Wednesday, May 30, 2012

He stood up

Yesterday I took my daughter with me to visit my dad, and I wound up wheeling him outside into the courtyard area and stopped in the Gazebo. I was talking to my daughter, and when I looked back at my dad, he was nodding off. My daughter then surprised me by saying, "We need to pray for him." Keep in mind, we do pray for him every night when she does her bedtime prayers. But this time she wanted to pray for him right there on the spot. So we bowed our heads, and my five year old daughter prayed a sweet little prayer for him. So simple, yet so heartfelt. Then she asked if I wanted to pray, so I did. We prayed that he would be able to sleep better at night, and I prayed once again for God to heal him. When we finished, my daughter ran off to play in the grass.

A few seconds later, when my daughter came running back to the gazebo with a bunch of little flowers in her hand, my dad woke up with a start. He looked around like he wasn't sure what was going on. I told him we were outside, and pointed to my daughter and said, "There's your granddaughter," and said her name. She showed him the bunch of flowers, then took one out and gave it to him, saying, "Here ya go. One for you.." which he was suddenly able to take without any problem, then she turned and gave me a flower, saying, "And one for you." Then gave one to him again, then me, and back and forth until they were all gone.

Then my dad's facial expression changed, and he put his hands on either side of his wheelchair and moved his legs and feet in such a way that I figured out he wanted to get up. I moved the leg rests to where he could put his feet down, then I got on one side and my daughter got on the other, and we supported him while he very slowly stood all the way up. He very nearly stood on his own, but not quite. It was so close, though. Oh so close. I sat him back down, then I let him try two more times. He was very determined not to sit back down the third time, but since I could feel him beginning to lose his balance, I didn't want to chance him falling, and my very attentive daughter ran inside to get one of the workers to come and help, so I could get him all the way back into the wheelchair (he didn't want to sit back but wanted to stay on the edge).

I was amazed. That's the first time in several weeks he's been able to get up out of his wheelchair, even with help.

My brother told me that when he went to visit my dad the other day, that my dad seemed to be doing a little better, and that he was actually able to have a halfway decent conversation with him. It made me feel good to hear that. That part I didn't get to see while I was there, though he did seem more attentive than he had been, and was able to say a few words here and there in response to me, but I was thankful he was able to stand. That probably felt so good to my dad.

Who knows what might happen next time. All I can do is trust the Good Lord with everything, no matter what happens. He is in control, and it's all in His very capable hands.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Shame "off" you

I was listening to a preacher on the radio talk about how he had counseled so many people that dealt with their pain for a very long time before finally asking for help. He said, in so many words, that in this American society, it seems we have been taught in many different ways to feel shame about our pain; to hide it, internalize it, pretend it isn't there. The feeling we get from most of those around us is that showing our pain means we are weak somehow, that we don't have what it takes to deal with it and be stronger than our pain.

It's sad, really. Pain is a normal part of our human existence. Not that we should wallow in it endlessly, but one should feel free and unashamed to express one's pain, save a completely inappropriate situation for doing so (a business meeting, for example, though expressing the pain of boredom might be a much more appreciated freedom at that time). Our expression of it should, as well, be met with open arms, plenty of empathy, a listening ear, and a genuine acknowledgment of the pain, not a "hush-hush now, pain is not allowed, it will all be okay so don't worry" attitude. After all, if we hide it and don't talk about it, aren't we, by our inaction, wallowing in it endlessly on the inside? Because talking about it, getting it out in the open, helps us to deal with it. One can't "deal" with something that "isn't there," after all.

Of course, one has to be careful not to go to the other extreme and make the pain ALL one talks about, 24-7. That's a good way to alienate those around us. We all need a break from pain now and then to breathe, or at least let those around us breathe, and talk about something positive and uplifting, something that will give us hope again, even in the midst of our pain. Imagine a book where the entire story is about a woman who does nothing but cry, talk about how hurt she is, wail, sigh, yell, scream, talk about how unfair it is, then cry some more and she doesn't stop until the end of the twenty-chapter book. You might survive the first chapter, but after that you'll either put the book down and regret buying it, or keep reading and start pulling your hair out, one strand at a time.

I thought it was so interesting how that radio preacher ended his teaching. He told those in his congregation, "Now turn to three people and tell them, 'Shame off you.' "

It made me realize how much I internalize my own pain and feel shame when I want to express it. It has been quite painful watching what Alzheimer's disease has done to my dad, and yet, I have only allowed myself to talk about the actual pain of it on occasion. I tend to want to avoid pain, and I guess I have assumed other people feel the same way.

But I need to break out of that tendency and allow myself to express my pain more openly, without shame, especially in this Blog. After all, I started this Blog for two main reasons: 1) To have somewhere to express my thoughts and feelings about my Dad having Alzheimer's and everything that entails, and 2) To give others out there who might be dealing with something similar a Blog they can relate to, and be encouraged by some of the same things that I'm encouraged by.

