Caring for Triplets Plus One

Haley and Zach are the parents of four beautiful children – triplets aged two and a one year old. They consider Joshua, Hannah, Charlie Fay, and Phoebe to be their greatest blessings. Haley and Zach walked the path of infertility for three and a half years before successfully becoming pregnant with their triplets. They always knew they were meant to be parents. Throughout the multiple Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) medical fertility treatments, they prayed together each step of the way. 

During quiet prayer times, Haley felt the Lord impress the number “3” upon her mind and heart; “3, 3, 3” everywhere. Her eye would catch and pause at three flowers growing in her yard; three cupcakes on her birthday card. Even silly things would pop in her head like “the three amigos!” She was not sure of the purpose and significance of it, but she journaled it all and prayed. 

Haley and Zach finally came to the point where they felt ready for Invitro Fertilization (IVF). IVF is much more physically, emotionally and financially difficult to undergo than all the previous treatments. 

Haley says, “God works in your life during hard times. Just ask Him and He will be with you.” Haley and Zach read Scripture and listened and asked for God’s will to be done. 

The first IVF procedure failed. The two embryos that were transferred did not implant. In early June of 2015, Zach and Haley once again returned for a second round. Their patience and faith were rewarded. They had three embryos this time.

On the day of transfer, the doctor recommended that they only transfer two embryos and freeze the third for later. This is typical protocol. Medically, it is riskier to transfer more than two embryos. But all Haley and Zach could think of was the months and months of “3, 3, 3.” That still, small voice said, ” I want all three.” There was no question; all three had to be transferred together. 

With Zach by her side, the room was abuzz. On Haley’s left hand side, she could see the camera magnifying her three embryos. They actually formed a small triangle. “It’s a little cheerleading pyramid!” declared one doctor. “Never seen that before,” said another doctor. Several weeks later, Haley and Zach saw and heard the three beating hearts of their babies at their first sonogram. They were born at 33 weeks and 3 days. (More threes!) 

When the triplets were eight months old, Haley and Zach got the surprise of their lives. They were pregnant! Phoebe was born 16 months after the triplets. She is truly a blessing, and Haley reports she is an easy-going baby. Haley says, “She is a demonstration of who God is. He loves to bless his children more than we can imagine.”

Haley and Zach definitely grew in their marriage and faith before the births, and it prepared them for raising their four children. Even now they schedule date nights and were able to have one getaway weekend this year. 

They are blessed with a very supportive family who live close by and have been a tremendous help. Also, Haley said the international and non-denominational Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) Group has been a Godsend. 

Today, Haley continues to pray for, and now with, her children each day.  She has a special verse for each child, and prays aloud over them along with teaching them to pray. She also journals her prayers.

“Although I can’t be there as much as I could for one child, God can be with them when I can’t,” says Haley. She loves taking the babies on walks and enjoys the opportunity to share Christ on her walks. Haley and Zach truly live their faith and are a beautiful example of God’s blessings. 

What Has Helped:

  • Their faith and prayer life.
  • Their parents’ help.
  • The support of their community.
  • The following books:

        –  A seed of Hope: God’s Promises of Fertility by Evangeline Brown Colbert.

        – Waiting in Wonder: Growing Faith While You’re Expecting, A Devotional Journal by                        Catherine Claire Larson.

  • Moms in the Making – Online Support Group, click here   

Scripture Verse: 

Habakkuk 2: 1-3 I will stand at my watch and station myself upon the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. Then the Lord replied: Write down the revelation and make it plain upon tables, so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.

Prayer:

Dear Father, thank you for the blessing of these four children to parents who had faith and trusted that you would provide. You knew the plan all along. We pray that all of us can learn from Haley and Zach’s example. Only You know when the time is right. We just need to keep the faith; regardless how difficult the journey is. You never let us down.

A Season for Everything

It has been a season of bittersweet endings and new beginnings for me and my siblings. As you know, we lost both parents in a three-month time span. One of the endings was closing their home. For the past 25 years, my parents lived in an apartment on Brookhaven Golf Course with a beautiful view. The apartment was full of things that they treasured. Many of those things were hard to part with during the estate sale.  As we packed up their remaining things, I looked outside and realized that, most likely I won’t be there again. It’s hard to describe the strange feeling of being in that empty apartment where there was once so much love and caring along with the pain. While I truly rejoice that my parents are in heaven, I know that I will always miss them.

