Needing to Serve

Gma and Gpa Formal

Mom and Dad at a college formal at Western Carolina University

We have started a new tradition at my house!  Since my mother came down with a very aggressive, yet un-diagnosed, disease that acts a whole lot like Alzheimer’s on steroids, Mom and Dad have been coming over every night for dinner.  It is my way of giving Dad a break to read or take a nap – both of which he usually does in my back porch swing while I spend time with Mom.  And this way, I can also make sure they are getting at least one meal a day that doesn’t come from a fast food restaurant. 

At first, I would try to have dinner ready when they got here so I could spend all of my energy trying to entertain her.  But that took time away from getting my book finished and after a few days, I realized entertaining her was impossible.  And when she began to repeatedly apologize for coming over and bothering us, I realized this worry of inconveniencing me was causing her a lot of stress.  After she had said it 5 times in less than two minutes, I realized I needed to figure something else out.

So next, I decided to wait until my parents got here to start cooking.  That way, she could sit at the kitchen bar and watch me cook.  It would give me something to do while dad rested. I could put in a full day on the book, maybe generate some conversation with mom about the cooking, and still get dinner ready.  But that worked no better and she apologized and worried over burdening me just as much.

Then I discovered that she wanted to help me.  For the last week or so, when they get here, I take her shopping for whatever groceries we need for dinner.  When we get home, I put her to work in the kitchen.  I have to show her how to use the vegetable peeler almost every day.  She can’t remember where the silverware is stored or the plates.  But she really wants to work.  And once she gets started, her mind seems to rest and all sorts of memories come back to her.

She doesn’t always recognize my dad any more.  And for weeks now, she hasn’t recognized her own home.  But after we got dinner ready yesterday, she went over to dad obviously knowing who he was and hugged him saying, “I love you.”  He kissed her on the forehead and it was all any of us could do to keep from weeping.

I now realize that despite her disease, she needs purpose – not entertainment.  She needs to serve others.  Isn’t that just what followers of Christ are meant to do?   Since I put her to work, she has stopped constantly apologizing.  We all make such a big deal over how much she helps me and how easy she makes cleaning up.  She is contributing again.  And it really makes her happy.

When we sit down at dinner, she tells us about her life.  She likes the memories of her father teaching Sunday School the best.  We hear about that a lot.  He taught the teenagers and they came home for dinner with him every Sunday after church.  Her mother couldn’t go to church on Sunday mornings, because she had to get lunch ready for all those teenagers, but she could go to church on Sunday nights.  My mom had a horse she rode to Lake Junaluska every day after school.  She learned to drive by taking her father’s jeep across a creek to an island where she could practice.  And she misses her mom – a lot.

*****

April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

45 thoughts on “Needing to Serve

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  2. I lost my last and oldest sister a few years ago after 3 years of declining health following heart surgery. It appeared to be dementia but a few weeks before she passed away we found out she had a brain tumor which mimicked dementia. I don’t care what the diagnosis was I lost my last sibling and it hurts still so much. There are things I need to talk to her about and tell her how much I need her and miss her. My only consolation is she is not hurting or sad or confused anymore. She is in the arms of God and all is healed.

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  3. That is such a heartwarming story April love; and especially the fact that it came out of a sad story to begin with.
    Thank God you figured out by paying attention what it was that would help and stop hurting her. I believe that all of us no-matter what our condition, need to have some kind of a purpose in life. I remember after my last partner died, and I became so very angry towards God (of course I know now that I was directing my anger towards the wrong person) and lost all sense of purpose in life, because I was such an absolute mess thatI was of no use to anyone. It was one of the worst places I have ever been in, in life. So it makes perfect sense to me that your mum still needs to feel useful and that she has a purpose whilst visiting with you guys.
    I well remember your wee mum and dad. Remember whenever they came to visit for a week or so and we got to hang out during the day doing things with the boys together, and it was always a nice experience being around them.
    Sending love, hugs, prayers, and many Irish Blessings your way today and every day! xoxoxoxo

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  4. My mother passed away 6 years ago in June , due to complications from Alzheimers. It is a devastating disease for everyone involved, I learn to live for the moments, and went to support groups every month. I am a nurse and I have cried with many families that are affected by this disease, It breaks my heart to see other people going trough the same pain my family went through. Hugs for everyone that is living through this. Get as much support as you can from everywhere you can. I miss my Mom so much but am glad she is finally at peace , no longer afflected by this disease. Again my thoughts and prayers go out to you all and many big hugs.
    Vickie

