Saturday, October 14, 2017

My Mother And Alzheimer's

Mom with Dad and Scott 
My mom was the sweetest and most Godly lady whose very existence was shattered by Alzheimer's. This is from November 24, 2005 and was my first discussion of her situation.  You'll notice one of the comments was left by my dad.

My mother has Alzheimer's. That is one of the hardest admissions I've ever made. My realization of her condition was gradual. The first I remember her struggling was six years ago. We had a reunion at her childhood farm in Arkansas and since I had not made that drive since college, I called and asked her for directions- she couldn't tell me. At the same gathering, a cousin asked Mom for her address to update the family information list and Mom didn't know what it was. It has been a steady decline since then. My father had all the tests done, put her on the latest medications, and rededicated his life to fulfilling his marriage vows- the better or worse, sickness or health part. It's hard on the kids but the strain is on Dad. We see her on holidays and in the summer but he has to be aware of her every minute. The balance between maintaining dignity and assuring safety is a tight rope for those providing the care for the Alzheimer's patient. Dad walks it every waking moment and probably even in his sleep. Mom has no stress- the wear and tear is on him.

When I taught psychology at Friendship Christian School, Ron Welch would speak to my class on Alzheimer's. His father-in-law, a former college professor, had the disease and Ron would tell about the way it was manifested in his life. I was fascinated by the rituals and what seemed to be bizarre behavior. Little did I think some day I would tell my own stories. How could I know that I would watch my mother pour Italian salad dressing on Wheaties instead of milk and not be able to tell the difference? Who could guess that she would not know which of her siblings and cousins were still living or deceased? Mom was always a servant and still tries to be helpful. She constantly rearranges things and puts them up to the point where Dad's expensive hearing aid disappeared and was not found for weeks. We are fortunate. Her health is good and she still knows us somewhat. She is incredibly sweet, while some Alzheimer's victims become belligerent. While she cannot tell you what day, month, or year it is, she still remembers the old hymns at worship services by heart. The best way I can describe Mom is that it's her but it's not her. I hope that makes sense.

Let me tell you about my mother. She was an incredible elementary teacher who balanced work with family. She was a preacher's wife who stayed above church politics, if there were any. Mom was never too busy to comfort us when we hurt, correct us when we were rockheads, pray for us when we were in trouble, and keep us more than adequately clothed and fed on a minister's salary. She found time to be a Cub Scout den mother and became surrogate mom to many young ladies who lacked what we took for granted. Later, she became a noted speaker in marriage seminars and taught younger women, as the scriptures command, to love their husbands and children. Mom has influenced many to be what the Lord wants and expects them to be. She could get her feelings hurt. Once, I gave away a food processor that she had given me. It was impractical for my needs and it was taking more time than it was worth to use but it crushed her when she found out and she cried. (I learned from my mistake!) That's the mother I remember, not the one who Dad has to tell, "It's Steve" when I call so she won't have to figure it out. Not the lady who asks, "What do you think?" when I ask her who came over for supper because she doesn't know and she tries to hide it. Not the woman who cuts up every tomato, apple, or potato that Dad leaves on the kitchen table, trying to maintain her usefulness. Not the woman who couldn't understand why she was not allowed to drive anymore for the safety of everyone on the road and herself as well. Not the woman who has to wear an identification bracelet in case she gets lost.

If your mother has good physical and mental health, count yourself blessed. Tell her you love her at every opportunity and for no reason at all. Thank her for making you make your bed when you were little. Be grateful she enforced the family rules even when it hurt her more than you. Hug her because God gave her to you. And while you are at it, thank God, too.

Applicable quote of the day:

"In Alzheimer's, the mind dies first: names, dates, places. The interior scrapbook of an entire life fades into mists of non-recognition."
Matt Clark

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at


Roger Hawley said...

Steve, Thanks so much for the beautiful tribute to your Mom. It's all true, and it helped me to appreciate her even more. Her influence shines through you and your siblings.

Love, Dad

Devin Turner said...

Hey coach, after i read yur blog i thought about how much i missed my mom. As i was thinking the door bell rung i answered the door and guess who was standing out there?? MY MOM she flew all the way from GA to visit me!!! And yesterday 10/21/05 was my step mom's birthday so my dad and sister took her out to eat (i was w/ my mom)so my step mom was complaining of pains so they took her to the emergency room and my new sister was born the next day a month early and the day after my step mom's birthday!! What a blessing!! only God!!! so they named her Leah i havent seen her yet but i will 2morrow cant wait to tell u about her!!! see you later
-Devin Turner

James Ridley Gourley Jr. said...

