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Why I Am Here

13th October 2009

[Note: Grandma asked me to say something at the memorial we held for Grandpa a few weeks ago. Below is what I presented.]

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15-17)

Why are we here? That is a question we ought to ask, and consider, in regards to our own lives—how we are living, and why. But discussing the meaning of our lives is not why I am speaking today. My question today is, why are you here at this gathering? Each of us is here for our own reasons, and today I want to explain why I am here.

People come together after someone has died for many different reason. Often people gather after a death to provide and receive comfort and encouragement as best as they are able. Where is comfort and encouragement found? I find my comfort and encouragement in what God has done in Christ Jesus.
My comfort and encouragement today is not found in the good things Grandpa did in his life, whatever they might be. I have not come here to remember the good things Grandpa has done. Like all men, Grandpa was a sinner, and, even as the apostle Paul said of himself, it can be said that he was the worst of sinners. We are all the worst of sinners, and in knowing that my comfort is found in God’s mercy. Today, I reflect on God’s mercy, and love. Today, when I look back on Grandpa’s life, that is what I remember. That is what I am here to remember.

God showed His mercy and love in Grandpa’s life—both to Grandpa, and to us through Grandpa. God showed mercy and love to Grandpa in bearing with him in his sins, and equipping him, in spite of his failures, to do good. And God has shown us mercy and love in giving us a father, and grandfather, like Grandpa. God has used Grandpa as a vessel of His love in our lives, as many of you here can testify. In the weakness of Grandpa God is revealed, and in the blessings of Grandpa God is revealed. These past three years of Grandpa’s life were hard—hard for Grandpa, and hard for all of us as we watched him succumb to Alzheimer’s. Perhaps especially hard in the last weeks as we watched him approach the end. Some people may want to forget those hard times, but I don’t. I am here to remember those hard times, and I hope I never forget them. For it is in the hard times that we most clearly see, and feel, the love of God. And it was in these last years of Grandpa’s life, and in the final days of his death, that I saw clearly the mercy of God. I don’t want to ever forget that.

When I look back on Grandpa’s life I am comforted, and have hope, because I see the faithfulness of God. More than just comfort and hope, I rejoice in what God has done.

Why am I here today? I am here today to remember what God has done. To remember what God has done in Christ Jesus, and how that love of God in Christ was poured out through the life of Grandpa. For those who are in Christ, the hope is this:

[W]hen the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. (Titus 3:4-8)

The Burden

3rd October 2009

(This was originally written for the extended family. I shared it, along with some of my other writing, at the memorial we had for Grandpa.)

Grandpa is gone, and it is natural to think about what we have lost in his passing. But there is something I would like to share today, something that I think gives a needed perspective. In this time when many are feeling burdened with grief, it is good to remember what burden Grandpa felt. Grandpa was very aware of his Alzheimer’s, and that sickness was a great burden to him. He did not speak much about it, but today I will share with you some of his earliest words on the matter. It is something for you to think about, and remember.

When I first came to take care of Grandpa I wasn’t sure how much he understood why I was there, or how much he understood about his problem. Then one day shortly after I came, we went on a walk. It was sunny, and warm, a beautiful fall day. Grandpa decided he would take a walk up toward Doug’s. I guess Grandpa was feeling fairly well because we made it to the top of the hill where Grippen Road meets Glenwood before Grandpa decided to turn around.

When we turned around Grandpa seemed to collect himself and then said (without any lead-up), “I do hope and pray that this curse would be taken away.”

I said nothing at first. On other days when Grandpa had complained about his general state I commiserated about the fallen state of man and how our only hope was new bodies. At first I wasn’t certain if he was taking up that general eschatological thought in his out-of-the-blue comment. But I thought not, both because I guessed his recent blow-up at Grandma was on his mind (“Well, Pa,” she had said afterward, “You’re not very clear.” “I’m sorry I’m not clear,” he had said,) but also I felt that the way he had gathered himself before making the statement indicated he wasn’t making an off-hand comment about the condition of the world in general but something much more personal.

He said nothing more after a few steps, so I said, “It’s hard, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” he said. “It’s very hard. I think . . .” But then he stopped. Finally, he said, “I don’t know what I think.”

He spoke no more on that subject and a little later when he spoke again it was on a different subject.

The short exchange might not seem to mean much if you were not there to hear the way in which he said it, but I’ve recounted it because it meant a lot to me. I think all of us who have interacted with Grandpa could see quite clearly that he was painfully aware that he couldn’t communicate clearly, and that he made a “fool” out of himself by doing stupid things. But to be aware that you can’t speak clearly at this particular moment, or that you do stupid things, is not the same thing as expressing a larger awareness—both the larger issue of causation, (that is, “I am doing these things because I am succumbing to Alzheimer’s”,) and his spiritual relationship to his problem.

Now we can say, “I hope and pray” in a very flippant manner, but that was not the way in which Grandpa spoke. He spoke quietly, but in an earnest way that told of what was deep within him. I felt it was a rare moment where he opened up to express his recognition of his affliction and his innermost earnest desire and petition regarding his state.

I wasn’t sure he would ever speak so openly about his condition again, but about a week later we had another exchange.

On this occasion Grandpa had gone to bed for the night, but I needed to finish up on some stuff I was doing, so I didn’t go to bed at the same time. I went to check in on him a little later and he was sitting up in bed. I took care of his minor problem and was starting to put him back to bed when he paused and said, “Do you believe that?”

“What,” I said.

“What he said,” Grandpa said, gesturing toward the CD player. “Do you believe it applies to this age?”

I had left the Bible on CD playing for him (he liked to listen to it when he went to bed) and the section being read was from the gospel of Mark where Jesus speaks about faith saying, “If a man has faith he can say to the mountain ‘throw yourself into the sea’ and it will be done.”

“Yes,” I said. “I believe it.”

“Well some people say there are two ages,” he said.

“It says elsewhere in scripture, Grandpa, that all scripture was written for our instruction. So I believe it, yes.”

“But some people say, ‘Well, then, why are you sick?'” Grandpa said.

I answered, “And Jesus disciples asked him ‘why was the man was born blind–because of his sin or his parents sin?’ And Jesus told them ‘Neither, but that the glory of God might be revealed in his life.’ And we can say the same for your situation, Grandpa.”

He gave a little chuckle and said something to the effect, “I don’t understand why.”

And I said, “I know. The situation of Job is a good example. He suffered a very lot and God didn’t give him an explanation. God wouldn’t explain himself to Job—Job had to accept it because God was God. We have to believe by faith that He is a loving and compassionate God.”

“Yeah. It certainly gives you something to ponder,” Grandpa said.

Then, in alluding back to the issue of faith he said, “I sure would like to be healed from this . . . or whatever comes down the pike.”

I said, “He will, Grandpa. He will heal you . . . if not by making this body well, then by taking you out of this body.”

He gave a little chuckle and said something about hitting him over the head with a board. (Earlier when he had expressed distress about waking up so much in the night I suggested he hit himself over the head with a board to go back to sleep. I suspect he was furthering the joke on this occasion by suggesting patricide by the same method.)

I am telling you these stories to give you some idea—as much as any of us can—of what Grandpa’s thoughts were. The sickness was a burden to him, in particular the Christian (or spiritual) aspects. Not only did he wish that his sickness would be taken away, but the implications of his sickness evidently weighed on his mind. If he was not healed in answer to his prayers did that mean he didn’t have enough faith? Or was this all happening to him because of some past wickedness in his life? This last thought was something he expressed more than once.

Today we face the weight of grief, knowing that we will not see Grandpa again in this earthly life. But in facing that grief, we should remember the burden that Grandpa faced. It was his earnest desire and prayer that he would be healed, and his sickness taken away. That was his heart’s cry. And God is faithful, and He has answered that prayer. Grandpa now knows what he longed for, and the burden he carried has been lifted away. His burden is gone. Though we may be sad that he has left, I saw what burden he carried these last three years, and I know what he desired.

For his sake today, I am glad.

Laughter Through The Tears

30th September 2009

This is a long, rambling post. It is rambling, and with such bad structure, because there is so much to say, I can’t say it all, and I don’t know quite how to say it. But maybe, somehow, you will understand what I mean.

I meant to write a post like this some time ago, long before Grandpa’s death arrived, but it is still appropriate today.

Alzheimer’s can be a sad, and even grim, sickness. Day after day is the steady grind, and day after day is the steady decline. There is plenty of opportunity for tears, and even despair. How does a person survive?

There is much that goes into coping with Alzheimer’s, but a sense of humor doesn’t hurt. One of the great things about my experience with Grandpa was the synergy between our humor. I think many people are not fully aware of Grandpa’s sense of humor because for most of his life his powerful sense of decorum often kept his humor in check. His humor was usually not the type for mature or refined company, so as an adult it was often restrained, only occasionally bursting out.

There is a good deal of overlap between Grandpa’s humor and mine, though I think I have much less of a sense of propriety or decorum. This overlap meant that as Grandpa’s Alzheimer’s grew worse, (and his sense of humor became increasingly uninhibited,) and where mature conversation was lost, we gained the ability to tease, joke, and laugh. Grandpa never, never, lost his sense of humor.

Conveying our banter, games, and jokes, is difficult. Partly because a huge amount of nuance, texture, intonation, and inside references went into the verbal teasing and this makes it difficult to relay the full humor of an exchange in a way that accurately conveys why it was funny. And partly it is difficult to convey because as a comedian I am extemporaneous, making it up as I go along, and forgetting it just about as quickly. So, if you weren’t there, you missed it, and I forgot.

At the time I didn’t really think about why I indulged in the humor. It was just something that spontaneously welled up inside me that I let bubble out. But in reflection I see the humor did several important things. First, it was a way for me to communicate with Grandpa, to express my love and affection in a way he could understand, all the way up to the end. Second, it was a way for me to take Grandpa’s mind off his troubles and misery. Introduced at the right moment, a bit of humor could effectively defuse one of Grandpa’s worried or agitated moods. Finally, the humor was simply an expression of me finding humor in life, an act which provided a bit of antidote to the hard times, and sad times.

When I came to care for Grandpa he was already significantly impaired in his speech ability, so any verbal humor was always largely a one-sided act. It was also almost exclusively absurdist humor. The key was to keep the lines short enough, and absurd enough, that Grandpa could easily grasp that it was an absurd joke. A bonus was if I could bait him into giving one word responses. Below are a couple of examples of exchanges we would have, perhaps none of them exactly verbatim for an actual conversation, but in substance accurate.

Example 1

Me: Are you poor? (Grandpa has always thought of himself as very poor, so it is an easy answer)

Grandpa: Yes.

Me: I think we should rob a bank.

Grandpa: What?

Me: Don’t you think it would be fun to rob a bank?

Grandpa: No. (He hasn’t caught on to the joke. Otherwise he would say, “Sure, lot’s of fun.”)

Me: But it’s lots of fun. You get to shoot guns and drive cars really fast, and have the police chase you with sirens. And if you’re really lucky, you get thrown in jail.

(But this time I’ve piled on enough bad and not fun things, that Grandpa gets the joke. So I add the last twist:)

Me: But don’t worry, when they catch us, and we go on trial, I’ll testify against you and get off scott free while you go to jail for twenty years.

The last line is Grandpa’s favorite, not only because it adds a little twist to the story, but also because it reflects a view he has on life: The guilty are always getting out of their due punishment by blaming someone else.

Example 2

(I sit down next to Grandpa and give him a hug)

Me: Boy, you are so strong and handsome. How did you get so strong?

Grandpa: Don’t speak such nonsense.

Me: You’re so strong, I wish I was as strong as you. I bet all the girls like you.

Grandpa: You think so, huh?

Me: Yep. I think we need to get you a girlfriend.

Grandpa: (Silence)

Me: So what we’ll do is, we’ll take you to the beach in California and have you walk up and down the beach in a tiny bathing suit and flex your big muscles for all the girls. Doesn’t that sound like a good idea?

Grandpa: Don’t be stupid.

I did a lot of variations on the “Your Handsome” joke. Grandpa was never a big man (perhaps topping out at 140 lbs in his prime), never was a man for the girls, and certainly never wanted to prance around in any type of bathing suit. It was probably not possible to come up with a more absurdly stupid joke, and Grandpa rarely found it funny. But I enjoyed it immensely because it was a great way to tease Grandpa because he found such jokes about his person slightly embarrassing, highly stupid, and vaguely inappropriate.

I could go on and on. I had various other stock basic jokes which I would take off in infinite variations. There was the “When you were a little boy . . .” jokes usually centering around some supposed wickedness he had done as a child, or somehow involving how his mother had treated him (kisses, hugs, spankings, etc). When I came in the house and he asked who it was, I would tell him I was his conscience come back to haunt him for all the bad things he had done. Then there were the motorcycle jokes, the car jokes, and the traveling jokes, all things which Grandpa hated and all things I would suggest he engage in, in some elaborate and over-blown fashion.

Some of my verbal jokes didn’t necessarily involve Grandpa directly but were my own little personal riff on life which he may or may not have got (depending) but he certainly gathered my general mood. I took to loudly singing him “Georgie Porgie Puddin’ Pie” when I took him out to lunch or supper (don’t ask me why—it just seemed the thing to do) and as Grandpa took to calling me Gene (the name of his brother) I took to calling him Georgie. Part of the joke was the implicit messing with his mind and/or messing with reality—he would shout “Gene!” and I would shout “George!”—and part of it was just a subtle acknowledgment of the ludicrousness of our entire situation—calling people by names that weren’t theirs, shouting endlessly for people who weren’t present.

As time went on, I became increasingly convinced that, in some sense, Grandpa was on to that deeper subtext of the joke. The most clear example came about the middle of this summer, one evening when Grandma was quizzing Grandpa about the names of people in his family. One of the first things Grandpa lost to Alzheimer’s was the ability to recall faces and names together. So when Grandma asked Grandpa for the name of his mother he glowered at her (not wanting to admit he couldn’t remember) and then told her very distinctly, and defiantly, “Georgie.” His (rather brilliant, given the circumstance) verbal riposte left Grandma nearly hysterical with laughter. He couldn’t remember his mother’s name, but he could remember that Georgie was the “wrong” name that everybody kept using for the somebody and so he deliberately used it to make his own point.

On another occasion (perhaps a year or so ago) there was some company visiting. Grandpa was sitting and listening to the people converse, and I imagine he got to thinking it was the most inane blather he had ever heard, because in the middle of the conversation he burst out, “Pick your nose, pick your nose, pick your nose.” He was probably thinking that the conversation was about as interesting as watching someone pick their nose (and the thought just happened to come out of his mouth) but it certainly left an awkward silence. I was not present for that particular conversation, but it was relayed to me with a mixture of horror and amusement. I found it greatly amusing, and ever afterward I would burst out to Grandpa at odd intervals, “Pick your nose, pick your nose, pick your nose! Don’t forget to pick your nose!” (or some other variation on the fine benefits of nose picking). In the months afterward I doubt Grandpa remember his initial statement which had sparked my reoccurring admonition, but my admonition could often get a chuckle out of him.

I could never be entirely certain how well Grandpa was following the humor. One day, sometime during this summer, Grandpa was hollering at the top of his lungs, for nothing in particular. I was sitting next to him, trying to keep him company while I flipped through a magazine. He would shout “Hey!” with ever increasing volume, staring across the room as if something over there should answer. I would say, “Yep,” or “I’m right here,” or “I hear you,” in response. Either my responses simply weren’t registering in his mind, or he was truly trying to get the attention of the (non-existent) person on the other side of the room, because his volume kept increasing. Finally, after a bellowed “HEEEYYYY!” I drolled out, “A little louder, Grandpa. The Chinese can’t quite hear you yet.”

There was silence. Then Grandpa said, “Was that a snide comment?”

I had to laugh then.

The best times were when Grandpa got my jokes, and then tried to take them one step further. It didn’t matter if his Alzheimer’s stopped him—the effort was all that counted. On another occasion, some time ago, he was calling out randomly. He shouted, “Gene!” so I shouted “George!” So he shouted, “George!” so I shouted “Where are you?” so he shouted “Where are you?” so I decided to have a little more fun and shouted “Give me all your money!” Grandpa started to repeat me—but then caught himself—in that instant the Alzheimer’s parting for just a moment so that he realized what we were doing. “You want it all, huh?” he said, mischievously. “Well, hold out your hand, palm up, and I’ll put a little—” but then the Alzheimer’s struck again, and his words left him. I couldn’t decide if he had been attempting to say he would put something naughty in my hand or that “all his money” was a pittance, but I laughed for his attempt to best me, and Grandpa laughed too.

Perhaps we had the most fun with our physical humor. I had a running gag where when Grandpa called (for me, somebody, anybody, to do something, anything, not sure what) I would come to him and offer him a pinch, a poke, or a bite. Sometimes, I would even tell them they were on a special sale. Firstly, this would distract him from whatever imagined problem he had, and secondly, it almost always got a good reaction from him. And there was a good chance that if I give him pinches that it would devolve into a “pinching fight” where we would both try to pinch the other while chuckling with mock malevolence.

Grandpa smiling

I constantly “harassed” Grandpa physically, playfully, partly because with him constantly calling me over it got boring to come and simply ask him what he wanted (especially when he couldn’t come up with any answer) so it became more fun to come over and harass him whenever he called. And it served the purpose Grandpa really wanted, which was for somebody to come and pay attention to him, and remind him that he was loved. Of course, not to be entirely outdone, Grandpa wasn’t aloof to sneaking his hand out, thumb sticking up threateningly from the cushion beside him when I began to sit down. He never quite dared let me sit on his thumb, but it was his way of saying, “I gotcha back.”

As Grandpa’s Alzheimer’s grew increasingly worse he became increasingly less aware of his surroundings and in this condition I found the great opportunity to “get” Grandpa. For someone else, I’m sure the game would have been cruel. It consisted in me coming upon Grandpa when he was completely absorbed in his task (often picking lint from the carpet) and leaping on him, snarling and biting like some ferocious lion descending on its prey. Without fail, he would jump out of his skin with a shout. I would then fall down beside him, laughing and crowing, “I got you! I got you! I got you!” And Grandpa would laugh, and say, “Yeah, you sure did. You sure got me that time!” And sometimes he would vow that one day he would get me back.

One of my most favorite times was when I snuck up on Grandpa, commando style, slithering around the couch so I could pop up and take a bite out of his knee. He jumped—oh, he really jumped! Afterward, in the midst of his laughter, he said, “Did you see me? Did you see how I jumped? It’s a good thing I didn’t have my mini-club then or I would have splattered you all over the place.”

Yes, indeed, Grandpa knew how to appreciate the fine art of getting someone.

My most favorite time, was the time he got me back. It was a bad evening for him. He spent I don’t know how long down on his hands and knees, shouting incomprehensibly. Finally exhaustion overcame him and when I came out to check on him he was sprawled on the carpet like a dead man. He looked so sad, weary, and worn out as I bent down to check on his sleeping form—and at that moment Grandpa went “Bwhahahahaha!” and came up, grabbing for me. Oh, yes, I jumped. It was completely unexpected.

“I got you! I got you!” Grandpa said, chuckling gleefully. And I was so proud of him.

I treasure all of those times. They are memories that can still make me laugh, even now, two short weeks after Grandpa is dead. I treasure them, because even in the midst of Alzheimer’s—even in spite of it—those times were times when we had fun together in our own personal, crazy, zany, way. It was the way we spoke the language of love.

This last story I will tell is not exactly a joke, but it seems a fitting conclusion. Every night when I put Grandpa to bed I would tuck him in and give him a goodnight kiss. But I got bored with that. So when I tucked him in I started giving him “hundreds” of kisses all over his cheek. I was teasing him, a little, but then one night after I did it he looked up seriously and said, “Just one kiss, now. Any more than that, and it’s a little queer.”

If you say so, Grandpa. Just one kiss.

The Empty Couch

29th September 2009

Edit: This was originally posted elsewhere. I am reposting it here for those who don’t read my writing elsewhere.

Grandpa on the couch

We all grieve in different ways. Some people grieve loudly, others in silence. Some people take a long time to grieve, other people finish grieving in a short time. Grandma told me she was grieving long before Grandpa actually died, and I think that is true for me also. But that doesn’t mean I finished every last bit of grieving before he died.

If grieving entails the acknowledgment of loss, sometimes absence speaks louder than words. For three years Grandpa was my life. My every waking and sleeping moment practically centered around him. What he needed, what he wanted, what his problems were, and what the solutions might be, were constantly on my mind. And if my life centered around Grandpa, the center of his life was the couch.

The couch was home base. The couch was the place where Grandpa always returned. It was the center of his domain. In the household, Grandpa was the constant fixture on the couch.

Grandpa liked the couch. It was a good couch, with good comfortable cushions. It was the place he was most comfortable. From there he could peer out the window, watch TV (back in the day when it meant something to him), and in general keep tabs on what was going on in the house as much as possible. On the couch Grandpa was there for you, always waiting. Sitting on the couch, sleeping on the couch—Grandpa and the couch were meant to be together.

studying Cinderella

So, it is no surprise that I find the emptiness of the couch the most acute reminder of Grandpa’s absence. Its silence, and emptiness, is the loudest statement of the finality of his departure. The impulse of expecting him to be there was especially strong in the first days after his death. Before, for a man failing from Alzheimer’s he could be remarkably sensitive to what was going on in the house. If a door opened or slammed, he wanted to know who it was. If someone was making noise in the kitchen, he wanted to know what was going on. If someone passed by in the corner of his vision, or went down the stairs behind him, he wanted to know what they were doing. Grandpa wanted to be informed, and he didn’t want to be forgotten. Often during certain times of the day he would shout and call for somebody (sometimes nobody in particular was named, sometimes the name would change with each shout) and often all he really wanted was somebody to come sit with him on the couch. And so, often I would come and sit with him for a short while on the couch before I went back to whatever I was doing.

It’s strange how habits become ingrained in your mind. In the first days after Grandpa’s death I so much expected him on the couch that when I entered the living room it was almost as if I saw him from the corner of my eye—my mind so much anticipating his presence—that it was only when I turned to look that my mind registered he wasn’t there. When I came in from the outside, or shut a door, words would come to the tip of my lips, ready to answer Grandpa’s shout from the couch. I would move about the house, and find in the back of my mind I was thinking about how what I was doing would reach Grandpa on the couch.

Only memories remain

But the couch is empty now, and nobody asks who is coming in the house, or what I am doing. The constant calling and questioning voice is gone, and the empty couch is a symbol of the hole in my life. It is a symbol for that which reaches much further in my life, because the couch is not the only place I notice his absence. For three years my life and Grandpa’s life became so intertwined it was as if we had become conjoined. He always wanted me, and I was always thinking about him. When grocery shopping, I would always have an eye out for anything I thought Grandpa might like to eat—especially some dessert. Now I go shopping and there is that brief flash of regretful remembrance when I stop at the baked goods isle and think, “Grandpa would like that,” to then in that instant know that I won’t be buying any more things for him.

Then there are the memories of the funny things, the irritating things, and the hard things. There are the memories of how he would almost always wake up early in the morning to get out of bed, of how he would be determined to leave the bedroom (usually to just end up sitting on the couch) even if he couldn’t figure out how to open the door, had to push a chair in front of him to walk, or had to crawl. There are all the memories of the morning coffee, and the daily routine, the little ways in which we both knew how things were supposed to go, and other people didn’t, and didn’t know why I could do it so much better. There are the hard memories of the many bathroom disasters, and the bad nights, the irritating times when Grandpa would not stop calling no matter what. Then there are the good memories, the memories of how he liked my hugs, of how we would horse around, and how he would put up with my teasing.

Time is a double-edged sword. As the passage of time dullness the freshness of loss and hurt, so also time takes the freshness of what we had. Already the expectation of Grandpa on the couch is fading, already what was is slipping into the past. I knew long before Grandpa died that he would be leaving soon, and I knew when I gave him my squeezing hug that soon I wouldn’t be able any more. So I hugged him, but not too tightly, because I knew that all things in this world must come to and end. Now it has, and I try to not hold too tightly to the past, in some futile attempt to deny the reality of life. But I do see the empty couch, know what it means, and I grieve very quietly.

Absent

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23rd September 2009

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On Grief

22nd September 2009

Part I: Grief

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” – 1 Thess. 4:13.

We need to be careful when we talk, and think, about grief. It is easy to handle the topic in a fleshly way–to over-intellectualize or over-emotionalize the subject. On the one hand, when not faced with grief it is easy for some people to rationalize the topic and pontificate as if they know exactly how it is. On the other hand, when in the midst of grief, it is easy to become lost in one’s own feelings. Surely it is true that “Each heart knows its own bitterness” (Prov. 14:10) so the wise will take care in speaking to a grieving person. And certainly as “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” a person ought to be cautious in thinking they understand the depths from which their own grief comes.

But, as Christians, we have been given a special command. Do not grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope, Paul says.

What does that mean?

How are Christians to grieve? What is Christian grief, as opposed to the grief of unbelievers? Are Christians supposed to grieve at all?

As a person, how I would react to various occasions for grief would depend on the circumstance. If my four-year-old child ran out into the street and was killed by a cement truck my feelings would be a bit different than if my wife of ten years died from cancer. And my feelings about a grandfather that died at eighty-one after three years of struggling with Alzheimer’s would be still a bit different from that. The unexpectedness of the death, and how close we were with the deceased, and a multitude of other things all affect what we feel about a particular death. But no matter what we feel at the moment of observing death, what we believe should be a universal bedrock which informs and affects all that we experience.

How should the truth of Christ inform our grief, both in regard to what we think, and feel?

I have trouble understanding how a Christian ought to react to death–I mean, in the sense of coming to terms with death as observed in the living of our lives. Anyone, Christian or non-Christian, is going to be shocked if they see someone run over right before their eyes, bloody body parts flying everywhere. What is godly grief? I struggle with that. To me, it is very clear that there is such a thing as godly grief. The New Testament explicitly speaks about grief over our own sins and godly grief over our own sins is intrinsically necessary for a right relationship with God. The New Testament also speaks about godly grief over the sins of others. Paul can speak about being grieved over the sins of others against the body of Christ, and it is written about how we can grieve the Holy Spirit. But if grief is the proper reaction to sin, is it the reaction believers should have toward death?

Prior to the coming of Christ, the answer would have seemed obvious. But now that Christ has won victory over the grave, and to be with Christ is better by far (as Paul says) then we must ask, “What are we, as Christians, grieving?” If we are not to grieve like the rest of men, as Paul says, how are we to grieve differently over death? Or are we not to grieve at all?

I am not happy with what I see as the typical “Christian” response to the question of grief. First, there seems to be an acceptance that any and all grief is right and good. Second, the answer to grief appears to be found in giving the assurance that the deceased is now in heaven and happy, etc, etc. In the first matter, the acceptance that all grief is one and the same does not acknowledge, or seek to understand, the distinction Paul makes. In the second matter, the assurance that all deceased are in heaven is either wrong theology (universalism), wishful thinking, or deceit. Not everyone we all know is going to heaven. There are people we have loved in this life who are going to hell, and God hasn’t given us the inside scoop to know the hearts and minds of people. Further, often the person offering comfort to the grieving is someone who hardly knows the deceased at all. Where does the Bible tell us the comfort people by offering dubious declarations about the eternal fate of others? All we can see are the words and deeds of people, and that can be a pretty cloudy measure of ones relation to God. It is God who knows the heart.

Can Christians rightly grieve over death? If done from a Godly, biblical, perspective, the answer is yes. The reason we can is that while Christ has been victorious over the grave, we have not yet come unto the full experience of that victory.

I am reminded of the statement by Paul that “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor 7:10). The statement was directed toward the issue of sin, but I think we can rightly also say, similarly, that godly grief leads to life, but worldly grief leads to death.

The focus of our grief is of key importance. Is your grief self-centered? Then it is idolatry, and an act of rebellion against God. Is your grief centered on God? Then it will produce life.

As an example: It is right to grieve over the death of your wife. That death is a very clear reminder that creation has not yet experienced the fullness of redemption. The termination of one of the greatest forms of earthly fellowship (marriage) is a a stark reminder, that we have no yet entered into the eternal fellowship of the new heaven and earth. Rightly understood, that pain and longing will teach and reminds us–both of what God is presently doing in delaying that day of His return, and what He will do in bringing that day about. We grieve that we do not yet experience the fullness of redemption, but yet we rejoice in the hope that is in Christ.

Now, on the other hand, one might lose their wife and grieve, thinking: I miss my wife, I want my wife, it wasn’t fair of God, it wasn’t right, I hurt, if God loved me why would He let me hurt . . . and so on. My point, if crudely demonstrated, is that a grief which is the expression of our self-centeredness–our want, and our pain–is an expression of our rebellion against God, and does not lead to life. It is only when our pain, and our want, is a partaking of the want of Christ, and the pain of Christ, that it is a grieving that is pleasing to God. This present created order is pain and grief to God, one which He presently bears until the fullness of redemption is accomplished.

Grief is not easy. It is not easy, because in the midst of this powerful experience one must face the conflict between the old flesh and the new spirit. We all–in our sin and weakness–want to grieve after the natural man, screaming at God, “Why did you allow me to hurt this way?” while at the same time the Spirit calls to grieve with God over this present fallen order, and to long for the new creation. To understand what in us is coming from the Spirit and what in us is coming from the flesh, is a difficult thing.

Part II: Grief to Joy

In the wake of Grandpa’s death, I have not found myself overwhelmed with grief. I attribute this to the result of God’s grace at work in me, and the many prayers of others on my behalf. I have not been crushed, or overwhelmed by events. I have had a great amount of peace. Mostly, I have found myself processing the events by pondering them, rather than by weeping and great angst. Not to say I haven’t had a few tearful moments–because I have–but largely I have simply pondered what has happened and tried to sort through what I am feeling, why I am feeling it, and if it is right.

I do not pretend I have myself all sorted out.

I think, perhaps, I have been grieving a long time, and that the death of Grandpa was more the end of my grieving than the beginning. That is what it feels like. That Grandpa is gone, and I will not see him again in the flesh during this life is sad. There is a quiet grief in that. But the real grief–spiritual, and fleshly–the real place where I feel anguish, and the sting of tears, is when I think about all the times Grandpa suffered over the past three years. When I think of grief I don’t think of the fact that he is gone, but instead the memories of the sorrow I have seen in his life struggling with the daily increasing loss. When I think of grief, I think of the grief Grandpa suffered, and the grief I suffered in seeing him suffer for three years and not being able to take that suffering away. The desire of my heart was to make him whole, and the grief is that for three years I could not. That hurt–that hurt far more than the fact that he is gone now–is the grief I had. I grieve now mostly only insomuch as I remember that past, and grieve that it had to be so.

What I feel now–when I am not recalling the past–is relief. For three years I carried Grandpa’s burden, which was my burden too. For three years we carried the burden of Alzheimer’s together, and I grieved silently inside myself ever day. There were times when that grief was acute, and the last time was certainly in the final days leading up to Grandpa’s death when my ability to do nothing was summed up in the little eye-dropper of water which was all I could give him. I grieved that he had to die with the suffering he did, and I grieved that I could not say “Be healed!” and make him whole. But when he died, that was over.

Several nights before Grandpa died–I think it might have been Wednesday night–I was sure Grandpa would die that night. He didn’t. With each passing day and night that he lingered I became more emotionally numb and exhausted. My Aunt Annie stayed over Thursday night because she was sure Grandpa would die that night, and he did, at 5:00 AM Friday morning. When she knocked on my bedroom door and told me, I didn’t feel an overwhelming rush of grief. I felt many things–still numb and exhausted, with a sense of finality, sad, and some muted grief. But was I most felt was that a burden had been lifted. I felt that Grandpa’s burden had been lifted. I felt that my burden had been lifted. It was not a happy thing–the ultimate happiness does not come until Christ returns–but it was the feeling that a great burden and sorrow had been lifted away which brings with it a sense of relief. Not “burden” as in the burden of sin (a burden which none of us can bear) but rather the taking away of a burden I had been called to bear for a time. It was one burden that I would no longer have to bear. A burden Grandpa would no longer have to bear.

So what have I felt in the days since Grandpa died? Relief. Release. Joy.

Joy–how can you have joy, someone might say.

Joy can be hard to understand. People often confuse joy and happiness. Happiness is an emotion we on occasion have the privilege of experiencing in this life, and shall have in abundance eternally. It is a product of circumstance–in the new heaven and earth circumstance will produce everlasting happiness. In this present world there are indeed many circumstances which are not happy. In contrast with the situational nature of happiness, joy is the product of the inward relationship with God. Those who do not know God have never experienced the truest form of joy. All who know God, and are known by Him, know some measure of true Joy. The closer we walk with God, the more we know joy, no matter how unhappy our circumstances. Joy can be a quiet thing, since it is neither the product of, nor intrinsically marked by, emotional thrills. I am not happy that Grandpa died, but I know joy and peace clearer than I did before.

But I can’t really express that joy, or peace, to you. Not fully. It is a joy, and peace, a rest, and relief, found in the experience of the faithfulness of God. To really know, you would have to know all the prayers I have prayed, and how with finality God had demonstrated them answered. To know, you would have to know how I agonized before coming to take care of Grandpa–how I agonized over being too weak, being unable, being afraid. To know, you would have to know the pain and weakness I faced these past three years, in the struggles and burdens I did not think I could carry. To know, you would have to know how I was on my knees before God, in weakness and and prayer over a path I did not see how I could walk. To the degree that I have been able to share those things with you, to that degree you can know and share my joy that God is faithful, and loving in a way beyond our comprehension.

The grief was a hard burden before Grandpa died. A hard burden then not only because I had to see it fresh each day, but also because I had to carry it alone in my day-to-day life. I could not share the true depth of my inner grief with Grandma, and I did not dare even allow the least outward expression for fear she construe it to mean “I couldn’t bear to take care of Grandpa anymore” and so ship him away. Even within the last week of his life Grandma told me that “If you can stand it, we can call an ambulance and have him taken away.” And so, for three years, I have had to keep the true cry of my heart to myself in my daily life. It is the great irony of life that now that I do not have the fresh presence of that grief daily that now it is more acceptable, and I have more freedom, to express grief in tears and sorrow. Certainly I will shed a few tears now at the memory of grief. But the memory of grief that I have left is nothing compared to the burden I carried so long, and is far outweighed by the joy I have in the present experience of God’s mercy, grace, love, and faithfulness.

It is this perspective that makes it rather easy to deal with what has come after Grandpa’s death. With all the family drama that must be dealt with, with all the legal forms that must be filled out, with everything that is coming down on my shoulders–all of it right after the person I have cared for intimately for the past three years–it could be horrible. It could be. But it isn’t. The regular irritants of life are still there, but it all doesn’t feel like that much of a big deal. Grandpa’s memorial gathering is this coming Sunday and I am really not the least concerned about it. Maybe I will shed a few tears. I expect probably not. Maybe a few people will get their pants in a bunch about something. But I am not worried, because after all I have been through, and after all that God has done, whatever little song and dance people want to have, is very, very, unimportant to me. As far as I am concerned, everyone who comes to this has missed the truly important show. Yes, at the gathering I will say a few words, but they are only a few words that can hint at what I have experienced at the hand of God. I think most people won’t even begin to hear it.

To anyone who wonders how I am handling it, that is the best answer I can give. I am not strong, or able, but God is, and prayer is effectual. To God belongs all praise.

Saying Goodbye

10th September 2009

[Edit: The below was originally written for a more public audience not kept as informed as people who read Twilight. But I decided to repost it here because there is material not posted previously, for people who do not read my public blogs]

(I didn’t edit this for quality of writing. Maybe some other day)

There were a lot of things I wanted to write before this, but life never goes in the neat little order we desire. I wanted to write about how Grandpa and I would laugh together, the foolish games we would play, and how I would tease him. I wanted to write about the laughter and lightness we made in the midst of the darkness. I wanted to write about the long goodbye. I wanted to write more about the struggle of feeding him, and caring for him, when it was growing increasingly impossible to do either. But that long goodbye has slipped by, and if I have failed to write about the things I have done, at least I have done them. I can write about them another time.

Today I will write about saying goodbye. Yes, Grandpa has only a few more days left. If I said he was dying that would be true, but not very precise. He has been dying for a long time. More precisely, he is nearly dead. It may be a few hours, or at most a few days. His mind has given up, and all that remains is for his body to catch up.

This may seem sudden, but it wasn’t, not really. One thing I have not written about much is Grandpa’s increasing failure to eat. I always meant to write more about it “sometime” but I never made time for that sometime because it was the most painful thing to write about. The struggle to get Grandpa to eat enough has been going on for more than a year, and it is a struggle I have been slowly losing. I knew this would happen from the very day I started caring for Grandpa, but the knowing didn’t make it feel any less like torture as he slipped–inch by inch–down that path. While it often felt like he couldn’t possibly eat worse than he had the day before, his eating began to grow precipitously worse over the course of the summer. If at the beginning of the summer I had to patiently work with Grandpa to get him to eat three meals a day, by the end of the summer he was only eating one meal–and that only if I fed it to him myself. The course of events was pretty obvious. I concluded that he would not last through the winter.

Grandpa was becoming too tired to live. I could feed him breakfast, but beyond that point his mind was too exhausted to eat. He didn’t want to eat, he didn’t want to be fed. He just wanted to close his eyes and rest. The fight to throw off the web of confusion was becoming too much, and Grandpa was ready to give up.

Then he did. At the end of August I caught a mild cold, and I passed it on to Grandpa. Grandpa became a little sick, and the cold made him more tired. His body recovered from the cold, but his mind decided it had finished the fight. He slept, and didn’t want to wake up. He woke up for increasingly brief periods of time, increasingly unwilling to eat or drink, and slipped into a semi-comatose state. Perhaps his last most coherent words were, “I don’t want it! I don’t want it! I don’t want it!” when I tried to feed him some chocolate pudding. What did he want to do? He wanted to sleep, to rest quietly, and to not be troubled with the troubles of life anymore.

I knew it would come to this, but that knowledge doesn’t make it easy. One of the special cruelties of this is that Grandpa has such a healthy body that if his mind had not been afflicted with Alzheimer’s he might have lived to be a very old man. So, even though his mind has shut down so that he does not interact with the world, and does not remember how to eat or drink, his body still continues on. The last time he really ate or drank anything of substance was on Friday the 4th of September, and we are now to Wednesday the 9th. Over the course of the succeeding days I have managed to coax a few dribbles of liquid down his throat–first with a spoon, then an eye-dropper–but still his body keeps going. He breathes regularly, quietly, his eyes closed, his body slowly consuming itself in a determined effort to keep going. One could call it a coma, but sometimes, for a brief moment, he opens his eyes a bit, and if you are lucky he will drag them into focus to look in that instant at the world, before letting his eyes drift back shut. He is still conscious of sounds, he recognizes voices, and he even smiled when someone laughed in his hearing. But the world is too much for him now, so he mostly just lays there, waiting for it to end.

The most painful thing for me is that he can still feel pain and discomfort. If we have him propped up carefully with pillows supporting various parts of his body he appears to be mostly comfortable. But whenever we have to move him to change his diaper his frail body–and especially his lifelong problem with back pain–flares up and he spasms and whimpers in pain whenever he is changed. I feel like we are putting him on the torture rack whenever we must do that. And then I wonder if he is thirsty. He doesn’t look uncomfortable when he is just laying there, breathing, but I can’t help thinking about how it might feel to be laying there, no longer able to communicate, slowly starving and thirsting to death. What if his throat was parched and he wanted a drink and was laying there, silent, wishing someone would give him a drink? So I give him some water with the eyedropper and he chokes because he can only swallow by reflex now and when he chokes he feels like he is drowning and the expression on his face makes me sorry I gave him something to drink.

Oh, cruel, cruel world.

What does all of this have to do with saying goodbye? It is when you have the few days when someone is clearly dying, but not yet dead, that you have time to ponder what it means to say goodbye, and how exactly do you do it. You sit there and you stare at the sleeping face, and you wonder what you could do, what you should do. Somehow, however true “I love you” and “Goodbye” might be, they somehow don’t feel like enough. How can you distill a life down to a few words?

But as I sat there, I realized that you don’t. You don’t do anything different. What you say is only as good as what you do. All your life you are saying “Hello” and “Goodbye” in what you do. The substance of your deeds toward each person is what defines whether you have given them a good “Hello” and “Goodbye.” If your deeds toward others are deeds that say “I love you” then no better “Hello” or “Goodbye” can be said. Do you want a life of no regrets, a “Goodbye” that says what you want to say? Then make sure what you do toward others says “I love you” and then whether today it is for “hello” or “goodbye” it will be the best you could give.

I have said goodbye to Grandpa. I said those words, because it seemed like to not say them was some attempt to deny the reality. But mostly I realized that my best goodbye would be to do what I had been doing for the last three years–saying “I love you” all day, every day, by what I did for him. There could be no better, or fully said, goodbye.

So goodbye Grandpa. I love you. But you already knew that.

A happier day, about a year ago

Grandpa is Dying

7th September 2009

Given the many avenues of communication, perhaps most people reading this blog already know the following: Grandpa is dying. He may not live out today, and I certainly doubt he will live out the week.

Perhaps I will write in more detail sometime in the near future. Those of you who have been following this blog already knew that I expected him to die before the winter was out. The simple story is that it just happened a little bit faster. Last week he caught a mild cold I had. He did not get terribly sick. But when he got sick he got tired, and he stopped eating and drinking whereas before he had been eating and drinking a little. He began to slip into a increasingly comatose state.

An e-mail I sent this morning:

***

He is alive this morning, but I am not sure he will ever awaken again. He is resting quietly, but I don’t know if he has slipped into a light coma or is just sleeping deeply (what difference does it make?)

I started playing the Bible on CD for him yesterday. I thought it would give him something to listen to while he lay there.

The most effective thing I found to feed him was ice cream. It was something solid that I could slip into his mouth but then would turn into a liquid which could be swallowed. I got some into him, yesterday, and he swallowed some. But some of it just sat in his mouth until it eventually came back out as a syrupy drool. It may have been a combination of forgetting it and forgetting how to swallow. At least he did not seem to mind it too much, and may have even appreciated it.

When Teman was here last night I switched Grandpa’s position and seemed to be able to get him into a comfortable position. He appears to have had a quiet night, and continued to “sleep” even as a wiped up his face a bit and moistened his mouth with a water dropper. He sleeps so calmly and breathes so regularly you almost wouldn’t think anything was wrong and that he would wake up in an hour like regular old Grandpa, like he has so many times before.

Except, you know he won’t.

***

It is possible Grandpa may live out the week–some people have an amazing ability to linger. But I suspect not.

I started taking care of Grandpa September 24th, 2006. We won’t quite make it to the three year anniversary, that is almost certain.

As always, your prayers are much appreciated.

In this time, my thoughts turn to these passages (as I suppose the thoughts of anyone sitting with the dead do):

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim 4:6-8)

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. [. . .] I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philp. 1:20-21,23)

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
(Rev. 14:13)

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
(Rev. 22:20)

The Struggle

18th August 2009

I want to be strong. I don’t want to have struggles.

But, as James says, “We all stumble in various ways” (James 3:2).

I don’t want to be a whiner. Whenever I think about my problems, I think about how much of a sniveling, self-centered, whiner I am. There are lots of people who have it worse than me. I know it. I don’t have it bad at all. I know it. I should be thankful every day. I know it.

But I’m not.

When I think about that failure of mine, my natural reaction is to tell myself to shut up and get on with life. Nobody said it would be a picnic. Be stronger.

Certainly it is inappropriate to be self-centered, to be consumed with sharing our troubles, and acting if the world is all about us. That is an idolatry of self, where self is most important. But it is also wrong to think we can be self-sufficient. In wanting to be strong, I want to be self-sufficient. I don’t want anyone else bearing my burdens. I would like to think I can conquer all my troubles, but short of that I would settle for keeping them from troubling anyone else. That attitude is idolatry too. That is the idolatry of pride.

As Christians we are called to “Carry each other’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2).

This is a hard command for me. It can be very hard to bear the burdens of others, but I find it even harder to share mine. I have been thinking recently, and have concluded that I have been remiss in this regard.

We are commanded to “pray for each other” (James 5:16) and appropriate prayer is certainly aided by knowledge. So I will share some of my struggle, and if it all sounds whiney and self-centered, add that to the list of things to pray for me about.

***

The situation with Grandpa has gone through a process of change. He requires less work now. It feels as if the change from how it was two years ago is the difference between night and day. He requires less assistance, has less disasters, and sleeps much better at night. I am getting better sleep at night, and since Grandpa basically sits on the couch all day his required need for assistance is pretty much limited to mealtimes. Physically, there is much less demand on my person—as is evident by all the projects around the house that I have been able to undertake in my greater freedom.

Back in the day when I was dealing with constant midnight bathroom disasters, Grandpa wandering everywhere and getting into trouble, and all around household drama, it was easy to admit that things were hard. It was all physically grueling. I tried to avoid exaggeration, or presenting it as a pity-party for me, but anyone who reads back over my past entries can see that I shared a good deal about my physical struggles.

But when all of those brutal long nights diminished, and relief came from those labor-some days, everything was supposed to be better. I imagined it would be better. It had to be better, right? There were days when I looked at my greater freedom and reflected on how months ago I would have thought my current situation impossible. Everything was better, right?

Except, I’ve discovered that it was not.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I am living some miserable tragedy, the most afflicted of all people. I don’t need, want, or have any use for people feeling sorry for me. I have good days, I have bad days, and I have average days. But as much as I don’t want people feeling sorry for me, there is more of a struggle than I have wanted to admit—a struggle that needs to be admitted.

Obviously the relief from the previous physical strain of caregiving is very real, and I am certainly thankful for that blessing. But there is more to life than physical labor, and as strange as it might sound to some people, I realize now in reflection that there was a way in which that situation of physical labor suited me. All of it was very hard—grueling even, at times—but at least I was “doing” something. I was making the situation better. I might go to bed every night exhausted, and I might doubt whether I had done the absolutely best I could have done, but at least I could look back on the day (subconsciously, perhaps) and see everything I had done. I had made all that food for Grandpa to eat, which he was so happy to eat. I had helped Grandpa go to the bathroom, which he was so glad for that help. And so on. I was holding the world together, I was carrying the world on my shoulders, and, as hard as that was, it suited my vanity. By my nature I am the type of man who is willing to sacrifice a lot to “accomplish” or “fix” things and so for a long while—in spite of the personal toll—I could feel very successful in what I was doing.

Then things began to change. Of course the reality of how I was handling the old situation, and how the new reality would affect me was not something I could see at the time. But looking back, I can see more clearly. Before, I could “fix” Grandpa’s failures by making up for his declining condition. I would help him through the various tasks of the day, and then, as the situation became worse, I would do those tasks for them. Hard as it might be, I was “doing” something and being “successful” so life was good (so to speak). The turning point came when I was no longer able to “fix” or “make up” for what Grandpa lacked.

This change did not happen all at once, and I am sure it could be seen in various aspects of life. But for me, in my own mind, I chart this path in Grandpa’s increasing failure to eat. I think I really started noticing this battle about a year ago, and from that point on it has been a battle I have been loosing by inches, but surely and steadily loosing. Some of it has been a very cognizant struggle—I have mentioned in other posts about various bad times when Grandpa ate very poorly—but a lot of it has not been so explicitly recognized by me, and all of this has profoundly affected me. It has affected me not in a break-down-crying sort of way, but in a way that eats away inside me in a slow, slow, way. It hurts in a quite way that I try very hard to ignore.

Perhaps you will understand the meaning behind Grandpa’s eating (or lack thereof) if I explain it to you this way: Back when I first came to live with Grandma and Grandpa I was told that Grandpa’s weight was down, and the doctor said he needed to eat more. I dutifully gave Grandpa breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, supper, and bedtime snack. I bought all sorts of snacks and desserts for Grandpa, and carefully heated them up and served them to him. He ate and enjoyed what I fed to him. When I took him to the doctor his weight was up. I felt like a success. I was taking care of Grandpa, I was feeding him, and he was clearly appreciating it. Eating became the measure of success. I couldn’t reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s on his mind, but at least I could make sure he was well fed.

Except, that couldn’t last forever. If you peg your success on any worldly measure you will end up failing, even if it seems like such a noble measure as making sure your Grandpa has enough to eat. Slowly but steadily it became harder to make sure Grandpa had enough to eat. At first it was just harder, but I could still do it. At first I couldn’t make him gain any more weight, but at least I could keep him holding steady. It was a battle I was losing, and I was desperate to stem the tide. Last summer was when it really began to become seriously worse. Some of my personal notes paints the picture:

Grandpa Ate

07.13.08

2 Cups of Coffee

1 Can Nutrient Drink (350)

1 Candy Bar Reese (63)

1 Spoonful of peanut butter (190)

1 Serving of noodles and cheese (200)

1 Slice of cake (250)

3/4 Can Nutrient Drink (263)

Total Calorie Estimate: (1316)

07.14.08

2 Cups Coffee

1/4 Can Nutrient Drink (88)

1 Serving Cream of Wheat with 1/2 cup milk (185)

1 Small serving of noodles and cheese (120)

1 Can Nutrient Drink (350)

1/2 Cup Cottage Cheese (120)

4 oz. Grape Juice (90)

2 mini donuts (212)

1/2 Can Nutrient Drink (175)

1 Junior Ceareal Bar (70)

Total Calorie Estimate: (1410)

Grandpa’s weight as of 07.14.08: 122 lbs.

Note: BM today, completely constipated.

You get the picture. I was trying to document the facts, trying to figure out some battle plan, some way to overcome. And what was the result? Fast forward a year, and what do we have? Breakfast is half a serving of Life Cereal (80 calories) lunch is maybe 1/2 a serving of noodle salad 1/2 can nutrient drink, and half a banana. Supper is half a serving of cream of wheat. If I’m lucky, on average I’m getting half as many calories into Grandpa as last year.

I’m failing.

Of course, I don’t rationally tell myself that. I told myself that I knew his eating would get worse, this is how the disease went, and I couldn’t stop it. I told myself it wasn’t my fault, you could only do the best you can, and it wasn’t a big deal. I wanted to will myself into making it not a big deal. But sometimes no matter how much you head explains something, you heart still won’t accept it. On the really bad days I would admit the crushing weight I felt when Grandpa ate next to nothing. The rest of the time I tried to pretend, tried to think, that life was just going on normal, with nothing wrong.

But everything was wrong, and in ways not easily to accept for myself, much less articulate. It is one thing to just say “He isn’t eating.” That is a dry, abstracted, fact. We can all sit back and say, “Gosh, that’s too bad. Wish we could do something about it. Don’t feel too bad, it isn’t your fault.” But let’s say your son or daughter had a rare disease that made them not like to eat. It was a disease that was slowly getting worse, so they disliked eating more and more. Daily, you could see them getting thinner. You know they need to eat but when you ask them if they are hungry, sometimes they say no. And sometimes they do say they are hungry, but when you ask them what they want to eat, they don’t tell you anything, and when you offer them all sorts of things to eat—from ice cream down to toast—they say they don’t want any of it.

What do you do?

There is the pain of watching someone waste away. There is the anguish of watching someone in your care waste away. Then on top of this there is the feeling of rejection. For a caregiver (be it mother, father, or anyone else) the most basic personal measure of success is that the people in your care are fed. If your efforts to feed are spurned it feels like the ultimate rejection of your care. It says: You’re not sufficient to care for me, you can’t even please me on the most basic level.

In my mind, I know that isn’t what Grandpa is saying. In my mind, I can work out all the permutations of how the Alzheimer’s is affecting him so that he won’t, or can’t, eat. I can try to put away what I feel—I can tell myself to ignore what I feel—but that doesn’t make what I feel go away. What do I feel? I feel like I want to give up. When Grandpa says no, he doesn’t want to eat, when he says “Stop shoving that in my face,” when he says, “I’m not hungry,” even though he hasn’t ate anything in six hours, when he pounds the table and says, “Damn it! No more!” even though he’s only ate three spoonfuls, when he says, “Please, I don’t want any more,” when he only eats because I hound him and only to make me happy . . . what I feel is that I just want to give up. I want to get up, walk away, and never come back.

Because it is hard? No, it isn’t physically hard. The act of holding up a spoon and saying, “Here, have a bite” is very easy. But it is very hard to face my failure, and the rejection. While I don’t intellectually sit there and tell myself it is my failure (because I can reason out that it is the Alzheimer’s) this cold voice of reason doesn’t make me feel any less like a failure than deep down inside I could feel like a success when two years ago I got Grandpa lots of food to eat. My situation has been turned on its head, and meal times are often a mockery, a parody, of what I once did. Are three spoonfuls of beans a meal? It is like my face is being daily ground into the futility of it all. What is the point? What kind of care is this?

I had to let go. Last summer I was beginning to grapple with the looming possibility of Grandpa not eating enough to maintain his weight. At some following point it became absolutely clear that he was not, and that left me facing a choice. I could redouble my efforts, try to make him eat every minute of every day, constantly trying to shove food in his face. I could become more insistent at meal times, demanding that he eat, perhaps become enraged, or hysterical at his “willful” starving to death. Or else I could acknowledge that I was not going to win, and let go. When Grandpa said no, I could just stop.

But in letting go, I felt like I lost something. In letting go, I felt like I had given up, and with that all the vigor went out of my care. In admitting that I couldn’t win, it was like I had given up the fight. When you have lost the fight, it feels pointless to continue the battle. Outwardly, I don’t know if anything changed in my care for Grandpa—I can’t honestly judge myself that well. But inside me things felt different, and it didn’t feel nice.

With this change, I was thrust into the murky realm of moral hazards. Before, my care was based upon the premise that Grandpa was not competent to know what his needs were, and it was my job to determine what he needed, and provide 100% of that need. When he had trouble I didn’t just say, “Oh well, that’s life” and ignore it. No, I gave help. When he was weak, I provided the strength. There was no coming short of the 100% needed. But then when I was forced to admit that I couldn’t make 100% anymore—for example, I couldn’t make him eat 100% of what he needed to eat anymore—how close to 100% is good enough?

When do I get to stop? After Grandpa says “no” once? Or is after he has refused twice? Or maybe three times? Because, sometimes if I wait a little while after he has refused any more food, I can get him to eat more. Sometimes just one more bite. Sometimes a lot. And how long should I try to get him to eat? Should I spend all morning trying to get him to eat breakfast? He may never eat 100%, but if I spend the whole morning and get him to eat 80% instead of 60%, shouldn’t I do that? And how hard should I try to find something that he will be willing to eat? Should I spend all afternoon trying to find new recipes that he might love? Do I try to offer him a taste of every food in the house, even if he says he doesn’t want anything, because maybe when I stick a taste of something in his mouth he will decide he actually does want to eat that thing?

Obviously I am taking it to the extreme, but it is to illustrate a point. Once I can no longer reach 100%, how hard should I try to get how close? While it may be obvious that I shouldn’t spend all day trying to get as close to 100% as possible (like it is some mania), and it may be just as obvious that I can’t just give up entirely and settle for 0% . . . what is the acceptable answer in-between? And how do I escape the feeling that I am making decisions about the life of another, decisions I shouldn’t (or don’t want) to make?

I am not perfect. I often feel lazy, frustrated, and selfish. Often I am. And if I’m feeling lazy, frustrated, and selfish, and I must make a decision about how much I will do for someone else today—what am I going to decide? Anything short of spending 100% of my time trying to get Grandpa as close to getting enough to eat so he won’t starve can be presented as the vile effects of my lazy, frustrated, and selfish person. The accusations can then go round in my head:

You did do that because you are selfish.

You did do this because you are uncaring.

If you were more loving you wouldn’t think and act this way.

Some such accusations are clearly lying accusations from Satan. But, on the other hand, I am a sinner and often enough I could have, and should have, done better. And sometimes I just don’t know what the “right” course of action was. The accusations are always there, and my less than saintly feelings, and the fact that there is no one answer that is right for breakfast, lunch, and supper, or one answer that is right for every day. It all depends on how Grandpa is that day, and I must judge that through the prism of me every day.

By the grace of God I am not daily crippled by a weight of guilt over this. But the cloud of moral hazard that hangs over every day and every meal with Grandpa is a struggle. I may not go to bed every night tormented with with guilt, but the accusations are always there, hovering, and I rarely go to bed happy with myself. I can pray, “God forgive me for my failures,” but I’m not even always sure which ones were failures, and which ones were just the realities of life caring for Grandpa. And if I have failed, I often don’t know how I should seek to live tomorrow differently. In this situation all I can do is pray, and get up the next morning and live, and remember these words:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Rom. 8:26-27)

And I try very hard to not overly judge or excuse myself, but rather daily commit the matter to God, acknowledging that I am a sinner, and whatever good I might daily do (whether recognized by myself or not) is only by the grace of God. And to keep in mind the words of Paul:

It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (1 Cor. 4:4-5)

But it is hard. And besides wanting to walk away from what feels like my failure, there is daily the desire to hide from the every present quandary of moral hazard. Since I can’t literally run away I try to escape other ways. I try to put away what I feel, to lock it away in the back of my mind, pretending that nothing is a big deal and everything is normal, and when that isn’t enough—as it never is—I try to hide and block it all out by filling my mind with others things. It’s not that I go around every day thinking, “Oh, I’ll go hide, I’ll escape from what I don’t want to deal with by filling my life with other things.” But I can see clearly that is what I did.

To a degree this was masked by the very legitimate fact that, as Grandpa has needed me less, I have more free time. What was I supposed to do with this time—sit around and twiddle my thumbs? If not, then I had to decide what I would do with my time. And thus I would throw myself into this or that project, and suddenly that which was just supposed to “keep me occupied” in my spare time, became something which I poured myself into, something which filled my thoughts with something other than the endless unanswerable questions about Grandpa, something besides that dark cloud which hovered over me. I would immerse myself into the project—but it was escape, it was hiding, and when I came back to the surface there was Grandpa still, with all the questions and problems still there, and on top I now could feel guilty for having abandoned him, and selfishly done what I wanted to do.

Hiding, and running away, are not the response of faith, or a fruit borne of grace. It is the fleshly response to trouble and it brings no peace, or solution. Rather, the problem continues to fester, and instead of going away it gets worse. I wrote the draft of a novel, I published books, I built a patio, I built barn doors, I built a shed, I build a cabinet from scratch. I did all sorts of things, and no matter how much I did it never felt like enough, and never made me feel better for long. It all ended up feeling futile, pointless, and worthless. So I would vacillate between pouring myself into doing something, and then doing nothing. But as the something felt worthless, the despondent nothing felt no better, and so back I would go again. Recently, in reflecting back on this, I told someone that I felt like a dog chained to a tree running around in a circle and the faster I ran the shorter my chain became. Grandpa is dying, and trying to escape the implications for me as his caregiver is foolish.

When a problem is not dealt with in a Godly manner, it only becomes worse. While all the projects I undertook were not in themselves sinful—and actually were productive deeds—they were sinful insofar as they sprung from an attitude of faithlessness, not faith. And as they reflected an attitude of not living in faith, but rather by works, they illuminated deeper problems. Attendant with all of this “escaping” efforts, my struggle with my attitude, thoughts, and desires increased—the entire gamut from simply feeling aggrieved about my lot in life all the way down to sexual impurity. I don’t want to come across as overly dramatic—It wasn’t like I started screaming at Grandpa, and staying up late watching late night TV trash and taking out a subscription to pornography websites. None of us are as kind as we should be, but I found I was struggling with even being as kind as a had been, or serving with the cheerful and willing attitude I had before. None of us are as pure as we should be, but in a world full of temptations and sinful opportunities I felt I was struggling with the temptations of the world more, and stumbling more than I had been. It all came together in the crushing feeling that I didn’t have the strength to stand, or go on. I felt utterly, utterly, spent. Not physically—but inside me. Emotionally, spiritually.

And that is the place God was bringing me. It is, in truth, the place He daily seeks to bring all of us—the place of utter dependence upon Him. We don’t depend on Him once when we “become” a Christian and afterward we go back to struggling through life by our efforts—no, when we hear the call of God it is a call to daily living out that dependence on Him. So easily, and so often, we wander away from the truth and find ourselves in a dry and weary wasteland.

Back in the day, it was easy for me to admit the struggle when things were physically hard. I could then talk about my struggle, and mouth words about how weak I was. But even when I felt weak I supported myself with my own strength—the solace of my own efforts and accomplishments. I did get through the hard part—physically—but that was when I found out how weak I was. It was when I had “overcome” so much that I was left to face the futility of all I had overcome, and the failure of all my efforts.

It is not our strength and effort that counts, but God’s. It is in the face of death that the futility of all our efforts is most clearly revealed. I want to be clear: I’m not afraid of Grandpa dying. Many caregivers will speak about some overwhelming dread at the prospect of the time when the person in their care will die. They find it scary, frightening, even terrifying. But for me it is not Grandpa’s coming death that I struggle with—it is with my personal futility and lack that I struggle. In death what is the point of our labor? In death where is the success? If there is no point, and no success, then why continue?

The answer to that, ultimately, comes in the resurrection of Christ and the result of that work—the future restoration of all things. The answer is found in the love Christ showed in dying on the cross, and the love we are called to show as it had been shown to us. These are answers that shatter all worldly measures, and reasons. They are answers we cannot grasp by ourselves.

I know that what I am doing is right. I have no doubt that God has called me to what I am doing. I know that today I have been called to minister the love of God to the dying. But often what we know by faith clashes directly with what we feel. I don’t feel happy. I don’t feel successful. I don’t even feel capable. In short, the struggle is that I find myself inadequate to minister Christ to a dying man. Because I am. Because we all are. It is not something we can manage by our own strength or wisdom. It is something given to us, by grace, through a walk of faith.

What is the solution? To trust in God. As Jesus exhorted his disciples on the night of his betrayal: “Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1) We are assured time and again in the Bible that God is faithful and those who trust in Him will be lifted up, and never put to shame. Recognizing my struggle, and where I had fallen, was the first step to turning and being refreshed. What I needed most of all was to learn that the need was not to pray that I would be delivered from my situation, or that I would be made strong, but rather that I would cease to strive in my own strength and accomplishments, to trust in God’s strength, and to be given the grace to walk by faith through the situation.

It requires so little from us, and yet everything.

It is not as if life is “all better” now. It is still a daily struggle, but for the present I do feel better. It is when we begin to see these things clearly, to see where we have fallen and to turn from that way, that light again begins to break through. I know that as it has been a struggle, the battle is far from over. I know that I don’t have the strength to carry this to the end—because that is what I have tried, and know will not work. Because I don’t have a spiritual well deep enough in and of myself to draw from in caring for a dying man.

I will still struggle, I will still stumble. But I pray that I will not try to stand by my own wisdom, or strength. I know that in looking to God I will be given what I need to walk this path and that as I, and others with me, bear these burdens Christ Jesus will be glorified.

I had not talked about this because I didn’t want them to be real, I didn’t want to burden other people, I didn’t want to be weak, and I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me. But besides all of that, I also didn’t speak because I (inwardly) cringe at the all too typical response: “Is there anything I can do? Can’t anyone do something?” I know such people mean well, but on the one hand such questions are a parroting of my own self-doubt and self-accusations (Is there anything I can do? Can’t I do something?) and on the other hand it is a parroting of my own empty wish—I wish something could be done. But the struggle—the very problem—is that nothing, absolutely nothing, can be done. I can’t, you can’t, nobody can. We’ve reached the end of the road, and how are we going to face that?

There is only one thing we can do, and that is pray. So if you wish to do something, remember that prayer is the only thing you can do now, and it truly is effectual.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of faith, and obedience. But he didn’t look forward to his crucifixion. He sweated blood in the garden, and prayed to the Father that it might be taken away. Then he got up and went, willingly and faithfully, to his crucifixion.

I am not looking forward to this coming winter. There is no reason why Grandpa will surely die this winter, but given his lack of eating and the chance that his frail body will become sick, makes it seem very likely. If he dies, in that final process of dying I will be forced the face the final crucible of what I have already undergone. It is the long hours by a death-bed when every past deed can be judged. And I feel all sorts of conflicted feelings—all of which I try to squash and shove away and lock behind some door in my mind. So I will admit, because I must, that in some black little part of my soul I wish Grandpa would die because I am tired of this dying dragging out an inch at a time and I want to be free to do my selfish things. And in another part of me I cherish these moments we have and look with sadness at the day he will be gone. And I don’t know what to feel or think, and it seems like everything I do feel or think doesn’t feel very godly or right. I just wish I didn’t have to feel or think anything.

I tend to say I am dreading this winter, but perhaps that is my penchant for being dramatic. I don’t lay awake in bed thinking about it, or other things I associate with something I truly dread. But I am trying to not think about it, to live in some weird tension filled existence of denial and admittance.

I don’t say the attitude of faith would look forward to those days of suffering and sorrow, but I perceive that at present I am indulging in some variation of the same denial and hiding that I have just spent this paper chronicling. So if up until this point I have looked back and reflected on how I have struggled, to now look forward I will say that what I need to do is not hide from the coming future, run from it, or think that I can prepare myself to conquer it, or “deal with it.” What I need to do is face it in faith, to acknowledge my insufficiency, and so pray that I might be taught and equipped by the Spirit of grace. You may pray for that also.

Further, pray that I would be encouraged and strengthened in my spiritual walk, that I would not walk as the world does, but that I would live in purity and a desire to be Christ-like. Pray that I would seek and understand what the will of the Lord is—in what I should be using my free time to pursue and do. There are many possible “productive” things that I could do, but pray that I would have wisdom to know what I should do, and that I would not do anything out of a desire to escape my current situation, or out of vain ambition, but that whatever I do, I would do it with a desire to serve and glorify God.

Pray about all of those things for me. But most of all pray that in this time, even after all earthly labor has been consigned to futility, I would be granted the grace, the love, the faith, the wisdom, to minister Christ to a dying man.

I find it appropriate to finish with the words of Paul from Romans chapter 12.

***

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

***

Sponge Bath

30th July 2009

Note: This blog was hacked shortly after this post was initially made. I believe everything has been fixed, but apologize to those Google Reader subscribers who were treated to some spam.

Where we last left off in Grandpa’s bathing saga I was picking him up and putting him in the shower on the shower chair and lifting him off, cleaning and dressing him entirely myself. Sometimes just because you can do something doesn’t mean it is the best way. If somebody needs as much help as I was giving Grandpa, it is time to start seriously considering switching to sponge bathing.

I continued to pick Grandpa up and put him in the shower for a number of weeks. But the change in procedure had made me sensitive to Grandpa’s reactions, and–while that method was far better than how things had been going before–I was sensing we still needed to alter things more. Once I understood it was greatly distressing for Grandpa if he had to do anything or even deal with any great or sudden sensory input, I began to see more ways in which the situation could be improved.

Several problems stood out to me in particular:

–There was the constant problem of my hands not being the right temperature. After I got him undressed and moved to pick him up there was the almost constant reaction of “AAARRRGH! Your hands are cold!”

–Getting picked up unsettled Grandpa. He trusted me–but just barely. There was always the muted, “Hey, watch it. What are we doing . . .” whenever I picked him up to put him in the shower.

–Then the seat of the shower chair was always cold. Even more, he was never able to anticipate what was about to happen, so from his perspective he was being whisked through the air to suddenly and unexpectedly have his bare bottom come in contact with a cold and wet seat. This would garner another “Aaaaah!”

–And the water temperature of the shower was never exactly perfect for Grandpa. It was almost always just a little too hot, or too cold. So immediately after placing him on the cold chair I would adjust the shower head so that the water was coming down on him and then–from his perspective–he would be unexpectedly deluged with too warm water. Thus another “AAARGH! What are you doing?”

For me this was much easier than how things had been before–because now instead of laboriously trying to explain and coach Grandpa through the process (and failing) I could now simply do it. But in spite of this I realized the improvement was not enough. Grandpa–with what rationality he had left–recognized that I was trying to help him. However, emotionally it felt like I was torturing him. The workability of our situation was, therefore, still dependent on Grandpa’s mental capabilities, and with an Alzheimer’s patient working against emotions is a method doomed to eventual failure. It would only be a matter of time before Grandpa would throw a fit over being alternately (in his mind) frozen and boiled.

I realized I needed to cut down on the stimuli even more. The transfer to the bathroom from Grandpa’s normal domain got him confused, and set the ground for further agitation. The roar of the shower running further befuddled him. And being picked up naked and whisked into the shower put him right on edge.

If I had been smart, I would have then realized it was really time to start doing a sponge bath. The problem is that I am cheap, and to do a sponge bath properly you have to buy no-rinse soaps. You can’t buy them at your local grocery store–you have to order them special, and they are more expensive than regular soap. So instead of being smart and going directly to sponge bathing I tried to go to an intermediate step where I still used regular soap and rinsed more liberally. You can say I went to bucket bathing.

I found myself a huge shallow container which I could set the shower chair in. This way I could have Grandpa seated on the shower chair and pour water over Grandpa without getting it all over the floor. It was a very ingenious setup. On bath day, after Grandpa finished his breakfast, I would slide the plastic container (it was actually a deep plastic lid) under his wheelchair and then have him stand up. At that point I would remove the wheelchair and place the shower chair under him instead. To avoid the problem with the cold shower chair, I laid towels over the chair (they could easily be washed). I would then pull down Grandpa’s pants and have him sit down on the shower chair. Then I finished getting him undressed. Since I never had to pick him up, that source of agitation was removed. Since his bare skin only touched fabric (clothes, or the towels over the shower chair) he never had the discomforting cold stimuli. And since I had a bowl of nice warm water which I scooped from to bathe him, there was no roar of the shower to confuse him.

It was an improvement. Nonetheless, I soon discovered it could be better. Having water poured over him was better for Grandpa than being tossed in the shower, but even that was discomforting. Imagine if you were sitting there and minding your own business and somebody suddenly dumped water over you. It wouldn’t matter if the water was just the right temperature. It would still be at least slightly disagreeable. Further, I was still getting Grandpa completely naked, and subconsciously he really didn’t like that and it got him wound up. It would be even better, I realized, if I could clean him without pouring water over him (to rinse off the soap) and if I didn’t have to have him completely naked.

In other words, give him a sponge bath.

Don’t be dumb like me. If someone is to the point where they need somebody else to bathe them–get them into the shower/tub and clean them–then it is time to switch to sponge bathing. If you’re to the point of giving that much assistance everyone involved will find it much easier. Tons easier. And the small expense of no-rinse soap is well worth it. Don’t be that cheap.

I got ConvaTec’s Aloe Vesta Body Wash & Shampoo. I am sure there are many more which are equally good. Whatever brand you get, I would make sure it has Aloe in it, because I think it is an excellent moisturizer. The Aloe Vesta I use leaves Grandpa’s skin feeling smooth and smelling really nice.

I actually give him a “washcloth bath” rather than a sponge bath. I mix a small amount of the shampoo in with 6 cups of water (the exact amount of shampoo may vary with brand) and then soak the washcloth to the point where it is very wet without dripping water all over the place. I still give him his bath right after breakfast on bath day, but I no longer make him get out of his wheel chair. Leaving him fully clothed, I first wash his head and face. Then I dry his head and face off. Then I wash his upper body, dry it, apply lotion, and put on his clean undershirt, shirt, etc. Then I pull up his pant legs and wash as much of his legs as I can, dry, and apply lotion. Since Grandpa is still currently able to stand, for the last step I have him stand up and grab the table to steady himself while I take off his pants and diaper, wash his bottom and manly parts, dry him, and put on a fresh diaper and pants.

I wish Alzheimer’s’s caregivers could be taught these things in advance. I wish they could have seen the “before” of how I used to do it in the shower and the “after” when I simply gave him a “sponge” bath. Before it was agitation for Grandpa, and stress for me. Before it was hard work, and near disasters for both of us. Now Grandpa is calm, and it may even be relaxing for him. My stress level over bathing has gone way down, and it is a lot less work.

The key is removing all of the upsetting stimuli.

Learning How to Forget

11th June 2009

The Struggle

Everybody knows Alzheimer’s is about forgetting. But only some people realize that Alzheimer’s is also about learning. It seems contradictory: Isn’t forgetting the opposite of learning? But it is true. There are two ways you can look at it. On the one hand, for the care giver Alzheimer’s is about learning–learning how to take care of the person with Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, for the person with Alzheimer’s is about learning how to deal with forgetting. How difficult the trip of Alzheimer’s is depends a lot on how well both the caregiver, and the suffer, learn to deal with the forgetting.

For the person with Alzheimer’s the learning how to deal with forgetting begins long before any outsider is aware of it. There are subtle–perhaps even unconscious at first–habits developed to cope with the first signs of forgetting. Then it grows worse, and becomes obvious–the Alzheimer’s victim stops old habits or changing his daily routine because something he used to do he can no longer remember to do. It is easily for the observer to simply think the person “forgot” and no longer remember that they used to do the particular activity. But in my experience caring for Grandpa how to do something is forgotten long before the memory that it was done is lost. The person who is learning well how to deal with their Alzheimer’s stops an activity because they realize they cannot do it. The person who is not learning how to deal with their Alzheimer’s as well will keep trying and trying–and always ending up in a disaster.

It is hard to learn how to deal with Alzheimer’s. It is hard for the care giver. But I have always found–in my times of frustration–that it is good to remember that learning how to deal with Alzheimer’s is even harder for the victim. I, at least, still have all of my mental facilities. Grandpa is in the un-enviable situation of trying to use his increasingly broken mental facilities to figure out how to deal with his broken mental facilities. Getting through everyday life is mentally exhausting. He looks it, too, when I put him to bed. He lays there, limp, sometimes nearly asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow. It is another day survived. Another day in the battle of learning how to forget.

Early on, Grandpa was more articulate in his attempts to “learn” how to deal with his forgetting. When he first began to have trouble making it to the bathroom during the night he let it be known that he need a “can” beside his bed so that he could use it when he couldn’t reach the bathroom. That was Grandpa thinking about the problem as best he could, and trying to come up with a solution. The problem with the solution was that in his muddle in the middle of the night making sense of the “can” or “commode” was generally no more successful that reaching the bathroom. Another solution Grandpa came up with was to stop drinking as much as possible, because, as he said, “It just goes right through me and I piss it out.” There was a certain logic to the solution, but of course it would have been dangerous to his health if he had been able to follow through with his vows. However, his natural thirst and great love for coffee meant his determination to solve his bathroom problems this way never lasted very long.

Other learning I had to help Grandpa through. It was a joint effort–I saw the direction things needed to go, and I had to coach Grandpa, and he had to accept my lead. This is where care giving often hits its worst straights. The care giver–in full control of their senses–realizes where things need to go and simply tries to impose the new reality on the patient. Friction (to put it mildly) is the result. The ideal solution is for the care giver to coach the patient (both verbally and physically) down the desired path, taking it slowly as the patient slowly learns the new routine. A patient that is more willing (or able) to learn to deal with their own forgetting will make this process much, much easier.

One example of this was Grandpa’s dentures. His nightly routine was to take out his teeth and wash them before putting them in water to soak for the night. As Grandpa’s condition deteriorated this routine would more and more often end up way off track and getting Grandpa to bed was becoming an increasing project. I realized that it was time to cut Grandpa cleaning his teeth out of the schedule, but Grandpa was very concerned about his teeth–he was always afraid someone might break them so he wasn’t willing to simply suddenly give up the care of his dentures. So I started by simply helping him at the sink. It was a natural place to start. Eventually I segued to bringing him to the bedroom without doing the teeth routine. At this point his memory was failing enough that he often forgot, until he was in bed, that he needed to do anything. Once he was in bed and realized he needed to take care of his teeth, I would say, “You just wait here. I’ll bring you the jar.” Then I would bring the container to him, and he would put his teeth in. This made him feel secure that they weren’t going to get “lost” or “broken.” Then I would promise to wash them for him, and we thus avoided a long drawn out “disaster” with Grandpa at the sink. We are now at the point where Grandpa trusts me with his teeth. When I set him down on his bed for the night I simply hold out my hand and say, “Teeth” and he spits them out for me. At least, when he remembers how to spit them out. Sometimes I have to go fishing for him. The point is, Grandpa didn’t simply “forget” how to take care of his teeth. It was a process of forgetting, but also of learning how to let someone else do it. We can become so fixated on the fact that the Alzheimer’s victim is “forgetting” that we fail to help them through the steps of learning how to deal with that forgetting.

Sometimes the learning is not precisely acceptance, but just resignation. You will hear stories (or perhaps have experienced yourself) the nightmare of trying to deal with the bathing or toilet needs of an Alzheimer’s victim who is absolutely recalcitrant. Sometimes this is the result of a care giver who is not sensitive to how the situation needs to be handled, but other times the Alzheimer’s patient can be completely incapable, but also completely unwilling to learn to deal with that new reality. They simply angrily, and sometimes violently, clean to the past.

In this case I have been very blessed. While Grandpa was (and as much as he can, still is) very modest, his resignation to his inability to bath himself and use the toilet has been, all things consider, fairly smooth. We have progressed in steps through me helping him with his bathing, and his toilet needs. He has never liked this, but has gone along without too much complaint. It’s not just that he has “forgotten” how it used to be–it is that some part of him has come to realize this is how it has to be. Sometimes he still complains that it “isn’t right” that he wets himself, or poops himself, but most of the time he just lets me clean him up and we both take it as the way it has to be.

The great struggle now is Grandpa learning how to deal with the fact that he cannot feed himself. Of all the things he has had to learn, this is perhaps the hardest, and there is little I can do to help except be there to help. With all of his being Grandpa wants to feed himself, but the cold facts of reality is that he is growing increasingly incapable. It is coming to the point where either I feed him, or he doesn’t eat.

It is painful to watch him struggle with this. It is painful to watch him struggle to figure out what contortions he might go through to get the spoon in his mouth. And it is painful to watch him fail in growing frustration and desperation as every spoonful fails to make it to his mouth–or reaches there empty. He curses and pounds at the table because he can no longer feed himself but he hasn’t yet learn to accept this forgetting. But we are getting there, more and more. He let’s me feed him more often, and more instinctively opens his mouth when I lift up the spoon and say, “Here, have a bite.” But it is hard to learn that you have forgotten everything.

The Little Things

And then, in the midst of all of the forgetting, and learning to forget, sometimes little things, new things, are simply learned. They are unimportant things, but they are reminders that Grandpa is still interacting with the world. One example is Life Cereal. Grandpa prefers his cereal sweetened, but doesn’t like the super-sweet cereals like Co-Co Puffs, or whatever. This meant that before I came his selection of cold cereal was basically brain flakes, corn flakes, cheerios, or Rice Crispies–all sprinkled with sugar. However, I realized that he got rather tired of his own selection (and also became unable to eat brain flakes) so I introduced him to Life Cereal. It is somewhat sweet, which meant I didn’t need to add any sugar, and was about the right consistency for Grandpa to eat. But offering him the cereal was a bit of a trick. Conversation went something like this:

Me: “Grandpa, would you like to try a new kind of cereal?”

Grandpa: “What is that?”

Me: “Life Cereal”

Grandpa: [blank look]

To someone with a failing memory the name “Life Cereal” is incomprehensible. Asking them if they would like some “Life Cereal” is like asking them if they’d like some “Warm Black” to eat. The juxtaposition of words has no meaning. I avoided this problem by simply giving it to him to try, and calling it the “other cereal” or “the square stuff.” Given Grandpa’s failing mind I doubted the new cereal would even stick in his mind, but he surprised me. I continued to give it to him intermittently, and then one night when I asked him what he would like for his bed night snack he said, “Oh, let’s have some of that Life Cereal.” Since I used that title with him rarely (if more than once or twice) this meant that (a) First Grandpa had read the title of the cereal on the box (b) recognized that he was eating that cereal (c) recalled it at a later date. Learning a new type of cereal is a pretty good feat for someone who is forgetting how to walk and talk.

Another small example is Grandpa learning to tuck his elbows in when I take his wheelchair through a doorway. When I first started taking Grandpa around the house in the wheelchair he would leave his arms jutting out over the side. If I was paying attention I would remember to tuck his arms in when we went through a doorway, but I forgot often enough that Grandpa would bang his elbows on the door frame. After several bangings I noticed that when we started wheeling down the hall toward the bedroom Grandpa would quickly tuck his elbows in. He had learned that if he left them out they would get banged. Of course he doesn’t always remember, but it is something he learned.

I Can’t Remember My Name

3rd June 2009

It is difficult, and perhaps pointless, to attempt to answer the question, “What is the worst thing about Alzheimer’s?” But I think the saddest part–and one which many people don’t even consider–is how aware a person can be of their failing abilities. This awareness does vary greatly from one person with Alzheimer’s to another, but I think all are more aware, to one degree or another, than most people suspect. To my thinking, if you don’t realize you’ve lost something, that will soften the blow of the loss. On the other hand, if you remember very well how you used to be able to walk, use the toilet, and feed yourself–that memory makes the loss of such things all the more painful.

For me, I can bear Grandpa’s increasing loss of his abilities well enough. It is life, and you live with it. But it is when he, on rare occasions, articulates an understanding of what he has lost, and how miserable that makes him, that I feel very sad.

A few days ago I was sitting in the living room with Grandpa, practicing my guitar playing. Grandma was moving about the house doing stuff. Whenever Grandpa is aware that someone is doing something, he wants to know what they are doing. So he attempts some form of the question “What are you doing?” or “What is going on?” . . . and often doesn’t understand the answer he gets, much to his frustration. Such was the case this time. Grandpa insistently queried Grandma about what she was going, Grandma gave brief and perhaps somewhat vague answers, and Grandpa said, “What? What did you say?” (It is his understanding of words that is failing, not his actual ability to hear.)

After a bit of confused sputtering Grandpa settled back with a disgusted sigh and said, “I don’t even know why I try. I can’t even remember my own name anymore.”

That may not be (quite) literally true, yet, but the plan statement by Grandpa himself revealed a self-awareness that was very saddening. It is bad enough to not remember your name, and not remember you ever had one, or what one is. It is worse to remember that you had a name, know it is important, and know you once remembered it, and know that you no longer do.

I know it is not the only thing Grandpa realizes he has lost, but it is always a sad to hear him recall his own condition.

***

In other, unrelated, news, I am of the firm opinion that nutrient drink feels vile. I buy the “plus” version for Grandpa because he needs the extra calories, and maybe because the manufacturer crams more nutrients into the same amount of liquid this contributes to the vile texture. In any case, as Grandpa spills his drink more and more, I am becoming intimately familiar with the sticky slimy, slippery, gooey feeling of nutrient drink. Given how it feels on my hands, I don’t know how anyone can stand to drink the stuff. The texture on my hands is nearly enough to make me gag–I can’t imagine choking it down my throat.

That said, I’m glad Grandpa seems to be of a different opinion. He drinks the stuff happily enough, and with 350 calories per 8 oz. it is probably the one thing keeping him from starving himself to death.

Bathing Trouble

24th March 2009

Grandpa’s trouble with bathing has followed the same trajectory as the rest of his life since Alzheimer’s began affecting him: First he needed a little help, then he needed more, and finally he needed a lot. At this point we’ve nearly reached the end of the road with his bathing situation. That is, the next step is being bed-ridden and getting a sponge bath.

In a way, this little aspect of his life gives a mini-picture of his decline. When I first came to care for Grandpa about two and a half years ago all he needed help with was getting the water the right temperature–he couldn’t get the right amount of hot and cold water himself, and particularly if it needed to be adjusted while he was in the shower he ran the risk of freezing or scalding himself if he turned the dial the wrong way. This meant that when I first arrived his dignity–and his independence–were mostly intact. Grandpa would decide it was time for him to take a shower or bath, I would draw the water, and he would undress and get in and wash himself. When he was done he would get out, dry himself off, and get dressed. However, even here he was beginning to have trouble. For, while he could get his clothes off, sometimes getting them all back on was a little more difficult. But even if he couldn’t button up his overshirt, he could at least get himself dressed to a point where he was dignified before he had to ask for help.

That was where we started. I knew that everything would be going downhill from there, and I dreaded it. Grandpa was very sensitive about both his dignity and his modesty and I could see all sorts of nightmare situations where the necessity of bathing and Grandpa’s deteriorating condition would come to a head on collision with that dignity and modesty. Two and a half years ago I looked forward with dread to the prospect of traveling that path. Now I look back, having traveled it. And I will tell you, while it wasn’t easy, we made it.

My driving concern in tackling this area of care-giving was to keep it from becoming a disaster. I didn’t want every shower to become a fight, and every need for bathing a major war. This required a deft touch–and at least the first half of this process I chronicled in some detail in the earlier pages of this blog. But here I will give a complete recap.

Grandpa fought the changes hardest in the beginning. He really didn’t want me around when he was naked but this caused all sorts of difficulties when he no longer could make it from the point of being fully dressed to undressed and in the shower. But instead of asserting the obvious, I let him work through the matter at his own pace. That is, instead of insisting, “Grandpa, you can’t do this by yourself anymore so I am going to help” I let him try to do it himself and when he became completely confused and stuck and said, “I need help!” I came to help him. He still didn’t like it, but at least he didn’t feel like my help was being forced on him. By this process we slowly worked from a situation where I was always out of the bathroom, to where I was there to help him through all the steps to getting into the shower. In the abstract Grandpa would have had a lot less “problems” if I had insisted on dictating to him, but the reality is we had a lot less fighting and less real problems because I let Grandpa go through the slow process of realizing he needed help. But it required a lot of patience and tongue biting.

The next problem was that as Grandpa grew increasingly unable to keep track of time and dates, and as it became increasingly difficult for him to wash himself, he came to dislike and avoid bathing more and more. I had to start suggesting that it was time for a shower or bath. And Grandpa began insisting, “Didn’t I just have one?”

Answer: “That was last week, Grandpa.”

“Well, I can’t be that dirty. It wasn’t that long ago.”

This was an opportune time for argument as Grandpa legitimately was intimidated by the prospect of bathing himself, and it also honestly felt like in his mind that he had just done it “yesterday” so to him it seemed like I was trying to force a shower on him every time he turned around. This could easily spiral into an argument of “I don’t need a bath” and “Yes, you do.” At first I managed to avoid this by playing a game of good cop and bad cop. I was the good cop, and Grandma was unwittingly the bad cop. When Grandpa needed to wash I would suggest that he take a shower. Grandpa would then indignantly deny that he needed one. Grandma would then get impatient and say, “Yes you do. Go take a shower!” Grandpa would then bluster and fume at Grandma, and I would tell him we would give him a shower, “Just to make Grandma happy.” He would rail about how unfair and demanding Grandma was, and I would go on about how we needed to keep her happy, and he would kind of grumbling agree with that, so it all became a matter of keeping Grandma happy, instead of an argument over whether he really needed a bath or not.

But that was always a dicey and stressful situation for me, because there was no guarantee that he would always be amenable to that sort of persuasion. Grandpa only had to decide he was sick of taking a bath “every day” (in his mind) to make Grandma happy and then I would be in real trouble. So I realized we needed a more fixed schedule which Grandpa would find appeasing and which I could use to persuade him. As a result, Saturday became “bath day.” It was only on Saturday when Grandpa had to take a bath or shower. Thus when he would say, “Didn’t I just take a bath?” I could say, “No, Grandpa, that was last Saturday. You only take a bath on Saturday, remember?” Then he would have to grudgingly concede that it was only mandated for Saturdays, and if it was indeed Saturday then it must be time for his bath. I discovered the way I could get him to come the most agreeably was to say, “It’s Saturday, Grandpa. That means it’s bath day. Do you want to take your shower now?” And he would always say, “It is? I don’t want to take it now. Let’s wait until later.” And I would say, “Okay, we’ll do it in a little while.” Then Grandpa would sit there about a minute, thinking about the prospect of a shower hanging over him and about a minute and a half later he would say, “Aaah, we might as well do it now and get it over with.”

