Monday, December 23, 2013

Mom Update: Precious Holiday Memories

I've hesitated to sit down and write an update on my mom lately--mainly because my experiences with her have been so beautiful that I don't think my words can adequately capture them.

But after my time with her this past Thursday night, I realize that it's time to stop the holiday whirlwind for a few minutes and continue with this record.

I'll start by sharing some photos from a few weeks ago.

The nights have been getting darker earlier, so instead of taking walks and going to the library, we pop popcorn in the kitchen, prepare dinner, and spend time doing the dishes together.

During that visit pictured above, my parents were preparing to host a weekend dinner party with their friends, so while my mom and I worked in the kitchen, my dad took a walk down to the local elementary school and picked some leaves for the centerpiece.

"These are from your tree, April," he said.

It took a second for me to understand what he was saying, but then I remembered the tree I planted in sixth grade on Earth Day. My dad has watched it grow all these years while I've been away raising my own family, and when he needed beautiful autumn leaves, that was his tree of choice.

It's little things like that that melt my heart.

Since we've been staying inside, it's been a little tricky to know what to do with my youngest children (besides have them watch TV). But they've been finding things to do--like read the old set of encyclopedias. ("You mean you used to do research for school out of books?" they ask.)

And my dad usually brings out stacks of photos he's organizing from his many walks up and down the coast of California.

Each of our visits together have been sweet, but my mom is typically in a different world. She doesn't speak much, and when she does, she often can only make it through half of a sentence before she forgets what she was talking about. Those conversations are hard.

On Thanksgiving, my husband and children and I ate dinner together at our house, and then we joined six of my siblings, our in-laws, and my parents at my sister Laura's house.

Here are some of the grandchildren who were able to get together.

And I had to snap this photo.

Alia has been taking photographs of old pictures from my dad's office. Like this one, six years ago when Spencer was born.

Even though she seems so much older now, she's the exact same person inside. 

For example, she has always loved shopping for purses--especially at garage sales, and whenever she gets a new purse, she makes it a point to show each of us all of the compartments. I recently bought a new laptop bag that can hold my planner and my camera, and she went through every zipper pocket and every pouch with me.

Fifteen minutes later, when she was feeling concerned that she needed to go outside to find her mother, I brought out my purse again and said, "Do you want to see all of my compartments?"

"Oh, yes!" she exclaimed.

(She was equally excited the second time through.)

Here's a quick snapshot from when my dad turned 81 this month. We all went out to pizza to celebrate. (Love those smiles.)

Then the following weekend, my sister Linda came down from Seattle to visit, and I got the chance to take my children down to Long Beach to go to church with everybody.

Then we gathered back to my parents' house for a lovely salmon dinner that Linda made. We were joined by my two brothers, Ryan's wife, Cassie, my niece and nephew, McKenna and Landon, and my cousin Mark. I loved it.

The following Thursday, we got to decorate for Christmas with my parents. My dad waited and bought a little tree right before our visit, and then he brought out all the Christmas boxes--full of beautiful memories.

When my mom saw these little antlers, she put them right on. I've never seen her do that before in my entire life. Is she not the cutest thing ever?

While we were decorating, I turned on a Christmas CD that I had brought for my parents. And when my dad stepped outside to trim the bottom of the little tree, the song "Silver Bells" came on. My mother immediately started singing the alto part of the chorus that she knows so well, and I started singing the soprano part.

She held my hands and began to swing them back and forth, and we danced together like that through the whole song.

That's another one of those moments I wish I could have frozen in time.

But even though it only lasted a few minutes, Alia was there, and without waiting for any instructions from me, she pulled out the camera and started snapping photos. 

She even recorded this little video with her phone: 

I will treasure that forever.

Later that night, we gathered around the table and made candy cane airplanes. My dad started making these in 1937, and it's a tradition we've continued every year as a family.

My dad worked with the girls to get their planes "just right,"

and my mom kept busy helping us sort the rubber bands into matching groups of two.

Then my mom, Alia, and I helped assemble a few of my sister Laura's Christmas cards.

My mom was in charge of the folding, and each time she picked up a card, she read the message on the inside out loud (as though she'd never seen it before).

