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Caring For Our Aging Parents Without Tearing Up The Family

I have a number of clients right now who are dealing with aging parent issues. Let’s be honest – it isn’t an easy time. On the contrary, it is quite difficult. There are a lot of things that need to be done and a lot of decisions to be made. All of this while grieving the losses associated with parents who are aging. It is a time that often tears families apart. It is important for all involved that you try to fight against fighting with your siblings.

I have been reflecting on how my sisters and I are handling things with our parents. I don’t think that we have the magic formula, but I do believe we have developed a rhythm and understanding over the past 8 years with our parents’ health issues. I have noticed we are growing closer together rather than apart. Because of this, I thought it might be beneficial to reflect on what we’ve learned for all people going through a similar time in life.

First, it is important to understand that we need to juggle our parents’ needs with their dignity. They are still our parents, need to be respected and at the same time cared for and considered. Spend time and listen to them while you can. If you are dealing with dementia issues, hopefully you spent time earlier listening to them. What is important to them must be considered, but let’s face it. The primary concern is their health and safety. In some cases, they just are not able to make decisions any more and we have to do it. It is for their welfare and tough love is sometimes needed.

Second, consider your other siblings. Who is primarily responsible for day-to-day concerns and decisions? It is important for all of the other siblings to respect and defer to the decisions of those in charge. In our family my sister, Julie is responsible for day-to-day issues. Since she is there Jodi (my other sister) and I defer to her judgement. Do we do this perfectly – no. But Jodi and I try diligently to support Julie since she is carrying the majority of the responsibility. That is a lot of stress on one person. If we are constantly challenging their judgement, we are only causing them more stress and that is destructive.

Next, be sure you are doing what you can. Besides supporting your sibling who is there, find out in what other ways you can help support your parents. My sister has delegated things to the other two of us as best she can. I am mostly in charge of money issues and also communicating to other family members about how things are going. Jodi is a bright spot in my parents’ days. When she comes to visit, it is play time with her. Living almost 2,000 miles away, Jodi isn’t able to do as much as she would like. It is important for Julie and I to remember the fact that she can’t be with her parents very often is hard on her. It’s just a different kind of stress. However, Jodi also remembers to honor the fact that Julie, and then me next, carry the most responsibility on decisions and daily care. Jodi never criticizes or second guesses our decisions. She listens and loves. That is one of the greatest gifts of support she can give us.

Also, be considerate of where your parents are cognitively. One of the biggest adjustments we’ve had to make – and the most difficult is to understand where are parents are cognitively. The brain is a complicated organ. It is very hard to understand. We have had to adjust how we relate to our parents so as not to cause more discomfort for them. Continuity and consistency are two things that are very important to people as we age. Being flexible is hard and change is really hard on them. Be considerate and educate yourself on where your parents are at with their brain health. There are experts that are educated to do assessments on cognition and memory. Listen to them and learn. There are some awesome resources. Understand how you can be of aid, not a hinderance to their needs.

Finally, pray for guidance and direction and embrace the special moments you are given. If you are anything like my sisters and I, this is a new territory that we are not educated to navigate. It is all new. Because each person is different, it is imperative that we understand that each person needs different things and these things may change with each passing day. We are novices on elder care. We don’t know how to navigate the decline without relying on experts and the wisdom of those who went before us. It can make a difference when we admit we aren’t prepared and count on those who are. This is a journey and you are needed. Be the blessing that your parents invested in all of your childhood years. It can be a very special time of sharing memories with someone who has loved you your entire life. Meet them where they are and cherish what time you have left. And at all times, remember your siblings are grieving, too.

Posted in Grief, Love, Relationships.

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My Precious Uncle Larry Joens

Larry Joens, Carol (Joens) Chapman and David Joens on 3/25/17

There are sometimes in life when the pain of loss seems unbearable. This is one of those times. My dear Uncle Larry died on April 11, 2017. The loss of his love, smile, laughter and love of the Cubs will leave a void in my heart forever.

When we love deeply, we grieve deeply. There is no way around it. Grief is the most extreme sense of anguish that a human can endure. And sometimes it feels as if it would be better not to love, so that the hurt never follows. I couldn’t disagree more. The risk of hurt – no, the certainty of hurt – is well outweighed by the gift of love. To experience the joy of God’s love flowing through another is unmatched and definitely outweighs the pain of grief.

I miss my uncle already. My thoughts rapidly switch between heartache and pain to joy and thanksgiving. Uncle Larry was not a perfect man. But, he perfectly tried and was a good and God fearing man. He loved his family, even though we have been known to let him down. He may have been disappointed, but he never stopped loving.

He served his church family and friends with the same love and devotion he showed his family. He loved Jesus and although he didn’t talk much about it. He constantly shared of himself in a way where I know that Jesus would say, “Larry, you are a good and faithful servant.” Larry was love and his memory will always fill me with love.

He always had a smile and a hug. He was one of the best huggers! It was one of those hugs where you felt safety and love. His sense of humor was dry and there was always a twinkle in his eye. I think he got this love of life from the Bremer side of the family. His mom, my Grandma, was always like that. I see that kind of love and humor in Dad and their youngest sibling, Carol, too. It is a Bremer jolliness that leaves us with feelings of warmth and family that I will always remember.