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  5. My dad will be 87 in May. He had dementia, which we accepted as he was getting up in age, but after he had a cardiac arrest three years ago, the Alzheimer’s began to speed up. To make a long story short……my mom tried taking care of him, but he was too much. He had a catheter, but continued to get infections, ended up in the hospital and the doctor told us he was only going to make it two weeks. I flew up (I live out of State) to see him and two weeks went by and he was doing better. Finally found a wonderful Memory Care Facility for him and he is doing great. His short term memory also is not good, but he does have moments of clarity, but really remembers his younger days. Since I am out of State, but want to stay connected, I send him a picture postcard every other day with a simple description such as: Daughter, Patty with her son, Joe. Location: Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles CA. I look at it as sort of a memory “flash card.” Also, when he was in the hospital and the nurses were having trouble giving him something or wanting him to do something, my younger son who is a fire fighter, would hold grandpa’s hands or have him look right at him and he would give him a brief explanation why the nurse had to do something or that he needed to eat his yogurt, etc. The good news is that mom is contemplating bringing him home again because he is doing so good. I do worry though that she will not be able to keep him hydrated and fed properly, but it would be good to have him home on the farm.

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  6. Thanks to all of you for sharing your experiences. My mother is 90. She started forgetting things around 10 years ago and slowly has gotten worse. She is very repetitive mostly towards the later part of the day. I’ve been told it is called sundowners syndrome. I also take care of my grandchildren and I find that is so good for my mother to be with them. She is so happy when they give her any attention. I really think that is what keeps her going. My problem is that I loose my patience with her asking me the same questions all the time and I get stressed out and argue with her in front of my very young grandchildren. I can see that the kids are affected by this and I keep telling myself that I won’t do it anymore. My mother forgets about the arguing but the kids don’t. She is able and willing to help me with the kids but I don’t let her do enough. I always ask her to fold the laundry and she loves doing that. I have to think of other things she can do. Thanks again for the good advise.

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  7. What a lovely story. My Mom is almost 70 and has been in a care home since her heart attack and pneumonia last year. My Dad was doing great at home looking after her, but since being in the home, she hardly speaks, doesn’t walk, only liquid diet and is very agitated a lot. I see her as much as I can as I live 4.5 hours away. I know she wants to do more, but her hands can’t quite seem to hold much to fold laundry or anything like that. Yet, she likes the physical touch of holding her hand and talking about the old times. I miss talking to her on the phone, so I was thinking of writing a letter, or one of those cards that you can record a story into. I really liked your story and it shows how you can get Alzheimer’s / Dementia people to do the little they can do, and to remember to just keep explaining it to them, and not to get caught up with the fact they can’t remember. Thank you for sharing.

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  8. I think we all need to feel needed and helpful. My mother is soon to be 87. I get her to help by giving her the small pieces of laundry to fold… her panties, washrags, hand towels. I just hand them to her in her chair and she will fold them. When cooking, I will open all the ingredients, sit her at the table and provide all the utensils, and she will add them together or spread them out for me to cook.
    I remember sewing some felt snowmen for Christmas activity. I couldn’t figure out how to thread mother’s machine (I hadn’t sewn in 30 years), but mother sewed her whole life. She hadn’t made anything in years. She couldn’t remember how to tell me to thread it, but she wanted to help me so badly. Finally, I just tried having her sit at the sewing machine and told her, “Mom, thread this machine.” And she did it. She couldn’t talk it out or explain it, but she could just sit down and go through the motions. She was thrilled for weeks about that. Kept asking me if the little kids enjoyed making the snowmen we made. It really takes very little to make them feel good about themselves. SImple things or tasks that we may think are trevial, but they see it as helping. Mother is beyond doing any big tasks or standing for a long time, but she still needs to feel needed. Remember with Alzheimer’s, they can’t remember. Give short explanations, and don’t worry about trying to get them to remember, accept that they can’t and spare your own sanity. I know she will be gone one day, and I am going to know I was patient with her, and tried to make her comfortable and feel loved. She told me once that she can’t remember names or her grandkids anymore, but she remembers how they made her feel. Powerful words !