Each and every time, she said sweetly, "Oh wasn't that lovely?"

I just smiled.

I thought it was especially cute that my dad had all of his Christmas cards hidden underneath this camouflage bedding.

(If he leaves anything out in plain sight, my mom will pick it up and hide it.)

She is so darling and so sweet and so happy. It's just a different world now with this Alzheimer's.

I know this has gotten long, but I need to record the details from this past Thursday. It was one of the most precious nights ever. 

In all honesty, I was an emotional basket case before leaving my house. I was ranting and raving about the mess in the kitchen, all of the stuff that had been piled the top of the dryer, and all those "little things" that really aren't that big of a deal. 

Eric tried to calm me down by saying, 'April, you get to go see your mom. Enjoy being with her. Don't worry about all this. We'll take care of it."

But then he helped me to see that the little things weren't really the problem. It's hard for me to go and see my mom sometimes. This disease has been pulling her away from me for years, and I miss having an emotional connection with her.

I am fine to show her the compartments on my purse and give her a bag of rubber bands to sort--or even answer her gently when I hand her a toothbrush and she asks, "Do I just move it up and down?"

But I miss her.

That day before I left my house--during my rant--my children put their arms around me and said, "It's okay mom." And they behaved beautifully the whole drive there, sensing how hard it was for me to make the trip that afternoon.

But when we finally got to her house, I could see that something was different.

"Has she had a good day?" I asked my sister Lisa.

"Yes," she responded with a smile. "A very good day."

So my children scampered to the back of the house to watch TV, and I sat at the table with my mom, finishing up a couple of Christmas cards for Eric's side of the family.

My mom wrote a little message for Eric's mom, and we had a lovely time sitting together, looking through the photos I was mailing and talking about the Christmas season. (This is the best handwriting I have seen in a very long time!)

When it was time for dinner, I took her into the kitchen, and she helped me slice a loaf of bread I had made the night before. There was no stress. No anxiety.

Then I made some scrambled eggs, and just being in the kitchen together, doing something so normal, felt like heaven.

My children joined us when the food was ready (except Alia, who was babysitting),


and then they ran back to the TV room again, and my mom and I cleaned the kitchen together--singing along to Handel's Messiah and '"O Holy Night." (Usually my children help clean up, but this time, I was happy to have time with just the two of us.)

Usually I wash the dishes by hand and my mom dries them from her wheelchair, but while I was scrubbing dishes at the sink, she suddenly stood up right next to me.

She had rolled her wheelchair right up to the sink and pulled herself up. That hasn't happened for more than a year.  I was astonished, but so excited.

Then after about six plates, she said, somewhat surprised, "I'm sorry. I have to sit down. I'm too weak."
So I helped her to sit down, and I said, "Mom, you're doing a great job! You are getting so strong!"

And then I kept washing while she rolled around the kitchen tidying up and wiping off the front of the oven...things she used to do before the Alzheimer's.


It was at that moment I heard the words of "O Holy Night" that say, "He knows our need; our weakness is no stranger."

And I felt such an outpouring of love from heaven--such an awareness that the Lord knows I'm going through a hard time...and a knowledge that He totally understands.

Tears poured down my cheeks as I finished up the last of the dishes.

And then I wheeled my mom over to the table and hugged her and kissed her and said, "Mom, could we just talk for a little while?"

"Of course," she replied.

And then we did. We talked. For about 30 minutes, we were totally uninterrupted, and I poured out my heart to her. I told her about my life and my worries. I admitted where I feel like I'm failing, and I asked her advice.

She answered beautifully and perfectly, with full sentences and so much love. And I pretty much bawled through the whole thing. And I wrote down everything in my planner so I wouldn't forget it.

Grace came in at the end and took this picture:

Then it was bedtime, and my mom took her medicine and swallowed each pill the very first time we tried.

And she knew how to brush her teeth, and she went to bed peacefully, and all of us went in to kiss her good night.

I don't know what awaits us next week, but I feel like for at least one night, I got my mom back.

Sometimes life just feel so heavy. I know I have a beautiful life, but wow, there are some things that weigh on me that I wish I could handle better.