Little things make me pause like seeing the Mother’s and Father’s Day cards at the store. And Mom’s birthday is coming up.  Even grocery shopping feels odd as I no longer must shop for them. Everyone tells me that those feelings are normal and will crop up often in my new life without them. Also, I have much more time on my hands now and need to decide how to fill it.

It is a season of healing for my siblings and me. We are all adjusting to our “new normal.” We had a wonderful Easter celebration with my siblings. My husband and I stayed and talked after the big group left.  It was very relaxing and fun, as in the past we would have been concerned about getting Mom and Dad home early.  

Our estate sale was a big undertaking, and we all worked together on it. Little things would turn up like a box of my mother’s blessed medals in a little box we almost sold. My daughter, Laura, found a leather travelling bag of Dad’s. Since they shared a love of travelling, she felt that the bag was meant for her. And my son, Ryan, kept a collection of vases from Mom and some furniture from Dad.  It was very touching to watch the grandchildren go through their grandparents’ things with such reverence.

Now we are preparing for their burial in Ohio. It was their desire to be buried next to Martha, Mary’s twin, who died at 18 months of age. It will be quite a celebration with my Michigan cousins coming. We had so much fun with these cousins growing up.  A special treat for me is having Jane, my best childhood friend from our time in Ohio, come with her mother and several sisters. I have so many fond memories of Jane and her wonderful family. Her parents and mine were the best of friends, and both homes were full of fun.

I know it will be emotional for me to see Martha’s grave again. I was in college the last time we travelled to Ohio. I knelt on her grave and sobbed. I was seven years old when she died, and I remember her well. She was a calm, sweet baby, and I loved to play with her. While she has been my guardian angel throughout my life, I still grieve for her. It will be fitting, but difficult to bury my parents right next to her.

I looked up the stages of grieving, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The research says that they are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live without our loved ones. These tools help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Now, I consider myself to be somewhere between depression and acceptance. It helps tremendously that they lived long lives, and both were ready to be with the Lord.

What Has Helped:

  • Our faith in eternal life.
  • Working together as a family.
  • Videos of our family made by our wonderful cousins.

Scripture Verse

Ecclesiastes 3: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;  a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;  a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of my parents’ lives. They were each beautiful examples of caregiving. When Mom started to decline five years ago, my father stepped in and truly willed her to live. Those last five years were very difficult for him, but he never wavered in his care for her. And my sweet mom thanked him for each and every thing he did for her. We rejoice that they are reunited with their daughter and are enjoying their new eternal life. Help us to honor the memories we had as a family, and trust that we will see them again in heaven.

Coping with Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease

Elaine and Jim have been married for 54 years, and she has cared for her husband for the past 10 years. He was diagnosed with dementia in 2011, but he had symptoms for the previous four years. Elaine realized early on that life as she knew it was over. She has had to adjust to “a new normal.”

As the disease progressed, Jim became increasingly agitated. He lived in the past and constantly said that he wanted to go home, not realizing that he was already there. For eight years, Elaine was able to manage as the primary caregiver with adult day care for five half-days per week. But things began to unravel as Jim had two back-to-back urinary tract infections, a fall, a blood clot, and resulting incontinence. These became game changers, and Jim’s doctor encouraged her to find a facility as Jim needed more care than Elaine could provide. Plus, Jim had Sundowner’s symptoms of late-day confusion with increased agitation. His goal became getting out of the house. Elaine had to secure their home, and she was always concerned that he might get out somehow.

Elaine says that the decision to place him in a memory care facility was painful and heart-wrenching as she felt like she was abandoning him. While she realized that Jim needed a safer environment with 24/7 caregivers, that didn’t ease the initial guilt she felt and still feels. Elaine turned to prayer, and she also received support for her decision from other caregivers and friends.

Jim is very content and safe at the facility, and he has never asked to come home. He has activities and routine, which are very important. And he has devoted caregivers whose mission is to care for him. Elaine is very appreciative of the care he receives there.

She has learned that she has to take good care of her own health in order to care for Jim. While she is there with him daily, she does take short breaks to maintain her own emotional health. Elaine sees herself as the primary advocate for his care, and that is the main part of her life. She says, “My dual purpose in life is to keep myself well so that I can oversee Jim’s care.”