Recently, there was a Facebook thread between Aunt Carol, her cousin (Karen) and myself. I had shared how I remember sitting at Great-grandma Bremer’s dining room table when I was very little. I was on my Dad’s lap and the table was surrounded by men playing cards. I love that memory. I couldn’t have been in school yet, but I remember the laughter and joy of those times. Aunt Carol and her cousin, Karen both shared fondly of similar memories of these family times. It was a family filled with love and laughter. Uncle Larry embodied both. When seeing Uncle Larry, you always felt better than when you arrived. He was delightful and his love spilled out on to everyone.

My most cherished memories of Uncle Larry are pretty wonderful. My earliest memory was when I was very young. I was probably 5 or 6 years old. He was working the summer on a road crew and they happened to be working on the street where my family lived. Mom made some Kool-Aid and helped me set up a lemonade stand in the front yard for the guys working on the road. (It was hot and they were resurfacing the blacktop road.) I was charging a penny a glass and Larry gave me quarters. Every time he had a glass, I got a quarter. I don’t remember anything other than him giving me quarters and laughing at my reaction. It was a wonderful windfall for me and I remember vividly that I thought he was the most wonderful uncle in the world.

I also remember a special time when I was 17 years-old. Larry and Nanette asked that I sing for their wedding. I was so touched and moved that they would ask me to share in their special day. I will never forget the feeling I had. I was humbly honored to be able to share of myself on a day that was so important to them. For a 17 year-old, there isn’t much I had that I could give them. But, I could sing and I was able to give them something that I loved. I am sure neither Larry nor Nanette knew how much that day meant to me. It did and I will cherish the memory forever.

I also have vivid memories of Uncle Larry’s love in action while I was going through my divorce. Larry and Nanette attended St. John Lutheran Church and so did Brad, Steve and I. They attended the early service and we attended the latest service. (There were three services on Sunday.) I remember having just learned that my ex-husband was having an affair and wasn’t willing to give up his girlfriend. It was obviously very difficult for me and I had decided to divorce. To complicate the heartache, my son was the one who told me about the affair. It was difficult for all three of us.

It became even more difficult when a few months before the divorce was final, I found out that a new member of a few months (who attended the one service where I led the liturgy), was the woman with whom my ex was having the affair. She would pass me in the aisle every Sunday while she walked to the front to read the Scriptures and prayers. At first I didn’t know she was the other woman. When I found out that it was her, I was sickened and devastated. How could she start attending the same church, and even worse the same service where I sang?! What would lead a person to do something like this? We had three services and she chose the one I attended.

Every Sunday, I would go to church to sing and leave sobbing and in tears. It was agonizing to pass the other woman in the aisle every week, but I refused to give up my church – she already was taking my husband.

Uncle Larry found out about what was going on and he and Nanette would hang out for a while after their early service. We would meet in the atrium between services and he would visit with Brad and Steve about baseball and the Cubs. Every week, he would wait around and talk to the boys. It was good to see my sons laugh and talk about their first love, baseball with their great-uncle who shared the passion for the Cubs and baseball. It was one of the most selfless gifts of love I’ve ever seen in action.

We never talked about it. But, his presence filled me with God’s strength and I know that if it wasn’t for him, I would have had to leave my church home of 18 years. I got my Sunday hug and the boys got to talk baseball. He quietly filled my sons and I with love and reassurance that would sustain us for another church service with the “other woman”.

That is the way I knew Uncle Larry’s love. It was quiet and yet consistent. He was loyal and faithful to his family. He was a good man in his heart and he tried to live that goodness in his life. He was honest and giving. He was a servant heart and he showed up when he was needed. He was always welcome.

As a side note worthy of mentioning, I need to share about Mom. She suffers with a neurological disorder that mimics dementia, Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. Over the past number of years, she is often joyful discussing the conversations she’s had with her sister, Deloris and her mother. Deloris has been gone for 11 years and Grandma has been gone for close to 25 years.

Mom will occasionally talk about the phone calls she has with Deloris and Grandma. It is never anyone else, just those two. She shares about beautiful conversations recalling good times together. They are always happy and filled with smiles.

When Julie went to tell Mom and Dad the sad news of Larry’s death, Mom interrupted her. She said to Julie something to the effect of, “He can’t be gone. He called last night and said he was doing good. He didn’t sound sick last night. He just called me.” (Mom doesn’t have a phone.) She couldn’t believe he was gone because she had just talked to him when he called her. He sounded happy and healthy. He was doing good!

There is so much about the human brain that we do not understand. There is even more we do not understand about our God. I believe that Larry wanted us to all know he was good – he is doing well – he is healed. Just as Deloris and Grandma check in with us now and then, Larry checked in with Mom, too. I suppose, it is because Mom is the only one sitting still enough to listen since she can’t do anything on her own anymore. But the message is sound – Larry is good! My heart fills with Joy.