It’s all psychology, folks.

However, as well as this particular trick worked for a time, I knew it wasn’t a permanent solution. As it became increasingly unpleasant and difficult for Grandpa to bathe I realized there would eventually come a time that whenever asked–no matter what the stipulations or circumstances–Grandpa would simply refuse to take a bath or shower because he would find the prospect simply overwhelming. Through my time of caring for Grandpa I have always tried to give him as much dignity of choice as possible. It is one of the fundamental things that makes us feel respected and valued when some asks our opinion and abides by our wishes. But the very ability to make decisions (and certainly rational decisions) is the very thing Alzheimer’s destroys, so in caring for Grandpa I’ve had to maintain the delicate balance of giving him as much ability to make a decision as possible and yet being prepared to gracefully slide into the “no questions asked” mode. It was with great relief when I finally made the complete switch. Knowing when to make the switch–when Grandpa wouldn’t be terribly offended and hurt–was a matter of gut instinct. It came to the point where I realized being asked whether he was ready for his shower only agitated Grandpa and he was forgetful enough to the point where I could just take him to the shower as it was of course what we were going to do and the fact that we hadn’t discussed it could slip past Grandpa’s mind entirely.

At first I found a very “devious” method of getting him into the shower. Back when he was still using the toilet some of the time, sometime shortly after breakfast he would need to go pee (the morning coffee coming through). I would take him to the bathroom and set him on the toilet. As he was using the toilet I would start up the shower and get things ready. Then when he was ready to get off the toilet, I would help him get up, get undressed, and get into the shower. Grandpa never thought to question it. All the cues were there: He was in the bathroom, the shower water was running, he was in a partial state of undress having gone to the bathroom–so of course we finish getting undressed and climb into the shower.

It’s all psychology, folks.

About the time Grandpa was no longer able to travel to the bathroom was the time he started using the wheelchair. We no longer had the cover of the pee trip to the bathroom, but I found at that point it was no longer needed. I would get the shower all running, and when Grandpa finished eating breakfast I would wheel him to the bathroom door, help him up, and start getting him undressed. Any slight hesitation on his part would be met with “We’re doing your shower. Here’s your washcloth. Hop in.” At which point there was nothing to do but hop in.

This ended any difficulty with arguments about taking a bath or shower. But it wasn’t the end of the actual physical difficulties in taking a shower.

Fairly early on (maybe at the very beginning, I can’t remember clearly) I started washing Grandpa’s hair. It was one of the first things he forgot to clean for himself–his head being something he wouldn’t see–and he was readily agreeable to me washing his hair. Washing other parts of him were a different matter entirely, and this started to become an issue as he began to forget to washing increasingly more of his body. When you can’t remember what you have washed, or what you need to wash, or even what you’re supposed to be washing–well, it’s very hard to wash. As the became a problem at first I helped Grandpa through the process verbally. “Okay, now wash your chest. Don’t forget to wash . . .” and so on. While this worked for a time, it was a rapidly failing solution. Quickly following the problem of forgetting what you have washed or need to wash is the problem of not understanding what someone is telling you to wash. You’ve hit the end of this method when the instruction, “Okay, Grandpa, now it’s time to wash your legs,” is met with the response of, “Yep, I’m working on that,” while he vigorously scrubs the side of the tub. There comes the time when if something is going to be done, you have to do it yourself.

From simply washing Grandpa’s hair I moved to also washing his back. It was an easy progression as it can be hard to wash one’s own back, so I say, “Here, let me get your back for you,” and there doesn’t really seem to be any reason to object. Then, once I got Grandpa accustomed to my hands on his back, I simply began progressing to wash the rest of him as the natural course of things–and Grandpa gave no objection. Except when it came to the matter of washing his genitals. That was the one catch–that was the point where we couldn’t just ease out of his modesty and dignity. I pretty well knew that Grandpa would have to be practically comatose before he would willingly agree to someone else washing his genitals and events have proved me right.

It is a miserable situation for us both. Grandpa is no longer able to do it for himself, he doesn’t want me to do it for him, and I don’t want to do it for him. But it must be done. And he can’t do it. So I must do it. And it is terribly, exceedingly, awkward. Invariably, the reaction is something along the lines of “What the HELL are you doing?”

What kind of answer can you give to that? “Um . . . cleaning you,” seems completely inadequate. In fact, there isn’t an satisfactory explanation that can be given because so long as Grandpa has a functioning brain cell in his body he will know he doesn’t need someone else cleaning that. There is no explanation, no excuse, that can get around that. So . . . my only solution is to pick my battles. Some weeks I just let that particular aspect slide if I get the sense he is particularly feisty, or inclined to get angry. Otherwise, my general methodology is (a) Do it fast, and (b) distract him.

My typical distraction method is to say, “Okay, Grandpa, it’s time for you to wash your face.” Then, while he is washing his face I quick wash the other end and by the time he realizes what is going on and can get angry I’m all done. Thus a confrontation is (just) avoided. It isn’t fun, but I can just squeak past having a big issue develop over it.

And so I have finally got to the point where I can do all of the washing for Grandpa.

The other issue was getting Grandpa into and out of the tub.

When I first began helping Grandpa I encouraged him to take a bath rather than a shower because I figured it was easier to work with him, and easier on him because he wouldn’t have to stand. But it became clear that sitting down in the bottom of the tub was very uncomfortable and growing increasingly difficult for Grandpa. So we switched to having him stand for a shower. But as he became increasingly weak, having him stand for the full length of a shower started to become unfeasible. So we got a shower chair so he could sit while taking a shower. That was the solution of choice for a long time. But even that solution wouldn’t last forever.

As Grandpa has grown increasingly weaker, it has become ever more difficult for him to step over the side of the tub into the shower. Every weekend it was evident that this was a developing problem and that eventually he wasn’t going to be able to do it. Then, several weeks ago, that day arrived. I got Grandpa up to the edge of the tub and said, “Okay, now step in,” and he couldn’t do it. Physically it was difficult–mentally, he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t understand what I wanted him to do. He held his hands under the water and started washing his face–all while standing on the bathroom floor.

I cajoled. I instructed. I prompted. Nothing unstuck his mind. It wasn’t that I couldn’t physically make him get into the tub. I could. I am physically strong enough that I could practically haul him up by the scruff of his neck and deposit him in the tub. But the fact that I am capable of winning any fight is beside the point. My entire goal is to avoid bath time from becoming World War III–no matter if I am capable of winning World War III every time. And if I am going to physically force Grandpa to do something, it is going to be war, no matter how “gently” I force him.

For that day there was nothing to do except as gently as possible lift one foot and set in inside the tub and then propel him forward and lift his other foot and put it in the tub–all the while explaining what we were doing. Of course Grandpa didn’t understand–about all he could figure out is that I was making him do something. Then I tried to get him to turn around and sit down in the shower chair, and that didn’t work either. He grabbed hold of the shower chair to “make it work” and wouldn’t let go. Getting him to turn around and sit down would have involved prying his fingers off the chair and forcing him to turn around–something I knew would quickly become a wrestling match. So I cut my losses. I had him in the shower–that was good enough. I quickly cleaned him while he stood there, holding onto the shower chair and shouting at the top of his lungs.

We survived, but that little incident made it clear to me it was time to altar the tub setup. The tub had a set of sliding glass shower doors–something that works fine if your are a healthy adult who can bath yourself, but they have been constant trouble for me in taking care of Grandpa. They make it so I can only access half of the tub at a time, which means I’m constantly playing a game of sliding doors to get at Grandpa. With the doors installed I cannot have full and uninhibited access to Grandpa or the shower chair. In short, getting Grandpa in and out of the tub was always an awkward manhandling experience since we’re always dealing with a doorway that only one of us can fit through at a time.

The shower doors had to go. In their place I hung a shower curtain, which I could push completely out of my way. This has made things so much easier for me. Now, instead of laboriously trying to coach Grandpa to step into the tub I can simply scoop him up in my arms and set him down on the shower seat. When I am done showering him I can push the curtain out of the way and start drying him off while he is still resting on the shower seat. And instead of making him step over the side of the tub to get out, I can simply lift his legs and rotate them over the side of the tub so he can stand up directly on the bathroom floor. If need be, I could simply pick him up and carry him away without him needing to stand at all. None of this was possible with the shower doors still installed. I knew there was a reason I hated them.

So, we are now at the point where I am, or nearly am, doing everything for Grandpa. I now can undress Grandpa, pick him up and put him in the shower, wash him, dry him, and pick him up and take him out. Right now he still has the strength to stand while I dress him, but if need be I could also dress him while he was seated. Only when he becomes bed-ridden and unable to sit up any longer will I no longer be able to give him a shower any more.

Having overcome all of these obstacles gives me a certain peace of mind. Having avoided bathing becoming a major and constant source of contention is a great relief for me.

Lunch Today

26th February 2009

I decided to tell the story of lunch today, to give a snapshot of life . . .

“Would you like some lunch?” I asked Grandpa after I came back from my bike ride. “Are you hungry?”

“Are you hungry?” Grandpa repeated back to me.

“Would you like something to eat?” I asked, rephrasing the question.

“Yes, I would,” he said. “But not just anything. What do you got? Some of the stuff you feed me I wouldn’t give to a cat.” (He didn’t get that last sentence so clear, but I managed to decipher the gist of what he meant.)

“All sorts of stuff,” I answered evasively. “What do you want?” I typically try to avoid giving Grandpa a run-down of choices because he can never remember them all, and often if given a definite selection he will simply decide they all don’t sound good enough. (If you’ve ever had a little kid who didn’t want anything you offered him for lunch, you know how that goes.)

“Well I don’t know,” he said. “What have you got?”

“Lots of stuff,” I said. “Imagine that you could have whatever you want–what would you pick?”

“Well, that’s not very nice,” Grandpa said.

“Okay, would you like soup or sandwiches?” It is key to keep the question always an either/or and work down to a final selection through a process like twenty questions. I do the same with breakfast, where the first question is hot or cold and then work down from that point. Not only does this help eliminate confusion by limiting choices and what he must remember (though he still can get confused) it also reinforces a sense of inevitability–what you eat has to be hot or cold after all–which helps to avoid the situation where he decides nothing is good enough.

“Yeah, I guess I’ll have that,” Grandpa said.

“Soup or sandwiches?” I repeated.

“Sandwich sounds good.”

“Would like you tuna fish or grilled cheese?”

“I’ll have the Dur-guh,” Grandpa said, pointing at a spot on his pants.

“Grilled cheese?” I prompted.

“No the other one.”

“Tuna fish?”

“Yeah, that sounds good,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll get you a tuna fish sandwich in a little bit.” I turned to go.

“Now wait a minute,” Grandpa said. “I also want a . . . I want . . some nu-hunn and . . . and . . .”

“I’ll get you some drink too,” I said.

“Yeah, okay,” Grandpa said. “What are you going to have?”

“I’ll get you something good,” I said vaguely. Grandpa always wants to drink coffee, but since he has stopped eating well I try to get him to drink as much nutrient drink as possible and typically limit his coffee to two cups when he first gets up in the morning. I buy the “plus” variety of store brand nutrient drink which means in 8 oz. there are 350 calories. However, Grandpa has no clue what “nutrient drink” means and if asked what he wanted he would always say “coffee” so I generally try to keep the issue of drink to simply “yummy and tasty” without getting into particulars.

I made Grandpa his tuna sandwich and cut it into quarters and stood the quarters up on their ends on his plate. As Grandpa’s ability to eat has deteriorated I have altered how I present his food. There was a time when he wanted to eat everything–including sandwiches–with an implement. At that time I switched him over to always using a bowl and spoon because he couldn’t remember how to use a fork properly and if he scooped from a plate he dumped most of the food on his lap. When he was using a spoon I would cut the sandwich into bite sized pieces. Now he is having difficulty figuring out how to use any implement I cut the sandwich into quarters and stand the quarters up on end so they are easy to see and pick up, because if a quarter of a sandwich is laying down, Grandpa has difficulty getting his fingers around it.

After I changed Grandpa’s diaper I put him in the wheelchair and moved him out to the kitchen. Eating the sandwich started out with difficulty. First he thought to pick up the entire plate, and I prompted him that it might be better to pick up the sandwich instead. Then he made moves to pick up several quarters at once, and I suggested it would be better to take one quarter at a time and I rearranged two quarters of the sandwich, demonstrating. Finally, everything clicked together in his mind and he picked up a quarter of the sandwich and started eating. He finished off the sandwich without any further trouble.

“Would you like some potato chips?” I asked after he finished the sandwich.

“Yeah, I guess that sounds good. I would like that,” he said.

So I got out the nearly empty bag of potato chips.

“But only . . . only give . . . just a . . .” he said.

“You only want a little bit?” I said.

“Yeah, the bag is almost . . . not much.”

“Oh, you don’t need to worry about using them up,” I said. “There is a another bag.”

“Oh, okay,” he said, visibly relieved.

He started out eating the potato chips all right, but things quickly went downhill. Perhaps he muddled up taking a drink from his cup with eating the chips, or maybe he just forgot what he was doing. The end result was Grandpa reaching down to the table top, pinching his fingers together and lifting his empty hand to his mouth, studious holding them to his lips, and gently blowing on them. Befuddled, he realized this wasn’t accomplishing anything, and returned his concentration to the table. After a little bit he rediscovered his cup and picked that up for a drink. Then he set the cup back down–this time directly on his plate of chips–and began pushing the plate and cup around the table.

After he finished pushing his plate and cup around he returned to pinching his fingers together and lifting the empty hand to his mouth, saying, “Awww, shit,” every time the movement didn’t result with food appearing in his mouth. This did not improve, even after I suggested he needed to pick up a chip. At this point I realize that he had (for the moment) forgotten how to eat. For a long time now Grandpa has done a lot of “ghosting” where he–very convincingly–uses an imaginary implement to eat. When ghosting he can be amazingly accurate in his movements–scooping from the bowl and inserting into his mouth–except all is for naught because the spoon he is using doesn’t exist. This can be fixed if you insert a spoon into his hand. The ghost eating will then become real. But as Grandpa grows worse there are times when it goes beyond ghosting to where Grandpa is no longer entirely sure of what needs to be done to get food in his mouth. He will clench his fingers and lift his hand from table to mouth in the vague memory that such is how food appears in the mouth–but it is the faint memory of once remember habit, not something that can turn into the actual deed.

“I guess you forgot how to eat,” I said.

“I guess,” Grandpa said. “Something like that. I don’t know what’s going on.”

So I fed him the rest of the chips, and he was agreeable to opening his mouth so I could stick them in. Halfway through the process he dumped the rest of his chips on the table. Typically, when Grandpa no longer remembers what to do with his meal he dumps it on the table. This has meant that we have ended up with a lot of food and drink on the table. I continued to feed Grandpa the chips while he continued to “feed” himself imaginary things. At this point he had his cup in his other hand, but wasn’t paying any attention to it, so the cup continued to list further and further in his hand until he started unconsciously pouring his drink on the table whilst eating imaginary things with the other hand. I had to rescue the drink from him and clean up the mess. Betwixt and between all of this I was also eating my own lunch.

After I finished feeding Grandpa his chips I gave him back his cup and he managed to eventually finish his drink. For lunch he had: one tuna fish sandwich, a few chips, and 8 oz. of nutrient drink (minus a bit lost in the spill). For Grandpa, this was a very good lunch. As you can see, it is something of a project, and one that is almost constantly on the verge of disaster. Sometimes he has a much worse lunch.

I wheeled him back to the living room and moved him onto the couch. I then went back to the kitchen and began working on a roast for supper. Grandpa began calling for my uncle Joel.

“Joel? Hey Joely! Joel!?”

“Yeah, what do you want?” I said from the kitchen.

“Is that you, Joel?” he called out

“It’s me. What do you want?” I called back.

“I want you to say, ‘Hi, Pa.'”

“Hi, Pa,” I dutifully said, moving about the kitchen.

“Good. How are you doing?”

“Just fine. Everything is good here.”

There was a little more disjointed conversation as Grandpa fretted in a muddled sort of way about the general woes of Joel’s life until he went silent again. Then:

“Gene?” (Grandpa’s brother.)

“Yeah?” I said.

“Go lay down.”

Then a little later:

“Ma? Hey mother? Ma?”

“Yeah?” I said.

“I just want you to know I love you very much, and I wish . . .” he trailed off into incomprehensibility.

I decided all his talking meant he was very lonely and went out to sit with him for a bit before I returned to my work. Shortly after I left him to return to putting the roast in the oven, he fell asleep.

I have a little bit of an uncomfortable relationship with answering for other people because I don’t feel comfortable deceiving Grandpa but at the same time I want him to have an answer. Sometimes it is easier because by the context of the situation Grandpa isn’t trying to be precise and is simply calling a name because he wants someone to answer. Other times it is not so clear. It is a fine line to walk . . . not only for my own conscience sake but also because sometimes Grandpa is cognizant enough to realize that I’m not the person he called for. Today I felt I stepped a little over the line because while I typically answer for “Ma” “Gene” or anyone else in my normal old voice, I–in the spur of the moment–began mimicking my uncle Joel’s voice when answering for him. On the one hand it was a bit funny, but on the other hand it didn’t seem appropriate.

. . . And that is a snapshot of life.

Better Days, Better Nights

8th February 2009

There is an unfortunate tendency to dwell on disasters. It makes compelling reading, and often the disasters are the only thing which bestir us enough to write. As a result of this fact, my posts here have tended to be a long litany of one bad thing after another, with most good things simply becoming the silence in-between the posts. All of this has, perhaps, lent a rather skewed perspective on my current life.

Today I will try to balance the scales a little bit by stopping to observe the good. I have written at length in the past about terrible nights I have suffered through–and I am sure I will have more before this whole adventure is out–but what is of note at the present is how much better my nights have been. I currently can almost get an uninterrupted night of sleep, and the situation has so much improved that I can actually set an alarm for myself to get up at a fixed time in the morning.

This is a very drastic change. Before, the nights were so typically bad I had to take every day as it came. You couldn’t schedule yourself to get up at 7:00 AM, or any hour, if you didn’t know if you would be spending half of the night up. Because the nights were so bad I basically tried to get up as late as possible every day–which typically was not very late, either because of Grandpa or my own inability to sleep in. Getting up late is completely anathema to my nature, and all of this contributed to a rather disjointed start to my day and did not help me focus on getting things done. But it really couldn’t be helped (short of becoming super-human) so I had to learn to shrug my shoulders and simply do what I could in any given day.

Even so, I always watched to see if somehow I might be able to get back to a punctual rise in the morning. And that time has finally come.

Unfortunately, this improvement in my personal circumstance is a reflection of the increasing collapse of Grandpa’s condition. My nights are more peaceful because Grandpa is a combination of too exhausted and too incapable to make as much ruckus as before. Most nights now all he has the energy to do is wake once in the middle of the night and make a half hearted attempt to find the bathroom (actually, that is only the first three seconds–the rest of the time is just spent on his hands and knees playing with the carpet, or some such). Such is only the loss of 15 minutes, or a half hour, and in the end there is no disaster, no strife, and I just tuck Grandpa back into bed once he tires himself out. Blissfully, there are no soaked clothes, and no floors to mop up. This greatly improves one’s rest at night.

Again, my day’s are better because Grandpa’s are worse. It is sad to say that, but it is true. Before, I spent a good deal of my time trying to keep Grandpa happy. There was breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, supper, and bed-night snack. And mixed in with all of those was the many trips we would take to the bathroom, and the many times I would have to save him from himself in his trips around the house. Now weakness and apathy has cut all of that down. There are no trips to the bathroom, (save the occasional time we manage to catch a bowel movement in time,) and all the snacks and coffee breaks are gone as Grandpa becomes increasingly un-interested (and unable) to eat. There is no more saving Grandpa from his self-made disasters, because mostly he is stuck on the couch all day. It’s pretty easy to take care of someone who sits on the couch all day, especially when you compare it to someone who used to wander around the house and get into all sorts of trouble.

It is not that Grandpa has become some quiet little thing. I would say he spends about half of the day either quietly occupying himself, or dozing. The other half of his time he sits on the couch and makes a lot of noise. But when you know he is pretty well stuck on the couch you feel a lot more comfortable ignoring his noise, which means I can keep a little more structure to my day.

All of this, I must admit, has been good for me and has led to a marked quality improvement in my life. But I feel sad for Grandpa. About all he can do is sit on the couch, and about all he wants is for me to sit on the couch with him. I feel a bit like the cruel self-centered caregiver in that I go about doing my stuff while Grandpa sits on the couch calling for me. I sometimes ignore him, sometimes call back, and sometimes sit with him. But the simple fact is that I cannot spend my entire day sitting on the couch, so after a few minutes with him I’m back up and away and soon as I get up Grandpa starts calling again. When you have no memory you get lonely very fast.

This is not to say everything will just get easier for me from this point on in. My sense is that we are at a plateau. Things will get bad again, eventually. But if my sense is right, when things get bad again as a prolonged state of living (not just the occasional bad night) it will be because we are in the final, terminal, descent and I will be engaged in the very intensive hospice care. It will be the most brutal part of my care-giving experience, but it won’t be the longest, and the end of that will be The End.

Which is all the more reason to enjoy this present calm, and to be thankful for the days in which everyone is healthy and everything is peaceful.

If Anyone Is Counting

3rd February 2009

About two months ago I wrote about a “poop disaster” which involved the living room carpet, and Grandpa walking through his own feces and generally making a mess of things. A charming, pleasant, story, if you recall. Today I have a little addendum of sorts.

A few weeks ago I was getting Grandpa ready for his shower. I had the water on, the bathroom prepped, and was getting Grandpa undressed. At this point I discovered he had done a little bit of poop in his diaper. No big deal–a little bit of clean up with some wipes and we could get on with the shower. I was about halfway through cleaning him up when Grandpa announced, “I have to take a crap.”

Now, from past experience I knew Grandpa’s announcement didn’t mean, “I have to take a crap sometime in the near future. There is no hurry, just whenever we get a convenient moment.” Quite the contrary, “I have to go” means, “I have to go right now.” If he has to go pee, that either means he is presently going, or else he will be in fifteen seconds, which in either case isn’t really helpful, because there is no way you’ll get him to the bathroom. For a bowel movement, his announcement of impending need might give you a little more time–like one minute, to avoid a cleanup job, if you’re lucky.

As it happened, our situation at the time was less than idea. We were in the bathroom doorway–so the toilet was nearby–but we weren’t at the toilet. Worse, I was on my knees behind Grandpa cleaning his unprotected butt and upon his announcement I now had between fifteen seconds and a minute to get that unprotected butt onto the toilet or face a mess all over the place, myself possibly included.

What followed was a mad scramble.

My response is something like, “Aaahhh! Okay, okay. Just hang on a minute! Hang on.”

In those few seconds I realized I would have a big problem getting Grandpa to the toilet in time. When going anywhere on his feet, or doing anything, Grandpa doesn’t–very understandably–want to go fast. Getting him off the couch and into the wheelchair to take him to the kitchen table for supper can take several minutes. The problem now was, I didn’t have several minutes to coach him to slowly walk three steps across the bathroom and turn around to sit down on the toilet. Sometime within those several minutes he would simply start pooping, wherever we were, or whatever we were doing.

The only possible chance we had of getting is naked bottom onto the toilet before everything broke lose was if I manhandled him. In those few seconds I grasped the situation and sprang into action, seizing him from behind under his armpits and propelling him forward. What followed was a quick flurry, as Grandpa tried to grab on to various objects, I tried to keep him from grabbing on to various objects while propelling him forward and at the same time trying to keep myself–as much as possible–out of the line of fire from his behind, in case things didn’t go so well. It’s a delicate art, but Grandpa suffered a bit as I removed him rather roughly from the bathroom doorknob, made him preform a pirouette and deposited him on the toilet.

Elapsed time: Less than thirty seconds. Grandpa securely on the toilet? Yes. Success then, right? Yes!

. . . But wait, (that dawning second when the mind takes fresh stock of its surroundings,) why do I have this very warm sensation on my foot? The very moment you have the thought you know the answer, but still you must look. I look down at my foot. Yep. My bare foot is partly embedded in a warm, moist, a very fresh miniature cow-pie. A good attempt on my part, but by the evidence I was about six inches and five seconds too late. It appears that as I was swinging Grandpa down in the final descent, just before he reached the toilet, he spontaneously let loose. It was a neat pile. It missed his pants. But my bare foot landed halfway in it.

“Gaaaahhhh!” It’s not a scream. It’s more the muffled, teeth-clenching sort of “I knew it! I just knew it!” exclamation.

“What’s the matter?” Grandpa asks, slightly alarmed by my drawn out articulation. “Are you hurt?”

“No,” I said, collecting myself. “I just got poop all over my foot.”

Grandpa laughed.

(I’m not sure if he entirely understood–but I think my strangled exclamation, followed by my sigh and matter-of-fact declaration struck his funny-bone.)

In the end, of course, this was not a big disaster. The bathroom floor is linoleum, so clean up was half a minute, not the several hours required for the living room carpet. True, I’ll probably never forget the warm sticky softness of poop on my bare foot, but–after all–what is life about if not experiences?

So, if anyone is keeping count, Grandpa has stepped in poop with his bare foot (see previous post) and now I have stepped in pooped with my bare foot. Let’s hope it stops there.

Catching Up

2nd January 2009

I word of explanation for the long silence, and this sudden flood of posts.

Okay, so there actually isn’t a good excuse. Everything that I just dumped on Twilight I wrote at some time previously, and posted elsewhere and could have, should have, posted here sooner. It should have also been posted here because I know some people only check this blog (or, as the case may be, are e-mailed the posts on this blog). It would have been very easy for me to post the entires to this blog back when I wrote them. My only excuse is that my head isn’t screwed on straight, and whenever I wrote something it was usually in the mode of “write-and-run” and I always thought “I’ll post that to Twilight tomorrow” or some such, and of course when tomorrow came something else was on my plate.

. . . So a big backlog of posts built up. As this is the beginning of a new year, I decided to try to catch up on things and summarily sat down and posted everything at once. You, of course, do not have to read them all in one sitting.

Grandpa’s Guitar

2nd January 2009

I wrote this 01/01/09.

G . . . F . . . E . . . D . . . C . . . E . . . A . . . G. The notes slide down the scale, clear and sharp, except where I flub it.

I’m learning the guitar. If you had asked me four, or maybe even two years ago if I was going to learn the guitar I would have shook my head in disbelief. It has been something of a turn-about for me. I admit I’m a bit surprised, but maybe I shouldn’t be.

There is some musical talent on both sides of my family. My mom’s sister Marianne plays the guitar, and my dad’s father played the piano, guitar, and mandolin. His father played in a band–a trumpet, I think it was. I have two cousins who can play more than one instrument, and I don’t know how many can play at least some instrument. So there is a definite musical lineage in my family, but up until this year I have been a wasteland of that particular talent.

When I was a child my parents tried to encourage me in musical directions. They sunk hard earned money into an electronic keyboard and music lessons, but I partook of them with tepid interest at best and pretty much leaped at the chance to give it up. Not only did it require diligence to practice but it was boring and I really had no appreciation for the music. It had no relevance to my life–if I was going to do something creative I would draw a picture or tell a story or make something. Music, apparently, wasn’t my natural outlet for self-expression.

My first experience with a guitar was as a little child. My mom’s sister Marianne, being a generous aunt, gave us little kids an old practice guitar to play with. I wish I could say that sparked my musical interest, but it didn’t. It didn’t even leave me with a positive impression of guitars, though perhaps through no fault of its own. It was a classical, nylon string, guitar. It may be that I don’t care for the sound of classical guitars. In any case, it was certainly not a quality guitar (hence, children playing with it) and it was surely out of tune. But as a child I didn’t account for all those facts. To me it simply sounded bad, and I couldn’t figure out what anyone would like about a guitar. The impression stuck with me, even though I had the chance to see other people properly play steel-stringed guitars. For me, the first impression when someone mentioned a guitar remained that of a dull sounding thing not pleasing at all.

For many years the guitar remained unfairly stereotyped in my mind, but as I grew older my opinion of music as a whole changed. I began to enjoy listening to music (certainly the first step one must take if one is going to have any interest in things musical) and while I am not now a rabid fan of every musical genre, I do enjoy a variety of music. Sometime in my teens it occurred to me that it would be enjoyable to know how to play a musical instrument. But at that point time, money, and space were all constrained. If I was going to attempt learning any musical instrument I would have to consider it as something more than a “nice idea.” And so my musical ambition languished.

Then sometime in 2007 or 2008 I decided I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. Caring for Grandma and Grandpa had changed the situation in my life and learning a musical instrument seemed like a good way to keep myself occupied, engaged, and learning something new. It seemed, at least, like a symbolic way of saying I wasn’t stagnating. And it helped that I discovered that a basic guitar for learning was (as far as musical instruments are concerned) quite cheap. The idea of sinking a large amount of money into something that would turn out to be only a fantasy after six months was possibly more intimidating than the idea of attempting a musical instrument itself.

For a while I played around with the idea of getting a guitar, and finally in 2008 more definitive intentions began to coalesce. In the fall Grandma heard of my interest in learning the guitar, and immediately suggested my uncle Kevin could give me Grandpa’s old guitar. “It’s just sitting in his attic,” she said. This was news to me. I had been under the impression that Grandpa had sold off his guitar many years ago and its presence in the family was nothing more than a dim memory. So it was with some bemusement, and a bit of excitement, that I received a battered guitar case from my Uncle Kevin in the middle of October. Already Grandma had dug up Grandpa’s old guitar lesson books. Everything was falling into place.

By this time part of my mind knew that the reality of guitars was not represented in the un-tuned and abused object we had played with as little kids. But some part of me still had not shaken those deep-seated memories, because when my fingers brushed across the strings of the guitar they twanged with a clear sweet sharpness that surprised me. “Wow,” I thought. “That sounds nice.” Somehow, learning an instrument didn’t seem like that dull thing of my childhood memories.

So I am learning how to play Grandpa’s guitar. It is a bittersweet experience, in a way. What I have is a piece of history, a piece of Grandpa’s history from a long time ago.

I know very little about guitars, but I am sure this one is not a very good one. Grandpa would not spend a lot of money on himself. The guitar lesson books he bought were used, and I’m pretty sure the guitar was second-hand and second-rate when he bought it also. Now it has sat for years in an attic. The guitar case is worn, and stained, and the guitar itself shows many signs of age. The tuning keys are stiff, and grooves are worn in the fretboard where the strings have been pressed against the frets. The body of the guitar itself is cracked in both the front and back (from excessive drying in a very hot, dry attic, I suspect,) and the wood of the body feels slightly punky in places. It is surprising the guitar sounds as good as it does, but it can still tune and play. It is good enough for me.

The guitar is older than I am. Grandpa’s lesson books now sit on my shelf, the worn covers stating, “The New Mel Bay Modern Guitar Method.” Inside the front cover the names of two previous owners are scribbled out. The completed date scrawled beside the early lessons is from June 1974, seven years before I was born. Flipping through the old lesson books, and pulling out the guitar with its strap, and the spare strings still carefully coiled in their packages at the bottom of the case, is like rummaging through a distant part of Grandpa’s life. When I brush my hands over the strings, touching strings that Grandpa played decades ago, and the notes hum out, it is like I am feeling and hearing Grandpa’s past–a part of his life I have never seen or heard before. A part of his life from long before he became what he is now. A time when he could still learn something that I am struggling to learn. It is somehow quietly sad, and when playing such an instrument it is hard to not think about how time marches on, leaving so many things behind.

At first I was hesitant to practice in front of Grandpa. From my past attempts to share recorded music with him, I already knew he had very particular opinions about what he liked. One song he might enjoy very much, and the next he would proclaim as “terrible” when I might find only a trifling difference in quality. Even more than that, his Alzheimer’s had made him increasingly sensitive to the mood of music. A long, slow piece of cello music would make him feel terribly sad and afraid, and he could not abide listening to it. Further, as someone who had mastered the guitar I suspected Grandpa might be particularly sensitive to someone playing it poorly, and all around I didn’t want to torment him.

I waited until I had mastered something resembling a song before I tried playing in front of Grandpa. It was then I discovered that I was wrong. Grandpa enjoyed listening. Not only did he enjoy listening, but he was highly approving of my learning. I don’t recall having ever discussed learning musical instruments with Grandpa, but for a man typically dour I found him surprisingly positive on learning how to play. It was then I realized that I had touched on something near to his heart.

“That’s a nice guitar,” he said, brightening at what was perhaps my first appearance with it. “Where did you get that?”

“It’s your old guitar, Grandpa,” I said. “Do you remember it?”

“It is?” he said, sounding half uncertain, half confused. “Well, I think it is good.”

I have been playing for a little over two months now. I am learning, slowly, but I have much more to learn. I have no expectation of becoming a great guitar player. I would be happy if I eventually became able to play average songs with average ability. But that is only later, maybe. Right now I have finished learning the first position and I am beginning on learning chords. Right now I hate chords, especially the F chord. The real problem is holding down two strings with my first finger. I can hold down one string with my first finger, one with my second, and one with my third. But holding down two strings with my first finger while holding down one with the other two is presently just about agony to pull off, and we’re not talking about in a musically successful fashion. I’ll never be able to do it, I think. But I am old enough, and mature enough, to recognize the source of that feeling, and how I have felt it every step of the way in this learning process and how each time I have managed to overcome.

I have found it enjoyable to play guitar music. But I have also found the simple learning itself to be enjoyable. It has been a long time since I’ve learned something so completely new. The struggle, the dawning understanding, and the opening of a new world is something in itself. It reminds me of the newness in life, when it can seem like everything is dull and repetitive.

Grandpa listens when I play for him. It would be untrue to say that he listens with constant attentiveness. I sit in the middle of the living room and play. Grandpa sits on the couch. Sometimes he listens while he plays with his magazines, idly folding and tearing sheets of paper. Sometimes he falls asleep as I play. Sometimes he just sits quietly and listens. And sometimes his mind wanders off, perhaps carried by my music to distant memories. There have been days when it seems like my music brings up thoughts. He will interrupt and say, “But what about . . . what about . . .” but then he can’t remember what he was going to say, or ask, and I haven’t a clue. Then there are the times when he forgets what he is doing. One evening he loudly announced, “Where am I and what am I doing?” To which I blandly replied. “You’re sitting on the couch listening to me play the guitar.”

Sometimes he doesn’t know I am playing the guitar, and perhaps is not even aware of the sound. But other times I know he is. He will say, “That sounded good” when I finish a piece. Or if I hit a string badly he will quite seriously (and innocently) say, “Did you hear that? It sounded like there is a goat calling downstairs!” One time when I finished playing “Micheal, Row The Boat Ashore” he spontaneously burst out in the last line of the song (without me having told him what I was playing). Another time when I finished playing “Tom Dooley” he asked me what song that was, and when I told him he said, “Ah. I knew it, and I just kept trying and trying to remember.”

Along with remembering songs, Grandpa still remembers some things about his own time learning the guitar those many years ago. Sometimes when I am muttering or gasping in frustration at some difficulty he will make a comment. One day he gave a little laugh and said, “Got grooves in your fingers, huh?” (Which indeed I did.) Another time when I complained about how difficult it was to learn the chords he gave some garbled statement of agreement. (It sounded like he made some comment about the D chord, but I couldn’t decipher his statement–however, I just now went and looked up the D chord and it does indeed look like a doozy, so it appears that while Grandpa’s mouth didn’t cooperate, he was trying to express a valid statement.)

In the end, in spite of all that is confused for him, guitar music is something he hasn’t entirely lost. It is something he can still enjoy, as one day halfway through my lesson I stopped for a break and he said, “What, are you done already?”

In the end what he wants most is for me to be there with him. Sometimes he expresses it in a way so poignant it is almost painful to see. One day recently I had finished up my playing and began to take my stuff back to the bedroom. Grandpa looked up and saw what I was doing, and his face became sad. “Don’t go. Don’t go,” he said earnestly. “Sit here with me.” He patted the couch beside him, and looked so hopeful and wanting that I couldn’t help feeling a stab of awfulness that he could feel so terribly lonely and in need of company in his own living room. So I left my stuff and just sat there with him for a while.

Grandpa’s Birthday

2nd January 2009

This was written 12/31/08.

Today is Grandpa’s birthday. He was born the last day of December 1927. Today he is 81 years old.

Since today is his birthday, I will tell you the story of his actual birthday, 81 years ago.

Grandpa is the sixth of ten children. Grandpa’s brother Doug is about five years older than Grandpa and what I am telling you is primarily my reconstruction of what he told me about Grandpa’s birthday. Doug is nearly 86 years old but is still very healthy and active for his age, and has a sharp memory. However, like everyone he sometimes gets facts mixed up, and, since he was only just short of 5 years old when Grandpa was born, his memory of the event is that of a young child. Also, I have not had the chance to have Doug read my re-telling of his story here, so it is possible I may also introduce some errors. I say all of this because there may be family members (you know who you are) who will quibble with certain portions of what I am about to tell, so I simply preface this by saying it is my rendition of Doug’s story of Grandpa’s birth.

Grandpa’s birth was eventful–an event just short of a tragedy. It all started when great-grandma, still pregnant with the baby, fell down the stairs. Just hearing that can make you flinch, and Doug remembers it with the vividness of childhood trauma.

She was standing on a step-ladder at the top of the stairs, Doug said. I think he may have said she was cleaning. One can imagine it was just before the new year and the pregnant mother with a bunch of little kids under foot was trying to get the house cleaned for the new year. Or maybe with the baby coming she felt the urge to “feather her nest” before its arrival. In any case, she was big and awkward in the final days of her pregnancy. Most people wouldn’t have even tried to clean their house that close to term, much less get on a ladder. But she was in a rush, and wasn’t thinking.

She fell, Doug said, down the stairs, landing on a metal bucket full of water. Thinking about it is enough to make you recoil in horror. It is the type of story the ends with dead babies, and even dead mothers. “I saw her lying there,” Doug said, and when he spoke he had the faraway look of someone seeing a memory all over again. “There was blood.”

It is not hard to imagine the stark terror a little 4-year-old boy would feel finding his mother laying at the bottom of the stairs, contorted in pain and bleeding, her own fear of losing the child inside her painted on her face. She went into labor and was rushed to the hospital for a difficult, breach delivery. Both mother and baby survived, and a baby that could have been dead was born December 31, 1927. But all was not right with Grandpa.

“His head was crooked when he came home,” Doug said. Grandpa had Torticollis (also called Wry Neck). It was the result of the fall, Doug said. And for some ten years Grandpa was the little boy with the crooked head. Then as a boy of about 10 or 12 years he underwent surgery to correct the problem. Afterward there was a neck brace, and physical therapy. Grandpa still bears the scars from the surgery today. Long thick scars run up both sides of the back of his neck. It looks like it must have been terribly painful surgery, but if you met Grandpa on the street you would never know he had been born with Torticollis.

Doug said the year he got his neck fixed was the same year he accidentally stuck his hand in the corn chopper and lost the last joint off his pointer and index fingers. But that is a different story.

**Notes**

–Before I wrote this Grandma told me that Grandpa’s oldest sibling Anna had said that some other baby had died when their mother fell down the stairs. However, Grandma also said she heard this from Anna after she had begun exhibiting signs of dementia. Because of this, and the fact that the assertion was third hand while Doug told me his story himself and was quite clear and firm in his claim I have deferred to his account.

–There is some dispute over what was the direct cause of Grandpa’s Tortillis. Doug claims it was because of the fall and one can certainly see how he would reach that conclusion: Mother falls down stairs, baby brother comes home with crooked head. But other people have asserted other reasons. Grandma said she was told that Grandpa was involved in a breach birth (Doug did not give me that bit of information) and she thought the doctors had damaged him trying to get him out. The website I linked above for Torticollis says that:

Torticollis may be:

* Inherited: Due to faulty genes
* Acquired: Develops as a result of damage to the nervous system or muscles

If the condition occurs without a known cause, it is called idiopathic torticollis.

Torticollis may develop in childhood or adulthood. Congenital torticollis (present at birth) may occur if the fetus’ head is in the wrong position while growing in the womb, or if the muscles or blood supply to the fetus’ neck are injured.

So, the official possibilities are (a) Genetic defect (b) Wrong position while in the womb or (c) injury to the neck. Any of those is possible. A difficult breach birth, with doctors struggling to get the infant out, could certainly injure the neck. And having the mother fall down the stairs on a metal bucket could also injury the neck.

A Little Sick

2nd January 2009

Note that this was originally written on 12/12/08.

Holidays are a balancing act with Grandpa. There is always the ever-present thought that this one may be his last, and so there is the desire to have him where everyone can see and enjoy him as much as possible. You want those happy final memories. But then there is the present reality that Grandpa cannot cope with large gatherings. It is utterly overwhelming to his now crippled mind. Anything more than a slow, nearly monosyllabic, two-way, or one-way, conversation is more than his mind can grasp. A room packed with people noisily talking and laughing is unbearable.

The balancing act on Thanksgiving meant that Grandpa was very happy to see everyone arrive (he knew they were family, even if he didn’t know exactly who everyone was) but after fifteen minutes–about how long it took the majority of guest to appear–he had experienced enough. He crawled across the living room floor to poke and prod and examine a strange object in a chair (said object happening to be a very awkward grandson) only to give up in perplexity. He was then helped back to the couch, where he promptly fell asleep propped up in the warm crook between two relatives. The solution to being overwhelmed is to either shout and agitate, or else shut down and fall asleep–and he chose the latter.

Lunch followed shortly, at which point I got Grandpa to a quiet location with only a few dinner companions who knew enough to eat quietly and not distract him from the difficult task of dinner. After lunch I wheeled Grandpa back to our bedroom and shut the door. By this manner he survived. As the afternoon went on he agitated some over the loud talking that drifted through the door, the strange thumps, and the baby cries, but it was not enough to get him worked into a fit. Any relative who wished to visit quietly could come in and sit with Grandpa, but basically fifteen minutes of everybody was all he needed, or could handle.

I was pretty pleased with the success. Not only did it seem like everyone else had a good time, Grandpa appeared to have also had as good a time as he was able. Even more importantly, the excitement did not end up making a very bad time for Grandpa.

But the flush of victory did not last. Promptly following the Thanksgiving holiday, Grandpa got sick.

Grandpa caught a mild cold from me. I had suffered a very mild sore throat, and some mild congestion. Physically, Grandpa did not appear to suffer any worse–in fact, his chest congestion was nowhere near as bad as he sometimes spontaneously gets with a random fit of emphysema. Nonetheless, it turned into a string of very bad days. Grandpa is at the state in his Alzheimer’s where even a little bit of sickness, tiredness, (or both,) has a dramatic, even frightening, decrease in his mental abilities. It makes one ponder how thin a mental thread still keeps him soundly anchored.

Everything started in earnest Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. His nose was running like a faucet, and he was cranky. (Imagine a baby with a cold, and you have the general idea.) By suppertime he was pretty much slouched over sideways in his wheelchair, snot making a regular appearance at the end of his nose while he muttered vaguely dissatisfied and irritated things at the world at large (and thus not eating his supper). I commented to Grandma that tonight was going to be a bad night. I could tell Grandpa was feeling out of sorts, and when he is feeling out of sorts that often translates into a very bad night. You get a feel for these sort of things.

When I put him to bed he immediately began to fuss (a bad sign–if he is in a proper state he typically falls asleep almost instantly) but at that point I was so tired that I got undressed, climbed into my own bed, put on my ear-plugs, pillow over my head, and actually managed to fall asleep. About midnight Grandpa’s low grade muttering and fussing with his blankets escalated to the more insistent, “Ma? Hey, Ma?” at which point I woke and knew for certain we were in for a very un-wonderful night. Again, if you’ve ever had a sick baby in the middle of the night, you have a pretty good picture. Grandpa had an undefined vague state of miserableness which kept him from sleeping, and so once he got the ball of sleeplessness rolling it just snowballed from there.

At about 1:30 I decided to cut my losses. I moved Grandpa over to the overstuffed chair beside his bed where he could sit more comfortably (and hopefully fall asleep) and I left the bedroom to go lay on the couch where hopefully I could sleep, or at least rest better, in the absence of Grandpa’s insistent noise-making. But the situation continued to go downhill. By this time I had been thoroughly awakened, so it took some effort for me to fall back to sleep. Eventually I did, sleeping fitfully for maybe an hour. I woke and found that Grandpa was still agitating, and in fact his volume had increased. I went to check on him, then went and laid back down on the couch.

And Grandpa’s volume continued to increase. At this point we’ve passed 3:00 in the morning. I’m thinking, “He is going to be terrible come the day. This is going to be really bad tomorrow. I wish he would fall asleep,” as I lay there on the couch. Meanwhile, Grandpa keeps up his litany, not incessantly, but erupting at probably precisely the moment when he begins to feel tired so as to make sure he won’t fall asleep.

“Ma? Hey, Ma!”

“MA? HEY, MA!”

MAAAAAAA! HEEEEY MAAAAAAAAAA!

The bedroom door is shut, and I’m down the hall in the living room wearing ear-plugs and I can still hear him clear as day. For a man nearing his eighty-first birthday and growing rather frail he still certainly isn’t lacking in vocal power. I get back up and go to check on him, wishing I had some brilliant (easy) solution that would make him settle down long enough to fall asleep. It’s heading on toward 4:30 in the morning and if he has slept at all during the entire night it has probably been no more than an hour. You’d think someone sick, and that old, would have run out of energy a long time ago. Unfortunately, I’ve already learned from past experience that there is a certain preternatural energy that takes hold, almost like a drug, that only burns out after one full night.

“Grandma’s asleep,” I say grumpily to Grandpa. “What do you want?”

“Well, uh, I’m feeling nervy,” Grandpa announces, perhaps making the understatement of the night. With one word he rather brilliantly summarizes his condition.

I feel at a loss as what to do. For a moment I consider leaving the bedroom light on in the hopes it might make his “nervy” feeling go away, but I know the chance of that helping is almost nil. The nervy feeling is coming from within Grandpa, a vicious self-feeding cycle of unease that comes from sitting up in the middle of the night for hours on end. The best solution would be to sit down with him and hold him in my arms until he relaxes and falls asleep. But I am feeling too grumpy and tired. So I mumble something about going to sleep, and leave again. I think this proves that I am not a mother, who would have been kind enough (and smart enough) to sit down and do the hug and come off a little better for it.

I lay on the couch, wishing I had the ability to sleep like a rock, and sometime around 4:30 Grandpa finally falls asleep. I went back to my bed. By 8:00 Grandpa was awake for the day.

Grandpa paid for his little stunt. I’m still fairly young and can bounce back from a bad night pretty quickly. Grandpa cannot, and his all-nighters are perhaps the most self-destructive thing he does (but try explaining that). What followed was three days where Grandpa hardly ate or drank. He was like a man stupefied. He sprawled where he sat. He drooled. He stared blankly. What strength he had was spent that night, and like a druggie coming off a trip (not that I’ve seen such a thing but let’s not ruin the analogy) the next several days were nearly hellish. Not because he scribbled on the walls and chewed on the chair legs, or anything like that. It was more like the opposite. We had no repeat all-nighters–he hadn’t the strength–but during the day he was in mindless shambles. When he wasn’t a nearly comatose sack sprawled on the couch, he was shouting for people living and dead, real and imagined. And he wouldn’t eat or drink at meals. It was exhausting. Not so much physically–because there was practically nothing I could do for him–but emotionally and mentally it was very hard.

It is deeply distressing on a very fundamental level when someone in your care will not eat or drink. You feel like a failure, not matter how much you tell yourself it isn’t your fault. I wheeled him to the table and he would eat nothing. It was as if he didn’t recognize his food, or didn’t care. It was terminal apathy. I would try to feed him, or give him something to drink, and he would refuse to open his mouth or else turn his head away.

The experience sucked everything right out of me. After a session of trying to feed Grandpa and ending with him not eating and not drinking, I felt like I wanted to go back to my bedroom, shut the door, and lay on my bed staring at the ceiling, blanking every thought and feeling out. How many days could this go on? The feeling of futility and helplessness made me want to give up and walk away and yet I felt compelled to go back the next meal, to try. There was absolutely nothing I could do. I couldn’t pry his mouth open and force him to eat or drink. But to not even try was like giving up on Grandpa. So I would gently prompt him, and wallow in my own state of powerlessness and the general sense that everything was falling apart at once. It was like watching someone who had given up the will to live, and that is a very unhappy thing to see.

That Sunday was my Dad’s birthday, so it was arranged that my uncle Kevin would come down to watch Grandpa so I could be home. I came back from the party to face a tale of woe. Grandpa had eaten and drunk nearly nothing (yet again) and had been unable or unwilling to stand for his diaper changing (a problem I probably could have handled much better than Kevin). I returned to find Grandpa sleeping on the living room floor, looking terribly exhausted. I think everyone was exhausted.

Monday Grandpa was better in that he was much calmer and more mentally collected, but still he was not very interested in eating for a man who had eaten little the last two days. Late in the morning he sat on the couch, his hands clasped in his lap, his eyes closed. I don’t know where his mind was, but twice he began to sing snatches of song. The first time it was some line from a traditional Christmas song, his voice slowly picking out the words until he trailed away. The second time he suddenly began “Jesus Loves Me” in a halting faint voice, his eyes still closed.

“Jesus loves me . . . this I know . . . for the Bible tells me so . . .” The careful plodding words were endearing and made me want to laugh like one does at a little child who does not realize how cute he has been. But at the same time it was almost heart-breaking.

You can know in the abstract why you do something, and that knowledge can set your course of action. But occasionally in the day to day living it can get hard, very hard, and somehow the knowing starts to feel dry and empty. But then in the flash of some everyday moment you see something, and feel something, that reminds you why you are doing this in a way you can’t describe with words.

That Monday I had just survived through four very hard days, and I felt spent. But watching Grandpa sit there, frail and small, eyes closed and hands clasped in his lap while he slowly sang snatches of songs, I felt powerfully reminded again of why I was doing what I was doing in a way I cannot convey to you in words. The picture of Grandpa, sitting on the couch quietly singing “Jesus Loves Me” to himself, will stay with me the rest of my life.

The good news to end this story is that Grandpa bounced back. It was not the first time Grandpa had a bad jag, and so the whole time I was intellectually telling myself, “It’s happened before. Just hold steady and it will pass.” But at the same time there is a voice in that back of my mind which whispers, “Oh God, he isn’t eating or drinking. What if he doesn’t snap back? What if this is it?”

But he did bounce back. Tuesday he got up like it was any normal day and ate like he had never been sick. And Wednesday. And Thursday. And so life has continued normally.

The bad news is that if he takes such a bad turn for a minor cold, what happens if he gets more sick?

Stupid question, I know.

I guess it was Monday morning that Grandpa got out of bed with a diaper full of soupy poop. (I had stopped the laxative when he stopped eating, but it wasn’t good enough, apparently.) This was nothing out of the ordinary, except Grandpa wasn’t entirely back to his normal self, so he wasn’t accepting my usual explanations as to why he had to stand still so I could clean him up. Just as soon as I had peeled the reeking diaper off his bottom, he decided it was indecent for his pants to be down and started trying to pull his pants back up over his soiled bottom–picture Grandpa trying to pull up the front of his pants while I am trying to keep the back of his pants pulled down with one hand and wipe with the other. Trying to keep my eyes on several things at once while Grandpa lurched around the room–for some reason bound and determined to get out of there–I continued to clean at his bottom. He quickly went to his knees, and started crawling from the room and off down the hall, pants bunched around his knees. I crawled after him, wiping all the way.

Such situations are best handled by keeping your sense of humor. Grandpa was certainly being anything but helpful, but thanks to some dexterity and quick work on my part nothing beside Grandpa’s bottom ended up soiled. And rather than losing my temper as he crawled off down the hall, I simply crawled after him and amused myself by thinking how life could hardly get more surreal than crawling down the hall trying to wipe your Grandpa’s bottom.

n five minutes I had his bottom clean. I put a fresh diaper on him, got him in his wheel chair and to the kitchen table.

Life went on.

How to Clean Carpet

2nd January 2009

This was originally written 12/7/08. I was remiss in not posting this here earlier.

We need to back up a bit for this story. The days of yester-year when I took Grandpa to the bathroom are now mostly behind us. He uses the toilet for maybe 1/3 of his bowel movements, and rarely when he pees. Not only is his limited mobility a problem, but his awareness is also failing. Maybe half of the time (or more) he doesn’t even realize he needs to go pee. I have a set schedule for changing his diaper and usually it is soused (Grandpa’s preferred word for his wet condition) without him having complained earlier about a need to go. Sometimes he is cognizant of needing to go, but the increasing failure of getting him to the bathroom in time to urinate means I have abandoned the attempt unless he makes a specific request. There is no point in dragging him to the toilet if he has already peed himself by the time we get there. Typically, if he does realize he needs to go pee, he realizes it for one minute, starts to head “somewhere,” forgets what he was doing, pees himself, forgets he did it, and life goes on. It’s not ideal, but at this point in Grandpa’s deterioration, we’re far beyond ideal. It was something of an effort to give up dragging Grandpa to the bathroom–after all, not wetting yourself seems like a fundamental issue of decency–but it came to the point that the bathroom failures were so many that it began to feel pointless, and I discovered that there was actually more peace in the house if I stopped trying to fight that lost battle.

Since I’ve surrendered to the diaper for Grandpa’s urinary incontinence life has been pretty peaceful on that front. He rarely gets his clothes, or anything else, wet. Life is much more simple and less frustrating. The last time we had a pee disaster was a few weeks ago, and that was the first in many weeks. Grandpa had woken up in the morning needing to go to the bathroom (nothing unusual) and had sat up and promptly started to go (nothing unusual again). But somehow his diaper was badly arranged and so the pee leaked out the side and started getting his bed wet. Grandpa stood up, and the pee promptly started gushing down his leg to the carpeted floor.

I woke up to the sound of splish-splatter-splish-splish. My internal disaster alarm went off and I leaped out of bed with the exclamation of “Ah! Ahhhh! Ah! Ah! Ah!” Rushing around Grandpa’s bed I quickly adjusted his diaper to stem the tide.

“What’s the matter?” Grandpa asked, a bit perturbed by my exclamations. “Did I get some in your eye?”

“No,” I said, still kneeling in front of him and holding the diaper in place. “I just don’t want anymore more mess to clean up than I have to.”

I was laughing to myself to rest of the day over the question, “What’s the matter? Did I get some in your eye?” It was the most peculiar concern given the situation, and yet in an absurd way, there was a certain logic about it.

Anyhow, the issue of pee problems has largely receded. Poop has been a slightly different matter. It is more work (and more unpleasant) to clean up Grandpa’s soiled bottom than to get him to the toilet to do his bowel movement and simply wipe his bottom afterward. The problem is that Grandpa has maybe a 50% ability to recognize that he needs to do a bowel movement. Some of the time he is simply agitated over something, and he doesn’t realize the “something” is his need to go to the bathroom. Of course, there are plenty of times when he is agitated over something else, or nothing at all, so guessing when Grandpa’s agitation is over the need to do a bowel movement is something of a fine art. The last thing you want to do is drag him down to the bathroom and sit him on the toilet only to have him do nothing. Of course, the last thing you want to do is not take him to the bathroom and end up with a dirty diaper to change. One could get obsessive about the whole thing, but I try to not spend too much time on it. I try to keep an ear tuned for Grandpa’ agitation and if there seems a good chance it is from a need to go poop, I will make the suggestion.

A couple of weeks ago around breakfast time Grandpa was wildly agitated. I sort of suspected he might need to use the toilet, but his agitation consisted in him bellowing at the top of his lungs for “Ma!” and wrestling with the kitchen table. He was in such a fit that I wasn’t going to man-handle him down the hall to the bathroom unless he agreed that was where he need to go. Finally he stood up and declared, “My a**hole hurts so bad!”

I said, “Well, maybe we should go to the bathroom then.”

He looked at me questioningly and said, “You think so?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I think we should.”

So we started to trundle toward the bathroom and after maybe two steps Grandpa says, “Oh, shoot! I just did something! I don’t know what it was, but I did it!” At which pointed I propelled him–pronto–into the bathroom and got him onto the toilet. He had done a portion in his diaper, but he did a lot more in the toilet.

Such is an example of the very confused and disconnected relationship Grandpa now has with his own body. Sometimes he understands his body is telling him something, but can’t make sense of what it is saying. As I mentioned, we only have about 1/3 success, but I don’t sweat it. Sometimes he doesn’t even agitate before pooping himself, so there would be no way I could have known. Sometimes he poops himself too quickly to have got him to the toilet in time, and sometimes I simply mis-guess the source of his agitation. In the end you have to realize there are bigger problems in life and not get consumed by the whole bathroom issue.

Not only does Grandpa sometimes have difficulty understanding what his body is telling him, but the problem is made worse by the fact that I am giving him (doctor proscribed) laxatives to even make him go. By this past summer he was retaining so badly that he kept becoming completely impacted which resulted in several very messy enema incidents on the bathroom floor. Bad as changing a stinky diaper is, and as much as it isn’t fun to clean poop from someone’s bottom, it is a veritable walk in the park compared to an “Alzheimer’s and enemas” incident which ends up with poop and enema liquid all over the bathroom floor. Yes, that makes changing a diaper filled with diarrhea seem a very good idea indeed.

Of course, the idea is not to give Grandpa diarrhea. The ideal is to simply make his stool loose enough, and regular enough, that there are no disasters. But how much laxative Grandpa needs depends on how much he has eaten and drunk, and that is a moving target from day to day which means that if I want the perfect poop I will have to continually adjust the laxative dosage. The doctor was quite frank when she proscribed the laxative, and said I would have to adjust the dosage as needed and it would be “messy.” So in the whole laxative dosage game, failing to give enough means impaction, and giving too much means dealing with a watery soup of diarrhea. Rather than attempting to adjust the laxative dosage on the fly and ending up in some situation where I am too clever by half, I have settled on giving him a dosage every other day. This is not perfect, but seems to end up with the best average. Some poops are a little on the hard side, some are soup, and some are just right (sounds a bit like a Goldilocks story–ha ha). But at least we haven’t had any more impaction, and a regular schedule and dosage means I won’t forget when I am supposed to give him laxative, and how much, two things which are a big problem if you are constantly adjusting things on the fly.

Whatever the exact consistency of the bowel movement, the laxative means that usually when Grandpa has to go, he has to go now–Which is a good thing because it means he won’t be able to hold it in and become impacted. But it can be a bad thing, too. Two or so weeks ago Grandpa had to go to the bathroom. I was working on supper, and it was a rare very good day for Grandpa–which meant he was tottering about all by himself. He wasn’t agitating or anything, so I simply kept an eye on him as I went about my own business. I saw him totter off down the hall and enter the bathroom. I thought that slightly odd, since it’s been a long time since he’s entered the bathroom by himself. Since he had made no agitation I figured he was simply wandering about, and so continued on with what I was doing. But not to leave him unobserved for too long, I went back to check on him a little later. The sight that met my eyes was Grandpa standing in the middle of the bathroom floor halfway through pulling down his pants and simultaneously in the middle of going poop (I will spare you the graphic precision).

Zing! The bag of kale in my hand went flying as I lunged to intercede before the situation became any more disastrous. My quick work meant that event did not turn out too badly. But it is an example of how thin the line between disaster and success can be. Sometimes the only difference is a few minutes. And while sometimes you manage that last minute save, sometimes you aren’t there to do it.

Two days before Thanksgiving, the latter happened.

I was preoccupied working on my computer, and did not register anything unusual coming from Grandpa in the living room. My first hint that something was wrong was the exclamation from Grandma. It was the “big disaster” sort of gasp so I was out of my chair and down the hall immediately.

Then I saw it. Apparently Grandpa had walked to the middle of the living room, dropped his pants (much like he had done a few weeks ago, in the slightly more appropriately location of the bathroom) and went poop in the middle of the living room floor. By the state of the evidence, he had then walked back and forth through the poop, smearing it across a ten foot stretch of the living room carpet before setting his bare soiled bottom on the couch. On first sighting the disaster area, there was the strong desire to run around in a circle screaming. Not just because it was gross, but because I am thinking, “How on earth am I going to get that cleaned out of the carpet?”

I had dearly wished to avoid such an incident, but given that I have stopped him from dropping his pants in various other inappropriate places in the house I did realize this possibility was a continuing danger. I suppose part of me suspected it was somehow inevitable, eventually, given the fact of Murphy’s Law. Nonetheless, poop smeared over a ten foot stretch of the living room carpet is one of the worst house-keeping nightmares in my book.

And if it is two days before Thanksgiving and you’re having the entire extended family over on Thanksgiving . . . well, that doesn’t help, either. Grandma later admitted that she felt like she wanted to faint at the sight. Thankfully, she did the best thing she could under the circumstances–she hid away in her bedroom, leaving me to deal with the situation as I found best.

The first thing to do was limit the extent of the damage. Grandpa was seated on the couch, poop smeared over the bottom of both of his bare feet, excrement squished up between his toes. Every movement of his feet meant more poop on the carpet. I quickly decide my first step was to get him where any further mess he made wouldn’t be difficult to clean up. So I scooped him up in my arms and deposited him on the toilet. Next step was to get a very large putty scraper and scrap off as much poop from the carpet that I could. The third step was to call my Mom and sister and request that someone send me some written electronic directions for cleaning poop out of the carpet, pronto. Then I wet down a bunch of paper towels and laid them over the long trail of poop stain so as to hopefully keep everything from drying into a hard crust before I could finish cleaning.

Then it was back to the bathroom to clean up Grandpa, who by this time was loudly hollering for someone to come and rescue him. You don’t really think about how many folds and crevices there are around, beneath, and between your toes until you’ve had to clean poop out from every one of them. Finally, with Grandpa changed and cleaned, I deposited him in the bedroom, where he wouldn’t be in the way, and turned my attention back to cleanup.

For those interested, the directions I was sent, and which I followed for the cleanup, were these:

1. Mix one tablespoon of liquid hand dishwashing detergent and one tablespoon of white vinegar with two cups of warm water.
2. Using a clean white cloth, sponge the stain with the detergent/vinegar solution.
3. Blot until the liquid is absorbed.
4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until the stain disappears or is no longer absorbed into the cloth.
5. If the stain remains, use an eye dropper to apply hydrogen peroxide, and then apply a drop or two of ammonia.
6. Sponge with cold water and blot dry.

Except, I didn’t follow the directions exactly. The whole blotting procedure was a good start, but I judged that “blotting” was not going to lift the offending stain out from where it had sunk down into the carpet fibers, so as the cleaning progressed I moved into a scrubbing motion with the cloth when applying the cleaning solution. Then I moved on to using a stiff scrubbing brush which I applied with such furious scrubbing that I began taking out carpet fiber. Also, the size of my disaster was such that the idea of using an eye dropper to apply hydrogen peroxide or ammonia was laughable. I took a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and made repeated pouring passes over the offending spots. Same with the ammonia.

I spent about two hours cleaning on the day of the disaster. I did not apply any hydrogen peroxide or ammonia the first day, and I ended the cleaning session by liberally sprinkling baking soda all over the carpet and briefly working it in. This was suggested to help eliminate odors, and it did seem to help a lot. The next morning after the carpet had dried somewhat, and with fresh daylight, I saw the stain was still quite visible. So I vacuumed up the baking soda and moved on to hydrogen peroxide.

It is very important to soak as much liquid as possible out of the carpet with fresh paper towels after every cleaning pass. This is how you actually lift away the offending material/stain. It does little good to work in the cleaning solution and just leave it to evaporate. If you do that, all of the detritus will remain in the carpet after evaporation. Basically, you want to keep cleaning until the paper towels used for mop up don’t come away discolored.

After another approximately two hours of cleaning the day before Thanksgiving it looked pretty good, and I decided it would have to be good enough. On Thanksgiving day when the carpet had again dried I could still see a faint stain, but I had scrubbed so hard and used so much cleaning solution, that the surrounding non-stained carpet was also beginning to look faintly paler in color. Any further cleaning was likely to end up with a noticeable pale strip running through the carpet, even if I managed to remove the last faint traces of stain. Since the stain was faint enough that people not looking for it might not even notice–and since after prodigious amounts of detergent, hydrogen peroxide, and ammonia, it was pretty benign in any case, I decide to let it rest.

Thanksgiving was saved. Grandma wanted to keep the whole disaster hush-hush but I wanted to greet every arriving relative with the salutation, “Who wants to lick the carpet?”

That’s just the way I am.

Tractor Rides

2nd January 2009

Originally posted elsewhere on 11/20/08.

Another trip down memory lane today . . .

While I grew up Grandma and Grandpa lived in the country. They lived on the Pennsylvania-New York border, and to reach their house you had to drive along a road titled—fittingly enough—“State Line Road.” Grandma and Grandpa’s old house was at the end of a dead end road, their land butted up against a large tract of village owned woods.

As a young child, I felt a certain air of mystery surrounded their property. Behind the house ran a tiny creek and on the other side was a stand of trees that seemed to me the beginning of a dark and forbidden forest, neatly stacked heaps of dead wood and bramble cleaned up by Grandpa marking the edge of some ominous unknown. In the other direction, across the road, were the two small barns. If you went past them the world opened up to a distant unknown horizon, a curiosity of forests and fields. Where the dead end road stopped beyond the house it became a forest trail that quickly disappeared under overhanging tree branches. To my child’s mind that trail led off to the place where people became lost, never to return. Slightly safer was the pond out behind the house. That was far enough away to hold a sense of adventure, and yet not too far so that after one had looked at the water and frogs one could make a quick return to more familiar surroundings.

Timid and fretful, I saw hidden—or not so hidden—danger on every side, and failed to take advantage of all the interesting places I could have adventured if my sense of exploration had outweighed my sense of paranoia. But if my fears of the unknown kept me from experiencing many of the country pleasures, there was still one I could enjoy: tractor rides.

Grandpa had at least two old tractors which he was constantly fighting to keep repaired and running. The smallest was probably a prehistoric incarnation of a lawn tractor, before anyone thought of inventing a mowing deck. What useful purpose it had served, or could still serve, I didn’t know. To my mind it existed to give tractor rides.

Grandpa wasn’t socially skilled, and entertaining grandchildren was no exception. His repertoire was limited to reading stories, and giving tractor rides. Tractor rides were a rare treat—partly because, I think it usually didn’t strike his fancy, and partly because a functioning tractor was often an uncertain and frustrating proposition. I remember hanging around the barn and inquiring if perhaps the tractor would be fixed soon, and would we be going on a tractor ride today. The answer was “Maybe” in the sort of why that spoke of patience strained by questioning little children, and uncooperative machinery.

But those tractor rides did come, and all the better when they came unexpectedly. Grandpa had constructed his own sled to drag behind the tractor. The sound of the tractor engine—or the announcement that Grandpa was giving rides—would send me running outside. Tractor and sled would pull up, and at the command of, “Hop on,” we would all clamber on. Then it was off across the yard, around and back, and around again. It was excitement—a taste of the country life, and grand adventure. Then, all too soon, it was over and the tractor returned to the barn until next time.

We have a picture of Grandpa giving a tractor ride. A gaggle of cousins are crowded on the sled, grinning like fools. Grandpa rides up on the small tractor, staring intently ahead hands held at the ready, perhaps carefully nursing the fitful machine along.

The Indian and The Canoe

2nd January 2009

Originally posted elsewhere on 11/19/08. Posting here for you to read.

Grandpa made things. I am sure growing up during the Great Depression taught him to be frugal, but making things was part of who he was. I think I share some of that with him. I look at things and think, “I wonder what I could make from that.” I face a problem and ponder how I might come up with an ingenious solution fashioned out of what I have on hand—something that is cheap and effective. It is a challenge, a skill, and an art. For me, it is also almost like a game.

Many things Grandpa made in his life sprang from necessity. Early in his married life, he built a cinder block house for his young family. It was a tiny house, and it wasn’t beautiful, but he made it with what nickels and dimes he had. Over fifty years later, the he still had the wheelbarrow he used to mix the mortar for that cinder block house. I know, because I used it. The wheel is a simple metal rim, one of the handles has been replaced, and it has more rust than those many years ago. Grandpa never got a new one, because what he had still worked.

If Grandpa made, and fixed, many things out of necessity, or frugality, it was what he made for amusement that earned him more recognition. A story told to me—with no small amount of marvel—was how once in his youth, my uncle Kevin wanted a motorcycle. As a result, Grandpa scrounged up an old engine to a mini-bike and using that engine as a foundation he built a functional wooden motorcycle. It was the epitome of ingenuity.

Whenever an idle moment came upon Grandpa, he was always making something. It was as if his hands could not remain still. I remember visiting, and seeing Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table, snipping apart soda cans to make miniature airplanes. He made a collection of them, and they hung suspended from the ceiling as if caught in flight. Visiting our house for a birthday party Grandpa found some oddity outside and began whittling a whistle. It worked, too, if you knew how to use it.

Grandpa loved music, and had an ear for it. Without the money to afford lessons, anything he wanted to learn he taught himself. He taught himself how to play the piano, the guitar, and the mandolin. He could fix pianos too. He could tune a piano by ear, and even attempted a piano tuning business. I have some of his business cards. There was an entire box of them sitting in storage, apparently untouched. “Accurate” and “Reasonable” the cards say. Accurate and reasonable he was, but a business man he was not. Unwilling to promote himself—as the languishing box of untouched cards testifies—the business went nowhere.

Of all the many things Grandpa could do, and of all the many skills he had, and the things he made, what stands out the most to me in speaking about who he was and what he could do were the Indian and the canoe. Grandpa always had a fascination with frontier American life, in particular with Native Americans. He would read about them, about how they did things, and how they made things. He made a pair of moccasins out of a deer hide. He fletched arrows. Then he made the Indian.

To call it amazing was an understatement. As a first time attempt it was unbelievable. How, exactly, he constructed the life sized realistic figure, I don’t know. He used some type of plaster for the skin, but the effect was almost startlingly life-like. One day I walked into the garage, arriving for a visit, and there the Indian was, standing tall and proud, his face creased with stern lines, his steady eyes staring into the distance. You could stand there and look at him, noticing every care given to the details.

As a first attempt the Indian was certainly not flawless, but with raven black hair, loin cloth, bow, and pouch, he was undeniably a unique and meaningful work of art. To simply walk into the room was to know it was art, made by a real artist. If Grandpa had refined his skill he could have made statues worth significant money and made a name for himself as an artist in his old age. Instead, he made the one Indian, and never made another one again.

Then he made the canoe. If the Indian astounded my child’s mind as a work of art and something beyond the ability of any mere mortal, and certainly a Grandpa (so a child’s mind thinks), the canoe impressed me on a more technical level. You can actually make a canoe, all by yourself? You don’t need some special machinery to make it? And it won’t sink?

It didn’t sink. It seemed nothing was impossible for Grandpa. He painted the canoe bright red and took it out for excursions on the pond. He even let me paddle the canoe.

I don’t know how Grandpa made the canoe. I’m sure he read something about it somewhere. Whether it was just an idea that he built upon and pieced together himself, or careful directions that he discovered somewhere, it was a knowledge collected together in his own mind and destined to die with his mind.

After the canoe, Grandpa never did another major creative project. His days as an artist were waning, and for me the Indian and the canoe would always stand as symbols of what he was, and what he could have been.

Pressure Sores

2nd January 2009

Please note that this was originally written on 11/14/08. As of right now–1/2/09–Grandpa does not currently have any pressure sores.

Last Saturday while I was drying Grandpa off from his shower I discovered two pressure sores on his bottom. They were in mirrored positions on the bottom of his buttocks–clearly the result from sitting in one place too long. It was a depressing discovery.

The sores themselves were not that bad. They were each maybe a quarter to a half inch in size, and in appearance like blisters. The skin was not broken. But what they were was another sign that things are becoming worse. It was the next milestone, the first foreshadowing of the things I will have to face.

They weren’t bad pressure sores. I put a band-aide over each, and they went down and went away over the next day. But I dread the pressure sores that won’t go away, and that will only get worse. The sores on found last Saturday were only the mildest of pressure sores, but it was a mark of how bad things are becoming, and how close we are getting to the end.

It would have been unremarkable if the pressure sores had been on his ankles, or his hips, where bones are near the surface. Already he has had very minor sores where his diaper chafed over his hips, and when that happened I would put padding between him and the diaper and they would go away. Those problems had a fairly easy solution. The big difference this time was that not only were these sores far larger than I had ever seen before, but they were on the bottom of his butt–that is the anatomical part on all of us which has the most padding. But Grandpa is eating so poorly, and shriveling up so much, that even his butt doesn’t have enough padding anymore. That was the really depressing part.

There are some easy alleviating measures that can be taken if a pressure sore appears on a hip or ankle (lay on the other side, apply more padding to the area) but if you get pressure sores on both (buttocks while sitting on a very comfortable couch), there isn’t much you can do the make the situation better. What are you going to do, sit on your head? Or perhaps suggest that he get up and walk around some more–oh, that’s right, he isn’t walking around because he can’t. The best possible solution would be to have Grandpa lay down some of the time instead of sitting up, but the very reason he spends so much time sitting up is because it is not comfortable for him to lay down (he is having issues with breathing problems). In facing the pressure sores on the bottom I had to face the question, “What do I do?” and I couldn’t come up with any answer. I couldn’t think of anything I could do.

The band-aides weren’t really a solution. They were more a “if this blister bursts I don’t want it to get infected so I’ll cover it” measure. But the sores got better simply because Grandpa was more active in the following days and so gave them a chance to heal. I didn’t really do anything. We were just lucky. But as Grandpa grows increasingly less mobile that path to easy healing will be increasingly less available.

Then what? Ah, that is when your mind starts playing with the “What ifs.” Do you know how nasty pressures sores can get? Check out the description of Stage IV. And here are some pictures. (Warning: the pictures are not pleasant, but I actually did not link to the really hideous pictures of pressure sores you can find. Those are enough to make a grown man scream.)

It was particularly frustrating when I went online to see what advice and help I could scrounge up for dealing with pressure sores. How to deal with pressure sores? Eat better. Drink better. Have better posture. It was very clearly confirmed to me (not that I didn’t already know it) that Grandpa has all of the problems that make him a perfect candidate for pressure sores. And the wonderful solution suggested by the health websites is to make all those problems go away. That way he won’t have pressure sores. Which means all of the wonderful advice was completely useless, because if Grandpa could eat better, drink better, and have better posture he wouldn’t have gotten pressure sores in the first place. It seemed nobody had any advice about what to do, if your patient isn’t eating well, isn’t drinking well, doesn’t have good posture, and is getting sores on the bottom of his behind. They say you should adjust the patient every two hours . . . but if the patient is not willing to lay down, and only sits on his butt, I guess that means I should just pick Grandpa up and shake him for a few minutes every two hours to get the blood flowing.

Enough of that. Sarcasm doesn’t help. Truly, physically making him adjust his weight occasionally is really all I can do. It feels like scant little help. But my sense is that nobody has any better ideas. And I don’t either.

The Gross Post

2nd January 2009

I am catching up on material I should have posted a long time ago. This was originally written 10/10/08

Caregiving is not for the faint of heart, or weak of stomach. It is a bit like motherhood in that regard. One gets to become intimately familiar with all the bodily functions and fluids of the one entrusted into your care. Faced with some of the grossest situations in life, there is the option of either getting really sick, or laughing at the way life is. This post is a nod to the latter option, but if you have a weakness to the former, maybe you’d better not read on.

What is the most gross? It’s always a matter of personal sensitivities. Let’s review some options and make a decision.

Spit. Every parent has gone through the “fishing junk out of a baby’s mouth” experience. Usually it is prefaced by the exclamation, “Ahhh! That’s yucky! Don’t stick that in your mouth!” At which point the finger must be inserted to pry the offending object from the unwilling baby’s mouth. It can be kind of gross with the baby slobbering all over the place, especially if the naughty object was a piece of paper, or something else that can be wadded up and absorb a lot of spit in a squishy, nasty, sort of way.

I have undergone a lot of spit experiences. While I haven’t been required to take inappropriate objects from Grandpa’s mouth, I have been required to extract his teeth numerous times. Grandpa has dentures, and as his Alzheimer’s has worsened he grows increasingly unable to remove and replace his dentures. Early on he would try to take care of his own teeth, but as that become a process fraught with disasters I instigated a new routine where he was tucked into bed and I would then ask him to take out his teeth and put them into a container I provided. Afterward, I would clean his teeth. That worked for a while, but we have the occasions when he is either so exhausted he doesn’t have the energy to take out his teeth, or he is completely confused over the process. I will say, “Take out your teeth, Grandpa.” He will grip the end of his bed, or the blanket, and pull for all he is worth, saying, “I’m trying! I’m trying!” In these circumstances I must remove his teeth myself. This means firmly grasping his front top incisors and gently wiggling the teeth back and forth until the suction fit comes loose and the top plate pops out. Then I snag the bottom teeth. If Grandpa had a bedtime snack before going to bed there is often food goobering up the teeth, and they can come out with long stringy spit. Kinda nasty.

I have also needed to offer a helping hand with eating. Grandpa spits out a lot of food. Back in the days when his mind was still whole there would be the occasional bit of food he couldn’t properly chew with his dentures, and he would have to spit it out. Nowadays a lot of food is considered inedible by Grandpa, whether it really is or not. When his mind was better he would carefully spit the offending food back into his spoon and set it on the side of his plate, on the table, or–most often–into the small garbage can beside his seat. As he grew worse he began to have trouble with the garbage can, taking stuff out as often as putting his food rejects in, and half the time simply tossing his food on the floor instead of making it into the garbage can. So, the garbage can was removed to avoid Grandpa fishing through the trash with his spoon. What food he threw on the floor was swept up after supper. But the next progression of his decline was to throw his rejected food back into his bowl, or chuck his spat out food back into the serving dish. The problem with the former is that he would end up continually sticking the rejected food back into his mouth, and spitting it out again, getting no food into his stomach. The problem with the latter is obvious. To forestall all of these troubles, I began taking an active role in his disposal of rejected food. When I saw he had something to spit out I would hold out my hand to his mouth and say, “Spit.” He would spit the food out, I would dispose of it, and the meal would go on. Of course this meant handling his chewed up wads of food, but all in all it was the best solution.

Snot. Grandpa has a problem with a drippy nose and for years a roll of toilet paper or a box of tissues was always close at hand. As Grandpa began to decline, he began to increasingly mis-use the tissues. He would endlessly tear them up, stick them in his mouth, or use them to clean up his food instead of eating it. As a result, tissues and toilet paper had to be removed from his access. This means that when he isn’t wiping his nose on his sleeve, I must wipe his nose. As anyone who had done this knows, the snot bleeds through the tissues a bit, especially if it is really wet. A bit gross, but not real bad in my book.

Pee. Back in the day, it seemed like half of my time caring for Grandpa involved pee in some way or another–getting him to the bathroom so he could pee, or cleaning up the mess when he had a pee accident. Faithful readers of this blog will recall past stories and involved disasters. A big problem with pee is that there can be so much of it, and–being liquid–it easily goes all over the place. It is not fun to clean out of the carpet. Probably the worse way to experience pee is to set your bare foot in a cold puddle of pee in the dark in the middle of the night. That will really wake you up. And then you learn that pee makes things sticky so that if you simply wipe off the linoleum or your foot there still remains a certain sticky sensations that reminds you more cleaning must really be done.

Since Grandpa is no longer able to use the bathroom for his bladder functions my problems with pee have been almost completely isolated to the regular diaper change. After having mopped up vast puddles of pee, changing a wet diaper is pretty tame. And as nasty as stepping in a puddle of cold urine is, it still doesn’t make the top of my gross list.

Poop. It comes in different shapes, sizes, textures, and oh so many different smells. A veritable banquet of sensory experiences. Poop definitely ranks up there on the gross chart and is commonly the place where sensitive stomachs fail. It doesn’t bother me that badly. While certainly unpleasant, cleaning up a soiled bottom is more contained than a urinary disaster. Also, not breathing through your nose so you don’t smell the stench, and thinking about how it is all really just chemical compounds, helps. Plus, simply having years of experience helps. Familiarity kind of dulls the senses.

The real big problem I notice (and anyone who expects to face this in the future, take note) is that it is really hard (if not impossible) to completely rid your hands of the odor of poop if you should be so unfortunate as to get it on your hands. It can be the smallest amount, and double washing your hands can still leave a faint smell. Those infinitesimal cracks in your skin, those microscopic bits . . . it’ll have you boiling your hands if you’re not careful. The most fail safe solution is to wear disposable latex gloves when wiping a soiled bottom. But here is a tip: Do yourself a favor and buy gloves that have been pre-starched. When I was first getting started I bought a small packet of gloves pre-starched and they went on easy. Then I thought I would get smart, and I bought a bulk container of gloves. Only, these weren’t dusted with cornstarch, and they were impossible to get on, properly. Dusting your own gloves with starch is way too much work. Buy the pre-starched latex gloves. You’ll thank yourself.

When all is said and done, poop is not the most gross thing for me. That honor goes to . . .

Phlegm Goobers. What can I say–it’s a texture thing. My Grandpa smoked all his life so now he is hocking up big fat snotty goobers as a result. When he was more sound in mind he would dispose of them himself, properly. Now he requires assistance (I must have my ear ever tuned to the sound of his hocking up a goober) and if I somehow fail to realize he needs assistance the goober has a good chance of being spat on the floor wherever he happens to be. Cleaning up a juicy, quivery, slimey goober from the carpet is gross enough. But stepping in one with your bare foot, having it slick across the bottom of your foot, so moist, so sticky, and oh so slimy–it is enough to just about make this grown man scream.

That is what I think is the most gross. Your opinions may vary.

Good Neighbors

2nd January 2009

NOTE: Once again, this was written months ago. This was originally written 8/13/08.

Last Wednesday . . .

It happened suddenly, unexpectedly, as most disasters do. A great crash–like one expects to hear when an entire bookcase collapses–sent me rushing out of the bedroom. I found Grandma sprawled on the hall floor, a container of greeting cards scattered everywhere. For the briefest microsecond, it is as if everything is suspended. What, why, how, and how bad?

A quick glance shows no obvious blood on the floor, no clearly broken bones. Grandma is conscious, and, if looking a bit stunned, does not appear to be in any significant pain. A flicker of relief, then, grasping the conclusion that no bones are broken and no critical crisis has unfolded. But still, why the unexplained fall? A sudden stroke?

“What on earth happened?” I asked, over-loud in my alarm and relief.

“I stumbled on the top step coming up the stairs, and hit my head,” Grandma said, clamping a hand to the front of her head and making it to a seated position. “I’m all right. Am I bleeding?” She took the hand away to look at her fingers. “Yes, I’m bleeding.”

I came over to look, feeling both greatly relieved that she did not appear seriously hurt, and still appalled at how loud a crash she had made hitting the wall. A quick look at her scalp modified my assessment. Thick red blood welled up from a gash that was no tiny scape. Oh, great, I thought. Though clearly not a serious wound, it was not something that could be covered over with a little band aid. As a scalp wound it would be–in short order–bleeding profusely. I needed to get something to contain the blood (quickly), prepare for the possibility of a panicked Grandma, and figure out how I would get her to the appropriate care.

Because–of course!–this had to be one of the few days in the year when the car was in the shop for repairs and we were without a vehicle.

I launched into action, trying to think, take care of Grandma, and answer her questions all at the same time.

Ice pack and washcloth for the head first. “No, Grandma, it isn’t serious. It’s just a scalp wound that will bleed a lot. No big deal.”

Go to the emergency room? Call an ambulance? I’m already familiar with the ambulance and emergency room routine from past experience, and I’m loathe to take that path unless I must. It is expensive, and time consuming, and Grandma hates it as much as I. First I call Doug to see if he can take Grandma to the emergency room, or a walk-in clinic. Nobody picks up the phone. I know Grandma is growing increasingly agitated as she discovers the growing amount of blood, and wants assurance that everything is being taken care of. I call Mom and Dad. With a thirty-minute drive, getting help from there is less than ideal, though the one sure standby. In a few short minutes Dad is on his way down, and Mom and I have agreed that a walk-in clinic is a better idea than the emergency room.

I explained to Grandma the plan of action, and stress to her that it is fine and there is no hurry, and it is okay for us to wait until my Dad arrives. I sensed she was trying to not panic. By this point she has two handfuls of blood and wanted me to help her get off the carpeted hall floor so she wouldn’t drip where it would be difficult to clean. I got her up and seated in the kitchen. By this point the bleeding had slowed, and would soon stop, and a ride was on the way to take her to the clinic. As far as I was concerned, everything was under control and set. But I realized Grandma might not feel that way.

“Dad will be here shortly and it is all right for us to wait,” I told her. “But if for some reason you want to go right away, I can see if there is some neighbor home that will take you in.”

“Okay,” she said. “Well, maybe you better, because I’m concerned about all the blood I’m losing.”

Two handfuls of blood was nowhere near a dangerous amount. If you donate blood you give more than that. But if you don’t understand that, or are panicked by the sight of blood, all the assurance in the world won’t help. I understood her sentiment, and as much as I didn’t relish knocking on neighborhood doors, (Would you mind driving my Grandmother to the clinic? Is it okay if she gets blood on your car?) I dutifully complied.

I probably would not have made inquiries if I had never spoken with any of the neighbors previously. It wasn’t a true emergency, and I didn’t want to make that much of a cold call. But as it happened, I had spoken in passing with two different neighbors who–on learning of the elder care situation I was in–had both graciously offered, “If you need any help with anything, just ask.” I would never want to ask a briefly met neighbor to bring my bloodied grandmother in to get stitched up–but they had offered “any help” and, well, now I was asking.

One of the neighbors didn’t appear to be home, so I went trudging up the street (not so much as knowing their name, much less their phone number), taking the parked truck as a good sign that the second neighbor was home. It was mid-afternoon and the front door was open to let in the fresh air, revealing the middle-aged neighbor lounging on the couch, perhaps just home from work. It felt awkward, to say the least. I knocked on the door and quickly plunged into an explanation, trying to not think about how much of an imposition I was creating, or what he was thinking. Thankfully, Art, (as I later learned was his name,) did not look horrified or as if he really regretted his previous offer. Saying he needed to pull himself together and would be down shortly, he quickly agreed to help.

I returned to Grandma and began the hasty preparations to get her ready to go–mostly consisting in trying to dig up her insurance cards which were in “some purse.” Shortly, she was on her way to get four staples in her scalp which would hold an approximately 3-inch gash shut.

She left for the clinic, and in the silence of the house I let out a mental breath. In the end, only a small disaster. It was nothing. It could have been much worse.

And it is nice to have good neighbors.

No Going Back

2nd January 2009

NOTE: I wrote this quite some time ago (July 30th to be exact) but I am only now getting around to posting it here.