Elaine describes how very draining and overwhelming caregiving is. She emphasizes that being the caregiver of a spouse is very different from caregiving as an adult child. Elaine is a very realistic person and feels that educating yourself about the disease is extremely important. Alzheimer’s disease is a terminal disease. A memory care center is just that – not a rehabilitation center. Dementia patients don’t get better. This is so difficult to accept and, in Elaine’s case, is possible only through the grace of God.

She says, “The grieving never stops. Every loss of another ability produces more grief. It is so difficult to watch Jim decline, and this is such a progressive illness.” Elaine prays that Jim finds freedom from his earthly body and its limitations. In many ways, she feels that she has already lost her husband.

Elaine walks daily and prays as she walks. She says everyone must find what works for them. Elaine is very grateful for the support she has received through caregiver friends, meetings, books, and the Alzheimer’s Association website. She has learned to say no to things that drain her energy, and she ignores criticism as it isn’t helpful.

“I have learned unconditional love of my spouse through this disease,” says Elaine. She has also learned that her relationship with the Lord is most important as she walks through this difficult journey.

What has Helped:

Elaine recommends the following books to educate yourself about this disease:

  • Coping With Alzheimer’s, by Rose Oliver, Ph.D. and Frances A. Bock, Ph.D. This book was life-changing for Elaine as it focuses on the caregiver. It truly helped her cope with the new and ongoing behaviors of her husband.
  • Loving Someone Who Has Dementia, by Pauline Boss, Ph.D.  Elaine reads this book every month or so.  It encourages her to accept that her life has changed, and that it is up to her to come to terms with the new reality
  • Untangling Alzheimer’s, by Tam Cummings, Ph.D.  This book gives a thorough understanding of this disease for family and caregivers. The end of the book deals with the end stages of Alzheimer’s disease, which is difficult to read.

Scripture Verses – Elaine finds the psalms especially comforting.

Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Prayer:

Dear Father, help us to remember that our strength comes from You. Help us to trust in You to handle every aspect of our life, and teach us to accept life just at is right now. Only You can give us Your peace and comfort during the deep valleys in our lives. You remain ever near to us on our journey of life.

Celebration of an Extraordinary Caregiver’s Life

We just celebrated the life of Donald Bowen, our father. I would like to share a snapshot of his life with all of you, my dear friends.

Dad was born on Oct. 30, 1929 to Theodora and Aaron Bowen in Detroit, Michigan.  Dad did not have an easy childhood. He was an only child and took on the tremendous responsibility of caregiver for his mother at a very young age when his father left the family. He and his mother moved frequently, which meant that he often had to change schools, making friendships difficult to maintain.

He married when he was only 21 years old to Carolyn Karrer, who was the love of his life. He told her from the beginning that he wanted a large family so that he could experience being part of one. He wanted what he hadn’t experienced as an only child. He wanted fun, laughter and stories to tell, and he definitely got his wish. The Bowen stories are countless – nothing is off limits, including his funeral notes! Just one that I can’t resist sharing. He asked to be cremated, and my brother, Dave, was chosen to be the keeper of the ashes. In his funeral notes, he told Dave to keep his hands off the ashes! That was Dad – he had a wicked sense of humor, and he always had the last word.

The six children include: Nancy, Bob, twins Mary and Martha, David, and Jim. He faced a parent’s worst nightmare when Martha, my sister’s twin, died suddenly at 18 months of age. He was the one who was called to the hospital when she was dying. After her death, he had a difficult time speaking about her.

He especially loved having grandchildren. Each one was special, and he loved sharing stories with them. My son, Ryan, came home to see him the weekend before he died. What a great day they had recounting those memories together. He was a great grandpa and mentor to all of them.

He loved to travel. My daughter, Laura, says that her last long conversation with Dad was about trips he took. She was in France when he passed away, so she toasted her grandpa one more time from there. As a family growing up, we had countless camping, beach, and skiing trips, and typically our cousins from Michigan would come too. Often we would have seven kids, two dogs, along with Mom and Dad in a pop-up trailer. To this day, we love to recount funny memories from those times.

He also loved animals and always wished that he could have been a veterinarian. As a matter of fact, he hung a picture of our beagle, Holly, above the mantel where we told him the family picture should have been.