But I keep thinking about my mom's words, and I keep singing "O Holy Night."

And I keep reminding myself that He does know our needs, and He has the power to give us beautiful, beautiful experiences that will strengthen our hearts and remind us that He lives.

Merry Christmas!


Love, April

Monday, December 9, 2013

Date Nights @ CVS

Whenever we drive by our local CVS pharmacy, Spencer asks, "Mom, can we go on a date?"

What he means is that he wants me to take him--just the two of us--to play with the collection of toy cars they have there.  

Eric and I typically take turns going on date nights/outings with each of our children (not as often as we'd like, but we try...)  And Spencer chooses CVS for EVERY DATE.

I can't always stop right then, but as soon as it's possible, I get out my calendar, find a free night, and say something like, "Wednesday. We'll go Wednesday."

Then when Wednesday comes, we drive across town (Spencer all smiles when I glimpse his reflection in the rear view mirror), and we race into CVS to hang out by this rack of cars for about 45 minutes.

There's usually not a lot of talking, and we only buy a car when he has saved up his money, but I sit by him while he lines up his favorites, and I take pictures so we won't forget them.

I would obviously never do this if I didn't have Spencer, but I love it because he loves it.

And I have to laugh because he used to call it "CPS," and I was so worried that people would wonder why he and his mom were going to Child Protective Services for their date night.  (Yeah, we corrected that as soon as possible.)

I just thought it would be helpful to share this idea because it's so simple. And it's free. And even though I feel like I never have enough one-on-one time with my kids, experiences like this mean the world to me.

(Any other simple dates you'd like to share?)


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Are You Ready for Christmas?

It's starting to become common for people to ask each other that question.  You know, instead of, "How are you doing?" we say, "Ready for Christmas?"

Since never in my life have I finished my shopping in November (like I've dreamed of doing), I always feel a little bit of panic when I think about all that's left to do. 

Like right now...there are 18 days left, and I've barely even started.

We've actually thought quite a bit about Christmas gift-giving at Power of Moms this year--like in this article I wrote about simplifying our gift-giving and this podcast Saren and I recorded.

So it's not that I'm procrastinating. It's just that we're keeping things really simple, and I've needed to spend my time on some other projects.  I'm also desperately trying to slow our pace and be in the moment with my family and other loved ones. 

However, there's one more thought that's been helpful to me for years.

My mom spoke in church on Christmas Day back when I was 10.  It was all about "being ready for Christmas."  She said that to her, being "ready," meant having a heart that was fully dedicated to the Lord.  She was ready to praise Him. Ready to worship. Ready to serve His children.

Because she defined her readiness that way, whenever she was asked, "Are you ready for Christmas?" even if the shopping wasn't done and the house wasn't decorated and the teacher gifts weren't prepared, she would smile warmly and say, "Yes!"

Don't you love that?

And if you're looking for a beautiful video to show your children, this one really resonated with me.  It's about the kinds of gifts we really want to give for Christmas. I've been thinking about it all week.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Bucket List I Didn't Know I Had

Something really sweet has been happening.

Precious opportunities to spend time with my mom keep opening up, and they mean the world to me--even though I wasn't even aware that I needed them.

It's like the Lord is checking things off a Bucket List of experiences I always wanted to have--except I never made the list. He just knew what was in my heart.

Examples from the past include the best birthday I ever had, the day we put our toes in the water, our trip to Disneyland, our trick-or-treating night, and now, most recently, our chance to go to the Newport Beach Temple together.

About a month ago, Eric and I were there at the temple (a sacred house of worship, separate from our chapel where we go to church), and I happened to ask one of the temple workers if they could accommodate my mother--with her wheelchair and Alzheimer's. I had thought her days at the temple were over since it's so hard for her to be away from home for long periods of time and since she would require so much help.

To my surprise, they said it would be no problem at all and that they would do everything they could to support us.

That's when a glimmer of hope started.

Last week, however, the day to attend the temple came, and my mom wasn't doing well. After we canceled, I decided that the opportunity most likely wouldn't come again--and I was okay with that.  She wouldn't remember it anyway, and we can have beautiful experiences at her home. I didn't want to ask too much.