On the 4th of July, the extended family held a gathering at an RV campground in Pennsylvania. A pavilion was rented, food contributions lined up, and then the day arrived.

As it happened, I had been to the RV campground many years ago. Many years ago Grandma and Grandpa had a camper at the campground, and for two or so summers they took grandchildren to visit. I remember the dirt paths, the swimming pool, the creek, and the waterfalls. Now, over a decade later, I find myself returning. The journey there seems so familiar, and yet vague, as I make the last few turns. Then the campground is in sight, and the memories come back.

Everything looks the same at the campground, and yet it is not. A few years ago a massive flood swept through the area, scouring out the creek, eating out embankments, washing up boulders, and knocking over trees. Much escaped the water’s ravages, but some things did not. And more than the land has suffered the ravages of time.

It has been nearly two years since I began caring for my grandfather, and watching him succumb to the ravages of Alzheimer’s. A decade more at least since I last visited the campground. Those many years ago Grandpa could walk. He could run, he could ride a bike. I have a memory of a summer day, Grandpa seated straddling a bike, sitting under the shade of a vacant pavilion. Now I pull the car up to a pavilion teeming with relatives, and get the wheelchair out of the trunk. I help Grandpa into the chair, and take him to the party. We have arrived late, because Grandpa can’t stay long.

Alzheimer’s drives its victims to their knees–figuratively and literally–as inch by inch, day by day, the battle is lost. Before, Grandpa staggered and stumbled as he tried to walk. Now he crawls aimlessly about on the floor unless I push him in the wheelchair or carry him, feeling so light and empty, in my arms.

Before he struggled to get to the bathroom in time and use the toilet properly. Now I change his diaper and give him a laxative to make sure he does go.

Before he couldn’t remember the last time he had taken a shower, and struggled to shave himself. Now I bathe him, and shave him, and dress him.

Before I cut up his food so he could feed himself. Now that fails, too. His hands shake and jerk clumsily as he tries to bring the spoon to his mouth. He grabs imaginary implements and food and wonders why nothing reaches his mouth. His mind wanders as he plays with the folds in his clothes, the food in front of him forgotten. It is a battle to eat, and one he is slowly losing, but which he desperately wishes to fight alone.

He is parked in front of the picnic table and I take a plate to the food buffet, looking for things he can eat. He does well enough for the meal, but his energy begins to fail with dessert. He consents to allow someone else to feed him the chocolate cream pie–some things he wants more than his dignity, or independence.

After the meal, I go to the falls again. Last time Grandpa ran on ahead, racing. This time, I go without him, following the path among the trees. The falls are still there, much the same. Perhaps they seem smaller than before, less threatening and less majestic. Time will sometimes do that. Still, the water cascades down, loud and uncaring, as if it thinks to drown out the world’s sorrows.

The days pass for Grandpa as a lonely vigil on the couch. Sometimes he sleeps a little while, but more often he looks at magazines, looking at the pictures and wondering what they mean, reading the words and wondering what they say, or else just sitting on the couch lost in his own thoughts. His world has shrunk so that if you are not right beside him, you are not there at all. He calls out, only to sometimes startle when you answer, or appear beside him.

Nights are the lost time. In darkness, nothing has meaning. He wakes in the darkness and speaks, “Mom. Mom? Are you there Mom? Mom. Answer me. Mom? I can’t see. Mom?” I hear his words, lying in the dark, but no answer I give is answer enough. He crawls about the room in the darkness like a blind man, but more than blind because nothing has meaning. He is lost in the bedroom, lost in the night, lost in his own mind, beyond the reach of any help to bring him back, until exhaustion takes him.

The end is coming. Slowly, perhaps, but inexorably, as every little loss brings one step closer the final defeat. But perhaps the battle should not be considered as lost. Maybe it is better to say that the battle is won, day by day, as with love he is helped to the end, with what dignity and grace can be mustered. If it is how we live that matters, then each day can be taken up in daily victory, or given up in daily defeat.

I leave the falls, the roar of the water quickly fading away behind me. Back at the gathering, soon Grandpa wants to leave. Two hours is all he can take. So we leave. I drive the rutted dirt path, taking it to the highway, and then home.

Ten years have passed. It feels like nothing has changed, and yet everything has. And there is no going back.

Quiet Miracles and Confidence in God

24th September 2008

Yesterday was very miserable with my sore throat, but I am feeling much better today, thank you. I wanted to write one more post before I wander off into the wild blue yonder of book writing, so here I go.

I have, in the past year, been struck by God’s providential provision and direction in my life. God is always leading and directing in our lives, but there are times when something happens which brings it particularly to our attention and reminds us that we should always thank God, and trust Him, whatever the circumstances in our lives, because He is sovereign and He is good.

I already mentioned in the previous post about the astonishing fact of the discovery and interest in my writing. Those of you who faithfully follow my blog are also aware of my inguinal hernia surgery in the beginning of January this year. I have been remiss in officially closing out that story and wish to remedy that now. Though you are all aware of the general facts of the case, not all of you are aware of the particular details of God’s faithfulness in this matter.

To recap from the beginning: As best I can determine, I probably had the inguinal hernia on my left side since birth. Most likely the inguinal canal on my left side didn’t close up properly. This is not particularly unusual for males. I first became (unwittingly) aware of this problem when I was probably 8-10 years old, but it didn’t really start bothering me (as best I can recall) until I was probably at least in my mid-teens, if not later. At that point I began to wonder if perhaps, possibly, I had a hernia but since it bothered me only slightly and rarely I never bothered to investigate the matter further. Then, around the time when I first moved to care for Grandma and Grandpa it began to bother me with more regularity and I was forced to investigate the matter. By searching around on the internet I managed to determine that I did indeed have an inguinal hernia, and as best I could determine the hernia was minor. At that point my life was still in turmoil from moving to live with Grandma and Grandpa and I really didn’t want to deal with this problem at that time. It was just one more stress and one more problem in an already stressful and problematic time of my life. I didn’t really see how I could deal with the problem. At that point I basically prayed, “God, if you want me to do something about this, you’ll have to show me how. Otherwise, Lord, I’m just going to trust you to keep me healthy.”

And that is how the matter sat for about a year. My hernia didn’t go away, but didn’t get drastically worse either. However, in the passage of that time, my thinking changed. My thinking was changed by various external factors, but all of those were brought to bear as God’s way of prompting me. The hernia continued to bother me and weigh on my mind. I was forced to confront the fact that it wouldn’t go away and that it could potentially become suddenly and catastrophically worse. Further, while “now” wasn’t a good time to deal with it, there likely would never be a “good” time and there very possibly could be a worse time.

So I began to investigate what would be required to get my surgery done. An internet search revealed that the cost of the surgery would probably be between $15,000 and $25,000. Gulp. To a man who has never seen that much money in his entire life, much less in a single year, that was a considerable sum. It was like being told that to patch a small hole in your body it would cost the equivalent of a few used cars. As much as I value a whole a sound body, the price felt out of commensurate with the work to be preformed. While taking care of Grandma and Grandpa I didn’t have the income to pay for that, I didn’t have health insurance to cover it, and I wasn’t even in the position to go out and get a job to pay for the surgery. Even before I investigated the cost I knew that, no matter what, I would have to borrow some money to cover the surgery. But $15,000 to $25,000 was more than just some. Sure, you borrow that much to buy a car, or a house, but to fix a little hole in yourself–to flush that much money into an unknown oblivion, a problem that I could still live with, and might not get worse and might not actually really absolutely need to be fixed? Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to go forward with this. I said, in effect, “Okay, God. That’s a lot of money. If you want me to go forward with this, you’ll have to provide the ability for me to borrow that much money in my current situation. If I can’t, then I will take that as the sign I shouldn’t go forward with this.”

After inquiring I found I could borrow whatever potential sum would be required for my surgery. “Very well,” I thought. “I didn’t ever want to owe anyone that amount of money, but since you say so, God, I’ll do it.” I didn’t know how everything was going to turn out, but I felt a peace about the matter.

But then when I was back home visiting with the family and discussing the matter Teman suggested I look into getting health insurance, and seeing if they would cover the procedure. Two things had stopped me from looking into that route. First, it was my understanding that insurance companies would not cover prior health conditions. Second, I hate dealing with health insurance companies. I don’t like bureaucracy and a myriad of rules under the best of circumstances, but I had witnessed Mom fighting with the insurance company often enough to know that getting a procedure covered could be a very frustrating experience. Rather than face uncertainty and frustration, it was my natural inclination to just simply pay the price and get the operation over and done with.

That was my natural inclination. That is what I wanted. But after Teman mentioned the suggestion, I couldn’t shake it out of my mind. Why shouldn’t I exercise due diligence and at least investigate the possibility? If I was right and the insurance company wouldn’t cover a prior condition–well, that would settle the matter. But if they would cover the procedure and it was cheaper than simply covering it myself, what exactly was I accomplishing by being recalcitrant? I was certainly showing that I was stubborn, and don’t like change or frustration, but it wasn’t demonstrating a trust in God. So, reluctantly, I investigated whether a health insurance policy was a possibility.

To my surprise, I discovered it was. Maybe. Probably. That got into the issue of how life is never so clear or certain as we might like. After searching on the internet, I found a policy that seemed to suit my needs. It appeared, from what I had read, and as best as I understood (and I was painfully aware of those qualifying facts) that they would cover a prior existing condition if it had not been diagnosed by a doctor. This last fact was key. If there was no official diagnoses before you were on the plan, you were covered. Otherwise, not. As best I understood from what I read. Laws and rules always have their fine lines and carefully cut distinctions which puts one person in and another person out, sometimes for seemingly capricious reasons. That’s why I don’t like rules and laws. Using laws and rules to determine your course always seems like a bad idea to me because they are tricky things. Someone might tell you after the fact that you misunderstood the laws and rules, or else that they changed. Any maybe the insurance company was hiding some bit of “gotcha” information that they would spring on me and invalidate my coverage after I had paid for the policy and had my surgery completed. I don’t trust companies.

It came down to this: A quarter of a year of insurance coverage cost approximately $1,100. If I was right in my understanding of the policy, the insurance would cover the surgery and I would only have to pay the policy cost, plus the expense of a few odd doctor visits. That felt like a big if. If I was right, my cost could be 1/10th or less than what had been previously projected by paying my own way. If I was wrong . . . well then, I would have the $15,000+ expense of the surgery and the $1,100 for the insurance policy. In other words, if I was wrong I would have flushed $1,100 down the drain–which, being the stingy sort of fellow I am, was not a prospect I relished.

Could I be absolutely certain that I would be covered? No. Should I take the risk? After praying about the matter, I felt I should. I felt that if I was trusting in God, I didn’t need guarantees that my fleshly mind could rest in with absolute security. I was to trust in God, not man. To the best of my understanding, taking out the insurance policy was the wisest course. I could be wrong, but even if I was wrong, God would still be faithful in providing. So I took out the insurance policy.

At the time I was contemplating the insurance, I didn’t even have the money out of pocket to pay the $1,100 for the insurance policy, much less the surgery. But then a strange thing happened. I got a check for some books that had sold, and Grandma gave me a completely unexpected and exceedingly generous birthday check. I hadn’t told her anything about my monetary need. I had not spoken, or even hinted in the slightest. Out of her own heart (or God’s prompting, to be more precise) she gave me a large birthday check completely unlike what she had done the previous year. Between what I had got from the sale of books, Grandma, and my savings, I had just enough to cover the insurance bill. It did not escape my notice that the bill had been precisely provided for.

Afterward, What followed was the litany of doctor appointments. I went to a general practitioner who examined me (he said the hernia was minor and in no danger of intestinal strangulation but it was still best to have it repaired) and referred me to the surgeon. An appointment with the surgeon scheduled the surgery and then the appointed day of surgery arrived. The surgery, and its immediate aftermath I have already related in an earlier post, so I will not bother to repeat that here. Suffice to say I began an uneventful recovery.

Then, in due time the hospital and doctor submitted their bills to the insurance. At which point they were promptly provisionally denied over the possibility that my condition was “prior existing” and not covered. This was pretty much expected on my part–the insurance, not wanting to give up any money, would want to make sure they really had to cover me–but nonetheless this raised my anxiety level quite a bit. We’re weren’t playing a small stakes came. Well over ten thousand dollars was on the line, and that doesn’t sit comfortably with me. Now we were going to find out if I had read my insurance policy right. Now I would have the chance to experience the very thing I already knew I didn’t like about insurance companies–endless phone calls, and endless delay. The doctor had to fill out a form stating when he had diagnosed my condition and send it back. The insurance company had to reevaluate my claim. Getting all of this sorted out took multiple phone calls–and I hate making phone calls–and lots of waiting for the wheel of bureaucracy to turn. I had to watch my claims like a hawk to make sure nobody screwed up the process, and I had to face increasingly more insistent hospital bills demanding payment ASAP.

Finally, (and none too soon in my book,) the insurance company approved my claim and payed the bills in full (as full as an insurance company ever pays–they never pay the full listed bill and the hospital and doctors who accept it must swallow the difference . . . the surgeon got so little it was almost pennies for the dollar). With that the adventure was over, the burden lifted from my shoulders. It was all done.

The total cost of the surgery that I had been potentially facing was as follows:

  • $60.00 Referral from Primary Doctor
  • $194.00 Pre-surgery consult from surgeon
  • $2,244.00 Base surgeon charge
  • $1,122.00 second surgeon charge
  • $890.00 Anesthesia
  • $11,138.17 Hospital bill
  • Total: $15,648.17

That is what I was potentially on the line for. What I ended up paying was as follows:

  • $60.00 Referral from Primary Doctor
  • $194.00 Pre-surgery consult from surgeon
  • $250.00 Anesthesia (Insurance had a co-pay)
  • $1,123.95 Insurance Policy (one quarter)
  • Total: 1,627.95

I ended up paying approximately 1/10th of what I could have been required, and I was able to pay it all directly out of my own pocket. I didn’t owe anyone a single penny. It was a complete reversal of what I had expected.

God can preform dramatic miracles where the dead are restored to life or health is renewed in the twinkling of an eye. But God can also perform quiet miracles in the little things so that what would have cost far beyond the ability to pay is made payable and what was impossible becomes possible. The fact that such miracles are quiet, and without general acclimation makes them no less miracles and no less occasions in which we should thank and praise Him.

If God hadn’t intervened, I never would have applied for insurance. It was against my personality. If God hadn’t intervened, Grandma wouldn’t have given me an exceedingly generous birthday check. If God hadn’t intervened the insurance company would have fouled up my claim and not paid. In so many ways and at so many times it looked like this entire thing wouldn’t come together–and yet it did. The fact that there was no thunder or voice from heaven makes it no less the work of God.

That might seem a fine conclusion to this story, but that wasn’t the end of the matter for me.

We are very contradictory creatures. One minute we are praying and seeking God’s face and trusting and resting in Him–the next minute we are scrambling like mad while trying to forage on by our own strength. In reflecting upon events, I judged that if I did well in seeking God’s face and trusting Him in the time leading up to the surgery and through the procedure, dealing with the insurance afterward was a different matter entirely. Knowing that total and complete trust is God’s rightful due, this failure troubled me. It did not reflect well on how I would conduct myself in the rest of my life.

Let me explain.

While a review of the facts clearly demonstrates that God was sovereignly directing in events, that fact was never in question for me. I knew and believed that no matter what the outcome, God would have been faithful. It is all too easy for us, in our fleshliness, to tell God that He is only faithful if He handles a situation as we think He ought. But the faithfulness of God transcends our understanding. God’s faithfulness was most clearly demonstrated in the event that–to human eyes–He was declared most unfaithful. The crucifixion of Christ, to human wisdom, was the abandonment of Christ by God the Father. Jesus had trusted in God–and look what God did! God let him die. But we know, by faith, that God was faithful because He raised Christ Jesus from the dead–He had something better in store, something that could only be laid hold of after the cross. In the same way in our own lives we must be careful to never think that God is faithful only if He saves us from the “crucifixion” in our own lives. God can save us from crucifixion (or sickness, or hospital bills) but sometimes His faithfulness is most perfectly shown by “resurrecting” us from those things which “kill” us. And, in the end, the faithfulness of God to each one of us is penultimately expressed in our literal resurrection at the end of this age.

I understood this, and through the whole struggle post-surgery in dealing with the insurance company it wasn’t as if I felt the faithfulness of God was on the line. I knew, no matter what the outcome, God was faithful. But what I struggled with was trusting God in the sense of resting in His will. It is one thing to believe that an Almighty God controls all things. It is another thing to acknowledge that everything from His hand is good, and to rest in peace in that truth. It was in regards to that question I found myself lacking. I knew God would be faithful to whatever conclusion He had ordained. My acceptance of that conclusion–and my willingness to wait upon it–was a different matter. It is one thing to believe that God is all powerful. It is another thing to believe He is all good, and to rest in that goodness. When the testing got tough, Job had a problem with that second matter too.

So I found myself not resting. Sure, I wasn’t laying awake at nights in a cold sweat with worry–but even by fleshly standards it wasn’t a problem that warranted such a reaction as that. But the fact was, I was struggling with an attitude that viewed the matter in accord to the measure of fleshly standards and concern. The matter weighed on my mind and I fretted.

That is quite natural, someone might say. Why does that bother you?

Why? Because in reflecting on it I saw the poverty of my own faith. I failed to wholly rest in God in this small thing. Sure, I started out good, but when it came to the point when I was really weak–then I stumbled. If I stumbled in such a small thing, how much more would I fail in a big thing? If I did not have faith to rest in peace in the goodness of God in this small thing–if I was agitated by this small problem while I was young, single, and without any real responsibilities–how much more so would I be troubled if I was a father facing such a thing with a family to feed, and some loved one who was sick? It would be a crushing weight which I would not be able to bear. What might have seemed like a little failure of trusting God in the matter of a medical bill was really an indictment of my total inability to live my life as I ought. I was brought face to face (not for the first time) with the reality of my utter lack of strength. I am a worrier, and as soon as a bill rears its head–or as soon as some trouble comes that I don’t know the outcome–that is when everything begins to crumble.

I don’t have the faith to trust God in my life.

To superficial Christianity, that statement is anathema. In worldly Christianity, we talk about how much faith we have in God. That kind of Christianity boasts about one’s own ability to hang on to God. But the truth is that we are not able to hang on to God–it is God who hangs on to us. It is not our faithfulness on which we stand in our relationship to God–but on His faithfulness. In a roundabout way, that was the lesson I learned (not for the first time, and not for the last) from this hernia surgery. Not only do I come a little bit short in trusting the goodness of God in my life–I come completely short. It is very humbling to think about how you are going about something in faith and then discovering that when your feet are really held to the fire your faith isn’t quite the stuff you thought it was.

Looking at how I reacted to the testing that came out of my surgery, I had to admit that but for the grace of God I would be controlled by neurotic paranoia for the rest of my life. I didn’t have some great solid faith that would sustain me and guide me through every trouble. I am a man who likes to be in control, and as soon as it is apparent that I am not in control my fears and concerns spring up and then instead of the peace that comes from knowing the goodness of God, I am wrestling with how I might possibly save my own hide from this disaster–or what I will do if I can’t. Always trying to make plans, always trying to save myself–that’s me. So much for my great faith.

This realization was a humbling one, and at first it was very depressing. But as I continued to reflect and ponder on this example of my abysmal failure I began to see it differently. In seeing my failure I also once again saw the truth of what my hope and confidence in life really rests upon–that is, true faith. In my failure I was reminded again of where my strength really comes from. Coming through my surgery and the experience afterward, I couldn’t look forward at my life and say, “I have the faith in God to face whatever comes.” No, instead I had to say, “I don’t have the faith to face the troubles which will come in my life. But God is faithful and He will be my strength through my failures, and purify me through the testing. Though I stumble and fall, He will forgive me, and pick me up and draw me closer to Him.” It is from the nature of who God is–not who we are–that springs the fountain of true faith and hope. That is a humble position we should always acknowledge. It should never be our faith in and of ourselves to be able to trust God enough that should give us confidence–either for our ultimate salvation, or for our daily living. It is knowing the faithfulness of God to His promises that is the foundation for our salvation, and our daily living.

If our confidence in our lives is founded upon our belief in our ability to give a reciprocal faith to God–then we will always find the foundation failing way when the trials of life come. Because, we will never have sufficient reciprocal faith to give to God in the hour of our need. If we think we have that faith and strength then we are trusting in ourselves and we will find that confidence in vain. The great hope for all of us is to come face to face with our compete inadequacy–and to realize that it doesn’t matter because God is faithful and it is Him working in us that will sustain us until the end. As it is said, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16). It is a confidence based upon who God is, and what He has done in Christ Jesus, not in ourselves.

And so, in looking back on my experience throughout the surgery I must look at my future and say that my confidence of my standing in the trials to come is based in the faithfulness and strength of God, not my own. It is because God is faithful, not because I am faithful, that I have hope in all things. For, certainly I will stumble and fail, but it is God in Christ Jesus who is merciful and faithful to lift me up and forgive me. It is God who is sufficient. I can look at my life and say, “But for the grace of God I will fail in every disaster and time of testing,” and that is a statement of confidence. The grace of God in Christ Jesus–that is our confidence and hope.

Exposed

23rd September 2008

I am sick today, with a sore throat and a head cold, so I figured since I am not good for much else I would try to bring people up to date on events.

In late July I wrote a short essay about the 4th of July family gathering, and about caring for Grandpa. I posted the essay to my silverwarethief website. (I will try to re-post it here, sometime, for those of you who don’t check my silverwarethief website). Mom sent the essay to Margaret–a gardening friend–who was friends with Jane–someone who writes a blog for the New York Times on elder care and aging. Margert wanted to share my writing about caring for Grandpa (what I wrote on the silverwarethief website, that is) with Jane. I said sure, why not. I then found myself facing an e-mail from Jane saying she wanted to write about me on her NYT blog. Talk about things moving fast.

At that point I had to make a decision. On my silverwarethief blog I had three essays on caring for Grandpa jumbled in among all my other mundane writing. Jane was intending to link to those three essays. But I realized that as things stood a bunch of people interested in a particular subject (elder care) were going to come to my blog which was mostly not about that subject. Of course, I had my twilight blog which was full of writing about elder care–which you all know about, but nobody else does. While I have written stuff on Twilight which I have no problem sharing with the general public, there is other stuff on Twilight that I don’t feel so comfortable dumping before the unwashed masses of the general public. I felt I could do one of two things: Either simply leave things as they were and have potentially thousands of people come to my silverwarethief blog and find little they were interested in reading, or else extract the publicly appropriate material from Twilight and post it as a separate blog for Jane to link to in her writing.

I opted for the latter choice because I thought it a pity for people interested in the subject of elder care to only see a small selection of my writing which I was willing to share. Even so, I had to think about the matter for a bit, and count the costs, because while I was perfectly willing for strangers to read certain material, I was not certain it would go over so well with Grandma if she happened across it. In the end I decided that, while what I would present to the public would not flatter Grandma as she wished to be flattered, I would expunge it of all the most sordid bits of family drama so that while Grandma might feel it did not present her as the saint she wished the world to see, it would be an honest account of elder care which I would not feel was too publicly harsh with Grandma.

As a result, I assembled the website www.aswelivedbefore.com and imported all the material that I felt was appropriate. (You will have to copy and paste the link of you want to see the website–I’m not providing a direct link because I don’t want any back traffic.) I surprised myself how quickly, and relatively painlessly, I assembled the entire website in a few short days. I was then ready, or as ready as I was going to be, for a flood of traffic from the NYT. I was about to be exposed.

To the technically unsavvy in my readership, you have no way of comparatively judging traffic volume. In raw volume, all told I got approximately 2,000 unique visitors from the NYT blog. For my little website, that was a lot. For any truly successful blog, that was nothing. I was not inundated with comments, but I did get a number of favorable comments ranging from the inane to meaningful. Then, as quickly as the traffic came, it died away. It all would have been an amusing, but ultimately meaningless blip in my life, except for two very special people who happened to read Jane’s blog post, and come to read my blog.

The first to come was the literary agent. The same week as Jane wrote about me in her blog, I received an e-mail titled, “Greetings from a literary agent.” The e-mail said:

Dear Rundy,

I’m a literary agent representing nonfiction authors — among them, New York Times health columnist Tara Parker-Pope, Pulitzer-winner Daniel Golden, CNN health correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and others.

I came to your blog via Jane Gross’ post.

Would you like to talk? I’d love to discuss a book based on your blog and experience caring for your grandfather. (My father is 93 years old.)

Please let me know if there’s a good time for us to chat.

Her name was Lynn. We talked, I was favorably impressed, and agreed to have her represent me. Two weeks later, I got a second e-mail. This one was titled, “From an Editor in New York.” It said,

Dear Mr. Purdy,

I’m an editor at Little, Brown publishers in New York, and I’ve been deeply moved by your blog. I’m sure you’ve had lots of queries from editors and agents, but if you are interested in developing a book, I’d love to be put on the list.

With best wishes,

Tracy Behar
Executive Editor
Little, Brown and Company

As I mentioned to my family (with some humor) it isn’t every day that you have a literary agent requesting the opportunity to represent you. And it is a rare thing indeed for the executive editor of a major publishing company to contact you unannounced and announce that your writing made her blubber (my reading of “deeply moved”) and ask for the opportunity of publishing your book.

In a few short weeks my life was turned upside down.

With that said, I should hasten to add that nothing is yet set in stone. My agent, Lynn, was very pleased with the possibility of Little, Brown and Company we still must get the formal package sent out and Lynn said she would like at least one competing offer to make sure she knows what the market value of my manuscript is. But unless another publishing company offered a better monetary deal than Little, Brown and Company, Lynn said she would advise me to ultimately go with them.

We are aiming to have the book presentation package ready to go out by the end of this week.

All of this could end up going nowhere. With the economy in the tank, tons of books could be dropped from publication. Or nobody could want to publish it in the present climate. Or my book could flop. Or I could be a one book wonder, and not have another successful book. But regardless of all the what ifs and possibilities about the future, what strikes me most strongly about this whole thing is the visible (to me) working and directing of God. I just wrote that essay for my silverwarethief website, like I’ve done many times before. I did try to do anything, I didn’t have anything planned. But God kept prompting other people, and next thing I know I’m looking at a potential book publishing contract. And it wasn’t even the direction I was expecting to go in my writing.

Clearly, God is in charge of this show (as He always is, but sometimes we fail to remember). So, whether to outward “success” or “failure” I’m walking this path now, until God shows me otherwise.

On a mundane level this (obviously) means I will have very, very, little time to write about the happenings of everyday life here on the Twilight blog. I have limited time that I can devote to writing, and I will have to devote a large portion of it to writing this book. In the immediate future I will be throwing up some cross posts, but in the long term I think its going to go pretty quite here. But at least it is because of a good thing.

As a kind of one second update on Grandma and Grandpa I will say that Grandma continues in apparent good health since she has rebounded from her health crises early in the year. But along with her good health she is eating poorly, consuming meats, fats, and salts in quantities which are surely only speeding her demise to stroke or heart disease. But she is enjoying it (we say wryly). Grandpa continues his slow decline. Over all, things are very quiet here, which is good for getting a book written. But who knows how long they will stay quiet.

And I still have my sore throat and congested sinuses. Ugh.

Bad Night, Bad Day

20th June 2008

It has been awhile since I wrote, I know. I have been keeping busy.

I have had my good days and my bad days, and plenty of just average days. But those bad days are always hiding around the corner, ready to spring on me soon as I let my guard down–when I’m least prepared–and smack me up-side the head. I must always be ready for those bad days.

And bad nights. Bad nights often come before bad days. If the bad day comes first, there is a good chance the night will be okay–Grandpa will be so tired from the day that he will sleep through the night. But if Grandpa has a bad night, the following day will certainly be bad as well. Tiredness has a huge impact on Grandpa’s ability to function, all the more so as he declines. It’s a terrible thing to be in the middle of a horrible night and knowing that the next day is going to be even worse.

And those bad nights can spring out of nowhere.

Last night started out okay. In fact, it started out pretty good. I got Grandpa into bed with no unusual trouble, sang him a few hymns and was in bed myself and turning out the lights at 10:30 PM. That isn’t going to bed early, but it isn’t going to be terribly late for my present life, either. I was looking forward to a decent nights rest.

At midnight Grandpa woke up.

And I’m not sure he went back to sleep for the rest of the night.

These kind of disasters unfold slowly (as there are many hours in the night) and at first one isn’t entirely sure how bad it will end up. A lot of time is spent hoping it will all be over in the next five minutes. Sometimes there is an obvious reason from Grandpa’s insomnia–a head cold or chest congestion. But other times there is no explanation outside of Grandpa’s own broken mind.

I don’t know why he didn’t go back to sleep. Maybe I should have changed his diaper. Maybe a wet diaper was keeping him awake. But he has slept with a wet diaper many nights before without the least trouble. Sitting here, looking back, that is the only reason I can possibly come up with. But I don’t think there was any reason as such. I think he woke up because he had to go to the bathroom and when he woke up his mind wandered off down a dark path and couldn’t find its way back. It was one of those fateful occasions when Grandpa forgot he was supposed to be sleeping.

At least that is my explanation.

In any case, Grandpa didn’t quietly go back to sleep. He began to agitate, and talk. I lay down on my bed, and tried to go back to sleep. He agitated, and I hovered on the edge of sleep, thinking, “Please, let him lay his head down and go back to sleep.”

But it was not to be. If he lay down for a moment he would soon be sitting back up again, fiddling with his bed and talking.

Seeing that we might not get a quick end to the matter, I donned my ear plugs, put a pillow over my head, and tried to ignore Grandpa and go to sleep. I may have dozed. I was aware that he still was not settling down but I persisted in trying to jump off into the oblivion of sleep. It ended in failure as I was conscious of Grandpa getting more agitated, and sleep fled away. I removed earplugs and pillow to find Grandpa sitting on the edge of his bed with some object of clothing in his hand, a dresser drawer pulled out and on the floor.

I tried to pretend it would all go away.

At this point I recognized all the signs of a disastrous night. Grandpa was in his “lost” state where (a) It was impossible to speak intelligently to him (b) it was impossible to get him to do anything, and (c) there was nothing tangible he actually needed. The end result is that he would fumble around doing things about the room, asking questions of thin air, and talking to himself in an attempt to find himself–a futile effort that would only end when exhaustion overcame him and he would fall asleep. There was nothing I could do except ride it out, and try to guess when he was finally tired enough that some physical prompting would get him to lay down and fall asleep.

I find it very difficult to deal with this type of situation. In the middle of the night I am groggy, not thinking clearly, and desperately want to sleep. If I grasp a clear need I usually can muster myself up to answer that need and then go back to sleep (or try to go back to sleep). But in such a situation as this, I don’t know what to do. The first impulse is to roll over in bed and try to will Grandpa into a different world and go back to sleep. That rarely works for me. So I usually end up laying there in a state of dozing, thinking I ought to do something (but what?) as the minutes grind by.

The idea is to get Grandpa back into bed and asleep, but how? The temptation is to sit up and snap, “Get back in to bed, lay down, and go to sleep!” as one would to an unruly child. I haven’t done that (yet) because it won’t work. It might make Grandpa angry, it might make him hurt, but it wouldn’t make him any more cognizant of where he was or what he was supposed to be doing. Perhaps the ideal thing to do would be to turn all the lights back on, gently coax him back to bed, and sing him songs until he settles down and goes back to sleep. That might be the best thing to do. But, somehow, lying on my bed in an exhausted doze getting up and putting on a pleasant attitude and doing all those things and thoroughly waking myself up seems like a herculean task beyond accomplishing.

The end result is that I settle for a middle ground of lying there until I guess Grandpa might be at the point of exhaustion–and I have gathered up the willpower to get myself out of bed. Then I go and physically pick him up and put him back into bed and hope that I was right, and he is tired enough to go back to sleep. Otherwise in a few minutes he will be up and back at it.

The dark hours are filled with a monologue like this:

“Hmmm. I wonder if those were the Northern lights.”

“What is this?”

“What should I do with this?”

“Where does this go?”

“What did you say?”

“Are you awake Ma?”

“Where are you?”

“Ma?”

“Gene?”

“Magene?”

“What am I doing?”

“Where am I?”

“I don’t know where I am.”

“Oh hum hum hum.”

Such monologue will go on endlessly, and if one question is answered by me it will only be quickly followed by another. If you have ever had a younger sibling who would ask questions on into the wee hours of the morning, you know the routine. If I answer with the least bit of irritation in my voice it is common for Grandpa to become indignant–that I should be irritated over his most reasonable activity. So since nothing productive ever comes of me answering his questions, I find it saves my breath, energy, and irritation to simply be silent most of the time and let his words just wash over me. Intelligible words mingle with the unintelligible, moaning and groaning intermixed. It is as if the stream of noise is there simply to keep himself from falling back to sleep. Eventually he will get out of bed and start crawling about the room, fiddling with the floor, fiddling with the dresser, fiddling with the stuff under my bed, fiddling with my bed, and fiddling with me.

On these worst nights I contemplate leaving to sleep someplace else. But, while that might seem an easy decision, it is not. I want to do the right thing, the Christ-like thing, and simply abandoning Grandpa the moment he starts to infringe on my sleep does not strike me as the most loving action. But even on a practical level, that option can be deceptive. If Grandpa doesn’t get a good nights rest, he is going to be a disaster the next day–and I will have to face that. Walking out the moment he starts causing trouble might mean I won’t have to deal with him then–but if I don’t guide him back to bed and sleep as soon as possible I may well have a worse problem in the morning than if I stuck around and got him back to bed sooner.

Like I said, knowing what is the right thing to do, and the wise thing to do, is hard to see and act upon at 2:00 AM.

At 4:00 AM I put Grandpa back in bed for the second time in those fours hours since midnight. I’m sorry to say I didn’t do it with gentle affection. I roughly deposited him in bed, and he started to struggle. Which was to be expected. One thing is sure in midnight disasters: I don’t know what I should do and I do know what I shouldn’t do–and so I do what I know what I shouldn’t do, ending up with the results I knew would happen. Then I don’t know if I am more mad at Grandpa or myself. At least I should have known better

So it is 4:00 AM and after spending four hours keeping himself awake Grandpa appears to be still going just as strong as he was at midnight. As best as I can tell he has only had two hours of sleep for the night (and myself no better). Sometimes I wonder how an eighty-year-old man can do it. You would think shear exhaustion would set in after two hours, and certainly after four. But at this point it was clear the night had become a complete disaster and unmitigated disaster, and there was no possible way I could remedy it. Not only was the night shot, but it was now guaranteed that Grandpa would be a disaster for the following day, which meant I had another 12 hours to slog through before I had any chance at recuperation. My choice was leaving Grandpa and getting maybe two hours of peace and quiet–if not sleep–somewhere else in the house before the next twelve hours started, or else staying with him and listening to his monologue until dawn broke.

There didn’t seem to be much of a choice.

I left and went downstairs to try to get what sleep I could on a piece of furniture. I slept maybe two hours. When I woke I went back to check on Grandpa and found him now sitting on my bed, still fiddling with things and muttering to himself, the room in even greater disarray than when I had left. By all appearances he hadn’t slept in those two hours.

And thus began the bad day.

The lack of sleep rendered Grandpa completely mindless. He was effectively incapable of eating, drinking, or moving himself about the house all day. Each meal became a great effort to get him to eat something. At breakfast he drank half a cup of coffee and dumped the rest on the floor. He was not even able to get a spoon into his mouth, so I had to hand feed him his breakfast. He only ate half a bowl, and refused any more. So I carried him into the living room and put him on the couch. He got off the couch and spent most of the morning on the living room floor, sleeping some. At lunch I wheeled him to the table in the wheelchair and laboriously managed to get him to eat most of a small tub of pudding and a small tub of chicken and noodles and vegetables. It was a process where every spoonful was a victory. At supper I managed to get him to eat a few spoonfuls of spaghetti and meatballs, a few sips of coffee, and a few bites of cake. That was all. I took him back to the couch, which he left and ending up sleeping on the floor for a good part of the evening.

If I was lucky, I got 500 or 600 calories into him all day and maybe 8 or 12 ounces of liquid. It was all expected–the day didn’t turn out one bit different than I anticipated. After awhile, you know how some things will go. Hopefully he will do much better tomorrow, and make up for what he lost today.

I survived the day okay. It is the second day after a bad night which kills you. Tomorrow will be tough.

But there is one good thing. Grandpa doesn’t have the strength to do two bad nights in a row. That is one thought I try to console myself with, when a sleepless night turns into morning, and a bad day dawns.

Lay Each Day Down Before God

5th May 2008

[As I have an uncontrollable urge to apologize for the quality of my writing, I will say that I wrote this over the space of two nights, consuming the hours of 8:00 – 12:00 and 8:00 – 11:00 respectively. The lateness of the hours may have contributed to whatever lack of quality is present, but I hope it hasn’t made this completely without profit to the reader.]

Approaching Anger

‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27, NIV)

We can break the admonishment in Ephesians down into three parts:

  • In your anger do not sin
  • Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry
  • Do not give the devil a foothold

Two thoughts come out of this:

  • Sin in your anger –> Give devil a foothold.
  • Let the sun go down while you are angry –> Give devil a foothold.

It is well worth noting that in his admonishment Paul does not say, “Never get angry. Anger is sin.” There are proper times and occasions for anger, but Paul gives some warnings about the matter.

Both of the warnings address how we deal with anger. We should not sin in the moment of our anger, and we should not harbor anger. A man might succeed in not sinning in the moment of his anger by restraining himself from knocking someone’s block off (and so think himself very righteous for his restraint) and yet still be sinning by harboring anger in his heart. Or, a different man might slug whoever irritates him and then promptly put the matter from his mind and think himself very for about doing so. I think anyone who has been angry has experienced both. There are times when something makes you angry–it flares up hot inside you–and you do something wrong as a result. And then there are times when something makes you angry and you let it fester and fester inside you. Paul condemns both.

Implicit in the “do not” of what Paul says is also the positive injunction of what to do. The fruit of godly anger is right action, promptly taken. In some cases right action may be a physical rebuke of the offending party. Other times the right action may be spiritually laying down the matter before God.

The Many Faces of Anger

Recently I began pondering how the application of this admonishment in Ephesians is really much broader than I recognized. Typically when I think about anger I tend to think about “Outbursts of wrath” directed against other people. But not all anger is so volcanic or straight-forward its origin or expression or directed against other people. Clobbering someone, or holding a festering grudge are the most obvious and extreme examples of anger, but anger does express itself in more subtle ways–such disgust, irritation, discontent, and depression. And besides being angry with other people, we can be angry with God, and with ourselves.

This broadens the matter of Ephesians 4:26-27 quite a bit. A little uncomfortably much, one might say. It is difficult enough applying those verses to our interaction with other people, but compared to the burgeoning reality of the many manifestations of anger in our lives, it is somehow so much simpler to run through those verses and apply them to our relations with other people and call that the end of the matter. The thing is, it isn’t.

Most Christians will agree that we have no right to be angry with God, and so most will deny to themselves that they have been shaking their spiritual fist at God. But I have found that so often at the heart of problems–beneath all the obfuscation and rationalizations–is an anger toward God. With everything stripped away, and the heart of the mattered admitted, the plan fact is that the person felt God wasn’t being fair, right, or whatever. I find this type of anger especially deceptive because unlike anger with other people–which we are far more likely to readily admit and even justify–anger at God is something most people don’t want to admit. And so we blind ourselves to it, and don’t deal with it rightly. It then becomes a festering thing which gives the devil a foothold.

Then there is being angry with oneself. Some people don’t seem to have a problem with anger toward themselves. There are people who go around exploding at other people fifty times a day, and seem to have the most golden self-loving attitude you have ever seen. They think they’re great stuff. And then there are the other people who appear constantly angry with themselves. Among those who do get angry with themselves, I think there is a great tendency to justify that anger above all others. The reasoning is along the lines of: “I’m not angry with you and I’m not angry with God. I’m angry with myself, and I can be angry with myself if I want to. I have every right.”

But Ephesians 4:26-27 constrains the right expression of all anger, including anger with oneself. That is a hard blow against anyone who has harbored years of rage against themselves, and justified it as their right and prerogative. Perhaps many people would pause at this point and look back over their lives and feel very proud that they have never gone to bed in a fit of cursing themselves. Such self-congratulation is premature. Anger can be expressed in more subtle ways than the extreme manifestations of self-damnation or abuse. It is one thing to admit that if I’m having a screaming fit at myself, then I have issues. But what if I’m disgusted, irritated, discontented with myself, or depressed over myself? If all of that is expressions of anger toward oneself, that starts to uncomfortably touch a lot more.

Now someone might protest, “Disgust, irritation, discontent, and depression aren’t manifestations of anger they’re . . . something else.” But what is the opposite of anger/wrath? It is satisfaction/peace. Anger and wrath exist where things are not right or good. Satisfaction and peace exist where things are right and good. Thus, while disgust, irritation, discontent, and depression are not an explosively violent manifestation of anger, they do flow from the same source as that tantrum. I might start out one day a little irritated with myself, and then become discontented, soon to be disgusted, to end up depressed or in a screaming fit. The foothold of the devil grows to a stronghold when we don’t admit something for what it is.

I have standards and expectations for myself. Every day I want to do certain things, and live in a certain way. And every day I fail in many ways to live up to my desires and standards. Throughout the day this produces disgust, irritation, and discontent. It can all come to a head when I reach the end of the day and reflect on my short-comings. It is easy to lay in bed and run down the list of failures for the day, beat oneself over the head with each, and then swear that next day will be better. The sun goes down, and what are we doing about our anger with our-self? We rise the next day, fail again in various ways, and go to bed angry again. And so it repeats, in a subtle way giving the devil a foothold that grows and grows as we become increasingly discontent, frustrated, irritated, disgusted, and depressed.

How do you deal with the daily anger with yourself? The response from people who don’t have high standards and stringent expectations is, “Stop worrying about it. Cut yourself some slack.” But to the person with the standards and expectations, such airy advice rings hollow. Anger springs from a perceived (rightly or wrongly) sense of injustice–and failure to live up to what is right and good, whether it be someone else, or yourself. To tell someone to not care about such things–whether about the failures of someone else or themselves–is to tell them to abandon their sense of justice and become a-moral. Not only is that completely useless advice to someone with a burning sense of justice, but it is also unbiblical.

The Answer

What is the biblical answer to anger? There is only one right answer to all anger. That answer is the merciful justice of God. In dealing with our anger we must commit ourselves wholly to that merciful justice of God.

  • When we are angry with God, we must believe and accept that He is mercifully justice if we are to ever surrender that anger.
  • If we are angry with other people, we must commit them to the merciful justice of God, and act accordingly
  • If we are angry with our children, with must act toward them in accord with the merciful justice of God, applying whatever punishment or restraint is in order.
  • And we must submit ourselves to the merciful justice of God when we are angry with ourselves.

It is God who has the holy and righteous standard. It is only He who can judge rightly, and it is requisite that we acknowledge this. We must fall upon, and rest upon, this. It is true in our approach to God, to men, and to ourselves.

Sometimes, I know I’m not judging myself fairly. I can see that I made up such a list of things to accomplish in the day that I would have to physically be able to exist in two places at once before I could possibly accomplish them all, and the accusation of “Lazy, self-centered slob,” is a lie of Satan, not the truth. But other times it isn’t so clear. Sometimes it isn’t clear whether a failure to accomplish things was because of intervening events beyond my control, or because of personal failings. Then, often times I have truly fallen short of what I should have done, and my reaction is, “If only, if only.” If only I had done this instead of that, or if only I had been stronger, then I would have succeeded.

It is not wrong, and in fact it is a good idea, to examine ourselves at the end of a day. But we must always remember that wallowing in despair, self-pity, or self-anger is not scriptural. Such is not a spiritual response to our failures, but rather worldly grief which “brings death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Further, in examining ourselves we must remember that it is not our place to aggregate unto our-self the final judgement. That belongs to God, who knows all things. We cannot perfectly judge ourselves. Sometimes our conscience will excuse us when we should be condemned, and some times it will condemn us when their is no guilt. In examining ourselves it is not our place to declare what is, but to ask God to reveal what is.

Is it wrong to be angry with ourselves? Not if we are angry for right reasons, and in a right way, leading to a right result. What is the right result?

The right result of anger with ourselves is confession.

If, on the one hand, there truly has been a failure in the day, the conclusion should not be bitter self-anger in the judgement of our own mind, with punishment meted out by ourselves. No, we are to confess to God of the sins and failures that we do recognize. “Big” sins and “small” sins, (for there is that tendency to confess to God what we think are big sins, and then try to deal with our “little” failures by ourselves, and not trouble God with them). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NIV). We ought to admit our failure, admit that we are not able to do better by our own strength, ask God for forgiveness for the failure, and strength to do better.

If, on the other hand, we recognize that we are wrongly angry with ourselves, we must confess that failure also and acknowledge that in such an attitude we are not following God’s way, bur our own instead. Wrong anger with ourselves springs from a desire to be self-sufficient–to have a perfect rule over ourselves and to live up to standards by our own effort and might. The answer to such angry striving is to confess our dependency on God: Both for strengthening to do good, and for forgiveness when we fail.

And then there will come the times when we do not know which it is. We may recognize that we are angry, but whether for right or wrong cause we cannot determine. In such times we must confess that we cannot see clearly if we have failed in some matters, and ask God for wisdom in the matter (to understand) and peace (to accept).

We ought also to ask God for grace to accept as much accomplishment and success in each day as He gives from His hand. For, most assuredly, the prayer for strength will be forever unfulfilled in our eyes if we mean “strength to do all that I want to do” when we so pray. God won’t fulfill that selfish request, but He will always give us strength to do what He has called us to in that day. What we need is grace to recognize and accept it.

The end result of these confessions is to lay all things down before God. The great truth is that it does not depend on us. It does not depend on us to be fully understanding, or able. Nothing–absolutely nothing–depends upon our wisdom, our skill, or our righteousness. To strive in our strength is to set up an idol in our hearts. To let the sun go down while we are angry, is to have anger as an idol in our heart, a foothold to the devil. In surrendering all things to the merciful justice of God, we give up all our claim in the matter and entrust ourselves to His sufficiency–both to forgive us, and make us able. If God has forgiven us, who are we to harbor wrath against ourselves? If it is God who gives us all our strength, who are we to harbor anger for our weaknesses? To hold on to either is to hold contempt for the merciful justice of God.

It is God who grants us all the success that we need each day. And it must be recognized, and faced, that to our eyes that may mean appear to be no success. But if we are walking by faith, and not by sight, then what we see with our fleshly eyes each day is not our measure or judgement of ourselves. What we should concern ourselves with is the will of God. And if we cry, “Thy will be done, O God!” we know it is true, and then we can rest in peace at the end of every day. We are not sufficient, we will never be sufficient, and in ourselves we will never meet the standard of God. He has provided for that. And so, just as Christ Jesus is our ultimate rest, so in the trials of each day we must continually rest in him. In him and through him we will accomplish all that we need to accomplish. By faith we know it, and by faith we rest in peace at the end of day, not because we have accomplished our accomplishments, but because the promises of God in Christ are true.

God is a far kinder and wiser master of us than we are of ourselves. He is not overwhelmed by our sins, as we are, or deceived by Satan’s accusations, as we are. There will be no peace in trying to live up to our standards, but there is peace in resting in God and His provision for His standards in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Every day we must surrender to the lordship and provision of God. We are angry, and perhaps even afraid, because we have fallen short. But God is able to provide for us, and He will provide for us, in righteousness, ability, and daily provisions. If the agitation over failed accomplishments is not surrendered to God every day in acknowledgement of His sovereign grace and merciful justice, it becomes rebellion, a seed of bitterness that will grow into a tree of bitterness in our lives.

Bad Week for Grandpa, Hard Week for Me

20th April 2008

There are better and worse periods with Grandpa. The broad picture is a downward spiral, but within that there is the rhythm or randomness of daily life. From the perspective of now I had a time (of weeks, maybe months) where Grandpa was better in his night time activity. His number of midnight trips were less and accidents were rare. I even started to think that maybe I no longer needed the linoleum I had crudely laid down on the bedroom floor to make the midnight messes easier to clean up.

Such was my delusion.

Last week, or somewhere thereabouts, we started our descent. It started with Grandpa being less prompt, efficient, and agreeable for the midnight bathroom trips. He would wake up and moan and groan for ten or twenty minutes before being agreeable the needed trip to the bathroom. Or, we would go and then he wouldn’t want to go back to bed. Or some variation.

This week we were back to messes. Two nights this week we ended up with a lake of urine on the bedroom floor, and once with the hall carpet soaked. Twice it was because of diaper failure. (I have upgraded what type of diaper I use because of plentiful past failures of this type, but no diaper is completely fool-proof). Once it was because Grandpa got out of bed and decided to get his diaper out so he could go pee–and he got mad at me from stopping his impromptu urinating on the floor. Contributing to all is Grandpa’s increasing inability to make prompt trips (or even remembering to complete the journey) to the bathroom. The mess in the hall was because he made it halfway to the bathroom and ran out of steam/forgot where he was going.

Midnight crabbiness is another thing on the rise. On Grandpa’s part it is at least due in part to his increasingly muddled state. If he can’t comprehend what I am trying to do (or how it well help him do what he wants to do) then I am just persecuting him. He doesn’t understand why I am always dragging him down the hall, making him go through doorways, and making him sit down, etc. I’m just manhandling him for no reason. And, for my part, an increasingly unhelpful patient (and increasingly lengthy and disastrous midnight ganders) marks an equal increase in my lack of patience.

For myself, I feel caught between a rock and a hard place. If Grandpa can’t understand what I say or what I am trying to help him do, why try? If he can’t remember that he needs to go to the bathroom a minute after he has got out of bed, why take him? But maybe if I explained things a little more he would understand. Or if I was a little more patient and slow we could make it to the bathroom. What could I be doing? What should I be doing? Such are the unanswered questions that come in the middle of the night when the minutes grow long, and there is no sleep in sight.

By default, my normal activity is to offer Grandpa assistance if he seems cognizant of a need to go to the bathroom and is willing to accept help. If he gets out of bed apparently unable to recognize his own need, or if he starts to become contentious about my assistance, I simply let him be. If he gets out of bed and starts opening dresser drawers or moving stuff around the room I may ask him half-heartedly, “Do you need to go pee?” or I may not. A year ago such a question would likely prompt a “Yes, I need to go!” at which point I would take him, he would do his business, and we’d both get back to bed. Now that question could get a “No, not now,” (even if it really is yes,) or, “Uh . . . maybe. I don’t know.” Even a “Yes,” doesn’t mean he will go. Often enough I’ve taken him to the toilet only for him to sit there for two minutes, then get off–only to really have to go ten minutes later. Or he has already gone and his diaper is wet and the entire trip was to no effect. Or halfway to the bathroom he stops and says, “Jeez, why are you dragging me along like that–let me go!” Or we get to the bathroom and he grabs hold of objects and refuses to enter, saying, “What the hell are you trying to do?”

The entire act of taking Grandpa to the bathroom is beginning to feel pointless. Half the time it seems he has already done everything he needs to do before we get there. The rest of the time he has already done half of what he needs to do (so the diaper already needs to be changed) or he does nothing and ends up wetting himself ten minutes later after we’ve left the toilet. Then add on top of that Grandpa getting crabby at me because I’m hustling him along (or trying to get him to go back to bed) and the attendant desire in me to say something back, which I shouldn’t, and in the end it feels like the best solution is to just lay in bed and do nothing.

That might sound obvious, but life isn’t quite that simple. First, it feels like a concession to my lack of patience and forbearance that I’m doing nothing because I disillusioned by the pointlessness and trying to avoid becoming angry over Grandpa’s irritable refusal of my less than perfect help. So I lay there and wonder if I am doing what is best in a bad situation, or doing what suits me best in a bad situation. Second, I lay there and wonder if this is really the best even for me. Why everything worked so well before was because I could get Grandpa to the bathroom promptly, he would empty his bladder, and then we would both get back to bed in quick order and be able to fall back to sleep. But now his failure to use the bathroom means that he gets out of bed and simply becomes a derailed train careening about and making sure neither him no I get sleep. Is there something I could do to keep him from becoming a midnight train wreck. Anything besides just lying in bed?

I haven’t come up with any answer. Maybe some day I will find a better answer. Maybe this is just how it will be.

But there is the cost in lost sleep. Some times it is a half hour. Some times an hour. Sometimes more. Last night Grandpa got out of bed at 11:00 PM probably because he needed to go to the bathroom. In the following three and a half hours he sat on his bed and talked incoherently, opened dresser drawers multiple times, sat on my bed and talked incoherently, bumbled and moved things about the bedroom, and finally ended up on his hands and knees in the corner by the door, completely lost–not knowing where he was, what he wanted, or where he was going. By that point he was finally so exhausted that he agreed to my suggestion to going back to bed. He was so exhausted and confused I had to physically dragged him back to bed. It was not the first time in those three and a half hours that I had put him back to bed, but it was only then that he finally stayed there, and fell back to sleep.

At 7:00 AM we were up for the day.

It is easy to think, “Woe is me.” But I was reminded earlier this week that however hard it is on me, all of this is much harder on Grandpa. If it is a form of misery for me, it is double the misery for him. As much as I suffer, it ought to give my compassion for Grandpa. Worse than a few hours lost sleep is the sleep lost along with not knowing where you are going, what you want, or where you are, and then pissing yourself on top of it. I have the lost sleep. Grandpa has that and everything else besides.

I was reminded of in the middle of the week. I had taken him to the bathroom sometime in the morning and sat him on the toilet to do his business. On my leaving he promptly got of the toilet, turned around, and urinated all over . . . everything. A little later I was back in the bathroom doing cleanup from the disaster. Grandpa stood and watched, and said in absolute misery, “I should just find a bridge to throw myself off. I haven’t done anything productive in a long time.” The comment, and the reminder of his misery, brought me up short.

Endoscopy and Colonoscopy

13th April 2008

I’m pretty tired, but I’ll try to give a quick update on Grandma.

The endoscopy and colonoscopy took place on Tuesday. The procedure was completed without any complications. The results were as I expected: The doctor saw nothing that could account for the severity of Grandma’s symptoms. With no physical evidence of anything, a default diagnosis of gastroparesis was given. Since Grandma refuses to take the medicine that is supposed to help alleviate gastroparesis, the only advice the doctor could give was eat many small meals and avoid hard to digest food. Basically, what Grandma is already doing.

When I raised the concern about the possibility of pancreatic cancer the doctor readily agreed that a CT scan should be done to rule out the possibility of pancreatic cancer since no other cause could be observed. So we need to call to schedule the CT scan. I doubt it will find anything, but due diligence does seem to call for having it done.

The doctor found nothing to account for Grandma’s severe ailment, but she did have various less serious issues. The examination of the colon revealed that she has diverticulosis (no surprise given her age) and also the doctor said her colon was a strange darker color, and he didn’t know what to make of that. He said that maybe it was because she had taken some type of laxative at some point in her life. He didn’t seem unduly alarmed, and neither did the nurse when she later added that maybe the darker color was because the colon was dying from lack of blood(!!!). I didn’t know what to make of that as the nurse stated it in such a ho-hum fashion I didn’t know if it was some remote 1% possible explanation for the odd darkening of the colon and so the nurse simply mentioned it to be through, but thought it highly unlikely, or what. In any case nobody gave the impression that whatever was (or wasn’t) going on with her colon had anything to do with Grandma’s complaints, and I suppose that if Grandma’s colon is dying, or something, there isn’t much anybody can do about it.

During the endoscopy the doctor also found a growth in Grandma’s esophagus that occurs in people who have a long term problem with acid reflux. This was evidence that Grandma’s problem with stomach acid has been long standing, though she didn’t realize it. The growth has the potential of becoming cancerous, so the doctor took a biopsy, but didn’t seem concerned at all, saying that lots of people have the growth and it usually isn’t cancerous.

He also saw a small bloody/sore spot in her stomach which he said was probably caused by the plavix and/or aspirin that she takes. He didn’t appear concerned about it, and didn’t think it could in any way account for Grandma’s massive inability to eat. I actually got to see the a picture of the bloody spot, and I have to agree it seemed quite small.

So, while Grandma has various ailments in her gastrointestinal system none of them seemed severe enough to account for the inability to eat solid foods. Thus the gastroparesis diagnosis, along with too much stomach acid.

I’m not sure what Grandma’s long-term reaction to this diagnosis will be. She wants to be cured–for everything to return to how it was. If the gastroparesis is as incurable as people imply, returning to everything “as it was” is impossible. But if Grandma finds holding to the liquid diet allows her to continue to feel better she may make her piece with this state of things. Time will tell.

This Friday I took Grandma to an appointment with her regular doctor where she was proscribed an antibiotic for her stomach–I guess because the doctor was concerned that the bloody spot on her stomach might become infected. Grandma started taking the antibiotic Saturday morning and had a bad interaction between one of the antibiotic pills and one of her blood pressure pills which sent her pulse and the bottom number on her blood pressure dangerously low. The result was that Saturday afternoon Grandma ended up in the emergency room until they managed to sort out what was going on, and altered the prescription for one of the pills in her antibiotic regimen.

Another week, more adventures. We’ll see what next week brings.

Handing Over The Reins

6th April 2008

Last weekend my Aunt Daryl came over on Saturday and formally took over the duty of bill paying. This is a great relief to me, and I think Grandma also.

I was fretting up until the very occurrence because I wasn’t sure how willingly Grandma would let go of bill paying, and I wasn’t sure how firm Daryl would be in the face of any resistance. Being proud, Grandma doesn’t like to admit her weaknesses, or request any help that would “impose” on other people. I have visions of Daryl bringing up the subject and Grandma insisting that “everything was just fine” and Daryl backing down and saying, “Well, okay, if you’re sure.”

Thankfully it did not turn out that way. I think Daryl was dreading the discussion. When she first came down she talked to me privately and said, “How are things? She seems to be doing better.” I suppose she was feeling me out to see if action was still necessary, and I was adamant that it was. So Daryl spent the next several hours cleaning house for Grandma, and only after that was all done did she query, “How is everything else going, Ma? Do you need help with anything?”

To which Grandma admitted things weren’t going quite so well. With the opening presented, Daryl quickly ushered the conversation to the desired end, and Grandma didn’t protest. And soon as Daryl sat down in front of the pile of bills, she had no doubt that I was right–Grandma shouldn’t be handling it anymore.

I was almost shocked at how easily Grandma gave up the duty of bill paying. I knew that for some time paying bills had been labor-some for her, and I knew she was no longer capable of being in charge of bill paying, but her complete and passive surrender on the subject revealed how far she had fallen. She gave up with the surrender of someone who is completely exhausted–Ashamed, but lacking even in the energy to put up a pretense. “I’m sorry it got like this, Daryl. Maybe after I get better from the sickness I can take back over,” she said But she didn’t even put much vigor in suggesting such a fiction. She mostly sat tiredly in her chair and watched us until her back started hurting, and then she lay down in her bed and watched us from there.

Since Grandma was watching it was difficult for Daryl and I to talk frankly about how the bills should be handled, but we had covered some important issues in private (over the phone and while Grandma was absent) before this point. The most important point I had conveyed to Daryl was that Grandma be taken out of the position of even touching the bills, because I couldn’t be confident that she wouldn’t start hiding bills away in strange places. So the long term plan that we settled on, for the time being, was that I would separate all the bills out of the mail and put them in a special place for Daryl to go over them when she came down every weekend.

I didn’t go home last Saturday because the family was sick and I couldn’t risk bringing the sickness back to Grandma and Grandpa. But this ended up being a good thing, because it meant I was present to help Daryl extract the process of bill paying from Grandma’s hands and set up a new system where Grandma is kept out of the loop. Having done this, I feel that a big cloud has been removed from over my head. Grandma can still spend money (a fact which may end up being a problem in the future) but at this point the amount of damage she can cause has been greatly curtailed.

****

Tuesday Grandma is scheduled for both the endoscopy and colonoscopy. I am pessimistic that they will find anything conclusive. That is, I suspect the doctors will find that she has too much stomach acid and try to attribute everything to that. Since she has been reduced to a liquid diet, there is no doubt that she also has a problem with too much acid in her stomach, but I would not be hasty in attributing all of her misery and inability to digest and move her food to such a fact. There is a difference between cause and result.

There is a tension between understanding how little you know about medical science and also knowing that the doctor doesn’t really know everything that has been going on, and as a result isn’t really making an informed judgement. I don’t know that Grandma has gastroparesis. I don’t know that she has pancreatic cancer. But some of her symptoms bother me as something more than just too much stomach acid, and yet I know that a doctor not intimately familiar with her complaints is going to be inclined to assume “too much gastric acid” when he goes in their and sees that Grandma’s stomach is irritated.

I am sensitive to doctor tendencies to ascribe everything to the simplest cause without really stopping to consider the matter, and all possibilities. But I am also sensitive to the fact that I can over analyze and play the hypochondriac. For example, I am bothered by Grandma’s constant complaint about her back pain. It isn’t very severe (as in needing to take medication for it) but seems to come with regularity–especially if she stands up for too long, but even sitting. She finds relief by laying down in bed. Part of me wants to simply ascribe this to osteoporosis pain in her spine (or something like that) but another part of me can’t shake the thought that I know of two people who had back pain associated with cancer (two different kinds of cancer).

Lots of people have back pain and it is nothing more than muscle, nerve, or joint issues. But. There is that but. The fact that back pain can so easily be dismissed as “nothing” means that the times when it is actually “something” it is over-looked or dismissed. If the doctor wishes to dismiss all of Grandma’s ailments as nothing more that stomach acid I have the choice of going along or raising a stink over some possibility that might turn out to be nothing.

I hope I am wrongly pessimistic, and that the doctor is a gem, but I am mentally trying to brace myself for “discussing” with the doctor the possibility that too much stomach acid isn’t necessarily the root cause, and perhaps that some more tests need to be done to make sure there isn’t something more going on.

Grandma is just dreading the colonoscopy.

Crossing The Line Part 2

25th March 2008

(I hope this isn’t strung together too incoherently . . .)

Backing Up

Before I go on to explain what happened in the latter part of last week, I’m going to back up and give a bit of context.

I have been trying to chronicle the decline of both Grandma and Grandpa, but often it is difficult to see the marks of progression when you are facing it daily. But sometimes certain events do happen, which stand out in your mind as markers of change. With Grandma’s health (both physical and mental) it can be difficult to determine what is a sign of permanent decline and what is just evidence of a bad spell. Many failures can be attributed to momentary tiredness or stress, but sometimes there is no mistaking the evidence of permanent decline, an event clearly showing a line being crossed.

Two such events have occurred recently. The first began around the time of my post “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” around a month ago. The second event occurred the end of last week.

When Grandma’s most recent ailment (or manifestation of her on-going ailments) began to seriously manifest themselves, Grandma found herself unable to eat regularly. Exceedingly high blood pressure at the end of the day, and a sense of stomach distress, meant that a normal supper became out of the question, and sometimes any supper was impossible. Thus in the early days of Grandma’s most recent bad spell Grandma would find herself unable to eat supper, and so would retreat to her bedroom to rest in the hopes that her blood pressure would come down. If she felt she wanted to eat something for supper–but not able to eat normal food–she would take some yogurt or something similar when she retreated to her bedroom.

Then one day she took her breakfast back into her bedroom to eat. And her lunch. And she kept doing it every day.

This did not come as a big surprise to me. I saw the change coming, eventually. But it is a big change nonetheless.

As I have made note of previously in my writing, Grandma has long manifested great difficulty in suffering with Grandpa. As Grandpa has grown increasingly unable to understand his surroundings, or whether Grandma was present or not, it became clear to me that little was being gained by having Grandma and Grandpa in the same room. At least half of the time Grandpa didn’t know if Grandma was actually there or not. When he did know she was there (and sometimes even when he wasn’t sure) he would harass her with attempted (incoherent) conversation and questions. And when she was trying to sleep he would make it difficult for her by either poking at her person when she was reclining in her easy chair, or else calling loudly for people from his spot on the couch. Grandma had little she could or would offer Grandpa, and Grandpa usually just irritated Grandpa, so the end effect of having them both in the living room was that I had to constantly run interference between the two of them.

It came to the point where I couldn’t wait for Grandma to decide she couldn’t stand it anymore. If you cannot stand noise and irritation when you are trying to read, relax, or sleep, then you should do those things were an Alzheimer’s’s patient isn’t present. I had to restrain myself to refrain from telling Grandma–when she became caustic toward Grandpa–that if she couldn’t stand him she could always go back to her bedroom. Instead of such commentary, I quietly helped make her bedroom more attractive. When the TV in the living room died (a great blessing in my book) I rearranged her bedroom so she could easily watch TV on her computer from her bed. I also moved a spare easy chair into her bedroom so that if she wished she could sit and watch TV or read her newspaper. With bed, nightstand, easy chair, computer/TV, and the adjoining master-bath right off her bedroom Grandma had basically everything she needed for a comfortable secluded existence away from the reality of Grandpa.

After I had everything set up, I knew that it was only a matter of time before she came to realize it for herself. Given Grandma’s attitude, I found it the preferable progression. I knew the point would finally come when she couldn’t stand Grandpa anymore. The result was that she either (a) would decide she had to get rid of him, or (b) find some place where she could escape him in the house. But option (b) would have to be appealing enough that she wouldn’t find it more convenient to attempt to evict him from the house. I wanted to avoid that confrontation, so I saw to it that things were arranged so option (b) would be very easy.

And so it was that as Grandma began feeling worse and worse with her own sickness what little ability she had left to cope with Grandpa vanished entirely. She couldn’t stand to eat her breakfast with him sitting across the table from her, moaning and groaning, or asking her questions. And the more she got herself away from Grandpa, the more she found she liked it. Soon as Grandma started spending more time in her bedroom, it quickly escalated so that she was spending just about all of her time there.

With Grandma and Grandpa now effectively living on opposite ends of the house, this has made life much easier for me . . . which has, in effect, only balanced out how things have got harder as Grandma has become more ill. I no longer find myself under the stress and obligation of trying to modify Grandpa’s behavior for the benefit of someone else. It is now just me and Grandpa, and I am highly tolerant of his quirks (well, when its not the middle of the night, anyhow). If he wants to sit on the couch and call for Gene, Doug, George, Jenny, Jean, Jacob, John, and any other name that comes to his mind–I let him. If he wants to drag chairs around the house, I let him. If he wants to moan and groan, I let him. If he makes a mess dumping out the kitchen garbage can, I have the luxury of cleaning up without having to worry about someone else flipping out over the mess. In short, I now have much more freedom to tend to Grandpa as I feel is best instead of tending to him in a manner to please someone else. It is, frankly, a great relief in a time when I now have other pressures growing. Grandpa has reached the point where much of his activity is almost startling in its close similarity to the behavior of a toddler, and–having grown up in a very large family–dealing with the activity of a toddler comes to me without thinking. Picking up the messes made, keeping things out of reach, ignoring the noise and activity, and answering incomprehensible questions and conversation with vague answers that pop out without me even thinking. Grandma cannot fathom how I can stand to deal with him.

Grandpa, for his part, is far enough gone that he has not been able to fully grasp the change–which is good, because if he was able to fully understand he would be greatly hurt. As it is he sometimes faintly grasps that Grandma isn’t around as much as she was before, he doesn’t like it, and might wonder if she is mad at him or something. But mostly he is so lost in his own very tiny world that her absence in her bedroom is no different than her presence in a chair across the room. In either case he is still lost and alone in his little spot on the couch, unable to remember where anyone else is, much less himself.

The dynamic of the house has become very much not a normal house. In the first medical ward on the couch we have Grandpa. In the second medical ward in the master bedroom with have Grandma. And then there is me, the overseer of this sick house. Since Grandma cannot presently stomach much more than a liquid diet and the range of food Grandpa can eat is rapidly shrinking toward only canned mush, I find myself now in the position of only cooking for myself. And I’ve discovered it is very uninspiring to cook just for oneself. Grandma never had broad culinary horizons, and was always impressed and very appreciative of what I could cook without even straining myself. But now with no one to appreciate what I make I find the act of cooking very underwhelming. I have a lot of things I would like to get done in any given day, and taking time out of my day to cook seems rather pointless when I end up sitting there at the table looking at my one plate. Why bother? I’m not going to complain if I have cold cereal three meals a day. Heck, I’d rather forget about eating altogether if my body didn’t rebel over such a venture. Eating alone is very boring. If there is no one to sit down and eat with, there doesn’t feel like much reason to sit down and eat–you might as well grab something while on the go between activities.

Thus, my previously faithful supper menu has given way and I’m not entirely sure what I will do. Some days I still cook a full supper. Some days I make a light meal. Some days I eat leftovers.

All of this is to say any semblance that this was a normal house is now gone. It feels as if (and appears that we have) crossed a line. This is a house full of invalids.

This Past Week

That is some general background. Now returning to this past week:

It was not something new, but I was struck afresh in the days after I took Grandma home from the hospital how much she has come to depend upon me. Ever since I have come to live here Grandma has depended upon my physically. But the situation has progressed (by bits and pieces) until now Grandma mentally and emotionally depends upon me. Emotionally, because she needs me to stabilize her life and be a center of calmness and sanity when she is terrified and uncertain about her sickness. Mentally, because she can no longer remember things, and has difficulty even understandings things. How bad that was became very evident late last week.

Thursday night Grandma came out into the kitchen and said, “Could you help me? I can’t remember what bills I’ve paid.”

I have never cared for Grandma’s habit of bill paying (leave them until the last minute so you can hang on to your money for as long as possible) and little alarm bells have gone off for some time . . . a certain air of Grandma handling the whole matter by the seat of her pants, comments about not being quite sure how much money was in the checking account, and other such things that made me a little uneasy but without any sign of actual failure I minded my own business. But this stuck me as a little more definitive, and alarming.

That was only the beginning. I went back with her to her bedroom and got on her computer to look at her on-line banking. She handed me some bills that needed to be paid, and asked me to check and see what other bills she had paid. I looked at the first bill. Time Warner Cable. Due today . . . and it was now after 8:00 PM. “Grandma,” I said. “This is over-due.”

“What?” She said. “How an that be? I thought it wasn’t due until the 26th!”

“It say right here,” I said, pointing to the prominent date on the bill.

As if this weren’t enough to demonstrate the point, Friday she informed me that the ambulance company had billed her $80.00 for her most recent trip in an ambulance and that she had received a notice from her insurance that she didn’t owe anything. “Then call them up and see what they say. Somebody can probably clear it up,” I said.

Later in the day she informed me that she had called the ambulance company and they had insisted their billing was correct, and Grandma insisted that she didn’t have to pay anything. Getting the hint that she wanted some help resolving this, I went in to take a look at the two supposed contradictory bills. The ambulance bill did indeed say she owed $80.00. The other bill she gave me said she owed nothing . . . but it was for her doctor.

“Grandma, this is for your doctor,” I said.

“It is?” she said. “Well, the other one must be around here somewhere. I can’t keep track of anything. I have all these stacks of paper. It’s here somewhere.”

I quickly and easily located the appropriate insurance statement for the ambulance billing. Where it, of course, said she may indeed owe approximately $80.00. “Grandma, it doesn’t say you owe nothing,” I reported.

“It doesn’t?” She said.

I showed her the writing in black and white.

“Oh, shit,” she said. “How could I have messed that up?” Then she thought a bit. “You know, when I talked to the person at the ambulance billing they said they don’t actually have a collection agency so if I don’t pay nothing will happen. I could just not pay . . . after all, they’re supposed to be a volunteer organization.”

I made a disapproving sound of some type, and it must have pricked her conscience because she got all indignant and said, “Well! I’m not Mr. Perfect like you!”

Then, later in the day, I brought in the mail, which consisted in a letter from the car insurance company. I handed it to Grandma and she began to open it saying, “Oh, they always send this long before they’re actually due. I’ll have lots of time to pay this.”

Seconds later: “What! It says I’m overdue! How can I be overdue! I’ve never received a bill before! There must be some mistake!”

“Either you lost the previous bill, or the previous bill got lost in the mail,” I said . . . though by this point I was pretty darn sure in my own mind which of those two had happened.

Grandma continued to go on about how she had never received a previous bill, and the general indignity of things, until she finally decided to go look and see if she had a previous bill anyplace–probably just to prove to herself that she had not received a previous bill and the insurance company was insulting her honor. So she began bumbling through her collected bills, and as I watched I realized the bill could be right in front of her and she might not find it, so I decided to help her look.

After looking through one collection of papers that was where it was “supposed to be” I moved on to a separate stack of papers on her desk. “Oh, I already looked through those,” Grandma said.

“What about this other bunch?” I asked, pointing to the second collection of papers on Grandma’s desk.

Grandma looked at the stack of papers. “I have no idea what those are,” she said.

So I flipped down to the third envelope and pulled out one from the car insurance company.

“What’s that?” Grandma said. “It isn’t a bill, is it?”

Of course it was. Over-due by approximately two weeks.

“Oh yeah,” Grandma said once she looked at that. “I got this back in January and since I had so much time to pay it I set it aside and forgot about it.”

Just so.

By this point the moral of the story is obvious. For some time I had been aware that Grandma’s ability to pay her bills had been degrading. Now the evidence was dumped in my lap that she was no longer competent in handling her bills. Not only was she so forgetful as to be unable to keep track of her own affairs, but her suggestion of not paying the ambulance company disturbed me. Not because of the $80.00–for while I think it is right to pay I don’t think the ambulance company will live or die on that sum–but because of what I perceived as her reason and what it revealed about her mind. Implicitly I understood the reason was because she had insisted that she was not required that she pay, and when it was manifestly demonstrated that she was completely screwed up, she wanted to not pay just so she could pretend that she hadn’t been wrong. She wouldn’t admit to that reasoning, but in watching her react I saw it plainly. And seeing it plainly there, I started to see how in her life as a whole was starting to demonstrate more and of this type of behavior: trying to compensate or conceal her failure and inability to handle things. Her method of compensating was not necessarily logical or rational, but it was starting to look like the classic symptoms of dementia onset.

Which is not to say that Grandma has completely lost her mind at this point, but she is definitely impaired, and no longer able to keep on top of her life. The difficulty, of course, is how much of this will Grandma admit and accept? Grandma will readily admit that she isn’t as sharp as she was, and is leaning on me more than before . . . but there is a big difference between that and admitting that you are no longer competent to pay your own bills. While for a time I could compensate for Grandma’s failures, there would come a time when even letting her get her hands on the bills could be an unacceptable risk (right now she files them willy-nilly. When will she start stuffing them under the proverbial mattress?). Eventually, Grandma will have to be removed entirely from the handling of money and bills, and if she starts getting it into her head to buy all sorts of strange and expensive supposed health related things off the internet, that might be sooner rather than later (a particular type of mania I could easily seeing her descending into).

My aunt Daryl has power of attorney for Grandma and it has been understood that if Grandma became incapacitated or died that Daryl would assume monetary oversight. So, after the revelations of Thursday and Friday I called Daryl on Saturday and explained the situation. She agreed that the situation needs to be taken in hand, but also agreed that it should be done with as much diplomacy as possible. Daryl decided the best approach was to wait until the subject came up in conversation and then steer the discussion in the appropriate direction. The end result would be to have me collect the bills as they came in and then Daryl would pay them through on-line bill pay.

Daryl’s suggestion for the method of handling the bills is fine with me. I’m a bit antsy over her idea of how to handle Grandma. On the most basic level, I’m not good at being diplomatic, and I’m always afraid other people will be too diplomatic and not get to the point. Until I actually see Daryl convince Grandma that she should stop handling the bills, it hasn’t been done. And it remains a cloud hanging over my head.

So, we presently have a situation where Grandma is sick with something, and also no longer competent to manage her own affairs. There is a lot of uncertainty in the air. Where will things go? What will happen? I don’t like uncertainty.

Oh well.

We’ll see how things go.

Crossing The Line Part 1

23rd March 2008

What a week.

Last Sunday I finished the post by saying, “Presently, I am always wondering what the next week will bring.”

Well, the following week brought more. Much more.

To begin:

Monday

Monday 12:00 PM was the appointment with the Reiki practitioner. At the end of the previous week Grandma had loudly declared that she was going to drive herself. I greeted the statement with great scepticism given Grandma’s state of bad health and low on Monday she was not feeling well enough to take herself. She got up Monday morning and told me she had suffered another headache early in the morning which “had lasted an hour.”

As the day started it wasn’t clear to me how poorly Grandma was feeling–due in part to the fact that she keeps herself squirreled away in her bedroom and in part due to the fact that she in unclear in articulating her condition. I learned later in the day that she had been feeling so out of sorts that she hadn’t taken her morning supplements because she didn’t feel like she could get them down.

With high hopes (on Grandma’s part) we left for the appointment. Since the appointment was landing right at noon, Grandpa took along a little bit of yogurt for herself to eat to keep her blood sugar up. Grandpa and I kept ourselves occupied in the car while Grandma went in for her appointment. When Grandma returned she told me that she had started to get another headache while in the office, but when the Reiki lady had placed her hands on her head it had “immediately gone away.” However, for making such a statement suggesting the great powers of Reiki Grandma seemed subdued, ambivalent, and hand’t made a followup appointment. Though she said nothing negative about the experience I got the sense that her initial experience hadn’t been what she expected or had hoped. (Perhaps she didn’t like the instructions to drink three bottles of water that afternoon. Grandma has difficulty drinking more than a tea cup of water and three bottles is like six tea cups, an impossible feat in Grandma’s mind.) The most Grandma said about Reiki on the way home was that, though it was “discovered” by a Buddhist monk she thought maybe that the Buddhist had just rediscovered Jesus’s methodology of laying on hands. “At least,” she said, “that’s what I want to believe.”

Such theological equivalences are enough to make me want to pop my cork, but I didn’t.

After we got home Grandma went into her room to sit for awhile before making an attempt at the second half of her lunch. That fact that she hadn’t started promptly on the second half of her lunch was a sign she was not feeling chipper, but since at least every other day she wasn’t feeling chipper I didn’t make too much of it, and went on trying to catch up with the things I needed to get done that day. While about on my activities around the house I saw her fix a bowl of tomato soup and so figured she wasn’t feeling extremely poorly.

I was preparing to run down to the bank to deposit some money when Grandma came back out of the bedroom, greatly distraught, and said she had another headache, and please down go anywhere until it went away. That was some time after 2:00 PM. About a half hour later, still suffering from the headache, Grandma asked me to call her doctor because she was unable to talk on the phone, and tell her doctor to get her an immediate appointment with a GI doctor, or else she was going to switch to a different doctor who would.

I called the doctor, and tried to explain the situation in a more reasonable manner. Grandma was lying slumped in her bed, emanating waves of “I’ve had it! I can’t take this anymore! I’ve suffered enough! Someone better do something now!” Clearly, she had psychologically reached the end of her rope and wasn’t going to have a reasonable conversation with anyone. No matter that any doctor she switched to she didn’t know anything about. No matter that another doctor might not be able to get her an appointment any sooner because if no GI doctor was open, no GI doctor was open, no matter who asked. I was wondering a bit if she was in the midst of having a stroke, but since she was capable of getting up and walking about, applying a wet cloth to her head, and ranting about how she had better get prompt care it was clear she could talk multiple sentences, and it seemed a bad time to ask her to smile and lift her arms above her heads. All around I decided that while she might be having an emotional fit she probably wasn’t having a stroke.

Thankfully the secretary who answered the phone at the doctor’s office didn’t give me a hard time or ask any questions. Perhaps he could guess Grandma’s state. In any case, he agreed to set up an appointment as soon as possible, but said that if I really wanted to try to get the earliest appointment as possible I would do better to call for myself, and gave me the number.

Understanding the wisdom in his suggestion, I called up the GI office. To the lady at the GI office I explained the direness of Grandma’s condition and asked them when was the soonest they could get Grandma in. “Next Tuesday,” I was told. A week from tomorrow. I relayed the information to Grandma. “A week?” Grandma said. “How am I supposed to last that long? I can’t last that long.”

Swallowing very hard (figuratively) I asked the lady if there was any possible way we could perhaps please get in any earlier? “Hang on one moment,” the lady said. She was gone for some time, then came back to the line and said, “I’ve found a cancellation at 11:00 AM on this Wednesday.”

I relayed the information to Grandma, who paused for a bit, so I said something equivalent to, “You’re not going to get anything better than the day after tomorrow, no matter where you go,” to which she tremulously said, “I guess I’ll be able to last that long.”

So I profusely thanked the lady, who said that they would see us on Wednesday, but that if Grandma continued to feel worse than she should go into the emergency room immediately. I relayed the instruction to Grandma, and told her to also watch herself carefully in case she should detect any symptoms other than a headache in case she might be having a stroke. It was a possibility, but by that time I wasn’t sure how much of her current problem was an emotional breakdown and how much was an actual headache. Headaches are no fun. I have suffered headaches so painful that they have made me vomit. As best as I could tell Grandma didn’t appear to be suffering that degree of pain and so I was guessing that the greater degree of her crises was emotional rather than physical.

Even so, I got on the computer and instant messaged home to let people know that a trip to the emergency room was looking possible today.

Indeed, just as I was putting supper in the oven at 6:00 PM Grandma came out of her room and said she was just feeling worse and worse and she thought she had better go into the emergency room. So I called Doug to come over to stay with Grandpa until someone from my family could come, and then I took Grandma to the emergency room.

As trips to the emergency room are wont, that is a story long on hours. But, to make it short, Grandma was given something for her pain, and various somethings for her blood pressure, which was running in the area of 219/92. A CT scan of Grandma’s brain showed nothing, chest X-ray showed nothing, blood test showed nothing . . . emergency room doctor said the headache was because of her high blood pressure, and they decided to hold her over night, as they had of yet not been able to get her blood pressure to come down.

I think it was my most unpleasant visit to an emergency room to date, not because of any of the above, but because shortly after we arrived our nurse had an intemperate exchange with an temperamental patient in the bed next-door. It was one of those things where I could see what caused both participants to lose their cool and yet both of them were at fault for how they acted, and–me being a sensitive soul–the whole thing soured the rest of the very long evening for me.

When the finally gave the official word that they would hold Grandma overnight it was late. At point I left, and didn’t get to bed until 12:30 AM.

Tuesday

Tuesday was spent calling various aunts and uncles to let them know what was up, and otherwise managing to just barely accomplish the minimal required to get through the day. Grandma called me at some point and said her doctor had come in to see her, and had decided that she would be held over (for “observation”) until her appointment with the GI on Wednesday. I was to come and pick her up from the hospital on Wednesday and take her up the street to the GI office. I had the feeling that the doctor had decided to hold her over for “observation” based more on the doctor’s astute observation of Grandma’s mental-emotional state rather than anything to do with her physical ailments, but whatever the case it saved me from being required to haul Grandpa down to the car so I could drive him down to the hospital with me so we could pick up Grandma and come back–only to go out again on Wednesday. I was saved an extra trip out, and for that I was thankful.

Wednesday

I had to get out of the house by about 10:00 AM so I could get down to the hospital get Grandma ready, and then get her to the GI office in time for her 11:00 AM appointment. Arlan had the entire week off, so he came down early to stay with Grandpa so I could take Grandma to her appointment. Sometimes, when there is no one free to watch Grandpa, or when we don’t want to bother anyone, I will take Grandpa with us to Grandma’s appointments and me and Grandpa will just sit in the car and wait for Grandma to come back. However, even before Grandma ended up going into the emergency room I had determined that, if possible, I wanted to go with her to see the GI doctor. First, because Grandma was in such shambles that I wasn’t sure she would ask a single pertinent question or understand a single answer. Second, a family friend who reads this blog informed me (after the previous post on Grandma’s gastroparesis) that her mother had died from pancreatic cancer mis-diagnosed as gastroparesis, and so I wanted to see what information I could get about that possibility.

Grandma had never before allowed anyone to go with her when she saw her doctors. If I ever went with her into the office I would always wait out in the waiting room. I don’t know if Grandma always just thought having someone else come along to ask questions and get answers “wasn’t allowed” or if she preferred to have that time private so she could unburden herself to the doctor about how life is so unfair and how people aren’t treating her right (yours truly included). In the case of seeing a new GI doctor I was pretty sure Grandma would have no desire to do the latter, and as I thought it important that we get some real information (something Grandma is nearly–if not completely–incapable of doing) I decided to venture suggesting that I go in with her to talk with the GI doctor. After at first wondering if that would be allowed, Grandma agreed, saying she had such difficulty remembering things that she might need me to explain stuff. That was a big change for Grandma. A few months ago she would have wanted to be the one to explain everything.

Not to my big surprise, we ended up not learning anything on the visit to the GI office. We never actually saw a real doctor, only a nurse-assistant or something. My sense was that she basically was there to make sure Grandma wasn’t in danger of dying immediately, and figure out what tests should be scheduled to begin determining what the actual problem was. I made sure Grandma explained all her symptoms (she has a tendency to only talk about what is agitating her at the moment) and I tried to ask what questions I could about the progression of how they would test for things and what different possibilities they would look for. The answers I got were, on the whole, very generic. My oblique question about “Possible pancreatic issues” was met with the answer that, “Her liver enzymes are fine, so that isn’t an issue.” I suspect, based on that answer, that my question was mis-understood. I think the doctor’s assistant thought I was asking about pancreatitis, which I believe can be detected with a blood test. From my understanding of pancreatic cancer, it can not. However, I didn’t want to phrase the question more bluntly with Grandma present, so I let the matter go for the time being. Grandma was scheduled to have an endoscopy and colonoscopy on April 8th, and I will be the one talking with the doctors in the post-op and I figure at that point I can ask whatever blunt questions I wish if they happen to find nothing definitive at that time.

So the visit with the GI office finished with little more than an appointment for Grandma’s endoscopy and colonoscopy. I think Grandma is hoping that the procedure will produce a cure (or the path to a cure). Personally, I would put their chances of discovering the true root of Grandma’s problems with just those procedures at only 40%. I think they will have to run more tests. I’m not sure how well Grandma will take that reality, but that is the future.

While in the hospital Grandma started drinking Glucerna (diabetic equivalent of the nutrition drink Ensure) and found that she felt much better when she consumed mostly Glucerna for her meals. So after the GI visit we went to the local Price Chopper so I could fill Grandma’s prescriptions (one for some anti-acid med that the GI said she should use, just in case, and one for the laxative to be used pre April 8th) and buy her some Glucerna drink to use at home. After I got Grandma home I ate a quick lunch and then–since Arlan was able to watch Grandpa for the rest of the day–I went back to Mom and Dad’s so I could get some apple tree pruning done. I pruned apple trees until 7:30 PM, ate a late supper, and drove back to Grandma and Grandpa’s.

Whew. Long day.

Thursday

Doug came down to visit Thursday morning, and since Grandma wasn’t out and about to socialize I felt compelled to suspend my normal Thursday morning activity and be the host to Doug. While Doug comes to give Grandpa some company, Grandpa has a tendency to just sit silently on the couch. Doug is pretty understanding about Grandpa’s condition (he has seen other people go through the stages of Alzheimer’s) but I still don’t feel comfortable leaving Doug all alone with Grandpa because it seems just a little too rude. Thus my morning was lost to entertaining Doug. Doug left after lunch, and not too much later my uncle Joel showed up with some kids in tow, not looking too bad for having survived a stroke at the end of December. By the time Joel left Thursday was pretty well shot, though I managed to squeeze in my bicycle ride very late in the day. (One does try to hold to a schedule . . . heh.)

