Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Entering Stage Seven of Alzheimer's

I received a text today from my sister Lisa saying that Mom has been really struggling for the past five days.

From what we can tell, she's entered Stage Seven of Alzheimer's, which is the final stage.

She won't take her pills anymore.  It takes two people to lift her.  She doesn't remember how to brush her teeth, and she spends most of the day sleeping or staring off into space.  She isn't "there" anymore. 

I called my sister Susan, who was with her today, and I tried to talk with Mom on the phone for just a few moments. My mom said, "Hi April!" really enthusiastically, but then she withdrew back into herself and couldn't say anything else.

But tomorrow is Thursday, and that's my day to be with her.  

It's also Halloween, so Eric is going to come with me, and we're going to take these four cuties with us:


The plan is to eat dinner at my parents' house and then lift Mom into the wheelchair so she can go trick-or-treating with us for a little while.

Eric suggested I simply enjoy my time with my mom and stop pointing out the "lasts," but I can't stop thinking that this will probably be our last Halloween together.  

Once the trick-or-treating is over, Eric is going to take the children home, and then I'm going to get to stay the night at my parents' house and fly to New York the following morning for the Power of Moms Retreat (which I'm really excited about . . . but I think it's okay to be excited about one thing and sad about another thing at the same time).

I'm sure the events over the next few days will work out fine, but oh, it's been a hard evening for me.

I'm uploading documents to pick up at the Kinko's in New York and cleaning off my camera for tomorrow, but I just keep breaking down. I know life has to come to a close for everyone, and I know my mom needs a release from this heartbreaking disease.  I just don't think there's going to ever be a point where I'll be ready to say goodbye. (Those of you who have gone through this . . . were you EVER ready?)

My children can sense how hard this is for me.  They keep hugging me and kissing me and saying, "Mom, everything is going to be okay." 

We listened to an audiobook tonight, and I spent a few minutes tickling each of their backs before tucking them in bed. It's a little hard to describe, but I feel like I'm mothering in slow motion--paying close attention to every sweet facial expression, every precious interaction, and every memory we're making. I keep thinking that perhaps if I love my children as fully as I can, maybe my mom will be able to feel it--and know that all her years teaching me and nurturing me and being there for me were worth the effort.

I miss her so much.  So, so much.  But I get to live every single day smack dab in the middle of my own family.  And this life of ours--as imperfect as it may be--is breathtakingly beautiful.

So that's where things stand today.

Thanks--again--for being with me through this.

Love,
April


Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Casserole that Changed the Heart of an 11-Year-Old Girl

Quick note: Our Power of Moms New York Retreat is this Saturday. My stomach is full of butterflies, but I know it will be a wonderful event with outstanding deliberate mothers in attendance (outstanding doesn't mean perfect...so there's no stress, okay?). We most likely won't be getting back to New York for quite awhile, so if you or anyone you know is thinking about attending, please visit this link.  Thanks!!


I've been thinking a lot lately about this book I've been wanting to write. Most of my quiet time lately has been spent on technical computer work, taking care of emails, and handling lots and lots of "stuff," and as important as those things are, they don't really fill you.  (You know what I mean, don't you?)

About a month ago, I decided to get up at 4:30 a.m. every Monday and spend two hours actually writing this book that's been burning inside of me.

That great idea lasted for exactly one Monday.

It was just too early for me, and then I turned into a bit of a monster by the afternoon, and I thought, "Well, I can't become a monster in order to write a book about motherhood."

So then I stopped writing . . . again.

Lately, however, I've been thinking that I can at least start writing Section Two of the book (I've organized it into three sections, and the second one is where I'm sharing stories about my mother).

You see, I can't be with her as much as I'd like, and whenever I talk to my sisters and dad--who are with her--I hear how she's starting to close off more and more and how when she's on the phone with someone, she can never remember who she's talking to.  I never call her during the week because I know she won't know what to say, so I just hold my breath and wait for those Thursday visits. But since I wasn't able to go this last Thursday, the anticipation is killing me, and I think if I spend a few minutes recording stories about her, I'll be able to handle this time apart.

(That was a long introduction to this little story, but I wanted to explain what I'm doing.)