But this past Thursday, my sister Lisa called and told me she thought we could make it happen.

So I jumped at the chance.

Eric took care of our children at home, and I arrived at my parents' house in the early afternoon. Lisa had gotten my mom all ready. (See how lovingly my mom looks at her? And see how she holds my dad's hand?)

My dad, my mom, and I drove together to Newport Beach and had an absolutely fantastic experience at the temple.  Just by thinking about it, I feel overwhelmed by the love God showed to us there.

It was a very good day for my mom.  She knew who we were, she knew where she was, she remembered the ordinances in the temple, and she was calm and peaceful the entire time.

The women who were assisting us in the temple were absolute angels.  One was a nurse whose mother-in-law had died because of Alzheimer's, and one had recently lost her husband to Lou Gherig's disease. They could both understand exactly what we were going through, and they cared for us like we were their family--with hugs and smiles I will treasure forever.

The best part of the evening was when we joined my dad in the Celestial Room--the largest, most beautiful room in the temple.

We were all dressed in white, and it was quiet and peaceful while we sat together--holding hands, whispering softly, and enjoying that powerful feeling that comes when you know that you'll be together as a family forever.

When my dad first saw my mom when I wheeled her into the room, he whispered to me, "That is the most beautiful woman in the whole world."

I'm grateful for these experiences. So grateful. These tender mercies are such a gift during this challenging time, and I thought it was important to share them because I know that the Lord will do the same thing for you. Whatever it is that weighs on our shoulders, when we take a step back and ask the Lord to show us what He is doing, the answer is magnificent.

Much love,

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Anxiety - And What I Think I'm Supposed to Be Learning

In this post, I'm going to share a little bit about the anxiety I've been feeling, but first, I need to acknowledge that life has been generally happy and full around here.

For example, Spencer could hardly wait for his first basketball game last Saturday:

And when we dragged Eric to "Hobby Lobby" the other day, he actually found a hot chocolate mug that he liked very much. It is now sitting in our cupboard (and the photo doesn't do it justice).

We were also able to have a beautiful Spanish-speaking family over for Family Night.  It was fantastic.

Grace gave the lesson (and our friend Margaret translated), and then we all drew pictures of things we're thankful for.  I drew my new friends saying, "We are going to help you with your Spanish." (Because I've been practicing a little bit each day, and I SO appreciate the patience of those who don't mind that I make a ton of mistakes.)

Our Disney passes are still active for a few more months, so I took my children on a day trip to California Adventure when they were out of school Friday:

As I look at these photos and realize how many wonderful things I have in my life, I don't quite understand how I can feel anxiety. However, it's been heavy lately, and I've been fighting it.

Normally I feel "excited when I wake up" and "content when I go to sleep." That's kind of my mantra.  Not that everything has ever been perfect, but I love family life and the projects I'm working on, and each night when I think about my day, I usually can see that I've done my best and that things are moving forward.

However, for several days during this past week, I woke up with heavy anxiety and went to bed wondering what was wrong with me.

Eric noticed I wasn't "myself" and started asking lots of questions--trying to help me identify what I was so worried about. (He's great at that.)

He reminded me that we're all physically healthy and spiritually healthy.  We have everything we need, our home is in order, we have wonderful friends, and life is going really well.

I know that. And I appreciate that. So why was I so anxious?

I spent a couple of hours alone and analyzed myself. (Do you do that?)

And then I discovered that it comes right back to the fact that I'm losing my mom.

I hesitated to write about this--again--because I feel like I write about her so much, and goodness, can't I just accept that Alzheimer's is taking her away?

Can't I stop worrying and stop letting it affect me?

But I realized that when someone is going through a loss like this, it has to sit somewhere.  And it has to come out some way. The best solution I've come up with is to sit, read, pray, think, and write. Then I feel like I can keep going.

(And while I would prefer to keep it private, I keep receiving messages from readers who are also losing loved ones, and so I'm writing all of this publicly--with the hope that we will be strengthened as we go through this together.)

