How Do You Care for An Aging Widowed Mom with Aspergers

My mom has Aspergers. I’m not 100% sure about this diagnosis, but she shows symptoms. Shortly after my dad passed away, I had her visit a therapist who confirmed it after a couple of visits talking with her. Can you make this diagnosis in this way? I’m not sure, but just work with me, I’m sure she has something along these lines.

She lives alone, well she did until her relief society president saw a need and filled it. Another woman in her ward needed a cheap place to stay, my mom could use some company, so now she has a roommate. But she’s effectively alone, her roommate leaves in the morning and comes back late at night and mostly just stays in her room. My mom isn’t so easy to live with – she raised me, I know.

But now she doesn’t have my dad, she has me, she has her ward, some really thoughtful home teachers and a few neighbors that know her. We live close, but not close enough. I see her at least once a week – I take her shopping on Saturdays. We try to bring her to our kid’s activities, but we don’t always.

She mostly just wants to stay at home. She can’t tolerate our house for very long. We’ve thought about moving her somewhere else, but she doesn’t want to move. She has stability and wants to keep it that way, I’m trying to honor that as long as possible. We haven’t moved either, mostly because of her, but thankfully I’ve had a nice run at a couple of nice companies, so I’ve conveniently been able to enjoy a nice career without having to disrupt her with a move, especially now in her old age.

So, she can generally take care of herself, except when it’s difficult. She’s sick right now, something with her stomach. She minimizes this kind of stuff – she didn’t tell me my dad was sick until he was laying on his bed for three days groaning. When I finally arrived, he had suffered a stroke and a heart-attack. Nine months later he was dead. My dad moved to Mesa near us in hopes to avoid this sort of thing. It didn’t work as well as it could. So, she minimizes bad stuff. She can’t handle change and bad news forces change into her life, so she copes by ignoring or minimizing it. So, like with my dad, everything is always fine. I want to believe her.

Today I took her shopping. Normally, she’s fine taking her shopping cart around getting a very modest amount of food for the week. Today, though she felt sick to the stomach and couldn’t walk. We found a chair, I did her shopping and took her home.

We were supposed to go out to eat with her to celebrate belatedly my birthday. She wasn’t filling up to it. We went out and brought her food home for her. While eating, she again, felt sick to her stomach and then suddenly, she got up to go to the bathroom, but too late, as she left a trail of accident from her chair to the bathroom.

We helped her clean up. She stayed in the bathroom quite a long time. My wife and kids went home, while I stayed with her until she went to bed. I kept asking her how she felt, she kept saying fine.

But she’s not fine. She’s getting old. I’m sure she’s lonely. She really has no good friends. She has Aspergers and is just unable to make a deep connection with others. She’s emotional, but not empathetically. It’s mostly emotions expressed in stressful freak-outs. I feel connected to her, deeply and emotionally as I’m sure my sisters do, but it’s biology and a shared history. She doesn’t like change and doesn’t want to leave her condo. I get calls from members of her ward occasionally, her hometeacher, a relief society president, all wondering about her, concerned. The problem is when you are elderly with Aspergers, the Asperger behavior blends in with being old behavior. People aren’t sure which is which, and it’s difficult to distinguish mental dysfunction due to age and just plain Aspergers.

She’s my mom, I love her, but I’m not sure what to do. Or maybe the answer is obvious, but I’m just afraid I’m not up to it.


The Book of Mormon Made Harder, The Condescension of God

More 1 Nephi Chapter 11. Here, Nephi prays for wisdom and his prayers are answered when the Spirit of the Lord carries him up into a tall mountain and asks him what he desires. Nephi wants to see the same vision his father saw. He immediately sees a tree, most precious and beautiful, like the tree his father saw. He is asked again what he desires, and this time Nephi responds with a wish to know the meaning of his father’s vision. The answer to this question is a vision of a beautiful woman living in the city of Nazareth.

An angel then comes down and asks him another interesting question:

16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?

