Leaving Behind

As 2021 is still not a distant enough memory, I’m thinking about those from 2021 who will no longer be in our lives for 2022.

The ones who don’t agree with us, who don’t like our political views, and disagree on other matters we won’t even address. Who cannot handle it when we speak our feelings.

We will miss you, but we will not compromise on our principles and beliefs any more than you will. And our viewpoint is just as important to us as yours is to you. If years of friendship cannot withstand opposing views, and we cannot agree to peacefully disagree, then we didn’t have a true friendship in the first place.

It hurts, but we’ll get through it.

My Garden of Friends

I love gardening. So did my mother. I guess it’s something I inherited from her. The beauty of flowers evokes a special feeling for me. Each species is unique in its own way; each particular flower has its own characteristics and a special place in my garden.

One day while I was working in my yard and caring for my favorite roses, the Lord impressed upon my heart that my very special girlfriends are like the flowers in my garden. My own special garden of friends. Each one of them is unique…a unique species of flower placed there just for me. A beautiful collection of colorful blooms nourished by pure love for each other.

Each particular flower has a unique beauty. Each one adds something special to my garden, and combined together, they create a beautiful and amazing panorama, unique to my garden, and my garden alone.

Like my actual backyard garden, my garden of friends is filled with both perennials and annuals. The perennials are firmly planted, with deep roots, and will withstand anything that comes against us, because they are always going to be there for me. They will always be planted and blooming in my garden.

Some perennials have been there for years. Some of them, while still perennials, have been there for only a short time, but have firmly taken root and are impossible to uproot. They will be forever in my garden.

Without mentioning any names, let me tell you about my wonderful perennials.

pink-rose-bushThere is a gentle pink rose, full of the joy of life, with eternal youthfulness and the energy that goes with it. Her subtle but sweet perfume is particularly welcome on warm summer nights as the crickets chirp their special songs while the moon brightly lights up the sky.

day lilyThere is a bold day lily, blooming faithfully every summer, bursting forth with strong colors that last for weeks. Day lilies are strong, and prolific, and almost impossible to destroy. She generously shares her blooms as stories of encouragement to all of us.

gardenia-bushThere is my gardenia bush. She is delicate in appearance, but enduring through many trials. Her blooms bruise easily, but she is faithful and continues on through all adversity. My gardenia always projects a sweet scent of love and joy as well as humor.

sunflowerI have a sunflower, sturdy and shining brightly like her golden namesake She may sometimes bend when the wind gets too strong, but she continues to stand in strength and wisdom, always ready to offer encouragement and hope.

purple-tulipsI have a beautiful purple tulip (one of my very favorite flowers). She has loved me for years, over many miles, and we have encouraged and loved each other through a number of trials. I can always count on her to make me laugh and give me encouragement when needed.

lily of valleyMy lily of the valley is graceful yet strong, and the love we have for each other multiplies with each year. She is always there for me when I need to talk, and projects the most wonderful aroma of God’s enduring and gentle compassion. My lily of the valley has bloomed in my garden for many years, and will continue to do so.

There are also annuals. Friends who come into our lives for a season or two, and then gradually fade away, only to be replanted in someone else’s garden for another season. Annuals are beautiful flowers as well, and quite important for the several seasons they grace my garden. Sometimes they return to briefly brighten a vacant spot, but being annuals, it’s still only for a season. Their colors are vibrant and give my garden a special zing, and although their roots are sturdy for the season, they fall victim to changes in temperament and circumstances, and just cannot last for more than a few seasons.

Many times we think we can actually get these annuals to last, and turn them into perennials, that will last through many seasons, and hopefully find a permanent home in our garden.

hibiscusUnfortunately these colorful impatiens, Gerbera daisies, pansies, and hibiscus just don’t last for more than a season. They are in our lives for a short time. Even the hibiscus, that appears so strong and sturdy, and blooms every day of its season, eventually fades and moves on, leaving us only with beautiful memories, pictures we can look at and only wish those lovely flowers would return.

Which are you? Has the Lord placed you in someone’s garden for a season, or for a lifetime? Are there flowers missing in your garden that you wish would return? Or are you a flower that left someone’s garden and are feeling the urge to return, but don’t know how to replant yourself?

This is the season when our gardens come back to life. The season for the faithful perennials to spring back into bloom, and for some of the annuals to be welcomed back into our gardens, for as many seasons as they are called.

I know who will continue to be the perennials in my garden, and even a few more may be added. And I look forward to seeing how many annuals will decide to return. And how many new annuals will be brought into the yard, to be fed, watered, and welcomed into their special places, for however long they decide to stay.

Whose gardens will you be blooming in? Will you be an annual or a perennial?

It’s the season of new beginnings and new adventures!

