Grief for the Long Haul

If my mom’s mind is like an hourglass, each grain of sand is a memory. Watching the sand slowly fall is more painful than I know how to fittingly describe. Dementia is a thief. If I could, I would flip the hourglass back over and pour the memories back into her, restoring what has been lost. But I can’t. And because I can’t, I have to learn how to navigate grief for the long haul.

If I’m being completely honest with you, I have to tell you that I’m not very good at grief. Grieving involves big emotions and I’m not a fan of those, especially the harder ones like anger or sadness. I’m still, even as a 46-year old, learning how to process those well instead of running to my favorite distractions like getting lost in a good book, Netflix binging, or seeking out dairy products. I mean, what sounds better to you? Feel big, scary feelings or eating cheese? (Please pick cheese so I’m not alone.)

The reality is Mom’s dementia is not something I get to avoid. I’m not able to run or hide from it. And that’s not really what I want to do anyway because I want to be there for her. I’m her only child. I’m her daughter, her personal shopper, her accountant, her chauffeur, and so much more. I’m thankful to be a part of her life even as I watch that life so drastically change. I wouldn’t give up my ability to be present with her for anything. And so I am forced to do what is hard for me: grieve for what is lost. Cry for what I miss. Lament for the way things used to be.

Sometimes I think of grief as a lake that is frozen over with ice. I’m standing in the middle, staring at the shore. Each time Mom reminds me of what she can no longer remember, it’s as if a tiny fracture is made in the ice. The bigger the loss, the greater the fissure. I’m trying to walk to the shore without falling into the freezing water. If that ice breaks, down I’ll go. What if I drown in my sorrow? The idea of it is overwhelming.

Sometimes when I sit and pour my grief out to God, I describe the lake, filled with so many cracks. I ask him to help me get to the shore, where the land is stable and everything feels less scary. It’s then that he reminds me that he’s not only aware of where I am, but he is present with me. Each tentative step I take on the ice, he takes, too. Each fracture, each memory gone breaks his heart just like it breaks mine. And if the day finally comes when it’s all just too much and the ice breaks, sending me into the dark, frigid water, I won’t fall alone. Even there, he’ll be with me.

I know good and well that God could pick me up and place me on the shore. Why doesn’t he? I’m not sure. He can make the dementia disappear. Why doesn’t he? I don’t know. So, I find it’s best to cling to what I do know: Dementia is a thief, but God is still good. He won’t give up his ability to be present with me for anything. Even when I’m standing on thin ice.

Take heart, fellow grievers. We are not alone.


Help Us Remember

“I’m going to say five words in a row,” her neurologist says. “I’ll repeat them three times, then I want you to say the words back to me.”

Mom sits across from him, her face expressing her eagerness to participate in this memory game. It’s the third time she’s taken a memory test of some kind in the past six months. Each time, I’ve felt like I’ve died a little inside. It’s so hard to watch her memory fail her. I hate dementia. I don’t want it to be this way.

“Face…velvet…church…daisy…red.” He says the words clearly and carefully, as if gently sending each fragile word over to her through the air. They’re made of glass. If she doesn’t catch them, they’ll shatter on the ground.

Please, God. Help her remember. 

He repeats the list of words twice more, then it’s Mom’s turn. “Umm…ok…,” she says, sitting up a little straighter, her face determined. I stare at the floor, trying to will the words into her memory…hoping that maybe this time would be different.

After a long pause, she hesitantly says, “Face?” It’s more of a question than a statement. “Yes! Good! Can you remember any others?” the doctor asks, smiling at her. God, he’s so kind to Mom. I like him. Thank you, God, for kind doctors.

Another long pause. Too long. “No…I don’t remember any of the other words,” she responds, disappointed. Velvet, church, daisy, and red didn’t make it. Their shiny shards are scattered on the linoleum. I hate dementia. I don’t want it to be this way.

We both tell her that it’s great that she remembered a word and she seems satisfied with our responses. Mom rebounds very well. I manage not to cry in front of her, so I’m putting this office visit in the “win” column. The death of her memory somehow feels like a slow death inside of me. I hate dementia. I don’t want it to be this way.

We wrap up our time with the doctor and get her next appointment set up. She’s chipper and light-hearted despite the long office visit and the pouring rain. I’m so thankful that this doctor’s visit didn’t make her sad. I drop her off at assisted living with the promise that I’ll be coming by the day after tomorrow. “Great! Maybe we can go to Target?” she asks. “Absolutely!” I say. She waves as she goes inside and I know that by the time she gets to her apartment door, she’ll have forgotten when I said I was coming back. I hate dementia. I don’t want it to be this way.

Please, God. Help her remember.

