Christmas Memories

I found myself wandering the toy aisles while Christmas shopping last week. I was searching for something called a Tangle Jr. It’s a colorful little twisty plastic chain, perfect for someone who is fidgety and can’t keep their hands still. I finally found them and tossed two into my cart.

I sighed and felt this strange emptiness inside as I watched the other shoppers filling their carts. Unlike the young parents around me, I was there on a very unique mission. I wasn’t Christmas shopping for a child . . . I was shopping for my mother.

Mom and me, Christmas 2017

My brother and I have reached an odd stage in life which many grown children will eventually face. Our mom, now in a nursing home, is slowly losing her memory. She loves having visitors though, and still recognizes my brother. He is an absolute angel! He is retired and is able to visit her at least three days a week, something I am unable to do. He also picks her up and brings her to us for occasional weekend family dinners and holiday gatherings. We will be blessed to have her with us on Christmas Day.

Memories become even more precious when your loved one has Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. We never know if our next holiday will be our last one with Mom, so we aim to make lots of memories in the moment. These are the days when we treasure her presence, even if she won’t recall the visit after the long drive back to the nursing home.

I remember a Christmas morning about three years ago. Mom was experiencing moderate memory lapses, but still recognized all of us and was able to spend the night. We shared a wonderful Christmas Eve together at church and then at home, and I wanted to make the morning special too.

I awoke before the rest of the family and turned on all the Christmas lights and the gas fireplace. I put on some festive music and heated up some breakfast pastries. Every now and then I tiptoed upstairs and peeked into the guest room. I wanted Mom to see me before she panicked in an unfamiliar place. When she woke up, I helped her into her robe and slippers and led her downstairs. Her childlike delight and reaction when seeing the beautiful Christmas tree and all the presents has filled my heart to this day.

Mom and I sat together while the rest of the family slept in. We enjoyed our coffee and cinnamon rolls in the family room, and watched The Little Drummer Boy on our old VHS player. I was hoping Mom would love that cartoon, and she did. I am sure she watched it a dozen times with me when I was a kid, but that morning it was brand new for her.

Throughout those quiet hours together, she would suddenly look around the room and marvel at the pretty lights and decorations as though noticing them for the first time. She kept saying, “This is so beautiful!” and asking, “Who did all this?” Her reaction alone was memorable for me — so innocent and full of wonder — just like the Christmas mornings I remember growing up.

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:15-19 

Perhaps those memories provide a little glimpse of what heaven will be like for us, with every moment bright, and shining, and full of wonder and amazement. How awesome it will be! 

May your Christmas morning be just like the first Christmas — full of joy, wonder, and precious memories to last a lifetime and beyond.

Patience and Acceptance

As time passes, I’ve learned that patience and acceptance travel together. Try as I may, I cannot have one without the other. Being patient requires me to accept and adapt to a particular situation, no matter how difficult that process may be. This is where my faith in God sustains me.

Yesterday I spent some time with my mother at her nursing home. My husband and I arrived just as my brother was pushing Mom’s wheelchair into the conference room where we would have lunch together. Mom is just getting over a bout of bronchitis and her voice was raspy, but she was visibly happy to see us. But as anyone who is familiar with dementia will tell you, emotions can change in an instant.

We spread out Mom’s favorite treat of Chick-fil-A nuggets and waffle fries, but she immediately became preoccupied with her new surroundings. “Where am I?” she asked, wide-eyed and frightened, followed by, “Where is my home?”and “How did you get here?” I couldn’t tell if she was just confused by the new setting (not her normal dining area) or by our presence. Either way, she grew increasingly aggitated and eating was the last thing on her mind.

Mom’s food grew cold over the next 30 minutes while we tried to distract and re-direct her attention back to her lunch. After a while, she discovered the fish tank behind us, and we turned her to face it while she sipped her milkshake and talked to the fish. Sometimes you have to pick your battles, and we knew in that moment it was more important to just enjoy our mother’s presence. I sat beside her and we talked about the different fish and their beautiful colors. After a few minutes she grew calmer and was again her happy self.

Knowing how much Mom enjoys being outdoors, we decided to take advantage of the break in the rainy weather, and wheeled her out to the patio. As always, she loved looking at the flowers and she enjoyed the fresh air. I took her for a little stroll along the walkway to see where it led, grateful to have this  precious time together. Still, I longed to have a real conversation with Mom and share news about my life. I bent down and kissed her cheek. “I love you, Mom,” I said. “Oh, I love you too!” she replied. I knew she meant it.

It takes both patience and acceptance to endure life’s situations while we walk this earth. But it is my faith in God that gives me strength and hope as I await the day when Mom and I will once again converse and laugh together in our forever home.