The next two days will be difficult for his family and extended family. He was and remains special to us all. We will be celebrating his life, but we will be grieving as we say “until we meet again.” To know that my dear Uncle Larry will be celebrating Easter with our Savior is wonderful to think about. To know that he no longer hurts and is no longer sick is a blessing. To know that there are few who walk this side of Heaven that are filled with the love he had in his heart, is a reminder of the blessing that is Larry Joens. He was and will always be love and loved!

Posted in Grief, Love, Relationships.

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9/11/2001 – The Day I Learned To See The Light

I can’t believe it is 15 years ago when our lives changed in so many ways.  I took so many things for granted.  My safety on an airplane was one of those things.  It was a day that left an imprint on so many, much like when President Kennedy was assassinated.  Although I was a preschooler when President Kennedy was killed, I was a mother of two teenagers on 9/11.  I felt so much older and wiser.  But, I had so much to learn.

I had just gotten my sons off to school and I was sitting down at the table to have my own breakfast and my cherished cup of coffee before going to a meeting later in the morning.  I turned on the Today Show and was stupefied to see one of the Twin Towers with smoke billowing out of its side.  There was confusion as to what was going on and I watched in amazement as the news anchors were speculating and wondering themselves.

Then, it happened.  There was a plane flying into the south tower.  Right before my eyes, I saw the second plane hit.  It was at that moment that I knew things were changing.  Our world was going to be different in ways I couldn’t even imagine.

I have no idea how long I sat there just staring at the events as they unfolded in front of me on t.v.  The Pentagon was hit. The south tower collapsed.  A plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.  Then, the north tower collapsed.  During all of this,  I found myself doing the math in my head – how many thousands of people were in those towers, on the planes, in the Pentagon?  The work day had begun.  How many people were being killed?  What about the buildings surrounding the towers?  How many people were in them?  How many people were dying before my very eyes?!  It was surreal and I felt numb.

Mom called within minutes after the towers collapsed.  My sister was in Boston on a routine business trip.  Mom and Dad couldn’t remember if she was leaving on 9/11 or 9/12 to return to California where she lived.  They were trying to call and they couldn’t get through – all of the circuits were busy.  I went over to my parents’ house and we began watching all the events that followed while sitting on their four season porch.  We continued to try Jodi on her phone.  Praying that she was okay.

It was shortly before noon when we finally heard that Jodi’s flight was scheduled to leave the next day.  She was okay but stuck in Boston because all air travel had been stopped.  I felt a relief like I’ve never experienced before.  She would have to drive back to California, but she was safe.

As the hours and days wore on, I couldn’t stop watching the news.  I am not sure what I was looking for.  However, I had to watch so I could find it.  It was days later, when I realized what it was that I so desperately was trying to find.  I was trying to find the light in all of this darkness.  Then, I saw it.



One little photograph of all of the smoking, heaping rubble and there was the image of the cross. Workers who were cleaning up after the events of the previous days found this sheered metal image symbolizing everything I was looking for over the past few days.  As a Christian I knew that Jesus was there and had been there all of the time.  This picture reminded me that Jesus had already conquered death.  He had already won over evil.  As horrific as the days had been, Jesus was there.

He was with all of those who lost their lives that day.  He was holding all those who were gravely injured as they waited to die.  He lifted up all of the first responders and the brave men and women who fought the good fight in trying to rescue and save so many.  Jesus brought comfort to those who were grieving with the chaplains, priests, ministers and lay leaders who ran to their aid.  Jesus inspired the men and women in health care that spent hours and days fighting to save those that could be saved and comforted them when they could not.  Jesus brought prayers from all corners of the world to show love and concern to all who were suffering.  Jesus was there.  He was everywhere.

When I saw this picture, it was as if my eyes were opened.  I could see Jesus everywhere.  I had been looking for the light.  However, The Light was there all along.  I couldn’t see Him because of my fear and pain.  But, Jesus remained anyway.  He stayed and lifted up all who needed sustenance.  He was there all of the time!

I haven’t been able to read posts or stories about 9/11 on this 15th anniversary.  I haven’t been able to watch the t.v. specials or documentaries.  I know enough of what happened on that day and the following days.  I can’t bring myself to read or watch because the pain in my heart is too great.  The world, our world changed that day.  It was never the same.

Instead, I have been rejoicing.  I have chosen to praise God for His presence that day and every day.  I am thanking Him for the gift of that photo that helped me see through the darkness.  I am worshiping Him with gratitude for teaching me through such horrendous evil how to find Him in the midst of anything that this life brings my way.  I an overwhelmed with adoration for the love He graciously gives to every man, woman and child.

Although 9/11 was a day that changed everything, not everything changed for the bad.  I was changed for the good.  I now can see things and the truth with much more clarity.  I no longer struggle to find Jesus in every situation.  The shock of 9/11 taught me to just look – because He is already there – everywhere – always.

In so many ways I can relate to Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  God took all that was wrong on 9/11/2001 and highlighted for me all that was right.  His love shined through so many people that day, that the light was brighter than the evil.  His love was everywhere.  Even in a pile of rubble at the bottom of where the World Trade Center towers once stood.  Thank you, Jesus!

Posted in Love, Meditations/Devotions.

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