Happy Gardening!

But I’ve Been So Busy…

“Yes, Dad. I know. I want to come see you, too, but I’ve got a lot to do right now. How’re you feeling? Oh, I’m sorry. What did the doctor say? Ok. Well, be sure to take those pills. I’ll try to get by on Sunday after church. It may be late afternoon, though, because we have to go to a committee meeting after service, and we always go to lunch with the group afterwards. Tomorrow? Well, I’d like to, but the grandkids have a soccer game and then we told them we’d take them all out for pizza. We don’t want to disappoint them.”

Glenn’s dad lived twenty minutes away from him. In fact, his dad’s house was actually on the way to and from Glenn’s job. His dad had dementia, and heart problems, and hadn’t been getting along too well recently. Glenn loved his dad, but it seemed he could never make the time to go see him like he said he wanted to. Other things always seemed to intrude, and then he’d forget he’d promised to do something for him.

In fact, his dad usually had to call him to see how HE was, rather than Glenn calling him. Plus, he really didn’t enjoy going to see his dad, because of the memory issues, and it seemed his dad always wanted him to stay with him longer than Glenn had the time to do.

Then one day a few weeks after that conversation, Glenn got a call from the hospital. His dad had been rushed there by ambulance with severe chest pains and difficulty breathing. He suddenly realized he’d promised to go see him, but never made it over there. Something came up…and he hadn’t even called to tell his dad he wasn’t coming.

Glenn headed to the hospital, swearing to himself if his dad made it, things would change. He’d go see him more, do things for him. Take him to dinner with the grandkids even.

But Glenn was too late. He’d put off doing what he should do one too many times. He didn’t even make it to the hospital in time to even say, “I love you, Dad.” He’d gotten this really important phone call as he was leaving, and in that fifteen minutes he was on the phone, his father went home to be with the Lord.

Glenn was filled with guilt. He started thinking back on how many times he’d visited his dad over the past six months. It didn’t even add up to once a month. If only he’d taken the time when he could…what difference would an hour or so have made in his important busy schedule, which didn’t seem so important right now. Last week it would’ve been a hassle. Now he’d give anything to have to rearrange that schedule to see his dad alive just one more time.

Too often we put other things in front of our loved ones. We think we have all the time in the world to see them, do something with them. We don’t want to interrupt our own lives, our own priorities, to make time for someone we really care about. After all, they’ll certainly understand. They know we care about them, but they certainly know how busy we are.

Hindsight is always 20/20, as I’ve written many times. If only we knew THEN what we know NOW, we certainly would have done things a lot different. But life doesn’t work like that. We all have choices to make in our lives; priorities to determine. Sometimes we make the right choices, and sometimes we don’t.

I will be the first to admit that I’m guilty of this at times. I think we all are. But to what degree do we allow ourselves to continually put ourselves and our own desires over those of our friends and family? Particularly our elderly family members? How often do we think, oh, everything is probably ok with them. I’ll check on them later; they know how much I care about them. I’m really busy with……right now.

Do they really know you care? Actions speak louder than words, as the saying goes. How would you feel if the situation were reversed? Would you feel deserted? Abandoned? Would you be upset that people you thought cared about you didn’t care enough to check on you when you were having problems?

It’s easy to let the busy-ness of our lives take over and rearrange our priorities, until our lives become so self-centered we don’t even realize what we’re doing. Then it’s often too late to make amends.

Are you too busy? If you think you are, stop and figure out what you can cut out of that busy-ness of your life so you can make time for some things that really count. Call a friend who’s going through a tough time and see how they’re doing. Go visit an elderly relative who’s alone. Call some friends you haven’t connected with in a while and get together and catch up.
Tomorrow is not promised. Today is only what we make it, and I am going to put aside some of my own busy-ness for someone else I care about.

How about you?

Remembering Chuck, Part Three

“The only upside of Alzheimer’s I’ve found so far: introducing my dad to “new” things. This evening I took him to Starbucks, and he was like a kid on Christmas. It was endearing and heartbreaking at the same time.” Elizabeth, Chuck’s middle daughter, November, 2015.

If you haven’t read Parts 1 and 2 of this story, please do so before reading this last installment, so you will better understand the struggles our friend and his family are going through.