It was while preparing for my ride, and thinking over the past days, that I decided the time had come that I should no longer be leaving Grandma and Grandpa alone. It has been a long time since Grandma has really supervised Grandpa, but I had let the matter slide when I was on my bike rides because I was only out of the house for 45 minutes, Grandpa generally didn’t go anywhere in that time, and if he did somehow manage to get himself hurt Grandma was capable of calling 911. But as this week had demonstrated–and past events had also indicated–Grandma was starting to no longer feel secure without someone competent in the house to watch over her. I took my ride, but I realized I would have to start thinking about how I would reorganize my schedule so that every day I went I a bike ride there was someone else present to watch over the house. I knew it would eventually come to this, I had been putting it off as long as possible, but I realized the time had come.

To Be Continued . . .

That wasn’t the end of the happenings. But I have been writing this out as fast as possible (whilst attending Grandpa) and it is now getting late–too late to finish. I have Grandpa eating his bed-night snack, my own tiredness is setting in, and I’m going to have to finish another night. Sorry. Gotta go.

Snippet: On Cells

20th March 2008

Big things have been happening regarding Grandma’s health. But it is too late to write about that. So a snippet of more light-hearted fare.

It was 10:30 PM and past time to start getting Grandpa to bed. So I went into the living room where he sat slouched on the couch, studiously reading (or, more likely, psuedo-reading) the fine print in some magazine.

After an initial verbal exchange where I managed to get him to agree to having a bed-night snake of shredded wheat, he went on to a long discourse about people doing this and that, and things occurring like such and such all of which made no sense at all. Once he ran out of steam I said, “So, would you like me to get you that shredded wheat?”

“Actually,” he said. “I really need to go pee,” finally getting around to the real meaning of his previous convoluted speech.

We started down the hall, arm in arm, heading toward the bathroom. Halfway there Grandpa stopped, scratched his head, and said, “You know, I’ve learned more about cells this year than I’ve ever known before.”

No, we don’t have any science magazines lying around the living room for him to read, if he were even capable. So you can try to figure out that comment if you like. But it was given in the most sober sense of reflection, so whatever was behind his thought, he wasn’t joking.

Perhaps he was remembering a year many many years ago.

But then, perhaps he wasn’t really thinking about cells at all, just as his long convoluted conversation about things and people doing things was really an attempt to say he needed to go pee.

The Dying of The Light

16th March 2008

I will attempt to put the story as succinctly as possible. It has been over a month since I wrote the previous entry. Returning to the subject of Grandma’s health, I had said in that:

Speaking of Grandma, she is in another jag of poor health. Last Wednesday she thought she was having a heart-attack and I ended up calling an ambulance and spending a good portion of the night with her in the emergency room. The hospital staff said she didn’t have a heart attack.

Her blood pressure has continued to be wildly out of control, along with intermittent angina. At times, Grandma is terrified.

Besides her obvious state of poor health, a particular cause for this recent trouble has not been clearly or certainly identified. Grandma has various theories–until the problem is resolved they remain just that: theories. Whatever superficial cause and solution that might be found, it is my opinion that the underlying problem is that Grandma’s heart grows increasingly weak and thus increasingly minor problems are having more drastic effects.

In any case, Grandma’s tenuous health lends an air of uncertainty to life around here. I’m never entirely sure whether I will find her alive or dead each morning.

The above crises made Grandma convinced she had some blockage (or near blockage) somewhere in a heart artery. However, in a visit to the doctor she was assured that there was no indication that she had any blockage. It was proposed that she was simply suffering from indigestion, upset stomach, and/or acid reflux. She was proscribed some medicine for indigestion, which she reluctantly took home. Upon reading the list of possible side effects, she promptly decided that she would not take the medicine.

Having received unsatisfactory help from the medical establishment, Grandma went back to various theories, self-diagnoses, and attempted treatment.

For some time I had been suspecting that Grandma was feeling the effects of approaching kidney failure, (it being known that her kidney’s had been at reduce function for some time,) and I finally looked up the symptoms of kidney failure, and found them to make an uncanny match with many of Grandma’s complaints. Besides high blood pressure she suffered from indigestion, insomnia, lack of appetite, lethargy, chills, odd tastes in her mouth, and maybe one or two other symptoms that I can’t remember at the moment. I showed the information to Grandma and suggested she have a blood test to check her kidney function. Grandma agreed.

The blood test showed moderate kidney impairment, (which would degrade to severe impairment before complete kidney failure,) and while kidney impairment at this level can manifest problems (such as anemia) it was dismissed by the doctors as not relevant to her current issues. What they did find was that Grandma had severely depleted sodium (salt) levels. For her blood pressure she had been taking a diuretic which removes sodium from the blood. She was told to immediately stop taking the diuretic and consume more salt. It is my guess that the low salt came about because her stomach distress left her unable to eat much, and so as she was no longer consuming salt her sodium levels dropped dangerously. In other words, I think the low sodium was the result of the underlying problem, not the cause.

In any case, the symptoms of low sodium could account for some of her ailments. When her sodium level returned to normal Grandma felt some better in some respects. Perhaps for a few days Grandma may have dreamed that consuming salt would solve all her woes. She quickly discovered otherwise.

Grandma’s stomach distress and very high blood pressure remained, and so she was scarce better off than before. After more reading, in her health books and on the web, Grandma self-diagnosed herself as having Gastroparesis. A short overview (taken from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gastroparesis/DS00612/DSECTION=2) is as follows:

Gastroparesis is a condition in which the muscles in your stomach don’t function normally.

Ordinarily, strong muscular contractions propel food through your digestive tract. But in gastroparesis, the muscles in the wall of your stomach work poorly or not at all, preventing your stomach from emptying properly. This can interfere with digestion, cause nausea and vomiting, and play havoc with blood sugar levels and nutrition.

No available treatment can cure gastroparesis. Dietary changes and certain medications sometimes help control symptoms of gastroparesis, but they’re not effective in every case. And the available gastroparesis drugs can cause serious side effects. Researchers are investigating other types of therapies for gastroparesis.

Do a Google search on the term if you are curious to read more. Grandma showed me various writing on the condition, and apparently diabetics are particularly at risk, and all around it seemed plausible that she was suffering from this (perhaps in addition to other problems as well). Convinced in her own mind, Grandma began attempting self-treatment. However, her grasp of science is minimal at best. Remember, she didn’t know sodium chloride was the chemical compound of salt. In the same manner, she also doesn’t truly understand what fiber is. For example, she latched onto the fact that fruit with seeds (berries) was bad for her, but thus concluded it was all right to eat a plum because it had a pit instead (!!!). Initially she also switched from her normal dry breakfast cereal to oatmeal, thinking that since the oatmeal was soft it had less fiber. (She has since switched to cream-of-wheat.)

Not only does she state such opinions with such confidence that to contradict her is to invite argument, but she isn’t even consistent about what ailment she has diagnosed herself with (or capable of keeping track–I’m not sure which). Sunday the 9th of March she came out into the kitchen to make herself a concoction to eat. She declared that perhaps her problem was just a lack of enzymes and a ph imbalance and thus proceeded to mince a carrot, apple, and some raw spinach in the food processor. The resulting mixture she then doused with vinegar and honey and consumed. Perhaps that would have solved an enzyme or ph imbalance, but it was the last thing a person with gastroparesis should have consumed.

Indeed, she ended up in agony for most of the night, her stomach unable to empty out. After that experience, she decided it was time for another trip to the doctor. This trip ended up with another prescription, one supposed to treat the symptoms of gastroparesis. What Grandma was really looking for was an immediate (or as close too as she could get) appointment with a GI doctor that would (hopefully) hand down a cure from on high. But she was told that it would likely be a month before she could get an appointment with the GI department, so try the pills.

With a mixture of reluctance and hope, Grandma started taking the pills and after two days or so stopped because she was afraid of the flash headaches that she started getting (shades of a stroke), which she blamed for spikes in her blood pressure.

That pretty well brings us up to the end of this week.

All of this dry recounting fails to describe the emotional and psychological roller-coaster I have witnessed. Grandma swings from terror to elation, depending on the day and how she feels that day. One day she thinks she is dying, or something close to it, and the next she thinks she has the problem licked–only for the next bad day to send her back to the edge of an emotional break-down. Any theory as to what is causing her problems can be considered, and any solution will be entertained. She must have a cure. There must be something that can fix her, and immediately!

Since popping the pills that the doctor gave her did not produce an acceptable result (and waiting a month for an appointment with the GI department was unacceptable) Grandma decided it was time to turn to other methods.

One of my uncles and his family claim a certain doctor of alternative medicine has healed them of all their diseases. I have not spoken with them about their doctor or what he does, so I must be careful in giving a critique of what this supposed doctor does. I only know that what little I have heard second hand makes me think this doctor is giving them some variant of eastern religion under the guise of supposed medicine. Grandma, however, has followed their healings with near breathless interest because here might be yet another avenue for her healing. Of course, their doctor is rather far away for her to attend, so she went looking for some practitioner at a closer location.

At least as far as Grandma heard, (according to her–I cannot vouch for the matter,) the alternative doctor who tends my uncle and his family is very vague about the source for his methodology. But Grandma thinks she figured out that the man is practicing Reiki, and so she looked for Reiki practitioners in our area, and found one.

An appointment was quickly made for this Monday so Grandma can see if it will be the fount for her healing.

I don’t know if Grandma is correct in the presumption that Reiki is what my uncle has . . . uh . . . experienced. Given how I have seen Grandma make erroneous connections on other issues, I leave that question up in the air. What is certain, is that Reiki fits my definition for “eastern religion junk.” For example:

Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.

The word Reiki is made of two Japanese words – Rei which means “God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power” and Ki which is “life force energy”. So Reiki is actually “spiritually guided life force energy.”

A treatment feels like a wonderful glowing radiance that flows through and around you. Reiki treats the whole person including body, emotions, mind and spirit creating many beneficial effects that include relaxation and feelings of peace, security and wellbeing. Many have reported miraculous results.

Reiki is a simple, natural and safe method of spiritual healing and self-improvement that everyone can use. It has been effective in helping virtually every known illness and malady and always creates a beneficial effect. It also works in conjunction with all other medical or therapeutic techniques to relieve side effects and promote recovery.

An amazingly simple technique to learn, the ability to use Reiki is not taught in the usual sense, but is transferred to the student during a Reiki class. This ability is passed on during an “attunement” given by a Reiki master and allows the student to tap into an unlimited supply of “life force energy” to improve one’s health and enhance the quality of life.

Its use is not dependent on one’s intellectual capacity or spiritual development and therefore is available to everyone. It has been successfully taught to thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds.

While Reiki is spiritual in nature, it is not a religion. It has no dogma, and there is nothing you must believe in order to learn and use Reiki. In fact, Reiki is not dependent on belief at all and will work whether you believe in it or not. Because Reiki comes from God, many people find that using Reiki puts them more in touch with the experience of their religion rather than having only an intellectual concept of it.

If you want more info, go to http://www.reiki.org, but for me the above is enough to classify it as perverse occult-religious junk. Practitioners and recipients are at best delusional and at worst pagan. Grandma, being a fine upstanding Christian, scoffs at the “religious part” but somehow still thinks they might somehow cleanse her of her poisons and get her stomach energies lined up so her body starts working properly again.

I have been biting my tongue very hard.

Grandma actually asked me what I thought of it, to which I gave a clipped “I don’t believe a bit of it” to which she asked, “Then what do you think of all the people who have been healed?” To which I tried to give some polite rendition of “There are a lot of delusional people in the world.”

The end result being that Grandma is determined to prove to me that “There is more in the world than you know.”

Yes, I’m sure.

What we will do to rage against the dying of the light.

****

As an addendum: In my opinion, gastroparesis does appear to legitimately be one of Grandma’s problems. I am not convinced that if she got that problem fixed all of her health problems would go away, and I am far from convinced that it is even possible to fix the problem. Grandma is fixated on a cure, but what (very little) I have read on the traditional medical opinions it seems to be held that gastroparesis cannot be cured. According to the Mayo Clinic:

Arguably the most important nerve in your body, the vagus nerve stretches from your brainstem to your colon. It helps orchestrate the complex microcircuits in your digestive tract, including signaling the smooth muscles in your stomach to contract in peristaltic waves — usually at the rate of about three contractions a minute. When these contractions slow or stop completely, food doesn’t move out of your stomach into the duodenum as it should.

Damage to the vagus nerve is the leading cause of gastroparesis, although the disorder can also result from damage to the stomach muscles themselves. Factors that can damage nerves or muscles in your stomach include:

–Diabetes. Affecting people with either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, this is one of the most common causes of gastroparesis. Over time, high blood glucose levels and their metabolic effects can damage the vagus nerve and disrupt its normal functioning. Once gastroparesis develops, diabetes often becomes worse because erratic stomach emptying and poor absorption make blood sugar levels harder to control.

–Medications. Many commonly prescribed drugs slow stomach emptying. Chief among these are narcotic pain medications, tricyclic antidepressants and calcium channel blockers. Antacids that contain aluminum hydroxide, some high blood pressure medications and the psychiatric drug lithium also can disrupt the normal functioning of the stomach. Symptoms usually improve once you stop taking the medication.

Those are the two possible causes that I see as applicable to Grandma (I believe she takes calcium channel blockers for her blood pressure). As I understand it, if her gastroparesis is caused by her diabetes, she out of luck. If it is caused by her calcium channel blockers she can alleviate the symptoms by stopping the medication.

But . . . stopping the medication will mean that her blood pressure will go higher, and even as it is right now her blood pressure is still usually going over 200 at least once a day. If she is stuck with her diabetes and calcium channel blockers, her only “solution” might be to remain on a liquid diet, which is about all she can manage right now.

What actually does come of all this, only time will tell. Presently, I am always wondering what the next week will bring.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

30th January 2008

The Good

Here is the much neglected post-operation update. I’m sorry I didn’t get it out sooner, but a combination of life and other writing preoccupations have filled my time.

Firstly, I will say I greatly appreciated all of your prayers. The operation went well. It went better than I expected. I was in the operating room for only about an hour, and was home not too longer after 1:00 PM. I had very little post-operative pain. Very little. I took no pain medication after coming out of surgery. The only pain medication I took at all after surgery was two Ibuprofen later in the afternoon for a headache that developed later in the day. That was all the pain medication I ever took. Not because I’m some really tough guy . . . it was because I didn’t feel enough pain to warrant any medicine.

I don’t know if the lack of pain was due to (a) me being young (b) exceptionally healthy and fit (c) having only a minor hernia that was probably congenital and thus not the result of a recent injury (d) the surgeon’s skill. Likely it was some combination of the above, but of course at the root it is God who delivers from pain and brings healing.

Hernia is a minor, routine, surgery, so I didn’t expect a lot of pain, but I had anticipated something at least noteworthy. As it turned out, the hernia surgery bothered me much less than my wisdom teeth removal a number of year ago. On that occasion my wisdom teeth were impacted and it was necessary that they be cracked and chiseled out of my jaw. When I came home from that surgery I felt as if I had be hit over the head with a sledgehammer. I did have to take powerful painkillers for a short time after that. I had figured hernia surgery would be approximately equivalent. In my case, it was not.

There was scarcely any post-operative pain, and my recovery has progressed rapidly. There were three incisions, the largest an inch across and directly below my belly button. This was where they shove all their gear inside me. The two other holes were in a vertical line below the first, a few inches apart. They were very small incisions. Since everything was done laprascopically, there was no incision over the actual hernia site.

The only incision that really bothered me during the recovery phase was the largest. In the early days after surgery, when I coughed hard or sneezed it felt like someone had recently shoved a train through my navel and everything was still very sore and not too sure about how well it was holding together. So long as I didn’t cough or sneeze everything was fine, and I tried very hard to not cough or sneeze.

As of today, I have almost returned fully to my activities prior to surgery.

The Bad

As I anticipated, my insurance company is balking at paying for the procedure. Right now they are saying, “We need more information.” Next I expect them to say, “We aren’t obligated to pay this.” Whether I prevail in the end remains to be seen. As this is an insurance company we are talking about, I expect the process to be lengthy.

Obviously I would much desire for the insurance company to pay for what I believe they contractually stated they would cover. However, I was cynical, pessimistic, or realistic (you pick) enough to anticipate that the insurance company likely would not play nice and prepared for that possible eventuality. So if in the end everything goes against me it will not be an end of the world crises. But I do hope and pray that such will not be the outcome.

Bad as having a large bill hanging over my head is, I find perhaps equally unpleasant the time and effort required to hash through the bureaucracy and paperwork. If you would pray for me, pray not only that the entire billing issue would turn out well, but that I would have wisdom and grace in handling the entire matter.

The Ugly

I had the surgery on Monday, the 7th of January. Dad came down to take care of Grandpa for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Given Dad’s poor health I may have been just as capable as him coming right out of surgery. Whether that was the case or not, it was wise for me to take a few days off, but by Wednesday I could definitely do all required functions so long as nothing disastrous happened. So Dad went home Wednesday evening.

Thursday evening disaster struck, of course. As the Alzheimer’s’s continues to eat away at Grandpa’s brain he is progressively losing his sense of balance. His increasing inability to walk is a great cause of his tendency to fall, but it is not the only cause. That Thursday evening Grandpa spontaneously fell over backward.

He was standing in the living room, doing nothing and staring off into space, when I looked over from my computer and noticed that he was beginning to sway like a drunk. About five seconds later Grandpa realized he had become unsteady and started to turn to find something to stabilize himself with. That slight movement was all it took and he toppled right over backward as if someone had given him a hard push. He went down and struck his back at the point of the lowest rib against a chair.

By the time I reached him he was gasping, “Don’t move me! Don’t move me!” in a very pained sort of way. After confirming that he had not struck his spine, and so we weren’t dealing with a possible broken back, I managed to coax him to roll over and after allowing the pain to subside somewhat I helped him up.

At that point it was unclear how badly he had hurt himself. He could clearly stand, and though obviously in pain did not appear to be unbearable so. I asked him if he wanted some pain medicine and he said no, so I figured all he had suffered was a bruise, a pulled muscle, or a temporary spasm. Not fun, but given that he was an eighty-year-old man who had just toppled over backward he had escaped as best as one could hope.

But his injury was not quite so minor as at first it seemed. After his fall Grandpa sat quietly for awhile, but I could tell that he was still in significant pain. When I asked him again if he would take some aspirin he readily agreed. Still, since he wasn’t moaning or groaning I figured that two aspirin would take care of most of whatever discomfort he was feeling.

Later in the evening we completed Grandpa’s bedtime routine of snack, bathroom trip, and then to bed. Everything seemed okay until I helped him lay down and he exclaimed, “Oh! That’s where it hurts!” Grandpa always lays on his left side in bed, and that was the side he had injured. At this point I got the first glimmer that things might be difficult. Nonetheless, hoping for the best, I tried to get him comfortable, tucked him in, and sang him some hymns. At that point he seemed quited, but not asleep as he normally is by that point. I turned out the light and left, hoping that he would fall asleep and sleep well that night.

Such was not the case. When I next came into the bedroom to go to sleep myself I found Grandpa up and the room in a state of disarray which showed he had not been resting quietly. He was hurting too much to sleep. At this point I had the feeling that tonight was going to be a very bad night.

I tried to get him to lay back down again, but it quickly became apparent that his back was hurting him more and he absolutely couldn’t lie on his left side and he wouldn’t lie on his right side because then he would be facing the wall and that wasn’t acceptable. The solution was to move him over to my bed so he could lay on his right side and not face the wall. He was in less discomfort in that position, but it still wasn’t enough.

It ended up being a very long night indeed. A normal healthy adult with a back injury usually discovers that there is one position in which the injured muscle hurts the least. A normal functioning adult will then stay in that position. If Grandpa were still a normal functioning adult he probably could have passed the night in fitful sleep. But Grandpa is no longer a normal functioning person, and the more miserable he is the less coherently he functions.

Thus the night passed as an exercise of futility for me as I tried to get Grandpa comfortable and to sleep while Grandpa continually worked contrary to his own best interests. I doubt I would have been any more successful if I had been in the peak of my health, but tending him was make all the more difficult by the fact that I had gone through surgery on Monday and this was only Thursday and I was not at all sure how much physical straining I dared do. Thus rearranging Grandpa on the bed in search of a more comfortable position was a difficult affair.

And, in the end, it didn’t matter. I would get him marginally comfortable and then he would have to go pee. I would get him comfortable again, and carefully stroke him until he drifted asleep . . . and fifteen minutes later he would cough and give himself a pain and wake up. Instead of lying still until he fell back to sleep he would shift and that would hurt more, and then he would decide to sit up.

It was impossible, and I finally gave up and left him to do what he would. For the second half of the night he moaned and groaned and muddled around with things. I realized that he would probably feel most comfortable sitting up on the couch, but I wasn’t sure he could make it on his own two feet that far, and at approximately four days out of hernia surgery I was sure I wasn’t supposed to be carrying him.

Eventually, as the night waned on toward dawn Grandpa crawled out of the bedroom and on down the hall. I think he left in search of (once again) the bathroom, but forget his reason or destination and simply expired halfway down the hall and lay there on the floor. At that point, halfway between bedroom and couch, I thought to try to get Grandpa the rest of the way to the couch. With much coaxing I managed to get him back to his feet, but I only managed to persuade him to take a few steps before his mind and body gave out and he just stood where he was and wouldn’t go any further. How I wished I could do my normal solution and pick him up and bodily move him.

Instead, I had to get more inventive. I brought the wheelchair around and eased him down into it, then brought him around to the couch and transferred him from wheelchair to couch (surely doing more lifting than I was supposed to, but we won’t tell anyone, right?). At that point I wrapped him up in a blanket and went back to bed. It was 5:30 AM.

I don’t know if Grandpa slept, sat quietly, or did something else entirely. All I know is that I woke at 8:30 to him peeing in the hall outside the bathroom door. And so Friday began.

I had to go grocery shopping Friday. Grandpa spent the entire day sleeping, making up for his sleepless night. In the first day or so following the accident I wasn’t sure Grandpa was going to walk again, ever. He seemed to have lost all ability to hold himself upright, and he would make a quick descent to the floor any time he tried to get up.

But he did recover, at least mostly. Friday night I dragged my mattress out and threw it on the living room floor so I could sleep comfortably while Grandpa slept on the couch. The night passed more sanely than the previous, though sometime in the night Grandpa threw up. Every night afterward we were back in our normal beds and if Grandpa was not entirely comfortable he at least could sleep.

I suspect that Grandpa suffered more than a muscle injury. I’m pretty sure he cracked the last rib. The first most miserable night I was running over in my head whether I should take him to the hospital. For anyone else the answer would have been an immediate yes. But Grandpa’s mental condition is now such that to take him into such a strange place with so many strange people asking him to do so many incomprehensible things would be like immersing him into his own private hell. Under such circumstances the benefits for taking him must be very real and necessary. Besides proscribing pain medication that is little that can be done for a cracked rib and I decided that unless Grandpa’s symptoms became worse the gain from taking him in to the hospital was not worth what it would cost Grandpa.

He is much recovered now, though his side is still tender. I think I made the right choice in not forcing him to go to the hospital for an x-ray, etc but I wish he was in good enough condition to go to a doctor to be properly checked–just because.

Unfortunately, his problems with balance persist. Yesterday he nearly killed himself.

Grandpa has a tendency to want to play on the stairs. Obviously this is very dangerous, but unless you are going to physically restrain him, or gate off the stairs, there is nothing you can do besides trying to encourage him to occupy himself elsewhere.

Yesterday evening around supper time he was fooling around on the stairs and I asked him if he needed to go to the bathroom. He said yes, and started up. It is a split flight of stairs with a landing at the halfway point where the front door enters. He was about halfway up the second half of the flight of stairs and I turned away to go turn on the bathroom light. I heard a sound and turned back in time to see one of those things you never want to see.

Grandpa had apparently been hit by a sudden bout of vertigo and had promptly pitched over backward. I caught sight of him just has he began the inexorable plunge backward, the path of his fall sending him head first toward the steel front door. I only had time to shout.

If he had hit the door he would likely be dead today, but God was merciful. Grandpa was still hanging on to the rail and when he reached the end of his arm he pivoted, his head just missing he door, and came to land on his back. While greatly shaken, he escaped with only a minor injury to his hand.

Many months ago I came to the conclusion that a permanent heavy duty gate should be installed at the top of the stairs to prohibit Grandpa from going down the stairs. At the time I suggested it Grandma refused because she “Didn’t want to damage the resale value of the house.” This reasoning made me very angry, and for a time I contemplated over-ruling her by the simple fiat of my hubris. I finally concluded that it was not my right or place to determine how Grandma would treat her husband or her house and realized I would have to leave Grandma to answer to God if anything should happen to Grandpa.

It may yet come to that conclusion.

Speaking of Grandma, she is in another jag of poor health. Last Wednesday she thought she was having a heart-attack and I ended up calling an ambulance and spending a good portion of the night with her in the emergency room. The hospital staff said she didn’t have a heart attack.

Her blood pressure has continued to be wildly out of control, along with intermittent angina. At times, Grandma is terrified.

Besides her obvious state of poor health, a particular cause for this recent trouble has not been clearly or certainly identified. Grandma has various theories–until the problem is resolved they remain just that: theories. Whatever superficial cause and solution that might be found, it is my opinion that the underlying problem is that Grandma’s heart grows increasingly weak and thus increasingly minor problems are having more drastic effects.

In any case, Grandma’s tenuous health lends an air of uncertainty to life around here. I’m never entirely sure whether I will find her alive or dead each morning.

****

I hope none of the above was too incoherent, but it is getting late and I must quit without rereading or editing.

NYT on Alzheimer’s Again

6th January 2008

The New York Times recently had another article on Alzheimer’s. The article covers efforts underway to develop methods of detecting Alzheimer’s earlier, and treat or possibly cure it. From a scientific perspective what the researchers are investigating is interesting. But sprinkled in with all the information about the progress of research are the personal stories of people suffering with Alzheimer’s and that was of more immediate interest to me.

About the progression or suffering of Alzheimer’s, the article told me nothing new (though perhaps some of you will find those aspects educational) but did remind me of things that I find depressing. Phrases like, “It raises the possibility for me that this is a genetic disorder that starts early in life,” are only grim statements which confirm my own thoughts. The common reaction, at least of people not closely associated with those suffering from Alzheimer’s is that the disease is one which comes on fairly suddenly in old age. But, as it is said in the article, “Researchers think that the brain, like other vital organs, has a huge reserve capacity that can, at least for a time, hide the fact that a disease is steadily destroying it.” I think that for decades before a person begins to show very noticeable impairment from Alzheimer’s they are actually suffering from an unnoticed cognitive decline. Again, quoting the article:

If Dr. Mayeux asks family members when a patient’s memory problem began, they almost always say it started a year and a half before. If he then asks when was the last time they thought the patient’s memory was perfectly normal, many reply that the patient never really had a great memory.

For everyone aging brings on a less flexible mind, and some people have greater difficulty learning or understanding certain things–all without developing Alzheimer’s later in life. But are there signs of Alzheimer’s that reach back into middle age, and even youth? I find myself struck by how the mental frustrations and difficulties of my Dad and Uncle Kevin are a very eerie shadow of the progressive weakening in Grandpa which brought him to the place he is at now. Dad and Kevin have difficulty learning new things, are easily upset by change, and easily confused and overwhelmed. One part of me wants to simply attribute such thing to their long-standing personalities and the fact that they both are simply starting to approach sixty–so what can you expect? But what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Perhaps even in early youth amyloid plaque was beginning to build up in their brains and though their brains’ reserve capacity compensated in their young adult years, nonetheless their minds felt a strain in coping with things other people did not, and so their personalities developed an aversion to those things which so inexplicably strained them. Only now is the reserve of their brain capacity starting to fail so that both my Dad and Kevin are beginning to develop what almost seem like pathological aversions and inabilities to deal with certain things.

Then I look at myself and also wonder. I have a very pronounced tendency to forget words, and a failure to articulate properly. Further, I realized recently that my penchant for using a wrong word, (sometimes completely wrong, sometimes just not quite the right word), or a slightly weird turn of a phrase–for which I am rather famous for spontaneously producing at our house. All of this is because when I am going along in the conversation I grasp from some verbal thing–whether it be a word or some colloquial phrase–and I can’t quite get it, so I just keep going and spit out something that feels about right.

The results can be quite funny, or embarrassing, sometimes, especially the more involved or animated I am in the conversation as mangled phrases and incorrectly used words begin to pile up and lend a rather surreal air. And does it really mean anything? Not all of us are great conversationalists. Just because we might accidentally say, “Lick the cake and eat it too” when we meant to say, “Have the cake and eat it too” or use the wrong word when using a slightly unusual word, does it mean that all such people will end up with Alzheimer’s?

No it doesn’t. There can be many, many causes of verbal clumsiness. And it may be that whatever is the root of my verbal mis-fires has nothing to do with the genetic disposition to Alzheimer’s in the Purdy blood. But I did find it very striking that Grandpa’s verbal failures could have such a resemblance to mine–forgetting a word, substituting, inserting a wrong word, or turning odd phrases. Of course Grandpa has declined much in the space of a year, and I am still who I am. I don’t think my slight speech difficulty is a sign that I will be crippled from Alzheimer’s in ten years. But is it a benign manifestation in my youth of something that will slowly become worse until at the age of seventy I am sitting on the couch babbling nonsense?

Maybe. I don’t think anything is as straight-forward in life as any of us might imagine, and it is easy to over-simplify life, but in reading about Alzheimer’s, and seeing how it has progressed in someone else, does make you wonder.

Such thoughts can be grim and depressing in an abstract contemplative sort of way, but the little tid-bits of personal stories struck me in a emotionally immediate sort of way. Now more than ever I could see Grandpa very close to those people in the end stages of Alzheimer’s and it was all the more awful to read things like,

Her mother, 78, is in a nursing home in the advanced stages of dementia, helpless and barely responsive.

“She’s in her own private purgatory,” Ms. Kerley said.

Patients’ agitation and hallucinations often drive relatives and nursing homes to resort to additional, powerful drugs approved for other diseases like schizophrenia, drugs that can deepen the oblivion and cause severe side effects like diabetes, stroke and movement disorders.

The disease is named for Alois Alzheimer, a German doctor who first described it in Auguste D., a 51-year-old patient he saw in 1901. Her memory, speech and comprehension were failing, and she suffered from hallucinations and paranoid delusions that her husband was unfaithful. Unable to finish writing her own name, she told Alzheimer, “I have lost myself.”

She died in 1906, “completely apathetic,” curled up in a fetal position and “in spite of all the care and attention,” suffering from bedsores, Alzheimer wrote.

A century later, patients still die in much the same way. Although Alzheimer’s itself can kill by shutting down vital brain functions, infections usually end things first — pneumonia, bladder infections, sepsis from bedsores.

Ms. Latshaw, whose dementia was diagnosed in 1991, has not spoken in four years, and she can no longer smile. But she locks eyes with visitors and will not let go.

“There is still something alive in there,” said her sister, Fritzie Hess, 69. “I’m convinced of it.”

The family believes that, at least some of the time, she still understands them. They speak to her as if she does. She is with them, and yet gone, and they miss her terribly.

In an interview in the summer of 2006, Ms. Kerley described her mother this way: “She’s completely withdrawn in herself. She hasn’t recognized us for a few years. Basically she hums one line of one song over and over again. She seems to be stuck somewhere in her life between age 4 and 5.”

Ms. Kerley said she and her son Michael, then 21, visited every week or two.

“She loves getting her back rubbed, being smiled at, being hugged,” Ms. Kerley said. “She doesn’t know who we are. We’re going for us, not for her, because she doesn’t remember us the minute we walk out the door.”

Such vignettes are awful beyond words especially as I see Grandpa spiraling before my very eyes to the place where “He love getting his back rubbed, being smiled at, being hugged. He doesn’t know who we are, because he doesn’t remember us the minute we walk out the door.”

Perhaps most troubling for me was the words, “A century later, patients still die in much the same way. Although Alzheimer’s itself can kill by shutting down vital brain functions, infections usually end things first — pneumonia, bladder infections, sepsis from bedsores.” To a person remote for the task of tending an Alzheimer’s patient this information means little. To me, any one of those listed deaths read as a failure in care. The abstract logical part of my mind said you can give the best care possible any someone might contract and die from pneumonia, bladder infection, or sepsis from a bedsore. But in that little paragraph I felt I had seen a brief glimpse into the future, and in that future I saw myself struggling to accept the fact that I was not capable of preventing those things, and that they had happened was not a testament to the failure in my care.

If you wake up one morning to find someone dead from a heart attack or stroke you might feel sorry, but there was nothing you could do. Such death is swift. But sepsis from a bedsore–if you are the caregiver what guilt will you feel from that. Even if advanced age and paper-thin skin means bedsores are almost inevitable, how easy is it really to shake a sense of responsibility?

I can only say, “God give me the grace.”

It is very worthwhile to read the entire article, as it gives both a general understanding of Alzheimer’s and also educates on where the direction of treatment appears to be headed.

Still Alive

5th January 2008

Yes, I’m still alive. It has occurred to me that some readers may have taken my long silence as an indication that things were going badly up here on the crazy farm. As far as my personal and spiritual health and well-being that is not the case–if I am fit to judge myself. The last several months have been, for me, perhaps the best since I have come to live with, and care for, Grandma and Grandpa. That is not to say it has become easy street. There are good days, and bad days, and the health of both Grandma and Grandpa continues to decline. I guess a change is that I have come to feel that I have finally found a small bit of equilibrium in a world continually out of balance.

Perhaps this is all just a set-up for the next event that will send everything pin-wheeling into a tail-spin again. In any case, for the present I feel that I am not so much just a rag flapping in the wind of the crisises blowing through the lives of the people around me. As a result of that, I finally have been able to take stock of my own life, and–with what little time I have to do as I please–set a course and labor toward goals. So, I haven’t been in the pits of despair–I’ve been busy.

Many months ago I learned a particular fact about my current life: Beyond the regular routine required for sustaining normal daily life, I can only work on one thing that I wish to do each day. Depending on the day I may only be able to work a half hour, an hour, or maybe two hours. On a rare day (like a good Saturday) I may somehow manage to do two things. On a bad day (like most Fridays, which is grocery day) I don’t find time to do anything that I wish to accomplish. But as a general rule I can only work on one particular thing for myself each day, so if I am wise I think very carefully about what is most important that I wish to see done each day.

And so for some time writing a Twilight post has not been chosen as the one thing I will do in a day. It isn’t that I have been swallowed in some swamp of despondency, or some other bad thing that perhaps some of you have wondered. There are Twilight posts I would like to write–but then, there are a lot of things I would like to accomplish also. So I have simply been busy doing other things.

As it is the new year, and things have happened, and are happening, I thought to make time for a quick update.

Grandma

I think when I last left off regarding Grandma’s health, she was scheduled to go in for a stent/ango-plasty on a supposed blockage at her kidney. I say “supposed” because, as it turned out, the imaging done on her kidney was in error, and there wasn’t a blockage there. However, the vascular surgeon found the arteries leading to both her legs were dangerously constricted, so he inserted a stent at the narrowing in one, but considered it too dangerous to keep Grandma in the procedure long enough to insert the stent in the second leg artery. If all goes as planned, the second operation is planned for some time in March or later.

The vascular surgeon made no claims about his work doing anything for Grandma’s blood pressure (as the blockage was not at the kidney). From the surgeon’s perspective, the restricted blood flow to Grandma’s legs is a danger to the well-being of her legs. Grandma would like to think that fixing the arteries in her legs will fix her blood pressure. The work done on the one leg seems to have had little if any positive effect on Grandma’s blood pressure, so I am doubtful fixing the artery in the other leg will resolve this issue either, even if it helps marginally.

All of this leaves the question of what is causing Grandma’s elevated blood pressure. Grandma, of course, does not want to dwell on this. She is taking a lot of medicine, and some days she has (for her, I stress) her blood pressure under pretty good control. Other days . . . it could scarcely be more out of control. Tonight she went to bed early because her blood pressure gage pumped up as high as it could and couldn’t get a reading. This means the top number of her blood pressure is probably around 250.

Grandpa

Grandpa still has intermittent problems with chest congestion, but as it comes and goes I presently don’t make much of it. Otherwise, physically he remains much as when I last wrote.

As far as his mental health is concerned, it is beginning to feel like he is starting to turn some type of corner. I’m not sure exactly what, and I’m not saying we’re going to be around that corner in a month or something. But it does feel like his mental symptoms are starting to progress to another level and the nature of things are in the midst of a colossal shift. He is growing increasingly demanding and needy and is more often in a state of mental shambles. Right now, as I type, he is sitting on the couch calling names–mostly for “Mother” (Grandma). He isn’t calling because he wants anything real–it is just what he does increasingly, now. He wants. If you answer he may say nothing at all, only to call out again in thirty seconds. Or he may spit out gibberish.

I could go on at some length, but I will leave writing about Grandpa’s furthering condition for some other post.

Other People

The day after Christmas my Uncle Joel (Melinda’s father) suffered a stroke. Like Grandma, he was running wildly high blood pressure and with readings like 240/130 a stroke was recognized as (by at least some of us), eventually, inevitable. The stroke does not appear to have affected either Joel’s mental or verbal capacity, but it has left him mostly if not completely crippled on one side of his body.

Anyone who remembers and has followed the Melinda saga as alluded to and chronicled here (particularly why she came to live with Grandma and Grandpa) will recall that her family is a disaster in the truest sense of the word. Joel’s stroke has simply piled cataclysm on top of disaster. Exactly what the end result will be remains to be seen. Joel will never work again and if there is a smooth transition to social security disability, they may end up in as stable a situation as they were before.

There is something of a story in that whole event, which I will not tell here, presently. Needless to say this is a stress on Grandma, both because she worries over Joel, and because a stroke is perhaps her worst nightmare and something she stares at every time her own blood pressure goes off the charts. Grandpa appears too far gone to grasp the gravity of the situation, or to even be often cognizant of what the situation is with Joel.

Me

And last, I am going in for hernia surgery on Monday morning.

I have had an inguinal hernia for at least sixteen years. I suspect that it was/is a congenital defect and I have had it since birth. That is speculation, since I only discovered it as a boy and the time I discovered it was certainly not the time it developed. At that time I didn’t realize it was a hernia. Since it didn’t hurt and since I was only a child I reasoned that maybe everyone was like that. Much later in life, being older and more educated, I concluded that it was probably a hernia of some type, but since it didn’t bother me and I probably had lived with it all my life I took the approach of, “Don’t fix what isn’t bothering you.”

About a year ago it did start bothering me in an intermittent and mild, but meaningful sort of way. At that point I seriously researched the issue. For those of you who don’t know, an inguinal hernia is very common. 1 in 4 men will have an inguinal hernia at some time in their life, (and some are congenital,) women have them less commonly. If you want more info, do a web search. There is plenty of info out there.

To make a long story short, (until I find I have more time for story telling,) when I first seriously researched and considered the matter about a year ago I decided it wasn’t the right time to deal with the issue. Since then a year has passed where the hernia continued to bother me in a intermittent and mild way–not enough to keep me from my various exercising and physical activities, but enough to remind me that all was not right with my body. Around November 2007 I decided it was wisest to pursue doing something about the matter before it became a real problem that impacted my physical capabilities.

The path since November to getting the hernia resolved has been a bit convoluted (saving all of that for some longer telling of the story) but I now find myself going in for the surgery to repair what is diagnosed as a minor hernia. The operation is considered relatively minor, outpatient surgery. I’m going in Monday morning, January 7th, at 7:00 AM. They say I should be out by noon. The doctor said I should be able to return to normal moderate activity after a week.

We’ll see, we’ll see.

Up to this point I haven’t found myself worrying about the operation, but I would certainly appreciate all of your prayers–both for success and safety through what is supposed to be a relatively minor procedure, but also for swift healing afterward. Obviously I won’t be able to tend Grandpa for a few days, and for three days someone from home is going to come down and assist. I am hoping that after three days of recovery I will be able to manage Grandpa, though obviously I won’t be carrying Grandpa around for a few weeks.

Honestly what is weighing heaviest on my mind is whether everything will work out smoothly in getting this entire procedure paid for. If everything goes as it is supposed to, I already have everything covered. But I find myself bracing for everything going exactly as it shouldn’t in the billing end of things, the end result being bills in my mailbox that there shouldn’t be. Perhaps it reveals how backward I am that I find little concern for my physical well-being, and more regarding possible bills. In any case, I would appreciate your prayers that both the operation and the billing go well.

That is all for today’s short update.

E-mail Subscribers Take Note

31st December 2007

Somehow, my e-mail subscription plugin became corrupted. It failed to send an e-mail when I posted once, (some time ago,) and since then it has been sending out the e-mail for the previous post. In other words, until I fix the problem all e-mail subscribers will always be one post behind. Perhaps attentive e-mail readers have already noticed this strange phenomena.

When I have the time I will try to fix this problem. Hopefully deleting and reinstalling the plugin will resolve the weirdness.

Not sure when I will find that time, so until then e-mail subscribers will have to suffer, or else check this website for the most recent post when they get the e-mail for the previous post.

This problem only affects e-mail subscribers. Those who visit the website directly, or who read via RSS are fine.

Eighty, If We Have The Strength

31st December 2007

A prayer of Moses the man of God.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.

Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn men back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”

For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.

You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass of the morning–

though in the morning it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.

You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.

All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.

The length of our days is seventy years–
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Relent, O LORD! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.

May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us–
yes, establish the work of our hands.

(Psalm 90, NIV Translation)

****
December 31st, 2007.

Today Grandpa turned eighty.

Grandpa Sorrow

One Response to Eighty, If We Have The Strength

  1. Titi says:

    Argh. That’s an awful, wonderful picture, if you know what I mean. I feel like I have Alzhiemer’s looking at it.

Comments are closed.

Alice in Wonderland

18th November 2007

What follows is two slices of life, nothing more. It is, perhaps, nonsensical in nature. As for Alice in Wonderland . . . that’s what it can feel like around here.

****

One night, early this week I think, I was busy rushing around the kitchen trying to make supper. Grandpa was busy doing his thing. In the evening this usually means either messing around in the kitchen while I work, or else sitting on the couch and calling for someone to tell him if everything is set to right, and complaining that the pillows aren’t working. This evening it was sitting on the couch, but around the halfway point in supper production he had to go to the bathroom so I stopped what I was doing and got him to the toilet. I then returned to the kitchen where I kept half an ear on his continued muttered complaints about the (to him) incomprehensible and malfunctioning nature of the world.

Finally a plaintive squawk became loud enough that I decided it was time to go check on him. A quick dash away from the food on the stove to the bathroom and I asked, “What’s the matter?”

“I can’t get this to work right,” he said, holding up the carefully folded hand towel.

Seeing that he was done using the bathroom I said, “That’s okay, I’ll take care of it for you.” I hung the towel back on the rack. “There you go. You’re all done,” I prompted, and then rushed back to the stove.

Grandpa didn’t follow, and as I worked the food on the stove I heard continued befuddle mumbling about things not working and not being where they’re supposed to.

“Everything is fine,” I yelled from the kitchen. “You’re all done!”

“What?” came back the alarmed shout. “Who died?”

“Nobody died!” I called back.

“Oh. You said nobody died.”

Short length of silence.

“Well, okay. Let’s go,” Grandpa’s voice drifted down the hall, obviously talking to himself, or, more precisely, to his imagined companions. “Come on, girls. Come on.” Brief pause. “Come on, girls. Girls!”

“There isn’t anybody, Grandpa,” I called out. “It’s just you, me, and the trees.”

“Yeah. Yeah . . . I guess that’s what I meant, the trees,” he said.

“I don’t know–” I heard his voice beginning to move down the hall and then caught a glimpse of him crawling past the kitchen entrance on his way back to the couch. “I don’t know anything. Money isn’t worth anything, [uncertain] isn’t worth anything, and I don’t think I’m worth anything,” he finished.

****

Wednesday Grandma had an eye examine. So long as the weather remains mild, when Grandpa has to come along for some appointment of Grandma’s, him and I stay in the car. It saves him from the stress of going into a completely strange environment, and saves me from making a scene by carting him around, or being required to loudly ask him if he needs to go to the bathroom when he gets out of a waiting room chair to start wandering. I don’t mind waiting in the car as it is more private than a waiting room and is a place where I can do whatever quite things I want to get done. Grandpa doesn’t mind either, so long as Grandma doesn’t take too long.

But Grandpa’s patience last only about an hour, after which point he begins to get fidgety. I can keep him occupied for a little longer if I bring along my MP3 player which has the entire audio bible on it. If I let him listen to that he can remain somewhat content a little longer.

Then there is always the bathroom issue.

Grandma’s eye examine ended up taking nearly two whole hours. That was far longer than Grandpa cared to stay in the car, especially when somewhere around an hour and a half into the wait he had to go to the bathroom. He may have need to go before then, but it was only at that point which it became pressing enough that he became articulate.

This, of course, brought about a bit of a problem. Grandpa wears diapers, so when he finally said, “I have to go pee-pee,” I told him, “Then just go. You have a diaper on, I can easily change you when we get home. Don’t worry about it.”

Unsurprisingly, such an explanation wasn’t satisfactory. Grandpa and his bathroom needs and usage is no longer much about cognizant rationalization and mostly the fragmentary remains of deep seated habits. The result, as I have already chronicled, is an firm compulsion to not soil himself, even when this means pulling down his diaper and peeing on the carpet, in the sink, or on the table. There is no sense in it, and so no possible way to reason with him about it. He simply has to go, and doesn’t want to do it on himself.

“I got to find a bush or some place,” he said, and started scrabbling to find some way to get out of the car.

“Grandpa, you don’t want to do that,” I try to explain as gently as possible. “You don’t want to get arrested for indecency or something,” I said, trying to jest. “Just let it go. Don’t worry about it.”

We were sitting in a parking lot right along the main drag of 434 with cars whizzing by, and even if we should contemplate such an idea the only nearby bushes were the landscaping in front of the building which neither the proprietor or the coming and going customers would appreciate us watering. I felt sorry for Grandpa, knowing that he must have to go very badly, and doesn’t really understand my answer beyond the fact that I didn’t want him to do what he wanted to do. For one second I thought about getting him out of the car and taking him into the office to use their bathroom, but I quickly play that thought out: “Hi, this decrepit old man who can hardly walk and I am dragging about needs to really use your bathroom, or perhaps we’ll just end up peeing all over your floor. It happens sometimes, I’m sure you won’t mind.” No, we wouldn’t do that. Grandpa would just have to suffer.

“I really have to go,” Grandpa said.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You can’t get out. It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”

“I’ll just do a little bit,” he said, finally managing to get the door open.

So I got out from the driver’s seat and went around to put his feet back in the car, explaining that we can’t do that, he’ll just have to wait, it doesn’t matter and he doesn’t have to hold it in. Then I get back into the driver’s seat and electronically lock us in. At this point I’m trying hard not to laugh at the absurd stupidity of it all. Who would have ever thought I’d be locking myself and my grandfather in the car so he’d pee himself. What a cruel sick thing to do, and yet somehow find yourself in the place where it seems the least unacceptable option. How does life get like this, you wonder.

“How do you get out?” Grandpa insists, still trying to work the door, and I keep trying to calm him and explain to him why it has to be this way. “Yeah, I understand what you’re saying,” he finally says (whether he really did or not is a different matter) “It’s just that I . . .”

“You don’t want to pee yourself,” I finish for him.

“Yeah,” he said, though the thought probably was not so clearly fixed in his mind.

We both lapsed into silence until a little later Grandpa said, “It’s strange, I don’t know, but the urge to go isn’t so bad anymore. I don’t need to go, so you don’t need to worry about it.”

I didn’t bother to explain to him why suddenly he didn’t need to go anymore. It was sufficient that he was no longer in distress. When we got home I could easily change him.

When we did get home we ran into a little more difficulty. The house is a split level, with the garage as part of the bottom, so there isn’t a lot of walking that has to be done to make it from the car to the couch upstairs, but when I helped Grandpa out of the car he said, “Boy, my legs feel so weak I don’t know if I can hold myself up.” This is not an unusual phenomena with Grandpa. If you’ve ever rode a long time in the car you know how when you first get out there is some momentarily stiffness that can leave you feeling just a bit weak. For Grandpa sitting still even a much shorter time brings the same problem, and since he is already weak this leaves him feeling just about unable to stand, or walk.

I thought maybe I could coach him into the house, but when he wouldn’t budge with a little forward prodding and simply leaned on his walking stick and looked at the door into the house as if the distance were a million miles away . . . I knew getting him there would be a huge struggle. I decided it wasn’t worth the fight.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll carry you.” I scooped him up in my arms and headed into the house, and started up the stairs.

“No, you’ll hurt yourself,” Grandpa protested. “I don’t want you to injure yourself.”

“I won’t,” I said. “It’s no problem. Don’t worry, I can do it easily. Want me to show you? I can sing and dance.”

So I sang “La-Da-De-Dah” like some grand opera saw and sort of hop-danced the rest of the way up the stairs and over to the couch, where a carefully deposited him.

As if like wasn’t crazy enough, I have this urge to make it crazier.

And that’s a slice of life with Alice in Wonderland.

Seeing, Hearing, Understanding

12th November 2007

It is interesting to see how the mental aspect of Grandpa’s Alzheimer’s progresses. We can divide the mental function of the brain into two categories: (1) Dealing with outside stimuli, and (2) Processing one’s own internal thoughts and reflections. It is hard to judge how Alzheimer’s affects the latter–we can’t see into the mind of others, and we really don’t understand how our own thoughts process or work very well either. But on the first matter, that of the failing mind of an Alzheimer’s victim dealing with outside stimuli, and the breakdown of that ability, a close observer gets a front row seat to the effects of deteriorating cognitive ability.

For Grandpa, his ability to understand what he saw began failing before his ability to understand what he heard. Long ago I wrote about how he would see imaginary people and things. At times there were quasi-plausible explanations for the imagined people–a pillow or a blanket or some such thing that could be interpreted as a person by someone who was nearly blind or unable to make sense of what he was seeing. Other times there were no obvious triggers for the imagined things he saw.

There is a strange kind of tension between the sickness of the failing mind and the retained cognitive ability. The failing mind cannot keep itself anchored within the present, so people and things suddenly appearing are sometimes accepted without question. Thus Grandpa can suddenly start talking to an imagined person sitting on the couch, without any thought that it might be strange to have someone appearing in his house who he didn’t remember coming, and may not even recognize. The only thing that matters is that the person doesn’t respond to Grandpa’s conversing, and he can become indignant or hurt.

But then other times Grandpa does doubt himself. He will look in some direction and say, “Is there really [such-and-such] there?”

And I will say, “No, Grandpa, that is just a [chair, or whatever he is looking at]”

Then he will say, “Oh,” and look very perplexed because while what he saw didn’t make sense and so he questioned it, it was still what he thought he saw.

And sometimes he will say in despair, “I don’t know why I see things that aren’t there. It doesn’t make sense. I guess I don’t know nothing.”

Grandpa’s visual understanding of the world around him is not consistent. Some times he is better, other times he is worse. The trend is downward, and one think I notice in that downward trend is that, while he hasn’t lost things he had before, it is getting harder and harder for him to understand what he sees. For you and me we naturally interpret and understand what we are seeing. For Grandpa it is something he must work at. Recognizing people and things is mental effort much akin to how you or I might attempt to solve a difficult problem. And when it becomes too much work, or he is not paying attention, Grandpa doesn’t interpret or make sense of his surroundings. He ends up just being “someplace” with “things” around him. At such times he doesn’t know where he is, and he doesn’t know where anyone else is. In a very real sense, he finds himself alone. This is manifested when he talks to Grandma as if she was right there with him when she isn’t in the room, or asks her where she is when she is sitting right in front of him. He asks people where they are, and ask them where he is, and asks him where things are–and understands none of the answers.

“I’m sitting in my chair,” Grandma says.

“Where is that?” Grandpa says, looking right at her.

“Why don’t you sit on the couch,” Grandma says.

“Okay,” Grandpa says, standing beside the couch. “Where is that?”

That is Grandpa at his worst. He is as good as blind then–worse actually, because a blind man still knows how to orient himself in space but for Grandpa not only does he not understand what he is seeing, but he can’t relate things to each other within space. At a doorway he can turn left or right, but has no understanding which direction will take him where or why he would want to go in either direction. He simply goes on impulse, or faint memories–which means when he comes out of the bathroom he is just as likely to go to the bedroom as the living room. When I take him to the bathroom he says, “Okay, which way are we going, this way or that way?” and points in two different directions. He has no idea of the destination, and no surety even in the direction. You can’t point things out to him, or explain to him how things are done, because what he sees has no meaning.

That is Grandpa at his worst. He is not at his worst all the time, but rarely is he at his best. Most of the time he hovers somewhere in the middle, understanding some things, being able to understand some things, but existing in a limited state of awareness of his surroundings.

For a long time Grandpa’s hearing was his great support. Though his eyes deceived him, his ears would reassure him. If he called for someone and they answered he would be able to place them in relation to himself and would be comforted. Recently, his ability to understand what he hears has begun to noticeably fail. Sometimes he will call and someone will respond and he will say, “Where are you?” sounding very much like a person lost in a great dark void–when in reality the person responding might be sitting across from him in the living room, or just in the kitchen. He is losing the ability to spatially place sound.

He is also losing the ability to distinguish sounds. We recognize people when we see them, and we recognize people when we hear them. Grandpa has increasing ability recognizing who he sees–his own sons and daughters, and even increasingly Grandma–and now this is spreading to his hearing as well. I must distinguish between recognizing and knowing. So far Grandpa hasn’t demonstrated any forgetfulness that he is married and has children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. His failure, presently, is that he cannot recognize, or recall, who he is seeing. For example, he might say, “Who is that?” And I say, “That’s Daryl [his daughter, one of my aunts]” and he will say, “Oh, how are you doing Daryl,” and may even ask about her daughters, showing that he truly knows who Daryl is–he just didn’t place who he knew to be Daryl with the person in front of him.

I don’t know exactly when his hearing ability began to fail in the same manner. Leading up to my realization of this, Some months ago–probably about early summer–he almost spontaneously started calling for his brother Gene all the time. Obviously this itself was a clear manifestation of cognitive decline, as his brother Gene lives about a half hour or so away in Pennsylvania and hasn’t been up to visit in all the time I have been living with Grandma and Grandpa. But the call for Gene doesn’t have a single simplistic explanation–I don’t know that there is just one reason he calls for his older brother. At least part of the time the call seems to find it root in an emotional impulse–Grandpa is feeling lost, lonely, uncertain, confused, or any number of other things, and the impulse is to call for someone to set it right, to explain, or whatever. But sometimes Grandpa does want something concrete, and he will call for Gene in that situation also.

Initially when Grandpa called for Gene I would answer, “He’s not here. What do you want?” which would get varying responses.

“I want Gene.”

“Where is he?”

Or sometimes Grandpa would tell me what he wanted, or make something up. As Grandpa began to consistently call for Gene it grew tiring to constantly say, “He’s not here,” before inquiring what Grandpa wanted. And I also began to suspect that Grandpa was in the beginning stages of conflating me with Gene. So instead of informing Grandpa that Gene wasn’t present, I took to simply answering his call of “Gene!” with, “What do you want?”

At first, maybe fifty present of the time Grandpa would say, “You’re not Gene.” And I would say, “No, but Gene isn’t here, so I’m answering for him. Now when Grandpa calls for Gene I answer, and rarely does he say, “You’re not Gene.”

Discovering how much simpler it made life for me if I simply answered Grandpa when he called for someone I started answering when he called “Ma!” Realizing that I haven’t been in Grandpa’s life long enough for him to ever get in the habit of calling for me, I have begun answering for whoever is called.

Again, while at first Grandpa would say, “You’re not Ma” when I answered he began to do so less and less. I initially thought he was becoming accustomed to someone answering for Grandma, but then an incident revealed that in truth he was having trouble distinguishing who answered him.

One evening he said, “Hey Ma!”

“What?” I said.

“Why don’t you come sit down beside me,” he said.

“Okay,” I said and got up from the computer to go over and sit down beside him.

“Not you,” Grandpa said, seeing me approach. “That woman said she would come sit with me.”

“No that was me who answered you,” I said.

From that point on it became increasing clear that Grandpa often could not distinguish who answered him. This discovery made life much easier for me because now when Grandpa would call incessantly for someone (usually Gene or Grandma) I could answer for either and quiet him. If he said, “Ma, how are you doing?” I could say, “Just fine,” and he would be satisfied. Or if he said, “Ma, where are you?” and I would say, “Over here,” and he would be appeased.

It is not as if he never recognizes who is speaking, just as he can still recognize things he sees. But I think he has to be very much paying attention to distinguish who is speaking.

However, things have continued to deteriorate. A few weeks ago one evening Grandpa was hollering “Ma? Ma? Ma?” so I came over and said, “What do you want?”

Grandpa stared at me for a long minute. “Well?” he said. “She asked you what you wanted.”

That was a new one for surreal exchanges where I somehow ended up being responsible for carrying on both ends of the conversation as two (or perhaps three?) different people.

Again, more recently, Grandpa was calling for Gene but seemed to have no particular want in mind because when I came and inquired he muttered and mumbled stuff while pointing at the chairs and objects around him. I assured him that everything was all right.

“Well, yeah, okay . . .” he said, and turned back to his fussing. Ten seconds later, “Hey, Gene!”

“Yeah, what do you want,” I said. “I’m still standing right behind you. I came last time you called.”

“Oh, geez!” Grandpa said, startling, having already forgotten I was there. “Yeah, I guess you did. Well how am I going to distinguish between when you and I speak?” he said, very well summarizing his problems.

And that is where we are now.

I was going to finish off with a recounting of how Grandpa was sick last Saturday, but I’ve already spent too much time on this, and anyhow it seemed like it might have turned out too much sounding like a “sob-sob pity me and my trials” kind of thing, which it wasn’t and not the kind of attitude one wants to project. Suffice to say just being a little bit sick robs Grandpa of what senses he still has, and rendered him nearly unable to eat, drink, or function. All the result of a minor head cold. He also peed on the kitchen table.

Not sure how comprehensible that entire post was, but I wrote it fast and now I gotta go.

The Marvels of Youth, The Follies of Age

2nd November 2007

Last weekend I came home to a sick family, and, true to form, my dearly beloveds passed it along to me. None of us likes getting sick, but I particularly dread it while living with Grandma and Grandpa because when the entire functioning of a house depends on you–well, you can’t afford to be sick. It’s miserable enough to be sick . . . it’s worse to be sick and have to make supper, or get up in the middle of the night repeatedly to take someone to the bathroom.

I came home to vist on Sunday and when I woke up Tuesday morning I was definitely coming down with a sore throat. I try to deal with my colds as decisively as possible, on the hopes that the occasion will be short. I drank as much tea and other liquids as I could on Tuesday, and I decided to take it a little easy when I went on my bicycle ride and didn’t ride all the way to the top of the murderous hill at the end point in my route.

I don’t know if it was my general good health, my drinking of plentiful liquids, or it simply happened to be a milder cold, but the worst of my suffering was contained to Tuesday. I had a sore throat and runny nose all Tuesday, and slept poorly (but not as bad as it could have been, thankfully) Tuesday night. God was merciful and Tuesday night was not a night that Grandpa had to go to the bathroom every hour. I stacked a bunch of pillows up to create an incline on my bed so my head would be elevated and the snot would drain out, instead of pooling up in my ears–that is a problem I often have and my solution, while not the ideal sleeping position, seemed so effective that I expect to use it in the future.

Wednesday morning I felt the worst was over. My sore throat was gone, and while I didn’t have my usual energy the pall of general misery felt as if it had lifted. I have improved every day, so that today (Friday) I just had some head congestion and a mild cough.

I would like to think that will be the only cold I’ll get this winter.

On a somewhat related note of how glad I am to be young and healthy, I came back from my Thursday bicycle ride to Grandpa in desperate need of going to the bathroom. He got all turned around and insisted on using the basement bathroom in spite of my suggestions. So I helped him down the stairs, plopped him on the toilet and then dashed off to my computer to write down some witty dialog that had come to me while out riding. Well, it really isn’t wise for me to leave Grandpa unsupervised in the bathroom anymore–though I do it all the time because it is boring to stand around twiddling my thumbs waiting for him to be finished–so I got what was coming to me when I came back to check on Grandpa and discovered that rather than just taking a leak he had pooped as well and attempted to wipe his behind, and was now scrubbing down the sink with the filthy poopy toilet paper.

There was a bit of hasty crises management as I quickly got the soiled toilet paper away from him and into the toilet, then rushed upstairs to retrieve the box of baby wipes and returned to clean the sink, Grandpa’s hands, and his bottom. With the garbage disposed of and Grandpa’s pants and diaper pulled up I suggested we go back upstairs. Grandpa was agreeable, but as soon as he stepped out of the bathroom he slumped slightly and said, “I just don’t feel like I have any strength.”

“Well, would you like me to carry you?” I said, half joking and mimicking the act of scooping him up in my arms. I have fielded this idea several times in the past under the guise of jest–but never pursued it because Grandpa never expressed willingness or interest and I was afraid carrying him cradled in my arms might cause extreme pain to his messed up lower back. Up until this point I have done all of my propelling and carrying of Grandpa by lifting him from his armpits–something of a cobbled and less than ideal compromise between him being in total control and him surrendering all control. I have written about previously how this is difficult for me as Grandpa is always jerking around and trying to hang onto things, forcing me to fight against and compensate for his activities.

So it has always been, but on Thursday when I made the half jesting offer Grandpa said, “Well, if you can do it without hurting me and without messing yourself up . . .” indicating to me that either his level of trust in me has grown or (more likely) demonstrating the level of his weakness and exhaustion.

Without waiting for any second thoughts on his part, I scooped him up in my arms and carried up upstairs and set him down on the couch. It was almost miraculously easy. He was quite light (125 lbs didn’t feel as heavy as I expected) and rested in my arms like a baby, apparently finding no pain or discomfort from the position. I deposited him on the couch and he seemed rather amazed that so much distance had been covered so effortlessly.

It’s so nice to have the health and strength of youth.

Humor aside, the incident was an eye opener for me. Namely, the easiest way for me to get Grandpa around is to carry him in my arms, and it doesn’t (or, perhaps I should qualify that and say hasn’t yet) hurt his back. It’s the best solution for me, and for Grandpa. In one respect it makes sense, if you think about it. When we have the strength, we are naturally inclined–and it is most convenient–to move other people around by carrying them. Most people don’t move a baby about the house in a stroller–it’s too awkward and the stroller gets in the way. We carry babies about the house and plunk them down wherever they want, or need, to be. While most people will never carry anyone heavier than a baby, the situation is much the same with Grandpa. The wheelchair is like a over-sized stroller, with the same frustrations as a stroller, only more so.

I realize that as much as possible Grandpa should be left to his walking, as (at least when he isn’t falling down) it is good for his physical health. Carrying him too much will only encourage him to become bed-ridden. But it can’t be denied that we are more and more heading in that direction, and it’s tempting to use it as the solution of first resort instead of last resort because it makes things so much simpler. Instead of engaging in a quasi-wrestling match with Grandpa to help him walk down the the hall–wherein Grandpa alternately tries to lean against the wall or pitch forward onto his face–I can simply scoop him up and carry him. It relieves both of us of our frustrations and difficulties.

That being said, carrying Grandpa doesn’t solve all transportation difficulties. First, for his health I will try to leave him to do as much walking as he can manage. Second, because of how this house was designed, it isn’t easy to carry him everywhere. It would be very hard–if not impossible–for me to carry him into the cramped bathroom. I would have to walk sideways through the door just to get in, and if I turned around he might hit his head or feet against a wall. Also, it wouldn’t be as convenient to carry him to a seat at the kitchen table as it is to carry him to the couch.

Even with these limitations, the option of simply carrying Grandpa is a great help, especially in the evenings when his strength is at its lowest ebb. He can be busy-busy all day, and especially in the afternoon–activity that is pure compulsion and it drives him past the point of his own endurance. Some days he reaches catastrophic failures–not that they all are real catastrophes, but I call them that because they when he suddenly reaches the point where he can’t go on.

For example, this evening as I was finishing up supper Grandpa was going this way and that in agitated activity headed toward collapse. (There is nothing you can do about it–unless you are willing to stop what your are doing, sit him down and sit down right beside him, and even that won’t work 100% of the time.) So I was finishing up supper when I heard the call, “Gene,” in tones of some distress.

I went and found Grandpa clinging to our bedroom door. In not so many words he said, “I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know where I am or where I’m going, but I can’t do it anymore and I’m about to give out!” Previously, I would have been required to manhandled him back to the couch. This time I simply picked him up in my arms and deposited him on the couch–much to his relief. Again, this evening after a trip to the bathroom his legs seized up and forgot how to walk. Rather than devolving into a laborious struggle to the couch I simply picked him up and carried him there.

Now if only everyone could carry Grandpa we’d be all set.

****

Nothing really new to say about Grandma and her blood pressure, and at the same time, a lot to say (we’ll get to that later). Some days are good, some days are bad, and often it can be difficult to discern a reason for either. Thursday morning she got up and her blood pressure machine pumped up to 255 before it gave an error (meaning her blood pressure was higher than the machine was capable of reading). Then this morning she slept in to 8:00 AM, (when usually she is waking up at 3:00 AM and getting up at 7:00 AM), which, given her blood pressure the previous morning made me wonder very strongly if she had a stroke, and exactly when should I barge in on her to find out. But at 8:00 AM she got up all cheerful, saying her blood pressure read 150 and she had a pretty good night and had just slept in this late. How it can be around 250 one morning and then 150 the next morning with no change in medication is beyond me.

We had a trip to the cardiologist this Thursday. Apparently they need to have their hand in the pot before the surgery. We had to traipse all the way down to Wilson so they could run a 30 second EKG on Grandma and tell her there was no change, and have the cardiologist agree that her present high blood pressure was being caused by her kidney and she should get the procedure done. So we’re all agreed on that one.

Something else developed this week that was related to Grandma’s blood pressure which struck me as funny in an absurdest or maybe sick sort of way.

It goes like this:

Grandma always has her eye out for the latest health fad and key to the fountain of youth. Some of the things that come down the pike are truly useful and helpful, but others (I am convinced) are just that–fads and imagined fountains of youth–pills with prices that do precious little. Grandma is always ready to tell you what great things you can take to improve your health, and I generally let her talk and keep my opinions to myself.

Well, recently she heard that the new great thing was Himalayan Salt. Extracted from the pure Himalayan Salt mines, it is the new elixir for lush skin, renewed energy, vitality, and long lasting life. Or something like that. For a week or so she has been looking for a good source from which to acquire this product. Some time this week a health foods catalog came in that was offering the deal she was looking for.

Their story is that this great and wise woman had gone to this very prestigious college in Germany and now has exclusive rights to mine this Himalayan mine and is offering the salt exclusively through the company at great prices. Himalayan Salt is sooooo good for you because it isn’t like the modern processed salt that most of us eat. Himalayan Salts have all sorts of trace minerals that are so important and that you need, and most importantly it does have the chloride which is very bad.

Grandma was going on retelling all of this to me and I was making noises at the appropriate times, not paying attention with much interest and thinking how she swallowed that advertisement hook, line, and sinker. Whatever they said was gospel truth. But then, as Grandma railed on about the evil evil chloride that is in manufactured salt Grandpa piped up and said, “Well, the chloride has to be in there, or else it isn’t sodium chloride.”

At which point my mind goes click . . . boing and I think to myself, “Hey, wait a minute, he’s right–sodium chloride is the chemical compound for salt. You can’t have salt without the chloride. To say your salt doesn’t have chloride is impossible.”

I could have let Grandma go on blithely asserting a chemical impossibility, but somehow I found such a big whopper a little hard to swallow, so I said, “Grandma, salt is sodium chloride. Are you sure they were saying this Himalayan salt didn’t have chloride?” But she was confident, and did I want to read the article to see what they were saying?

I wasn’t much interested in reading the pseudo article/advertisement as they could well say the moon was made out of cheese and that wouldn’t make it so. Instead I went online to double-check my memory of homeschool science education that salt was, and had to be, sodium chloride. A very quick search revealed that my memory was correct. Salt is sodium chloride. But that search also brought to my attention that from a human metabolic standpoint the sodium is the key ingredient. It regulates water within your system and blah blah blah. That fact made me wonder if somehow they were getting sodium without the chloride and calling it salt. So I did just a teeny bit more research and discovered (or perhaps I should say rediscover as I likely read it way back when in my education) that you won’t find pure sodium in the natural environment because it is highly reactive and always forms compounds (anyone who keeps a little more brushed up on their chemical/physical science is saying “Duh!” right now) In fact, I skimmed what looked like a fascinating article at wikipedia which had an entire section about the dangers of causing an explosion by putting too much raw sodium into water, and how one must very carefully dispose of left over raw sodium so as to not cause an explosion in your sink drain. I missed out on so many exploding science projects by not going to public school.

Anyhow, that put things back into place. There are all sorts of sodium compounds in our daily life–salt, baking soda, and baking powder being only three–but there is no straight sodium because all natural, (and safely) occurring forms of sodium are in compounds. So unless this great and learned German doctor was claiming to be mining baking soda out of the Himalayan Mountains, Grandma has misunderstood the advertisement. I mean article.

At that point I did consent to read what Grandma had read in the magazine and found out that yes, she had misunderstood. In the usage of vague and extreme language prevalent in trying to get you to buy something, Grandma had misunderstood. Sodium chloride is bad, bad, bad, because it is only sodium chloride. The wickedness of chloride becomes nullified when taken in conjunction with the sacred Himalayan trace elements.

As my silly tone indicates, I’m skeptical. I don’t have the time to seriously research the matter, but I’m willing to concede that the trace elements in the Himalayan salt is good for you. After all, I do know we need lots of trace elements. But, sorry, I’m a little too cynical to accept the fact that chloride is bad for you, and that these trace elements will nullify the bad effects of chloride–especially when they never tell you what the trace elements are, so you can’t double-check their assertions and you’re taking their word for it, pure and simple. In such situations the argument does little to impress me. Chloride is bad for you. Well, that’s an easy statement make the appearance of substantiating. Just about anything is bad for you in large doses, and even vitally necessary things can kill you in large amounts . . . like sodium (ahem). But it becomes even more tenuous when you make a boogey man out of chloride and then–miraculous–provide the cure to that evil chloride (which can’t be avoided because we all must have some salt) in your amazing Himalayan salt with its secret trace elements.

Sorry, but I’ll pass on the snake oil.

All of that little tirade really is an aside from the main point, which is: Himalayan salt may be a perfectly wonderful salt, superior to your normal table salt–but it is still salt. And, however much Grandma wants to see the devil in chloride, what she needs to do is restrict the sodium in her diet, because the sodium contributes to her high blood-pressure. But Grandma loves salt. She already doesn’t restrict it in her diet like she should, and she is willing to take up any excuse/reason to remove any guilt she has over the salt she does consume, and perhaps allow her to justify consuming more salt.

But I didn’t point any of this out to Grandma–which is why you are all now getting an ear-full. I did tell her that there was definitely chloride in the Himalayan salt and she had misunderstood the good doctor, but refrained from opining further on my thoughts about the veracity of the claims made by the health food professionals–even when later Grandma relayed to me the further information that the key to good health was to take a small amount of Himalayan salt put it in a clean jar and add the purest water, and then take one teaspoon of that water every day for superior and improved health–except, it isn’t recommend for people with reduce kidney function like herself.

The end of this story (if anyone is still reading) is that the Himalayan salt came today. It came with an entire kit–booklet, salt shaker, refill tub, and special scooper. So when I fried up the potatoes and onions for supper tonight I tried out the salt–seasoning with more than I wanted because the top to the provided shaker is (conveniently) very coarse so that a quick shake sends a ton of salt gushing out. The end result is that I think I probably over-salted the potatoes and onions (accordingly to my taste). Nonetheless, much like Kosher and Sea Salt, the Himalayan salt does have a superior taste to regular table salt. I am no fan of regular table salt, so (unless I develop a dislike to the distinctive taste of Himalayan salt) I am more than happy to use it instead.

Grandma always wants much more salt in her meals than I add, and I suspect it is more the fact that I accidentally over-salted the potatoes and onions than the actual taste of the Himalayan salt that sent Grandma over the moon with pleasure when she tasted it. She absolutely loved it. Fantastic. Words could not describe it. You’ll use this salt on everything now, right Rundy? Sure, I say, I’ll use it instead of table salt–where I used table salt. No, you can use lots more, she says, because this is good salt. You can put it on the vegetables, and put lots more in the bread you make. We can use this on everything because it is good salt. By the way, where is that salt shaker–I’ll put some of the good salt on everything else on my plate. Goosh, goosh she absolutely drowns everything on her plate in salt.

At this point I can’t decide if the situation is really stupid, or really funny, or both. What is really motivating her is so nakedly transparent, and as sure as sodium is sodium she’s not going to escape the results of her actions. But I refrain from instructing her on the wisdom (or lack thereof) of her actions.

Grandma may remain convinced to her dying days that Himalayan salt is somehow better and less harmful to her health–even while she continues to kill herself by imbuing too much sodium–but by the end of today even she had to admit that she went a little overboard at supper. Hours after the meal she admitted the taste of the Himalayan salt was still in her mouth, and her blood pressure was running high (over 200). She attributed this too her over zealous usage. Much as I would wag my finger at her, I’m not entirely sure tonight’s trouble can be solely attributed to a large dosing of salt. After all, her blood pressure started to spike before supper (so the after supper high could simply be the continuation of the pre-salt spike) and also it should be accounted that she didn’t take one of her morning blood pressure pills because her blood pressure was so good this morning. (And, of course, not taking a pill in the morning could make it spike in the evening). So Grandma took the pill (max dose of whatever it was) that she was supposed to have taken in the morning this evening before going to bed. “If I’m dead in the morning you’ll know why,” she said.

Yes, well . . . a little of this and a little of that. She does these crazy things and then comes to me and says, “Should I take this pill or not?” I plead ignorance, and really, I don’t know. I do know it is a bad idea to be doing what she is doing, but having done what she has done (and is doing), it might be the best solution is to do what she is going to do and take the pill. In any case I don’t like playing advice doctor on medicine I don’t really know anything about. I’d rather not have her death on my conscience.

All of which to say I’ve stayed up to nearly midnight writing this when I really should have been resting my still sick body, but I guess after being witness to the show I felt the need to emote somehow. But I’m not taking the extra time to thoroughly double-check what I wrote, so if this all reads like nonsense it’ll just have to read like nonsense.

A Song for Grandpa

27th October 2007

Grandpa Sleeping

I wish I was in Carrighfergus
Only for nights in Ballygrant
I would swim over the deepest ocean,
The deepest ocean to be by your side.
But the sea is wide and I can’t swim over
And neither have I wings to fly
If I could find me a handsome boatsman
To carry me over to my love and die

My childhood days bring back sad reflections
Of happy times I spent so long ago,
My boyhood friends and my own relations
Have all passed on now like melting snow.
But I’ll spend my days in endless roaming,
Soft is the grass, my bed is free.
Ah, to be back now in Carrighfergus,
On that long road down to the sea.

Chorus:
But the sea is wide and I can’t swim over
And neither have I wings to fly
If I could find me a handsome boatsman
To carry me over to my love and die

But in Kilkenny, it is reported,
On marble stones there, as black as ink.
With gold and silver I did transport her
But I’ll say no more now ’til I get a drink.
For I’m drunk today, but then I’m seldom sober
A handsome rover from town to town
Ah, but I am sick now, my days are over
Come all you young men and lay me down.

Chorus.

****
That is an old Irish song called Carrighfergus.

I think of Carrighfergus as Grandpa’s song. You need to be able to read the song figuratively to understand why. In the Bible wisdom and understanding is personified as a woman, and that is key to understanding the song my way. And the being drunk, is, of course, only figurative for the state the person finds themselves in.

I don’t know if it shows artistic sensibility to reinterpret an old Irish song into a poetic lament on Alzheimer’s’s, but in my mind I did it. And to me the lyrics are terribly, terribly, sad in a way they never were before. For someone slowly dying from Alzheimer’s’s the gulf between them and their former wisdom and intelligence is vast. The sea is wide, and they can’t get over.

For the record, I think someone told me that Grandpa wanted the song Will The Circle Be Unbroken at his funeral (I think the full lyrics to that are here). So, whatever songs I have applied to him, that is the one he would take for himself.

As a foot note: I got the Carrighfergus lyrics posted above from here. I first heard a version of it sung by Loreena McKennit from her album Elemental. However, she sings a shortened version, and when I looked for the lyrics I found the longer version posted above, and thought it more fitting. The lyrics to the Loreena McKennitt version are here. I don’t know how many variants there are–as is common with old traditional songs, there seems to be many. I found at least one more minor variant here.

Also, there is a photo at the top of this post which some e-mail subscribers may not be able to see unless they go to the website. It is a picture I took of Grandpa while he was seated, napping on the couch.

****

As my continuing postscript, another update on Grandma:

Out of control blood pressure continues. I don’t know why, but her blood pressure seems to start the spike sometime in mid to later afternoon and Grandma usually can’t get it back under control until 7:00 PM, or later. She has tried all sorts of jiggering with her medicine, and nothing–not even taking it earlier–seems to be able to remove this late day spike. Don’t ask me why.

Today she was determined to go out shopping with Daryl and Nate. She was out from about 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. When she got home and checked her blood pressure it was 224. That’s the highest reading in a long time.

Tonight she skipped supper, as she did last night. I get the sense that she feels better if she doesn’t eat–whether there is some actual physical component, or if it is just a psychological thing where she thinks it helps keep her blood pressure from going out of control so she feels better by not eating. A lot of eating seems to be compensation for Grandma–she generally only feels aggrieved over missing something if it is something she really wants to eat. Thus for the past two nights she has skipped supper but ate her much lusted after apple crisp dessert.

Yesterday when her blood pressure sky-rocketed and nothing was bringing it down (sound the Grandma panic alarms) she decided to start taking another medication that the cardiologist proscribed her some time ago but her regular doctor told her not to take because it wasn’t doing anything for her. It’s called Techterna (or some such) and Grandma said it is supposed to inhibit her kidney from sending the high blood pressure signal. So she started taking it last night. As yet I haven’t seen any indications of change that couldn’t be attributed to natural variations and the placebo effect. But maybe it is doing a little bit more.

Thursday was Grandma’s appoint with the vascular surgeon. Since Doug had other commitments that day we took Grandpa with us. I was willing to wheel him up to the office, but Grandma said he could stay in the car–something I knew Grandpa would really prefer, (and myself also,) so I was agreeable. When Grandma came back out from the appointment she said the doctor had told her that the artery to her kidney was 93% blocked and had scheduled the procedure for November 26th.

That’s a month away. A whole month with Grandma’s blood pressure a constant battle. But that was the earliest date open, so that is what we got.

When we got home Grandma was sitting in her chair in the living room pondering things when she said, “I think the doctor really proscribes me more diuretic than I need.”

I said, “But Grandma, if you’re taking everything that you’re taking right now just to keep your blood pressure down as much as you are, what happens if you start taking less diuretic?”

She stared at me, then finally said, “Why do you ask such hard questions?”

I realize that she is exceedingly nervous about taking the diuretics because some of them can make her potassium level go too high, and she also suspects that they can cause her to become dehydrated, which she attributes to causing her most recent (severe) heart pains which ended in me being required to call an ambulance. All that being so, she really doesn’t seem to always consider the whole issue when she talks about thinking she is taking more diuretics than she needs to when the previous night she is chugging down every type of pill she can find to bring her blood pressure out of the panic zone.

One must ask, which will it be?

Bathing Grandpa

23rd October 2007

I have taken a more active role in Grandpa’s bathing routine. Before Alzheimer’s’s began debilitating him, he had his own grooming schedule. After Alzheimer’s’s started debilitating him, he had an erratic and faltering grooming schedule. Basically, he took a shower whenever he thought he needed one, and shaved when he felt he really ought. It has now progressed to the point where it not only can Grandpa not draw his own bathing water but his sense of time (and perhaps his inclination) has become such that he could go weeks without bathing. Of course if it struck him he could bath two days in a row and then go three weeks without a bath, but the fact remains that he wasn’t cognizant of his own needs. On top of that Grandma was no longer convinced that when he cleaned himself he was actually cleaning himself enough.

So I stepped in to take active control of Grandpa’s bathing schedule. This was a point I had concern about at crises of conflict, as Grandpa was modest and preferred to handle his own bathing. But as it turned out it hasn’t been an issue. The modesty was before, and Grandpa’s incapacity has progressed to the point that now he has pretty much (but not entirely) dropped it. It helps that I haven’t just barged in and taken over everything. I am taking it slow, only helping him with some things, getting him accustomed to the presence of help, and the consistent schedule set by someone other than himself.

The schedule is a bath or shower once a week on the weekend. Usually it is Saturday, but sometimes I make an exception (and do it on Sunday). I try to get it done before lunch, because that is when Grandpa has the most energy, and is mentally most together. I allow him the option of a shower or bath but he has gravitated toward showers because he finds them easier. They are easier for him–there is no sitting down–but it is harder for me to avoid getting soaked while helping him.

When he takes a bath I wash his back and his hair and will prompt him on washing himself. If he showers I wash his hair, and direct the shower head to make sure he gets thoroughly wet, and prompt him as needed. When you have to help someone else you start looking at things in a new way. This house was badly designed for elderly people, and those in need of assistance. The bathrooms especially so. There is only one teeny bathroom with a tub right off the main hall. The bathroom is far too small to get a wheelchair in the room, and the hall is so narrow that when Grandpa is riding in the wheelchair and I park outside the door I can only just squeeze past to get from behind to in front where I can help him get out. Then the bathroom doorway is narrow so often Grandpa or I smash into some part of the frame when the two of us are trying to go through at the same time. Then the tub has the sliding stall doors which means only one side of the tub can be accessed from the outside at one time–a real problem if you’re trying to help someone. Further, the tub is right up against the toilet and the toilet makes outside access to the end of the tub with all the faucets awkward from the outside. After struggling with this setup multiple times you begin to think a real genius must have designed the setup. The reality is that it was designed by someone who wasn’t thinking about caring for elderly or incapacitated people.

I have come to realize that the days in which Grandpa can use the bathroom are numbered. When he really needs to use the wheelchair and it is no longer a convenience and helpful item, then stopping outside the bathroom and hauling him the rest of the way by hand to the toilet will be too much. At that time, or maybe even sooner, Grandpa will no longer be brought to the toilet–the toilet will be brought to him in the form of a commode. And, when Grandpa moves from needing some help with his bathing to needing a lot of help–then we won’t be able to use the tub either. Already it is a little bit dicey watching him step into and out of the tub. For someone with deteriorating strength and balance stepping over the side of something is an uncertain procedure. Further, trying to do all the work of bathing someone else when half of the tub is blocked by a sliding partition is madness. With additional reflection I realize that when Grandpa becomes more incapacitated hauling him in and out of the tub will be a lot of work for me, and increasingly painful and dangerous for him. So when Grandpa needs more than some help we’re moving from baths and showers to sponge baths. Of course I realized it would come to that when he became bed-ridden, but now I see the sponge bathing may begin a lot earlier than that.

Grandpa is very sensitive to water temperature. I guess we all are, but he prefers his water significantly cooler than I would. Sometimes it seems to me the water is lukewarm edging on cool when he declares that it is finally not too hot. I always have him check the water before he gets in, and water checking is a procedure I must watch with care. He has a hard time locating the water he is supposed to check. Often he will feel the sink over, and give some declaration about how cold it is, and he has a tendency to want to lift the lid of the toilet and plunge his hand in the bowl. One time recently when I asked him to check the water to make sure it was okay he solemnly lifted his foot and placed it against the side of the sliding door and held it there for awhile before announcing that he thought it felt okay.

Once I have him in the tub there is the problem–as we’re all familiar with–that the water doesn’t always stay the same temperature. For most of us this problem provokes little more than a muttered comment and a quick adjustment of the temperature. Since Grandpa no longer knows how to adjust the water he is terrified of it getting too cold or too hot. It’s not uncommon to hear during bath time “Aaaahhhhh! It’s getting too hot! It’s getting too hot!” Or, “Aaauugghh! It’s freezing! It’s freezing!” Usually the temperature hasn’t changed to the extreme that his comment would seem to imply–but he’s sure it will keep getting hotter until he is fried to a crisp, or keep getting colder until he is frozen to death.

After he is finished in the tub I make sure he gets out safely and give him a towel to dry off. After he has done as good a job as he can manage I finish drying him off. Then I slather him down with baby lotion, because he has a terrible problem with dry skin. I also soak his scalp with baby oil, because he has dry scalp as well. When I’m done he’s all greased up and smells like a baby. My hands do too. I recently realized that I need to switch him over to baby shampoo and baby body wash as well. The shampoo because he’s having more difficulty keeping it out of his eyes, and the body wash because normal soap is too harsh for someone with very dry skin.

When that is all done I get him dressed, come is hair, and then get him a cup of coffee and something to eat. When I first started the bathing schedule he complained a lot about taking the bath/shower because he was always sure the last time we had done it was yesterday. Now that the habit has become more ingrained–and I’ve persistently insisted that we’re only doing it every weekend, not every day–he complies more readily. I think it is a lot of work for him–mentally and physically–but I do think he feels better after we’re done.

****

Another update on Grandma’s health. My recent comments have proved prescient. Last week was a crises week. What had been building for weeks came to a head. Blood pressure was wildly out of control. Early in the week there was angina and heart palpitations during the night, and Grandma’s blood pressure started out very high in the mornings, went down only some during the day, and was very high by night again. Grandma was taking all sort of medications and trying all sorts of things to get it back down under 200. One night she had to take a nitroglycerin table just to get her blood pressure down low enough so she could eat, another night she didn’t eat, and another night she didn’t eat until late–after her collection of pills kicked in and pulled her blood pressure down to an acceptable level.

By the middle of the week she finally managed to get the night angina and heart palpitations to stop, but her blood pressure was still shooting into Grandma’s panic zone, so she went in to see the doctor Thursday morning (I drove this time)–and this time she brought in her complete blood pressure record. The only real purpose of going was so the doctor would refer Grandma to a specialist to get the artery to her second kidney looked at. A constricted kidney artery makes blood pressure go up. This was the cause of Grandma’s trouble early this year, and both her and I think the other kidney is causing the problem now. The doctor apparently agreed (or at least wasn’t going to dispute) and Grandma has an appointment with the specialist on this coming Thursday.

In the mean time she has got her blood pressure under much better control. I’m not sure why–not sure what she is taking now that she wasn’t taking before. When it shoots into the panic zone she starts taking everything, including the kitchen sink, but it isn’t clear to me exactly what additional measures she has added to her regular routine to help control the problem. I know there is a diuretic that her doctor told Grandma to take (but had been refusing because she didn’t like it) which she did start taking in the crisis moments when everything else failed–and it did do the trick. But Grandma has been unclear about whether she is taking it consistently now (perhaps because she isn’t taking it consistently, but only as she feels necessary.)