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  9. This is so true. Everyone needs a purpose… Even as my mom was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, she would get up from the table and clear the dishes after meals. She’d rinse the dishes, put them into the dishwasher, and wipe the counter with a dishcloth – just like she’d done for years and years. It was so engrained in her; when she could do little else, she remembered that, and I will always believe that it made her feel good to be DOING something helpful. Best wishes to you and your family.

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  10. My husband was diagnosed with dementia/alzheimer’s back 6 yrs ago after a massive stroke by a nuerologist. He has seizures and is on meds for this. his brain function is actually improving from year to year and in 6 yrs time there has only been 3 people he did not remember. His mood swings is what is very bad. When I told the neurologist the neurologist this she suggested more meds which I personally think will put him further out in left field so to speak. I would rather deal with the mood swings than have him wither away like a zombie.

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  11. Very sad to hear some of these stories. Unfortunately so true about the medication that is given to our love ones. My dad is 79 and was diagnosed with dementia about a year a half ago. He fell one time and had to go to the hospital. He was them diagnosed with having Parkinson’s. he was put in a rehab p,ace to help him with his walking. He was very aggressive sometimes because of the dementia. While visiting him daily I started to realize that most of the time my father was sleeping. I complained after awhile, figuring it was probably medication they were giving him. He was discharged after a month, we took him to his psychiatrist visit. The rehab had given me a list of his medication they were giving him. His psychiatrist was not happy the way my father appears. Very incoherent and restless. I showed him the list the rehab had given me. He was so upset saying that basically most of the medication that they were given him was to keep him sleep. He said that rehab sometimes over medicate so they don’t have to deal with the aggressiveness. He took him off of most of them and I’m happy to say within a month my dad was becoming more coherent. It’s bad enough dealing with the disease but to over medicate them sets the back so much more. I was so diss appointed to hear that rehabs do that. If I can help it I will be more aware of what medication is given to my father..

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  12. 4/12/2013 i don’t know where to start my wife was 62 yrs old and she was aware something was wrong lots off test they called it dementia stuff like that only happens to other people yep i am one off those people mr fix it not this time we moved out off our home to a smaller place and i did all i could and she was verry good about this but times came she got frustrated and hard to look after she is now in nursing home it be 3 yrs this september this past yrs ive been seeing her daily the past yr i have been feeding her she is in a wheelchair and gets in a host at bed time she gets great care but life is not the same a briliant music teacher piano organ and now music gets her frustrated to say the least this disease got to be the worst god bless all off you andy

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  13. Thanks to all for sharing their stories. My husband was diagnosed at the age of 59. We have had 38 wonderful years together and hope for more. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease and I sometimes times I find it unbearable to think about the future but am so thankful for the time we have left.

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  14. My mother had the primary responsibility of caretaker, for her mom, my grandmother, when she suffered with Alzheimer’s. I’ve lost them both now, but I find myself hoping my mother found ways to ease their discomfort, in dealing with this terribly sad, end of life ordeal.

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  15. I love your story and how you found a purpose for your Mom. I wish I could do the same for my mother. She is 77 and was diagnosed at 72. At 73, breast cancer, lumpectomy, chemo and radiation, as well as several falls with non-surgical recoveries has left her chair bound (essentially lives in her recliner. She can walk a few steps with her walker, but needs the lift of the power chair and the wheel chair for any other things. Her writing has been getting worse and worse. We share a home, so I am here every day. I work out of the house three days a week and a caregiver is here on those days. Essentially, Mom watches TV and ‘reads’ magazines and newspapers. I know she gets bored, she says so. I know she is frustrated, she says so. I just can’t figure out what to offer. I’ve tried a thing or two, but have not found anything that works. She says ‘when I get better, I’ll do this’ or ‘when I get better, you won’t have to do that anymore’. It breaks my heart that this is as good as she’ll get. I suppose the hope that she’ll someday get better is a good thing, but it is hard to hear the wishes!

    God Bless you and all the care givers.

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  16. To Jody-Ann
    You might want to rethink taking your husband on that trip. I took my Mom on a trip to visit my sister for 10 days. The trip made her Alzheimers worse for a good month after. She was so comfused while we were there and when we returned home. Taking her away from her normal everyday life was very hard on her.

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  17. I cannot keep from crying as I think of my dearest husband who also has Alzheimer’s . It breaks my heart to see him going downhill. He’s in a home 200 miles from our home, so I do a lot of driving each week, difficult especially in the winter here in Alaska. Yes, it does take a toll on the caregiver. But, The Lord has given us almost 55 years together. So, we have been blessed.

