Monday, January 16, 2006
Alzheimer’s…Grace for the Moment
Well today I encountered another turning point in this adventure called Alzheimer’s.
My mom was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 3 ½ years ago...but in the wisdom of hindsight…I’m quite certain her decline started much earlier than that. Her decline has been slow…but somewhat steady. Usually the sharp declines are temporary…and are related to an illness that she has at the moment. Once she’s feeling physically better…her functioning level comes up again.
Gayle was sick for a couple weeks…but was physically feeling better today. But despite that improvement the nurses were concerned that her functioning level had rapidly changed within the last week or two. They are not sure if it’s permanent…or if the sudden big jump is due to her recent illness briefly impacting her functioning level.
Her ability to walk was greatly impacted, as was her eating. Now over the past few years, more and more something just as simple as chewing and swallowing has become an issue. Some days more than others. In the last week, it’s gotten worse. So much so that they are currently puréeing her food.
On a normal day…you have to remind Gayle to chew and swallow. It’s not uncommon for her to look like chipmunk as she stores away the food in her cheeks. For someone who can function normally…not a big deal…you’ll just swallow when you are ready to. But with Alzheimer’s…you may not know how to swallow or forget to swallow. Thus…the puréeing her food…to insure that she doesn’t choke on it later.
Also Gayle’s ability to walk has also been impacted. The primary nurse for my mom is Jennie. She works really well with her and seems quite in tune. She did not want to go down that road of having Gayle in a wheelchair…and put it off for most of the week. However the last day or two…Gayle’s been in wheelchair…because something simple, like walking down the hallway, is very difficult. Jennie knows that sometimes people start to give up at that point…and she works hard to keep Gayle involved, interactive and motivated.
The other thing that was new today…Gayle was kind of zoning out. By that I mean she would just put her head down while she sitting there…almost as if she was asleep. But she wasn’t asleep…when you talk to her she’ll pop her head up and respond. Sometime with words…and sometime an “uh huh”. She’s not able to say if she’s feeling good or bad. She says she doesn’t know.
About a week ago…one of the head nurses suggested that it might be time to take Gayle’s rings from her…so they don’t get lost. Between Alzheimer’s people tending to lose things…or the rings just falling off…she thought it was advisable to take her rings.
Now that is something I knew was coming down the pike…but like so much of this adventure…I’ve put it off as long as possible. So it was with a very heavy heart today I had my mom…give me her wedding ring. I asked her to take it off…and told that I would get it cleaned. She did so…very willingly.
In some respects…it was so easy. Really a landmark in someone’s life…but it was almost uneventful. Yet…I’m so torn. These last few years have been watching my mother loose her personhood, her life and herself. And now…here’s another thing that is gone for good. I know practically speaking, in her right mind she would agree that it was the right thing to do.
And the ring has been safely delivered to a family member that it was intended to go to. Now I don’t have the worry, “what if she looses it?” weighing on my conscience.
But I wonder…how much of it was God’s grace in the moment that helped make a very sad situation easier? Or am I becoming one hard hearted son of a gun? I surely hope it’s the former and not the later.
The other thing that stood out…was how difficult it is for the nurses that care for these people…as they decline and eventually die. God has blessed me with a wonderful church, Kindred Community Church that is committed to giving out God’s word. Thus it has been my privilege to share CD’s with the nurses…with the hope that it will help encourage and build them up. And indeed it has done that. For that I am most grateful.
So thank you God for that dose of grace today. I needed it…and I pray for grace and mercy…for my mom and the nurses that care for her.
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