Saturday, March 11, 2017

Lelah's Life Lessons!

When I was young, I lived on a large piece of property on the outskirts of town. My neighbors were an older woman, Lelah, and her husband. I saw them now and again, but since our houses were separated by a large, lightly wooded field, opportunities for visiting didn't arise naturally.

While I was expecting my oldest daughter, Lelah's husband died unexpectedly. I felt a burden to look in on her now and again through this trying time. Soon Lelah and I had established a close relationship.

We continued to visit at least weekly during the early years of my daughter's life. Lelah taught me to garden, giving me a small patch in her garden to work. She babysat while I ran errands occasionally. We visited and enjoyed each other's company!

After a while Lelah's mother, Sally, came to live with her. Sally became my daughter's first best friend. She would ooh and ah over her and play silly games! When Sally died, that was a 4-year-old's first taste of death! She was sad and missed her friend, Sally.

Lelah and I looked after each other, helping when possible. She had no children and we happily filled the gap.

I started noticing that Lelah was forgetting words. She would point and say things like, "put it down over there on that thing, you know, where we eat!" in other words, the table. This continued for some time and we would just laugh it off. After a while I asked Lelah if she shouldn't see a doctor to see if she was developing Alzheimer's. She took my advice and came home with a positive diagnosis.

Things continued to deteriorate. Soon she was not able to drive, forgot how to cook, was not able to pay her bills and so on. Once I went over to find all of her pills dumped together in a big bowl. She was stirring them and told me she wasn't sure which ones to take. I started hiding a single dose of pills with a glass of water and calling her during the day to tell her where to find them. I got her signed up for Meals on Wheels. I went over at night to check on her after work, to be sure she had food to eat. I balanced her checking account, paid her bills, bought her groceries, helped with her laundry and so on.

One day I came home to a frantic phone message with Lelah calling out for help! I ran to her house and found her calmly watching TV. I asked her what was wrong and she told me nothing. I looked all over her house and finally started examining her body. There were several circular burns on her hand and lower arm where she had laid it on the hot burner! I called her family who lived out of town and told them Lelah could no longer live alone! They developed a plan for a family member to move in and share her home until the time came where she had to be moved to a nursing facility.

Throughout the later stages of her dementia, Lelah remained calm and happy. I remember one of my last visits where she was coherent enough to have a slight conversation. She told me, "I don't know who you are, but I like you!" That was heartbreaking, but comforting. She had held on to her joy, right up to the end.

What did I learn from this? I learned that happiness has more to do with attitude than circumstance. Lelah was never sad or distressed over her situation. She laughed at herself when she did silly things or forgot words. She didn't feel sorry for herself, but pressed on. Up until then I had thought about old age with a certain foreboding. Now I look on it as just another step in life. As a Christian, I know something far better waits at the end. Lelah taught me to be brave during the journey!

Lelah, Bethany and me at Easter

Purse and gloves Lelah gave to me 

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