Alzheimer's: a blessing?
I have learned so many lessons from helping mom through this journey that is Alzheimer's disease.  Patience, unconditional love, kindness and forgiveness have to be learned to cope with the tragedy of Alzheimer's.  What I now realize is that these are the lessons mom spent her life trying to teach me through word and example.  She dedicated her life to loving her family no matter what.  Her sweet disposition, her patience, kindness and love we all recognized.  Yet, for me, it took these last few years of serving her to really understand what she was trying to teach. 

Some might wonder why God would allow a person as beautiful in body and spirit as my mother to suffer through the indignity of Alzheimer's disease, to end up wearing diapers, unable to speak, unable to care for herself.  I thank God that it happened.  Mom loves me.  She has always tried to teach me what to do.  Yet, it wasn't until this disease had her that I really started to learn.  She has taught me so much during these last few years.  I am a different person, a better person, because of my mother's journey through Alzheimer's disease. 

I know that, given a choice, mom would choose to suffer this way if she knew her children would benefit.  "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."  John 15:13.  That's my mom.

The funeral: part of the journey
Today was mom's funeral.  What a tribute to a wonderful woman.  I could not believe the number of people there.  Friends from years ago and relatives not seen in years where all there to pay tribute.  The first person I greeted was a woman mom and dad knew at the airbase village over 50 years ago.  Yet, there she was, crying and telling us how much she loved my mother.  After 50 years!  That's some kind of lasting influence.  I always knew she was sweet and special to me.  What I didn't realize is that she was the same way to everyone.  The unintended theme of the funeral was played out over and over again:  mom loved everyone and we all were her favorite. 

The funeral was more than a tribute to mom's love and caring for all.  It was also her testimony.  I didn't realize until tonight as I looked back at the program how mom spoke to everyone there.

As my sisters and I prepared the program we discussed the hymns to be sung.  I thought of "Joseph Smith's First Prayer."  Everyone agreed.  For the closing number we selected "I Believe in Christ."  As I look back I realize that they aren't typical funeral songs.  I see mom's hand in selecting them because they are her testimony songs, her testimony of the restoration of the gospel and of the Savior.  No more fitting songs could have been chosen.

We had a wonderful day.  It snowed this morning.  As we left the church to go to the cemetery, the snowed had stopped and the sun was shining through parted clouds, reflecting off of the new-fallen snow.  It was beautiful.  When we got to the cemetery, the snow started falling again.  The white blanket across the cemetery made everything look fresh and clean.  It was a fitting scene to receive mom's mortal remains.  I dedicated the grave and, again, the snow stopped.  We could then visit and enjoy our time with family and friends.  We even threw a few snowballs.  (Sorry mom.)  It was like mom was up there with her hand on the valve, giving us just the setting we needed at each stage.  (Thanks mom.)  But isn't that just like her, in the background, taking none of the glory, but really being in charge. 

So, she's gone, but only in a physical sense.  Her spirit lives and she is still with us.  The timing of her passing is not coincidental.  We can now have the big 85th birthday party dad wanted and Margaret now has a special helper in Africa. I believe that our dear departed can be sent as angels to help us in this life, and Margaret needs mom now more than we on this side of the world do. Although I am certain that mom will spend time comforting dad until they are reunited.  (Dad hopes it's soon rather than later.)

I suspect we'll all continue to feel her presence and her assistance as we need it.  Although her journey through mortality is over, it will continue through the eternities.  She still has lots to do.

She died
On Friday, October 23, 2009 my mother died.  The death was not unanticipated.  She went peacefully in her sleep when no one was around.  She picked a good time (if ever there is a good time) when family was already planning to come to town for dad's birthday on Wednesday.  What I didn't anticipate was the difficulty telling my dad.  After 60 years of marriage the love is more intense as is the grief. He wept. He sat next to mom's body and held her hand.  For a time he prayed.  Then he cried again.  It is impossible to express the poignancy of that moment.

We'll have the funeral on Tuesday and then on Wednesday we can have the big 85th birthday party that dad wanted but said he couldn't have because of mom's health.  We had planned to have a dinner at their house with just his children there so as not to disturb mom.  He would not leave her to have a party.  Now, we'll have a big party with everyone invited. 

It seems appropriate to celebrate mom's life, while celebrating dad's birthday, by having her family together laughing and talking and joking around.  That is her legacy, a loving family ever expanding.

She loves her husband
Mom was resting peacefully today.  No more moaning.  She still responds and calms when a loved one is near touching or talking with her. 

Kathy and I visited a mortuary today.  What a strange experience, planning for death.  And what an odd business.  Why would someone spend ten or twenty thousand dollars on a casket?  I don't get it.  Why worry about having a rubber gasket and whether the casket will seal perfectly or at all.  We all go into the ground eventually.  Whether we are embalmed or cremated, our ability to be resurrected does not change.  I don't think the resurrection is going to be like Night of the Living Dead where you'll see people digging out of their graves.  (But if they do, I'm sure they won't be trying to each brains.)

So we are going with the cheap casket.  I'm sure that's what mom would want.  I know for sure it's what dad wants, because he told me.

I visited with Robin Harden today.  I went over to talk with Bob, the Bishop, but he wasn't there.  Robin told me about an incident of a few weeks ago.  She was visiting mom.  Mom was still talking then, but was very uncomfortable and in pain.  She shifted, laid down, sat up.  Robin sat next to her and mom said, "I just want to lay down in bed with my husband."  She loves dad.  She just wanted to be in a comfortable place, next to her husband.  I told this experience to dad and his face lit up.  Dad loves mom more than I ever understood.

Who's inside?
Mom has declined to the point of not being able to communicate at all.  She can't support her own weight.  She eats very little, and only if someone puts food in her mouth.  She took a little Ensure yesterday, not much. 

Notwithstanding her apparent lack of awareness, something interesting happened.  She was laying in her bed groaning.  She does that much of the time.  I'm sure it relates to her level of discomfort.  Kathy was sitting next to the bed and answered the phone.  It was Colleen calling from Colorado.  Kathy put the phone to mom's ear.  As soon as Colleen started to talk, mom calmed down and quit moaning.  Her whole body became more restful in appearance.  Within a few moments of Kathy taking the phone from her ear, mom began moaning again.

So how much understanding was there?  I don't know.  What I do know is that there was some level of awareness; whether that level was full awareness or not is insignificant.  It demonstrates that visiting and showing my love for her through touching and talking is important to her well being.  It also demonstrates that my mother is still inside, trapped in a failing body. 

One might ask, what is the purpose of mom going through this?  Why would God let her suffer so?  There are many lessons to be learned. Perhaps she needs to learn he lesson of accepting service or seeing how much her children love her.  Perhaps we each need to learn the lesson of patience and service above self.  Maybe it isn't a lesson to be learned at all.  Maybe dad just needs time to adjust to being without mom after 60 years together. 

Dad's slowly coming to terms with the idea that he won't get her back in this life.  He asked me yesterday if we could put her in the hospital so she could get better.  I told him that it wouldn't help, that she isn't going to get better.  We have this conversation most days.  Dad's grief is the saddest part of this dying process. 

next >