Whatever the case, for the last few days her blood pressure has been under good control (for Grandma) but the sense I get is that she is using methods she would rather not, and definitely wants to have the angioplasty done on the artery to her second kidney.

Certainly all is not well, even now. This afternoon she popped half a Valium pill because she started having heart palpitations. I’m not sure if the kidney high-blood pressure problem is the only problem we have going on. It doesn’t seem like her heart palpitations are caused only by high blood pressure–but can also be caused by exertion, and I don’t mean great exertion. Also (and again I don’t know if it is related, but it has caught my attention) that Grandma seems to be growing increasingly weak. Ever since I have been here Grandma hasn’t liked to lift things above her head because it bothers her heart, but now she can’t even pass a bowl of fruit across the table. Even more startling, this afternoon she couldn’t open one of those metal tab pull top cans for Grandpa’s lunch. Another recent day she couldn’t get the snap on top off a spray can. That, to me, seems on the verge of being alarmingly weak. I don’t know if it is just because she doesn’t do very much anymore, or if her heart is getting so weak that her strength is vanishing away.

The visit to the specialist on Thursday is only a consultation. We’ll see if/when the actual procedure on her kidney is scheduled.

After The Doctor

13th October 2007

On Thursday Grandma went to her doctor appointment alone. I’m not sure what all the subtext for that was. In all the many times Grandma has gone to the doctors since I came, I always took her. Ostensibly, she said she was feeling good enough to take herself, and also she didn’t think Doug could watch over Grandpa so I couldn’t go with her. But I think Doug could have handled Grandpa sufficiently, and I don’t think Grandma was actually in any better health than many times when I did take her.

Perhaps partly she wanted to prove to herself how well she is doing. Because, I sense that–beneath the surface of the waters–trouble is brewing, and I suspect Grandma is trying to deny it. In the previous post I mentioned how she decided to modify her medication–but what was once successful has become less so. Before she went to the doctor her daily blood-pressure was erratic. Some days she would be able to keep it at a good level (for Grandma) but other days she would wake up in the morning to her reading over 200 and, while she could bring it down from that morning peak, it would stay high all day. This puzzled Grandma, and I certainly can’t account for it, though I still suspect her constant variation of how much medication she is taking from one day to another might account for some of the problem.

While more than 50% of her days were good post her medication change I thought she had enough bad days to concern the doctor, and I was curious to see what the doctor would say. Then–as best as I can tell–grandma didn’t bring all her blood pressure records in to the doctor (and by that I mean not even all of her selectively recorded records). Thinking that she might have forgotten to bring her records I checked and found the book still lying at her stand as she prepared to pull out of the driveway. So I rushed the book down to her–and she told me she had torn out the sheets she would take. On a cursory glance the only sheet I saw missing was the one containing only the very last few days. Now it is possible that she re-copied down more data onto the single sheet (or possibly sheets) that she tore out of her booklet . . . but the whole thing struck me as odd. Why tear out sheets to bring? Why not bring the entire book?

Unless you have a selective picture you want to show.

I have the mind of a conspirator. Whether it is true or not doesn’t really matter–if Grandma wants to play games with her doctor that is her business. But if this is so it would account for why Grandma didn’t report the doctor as having any comment to make about her blood pressure readings. Those that would have really provoked comment might not have come before the doctor.

When Grandma came home what she did report is that the doctor pressed her very hard about her about her high cholesterol reading. In a sense this is no new story. Last time Grandma was to the doctor her cholesterol was high and the doctor tried to get her to start taking medicine. But Grandma swears every cholesterol medication gives her a terrible reaction and refused to start taking it the last time she went to the doctor, and it was the same result this time. But I guess the doctor really hammered her–at least Grandma felt so. She said the doctor told her she should really try to take it, and also that she should go on a completely vegetarian diet. Grandma said the doctor tried to use fear tactics, telling her that her body was producing cholesterol every day, and every day it was building up more in her veins and she was already operating at reduced kidney function and in a few years she might have to go on dialysis. But Grandma held firm and refused to take any cholesterol medication or to change her diet. Eating all vegetarian makes food boring, she says.

I gather that Grandma was greatly irritated by the doctor. On the one hand I can understand it–nobody likes feeling that they’re being put under pressure, and I think Grandma in particular didn’t like someone trying to give her a dim view on her situation especially since some of that creeps into her thoughts–much as she tries to shrug off what the doctor said.

But on the other hand I don’t take quiet such a dim view of the doctor as Grandma. She likes to brush it all off as the doctor trying to push pills and “do something” but I realize that everything Grandma reported the doctor as saying is dead on true. Grandma may have an adverse reaction to all cholesterol medication which makes that option unavailable to her, but that doesn’t make the doctor’s statements untrue about what cholesterol is doing to her body, and the advisability of going on a completely vegetarian diet. Grandma’s medical history has amply demonstrated that plaque builds up in her arteries at a very fast rate and a high cholesterol can only accelerate this fact. I can see the doctor as only trying to do her job and advise Grandma on the path to take to extend her life. High blood pressure, old age, or something will kill Grandma eventually–but if she leaves her blood cholesterol unchecked that will surely shorten things. I don’t know how much more angoplasty they can do on Grandma, or how many more stents they can put in.

But, much like a drunk who will not give up his drink even though it is killing him, Grandma has said no to changing her diet. Full steam ahead. What will be will be.

Perhaps as a prophetic foretelling, things have no gone well since Thursday. Last night in the middle of the night Grandma’s blood pressure went up and she had angina. I was not awake for any of this, as it happened sometime around 2:30-3:00 AM, but I gather from Grandma’ retelling that she panicked. Medication was hastily taken in the middle of the night–some of which I’m not sure it was appropriate for her to take at that time. She laid back down and the angina went away, but the incident shook her up sufficiently that she called off going out with Daryl today. Grandma tried to attribute the angina to it getting very cold last night. Perhaps she is right. Perhaps not. It doesn’t escape my attention that such an explanation is the least scary rationalization for what happened.

Whatever Grandma rationalizes to herself, I think deep down (and perhaps not so deep down) she is getting increasingly unsettled by the fact that her blood pressure won’t stay down, and on top of that now she is starting to have more symptoms. Angina terrifies her. Utterly terrifies her. One incident can be explained away, but anything more than that is a serious assault on her psyche and her emotional state will become volatile . . . which will spill over into her attitude toward Grandpa. (He is causing it! I can’t stand him when I’m feeling this poorly!)

But all that is in the future. Right now the gears in her mind are whirring as fast as they can go, searching to come up with a solution to keep her blood pressure down. She talks to me about how she’ll take a half of this pill and a half of that, and the doctor told her this, and told her that, and she is at the maximum dose of this and . . . I can’t keep any of it in my head. At one point I had a carefully written list of the medications that she was taking–but she has changed things around so much that the list is now utterly out of date. If I have to call an ambulance or take her to the emergency room I won’t be able to tell them how much she is taking of what. Last time I had to call the ambulance I brought out the medicine bottles and Grandma managed to tell them which she was using. If she is more incapacitated . . . I’ll take out the bottles and say, “Uhh . . . she’s taking Diovan and a lot of other stuff.”

Today did not go well for her either. She woke up this morning with her blood pressure over 200 again (even with the additional medication she took in the middle of the night) and she told me it stayed high all day. When she checked her blood pressure before going to bed tonight it was back over 200 again. Anyone familiar with proper blood pressure readings for a normal adult knows that number is stratospherically high. For Grandma to be over 200 both at the beginning and end of the day is a really bad sign–this is shades of her last really bad jag in late spring. It clearly has her on edge. She pulled out her arginine supplement which she stopped taking back in May/June when she was having other troubles and took a dose of that tonight before going to bed and cut herself a half of another blood-pressure pill, but decided not to take it until she saw how well the arginine worked.

As I said, for her blood pressure to be over 200 in the evening not more than a few hours after she took her normal evening blood pressure pills is a really bad sign. I don’t know if this is a momentary severe blip, or something more. Perhaps some minuscule blob of fat shifted in some artery and is now mostly blocking something. Whatever the case, it’s not going to be a night of resting easy for Grandma, and I have the possibility of crises hanging over me.

For me this confirms what I already thought. This winter looks to be quite the ride in regards to Grandma’s health. I have been mentally bracing for it all summer. This present incident may be nothing more than a foreboding, but forebode it does.

****

In somewhat better news, Grandpa seems to have recovered (some or all) from his hearing problem. He didn’t make any announcement to that effect, but I noticed some time this week that I no longer had to raise my voice and lean close for him to hear me–his hearing ability seems to have gone back to what it was before he complained of something plugging up his ears. I am very glad of this, because I was very torn over whether to take him to the doctors, and was feeling if his condition didn’t improve that I probably should. Since he appears to have recovered to his former state I’m assuming it was just fluid in his inner ear canal, like always.

The Wheelchair

6th October 2007

The wheelchair is another milestone. I asked Grandpa’s brother Doug if we could have the wheelchair he had, but no longer needed. (It was used by his ailing and now deceased wife.) We–or should I say Grandpa–don’t desperately need a wheelchair now, but it was clear to me we were beginning to edge into the gray territory where sometimes a wheelchair might be useful, and on a rare occasion–like if Grandpa had to leave the house–it would be necessary. When Grandpa can’t move himself I can pick him up and move him, but, as I told Grandma, I’m not going to make a scene walking down the street carrying Grandpa. I also thought it a good idea to have the wheelchair around the house if for some reason Grandpa couldn’t get himself around while I was out of the house and only Grandma or Titi or some other person was around who couldn’t physically move Grandpa themselves.

For several weeks after Doug brought the wheelchair over it simply sat in the basement. Then I decided I had better bring it to where it was more accessible, and perhaps even start using it myself. I find it very easy and convenient to carry Grandpa around. I find it better than trying to help Grandpa walk because when Grandpa tries to walk him and I are constantly “fighting” for control. He tries to lurch one way and then another, grabs at things, and tries to throw himself forward–all things which are contrary to normal walking. I end up trying to compensate for his every jerk, lurch, and grab as I steady him, and try to propel him toward the goal he is supposed to be heading toward–which he often doesn’t know where is, or has forgotten he is heading toward it. Instead of fighting this mini-battle where I’m constantly trying to keep him from pitching forward, lurching sideways, or hanging onto the wall, I find it simpler to simply hoist him off his feet. Dangling in mid-air, he has no control and ends up like a limp doll in my hands. I can then move quickly and smoothly to wherever we’re supposed to be going. This is also simpler than using the wheelchair, which requires getting him into the wheelchair and then navigating it around a house that most certainly was not built with a wheelchair in mind.

The problem is that Grandpa isn’t comfortable with me carrying him. First, I think it scares him. Just about anything I do with him scares him. He would like the world to move veeeerrrrry slowly, and when it doesn’t he is sure something will go wrong. If he were all by himself something would go wrong, but as it is he doesn’t trust me–not entirely. He is always half sure that when I sit him down he is going to fall over, and so on. How much worse when I left him right off his feet. Part of him cannot deny that he is dangling in mid-air, held quite firmly. But another part of his mind is sure that he is about to fall. The second part of the problem is that sometimes it hurts Grandpa when I carry him. It’s not clear to me how often it hurts his back when I carry him, and how often he is afraid that his back might get hurt. In any case it all comes down to the fact that–while on a rare occasion when Grandpa’s knees give what and I carry him to safety he is exceedingly grateful to have me carry him–most of the time he’d rather do anything else but have me carry him.

So I decided it was time to give him the option of riding in the wheelchair.

Grandpa would prefer to get himself around on foot, or crawl as he does more often now, but the wheelchair is definitely the easiest and most comfortable way for him to travel. He feels safe and secure in the wheelchair, and movement requires no thought or effort on his part (something walking takes in ever increasing amounts now). The problem (from his perspective) is that he is dependent on someone else to travel in the wheelchair, it offends his dignity a bit (though he has lost much of that) and also it requires some work to get into the chair and back out.

Right now the wheelchair is only used regularly for taking him to the supper table. He doesn’t actually need the wheelchair most nights, but I think it is good to get him into the habit so that he becomes comfortable eating at the table in the wheelchair. Grandma likes it because Grandpa is restrained when the wheelchair is parked up against the table with the wheels locked. This is actually a bit of a headache for me–I’m uneasy about leaving Grandpa unsupervised in the wheelchair because I am afraid he will try to get out or move himself only to surely end in disaster.

Today the wheelchair is needed only rarely, but its appearance marks another milestone in Grandpa’s decline.

****

In other health updates:

Grandma has altered her blood pressure medication. She was taking a half nitroglycerin patch and one type of pill. That became ineffective, so she upped it to a whole patch, and reverted to a previous pill she had taken before and still had around. She did all of this without consulting a doctor.

On the one hand I understand her motivation. Dealing with the doctor is a big headache and often times they don’t want to go the route you want to go. She had taken a lot of different blood pressure medications, so one might say she has some informal education on their effects. And her alterations have proved successful. So far.

But.

There is that but. She is old and forgetful of things she ought to know, not to mention that she has only informal education on blood pressure pills. In taking things into her own hands she could very well be penny-wise and pound foolish, or too clever by half. Choose your analogy.

I wonder if her need to adjust her medications came about in part by her erratic variation in the amount she took of old pill. She would vary how much of the pill she took depending on how high her blood pressure was at the time. There is a certain logic to that–and also perhaps not. I’m no expert, but I know doctors proscribe a set amount of medication for a reason. It may be true that Grandma has difficulty with wildly fluctuating blood pressure which can sometimes require a lot of medication and sometimes a little to control–but that itself isn’t good. As I understand it, blood pressure medication (at least some types) build up in your system so their full effect is not felt immediately. In other words, if you medicate yourself in the moment you’re going to end up with sling-shot effects on your blood pressure. I suspect this may have played into what caused Grandma to change her medication.

Previously, Grandma was having great success with keeping her blood pressure under better control so she cut back on her medication. Then it started fluctuating wildly, then it wouldn’t come down enough. So she changed her medication. I, however, could see those symptoms as being a result of her not having a high enough level of medication in her symptom constantly. Grandma is always look for immediate effects, first. If she takes something and it makes her blood pressure drop immediately to where she wants it, she is happy. But I think the unseen long term effects are causing some of the “mysterious” things that she finds happening to herself.

In any case, those are just my personal thoughts. I try to not play the third doctor. Next week I will be taking Grandma to a checkup with her regular doctor. Perhaps more light will be shed on the matter then.

But perhaps not.

This touches on another one of Grandma’s habits. She keeps track of her blood pressure throughout the day–if she is feeling good she will check it twice a day, if she is feeling poorly she will check it as often as she feels necessary. She takes this record in for the doctor to see–except on this official record she doesn’t write down some readings that she doesn’t like. Apparently it is okay in Grandma’s book to have a very high reading in the morning, but it is not okay to have a high reading in the middle of the day and if she does have a high reading she may (depending on some reasoning known only to her) will drop such readings from the record. She admitted this to me herself one time, when she was telling me how something she did brought her blood pressure down. “Of course,” she said, “You won’t see the high reading on my chart because I didn’t write that one down.”

I have no idea how many readings she doesn’t write down but this methodology seems rather self-delusional rather than helpful. Is the doctor going to make good recommendations based on such a history?

I don’t think Grandma really trusts her doctor. I think she uses the doctor as emotional support, a sounding board, and most importantly as a pill dispenser. I sympathize with not really trusting doctors. I suppose that puts one in a hard place when you don’t trust them, but you need one to get you the pills so you can self-doctor.

Moving on to Grandpa’s health:

Grandpa has been suffering with some mild breathing problems. To a degree they have been with him since before I have taken care of him. He stopped smoking a year (or several) before my arrival because he started having breathing problems. Once he stopped smoking the worst of the problems went away, but the persistent problems he has, I think, are a result of his 50+ years of smoking. Previously I had mentioned Grandpa’s occasional problem with wheezing and his regular hocking up of snot to the doctor, but she said, “It’s just post nasal drip. A lot of old people have trouble with it. He sounds fine.” Well, sometimes he sounds fine, and sometimes he doesn’t, but I don’t think his trouble is just post nasal drip. Granted, there probably isn’t much, if anything that can be done for him. You smoke for fifty years you’re going to have problems. But it’s not just post nasal drip.

Recently, the wheezing and hocking has become worse. About a week or so ago he was wheezing so bad when he laid down at night that it was difficult for me (and Grandpa) to sleep. If that had continued I would have recommended taking him to the doctor, but the wheezing has since passed (for the time being) and Grandpa is just constantly hocking stuff up. The recent flare-up has reminded me that lung problems will likely end up being what kills Grandpa. It clearly is the weak system in his body.

In other ailments, Grandpa has, for as long as I have lived with him, also complained about popping and stuffiness in his ears. This is one of those on and off complaints that doesn’t seem to get completely better ever, and since it doesn’t appear to be tied with any particular sickness is not something I’m inclined to take him to the doctor over, especially since he is not able to converse coherently about his ailments. That is not a good environment for doctoring.

But recently he complained that his ears had become stuffed again, and this time I noticed a great decrease in his hearing. He now seems to be hard of hearing, whereas before he could hear quite well. I’m not sure what to do about it, since he isn’t complaining of pain, fever, or any of the other symptoms one would associate with an ear infection. I see no sign of redness, swelling, or anything else out of the ordinary on the visible exterior of his ear. One possibility is that he might have wax on his eardrum, but should I take him to the doctors–with all the hassle and anxiety involved–just to get his ear cleaned?

I don’t know. If Grandpa didn’t mind going to the doctors I would take him. But when it requires a great amount of effort to get him to the doctor, and then he isn’t very helpful once you are there, I don’t really want to take him unless I’m sure some good can be done, or at least that it really needs to be looked at.

I’m sure there is something affecting his hearing–whether it is fluid inside his ear or earwax on the outside, I don’t know. But I do know that Alzheimer’s’s is also affecting his hearing as even before this recent trouble he has shown a decrease in his ability to understand what he has heard–not because he didn’t hear it but because he couldn’t interpret what he heard. So, while I know he is having problems physically hearing, I don’t know how many of the times he says “Huh?” not because he didn’t hear, but because he didn’t understand.

Whatever the multiplicity of causes, this increased difficulty in communication has led to more stress and labor as now everything may have to be repeated three times before Grandpa might understand it. One can begin to feel like a broken record, repeating, “I just said that . . .”

But there are much worse things to deal with.

How Hot is Hot

29th September 2007

Old people and young people react to temperatures differently. This is a fact I must constantly deal with in caring for Grandpa. Young people can take great extremes in temperature better than the elderly, and generally a younger person prefers a cooler ambient temperature than a older person. Thrown into this, some of us, even in our youth, prefer hotter temperatures and that preference becomes more marked as age increases.

I definitely fall into the cooler category, and, whatever Grandpa was in his youth, he very much prefers it warm in these latter years of his life. While Grandma is not so extreme as Grandpa she also prefers it warmer than I. The result is that the house is almost constantly warmer than I would like, and it is usually unpleasantly stuffy. I love a nice pleasant breeze. I think fresh air moving through the house is conducive to good house. Grandpa, on the other hand, can’t abide the least hint of a breeze and is sure any puff of wind forebodes oncoming sickness. So, while I would throw every window open and let in some nice outdoor air, the windows generally remain shut.

Thus I don’t wear long sleeved shirts unless I am going out of the house and the heavy duty short sleeved shirts that I found so comfortable back home now seem unbearably heavy to wear most of the time, and the jeans I used to wear without a thought became stifling over the summer. It sometimes felt impossible to get comfortable–not only because it was so hot but because there was no movement of the air. It felt completely stifling.

During the day it can be hot, but the nights are always the worst. Grandpa and I share a very small bedroom. I feel bad if Grandpa wakes up in the morning and says how cold he was the previous night, so as much as possible I suffer with what feels like stifling heat to me so he won’t have to suffer with what feels like frigid cold to him. I try to get myself some relief by encouraging him to go to bed fully clothed and cover him with a sturdy blanket so that I can open the window (some) without him waking up in the morning and complaining about how he froze the previous night. But it is a difficult balance as the temperature fluctuates during the night and Grandpa doesn’t know enough (anymore) to add an additional blanket if he gets cold so I must think of it for him. The night starts out warm, so he may shed clothing and/or blankets while I have the window open and as the room cools toward dawn he will complain of freezing (when for me the temperature has just become bearable).

I don’t think I have ever sweated so badly at night in any previous summer of my life. I have never lived with air conditioning so hot summer nights are nothing new, but back home we could alleviate the problem by putting fans in windows and creating a nice strong breeze. Grandpa, being so very sensitive to the least hint of a breeze, means our bedroom remains stifling and that–more than simple high temperatures–has been the cause of my troubles.

How hot is hot? Or maybe we should say, how stifling is stifling? You might have thought soaking your pillow with sweat, or soaking your sheets with sweat, was only a proverbial saying, or only something that happens when you have a raging fever. Not for me. On the bad nights I will wake up several times a night to find my pillow wet with sweat. I flip the pillow over to find a dry side, and wake up a few hours later to find that side wet as well. On the worst nights it is so hot I can’t cover myself with anything. For most of the year the room is kept so warm that I can’t cover myself with anything more than a sheet. My rule of thumb is that if it gets cool enough that I can actually cover myself with a blanket then it is time to start piling more blankets on Grandpa because it means he’s getting cold. On the really bad nights my entire bed gets wet with sweat and when I get up to take Grandpa to the bathroom I come back and find my bed damp and cold. So I have to roll over and hope I can find a dry spot.

There are much worse problems in life than a stifling bedroom, but dealing with sweat soaked bedding is probably not a problem one would naturally consider when contemplating the difficulties of caring for the elderly.

The Sovereignty of God Applied

23rd September 2007

September 24th, 2006–that was the day I left home to begin caring for Grandma and Grandpa. It has been nearly a year since that day, and a fitting time for some reflection.

If I were to talk about the struggles in this past year, or the reasons why I have done what I have done, I could say many things. But all the struggles, all the reasons, and all the questions come back to one thing. The sovereignty of God. So I will write a little bit about that, and its relation to where I am, what I am doing, and what I struggle with.

Those who know God know Him as Sovereign Lord. He is Lord of the past, Lord of the present, and Lord of the future. He is the creator of heaven and earth, the one who calls, appoints, and determines. He gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were (Romans 4:17) It is He who apportions the numbers of days to each man and guides our steps. He know the plans he has for us, plans to prosper and not to harm us (Jeremiah 29:11).

This ought to lead us to take a certain perspective on life. We are not tossed about on some sea of chaos called life, struggling to overcome uncertainty and doubt as we make our own way by our own wisdom and strength. No, by faith we understand that God works and directs in all things. In accord with his perfect plan and wisdom he works all things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). In our life it is not primarily our place to plan or to determine or to know. As it is said in James 4:13-15 “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” So it is that we ought to seek the will of God, and live our lives in obedience to that will. When we understand the supremacy that God holds in our life we do not first ask, “What do I want?” or “What would be smart?” or “What would be safest” or any such thing. Instead we ask, “What does God want?” and then we do that, and leave our security and the outcome in his hands.

That is the attitude that we should take, but all of us struggle against the fleshly nature to live up to what we know, myself not the least.

Perhaps you might call it a contradiction, but in my present situation I find the truth of God’s sovereignty as both my greatest hope, and my greatest difficulty. In the midst of my troubles it is my comfort and strength, and in the midst of my wants it is at the center of my struggle.

I am where I am now because I believe the will of God in this matter was unmistakable and unequivocal. God had put me in a place where I was able to provide for a particular need in my family and, in accord with 1 Timothy 5:8, obedience to God required that I fill that need. I had no great struggle deciding whether I should or shouldn’t, whether it was wise or best. I found in this matter God’s word was clear, and so there was only to pray for grace to serve.

In this respect my present situation is so very much easier than where most of us find ourselves in life. In many of life’s decisions the will of God is not so clear. When we ask, “Should I go to Africa or South America?” or “Should I take this job or that job” there is no explicit answer in Scripture to those questions. In those matters we must pray, seek the peace of God, and test the matters against Scripture in what ways we can. I.e., “Am I taking this job because of greed?” or “Am I going to this place because of fear?” and so on. Often when we make a decision and afterward trials and troubles come because of that decision we are afflicted with questions and doubts. We say, “Am I suffering now because I made the wrong decision? Did I delude myself? Is this trouble an indication that I should change?” And so the troubles of that time are compounded by doubt, uncertainty, and self-accusation.

By contrast I am in one of those life situation where the Bible itself is very clear, and there is no doubt or regret. The Bible is not silent on the matter of caring for ones family. And scripture doesn’t say “Take care of your family if it is convenient” or “help your family when it is to your advantage.” I do what I do as a living out of my faith and whatever troubles or trials come, I know I am where God has called me and doing what he has called me to do. There is no doubt or thought of turning back and no foothold for the accusations of Satan in this matter. That doesn’t make everything into a wonderful joyride, but it does provide peace and a confidence which leaves no room for doubt or regret . . . and that is a wonderful thing to have when the times get really tough.

I think a common internal reaction people have when considering the situation I have put myself in is, “You’re putting you’re entire life on hold! Doesn’t that make you afraid? You’re not advancing yourself or your career. Doesn’t that concern you?” Beyond all the frustrations and difficulty found in living with and caring for the ailing, there is that undercurrent of fear. Putting yourself in such a situation as mine is to surrender all control of your life. You are putting your life on hold, especially if you are young. You are no longer pursuing what seems best for you–you are looking out for the needs of another. Instead of determining when you will go and do this or that you are (so to speak) at the mercy of the one you are tending, and you don’t know how long it will be. And what will become of your life after those ailing persons are gone? Years and years of work and at the end of it all you have are memories–is that not the epitome of worldly futility? All that work and what you end up with is nothing but two graves. And when you walk away from those graves you have nothing, nothing gained to see you advanced in your life. You’re no further along the path of success than when you started.

That is how the world thinks.

In contrast, for me knowing that there is a sovereign God, and that I walk in obedience to what he has commanded me, I don’t struggle with that fear. I don’t know where I am going, but I do know who I am following, and I know that he is faithful. As Paul says, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). I am not in control, and I am not at the helm of this boat that is called my life. It is true that in my present circumstance my ability to advance my goals is very limited. But my goals are not important, God’s are. I have no idea where I am going or what the futures holds, but God does. I have no clue how I will be successful in life, but it is God who defines success for me, not the standards of men, and he will lead me in his success. I surrender all of that up for Him to work out as he wills. I obey God and let the chips fall where they may. I wait to see what he will do.

Yet, that is not the end of the matter. For, if while knowing the sovereignty of God and obedience to his will calms my fears, it does not still my desires. When a year ago I acted out my obedience and went to do what I believed God had called me to do, I didn’t leave behind all of my wants and desires.

There is a difference between knowing God is in control, and finding satisfaction in that. There is a difference between knowing that God works in my life, and seeing my life through the eyes of Christ.

There is a great snare laid for those who would try to conform God to our image instead of being conformed to the image of God.

One of the snares I see is the attitude which thinks, “I will obey God, now I expect success as I view success.” That is exactly how the world thinks about God, and there is no quicker path to disappointment.

If we obey God we will be successful–in Christ Jesus. That means the dying of our fleshly nature and our worldly ideas of success. When we step forward to obey God it means the dying of what the flesh holds dear. Being successful in Christ can mean being very poor in the things of the world, and many people stumble over this.

I ponder over this, wondering if such deceit is laid up in my heart. Have I truly given up my success for the success of God in my life? We may think we have the answers to such questions, but the truth is revealed under the testing of fire. If I am going through this time harboring the thought, “After these days I will be successful in the things which I hold dear” then I will surely come to a great sorrow.

Then there is also the snare of the attitude which thinks God should work according to our time-line. There is the heart that chafes and grows impatient with God. There is the heart which says he might be in control, but I sure wish he’d hurry up and move me on to more pleasant and greener pastures. I believe he works in my life for my good–and I sure want him to get onto better things. Knowing God controls things somehow doesn’t stop the fleshly heart from thinking it can tell God how to better handle matters.

Impatience is what I find myself really struggling with right now. The decision I made to obey God a year ago, (wherever he might be leading, however he might be working,) was not a once for all decision. I must live it, I must decided it again and again, every day.

There is a continual tension in my life between my will and God’s will. I must die every day to my will that I might live in God’s will. I am honored, and I rejoice in the spirit of Christ Jesus, that I have the opportunity to serve God in this time by serving my grandparents. But as for my flesh and my desires–there is nothing in my present situation that is what I want. The spirit says, “However long, Lord, I serve you.” The flesh says, “How long, Lord, must I serve you?”

I would prefer that I were so spiritual that I didn’t have this struggle. It is a struggle, and knowing that it is a struggle and an assault from Satan doesn’t make it all go away. Knowing things isn’t the same thing as living them. And the struggle with attitude and mindset can quickly feed on itself as I become angry with myself that I cannot rest in God’s will, and then I loathe myself because the desire to be done with all of this is an expression of the basest self-centeredness because willing to be done is (in effect) willing ill on those I tend, for is it not in essence wishing they were dead? And so I despise myself in my failure and sins, and Satan has a jolly time, no doubt, feeding the vicious cycle.

The answer, of course, is not in my perfection but in the perfection of Christ. Satisfaction is found not in living up to the standards by some supreme effort of my will, but in repentance and faith–knowing that God is working in me a conformity to Christ and that he is able and just to forgive my sins. I know that God is working, and working things perfectly, but in my attitude I struggle with that daily, and God knows it is a struggle. Peace in his will is something I must seek each day. Yesterday’s peace isn’t sufficient, and neither is last weeks.

Acknowledging God as Sovereign Lord is not something only done at momentous decisions. It is not only a truth that must be acknowledged, but also lived. It must be done daily in life. The sovereignty of God means dying daily to ourself, our grumbling, our complaints, and our desires. It is dying that we might live rightly, in obedience and faith, rejoicing in his desires. That is not just something for this time in my life, but for always, until the end of the age.

On Behalf of Christ: The Sovereignty of God in Philippians

9th September 2007

How do we view our lives?

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes about contentment, confidence, and joy. When the world talks about contentment, confidence, and joy and it talks about finding those things in the self. There is talk about being content in what we have accomplished, having self-confidence, and taking joy in what we have done. But what is the foundation Paul presents for these things?

We read at the beginning of Philippians,

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 1:3-6)

I always pray with joy, Paul says, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion. What is the root from which Paul’s joy and confidence comes? Is it what the Philippians have done? No. It is from what God has done. Paul has joy that the Philippians are partners in the gospel, but they are partners because of the good work God has done in them. And Paul is confident not because he has some great confidence in the Philippians and their own inner strength, but because he is confident in God–the one who began the good work and the one who will carry it on to completion.

The world places its confidence in the flesh, in what man can do, and takes its joy from what man has done. The right spiritual perspective places its confidence in God, in what He can and will do, and takes it joy from what He has done.

But Paul speaks more about this work which God has done. A little later in the same chapter we read, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).

Granted to you on behalf of Christ. There are two parts of that statement to look at. It was granted to you, and on behalf of Christ.

Granted. The Greek word is Charizomai and can have the meaning such as “To do a person a favor, to be kind to,” Or, “to be gracious to, to give or bestow willingly as a gift.” And that which has been graciously given as a gift has not been earned, merited, or grasped by one’s own strength. With that one word Paul conveys the sovereign will of God in election unto salvation.

On behalf of Christ. In accord with His own sovereign will God grants salvation to those He chooses, but lest anyone think, “God chose me on my behalf, because I was better than others,” Paul makes it clear on whose behalf God grants salvation. On behalf of Christ it has been granted to us to believe. That reveals the true center, and reason for our salvation. It isn’t about us. It is about Christ.

One ought to take this to heart. Salvation is not something grasped, it is not something to be gained by effort. Salvation is granted, something given. And not because of something we have done, or something we can look at in ourselves. Not on our behalf, not on our account. On behalf of Christ we were granted salvation for his sake, for his glory. As it is said,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

(Ephesians 1:3-14)

Paul has spoken about joy and confidence in the first chapter of Philippians and in Philippians 2:1 he continues “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love” and we see Paul once again finding the locus in God. It is not what we have done, but rather what God has done–His love and the union with Him which He has brought about–which ought to give us our encouragement and comfort.

Paul continues, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). It is God who works in us, not us working independently by ourselves. Further, speaking about the efforts for righteousness in the flesh he says, “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Phil. 3:8-9).

In contrast to those who strive for righteousness by their own efforts, we “worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).

We all must remember, day by day, to live by faith in that work of God. In that faith we have true confidence, joy, comfort, contentment, patience, peace, and all such things. We lacks those things, and struggle in our daily lives, when we take our eyes off Jesus and look to ourselves. We must put off the flesh with its desire to find righteousness and joy in oneself instead of in Christ and the working of God.

When I look at Christianity in America today I am troubled by what I see as a trend toward “It’s all about you” Christianity. Books galore are written, and lectures given, about your joy, happiness, contentment, self-esteem, self-confidence, and all others things dealing with self. It is feel-good positivism And that is exactly the fleshly way the world thinks and the way the world seeks to satisfy itself. But the way to joy, confidence, and contentment presented by the world and popular Christianity is a sham that will be found worthless and empty, a chasing after of the wind.

The truth is that it isn’t about us. Salvation isn’t centered on us, much as pop culture Christianity would like to sell it off as the universe centered on us. No. It is all about Christ Jesus. Salvation is centered on Christ, and it is only we who are in Christ who participate in it. Confidence, joy, contentment, peace, and all those things are not found in manipulating our own miserable little worlds or reading enough positive self-help books. It is all about having a perspective focused on the work of God in Christ.

That is not the easy way, and it is not the appealing way, because that way is the way of putting to death the flesh. But when we do put to death the flesh and with eyes of faith look to and desire the work of God in Christ, then we have true confidence, joy, contentment, and peace which transcends all the troubles of the world.

Christian Ethics Considered

3rd September 2007

What should motivate Christians? What should guide them and control them? Toward what end should we be motivated and led?

These are questions of Christian ethics. They are questions every Christian ought to seek to answer. The Bible has much to say on the matter of Christian ethics and it ought to be the touchstone by which we find the right answer to our questions.

Today I will take 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 as the starting point for a brief consideration of Christian ethics.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

There we have a beautiful encapsulation of Christian ethics.

Christ’s love compels us. Paul wrote those words, and they should be our words and motivation too. That statement is succinct, and yet so much can be drawn from it. He didn’t say a law or laws compelled him. He said love compelled him. More than that, Christ’s love. It is not our love–something that comes from us–which should motivate us. No, it is the example of Christ’s love put before us, and, even more, the working of his love in us.

Because we are convinced that one died for all. Love, in the minds of men, can be such an airy undefined thing. Not so with Paul. What is Christ’s love? What is its relation and substance? Its relation is to God the Father, the one Christ loves, and its substance is found in obedience to Him (John 10:17, 14:31).

When we think of Christ dying for us it is common to think and speak of how much Christ loved us. It is true that Christ loves us, and that is not to be belittled, but we must understand it from the proper perspective. Jesus Christ’s love is for the Father and in that love he was obedient to the will of the Father, even to death on a cross (Phil. 2:8)! Further, it was in that love for and of the Father that he loved us and laid down his life for us. As our Lord says, “The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31) and, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:9-13)

Men, with their man-centered thinking, like to think of themselves as the focus of God’s love (whether it be in the trinitarian expression of God the Father’s love or Christ Jesus the Son’s love). Not so. Certainly, as the Bible makes clear, we are the recipients of Gods love, and undoubtedly we are the beneficiaries of His love, but we must always remember how that is so. It is in God the Father’s love for the Son that we are loved (John 17:23,26) and it is in the Son’s love for the Father that we are loved. This in no way diminishes the love God has for us, but rather puts it rightly in its God-centered perspective. And, understanding how greatly God loves His Son we then see how greatly He loves those who are in His Son, and in seeing how greatly the Son loves the Father, we see how greatly he loves us. The fact that the love God has for us is found in the God-head and not in ourselves is the source for our surpassing hope and confidence. As Paul says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. We should no longer live for ourselves. The love of Christ compels us–to live in obedience to the Father, after the example of Christ: a self-sacrificing expression of God’s love.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. There is a great divide between the world’s point of view and the view of those who are in Christ. For as it is said,

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

“Therefore come out from them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

(2 Cor. 6:14-18)

That which motivates our life and action is entirely different from that which motivates the world. The world lives for itself, we live for God.

He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. How do we live for God? We are called to be His ambassadors, declaring His message of reconciliation. Those who have not received the message–the world–can have no part in this.

So we return to the question, what motivates us? The love of Christ. And to what does it motivate us? Obedience to God as ambassadors of His message of reconciliation that, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them [. . .] We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I say again, what compels us? The love of Christ. Why? Because we believe that one died for all. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God” Christian ethics is based on faith and love produced by the work of God. You cannot force the compulsion of love upon someone else, it must spring up from inside him, and that is from God. It is radically different from what has come before. The ethics of the flesh is “Do this and live.” Do no murder, do not steal . . . and so on. Countries and societies enforce their ethics by the power of the sword and the might of their arm. In contrast true Christian ethics is an inward work of God. The love of Christ compels because we believe. With no belief there is no love, and no Christian ethic. Therefore, partaking in the Christian ethic requires belief. Christians partake in the promulgation of Christian ethics not by legislative force but by the declaration of God’s word. In other words, we have no power to enforce Christian ethics in ourselves–we are ambassadors of God’s message of reconciliation. And those whom God has chosen, in whom He works to believe the message–in them the Christian ethic comes to dwell through the love of Christ.

Throughout church history Christians have failed to reckon with this truth. Instead of resting in the power of the new creation wrought by God Christians in every age have instead attempted to work with the old creation fashioning an ethics of the flesh enforced by the means of the flesh–laws and regulation. Instead of resting in the promise, “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people” Christians have attempted to enforce ethics on the church, and on society as a whole and in so doing have yoked themselves with unbelievers in a multitude of ways. But how can a true spiritual ethic of a new creation be lived by an old creation under the methods of that old order?

For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?

What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?

Can I be any more clear?

Nonetheless, it has been attempted in the past, and it is attempted to this very day. And so I watch appalled as Christians make a devil’s deal with the powers of this present age in an attempt to bring about a so-called Christian ethic upon today’s culture and society. Instead of resting by faith in the inner working of God by the power of His Spirit Christians attempt to work by the wisdom and strength of men. They sow a wind and will reap a whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). We ought to remember, “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Cor. 1:25).

Let us leave behind worldly ways, and cling fast to the promise of God:

Therefore come out from them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.

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Further Reading:

As I said at the beginning, the Bible has much to say on the matter of Christian ethics. For anyone who might be interested in further reading I will list some scripture that could serve as a starting point. First, as is highlighted by my constant references, the chapters of John 13-17 are packed with ethical teaching. I will not quote those chapters here, but a voluminous study could be made of all that is said there. One could also look to 1 John 4.

Some other passages one could start with:

Romans 8:1-17:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind[f] is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Philippians 2:1-16:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life

And that would be just a start.

Reflections on Life Led by The Spirit

13th August 2007

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Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)

If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” (Galatians 5:18)

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A thorough discussion and examination of the teaching of “led by the Spirit” in the New Testament and its implications is one of those papers I’ve always wanted to write. The little piece today is not that paper. Today I will only briefly touch on the subject in relation to some personal reflections.

I see the issue of “led by the Spirit” as a fundamental lynch-pin of New Testament teaching. It is central to our knowledge, our obedience, and our confidence (see John 14:26, Romans 8:5-17, 23-27, 1 Cor. 2:10-16, Gal. 5:18, 1 John 2:27). In short, it is central to Christian life. How you understand this truth, or fail to understand it, will affect your interpretation of Scripture and your living out of Christian life.

What does it mean to be led by the Spirit?

If asked this question many Christians could probably give a generic answer along the lines of “Being led by the Spirit means God teaches us,” or “It means God will guide us.”

But what is the practical out-working of such statements? What does it mean in the rubber-meeting-the-road of actual life? In our present day life how are we to understand the distinction between being ruled by law and being led by the Spirit? Most Christians have a vague or deficient understanding on this subject which results in a multitude of problems.

In the book of Galatians we see Paul dealing with an extreme failure to understand what it means to live by the Spirit. The Galatians were slipping toward the position of replacing a life led by the Spirit with one controlled by law. Doctrinally, they were standing perilously on the edge of replacing Grace with Works.

We may not have the Galatians’ raging controversy over circumcision, but to say that we don’t face the same failures in spiritual understanding today would be wrong. The debate over circumcision then was a manifestation of a deeper problem, and there are still people today who teach a gospel of works, which is no gospel at all, even if fleshly circumcision is never mentioned.

Thus we could take the teaching of Paul in Galatians and apply it to refuting the present day false doctrines of those who have fallen away from the gospel of grace. That would be a valid and profitable application of Scripture–but not where I’m going today. Rather than refuting heretics, my thoughts turn to considering how true Christians fail to consistently live out the truth of a life led by the Spirit.

As Paul teaches in Romans and Galatians (Romans 6:14, 7:4-6, 8:14, Gal. 3:10-12, 5:18, etc), life by law is contrary to life by the Spirit. Where the latter of life led by the Spirit is lacking you will find the former of life controlled by Law. Attempting to live by law is seeking to justify oneself (Gal. 3:11-12). As we all struggle with sin and rebellion against dependence upon God in our daily living, so we all stumble and fail to live perfectly in the life led by the Spirit. I don’t exempt myself from this weakness.

But sometimes and in some places this stumbling becomes a systematic failure. That is, a little seed of failure to believe and obey the truth sprouts into a larger plant of failure, which in turns produces a great fruit of flawed understanding so that in churches and Christian lives it becomes a pervasively corrupted understanding of what it mean to live righteously and obey God.

When I look around at the church at large in America I see this as particularly evident. Actually, to broaden that, in the very existence of denominationalism, nay, the very existence of institutional church evidences this clearly. For wherever church becomes an institution, (and as a historical shift this occurred when the emperor Constantine made Christianity a state religion,) you have laws and by-laws, rules and regulations, and such things which institutions necessitate. And where you have law regulating conduct you choke out Spirit guided conduct.

Thinking about this subject both excites and frustrates me. I am excited by the beauty, truth, and power of life led by the Spirit, as taught by Scripture. I am frustrated by my own inability to articulate this Scriptural teaching well, and also the great failure of institutional Christianity to understand and live this foundational truth with its vast implications.

I have pondered this a long time as I have struggled to understand (for myself) and to articulate (for others) the great friction between what I believe Scripture teaches and what institutional Christianity practices. I still haven’t achieved the quality of articulation which I desire, but I have come to the point where I feel I have a pretty clear understanding. In succinct form, the institutional church does not conform to the clear New Testament teaching. More than that, the institutional church in its existence and methods is completely contrary to New Testament teaching. Further, living according to the teaching of the New Testament would blow the institutional church to smithereens. Such is the irreconcilable difference between the reality of Biblical teaching and manifest practice.

Previously, while understanding this on a gut level, whenever I spoke or thought in concrete terms it would always come out in particular manifestations. That is, I would say, “This thing” or “That thing” is wrong with the institutional church. However, while those points were true, they were not the source of the problem, only manifestations of something deeper. In thinking that way I was not helping the clarity of my thought, or my communication with others because it gave the appearance that my issue with the institutional church was just this or that thing so that if there were an institutional church without this or that I would be satisfied. Instead, the real necessity is to bring the underlying problem to light. For when the foundation is solid, then the whole building is solid, and when the foundation is rotten it doesn’t matter how much you patch the roof–the building is still going to fall.

In a way this hearkens back to what I previously wrote on the subject of reverence–that is, the great difference between what seems reasonable to human thinking and what is pleasing to God. Laws are proper and reasonable to human thinking and appeal to man’s desire of self-accomplishment, that desire to establish ones own righteousness–“the one who does these things will live by them” (Romans 10:3-5, Gal. 3:12). Everything is spelled out. There is the list of dos and don’ts. Check off the boxes, connect the dots, make sure you have your bases covered. In short, man justifies himself by his efforts.

Life live in the Spirit and led by the Spirit, by contrast, does not seem reasonable to human thinking. It is, “The righteous will live by faith” (Gal. 3:11) and, “‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming.” Not words written on tablets of stone or in the church rule book, but the word in our mouth and heart–the Spirit living and active in our lives, teaching and leading us personally. To live a life led by the Spirit requires faith–it cannot be done by worldly sight, wisdom, or effort. It requires the constant, daily, exercise of faith. It is unreasonable to the flesh. In fact it is complete madness to fleshly thinking, something incapable of working. To live by a faith led by the Spirit is forsaking confidence in fleshly things and putting to death the flesh with its desires, reasoning, and passions.

It is the failure to live in this faith which gives place to law. It is the failure to believe that the working of God’s Spirit in His people is enough–that instead we must add law to make sure, to accomplish by our own efforts the ends we see as necessary. It is the same underlying current that we see in the failed understanding at Galatia that Paul wrote to correct. That flawed mindset which says, “We need law to live righteously, we need laws to obey God.”

The institutional church is law. It consists of laws and regulations–laws are what make institutions, whether they be petty laws about when this our that will be done, or serious laws delineating what constitutes a member of the institution. The laws of institutional church chokes out the faith in seeking God’s leading. The laws appeal to, and satisfy, the desires of the flesh to have things in our control. The institutional church, in its structure and operation, teaches people to depend on law instead of the leading of the Spirit. It feeds spiritual immaturity and starves deep spiritual life.

It is interesting to note that people defending the institutional church will not deny the reality of laws governing regulating the institutional church. Rather, they will argue the such is a very necessary reality. To which we must say, “Necessary on whose terms? Man’s, or God’s?” If the institutional church will die without law, maybe the institutional church needs to die.

I have spoke in general terms, which will frustrate anyone who would wish to be contentious with me. But I am at present reflecting on what I see, not attempting to persuade anyone else that it is true. True persuasion, I believe, comes from a willingness to believe what the Bible says, a readiness and determination to study it seriously and earnestly, and then the faith to obey what is revealed, no matter how radical the direction or how great the cost. And here the cost is one thing people seem to intuitively grasp. They see that an absence of law and institution will not please people, it will not appeal to people–in fact, it will offend people and they will reject it. How can we do something that the masses will reject? And so it is dismissed.

After a fruitless exchange with such people they–perhaps sensing in me a very earnest fellow or else just wanting to shut me up–will usually say, “Well, why don’t you change the institutional church? Instead of just complaining, what would you change in the church? Why don’t you go and try to do something about it?”

This would previously always leave me feeling somewhat at a loss as to how to respond, and in the end I would usually mumble something in essence like, “It wouldn’t work.” Which, while not untrue, didn’t convey the truth adequately. The full truth is that the institutional church doesn’t need to be changed–it needs to be destroyed. The institutional church is law: some silly, some arbitrary, some unnecessary—all different kinds of law. Not Mosaic law, not law unto salvation by works (at least in any church with orthodox soteriology) but in the end all law of works to please and obey God. And, as I have been trying to say, law is contrary, it is antithetical, to life led by the Spirit in faith, through grace. As it is said, “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Gal. 3:2-5). You don’t “fix” or “change” that failed thinking–you get rid of it! To attempt to work within the structures of the institutional church is to attempt to work by and through law. The answer to such an idea is, “Are you so foolish?”

Without law, the institutional church ceases to exist. With the law that supports the edifice of the institutional church, the truth of New Testament teaching about life lived by the leading of the Spirit is choked out. To be wholly obedient to the teaching of the Bible there is no place for the institutional church–one cannot take law and fashion grace, or a dead word and create living spirit.

What would I do, you ask me. I would be as “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’ ” (Matt. 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23). To all who would listen I would speak, to all who hunger and thirst I would point them to the truth. To those who find the Spirit quenched in the rules and regulations of men I tell them of the life lived in the leading of the Spirit, as taught by the New Testament. What I would do (figuratively) is pack the institutional church with dynamite and blast it to rubble. Then I would walk through all the dust and smoke and hand everyone a Bible and tell them, “Seek God. Listen to Him. Obey Him.”

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“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 2:27)

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:60-69)

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The Embers Are Dying

6th August 2007

For the record, here is a summarized account of the progression of Grandpa’s condition.

Eating

The big milestone in Grandpa’s eating has been a recognition that his inability to eat normal food has progressed to the point where he needs special food. As I have often said, things do not progress neatly with this disease. An Alzheimer’s patient doesn’t go from walking one day to not walking at all the next day, or from eating normal food always to not eating at all. The slow progression is like a form of torment for the victim as the lose their ability one little bit at a time and they struggle futility to hold onto what they have.

With some things, like talking, you can only watch as the victim’s ability deteriorates. There is nothing you can do. But for other things as the disease progresses there are steps to take when the victim reaches certain points in progression. For example, there comes a time when it is time for the Alzheimer’s patient to start wearing diapers. That point as long passed here, but there was the awkward and delicate time when we had to introduce the fact to Grandpa. The trick is knowing when something has to be done.

In the case of eating, when I first came to live here Grandpa ate everything we ate. He found a few things difficult to chew with his false teeth so he would spit them out, and I would cut his food up for him so he could eat it, but beyond that there was no question that he would eat the same meals as the rest of us. Since then, the situation has slowly grown worse.

When I first came the influx of my better cooking and attention to Grandpa’s needs made him gain weight from about 125 lbs. to 135 lbs. But then, subtly, things began to change. As a subtle change, I couldn’t point to a particular time when I first noticed it. But I began to notice that Grandpa was having increasing difficulty using his for, he was spitting more and more of his food out, and his attention span was becoming so sort that he was having difficulty finishing all of his meals. This progressed to the point where I began to find it a bit alarming. It was one thing for him to struggle to eat and make a mess in the process if in the end he consumed all he needed. It was another thing entirely if he was no longer eating properly.

My concerns were confirmed when a few weeks ago Titi commented that it looked like Grandpa had lost weight. A weighing only confirmed the fact–he was back down to around 125 lbs. It was time for a change in Grandpa’s diet. Since it seemed like Grandpa would spit out anything of differing texture in his food, my first thought was that it was time to go to pureed baby food. But at the grocery store I started to have second thoughts. My instincts said Grandpa wasn’t quite so far gone that he would find eating the bland puree of baby food acceptable. Though chewy things, crunchy things, and any other noticeable lumps would end up spat out, he still wanted taste and something. So I went to the halfway point of junior food which I found fit him just right. A junior food meal of chicken and potatoes with a cheese sauce had taste and substance without anything standing out enough for him to think it needed to be spat out.

When I fed Grandpa the junior food it occurred to me that it basically looked like canned food. Normal canned soup is too thin (I think) to substitute for all meals, and Grandpa requires variety so I knew feeding him canned ravioli (which he likes but I loathe) wouldn’t suffice. But there are “select” brands of canned soups which are substantive enough with meat, potatoes, and vegetables to be more stew that soup and constitute a solid meal. Further, there is a wide selection of such soups so Grandpa wouldn’t have to eat the same thing over and over again. My suspicion turned out to be correct–Grandpa could eat these soups and they now make up his supper for about half the week. The rest of time he can still (for now) eat what we eat.

Bathroom

I have long chronicled Grandpa’s continuing problems with the bathroom. There has been no drastic change, only the continuing slow progression. It is striking how similar Grandpa’s bathroom competence (in some ways) is to a toddler. When he needs to go to the bathroom now he will usually say, “I need to go to the bathroom” or something similar, to get someone to take him there. That is, if he can recognize and articulate his need to go to the bathroom. Sometimes he will become agitated, or speak in an incomprehensible manner when he needs to go to the bathroom. You ask, “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” and he will then say, “Yes! I have to go bad!” . . . but somehow he was unable to articulate it without being asked, or perhaps unable to recognize the source of his agitation without being asked. Because of this, I’ve become something of a broken record, constantly asking him, “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” If you fail to ask him, and he fails to recognize and articulate his need, something drastic will happen. Such as walking to the end of the hall and peeing in a corner, or grabbing the nearest garbage can and peeing in that.

Another development is that I now set him on the toilet whenever he wants to go to the bathroom. Before he would always want to pee standing up–and that was more and more often ending in some form of disaster. About a month ago I somehow managed to convince him that sitting down was acceptable. The operation is thus: When he needs to use the bathroom I guide him to the bathroom, position him in front of the toilet, pull down his pants, and lower him onto the toilet much as you would a little child just learning how to use the bathroom. This basically eliminates all decision making from Grandpa and eliminates the opportunity for disaster. Obviously it also requires that I be much more involved in his bathroom usage. Middle of the night trips he still mostly manages (or fails to manage, as the case may be) himself. This means about half the time he comes back either without his diaper or completely naked and I must wake myself up, dress him, and check the bathroom for any necessary cleanup. Ideally, I would take him every time he needed to go to the bathroom, but during the night it is exceptionally difficult, and even during the day I don’t catch him every time.

Some notable incidents:

–Grandpa undressing and climbing into the shower to take a leak.

–Grandpa washing his hands in the toilet.

–Grandpa peeing in the bathroom sink.

–Grandpa washing his soiled bottom with the hand-drying towel (and on various occasions with a washcloth)

The next great milestones are (1) I really need to start wiping his bottom and (2) I really need to start being the one to bathe him. On matters of both dignity and practicality these are troublesome. On dignity, having someone else spoon feed you and someone else wipe your bottom are probably the two most undignified things that can be done. Having someone else bathe you probably comes close behind and I’m not eager to confront Grandpa with either of these. Then, doing those things will probably double or triple the amount of time I must spend helping Grandpa with those tasks. Presently, I will put Grandpa on the toilet and then leave him be or get his shower water ready and then leave him be until he wants to get out. But if I must stay around until Grandpa finishes his stay on the toilet, or bathe him in the tub myself–that takes a lot more time.

Walking

Grandpa’s walking ability has taken a noticeable decline, spurred on by his back and hip problems. Not only does he have trouble walking, but he has difficulty knowing where he is walking to. Often I end up “Driving” him, especially in the later portion of the day. This involves me standing behind him, putting my hands in his armpits, picking up his weight and propelling him forward. Again, much like you would help a toddler just learning how to walk . . . except Grandpa is about as tall as me and weighs 125 lbs.

Normally, I’m just supporting a portion of his weight and giving him added stability and a sense of security as well as guidance as to where he should be going. But sometimes when he is feeling especially poorly I will support a lot of his weight. Once he simply picked up his feet and I carried him over to the couch. This is only going to become increasingly common, and fortunately I don’t find him too heavy.

He also has taken to crawling around the house.

Talking

Grandpa, more often than not, is verbally incomprehensible. Maybe he is about 90% incomprehensible for most people. I have a hard time being a good judge of this because I’m pretty good at reading between the lines and contextualizing his attempted communication to get the gist of what he wants. So while his words often (in and of themselves) make no sense I often can still get the heart of what he wants. Someone else, on the other hand, would be entirely lost.

Misc

Grandpa is having increasing difficulty recognizing people or remembering their names. The real marker of decline in this regard are the few times Grandpa has been uncertain about Grandma’s name, or unable to remember it. These, so far, have been rare blips, but that they have occurred at all with Grandma’s name is indicative. It shows how far the fuzzy edges in Grandpa’s life are progressing.

Recently, he has also started calling for his brother Gene who was his favorite brother growing up. He can do this incessantly without having any apparent reason (beyond a sense of agitation). I once asked him why he called for Gene. Grandpa said, “I don’t know. I know he isn’t here. I guess just because he is my favorite brother.” I think Grandpa is right on the cusp where, when he stops and thinks about it he knows his brother Gene isn’t here, but that he has deteriorated to the point that it feels like his brother should be present. Sooner or later, he won’t even be able to recall that Gene isn’t around.

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Such is a very quick update of Grandpa’s condition. Gotta go.

The Game is Set

29th July 2007

I wish this were a prettier tale to tell. Nothing like your life becoming something of a sordid soap opera . . . but they are the facts. Life often isn’t what you’d like it to be.

Here is a general and brief overview of how things have gone since I wrote the post What Was Said:

Incident One

Some Saturday shortly after I wrote “What Was Said” Daryl came over to take Grandma out for their usual Saturday Garage-Sale-ing. As it turned out, before Grandma and Daryl managed to leave the house Grandma had a sudden bout of nausea and was afraid she was having heart trouble. So instead of going shopping, Daryl took Grandma to the emergency room. The doctors decided to keep Grandma overnight for observation (in the end it turned out nothing had occurred) so Daryl got Grandma settled in at the hospital and then came back to the house to pick up some night-stuff for Grandma.

When Daryl returned she told me, with a mixture of surprise and amazement, that at the hospital Grandma had been weepy to the point of being hysterical. Daryl couldn’t understand what on earth was causing this extreme reaction. Did I have any idea what was bothering Grandma?

I was a bit surprised that Daryl was surprised by Grandma’s actions. Having been witness to a previous emotional meltdown at the hospital, and having been witness to Grandma’s attitude over the past months, I had a pretty good idea (generally speaking) what was going on, and didn’t realize Daryl was so much in the dark.

The “why” of Grandma’s hysterical tears was “because” I informed Daryl of the whole present situation. That whole encompasses both her own health, and Grandpa’s condition. Her tears and hysteria (distilled down to their essence) were the result of (a) feeling sorry for herself and (b) being afraid of dying. Feeling sorry for herself revolves around her lot in life, and particularly Grandpa. Being afraid of dying relates to her own health and when she is feeling poorly both of these things come to the fore.

It became clear from talking with Daryl that she didn’t have a full grasp of how Grandma was operating, especially in regard to her attitude and intentions toward Grandpa. Previously, I didn’t see any reason to spread around my opinion of how Grandma treated and viewed Grandpa, but I decided it was time to clear the air and lay things out plainly. “Grandma told me when I first came here that she was only going to keep Grandpa around as long as he recognized her,” I told Daryl, “and I think she is starting to feel that is taking too long. So I think–perhaps subconsciously–she is starting to look for some way of getting rid of him sooner.”

What I told Daryl made a lot of things click into place for her, and in a very disturbing way. At the hospital Grandma had asked to speak to a social worker and had hinted about doing things with Grandpa. Daryl was now seeing this as part of a larger movement. Grandma desired to be rid of the burden called Grandpa as soon as “decently” possible.

“It looks like she has a real attitude problem,” Daryl said–in one of those statements of the obvious.

As a reader, you might be wondering why. Simplified, two reasons: One, Grandpa taxes and annoys Grandpa because of his Alzheimer’s related activity–making messes, constantly asking questions, etc. Grandpa makes her life unpleasant, and she wants (and feels she deserves) to live out the last of her days in pleasantness.

Two, watching Grandpa’s slow degradation is philosophically unpleasant for Grandma. As she will tell anyone who will listen, “I’m an optimist at heart. I always look for better days ahead.” If you see death as an end of “better days” then your own failing health is going to challenge that world view. And if that is your world view, someone slowly dying from Alzheimer’s is a complete contradiction to that idea of better days ahead. That type of optimism is refuted by Alzheimer’s.

As Grandma told Daryl amidst her tears that day, “It seems like things are only getting worse and worse.”

To which Daryl had said, “Things are going to get worse and worse.”

That is the plain truth, but for Grandma that is unacceptable. She needs to have better days to look forward too. She doesn’t want to tell herself, “I’m going to live out the last of my days with this Alzheimer’s patient with things getting worse and worse until I finally die.” She needs to be able to tell herself, “Soon this Alzheimer’s patient will be gone and then things will be better.” And as soon as we think, “Soon I will be rid of him,” then that soon isn’t coming soon enough.

Daryl’s solution to this mentality was to (attempt to) convince Grandma that it wasn’t feasible for her to get rid of Grandpa and ergo, she would have to reconcile herself to this life, and stop plotting and hoping to be rid of him. Daryl’s reasoning being, you might not be able to change Grandma’s attitude, but if you demonstrate that it can’t be done, you’ve stopped her at the point of action. Whether this is entirely true or actually works remains to be seen.

Incident Two

In keeping with this philosophy of “Better days ahead” as soon as Grandma was rid of Melinda she “needed” to find a replacement. Something–somebody–on whom to pin dreams of greater household bliss and harmony. So Grandma called up my Aunt Annie and asked her to find some suitable girl.

A few days after Grandma comes back out of the hospital we have a woman showing up at the front door. Now Grandma presented this to me as just being someone to come and do a bit of cleaning “on occasion” but I could smell a rat. And, no sooner than the lady had left that first day and Grandma cames to me, informing me that, “K.M. [the lady] is forty-something years old, has lived with her parents all her life, has never held a job in her life, and told me she thinks it is time she got out and experienced some of life. So she said she would be glad to do work for me for free, and come live with us for free. And she has so much in common with us. What do you think?”

To say I saw a few problems with this would be an understatement. Just about every alarm bell I had was going off inside my head–about every aspect of this whole situation. Without going into the finer details of the insanity of determining you were great chums with a woman after having only met her for two hours–not to mention all the other problems–I told Grandma in no uncertain terms that I thought it was a very, very, bad idea. To which Grandma said, “Well, I didn’t tell her anything yet. We’ll just have her come over and do some cleaning and see how we get along.”

This I took as a complete dismissal of my opinion. So, as Grandma walked away, I was left to consider what I would do in the eventuality that Grandma decided to invite this perfect stranger to come live in her house. I came to conclude that not only would this be a repeat of the disaster with Melinda (this stranger being no more closer to Grandma’s desired perfection) but that I wanted to have no part in such a repeat performance, and further, on personal grounds, I was highly uncomfortable sharing a house with a complete female stranger. Bringing all of these together, I realized that I could not simply sit by if Grandma persisted down this reckless and delusional path. If it came down to it and she over-rode my objections, I would pack up and leave.

But I didn’t want it to come to that. So I called my Uncle Nate and Aunt Daryl to let them know what Grandma was doing (since they didn’t approve of Grandma’s intention to bring another person in she had kept them out of the loop). Both were, to degrees, surprised and appalled. They both said they would do what they could to dissuade Grandma. Daryl in particular saw this as the first step in the end-game of getting rid of Grandpa and was willing to take some drastic steps to put a stop to this particular gambit.

I think Daryl talked to Grandma sometime in the following week. Daryl had told me she would talk to Grandma on the weekend when she came up and obliquely address the issue, but somebody talked to Grandma during the week because one day she became unaccountably mopey—indicating some type of put down. Whether the conversation was oblique, delicate, or something else, I don’t know. But Grandma at least got the hint that she wasn’t being supported.

How it all played out I don’t know. I told those who I thought might have some influence (Nate and Daryl) what Grandma appeared to be intending, and what I would do if she went through with it over my objections. Whatever they may have said or did they didn’t give me a report, so this entire incident played out behind the scenes. Though Grandma never verbally went beyond the ostensible “The lady will only come over for occasional cleaning” my sense is that she got enough friction and push-back on her deeper intentions that she has decided to shelve that idea . . . at least for now.

That is presently behind us, but those days when Grandma had this cleaning lady over were some very miserable days for me. Nothing like feeling as if you’re dealing with a home invasion. I tried to be nominally polite to a complete stranger while at the same time facing the very real possibility that Grandma would use any and everything to advance her goals, and I might be dealing with a confrontation at any moment. I kept myself scarce, kept my mouth shut, and it passed for the time being.

Incident Three

Grandma doesn’t keep me informed of her schemes in advance, so if Daryl hadn’t given me a heads-up about what Grandma started the last time she was in the hospital I would have been caught off guard when one Monday morning Grandma told me a lady was coming over from social services to “evaluate” Grandpa. As it was, with Daryl’s warning I had been somewhat expecting this development (unhappy as I was with it).

As usual, she presented it in spin mode. She said that Grandpa was only going to get worse and eventually I (Rundy) was going to need help, so we had to get things started now, in advance. Whenever possible, she likes to present things as something she is doing for someone else because they need it. But she can’t even play that game really well, because in the same conversation that she tells me we need to do this so I’ll have help when I need it, she tells me how sometimes she just can’t stand Grandpa and if he only has six months left then hospice will take care of him–giving the very strong impression that really what is going on here is that she can’t stand Grandpa and is hoping this lady will evaluate Grandpa and tell Grandma he has six months left and hospice will take care of him, thus riding Grandma of her burden. There are a lot more than six months left for Grandpa’s Alzheimer’s to run its course, and I knew Grandma wasn’t going to get any nice solution she was hoping for, but I said nothing.

What really bothered me was that Grandma didn’t want to tell Grandpa what was going on. The day the social services lady was supposed to arrive I had to really bite my tongue. I didn’t want Grandpa to be surprised, but at the same time I didn’t feel it was my place to be explaining what Grandma was doing. Grandma could explain her own betrayal, thank you very much.

So, five minutes before the lady is supposed to arrive Grandma tells Grandpa to put on some socks (Grandpa’s toenails are ugly, so when guests are around Grandma likes to have his feet covered up).

Grandpa, sensing something a little odd in this request says, “Why?”

“Oh, because,” Grandma says airily.

“But why?” Grandpa persists. (Grandma usually doesn’t care if Grandpa has socks on, and Grandpa still has enough of his facilities to recognize this special request.

“Oohhh, someone might stop in,” Grandma says vaguely.

Now Grandpa really smells a rat. “Who?” he says. “Who might come?”

“Oh . . . just a friend.” And Grandma quickly leaves.

Grandpa knows there is scheming. He looks at me and says, “Do you know what is going on?”

“I do,” I said. And much as I didn’t care to spill Grandma’s beans for her, I wasn’t about to play her game either. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes, I want to know,” he said.

“Well, Grandma is having someone come over to evaluate you,” I said.

“Oh, geez,” Grandpa said. “That’s the first step to getting me shipped off. I wish . . .” but he didn’t finish.

The social services lady showed up, but nothing happened during that visit that I didn’t expect. In essence, the lady told Grandma that the current situation was the very best, and the only other alternative would cost Grandma all her money. Further, the lady gave no indication that Grandpa would be expiring any time soon. What Grandma thought of all of this, I don’t know. She is playing her cards close to her chest, but the fact that it would take all of her money to deposit Grandpa in a nursing home, and the fact that she was not given any time line of when she would be rid of him, can’t have spurred on any of her dreams.

The most dangerous new thing (from my perspective) that came out of the conversation with the social worker was the lady’s almost off-hand comment that “If he becomes too much there is this option called respite where you can send him away for just a week on your dime. It would give you a chance to recuperate.”

To which Grandma said, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that . . . unless it was a real emergency.”

Unfortunately, from where I’m sitting “emergencies” when Grandma feels she is at the end of her rope are happening a little too often here for such a statement to hold much comfort. Such a decision by Grandma to send Grandpa away for a week would not only be greatly traumatic for Grandpa but it would certainly provoke a head on confrontation between me and Grandma. (I couldn’t be party to Grandma throwing Grandpa out of the house for a week because she “couldn’t stand him anymore.”) So, seeing possible clouds on the horizon there, I made some discreet calls to Nate and Daryl to keep the appraised. If in two months Grandma decides she wants some “respite” I don’t want anyone caught by surprise.

****

And that is where things stand now. Those who have communicated with me in person have asked if things have “Settled down.” From this point in time I can say things have settled down . . . for now. The “for now” is the big qualifier. Grandma is all very nice to me in person. What she says behind my back, I don’t know. But I do know that she is aware I “conspired” against her intentions to get the cleaning lady to move in, and she at least suspects (if not fully aware of) my contravailing opinions regarding Grandpa and so is surely chalking up my offenses against her.

Things have settled down, but it feels (to me) that this is only a lull. The board is prepared, the game is set . . . it is only for the players to begin to make their moves. Presently, Grandma is feeling quite well right now (for her) so I think she feels she can bide her time. Since she was given so much push-back over her recent explorations she has decided to withdraw for the present. But as far as I can see neither her attitude nor her thoughts have been changed, so the entire issue has simply been pushed off for another crises. That may be two months, four months, six months . . . whenever. The day of reckoning will come.

The whole thing does feel like some sort of “game” where everyone is trying to maneuver their pieces on the board. When Melinda was the subject of Grandma’s ire she could find varying degrees of sympathetic ears from her sons and daughters. Now that her source of discontent is Grandpa the situation is changing. None of Grandpa’s children want him in a nursing home, but nobody wants to have a confrontation with Grandma, so people are trying to manipulate things as subtly as possible so that Grandma is “check-mated” into being unable to dispose of Grandpa. In this grand game my role has come to be that of “bad cop.” Not that I’ve been regulated this role out of any sense of malice on the part of others—it’s simply, to put it bluntly, the most practical method. If you’re not going to confront Grandma and you need to check her ambitions, you need a third party to use as that check. So the two pronged approach comes down to something like “You can’t do that because you can’t afford it,” and “You don’t want to do that because you’ll alienate Rundy.” That statement about me is true, and my shoulders are big enough to carry the role of playing bad cop, but I’m not sure if people are wisest to take this route. Using me as a pawn to check Grandma will only work so long as she finds me indispensable, and people are wagering that I will remain indispensable. I’m not so confident.

As Grandpa continues to degrade and Grandma feels a growing need to create an optimistic future I suspect she will grow increasingly willing to pay any price to get that future. But who knows? I’m not good at playing this sort of game. I much prefer a honest declaration of views and intentions, but that is not how people wish to work this out. So I see the board is out, the game is set . . . and we’ll see how all of this place out. But, while there is a lull now as the players wait to make their moves, I don’t see a peaceable conclusion.

Reverence

16th July 2007

I was intending this week to make an attempt at writing an brief exposition on “Led by The Spirit” as taught by Paul in Galatians. But then while I was on my Saturday bike ride I started thinking about the topic of reverence, so I decided to write about that instead.

Reverence is a pervasive idea in Christianity, but often not rightly understood or applied. Perennial and obvious examples of erroneous reverence can be found in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, such as the reverence of icons. But the fallacious application of reverence is not limited to those groups. Reverend means one who receive reverence, that is, “worthy of adoration or reverence” and where do we see the word Reverend used? As the dictionary says, “This word is commonly given as a title of respect to ecclesiastics. A clergyman is styled the reverend; a dean, the very reverend; a bishop, the right reverend; an archbishop, the most reverend.” And if reverence is defined as “Profound respect and esteem mingled with fear and affection, as for a holy being or place; the disposition to revere; veneration” the question arises, is the appellation of reverend and reverence proper for the servants and shepherds of God’s flock?

That is a particular question, worthy of study, but answering that singular question isn’t my purpose today. What I was thinking about on my bicycle ride was the general attitude and ideas which people have about reverence (the reverence for people and icons being only manifestations of the deeper attitude of hearts).

Reverence, as relating to God, is right and necessary in a Christian’s life. Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodoxes, Lutherans–whoever would apply reverence to persons, places, or things, would all attempt to tie it back to reverence for God. But even if we wipe all of those additions off the board and say that reverence is due to God alone, there still remains the question of what manifests reverence towards God.

The issue of music is an easy and superficial example of where people come into conflict over this question. Some people say it isn’t reverent to have musical instruments in church. Some people say only certain instruments are reverent. And then people say only certain types of music are reverent. For example, someone born in 1930 might say that organ music is reverent, but guitar music is common. Church music should be slow and quiet, this person might say, because that fosters a “reverent” attitude.

Now, why is this so? Are cymbals not reverent? Are horns not reverent? Someone born in the 1930’s would likely be appalled at the ideas of cymbals or horns in church–the environment would not be quiet or “reverent” according to their standards. But, as anyone familiar with the Old Testament knows, horns and cymbals were used in Old Testament worship. God, apparently, didn’t find them lacking in reverence, and the people of God had no grand organs to accompany the singers then.

Someone born in the 1960’s would likely find guitar music appropriate and would expect the atmosphere to be more upbeat and “rejoicing.” Someone born in the 1980’s would likely expect electric guitars, drums, and a rousing “worship team.” The point here is not to sort out the “reverent standard” from among these various sensibilities, but to point out how among people there is such a changing standard of reverent. Continue back through the generations and you will keep finding “reverent” behavior defined as something different.

We have then, two different issues: That which men think is reverent, and that which God considers reverent. Reverent among men is defined by that which is considered acceptable or proper. But reverence in the eyes of God transcends the sensibilities of men. Consider two instances from the life of David. When David brought the ark to Jerusalem we read,

Now King David was told, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

[. . .]

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.

(2 Samuel 6:12-16,20-23)

And earlier we read when they first attempted to bring up the ark to Jerusalem,

They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.

When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.

(2 Samuel 6:3-7)

It is interesting to consider these two incidences. In the case of Uzzah he did something which would seem quite reasonable and even a reverent act (he was, after all, trying to keep the ark from falling over into the dirt) and yet God judged it as an irreverent act. David, on the other hand, is singing and dancing, disrobing like some common vulgar fellow, and carrying on with all sorts of musical instruments. Michal didn’t approve, and you can be sure David wouldn’t have passed the standards for reverent behavior for today’s clergymen, either. No sir, everyone knows you don’t revere the Lord by carrying on like some vulgar fellow. Yet, David met with the approval of God for his actions, and Michal, for her attitude, was judged!

Anyone who would consider themselves wise on matters of reverent and appropriate behavior would do well to consider these passages. You will find people everywhere opining on what is reverent as if they were granted some special word from the Lord when a sober analysis reveals that the attitude and standard they have is much the same as Michal. They are concerned about the outward. Since when did God come down and invent the organ and tells us that nice slow hymns sung in a somber tone was His idea of reverent? He didn’t, of course. It took awhile for the organ to come around and that particular method is simply what appears reverent to people of a particular time, place, and sensibilities.

Now, I don’t have anything against the organ and I don’t have anything against old time hymns. If past generations have been caught up in their man centered ideas of reverence, one could lay equal charge against this present age. One could say this present generation is in rebellion against the hypocrisy of their fore-bearers with their superficial definitions of reverence. Instead of those rules and regulations instituted by men, today anything goes. Today God is a God who tries to fit in. He is a God who wants to make the audience comfortable, to accommodate their busy schedules, and to make people feel good. Past and present–all stand condemned.

But this isn’t really about what musical instruments we use, (if any) how we sing, or what songs we sing. At this juncture we need to ask, “What is true reverence?”

To begin answering that question, we need to look at what reverence is not. A good place to start is Uzzah’s death.

Why did Uzzah die?

Because he touched the ark.

Why did he touch the ark?

Because the oxen stumbled and he reached out to steady the ark.

Oxen? But the Law commanded that Levites were to carry the ark on poles (Exodus 25:12-15, Deuteronomy 10:8). David and the whole company with him had disobeyed the Lord’s command by putting the ark on a cart pulled by oxen. In their disregard for the Lord’s command they showed a lack of reverence that was typified in Uzzah’s act. They had all disobeyed, and with an holy God that disobedience and lack of reverence meant they all deserved to die. David understood this, for we read, “David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?’” (2 Samuel 6:9) The act of God reminded David that with an all holy God the least infraction was deserving of death and David, aware of his own many failings, was afraid to bring God near.

I’m sure David and his company didn’t set out to disobey God’s command. They probably didn’t have the equipment on hand for carrying the ark, or the proper Levites weren’t in the area. They were glad to have the ark back and they wanted to get it up to Jerusalem quickly. It was expedient and convenient to bring the ark up in the cart and surely God would understand. But that attitude of disregard for strict obedience to what God had commanded embodied the very heart of irreverence. The same continues on to this very day. We don’t have an ark that must be carried on poles by Levites, but we have the instruction and commands of God. He has told us how we ought to live and conduct ourselves in all things, and what do we do? We cut corners. Oh, I don’t have to be that honest at work–it’s more efficient this way, and God will understand. Or, I don’t have to be that forgiving–it’s so hard and God will understand. Or any number of other ways in our own private life or in our conduct with others. At home, at work, and in fellowship with other believers, we don’t look to live in strict obedience to God but rather in the way of convenience and the path of least resistance. We compromise, try to fit in with the world’s standards, then justify and excuse our “little” failings and thereby show irreverence and contempt for a most holy God.

Reverence isn’t something you put on when you walk into church. It isn’t an atmosphere that is created by the right songs or the right music. True reverence is a way of life and it ought to be manifested in everything you do. It isn’t a relation to men, or an act you do before men. It is a relation to God and what you do before Him. If irreverence is manifested in disobedience, then reverence for God is manifested in obedience. We can see that when David finally did bring the ark up to Jerusalem in the proper manner.

In David’s failed first attempt to bring the ark up to Jerusalem he was reminded that God was most holy. Then when the ark was left with Obed-Edom and Obed-Edom was blessed by the Lord, David was reminded that God was holy but also merciful and we can come before Him and rejoice before Him because He is merciful. We revere the Lord by obeying him, but we also recognize (as David did) that we can’t obey such a holy God by our own might, and so we rejoice when He, in His mercy, draws near to us and lifts us up just as David was lifted up to be king, and God condescended (if I may use the word) to draw near in Jerusalem.

If we truly love Him, then we truly hear Him, and if we hear Him then we obey Him, and if we obey Him then we revere Him.

Men look at appearances, but God looks at the heart.

Reverence as defined by men is man-centered instead of God-centered. In the Pharisaical heart of men, they have turned it around. Reverence becomes the exaltation of self–it is a work of man and his self-righteousness. Consider: all the acts of reverence defined by men through the ages–whether in church or regular life–are acts which they are capable of accomplishing and so can demonstrate before men their righteousness and ability to fulfill their duty to God. By such outward demonstrations of “reverence” men win the approval and praise of men.

But Godly reverence is a recognition of the surpassing holiness of God, our inability to properly revere such a holy God by our own efforts, and a rejoicing in His mercy to draw near to us and lift us up, covering over our sins and making us able by His power. The reverence of fleshly man puffs up, it confirms his own dignity, standing, and self-worth. But true reverence humbles. The words of David ought to be our own, when he says,

“It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

We also, like David, were chosen. We were chosen to be God’s children, members of His household and heirs in His kingdom. It is before the Lord we will celebrate, revering Him, whatever men may think. But we should also take the second half of David’s statement on our lips, “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” Are you ready to become even more undignified? Are you ready to be humiliated in your own eyes? Yes, that is reverence for God. Take it to heart. Don’t expect the approval or praise of man for true reverence. Don’t expect their awe, don’t even expect their recognition of that reverence. Our example is Christ Jesus who gave the ultimate demonstration of reverence–obedience to God unto death on the cross. The Son of God, crucified and reviled–the most undignified and humiliated. Nobody saw the reverence there, it is only by faith we see it. And we are called to take up our cross and follow him, undignified and humiliated before men, reverent before God.

****

What is reverent musical worship is a point of great contention in churches. Some churches hold fast to one standard, others to another, and many more split over which it should be. In the face of such controversy people are always looking for someone to settle the matter, so perhaps you were unhappy I didn’t present a position on which method of musical worship everyone should follow. But if you have understood what I have said about reverence then you understand the entire argument over defining reverence by that which seems important to men (for God has said nothing about organs or guitars), completely misses the truth. In this entire argument men are trying to make Law where God has given Grace.

Then, you say, is it a free for all? Certainly not. As Paul instructs us, everything we do in the gathering of believers should be for the edification and strengthening of the church (1 Corinthians chapter 14). Therefore, with matters such as musical worship where precise direction has not been given, the real question that needs to be asked about musical worship is whether it is edifying to the church. That is the guide Paul has given for such matters. But that discussion will have to wait for another time.

And how do we determine what is edifying and strengthening, you ask. We come to understand that as we are led by the Spirit, being equipped to build one another up, and to understand what God’s will is. All this comes about by the work of God from within us, flowing outward, not the imposition of something from without. But that, also, will have to be left for a discussion another time.

The Slave Woman and The Free Woman

9th July 2007

We have been going through Galatians in the Sunday Bible study. Galatians is one of those books of the Bible where it is immediately evident that there is a lot one could write about, and the first trouble is deciding where to start, where to stop, and what to write about. My initial thought had been to write about “The Idolatry of Authority” (or some such title). It is common to view Galatians as a polemic about justification by faith, not works–and rightly it is. But Galatians contains much more than that theological nugget, and while conservative Christian circles will loudly acclaim their allegiance to this truth, I see a pervasive failure to understand the implications and truly apply what Paul teaches about being “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18).

That was what I wanted to write about. But as I considered Galatians I began to feel that, while my subject matter was worthy, adequately expressing the truth I was trying to convey would require more extensive handling of the text. Oh, I could grab a passage or two from Galatians and quickly grind my particular ax on them, but I decided that wouldn’t be satisfactory . . . and I wasn’t sure I had the available time to launch into that lengthy handling. I’m still not sure.

What I’m writing about today is a portion of Galatians that leaped out at me as a helpful addition on two subjects I’ve already written about. The passage is Galatians 4:21-4:31 and in it are both interpretation of the Old Testament (as I discussed in The Shepherd of Zechariah 13) and also an exposition on the nature of Israel (as I discussed in Interpreting Ezekiel).

Implicit in the book of Galatians is the question, “What constitutes the people of God?” Some Judaizers had come to the Galatians and were trying to compel them to be circumcised. To be one of God’s people, they said, you had to be circumcised. And, as Paul pointed out, that was in essence a requirement to take up the entire Law instituted at Sinai. The Judaizers looked back to that order and said the people of God were defined by that relationship and thus it was required of all who would be God’s people. Paul resoundingly and completely refutes this argument in Galatians chapter 3. The promise which formed the foundation for the people of God came before the Law and was not based upon the Law, Paul says. The Law came later and was only until until the Seed (this is, Christ) to whom the promise referred, had come. Now that Christ has come the order instituted by the Law is finished.

Who are the people of God? The raging controversy over circumcision has faded in our present day, but the issue over what defines the people of God has not. If you pass through Christian circles today and ask, “To whom do the promises of God pertain?” or some similar question, many Christians will point you to the Jewish people. The general attitude is demonstrable in the widespread support of the nation of Israel among certain Christian circles as the Christians in those circles look forward to an exaltation of that earthly nation of Israel. So the very problem facing the Galatian church is still facing us today–that is, the theology which places the earthly nation of Israel as the fulfillment of God’s promise.

But how does this opinion stand up in the face of Scripture itself? Is the earthly nation of Israel the focal point of God’s promise? Paul says,

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-39

Jews and Greeks, Paul says, are all heirs according to the promise. But he goes on to elucidate even further.

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.

These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written:

“Be glad, O barren woman,
who bears no children;
break forth and cry aloud,
you who have no labor pains;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

Galatians 4:21-31

Now we’re getting to the meat of today’s topic–scriptural interpretation and the nature of Israel. What Paul has said would be stunning for a Jew of his day, and apparently, for many Christians today. Have you seriously considered what Paul has said here? Have you worked out the implications? It seems a lot of Christians have not because their espoused theology clashes on a fundamental level with what Paul is teaching here.

If you went into many (most?) of today’s churches and said, “The present city of Jerusalem is in slavery with her children and God has said, ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’ son will never share in the inheritance'” you would be run out of the church. If you articulated what Paul says here in Galatians you would cause great offense in many churches because it runs counter to the accepted orthodoxy of an eschatology with an exalted earthly, physical nation of Israel under an earthly rule of Christ.

But what does Paul say? Something radical. It is radical, it strikes to the very core, shattering presumption and perception. People shy away from the radical. But Paul is stating something with forceful clarity here that we ought to come to terms with. He lays out the irrevocable break between the Jerusalem that is below and the Jerusalem that is above. The earthly Jerusalem is in slavery, the spiritual Jerusalem is free. The earthly Israel is in bondage, separate from God. The spiritual Israel is free, God’s delivered people.

What Paul says is radical, but it is pretty clear if you will stop and consider. I have talked previously about the spiritual application of the Old Testament and the figures and types of the Old Testament pointing to the fullness of the reality in the New Testament . . . well, here Paul gives it to us–Scriptural Interpretation and Application 101. Pay attention because the approach Paul applies here has implications to how we understand and approach all of the Old Testament scripture.

We have what seems reasonable to men turned on its head. Sarah was the mother of the earthly nation of Israel which would inherit the earthly promised land. Hagar was the mother of those who would not inherit. The Jews were proud of their parentage and looked down on Hagar and her descendants. Now Paul, as it were, turns this on its head. Spiritually, he says, the nation of Israel is Hagar and her descendants. The city of Jerusalem, which the Jews so revered, is Hagar, a slave woman in slavery? Horror. But true, and with far reaching implications for understanding the promises of God.

It is not those born the ordinary way who are of the lineage of God’s people, but those born of promise. We, from every tribe and nation, are children of promise (Isn’t that a thought of such great encouragement? We are children of God’s promise.) The true people of God are sundered from any link to ordinary physical descent, being of spiritual descent by the work of God’s Spirit.

People miss the full force and implication of what Paul is teaching when they go on to espouse a doctrine where in the last days Jesus will return to rule the earthly nation of Israel in earthly Jerusalem. What is not clear in the statement, “Get rid of the slave woman and her children“? This earthly Jerusalem and the fleshly nation of Israel are the slave woman and her children. Is Christ going to come and exalt and rule over those he has commanded to be cast out?

Those who look for the earthly rule of Christ over the fleshly nation of Israel will appeal to interpretations of passages in the book of Revelation and passages in the Old Testament speaking about the future blessing of Israel. But I say, wait, wait just one minute. Right here in the portion of Galatians we are looking at Paul interprets one of those very Old Testament passages about the future blessing of Israel–and how does he interpret? That blessing, he says, applies to the spiritual Israel and her spiritual descendants, not to the fleshly Israel. This is not an accident, an anomaly in Old Testament thought and application which is to be swept under the rug because it doesn’t fit with our larger view. No. Paul is presenting an interpretive framework and understanding for the Old Testament and shouldn’t that inform how we handle it? If Paul teaches that the future blessing of Israel speaks to the spiritual Israel, shouldn’t we accept it?

How does Paul’s teaching inform your understanding of the Old Testament? Given what Paul has said, and how he has used the Old Testament, how do you understand the future blessing of Israel?

The Prayer of Daniel

1st July 2007

The subject of prayer has been one of my interests. There is, in a sense, the perennial question of “How should we pray?” or, as the disciples put it, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).

How should we relate to God in prayer? Perhaps most Christians could rattle off some standard statement of how we should come to God with confession, praise, petition and intercession. Yet, breaking prayer down into parts doesn’t prove true spiritual understanding, and so often those who can rattle off all the “parts” of prayer in their sleep are greatly deficient in any true spiritual understanding of the nature of prayer. And, lest anyone think different, even those with a better grasp of the proper spiritual heart of prayer so often find themselves at a loss when on their knees. As Scripture says, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26-27) Indeed, anyone would be mistaken to think they might attain the place where prayer would be easy. It is not without reason that we read about striving in prayer (Romans 15:30, NKJV) and wrestling in prayer (Col. 4:12 NIV). Prayer is an effort, a labor which we ought to be faithful (Romans 12:12).

So, even a Christian of maturity and understanding will face struggle in their prayers, because it is real, and they will face times when they know not how they ought to pray. That is life in our imperfect bodies. But there is a big difference between the trials of godly prayer that Scripture makes reference to, and a deficient or downright wrong understanding of, and attitude toward, prayer. It is this latter issue which I would address.

