The Things We Keep

It had been a while since my father-in-law died when I saw his phone number still in my husbands contact list. It was thoughtless of me to call this to his attention but I did. He knew it was there, of course.

Mama had the same phone number over 30 years. It was the only one I knew by memory not speed dial. She was the last to maintain a landline, one that would give a busy signal because she never used an answering machine.
When Alzheimer’s progressed to where she needed the safety of a nursing facility I never deleted the phone number from my contacts. I can recite it today as fast as my own.

It’s been 2 years and three months since mama died and I get it. I’ve cleaned out my contact list a couple of times since her passing and both times my finger paused at her name before going on to the next. As if leaving her name in print in my electronic contact book will secure her place in my life.
I am slowly starting to sort through things as we prepare our move into retirement. Clutter is not me but there is So Much Stuff. Every room I walk through holds more things to decide what to keep and what to let go. On the wall is a framed cover of Carole King’s Tapestry album. I practically wore the grooves of the vinyl down the summer of my 14th year. It’s never the item but the memory connected to it.
Every year when we bring out the boxes of Christmas ornaments there is a gold-painted construction paper macaroni star made by one of our kids in preschool. Our kids are in their late 30’s. Dried pasta and Elmer’s school glue are amazing.
I may not be a pack rat but I have a sentimental heart that holds tightly to memories.
At some point I’ll need to let go of our daughter’s favorite rag doll. The one she carried by the braided pigtails until they came unglued from the side of her head. I’ll have to find a new home for our son’s first teddy bear that he named Freddy and the Star Wars figures he’s insisted we keep for him the past 20 years.
Letting go of the things feels like a betrayal. As if all the stories are tied to an object when the most precious things for us to keep are the stories.
There are tangible things we keep. Granny’s dishes kept packed in a box. Ticket stubs from our first trip to England. Family bibles. And phone numbers in contacts.

Five-Minute Friday {alone}

The short refrain from The Lone Bellow rings loudly in my ears

“….you’re not alone, you’re not alone”

and I wonder if she knows that 3000 miles away she’s not alone.


a rare time the three of us are together Aug 2015

                                                         a rare time the three of us are together Aug 2015

Today is another birthday celebration for mama, another she won’t recognize and another my sister may feel alone in carrying the family weight of simply being there.

It’s something we’ve slowly come to accept simply because we have no choice. She is there, Washington state, our brother is in Dallas and we are in the tip of Florida, eyes on that “cone of uncertainty” watching another storm with a name.

Even with her three kids and supportive husband, with dozens of extended family nearby, how many times has she felt alone sitting with mama, answering questions of her care givers and showing up when others can’t?

Sometimes life is that way and while we’ve shared the tears we also share the smiles and understand when our laughter may not be understood by all. We know that standing alone does not mean we are alone and we ask God for that comfort that he gives, sometimes, in surprising ways….the smile of a knowing person, the email from someone who has walked this journey, the echoes of a song.


“By yourself you’re unprotected.
With a friend you can face the worst.
Can you round up a third?
A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 the Message

M is for memories

She is okay. We are still being tossed about in the waves of a grief that is going on 7 years now.

Mama is as okay as anyone with Alzheimer’s dementia can be. She is being cared for. She lives in a safe place meaning the doors have alarms so no one can wander outside without alerting staff.

She is clean because staff sees to her well-being.

She is visited by family and friends and she still smiles and laughs at times though she sleeps more.

She is content and we have come to value that word, that state of being.

The grief is more gentle these days. It’s felt strongest on birthdays and mother’s day. The cards that won’t come and cards sent to her and signed “your daughter” still carry a whisper of a hope the words will have meaning.

Tears come more on these days. Tears for dreams once held of more time spent together with her. Tears for a mama who is more gone than present.

I find myself talking about her in the past tense at times, as though she has passed. The part of life where we knew each other as mother and daughter has passed. And it is sad.

For a moment I will allow myself the sadness of that loss but I want to remember more what she doesn’t. I want to remember the time we met on her side of the country. When we drove a little Nissan from Ft. Lauderdale to Yellowstone National Park packed with two kids in the back seat in the days before electronic entertainment devices.

At her son and daughter-in-law’s ordination
With her kids in 2009
Her ordination photo 1959

Or the other time we met in the middle, them driving from Yakima, WA and us again from Ft. Lauderdale to meet at a house outside Branson, MO.

There would be more cross county trips for us and even more flights for her to be at graduations and weddings and just to be with her kids.