So here we go with "The Casserole that Changed the Heart of an 11-Year-Old Girl":

My little brother used to play with a couple of boys who lived a few streets over from us. They mostly played video games together and ate scrambled eggs and toast from the trays my mom would prepare for them after school (my brother was a picky eater, so eggs and toast were a common staple).

We didn't know their family very well (or really, at all), but the boys were quiet and respectful, and they liked being at our house.

One early afternoon, my mom went to the boys' house for some reason and had a conversation with their mother (can't remember the details, and my mom can't really fill in the gaps anymore). In their short interchange, she confided to my mom that things were dreadfully wrong with her marriage.

She started to cry and explained that her husband had threatened to leave her, and she didn't know what she would do with her children, and her whole life was a mess.

I've theoretically put myself into my mom's situation a few times. What would I do if a neighbor came to me with that kind of a problem?

Most of us don't want to get involved in something so hard and so personal. We're all busy with our own lives, and challenges like that are obviously built up over the course of many years.  Replying with, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I hope things work out okay," doesn't cut it. But you can't just insert yourself into other people's lives and try to fix things for them.

Well, my mother handled it beautifully, and here's how:

She put her arm around our neighbor's shoulder and said enthusiastically, "Now here's what we're going to do.  You're going to work really hard today and get your house all clean and shiny. And I'm going to go back to my house and make you a nice dinner that you can serve to your husband when he gets home."

"Oh, I can't possibly let you do that," she responded.

"He doesn't even need to know the meal was from me. Now what time does he get home?" my mom replied insistently.

"About 5:30."

"Okay, I'll be here at 5.  And once he gets home and sees how beautiful the house looks and gets to eat a nice hot meal, then you're going to have the boys go play outside, and you're going to sit down together and have a good talk about how you can make things work and how you can take care of your family."

For the rest of the afternoon, my mom and I (an 11-year-old girl, at the time) prepared a special casserole and baked some homemade bread, and my mom relayed the story to me.

Then we put everything into a cardboard box, including my favorite tablecloth--the one with the cherries on it. I remember protesting, "But what if we don't get it back?"
"We don't worry about those kinds of things, April," she'd responded. (But, yes, we did get it back.)

Once the box was ready, we carried it out to the car.  I held it on my lap, and the warmth from the casserole settled into me as we drove over. I remember feeling worried, though. Worried that this casserole wasn't enough to save a whole marriage. But my mom was so happy and so confident that God would help take care of them, so I didn't say anything.

Once we got to the house, I waited in the car, and my mom took the box up to the door. It was a quick drop, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what ever happened to that family.

But that really isn't the point of this story.

The point, to me, is about what happened in the hearts of at least two of the people involved.

It must have done something for that struggling mother to know that someone cared about her. We all know how a simple act of kindness can restore your faith in the world--and your faith in yourself.

And I can tell you with 100% certainty what it did to the 11-year-old girl sitting in the car--because I clearly remember that experience nearly 25 years later.

For one thing, I remember thinking that I wanted to be just like my mom. She never told a soul about that dinner, and she didn't do it for praise. She did it out of pure love. Watching her mix the bread dough and working side by side with her as we assembled that casserole, I could see she was happy when she was serving. It's just who she is. I wanted to make that who I was, as well.

She also taught me that it's okay if we can't solve everyone's problems. We can't do everything for everybody, but we can do something for someone.

This is just one of hundreds of stories I could tell about my mom. People often comment on the special bond we have. And I've had dozens of people ask me what exactly she did to build a family who adores her so much.

There isn't one answer to that question. It was more of a process, which is why I'm trying to write about it--grabbing stories here and there that represent the kind of person she was (and still is).

If I had to pick one word to describe her, I would call her an angel.  And when you grow up with an angel in your home, who knows God and who serves Him and who loves Him with everything she has, it fills your heart with a desire to do the same.

I'm far from that ideal, but her powerful example is one of the main reasons I try so hard to live right and to strengthen other mothers. She is my hero.

Much love,
April




Thursday, October 24, 2013

Happy Things (Including Grace and our "Wizard of Oz" Day)

I've been writing a lot about my mom lately--and about the things that are hard for me.

Grace had a little talk with me about that last week, and she said, "Mom, you need to write about happy things. Like me. And the fun things we do."