Dad was a champion labor negotiator with a difficult job that involved a lot of travelling. He could be tough as nails during those negotiations, but he always had a kind heart. He was a stern father, but we never doubted that he loved us. He was a man with a strong will who ran the show until the end. When he was admitted to the hospital during his last week with us, he immediately told the nurse to put a sign on the door saying not to awake him before 8 a.m.  That was true Dad.

We found an absolute treasure in his personal belongings. My father wasn’t much of a writer, but he had handwritten personal letters to each of us, including Mom, awhile back. The gift of those notes was  priceless to us!

We also all enjoyed reading his handwritten notes about his funeral. The first thing he said was to make it joyful. He said he hoped to see his God and would wait to see each of us. He also said that he wanted an Irish wake style funeral complete with funny stories and toasts.

He ended his notes with this paragraph, labelled “The Most Important.” He said, “How fortunate that I married young to my lovely wife, and we have the most beautiful children God could give us. Each one of you have made me proud and how much I love all of you, including the in-laws. My love to each of my grandchildren whom I deeply love. Remember me in your prayers.”

What Has Helped:

  • Faith and prayers help the most.
  • Family and friends.
  • Remembering our stories.
  • Reading his funeral notes.
  • Reading his handwritten letters to each of us.

Scripture Verses – These two verses seemed symbolic:

Jeremiah 8:18 My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. (upon Mom’s death)

II Timothy 4:6-8 For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance. (upon his death)

Prayer

Dear Father, please comfort the caregivers who are grieving. Many of them are living in darkness right now. Help them to feel Your constant presence. You never desert us – rather Your love and peace surround us always. Bless our family with the knowledge that our parents are together again and with Martha, too. We thank you for the time we had with them on this earth. Help us to live our lives as a tribute to them.

A heartfelt thank you to all of our family and friends for your support and prayers during this difficult time with losing both parents. Your love and friendship have meant the world to us.

Please click here to listen to a beautiful song perfectly suited for our parents.

My Father’s Passing

My father, Don Bowen, passed away at age 87 on March 21st  after many years of selflessly caring for my mom, Carolyn. His only desire was to be reunited with his wife, who died recently on December 19th after 65 years of marriage. She was always front and center in our family and although we all miss her greatly, Dad grieved the most. Even though he had family and friends who visited often, he just wanted to be with Mom. He was her devoted caregiver for so many years, and his purpose for living was gone. Before he died, I told him that he would die of a broken heart – but Dad often said that he had “half a heart.” I thought that was a sweet way to describe it.

We all knew his health was declining but were very surprised to learn that he had advanced cancers throughout his body, which were diagnosed only a week before his death. He simply put my mother’s needs above his own and didn’t think about his own health. His complete focus for the last five years of her life was about meeting his wife’s every need. In short, his devotion to her and caregiving were extraordinary. That was his legacy.

I will share my father’s life story with you after his funeral. In the meantime, please keep Mom and Dad and our whole family in your prayers.

With Gratitude,

Nancy

Prayer Request for My Family

Dear readers and friends, I ask for your prayers as my siblings and I move my father from the hospital into a facility this week. I know so many of you have faced this same situation. Plus, I am also dealing with my own chronic, painful medical problem that has yet to be resolved. Please pray for peace and healing for my father and myself, and strength for our family.  I will post again soon after the transition. Thank you for your prayers as I give this to God and put my trust in Him.

Caring for Yourself During Depression and Anxiety – My Story

Dear precious readers and friends, I am finally brave enough to share my story with you as you have shared yours with me. As many of you know, my dear mother passed away recently and the grief has hit me hard these past few weeks. However, this isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety. I watched my mother suffer with depression throughout her life, and it was always a disease that I never wanted to have. But there is a strong genetic factor in depression, and it has had a major impact on my life, as it has had on others in Mom’s family. For a long time, I thought if I looked good and tried hard, people wouldn’t know. I was so concerned about what others would think. It was exhausting. Although it’s gotten better for society as a whole, there is still a stigma attached to depression, and so many still view it as a weakness that you should be able to conquer instead of the disease that it is.

