Easy Does It

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S_Diana

My mother lives within five miles of our home and she turns 94 this month. She loves it when I drop by and she smiles right through the telephone when I call her. She tells me I’m the most wonderful of God’s creatures, even though she is not entirely sure who I am.

My mother, in addition to being one of the loveliest women I’ve ever known, also has dementia. Her brain is deteriorating, week by week. She has lost most of her memory, including all 63 years of her marriage to my father. She has only very limited mechanical ability of any kind, and more and more often, leaves her sentences hanging in the air after about three words, leaving me to wonder where in the world she was headed. When I am with my mother, what she most needs me to be is relaxed and present, patient and slow.

Too much of the time, I am NONE of those things.

Loving a person with severe dementia means you continually live with a large load of cognitive dissonance. In my head, I know that she cannot understand, cannot remember, and cannot move quickly, either physically or mentally. But my heart wants her to be as she once was: fast-witted, funny, vivacious, interesting, well-read, deeply spiritual.

Who she is now … is slow. Her brain is losing itself, day by day. Scientists do not yet understand all the complicated mechanisms that make this true, but this much we do know: the part of her brain that remembers things is disintegrating. The part of her brain that understands how things work, how time happens, what she said 30 seconds ago is almost entirely non-functional.

So when I hand her a napkin at lunch, she has no idea what to do with it. I say gently, “Put it in your lap, Mom.” And she moves to pick up the knife and fork that were just wrapped in that napkin, sending them to her lap.

Because she has always had a gift for sociability, and is a natural extrovert, she has maintained a semblance of those characteristics. She has a “routine” that she follows when we are together. Ten times in ten minutes, she asks the same set of rote questions: How is your family? Have you found a church you like? Where is your husband? And the biggest one of all, ever-present: Do you ever think about moving?

“No, Mom,” I always say. “I like it here. We plan to be here until we die.” And some days, I swear to you, I want her to hear and understand that verb. I want her to grasp that she is dying, that I am dying. We are all dying. Most of the time, she hasn’t a clue.

But it’s that question about moving that gets to me, almost every time. She wants to be somewhere else. She talks about driving somewhere. She has no idea where she would go and she seems to have forgotten that she quit driving, of her own volition, almost ten years ago.

If I were her, I’d probably want to be somewhere else, too. She lives in a dementia unit, with 15 others in various stages of lostness, three to five aides always present to help them dress, bathe, eat, walk, sing, arrange flowers, watch movies. It’s a lovely place. Truly, it is. And she tells me that she loves her room.

But she’d like to move.

So we talk. And I bite my tongue, swallowing the long explanation I have too often given, willing myself to go slowly, to speak little, to listen well. “It’s good to have dreams, don’t you think?” I’ll say. “We all need to dream, don’t we?”

But inside, I’m roiling. And I’m praying, “Lord, give me ears to hear, give me patience with the pauses, give me words that she can hear and understand, help me to slow down.”

Somehow, slowing down feels like giving up, like giving her up, week after week. There are times when I can hardly bear it, so I constantly fight the urge to hurry everything—to get her back to her room, to be done with this agonizing meal, to get in the car and run away as fast as I can.

I am learning the gentle, difficult discipline of deliberate slowing … not for my sake, but for hers. I’ve learned a lot over the years about slowing down in order to improve my own life, to deepen my own faith, to add layers and textures to the experiences of my life. But I’m a rank beginner at slowing down for someone else, at matching my speed to theirs, at being at peace with what is, not pining for what was.

Slowly, slowly, I am learning how to do this. I look for beauty in what we have, I enjoy and celebrate occasional flashes of lucidity, and I am grateful that she is still able to leave her unit long enough for a two-hour lunch once each week. She is exhausted when we get back, but oh! how she loves to be out, look around the city we live in, see the ocean, people-watch, try new things.

All of it, she does slowly. But she does them. And slowly, I am learning to let that be enough.

______________

Image credit: Tristan Schmurr

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Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this. Exactly what I needed to read today as I navigate through being with an aging parent who needs me to slow down. Loved especially your thoughts about being able to slow down for yourself, but it being hard to slow down for others. That’s me – to a T. Thank you for articulating what’s been storming around in my heart lately!

  2. Diana, this is achingly, desperately beautiful, poignant and redolent with truth. I love the way you write with wisdom and perception honed in adversity as well as adventure. These words felt like a life instruction to me:”I look for beauty in what we have” – yes, indeed – and a wonderful way for all of us to try to live. Thank you for your gift and for the honest sharing. It is truly appreciated. Blessings and love.

    • pastordt says:

      Thank you so much, Joy, for these kind words of encouragement and affirmation. I am grateful.

  3. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Love your life-lesson posts, Diana–the way you bring us along on your journey with honesty and poignancy. May God fill your heart with fulfillment and joy as you display the art of slowing, to the stride of your mother.