The Bible is rich in prayers, and in those many prayers there is rich teaching. I have wanted to go through the Bible and extract all the prayers and passages on prayer and bring them together for study and examination. Such an act, if completed, would be of book length, and may remain one of those dreams of mine that never comes to be. Here, now, instead of that “complete meal” we’re having just a “crumb of bread” of consideration, but the desire for that larger study springs from the fact that, as prayer ought to form such a large part of the activity in a Christians life, I am intensely interested in what the Bible reveals on this subject.

How ought we to pray?

A lot of people take this as a question of methodology, and so in response to the disciples question they look to Jesus’s words as a teaching of methods and forms. From this mindset people teach the categories of confession, praise, petition, and intercession in prayer . . . or some such. Whatever the case, it is the laws, rules, or methods which govern the proper prayer. Understand the proper formulation, and you’re set to go in your prayer life.

I don’t think recognizing confession, praise, petition, and intercession in prayer is incorrect–those things do exist. But as for constructing those into methodology–no. Contrary to this, what I see the Bible teaching is not a formulation or methodology but rather a teaching of spiritual (for lack of a better word I will say) attitude. It is how the people of the Bible regard God and relate to Him that forms the foundation, the wellspring, from which their prayers arise. The particular words that each man (or woman) of God uses may vary, but at the heart of all the prayers I see one attitude, one view for relating to God. And that is how I look at the prayers in the Bible–not for a formulation, but the demonstration of what our heart’s attitude ought to be in truth and expressed in prayers–for if one is relating to God rightly (understanding who God is, and our relation to Him) then out of such a heart right prayers will naturally overflow.

In that light today I am looking at the prayer of Daniel as recorded in Daniel 9:4-19. I never cease to be inspired and encouraged by this prayer of Daniel. To me, it beautifully expresses how we ought to relate to God, and the hope and confidence in such prayer. We could go over the prayer line by line with lengthy exposition, but to shorten things for today and distill it down somewhat, and break it apart for emphasis, I will present it as such:

O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands

We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened.

Lord, you are righteous.

But this day we are covered with shame because we have sinned against you.

The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.

All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you.

The LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.

Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.

One could go many directions with this prayer, but in keeping with my stated goal, my focus here is on the attitude expressed. That attitude, and the words which spring from it, completely stands on head the “typical” prayer.

The typical prayer goes something like this: “Dear God, forgive me for the way I sinned today. Heavenly Father, thank you for your many blessings. Lord, I pray that you would work things out that I might get that new car. And, Father, I pray that you would be with Bob in his difficult time.”

Of course the actual content of our prayers varies, and many of them are not that simplistic, but it is the attitude I’m trying to get you to see.

Perhaps even you have observed it before–that common weakness in many to “cover the bases” in our prayers. We know there are the things we’re “supposed to do” so we do it–confess and intercede for others. There are the things we like to do–thank God for how rich and famous He has made us, so we thank Him. And then there are the things we want. And, having appeased God with all the former things, we now present Him with the laundry list of what we want out of the deal.

Obviously that is a crude and harsh caricature, but the point is this: From what heart and attitude do our prayers spring? We like to veil things with nice soundings words and wrap them in the garb of apparent righteousness, but the examination of so many prayers under the harsh light of truth reveals that they spring from the I. They spring from our thoughts about ourselves. I want this, and I want that, and I’m so thankful because I’m feeling so good.

True godly prayer recognizes the right relationship between God and man, (man lives to serve and seek God,) and is God-centered. Such understanding, and application to one’s prayer life, radically changes how one prays. Our purpose, our existence, is to bring praise and glory to God. That is what we should seek. That is what we should desire with our inmost being. But, rather than speaking about this in the abstract, let’s turn our attention back to the prayer of Daniel.

Looking over the prayer, we see Daniel repeatedly declares the character of the Lord (loving, holy, righteous, just) and repeatedly declare the character of himself and his people (sinful, disobedient, rebellious). Daniel doesn’t just say, “We sinned a bit” or “We weren’t up to snuff” but he puts them all collectively lower than dirt. They grossly, completely, and inexcusably rebelled against God. And, God was holy, righteous, and just in bringing the most extreme punishment on them. How many prayers have you opened in such a manner?

People don’t like to dwell on their sin. The attitude is something like, “Yeah, okay, I sinned. It wasn’t right, I’m sorry, forgive me, and let’s get on to more pleasant things.” But why does Daniel dwell on that dirty old past? Because he is concerned about God’s holiness and glory. God is holy, and they have sinned against him and that is a great offense against God which Daniel is concerned about. The focus of Daniel’s concern is God, not himself.

So, having confessed and acknowledged a state lower than dirt with not a leg to stand on, how does Daniel proceed in his prayer? “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” And what does Daniel request? The God would have mercy and bless Daniel with a new car, wealth, or fame? No. “For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. [. . .] O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.

Is that why you pray?

Daniel was concerned about the holiness, glory, and honor of God, and it was for the exaltation of those things that he prayed. His prayer was not I centered, but God centered. Daniel was not concerned about moving God, or manipulating God, to what he wanted. What Daniel desired was that God would act to His own glory. Those who rejoice in God, rejoice when God acts to His own glory.

At issue here is the fundamental orientation of one’s heart. What are you truly seeking and desiring in your prayers? Are you seeking the glory and honor of God in Christ, or, in essence, are you seeking your own exaltation?

Is the heart of your prayer, “Forgive me, Lord, because I don’t want to face the consequences of what I’ve done,” or is it, “Forgive me Lord, for Christ sake, that the glories of your grace and mercy might be known in me.” Is it, “Bless me Lord, that I might have plenty and live in comfort,” or is it, “Bless me Lord in the blessing of Christ that the world might see Christ in me and give glory and honor to you?”

I simplify for the purpose of example. The question is, when you pray is it with a self-centered heart, with yourself as the idol of your desires, or is it with a God centered heart? As it says in James 4:3 “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” We ought to see everything through the lens of Christ Jesus, and ask with the motive of his glory, honor, and exaltation.

Having spoken briefly about what I have called the attitude of prayer, I would just very briefly touch on two other issues. The first is confidence in prayer.

Many people struggle with the issue of confidence in prayer. The manifestations and articulations are varied, but a common fear is of not being “worthy” to come to God in prayer. Some may be sound enough in their theological understanding to know with their mind that it isn’t the accumulation of their good deeds that makes them worthy to come before God in prayer, and yet many would feel uncomfortable being like Daniel and admitting themselves to being less than the most filthy of dirt. Buried away deep in the sub-conscious remains the thought, But, in that case, I don’t have a leg to stand on before God. And, But, if I’m that raw and filthy, how dare I come to God? Which is, of course, exactly Daniel’s point.

What does all this have to do with confidence in prayer? Because our confidence is not in ourselves. It is in God. Our worthiness is not in ourselves. It is in God. Our relationship to God doesn’t stand or fall by our might. It is God who makes it stand. It is He who has provided, in our weakness, the reconciliation. As Daniel says, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.”

That nails Christian prayer dead center. Our confidence is in God’s love and mercy—who He is, not who we are. What He has done, not what we have done. We don’t make requests of God because we are righteous but because of His great mercy—which has been expressed penultimately in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is because of the surpassing mercy and grace God has shown in Christ Jesus that we have confidence in prayer. And what great confidence is that! “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” (Romans 8:31-33) Daniel did not for one minute think he had any confidence for his prayer in himself, and neither should we. We can, and should, be very confident in our prayers—confident, that is, in the person and work of God as expressed in Christ Jesus. As it says elsewhere, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.”

The other issue I would touch on very briefly is that of honesty in prayer. Rather than this being something addressed explicitly in Scripture, I see it as implicit. The cutting edge of honesty is intertwined primarily with confession–honesty being implicit in true confession and it being the area where we least like being completely and utterly honest. While we can’t pull the wool over God’s eyes when it comes to admitting and confessing things we have the rampant tendency to play dishonest games with ourselves.

Honesty, confession, and humility are very much tied together, and they are displayed in Daniel’s confession in his prayer. There was no pretending there that things weren’t so bad. The problem endemic with the lack of such honesty and humility is demonstrated for us in Luke 18:9-14 where we read,

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

There in the Pharisee you have the demonstration of exactly the opposite attitude from that modeled by Daniel. Now, people will loudly acclaim that they don’t pray like that Pharisee, but I think too often we acquit ourselves by taking the parable quite literally and so let ourselves off on a technicality. Let’s not be so quick.

The truth behind that parable is a conviction of the Pharisaical hypocritical sheen of righteousness that we like to put on. Take this example, that I’m sure many (if not all) of us have experienced to some degree: The Bible says we are to pray for those who persecute us. Old Billy at work is giving you a hard time—he’s a real mean, nasty, troublemaker. So, being aware that the Bible says we are to pray for those who persecute us, every day in your morning prayers you say, “God, bless Old Billy.” But in your heart you think, “God, I sure would like it if you dropped a ton of bricks on Old Billy and squashed him flat. Lord, it would just thrill my heart if you roasted him in hellfire, because Old Billy just makes me so mad!”

Such is the hypocritical nature which prays the right, or righteous, prayer but whose heart is far from it. Who do we think we are fooling? Far better to pray, “Lord, I’m a wretched sinful man. Though you have shown such great love for me, I’m not showing the same love to Old Billy. Father, my attitude is not right, it is not Christ-like, because I could wish that a ton of bricks would squash Billy flat while you have shown such great forbearance with me. Lord, I am wrong to think and act this way, and it is a sin against you. I repent, and I ask that you would change my attitude that it would be made right to glorify you. And, even though I have such a hostile attitude toward Billy, I pray that in spite of my failures in attitude and deed you would bless Billy in accord with your great love.”

Honesty in prayer, of course, encompass more than just admitting to our anger and bitter hearts toward fellow men. But in its essence it is the cry, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner. It is saying, “Lord, I don’t know. I need to be shown.” It is saying, “I want this, but I don’t know that it is right.” It is crying out, “I’m struggling and I don’t feel strong . . .” Or whatever. We shy away from being honest in our prayers, because, in our hearts, we shrink from humility. We don’t want to be naked of our own coverings before God, dependent upon Him alone for covering. We prefer to come before God in our best Sunday suit and appear in control. Who wants to appear naked and ashes, crying out how weak and broken we are? But who goes home with God’s good pleasure?

This has been a short look at prayer, and as such has left much out. But perhaps it has stirred your thoughts or called some things back to mind. We have looked at prayer briefly through the context of Daniel’s prayer, but the same spirit of seeking God’s glory and honor in confidence and humility can also be summed up in Jesus prayer as he went up to Jerusalem, his crucifixion approaching. He said,

“The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

So also we ought to love God and seek His glory so completely that we “hate” our own lives and rather thank seeking our desires we pray, “Father, glorify your name!”

Among The Pagans

24th June 2007

No deep exegesis today. Not too long ago I read through the book of Daniel. There is plenty to study in the book of Daniel, and if I were to continue banging my most recent drum about the relation of Christ to the eternal kingdom and blessings of Israel, I would take up an examination of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great mountain in Daniel chapter 2. But I’m not prepared to write on that now, so if you want to look at the promises of blessing in the latter portions of Ezekiel and their relation to what is written in Daniel (which would be an interesting study) you’ll have to do it yourself.

Today my comments are directed at a more general thought, something I see implicit in the book of Daniel worth considering.

Babylon was a completely pagan nation, and the court of the Babylonian king was steeped in idolatry. I think perhaps more than any other book in the Bible, the book of Daniel contains more vivid and extensive first hand accounts of the rampant and pervasive idolatry of a pagan nation where the multiplicity of gods, magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers are a given. And into this setting are thrust men seeking to serve and honor God. Not, of course, that this is the first or last time that God’s people have been put into such situations, but it is one of the most gritty and extensive first person accounting of life in such a situation. If you stop to think about it, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego where practically pressed cheek to jowl with the most pagan elements of pagan society. They were given pagan names, and sent to live among the circle of pagan wise men–those magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers. Talk about culture clash. But, more to the point, talk about moral clash. Talk about a place where your integrity and conviction about what is right will be continually tested.

Once you read the book of Daniel and consider the full extent of the depths of depravity into which these four men of God were plunged, you begin to realize the mammoth challenge facing these young men of God. The question that looms large is, “How do you live in such a situation? With pervasive sin all around, how do you live?”

And, more than an abstract question regarding Daniel and his friends, this becomes a practical one. Because, we too are servants of the Most High God, away from our “homeland” out in this sea of a pagan world. With this depth of pagan thinking and living all around us, how should we, like Daniel and his friends, live?

Anyone coming to the book of Daniel looking for a book of rules whereby one could determine exact conduct in various situations would be sadly disappointed. For, the conduct of Daniel and his friends would pleased neither the pharisee nor the libertine. The pharisee, who would consider himself ceremonially unclean should he so much as step inside a gentile house, would not approve of Daniel and his friends service in the kingdom of Babylon. They would consider such service a shocking moral compromise. The libertine, on the other hand, would be made greatly uncomfortable by Daniel and his friends’ stiff-necked unwillingness to fit in. They wouldn’t go along and eat the food everyone else was eating. They wouldn’t go along and bow down to the statue. They wouldn’t go along and pray like they were told to pray. Such uncompromising activity would be a great embarrassment to the libertine.

The activity of Daniel and his friends would please nobody, and that is exactly the point. They weren’t trying to please anybody except God. God convicted them in their hearts as to what they should and should not do as a proper witness for Him, and in obedience to Him that is what they did, though human pressures and reasoning might seek to lead them either to the right or to the left.

Those same issues are still issues for today. There are plenty of Christians who, when they see the corrupt idolatry of the world, seek to wall themselves off from the world. They would build the proverbial wall and moat around their house to keep themselves separate from the unclean world that is outside. Then there are the Christians who say it is all “no big deal” and in effect become just like the world around them with their libertine attitude. Both of these groups fall into the same error, that is, the failure of following the motivation of fear rather than faith.

The former Christians, afraid they might become like the world, wall themselves off from the world. The latter group, afraid of the rejection and scorn of the world, become like the world to win the approval of the world. But the one who truly grasps the life of faith understands, in faith, that God is able to preserve, protect, keep, and guide His people. Such people go forth in faith, understanding that God has called them to be His vessels of blessing in this fallen world and trusting Him to lead and strengthen them for every task–all to His glory. Such a path requires faith because there are no easy answers or a nice little rule books that clears up all the choices and problems. A person walking such a path must constantly rely upon God for the wisdom and strength for each day.

Such was the case for Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It is evident that these four were men of deep faith who constantly walked with God, and relied upon Him to see them through every trial. They didn’t have the strength–God was their strength. And, in trusting God and going forth into this pagan world, God used them as a great witness to the world, and as tremendous vessels for blessing.

I find the lives and activities of these men to be a great exhortation. When I see the moral compromise and degeneracy in the world around me, I find it easy to give into fear and despair. How can I go out into the world without becoming like the world? How will I know what to do out in the pagan world? There is such temptation on every side to compromise and give in–How will I have strength to do what is right?

The answer is that in both the big things and in the small things we can’t. We don’t have the wisdom or the strength and any thought that we do is a self-delusion that will come crashing down at the worst moment. We don’t have the strength, and we would all do well to fix that truth in our minds. We can’t figure things out in our wisdom, or plan and anticipate all that will come. But God does have the strength and the wisdom. He can. He can move the heart of chief court officials, the heart of kings, and when He doesn’t move them He can preserve us through all trials that come. It is He who gives us the wisdom and strength, and with the faith He provides we are called to trust in Him and to depend on Him to strengthen us through the lives we must live, to His glory, among the pagans. Get your conviction from God, and do what He says, no matter what the consequences. Those who trust in Him will be victorious.

But we also need to keep in mind what type of victory we are talking about. It is a great snare to think, “I will trust in God and when I do He will give me wealth and fame.” (Or some similar thought.)

The world says, “Live like the world lives to gain the treasures of the world–wealth and fame.” But we are not to live as the world lives, and neither are we to value the things of the world.

Far too often Christians fall into this trap. They determine that they are not going to live as the world does, but they still value and seek that which the world values and seeks.

The world says, “You fool! If you live like that you will be poor, you will be lowly, you will be a failure, you will have nothing!”

And the Christian responds, “I am not a fool! I will be wealthy, I will be famous, I will be more successful than you because I am following God!”

That is in error, and presumptive against God, because the Christian is accepting the standard of the world. God has never guaranteed us victory according to the standards of the world. We do not follow God because He will make us richer than the pagan and heathen. We don’t follow God because we will live longer than the pagan. We don’t follow God because He will give us greater fame that the pagan. We follow and obey God because He is God.

Consider what was said between Nebuchadnezzar and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the confrontation over the idolatrous statue. We read:

Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel 3:13-18)

The attitude of the world can be distilled down to that one phrase of Nebuchadnezzar, “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Or, “How can you possibly be successful if you will not live like I live?

But what was the response of the three men? “The God we serve is able to save us [. . .] but even if he does not [. . .] we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up

So much of modern Christianity has drifted far from this. People boast about how, because they serve God, they will be more wealthy, more successful, and more famous than the heathens. And then when God doesn’t live up to their terms, they have a crises of faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, on the other hand, had a healthy understanding not only of the power of God but of the sovereignty of God. They proclaimed that God was able to save, but also that it was totally a matter of His sovereign choice, and their obedience to Him was not based upon a quid pro quo guarantee of outwardly, worldly, success. We would do well to live our lives among the pagans in the same humble manner.

We do not serve our God the way the pagans serve their gods, (be it the “gods” of silver, gold, or personal gratification,) and we do not serve our God because we think we will gain the things the pagans chase after–wealth, fame, or personal safety. But, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego, we serve our God as He commands us, in life or death, in wealth or poverty, because He is God.

What Was Said

17th June 2007

Thank you all for your prayers. They have been much appreciated, and will continue to be much appreciated. I believe I have acted over these past days with wisdom and grace which I can take no credit for in myself. They have been very hard days, but God has preserved me through, and I know that He will preserve me through those ahead. But they are not going to be easy, and thus your continued intercession will be gladly received.

To keep you all up to date, here is the brief summary of what transpired since I left off Wednesday night with Melinda riding off into the dark.

Thursday morning Grandma had a doctor’s appointment. The morning began with her very weepy and feeling sorry for herself, but I said nothing and she said nothing. I took her to the appointment and after she was finished with the doctor and we both got into the car she promptly said, “I told the doctor everything that happened and she said I was right to do what I did. It had to be done and she says both you and Arlan were wrong and you owe me an apology.”

She then proceeded for about half of the trip home to justify herself, as her actions being both necessary and right–the doctor agreed with her, and she told Grandpa what was going on and he was behind her 100%–condemning Melinda, and telling me that I was selfish, self-centered, uncaring, naive, ignorant, and I can’t remember exactly what else she piled on during the trip. I said not a single word, as I didn’t see there was anything to be said.

The rest of the day was very strained. Doug was over for lunch and Grandma gave him her story of how she had to do it, and I don’t know what else because I tried to make myself absent. Nothing was really said for the rest of the day, though I tried to maintain the veneer of politeness.

The next morning (Friday morning) Grandma said, “Rundy, we need to talk.”

“Okay,” I said.

“You’re not respecting my authority,” she said. “Grandpa understands this and so he has lost confidence in you and now he comes to me for everything. We need to get this straightened out. Are you going to accept my authority?”

“Grandma,” I said. “You’re mistaken. I have always respected your authority to decide what can be done with your possessions, but I have never from the very beginning when I came here, respected your authority to tell me what to do, what to think, or what is right. You don’t have authority over me.”

She didn’t take that well. “I don’t know how you can come here thinking that,” she said. She went on to say she didn’t think I was fit or mature enough for this job, and that if I wasn’t going to support her she was going to find someone else.

“Basically,” she said, “if you’re not for me than you’re against me.”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t agree you were right in what you did to Melinda.”

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll find someone else to help.”

“Okay,” I said. “I came here because I was asked, and I’ll leave when I’m asked. I’ll stay as long as you need me and as long as it takes you to find someone. You just tell me when you’re ready for me to leave.”

Afterward, I called Dad and told him what was up and said that he might want to let his brothers and sisters know what cliff Grandma was getting ready to drive over in case anyone thought they could restrain Grandma or be a voice of reason to her. Dad called around, and my Aunt Daryl was up lickty-split.

Daryl tried to deal with the issue as she saw best, but I was unhappy with her method. She talked to Grandma privately, and then talked to me privately. She was trying to act as an intermediary, but I believe the Bible teaches that the proper way to resolve a situation is for the conflicted parties to meet face to face, perhaps with a third party as a witness–but not with this shuttle diplomacy. Further, I got the sense the Daryl, in attempting to paper things over was trying to present to me what Grandma said in the best way possible, and then present what I said in a way that Grandma could accept so that everything would seem to be resolved, but really it would all be under false pretenses.

So in Daryl’s view if we all came to recognize that Grandma wasn’t going to apologize, I wasn’t going to apologize, and we just dropped the whole issue everything could go back to normal. About all I could tell Daryl was that I had made my position clear to Grandma, and that I was willing to stay until I was asked to leave.

Saturday, Grandma called my Uncle Nate to come up. I talked to him privately when he arrived, giving him a brief summary of what had happened. “I get the picture,” was all he said. I went on a bike ride so Grandma could talk to him privately. After I came back we had a “discussion” (for lack of a better word). I was more pleased with how this turned out–not because it turned out in what was the best or proper way, but because Grandma and I spoke face to face, Nate clearly represented my position, and was a witness to what went on.

“I’m not going to apologize,” Grandma said, “because I don’t have anything to apologize for. And while I really wish you would, I realize I’ll have to accept that you won’t apologize. I realize we’ll just have to put this behind us. I’ll be glad to have you stay, if you’ll be happy to stay.”

Nate’s attempt to “make peace” (though I don’t see it as the real peace which God would have) was to lay out clearly to Grandma my position: (1) I didn’t disagree that Grandma could do whatever she wanted with her house and car (2) she couldn’t tell me what I could do with my person (3) I didn’t agree Grandma was right in how she acted (4) I would help Melinda as I saw fit with my own resources and time. So, laying that out, Nate in essence said, “We can agree to disagree. You will do your thing, he will do his thing, and he will still take care of you and Grandpa.”

“I know,” Grandma said. “But it just hurts me so much that he doesn’t respect me, but I’ll just have to learn to live with it and put it behind me!” and she started to cry.

“I think there is just a misunderstanding of words,” Nate said. “Rundy doesn’t disrespect you.”

For me, I found myself in the situation I had been finding myself in repeatedly. Grandma will define, and redefine things to fit her means and goals. Nate thought there was a misunderstanding, but I knew that Grandma and I understood each other perfectly, and she was just using “respect” because it fit her presentation of me being unkind and unreasonable.

I wanted the truth out in the open, so I said, “How have I not shown respect, Grandma? I’ve never cursed you or shouted at you. I’ve always taken care of you. How haven’t I shown respect?”

“It cuts me to the heart every time I think about how you came to me with fire in your eyes” (speaking of the night when she threw Melinda out) “like you had some right to lecture me.”

There. What I already knew was out in the open. Respect for Grandma meant admitting that I had no right to come to her with fire in my eyes and tell her she was wrong.

By this Saturday “discussion” it had become quite clear to me that Grandma’s entire effort in this conflict was aimed at making me bend knee and confess that she was right. It has become very evident in the course of events that Grandma cannot abide someone who believes she is wrong. As she said, “If you’re not for me, you’re against me” and she attempted to bring me in submission to her will by every means she had at her disposal.

First she asserted that my thoughts and opinions didn’t matter, then she marshaled every authority she could (doctor, Grandpa) and asserted her righteousness and demanded an apology. That demand, coupled with the degradation of my character, didn’t produced the desire confession that I was wrong to say that she was wrong, and she was right and justified in what she did. Since that didn’t work the next day she moved on to the ultimatum: Support me or get out. I didn’t back down, so now in front of Nate and Grandpa she tried the last angle: Cry, and say I had hurt her so badly by what I had said/done.

That still didn’t work. “You understand I had to do that to Melinda, don’t you?” she said. “You understand I had to get furious before I could do what needed to be done. You understand that Melinda would never have left unless I threw her out like that.”

“I understand what you think,” I said. “But I don’t agree that it was right.”

No, no, and no, to every one of those things. Melinda would have left without being thrown out–I had told Grandma myself before everything blew up with Melinda that Melinda had told me she intended to be out by July first. There was no justification for throwing her out in that manner, and there is no excuse for sinning in anger. (Not that I articulated those things to Grandma–but not one of the things she said was true.)

Since this is Grandma’s war where she has marshaled everyone she can against me, that “discussion” ended at a truce. I wouldn’t back down, she wouldn’t back down, but since she couldn’t really find someone else to take my place, she was forced to swallow and call truce.

And that was all it was. Maybe she will eventually find some way so that she no longer needs me, or maybe the “truce” will endure until she and Grandpa die. But I believe that she has said such things to me, and about about me, to my face that my existence around her (to her) is galling. My very presence is a stench in her nostrils because, while she never allowed me on the first night to fully articulate my disapproval, that fact that I would not give her the apology for even thinking to rebuke her and confess that she was right made my presence and existence a living testimony against her.

She cannot abide that, and I will not surrender it. My conscience testifies that she was wrong, and I will not sacrifice my integrity, or the truth, so Grandma can feel justified in what she did. That is exactly the opposite of a proper witness for Christ. The world hates it when we testify by our word and deeds that they have acted sinfully, and they will try to make us concede that they are righteous.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt tested like I have these last few days. It has felt as if every possible pressure has been applied against me to say that wrong was right. I felt not only the requirement to maintain a proper witness regarding what Grandma did, but to also express that witness properly and clearly. It is not something I could have done by my own strength, but by the grace of God I do feel that I have acted and spoke as God willed.

After that meeting with Nate Grandma decided to call truce and “be nice.” Her underlying heart-attitude has not changed, so I don’t know how long this outward manifestation will last. For my part I believe, and hope before God, that I have forgiven Grandma for what she said against me. I am ready and willing to continue making every meal for Grandma, clean up the kitchen, take her to her doctor appointments, sit up with her all night in the emergency room, and take care of Grandpa until God sees fit for them to die. While I had moments of anger in this whole conflict, I have more distress and sickness of heart and body, and I do not believe I harbor any anger or bitterness toward Grandma.

In my own heart I feel I can go forward in peace of my heart.

But of course the situation involves more than just me, and I don’t see how (without a change of heart) Grandma can do anything but fester. When you are angry, bitter, and vindictive, you apply those things to everyone else, and Grandma is still telling people that I am angry with her. When you read evil intent into everything how can it end well?

So I don’t know. Only God knows how it will all turn out. One thing is sure, what Grandma did has consequences. She has reckless injured a lot of people, poisoned her own attitude toward me, and destroyed any trust a number of people might have had in her. Time will tell what the long term consequences of those things will be, but there is one immediate result.

Arlan is moving out. Since Grandma has demonstrated that she is ready and willing to turn people out with a moments notice Arlan has no assurance that he has any stable residence here. I don’t either, of course, but I’m ready to pack up and go home whenever Grandma gives me the word. But Arlan has a job down in Pennsylvania and he can’t have that type of uncertainty hanging over his head. So he told Grandma today that he was going to start looking for an apartment closer to work. Arlan is not doing this to be vindictive, (and I told him even before the Melinda situation blew up that he didn’t need to feel he had to stay on my account) and apparently he managed to be diplomatic enough that Grandma took it fairly well (and I suspect in her heart she may even be pleased, as she feels we are “against her” and the less people against her in the house the better), though she will need to find someone else to do the lawn work which Arlan presently does when he is home from work.

So that is where things stand. It is just a summary of what has happened in the past days, with many things left out, but it should give you an idea of the situation and perhaps inform you as to the nature of your prayers. I pray that Arlan and Melinda will both be better off going in their new paths. I pray that God will show mercy to Grandma and Grandpa, and He will give me strength and grace. Not only that, but that He will use this for His glory and my teaching and instruction.

Good night all.

How Then Shall We Live?

13th June 2007

It is late, so I am going to keep this very short. Maybe I will write more about this subject later, maybe not.

I, and everyone in this situation, need your prayers.

The last two weeks have been especially hard. For whatever reason, Grandma decided she no longer wanted to have Melinda living here, and so through her means and methods she began to make life increasingly unpleasant for Melinda (and by extension for Arlan and I as well).

Last Monday Melinda was told by her father that she was to get out of Grandma’s place ASAP. I immediately began to desperately help Melinda search for an apartment.

The ugliness in the air, growing worse for some time, had been thick in the air since then. The last three days were the culmination of some nasty stuff.

Grandma deliberately antagonized Melinda Monday. Melinda held her peace in Grandma’s presence. Grandma deliberately antagonized Melinda Tuesday. Melinda held her peace in Grandma’s presence, but decided she would be best served by spending the next two nights with a friend.

Melinda came back tonight with a friend and the intention of moving some of her stuff out. Grandma immediately confronted Melinda in her room in front of Melinda’s friend and told her to get all of her stuff out of the room because it wasn’t her room anymore. Grandma left, and Melinda broke down in tears.

I didn’t hear most of the exchange, and was a little uncertain Melinda had heard right when she relayed the information to me. So I went and found Grandma and asked her what she had told Melinda. She confirmed what Melinda had told me. I then proceed probably as I shouldn’t.

I said, “Okay. Fine. But we’ll need to talk in the morning.”

“Why?” she said.

“So I can tell you how I feel about all of this,” I said. (Except nowhere near so coherently. When I get very angry/upset I lose all control over my stutter and I have great difficulty talking.)

“Why?” she said. “I don’t give a damn what you think. You don’t have any say in this.”

“Fine,” I said, “but I still want to make clear my–”

“And I have some things to tell you as well,” she said. “You’re not allowed to take my car to help Melinda, you’re not allowed to take my car and run any errands for Melinda.” She may have enumerated several more you’re-not-allowed-to’s but ended up with, “When Melinda leaves this house she is going to have to learn to live on her own, she’s not getting any help from here.”

“Okay,” I said. “Do you have anything more to say?”

“No,” she said.

So I left.

Next I woke up Arlan (who had already gone to bed) and told him what was up. Next I called Dad and told him we needed prayer.

Arlan, myself, and Melinda’s friend helped Melinda get her stuff out and into Melinda’s friend’s car and Arlan’s car. Grandma checked to make sure we didn’t take any of Grandma’s stuff, and to make sure all of Melinda’s stuff was out.

So, Melinda has put in for an apartment (but doesn’t know if she will get it or not, yet,) which won’t be available in any case until the first of July. Melinda’s car was supposedly repaired from her last car problem, but she said tonight that it was still acting funny and she didn’t feel that it was really safe to drive long distances. She is staying with the mother of a friend and hour away in Pennsylvania. She is supposed to be to work tomorrow at the Old Country Buffet in the Vestal Town Square Mall.

The situation doesn’t really need commentary. Has Melinda been perfect while she has lived here? Most certainly not. There are ways she could have lived differently and avoided this. But whatever her failures, they do not excuse Grandma. In the renting agreement Melinda looked at she was told that if she trafficked in illegal drugs she would be given three days to vacate the apartment. That is what strangers give strangers for the worst offense. Without a screaming argument, without even the offense of a raised voice, Grandma gave her granddaughter a night.

To me, this is clearly the work of a very obvious, blatant, and direct satanic attack. Not only is Grandma being unchristian but she is being grossly unwise from the perspective of the most worldly wisdom. To show such contempt for the very help that you are dependent upon defies all reason. She has been acting self-destructive to the extreme. And I am aware of at least in some ways Satan is using this as an attack on me . . . I believe, according to the conviction that God has laid on my heart, that I should stay and care for Grandpa as long as I am able. So Satan is directly, and with full force, challenging that conviction. He would like to see exactly what hell I’m really willing to endure, and God in accord with His grace and wisdom, has decided to allow me to be tested.

Oh, but I am a weak, weak man. I did not acquit myself with perfect holiness this evening already. As perhaps an insightful reader would pick up, my words to Grandma had at least a seed of self-righteous indignation. I wanted to protest my indignation and wrath, in that fleshly part of me I wanted her to have no doubt as to my disapproval. That attitude was and is wrong.

I’m not sure that what I said in itself was intrinsically wrong. There is some part of me that is glad (God knows if it is a good part) that I did verbally offer some protest. I may not have offered it the way I should have, but something in me still feels that it was right to not let what happened to Melinda pass in complete silence.

But I don’t intend to talk to Grandma about it in the morning. When I spoke to Dad after my conversation with Grandma he counseled that there was no wisdom or holy profit in speaking to Grandma as she made it clear that she had no interest in hearing what I had to say. I agree with the wisdom and truth in that, especially since the only possible true and right thing I could convey would be the bare substance of my protest and that has already been done, and anything more would be just an expression of self-righteousness.

But we really need your prayers here, in so many ways. Arlan and I are both extremely torn as to how we should act. There is certainly a lot of fleshly emotions raging like a fire, with Satan throwing on kindling as fast as he can. I can’t speak for Arlan, but right now I really feel at a loss as to understanding how I should act. I have just witnessed one of the grossest acts of wrong committed by one family member against another family member. How should I conduct myself in the days ahead?

Right now I feel sick. Not physically sick, but sick at heart and distraught. I don’t know what to think. I expect the anger will come later, probably days later, when I least expect it, flaring up at some small thing that Grandma will do. Oh, yes, Satan knows me well.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to act. From what I know of Grandma she will either try to pretend that nothing has happened, or, more likely, she will give some apology that isn’t really an apology, giving some excuse or explanation for telling me she didn’t give a damn what I thought and then go on to justify to me why everything she did to Melinda was right. It strikes me as gross hypocrisy to act as if nothing happened or to pretend in any what that I find Grandma’s justifications acceptable.

But I should forgive her, no matter what, because God has forgiven me in Christ. But I need much grace for that.

But how should I act? My desire is to say nothing . . . and on first glance that may look to have wisdom, but I know that behind it there is a great vindictive desire to punish Grandma through the “silent treatment.” Oh, yes, I’m good at the silent treatment.

So I’m brought back to feeling that the right thing to do would be to continue on my life as before. Grandma comes into the kitchen tomorrow morning and says, “Good morning,” and I say “Good morning,” even though it isn’t a good morning? Ask her how her blood-pressure was last night? Ask her how she is feeling? Talk about the weather?

If I were living by the Spirit I would conduct myself with kindness, compassion, long suffering, and peace that comes from the Spirit. But amidst all the conflicting emotions it is hard to see clear to what that means in the practicality of day to day living, and after seeing it, to actually live it.

So pray for me. Pray for Arlan. And yes, pray for Grandma too. Pray for her most of all, as one who will soon meet her maker and give an accounting for all she has done in her life, good and bad. Pray for Grandpa. Pray for Melinda.

My life since coming to live with Grandma and Grandpa has always been marked by a certain degree of uncertainty as I didn’t know how healthy either of them would be from week to week and didn’t know, in effect, if they would die tomorrow. But now my life is marked (for the present) by even greater uncertainty and trouble. Grandma has demonstrated such a reckless disregard for any form of wisdom that she could do just about anything. I don’t know how much she thought she was restricting me with her list of I wasn’t allowed to do, but while I respect her authority over her possessions she has no authority over my person. If she thinks she laid down the line so that I won’t help Melinda anymore, she is mistaken. I won’t help Melinda with Grandma’s possessions, but if Melinda needs help moving into an apartment I will help her. There are other cars I can avail myself of.

And, given the way Grandma is acting, I could conceive her of saying when I came back from helping Melinda that I was to take my stuff and get out of the house since I wasn’t living according to her rules. That would be insane of her, but she seems to be acting pretty insanely. So, I could end up home in two weeks, who knows. While I can conceive it, I doubt it. I expect Grandma will probably cool over the next few days and decide that maybe she better be a little more careful.

Who knows. I don’t.

Certainly she had made it abundantly clear what her ethical standard is, and as I’ve already said before, this is a clear indication of the nature of things to come.

I don’t know how coherent all of that was, but there it stands.

One Response to How Then Shall We Live?

  1. Teague says:

    The subject of faith is not our service of God, but His work in and through us.

    Were His work easily seen and readily understood, there would be no faith.

Comments are closed.

The Shepherd of Zechariah 13

10th June 2007

I’m not presently reading through the book of Zechariah, but in our Sunday Bible study we just recently finished up the gospel of Mark and in Mark chapter 14 Jesus quotes from the prophet Zechariah, saying,

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:
” ‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Mark 14:27-28

How much effort do you make to understand how the New Testament interprets and applies the Old Testament? How much do you use that example and guide for leading you in your own understanding of the Old Testament?

It is an unfortunate thing that many Christians do not read in the Old Testament and say, “What does the New Testament say about this?”

Instead, so many people read the Old Testament without even attempting to bring to bear the light of the New Testament on what they have read in any deep or consistent fashion.

In my constant harping on the centrality of Christ in Scripture I have tried to keep in sight the central over-arching aspect of this New Testament revelation, and in my recent piece, “Interpreting Ezekiel” I applied that in a more particular and extensive manner. Today I’m going to briefly bang on that drum some more.

I think that when New Testament figures quote the Old Testament modern day Christian readers often attempt to understand what the New Testament figure was saying-but without going back to the Old Testament to see how the usage by the New Testament figure informs our understanding of that particular Old Testament passage, the surrounding Old Testament text, and other parts of Old Testament Scripture.

That was my first thought on reading in Mark where Jesus quotes from the prophet Zechariah. Jesus isn’t using Zechariah out of context–he is supplying the context and meaning of what Zechariah is saying. And, with this authoritative statement about what Zechariah was really speaking about, we ought to go back and see how Zechariah is enlightened for us.

My second thought when I looked over Zechariah was how what Zechariah was saying, and the interpretive light that Jesus brought to the prophet’s words, echoed quite strongly what I had been saying regarding Ezekiel. So I thought to bring your attention very briefly to Jesus and his interpretation of Zechariah.

Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7 in relation to his impending death, but to begin to understand the interpretive impact we must look at the immediate context of Zechariah 13:7-9:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who is close to me!”
declares the LORD Almighty.
“Strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered,
and I will turn my hand against the little ones.

In the whole land,” declares the LORD,
“two-thirds will be struck down and perish;
yet one-third will be left in it.

This third I will bring into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’ ”

Here we see that the stricken shepherd in Zechariah 13 is part of something larger that the prophet is saying. The act against the shepherd is tied to activity regarding the people.

Outside the interpretive understanding Christ provides on the eve of his crucifixion, one might read the passage in Zechariah and conclude it spoke about some physical battle in the historical land of Israel where the leader of the people of Israel would perish in battle and two thirds of the people along with him. On first glance that seems to be what it is talking about. But we are not left to such speculation because Christ has provided the definitive interpretation of Zechariah 13, applying it to his crucifixion and the events that follow.

From this declaration of Christ we are provided an interpretive locus, a point which provides the understanding and meaning for the rest of the statement contained in this second part of Zechariah 13.

What was the end result of the crucifixion of Christ? His resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. In short, the completion of the new covenant and the bringing to realization the new people of God. The closing statement “I will say ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’ ” echoes the language in Jeremiah chapters 30-33 regarding the new covenant, summed up in the passage of Jeremiah 31:31-34:

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

And as Paul quotes Isaiah in Romans 9:

Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:
“Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea,
only the remnant will be saved.
For the Lord will carry out
his sentence on earth with speed and finality.

It is just as Isaiah said previously:
“Unless the Lord Almighty
had left us descendants,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah.”

(Romans 9:27-29, Isaiah 10:22,23, 1:9)

Christ informs us that the struck shepherd is himself, and the scattered sheep are his people, and from that application we understand the verses of Zechariah 13:8-9 are speaking in figurative language about the remnant of Israel that will be saved, the few that will be called as the new spiritual Israel in the new covenant of Jeremiah chapter 31. The “struck down” and the “live” speaks about the divide between spiritual death and spiritual life that comes between those who rejected Christ and those who found newness of life in Christ. I don’t think it is any accident that in Zechariah it says, “This third I will bring into the fire” when on Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down on the believers in tongues of flame. That was the beginning of the New Covenant when,

They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’

Christ presented the defining interpretation of Zechariah 13:7-9, but it doesn’t end there. Our understanding of that passage also affects our understanding of what was spoken about in Zechariah both before and after that section. Christ’s application has wide ranging implications if one stops to consider Zechariah as Jesus indicates we should.

Interpreting Ezekiel

29th May 2007

In the earlier post “Ezekiel and The Warnings of Scripture” I mentioned that,

In the book of Ezekiel I am often left to meditate on and ponder the full depth and meaning of the symbolism given, and the relation of Ezekiel’s prophecies to the person and work of Christ.

And,

I admit the book of Ezekiel is very difficult to understand. From the very beginning of the book where we find the revelation of God to Ezekiel, it is evident that there is a lot of symbolism. The writing is full of extensive symbolism, and while some instances and layers may seem fairly obvious, some do not, and at times it feels like you are standing in the shallow end of a pool and staring at a depths you wish you could plumb.

When is the last time you read Ezekiel?

Perhaps you have read Ezekiel and puzzled over what is written there. Maybe in particular you have puzzled over the closing chapters of Ezekiel, 34-48. Have you ever wondered what is meant when it is said,

” ‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

” ‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

” ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

(Ezekiel 34:11-24)

Or have you pondered what is meant when it is said,

” ‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness.

(Ezekiel 36:24-29)

Or have you struggled to understand what is meant when it is said,

‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

” ‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’ ”

(Ezekiel 37:21-28)

Have you stopped to consider what Ezekiel says? So many Christians don’t. Many don’t even read Ezekiel, and plenty (most?) who do skate right over it quickly, like a skater on thin ice. Why? Because they don’t have a clue. Not a clue. They are confounded. They don’t have even the beginnings of a framework or a reference in which to try to approach or interpret what Ezekiel has said. They are without map and without guide–completely lost. So, they leave Ezekiel in the dustbin, or leave it in the closet of shame where Scripture we don’t understand is regulated to molder in darkness.

That is not right, and it isn’t spiritually good or healthy.

I’m not about to present you with a line by line exegesis of Ezekiel. I don’t presently have the time or the gifts. But what I would like to do is present what I believe is the proper framework and guide for approaching Ezekiel–a foundational understanding, you could call it. Such a framework and understanding won’t immediately answer every question regarding Ezekiel or instantly unravel every knotty passage, but a proper framework will set you on the right path and provide a solid foundation for further study, (either with others or by yourself,) and it will provide a guard against wandering into erroneous interpretation and applications . . . of which there are many out there.

I desire to do this not only because I wish to get some of my own thoughts down on paper, and because I wish to help others in their search to understand Scripture, but also because I am deeply troubled by the errors and failed interpretations and applications that spring from Ezekiel, and particularly in the final portion of chapters 34-48.

If you followed what I said in “Ezekiel and The Warnings of Scripture” about the judgments upon Israel and how “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” (1 Cor. 10:11) then hopefully you understand at least broadly how the failures and judgments of Israel speak about the failure to believe and obey, the failure to to live righteously, and the need of redemption from sin, and as such are warnings for us. Thus the story of Oholah and Oholibah (Ezekiel ch. 23) is not as perplexing as the final chapters of Ezekiel (though equally worthy of study), and while the oracles of judgment on Israel and the nations may not seem particularly clear, they do not dwell under quite the same cloud of misunderstanding and misapprehension as the final chapters of Ezekiel. Those things deal with the past sins and judgments of Israel (which we ought to consider and apply to ourselves), but what about the future blessings of Israel? That is where we get into Ezekiel chapters 34 and forward.

How are we to understand the future blessings of Israel? Do they have any relation to us, and if so, what?

Are we to understand what Ezekiel says in a literal fashion? Will David come back to be king? Or is Ezekiel speaking in figurative language, using signs and symbols to convey truth?

When faced with difficult passages of Scripture, and these type of questions, it is absolutely imperative to follow the teaching given by Scripture itself for interpreting Scripture. This provides a vital check on incorrect interpretation, and a guide for right understanding.

For example, we are told that,

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

(1 Peter 1:10-12)

Thus we understand from the teaching of the New Testament that (as I have said before) all of the Old Testament points to the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. Therefore, we are obligated, according to the instruction of the New Testament, to approach the Old Testament from this perspective. We might not understand it now, but Ezekiel is speaking about the sufferings of Christ and the glories that will follow from that. Ezekiel’s message is Christ centered.

But, while this is the key interpretive guide for all Scripture, there is still the question of how what we read in Scripture relates. It is well and good to affirm (as Scripture declares) that all of the Old Testament looks forward to the sufferings of Christ and glories to follow, but how does that inform what we read? To particularize it to our present occasion, how does this truth actually aide us in understanding what Ezekiel has recorded for us?

If you read the chapters of this last portion of Ezekiel you see that they are concerned primarily with the blessing of Israel–whether that be expressed in the renewal of Israel’s spiritual life, judgment of their enemies, or in the imagery of restored temple worship. All those things are expressions of blessing upon Israel. Our first step in understanding the meaning of this is to recognize that Christ Jesus is the source of all blessing (John 1:16). Recognizing this gives us the very beginnings of a picture of what is going on here. God will bless–He will restore and redeem Israel–and that is tied up in, and will be accomplished in, Christ.

That is a beginning for understanding, but now we return to the question I asked earlier. “How do we relate to the blessing of Israel in Christ? What does that mean for us as Christians?”

Once again, our understanding must be guided by the interpretation given by the Bible itself. What I mean is, we say, “How do we relate to the blessing of Israel, and what does it mean for us?” But first we must go to the Bible and ask, “Who is Israel?

That might seem like a foolish question, but it is one that needs to be asked if we’re going to talk about the future blessing of Israel. The issue of the blessing of Israel has been one people have struggled with since the beginning of Christianity. If one recognizes that Christ is the source of all blessing, and God has promised to bless Israel, there appears to be something of a problem in that the nation of Israel has largely rejected Jesus Christ. People throughout the ages, up to this very day, have come up with various solutions to this problem, and unfortunately most do not take into account what Scripture itself says very explicitly.

Paul deals with this question of Israel quite directly in Romans chapters 9-11. In responding to this question Paul says,

It is not as though God’s word had failed.” (Romans 9:6)

Then he goes on to explain,

Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

(Romans 9:6-9)

It is not the natural children who are the people of God, Paul says. Rather,

“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people;
and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”

and,

“It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them,
‘You are not my people,’
they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ”

(Romans 9:25-26, Hosea 2:23, 1:10)

So we see that the true Israel, and Abraham’s children, are those who are called according to God’s promise. As Paul says in Galatians 3:29 “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. And as Paul says elsewhere, “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.” (Galatians 4:28)

Why is this so? “In order that” Paul says, “God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works buy by him who calls” (Romans 9:11-12)

Therefore, it does not depend on human descent, but on God’s will–His call. As we read in John 1:13,

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

And again,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

(Romans 9:15-16)

Therefore,

God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18)

So we see in the New Testament the fullness of what was hidden in ages past–that the true Israel of God is not defined by human lineage or descent from the man Jacob, but rather the Israel of God is defined by God’s call. From among every tribe and nation He has called His spiritual Israel which He will bless in Christ Jesus.

Therefore, in answering the question, “What is our relation to Israel and its blessings?” We must say that Christians are the Israel of God. We are Israel, and the blessings promised to Israel are our blessings.

People persist to this day to see Ezekiel’s promise of future blessing as applying to Israel descended from the flesh of Jacob. But what does Scripture say, as we have just read? Not all Israel are Israel . . . and so on.

By this point we see the beginnings of the framework for understanding these latter chapters in Ezekiel. Through the Old Covenant types and shadows, God was declaring the coming redemption. The Old Covenant sacrifices, Sabbaths, and Temples, pointed to Christ. As it is said,

“[. . .] with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17)

And,

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.

When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

(Hebrews 9:1-10)

And,

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.” (Hebrews 10:1)

And further,

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

“The time is coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

(Hebrews 8:7-13, Jer. 31:31-34)

So, in accordance with the teaching of the New Testament we must see what is written in Ezekiel 34-48 in the forms of the Old Covenant as illustrations and shadows of the realities that are in Christ. This guides us into a proper understanding of these chapters, and guards us against errors which can range from taking everything literally (some hold that David will actually return to reign in Israel), to those who take only some of the Old Covenant forms as being continued in the future (that is, in accord with God’s will another temple will be built for the continuance of sacrifices–never mind how that contradicts scripture–or that the people of God will be literally picking up bones as in Ezekiel 39:12-17). People seem determinedly persistent in variations of this, in spite of the fact that we have been told how that covenant is “obsolete” and that those were “illustrations” and we have been instructed that those are “weak and beggarly elements” (Gal. 4:9, NKJV).

I have sought to lay out the foundational framework for understanding Ezekiel. Hopefully you see by the Scripture I have presented that we are to see what Ezekiel says as Old Testament types and figures speaking about the spiritual truths of this present age. To understand that in general, of course, does not immediately present us with all the answers to particular questions, which are plentiful. As I said at the beginning of this writing, I am not going to attempt such a detailed exegesis now, but perhaps what has been discussed will help you should you consider things further in your own thoughts and studies.

However, in closing, I want to momentarily look at one portion of what Ezekiel has said and relate it to New Testament teaching. I think the valley of dry bones section in Ezekiel 37:1-14 forms something of a central point to the latter portion of Ezekiel. It compacts the ideas and themes of this final portion of Ezekiel down into one wonderful section.

In that section we read,

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”

(Ezekiel 37:1-14)

The imagery of Ezekiel 37:1-14 is that of being dead, utterly and completely dead–so dead that all flesh is gone and the bones are dry–and then being made alive by the word, the call, of God. That is the state of the whole house of Israel, which we understand to be all whom God has called in Christ prior to the out-pouring of His Spirit begun at Pentecost. What is being spoken of here is being made alive in Christ, expressed in Old Testament imagery. In the New Testament we read the same, only it is said,

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

(Ephesians 2:1-10)

It is the same language of being dead and made alive, fashioned by God, as contained in Ezekiel.

And if we continue reading in Ezekiel we read,

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

(Ezekiel 37:21-23)

And as we continue in Ephesians we read,

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

(Ephesians 2:11-22)

This is what Ezekiel is talking about. Ezekiel is talking redemption. We were dead in our sins, separated from God and under judgment. But praise be to God who has brought us redemption and newness of life in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is our hope and joy, but (and this needs to be stressed) this is the same hope and joy of the believing Israelites from the Old Covenant. They looked forward and rejoiced by faith in that day to come. What Ezekiel has written is for us, but it was for them too. You see, for the Israelite of faith who understood and believed all that God had said through Ezekiel up until this final section of the book–this believer is faced with the truth that the people of God are sinful, under God’s judgment, and unable to save or redeem themselves. This is a crushing truth. But to the Old Testament believer God gives a word of hope and salvation–one for them and us too. It is a prophetic promise that those who are spiritually dead will be made alive again. God has promised his Spirit to come and dwell in us, that we might live in holiness and obedience.

So we, along with those of faith through all ages, may, by faith, take hold of God’s promise–our salvation.

One could go on. We could look at Ezekiel’s use of the temple, and then interpret that through Jesus application of the temple to his own person (John 2:19-22) and also interpret Ezekiel’s temple and the river (Ezekiel 47:1-12) in light of the New Jerusalem contained in Revelation chapters 21 and 22 . . . but I will stop here for now.

Around and Around We Go

22nd May 2007

Ugh. I think I am suffering from lack-of-sleep-whiplash . . . if such a thing exists. This state is defined by how one feels when you go to bed very late and get only a few hours sleep. Going to bed really late isn’t pleasent, but the next day feels even worse–that’s the whiplash. The condition is marked by lack of energy, lack of motivation, and severe lack of concentration. Doing the most mundane chores seems to require supreme effort. Any kind of productive or thought intensive activity feels beyond the pale.

So, Grandma’s blood pressure has not become better. It went so high in the past few days that she had me take her to the emergency room twice. Both times her blood pressure peaked out at around 240 (for the top number–whatever the technical term is for it). Grandma and her doctor are trying to re-jig her medication, trying different things in different doses to get things under control again.

The first of the recent two trips to the emergency room was Saturday night. We went in around 8:30 and got out at about 2:45 AM. About six hours in the emergency room. End result: One pill. They gave Grandma one pill that took her blood pressure back down for the night.

I got to sleep that night (morning) by 4:00 AM and slept until 8:00 AM. Four hours of sleep. I went home on Sunday feeling the lack. Got approximately (but probably not quite) eight hours of sleep Sunday night. Then Monday we went into the emergency room again.

We reached the emergency room at 6:20 PM on Monday and were not released until around 1:20 AM. Seven hours in the emergency room. End result: Nothing. Grandma took enough various medications before we left that it eventually came down all by itself. (However, when we were first admitted to the emergency room it was still running over 240.)

I got to sleep at about 3:00 AM and woke up at 8:30 AM. It is at times like these I wish I had the unfailing ability of my siblings to sleep in til noon when the situation requires. But no. I wake up to the sound of Grandpa making noise in the kitchen and I know that even if I wanted to go back to sleep I probably couldn’t, and in any case my conscience won’t allow me, as I will lay in bed wondering if someone is taking care of him properly. So I get up. Five and a half hours of sleep.

I feel really weird the rest of the day. When you get that behind on sleep you can tell there is a chemical imbalance in your body. It manifests in a complete lack of energy and ability to think, but also the sensation that it would feel really good to simply pass out about right now.

So far in this stint as care-giver I have avoided propping myself up with coffee except on vital occasions such as a long drive when I must not fall asleep. I have avoided caffeine because I don’t want to become completely dependent on it to function. But if this kind of sleep deprivation continues I might crack.

The first nearly all-nighter at the emergency room didn’t hit too bad the same night. I got my second wind and survived through it all without feeling too tired. All reserves were depleted the second time. By midnight on the second visit I ran out of steam. I slumped down in my chair and for about the last half hour and dozed unpleasantly amidst all the noise and lights.

Waiting in an emergency room is a particular form of torture. If you knew that your situation is being tended to and that you are waiting while something is actually being done the waiting can be bearable. But when you sit there waiting for hours at a time without anyone telling you what is going on, or giving any indication that they are working on your situation . . . it begins to feel like a very cruel farce.

I try to pick up normal life immediately after events like this. It never works perfectly, but sometimes you just have to let go entirely. Trying to will yourself to work normally on a very large deficit of sleep becomes an impossibility that only breeds frustration. Past a certain point you can’t sit at your keyboard and work–you end up sitting at your keyboard and falling asleep. Rather than becoming frustrated I have to remind myself to just let go. It can all wait. Things don’t have to get done on my time line.

Which means that instead of trying to do something this evening I should go to my bedroom immediately after supper and try to take a nap until Grandpa is ready to go to bed.

****

In other news Grandpa managed to injure is back a week or so ago. The pain has been bad enough that he has been willing to take pain medication. Which is saying something for Grandpa. The worst times the pain can just about leave him breathless.

I think it’s a pinched nerve, which he brought about by twisting his torso to reach for something. It effects him worst sitting down and getting up and lifting his feet. He has got a little better recently. On his worst night he couldn’t make it back to bed every time he came from the bathroom and I had to help him. I have taken the habit of sometimes walking behind him with my hands in his armpits to guide and stabilize him him, and, if necessary, take some of the weight off his feet if his back seizes up. I just about had to carry him to bed this way on the worst night.

Grandpa appreciates the support, though he is a bit nervous at the same time that somehow the assistance might hurt his back more. Even when his back is not bothering him in particular the action is both helpful and supportive when he is simply having a hard time moving his feet and gets “stuck.” If I pick up removing some of the weight from his own feet and then propel him forward he can get unstuck and half walk while I half carry him.

So now he has asked when he gets stuck on the way to the couch, “Will somebody come over here and give me a push.”

Mid-May Update

15th May 2007

Briefly . . .

Grandma’s blood pressure is still running very high.

Two weeks ago, or thereabouts, Grandma went to her cardiologist who told her that her current problems are not a reaction to the medication in her stent. He said her current problems are the result of her kidneys and he prescribed her a new blood pressure related medication.

Grandma was at first very doubtful about this new medication, but it seems to have caused no adverse effects and she seems to have warmed up to it, dropping other medications (which may not be a good idea at all, but she has her reasons). Since her blood pressure hasn’t come down (last night the high number was just over 200 and this morning the high number was over 220) she is going to inquire if the dosage of this new medication might be increased.

I am curious to see what blood tests will say about her kidney function as it seems to me we are dealing with the symptoms here, not the underlying problem.

Grandpa has continued along, same as always. He greatly appreciates the increased sunshine and warmth. Unfortunately, as the sun rises earlier so does he, and he goes to be no earlier. The night before last I finished reading him his story at 11:00 PM and he was up the next day at 5:45 AM. I don’t mind rising with the sun (and actually prefer it) if I get to go to bed at a reasonable hour. But as it is, that is a difficult schedule for me to maintain, so I stayed in bed until 7:00 AM so as to not encourage such early rising.

Otherwise, Grandpa continues in his usual problems. Beyond using the bathroom, he is beginning to have more trouble finding the bathroom. Sometimes he must be taken and physically lead to the bathroom.

One evening as we prepared for a trip to the bathroom he said, “Okay, I’m going to walk straight and when we get to the right place you say ‘Gee’ or ‘Haw’ and I’ll turn.” So we walked down the hall and he would have kept walking right past the bathroom if I hadn’t taken him by the shoulders and turned him into the bathroom.

While Grandpa hasn’t developed any other new problems, his difficulties are becoming pervasive enough that he is unable to hide them from visitors.

About two weeks ago, (on the day of Grandma’s visit to the cardiologist,) Grandpa had a bad day where every time he went to the bathroom he ended up pissing himself. So every trip to the bathroom ended up with putting a fresh diaper on him. Just as Grandma and I were getting ready to go to the doctor’s my Aunt Annie (Grandma and Grandpa’s oldest daughter) showed up for an unannounced visit. We had to go, so I quickly told Annie where the diapers were located and what she might have to do while we were gone, and then me and Grandma left.

Well, I guess that afternoon was an eye-opening experience for Annie. She did have to help Grandpa get into a fresh diaper while we were gone, and she got to witness Grandpa’s other typical bizarre behavior–like taking the magazine stand and putting it on the couch. Annie took it all very much in stride insofar as she didn’t give Grandpa a hard time, but that evening she called Grandma on the phone and they talked. I think the visit gave Annie an idea of how far down the road her father has gone.

On a recent visit when Titi was up Grandpa talked to an imaginary person sitting on the couch. Titi was prepared for this so hearing Grandpa laughing at some cute imaginary little kid, and talking to the non-existent person didn’t freak her out. But next week when Doug was visiting Grandpa did it again.

Doug sits down on the couch and says, “How are you doing, Ike?”

“Good,” Grandpa says. “How about yourself?”

“Fine,” Doug says.”

“That’s good,” Grandpa said. Then his gaze slips beyond Doug to the corner of the couch. “And how about you?” he says. “How are you doing?”

Doug looks puzzled.

“What’s your name?” Grandpa says. He points at himself. “My name is Grandpa. I’m Grandpa. What’s your name?”

Doug looks uncertain.

“He doesn’t want to talk to me,” Grandpa says.

“What you seeing, a cat?” Doug says, probably grasping for the most sane explanation he could find.

Later, I got The 36 Hour Day and had Doug read the section on Alzheimer’s’s patients seeing things so in the future he good take the imaginary people more in stride. The natural reaction for a person is to get very weired out by this demonstration of imaginary people, but I try as much as possible to let it slide. Grandpa is terribly embarrassed if he is made aware that he is talking to a couch pillow that he thought was a person so I prefer to let him figure out his mistake for himself (in which case he can hope nobody else noticed his mistake) or else just let him lose interest in the imagined person.

This past weekend when my Uncle Nate and Aunt Sharon were up he did his usual things of driving his cane about on the carpet, moving chairs about, and falling down at odd times. All of this is part of “normal” life around here but was something he used to be able to control (mostly) when company is around. Now it all hangs out a lot more, giving this place more the impression of a nut house to visitors.

The Sins of Generations

10th May 2007

It’s natural for anyone who seriously considers sin to eventually come around to the matter of sin and the family unit. We might ask “Is a father (or mother) responsible for the sins of the child? After all, they were responsible for raising the child.” Or we might ask, “Are the sins of the father (or mother) passed on to the children? After all, the children are their descendants.” Of course people can consider the matter with more nuance, but for the sake of conciseness we will simplify the expression to those examples.

Now, looking around at the state of the world and what we can see with our eyes, a logical conclusion is that “family sin” is very real. That term is exceedingly vague (what exactly do you mean if you say that?). So, I will try to get a handle on what is meant by an example:

Papa Joe was an adulterer. Sonny Joe Jr. grows up to be an adulterer.

We’ll call that an example of “family sin” or “inherited sin.” Papa Joe was an adulterer and the evil effects of that were passed onto his son. Maybe it wouldn’t manifest itself in the son in exactly the same way as the father, (let’s not get too picky,) but the effects and the results of the sin come down on Sonny Joe Jr. manifesting in more sin, and that is passed on down to little Sonny Joe III. It is a vein of ugly evil that will keep getting passed down through the family unless something is done to break it.

If we were going to express this idea in a proverb it would go something like this, “A father eats sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Dad eats the sour grape (fornication, etc) and the children’s teeth are set on edge (they reap the result). It makes sense.

This is one of those issues that I think deserves lengthy handling as a lot of Christians struggle with it, and it can be very confounding. Various questions crop up with any serious study of the matter which ought to get full consideration and thoughtful answers. But, given the limitations I am working with, and my resolution to write what I can now, I will address this subject briefly. Perhaps I will be able to come back to it later.

It is interesting how, when reading through some portion of the Bible, something will leap out of the text at you. I was continuing my reading through Ezekiel when this happened.

Say that we think that “A father eats sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” is a pretty good description of things. So we come to Ezekiel chapter 18:

The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
” ‘The fathers eat sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.

“Suppose there is a righteous man
who does what is just and right.

He does not eat at the mountain shrines
or look to the idols of the house of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor’s wife
or lie with a woman during her period.

He does not oppress anyone,
but returns what he took in pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
but gives his food to the hungry
and provides clothing for the naked.

He does not lend at usury
or take excessive interest.
He withholds his hand from doing wrong
and judges fairly between man and man.

He follows my decrees
and faithfully keeps my laws.
That man is righteous;
he will surely live,
declares the Sovereign LORD.

“Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them):
“He eats at the mountain shrines.
He defiles his neighbor’s wife.

He oppresses the poor and needy.
He commits robbery.
He does not return what he took in pledge.
He looks to the idols.
He does detestable things.

He lends at usury and takes excessive interest.
Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head.

“But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things:

“He does not eat at the mountain shrines
or look to the idols of the house of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor’s wife.

He does not oppress anyone
or require a pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
but gives his food to the hungry
and provides clothing for the naked.

He withholds his hand from sin
and takes no usury or excessive interest.
He keeps my laws and follows my decrees.
He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.

“Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.

“But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

“But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die. But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life. Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

“Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

The Lord, through Ezekiel, goes into quite a bit of detail, but we might reduce it to the statement, “The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.”

To natural thinking there is a certain logic to saying, “Because of what took place in my family I have this sin to deal with and this trouble in my life.” Or “Because of what my father did I have this sin to deal with and this trouble in my life.” Certainly this type of reason made sense to the nation of Israel.

But what does God say?

I find it very distressing how various groups within Christianity fail to take this (and similar passages of Scripture) into account when considering sin and its relationship to families. I am aware that there are passages of Scripture which can seem to lead people to the conclusion that “A father eats sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge“. No doubt it was Israel’s failed understanding of these other passages of Scripture which lead them to need this rebuke. Rather than being caught in the same failed understanding of other portions of Scripture, Christians should consider what is said here in Ezekiel.

If we have sins or problems in our life, the natural reactions seems to be to look to our surroundings or our parents for the source. It is my sin, some people say, but the source is my family life growing up. But what does God say here in Ezekiel?

Isn’t God saying explicitly that for the sins and problems in our lives we must look no further than ourselves. Isn’t God saying that we shouldn’t bring our parents, our family, or anyone else into the picture for our sins and problems? We witness many sins in the lives of those around us, but we are completely and solely responsible for the sins in our own lives.

There is both great condemnation and great hope in this truth. Great condemnation, because all of the sin in our lives is laid directly at our own feet. There is no cause to go to Mom or Pop and say, “Look here, because of your failures there is this sin in my life.” There is no collective blame, no dispersion of responsibility. Every fault and failure in your life comes right back to you.

But there is great hope because, “I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. [. . .] Repent and live!

We must not loose sight of this truth. Sin is not properly dealt with if we try to diversify the blame and make the problem bigger than ourselves. It’s you. Period. Face up to it, God says. Further, not only must we exhort others to face the fact that their sin is their responsibility alone, and repent of their sins, (as we ourselves must repent,) but we also ought to give comfort to the hurting, reminding them that they need to give no accounting for the sins of their fathers, mothers, grandparents, or anyone else. There are Christians with parents who have committed terrible sins–murder, rape, adultery, etc–and there are preachers and teachers telling them, “You have to deal with those sins of your parents. Those sins are going to come down to you.” And so they heap all sorts of fear and guilt and sorrow on these children. But is not this teaching of this preachers and teachers contrary to what God has said through Ezekiel? How ought we to regard ourselves and others in light of what God has said through Ezekiel?

Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?” we ask. But God says, “The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.

So then, do not look behind you to the sins of your father, mother, grandfather, or grandmother. Do not look to either side to the sins of your brother, sister, neighbor, or friend. Look to yourself, and then look to God and repent.

Repent and live!

Ezekiel and The Warnings of Scripture

6th May 2007

I find it troubling how so much of present day Christianity finds so little use for the Old Testament, or, in using it, so mis-use it. Most would not verbally say that the Old Testament isn’t important, (though the more liberal a denomination the more likely you will hear something equivalent to that,) but even if you will never catch many Christians saying that, a lot of Christian living demonstrates a very similar attitude. A lot of Christians don’t bother to read the Old Testament much (if at all). They don’t care to study the Old Testament. The attitude is often something like, “The Old Testament is boring. It’s just a bunch of history. It isn’t relevant.”

Those are the people who find so little use for the Old Testament. Then there are those who mis-use the Old Testament, making it “relevant” by pulling forward the forms, types, and examples of the Old Testament. A prime example are those who try to bring forward Old Covenant Law and relationships. These people have a lot of mis-use for the Old Testament.

The attitudes and actions of both these groups of Christians reveals a deeper fundamental flaw in their Biblical understanding. If they had a proper understanding and grasp of what is taught in the New Testament then they would gain a proper appreciation and approach to the Old Testament. In handling the Old Testament, so many people seem to fail to adequately consider what is said in 1 Peter 1:10-12:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

Think about it. From Moses through Malachi, the Spirit of God the Father (and of Christ the Son) worked in these servants of God to record the things preserved in the Old Testament. There are a lot of people who will say the equivalent of “Praise the Lord for the inspired nature of the Old Testament,” and then effectively toss it over their shoulder and say, “But thank God for the New Testament which is so much more concise, applicable, and directed toward our present needs.”

Does this kind of attitude properly reflect the teaching of the New Testament regarding the Old Testament?

It says, concerning this salvation (ours!) the prophets spoke of the grace that was to come to you (us!). These prophets searched the Scriptures intently and with the greatest care but it was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you. Would we so cavalierly disregard that which was written specifically for us, and which even the angels long to look into? I think anyone who properly understands what is being taught here would be appalled to hear people say things like, “Let’s not study Isaiah–it’s not very relevant to our needs,” or “Let’s not do Ezekiel, it’s not very applicable,” or any such similar attitude. Yes, we all might admit that we don’t understand those things very well, but that is the very reason we ought to study them intently and with the greatest of care so we might understand the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.

We ought to remember that,

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom. 15:4)

And,

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” (1 Cor. 10:11)

Further,

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:14-17)

In considering the Old Testament we must not only remember who it is for (us), but also who it is about (Christ). Those who find so little use for the Old Testament fail to recognize that the Old Testament was written for us. And, those who mis-use the Old Testament fail to properly recognize what the Old Testament is about.

The entire Bible is a revelation of God, the written word of God. And Jesus is preeminently the perfect revelation of God (Col. 1:15-20, Heb. 1:3) and the Word of God (John 1:1,14). So, as we have just been reading in 1 Peter, the Bible is the revelation of Jesus Christ who is the revelation of God. The Bible speaks of who Christ is and what he will do. Anyone who fails to realize and apply the centrality of Christ to all Scripture will go astray to the degree that they fail to recognize this truth. To take anything apart from Christ is to, in the end and at its heart, set up some form of idol–to take that thing apart from how God intended. As Christ said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” (John 5:46).

It is not enough to say, as some say, that Christ fulfilled the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. No, it is far more than that. As Jesus declared, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” (Matt. 5:17) and “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms,” (Luke 24:44). Jesus didn’t come to fulfill just a small portion of the Old Testament, he didn’t come to fulfill most of it, he came to fulfill everything down to every last little word (Matt. 5:18). To divorce Jesus Christ from any part of the Old Testament is to become unhinged in your understanding and led astray in your interpretation of Biblical teaching.

I will say it again. Everything in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, speaks about who Christ is–his nature and his work. From the very act of creation, (and as a side note it is very interesting how writers in the New Testament tie who Christ is intimately with his activity in creation–see for example John 1:1-10, Col. 1:15-20, Heb. 1:2), to the first Adam who foreshadow the spiritual Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), and the sin and curse that look forward to our redemption–from line one in Genesis it is Christ all the way. We must admit that in this life we will never plumb the full depths of the revelation of Christ contained in Scripture, and in some places we may not see the revelation of Christ, but our failure to see fully now should not keep us from approaching Scripture rightly, and approaching all of it eagerly seeking the revelation of Christ in it and in us.

It is easy to fall into difficulties by trying to make all of Scripture reveal Christ from too narrow of an aspect. For example, trying to make everything speak just about Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Scripture does say a lot about that, but the work of Christ is more than his sacrifice on the cross. There is his sacrifice and his exaltation. There is his paying of the price, and his redeeming of his own. There is his first coming and his second coming. One could go on and on over the riches and vastness of the revelation of Christ, the point being that if you try to make all of Scripture fit with just a portion of Christ’s work and person, well, obviously you’re going to run into some problems. I have a great deal of trouble with this myself and often find that when I get stuck I need to take a step back and view the matter from a different (or wider) perspective. Often when I get in these holes I need someone else to get my mind out of the rut by offering that different perspective.

Today I want to touch on this just briefly. As I have said, Scripture is the revelation of Christ–who he is and what he has done/doing/will do. But, as I have also said, there are many, many, facets to this. For example, Scripture reveals who Christ is, but in that it also reveals who we are in Christ. Scripture reveals the work of Christ, but in that it also reveals what our work is in doing the work of Christ. Scripture reveals the suffering of Christ, but it also reveals what our suffering will be in filling up the sufferings of Christ (Rom. 8:17, 2 Cor. 1:5, Phil. 3:10, Col. 1:24, 1 Peter 4:13, 5:1). And, as Scripture speaks of the glories of Christ, so it also speaks of our partaking in that glory. Then, Scripture also speaks of our relationship to Christ and his work. That is, Scripture speaks of Christ coming to deliver and redeem his people, and we are those people. Also, Scripture speaks about Christ in relation to those who are hostile to him. In all this we are just beginning to see the depth and richness and manifold nature of what comes out in the revelation of Christ. Fundamentally, of course, it encompasses the totality of what we need as Christians for life and godliness. We have been called to be like our Master, and so the revelation of Christ guides us and reveals this to us in all Scripture (and that same revelation turns us from the example of hostility toward God revealed in Scripture).

Problems crop up when people either disregard this understanding of Scripture or reduce and distort it with very shallow and superficial application. On my mind in particular at the moment is how the Church as a whole and many Christians individually seem to fail in any application of the warnings in the examples in the Old Testament. It is almost as if many have a certain contempt for the abysmal record of ancient Israel. In the slick rendition of modern Christianity the thinking seems to go “Israel failed and fell into all sorts of heinous sins, but we’re Christians. We’re above that. Sure, we have little problems, we have things we could work on . . . but we’re nothing like that.” Thus the edge of all Old Testament Scripture is taken away. That was then, this is now.

Except Scripture has explicitly stated that the warnings and examples were for us. How easily Christianity discards those sober warnings and examples.

Most recently I was thinking of these things while reading Ezekiel, though it often comes to my mind while reading the prophets. I find the words of the prophets cut to the heart–not only in declaring the person and work of Christ, and not only in declaring the failures of the world at large. The words of the prophets through the ages cut to the heart of the failures of the people of God. Whether it be those who have called themselves the people of God and have turned away, or those who truly are the people of God but have stumbled and must be called to repentance, the words of God’s prophets are like a sword cutting through all the bramble of thoughts, actions, and pretensions. When I read the prophets I think of how their words apply so aptly to the visible church today–and what that means. And I try to examine myself in light of the words of the prophets.

Given the terrible, terrible, history of Israel’s “success” at living in holiness and obedience to God, I think most of professing Christianity would recoil at the thought of those words be applied to the church today. Today it is feel good Christianity where God is all love, and the Church is destined for blissful triumphant victory in this age. Professing Christianity at large has no place for the words of rebuke and judgment the prophets had for the people of God. And it is for that very reason that professing Christianity has sunk to the place where those very rebukes and judgments are needed and applicable. People have forgotten the words, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God” (1 Peter 4:17). And when that judgment comes many will be shaken and many will fall, for they did not take heed of the warning and example of Scripture.

I admit the book of Ezekiel is very difficult to understand. From the very beginning of the book where we find the revelation of God to Ezekiel, it is evident that there is a lot of symbolism. The writing is full of extensive symbolism, and while some instances and layers may seem fairly obvious, some do not, and at times it feels like you are standing in the shallow end of a pool and staring at a depths you wish you could plumb. I am left feeling that while I grasp some things in part, and catch a glimpse of others, and could give perhaps give an over-all theme for Ezekiel’s ministry, there still remains much I ponder.

In Scripture the many ways in which Christ is revealed are not kept simple and discrete. We don’t have one section about the sacrifice of Christ, another nice little section about the redemption worked by Christ, and so on. No, the teaching of Scripture is rich and complex, different elements woven together like a fine and beautiful tapestry . . . which means that while you may see one thing in a passage you may also see that there is a lot you haven’t grasped yet and Scripture remains a treasure house for ever more wisdom.

In the book of Ezekiel I am often left to meditate on and ponder the full depth and meaning of the symbolism given, and the relation of Ezekiel’s prophecies to the person and work of Christ. But, while I struggle with the revelatory and redemptive aspects of Ezekiel, an aspect that strikes me as much clearer (symbolism included) is the words of judgment Ezekiel directs against the outward people of God. The sins symbolized and spoken against by Ezekiel strike dead-on for the state of the outward people of God today. I could quote at length, chapters at a time from Ezekiel’s judgment of the idolatry and wickedness of Israel, and see it manifested today in the church at large, whether it be the Church’s prostitution with the nations of the world or how the Church is caught up with wealth and worldly things. But I will pick out just one piece that speaks to me so clearly and powerfully:

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: ‘Hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! Your prophets, O Israel, are like jackals among ruins. You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD. Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. They say, “The LORD declares,” when the LORD has not sent them; yet they expect their words to be fulfilled. Have you not seen false visions and uttered lying divinations when you say, “The LORD declares,” though I have not spoken?

” ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD.

” ‘Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”

” ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: In my wrath I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. I will tear down the wall you have covered with whitewash and will level it to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you will be destroyed in it; and you will know that I am the LORD. So I will spend my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, “The wall is gone and so are those who whitewashed it, those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her when there was no peace, declares the Sovereign LORD.” ‘

“Now, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who prophesy out of their own imagination. Prophesy against them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the women who sew magic charms on all their wrists and make veils of various lengths for their heads in order to ensnare people. Will you ensnare the lives of my people but preserve your own? You have profaned me among my people for a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread. By lying to my people, who listen to lies, you have killed those who should not have died and have spared those who should not live.

” ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against your magic charms with which you ensnare people like birds and I will tear them from your arms; I will set free the people that you ensnare like birds. I will tear off your veils and save my people from your hands, and they will no longer fall prey to your power. Then you will know that I am the LORD. Because you disheartened the righteous with your lies, when I had brought them no grief, and because you encouraged the wicked not to turn from their evil ways and so save their lives, therefore you will no longer see false visions or practice divination. I will save my people from your hands. And then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ” (Ezekiel 13:1-23 NIV)

One could do a lengthy study on that chapter alone, symbolism and all, but I will let it stand as it is for today. Quite a bit of the imagery is, at least on a superficial level, evident. We can all understand the imagery of white-washing a flimsy wall well enough.

This passage strikes so clearly and vividly at what I see going on in professing Christianity at large that it almost gives me the chills and a funny feeling in my stomach. Ezekiel is saying things that apply so clearly to this present age. Scripture is not dead and musty, a thing devoid of instruction and meaning. It speaks to us in this very age, to those who will listen.

And we must remember to not simply point the finger at others, true as the condemnation may be. The warning of Scripture is for us, too. We should examine ourselves also, to see if there are any idols in our hearts (Ezk. 14:3) or if we are engaging in spiritual prostitution by trusting in worldly things. We must not overlook the ways, big or small, in which we too have sinned and failed in these things in our own personal lives.

Wretched Tears

29th April 2007

Part 1: The Old Woman

Grandma has been feeling poorly for some time. Her symptoms are dry mouth, nausea, lack of appetite, and elevated blood pressure. Whether they are all the result of the same underlying problem, I don’t know. The Thursday before last she managed to convince herself that the cause of her symptoms was the medicated stent installed in a heart artery this February. Her fear was that she was having an allergic reaction and it would kill her. So it ended up that Grandma and I spent about eight hours in the emergency room while the doctors determined that she hadn’t had a heart attack (which wasn’t our concern anyhow).

We arrived at the emergency room with Grandma in a state of tears. She remained in emotional shambles for several hours afterward, but by the time we were discharged (with her underlying problem no closer to being solved) she had regained some control over herself. Over the next several days she determined to her satisfaction that her problem was a normal possible side effect of the medicated stent and while the symptoms were unpleasant it was not a sign of her imminent doom. She has settled into a routine of dealing with her ailment and life goes on.

But this story isn’t about Grandma’s trip to the emergency room. While we were there I witnessed something that has remained with me since, and that is what I wish to write about.

The emergency room is not a private place. As anyone who has been in one knows, they store two patients to a room, and the rooms are generally kept open to the larger activity area. The emergency room is the sort of place where everyone’s problems hang out. If you spend enough time there you will see and here things that you’d rather not.

Some time into our stay two paramedics wheeled in an old lady and deposited her in the adjacent bed. The curtain between the beds was partly pulled so we couldn’t really see her, but we could hear everything. Over the next hour or so, her story unfolded in bits of dialog overheard and pieced together.

The elderly lady was in a wretched state. She had been sent over to the emergency room from the nursing home because she “Just wasn’t acting herself,” as someone said. The old woman had trouble speaking for herself, and this seemed due at least in part to the fact that whenever she opened her mouth deep wracking sobs would come up, like one would expect from someone who had lost everything in life.

And in a way she had. As her story came out in broken bits she told the various doctors and nurses how she had been taken out of her home in Vestal and moved to a nursing home. She had been ripped away from everything she had known and held dear. She said she hated it there, it was awful, and she wanted to go home. She wanted to go anywhere but back to the nursing home. She wanted her son.

The other half of the story I inferred. She was diabetic, and though able to remember some facts, exhibited at least mild symptoms of dementia in that she couldn’t remember certain facts (such as her sons phone number). So, being no longer able to care for herself, and her son being unable or unwilling to tend for her himself, she was shipped off to a nursing home, where she now found life unbearable.

Such devastation and brokenness strike to the heart. It is the very thing witnessed at a funeral of family where the bereaved are left alone and without hope. It is a terrible thing to witness.

“Please, please,” the woman begged. “Don’t leave me. Don’t send me back. Please, I’ll go anywhere. Don’t send me back there. I’ll stay anywhere. I’ll stay here. Please, I don’t want to go back. I want to go home. Please, I want to see my son. My son, I want my son. Please, tell my son where I am. I need my son. Please . . .”

The doctor and nurses tended as duty required, some with more compassion than others, but for each it was a duty. “How are you feeling? Where does it hurt? Why are you crying? What is your son’s phone number? I will call him.” Each had come to do their duty, and when their duty was done they left. Some probably felt at least a little sorry for her, but it quickly became clear to each of them there was nothing they could do for her. The emergency room is where you stop up wounds of the body, not wounds of the soul. They could offer no real comfort, and no hope. After about an hour a psychologist, or some such person, showed up and wheeled her away. Likely the doctor would give her a few platitudes, empty words and shallow listening before she was shipped back off to the nursing home she had begged to be saved from.

A part of me says, “How can you blame the doctors and nurses?” What can they do? There is nothing they can do. But another part of me says, “How can they stand it? How can they do it?”

The hospital staff says, “Don’t cry. Awww, don’t cry. What can I do for you?” Or, “It’s all right to cry. I cry sometimes too. It’s all right.”

But who sat down and held her hand? Who stayed there and gave her a hug and held her while she was wracked with sobs? Who answered her cry and came to stand as her advocate? Who promised to save her and protect her?

No one, of course. Because in this world we don’t do that.

“My son, my son,” she cried. “I want my son.”

There was no son for her, but they all promised to call him if she could only remember the number.

The woman was a picture, and seen so clearly, what a horrible picture it was. The old woman and her plight are an embodiment of this present age.

What a selfish age we live in. Instead of selflessness, we have self-centeredness. Instead of love, we demonstrate self-concern. The woman’s state could move a heart, but no doubt she was also reaping what she had sown. In an age when we seek to have as few children as possible so that we can spend our time and money on our own desires and ends, we teach our children the same. And once we have taught our children to chase their own pleasures and success, is it any surprise when they leave us behind in that pursuit? When you’re old and frail your children have bills to pay and debts to manage. Husband and wife must work to afford that mansion, new car, and big boat. The grandchildren are off to school and college seeking the path of their own wealth and success, so who is left to take care of the ailing aged? So they ship Grandma off to the nursing home and the woman who sixty years ago chased her own wants and desires weeps as she lives with the fruit of her labors . . . she weeps because she has nothing.

Oh, no doubt this son loved his mother after a fashion. She had a nice carved and lacquered cane which he had made for her with his own hands. But how can a piece of dead wood fill the place of a son? One cannot lean on a beautiful thing like one can lean on a son. A stick is not there to succor and support like your flesh and blood should. The world would say the son had given every demonstration of love to his mother, not only a cane made with his own hands, but a nursing home provided in her old age when she could no longer tend herself. And no doubt this old lady had loved her son, after the same fashion, teaching him the path of material success. But a tree will be known by its fruit, and is this the fruit of love?

The world doesn’t know unconditional love. It doesn’t know the love of God.

Part 2: The Old Man

The condition of this old woman struck close to home. I saw her, and saw how close Grandpa was to this very same place. I think about what brought her to that place, and I think about the forces which push Grandpa in the same direction.

God shows mercy to all men, and to the degree He has compassion on the unregenerate there is a grimy dim reflection of the love of God in the hearts of fallen man. As such, this sinful race of men and women can speak of love. But, as I think, I see that in so much of the world what is motivating people is not love but guilt. This old lady’s son felt guilty because she wasn’t taking care of herself properly, so he put her in the nursing home so he wouldn’t feel guilty anymore. People want to put a good face on the motive for their actions, but when it is all stripped away they are doing something for another person so they won’t feel guilty, and once they’ve appeased their guilt the effort stops. It’s not doing the maximum for the person–it’s doing the minimum. It is the very antithesis of the gospel of grace and love in Christ Jesus. It isn’t “the love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14) but rather guilt that compels. It isn’t “let no debt remained except the debt of love” (Rom. 13:8) but rather there is the debt of guilt. It isn’t a motivation to love and serve as Christ loved and served us–it is the motivation to appease the taskmaster of guilt so we can get on with or own life. When the love of Christ motivates us, there is no bottom of the well from which we draw. There is no end, no limit, to our effort. But when guilt is what motivates us–when the laws of our own nature spurs us on–it only carries us so far, and then we’re done. We’ve fulfilled our obligations, we’ve justified ourselves and now convince ourselves that we are righteous in our own eyes.

The one who rests on the love of Christ will never be disappointed. The one who rests on the attitudes and emotions of man will always be disappointed.

Now, those who are in Christ and who have experienced the outpouring of His love in their lives are not home-free on this matter. In Scripture we are called, we are exhorted, we are commanded, to live out the love that has been shown us. But, as so much as we’ve not yet been perfected in the likeness of Christ we often fail in reaching that high goal and we must repent of the ways and attitudes in which we have demonstrated a self-centered and guilt motivated way of living. I think any of us who would examine ourselves honestly can see how often we have been motivated by self-centeredness and guilt and how that breeds all sort of bitterness, strife, envy, malice, anger, and every sort of sin in our daily life and relationships. But we who are in Christ are convicted of these failings, we confess and repent, and in Christ we are by faith equipped to live ever more fully as we have been called. Without Christ it is impossible. With Christ, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philp. 4:13).

God knows Grandma’s heart. It is to Him whom she must give account, and I can’t judge as to her spiritual state. But I do see what is demonstrated daily around me, and in that there is a great lack of unconditional Christ-like love.

It is a very sad thing to witness. Having grown up in a household where the love of Christ was constantly modeled by my parents, it is shocking to go out into the world and see something different, especially in the context of a marriage. I’m not talking about perfection or the lack thereof. In every relationship and in every marriage (even Christian ones!) there are faults and failures. What I’m speaking about is when it comes down to the bottom line, when push comes to shove, what is it? Is it you or me? When it comes to the end of the rope, will I give up everything for you? Will I give up my convenience, my comfort, my time, my health, my very life for you? Or is it when the squeeze time comes I’m going to look out for myself, and you’ll have to take what comes? It is in the crucible of testing that the thoughts and motives of our hearts are revealed.

Grandma certainly has a love for Grandpa, after a fashion. But if she has a love of Christ for Grandpa, she does a very poor job showing it. For years Grandpa cared for, provided for, and supported Grandma. Now that that shoe is on the other foot Grandma reveals a motivation that finds it root not in the deep love of Christ but in guilt. This is evidenced in various ways, but particularly in the pinch of the very difficult times.

If I wanted a first introduction it was the occasion when I moved down. For Grandma the crises was framed this way, “It is getting too hard for me to take care of Grandpa. It’s destroying my health. I either need help taking care of Grandpa, or he is going to a nursing home.”

I don’t dispute that Grandma needed help, and I don’t think it was wrong for her to have help. I don’t begrudge her help and I feel that it is my duty in Christ to help. But it was very telling how the issue was framed. It wasn’t, “I need help. Could someone help me? But if not, I will continue alone even if it kills me.” No, when push came to shove it would have been Grandpa who got the short end of the stick. And in her mind I’m sure it was very justified. Someone else can take care of Grandpa, I need to watch out for my health or I will die.

The manifestation of this attitude didn’t end there. After I came and started taking care of Grandpa, Grandma made the comment to me that, “There is no point in keeping him around after he can’t recognize people. After he can’t recognize me then he can go into a nursing home because it won’t matter.”