I don’t want her to forget her words, her stories. I don’t want her to forget her family or her memories. I don’t want her to forget her trials, her triumphs. I don’t want her to forget that God loves her or that he is for her. But the thing I selfishly want to avoid the most…I don’t want her to forget me.

The emotional pain of this particular journey has hit me so hard lately. It’s like being on a treadmill I can’t slow down. I can’t catch my breath. And the strain of the pace is so horribly distracting. My focus narrows to simply surviving and I don’t see God the way I want to.

Do you struggle that way, too? Are you on a painful, relentless treadmill of your own, hoping your pace will keep up?  Do you ever feel like you just can’t find God in the pain? I mean, you know he’s there…you KNOW it. But, man…you can barely breathe.

Please, God. Help us remember.

God, help us remember that you are present. Help us remember that you are good when things feel so bad. Help us remember that you are kind when it’s so hard. Help us remember that you ARE love…that you LOVE us. Help us remember that even if the thing we fear the most happens, you will remember us.

Wrap us up in your arms and remind us that this assignment is temporary. Remind us that even though things now are not the way we want them to be, one day you will make all things new. The treadmill WILL stop. And when it does, we’ll find that you were running with us the whole time.

Please, God. Help us remember.

5 Things I Learned This Summer

I’m joining up with Emily P Freeman and others in sharing some things I’ve learned, or have been reminded of, over this crazy summer, even though it is CLEARLY STILL SUMMER in Alabama. (#stupidhot) I’ve tried to take notes along the way, writing in my journal and taking notes on my computer. This summer was difficult, but sweet…painful, but good. As I look back, here are some things that stood out.

1 – Some hard things are just hard things and there’s no way around them – only through them.

This summer held many changes in our family. Big moves, illnesses, and stress were themes we waded through. It seemed like every time we turned around, we were in the middle of another situation that shifted the ground beneath us. We had big decisions to make and new territories to explore. I’m a “Small Decision/Familiar Territory” kind of gal, myself, so this summer was very stretching for me.

But God was faithful. He always is. He walked us through every situation and reminded us all along the way that we are not alone. He brought us the right people at the right time, gave us the strength we needed to make those big decisions, and caught any tears that were shed. He is just SO GOOD.

(No lie, though, a calmer Fall would not hurt my feelings. Amen.)

2 – Brooklyn 99


Gracious, my family and I enjoyed blazing through all 5 seasons this summer! It brought big laughs! The entire cast is excellent, but Andre Braugher’s performance is worth the price of admission. So stinkin’ quirky and ridiculous and funny! If you like stupid comedy, you’ll probably like this.

3 – Even if non-fiction is your literary love, reading fiction now and then is a very good idea.

I read SO MUCH non-fiction. It’s my go-to. But this summer I wanted to break the non-fiction habit a bit and dive into a good story or two. I’ve read that reading good stories makes you a better writer, and I’m interested in that, so…36626748

Of the novels I read this summer, The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager was my favorite. (Side note: it is not pure as the driven snow as it does have a little language sprinkled in it, so if that’s a deal breaker for you, consider this deal broken.) The story is enthralling and a total page-turner. The premise: Woman returns as a teacher, years later, to the summer camp she attended as a young girl…the one where her cabin-mates all disappeared and were never found. As I read, I wasn’t sure if I could trust the narrator or not (suspenseful!) and it kept me glued to the very last page (literally!).

4 – Searching for the right therapist is worth it. Don’t settle. 

I am a BIG proponent of getting counseling when you find yourself needing help sorting out the messiness that is life. (I am also a proponent of taking meds if you need to, but that’s another post for another time. I believe you can simultaneously love Jesus AND receive help from doctors and/or a therapist. Hallelujah.) BUT, that doesn’t mean that just any therapist will do. Nope. You need to find one with the right personality, the right temperament, and the right methodology. I had to try a few before I found the right one for me. She’s a truth-telling, Jesus-loving, holds-no-punches, asks-hard-questions counselor who also enjoys snarky humor and literature. That she also has a dog as her “assistant” is absolutely delightful to me and I am there for it!

So keep in mind, if you’re not really connecting with your therapist, try another. Don’t settle! Your mental health is too important.

5 – Procrastinating can rob you of actual, hard-earned money. Please learn from my mistake!

Mom gave up driving once she moved into Assisted Living this summer, so my family has taken to driving her little green Civic around town. It’s so zippy! I knew the tag needed to be renewed, but kept putting it off. The first time I was pulled over for it (yep…), I received a warning. The second time I was pulled over, not so much. Got my very first ticket, y’all! That is just money down the drain. And all I had to do was get online and purchase her new tag. (Shaking my head as I type…) So simple. Mercy. Go ye therefore and don’t put off things like I did!

Now I wonder…what did YOU learn this summer?



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