So here's my story from this past Thursday:

I'd made plans to go to our temple with my mom and dad--most likely for the last time.  Eric had planned to take care of our children so I could focus on my parents, but around 11:00, I received a call from my sister Lisa letting me know that it wasn't a good day for my mom.

"She has nothing to give today," Lisa said. "She can hardly stand up and she couldn't eat her breakfast by herself. Her head is hanging down, and she's basically been sleeping the whole day."

In light of that news, I opted to try for the temple another time and instead take Alia, Grace, Ethan, and Spencer with me to spend the evening with my parents like we usually do.

It turned out that Mom had had a bad reaction to a new medication--which made her much more sleepy than usual. She's doing a lot better now that we've stopped that medicine, but the hours I spent with her in that state keep replaying in my mind.

For the first hour, we sat in the living room together, and I rested my head on her arm.  Just letting her sleep.

Finally, it was time to start making dinner, so I brought her into the kitchen and tried to pat her cheeks and wake her up.  (Alia took these photos.)

When she did wake up, I fed her eggs and toast for dinner, and she ate all of it happily.  She just couldn't use the fork by herself anymore.  (Last week, she ate salad with her butter knife and used a spoon to eat pasta...)

Then her eyes LIT UP when I mentioned that we had ice cream for dessert.  (Oh, it was so cute.)

Alia brought out my mom's journal from a couple of years ago (she isn't able to write anymore), and I read the entries aloud.  Pure sweetness.

After dinner, the girls tried to teach my mom how to do the Macarena (which she used to love), and even though she couldn't remember any of it, I think she liked seeing us all dancing around the kitchen with her while Ethan was doing the dishes. (Thanks, Ethan!)

This is a screen shot of a video I took... Sorry if the "play" button on there is confusing.
 Then we did a photo shoot:

At bedtime, I handed her her toothbrush--which she usually could manage with no problem.  She used to scrub her teeth thoroughly and swish with water a few times until her teeth were sparkling. But this time, she slowly touched the toothbrush to her lips and then sat there frozen.  I brushed her teeth for her, and then she swallowed all the toothpaste because she didn't remember that she needed to spit into the bowl I was holding in front of her.

When there were quiet moments throughout the night, I put my face right in front of hers, kissed her on her cheeks, hugged her, and said, "I love you so much Mom. I love you so much."

She always said, "I love you, too." But then she started to study my face carefully--looking at my eyes and my nose and my chin--like she was trying to figure out who I was. Sometimes when we're together, she will call me by name, but three times now, I've asked her if she knows my name, and she doesn't even try to answer.

That part hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be--because I can see that she is not herself.

But to be perfectly honest, every time I pack my children in the car, kiss my dad goodbye, and start the drive home, I feel like my insides are crumbling.

I went on a walk the other day with a friend who lost her mom several years ago--when she was in her twenties and her mom was in her fifties.  Her mother had a stroke, and she was gone quickly.  Her "goodbye" was too short.

In many ways, I'm incredibly grateful for this long goodbye, but I just don't know if there's any way to make it easier.

Besides writing about it.  This makes it easier.

And the impression I keep getting from the Lord is that He wants me to build my faith.  He needs me to know with a certainty that families are forever.  He needs me to trust that this life isn't the end and that while our bodies will slow down and eventually die, our spirits never will.  He needs me to know that He has the power to heal me--from everything--and He needs me to depend on Him with everything I have.

The Lord has this beautiful ability to take our pain and turn it into something beautiful.  I feel Him doing that with me.  Sometimes I feel like I'm a failure if I feel anxiety, but I need to see those feelings as a catalyst for turning my heart more fully to the Lord.  I understand more now why He is called "The Prince of Peace" and "The Great Physician." And I have a deeper knowledge of how His power works in our daily lives and calms us when we need Him most.

If nothing else, I hope that sharing this process can help others know that the Lord is aware of each of us and is available to help us in our unique challenges. That is one thing I know for sure. When we step back and look at the whole of our lives, we can see how good they are and how beautiful they are. We can see that the Lord is blessing us in so many ways--even when life feels hard. He is amazing, and I will keep moving forward--trusting that He knows what He is doing.

Much love,
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