Actually, my struggle with depression led me to this blog. You see, back 18 months ago, the extreme depression and anxiety manifested in severe panic attacks that were out of control. It took a long time to find a medicine that worked. For some unknown reason, I didn’t respond to typical medications, and this made my case even more difficult. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard from doctors, “You are just wired differently!” Very frustrating to hear. At that time, I truly felt like humpty dumpty, a broken and hopeless person.

While medicine did help, and I believe in the value of medicine, the biggest change came when I started therapy with a wonderful psychologist who taught me Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Once I learned how to control negative thoughts and replace them with helpful, rational thoughts, I had a newfound power. Recently, I returned to my counselor as I need some additional help right now. It is the combination of medicine and therapy that has made a difference.

My wise and inspirational daughter, Laura, said, “Life isn’t ever a straight line, Mom. You have to expect and work with the ups and downs.” I am truly blessed with a very supportive family, so many dear friends, and this blog. But I wonder if I would have gotten to this place without the struggles. I used to be angry with God for giving me this disease, but now I believe there was a purpose. It has made me much more empathetic to people who suffer from depression and other difficulties. I have learned so much from you, brave souls, who have shared your heartfelt stories with me on my blog.

The book that has helped me the most is Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. When I was so sick, this quotation truly spoke to me. “Trust me and don’t be afraid for I am your strength and song. Do not let fear dissipate your energy. Instead, invest your energy in trusting Me and singing My song. The battle for control of your mind is fierce, and years of worry have made you vulnerable to the enemy. You are not alone in this struggle for your mind. My spirit living within you is ever ready to help in this striving. Ask Him to control your mind. He will bless you with life and peace.1

One of my friends said, “God is blessing you so you can bless others.” I hope my blog, which has become my mission, has done just that. I am so grateful to God for the stories I’ve received and the words He has put in my mind. Like all chronic diseases, depression will always be there, but now I have tools to deal with it. I am no longer like Humpty Dumpty – God has turned my brokenness into wholeness.

What has Helped:

  • Starting my day with a devotional and quiet time with the Lord.
  • My supportive family, especially my husband, Milo, who cared for me during that difficult period.
  • My son, Ryan, made a tape to help me slow down my breathing during a panic attack.
  • My incredible friends and the amazing women in my Bible Study.
  • Therapy! Go, no matter what the cost – nothing is more expensive than the time you spend in misery.
  • Make a list of things that make you feel better so you have it ready when you start slipping. It can be going to a movie, being with friends – whatever works for you, because everyone is different. Don’t feel obligated to spend your time on things that don’t help.
  • EXERCISE – even if it is just 10 minutes of walking. My favorite exercise is swimming as it is very relaxing to me.

Scripture Verses

Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Jeremiah 1:9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.”

Prayer

Heavenly Father, even though there are times when we think you have abandoned us, you never do. You are there in our darkest moments. Please give us Your peace and hope during our periods of suffering and despair. Sometimes our biggest struggles turn into blessings. Help us to switch our focus from our problems to Your presence. As we stay close to You, our brokenness will turn into wholeness so that we can bless You and bless others.

 1 Young, Sarah (2004). Jesus Calling. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Caring for Two Special Needs Children in Family

Like so many young women, Angie thought she would marry and have a beautiful, perfect family. But life has a way of putting some speed bumps on our road in life.  When she and her wonderful husband, Brett, had their first child, it looked like her wish had come true. Their oldest daughter, Anais, was bright, precocious, and very active. So when they had her second child, Angelle, she and Brett realized early on that things were different. At three months of age, she wasn’t acting like a normal three-month-old. As time went on, she wasn’t sitting up or crawling and was nonverbal, but she had a very lovable nature.  So Angie turned to her Mom, who recommended taking her to the pediatrician. Unfortunately, the doctors couldn’t do a full assessment until later. Finally, at age one, she received the diagnosis of cerebral palsy, which is a kind of umbrella for many different symptoms. One of the things they were able to correct quickly was her eyesight, and glasses helped tremendously.

Brett and Angie found a physical therapist, whom they considered an angel, to do intense therapy for six hours a day, and Angelle did begin to walk. However, since she also has scoliosis, she can’t walk normally.  She is still nonverbal. Despite all of hurdles, Angie says, “I believe God chose us, and Angelle chose us.”

