I was stuck.

In the most giving season of my life—raising teenage children, caring for my mother with Alzheimer’s in my home—I was stuck.

Wedged in a pit of self.

Patience wore like a thin wall.

Anger ignited like a wildfire.

Sleep eluded like a shadow.

My teenage children labeled it “The Dark Ages.”

The problem is that my darkness grasped the hem of those closest to me, unknowingly pulling them into its fold, tainting my interactions with my husband, children, and sadly, my dear elderly mother.

The lifeline out of this pit was my women’s study group, who began to study 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

I had heard about the phenomena, the listing of 1000 gifts, from others, but was unsure what it was all about.

The moment our group opened the study together, my twisted soul unraveled. This was the practice my heart was searching for in the darkness: the practice of daily looking for the small things in the “ugly beautiful” to give thanks …

the sweet smile of my mother as I woke her in the mornings

the soft touch of her hand as she grasped me to rise

the slow pace of our walk around the block, arm in arm,

that allowed us to see sunlight through the oak leaves,

or acorns scattered on the sidewalk,

or hear the cardinal’s song from the crepe myrtle on the porch.

Slowly, as I began listing into a small journal No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 … the gifts each day unfolding with my mother, or with my children, who played a sonata on the piano for her, or a game of Chinese checkers to keep her entertained … accounting for each gift lifted the heaviness of burdens hard to carry …

getting my mother bathed and dressed each day

getting her in and out of the car for doctor appointments or adult day care

repeating the same conversations over and over

especially the statement: “I want to go home.”

That comment always threw me off guard.

We had transformed our home for her, built a room for her and adapted our lifestyle as a family of six to accommodate her growing needs.

I didn’t understand at first that the comment “I want to go home” for an Alzheimer’s patient is a quest for security and safety in a realm that is collapsing.

Frustrated at all we had done for her, I would angrily ask, “Mom you live with me now. Do you want to go back to your house in Tacoma?”

Her grey head would shake side to side. She would lift her eyes up to heaven, point one slender bony finger upward.

“No, home. To heaven,” she would say.

As her consciousness of reality diminished, her desire for heaven grew stronger. It was as if as the magnet of life here on earth lost its pull, her gravitation toward the eternal magnified.

She, along with my listing of the gifts daily,

pulled me out of the pit

gave me a new song to sing as the psalmist declares in Psalm 40.

A firm place to stand.

My mother cannot stand anymore. She is completely bedridden. But I stand now on a different footing.

The practice of listing gifts pulled me out of the self-pity that arose as a long-term caregiver, giving me new eyes to see and new strength to stand … 

a greater intimacy with the God who sustains me in quiet moments of seeing,

in quiet moments of hearing his voice in soft whispers.

That is all that is left of my mother’s voice now–her whisper.

Her words are few but her heart is as big as ever.

She still sees me, knows my name.

I am thankful to be seen.

I am thankful to be known.

I am thankful through this journey, I see.

I am thankful through this journey, I know.

Vina Mogg
Vina Mogg is a recent empty nester learning to repurpose and refeather her nest, a 1926 cottage on Puget Sound. After caring for her mother with Alzheimers the past 10 years, she is a caregiver advocate and member of the AlzAuthors writing group. Essays on this journey have been published on various sites and in the anthology, The Wonder Years, 40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith and Beauty. On seaglasslife.com, she writes stories of tumbled, broken, beautiful pieces of life as caregiver, mother of four, painter, and wife for 36 years, and is currently working on a memoir on family and caregiving life.

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  1. Vina, this is so beautiful. I love the way in which you use words as tools to build pictures for us to see. How real this is, and how strong. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this essay. I’m the caregiver for our daughter disabled by excruciating pain and my mother with ALZ. I’m so very tired and want desperately to be joyful. I can think all these lovely thoughts and yet fail in practice when bedtime comes and I’m weary to the bone. It reminds me of when I cared for toddlers and just wished they would go to sleep rather than continue to stretch out the bedtime rituals. I’m spent. My reactions are not the soft, loving, gentle ones I wish they were. So that leaves me tired, frustrated and full of guilty feelings. Can I list the things for which I am grateful? Yes! Can I do it at 9:00 PM? I don’t seem to be able to. May God provide the strength and joy needed for these sweet ones for whom I dedicate my life.

    1. Bonnie
      My heart goes out to you. You are caring for a mother and a daughter, I cannot imagine the physical and emotional burden you carry. I pray God will strengthen you moment by moment as you carry out this ministry to the women you love so much. He is Beer Lahai Roi, the God who sees each act of service you carry out for them, from the humblest moment to those that are seen. Know that you are not alone. I understand those moments when our reactions are not as you wish they would be. Please take time, even a few moments, to take care of yourself, even if it is to take a walk around the block to get some fresh air. You are demonstrating a calling, the love Jesus speaks of, to lay down your life for another, in your case, two. God bless you and keep you. Isaiah 43:1-7……Do not fear, for have I redeemed you, I have summoned you by name, you are mine.

  3. I love your story. I only had one furlough year to care for my Mother with Parkinsons. We raised our 6 children in Japan – 4 were born there. Now I am 90, and my children show their love and concern daily, even though I can still live independently. One daughter calls me at 9 every morning, to make sure I am OK. Another stops by when she can after teaching school. The kids farther away come when they can. I believe that year with my Mother had a good influence on our children. I am so blessed.

    1. Dear Mary
      Thank you for the encouragement in this season of your life that you see the fruit of your commitment to care for your mother in your children’s service to you now. That is beautiful, how blessed you are. Thank you for reading and for sharing your story, that down the road, we are encouraged how the blessing is multiplied into the next generation. I see this in my own children, and I am grateful. Blessings to you.

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