  4. Lynn D. Morrissey says:

    Oh Diane, I am so touched. This is so poignant and beautiful to me on so many levels (as my mother ages….she doesn’t have dementia, ….still it’s so hard), thnking of my matron of honor (my age) who does!, just thinking of so many sad things….and yet, you offer grace and hope. Yo ualways do. Thank you for sharing straight from your heart–not easy, always appreciated.
    Love
    Lynn

    • pastordt says:

      You’re welcome, Lynn. Thank you for your usual kind and encouraging words. You have a real ministry out here with those words of yours, my friend. I am grateful.

      • Lynn D. Morrissey says:

        Diane, i’d not read your response till now. Bless you for this. How kind. I’m copying your words into my journal as God-given encouragement as I contemplate/pray in earnest just *what* to do w/ my words in a more official capacity. Bless you so much. It’s you who have such a lavish online ministry, offering real hope (as you do now to me) and real God-given solutions as you do to so many. And boy can you preach! (think JT retreat!)
        Love
        lynn

  5. Thank you for being so honest, Diana. I try not too think too much about my parents getting older–especially because they live so far away–but your honesty reminds that we simply walk through the season as it comes and there will be Grace.

    • pastordt says:

      Thank you, Idelette, for reading and commenting. And yes, there is Grace in each season. Some seasons force you to hunt for it, but it’s there.

  6. Well, you pulled me up short. I’m good at being slow for others physically (helping with middle school cross country, for example), but not mentally or spiritually. I so yearn for them to want more of Jesus, or, selfishly, to grasp whatever intellectual pursuit we are on, that I have little patience for their pace. You’ve shown me here how loving and accepting it is go match their pace. Thanks!

  7. pastordt says:

    You’re welcome, Glenda.

  8. Glenda Childers says:

    Thanks for sharing this hard/sweet part of your life.

    Fondly,
    Glenda

  9. pastordt says:

    Thank you, Bev. You are so faithful to read and comment.

  10. Bev Murrill says:

    Diana… what grace! What grace! Emmanuel!

  11. Leah Kostamo says:

    This is so beautiful, Diana — all of it: the writing, the wisdom, the obvious love you have for your mother. Having experienced just this with my grandmother, who died last year at 98 (!!) and who was like a mother to me, I so resonate with your words. Peace in the journey.

    • pastordt says:

      Thank you, Leah. Sometimes peace is elusive, you know? But I’m actually relaxing while on vacation and not frantic to call her every single day. The time zone thing helps with that. 🙂

  12. My husband’s grandmother has dementia, it is very sad to see. She is an intelligent, determined and kind woman and it is hard to see her decline so markedly from when I first met her 13 years ago. But she can and does still give and receive love, perhaps more easily than she ever has in her life. It is beautiful to hear your love for your mom, and I’m sure that message is received right in her heart and does not need to trouble her brain for any time or space to process.

  13. Anne-Marie says:

    The way you are honoring her, and not rushing away. So beautiful Diana. That is a spiritual discipline I think – to stay there in the twilight. I always learn and receive so much from you! Grateful! and wish it were easier, but so glad for your honesty. Slowing for others – great reminder to me – can be guilty of tearing ahead and leaving others behind.

    • pastordt says:

      It is a discipline, for sure. Sometimes it feels vaguely spiritual. The learning curve remains steep, I am sorry to say. And I am a slow learner – and not in the good way of that word, either!

  14. Helen Burns HBurns says:

    What a wonderful daughter you are… I’m sure that in your impatient moments, you don’t feel like it, but you are!! Your love and your thoughtfulness speak loudly here and I enjoyed every moment of reading this post of your relationship and time spent with your beautiful Mom. There is much to learn from your words today… I am so grateful for them. Much love to you Diana xo

    • pastordt says:

      Most of the time, I do not feel like a ‘wonderful daughter.’ I do what I can and that’s about it. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement, Helen.

  15. Sandy Hay says:

    “Somehow, slowing down feels like giving up” This speaks volumes to me Diana. Never really thought of slowing down like this before….but I really do. Thank you for a perspective that’s awakening.

  16. Excruciating.
    How good of God, how absolutely merciful, that He is giving you these insights at such a painful time. How wise of you to receive them with grace.
    Beauty for ashes, my friend.
    Thank you for this testimony of perseverance.

    • pastordt says:

      PERFECT word, Michele. Perfect. It is excruciating – and there are reminders of the cross every time I speak with her. Thank you for understanding this.

Trackbacks

  1. […] When I see the wonderful themes that come from the fine people at SheLoves each month, I am always surprised at what comes to me. This one is no exception. I’m not writing about my mom too much in public these days, but here are the most recent reflections. You can start here and follow this link to finish this piece and join the conversation. Please do! […]

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