“The saddest thing in life is that the best thing in it should be courage.” – Robert Frost –
My mom is strong.
She is fight-Mike-Tyson-with-her-oven-mitts-on strong.
The latter taking the belt.
words + photographs MARK APPLEGATE
Mom was diagnosed in 2009 with, in the words of her doctor, “a mild case of dementia.” Knowing what I know now, this probably meant either she had mild cognitive impairment or, as sometimes the case, the doctor sugar coated the topic, knowing millions of people struggle with the disease but are limited to poor treatments and no known cures.
Mom was being released after spending four or five days at Mercy Marian Center, receiving inpatient care for depression and anxiety. She appeared to be doing great, with the dementia thing just being an add-on or an FYI, as though this could be an issue when she gets old – she was only 65 at the time.
I remember her telling me multiple times, even pretty early on in the diagnosis, “If I have to go to the nursing home someday, please do it. Come visit when you can, but don’t feel guilty. I will find things to do and will do crafts and the rest!”
Little did we know what a tremendous gift she had given us. A short, handful of years later, when we could no longer safely care for her, we undoubtedly knew her wishes. We visited early and oftentimes, daily.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
Mom knew this disease was terrible. For many years, she volunteered as a caregiver, sometimes in nursing homes.
She not only watched as her own mom developed the disease, but she became her care soldier until the day we buried my grandma. When Mom found out she too was an unwilling statistic, she started fighting. She was baptized at her church after making a profession of faith. Though she had made a similar profession in her youth, she questioned her sincerity and wanted to do it again.
She exercised, ate better, exercised some more, played brain games, started journaling, studied the topic. Once she moved to the nursing home, she played the old hymns on the piano over and over to the joy of her Lord and her sweet friends – all 17 of them, who sang alongside. I believe the Lord blessed her faith and testimony by giving her opportunities to share her faith/baptism story for a longer time period than many with her symptoms. In her weakness, especially as time went on, He became her strength more and more. He also became ours in the process.
COVER Mark Applegate and his mom, Brenda HERE Brenda being baptized in June 2010; Brenda smiling; Mark with his mom early in the pandemic during lockdown. The family was called to a special grieving room and was told his mom had only a short time left on earth. The family constantly stayed with her for three to four days until authorities decided the news was a mistake; and Mark’s mom watches her children while seated beside a creek in front of her childhood home in Chesapeake, Missouri.
All diseases are terrible. I have observed many, many ill people in my life, but nothing I have seen compares to the chipping away or the roller coaster of un-joy lived in dementia.
Four years ago, one day my mom asked me, “Is there something wrong with me?” She had forgotten why she was in the lockdown memory unit. I answered, “No, Momma, you are just struggling a little. The doctors are working on it, and you’ll be better than new some sweet day!” I finished the sentence under my breath, hidden from her ears: “In Heaven.”
When Mom would ask how her parents were doing, I would reply, “Better than they ever have been. They send their love and will see you as soon as this is over.”
These answers satisfied my mom until she asked again an hour later. She stayed strong in the face of proof she shouldn’t. Make no mistake: Minus a cure, all who develop the disease die of it unless something else beats dementia to the punch.
But strength is contagious, Friends.
And though sadness and fear are bullies, courage outshines both on any given day.
This is what my mom has taught me, and what I want to give to you:
- Hard times happen, even for believers. Especially, sometimes, for believers. Job’s story, as recorded in the Bible, comes to mind. If your faith tells you bad things won’t happen to a faithful believer, run from that faith to the One who is strong for you in weakness.
- Strength is beautiful. God’s strength showing through us is even more beautiful and is sure to give Him the Glory.
- Strength is contagious but so is boldness. Watching Mom battle has led me to fight with her. I dove into her fight as best I could, completing 13 clinical research studies, helping organize the Walk to End Alzheimer’s event in Springfield, Missouri, raising heaps of money for the cause through my runs, and the like – for God’s glory and for the kindness He has shown Mom and my family through these hard times. Even sharing my faith is easier because of watching Mom, much more a novice in her faith, share her story almost to the point of embarrassment because of the timing. How could I be less bold than she given her circumstances?
- Life is a journey and, minus His return, none of us will get out of here alive. We need an anchor against the storms of life, and Christ is the sure anchor.
The battle rages on. Just yesterday we were told Mom would be removed from many hospice services she has been on for more than two years. She apparently is doing well enough to not need them, despite the fact they referred to her as being in Stage 7F. This is hospice jargon for “there is no worse stage” and still be alive. As tempted as we are to get mad or lose courage, we instead look to Christ and His life, and we see broken, symbolic glimpses in mom’s fight.
With this in view, we lovingly fight for her care. Mom is a fighter and so, now, are we. MA
Mark Applegate is a Christian, husband, dad, and cornbread-cooking, IT geek, writer, and runner on-the-side. He has lived in the Ozarks his whole life, attended Missouri State University, studied briefly in Israel, married his high school sweetheart, and has since lived happily ever after. Mark is currently director of systems alignment for SeniorAge Area Agency on Aging and loves working with and for seniors. Read more from Mark on his personal blog, Digital Cornbread.