October 15, 2011

A Similar Place

 It has been ten months since they moved from the home at the top of the hill, and they have been all but uneventful months.  Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's  not long after moving into their apartment, and Mom was diagnosed with Parkinson's.  There is no way I can go back and give the details of what has transpired in these recent months, but they have been filled with every emotion imaginable.  I spend many hours with Mom and Dad so I see the good, the bad, and the ugly . . . and the beautiful.  To see Dad's cognitive abilities decline to the minimal level they are currently has been difficult to say the least, but he is still so charming, loves to be with other people, and loves to laugh if we can just give him something to laugh about it.  He is at his best when surrounded by family.  And he loves his Lord.  He will never forget sweet Jesus.  With the significant decline of Dad, this has all been hardest on Mom.  With the events of recent days I more fully understand what Mom has been going through in taking care of Dad, and making sure his dignity is maintained when they walk out of their apartment door.  Depression and physical weakness have been paying a toll on her.  She is weary even as she says, "The Lord has really helped me."

We were already reaching the place where we were wondering, "How long does this go on before Dad has to have more care?"  when last Monday, Dad passed out and had to be taken to the hospital.  Though scary, it was a blessing in disguise.  Doctors that know Dad, their former colleague, were able to see firsthand the situation we were in.  They moved in and forced the changes we're making now to take place.  Upon leaving the hospital, Dad was taken back to the life care community, but to a different wing.  He is in the skilled nursing wing to get physical therapy to strengthen his legs, but he is also there for further assessment of his cognitive abilities.  It only took two days for the specialists there to tell us that he would need to live in the memory care wing when he is finished with his therapy in skilled nursing.

A couple of weeks ago when I asked Dad if he knew where his belt was, he disappeared into the bathroom and came back with a roll of toilet paper saying, "Is this what you are looking for?"  Events like this have become quite typical, so I was aware that Dad's decline had already reached a level of serious concern, but it was still a bit shocking to hear the news the nurses shared with us yesterday.  In a meeting with my sister they showed her the charts, and shared the test results they had already completed saying, "If you were to put an age to the level at which he is functioning cognitively it would be 36-48 months."  That sweet charming man that smiles and pretends he knows everyone functions at the level of a 4 year old when trying to complete tasks.  He can no longer be given multi-step instructions.  One step at a time is how we will take it now.  As when my sister was helping him shave, "Put water on your face.  Now put on some cream. . . . ."

When Dad moves to memory care he will be the highest functioning individual there.  He is at a higher level of social assimilation, can still feed himself, knows his family, can get around very well with instruction.  In fact, if you were to meet him and talk to him for a just a few minutes you would never know he had Alzheimer's and if you suspected something it might just be old age memory lapse.  But what people can't see in a few minutes of conversation is the cognitive decline.  The inability to do simple tasks or recognize familiar items.  If you were to talk to him for several minutes or spend a length of time with him, you would begin to see the significant decline in language skills.

So here we are again on the brink of another move.  After 60 years of marriage Mom and Dad will probably never live together again.  Dad doesn't understand that yet.  We are taking it one step at a time.  So what is next?  Will Mom move to assisted living when Dad moves to memory care?  We just don't know yet, but we will have to figure it out soon.

I don't want to dwell on the sadness of all of this because I serve a glorious God of hope and restoration.  My Dad knows Jesus, and when he meets him face to face he will be whole again.  When Christ returns to take us home, Dad will have a new and glorious body and mind.  In the meantime, I can love Dad, hug Dad, listen to his stories, laugh with him, and even at him at times when he knows he's done something silly.  I can be charmed by his personality, and can be ever so thankful for the great man, great doctor, and great child of God that he has been.  Alzheimer's may be stealing his mind, but it can't touch his soul, that eternal part of him that is preserved by the very hand of God.

"Father God, thank you so much for the gift of my father and mother.  I have been given two gems.  You see them, and you know them.  Be all that they need in these days.  Constantly remind them of your presence.  Strengthen their faith.  Eradicate their fear with your love.  Give them good days and good moments that they can recognize as they wait for your chariot to arrive.  In Jesus name, Amen.

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