Brentwood pastor shares about his mom’s disease in his new book about Alzheimer’s, dementia
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — As a minister for more than 40 years, Mike Glenn walked through the valley of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease with many families over the years.
But he admits that until you face it personally it is truly hard to understand what a family goes through. “Caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is totally consuming,” said Glenn, pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and more than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
Glenn recently penned a book, published by Broadman & Holman Publishing, entitled Coffee with Mom: Caring for a Parent with Dementia. His hope is that the book will provide encouragement to families who are walking down a similar path and help them realize they’re not alone. “Sometimes, the only thing you want to know is that you’re not alone in the world. I hope by telling my mom’s story, you’ll understand there are lots of people who are walking the same road.”
He notes that every patient is different. “There is no ‘right way’ to deal with the disease,” Glenn stressed.
The book is based on a series of tweets Glenn posted following this daily meeting with his mother over coffee. He would stop on his way to church each morning and have coffee with his mother at the retirement and memory care center where she lived. “Sometimes those visits were funny. Other times they were painful beyond belief,” he recalled.
He said the tweets were a way “to deal with the funny but painful daily process of dealing with Mom and her illness. The tweets found a life of their own and the book followed from there,” he said.
The book was released nearly a year after the death of his mother, Barbara Glenn, in July of 2018.
Glenn said having coffee with his mother was “hilarious, humiliating, warm, freezing cold, angry, touching, loving, and brutal” but a year after her death, “I would give anything to have another cup of coffee with her this morning.”
One of the things he learned from his experience was the importance of having conversations about the subject before it becomes an issue. “I had the gift of my dad telling me how he wanted things done,” should he die before his wife, Glenn recalled.
Glenn noted that in dealing with patients with dementia, rapid-fire decisions have to be made. “I had the peace of knowing I was doing what dad wanted,” he said. Glenn encourages older adults to tell children what they want while they are able to make those decisions. “Tell your children what you want done (for specific situations). If they know what mom or dad wanted, it will give them peace in difficult situations.”
In the book, Glenn acknowledged, “One of the hardest things about dealing with a parent who has Alzheimer’s is there’s never a clear-cut answer on what to do next. Even if you know ‘what’ to do, knowing ‘when’ to do it is just as baffling. As a care-giver, you’re constantly dealing with ‘on one hand’ and ‘then, on the other hand.’ ”
Glenn experienced that when he knew that he had to take away his mother’s car keys and that she could no longer drive. That was going to be “a suicide mission,” he wrote in the book.
After it was over and his mother was no longer on the highway, Glenn reflected, “It might have been hard. It might have been uncomfortable, but everyone was safe, and I could live with that. Sometimes life gives you hard choices, and other times life doesn’t give you any choice at all.
“Either way, you still have to choose and carry the consequences of that choice for good or bad.”
Glenn observed the greatest lesson he learned while dealing with his mom was the power of love. “When I was little, I counted on mom to take care of me. There was no meeting, no clarification of expectations. I just knew that whatever decision she made would be in my best interest.
“Now, she couldn’t make her own decisions, and she was now counting on me to do what was best for her. This is what love does. Love always seeks the best of the beloved. Even when it’s hard — especially when it’s hard. Love makes the hard choices.”
In his book, Glenn reminds readers that when caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia that “in the end, you have to live with yourself. If you can remember, in all of the craziness of the disease, the only thing that really matters is knowing you did the best you could, you’ll be fine. Less than that is hard to live with.”
Glenn said his desire for the book is that everyone who reads it “would understand the great privilege it is to care for your parents. I was very honored to be able to care for my mom.
“I hope the book will spark some conversations in the family to start talking about the hard choices that life may require of each of us. I would want people to understand God is good and God is faithful — even in the toughest of times.”
‘The things no one will tell you’
BRENTWOOD — Pastor Mike Glenn of Brentwood Baptist Church candidly admits he was “not ready” when he learned his mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
In his book, Coffee with Mom: Caring for a Parent with Dementia, Glenn titled one of the chapters, “Things No One Will Tell You (But You Need to Hear Anyway). “I wasn’t ready when the illness came. I wasn’t ready when she died (in July of 2018). I faced day after day not being ready for what I had to face.
“What could I have done to get ready? What do I wish I had known? What do I wish someone had told me?”
Here are a few things Glenn would have liked to have known.
I wish I had known that on most days, there are no right or wrong answers.
He wrote “I spent hours and hours and too many sleepless nights trying to figure out what was the best thing to do when there was no ‘best’ way to do it.
I wish someone had told me to act as soon as I saw the first evidence of a problem.
Glenn acknowledged that those conversations would have been hard. “My mom would have fought me every step of the way, but she fought me anyway,” he wrote. By not acting earlier, he noted he had “to make those hard decisions, fight with my mom, and also try to cope with the irrationality of her disease … I wish someone had told me that actions put off only get more and more difficult by the moment.”
I wish someone could have told me that some days are harder than others, but the hard days aren’t the days you expect.
Glenn explained that you expect the “bad news” from doctor’s appointments. “You learn to handle these moments because you expect them. … The hard moments are when your mom looks like your mom but then says or does something that reminds you she’s not your mom anymore.
I wish someone had told me there are going to be bad days — really bad days.
“You need to have a little space in your calendar to grieve. Not allowing your grief to be expressed means the grief will find another way to be expressed. You’ll find yourself exhausted, unable to sleep, suffering headaches and all kinds of other ailments because your soul is trying to tell you how badly you’re hurting. You have to pay attention to this.”
— Compiled from chapter 19
By the Numbers
form of dementia
— Compiled from alzheimers.net from 2017 Alzheimer’s stats