Their third child, Grant, was a surprise. He was their third child in five years. It became clear early on that he manifested behaviors that matched autistic children. He was diagnosed with mild to moderate autism. Angie says that Grant “lives in his head.” He talks all the time, but he mostly repeats movie lines. He doesn’t have physical issues, so he doesn’t look different. Angie feels that autism is such a baffling disorder. For example, initially he would only eat five types of food since he has food texture issues. However, he has come a long way with help and love.

At first, Angie wondered why she was given another special needs child, and Anais struggled with having two special needs siblings. However, both Brett and Angie’s mom were a huge help. As they were growing up, it truly took three adults for three children. Also, Angie has nothing but good things to say about the Plano Independent School District for her children.

Angie says, “I can’t look too far ahead as it becomes too overwhelming, I have to simply trust in God.” Brett is a personal trainer and rises early so that he can be home in the afternoon to help. Angie works part-time out of her home. Together they are in the trenches 24/7. She says Brett’s strong faith has been a huge help, and they are celebrating their 30th anniversary soon. They manage to have “daytime dates” every Friday as they are just too tired in the evening.

Their oldest daughter lives in Montana and, as much as they want to visit her, it is very difficult to take a family vacation. Just going out for dinner causes problems as Angelle has verbal outbursts which frighten people. Although Angie explains the situation to people, it is frustrating. She says that people say, “I don’t know how you all do it.” Angie and Brett do not feel special – rather they are like any other couple who would do anything for their children.  “It is what it is. You have to make the best of it,” says Angie.

Grant is now 16, Angelle is 18, and Anais is 20. Throughout the years, Angie says her greatest lesson learned through caregiving was humility. She didn’t get her perfect family, but she wouldn’t choose differently. “God has given us our children for a reason,” concludes Angie.  

What has Helped:

  • Prayer is at the top of the list.
  • Trust in God.
  • A very supportive husband.
  • A mother who is always there to help.

Scripture Verse:

Matthew 19:26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Prayer

Dear Father, there is a purpose for the difficulties in our lives. You always have a plan for us. We can count on You to give us the strength and the acceptance we need to see us through all of our trials. Help us to come to You with a grateful and trusting heart as Angie and Brett do each day.

Siblings Work Together to Care for Mother with Alzheimer’s disease

Siblings Sherri, Jacque, and Mike have learned together how to care for Dorothy, their 81-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s disease. Although they don’t all live in the same city, they have worked well together – each bringing their own strength to the situation.

It has been a long journey. During Christmas of 2009, it became obvious from her behavior that Dorothy needed help. She was diagnosed by a neurologist in early 2010. During 2012, the family realized that she could no longer continue to live alone. After three attempts, they found the right home for her. Since then, they have been able to divide the care.

Jacque lives away from her siblings, so she deals with paperwork issues like renewing insurance plans, maintaining retirement package updates, etc. She’s also the most informed regarding the latest medications, so she often provides insight when they are discussing medication changes with one of the doctors. She sends Dorothy special treats throughout the year, like roses on Valentine’s Day. When she returns to St. Louis, Jacque always schedules one or two days just to be with Dorothy. Both sides of the family are in St. Louis and want to see Jacque, but she makes time alone with her Mom her priority.

Mike has been the “man” of the family since their dad passed away 20 years ago, so he has always handled Dorothy’s finances and big decisions such as selling her car, home, etc. He keeps Jacque and Sherri in the loop and asks their opinions. He is her power of attorney for both legal and health issues. Mike is the primary caregiver for her more now that he is retired, so he stays busy taking her to doctors and other appointments. When Dorothy gets out of sorts and refuses her medicine, Mike seems to be the only one who can persuade her to take it. So he handles those kinds of phone calls as well.

Before Mike retired and was able to help more, Sherri was the main caregiver. She was working part-time, raising a family, and is a pastor’s wife, which means she has an extremely busy life. Even though she handled all of the shopping and doctor appointments, she still felt guilty that she wasn’t there enough. And of course, there were times when she was simply overwhelmed.

Sherri says she learned three valuable lessons from caring for her mom. First, Sherri says, “I’ve changed as much as she has.” In the early stages of the disease, Dorothy was upset about everything, and Sherri took it very personally. She learned the hard way how to diffuse the situation. She says now that although it still makes her sad, it is no longer personal.