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  18. It reminds me of what’s going on with my mother. She just spent a month in hospital and has declined so much its heartbreaking. The one thing I’ve found and am blaming it on is the stupid meds they put our elderly parents on to keep them ‘in control’ so they don’t have to babysit them. If you look at the side effects on highly crucial organ systems like the thyroid, I’m surprised these companies have been able to sell these drugs at all. I’m appauled and hold them 100% responsible for her decline and I’ve started to take her off them once again. I took her off Celexa (prescribed instead of thyroid hormone) which just about killed her. Had her put on thyroid meds and supplemented with with things like zinc,… and she had an amazing comeback after 4.5 months of very hard work on my part. She had a seizing incident associated with a stroke, had the hospital check it out and in one month (they put her on an antipsychotic to keep her sleeping so they didn’t have to watch her) they eliminated 4.5 months of work – I’m now back to square 2. So why am I mentioning this here? Because its like she has full blown dementia/Alzheimer’s when in fact its only the stupid meds they put the elderly on causing a lot of these issues.

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  19. I do not know who you are, or why this story showed up on my Facebook feed, but I thank you for writing. My husband is 57 years old, and has been diagnosed with a rare form of dementia. I am caring for him full-time, without any help. We eat fast-food every day, because of the stress I am under. I do not sleep, and my well-being is spiraling down. My dream, is to take my husband to the South, to see his new grandchild and the family homestead, one more time, before he completely slips away. I appreciate all the hopeful and helpful ideas about how to engage and encourage my husband. Have a beautiful day, all of you!

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    1. Jody-Anne..I am there with you..My husband was 59 when we were told he had Alzheimer’s. That was 10 yrs ago.. As the years have gone by I have lost more & more of the wonderful man I married, but I hold tight the beautiful memories I have of him…This disease truly is the “long goodby”. This year I have taken him out to eat a lot more, sometimes for a break for me but also so he can socialize with friends or even other diners. My husband loves music & I made several cd’s of all his favorite songs..I play them & we dance together..This helps as he will listen while I’m cooking or doing other household chores. I record country music specials & replay them also. I made a photo album of his family (parents) also have the walls on his side of the room covered with his family members. I ask his help in bed making & other small chores…he does the best he can..I praise him whenever he helps & he loves this. I hope some of this info is helpful to you.. Chin up..Take him south to see family & make more memories..God Bless you both..

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    2. Brenda says:

      April 12, 2013 at 3:10 PM

      To Jody-Ann
      You might want to rethink taking your husband on that trip. I took my Mom on a trip to visit my sister for 10 days. The trip made her Alzheimers worse for a good month after. She was so comfused while we were there and when we returned home. Taking her away from her normal everyday life was very hard on her.

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  20. My father is 82 now and is spending sometime in my house , and I had asked him to read aloud from a book while I´m preparing our daily meal, and that made a big difference in our time together!!

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  21. My mom was 60 when she got this terrible disease..so young and just retired. For the next few years as she went downhill, she was moved into a nursing home. Shortly thereafter she stopped speaking. I never realized how much I would miss her voice, miss her conversations… at the age of 67 she lost her battle to this disease. This year I’m riding in the Run Tri Ride in MA in her honor and to everyone who is lost and currently struggling with the disease..its so sad and I miss my mom very much to this very day. Keep your strength and enjoy every day that you can with them..i would give anything to have had more time.. thanks for letting me share.

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  22. My mum (Pam 76 yo) has this horrid sickness Dementia, she remembers her mum and dad and living on the farm, she has her old boyfriend from when she was 15 phone her every night to say hello as my dad passed away 6 years ago. Mum is also blind and its hard to find something to do with her, she loves music so we have a lot of music for her and she listens to old movies and sings along with them also, mum likes a wine now and then so if we are out at a bbq so she feels like she fits in we give her a red wine or 2 but I have to water it down because she drinks it like lollywater (it makes her happy), she is the most beautiful mum in this world and to be struck down with this is just not fair. All we can do is make the rest of their lives as happy and memorable as we can even if it only lasts a minute, keep up the great work everyone, bless you all xxx

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  23. I am very resilient – just hardwired that way for some reason. But there are hard times too and, sadly, I expect things are going to get worse and will need more coping techniques with each phase. I agree that the repetition is hard!!! And how can you stop it when they can’t remember what they said two minutes ago. Thank you for sharing!!