She's right. So here we go . . . first a little bit about Grace:

Grace is my darling 11-year-old. She squeals when she sees me in the morning and gives me huge hugs. She's my child who really likes back tickles, so she's always the first to snuggle up to me on the couch and let me hold her (and tickle her).  She's also got a great sense of humor, and when I'm around her, I laugh--those good, solid laughs right from my tummy.

Grace is responsible--always the first one to make her lunch for the next day, always the first one to check off the squares on her responsibility chart, and most always the first to finish her homework. And she has the most sensitive spirit. She wants to make good choices and be sweet and kind, and she wants to serve God.  (I'll have to share some more specific conversations and experiences in the future.) I just love her.

Last week, we were putting together a couple of photos for her 6th grade yearbook.

We started with this one:


and then moved to this one:


This growing-up is happening way too fast, but yes, Grace is such a "happy thing" in my life.

Another happy thing was our day trip to San Diego last Saturday. We had a "Wizard of Oz Day" that was more fun than I expected (and practically free!).

I read in a AAA magazine that The Wizard of Oz was actually written on Coronado (a small island in San Diego).

So we sang songs from the movie and read snippets from the book during our drive down, and then we started our adventure at the former home of L. Frank Baum.  Isn't it darling? Can't you just picture him writing all about Dorothy and her journey from that sun room in the front?


Here's a closer look at the front of the house.  (See the "Wizard of Oz Ave" sign?)


Coronado has a darling public museum right around the corner of this house, and they have three original Wizard of Oz books on display.


They also had tons of photos and interesting exhibits the children explored.  Here's Ethan filling out the scavenger hunt form they gave him:


Perfect name for a local store:


And my boys thought they'd died and gone to heaven when they saw this candy factory (nothing to do with The Wizard of Oz, but boy, was it fun):





 I think it's cute how Spencer always finds the car displays and then makes himself right at home:

We also walked around the Hotel del Coronado, which is beautiful. They say this was Baum's inspiration for the Emerald City.
 

 
And then after lunch, right before we headed home, we stopped by the Coronado Public Library.

I'm already a huge library fan--just because I adore books. But this library is unbelievable.

They had this little scene set up with Madeline, Ramona, and Pippi:


And this one with Arthur, D.W., the little engine that could, and Paddington:

LOVE The Boxcar Children . . .
 

And if I could have stayed there all day, reading to my heart's content, I would have:


The children could have put on another 100 puppet shows:


 Seeing this beautiful Wizard of Oz glass art display was the perfect way to end the day.

 

It was such a happy time. (Overall, I mean . . . because of course we had some bickering, and I was a tad moody, and we walked around looking for lunch for way too long, and then the children were whining a little, and Eric was wondering why they had to whine when they had just eaten snacks in the car, and they couldn't possibly be that hungry. You know how it goes.)

So that's all for today. I just wanted to make sure I'm giving enough coverage to the fun parts of life--because, really, I am grateful.

As I read about Davion Only this week, and as I attended a cottage meeting with a member of the school board tonight (and discussed many ways families are struggling), I realized more and more that the work we do in our homes to love and cherish our children is critical. It doesn't often feel that way, but there is zero doubt that what we're doing matters.

And the more we can do to strengthen other parents--and help them to see how their positive influences will impact generations to come--the stronger our communities become. This work is huge. This work is long-lasting. This work can be so, so happy.

I'll just close with my mom's favorite Dorothy quote:

"If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard."





Sunday, October 20, 2013

Eight Ideas for Keeping Ourselves Centered

The eight ideas below are the ones that have been keeping me centered lately.  Sometimes when I spend too much time reading or watching the news, I start to feel discouraged and frustrated. And then I begin to feel worried. And then I lose my focus--thinking that the small part I play in all of this simply isn't enough . . . and never will be.

But these ideas remind me of what I know to be true, and today I thought I'd share them.

(Each idea originated from a talk at our church's recent General Conference, so I've linked to each specific source.)

Idea #1: The most important part of the service we give is our daily spiritual preparation.

Sometimes I mistakenly believe that I need to "rush into my work" because there is an overwhelming amount to do.  But putting spiritual preparation first is essential.  Taking time to pray, study scripture, record impressions, and connect with the Lord first is the way we ensure that the rest of our day's work and activities will matter.

