Ramblings from the Cove...
By Lars Gren
You may be one of those inquisitive enough to open up Elisabeth’s website and check out my offerings for Ramblings from the Cove and may be wondering when Elisabeth began her road towards dementia. I’ve had several ask about it. Its’ really not a long story (long being relative) but I’ll tell you a bit about how it began.
It was she, not I, who noticed there was something amiss. One day, I’d say in 2002 or 2003, she just said to me, “Darlin’, I think there is something going wrong.” “What do you mean?” I asked. Elisabeth responded with something I would not have taken notice of. She realized that in getting cups out of the cupboard, that she had not put them in their normal place. I thought little about it, except when a few weeks later she again came and suggested she go and see a neurologist. We did not know of one, so Elisabeth just looked in the yellow pages and made the call. On the scheduled day we drove over and as I opened the door to walk her in she said “No, don’t get out.” “Why not, I’ll go in with you” I said. “No, I’d like to just go in alone”, which is what she did while I waited in the car.
It was but a short time, considering the standard duration of most doctor visits, until I watched her coming from the office wearing a countenance ‘announcing’ that something was awry. As I found out, we could not have chosen a worse doctor than we had-- not for her expertise perhaps, but in her delivery of a diagnosis to a new patient. Evidently she did the normal memory testing and when finished, she just had one statement to make to Elisabeth. She merely said, “Oh, you have Alzheimer’s.” I would have expected her to say, “You seem to have some difficulty in such and such area of having to do with memory and recognition, and perhaps we do further investigation.” It’s perhaps the first time I saw her in such a depressed way, or unable to take it in. The saddest part of having been given that news is that later, when we did have a very good doctor for her, the fact was that she had dementia, but not Alzheimer’s as we usually think of it—and there’s quite a difference, though they are akin to each other.
It was shortly after this that we were in California for a speaking engagement. While there we went to visit the Shepard’s who lived there, where Walt, Valerie’s husband, pastured a church. One afternoon the two of us took a little driving tour and I could see Elisabeth’s spirits were low. I pulled into a commercial parking area, turned off the motor and chatted with her a bit. I said, “Is there something wrong?” And she said, “Well, I was just thinking about what it will be like and the changes that may be coming.” My response to it was “Darlin’, we really don’t know what it is and we don’t know what it will be like, but it will be okay.” It seemed to ease the situation and we had very few discussions during the next years about what she could or could not do.
We went on with our daily living for a while and Elisabeth still accepted speaking engagements. However after the fall of 2004 she used a manuscript which was foreign to her as her notes for talks formerly could be a few lines with the main points or illustrations jotted on a piece of paper the size of a 3 by 5 card. She amazed us by having hymns, poems and illustrations, as we might say, at her fingertips. As she went along she would bring out the right ones and not only recite it, but if it had been given with a certain accent by a previous speaker, she would deliver the accent with perfection. She possessed a finely tuned ear which was what made her a great linguist.
I knew early on that she had a good ear, for not long after I moved in as a border, she picked up on my Norwegian inability to correctly pronounce the English s, ch, th and zed sounds. So if you say jam or jelly, it may come out as “yam” or “yelly”. And at all times I would avoid saying the word scissors because zed is a sound that we don’t have. Her ability at hearing accents also showed up on our trips we took to Norway where it did not take long for her to say some words to perfection even though she might not know the meaning of them. It was a terrific gift that she had which aided her greatly in the mission work.
Perhaps a few of you attended a seminar of hers where she, in a light moment, gave a takeoff on the British monologist Joyce Grenfield. She recited her funny monologue of Mrs. Blinton’s visit to the nursery school speaking Miss Grenfield’s voice and accent to perfection. Here is the first portion of it, but do try to hear it and imagine Elisabeth giving it. I’ll add it here and for those in “computer land”, you can find it on You Tube.
“Will you be all right there, Mrs Binton? I think you'll get a good view of the proceedings.
Hurry up everybody. Don't push - there's lots of room for us all.
Children... pay attention, please. Free time is over, so put away your things and we are going to tell our nice story, so come over here and make a circle on the floor all around me, and we'll tell the story together. We've got a visitor today, so we can tell our story to her.
Will you be all right there, Mrs Binton? I think you'll get a good view of the proceedings.
Hurry up everybody. Don't push - there's lots of room for us all.
This group story-telling is quite a feature of our work here in the Nursery School, Mrs Binton. We like to feel that each little individual has a contribution to make to the world of make-believe, and of course many valuable lessons can be learned from team work. We're a happy band of brothers here!
Edgar, let go of Timmy's ear and settle down.
Come along, everybody.
Sidney, come out from under the table and join in the fun.
No, you're not in a space rocket.
You can't wait for the count-down, you come out now.
Don't you want to help us tell our nice story, Sidney?
Then say, 'No, thank you.' And stop machine-gunning everybody, please.
And Neville, stop being a train and sit down.”