Her sacrifice for us was always there. She is my Proverbs 31 woman. The one who was up before the rest of us to cook breakfast, and serve it and clean up after.

The one who sewed dresses for me and patched many a knee on my brothers jeans.

The woman who made sure the family money was spent wisely, shared generously and saved something when there should have been none left.

She loved people and her life’s work was to help those in need. She was living the calling God had placed on her life to serve and this is what brought her joy.

Mama would be the first to tell you her limitations. She didn’t like being overweight and she could have a harsh tone if warranted. She suffered a broken heart when daddy divorced her but she found love again, much to her surprise I think.

Knowing her imperfections, we still praise her and recognize the depths of her love for God.
What she doesn’t remember we proclaim and celebrate.

These words from Proverbs describe her well. A woman who never set out to charm or to be anything other than “neat and clean”. A woman whose beauty was heard in her laugh and shared with her smile. A woman who loved and served God above all else. Thank you, mama.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
    but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.

Reflecting Hope

She nestles her body against mine as we turn the pages on the book of her baby pictures. She smiles big and at 6-years-old asks, “tell me a story about when I was a baby.” Already she reflects.

kk and MeMe

HJDaddyB-day copy

It seems to come after visits with the granddaughter my husband will say, “You know what I miss most? I miss walking in the door the end of the day and Heather and Jonathan running to me calling out excitedly, ‘daddy!'”



We drag the boxes of ornaments out and my husband starts with the stories. I don’t often join in because the tears are too close to the surface for me to speak. His reflections touch that part of me and this introvert finds it necessary to share these tender reflections and my heart melts with his.

Most of these I keep quiet. Keeping them close and not wanting to share them yet wanting to shout them out. We are blessed with such memories that our reflections glisten with love and promise and joy and hope. And today, the joy and hope are enough to keep me. To give me promise in the face of all the reflections, the memories that have been stripped from my mother. The dementia that has robbed her and us of sharing these precious times, today, dementia is not big enough to take my hope.

xmas tree hope

Christmas decorations
“….for in you I take refuge….I put my hope in you”

This post was originally posted as part of a Five-Minute Friday link up in December of 2013.

Ordinary heroes {Lisa}

Did you see it? Were there tears in your eyes? This is the hard one for me. The best hero and the hardest to write. The best because it’s closer to me than any others and the hardest because……well, it’s closer to me than any others. Were I writing with pen in hand you’d see the tear stains on the paper.

Today Show has been doing updates on Glen Campbell as he and his family document their living with Alzheimer’s. That’s what had me tearing today. This road I’ve walked from afar with mama.

Mama, me and Lisa in 2009

Mama, me and Lisa in 2009

Mama and the facility director singing happy birthday to my sister. Mom is laughing as usual.

Mama and the facility director singing happy birthday to my sister. Mom is laughing as usual.

Her youngest grandchild bringing a smile on her 75th

Her youngest grandchild bringing a smile on her 75th (2013)

Honestly, I don’t know how this would have turned out if not for my sister. The one who lived next door to mama and cross-country from me. The one who saw first hand the memory fading, the one who had to sound the alarm to family who denied and insisted mama’s only malady was aging. Living next door she saw the day-to-day that others didn’t.

There’s a lot of years between me and Lisa. Our kids long grown and her oldest a freshman in college, her youngest in third grade. Seven years ago when concerns began, Lisa had a nest full of young ones vying for attention, of young ones not understanding what was wrong with grandma.

Mamas hands black and white

We’ve shared tears, usually through email because when we’ve been together we needed to be strong for each others. We’ve asked each other why and come to accept there are no answers to that. I’ve been little help to her living at the opposite end of the country making annual visits when all this got serious. She’s been left to shuttle mama to doctors appointments in between shuttling kids to band practice, piano lessons and childcare. Did I mention she has a day job too?

Her heroic acts include standing up to family who insisted mama could continue to live in her house, alone. To try to explain to her kids why grandma didn’t recognize their dad, the one who lived next door for 15 years. To tell the woman who raised her she needed to bathe. Then to search for a facility to place mama when it was evident she couldn’t care for herself.

Those are but a few. There are so many more I don’t know, not being there and life being so daily and all.

She’s not alone in this heroism as the numbers of Alzheimer’s grow more each year. But she’s the only one who is my sister, the only one I have an inside view of the burden and struggle this is. I think she would tell you it’s grace. Grace and faith with grace taking over when the faith runs low. The only thing that can take her through days of sitting with a mama who doesn’t know you but knowing you love her even more.