On that note, I would like to share what happened this morning. Just before I woke up, I was dreaming about my dad. In the dream, he was better again to the point of being able to go home (his home) during the day, and would only have to be taken to the assisted living home at night, to sleep. After being home during the day for only a couple of days, the color returned in his skin again, he gained some weight back, was happier, could walk again, and was able to communicate better again. In the dream I was talking to someone (not sure who) about how happy I was that my dad was able to be home again during the day and how much better he was doing as a result. It seemed so real, I could literally feel the tears of joy welling up in my eyes. Then I woke up, and realized it wasn't real. And it made me so sad. It hurt. I hate seeing my dad have to live in an assisted living home 24-7 and the effect it has had on him--though I am thankful for the small blessings like a friend of his working there now.

When my husband woke up, I wanted to tell him, but there it was again--that "shame," of not wanting to share the pain. I could feel myself starting to cry, but I pushed it back down. I didn't want to get out of bed, and overslept some. I felt so tired, despite a good night's sleep. Later while pouring myself a quick bowl of cereal for breakfast and my husband was in the kitchen getting his own breakfast (he likes to make his own on work mornings so that I can focus on getting myself and my daughter ready to take her to school), I finally shared the dream with him. He gave me a quick (albeit genuine) arm rub and said, "I'm sorry," but then had to finish getting ready for work. I didn't let on just how much it hurt, and pushed back the tears again.

I can see it will take awhile to break the habit of not wanting to share my pain, of wanting to push it down and pretend it's not there. Even the Good Lord in Heaven wants us to share our pain with Him, even if He does know about it already. All you have to do is read the Book of Psalms in the Bible to realize that, not to mention others in the Bible who cried out to God in their pain.

And oh how thankful I am to God for the many ways He gives us comfort... through people, through His Word, through situations. We may not understand the "why," of it all (and it's okay to ask Him "why," by the way), but in His perfect wisdom He knows. We just have to rest in Him and remember that one day, the pain will all end, forever. Until then, let's not be afraid to share our pain. We'll get through it, together. ;-)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Friday's visit - moments to cherish

When I walked into the Alzheimer's/Dementia unit at the assisted living home with my daughter Friday evening, we found my dad in the dining room along with the other residents, sitting in his wheelchair at a table, waiting for dinner to be served. Or at least sitting there waiting for whatever might come next. My daughter and I tried to greet him, but could not get him to make eye contact with us or acknowledge us in any way. He remained focused on the table in front of him, saying nothing, not moving a muscle in our direction as I hugged him and leaned down to look in his eyes. We sat down at his table, my daughter in the chair on his left, me directly across from him. Another resident was sitting to his right.

I watched him as he focused on the space right in front of him and began folding the edge of the tablecloth up onto the table. As he folded with his fingers, which didn't seem to cooperate with him, his arms looked almost robotic-like, jerking randomly. It was difficult to watch, as up until recently, he never had any problems moving his arms or hands. I marveled at how determined he was to do whatever it was he thought needed to be done to that tablecloth.

When the food was served, he began to eat with his fingers. The dinner menu that day was fried shrimp, shrimp sauce, green beans, french fries, and a roll. He didn't eat much before stopping. I noticed he didn't have utensils, so I asked for some to be brought. The worker told me he probably wouldn't use them, and she was right. He didn't. He continued to use his fingers.

My daughter, bless her heart, started feeding him food from his plate, one shrimp--or green bean--or french fry at a time, which he would take and eat, slowly. But it wasn't long before he stopped again and began refusing the food. Then the worker who is also a previous employee of my dad from years ago brought him a special nutritional "shake" that resembled vanilla ice cream and began feeding it to him. He took about three bites and then stopped.

It broke my heart to see how he has gone downhill in the past few weeks. He looked so much weaker, frailer, thinner. His shoulders now hunch over a little, which is something fairly new. He was never the type of man to hunch. And it concerned me that he didn't seem to be able to acknowledge us at all. Had he lost that much ground since the last time I saw him about two weeks ago?

But then I was reassured when, the longer we sat with him, the more responsive he started to become. He finally began responding to our worker friend, using words we could clearly understand, even if it was only a few words. He even looked up at my daughter a time or two, and smiled a little at her, the kind of knowing smile that made me think he might know who she was.

Then as we were leaving and saying our goodbyes, I breathed a sigh of relief to myself when he responded to me, too, not only with words, but with body language as well, and looked up in my direction. Funny how you become so hyper-sensitive to body language when the spoken word is no longer your primary source of communication. I cherished that moment, those few simple words he said to me--"Okay," and "Bye," and "Love you, too." The sound of his voice was like music in my ears, and I grabbed that moment and held on to it tightly. Almost as tightly as I hugged him.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Small Update

I haven't been able to visit my dad for the past couple of weeks due to my daughter having a recurrence of strep throat (I was waiting to make sure I didn't get it so that I didn't expose my dad to it), but got an update from my step mom.

Apparently he is slowly losing ground, and it looks like he will have to keep using the wheelchair. We had hoped the issue with weakness in his legs and/or feet was only temporary, like it has been before, but it doesn't appear to be this time.

One of his doctors has also tried adjusting his medications (again) to help balance things out more so that he's not as sluggish, but every time he does, my dad becomes difficult and agitated again.

I would appreciate the prayers of anyone who might be reading this. I'm planning to go visit him again Friday afternoon.

I have more to share, but will save it for another time.