Tender Mercies

I just got back from a visit to my mom and dad in Virginia. My dad was diagnosed with dementia about two years ago, and it's gotten to the point where he doesn't remember much at all. The day after I arrived, he looked at me and said, "You're so much taller and heavier than I remember." I wasn't offended because I realized he was expecting me to still be a child.

His mind seems to have gone back to his long term memories. He's forgotten the death of his parents, his first marriage, and most events from the past thirty or forty years. According to mom, he asks the same questions over and over again. Sometimes it's hard to be patient with him.

Dementia has been a hot topic lately. I hear all sorts of things about how you can prevent it by reading, learning new skills, and exercising. You can bet I'll be doing all those things. I just hope that people don't start to think that people with dementia somehow dropped the ball on learning new things, reading, or staying active.

On Saturday, as we sat eating breakfast, I opened the Parade magazine from the newspaper and started reading an article to him. The article was about people who were making a difference in other peoples' lives. Two of the people featured were working to create prosthetic limbs for children in other countries. "Hey," I said, "that's kind of like what you used to do. You used to help kids get wheelchairs and walkers. Do you remember that?"

Dad perked up. "Yeah. How come nobody ever talks about that?"

Surprised that he still remembered, Mom got out a huge framed picture of children that Dad helped while he was a PTA president of Kilmer Center, a school for disabled children. My sister, who is also disabled, was one of the children pictured. (I wrote about my sister previously. Click here to read my post about her.) We reminisced about how Dad went to all the teachers, compiling a list of needs. He then went to the town Lions Club and other groups, seeking donations. In addition, he spear-headed multiple fundraisers. Through his efforts, the school received enough money to help several children walk with the aid of walkers, to buy other needed equipment, to build a new handicapped-accessible playground, and to send teachers to special education training conferences.

After his service at Kilmer Center, Dad went on to serve in other volunteer positions that benefited disabled adults in his area.

It strikes me as ironic that he is now as disabled as the people he spent so much time helping.

On Sundays, Mom frequently has my sister home for the day, so she's, in essence, caring for two disabled adults without any help. This Sunday I was home to experience what my mom calls "the circus." Mom said she prayed all day that we'd be able to handle it all. (That says a lot, doesn't it? That she worried about it, even when I was home to help her.)

It didn't help that we experienced an ice storm that day. Dad was very anxious, and, at one point, went outside on the icy sidewalk, thinking he needed to go somewhere. I followed him outside and forced him to come back inside with me. He is still strong, even though he's unsteady, but I got him back inside without him falling. That was miracle number one.

Miracle number two was that my sister was so well behaved. Normally, it's very difficult to get her out to the car so we can take her home. She does something that my parents call  "a sit-down-strike" where she just sits down and stays. No one can budge her. Personally, I have never been able to get her out to the car. My dad, mom or sometimes my brother were always the ones who eventually succeeded in getting her out to the car. This time, though, she obeyed me. I took her hand, gave her a lecture, and she got up. Granted, she sat down again in the icy slush once we got outside. I told her to get up again, though, and she did! It might be the first time she has ever obeyed me in her life, and it gives me great hope for our future together. Maybe I can actually take her somewhere by myself.

My mom is one of those those people who always hears, "you're such a strong person." She is a strong person because she's risen to the challenges life has presented her. In her way of thinking, there wasn't much choice. Now she has to be strong enough not only to help my dad, but also to accept help from others. It's not her favorite thing to have in-home-care helpers during part of the day, but I'm proud of her for putting up with it all.


  1. Wow - thankful for miracles and that the day your mom prayed for went well. I can't imagine the load she deals with all the time. So glad that you got to go visit. Your youngest sure looks happy with his grandpa. What a great picture!

  2. Anda you could have a nice trip with your parents and sister. we have to appreciate life however it comes if we want to be happy.


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