“God answers the mess of life with one word: ‘grace.'” Max Lucado

Five-Minute Friday {reach}

Linking up with Kate Motaung and a host of word-loving, Friday-loving bloggers to share our, mostly, unedited take in 5-minutes on the word prompt Kate provides. Ready?


I remember my childhood prayer, “please don’t let me be any taller”. The prayer said sometime around 6th grade when I was taller than all the boys and no one told me they’d grow over the summer and surpass my 5’4″ stature by start of Junior High. God answered that prayer.

Step stools come in handy around my house as I reach to put things on the upper shelves in our closet or to reach the seldom used items in our kitchen.

Climb became a necessary skill, not a fitness hobby.

Lately my reach has been going backward as we’ve celebrated a union and a birthday that turn our minds toward the past, remembering meaningful moments, special people, God’s gifts showered on us.

It wasn’t too many weeks ago my reach wasn’t good enough to get an item from the top shelf in the grocery store. I asked a tall man in the aisle if he could reach it for me and he kindly obliged. These days we are the ones reaching the past for mama as Alzheimer’s has taken her reach. She can’t reach back or forward. She is the best example of living in the moment. It is how she lives and reminds me how this is really the only way to live. All else is foolish pride.

cross on the hill

As often the case, a song plays over in my mind, a favorite these days and a beautiful reminder of God’s love:

There’s no space that His love can’t reach

There’s no place where we can’t’ find peace

There’s no end to amazing grace

                                         I Am, David Crowder

His is the reach that extends all boundaries and barriers and gives grace that brings peace. For you and me.

Throwback Thursday {birthdays}

She was the middle child of 11: 6 boys, 5 girls. Born to a poor family in a Oklahoma town so small she often told others she was from another small town. She told few stories about those times. Just that her mama always cooked enough to feed others and a woman they called Aunt John who helped with the kids.

She married at 16. I expect she was swept off her feet by a charming flirt, handsome in his Salvation Army uniform, himself just 20 and fresh out of seminary.

She’s turning 76 today but in her mind she is ageless. The cards she’ll get mean nothing to her but we’ll send them because she means something to us.


Juanita Jim Bill Pauline (mama) 1942

Mama's high school photo

Mama’s high school photo



I suspect mama and daddy celebrated their birthdays when we were growing up though I never remember one. Not for them. She saw to it that my brother and I had birthday parties. My 13th was at the skating rink.

By my 14th they were divorced but she saw to it I had a party.

my 10th birthday

my 10th birthday

my little brother's 3rd

my little brother’s 3rd

I’m surprised I even knew my parents birthday with their celebrations being absent. Maybe that’s how it was for their generation and how I carried it on in our home, mostly. The kids got the parties.

Her mama celebrating her 75th with a motorcycle ride.

Her mama celebrating her 75th with a motorcycle ride.

A rare visit over mama's birthday in 1976

A rare visit over mama’s birthday in 1976



Her youngest grandchild bringing a smile on her 75th

Her youngest grandchild bringing a smile on her 75th

I was with mama on her birthday a few years ago. I think it was her 72nd. The dementia was apparent. We had pretty gift bags with colorful tissue. The bags were set in front of her but nothing. I picked one up and handed it to her and she held it and looked at me with a cocked head as if to say, what do you want me to do?

“It’s for you mama.” A smile.

I opened the bag, reached in and took out the nightgown to show her. Another smile, a curious one. She had no idea what was going on. That this was for her. This day was about her.

It’s worse now and I haven’t been out there in 2 years. Lisa sends pictures. They had a big celebration last year on her 75th. She liked the grandkids visit and smiled at the cake and colors not knowing they came to celebrate her.

This year, she’s sleeping a lot more. Content but tired and it’s okay because we’ll always celebrate mama. Celebrate her life, her faith, her example.

We’ll celebrate when we volunteer or listen to a stranger.

She’ll be celebrated when we drop our change in the red kettle at Christmas or when we send thank-you cards and remember our manners.

We celebrate her everyday because she lives in how we laugh loud and love quiet. She lives in our service, our worship, in our differences and our coming together.

Dementia may steal memories but it doesn’t have to steal our joy or the legacy she leaves.

Happy birthday, mama. Thank you for always pointing to the One greater than you because He is the One whose grace allows us to rejoice in the midst of your loss. He is our Hallelujah song.