There. The line of guilt has been drawn. The amount of work required to absolve responsibility has been measured out. And perhaps the line was drawn there because at that point Grandma won’t see a look of accusation in Grandpa’s eyes when he is taken away. No doubt there is a certain logic to that reasoning, and if you think hard enough you can see it. Before the eyes of men it is quite reasonable. But to me it is an awful, awful, thing to say about the person you are married to. Who is to judge when someone in their heart of hearts can no longer recognize you? And how does that make your responsibility toward them end before God?

And, of course, with guilt as the motivating force in this equation the standard can be adjusted according to the needs of the occasion. When Grandma’s health was in jeopardy she could ship Grandpa off to the nursing home, no matter how cognizant he still was, and how much he didn’t want to go there. Sure, she would feel bad that Grandpa would be unhappy. No doubt she would even cry. But she would justify doing that over giving up her own life. Now how about if Grandpa’s condition deteriorates so that he is a great burden, and having him around just depresses Grandma? She doesn’t have to actually take care of him, but his condition is so wretched she can’t stand to look at him. What is to keep her from deciding that he really should go to a nursing home, even if he still recognizes her some of the time?

Once your standards are unhinged from the love of Christ they can float anywhere. Without the love of Christ motivating people in a relationship there is fundamentally no firm foundation to that relationship. Oh, that relationship might seem on solid ground in the good days, and it might seem good on the little bit uncomfortable days, but when the hammer comes crashing down any foundation other than the love of Christ is shattered to bits. I think a lot of people can sense (even if not articulate) when the love and foundation of their relationship is conditional instead of unconditional and springing from the power and promise of Christ. It manifests itself in unease and fear that comes to gnaws on their hearts in the darkest of nights.

Grandpa has expressed multiple times how his greatest fear is that of becoming too much of a burden and being sent to a nursing home. He doesn’t want to go to a nursing home. He would rather die than go to a nursing home. And why is this a concern? I think because he knows, either implicitly or explicitly, that when push comes to shove Grandma will put him into a nursing home. So, at the end of his life, instead of resting in the comfort and succor of his wife he goes to bed at night fearing (in his deepest heart) that he may soon become too much for his wife and he will find himself alone, stripped of all he had in life, to live out the last of his days among strangers. What a horrible thing, I think. What a terrible statement about a relationship. The world may think that is a proper way to dispose of the elderly, but I would be shamed if my father or Grandfather thought that of me. When Grandpa expressed his fear to me the first time I told him that it wouldn’t happen so long as I was there. And when he expresses concern that he is too much of a burden I tell him he isn’t too much of a burden for me. May God grant that I never think caring for someone in the love of Christ is too much of a burden.

So, I feel a titanic cross-current at work in this household. I have one standard, and Grandma has demonstrated a different standard. When do they irrevocably part? God has said, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). Some people prefer to go into nursing homes. I don’t understand it–I can’t fathom it–but some do. If one of my Grandparents requested that they be placed in a nursing home I would do it if God provided the funds and the person did not change their mind. I would do it to honor them as the one making decisions about their own person, but I believe that the best end-of-life care is provided at home by caring family. As my own decision, before God, I would feel compelled to care for a loved one at home as fulfilling the command of Scripture, and especially if that was requested. Grandpa has in effect made his dying request that he not be put into a nursing home and I cannot be a part of dishonoring his request, or disobeying God.

Grandma is Grandpa’s wife, so obviously final responsibility and authority doesn’t rest with me. But I couldn’t be party to sending Grandpa away, and I would certainly try to find him a home with family somewhere. In either case, if Grandma sent Grandpa away that would force me to leave as well. I hope it doesn’t come to that confrontation, but I am feeling strange new currents in my life that I’ve never felt before.

As for the old lady crying wretched tears in the emergency room, she will face the twilight of her life alone. “My son, my son,” she cries, and at the end of this age this generation will also cry out in sorrow for how they have spent what God has given.

Mixed Material

27th April 2007

My readership has surely noticed there has been a shift in the content of what I post. Writings like The Transfiguration and The Centrality of Christ and Aroma of Death don’t have much to do with caring for an Alzheimer patient. So what gives?

In the about page for Twilight I say, “I started this for a very particular purpose; to journal the time in my life caring for my ailing grandparents. It is about them, and about me. Here I track their decline, and also my thoughts and struggles.

Initially I wrote primarily about the details of Grandpa’s condition and caring for him, laying the emphasis of my writing on tracking their decline. I think chronicling this time period may prove useful for future reflection, and I still intend to track their declining health, but my thinking has evolved. At first, every experience was new to me and I spent a lot of time absorbing and thinking about what was happening. Naturally, my writing reflected what was on my mind. But, after a certain point, the nature of things have been considered and written down. Yes, Grandpa has bathroom accidents all the time. Yes there are many peculiar manifestations of Alzheimer’s. Yes, there are many poignant and sad moments. But I was beginning to have some criticisms of my own writing.

First, while every mess and sad moment we live through has meaning to us I felt writing about it was beginning to get repetitive. I wasn’t articulating any new thought, or bringing any current thought further along. The most I could see gaining in writing about the second time Grandpa makes a huge mess peeing all over the floor or some such event is because the writing is cathartic on some level. To write about it is to get it out and maybe see a little humor in less than pleasant events.

I believe that is an acceptable reason to write about something, but there were other considerations. In thinking about my own writing I felt it could be manifesting two less than commendable traits. In retelling certain stories I began to question if there were elements of boasting, as if in writing the story I implied “Look how good I am with what I have to live with,” or “Look how strong I am with how much I have to bear in my life,” when both of them are not true. The reality is that my troubles are no greater than the next person (as I pointed out in my piece To Be Like Mom) and I should never think otherwise. Further, I felt that in writing about some things if it didn’t appear that I was boasting it could seem that I was whining and complaining about stuff. I don’t hold that there should be any place for whining and complaining, and why risk giving that impression or leave open the temptation to indulge in that sort of attitude?

Second, I was beginning to feel writing about the trials and tribulations of caring for Grandpa was only encouraging a sense that it was consuming my life. To live it all day, and then write about it again in my every spare moment leaves no time for anything else. While in one sense it might be cathartic to write about what I was dealing with, it wasn’t helpful for keeping balance and perspective in my life.

Finally, I was starting to ask myself, “What do you really want to accomplish?”

If I have only a very limited amount of time, do I really want to spend it telling a litany of the latest daily crises? Yes, it is cathartic, but it that enough of a reason? Is retelling the daily incidents really how I want to socialize and express myself?

I decided it was time to move on. I will likely on occasion write about the slice-of-life, and I intend to continue to record the particular events which mark the decline of my Grandparents. But I’ve decided to close the book on making that my consuming focus. I’ve decided I’ve already pretty well delineated what Grandpa’s struggle, and life here, is like and at this point I’m only piling example upon example. Isn’t there something more cathartic? Isn’t there some way I can more profitable express myself? Instead of wallowing in, or dwelling on, the daily grind, is there some way I can strive forward and attempt to grasp at the things which are meaningful in my own life?

Perhaps I was partly spurred by a thought I had one morning several months ago during my time of prayer and Bible reading. At the time I was reading in 1 Peter and was struck by the richness and depth of what Peter was saying–how he was packing so much truth into so few words. I wanted to sit down and write about it–to expand out what I saw and develop the implications of everything he was teaching. But then I thought, “You don’t have the time to do that. You would have to spend hours working on that, and you don’t have the time to finish something like that. It’s impossible.”

Then I started to feel a little sorry for myself. I started to think that I since I had so little free time I wouldn’t be able to get anything done. I don’t consider my novel writing of paramount importance and in moving to take care of Grandma and Grandpa I had in (my own mind) sacrificed it. Not that I was “giving up” or “despairing” but before I went to take care of Grandma and Grandpa I took an honest assessment and said, “I might very well not be able to do any novel writing. I might not, and that is okay, because that isn’t most important.”

Somehow, it felt different with “spiritual” matters. The thought then was, “I have so little time I can’t even pursue any bible study or real spiritual grow.” Before coming to live with Grandma and Grandpa I had a whole list of biblical related ideas and and issues I wanted to pursue in writing (sometime), and now not only would I not be able to actually complete any of those, but I couldn’t do any others as well. I couldn’t follow through on any of that–I was stuck, I wouldn’t be growing in anything, or doing anything. My novel writing wasn’t of ultimate importance, but this seemed too unfair.

This idea and attitude was dead wrong, and I quickly recognized it as such. Since I had it pretty well settled in my mind that I didn’t have any right to complain about not getting novel writing done, Satan had decided to take a different approach. What better way to justify bitterness and complaining than to dress it up in a sheen of righteousness? Of course my novel writing isn’t really important, but growing in spiritual things is, and look at how I can’t even do that! My life is going to pot–except that line of reasoning is complete foolishness. The one who gives spiritual life and growth is God, it isn’t something we work by our own might, and it isn’t something limited by our lack of intelligence, much less our lack of time. If we are using our time as God has called us (and that is the big if, which too many people don’t consider) then by faith we believe He will bless us spiritually in accord with His power and goodness.

My consideration of the issue was completely wrong. It should never be “Woe is me, I don’t have enough time.” It should be, “Am I using what time I have as God wants me to?” If the answer to that question is yes, then I ought to believe that God will bless me with growth in the likeness of His Son, even if it is not by the method or means which would seem most natural to me.

That recognition pretty well demolished any justification I had for my complaining attitude. But it also got me started down another line of thought. “Okay,” I said to myself. “Granted, you can’t write the ultimate treatise on subject A, B, or C. It’s very true that you, at this time in your life, can’t write the things you want to write the way you want to write them. But maybe you need to change your perspective. Just because you can’t do exactly what you want that doesn’t mean you’re stuck at nothing.”

I had to admit that, while before coming to live with Grandma and Grandpa I had a list of biblical ideas and issues I wanted to pursue, my record of actually putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, wasn’t stellar. Basically, I only ever wrote biblically related stuff when someone else brought up an issue. And on those occasions I wasn’t writing about the “great” issues that I wanted to address but was instead writing some quick exposition directly to a particular issue that someone raised.

Even when I had all the time in the world I didn’t make time for all of those things which I wanted to write. I might think about them and work on them in my mind, but actually writing them always would come “later.” Part of it might be attributed to laziness or poor prioritization of time, but in thinking about it now I realized that probably the primary block to my biblical related writing is that I wanted what I wrote to be perfect. Not that I would think about it in terms of “perfect” but the standard I set came out to the same thing. I would think about how I would bring all the thoughts together in the ultimate opus . . . and then it would come to seem like such a massive undertaking that finding time and motivation for such an effort (and facing the fear of not living up to my expectations) was a great inhibitor to any writing.

Rather than blaming all my lack of accomplishment on lack of time, maybe it was time to examine how much of the problem was in me, and how much I needed to change. Yes, grand theological treatise have their place. Yes, concisely argue theological points are good. But what about more humble expressions? Instead of undertaking something that would take weeks or months to complete, what about something you wrote in an evening, or a little more time? So what if it wasn’t of quality sufficient to show it to the entire world . . . did that make it worthless? So what if it didn’t solve the great problems of Christian life? So what if it was the equivalent of a theological burp, coming from nowhere and going nowhere in particular? Did that make it of no profit?

Instead of working on writing something I could be “proud” of or which reached my “standards” maybe I should just write out what was meaningful to me, in what little time I had. It would be less than perfect, but it would be an effort to express my thoughts, and speak about what was important and meaningful to me.

And so that is what I’ve begun to do. Instead of complaining to God about not being able to approach things how I want to, I’ve decide to write about what has meaning to me as my present situation allows. God is certainly Lord over my situation and perhaps the lesson is to stop idolizing my ideal of theological writing and simply write. If God wills it, perhaps in five years I will be able to write the rigorous exposition that I dream, or perhaps that isn’t my place.

This doesn’t mean Twilight is slated to become a running exposition of Scripture. What all of this does mean is that I intend to refocus Twilight. Yes, there will be some writing about Grandma and Grandpa, there will be exposition of Scripture, and there will be reflection on the personal thoughts and struggles in my life. I have already found it to be more meaningful, enjoyable, and cathartic than a litany of the latest daily troubles which are really of no lasting importance.

Another Milestone

25th April 2007

The need for a cane, the need to wear diapers, the lack of ability to sign his own name . . . each milestone is marked as another march down the the one-way road. Today we marked another milestone. Today Grandpa pooped his pants.

Previously all his troubled has been with urinating . . . getting to the bathroom in time and getting his pee in the proper location. On the occasion of Grandpa’s accident today he didn’t have diarrhea–it was quite firm as usual (he almost never his a loose bowel movement. Since his defecation was as firm as usual I know it wasn’t just an issue of “I moved as fast as I could but didn’t make it.” No, this was the result of some type of confusion, a marker of how Grandpa’s confusion is increasing.

Since Grandpa didn’t explain I don’t know exactly how he ended up as he did. I don’t know if he was sitting on the couch and just had to go and it either didn’t occur to him that he needed to go into the bathroom before he let loose, or else he could have thought he was in the bathroom. Or, equally possible, he could have gone into the bathroom and pulled down his pants but failed to pull down his diaper and so sat on the toilet with the diaper still on and loaded the diaper. I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter because in each case it still comes back to the fact that Grandpa couldn’t sort himself out enough to poop properly.

This doesn’t mean that he’ll poop in his diaper every time for now on. In fact, I expect he won’t do it again for awhile, and the problem will only slowly grow increasingly more regular until eventually not only will he not know when he has to go to the bathroom (poop or pee) but he won’t even know when he is wearing a soiled diaper. He is already shown himself mostly unable to tell if his diaper is wet. Whether it is because he wets himself while he is asleep at night, or from accidents trying to use the toilet at night, more often than not Grandpa’s diaper is dirty by morning. But he is never cognizant of this fact and when questioned will say his diaper doesn’t need changing (and not because he is trying to be deceptive because he will ask for a fresh diaper if in his opinion it needs changing). To avoid confrontation over whether his diaper is wet or not I try to wait for morning bathroom trip where I can more smoothly take his old diaper and give him a new one without having a confrontation where he says, “It isn’t dirty” and I say “It is to dirty.”

Generally Grandpa still takes enough trips to the bathroom that I can scope out his diaper relatively unobtrusively to see if it is clean. As he becomes less cognizant of bathroom needs his trip to the bathroom will decrease (and I think I’ve already noticed this during the night) and this will force me to be more . . . I guess we might say confrontational about his sanitary needs. I’m not sure how I’m going to introduce the idea of me wiping his behind. So far I’ve continued to let it slide, even though I’m pretty confident his often doesn’t do a sufficient job himself. My reasoning is that for thousands of years humanity hasn’t had proper toilet paper and either didn’t wipe well, or didn’t wipe at all, so I’m not going to get all over his case if he’s no longer living up to American standards. But obviously if he is going to start pooping in his diaper and getting it all over his backside he’ll have to be cleaned up properly. Now, that probably won’t be necessary for months, and maybe not for a year or more, and maybe by that time Grandpa will be so out of it that he won’t care. But I suspect it won’t be quite that easy. Grandpa still has a large amount of tension in his life over his modesty. I have to help him with his diapers most of the time. Most of the time now it has become so routine that I don’t think Grandpa really considers what is going on, but occasionally it is as if he remembers and he’ll try to pull down his t-shirt for modesty while I’m helping. And then today when Grandma was trying to help him use the bathroom I came up the stairs and Grandpa said to Grandma, “Quick! Somebody is coming! Close the door!”

So, Grandpa continues to have sensitivities about his modesty, and having your butt cleaned by someone else is an even greater invasion of personal space so I suspect he’s not going to be thrilled (at the very least) when I must take complete charge of his sanitary needs.

Fortunately, for me, having taken part in the diaper changing for seven of my younger siblings being very close and personal with someone else’s poop is an issue I’ve already had to face and deal with. It doesn’t make it pleasant, but at least I’ve already had the baptism of fire as far as it is concerned, and I know all the coping mechanisms. So I took it in stride when I asked Grandpa today (through the bathroom door) if he need any help and he said, “No, I don’t think so. But you can come on in,” and when I did I saw a scene that very much needed my assistance. It was a very good thing that I came in to check on him because if Grandma had laid her eyes on that sight she would have flipped out.

It was right after lunch and I had noticed when I helped Grandpa to the table for lunch I had noticed was seemed to be an odor of poop around him. I took note of it to be investigated the next time he was in the bathroom, so I was very surprised on entering the bathroom to see dark poop streaks on the inside of his diaper. Grandpa was standing there with the diaper around his knees trying to “clean up” and my first thought was that perhaps he had wiped his backside and then decided his diaper need a scrubbing as well and so had scrubbed his diaper with the already fouled paper.

Somewhere in the process of moving to intervene I noticed the turd sitting on the sink counter. Grandpa doesn’t believe in throwing anything into the toilet so when he pulled down his diaper and saw the poop there he decided to fix the problem by taking some toilet paper, roughly scooping it out of his diaper, and depositing the crudely wrapped bundle on the counter his next step was to attempt to scrub his diaper clean. He generally leaves the bathroom with whatever toilet paper he has used to clean things (both those which actually needed cleaning, and many things that didn’t) and tries to find a garbage can to deposit them into. Which is why I’m so glad I came into the bathroom instead of having Grandpa come out to the kitchen with turd in hand and ask Grandma (who was still eating lunch) where he should put it. That would have likely produced a cataclysmic reaction.

As it was, I had the opportunity to handle this in a calmer fashion. “Okay,” I said, taking stock of the situation. “It looks like you need a new diaper.”

“It isn’t that dirty,” Grandpa said, examining his diaper.

“No, I’ll get you a new one.”

I went to the bedroom and brought back a fresh diaper and then helped him out of the one he had one. In the process of the change over another small bit of poop fell out of the diaper onto the floor and Grandpa proceed to clean it up with some toilet paper. He then looked uncertain of what to do with the dirty toilet paper, and fearing he was about to mush it up in a tight ball in his hand I prompted, “Through it into the toilet. Through that into the toilet.”

Grandpa seemed doubtful, but complied. Fearing what he might decide to do with the turd on the counter I quickly picked it up and chucked it into the toilet as well. With all the foul stuff pretty well taken care of at that point, dressing went without trouble. I left Grandpa to wash his hands (and his face, and comb his hair) and went to finish my lunch.

The Imagery of Language

21st April 2007

I’ve come to realize that one of my weakness in caring for people is that I have a hard time just being there. If anything needs to be done, or anything needs to be fetched, fixed, or accomplished, I’m ready and willing. But taking care of someone encompasses more than that. Sometimes you just need to be there . . . to sit and do nothing and simply keep the person company. To attend to there person as it were, instead of to their needs. I’m always lining things up in my head to do . . . I’d willing stop and talk or listen to someone if they said, “Hey, I’d like to talk to you,” but it rarely occurs to me to sit around with someone doing nothing and just being there.

I think Grandpa appreciates that. About the only way he can get a thought out it to simply let it pop out when it bubbles up . . . he can’t engage in the more formal communication so he spends most of the day probably feeling a little isolated because no one is just sitting beside him, waiting to answer any question and interpret any event he doesn’t quite understand. It’s hard for me to take stock of this because whenever Grandpa isn’t in need of help for his physical needs I want to run off and get something done that I want to accomplish. But he does want to have someone to listen to him.

Grandpa seemed in a more social mood than usual today. This afternoon he said, “Why don’t you come out front with me.” Usually it is me who suggests going out and often as not Grandpa will decline. But today he suggested we go out, so we went out front where the full afternoon sun was shining. We sat on the front stoop and watched the world and the cars go by. We sat there for 15-20 minutes making small conversation. Then we went inside.

It is at brief times like those that Grandpa can almost seem normal. He talked about how he would never want to ride on a motorcycle and contend with the cars and how his depth perception was bad so he couldn’t tell how low down things were. I asked him if the tall pine tree in the front yard was older than him and he said no, Grandma’s son Paul had planted it (not sure whose Grandma he was referring too, but he didn’t mean my Grandma because she doesn’t have a son named Paul).

After supper tonight Grandpa wanted to talk again. The conversation this time was the complete reverse of the normal conversation we had engaged in during the afternoon. I was sitting keeping him company while he was drinking he coffee and I guess some type of problem came to his mind because he set down his coffee, made an attempt to straighten out the shredded tissue on his place mat and then pointed at the cloth and said, “How do we get this thing working?”

“It’s a place mat, Grandpa.”

“Okay, it’s a place mat. But how do we get things to . . . to . . . line up. Say we have one thing here and another thing here and we want to . . .” he points at different spots on the place mat as he describes but he eventually trails off, probably having not known where he was going with his thought to begin with, and now realizing he can’t reach a conclusion.

But something is bothering him (even if it is just the sensation that something might not be right,) and he tries several more times to articulate some idea about getting things to work continuing to use his place mat as a demonstration peice that does nothing to clarify the muddle for me.

“I’m sorry, Grandpa,” I said. “But you haven’t got it quite far enough along for me to guess.”

“Yeah, I haven’t got it quite far along enough for me to even understand either,” he said.

So we sat in silence a little longer.

After a bit Grandpa smoothed out his place mat again and said, “Okay, I’ll try again. So,” he puts his finger on one spot on the place mat. “Let’s say we have ca . . . ca . . . ca . . . coyotes. Yeah. Okay, coyotes. So they go over this way,” he moves his finger across the place mat to another location. “And they check out this place over here and find that it isn’t commodious. So they say, ‘yeah, okay, whatever,’ and then they go over here to the ca . . . ca . . . caaannnn . . . canvas. So they go to this canvas and they’re laughing at them, but even so they’re trying to help as much as they can and then they go over here . . .” Grandpa moves his finger yet again tracing the continuing route of the coyotes then looks up at me and trials off.

“Anyway, getting back to the main point . . .” he fumbles around with the stuff on the table, separating out the nearby silverware.

“So,” he picks up a knife and draws an imaginary box around the head of a spoon. “So you have a block there and it is a good one and you can use it,” he says.

I’m not making any headway. I know that the story about the coyotes was only language imagery, trying to convey a thought indirectly that he can’t grasp directly. He keeps grasping at words, saying some only to immediately throw them aside, shuffling words and stuttering in-between his short parabolic utterances. Multiple times he gives up only to make another attempt a little bit later. At one point he says, “Ahhh, I can’t describe it.”

“Would you like a pencil and piece of paper to draw it,” I ask.

“No, I guess not,” Grandpa said. “I can’t draw very well, and in any case half the time I don’t understand what I just drew anyhow.” He laughed. “If you know what I mean.”

From everything he said I knew he was concerned about something, something getting accomplished or done, but beyond that I found no touching place with reality. In reflection I see he kept getting stuck on the “Ca” sound, whether that is just his stuttering sound or there was some word he gasped for but didn’t find, I don’t know, but it was the cayotes, the cammodious place, and the canvas.

After another lapse into frustrated silence he spoke up again and said, “So, what do you think? What do you think about anything?”

So I talked a bit about the whether and how spring had finally come, and next week was going to be nice.

Some more silence, then Grandpa spoke up again, seeming to have returned to whatever thought he was restling with. “Is there any law about . . . if you have some problem and you need to go to a doctor . . .” he couldn’t finish the thought, but this time he was hitting close enough to reality that I could make some educated guesses.

“And the emergency room,” I supplied.

“Yeah, the emergency room. And if . . . and if you have the doctor and . . .” but he couldn’t get any further along in the thought and at that moment had to go to the bathroom so he got up from the table, saying, “I’ll be back.”

But that was the end of the conversation. I don’t know if there was a fixed event or question behind Grandpa’s desperate attempt at communication. He may has simply felt ill at ease and wanted to make sure everything was being properly handled. Or, perhaps, his thoughts had drifted back to Grandpa’s recent trip to the emergency room and was trying to articulate some concern about handling the insurance. In the story about the coyotes there was definitely a lot about getting things done and handle right, and then there was the laws and the emergency room.

In any case, it is another example of Grandpa trying to communicate. A stranger would think our interaction was madness, but Grandpa knew his story about the coyotes wasn’t literally true. He was trying to use analogy and example to get at something he couldn’t articulate in a direct manner. Unfortunately, it wasn’t successful.

The Transfiguration and The Centrality of Christ

14th April 2007

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For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form
(Col. 2:9)

And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ
(Eph. 1:9-10)

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In our Sunday Bible study we have been going through the gospel of Mark. Last Sunday we reached chapter nine, which contains an account of the transfiguration. The passage contains much for our teaching and instruction on many different levels, and other people made some very good points coming at it from several different perspectives. I don’t intend to cover all of that, or in any way be exhaustive. I’m simply going to put down (very briefly) a few thoughts on what I see as the central teaching of the account of the transfiguration.

The transfiguration reveals who Christ is and what that means. The whole occasion culminates when God the Father says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7). The entire account enriches our understanding of what that means–what is the person and work of the Son, and what it means to listen to him. At its heart the transfiguration is about the centrality and supremacy of Christ (and by extension, his work).

Christ is revealed as one “greater than Moses” (Heb. 3:3) in the very act of his transfiguration. In Mark we read, “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mark 9:3, NIV). This is in direct contrast to Moses who “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD” (Exodus 34:29). The face, and only the face, of Moses was radiant with a reflected glory from the Lord, which was fading away (2 Cor. 3:3). Jesus, by contrast, was transfigured in complete radiance. This was no reflected glory shining from his face, but rather a revelation of glory hidden and now revealed–his radiant glory, the Son who “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3). This was not a glory fading away, but a glory soon to be revealed in the heavenly realms with the completion of Christ sacrifice and ascension. Christ is manifested in that glory in heaven (Rev. 1:13-18) and soon to be revealed in his second coming and forever in the new creation.

The contrast here shows the indescribable difference between Moses and the one now manifested in this transfiguration. Moses reflected glory, Jesus is the source of that glory!

The supremacy and centrality of Christ is again revealed by the presence of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration. Moses and Elijah–those one might call the two great pillars of the old covenantal relationship. How easy it is to think that with Moses, Elijah, and Jesus we have the great triumvirate. That seems to be the essence of what Peter was getting at with his offer to build three shelters (Mark 9:5). With Moses, Elijah, and Jesus we have the three parts that make the whole revelation of God. We have the Law, the Prophets, and the Messiah. If only we could sit up on the mountain and listen to these three teachers. But God resoundly rebukes the mentality that the Law, Prophets, and Jesus are all part of one larger revelation of God. “This is my Son” He thunders. “Listen to Him!” All thought of Moses and Elijah as two equal parts in some “triumvirate” is completely done away with. Moses and Elijah fade away before the Son. They are not equal to the Son, and in fact their work pointed to the Son as the one to whom everyone should listen.

People even today fail to grasp the full implications of what is going on here. God isn’t just suggesting that people ought to listen to Jesus in addition to these two other men, or even as the first among three. There is a certain mentality that thinks if we could have Moses and Elijah around that would be just great–but that fails to fully appreciate the reality of Christ. Moses and Elijah, servants of God, are far less than the Son of God, and to look for the presence of Moses and Elijah is a failure to grasp the greater offering of God–His Son. Christ is not an addition which we listen to as an addendum to the Law and the Prophets. He supersedes and fulfills all that came before. Even if people do not in their thoughts and actual words desire the persons of Moses and Elijah to teach them (and so depreciate the surpassing sufficiency of Christ and His Spirit) they do the same by seeking to live by the partial revelation contained in the Old Testament or by making the Old Testament somehow equivalent to Jesus Christ in various ways–whether it be trying to live by the commandments of the old covenant or some other particular manifestation. People who live in such a manner have failed to grasp the full meaning of God’s command “Listen to my Son!”

As Moses himself said,

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. (Deut. 18:15-19)

As I have already implied, we have the work of Christ also revealed in the transfiguration. Christ is the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets, and the two great figures of the Old Testament economy come here as witnesses. That fulfillment is found in Christ’s death and resurrection, as Jesus himself teaches on this occasion (Mark 9:9-13) and as Moses and Elijah speak about themselves now (see Luke 9:30-31, “Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem“), hundreds of years after they walked the earth in their mortal bodies. They come here, talking with the one who is going to fulfill all that they spoke about.

Christ fulfills all Scripture, and I think the result of that is seen even in the persons of Elijah and Moses. That is, not only did the words of Moses and Elijah in their earthly ministries look forward to the work of Christ, but also the works of Moses and Elijah look forward to the work of Christ. Moses brought out the newly formed nation of Israel from Egypt, and Elijah called back a wayward and rebelling Israel, and called out the holy remnant from that depraved generation. So Christ in his work on the cross was about to call out the holy remnant from rebellious and sinful Israel and form a new spiritual people of God from the Egypt of captivity to sin. Jesus is about to do what Moses and Elijah did, only he is going to do their works infinitely better. He is the fulfillment of what Moses and Elijah looked forward to, not only in word but also in their deeds.

In the transfiguration we see who Christ is: the Son of God, the revelation of God, the fulfillment of all Scripture, the all in all (Col. 3:11). And in the transfiguration we see what Christ will do: in fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets he will be crucified and on the third day rise, drawing people from all nations unto himself. But, having now seen how the transfiguration reveals who Christ is and what he will do, I’d like to return to the question of, “What does it mean to listen to him?”

To truly hear is to obey. In the transfiguration God has called us to hear and obey Christ. If we see Christ crucified as the Son of God and yet still fail to truly listen it is to no effect. We must leave behind the “weak and miserable principles” (Gal. 4:9) and that which is “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13) and cling fast to Christ. Moses went up on a mountain and received the two tablets. The disciples went up on a mountain and were presented (though they did not know it at the time) Christ crucified and arisen, a new and living way (Heb. 10:20), founded on better promises (Heb. 8:6). This is our covenant, not written on stone but on our hearts, a glory that is not fading away. To truly hear Christ is to believe in him.

Understanding that Christ is the revelation of God, and the fulfillment of all Scripture, enlightens our eyes to a right understanding and view of Moses, Elijah, their words and actions, and those of all the servants of God throughout Scripture. Seeing Christ, we look at all of these things anew, and relate to them anew in Christ.

I have written here only briefly, and one could study the transfiguration and its implications throughout scripture in depth to great profit. In this brief moment Moses and Elijah stood witness as Christ Jesus was transformed in all his glory and God the Father came down and said, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him!” It is staggering in its implications, and its effects reverberate throughout Scripture. I could go on and on, if I had the time and the wisdom. I could start with John 1:14, or 2 Peter 1:16-20 (which is so rich in its implications), but I will close with this,

You show that you are a letter from Christ [. . .] written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:3-18, NIV)

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Perhaps I will find time to go back over this piece later, but for now I must let it go and hope there aren’t too many errors.

The 36-Hour Day

12th April 2007

I first saw the book The 36-Hour Day when my Dad first borrowed it from the library, probably about a year ago. It labels itself as “A family guide to caring for persons with Alzheimer Disease, related dementing illnesses, and memory loss in later life.” At the time I had flipped through the book, skimmed various parts, felt I ought to read it, and in the end didn’t make time. The book again cropped up in my life when after I took Grandpa to the doctor’s the last time a nurse called afterward and suggested the book. I didn’t want to offend her so I agreed to check it out of the library, and figured I might make the time to read the book now that I was in the middle of dealing with Alzheimer’s.

I did take another look at the book but after a short glance I decided I wasn’t going to read the book. It is a good book to familiarize someone with Alzheimer’s and I would recommend that any of my readers interested in a more systematic and through detailing of the effects and issues surrounding the disease and care should read the book. I would say the book is of particular use to those who will not be directly involved in the care and need an understanding of what is going on.

If you are the one actually providing the care the value of the book will vary depending on your personality. Myself, after having cared for Grandpa now for over six months I look at the book and find nothing helpful. Having lived intimately with the disease for six months, everything in the book only says what I can already see, only tells me what I already know. After six months it all reads to me like shallow superficial obvious points. Some of what they say I already see in Grandpa, some of it I know doesn’t apply to Grandpa, and I already know where his problems are leading. Flipping through the book, I could see it would add nothing to my knowledge.

But not everyone is like me. When I brought the book home from the library Grandma read portions of the book and found them enlightening. So I guess if you have a hard time understanding why an Alzheimer patient acts as they do the book might help. Ironically, I see Grandma doing some of the very things The 36-Hour Day tells the care providers to not do. And Grandma still has a hard time understanding and accepting many of the things Grandpa does. She seemed surprised to learn some things from the book (things I thought were obvious) and she still can’t stand it when Grandpa moves around the kitchen chairs, carries around the couch cushions, and messes with the magazines.

So the book will give an observer a better understanding, and will help some caregivers, but not everyone.

Nearly Unmitigated Disaster

9th April 2007

2:00 AM I wake up. Grandpa is sitting on the edge of his bed, fussing. Usually this is an indication that shortly he is going to get up and go use the bathroom. I realized I need to use the bathroom myself, and if he was going to sit on the edge of his bed fussing I’d go and come back and save myself the effort of waiting on him.

Cold urine greets my foot on the floor.

Oh, no. Not again.

Another step. Another cold wet step.

Is there any place on this floor that is dry?

I quickly fumble the light on, and see the disaster that awaits me.

My worst fear has occurred, in that it appears I didn’t wake up when Grandpa needed me most. The evidence says that Grandpa had to go to the bathroom and when he got out of bed he went to the closet door instead of the bedroom door. He has done that plenty of times before, and I’ve always woken up and directed him to the right door. Tonight, too tired, sleeping too deeply, or for whatever reason, I didn’t wake up and Grandpa was left to his own devices. Finding no hallway and bathroom on the other side of his chosen door Grandpa probably tried to fumble his way to some “solution” only to end up having to go to the bathroom now.

It could have been worse, but on first seeing the disaster it was hard to remember that. The majority of the pee had formed a large lake on the linoleum, saving me from an even larger disaster. But some of the pee had made it beyond to the uncovered carpet in front of the closet door and at the foot of my bed. My bibles and notepaper which I had set on the floor at the foot of my bed after coming home Sunday night were only lightly sprinkled.

It could have been worse if (a) Grandpa had managed to get out of the bedroom and had fallen down the stairs, breaking several bones, or (b) instead of somehow getting most of his pee on the linoleum he had aimed himself at my collection of books stacked along the wall and instead of only lightly sprinkling my bibles had completely soaked all of my writing books, theology books, and fiction books. The first possibility would have been very bad for Grandpa. The second would have been very bad for me. I don’t care very much what clothing of mine Grandpa soils because clothes can be washed. Not so my books. So I looked at the lightly moistened bible covers, and dampened notepaper and saw how close I came to a much worse disaster.

So I cleaned up. The lake of pee on the linoleum required quite a bit of paper towels, but not much effort. The soaked section of carpet may have not required so many paper towels, but a lot more effort to press the carpet dry. Grandpa sat on the edge of his bed and watched. “Boy, that’s quite a mess,” he said.

I held my peace.

After I got Grandpa back to bed I lay in the darkness, thinking. I had been foolish to think I could keep my books stacked in the corner. I had to look at the room and assume everything within reach would get soaked in urine. The books, I decided, would have to go on the top shelf in the closet.

And then I lay awake much longer, thinking about Grandpa’s deteriorating condition. How much longer before Grandpa isn’t able to walk? Six months? We’ll have to get a wheelchair. Where will we get a wheelchair from? Maybe Doug has one. I’ll have to ask him. Should I call him up or wait until the next time he comes over? Once Grandpa has to be pushed around in a wheel chair he won’t be able to sit in his normal spot at the table. He’ll have to sit at the far side of the table, and we’ll have to move one of the easy chairs out of the living room so their is space to wheel him around to the other kitchen entrance . . .

Eventually I went back to sleep.

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Other little markers of daily life:

–A few days ago I was sitting in the kitchen working on supper and Grandpa stood in the entrance-way, looking at me. Grandma came by and Grandpa said to her, “I can’t tell them apart.”

“What?” Grandma said.

“I can’t tell the boys apart,” he said. “I don’t know which one that is,” he said, looking at me.

“Oh,” Grandma said. “Well . . . just call him ‘Hey You.’ That should work.”

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Saturday was a bad bathroom day for Grandpa. It seemed like every time he went to the bathroom he ended up getting another pair of pants wet. That evening, after taking care of another pair of wet pants I asked him if he had got his diaper wet as well. Grandpa, pant-less, looked down at the diaper he was wearing and proceeded to feel the outside.

“No,” I said. “Is the inside wet?”

So Grandpa felt the inside of his diaper. “I don’t know,” he said. Then he held open the front of his diaper. “Why don’t you check?”

I did, but he was promptly embarrassed, realizing the nature of his own request.

Grandpa tries so hard, but his awareness and decision making abilities are slipping away.

Aroma of Death

7th April 2007

(Note: The thought here is related to that of my earlier piece “You Must Die!” This is just a further meditation that could be tacked onto that.)

Toward the end of the book of Jeremiah we read how everything that Jeremiah had said concerning Judah and Jerusalem came to pass. The king of Babylon came and destroyed the temple, Jerusalem, and Judah. He left only a small number of the very poorest in the land. After the king of Babylon departed Ishmael son of Nethaniah killed Gedaliah son of Ahikam whom the king of Babylon had left as governor of the land. The remaining leaders in Judah pursued the murderer Ishmael and he fled to the Ammonities.

We read:

Then Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers who were with him led away all the survivors from Mizpah whom he had recovered from Ishmael son of Nethaniah after he had assassinated Gedaliah son of Ahikam: the soldiers, women, children and court officials he had brought from Gibeon. And they went on, stopping at Geruth Kimham near Bethlehem on their way to Egypt to escape the Babylonians. They were afraid of them because Ishmael son of Nethaniah had killed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land.

Then all the army officers, including Johanan son of Kareah and Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest approached Jeremiah the prophet and said to him, “Please hear our petition and pray to the Lord your God for this entire remnant. For as you now see, though we were once many, now only a few are left. Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.” (Jeremiah 41:16-42:3)

The people promise with an oath to do whatever Jeremiah says, whether favorable or unfavorable (Jer. 42:6). So Jeremiah brings back the word from the Lord that they must not go down to Egypt but stay in the land of Israel and God promises that the king of Babylon will treat them favorably.

This is a favorable message from the Lord. He is telling the poor bedraggled group of survivors that they don’t have to flee down to Egypt. He is telling them they may stay in the Promised Land and be blessed, if only they trust Him and believe God when He says they have nothing to fear from the king of Babylon.

So, it is a favorable message, and who is bringing it? Jeremiah, who through his life and actions has been demonstrated as a faithful and holy servant of the Lord. Not only has his own life and character commended him, but his past prophecies have been proved true to the people of Judah so recently and dramatically before their very eyes.

And what is the people’s response to this favorable message from this highly accredited prophet of the Lord?

When Jeremiah finished telling the people all the words of the Lord their God–everything the Lord had sent him to tell them–Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to settle there.’ But Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Babylonians, so they may kill us or carry us into exile to Babylon.” (Jeremiah 43:1-3)

Somehow, it seems all the more stupid and rebellious to say such a thing after all that has happened to the people. After all that has happened, we might say, “Doesn’t common sense dictate that you listen to the guy?”

But they were afraid, and the common sense of fleshly man very much dictated that you didn’t listen to such lunacy.

There are a lot of observations one could make from this occasion, but my thoughts go to this: To the people of Judah Jeremiah and his words were the stench of death.

To understand what I mean we have to go to what Paul says in the New Testament when he writes,

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ. (2 Cor. 2:14-17, NKJV)

Paul is using some very interesting imagery here to convey his thought. He uses the imagery of triumphal procession and the imagery of smelling (aroma, fragrance). He uses both of these to show how radically faith transforms how we receive the truth. The triumphal procession Paul brings to the mind of his readers is the triumphal processions of the Romans after great military victories. In these processions the victors marched along to great acclimation . . . and with them marched the captured prisoners, doomed to death. Everyone sees the procession, but what do they see? Those with eyes of faith see Christians in a triumphal procession in Christ to victory at the end of this age. The world looks at us and sees all the suffering and death we face and they see a procession of Christian prisoners doomed to die for a failed cause.

Then Paul continues this thought with the idea of fragrance. We all know that some people like the smell of certain things while other people find the same smell repulsive. And so we are the fragrance of Christ in this world, and to those who are being saved we are the fragrance of life, and to those who are perishing we are the fragrance of death. To the former we are the fragrance of life leading them to life eternal, to the latter our aroma (witness) speaks to them only of death, and so they continue ever onward into their death as they reject the witness of Christ in us.

So the edge of faith divides us. To those with eyes of faith they see life in us, to those without faith they only see a procession of prisoners led to death. They only smell the stench of death in us. They see us and they can only think, “If I go that way I will die the death of a fool.”

That is what the people of Judah were demonstrating in their reaction to Jeremiah. They were demonstrating the hardness of their hearts in that they could only see death in Jeremiah’s words. It required faith to believe the wonderful news of Jeremiah, and they had no faith.

It is interesting to consider the imagery of this occasion, and what it says for even us. The king of Babylon was the vessel and expression of God’s wrath. The people saw the wrath of God and they were afraid. They had two choices. They could believe God who said, “Believe me. Stay in my Promised Land and I will protect you from my wrath.” Or else the people could go down to the “Egypt” of depending on their own works and ability for their salvation from God’s wrath.

The promise of God that they would be saved if they believed and obeyed Him didn’t look very reasonable or wise to the eyes of men. To them it looked like the sure way of putting yourself ever closer to, and in the direct path of, the wrath of the king of Babylon–who had a very good reason to be furious. In the same manner we look about and see God has every reason to pour out His wrath on us. Recognizing this, we can either attempt to take refuge in our own works of attempted salvation, or we can believe God when He says, “I am with you and will save you and deliver you” (Jeremiah 42:11).

But that belief requires the eyes and heart of faith, because to fleshly sinful man all they see is the king of Babylon coming, sure to punish them–that is, a procession of death, and the stench of death.

Now, on the one hand this passage of Jeremiah is a call to us to believe the promise of God and put our trust in Him for our salvation. But it also says something to us as the declarers of God’s salvation to the world. We, like Jeremiah, are declaring to the world the salvation of God if they trust in Him, and, if not, their coming utter destruction if they continue down to the “Egypt” of attempted salvation by their own works. Jeremiah, like us today with the revelation of Jesus Christ, had the action of God backing up his declaration. Jeremiah had an impeccable character and witness. And yet for all of that he was the stench of death to his listeners.

I don’t think we usually think about our own witness from this perspective.

People will often talk about us being “A light in the darkened world,” and of others being attracted to the light shining in our lives. That is very true, but it is only looking at half of the picture. To those whom God is calling to himself we are a light brightly shining and they are drawn to the light. But to the rest, we are an aroma of death. That is strong language, isn’t it? A little odd to think about oneself that way. It’s kind of nice and flattering to think of oneself as this nice bright light that everyone enjoys, but how about being an ugly stench of death? That gives a little different perspective.

Being the light of God to those whom He is calling to Himself is very true, and is a truth we must never lose sight of. But I think a large problem for much of Christianity is they get so caught up in thinking of themselves as a bright light that everyone is drawn to that they fail to keep in mind all of God’s warnings about persecution and rejection. They fail to keep in mind God’s words on how we are a stench of death to those who are dying. If one appreciates how our lives are a stench of death to so many people out there it’s hard to be surprised by their hostile reaction. Our reaction in such circumstances would be then to recognize the truth and remember that, yes, we smell like death to so many people.

So, go out and live as a light brightly shining for God. Just don’t forget God has also called you to go out at be His stench of death as a witness to the dying world. Don’t be surprised at the reaction of the world. Stink for Christ.

The Reading Continues

6th April 2007

Grandpa definitely enjoyed listening to Heidi but we finished that several days ago and then it was time to pick something new. Grandma suggested that I read my book to him. I had considered it, but at the same time I wondered if Grandpa could appreciate it. The subject isn’t along Grandpa’s interest and I wasn’t sure if the level of writing might be a bit too advanced. The real reason to read my book to him was if he knew I wrote it and simply was interested in knowing what I had written.

I decided I would give it a try because Grandpa’s brother Doug had a copy he was reading, and when he came over he would talk about it and Grandpa was left out of the loop. If the book was read to Grandpa I thought there might be a chance he might be able to follow any converstion on the subject, or at least feel included. And if Grandpa couldn’t stand the book I could always simply stop reading and pick up a different book.

I felt Grandpa might have no interest because the story subject is foreign to him and because the appeal of the book is its humor and I wasn’t sure he could follow a story well enough to get a joke. But then I also considered the main appeal to Grandpa could simply be hearing someone read, and the content of a story doesn’t matter at all.

It has been interesting reading my story. After having read several other stories out-loud I’m now somewhate sensative to how well a story reads out-loud. Mine does not compare favorably. There is a lot of dialouge that comes in rapid fire for several characters that in writing I didn’t attribute because when you’re reading it to yourself it is apparent who is speaking or replying. It isn’t anywhere near so clear when the story is read out-load, espeically since I can’t dramatize the different voices to distinguish them. To compensate I’ve had to insert dialouge tags as I read to give Grandpa a chance of following the flow of the story.

Then there is also the problem that I’m not very good at verbally giving the inflection of a joke. If it is read silently the person can supply the need tone and rapport. When read out-loud, I have to supply it and I have great difficulty rising much above a monotone. If you read a joke in a monotone it . . . kind of loses its zing. Not that I think Grandpa is paying close enough attention to realize, but I’m the one measuring the quality of the reading.

When I started reading the story to Grandpa I wondered if he would get any of the jokes and laugh at even one. We’re up to chapter nine, and actually he has laughed at one joke (the most obvious, unsubtle, and simple joke, but still . . .). Maybe two. I couldn’t tell if he actually laughed the second time. Given this ratio he might laugh (okay, it rates morea chuckle) one or two more times in the length of the novel. But more importantly he doesn’t seem to be bored out of his mind.

What Grandpa first laughed at was early in the novel when Ben came to town for help and the mayor says to him, “You must bring your eye-witness account to the king so he will be moved by tender emotions and come to our aid. You must fetch the army of the king, Ben. Just like your parents told you. And never fear. Let not a concern touch your empty and innocent mind.”

Grandpa got that one.

Pizza Roll-Up

5th April 2007

This post is testing out images. At the bottom of this post I have inserted an image of the pizza rolls that I make. I think the image should show up in the RSS feed, but I doubt it will come through in the e-mail. If you can’t see the picture and are curious, you can go to the website and see it there.

My pizza rolls are a very simple thing I made up, and which probably many people have made up before me. For a long time we were having pizza every week on Thursday but I started to get tired of the repitition and decided to try something new. Thus evovled my Pizza rolls.

Dough:

  • Three cups flour
  • 2 and 1/2 tsp yeast
  • a dash of salt
  • 1 TB sugar
  • enough hottest tap water to make dough (probably 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups)

I let dough rise until double (a little more actally). In a warm enviroment this is about 45 min. Kneed dough breifly and divide into six portions. The ingredients I use for filling are:

  • 1 lb. Mozzerella cheese
  • pepperoni (I use about six slices per roll)
  • sauted peppers and onions (I use 1 lb frozen mix that I saute)

I roll out each portion of dough one at a time and spread the filling. Then I roll it up like you would a rug. I pinch and fold the ends and seal it with straight spaghetti sauce. I cover the entire top with a brushed coating of suace, then sprinkle freshly chopped garlic and parmesan on the top. At this point I have the oven already preheated to 450 with the baking stone in the oven and heated up. I can only fit three or four pizza roll-ups on my stone at one time, so I put the roll-ups in the oven as I make them one at a time. By the time the four is ready to go into the oven the first is usally ready to come out. The roll-up is usually done when the pamesan just starts to brown on the top.

I make a dipping sauce by mostly following our home-made speghetti sauce recipe. Saute some chopped garlic in olive oil (three cloaves if you like your garlic) then add one can crushed tomatoes and one 6 oz can paste. Mix thoroughly and add oregano and basil to taste. Heat through.

You put a spoonful of sauce on your plate and dip your pizza roll-up into it as you eat. The roll-ups are best eaten piping hot. So far everyone has given rave reviews. For varation you can always play around with what additional ingredients you add for filling.

I cover my roll-ups with foil while I wait for the remainder to cook. This keeps them as warm as possible. Here is a picture of three roll-ups waiting to be eaten:

Pizza Roll-Up

One Response to Pizza Roll-Up

  1. Yr mom says:

    I did not get the image in my feed reader (Thunderbird). The feed was an excerpt only.

Comments are closed.

Things I Don’t Envy

3rd April 2007

There are always things other people think you are deprived of. Probably some people could come up with a pretty long list of things they think I’ve been deprived of over the course of my life. I don’t think I’ve been deprived, but often people will say, (or imply,) “Oh, just you wait. Once you get out in the real world you’ll see how deprived you really were.”

I don’t believe it. And my own experience in going out into the “Real World” has only proved my opinion correct. Two particular areas where we were “deprived” was our lack of a dish-washing machine and a TV. I think to some people the lack of these two thinks was iconic. Overworked, and under-entertained. Lacking in all of the finer things of life and culture advancement. Living in the barbaric stone age. Just wait until you get the taste of these things and you’ll never go back. First time you get to use a dish-washing machine and have a TV in your house and you’ll realize how deprived you were.

Except, I’m living with both of those things now and not only do I feel that my past life was not deprived, but I feel my present circumstance is inferior to how things were before. I’m in Grandma’s house right now, so we do things Grandma’s way, but in my house there isn’t going to be a dishwasher or a TV.

The dishwasher is a big thing for Grandma. She is of the opinion that it cleans dishes much better and with much less effort than washing by hand. I’m no expert on the differences between various dishwashers but my Uncle Nate told me that Grandma’s dishwasher is better than his, so I know Grandma’s is at least not the bottom of the line. That said, all other considerations aside, the poor cleaning quality Grandma’s dishwasher has demonstrated has made me anything but a fan. In essence the dishwasher sprays the dishes with super-hot soapy water. That is how the dishes are cleaned, and if a blast of hot water doesn’t get the gunk off, the dish doesn’t get cleaned.

So, of course, we must thoroughly rinse or pre-wash everything we put into the dishwasher–basically, get off most if not all visible crud from the dishes. All pots and pans must be thoroughly scrubbed, plates rinsed pretty much clean, silverware washed clean, etc. Then you carefully load up the dishwasher, add lots of soap, and let the thing go. A few hours later the dishes are clean and dry . . . and any cheese you failed to remove is now baked on, and any other stubborn gunk you didn’t scrub off before it was so kindly washed for you, is still there. And since the dishes were never wiped with a cloth while inside the dishwasher, either to clean or to dry, there are all sorts of dubious stains on the dishes. Sure, everything was blasted with real hot water, but that seems incapable of removing cheese, egg, and anything else firmly baked on.

I scrubbed and pre-wash the dishes and then stick them into a dishwasher which requires large amounts of soap, water, and electricity all for the grand reward of an inferior washing to what I could do by hand. The joy of it all. It would take me maybe ten minutes more to fill up a dishpan with water and soap and go beyond the scrubbing and pre-washing, and use a little soap and make it the actual washing and get the job done and very little more time, a much better job, and much less expense in soap, electricity, water, and equipment.

For Grandma the dishwasher is another one of those wonderful things of modern life. So I keep my opinions about the quality of the washing to myself, and since it doesn’t actually take me more time to use the dish-washing machine, I humor her. But in my book until the dishwasher will pre-rinse, scrubbed, and completely clean the dishes, then you’re only kidding yourself over what you’re gaining. I don’t understand what everyone else thinks they are gaining.

Then there is the TV. The dishwasher is a bit of foolishness which doesn’t have any real negative impact on my life. The TV is a different matter.

I’m not one of those people who thinks the TV is pure evil. There is a lot of stuff on TV . . . some of it has positive worth, some of it is neither good nor bad–simply bland entertainment, and then there is the bad stuff which ranges for simple unpleasantness to downright immorality. So, while I wouldn’t go out and get a TV for my house I wouldn’t (intrinsically and necessarily) get all bent out of shape over having to live with a TV. To distill my problem with the TV down to the basic level my issues fall into three categories: (1) Immorality (2) Distraction (3) Unpleasant ambiance.

If the TV was on for a very limited time each day, let’s say for example an hour or an hour and a half to watch wholesome and profitable material, I wouldn’t have any problem. But that isn’t the case, and I find myself growing increasingly negative over the presence of the TV. It is the number one irritant in my life, the thing I would like to most change about my existence. I try very hard to be polite and not grumble, to let Grandma and Grandpa live as they would like. I don’t want to be a burden and imposition on them. It isn’t pleasant, but I can live with it. But I am waging a partially covert and active war to keep the TV off as much as possible. When I first came to live with Grandma and Grandpa I would get Grandpa his breakfast then get him seated in the living room and ask him if he wanted the TV on. I was being nice, accommodating. That wore thin pretty fast. The TV blaring in the morning was a HUGE distraction when I was trying to get things done in the kitchen or around the house. So I stopped asking Grandpa if he wanted the TV on. Half the time he wouldn’t even be watching it. I still turn the TV on without hesitation or grumbling whenever Grandpa asks me, but I never suggest it. And I’ve grown increasingly active about turning off the TV whenever Grandpa seems to have lost interest, or Grandma has fallen asleep. I wage a continually war to get the TV off, and then I run a insurgency by trying to find other things to replace the TV with, whether it be music CDs, or books on CD. But that effort has been limited, because I don’t have the time to actively and continually find other entertainment material for Grandma and Grandpa.

For Grandma and Grandpa the TV forms something of the central locus of their lives. It’s not that I don’t understand why, and sympathize with some aspects. In particular I sympathize more with Grandpa’s reasons. He has lost most of his mental ability, so every other form of occupation has pretty much been stripped from him. He truly watches the TV for only a little bit, but having it on makes him feel connected to the world. Having it on is like creating a buzz of life and activity that somehow soothes him. It seems one of his primary reasons to have the TV on is because it is too quite. He will say, “It’s too quiet around here,” and then turn on the TV.

Since Grandpa does very little actual watching I have a large degree of control over what is on when he is the one who requests to watch and if I wanted to take the time I could make sure that most of the time when he is the only one watching that it was turned to the least annoying channel. But usually he wants news first, and by the time he has lost interests I can turn the TV off without even finding another channel to provide background noise. While I understand Grandpa’s need to have “noise” I actually am completely the opposite. I hate the background noise provided by a TV playing. I can stand just about any type of music better, or even silence. Grandpa hates silence, and most any type of music. The twain shall never meet. The compromise I’ve made is that whenever Grandpa asks for some “TV noise” he gets it and the rest of the time I actively try to keep that thing from blating at me.

Grandpa’s direct request for the TV is somewhat limited (though he would be quite agreeable to having it on constantly) so I could handle that, if that were all. But then there is Grandma. She has two uses for the TV. (1) Attempting to occupy and control Grandpa. (2) Her own entertainment.

Grandma’s first solution to Grandpa’s Alzheimer related activity is to say, “Go sit down on the couch and I’ll turn on the TV for you. Watch some TV.” It is her simplest method (and just about only method) for dealing with Grandpa. Sometimes it is a little bit effective. Often Grandpa will sit down for five minutes and then he is back up and right back to his agitation, and whatever he was doing. The TV can’t hold his attention and thus nothing is solved, and I have to live with the cotton-picking think blaring away until I can find some gracious moment to flip it back off. Grandpa asks for the TV on some, and Grandma gives double more than that in an attempt to play baby-sister or cheap occupation and entertainment. Rather than have that thing burbling its unpleasant noise at me I would gladly put up with any and all of Grandpa’s activities.

Then there is the TV that Grandma actually watches herself. We have all “R” rated stuff and worse blocked from the house, so supposedly we’re saved from all the worst stuff. But Grandma still finds plenty of unpleasantness to be entertained with. Fox News is her all time favorite. I won’t say that Fox News is worse than other news channels, because I don’t watch and compare them. But whatever the other channels are like, Fox News is the equivalent of the cheap supermarket rags you find at the check out line. Sensationalism at its finest. They report all right. They tell you all about what the latest big breasted babe is doing. They’ll tell you all about the latest sex scandal. It is distasteful to me on so many levels. It is distasteful that the spend so much time on such sordid stories, along with any sordid footage they can supply along with it. And when they’re not doing those stories, they bring on politicians to lie at you and smear each other, or else have nice rip-roaring arguments right on TV in front of you. Such entertainment. If you mind isn’t being filled with filth then you’re being depressed by the lying depravity of mankind, or your blood-pressure is going up over the argument taking place and the stupidity expounded. Such loveliness.

There is plenty of movies and TV shows that are trash (and Grandma will watch enough of them on occasion) but I am coming to loathe Fox News above all others. I could go on ranting, but why waste the time . . .

Of course, it wouldn’t matter so much what Grandma or Grandpa did with the TV if it had not effect on me. Sadly, that is not the case. I sunk over $300 into a set of Boise Quiet Headphones which gives me pleasant music and mostly blocks out the TV while I am working on my computer. But the rest of the time when I have responsibilities around the house I must deal with the TV. And when you’re feeling down, bummed, or are simply really really tired it is much easier to be distracted by something you rather didn’t even exist. Since coming to live with Grandma and Grandpa I’ve seen a few things on the TV I was glad I saw. I’ve seen a good number more movies that while not horrible were not how I had wanted to spend my time. And then there are the plenty of things which are complete worthless a-moral trash and which I wish had never come on.

It seems so “unfair” that one must engage in a struggle within your own house to avoid being ensnared into waisting your evening away in front of something you wouldn’t even have in your house if it were your choice when what you’d rather do is work on your computer or go into your room and do some quiet reading. Instead of being able to kick back in the evening and relax wherever you want in the house the choice is to put on your headphones at the computer and drown yourself in your own little world or go hide in your room from the TV.

As I said, this has come to be the most unpleasant part of my existence here. Deprived of TV all of my life and now I realize how deprived I was? Hardly. Bill O’Rielly is coming on tonight. Tonight he will be exploring the hidden body language of hot-sexy bombshell babes. Deep stuff, I’m sure. I intend to miss it, thank you.

That was a pretty rambling post, but I can’t neaten it up any. I’m already running late on making supper.

NYT Article on Alzheimer’s

30th March 2007

Below is a link to a NYT article on people trying to live with Alzheimer’s. The observations in the article line up with my own. If you read the article you will see there is one man profiled who still retains his short term memory but is losing his motor skill rapidly. Then there is a lady who retains her motor skills better but has completely lost her short term memory. Grandpa isn’t so much to one extreme or the other, but those cases reflect how Alzheimer’s progresses differently for every individual.

I would say Grandpa has lost probably short term memory and motor skills in equal measure. He hasn’t lost either entirely, but both are getting progessively worse.

Here is the link: NYT Article on Alzheimer’s

To Be Like Mom

29th March 2007

How hard is it? Some people think taking care of Grandpa (and Grandma) is a particularly difficult task. Maybe even an overwhelming task unlike that which normal people must face.

I don’t view my situation that way. I have always thought my situation bears a very close resemblance to being a mom, and being the mother in a house. My present responsibilities requires the same skills and grace of motherhood, and perhaps less than is required of many mothers, since I have only Grandpa to tend and many mothers can have at least three little children in need of having their butts wiped, their noses blown, their dinner prepared, tucked into bed, watched out for, questions answered, and everything else in the long litany of things required by little kids. From little infant on up, for every one of their needs there is an eerily corresponding one for Grandpa.

Which, of course, is not to say it is all easy. Any mother can testify that it isn’t all easy. But it is life, it is what must be done, and it is what mother’s have done for generations. To do it rightly does require a large gift of grace, patience, and peace . . . but all are equal in need of that.

It can be a wearying job, as all mother’s can attest. It is a full time job, with very little time for oneself. There is always supper to be made, or else breakfast to be fetched, lunch to be made, or innumerable snacks (or cups of coffee for my charge). There are dishes to be washed, the kitchen to be cleaned, grocery lists to be made, groceries to be bought, diapers to be changed, clothes to be washed. Yes, the tasks of motherhood are many, and mine are no greater and no more difficult.

So, I never think anyone should consider my job any greater or more difficult. That is not to disparage motherhood, (quite the contrary!) but rather to put things in the right perspective. It is very humbling, and proper, to realize one’s tasks are not unique, but rather the very things that some labor at all their adult lives. Rather than becoming fixated on the difficult things that I must do, instead I can in this particular unique time in my life reflect on what mothers do and what sacrifices their calling requires of them and honor them for it, recognizing a little more clearly the price they willingly pay as servants and mothers of a family for many more years than will ever be required of me.

It is a good experience for me, I think. Obviously, I will never fully experience all the trials of motherhood. But as it is unlikely that I will spend most of my life in the role of primary care-giver that a mother occupies, it is good for a time to, as it were, “walk a mile in those shoes” and come to have a little more understanding, compassion, and respect for the burdens and trials, and strength required for motherhood. I’ll never be a mother (and let’s face it, I don’t have enough womanly qualities to even come close) but for a time I have the opportunity to be like Mom, and perhaps learn something from that service.

****

Unrelated random scene attached:

As I’ve said before, the combination of Grandpa being unable to find the right words and his confusion make for some very bizarre conversation.

Tuesday night was a bad night. Grandpa woke up about 1:30 AM to go to the bathroom but when he came back to bed he didn’t promptly fall back to sleep like he normally does. I lay in my bed and listened to him sigh and stir and move about on his bed and act restless. I had a feeling I knew what was coming, and sure enough a little late I heard the sound of the dresser drawer opening.

I flicked on my bedside light. “You want something, Grandpa?” I asked.

“Yeah, I guess so. Something to put on.”

“What?” I looked at him, and he was still properly dressed for going to bed.

“You know, something to split your palm and cover your modesty.”

“Are you cold?” I asked.

“No, I’m not cold,” he said.

“Well,” I said, “the only thing you don’t have on is a pair of pants, and you don’t need to wear pants to bed. I don’t understand what you want to put on.”

“Never mind,” he said, somewhat impatiently. “You’ll have to ask your mother about that. I mean, your wife.”

So I turned the beside light back off. I wasn’t feeling really agreeable that night. If I’m feeling particularly long suffering I will turn my beside light on and sit up in bed and keep him company, watching him as he does various things and try to offer him a sense of help and support even while I occasionally prompt him in the direction of bed. That night I didn’t feel like it, so I put a T-shirt over my eyes and decided I’d just lay there until he finally tired of looking for the something that he didn’t even know what was.

I think he sensed my answer was a little bit more abrupt and final than I usually am because as he continued to fiddle around with things in the dark he said a little later, “Well, I guess Arlie doesn’t want to have anything to do with this.” (Arlan has lived with them much longer, so unless Grandpa is thinking really hard I’m covered by the catch-all “that-boy” name of Arlie).

I told him, “Grandpa, if you can tell me what you want I’ll be glad to help you.” But I still didn’t sit up in bed and turn the light back on and keep him company in his hunt to fix the unknown problem. So I got to listen to him turn restlessly in bed, sighing. Then sit up and itch his head very loudly. Then begin to fiddle around with and fumble with things on top of the dresser. Then knock my clock onto the floor. (I turn the light back on and pick that up, then turn the light back off.) Finally Grandpa gets out of bed and turns the bedroom light on. Checks the room out. Finally turns the light out and leaves the room. Goes to the bathroom, checks the hall. Comes back to the bedroom. Turns on the main bedroom light again, comes over to his bed, then goes back to turn the light off. Then goes back and gets into bed.

He repeats the entire agitated procedure maybe three or four times. Generally it consists of itching the itches that need itching, trying to set the bedroom to right, finding glasses, going to the bathroom, trying to determine if anything needs to be set right or fixed in the bathroom, then going (probably) to check the time on the stove clock in the kitchen and then coming back to the bedroom and trying to get everything right for bed again. Since he has no defined goal, no end he is trying to reach except peace in his mind, and no logical method I can help him along, it is pretty much an infinity loop until he is either mentally or physically exhausted and simply goes back to bed. Unless you are going to authoritatively order Grandpa to stop and go to bed (which I don’t) you simply have to wait it out.

So I lay in bed and waited, keeping track of his activities by sound, until somewhere around the four circuit he finally stopped in the middle of the bedroom and said, “Well, do you think you could help me get all these things set to right?”

“Sure,” I said, getting the cue and sitting up. “I’d do anything if you’ll lay back down and go to sleep.” So I removed the bathroom towel that had made it in onto his bed (neatly folded back up) and the box of tissues that had also migrated to his bed, straightened out various other sundry disorder, approximately straightened out his covers and folded them back. Then he willing got into bed and I covered him up. It was not about 2:30 AM. Grandpa got up to use the bathroom several more times that night, but he went back to bed promptly after them all.

You Must Die!

27th March 2007

I was recently reading in Jeremiah and came to chapter 26 where Jeremiah has a confrontation with the people of Jerusalem at the temple.

The priests, the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the Lord. But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.”

[. . .] Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God.” (Jeremiah 26:7-9,12-13)

This started me thinking. We become so accustomed to the prophetic accounts in the Bible that we read them and think, “Yeah, yeah, same old story. Prophet comes with a message and nobody listens.” But it is more than that. As it is said in 1 Corinthians 10:11 “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”

So what do we see when we consider this?

Who do we have confronting Jeremiah? The priests and the prophets along with all the people. These are the very people who are supposed to be most religious and in-tune with God. And where is this confrontation taking place? In Jerusalem, at the very temple where God is supposed to be honored and worshiped. If there is any place where God’s word should be received and obeyed isn’t it here?

To be rejected by the pagan . . . we can say that is no surprise. We might even say we are prepared for that. But among those who call themselves the people of God, at the very place where God is supposed to be worshiped, and by the very people who are supposed to be most godly and eager to serve God–to be rejected and opposed by them, how shocking is that? You expect your words to be received with gladness and instead you find that the words of God has come to be the reason to put you to death among these supposed people of God.

And what is the people’s complaint? In essence, “How dare you prophecy against us and this place! We are special and chosen! We have God on our side because of who we are and what we have!”

The warning for us from this is two-sided.

First, we can look at this from the perspective of being a prophet like Jeremiah. I have already previously written about how we are all prophets, and it is said, “No servant is greater than his master” (John 13:16, 15:20). How this servant Jeremiah was treated was only a type and foreshadowing of how the Master was treated. When we move on ahead to the time of Christ we see the people of his own town and his own family don’t believe in him (Mark 6:1-6, John 7:5). His own family tries to stop him from his ministry (Mark 3:21) and his own town tries to kill him (Luke 4:1-30). Jesus Christ, the revelation of God, came to his own and his own did not receive him. He was the fulfillment of all that the prophets pointed toward–not only in their messages, but in their sufferings and their deaths.

During his earthly ministry Jesus warned us “‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15:20). I think we often fail to fully comprehend what Christ said and so we are surprised and not prepared when the time comes. The error is that we think “Yes, we will face persecution when we take the word of God out to that pagan world.” We get ourselves prepared to face the scourge, the sword, and the harsh word when go out to those people. But that fails to take into account the warning of Scripture, the example plainly laid down for us.

Who persecuted the prophets through the ages past? Who persecuted Christ? Who was it? It was the supposed people of God. It was those who loudly acclaimed, “We serve God! We’re God people! We know him!”

We don’t like to think about that. In some subconscious part of our minds we like to think, “That was then, this is now. That doesn’t happen anymore. We don’t have people called Christians persecuting other Christians who are declaring God’s word.

Except, that isn’t true. Not only do we have the example from the prophets of old as warnings and instruction for us, but we have the example and warning of our master, Jesus Christ. And the history of Christianity (for those with eyes to see) reveals the same thing. It started out with Jews persecuting Christians, and then it became Christians persecuting Christians. We can point to broad historical occasions, whether it be the beginning of the Reformation and persecutions by the Catholic church, or persecutions of the Anabaptists by the Protestants. Or else we could go carefully through all of history and lay out the innumerable other occasions of Christians persecuted by “Christians.” Yes, it happens again and again and it has been prevalent, persistent, and often chillingly brutal.

The source of that persecution is always the same attitude, summed up with words like “How dare you prophecy against us and this place! We are special and chosen! We have God on our side because of who we are and what we have!”

It is the all too common reaction of those who call themselves Christians to react with wrath at the audacity of someone to say they are not living or acting in accord with God’s Word. After all, are they not Christians who belong to the church (perhaps even the large/successful/wealthy church)? How dare you suggest that they are in error and not pleasing to God.

While presently such rejection in Western Christian culture doesn’t express itself in persecution unto death, still the attitude is prevalent–only more easily hidden and ignored because there is no visible blood on the ground. Someone speaks up to rebuke an error in a church and they are attacked by the leaders (and members) in the church. How dare you say anything is wrong here! How dare you condemn us!

We have been told ahead of time by scripture, warned of the difficulty of speaking God’s word, and yet the reality of the rejection of the professing church takes so many Christians by surprise. Very few seem to read scripture and realize that the example and warning so clearly written is for us . . . as Jeremiah, Isaiah, all the other prophets, and even Christ were persecuted, so we must face the same thing. And the scandal is that if we declare the word of God to those who call themselves the people of God persecution (whether it be big or small) will come from those who ought to call themselves our brothers.

It is a sobering realization.

But we must also not forget the other side of that warning. We must not become proud in our place, saying we are Christians and so do not need correction. We must be careful to not follow in the steps of the Jews who rejected the word of God. Scripture was written down as a warning and example for us, and it is a very sobering warning.

****

Gotta go put Grandpa to bed. Hope there aren’t too many errors. No more corrections for now . . .

The Edge

23rd March 2007

I’ll start by saying that I don’t really think that with Grandpa and his illness that there is a “edge”–some clear cut breaking point where before and after he is starkly different. The only edge like that would be a real physical edge . . . the edge of the stairs which he goes tumbling down and breaks his bones. Short of that type of edge, there aren’t really edges in his decline.

But it does feel as if there will be, or there are. It feels like one day everything will change and instead of things getting slowly worse some vital cog will come loose and life will be completely altered. I guess perhaps this feeling springs in part from an inability to imagine how some things will go slowly. How can you slowly forget how to walk? How can you slowly forget how to fee yourself? It seems as if those are the type of things you either have or you don’t. So you begin to imagine that one day Grandpa is going to wake up and not remember how to do them, and then we’ll be beyond that “edge.”

When I reflect on what Grandpa is losing what strikes me right now is how much more he has to lose. I don’t first gasp at how much he has lost, but how much more he has to lose–one inch at a time. When you are there helping him through it, that is what it feels like: one inch at a time. Every bit of his ability is extracted from him like one slowly removed tooth. One begins to look ahead and see how many more slow painful inches Grandpa has to endure.

For all of the troubles Grandpa daily endures and which I have chronicled here, I am struck by how–with all that he has already lost–I can still largely interact with him like a normal human being. He is often a very confused, but he is still one largely cognizant that he is sick and failing and the better half of his mind is trying to deal with it. The better half of his mind reaches out to me and together we try to deal with it.

I guess the very big thing I see him still having–and which I think is going to be very sorrowful to watch him lose–is his self awareness. He still knows that he is a husband, a father, a grandfather, and even a great-grandfather. He may not be able to name off all of his twenty-five grand-children or four great-grandchildren, but he can still recall when he is told and re-reminded. He is still capable of recognizing his failures, of being sorrowful over them, and ashamed. He is still capable of knowing that others are tending him, making sacrifices for him, and he is still capable of clearly expressing his thanks for service rendered.

Yes, it is painful to watch him struggle to speak, and see him knowing that he cannot speak clearly. Yes, it is painful for every day to have Grandpa call me into the bathroom and practically beg me to show him how to not pee all over himself and all over the bathroom. Yes, it is painful to watch Grandpa mutter and curse at himself as he tries to make his feet work properly when they will no longer walk him across the room.

It is very painful, but in a sense the pain now is a reminder of how much he still has. So long as we still have this pain it means that Grandpa isn’t a vegetable sitting on the couch staring blankly ahead and drooling. The pain we daily face now is a reminder of how far away we are from that end, and how much further we have to go, one inch at a time.

Grandpa no longer being able to use the bathroom always felt like one of those edges . . . a point beyond which things would feel so forever different. Now that we’ve progressed to somewhere around the halfway point through that it no longer seems quite so striking. Now my thoughts turn to Grandpa and his ability to walk. What is it going to be like to slowly become unable to walk? What should (and can) I do to help?

His failing ability to walk is raising its head like an ugly specter. On his good days he is still good, but on the bad days it is bad, and he is getting worse. He seems to have the worst trouble when he is trying to go somewhere in particular and do something–his perennial trouble being sitting down on the couch. He can often get to within a few steps on the couch and then he looks at the couch as he prepares to sit–and then his ability to walk deserts him entirely. It is as if his feet become nailed to the floor and he will struggle ineffectively for several minutes, sometimes eventually coming unstuck so he can totter the last few steps. Other times he simply lunges forward and grabs the couch with his hands. It is getting bad enough now that I sometimes have had to help him. At a hundred and thirty-two pounds he is light enough that I could easily pick him up and bodily carry him, but that is less than ideal, both because of his bad lower back, and like all old people he loathes to have his feet off the ground. I have found the best solution so far is to wrap one of his arms firmly around my neck and–since with his stoop I stand taller–when I stand I pick him up every so slightly, taking some of his weight off his feet and giving him the very clear sensation that he is being very firmly supported. Simply taking his hand or locking arms with him to give a little support is not anywhere near enough. When his legs stop obeying him properly he becomes afraid–afraid of falling and not being able to move–and it takes much more than a little bit of encouragement to get him through.

He fails regularly now, and in such circumstances it is a great mercy that we have wall-to-wall carpeting. The cause for his falls are various, all centered around the fact that his sense of balance and coordination has severely deteriorated. He can try to bend over and pick up a bit of garbage and not make it, try to sit down on the couch and not make it, or simply lose all sense of balance. I have seen him standing perfectly still and suddenly almost pitch over backward like a felled tree. Short of chaining him to a bed or chair, there is little I can do to eliminate this risk. The effects of his Alzheimer’s’s makes him very restless which gives him the need to move about, even when he is exhausted.

Even Grandma has noticed his increasing trouble on this front and so we picked up a walker from a family member. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is going to help at all. Grandpa very easily (intuitively, in fact) grasps how to use a cane. Not so the walker. He has to think about how to use the walker, and that requirement pretty well renders it useless when he most needs to use it. His innate tendency is to drag it along behind him, and when he does push it properly in front of him the act of maneuvering it through doorways is an impossibility.

Further, the walker can’t even help Grandpa when he is at his worst. One evening not too long ago he decided to practice using it. That evening he was having particular trouble walking, so I guess maybe he thought to see if he could limber himself up on the walker. It didn’t work. He would push the walker along in front of him, and after about six steps his brain would get out of gear and his feet would stop moving. It was a brain freeze, and the fact that he had a walker didn’t help. He was stuck standing there, and about all that would happen is he would continue to slowly slide the walker forward until he was stretched out, his feet rooted in place and leaning on the walker far in front of him. I could get him unstuck by physically bending his knee for him and moving one foot–and then he would walk another six paces or so, only for his brain to seize up again. If he struggled mightily with his own body he could eventually (as if in a desperate gasp) finally get his own feet unstuck–but the walker added no more support or help than Granpa already got from leaning on the walls and his cane.

It has become quite clear to me that the walker isn’t going to be any help at all with Grandpa’s real problem. And I don’t know what we’re going to do as his trouble only increases. I know it is far far better for him to move about on his own feet, and when he stops it will be a big hit against his health–physically, mentally, and emotionally. But on his very worst days it is so painful to watch him struggling and fighting with his own body trying to make it remember how to walk that I wish we just had a wheelchair in which he would be content to sit and I would push him wherever he wanted to go. I guess sometimes I just wish he would stop fighting and rest, so I wouldn’t have to watch him struggle.

But, as I have already observed, when he does cease to struggle it will only be a sign of how much further away he has fallen.

****

Unrelated slightly absurd incident from today:

Late this afternoon Grandpa started to get undressed in the living room. “Do you want to take a shower?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

So I got the shower water to the right temperature, (had him test it several times to make sure it was right for him,) then got him a washcloth and a towel. I made sure he got completely undressed, then told him the shower was all ready, and call if he needed anything more. He said okay, and I shut the door left him in the bathroom to tend to himself.

I came back a few minutes later and could tell by the sound coming through the bathroom door that the shower stall door was still wide open. I supposed he had probably simply forget to close the stall door when he climbed in. I opened the bathroom door to swipe out his old diaper and replaced it with a fresh one for him to put on. At least, I tried too. Grandpa was standing in front of the bathroom door. He had the sink faucet going full blast along with the shower, and was lathering up his hair vigorously at the sink. I’m not entirely sure what soap he was using. It could have been the liquid hand soap.

I took this in stride as Grandpa will often decide to take a sponge bath at the sink (not sure if this is something he did often growing up and as an adult, but it seems to hearken back to something in his past). It seems he had either initially intended to only take a sponge bath and had only gone along with me with the shower at my prompting, or else after I had left the bathroom the first time he had laid eyes on the sink and immediately forgot about his plans for a true shower and had settled for a sponge bath instead.

Whatever the case, it was something of a scene to open the door to great billows of steam and find Grandpa standing in front of the sinking, lathering up his hair for all he was worth.

I don’t think he ever did end up using the shower. A little later I checked back in and at that point he had moved on from his hair and was cleaning the sink for all he was worth. So I squeezed into the bathroom and shut off the shower. A little later he came out of the bathroom and I helped him get dressed.

I’ve Been Hacked

15th March 2007

This is a quick note to say that my domain www.silverwarethief.com was hacked. I don’t think this blog was affected, but it is possible something might happen to it as I try to resolve issues. So if things disappear, you’ll know why . . .

(I don’t have time for this kind of problem . . .)

Control and Correction

14th March 2007

Another short meditation on Jeremiah.

Last week I was continuing my reading in Jeremiah when I came to Jeremiah’s prayer in chapter 10, where he says:

“I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. Correct me, Lord, but only with justice–not in your anger, lest you reduce me to nothing.” (Jeremiah 10:23-24 NIV)

If in the previous passage in Jeremiah that I considered (Jeremiah 1:4-11) the prophet demonstrated the wrong attitude in his response to the Lord, here he expresses the right relationship.

These words of Jeremiah express a deep humility and recognition of his own state before the Lord. He begins

a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps

Those words give voice to the very opposite of what the sinful flesh says. Sin and rebellion is setting up oneself in opposition to God. The fleshly fallen nature screams against the thought that our lives are not our own to do with as we wish. We in our self-will desire the right and the power to chose our course and make it happen. But here Jeremiah speaks as we all ought to speak–on his knees, with his face pressed to the ground, confessing that his life is not his own.

That is the start, but I find what Jeremiah says next even more striking. You might expect him to say, “My life is not my own, Lord. You direct my steps . . . so give me wealth and success, Lord. Give me a good car, a nice job, a big house. I can’t get them for myself, Lord, so get them for me.”

Isn’t that so often how we pray? We’ll admit our weakness–that the things we want we can’t get for ourselves. So we ask (maybe even demand) of God those things which we want.

But what does Jeremiah say?

Correct me, Lord, but only with justice–not in your anger

Who admits the Lord’s control over his life and then prays for the Lord’s discipline? Wouldn’t he pray for prosperity instead? But Jeremiah, with a heart and eyes enlightened by faith and knowledge through the Holy Spirit, sees and understands and expresses the truth that ought to be manifest in our lives.

I wrestle a great deal with acknowledging the truth of “a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps” in my own life. I struggle with, again and again, almost daily. By my nature I make plans. I make goals, and then plans for how I will reach those goals. I make contingency plans in case things go wrong, I explore possibilities and possible problems. I weigh the risks and costs . . . I exert my effort to make sure I’m in control and on top of things.

Except, of course, it never works. A man’s life is not his own, and should I forget that I am reminded of it quickly. On the one hand it is a lesson I learned years ago, but on the other hand I must be reminded of it constantly as every day I find myself making my plans. I must remember to get down on my knees and say (in attitude and spirit), “A man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.” A passage of Scripture I always try to keep in mind is James 4:13-16:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.

And what shall we say of Jeremiah’s request for correction? Is it madness? No, rather Jeremiah knows what is spoken of in Hebrews chapter 12:

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 10:4-11 NIV)

And as it is said again in Revelations:

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelations 3:17-20 NIV)

The words of Jeremiah crying out for the Lord’s just correction on himself is a reminder for us on how we ought to live our lives, and our prayers. The natural (fleshly) way of living is to live with our concerns focused on what we want. Our goals are our desires, and we pray for our desires. What of discipline? People might admit, if questioned, that sometimes they err and God must discipline them, but it certainly isn’t something you pray about, and most certainly something you don’t pray for.

But I believe that is wrong. For the fleshly man it is natural for him to pray centered on his desires. After all, he isn’t serving God, but rather his own flesh. But for one who has been renewed in the likeness of Christ–such a man is to live and pray as Christ did. The person in Christ ought to see and desire that which will glorify Christ and, in that, glorify the Father. That is what should rightly form the center of the prayers of the righteous man.

In the likeness of Christ we should say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” (Matt. 6:10) and as Christ said, looking forward to the Cross:

“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27-28)

The Lord disciplines his children and rebukes those he loves . . . for their good, and for his glory, in the harvest of righteousness that will result as we become ever more conformed to the likeness of Christ. A person with true humility and spiritual understanding recognizes the depths of his sin, and a righteous man recognizes the true nature of sonship. From this position we recognize that we ought to pray for our own discipline. Recognizing the depth of our sin, and our great and continual need to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, we pray with Jeremiah and the Psalmist:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139:23-24 NIV)

Understanding the truth of our sonship, we pray for the Lord’s discipline that a harvest of righteousness might be produced in us, and the Lord glorified. To recognize our sinfulness and not pray for the Lord’s discipline is to deny (or attempt to avoid) the truth of our sonship. Do we seek to deny the truth of God’s love for us, or perhaps pervert the biblical teaching on love so the discipline is taken out of it leaving only some kindly old man who gives us what we want? In simply asking for what we desire we fail to acknowledge how sinful we are and in need of the loving discipline and correction of our heavenly father. Those the Lord does not discipline as sons he has reserved for the outpouring of his wrath (see Jeremiah 10:25). When we pray with such a self-centered focus on what we want and desire we justly deserve the rebuke given by James:

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:3-10 NIV)

So, pray for the Lord’s discipline–not because it is pleasant, not because it satisfies the cravings of your flesh, but because you know your sinfulness, you know your need, you know the love of God, and you know what will glorify Him.

Present day professing Christianity at large in America has, unfortunately, fallen far from what Jeremiah exemplifies. What I see are people everywhere caught up in the self–caught up in their plans and their desires. What I see are people who give as little thought as possible to the idea of their own discipline . . . the thought that they need it, or the idea that they should pray for it. It takes a humble and contrite man to truly pray for his own discipline, but Christianity in America is so caught up in its own ideas of wealth, but the words in Revelation are so very apt:

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelations 3:17-20 NIV)

Be earnest, repent. Hear his voice, open the door.

****

Wrote that all, quickly, today. The writing is probably lacking, but perhaps I will find time to go back and improve the quality some other time. For the present, make of it what you will.
****

Later addition:

More scripture which is pertinent, but failed to include in the initial writing. Perhaps on a later rewrite I will work it into the body of text. For the present, very relevant to our consideration here are the word of Paul in 1 Corinthians, “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:31-32). That is the very thing Jeremiah is praying about/for.

And then later in Jeremiah the Lord echoes this prayer of Jeremiah when He says (speaking about the people of God), “‘I am with you and will save you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished’” (Jeremiah 30:11). The thought of being disciplined with justice is again here tied with God’s promise to save those his is disciplining . . . the discipline is part and parcel of the salvation promised, contrast the assured destruction of the wicked nations.

To The Doctors, Again

13th March 2007

Snippet 1:

Saturday night Grandpa had another bedroom-bathroom disaster. I somehow was exhuasted enough, or he was quiet enough, that I slept through the unfolding disaster and only woke up to face the results.

I first started waking up when Grandpa sat down on my bed to lay back down. Dragged into a half-awake state by the sensation of someone almost sitting on me, it felt like too much work at that moment to explain to Grandpa that he was on the wrong bed. So I lay there waiting for him to realize he had made a mistake. He seemed to realize something was wrong with the bed–a funny lump or something–because he kept trying to re-situate himself. Finally, seeing as he wasn’t going to quickly realize his mistake and get up, I made some groggy comment about how he would have more room in his own bed.

Grandpa made some comment, (probably about his mistake,) laughed, and got up and moved to his bed. When I am awake enough, I always try to tuck Grandpa in for him because while it makes me a little more uncomfortable to get out of my nice bed I actually suffer more disturbance if I must lay listening to him wrestle and mutter at his blankets for ten minutes as he tries to cover himself. However, that night I was still only half away so I lay listening to him mutter and struggle with his blanket. I reached over with one hand and turned on my bed light, hoping that would be help enough, but the light shone in his eyes and he asked me to turn it back off.

In the darkness once more, I heard him say, “Ahhh, it’s all wet.”

Okay . . . time to check on him, I thought. Groggily, I sat up in bed and swung my feet over the side and set them on the linoleum covered floor.

. . . And set them right into a cold puddle of urine. That will wake you up quickly. Eeeyaaah, I think, (or something like it,) and reach over to turn on the light, wishing I had something handy to wipe off my wet foot. A good look at the room shows it has become a disaster area. The sheet is half off Grandpa’s bed, and his blanket is half on the floor and various items are scattered about on the floor. A quick check confirms that his blanket is only wet where it has fallen on the wet floor–Grandpa only peed all over the floor, not all over his bed. One small mercy.

Next I try to discover the extent of the damage on the floor. Grandpa’ winter hat is lying on the floor, and his glasses are wallowing in another puddle of urine over by the commode. After picking my way about I manage to determine that it seems all the pee has been contained on the linoleum in the bedroom–he never made it out into the hall to track his trail of wetness to the bathroom. Time to move into damage cleanup.

I wadded up the slightly wet blanket with the other wet clothing items and chucked them into the corner. I took one of my spare blankets and gave it to Grandpa. I put him back to bed, cleaned up the floor, and cleaned up his glasses.

I’ve now decided to keep a roll of paper towels permanently in the bedroom. I don’t want to have to walk all the way to the kitchen when I need something desperately for cleanup.

Snippet 2:

Sometimes Grandpa is completely unaware of his difficulties, but I am still a little surprised by the other times when he shows such clear self-awareness of his problems. Yesterday afternoon Grandpa was trying to communicate with me and was having the usual difficulty . . . he would use the wrong words, or sputter and stutter and be unable to get any words out. Finally he stopped and said, “I don’t know how anyone can understand what I say.”

He knew he was sitting there and speaking nonsense. What it must be like to open your mouth and know that all that comes out is babbling foolishness that means nothing–to see yourself so clearly and be unable to do anything about it.

Snippet 3:

Last night was a tough night. It is actually easier for me if Grandpa has an accident than if he has a hard time sleeping. If he has an accident I can put him back to bed, quickly clean him up, and get back to bed myself. If he gets agitated in the middle of the night I can only wait until he exhausts himself again. Thus it was last night. He initially woke me, and got up, to go to the bathroom. For nearly the next hour he was up and down, in and out of the room, turning the light on and off . . . all trying to take care of various things . . . or find something that needed taking care of. Since he was simply agitated . . . he didn’t know what he wanted or need, and if he did latch on to something and I resolved that problem he simply moved on to another, I had to ride it out until he finally tired himself and went back to bed.