Although Chuck now has no concept of time or holidays, his daughters were all able to get together with him at Christmas, just a few months ago. It took him a little while to remember his oldest daughter Katy’s husband Chase, but eventually he did. He kept looking at him, and then looking away, like something was trying to register. Then suddenly Chuck walked up to him and said, “Chase! How are you? How is school?” That moment of recognition brought Katy to tears, and everyone else as well.
Chuck and Girls cropped

At one point that day Patty (his ex-wife) asked him if he remembered her. He said, “yes,” but couldn’t remember her name. He did later on, and gave her a ‘bigger-than-he-should-have’ hug, which made the girls very uncomfortable. Patty quickly hugged him back and then pulled away, and the girls stepped in. Chuck can’t help it. Alzheimer’s patients live in the past; it’s their clearest memories. Patty has gone from being his wife, to his ex-wife, his sister, his daughter, and now back to his wife. Every day is different. There have already been days when he doesn’t know who one of the girls is. That is the hardest of all. Because one day he will stop remembering them, and the memories won’t return.

Unfortunately the last nursing home he was placed in didn’t work out. The facility was not what they had thought it would be, and although he wasn’t able to escape, no one was happy with his being there. So the search began again. Just four days ago we found out a new place has been secured for him, and he has already been relocated there. This facility looks like an ideal home for someone with Chuck’s symptoms. There is a library, a computer center, and a full recreational schedule of games and puzzles, trivia contests, music, and movies. He will be able to interact more with people, and will be encouraged to participate in activities with other residents. I pray this will be the place he will finally be able to call home.

Just a few hours after finding out this news, my husband and I were surprised with a FaceTime call from Patty. We were thrilled to see/talk to her, but what we weren’t expecting was to actually be able to see and talk with Chuck, who we hadn’t actually seen except in photos in probably twenty-five years! To say we were happy as well as excited is one of the biggest understatements I could write!
2016-01-28 13.18.00

While I will not elaborate on the details of our conversation, what I will say is that we were delighted to see and talk with him! He remembered both Ben and me, and he remembered our daughter, his goddaughter Ashley. He remembered where he and Ben met, and who they were both working for at the time. He remembered when he proposed to Patty, although none of us can remember the name of the restaurant. But he thought he had talked to his parents just a few days ago, and they’ve been dead for longer than we’ve known him. He talked about things we’d all done together, and when he told us he was having fried chicken for dinner, and I reminded him how much he’d enjoyed my mother’s fried chicken, he remembered that as well.

We have no way of knowing how Chuck is processing his thoughts anymore. Some of our conversation was like it used to be twenty-five years ago, and some of it made sense only to him. But the important part is, we were able to re-establish a relationship with him, and as often as we can, we hope to continue that relationship. Good friends are too important to lose, and even if the memories may not all be totally clear anymore, one day when we are all together with the Lord, they will be. Until that day hopefully many decades in the future, we will continue to enjoy as many conversations with him as possible, and if they don’t exactly make sense to us, as long as they do to him, we will continue to have them. That’s what reunited friends do.

As Patty has said many times, “This breaks my heart. Every day I wish my girls could know the Chuck that I married. Fortunately they have their own special memories of their daddy, and they all love him dearly. That’s all I can hope for.”

img149We still have our own memories of Chuck before this happened. That same man is definitely still there, although locked inside a mind whose memories no longer work exactly the way they used to. We have pictures to go along with some of those memories, and so do his children. They call him, and visit when they can, and show him pictures to remind him of family. They bring his grandson to visit, and the two of them play cars and trucks on the floor together, just two children having fun. Like the trip to Starbucks his daughter talked about, every day is a new adventure, because he usually doesn’t remember from day to day, or week to week. The things he used to enjoy he sometimes doesn’t remember ever doing. Each day there are just a few less memories.

But we remember Chuck.

Even if Chuck doesn’t always remember himself anymore.

Note: If you have a loved one suffering from this disease, please seek out a support group. Read all that you can about it. Ask questions. And above all, continue to love that person. Respect them. Don’t belittle them when they don’t make sense with what they say. They cannot help it. Their world is not quite the same as it was any more.

Remembering Chuck, Part Two

“The only upside of Alzheimer’s I’ve found so far: introducing my dad to “new” things. This evening I took him to Starbucks, and he was like a kid on Christmas. It was endearing and heartbreaking at the same time.” Elizabeth, Chuck’s middle daughter, November, 2015.

If you haven’t read Part One of this story, please do so before reading this one, so you will better understand the struggles our friend and his family are going through.

Far too often, people have a tendency to think of Alzheimer’s victims as only the elderly, who are expected to go through changes such as this toward the end of their lives. This is simply not true. One of our friend’s fathers is ninety-four, and his memory is as clear as it was fifty years ago. Chuck’s memory issues began most likely in his mid-fifties.

After we started catching up with Chuck and his ex-wife and daughters, it became very clear Chuck was rapidly going downhill with this disease. Shortly after re-connecting, his two oldest daughters got married, and the next year, Chuck became a grandfather. The pictures we saw of Chuck and the wedding party revealed a man who looked like our friend, but yet, there was just something about the look on his face that told us he wasn’t the same man we remembered; something was missing.