Coach Hawley, I have gotten to know you over the years and we share so many great memories like riding in the car in the homecomming parade. One of my first memories of us together. I long for the day that we get to heaven there we can share stories of a God of santification who all glory be in the present and in the future. God bless you my friend and may your days be filled with great joy and love

your friend
James Ridley Gourley Jr.

Susan Jeep said...

Hey Steve,

I'm sitting hear wiping the tears as they run down my face. I am sorry for all those people who never met your mom and I feel so blessed to be so close to her. I am so amazed at how loving and kind she remains no matter what the situation. It just proves how genuine she has always been. And you are right about the hymns. She does not even need a song book to sing them. Her love for the Lord shines through in everything she does...even now.

Love and prayers,


Jon said...

You said some very nice things about your mom. I hope she gets better and I hope you had a great Thanksgiving

Family fun said...

what a beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman! anyone who has never gotten to know your mom will have no idea how little this actually represents how special she is and how much she allowed God to shine through her in everything she did. i know that my life was richer because of time i spent with her - both before and after the onset of alzehimer's!

Carol D. O'Dell said...

Dear Steve,
I don't know you, but your post about your mom touched a similar heart chord. My mom was a minister so I was a preacher's kid, and later in life she got Alzheimer's and that's when I brought her into our home and gave her a home passing.
Here's a passage from a blog I wrote recently.
I hope it touches you just as your words touched me.
~Carol O'Dell
Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir
Dear Mother,

This is my fifth Mother’s Day without you.

I should clarify: without you physically here.

You are indeed, here.

I talk to you and listen to you more than ever. Never thought I’d say that.

Your stories, wisdom, advice, and crazy sayings all come out of my mouth.

Your stories, wisdom, advice, and all crazy sayings come out of my mouth.

You are remembered, your songs sung, and your recipes grace my dinner table often.

I’m now the family matriarch, and I’m somewhat comfortable with that new role. I’m the remember-er, the keeper of the stuff (birth, marriage, and death records, photos, jewelry, heirloom furniture), the family repository. In some ways, I don’t feel dignified or old enough for this role, but I guess I am. Old enough.

I still long to be somebody’s daughter. Do you ever get over that?

And yet, I do see that I needed you to get out of my way. Sorry, mom, but it’s true.

I needed this emotional space so that I could step into my own womanhood. This transition is natural. Mothers die. I too, will die. This is to make room for all the new mothers and all the new daughters. But mothers don’t just die, their seeds fall into the hearts of those who love them.

I also don’t want to sugar-coat you–or us. We were far, far from perfect.

I’m not even interested in perfect, who learns from perfect?

I see some wrong choices you made–some wrong choices I made.

I understand why: pain, fear, selfishness.

By analyzing “us” I can learn a few things, make different choices. I can’t imagine you being bothered by this now because whatever the “here-after” is, it has to put our petty issues in perspective, and I refuse to think of an eternity wracked with guilt and regret.

You’d be proud though.

My skirts are longer now, and I actually do own a slip.
I wear your broaches and scarves when I talk about you to caregiving and Alzheimer’s groups–and I show your picture. I talk about you more now than when you were alive, and part of me finds that rather annoying. I hope to have as long of a shelf life as you are.

I’m a mother-in-law, which is completely weird, and I understand things different now.

I understand how trusting someone to love, respect, and care for your child is so scary, even when your daughters or sons are grown and tell you they don’t need your protection. They do. Spiritually, emotionally, not in your face, tell you what to do, but in a broader sense.

I understand how a wedding isn’t just about the bride and groom–how your dreams, your hopes, your family’s expectations somehow get tangled in the mix. It took me 25 years to stop blaming you for controlling my wedding.

I understand how you long to have a quiet alone moment with the child you bore–how it’s hard to be second fiddle to person who once thought you carved the moon out of cheese and flung it to the sky.

I understand how hard it is to scoot one seat down and let the next generation take center stage when you feel like you barely got there.

I eat breakfast every day, something you couldn’t force me to do as a kid. I also hear those words slip out of my mouth–”Wear a hat, it’s cold.” I think of you and me, and all the hats I snatched off my head the second you weren’t looking, and here I am, dolling out the same advice. Did put a whammy on me?

I also insist my children call me every day. Just like you did.

It was the best thing you could have done, you know.

Even after five years, I so miss our calls. I can’t tell you how irritating they were, some days.

But those “I’m all right, busy today, love you, mom,” calls kept us going. I thought they were just for you, about you being needy.

(there's more but I don't want to go on too long)


My blog is on my website if you're ever interested.
My prayers are with your family.

Sherry Ann said...

I agree with your Dad Roger's comments, Mommy Nelda's influence shines through you.

(I realized I have to have tissue box beside me when I read your posts.)