongside pictures of those she treasured – and a streamer proclaiming: His banner over me is Love.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linda Lawrence is retired and resides with her husband, Carl, in Corvallis, OR.
COMPLETE SERIES TITLES:
Drifting (Part 1 of Series by Linda Lawrence)
Hug Your Mother (Part 2 of Series by Linda Lawrence)
How Can I Be A Caregiver? (Part 3 of Series by Linda Lawrence)
Alzheimer’s Became a Blessing? (Part 4 of Series by Linda Lawrence)
Treasured (Part 5 of Series by Linda Lawrence)
The Shepherd Restores a Soul (Part 6 of Series by Linda Lawrence)