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    1. In my experience as an Activity Director with Alzheimer and Dementia patients, I know you can not stop the repetition but you can extrapolate into other things with questions requesting their opinion on something that you are doing. It almost always helps them to go to another wonderful place of empowerment! Love and prayers to everyone enhancing the lives of the stricken!!

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  24. You sound so strong ! The repetition is hard for me to take. Some days are better than others for memory. One thing I notice is that if we have a beer and a party atmosphere Mom relaxes and seems to focus a lot better.
    Mom has always seen the negative side of things and that is the one thing that has not changed. I wish that was different more than anything but I know it is not going to change.
    One question – do you think that a diet large in sugar could be a culprit in this terrible disease?
    Good luck to you and yours !

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  25. hi i have a father who is 78, he had a stroke 2 years ago now, it affected his memory and coordination, over time his mental abilities have deterioated quickly, we are waiting for test results on friday to tell us what we as a family already know, that he has dementia, it is so hard as he has changed in his personality and is not my dad how he was, He can remember way back to his national service days but his short term memory has gone really, my mum really struggles to keep him clean and well as he can be aggressive at times, this i think is frustration that we do not understand his thinking as he wants us to, his words come out wrong and we have to work out what he is trying to tell us, he is incontinent at times and this he hates as he is such a clean man ususally, it breaks my heart to see him like this, it is so cruel when the mind lets you down, reading the above experiences has given me strength to know that others are going through and been through what we have as a family, for this i thank you for your strength and we will keep dad as well as he can be , take care , lesley

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    1. Hi my dads been gone now for 2 years too. He to had dementia, this disease takes everything from the person who has it, and all who love them.. All I can say is, love the times that they are present and know who you are because they are the times that will get you through when you feel like giving up. You do find out who you are and who the people that are helping you are.. It will bring you close or brake you up. I was lucky, it made me my son and my husband closer and I now know what wonderful people they are and how much they loved my father.. I could tell you all the struggles we went through and how hard it was, but I think you all know this already. All of you must be very speical people because thats what it takes to care for a loved one going through this.. I will never be who I was before my dad got sick, it changed me, but it is for the better I think. Things that seemed important before just aren’t now.. I don’t know why this happened to my dad I don’t know why it happens to anyone..

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  26. My mother had dementia which started, we thin’k, before a major e coli infection landed her in the hospital at 77. She finally recovered from that, but memory loss worsened after a left-side mastectomy, then open-heart surgery several months later. She was no longer able to do any household tasks or take care of herself. Dad took over all he could, including giving her medications she needed, including ones for diabetes, which had emerged through all this. They went to a retirement home, smaller living area to maintain and dining hall on-site, and a health clinic. She became incontinent and unable to walk unaided, so Dad got a wheelchair to get her around in. Eventually she became bedridden in the health care center there- A hoist was required to get her out of bed. Dad visited daily, helping her to eat. Eventually she lost ability to swallow, so hospice was called in. She passed away in 2011, a little over 10 years after subtle signs of problems appeared. My parents were married 65 years. Dad reminisces about her daily. Alzheimer’s is a terrible, heartbreaking disease.

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  27. my mother was exactly like this and i to encouraged my mother to help out, and yes it helped a lot, but unfortunately my father felt to anxious about doing this in their own home, because she was not mobile and registered blind, he feared for all sorts of reasons why she should not assist, even though he could see that at my home she was quite capable of carrying out these small tasks. my mother was so happy because she thought she was lessening my burdens, my mothers life had been very traumatic as a youngster having her mother die when she was only 11 yrs old and was then responsible for caring for her disabled father, she lived i a very remote place and had to walk 2miles to school and 2 miles back, she was given dispensation from doing full time education, so that she could care for her father whilst her 2 sisters were in service providing for them all.

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      1. thank you shelia for sharing your mother story.God bless you. I am having the same problem with my husband and is hard becouse sometimes i dont know what to do.

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  28. My mom has the same sickness, but also her breathing is limited. She wants to help me, but she can’t breathe. Today is there 60th anniversary so I have decided that the party will be at there house, where there familiar with there own house, Mom spends lots of time in bed these days, but I take over and do the things they can’t do anymore. Alzheimers is a terrible disese,

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