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The Messenger

Muriel Aasve Blankenship (a Messenger)
Muriel Aasve Blankenship (a Messenger)

My Mama was a messenger despite the fact that over the past decade or so, my Mama’s communication skills progressively deteriorated throughout the entire journey of the disease called dementia (perhaps Alzheimer’s).  The first indicators that something was wrong began to manifest as seemingly normal conversations included statements that were repeated over and over (We referred to those incidents as her loop).

As time went on, her conversation skills melted slowly away as her ability to string sentences together decreased.  At first it was a back and forth thing – there were good days and bad. The good days gave us hope, while the bad days confirmed we were still on the same downhill path.

For a period of time, Mama retained what I called ‘Muscle Memory responses’. For example, if you asked her how she was doing, she would respond, “Fine.” Or, “Would you like something to drink?” her answer might be “No”, but then she would proceed to pick up the glass and drink it right down.

Mama’s ability to sing remained long after her ability to speak went silent. We knew a lot of songs and so the majority of our visits were spent singing. Eventually, her ability to sing left as well, so I sang all the songs for both of us.

In spite of the fact that her voice was silenced, Mama still had the ability to communicate with her eyes. Quite often when I was singing, reading or praying, her eyes would fill and tears would roll down her cheeks. I found a few Psalms, such as Psalm 23 and 71 that seemed to fit her so I read them to her over and over. I knew they would minister to her spirit so it felt as if I could still ‘do’ something for her.

Over the course of this extraordinarily long journey, various folks would comment that it seemed such a shame about her condition. I had more than one conversation with the Lord regarding it as well. Early on, our family was determined that we would do everything possible to help Mama finish well, but there were times that I wondered just what could be the purpose of this lingering a little longer.

Then one day while reading Psalm 71 to her, I noticed something. Verse 18 says, “And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come.

How could Mama be a messenger?

I wondered how Mama, who couldn’t even speak, be able to declare anything about God to anyone? I gave it some thought. I pondered it. I wondered.  Revelation came to me over time. I learned that the word ‘declare’ could also mean ‘messenger’.

Mama was a messenger. Her life was a message that didn’t need words. She silently communicated that God did not forsake her.  In spite of the long, downward journey into the valley of the “Shadow of Death” that lasted over a decade, Mama’s sweet quietness steadily declared God’s strength to everyone around her.

This season also gave her family something else. Time. The extra time we were given allowed us the opportunity to show her honor. Honor due a parent and honor to a fellow human being. We had time not only to care for her, but her condition opened doors that we never would have otherwise walked through.  We were able to get to know both residents and caregivers alike, and these visits were full of chats, sharing the love of Jesus, joys, and concerns as well as praying and singing. Perhaps even providing hope to someone else on a journey that God will give them strength as well.

The day came and Jesus sent the angels; her work here was done. Mama finished well.


"Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia" can be ordered by clicking on the following link: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01GAG2ZMS
“Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia” By Senia Owensby

Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook 

 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind? 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And days o’ lang syne!

The new year often brings with it certain hopes and aspirations. This is the time for new beginnings, do-overs and fresh starts. We tell ourselves that perhaps this year we will do better, be better, live better. The ‘R’ word gets tossed around a bit, if not verbally, at least the general idea of a resolution to eat better, get more exercise, or improve in whatever area we perceive we fell short in last year.

If you do decide to make a change or two, consider becoming more social. The Alzheimer’s Society has conducted a study which shows that 42 % of family and friends mistakenly think that once a person with dementia stops recognizing loved ones, they don’t benefit that much from spending time with them. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, family visits can stimulate feelings of happiness, comfort and security.finishing_well-in-life-connect

Staying connected and taking part in activities helps a person with dementia feel less isolated.

Alzheimer’s Society is calling on people to make a positive New Year’s resolution to spend time with people with dementia and help them take part in activities they enjoy to keep connected.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “After spending time with friends and family over the festive period, New Year can be a bleak and lonely time for people with dementia and their carers. It’s so important for people with dementia to feel connected throughout the year.

“Spending time with loved ones and taking part in meaningful activities can have a powerful and positive impact, even if they don’t remember the event itself. We’re urging people to get in touch with us and find out how we can help you stay connected.”

If you have hesitated to visit someone because you are not sure what you would talk about, remember, it really doesn’t matter what you say. Simply entering the room with a smile and taking their hand can create a connection. As far as what to say, try reciting scripture, reading poetry or the newspaper. Perhaps picking up a novel you were interested in and reading a few chapters each visit.

Is someone waiting for you?

Only the Lonely

I was visiting with a friend today. It turns out that his dad has dementia, and he was grieving about a very painful part of reality called loneliness when it comes to folks afflicted with this condition. Not only is it “The long goodbye”, but too often it also a “Journey of lonesomeness”.

Unfortunately, their forgetfulness tends to cause friends and family to forget about them. Not in the cold, unfeeling or hateful way. No! Rather in more of the “I don’t know what to sayway, or the “Why go? They won’t even know I’m thereway, or the “It’s too sad or depressing to see them in that situationway.

My heartbroken friend went on to say that it didn’t seem to matter what his father had achieved or accomplished, who he’d helped or the man he was, once dementia crept in and took over everything changed. Colleagues, friends, and even family began to avoid him.

He’s not the only one who has mentioned it. It seems to be a common complaint among caregivers.  At times, those who care for others begin to feel that they alone are shouldering the burden of care. Why is that?

I believe it’s because folks might feel unqualified, uncertain or afraid they might say the wrong thing. People honestly don’t know what to say. Or if their person is suffering from dementia, they won’t remember the visit. And, it can be a sad thing to see someone who was once vibrant and full of life to become frail and feeble.

Perhaps what is needed is a bit of coaching ahead of time to help folks know all that’s really needed is a smile, a touch, and a kind voice.

It really doesn’t matter what you say. Simply entering the room with a smile and taking their hand can create a connection. As far as what to say, try reciting scripture, reading poetry or the newspaper. Perhaps picking up a novel you were interested in and reading a few chapters each visit. Sing a few songs or use  youtube.com  on your phone/tablet to play some songs from when they were younger.

If eating is allowed, bring a special treat (definitely check with the caregiver first).  Allow your person to live in the past if that is where they are. A story listened to even if it’s repeated over and over can be considered conversation.

Yes, it can be depressing to see someone in that setting, but perhaps your visit can bring a bit of joy and create a connection that may just improve the quality of life for both of you.

Please share any other helpful tools and tips can be offered to those who have found themselves avoiding visits.