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


  1. Merry Christmas to your beautiful family. Thank you for sharing such tender moments. These are the true spirit of Christmas that we are all scrambling to find.

  2. Tears streaming down my cheeks. My parents are 81 as well and while they don't have Alzheimer's they are slowing down significantly. Your example is so beautiful. We are moving close by them soon and I hope I can serve them as lovingly as you serve your parents!

  3. April thank you for sharing this precious time with your Mum, what a blessing you both are to one another x

  4. That was beautiful April, It made me miss my own mother all over again and she has been gone for 15 years. There is no one like your own Mom!

  5. That video really says it all to me... illustrating everything you explained so beautifully here. I could feel you holding on to the moment. I'm so glad you had some time to talk to her, to really open up to her. I'm sure we never stop needing our moms. Merry Christmas, April.

  6. Coconut oil reverses symptoms of Alzheimer's ! A scientist wanted a cure for husband's Alzheimers and she figured out that Coconut Oil's medium chain triglycerides would help fuel the brain and restore function. She stirred some coconut oil in her husband's oatmeal each morning and he regained the ability to read and have a normal life in a very short period of time.

  7. I've read a few of your posts about your sweet mother and they are so touching. My own grandma is 91 and has Alzheimer's also. She lives with my parents and they take good care of her--she tells me multiple times when I call her that she is "just so blessed". My parents wouldn't have it any other way, but it is emotionally taxing, especially for my mom, to see Grandma change as the disease takes its toll. I know what you mean when you say that there are rare moments when it almost feels like the Alzheimer's isn't there, and those are so precious! The love and service you are giving to your mom is a beautiful, selfless, Christlike gift, and the example you are setting for your children will bless their lives as they grow up. Prayers sent to you and your sweet family!


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