These type of situations are what take on a nightmarish hue to me. When there is a midnight mess that needs to be cleaned up I’m in control of the situation and while it might not be fun I can at least clean it up in my time and go back to bed. But when Grandpa is simply agitated and five minutes runs into ten, and ten into fifteen and fifteen into half an hour . . . you start wondering how much of the night this is going to take, and imagining being up all night watching Grandpa go about trying to set things right. It’s a situation where I’m not in control . . . I can “fix” the situation, and I can’t ignore it. I can try to prod Grandpa in the direction of bed, but mostly I must simply sit there and wait for events to run there course.

Now, onto the main story:

This past Thursday I took Grandma and Grandpa to their “normal” doctor for their regular checkups.

Grandma has been running extremely high blood pressure, and had conclude that the artery to her second kidney had become significantly blocked (as her first had several years ago) and this was causing her blood pressure to go so high. On Wednesday I took her in for some testing related to that. The results came back on Thursday and the doctor agreed that the results showed a lot of blockage, so sometime in the future a test will be scheduled to go in a look further . . . if something can be done they’ll insert a stent in the artery of her kidney to open back up the flow.

In other news, Grandma has decided to not have anything done about the significant blockage in her neck arteries. She decided that operation was not worth the risk.

Grandpa’s appointment was a non-event. He had gained five pounds from the last time I took him in, and since he is underweight that is a good thing (and make me feel pleased that at least I am feeding him well). His blood pressure was back down to only 7 points above what the doctor wanted, which wasn’t worth doing anything about, she said. And that was that. Grandpa was hale and hearty . . . except for the fact that his mind is falling apart.

Which is the same thing they said last time I took him in three or four months ago. Grandpa refuses to take pills for a long period of time, so there is really nothing the doctors can do for him. Last time I took him in they gave him a battery of tests to see how advanced his Alzheimer’s was–I thought the test was interesting. It showed that, at that time, his “time sense” was completely shot (year, time, age, etc) but that his sense of place was still intact. There were other aspects of the test as well, and I was interested to see how well he did on them again, now three months later. However, the nurse told Grandma that she wasn’t going to test Grandpa anymore. He was only going to get worse, and there was nothing they could do for him. It is probably for the best . . . the testing only embarrassed Grandpa and did nothing for him, and there is no point to make him suffer it just so I can track his slide into oblivion.

And really, for the same reason it is pointless to take Grandpa to the doctors. It is a source of stress, agitation, and embarrassment for him, and they can do nothing for him. He body is, more or less, hale and hearty and they can do nothing for his mind. Why take him to the doctors so they can check his weight and blood pressure?

Even Grandma is agreeing with me now, so this was probably the last of Grandpa and the doctors for a long while. Grandma, on the other hand . . . there are a lot more doctors in her future.

The Downward Slide

5th March 2007

Saturday I finally made the time to put the linoleum down in the bedroom. It had probably been two weeks ago that I brought the linoleum in from the barn to soften up in the warmth of the basement. I knew from eyeballing the roll that it was short and probably wouldn’t cover the room. It wasn’t until I rolled it out in the garage that I knew exactly how short, and how much I had to deal with. With some careful cutting and re-piecing together I managed to construct an L shaped section of linoleum which would cover the space between Grandpa’s bed and mine, under the commode and to the bedroom door.

For weeks I have had the commode in the bedroom but it has been sitting in front of the cabinet/bookcase that has housed my clothes and books. This situation was far from ideal as I couldn’t get at the cabinet with the commode sitting in front of it and to get to the beds you had to squeeze past the commode. Lack of free time on my part meant this condition persisted for weeks in a halfway state where my clothes were moved out of the cabinet to be stored under the bed, but everything else remained in the way. However, as things go, if you let a unsatisfactory situation persist long enough you will make time to correct it. So on Saturday I put off doing many things to finally finish altering the bedroom.

I moved the cabinet/bookcase downstairs and then sliced up the linoleum and tapped it back together in the proper shape in the bedroom. Simply laying the linoleum loose on top of the carpet and taping the sections together looks stupid, but I remind myself that it is serviceable for the intended function–keeping accidents off the carpet and easy to clean up. Nonetheless, the stupidity galls a bit.

By Saturday evening the room was usable, but since the linoleum was only laying on top of the carpet it had a bit of a ripple which made it hard for the door to open and close. So Sunday morning I took the door down and sliced a quarter inch off the bottom with a circular saw. The room was now ready (ready as it was going to be) for whatever storms might come.

Perfect timing. I get up 2:00 AM to use the bathroom and as I’m walking to the bathroom I think gosh, I don’t remember waking up for Grandpa going to the bathroom once tonight. Either I’ve slept completely through his trips or else he hasn’t gone all night. If he hasn’t gone all night then either he has wet himself, or he’s going to have to go really bad sometime tonight.

As I’m finishing up in the bathroom I hear a sound from the bedroom that suggests Grandpa is getting out of bed. Yep, I think, He’s going to need to use the bathroom. I return to the darkened bedroom I see the shape of Grandpa standing in the middle of the rooms between our beds.

“You need to use the bathroom?” I ask. And, in that very moment, I realize (as much by sound as sight) that not only does he need to go to the bathroom but he has dropped the front of his diaper and is going to the bathroom on the floor, right now. To make matters worse I notice that he is aiming in the general direction of the dark blob which is my clothes I took off that night.

Things happen very fast. I think something like, Yaaaahhh! Don’t aim there, not my clothes! And simultaneously think, What difference does it make? You’ll only have to wash them. But somehow I still preferred to mop up the floor than have to deal with my clothes soaked with urine.

I think I uttered some strangled, “Don’t do that there.”

To which Grandpa gave a reply of something along the lines of “What do you expect me to do? I can’t hold it in.” Thankfully Grandpa shifted slightly so my clothes were no longer in the direct line of fire. By this time the spigot is all the way open and I can tell by the sound he’s really unloading on the linoleum. So I flick on the light and say calmly, “If you could get it in there,” (pointing to the commode) “it would be nice.” Then I stepped around behind him and removed my clothes from danger.

Grandpa dutifully waddled toward the commode but managed to get maybe a quarter to half a cup actually in the device, the rest making a second large and spreading puddle on the linoleum underneath the device. While he finished up voiding his bladder I made a quick trip to the kitchen to grab the roll of paper towels. I returned to the bedroom and quickly tore off several longs strips and tossed them over the larger puddles to keep them from spreading any further. Meanwhile, Grandpa dropped his (until that point still clean) diaper in the puddle he was standing in and proceeded to attempt to strip. Being barefoot myself I didn’t particularly care to join him in the puddle so I tore off two sheets of paper towel and laid them on the untouched floor beside his bed and after helping him out of his diaper encouraged him to go over to the bed and dry off his feet.

Drying off his feet I quickly got a fresh diaper back on him and tucked him back into bed. One thing I am very thankful for is that once I show up and take charge Grandpa lets me handle the disasters without trying to deal with it himself (which always ends up in greater disaster). He let me tuck him back in and appeared to promptly fall back to sleep. With the situation stabilized, cleanup was routine. I used up the better part of a roll of paper towels mopping up the mess and then disinfecting the floor. Then I went back to bed.

Unfortunately, while that was the most dramatic trouble that night, it wasn’t the end of my troubles. We had some spicey chicken for supper that night and somehow it chose that very time to start disagreeing with me and as I lay back down for some hoped for rest I started to suffer from heartburn. I tossed and turned with that for an hour and a half or two hours and then fell asleep for a short while only to wake up at five when Grandpa made a trip to the bathroom. He made it to the bathroom this time but still ended up making a mess that needed cleaning up. After I got that mess set to rights I went back to bed and slept fitfully until eight. I’m not sure how many hours sleep I got, but I felt I was shorted a good many.

But I was so very glad that I had made the time to finally put the linoleum down on Saturday. I knew the Sunday night disaster was only a matter of time in coming . . . I only just got in ahead of it. Incidentally I suspected my clothes my end up getting pissed on. It pays to think of the worst that might happen, so the thought has crossed my mind several nights as I get undressed and toss my clothes aside. It’s good to think of what you will do if the worst happens. And, in case you were curious, getting the floor peed on isn’t the worst, and getting my clothes peed on isn’t the worst. I think to myself, What will you do if you wake up to find Grandpa peeing on you and your bed? Answer? Well, first off, get out of bed as fast as possible. And don’t think it highly unlikely. Befuddled in the dark in the middle of the night Grandpa could very easily decide might bed looks like where you’re supposed to take a leak. I’m not really worried about it, but I have the very real possibility filed away in my mind so that I will hopefully be prepared to react when I wake up to the warm splash . . .

****

I didn’t start out the day feeling the greatest but Grandpa seemed even worse. I don’t know if he was simply exhausted from all the visitors we’ve been getting over the past several days, whether he was feeling a little under the weather, or if he was feeling depressed. He said he wasn’t hungry for breakfast and after drinking a few cups of coffee he quickly retreated to the couch and lay there dozing and looking fore lorn and sad. I don’t know if he remembered the disaster in the middle of the night, but I wondered if he was thinking about it and feeling very down. When Grandma finally showed her face he asked her if she might have some words of affection for him which only confirmed my suspicion he was feeling emotionally down, for whatever reason.

Finally about mid-morning I managed to convince him to eat at least something–a piece of cake with another cup of coffee. Then at noon I got him to eat some garlic bread I had made the night before (and he had really liked then) by simply putting it in front of him when I gave him another cup of coffee. Finally at 1:30 he ate a normal lunch of soup.

But the day didn’t get better. He seemed off kilter all day, inclined more than usual to use the wrong words in conversation, and to not make any sense (even to me) at all. Then, late this afternoon, Grandpa crossed another milestone. I was taking Grandma to the bank and she needed Grandpa to sign a check before she left so she could cash it. He couldn’t sign his name. We tried and tried to coax him, but he didn’t understand our words, what we wanted, or how to do it. It was truly incomprehensible to him.

Afternoons are always worse for Grandpa than mornings, so I suspect for awhile yet if you asked him to sign his name in the morning he would be able to do it. But a threshold has been crossed. Grandma said she didn’t want to invoke power of attorney for herself until Grandpa was no longer able to sign his name. Well, now its time.

As I said already, Grandpa was particularly inclined toward unintelligible conversation today, using words that had no relation to each other, or relation to the present reality. But there was an incident shortly before supper that was more odd than unintelligible. What its meaning was, I don’t know, but it was the type of incident that makes you stop any pay attention.

I was in the kitchen when Grandpa first said it, so all I caught was “Do you think . . . find my . . . soul.” This caught my attention, so I went into the living room where Grandpa was lying down on the couch. I asked him what his concern was. “I just wanted to know . . .” he trailed off. Given how he had been using all sorts of bizarre and unrelated words all day, I didn’t know if he was simply trying to ask where something was, or if he had said close to what he meant, and was asking a very serious question. I asked him if he had some concern about his soul because the first thing to do if Grandpa says something weird, (or uses and odd word) is to repeat it back to him because often if he hears it back he will at least say he had used the wrong word, even if he can’t come up with the proper one. I watched him carefully to judge how confused he might appear.

“Well, it was part serious,” Grandpa said, looking back at me.

“Are you afraid that you’re soul might be lost?” I asked. Concerns about salvation-damnation was a possibility, but I also consider the fact that Grandpa might have wandered into some metaphysical muddled of concern about his soul being somehow spatially lost . . . or something else entirely.

“No,” Grandpa said, quite emphatically. “That’s not what I said.”

“Can you explain what you meant?” I asked.

“I don’t want to try to explain it,” Grandpa said, clearly tiring.

I looked at Arlan who was sitting at his computer to see if he had heard what Grandpa had said earlier any better.

“He said, ‘Do you think Grandma will be able to find my soul'” Arlan said, supplying the missing parts of the statement, but no greater clarity. It could be anything from a statement asking if Grandma could find his socks (except using the wrong words,) or an actual question about the afterlife. Given the fact that Grandpa had looked quite serious when he looked back at me, and he had said it was “partly serious” led me to believe that whatever the broken thought he had been trying to express, it wasn’t about socks.

But we were to have no answer. Grandpa had tired of it, and had closed his eyes and was trying to sleep. So I went back to the kitchen to continue working on supper.

No more than a few minutes later I heard Grandpa speaking again, clearly and distinctly, as if he were calling to someone. I stepped back in the living room, half expecting to find him sitting up again, but he was still lying curled up on the couch as if resting. It looked as if he were asleep, but it had only been minutes since he had laid down and it seemed to short a time for him to be speaking in his sleep. Awake or asleep, he spoke again loud and clear, as if seeking a response. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite make out one word. He either said, “Are you there, Savior?” or “Are you there, Saber?” (I cannot determine which it was, thought I will admit my mind is inclined toward Savior, but I admit that is based upon interpretation of his previous comment about “soul”) He repeated the question a second time, still not moving. Then he went silent for a bit, Arlan and I staring at him perplexed and wondering. Then he spoke again, a little quieter and more at ease like someone who is responding to their answered question. I did not retain exactly what he said, but it was something like, “Was it good?” Then he went silent and said no more. A few minutes later he sat up again and acted as if nothing unusual had occurred. Neither me nor Arlan questioned him, though perhaps we should have. Or perhaps it is right that we did not.

As I have said before Grandpa will get confused about where people are, and will talk to walls, empty chairs, or junk as if a person is there. And, given that today was a bad day he was clearly doing that multiple times today. But usually when he becomes confused the non-existent (or misplaced) person is either “Ma” (Grandma) or “that guy” (an undefined somebody he thinks he sees, perhaps me or Arlan) but in this incident he was not looking at anything, and the name (whatever name it was) was not anyone that I physically know. Whether Grandpa was speaking gibberish in a momentary confused dream, or if he was simply speaking his thoughts aloud in some form, or whether he carried on an actual conversation with some being (God or otherwise) I don’t know, and perhaps it isn’t my place to know. But the incident, to say the very least, was odd.

It reminds me a bit of a different time when Grandpa spoke. It was not quite the same, but only somewhat similar. On this other occasion it was the middle of the night. It is not that unusual for Grandpa to speak in the middle of the night. He will wake up and sigh and mutter and sometimes even speak up quite cognizantly asking a question of me from the dark, if something occurs to him which he wants answered. It is usually very mundane conversation about mundane concerns but this time out of the darkness he said words which jerked me full awake. He said quite suddenly in the middle of the night “I don’t know who I am, and I don’t know where I am.” It was such a flat statement of finality that it made my heart give a little jump.

“What is it, Grandpa?” I said. “What is the matter?” But he gave no response to my queries only muttering and sighing to himself. I could only conclude that he was voicing some inward thought, or having some inward argument in his own mind that came out vocally. In any case it was a very grim thought.

****

This past Sunday I didn’t go home. Arlan had to work the last two Saturdays and so hadn’t been able to go home for two weeks and I thought he really needed to go, so I persuaded him to take my turn. Since Grandma and Grandpa get most of their family visiting on Sunday, this means for once I was there when my Uncle Nate came over in the morning, and my Uncle Kevin came over in the evening. While each of them was visiting I did something that I hope was a good idea to do.

I printed out and shared Full Circle. Since I released that particular piece on my Silverware Thief blog I wasn’t concerned about it being “too private” or some such–I had already made the decision about that a long time ago. Rather, while I thought it was important for me to write that piece and if someone else had written that I would want to read it . . . some other people would feel differently. To say the least it is sad . . . I think the essay says some things worth thinking about, but other people don’t want to think about those things.

Word has got back to me that Full Circle moved some people to tears when they read it, and it certainly made me cry to write it . . . but one doesn’t lightly give your uncle a peice of writing about his father that might make him cry. But I felt that what Full Circle said about Grandpa, and about what he was suffering, was something at least Nate and Kevin ought to have the chance to read and understand (I’m not so sure about my other aunts and uncles). So with some nervousness I gave it to both of them to read.

Nate reacted as I expected . . . which is to say whatever he thought of it he kept controlled and to himself. It obviously didn’t make him happy, but when he finished he folded the papers up with a sigh, said it was very good, and asked if he could take it home. So however it made him feel, he appreciated it and felt it was worthwhile.

Kevin . . . Kevin was the one I thought a long time about before sharing the essay. Kevin is probably the most emotionally sensitive of Grandpa’s children and he has been struggling a lot emotionally with Grandpa’s sickness. I felt Kevin would either appreciate the insight and perhaps greater empathy he would be able to feel for Grandpa on reading Full Circle, or . . . the sadness was cut so deep that reading the essay would throw him into depression and despair. So with some trepidation I handed him the essay.

Kevin read it at the dinner table. The bad thing is that I couldn’t explain what I was giving either Nate or Kevin to read. I couldn’t warn them or explain to them what it was, or what it would be like. I could only give it to them to read and they had to take it as they would. Kevin, as I guessed, was visibly moved and clearly had to struggle to control himself. Even Grandma noticed, and went on to say that it had made her so sad she could never read it again. “Yes, but we know how to handle it,” Kevin said, not sounding as if he was handling it well at all.

After awhile he seemed to master his emotions, but he didn’t ask to bring it home, and in fact returned the papers to the desk. Whether it did Kevin any good to read the essay, I don’t know. I don’t think he appreciated reading it. I hope it didn’t send him into a fit of depression.

And that is enough rambling for tonight.

I Am With You

27th February 2007

Something other than stories about Grandma and Grandpa today . . .

****

This morning I was reading the beginning of the book of Jeremiah and this passage reached out to me:

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:4-11 NIV)

The first thing that struck me was, those words don’t apply only to Jeremiah.

Then I began to think some more.

There is a very real sense where we are all prophets. Just as in Christ we can be called a kingdom of priests to serve our God (Rev. 1:6), so in Christ we are all prophets–prophets of the revelation of Jesus Christ, called to declare the gospel and the judgment to come.

We can so easily regulate the prophet roll (as the declarer of God’s word) to the dusty past or the gifted other and in that way the uncomfortable facts about the prophetic life are removed from consideration. But we all are called to be prophets of the revelation of Christ–all of us whom Christ as been revealed to in our hearts. We are declaring the fullness of the message of repentance and the judgment to come. The prophets of the past declared only the shadow and type of these things but we now in this present age have been called to declare the fullness of this message revealed in Christ.

And so the admonitions to the prophets of the past (and the examples of their lives) apply to us.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.

Powerful words stating so boldly the complete sovereignty of God. He didn’t say “Once I formed you I knew you.” Or, “After you were born I decided what I wanted you to do in life.” No, it is, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Before we have even begun the most minute speck of our earthly existence God already knows those who are his and has set their tasks for them. And as Christ has said for our great comfort, “All that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:29 NASB)

We are the little prophet children of God, called and chosen to declare the message of salvation in Christ to the world. This call of God is our confidence and our hope, but it is also the foundation of God’s command for us; “I knew you, I formed you, I set you apart, I appointed you.” God, as the God who has done all this, has absolute right to our lives.

And how do we so often respond to this?

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

Those very personal words of Jeremiah strike so close to home. The I is me, and I have said it . . . if not those very words, then at least that sentiment. Lord, I don’t know how to speak. I don’t know how to do it. I’m not wise enough. I’m not strong enough. Moses said it. Jeremiah said it. It seems to be the common affliction of those called by God. Everyone one of us hears God’s voice calling us in our lives and we say, “Lord, I can’t!”

And the just rebuke of the Lord:

“Do not say, ‘I am only a child.'”

We all want to snivel (in some form another) about our various inabilities. We’re not smart enough, or we’re not bold enough, or we can speak well enough, or write well enough. And, in fact, we are correct. How so? Well, we aren’t smart enough, strong enough, good enough–or anything else enough. But God hasn’t called us to get up and go by our strength. He has called us to a life of faith. He has called us to believe what he has said. It is by faith we lay hold of it.

And what is that which we lay hold of? It is the promise:

I am with you

God has formed us, God has called us. God has plans for our lives. And rightly we must recognize that we aren’t good enough for the plans. We aren’t strong enough for those commands. But God hasn’t called us to fulfill His appointing and plans for our lives by our own strength. Trying to do that is not walking by faith. The walk of faith is not only recognizing the call of “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you” but also believing the promise of “I am with you” and so we are not afraid . . . not of our own failures and weakness, but also not afraid of what persecutions or sufferings we might face. Because He is with us we are not afraid, and know that he will rescue us . . . not only through the daily struggles, but when in the end our prophetic mission is over and we die, that we will be raised up on the last day (John 6:39).

How could we think to have the confidence, the downright presumption, to declare the gospel of God? Anyone who stops to consider his own frailty and weakness would be driven to say, “God, I’m not able! God, I’m not worthy of such a great task and such a responsibility!”

But the source of our confidence, the source of our authority is this:

the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.

The gospel uproots and tears down. It destroys and overthrows every stronghold and pretension of men (2 Cor. 10:4-5), and it builds and plants, seeds of salvation for a harvest of righteousness (2 Cor. 9:10). And God has called us, He has touched us and filled us with His Spirit so that we will speak His words and do His work. In this great calling that God has given we are to have no confidence in the flesh (Philippians ch. 3) but rather by faith to walk in the Spirit.

Now when I first thought about this passage this morning I thought, “I know how Jeremiah feels. I have the same problem. I have such a hard time being bold in speaking for the Lord.” And I thought about the idea of us being prophets from that perspective of speaking. But then I thought about it more later and realized I was being too narrow in my thinking and missing a much broader picture.

The prophets weren’t called to simply speak the words of God. By their very lives they were to declare the word of God–His message to the world. Whether it be Isaiah and the naming of his children, Jeremiah being forbidden from marrying at all(Jer. 16:1-4), or the many other activities he was called to physically do (such as the yoke of iron see Jeremiah ch. 27, but also many others), or even the many activities Ezekiel was called to preform or suffer (such as the death of his wife), the prophets were as much called to live the word of God as simply speak it.

And that has implications for us as well. God didn’t chose us, he didn’t appoint us, just to simply say a few words for him here and there and live the rest of our lives as we please. No, he has laid the divine call on us so that we will live His message to the world. As the Spirit of Christ lives in us, and as we reflect Christ in our lives (even our daily lives) so the gospel is declared to a dying world. The world may blind itself to the message revealed in us, but God is testifying to them through our lives of righteousness. We cannot only think of great acts as being service to God. No, we have been called to no less than reflecting Christ in our every act, and in reflecting Christ in our holy living we are declaring the gospel and the judgment to come.

A proper recognition of this truth brings a different perspective to life. No longer are you preforming acts of no account, or meaningless deeds. As you live by faith in obedience to Christ you are living as a “prophet” to the dying world, declaring the life and salvation in Christ. Some God has called to declare his word by their deeds in this obscure workplace, or that unimportant job down at the store . . . or whatever, but in each case we ought to live with the recognition that God has called us to this place because he has appointed us to declare here, where we are, the gospel–not only be word, but also by deed.

Sometimes those deeds will be acting in ways considered folly by men–so it often was for the prophets in the past. We can be called to suffer ridicule, hardships, and even things we don’t fully understand. In each case we remember that we are only walking in the same path of faith as the prophets of the past–not understood, rejected, and even ourselves confused. It extends to every aspect of our life. Called to marriage? Then live it as God has called you. Called to a life alone? Live it as God has called you, just like Jeremiah. Called to suffer the death of a loved one? Remember Ezekiel.

So, while it was a true observation for me to recognize I have great difficulty being as bold as I ought in word, it would be wrong for me to neglect to consider the deeds of my life in view of the truth of Scripture. And so it came around to the recognition that at present I am declaring the gospel as much in deed as by word. The deeds of service to Grandma and Grandpa are as of much import as any other declaration of the gospel and it is just as real as any other declaration. . . because we all, by word or deed, are declaring the same gospel and we must not forget that the deeds are as much a declaration as the words we speak, whether our audience understands or not.

None of us has the strength for this calling in ourselves (no matter how easy we might deceive ourselves into thinking our lot might be), and yet all of us have the strength in Christ (no matter how hard we might think our lot is).

At its heart we are declaring the same words as the prophets of old, except only now the words are made more clear with the revelation of Jesus Christ. There is great encouragement, but there is also great motivation in seeing and recognizing what we have been called to in Christ, right along side Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the people of faith through the ages past.

We have been called just as surely as the prophets of old.

****

I wrote all of that very quickly this evening. No doubt it could be better, but it will have to do for the present. I hope it stirs some worthwhile thoughts.

Unaccepted Solutions

23rd February 2007

The little bits first:

My bike ride today was rather miserable. It was snowing heavily, which is bad enough by itself because the snow blows back in my face–very uncomfortable, and it makes me ride with one eye shut and the other opened no more than a squint. So that was bad enough, but even worse it was warm enough so that most of the snow was melting on contact and the road was covered with water. My front tire through up salty water (filled with all sorts of heavy metals and toxins from car exhaust) into my face and mouth. As if that weren’t enough my pants were quickly soaked, and then my underwear. Considering the fact that it was snowing I came back from the ride thoroughly soaked and my lower extremities beginning to freeze from the wet clothing.

Yesterday the whether was very nice. Grandma took advantage of the fact and had me take her out to the bank for some business and the car wash to clean her very new car. Since no one else was at home to watch over Grandpa we took him with us. His entire involvement consisted in sitting in the car and watching the outside world. I caught me by surprise when we pulled back into the garage after the trip and Grandpa said, “Well, very good. I really enjoyed that.”

Grandpa is usually disinclined to go out of the house, but in reflection I realized that his primary concern is over being required to do something outside of the house. If Grandpa feels secure that nothing is required of him and he can simply sit safe in the car and look at the world–that is all the enjoyment that is left to Grandpa. It isn’t unusual to find Grandpa sitting on the arm of the couch, staring out the window at the world beyond. In his own way I think he feels (at least in a subconscious way, if not consciously) the fact that his world has shrunk to the four walls of his house. While in one way it frightens him to think of going out and facing the difficulty of dealing with the wide world, another part of his wants to see the outside world, which still has echoing memories of his past, and better days. So today he went out and saw the living breathing, active world, and he saw the bright sunshine still shining down on the world.

And why wouldn’t he enjoy that?

****

But beyond that the slow downward spiral continues unabated. The bathroom problems continue to increase in frequency . . . Since Grandpa started throwing all the contents of bathroom garbage cans into the toilet, bag and all, I finally decided there could be no more garbage cans in bathrooms. (As I fished the garbage bag out of the toilet for one of the last times Grandpa asked, “Do you always have to do that?” to which I said, “Well, every time you through it in.”) The garbage cans were becoming too much of an issue as he was constantly trying to get them to “work” with the toilet when he was on his “I don’t know how the bathroom works” gigs. The upstairs bathroom garbage can was the first to go, but the downstairs bathroom can soon followed when I one day went down to check on him and found him tottering out of the bathroom with his pants down around his knees, intent on grabbing a throw rug and adding it to the garbage bag and contents already plugging up the toilet. Apparently he figured that if the first addition hadn’t made the toilet start preforming maybe another addition would help. So, no more garbage cans in bathrooms–Grandpa and everyone else must now walk out into the kitchen to dispose of anything but that is an easy sacrifice to make.

I’m thinking that Grandma’s collection of throw rugs should be the next banned item–it seems to have become Grandpa’s new fixation. A few days ago Grandpa told Grandma he needed to go to the “sewer” and then promptly dropped his pants and took aim at the rug in front of the refrigerator. When Grandma protested that he wasn’t supposed to do it there he turned to her and said, “Well then where am I supposed to do it?” Then a different day he did pee all over the through rug in front of the kitchen sink. And I’ve already had to permanently banish the throw rug in our bathroom because it was impossible to easily get the thing truly and easily clean when I was constantly cleaning up from his peeing accidents. It definitely seems that since garbage cans are no longer around to capture his attention the throw carpets are now the new item which has come to be associated with his bathroom needs (when he is confused . . . in his better states he still uses the proper facilities).

Today was a bit of a bad day . . . nothing really serious, but I intercepted him in the kitchen as he was in the process of undressing. When I asked him if he wanted to go to the bathroom (the usual meaning if he starts undressing anywhere) he said “No, not now . . . eventually I will.” I then asked him if he wanted to take a bath (second most likely possibility) and he said “No, I was going to do that earlier, but I’ve given up on that” (he had a shower a day or two ago so it wasn’t need anyhow). So I asked him what he wanted to do. At that point he looked at me rather blankly and then turned to the kitchen table and talked about getting things to work with things, and pointing at and picking up various objects. I pressed him on the reasons for getting undressed, and basically it came through he couldn’t remember where he was going with that, but he was trying to do something. So I let the whole pants issue go for the moment and asked him if he wanted something to eat (he was fiddling around with the leftovers I had got out for my late lunch–he had already ate earlier). He agreed, so I warmed up some food for him and he sat at the table in his diaper and ate a second lunch. Then he dragged a chair around the house for awhile, then sat down on the couch the watch TV with Grandma. I had to take Melinda to work, so I got his pants and put them back on him, and he offered no objection. However, Grandma told me later that after I left he took off his pants again and when Grandma questioned him he said he was wet. She got him a new diaper without checking the veracity of his comment. Probably it was true–Grandpa is generally cognizant of that, though I am beginning to suspect he occasionally isn’t–sometimes he thinks he is wet and he isn’t, and vice-versa. It might also explain the forgotten reason why he was getting undressed the first time.

Grandpa’s weakness (related to his back pain) has been increasing, as well as his times when he is unable to walk (because of Alzheimer’s’s related issues. This, combined with his bathroom troubles, have formed the crux of some problems that have been troubling my mind.

To start with the bathroom problem, as I have already related before, this issues is exacerbated by the fact that Grandpa is still tries to get to the bathroom and not piss himself. Of course if you have a good diaper on pissing yourself (in the abstract) is better than a lot of other options, but this type of thought doesn’t cross his mind. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to find Grandpa standing in the middle of the bedroom with his diaper down around his ankles, struggling to get out so he can go down the hall to the bathroom. Now anyone with familiarity with this type of setup knows that at that moment he could no longer hold it in, so as he is trying to get out the urine is going sprinkle, sprinkle over everything (much to Grandpa’s distress). One’s initial reaction is to go, “Aaahhh! No, no! Put it back on, put it back on!” but the best solution is to lung for the bedroom garbage can and position it to catch as much as you can.

Basically whenever Grandpa is seized by the sudden and desperate need to go to the bathroom he blind instinct is to first drop his pants and then find the proper receptacle for his business. So another mid-night jaunt finds me following Grandpa down the hall as he heads for the bathroom as fast as he can, sprinkling the hall carpet as he goes. He’s holding it in as pest he can and finally makes it to the bathroom door, turns the corner and lets loose at the bathroom in general. After emptying half to three-quarters of his bladder across the floor he realizes his mistake.

Cleaning up the linoleum bathroom floor is no problem. But, excepting the kitchen, the rest of the house is wall-to-wall carpeting, and while I have been mopping up various small amounts of piss out of the carpet I’m foreseeing a lot of cleaning efforts in the future, and perhaps some unavoidable bad odor.

I have noticed that not only is Grandpa forgetting how to use the bathroom, but I think he is beginning to have difficulty interpreting the signs that he needs to go. For quite a while he has struggled with the sudden need to use the bathroom and this has been related to his prostate problems. But now he has begun to exhibit symptoms of preparing to do something and then forgetting what it is he was intending to do . . . he will either try to take off his pants or put a garment on and then say, “What am I supposed to be doing?” When you suggest he needs to go use the bathroom he will say no, not now . . . then a few minutes later he will suddenly say, “I’ve got to go, bad!” and he won’t be able to make it. At this point it seems as if he only recognizes the desperate urge to use the bathroom.

This evening Grandpa wanted to use the bathroom while I was occupying it. I told him I would be right out, and he said not to hurry. A minute later I was off and out . . . and Grandpa had already taken his leak in the kitchen garbage can (which reminds me, I still need to change it). So it seems Grandpa’s bathroom need awareness is rapidly shrinking to “just before” awareness.

The real problem here is keeping the carpets clean. The rest of the bathroom issues cleanup I can easily handle. So what is the solution?

But wait. The next problem is Grandpa’s weakness. I have already previously expressed my concern about me not keeping careful watch over Grandpa every time he goes out on a bathroom trip at night for fear he will fall down the stairs or get into some other trouble. Well, as his strength has lessened and his back problems come in full force, this has become an increasing concern. I see the glimmerings of the possibility that one night Grandpa might go to the bathroom and not have the strength to get back. When he is really bad he basically staggers and falls toward his destination, careening off corners and grabbing at various objects until, breathing hard, he makes it back to bed. When his back is killing him this is physically draining. I’m becoming more tuned for signs that Grandpa might not make it back. A recent night I came back out of a dozing light sleep to hear the familiar Thump-thump of Grandpa’s shoulder working it’s way along the wall as he slid along toward the door, and the clawing rasp of his hand fumbling for the doorknob. The noises sounded all very blind and confused . . . it didn’t sound like a good trip.

I scrambled out of bed and opened the door. I found Grandpa sagging against the hall wall in the dark. “Boy am I glad to see you,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

“Need help?” I said.

“I guess.”

Taking his hand in one of mine, I put my other hand in his armpit and bodily hoisted him up. Helping support some of his weight, I guided him back into the bedroom and bed.

Grandpa’s weakness, failing ability to walk, and back pain means its unlikely he is going to wander off. But it does present other problems. Twice he has had a crises in the garage (which is part of the basement). Once was not strictly related it his walking problems, but I will mention it anyhow. He had decided to change the kitchen garbage. It was after dark, he didn’t need to change the garbage, but since a bit of gentle persuasion wasn’t going to dissuade him, I wasn’t going to argue over the matter and let him carry the bag of garbage off downstairs. I made a mental note to check on him if he didn’t come back in a reasonable amount of time, then went back to what I was doing.

A short time later I heard loud shouts of distress from the basement. “Help! Heeelllp! Heelllp!”

I ran downstairs and opened the door to find Grandpa in the darkened garage. I figured out what had happened quick enough. The light switched to the garage is in the finished part of the basement and the door between the finished part and the garage is a fire door which automatically swings shut. Grandpa walked out into the garage without remembering to turn on the basement light and the door promptly swung shut behind him, plunging him into darkness. By the position of the garbage back it seems he at first thought this was no big deal and intended to continue to the trash can. Halfway there he thought better of it and turned back. He probably intended to open the door and turn on the light . . . instead he grabbed the handle to a filing cabinet drawer opened it, and stuck his hand inside the drawer. At this point I think he realized he was completely and utterly lost in the dark.

He was clearly shook up when I arrived, but tried rather thinly to make light of it. “It sure took you a long time to get here,” he said. “I thought I was going to be stuck down here forever. I thought I was a goner.” And when I got him back upstairs to Grandma he said, “I thought I’d never see you again.” He didn’t precisely really think any of those things, but behind the joke was the faint echo of the real terror he felt when he couldn’t find the door to get back out.

The second time he got stuck down in the garage was on a day when he was in a fit of agitation going inside and outside, upstairs and downstairs trying to do “things” which he weren’t quite sure what they were and generally getting himself utterly exhausted. I had an idea where this was going to end up so after a few minutes of his downstairs in the garage and not returning after one of his trips I went down to check on him. His ability to loco-mote had expired at the front of the car. I found him bracing himself against the car, looking like someone who couldn’t figure out how he was going to make it to the door. Exhaustion and confusion had combined to lock up his brain and he couldn’t move himself forward.

I took his hand and tried to encourage him forward and get his brain back in gear. At first he staggered and shuffled in place but with my coaxing his feet finally unlocked and we made it to the door. After that his brain relaxed and he made it back upstairs, but for a moment I had considered the fact that I might have to carry him upstairs.

So there is this growing problem of Grandpa getting around.

And what is the solution to these problems. Is there a solution? There is no perfect solution, but a couple of weeks ago I did think up a good solution that would reduce a lot of issues . . . if only people agreed with my solution. First, I would install a gate on the top of the stairs leading down to the basement that Grandpa couldn’t open. That way Grandpa would never be going down a flight of stairs without my assistance. Second, I would bring the commode out of storage and put it in our bedroom, and further I would so arrange it that after I was in the bedroom for the night Grandpa would not be able to open the bedroom door and get out without my help (there being several ways I could accomplish this). Third, take a roll of old linoleum out of the barn and put it over the carpeted floor in our bedroom. The end result would be that during the night Grandpa would only use the commode in our bedroom where he wouldn’t have to travel more than a few steps and I could constantly keep an eye on him. And, with the gate installed at the top of the stairs Grandpa during the day couldn’t do dangerous things on the stairs. Some of the greatest dangers eliminated.

The problem with my solutions is that Grandma and Grandpa have their own and differing objections. Grandma isn’t thrilled with a gate installed because that will lower resale value (though I haven’t yet approached her and argued my case) and Grandpa, I know, would be highly offended by the restrictions on his movement.

I know all these things must be done eventually, sooner better than later. But I’m taking it slow. First I get the linoleum rolled out in the bedroom. Then I discuss the possibility of Grandpa always going to the bathroom in the bedroom at night and night leaving the room. That is going to be very very hard, and I might not get the staying in the bedroom past Grandpa’s muster. He doesn’t much care where he takes a piss so long as everyone else is happy, but being able to get up and leave the bedroom when he wishes is a point of personal dignity. Very understandable, and I wouldn’t worry quite so much if I knew there was a gate on the stairs . . . and that is the last sticking point. I think Grandma will be rather appalled at a gate installed at the head of her stairs, but I’m hoping if I present it properly she will find herself unable to object. It needs to be done, badly, before Grandpa takes a serious tumble. Earlier this week Grandpa decided to carry a kitchen chair down to the basement. My quick assistance helped him get downstairs with the chair without any injury, but there are too many opportunities.

They are definitely unhappy solutions, all of them. They are very practical, but they bring the ugly realities of where we are going out where everyone can see them. And it will be especially hard on Grandpa because he isn’t so stupid as to not realize he is being penned in. My only hope is that I can talk to him and make him agree that for his own safety this steps are necessary. And I am dreading that conversation, so I am putting everything off . . .

Well, I stayed up way later than I should have writing all that, so I’ll sign off now. Somehow I seem to always make sure I’m the most tired when grocery day comes around . . .

More on Reading to Grandpa

19th February 2007

I really should be going to bed, not writing this. But I forgot to start my laundry earlier today, so my bed sheets are still in the dryer. I was running a slightly larger than normal sleep deficit last week and last night I was really tired and tried to go to bed early . . . that didn’t work out, and then I had trouble sleeping throughout the night, so I was exceptionally tired today, and so by this evening I was laying on the floor in the dining room beside my computer and thinking it felt like a wonderful place to fall asleep.

In reading to Grandpa I’ve worked us through Caddie Woodlawn, then Moccasin Trail, and now we’re working on Maniac Magee. Grandpa continues to enjoy the stories and the reading in equal measure. He usually falls asleep before I finish reading so I wonder how he can keep in the story, but somehow he does, at least enough for himself. Some notable highlights:

I wondered if Moccasin Trail was too difficult for Grandpa. The chapters were longer than Caddie Woodlawn and the interaction more complex and the conflicts between characters more subtle. But in spite of my concerns he seemed to enjoy the story very much. At one point he asked, “How much do we have left? Is it almost over?”

“No,” I said, “We’re only about halfway through. Are you getting tired of this story?”

“No,” he said. “I was afraid it was almost over.”

I don’t want to give the story away for anyone who hasn’t read it, but at the end there is a final gripping conflict when a particular character is in danger. The chapter ends with one character screaming, distraught, at another character and the other character running off to attempt a daring rescue. Grandpa was gripped. I looked up and he wasn’t lying on the bed drifting off into dream land, he was sitting up watching me intently. When I closed the book and said that was the end of the chapter for tonight he said, “Awwww . . .”

Recently we started Maniac Magee. I was a little uncertain because this is a story about a kid in modern times and I wasn’t sure Grandpa could really relate to any story set beyond the Great Depression. However, I suspected that any story that dealt with the struggles of people Grandpa could relate to in some way, and further (as I’ve already said previously) I suspect half of his enjoyment is just to hear the reading, not the particular story. In any case, he seems to be enjoying Maniac Magee as much as the last book.

Sunday was a bad day for Grandpa. When I got back from my visit home Arlan was cleaning up a mess in the bathroom and told me he had to get Grandpa two pairs of new pants during the course of the day. The rest of the evening while I was back home Grandpa was very agitated and confused. It was a bad day for him, but I think part of his evening trouble was from his exhaustion. When I finally got him into bed I left the room briefly to get a drink and a quick bite of dessert before I started reading to him. I stuffed a bit of food in my mouth, took a quick drink . . . three minutes later I was back in the room and Grandpa was already sound asleep. Talk about falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. It was only 9:00 PM.

Nice, I thought. Grandpa was down early for once and I was so tired I needed to go to be early myself. A chance to catch up on my sleep. So I finished up what I was doing at my computer and got into bed by about 9:30. I get under the covers, lights out, and am trying to go to sleep . . . and Grandpa wakes up. It about 10:00 now. He has to go to the bathroom. So I get back out of bed and help him to the bathroom. He finishes his business in the bathroom and I help him back to bed.

Grandpa sat down on the edge of his bed and said, “Well, I guess it’s probably too late to read me any more story.” Fallen asleep before his story reading that night, and somehow he managed to remember it.

“Yeah, it’s too late I agreed,” thinking about my intention of getting to bed early, and how it was already heading toward quarter after ten. “It’ll half to wait until tomorrow . . .” But then I started feeling guilty. He had pretty much come right out and asked me to please read to him and we were both awake already and I probably wouldn’t have to read all that much before he fell asleep and besides what difference did it make, anyhow?

So I read him some Maniac Magee. But I didn’t catch up on my sleep last night.

Tonight I was preoccupied (not to mention tired) so I wasn’t keeping up with Grandpa as much as I should have, so he was already lying down in bed when I came to check on him. He was dozing lightly and I touched his leg and asked him if he wanted me to read him the story.

“Sure,” he said. “I’d love it if you’d read . . . I mean, if it isn’t too much trouble and if you don’t mind . . .”

So tonight we read about McNab the giant bully and his confrontation with Maniac Magee over baseball. Toward the end of the conflict McNab leaves the field, supposedly to take a wizz in the forest down by the creek. “He took a long time,” the story said, “but the kids supposed that someone as big as McNab needed to take a long wizz. They figured he might make the creek rise.” I glanced up and saw Grandpa grin. He was following the story at least that well.

****

I am finding it interesting to discover that, from my perspective as the reader, there is a definite and distinct difference in the quality of books for reading out loud. As I have said before, I am not a good out loud reader. I struggle with pronunciation even when I’m simply speaking my own thoughts–much less trying to verbalize whatever words the book is throwing at me. It feels like I constantly have two different threads of activity going on in my mind at once when I’m reading aloud . . . one part of my mind is reading the book, another part of my mind is trying to get my mouth to form the appropriate words . . . and then my mind is trying to keep both of those parts working is pretty good coordination.

Reading aloud requires real mental effort from me, a real linguistic workout, and this comes off better with some books than others. I’m not sure if I am such a poor reader that I simply do better with 4th grade reading material and anything harder gets progressively more difficult, or if quality of writing is really the key, and I can handle any level of reading so long as it is well written.

I’m not sure. I think Moccasin Trail was a slightly higher reading level than either Caddie Woodlawn or Maniac Magee, but how it struck me when I was trying to read it was how the writing quality struck me as so much poorer. I don’t recall noticing this when I read the story to myself. But now it seemed that whereas the two other stories read snappy and clean, with writing that felt as if it flowed so naturally, by contrast Moccasin Trail seemed to meander, the writing not as clean or sharp, the words not what you expected to follow, as if the writer didn’t chose the best turn of a phrase. I did a horrible job reading Moccasin Trail.

The reading itself was more difficult so I couldn’t keep slightly ahead in my reading of what I was supposed to be pronouncing, (and thus be prepared in advance for what I would have to say,) so I was pretty much winging it through the whole novel. If I try to pronounce words as I read them I go very slowly and haltingly. So instead I would make an educated guess what the next few sentences would say, and start saying that, and then quickly read on ahead to myself as my mouth started down the pre-programmed path. This was less than completely successful, as I would anticipate wrongly, and would have to either correct myself in mid-stride, or else (when I feared correcting myself would get my flow of words hopelessly mixed up) I would simply winging my way, no matter that the actual book said it slightly differently. Yes, that was something of an abomination of reading out loud, and striking to me the how I found the other two books noticeably easier. But I don’t think Grandpa noticed too much . . . though he actually did correct my mangled mispronunciation of one word (yeah, he was listening).

In closing, a note to the family back home: Make sure I bring Heidi back with me next weekend. I think Grandpa would really enjoy that.

My sheets better be done now. It’s waaay too late for someone who is trying to catch up on their sleep.

3 Responses to More on Reading to Grandpa

  1. Titi says:

    I never read Moccasin Trail until fairly recently (6-8 months ago, maybe?), and, in my humble opinion, the writing stunk. I seem to remember I read it through because I was supposed to be doing weights at the time, but I thought the writer needed a good editor. So I don’t think it’s just “higher grade level” reading that makes it harder to read aloud.

  2. Cadie says:

    I was curious about Grandpa’s reaction to Moccasin Trail. I was re-reading some of it before we brought it down, to refresh my memory of what was going to be read to Grandpa, and thinking he’d like it. But since I hadn’t heard you mention anything about it, I thought you hadn’t read it to him yet.

    I enjoyed the book when I read it, but I wished that the author was a better writer. In both of the books of hers that I’ve read, the story is very interesting, and it seems like it should be leading up to something, but then it doesn’t. There’s emotional interest throughout the book, and then there’s more emotion at the end, but not much real progression from one thing to another.

    Not that a bunch of exciting things doesn’t happen at the climax of MT, but it seems like they don’t function to show anything new. For example, Jim has this dawning realization after bringing back the stolen horse that what he really wants is friends, not enemies, but it seemed that the story had already made this clear.

  3. R says:

    The central theme of MT is Jim struggle with his identity. That is what MT was leading up to . . . Jim’s final act at the end of the book. The friends/enemies issue was just a part of Jim coming to understand his changing identity.

Comments are closed.

Cooking

18th February 2007

When I came to live with Grandma and Grandpa I came to help Grandpa by taking care of him, and I came to help Grandma by taking care of Grandpa and cooking. Grandma has never enjoyed cooking, and now that her health has declined enough it is physically too tiring for her to cook. Since Grandma never liked to cook she never put much effort into cooking good things to eat. For Grandma, my arrival has meant better eating for her.

For me, cooking is a balancing act. I want to

  • Make something I enjoy eating
  • Make something Grandma enjoys eating
  • Make something Grandpa enjoys eating
  • Make something, if possible, that Melinda and Arlan enjoy eating
  • Make a variety of good and interesting things to eat
  • Make something that doesn’t take very much of my time

This is a balancing act where not all things can be balanced equally. Grandpa likes eating so few things that it is very hard to completely satisfy him. For him I am pretty much reduced to trying to make sure there is a dessert for him on the meals he really doesn’t like.

In the end I primarily balance making something Grandma likes to eat against what doesn’t take a lot of time to make. Grandma doesn’t have refined tastes, so it is actually easy to make her happy. Basically, all she cares for is sweet and sour, meat and mashed potatoes. I have been slowly adjusting what I make for meals to more align with her tastes. Since she has such mundane tastes satisfying her doesn’t take an undue amount of work from me, and she thinks I’m the greatest cook.

I have two basic points of guilt relating to my cooking. After supper I lose what little energy and ambition I have so I try to squeeze in what work I can on my own projects and goals in what part of the afternoon I can get to myself. If I were to get supper on the table at a decent hour I would clean up after lunch, maybe have an hour to myself and then start on supper. It’s hard to get much done in an hour or less, so I usually very deliberately put off working on supper so I can have two or three hours to do something for myself. I don’t start on supper until 5:00 PM and this means supper isn’t served until 6:30-7:00 PM (and of course if I didn’t make such quick and easy suppers I wouldn’t even be able to pull this off).

I feel a bit guilty because this is a blatant act of selfishness. To get something done for myself I put off everyone’s supper. I guess somewhere done inside me I must feel that this might be a legitimate compromise because I don’t feel so guilty that I start supper at 3:30 to get it on the table by 5:30 . . . most of the time. But if I feel it is truly necessary I will.

My other point of minor guilt is that I feel a bit like an accessory to Grandma’s attempt to kill herself by eating. She likes to eat salty, sweet, and fatty foods. As a diabetic with severe heart disease should be eating nothing of these three “food groups”. But Grandma has an elaborate delusion going over what she can and cannot eat and I am feeding it (pun intended).

I make things that taste so good (to her) that not only does she not want to give them up, but she wants to have them every week. Eat and drink today, for tomorrow we may die. I find her relationship (or attitude) toward meat particularly appalling. Grandma’s kidney’s are failing and around a year before I came to live with them her kidney function became so bad she had to give up all meats except fish for awhile. I guess her kidney function recovered to a degree because eventually she returned to eating meat. But since I’ve arrived we’ve started to go hog-wild. Grandma has discovered that I can make meat taste so darn good she don’t want to stop.

It seems I am constantly surprising her with the delicious methods I come up with to prepare food. In truth, I’m doing nothing any moderately trained cook would know as the basics. It all started with a steak Grandma said was in the freezer and maybe I could cook up. Apparently she always cut the meat into thin strips and then broiled it in the oven. It wasn’t a very good cut of meat to begin with (which meant I had to deal with toughness at the start) and I knew broiling often can make meat even tougher. So I marinated the steak for several days and then cooked it whole in some liquid. It turned out much more tasty and tender than her preparation of the meat, and Grandma pronounced that she wanted to have this every week.

That was the beginning. Eventually Grandma got tired of having that particular steak marinate, but she still wanted to have her piece of beef each week. I, knowing that beef was hard on her kidneys and all round not the most healthy thing to be eating, was willing to let it simply drop out of the menu. For awhile I managed to keep the beef to simply a bit in a stir-fry, but soon Grandma got her hankering for a hunk of meat again. So she had me buy a huge chunk of cow which I split for two separate meals and slow cooked the first portion and finished it off in a savory sweet and sour red sauce. One thing you have to give me, I know exactly what Grandma likes to eat.

Grandma was practically walking on air after she tasted that meal. It was pronounced as another meal to have every week.

And now she has decided to add pig to the menu. Last week she asked me if I could find some pork that I thought I could cook in a nice way, and spare ribs was the chosen cut (Grandma considered them sufficiently cheap and tasty). I accomplished the spare ribs with such success we’re having them this week, too.

The cook in me is pleased that Grandma enjoys my cooking so much, but the other part of me knows that as a diabetic with failing kidney’s Grandma should not be eating beef or pork–at the very least she should give those things up, and if she was really wise she would content herself with eating beans and gruel.

But I tell myself it is not my place to tell Grandma what she should eat, so I have kept my mouth shut. Grandma is well read about health foods and health matters so it isn’t as if she doesn’t know what she is doing–whether she is trying to delude herself or not. Grandma is a competent adult, and the grocery money is hers to spend as she pleases, so if she wants to have roast beef, pork spare ribs, and pizza every week no matter the consequences for her health, then we’ll have them. But I know it is a bad decision based upon the enjoyment of passing pleasures.

Grandma likes to eat every week the same things that she like so much lot. This is a convenience to me because it means I must do less thinking about what I cook. Dinner preparation becomes a simple repetition. However, unlike Grandma, I do get tired of the same food over and over again. The cook part of me likes to eat different things, and to experiment with something new. Most of the time I keep to the same old foods because this means I have more time to do the other things that I want. But sometimes I break down and make something different like this past week when I got tired of making pizza pizza pizza every Thursday and instead made pizza roll ups. It took more of my time, and more effort, but I wanted the change.

Little Troubles of Everyday Life

16th February 2007

A few days before the recent big snowstorm Arlan went out one night to dump the compost. There is a deck on the back of the house and as he was going down the rather long flight of stairs he slipped on the ice on the steps. His foot went through the stair railing and snapped two rail spindles like toothpicks. He escaped unhurt.

The next day Grandpa noticed the damage and I explained to him what happened. He promptly began agitating. I wasn’t surprised since by this time I know pretty well how Grandpa’s mind works, but if you think about it it does seem weird. A man who can’t remember how to use the bathroom is considering the possibilities of being liable if someone should get hurt on his back steps. This man who can’t remember how to use the bathroom is giving me elaborate instructions on how to cordon off the back steps so no one can use them and end up suing him if they get hurt.

The concern might not have been completely on target, but it certainly was a thoughtful concern with a thought out solution which one would think would be harder to think about than how one takes a leak in the toilet. Nonetheless, such is the oddity of how the disease works.

****

This morning Grandpa had serious trouble shaving again. He wouldn’t have got through it if I hadn’t been there prompting him along . . . he didn’t get through in any case . . . I had to finish up. I kept trying to prompt him, but he simply tried to shave whatever his eyes rested upon. He started with the newspaper and when he wouldn’t stop at my gentle prompting I took the newspaper away. A little miffed, he gamely started shaving his place-mat. So I finally took his hand with shaver and started him on his cheek. He shaved that for about a minute until his eyes rested on the radio sitting on the corner of the table. His mind thinks, “Hmmmm, I’d like to turn on the radio.” So he begin shaving the radio. I got him to stop, but his eyes kept going back to the radio and he kept returning to try to shave/turn it on.

Grandpa is finding it increasingly hard to cope. Things he used to try to fight his way (or attempt to fight his way) through, he now gives up and starts out by asking me to figure it out for him, or tell him if it is right. Pride is choked out by inability and confusion and just plain exhaustion with fighting with it all. He can turn his radio on 10-20% of the time. The rest of the time he simply tries to unplug it, or adjust the volume and wonder why nothing comes on. Instead of leaving him to his fruitless war I turn it on for him. Cleaning, and dealing with his teeth is another area that is rapidly heading down this path. If somehow he tries to clean and put away his teeth and I’m not there (and he realizes that he is utterly mixed up) he will leave his teeth by the sink and come ask me to “Deal with the mess at the sink.” He is paranoid that someone will break his teeth, which is part of the reason why he was always very reluctant to let anyone else touch his teeth. But now if I bring up the tub and ask him for his teeth so I can take care of them he surrenders his teeth without complaint. I almost think he dreads dealing with cleaning his teeth and trying to figure out if he has done everything right.

Today he had a very humiliating incident. It was lunch time and Grandpa’s older brother Doug was over for lunch. We were eating the leftover pizza-roll things I had made for supper the night before. A few difficult mouth-fulls into the meal Grandpa realized he had taken out his teeth sometime in the morning and it was very hard to eat lunch without his teeth. Once he realized his problem and made clear his need I went to the sink and fetched his teeth and rinsed them. Then I brought them to the table and offered them to him to put on.

But he couldn’t remember how to insert his teeth.

“You put them in upside down?” he asked, turning his top portion the wrong way around. Everyone was watching.

I tried to prompt him but it was one of those situations that all the words in the world would do no good because he didn’t understand what the words meant, at least in relation to the objects he was dealing with. So I tried to start over, taking back the upper section and giving him the bottom portion of his teeth. The bottom portion he inserted in his mouth okay, but when I gave him the top portion again he still couldn’t remember how it worked.

By this point the whole thing wasn’t helped along by the fact that Doug was trying to offer words of encouragement and Grandma was both laughing her head off and trying to give instructions as well. Grandpa started pushing the teeth about on his plate as if trying to get them to scoop up food. I saw this was another dead-end moment, so I picked up the teeth, righted them, and inserted them in Grandpa’s mouth for him.

Grandma felt bad for laughing, and Doug tried to make him feel it was all just fine, but requiring someone else to stick your false teeth in your mouth for you is a pretty low feeling . . . and all the worse when your incompetence is put on display before company.

I think Grandpa was feeling his ailment in particular today. After lunch when he tried to say something and lost the words he asked, “What is wrong with me? What is my problem? What causes it?”

“Your Alzheimer’s’s is what causes it,” I said. “You have Alzheimer’s’s Grandpa.”

Grandpa looked at Doug. “Did you know that?” he said.

“Yes,” Doug said. “I knew that.”

Sometimes I wonder what Doug thinks deep down in his own thoughts as he watches his younger brother slowly lose his mental ability. Doug is well into his 80’s and still exceptionally sound of mind, so he has no danger from the disease himself, but there must be particular sadness watching your younger brother lose everything he had–mentally and physically. In a man’s sort of way I think Doug has a lot of compassion for Grandpa. He comes to visit every week, and is willing to do anything for Grandpa that he asks (even showing him how to pee in the toilet). And Doug comes over and sits right next to Grandpa, which is the sort of thing Grandpa likes. He wants to have people near where he can feel them.

Trouble Shaving

10th February 2007

Grandpa has struggled with shaving for a long time. Before I came to care for him he was forcefully switched from a razor to a cordless electric razor both for his own safety when shaving himself, and so if someone else had to shave him it wouldn’t be unduly difficult. Grandpa will usually shave every other day or so, and has good days and bad days. Sometimes it seems like how well he manages with his shaving is a litmus for how the rest of the day will proceed.

Shaving is a struggle for Grandpa–turning on the shaver, using it on his face, and cleaning it when he is done. I try to help him as much as he needs, but not too much more. I try to have mercy on him and fetch the shaver and clean it for him, but for the sake of his dignity I bite my tongue and restrain myself while he fumbles with trying to turn it on, and struggles to actual shave himself. He is intimately aware that turning on the shaver is a pathetically simple thing that he should be able to do and to blantly come in and do it for him feels like something of a put-down, even if it would save him a lot of frustation.

But eventually the cruel realities of life collide head-on with Grandpa’s struggle for dignity. Sometimes for all of his efforts he cannot get the blasted shaver to turn off and must let me help. And finally, yesterday, he couldn’t shave himself.

For months Grandpa has face the intermittent problem of shaving the wrong thing. It started before I was here–the first confusion was, I think, shaving the man in the mirror. That is a funny mistake to witness (and you try very hard not to laugh) but that particular confusion is not very surprising. It’s not a total detachment from reality–some part of his mind has simply flipped around and you simply need to gently coax him back around to shaving not the guy in the mirror but himself. His problem with shaving the right thing has progressed from that point. On his best days he still can shave himself, but on his worst days he now will try to shave objects which have no relation to shaving.

Yesterday morning he said he wanted to shave so I fetched him the cordless shaver and the little table mirrior he uses. I immediately knew this wasn’t going to be a good day because when I set the shaving equipment down in front of him at the kitchen table and then moved something out of the way (maybe it was the sugar bowl) he reached out his hands and said, “Wait . . . I need to . . . reach all the stuff.” He looked across the table as if he saw many things he needed for his shaving.

I directed his attention back to the mirrior and shaver and he followed my prompting but he proceed with the peculiar method of someone who is following instruction that he doesn’t full comprehend, and whose mind is someplace else entirely. Proceeding to prove my observation correct, he picked up the shaver, turned it on, and then took his empty coffee mug and proceeded to shave it.

“Grandpa, that isn’t going to work very well.”

“I know,” Grandpa said, in a matter-of-fact tone that showed he didn’t understand what he was doing, or what I said, at all.

“You’re going to have a hard time finishing you’re shaving that way,” I prompted.

“I’m getting there,” he said, working the shaver head around the mug.

“It’s a mug. A cup, Grandpa. You don’t want to shave that.”

I think he vaugely grasped that I had said a negative, the dreaded “Don’t” but he still didn’t grasp what I was getting at. He rather confusedly put down the mug which I quickly took and removed from his reach (noticing that he had made the exterior of the mug hot by running the clipper blades over it).

“Hey,” Grandpa said. “Where are you–I need–”

“You don’t want to shave that, Grandpa,” I said. “You want to shave your face.”

At that point I think he finally realized he was screwing up, or at least finally knew I thought he was screwing up, even though he still couldn’t figure out all the whys. He stopped and held out the shaver and said woodenly, “You want to shave me?”

“No,” I said. “You can do it. You just need to get started.” So I started the shaver on his cheek and then guided him to using it. For the moment it looked like he was back on track.

I got up from the table to take care of something else in the kitchen, but by the time I reached the counter and turned around to check on Grandpa he had finished half of his cheek and had moved on to shaving the table. “Grandpa, that’s not going to work,” I said.

“Why,” he asked, continuing to meticiously move the shaver around in a circle.

At this point Grandma looked up from her spot at the table and took notice of what was going on, and promptly started laughing. There is nothing that cuts through Grandpa’s confusion faster than laughter. If he knows nothing else, he knows when he is being laughed at. You can carry on a deadpan conversation with him about the most absurd things, and extract him from the most embarrassing situations without fuss if you simply respond as if there was nothing particular unusal about what was going on. But laugh the least little bit and that cuts sure and swift right to Grandpa’s heart. He might not know what, or how, but he knows laughter. I admit that sometimes it is very hard to not laugh, and on occasion I will have to quickly excuse myself from the room to laugh quietly elsewhere until the impulse has faded and I can return to dealing seriously with Grandpa and his troubles. But Grandma cannot control herself as well, and sometimes seems to have no interest in even resisting the urge to laugh at Grandpa. In this case she began to alternately laugh and give him instructions about how and what he was supposed to shave.

Grandpa, of course, couldn’t understand. “What do you mean I’m not supposed to shave this? How–What–But–” And as Grandma continued to laugh and give directions he finally just Gave Up. So I came over and took the shaver, sat down, and shaved his face for him. It stopped Grandma’s laughing, and saved Grandpa from the struggle of trying to figure out how to shave.

Back Trouble

7th February 2007

Grandpa has suffered from back pain most if not all of his life. As best I understand it, he has a congenital back problem which I think Dad has inherited to some degree. As is the nature of such afflictions, what bothered Grandpa some earlier in his life has now become a much greater problem as his health declines.

Quite often Grandpa suffers from back and hip pain that, along with generally being in pain, makes it exceptionally painful to lift his legs as to get into bed or put on pants. He has increasing difficulty walking and while I don’t think it is all caused by his back problems I have noticed that when he is suffering from worse back pain his walking ability goes down respectively.

Over the past week he has suffered some particularly bad spells. I don’t know if this is simply some happenstance, or if he did something to cause his recent trouble. In his times of agitation or confusion he has a tendency to try to move things that it really isn’t a good idea for an old man to be moving. He very commonly exacerbates his pain with exhaustion and excessive moving about. If he has a bad day when he is really agitated and can’t stop moving about the house by the end of the day he is just about unable to stay upright on his feet and will be clutching at his back and complaining about how he has such a bad backache he is just about out of his mind.

This is all just part of the continual worsening that will eventually end up with Grandpa no longer being able to walk. He has complained to me often about the pain in his hips, especially when I am helping him put on his diaper or pants, but recently he had begun making more comments about his increasingly difficulty walking. He has made comments like, “People tell me to pick up my legs but if I could I would,” and complains that he can’t get his legs to work properly.

Last night he had a particularly bad incident. He went to bed with a backache but when he woke up in the middle of the night needing to go take a leak it must have been worse. He managed to get out of bed but he was so weak and trembling and unable to move his feet forward that he basically couldn’t go nowhere. He obviously had to go to the bathroom bad, and just as obviously couldn’t make it, no chance in the world. He made a lunge-grab for the commode and me, having turned the light beside my bed on and becoming cognizant of Grandpa’s desperate need and wavering unsteady condition, scrambled to help.

I helped him remove the bucket from the commode and hold it close for his business (though somehow he still managed to get some on the carpet) then I put the commode back together and got him back into bed. I cleaned up the mess and went back to bed.

Grandpa got up several more times in the night to go to the bathroom but apparently the pain in his back had subsided, because he made it to the bathroom without exceptional difficulty. Which is not to say he used the bathroom entirely properly every time, but that is a different issue.

More Work on Grandma

4th February 2007

Friday the doctor called up to schedule more work on Grandma. She survived the stress test of a few weeks ago and now they are ready to begin actual work. My own reading between the lines is that she is in desperate need of work on both her heart arteries and her neck, immediately. The doctor’s office called on Friday and scheduled the work on her heart for Tuesday. If all goes well it should be a one-day procedure, or at most an overnight stay. If things go badly . . . well it could be anything between that and sudden death.

On Monday I am going to bring her in for some prep work before the actual procedure . . . some blood work and an X-ray. That will be early in the morning and Melinda is the one who will be left watching over Grandpa. Tuesday Dad is coming down to take Grandma in while I stay with Grandpa.

Grandma has had this type of procedure done on her before, and I am sure she is nervous. But she hides it as best she can. The part of her coping mechanism which is more troubling and annoying for me is her tendency to put off thinking about the whole operation and her reluctance to impose on anyone else for the needed help. This means that she doesn’t talk to people and doesn’t talk to people and then at the last minute will call people up and see if maybe, perhaps, possibly, if it isn’t too much trouble, they could help. She hates to think she is imposing on anyone, but in the end really only causes more inconvenience for people by not requesting help promptly in advance of the actual need. I have a strong impulse to go behind her back and line up the necessary support in advance because she does put everything off so long. I don’t like asking people for help either, but if you gotta do it, you ought to do it sooner rather than waiting until the last second.

Grandpa becomes very agitated whenever a doctor calls. His agitation is due in part to worry about Grandma’s health but also in part to simply trying to understand what is going on. He is agitated that he might not understand what is happening, and anyone would want to know what is happening to their wife.

Soon as Grandpa learns that the call is from a doctor he totters on over to watch Grandma talk on the phone, prepared to start asking questions as soon as she hangs up. Asking who it was, what they wanted, and what is going to happen–asking all those questions once is no problem at all. But, of course, once isn’t enough. To here the answer once doesn’t inscribe it on Grandpa’s brain. He will ask once, then ask again five minutes later, then ask again ten minutes later, then ask again another fifteen minutes later, then ask again a half hour after that, then an hour . . . the whole rest of the day he will be intermittently re-asking about what the doctor called about, what they said, and what is going to happen. Do we need to do anything? Is there anything that needs to be prepared?

Change, and things that need to be done, greatly unsettle Grandpa. Bills should be paid instantly, and doctors that require things are a source of consternation. Any day a doctor calls is a day where I will be repeatedly explaining to Grandpa what will be done, what day it will be done, and no, nothing needs to be done today. Everything is taken care of, all set, and put in order. (Satisfied for another two hours and then once again . . .) I admit that even I begin to weary of this. At least in the course of a normal day Grandpa’s source of agitation changes so that I am not repeating the same thing over and over again, but on these days it is like I become a broken record.

After the day of the phone call Grandpa settles down to a reasonable level of questioning, asking maybe once a day “When does Ma have the doctor’s appointment?” As I said, I think the air of uncertainty is what primarily gets him agitated, though certainly also his concern over Grandma’s well being. But I sometimes wonder if his repeated question doesn’t also serve the secondary purpose of actually getting the fact that Grandma has an procedure upcoming to permanently stick in his mind. There may be some part of him that subconsciously recognizes that he might not remember, so he questions and questions until the facts are settled a little deeper in his mind. For you or I a single question gives us an answer and we file the information away. Grandpa needs repeated filing if he wants to find it again.

What Grandpa Will Eat

3rd February 2007

I have come to the something of a dawning realization that Grandpa is a picky eater. I guess some part of my mind always associated picky-eating with those naughty little boys and girls, in spite of the fact that we all know picky-eaters come in all sizes. But in case one might forget that, Grandpa is here to remind me.

Grandpa is a picky eater, but his problem is exacerbated by the fact that he has false teeth which really should have been replaced years ago. This makes a good number of foods unpalatable for Grandpa simply because they are difficult or impossible to chew. So Grandpa doesn’t like anything difficult to chew, and he doesn’t really care for Italian food, and he doesn’t really care for stir-fry or any ethnic food really of any type. When it comes down to it, there are few things Grandpa really likes for a main course. Mashed potatoes, meatloaf, roast turkey, stuffing . . . that just about summarizes his scope of “good meals.”

Of course we can’t have the two or three meals Grandpa likes in continuous succession so that means Grandpa must suffer with many meals he’s not really happy with. Compounding the problem of Grandpa’s eating habits is his difficulty keeping a respectable weight on his old bones. He hovers around 125 lbs and pretty nearly is a bag of shriveled bones. We have standing orders from the doctor to feed him whatever he will eat, no matter how unhealthy it will be, just to keep some weight on him and I wouldn’t be surprised if when Grandpa finally croaks (in the end) it will be from failure to eat enough.

I am constantly trying to get Grandpa to eat. Every time he has a cup of coffee I offer him something to eat. “Would you like a muffin with that? A cookie? A donut?” Often enough he isn’t hungry and doesn’t want anything, but I can usually get him to eat at least something in between meals. Still, even with his sweets he is picky. He gets tired of donuts, cookies, muffins, and chips. He gets tired of them, and yet at the same times it seems like he can eat such an amount that another person would get fat and still he gains not a pound. Everything he eats seems to vanish away inside him.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if his every eating whim was catered too. Would he gain some weight? Grandpa’s two most favorite foods are chocolate cake and pie, but he will happily eat any baked chocolate dessert, any for him we never have enough of any of these treasured foods. Today I took the time to whip him up a brownie mix and that turned into an example of how much better he eats when he is served the foods that are truly near and dear to his heart.

The brownie’s were done before supper, so since it was an hour until supper I asked him if he would like a piece of dessert with his cup of coffee. Since it was brownie’s (which was a freshly baked chocolate dessert and so constituted one of his favored things to eat) he readily agreed and I cut him a nice sized piece to eat. After eating a decent supper I offered him more dessert which he eagerly accepted, along with a comfortable serving of ice cream. Then, after he finished all that he asked for more more dessert. So I gave him another smaller piece of brownie along with more ice cream. That is Grandpa eating hearty. That is not how Grandpa normally eats.

Since he has such few pleasures in life I don’t begrudge him his favored foods, however unhealthy. By the time you’re nearly eighty who cares how many donuts, cakes, and pies you eat? For the sake of everyone else in the house I can’t pander to his preference in meals because the rest of his would probably go out of our minds. But I wish I could give him his desserts more often because his face positively lights up when he learns that there is cake or pie on the menu. That is something to look forward too. However, it is a hard fact of life that with everything else calling at my limited time I can only occasionally squeeze in even a measly store bought pie or cake mix.

Grandpa savors every one.

Read Me A Story

30th January 2007

For about two weeks now I have been reading to Grandpa when I put him to bed for the night. It started when I noticed that during the day he would sometimes pick up a magazine in the living room and try to read it. I figured that instead of trying to read the same half dozen magazines times and again I might provide him with a little more variety. I knew that both because of his Alzheimer’s’s and his failing eye-sight I had to be selective in what I chose to offer him, or else the idea of him reading it would be a non-starter from the beginning.

So next time Titi came visiting I had her bring Caddie Woodlawn with her, which is a novel of probably about 6th grade reading level but which is a good story that anyone of about any age could enjoy. When I offered the book to him to read he seemed mildly interested and later I saw him make an attempt to read. But I could tell it wouldn’t work. Reading the book appeared laborious–something he had to really apply himself too–and after a few pages he would mark his spot and stop. Yet, he did seem interested enough to make an attempt–he just no longer was capable of really following through.

Back in the day Grandpa did read books and I realized that I was picking up various subtle signs that perhaps reading was something that had unwillingly fallen out of Grandpa’s life.

I try to be very careful when I bring up ideas and suggestions with Grandpa. It can be hard to judge how he will react and I don’t wish to say anything that wounds Grandpa’s dignity. So I hesitated before suggesting that I read to Grandpa. I was pretty certain that he would appreciate hearing a story, but I feared he might feel that I was treating him like a child to suggest that I read to him. After all, he read me stories when I was a little boy!

Finally, one evening I made the gentle suggestion, and, surprisingly, Grandpa readily agreed. I figured I would see how it went. Perhaps he was only humoring me and after a night or two Grandpa would grow tired. Sometimes he will be ambivalent about something and will agree to it for a short while before wearying of it.

But Grandpa didn’t weary of the reading. In fact, I quickly learned that he very much enjoyed it. For as long as he was awake he preferred that I kept reading. And so I have kept reading, every night. Sometimes Grandpa will fall asleep shortly after I have begun, sometimes he will remain awake through a few chapters and so I will stop before he falls asleep. I usually read for between a half hour and a hour as I lay on my bed opposite him.

To a certain degree I’m not surprised that Grandpa enjoys the reading so much. It is almost as if he now looks forward to going to bed, as if the nightly reading is there as something he can find waiting for him at the end of his day. Also, as a little kid there were few things I enjoyed more than listening to a good story being read to me. I know the strong pull of listening to a story.

But there is something deeper than just hearing a story going on, I think. After all, I am very much not a good story reader. Not only do I not articulate words well but I simply have a hard time verbally keeping up with the story so I am often rushing my words, I don’t pronounce many words right, and I read just about every thing in a flat monotone. I am well aware of my deficiencies–reading and talking at the same time is just something I’m not really good at. It requires effort from me. And if all Grandpa wanted was a voice droning on telling him a “story” . . . well, before I started reading to him I always started the Bible on CD playing so that as he drifted off to sleep he heard someone reading the Bible aloud. Now that man could read well.

And yet over that Grandpa prefers to hear me read. It isn’t the words, and it isn’t the quality, I can tell you that. I think what Grandpa really appreciates is the deeper thing that goes on when a story is read–the thing deeper than the actual words being transferred. For lack of a better word I will call it bonding. When someone sits down to read to you they are giving a part of themselves–a part of their time–to you. They are, in an indirect way, communicating to you and sharing with you. When someone is reading you a story there is the feeling of being together. You aren’t alone.

Not that I think that we quantify things this way when we realize we enjoy listening to stories–and not to say my words quantifying it really captures it all. But I do think anyone who has had their mother read stories to them realizes that what they enjoy from it is more than the story that Mom is reading. It is that Mom is reading the story . . . or, when it comes down to it, whoever is reading the story. When you listen to a tape it isn’t the same thing. They are dead words then, not the sharing of one person with another. The man reading the Bible is certainly very good–and even I enjoy listening to him–but he is, in the end, only a disembodied voice and if what you’re really hungering for is fellowship and company and for somebody to be near–then having somebody sit beside you and read a story is going to fill that need much better.

I think that long after Grandpa isn’t able to comprehend any of what is being read to him he will still want to be read to because then, as even now, what he is really listening for isn’t the story itself, but the emotional soothing that comes even when words are not understood.

Still, there is the niggling question I think any reader has about their audience. How much does he understand? My answer right now is that when he is listening he understands plenty well enough. But he will often fall asleep halfway through the chapter, and obviously he stops understanding things at least a little before that point. And I know that part of the effects of his disease at this point is that his mind wanders, so I suspect often he follows what I am reading for a time and then his mind wanders off on his own thoughts even while he continues to listen and perhaps sometime later he comes back to actually begin following what I am saying again. Once he was following close enough to correct my mispronunciation of a word.

But in the end, as I have said, how much he understands doesn’t really matter. What matters is that at the end of a chapter I will stop and if he isn’t asleep he will open his eyes and when I ask him if he wants me to keep reading he will say, “Yes.” And I am sure it will be “Yes” even when he has forgot how to say yes anymore. The bedtime reading is a time when he can escape away from all the confusion and fears of the day, a time when he can rest and someone will talk to him and tell him a story that requires no effort and demands nothing of him. It is perhaps the one time of the day one might say he is peaceful.

What We Fear

30th January 2007

Today I felt human for the first time this week. This is partly due to the fact that my cold–which has been giving up an inch at a time–is now mostly gone, and due a large extent to the fact that I am the more caught up on my sleep today than I have been all week. Significant sleep deprivation makes me feel something like a zombie–going through the motions but not being all there. I felt like I could actually work productively on things today, and I actually managed to spend the larger portion of the afternoon working on things I wanted to get done . . . though in this instance it meant mostly poking around online trying to correct and expand the listings for my book. Since this is paperwork related stuff (even though it is digital) this means I spent a lot of time figuring things out and in the end I have more that needs to be done, and it doesn’t feel like I actually accomplished much. Be that as it may, I spent the better part of the afternoon working on it, and made some progress on something that I needed to get done, so that made me feel good.

I guess I never thought about it, and always assumed, that when Grandpa became completely incontinent because of his Alzheimer’s’s it would be because he no longer remembered how to control his bowel functions. But it looks like we’re headed for a very different situation. Grandpa is headed for the situation where he can control his bowel functions relatively well but seems to be rapidly heading to the state where he doesn’t know how to use the bathroom. To summarize in the statement, “I have to go to the bathroom, I want to go to the bathroom, but I don’t know how to go to the bathroom.” Grandpa hasn’t ever stated it that lucidly, but that is the heart of the matter.

Now, if you think about this you can see the problem. If someone is incapable of controlling their bowels then they simply urinate and defecate when the time comes around. You keep a diaper on them and the mess is contained. If the person is so far gone they don’t even realize they are soiling themselves then the distress level is low as well. But if you know when you have to go to the bathroom and you want to go to the bathroom, but don’t know how to go to the bathroom . . . then you are in the position to cause a lot of trouble and suffer a lot of distress.

If you know you need to go to the bathroom and know you should use the bathroom you’re not just going to sit there and piss yourself. You’re going to try and use the bathroom, and so you take of your diaper and . . . well, if you can’t remember how to use the bathroom you end up making a big mess. The mess is worse than if you had kept the diaper on, and you are wretched because you knew you needed to use the bathroom, you wanted to use the bathroom, and you tired to use the bathroom, but all you accomplished was making a big mess.

That is Grandpa’s condition. It is possible that this week he simply suffered a bad spasm and will recover some of his senses for awhile longer. But I doubt it, and in any case this week has made the future clear. Since I haven’t carefully observed Grandpa every time he uses the bathroom I’m not sure what threshold he has crossed that moved him from fairly capable of using the bathroom to often incapable.

****

Okay, I wrote all of the above last Friday and never finished what I had intended to say. Such is the way of this life.

To make a long story somewhat shorter, my previous talk about someone being with Grandpa in the bathroom when he is doing his business is moving toward a reality. One day last week I spent a half an hour discussing with Grandpa how the bathroom works and trying to coach him in using it. He would say, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” and then he would go into the bathroom only to stop, uncertain. Then he would go on mumbling and pointing at the sink, the garbage basket, and the toilet, and talk about getting them to work, or work together. He would want to make sure things were in order, then would go on about flushing, or things not flushing. He would talk about which bathroom it would be better for him to use, decide he should a different one, walk back out in the kitchen and then half to go to the bathroom bad again and return to the one he just left. Leave his glasses on the edge of the sink in the upstairs bathroom and then go downstairs and flush (without using) the downstairs bathroom and come back up.

He managed to work himself into a fine state of agitation trying to get the bathroom to come to sorts and in the end he couldn’t hold it in any longer. “Oh! There goes two pints down my leg!” he said and tottered for the toilet. He got some in the toilet, made something of a mess, and got his clothes a bit wet. But after a half hour of anguish his need to use the toilet was over.

Grandma had gone off to her room to be alone, so after I got him into clean clothes I told him to come back and keep me company in our bedroom. The struggle to understand the bathroom had got him so confused and agitated he needed some time to calm down. So while I lay on my bed reading my Bible he sat on his bed and kept himself occupied neatening up his socks and other little things lying about on his bed.

Later that day he had another accident in the bathroom. I got him set dressed back up and the mess cleaned up and sat him down in the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a little snack to eat.

“Well, I’m scared,” he said, sitting down.

I sat down beside him to listen. Grandpa rarely expresses himself, and when he feels moved to do so I try not only to listen by to give a response which answers his need.

“I’m scared that if things continue on like this I’ll be too much to take care of and I’ll be sent to a nursing home. You know how that turns out.”

It was the first time Grandpa said so clearly what he feared. Other times he had said he was “afraid” or “afraid of what might come down the pike” or some similar statement to indicate his fear of what was happening to him, but nothing so precise as this (though some people have guessed this concern was on his mind.)

“Grandpa,” I said, “you don’t need to worry about that so long as I am here.”

It is bad enough to face with dread the fact that you are progressively loosing your mind. How much more horrible to day by day fight that disease because you are afraid that when you’ve finally gone past a certain point you become too much of a burden for your family and they ship you away to a nursing home. What kind of life is it when every day, in some small way, is a fight to stay in your own home, to not be sent away?

The bathroom issue is becoming something of a crux for a much larger play–how different people are dealing with Grandpa’s decline. I admit that not only do I disapprove of how Grandma approaches it, but my patience with her is also wearing a little thin.

As Grandpa’s life is coming apart at the seams what he desperately needs is unconditional love, acceptance, and patience. He knows his life is coming apart, he knows he is worthless, he knows he can’t use the bathroom properly. And, knowing his own state, what he needs to hear is that he is loved anyway, that it doesn’t matter how much of a mess he makes of things, and that he will not be abandoned whatever the cost.

What he gets from Grandma is much less. Because, when it comes down to it, for Grandma if the choice was her own health or sending Grandpa off to a nursing him, she would send Grandpa off to a nursing home to save her own health. My coming to take care of Grandpa stopped that a few months ago, and Grandpa was never told, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know. He does know. Things can be conveyed without spoken words. Grandma tells Grandpa not to worry about it, not that she will never leave him . . . and there is a big difference.

Fine, I say to myself. She isn’t willing to make that kind of sacrifice . . . I can let that slide. But it is really starting to grate that not only does she fail to offer Grandpa generous moral support and succor in his time of need but that she also lectures and admonishes him when he does things wrong. Nothing like kicking a man when he is down. Nothing like telling him how he did it wrong, and how he is supposed to do it right–even though it is impossible for him to follow the directions.

And that about sums up Grandma’s relation to Grandpa and his bathroom problems. She is ready to lecture him about what he must do and must not do with his behind wipings and ask him why he pisses on the floor in the bathroom and come up with her own solutions . . . but actually doing something? No. That is too gross. It is too much against her dignity.

If she doesn’t want to help that is fine with me. I don’t expect her to help. But she only causes harm by berating Grandpa because it only makes him agitated as he realize he has done wrong, but he can never rectify the situation. He dreads the bathroom now–he might spend a half hour trying to figure out how the bathroom works, and you might spend a half hour lecturing him in fine detail about exactly what he must and must not do, but it is all for nothing unless you go in and help. All you are accomplishing otherwise is making one very confused and wretched old man.

Two incidents illuminate. A few days ago Grandpa called for help from the bathroom. I started to go, but Grandma said she would help him. She stuck her head in the bathroom and saw Grandpa was naked from the waist down. “You finished wiping? You doing what you’re supposed to with the wipings?” she said.

“Come in,” Grandpa said.

“You finished wiping?” Grandma insisted.

“No,” Grandpa stuttered.

“I’m not coming in,” Grandma said, backing out of the doorway quickly. “You finish wiping all by yourself.”

And that constituted her helping.

So I went into the bathroom. “What do you need, Grandpa?” I said.

“I need more toilet paper,” he said.

So I tore him off his sheets of toilet paper and handed them to him and he wiped. He wanted to horde the used toilet paper up in his hand (because he doesn’t know what to do with it) but I prompted and encouraged him to throw it into the toilet. Unpleasant? You could say that. A little gross? Sure. But that is the help Grandpa needs. He needs (almost literally) someone to hold his hand and guide him through his frightened and confused thoughts and help him untangle the thoughts he can still understand.

The second incident was Grandma’s solution to Grandpa’s great problem with peeing in the toilet. The cause of this problem is probably myriad, running from a confusion of where he should pee, to aiming, to having difficulty getting his clothes properly out of the way. Through the mixture of these it seems half the time he ends up with the floor wet, his clothes wet, or both. Grandma’s solution was to get him a picture which he could hold up nice and close so that in the brilliant solution of close range it would solve all problems. She got the picture, showed it to Grandpa, and explained to him exactly how he would use it. Then she put it in the bathroom.

But next time Grandpa had to go to the bathroom Grandma reminded him he was to use the picture so as to not make a mess. When he indicated he wanted her to come in with him, she said, “No, I’m not coming in there with you. You do it all by yourself, just like a I told you.”

So I went to help Grandpa. But even with my help he couldn’t do it. I tried to show him how to hold the picture, but he couldn’t grasp the idea. I could see that in his mind he needed four hands–two to pull down his pants, one to aim, and one to hold the picture. Further, he couldn’t quite grasp where the picture was supposed to be as he tried to first balance it on the edge of the toilet, hold it under his diaper, and then turned it completely upside down.

I saw this was going nowhere so I set the picture aside and said, “Never mind. That was Grandma’s idea. Just forget it and try to pee in the toilet like you always do.”

A few days later Grandma said, “I don’t know why he doesn’t use the picture I got him.”

I replied (exasperation surely showing this time,) “It’s because he can’t, Grandma. He doesn’t understand how to use it.”

“Oh,” she said.

After a string of failures for Grandpa I offered my own solution. Since he had such trouble standing up and urinating, I suggested that he try sitting down on the toilet for doing all of his business. Grandpa agreed that this might be a good idea to try. But, for whatever reason, this solution seems to work no better (at least, without supervision). The middle of one night I came to check on Grandpa and found him in the midst of his worst disaster yet. I don’t know how it happened, but he was completely soaked. It seemed almost as if he had pulled down his diaper and pajamas as I had suggested and then sat on the toilet and promptly peed all over himself. Whatever the cause, his diaper and pants were down around his knees and they were both completely soaked, along with his socks, and there was a big puddle on the floor to top it all off. Generally in the less worse accidents you can daintily clean up and avoid, by careful dexterity, getting yourself actually wet. Not this time. Grandpa was standing there trying to struggle out of his clothes whispering, “How awful, how awful.” So I stripped him out of his sopped clothes, got him in a dry diaper and tucked him back in bed to sleep. Then I went back and cleaned up the bathroom.

So Grandpa calls less and less on Grandma. It is me he asks for, to make sure he has done things right, or to ask me if something needs to be cleaned up. I don’t begrudge Grandma that she doesn’t help. I will gladly do it all myself. But it makes me grit my teeth when I see how wretched Grandpa is with his mistakes and how distressed he is with his increasing failures and what Grandma does is heap more words of disapproval on him.

Better stop there. Should have gone to bed hours ago. Getting incoherent, I’m sure, but I had to finish this one and get it over with.

Not All Memory is The Same

21st January 2007

I think it is a common misconception of people not familiar with Alzheimer’s’s that the disease affects all parts of the mind (or memory) equally. Thus when people see an Alzheimer’s’s patient acting incompetent at one moment the assume the person is incompetent to that degree always and in all things.

I’ve already mentioned before how Grandpa has his good days and his bad days, so on one day he might seem a complete basket-case and the next day he might seem almost normal. But not only does he have good days and bad days, but even overall the disease affects different parts of his mind to different degrees. It is amazing (and perhaps bizarre) the juxtaposition between what he remembers and what he doesn’t. Grandpa is the one suffering from Alzheimer’s’s, but there are still some things he remember’s better than Grandma.

One thing he seems to be able to remember very well is old movie’s that he has seen. Some weeks ago Grandma was watching The Yearling and Grandpa decided he would go to bed. As I was putting him to bed he was telling me about how the first time when he had watched it he had thought it was pretty good but that over the years it had begun to strike him as childish.

Grandma has difficulty remembering what she has watched a long time ago. Late Saturday evening Grandma was flipping through channels looking for something to watch. She hollers out, “‘Grapes of Wrath’ is on. Is it any good?”

“I’ve read the book, Grandma,” I said from where I sat in front of my computer. “I haven’t seen the movie.&