It goes on and even now I can hear Elisabeth as Miss Grenfield laughing so hard at times that the tears would come down while throughout, the story reigns in Chaos as order is called for. She so enjoyed giving this particular piece but had many other such vignettes committed to memory, which she would readily offer without much encouragement.
But all that was past and it was at Liberty University in the spring of 2004, when she addressed what seemed to be the entire student body at Chapel. She was well received and gave an excellent presentation, but I realized that in reading the manuscript, there was a line giving the year when the five missionaries were killed. She got the year wrong, giving it as 1954 rather than 1956. The mistake though was mine for the manuscript had it as ’54 but normally she would never have said that and it would have been overridden by her memory of 1956. And I, in proofing it, did not realize that the year in the script was wrong. Unfortunately, she did not pick up on my oversight. There was one person, however, in the audience who knew the story well, and Pat came up to me afterwards and said, “Strange how Elisabeth missed the year.” And then she too realized that something was amiss with Elisabeth.
In the years following ‘04, there remained only one event that we regularly went to in Dallas, Texas, where Bill Gotthard had a program called Excel. In total we averaged 2 trips a year for 13 years where she addressed the young ladies, aged 16-20. In the years following when we she did not speak, we would play one of Elisabeth’s videos and then have a Q & A time plus sitting at the table with different small groups sharing conversation over the meals. Elisabeth loved the young people and enjoyed contact with them and I don’t know how many hundreds of pictures were taken during those visits, for they all wanted an EE memento. It made special times for us each year that we continued there. Hence of course, we made a lot of friends in Dallas after Excel ended that we would visit on our subsequent travel there. They are still friends with me and I try to continue to see some of them when I am in the area.
Up until ’09, I cared for Elisabeth at home and on the road without any help. For me there were many happy memories and good times together, but it became evident in ‘09, that I could not do it alone and so began a series of wonderful helpers and God’s blessing our togetherness among other things. Each one that came, knew about Elisabeth by her writings, books and a good number of them had attended the Excel program. It was Mike Bell, who was in charge of that program, who I called and asked if he could help me find someone. He also knew I was in need of help and said, “I’ll put my head together with my daughter Amy and see if we can’t come up with a name.” Only a couple of days later, they called to say that they had come up with three names and that their first choice was Kendalyn Kowalchuk (now Kendalyn Staddon). So she became the first of a good number of helpers who came to us through the Excel program.
Another avenue of help came through an associated program to Gotthard’s which graduated CNA’s—certified nursing assistants. This began a wonderful collection of caregivers, 16 in total, which began in ’09, until the morning of June 15, 2015, when Kea and Anna were here for that last evening together. There are so many fond memories and fun things from those years, both from the standpoint of Elisabeth’s enjoyment of having them 24 hours a day and of course, for me, the great help that they gave. And there were a lot of fun times, numerous trips were taken, particularly in the 5-6 years when we began spending some winter months at the AIM retirement center in Orlando. Some of you have read of that in other Ramblings. This Ramblings, in particular, will give you some insight into Elisabeth’s mind and the way she was at that time.
Prior to hearing any complaints, I’ll take a hiatus of telling more of how it began and will continue that at another time. But let me give you a copy of a recent card Amy DeMass, who had a short time with us in 2010. I recently received a card from her which certainly brought smiles to my face and I’ll let this conclude our episode until a later date. I had asked the caregivers to send me a few special memories of living here and caring for Elisabeth, particularly of the lighter and funnier moments. Parts of this letter I am enclosing, I am a bit fearful to repeat for I don’t measure up to what Amy seems to think that I am.
On February 3, 2010, Amy writes:
I read my journal I kept while there and found these two entries to share with you:
I was struck tonight by kindness of a man towards his wife. He gently leads her, patiently listens to her, cleans her, and then he washes her with the Word and tucks her into bed.
(I, Lars, now speaking, feel highly embarrassed to put this in, and I certainly can’t claim to have lived up to her view of the situation.)
Today Mr. Gren told me the secret of his wife’s success as an author—‘She was always curious about the details of questionable things. I guess that’s why she’s such a good writer,’ he explained in his Mississippi drawl.
And then continuing Amy recalls:
Quotes from Mr. Gren:
There was an all-time favor that she did that was above and beyond offering any caring for Elisabeth. An expired woodchuck was on the slope in the front of the house which I put into a plastic grocery bag. It was a little bit difficult for me to get down into the wooded area beyond the terrace. So I asked Amy if she would just take the bag and a shovel and bury the bag for me. She seemed a bit hesitant about it and then willingly said yes. It did take her a bit of time and when she came back I asked if everything went fine and I wondered if she was okay. “Oh yes, it’s finished, and I cleaned off a nice little area and made a cross of stones and had a short prayer. So the woodchuck was properly buried. That is one task that Amy will never forget!
As I go through a small journal I tried to keep on changes, I’ll add more of these in later Ramblings.
And for now, God bless y’all and that’s it from the Cove.