This man was not quite the same Chuck we remembered. Alzheimer’s does that. It will take the mind of its victim, gradually squeeze the best parts out, and leave behind someone who still looks mostly like that person, but yet, the eyes that are looking out of their mind are clearly not accurately registering what they’re seeing.

The worst part was how much his children are missing, because the father they dearly love isn’t the same any more. He isn’t able to give them the fatherly advice young women still need from their dads. He wasn’t able to bond with his new sons-in-law and properly welcome them into the family. Although now he still remembers his grandson when he sees him, he will never be able to take him fishing, teach him to ride a bike, go to the park, or spend a Saturday afternoon playing baseball with him, and that little boy will miss out on doing all of the fun things a young boy should do with his grandfather. That young man will never have the pleasure of knowing how special “Grandpa Chuck” really is. He’ll never hear stories about his grandfather’s childhood, because even though many of his memories are based in the past, they are still jumbled and confused, and make sense only in his own memories.

Patty told us details about the progression of his illness, but not without some personal pain of her own. “I do not have bad feelings about the years I was married to Chuck. My only regret is that we couldn’t make it last. I always wanted to be that person who married and stayed that way forever. Had I known then that his problems stemmed from an illness, I would not have deserted him. Sometimes I wonder, if I had stayed, had we worked through things, would the onset of this disease have progressed at a much slower rate? I’ll never know. But it is so unbelievably sad all the same.”

Patty, you did not desert him. You are caring for him now as no one else can. And we all cannot thank you enough for that. I also personally cannot thank you and the girls enough to allow me to share his story, in hopes that other families will read it and understand they’re not alone; that the things their loved ones are doing because of this disease are not that unusal.

Chuck always loved to travel. Even when he was living on only his social security and barely making ends meet, he would get his check, pay a few utility bills, jump in his car and drive somewhere.

2016-01-28 13.06.39Deeper into the Alzheimer’s journey he would take off and drive from Texas to Indiana or Utah, supposedly for job interviews, but there were none. Part of him must have known his money was limited, because during or after a trip, he wouldn’t eat or get a hotel room, even if he drove for three days. He would stop in rest areas to sleep, and fill up on soda and chips along the way. By the third day, he would be in such bad shape mentally that he couldn’t find his way home. Once, Patty had to drive from Texas to Arkansas to get him. He had been found by police, incoherent, at a stop sign in the middle of a national forest. He had no idea where he was; his car was out of gas, and his wallet was empty.

Because of his taking so many of these trips, he would come home with almost no money. When the landlord showed up looking for his rent, Chuck would pay whatever token amount he had left. This amazingly went on for fifteen months before the landlord finally evicted him. Patty went to court with him, because, sadly, Chuck didn’t even understand he was being evicted.

Patty bought a small mobile home for him (so no one could raise his rent) two blocks from their own house, and she and her husband moved him into that. Patty was designated his legal representative to make sure his bills were paid, and would take him shopping for food every few weeks.

A short while later she started getting calls that Chuck was stealing from the local grocery store. He’d stopped eating the food at his house, and only wanted ice cream and donuts. Patty would buy ice cream when they went shopping, but when he ran out, he would steal more, leaving the healthy food untouched. If she gave him any extra money he would spend it for more ice cream and donuts, and when that was gone, he’d go back to stealing. Remember, Alzheimer’s patients do not have any concept of what they are doing; this is not unusual behavior. The Chuck we had known would never, ever, do anything like this.

Three years after moving into the mobile home, Patty knew Chuck could not be left alone anymore.

2016-01-28 13.18.39They found an assisted living facility for him, but three days later, Chuck had become so delusional the facility called and told Patty she had to remove him immediately. He spent three weeks in a psychiatric hospital until a nursing home was found for him. That home was a locked facility, but within a few days, they made him leave as well. Somehow he kept escaping, and one time Patty found him walking up the highway towards where he used to live. He was returned to the psychiatric hospital for another two weeks until they found another secured nursing home in Ft. Worth, from which they were assured he could not escape.

To even have to look at nursing homes, memory care centers, or similar residential care centers as somewhere from which a loved one cannot escape is sadly part of the reality of this disease. I remember all too well one of my uncles being in the dementia/Alzheimer’s section of the local nursing home and having to wear an ankle bracelet so that if he tried to leave an alarm would go off, and he could be stopped. At the time I didn’t understand why such measures were necessary, and thought it was so wrong.

Now I understand.

Friday, a special conclusion, “Remembering Chuck, Part Three”.

Note: If you have a loved one suffering from this disease, please seek out a support group. Read all that you can about it. Ask questions. And above all, continue to love that person. Respect them. Don’t belittle them when they don’t make sense with what they say. They cannot help it. Their world is not quite the same as it was any more.