More on that topic here. 

Idea #2: "Using all our strength" means something different than we often think it means.

This story has been coming back to my mind over and over again:
 
A young boy was trying to smooth out the dirt area behind his house so he could play there with his cars. There was a large rock obstructing his work. The boy pushed and pulled with all his might, but no matter how hard he tried, the rock wouldn’t budge.

His father watched for a while, then came to his son and said, “You need to use all your strength to move a rock this large.”

The boy responded, “I have used all my strength!”

His father corrected him: “No you haven’t. You haven’t had my help yet!”

They then bent down together and moved the rock easily.

That is the story of my life.

I work as hard as I can to "move rocks," (often doubting myself and wondering how on earth I will possibly be able to do it), but the moment I remember to ask my Father for help, the rock moves . . . easily.


More on this here.

Idea #3: Remember that "good timber doesn't grow with ease."

Have you heard this poem?

Good timber does not grow with ease,
The stronger wind, the stronger trees.
The further sky, the greater length.
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.
 
Douglas Malloch, “Good Timber,” in Sterling W. Sill, Making the Most of Yourself (1971), 23.

I love this.

More here.

Idea #4: We need to identify which spiritual vulnerabilities of ours the adversary tries to exploit.  

I believe that there is an adversary out there, and he knows where we're weak. One of my biggest vulnerabilities is my tendency to feel anxious when things are unknown or uncertain. So I'm doing everything I can to strengthen my faith, to develop habits that reduce my anxiety, and to hopefully turn this weakness into a strength.

More here.

Idea #5: A grateful person is content.

It's so easy to think, "Life will be great once we've taken the family to Europe." or "Once we have our dream house and our dream jobs and our dream family and our dreamy life, we won't have any problems."

Silly, I know. 

We definitely want to move forward in creating beautiful, meaningful lives--and that can include a lovely home and fun vacations and work we love--but if we're really grateful to the Lord for all He has given us, we will feel contentment now.

More here.

Idea #6: We must recognize the simple and subtle blessings the Lord has given to us.

It's common to notice the big blessings, but if we step back and ask ourselves, "What blessings would the Lord like me to notice?" we will definitely identify hundreds and thousands of ways we have received the Lord's grace.

More here.


Idea #7: "Fatigue is the common enemy of us all—so slow down, rest up, replenish and refill." 

I really, really, really needed this one.  I've been staying up too late and feeling so anxious during the day that I haven't been able to rest during quiet time, and then because I've been so tired, life has felt more overwhelming than it needs to feel.  (Has that ever happened to you?)  I like when I'm reminded to slow down and rest. We all need that.


 More here.
 
Idea #8: The Father is generous with His power.

This idea touches my heart every time I think of it.  Sometimes life, for all of us, feels so heavy. But God has the power to handle everything.  When we feel like we're lacking in knowledge, ability, resilience, mental strength, or anything, we turn to our Father, and He blesses us.  This has been true for me in every case throughout my life so far.

More here.

If you have any additional ideas to share, I'd love to hear them.

Hope these ideas are helpful for you.

Much love,
April

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why YOU are a Tender Mercy

Whenever I write directly to the readers of this blog (using the word "You"), I kind of feel like I'm writing The Neverending Story.  Remember how Bastian was reading that magical book . . . and the author knew him . . . and needed him to save the land of Fantasia from the Nothing?


(I just ordered that movie from Netflix so I can show it to my kids this weekend. . . .)

Well, even though I don't know who, exactly, is reading this blog, and even though I'm not asking you to give a princess a new name, I appreciate you being here, and I'd like to tell you why.

It seems common in the world today for people to shoulder their struggles alone.  Although we're more connected than ever, most of us don't know what's going on in each other's lives.

We can share the happy and funny moments (which are definitely important . . . and I love the overall positivity of my social network), but when the hard stuff comes along, it's becoming more and more normal to withdraw and sit quiet until things get better.  (Am I right?)

I watched this amazing TED talk a few weeks ago.  If you have a lot of stress in your life, you need this.



The part I liked most was about how our bodies produce the chemical oxytocin when we're stressed.  Oxytocin is also known as the "cuddle hormone," and it encourages us to connect on a meaningful, personal level with other people.