I bought this apple {for mama}

I bought a green apple dish. I’m not fond of green, nor do I collect apples but mama did. Mostly red ones. So I bought it. Because of her, no other reason. I bought it for a mama who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. I’m not sure of the difference or if it matters.

green apple dish 2

Updates from my sister take us further into this dark place and I can only imagine how much darker it is for mama. Though now, with her memory so gone, maybe things are brighter for her. She isn’t struggling as much to remember what she once knew she’d forgotten. Life is easier for her in that way. I want to believe that.

She has fallen three times in less than two weeks with no particular reason as to why. It meant a trip for blood work and there the struggle became most difficult for my sister. Mama doesn’t remember how to get in and out of a car and screamed when the blood was drawn. I’ll spare you some of the other events of what was once a simple trip. It was less than three years ago when I took her for medical tests and my biggest concern was her getting away from me when my back was turned answering questions.

The latest news of her losing weight signals the disease entering another stage, one taking her further away from this life. Mama struggled with her weight most of her adult years. But this isn’t good news. Not now.

I think of the family we’ve lost in the past six years. Both of Henry’s parents, my uncle who was such a part of our lives, all of them in better shape than mama. Their bodies gave out and hers, well, it’s hard to understand. In fact, I don’t understand it. Not at all.

green apple dish

I bought this apple. This green that looked much darker than I remembered it looking on the website. This dish that seems to be a bit awkward amongst the pottery pieces on my shelf. A new piece that has nothing to do with the collection of apples she had in her house. Yet, I look at it and think of her. Another thing I don’t understand.

Paul of the bible writes of some kind of handicap or disability or limitation. Something that caused him aggravation at the least. Enough that he asked God to take this away. Three times Paul begged God would take this away. Three times God said no. Bigger than God’s “No” is his grace.

“My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”2 Corinthian 12:7, the Message

Grace is only given when we need it. I believe it often looks like tears or smiles. It can be hidden in the faded photos crammed into boxes. This grace that is enough. For me.



Five-Minute Friday {finish}


The line has been set for them. It’s clearly marked, family and friends at the end waiting to congratulate those crossing the finish line.

Some have trained for this. They know the measure, how long they’ll walk or run. They know the course before them and they set out to reach their goal.


Some tasks, some goals have a clear end in sight. A defined beginning and end. Many do not.

I thought her life would head toward its finish line spending more time with her family. Longer visits than the standard week. Visits to our side of the country that would find us exploring more places and doing more projects and sharing life like we’ve never been able to as adults.

To see her now, many would say her life is finished. Alzheimer’s continues to ravage her mind and this woman who gave birth to me, this woman who was recognized by her community for her years of service to the marginalized, this woman’s life as we knew it is gone.

with a special guest at a church event

before Alzheimer’s


She lives in a caring place with others suffering this mean disease.  When people ask how she’s doing we say “content” because she is.

My heart knows that my mama is not there. And my heart hopes there is still more meaning to her existence. That God allows her breath because even in this state that seems to hold little value, His work is not done.

She has ‘run a good race’ as the Word tells us. But she is not done.

Linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker for her Five-Minute Friday blog party. She provides the word prompt and says GO. We write, mostly unedited, and mostly within 5 minutes. Yikes! To join in, click here.

His kingdom come

This is why I’m here. In this place. This small room holding barely 100 men, lost and found, hungry and hopeful.

Thump, thump, thump, on the chairs. Clap, clap, clap, three beats at that spot in the song, the song singing about 10,000 Reasons we sing to God, the God who blesses our souls.

James D edit

Eriq singing edit

I smile broad when I hear them being part of the song, adding to our one guitar and Eric’s beautiful voice singing upward as though heaven itself is listening and, yes, heaven is. All of the heavens singing with us just now.

This is my favorite verse”, Eric says and we sing,

And on that day
when my strength is failing
The end draws near
and my time has come
Still my soul will sing
Your praise unending

I think of mama and how her dementia has taken her memories and her strength fails but her soul still sings. And I smile again, lifting my face toward heaven with Eric and this song is a prayer of thanksgiving.

This is why I’m here. In this place.

Joe goes up to the platform to read todays scripture and a few call out, ‘Hey-oh, Joey’ in their best Jersey accent to their friend. Right in church they do this and I smile even bigger. This is community, this is real, the only pretense worn their church clothes we require when their choosing would likely not include a tie.

chapel edit

prayer square

I sit in the back of the room, only seeing the backs of their heads but I hear their voices, see a few uninterested heads slouch, but none are out of the reach of God’s grace.

This is why I’m here. To see this grace poured over the just and the unjust and knowing I am with the unjust, the undeserving of His grace and pardon.

This is why I’m here. To sing of His blessings, his grace. To learn about His kingdom come. Here.