She says, “Lesson two was to learn to love her as she loved me – a mother’s love in reverse. I want to model that for my children. That no matter what, that is how you love.” She has a special needs son with Asperger’s Syndrome, and it is especially important to her that he sees this example.

Lesson three, according to Sherri, has been to become an advocate for her mother. She realizes that her mother doesn’t have the words to describe how she is feeling and doesn’t know the questions to ask, so Sherri has learned to be her voice – her mouthpiece.

The progression of this disease has been difficult to watch as their mother was one of the smartest women they have ever known. She worked in management for McDonald Douglas back when women just weren’t in management. She was a trendsetter and a very strong, independent woman, even after being a widow for 20 years.

The siblings have found new ways to connect with their mom. Pictures in photo albums help to jog her memory and initiate conversation. Her long-term memory is better than her short-term memory.  She still remembers words to old hymns and loves to sing. The family has learned to adjust to all the changes in their lives with God’s constant help. They feel that God has turned the negatives of this disease into positives.

What Has Helped:

  • Prayers have played a huge part.
  • Meditation.  
  • Sherri’s church members have adopted her mother.
  • The book, Creating Moments of Joy, by Jolene Brackey.

Scripture Verses:

John 13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Prayer: Dear Father, these siblings model Your unconditional love for us. Continue to give them strength and hope. May we all learn valuable lessons about life and living from following Your perfect example.

When the Caregiving Ends and the Grief Begins

As you know, my dear mother passed away a month ago, and I feel the need to talk about grief. Although Mom’s quality of life was not good for the past five years and we are assured that she is in heaven, we greatly miss her physical presence. I miss talking to her on the phone daily, and visiting her in their home. Their apartment is so empty feeling now. But mostly I see my father’s deep grief after 65 years of marriage and many years of amazing caregiving. His whole purpose revolved around Mom’s needs, and now that she is gone, he is feeling lost without her. He has lost the love of his life. He needs to cry. Intellectually I know that, but I want so badly to help him feel better. I don’t know how to ease his loneliness, and I often feel helpless. I realize that grief is a process and that he will never “get over her,” but life will go on.

I think that the end of the holidays makes it worse. One little thing that helped me is right after I packed up Christmas ornaments, I put up Valentine’s decorations so that I would have a new holiday to look forward to. I love to decorate, and that brought me joy. Also the planning of her service helped give us a purpose, but now that is done. Now we must learn to live without our angel.

I am trying to practice my mother’s greatest virtue of gratitude each day, and that is my goal for this new year. Also, I have become very sensitive to gossip and negativity as she taught us not to speak badly about others.

My cousins created two beautiful videos – one of Mom’s family and one of our family. We have watched them repeatedly and they are a beautiful reminder of Mom’s youth and also remind us of the fun times we had when we were growing up. Mom was always front and center in the pictures flashing her larger than life smile.

My comfort is that I can feel her presence, especially at night when sleep won’t come.  I try to feel her arms around me. I remember during the last days of her life how she told me she was ready to go home. She asked for Jesus to take her. I know she was ready, but I wonder how really ready we were.  Are you ever ready to lose a parent, particularly a sweet mother who was such an inspiration?

One of my Bible study friends gave me a small book, titled C.S. Lewis On Grief. Lewis also lost his wife. This quote seemed to reiterate what my father is feeling. It says, “You tell me ‘she goes on’. But my heart and body are crying out, come back, come back. I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the arguments, the tiny, heartbreaking commonplace… It is a part of the past.”1   

We are fortunate to have three siblings here to be with Dad, and he has good friends who get him out of the apartment. I think about others who are grieving who may not have that kind of help available. I cannot imagine the loneliness that they must feel. But Scripture tells us that God is right there with us to help us through our grief.

What Helps:

  • Friends and relatives are simply invaluable.
  • Our priest and church members.
  • Devotionals and prayer.
  • Grief counseling and a grief support group.
  • For me, writing this blog helps me tremendously as I know so many of you can relate to these emotions.

Scripture Verses About Grief:

Mathew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Jeremiah 31:13 I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.

Prayer: Dear Father, I pray for all those who are grieving right now, and especially for my Father, that You will see them through their pain and suffering. Send Your comforting spirit to be with them.  Give them Your peace which transcends all suffering.

Lewis, C.S.  (1998). C.S. Lewis On Grief. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.