So our biology is designed to bring us together when we're suffering.

It reminds me of Romans 12:15, which says, "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" and Mosiah 18:10, which says, "mourn with those that mourn . . . and comfort those that stand in need of comfort."

This idea helps me to understand why I feel this need to write and share my life.

But what I really want to share today are a few examples of how you are affecting me.  Obviously, I can't list everyone here (though I wish I could), but please know I am grateful for every single one of you.

Example #1 is Corrie, from Retro Mummy.

I have such a supportive group of friends that I mainly connect with online.  Corrie is an example of a friend who lives on the other side of the world. She and I met last year at a "Power of Mums" Australian Retreat, and in the midst of the two-day event, we only had the chance to speak one-on-one for 30 minutes or so.  I didn't know then that Corrie had lost her mum, but now she strengthens me by telling me about her experience and encouraging me to cherish these moments I have left with mine.  She totally understands what I'm going through, and when I'm struggling, Corrie is one of the friends I think about, and I remind myself, "She would tell me to keep going."

Example #2 are my dear friends from church and from our neighborhood.

They occasionally check my blog, and then when they see me on Sunday or at a mid-week activity or while I'm at the elementary school, they give me a hug and let me know they're thinking of me.  I don't have to re-tell the same story over and over again because they already know what's happening. And even though I worry that I might come across as "needy" or "dependent," it feels so comforting to know that people care.

Example #3 is my friend Rachel.

We live in the same city, but we met last summer for the first time--randomly in Flagstaff Arizona, and our families have become close friends. Rachel is the mother to three children we all totally adore and is an unbelievably talented photographer. (See her blog here.)

A couple of months ago, when Rachel and I were on a double date with our husbands, she said, "April, I want to come with you to see your mom on one of your Thursdays, and I want to photograph the two of you together."

Just the thought brought tears to my eyes.  I couldn't believe she'd want to do something like that for me. But as I thought about the logistics--driving an hour each way, trying to manage our collective seven children, plus the fact that she was seven months pregnant when she made the offer, I figured it was enough that she'd even expressed an interest in giving me such a gift.

But she didn't give up.  She'd send me an occasional text asking when we could schedule our photo shoot, or she'd mention it while we were on the phone, or she'd bring it up with Alia, who is one of her most loyal followers on Instagram.

And finally, we made it happen.

This is a photo Alia took with her phone during part of the shoot:


And here are some of my favorite photos:










Rachel asked us questions throughout the whole shoot--so she could get natural, un-posed photos. At one point, she asked me to share how I feel about my mom.  That's when she snapped this photo:


Honestly, I can't even look at that picture without getting choked up. It perfectly encompasses how I feel every time I go see my mom.  She's happy and peaceful and sweet, and I am just aching inside because I'm saying goodbye to her . . . and she doesn't even know it.

But then I also have this picture, which I want to frame and keep forever and ever--because it reminds me how happy we are together.


Thank you, Rachel, for this beautiful, beautiful gift.

A favorite scripture of mine talks about the tender mercies of the Lord--and having all of you as my friends is a tender mercy.

You inspire me to care more about other people and to look outside myself--even when my life feels hard.

You strengthen me to keep writing and keep mothering deliberately.

You bring a beautiful joy in my life that reminds me every single day that we were never meant to go through this life alone.

Much love to all of you.

-April







Sunday, October 13, 2013

Why It's Hard for Me to Tell My Story (and Why I Need to Get Past It)

I keep getting the feeling I need to write more on this blog--to share my story.

But it is incredibly hard for me to do so. 

Part of the challenge comes from the fact that I'm juggling a huge number of projects with Power of Moms (creating webinars, recording podcasts, doing our weekly radio show, working with some new sponsors, re-doing our entire database system, creating new programs, gearing up for the New York Retreat, managing our board and content schedule, etc.).  We have an amazing group of volunteers who support the site--which is WONDERFUL--and I know this is what I'm supposed to be doing right now, but there is still a ton of work that Saren and I need to do each week.  It's a big job for us.

I also find this process hard because when I get down to the heart of the matter and talk about what's really going on in my life, it requires a substantial amount of time and emotional energy.  (And isn't it easier to just say, "Everything's going great!"?)

Sometimes I wonder, "Why am I sharing so much of my life with other people?  Who needs to know all this?  Why can't I just talk with my husband about these kinds of things and call it good?"

But then I get answers like this in my mind--and I know they're from God:
  • When I take the time to share my story, I am better able to see His hand in every part of it.
  • When my children read what I write, it better shapes their understanding of our home and family--and our relationship with the Divine.
  • When others read these things (even though I write them imperfectly), it helps them to know that God can bring peace and sweetness to their family lives, as well.
As a result of these thoughts, I'm going to try--really try--to write more and share more.  And even though I would much rather keep these things to myself, it's gotten to the point that it's painful to keep them in.

After that introduction, I feel like I should have something really profound or amazing to write.  But that feels like too much pressure.  Instead, I'm just going to tell a little more of my story:

We've been continuing our Thursday visits to see my mom.  (For those who are new to this blog, she is in the last stages of Alzheimer's, and her memory is almost completely gone.)

I live for Thursdays.  They are precious to me. 

But I also dread them.

Every time I get my kids in the car and make the hour drive to Long Beach, I get incredibly anxious.  I feel like I'm on my way to say goodbye to a part of my mother that most likely won't be there the next week.  It's getting harder for her to complete a sentence. Our bathroom visits become more frequent and take longer.  She keeps trying to chew her pills, and it's increasingly difficult for me to get her to swallow them.

I don't want to face those kinds of things.

But we keep going. And we do as much as we can to savor the happy moments.

As a special birthday outing for my mom (she's 78!), I took her and the children to Yogurtland:


Is that not the cutest smile you've ever seen?

And Alia captured this facial expression, which I love:


A lot of my time is spent just holding my mom and kissing her.  Alia caught this little kiss with the camera:


And then she went into my dad's office and photographed a few images from the past (here are a couple):



I pack dinner for all of us each Thursday, and I try to bring things my mom can help prepare.  When we had taco soup, I opened each can, and then my mom dumped the contents into a pot.  When we had spaghetti and french bread, she helped spread the butter on the bread before we heated it.  (Then after I put the tray of bread in the oven, I had to hide the rest of the butter because she kept picking it up and wandering around the kitchen trying to figure out where the bread had gone.)


When my mom offers the prayer at dinnertime, it is the cutest thing ever.  A couple of weeks ago she said, "Dear Father, we are so grateful for this wonderful Easter time.  And we pray that Thou wilt bless us so that things will just keep getting better and better and we can keep loving each other more and more."

We all smiled.
 
After dinner, we usually go down to the library. We know the names of all the people who work there now, and it's just a quick walk over the bridge.

Last Thursday, I found an "Amelia Bedelia" book.  Those were my mom's favorites, and she read them to me all the time when I was little.  We sat like this in the aisle of the children's section for a full 10 minutes while she read through most of the book.  I savored every minute of it.


Then the library was closing, so we checked out our books (including Amelia Bedelia) and headed back across the bay to get my mom tucked in bed.


These are some "tuck in" pictures Alia took two weeks ago.  I give my mom her bedtime medicines and then help her brush her teeth and change into her nightgown.  Then my dad helps me get her into bed, and we put the sides up so she won't roll out.  That's when I call my kids in to kiss her goodnight.

I usually kiss her at least 15 times . . .
 

and then she looks at me like this, and I just want to stay with her forever.


I can't even explain how much I love her and how sweet she is and how much this is breaking my heart.

I plead with the Lord every day to help me through this process and enable me to be strong--for my mom and my family--and for my own children.

And then He helps me to see how precious my current reality is.

Including the board games we love to play,


the random jump rope I find lying around the house,


the watercolors Grace made for our fridge,


and the cars . . .


Grace had a friend over last week.  It was a rainy afternoon, and we spent a couple of hours painting one of her walls blue:


Then Alia and I painted one of her walls:


We sing together and laugh together.  I listen to a lot of squabbling and try to teach my children to be nice. We clean the house on Saturday mornings and sweep the porch and wash the car. We read scriptures together before school, and I teach the older three piano lessons.

This is a beautiful life. And in the quiet moments, I realize that this process of losing my mama is binding me tighter and tighter to her--and to my own children.

And now it's time for me to close up my computer and go on living this story.

Thanks for being here with me.

Much love,
April










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