So, Nephi, who is young and unmarried is carried up in a vision and is shown an amazing tree, followed by a vision of a beautiful, young woman and is asked about the condescension of God. He answers:

 17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

Why would tree be compared to this woman and why would both cause Nephi to express his knowledge of God’s love? What follows is an overview of Christ’s life. Christ, a perfect being comes from God to be born, to live in obscurity and poverty, and ends his short life, to suffer and die.

So much of this is counter-intuitive to what you might expect. Jesus, the prince of peace, lives a life in relative obscurity, in a modest corner of the world. He does not seek for power, but rather he is content to serve and to live with the destitute, the hungry, the poor. And he came not for physical deliverance but to offer something deeper but more subtle, peace in suffering and a hope for a better world after we die.

Nephi knows none of this before he’s asked the question though. He sees a beautiful women and immediately feels the the deep love God has for each of us.

Because really, we’re all beautiful, loved, worthwhile and blessed because Jesus did condescend to become one of us and then living among us, chose to suffer and to die and in that suffering He is able to reach out to lift each of us up.

This is a beautiful chapter.

The Book of Mormon Made Harder, Nephi and Lehi

In chapter 11, Nephi asks for and receives a vision of the tree of life similar to the vision his father receives. But it starts out differently. In Chapter 11, verse 8, 9:

And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.

And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit: I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.

The first thing Nephi sees right out of the gate is a tree, far beautiful than anything imaginable.

Contrast this with Lehi’s experience:

And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me.

And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him.

And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste.

And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies.

And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field.

10 And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.

11 And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.

Lehi rather begins his vision in darkness where he spends many hours. It says that he was led, but it also seems the man disappears and Lehi is forced to wander alone until finally he prays for grace and is delivered from the darkness. Only then, does Lehi get the blessing of the tree.

Why the difference? I have two thoughts here. Lehi didn’t seek for this vision, it came to him in a dream. Lehi needed to be taught, but he did not know it. There was knowledge out there that Lehi was not aware of to even seek. As a result, the dream begins in darkness, that is the first grace, he was made aware of his ignorance and lack of light. I often have this feeling of thinking I know more than I really do. There are times in my life when I’m woken up to the reality that I’m really just wandering in ignorance. Those feelings can be difficult, painful, overwhelming. I like Lehi’s response. He prays for mercy and is immediately blessed with light. The darkness is a grace. The light is a grace.

Second, Nephi is being taught by his father. Lehi teaches his family about the dream. Nephi’s immediately recognizes his ignorance and seeks for greater understand through prayer. For Nephi, his father was the man leading him through darkness toward the light. Thus, when Nephi prays, he’s basking in the light already. This is a grace, a grace of a parent, of family and Nephi is smart enough to stand on the shoulders of his dad.

Each of us have both alternatives before us. Some of us have had the blessings of lineage and geneology. We are born on third base. This is a grace, an opportunity. Some others of us are born in darkness. It is our calling to walk through the darkness to find the light.

For all of us, there is light and beauty. We can find it. It’s a tender mercy when we do.

Do We Sometimes Forget the Corner Cases

In the introduction of his books “Rhube Goldberg Machines”, Adam Miller writes:

“Engaged in this work, theology has only one strength: it can make simple things difficult. Good theology forces detours that divert us from our stated goals and prompt us to visit places and include people that would otherwise be left aside. The measure of this strength is charity. Theological detours are worth only as much charity as they are able to show. They are worth only as many waylaid lives and lost objects as they are able to embrace. Rube Goldberg Machines, models of inelegance, are willing to loop anything into the circuit—tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, Democrats, whatever. This is their joy. Here, the impromptu body of Christ is a Rube Goldberg Machine. In charity, the grace of a disinterested concern for others and the gratuity of an unnecessary complication coincide. Charity is a willingness to have our lives made difficult by people we did not have to help, objects we did not have to save, thoughts we did not have to think.

Miller, Adam S. (2012-04-04). Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Kindle Locations 123-128). Greg Kofford Books. Kindle Edition.

I’m not sure we tend to think of ideas in this way. We tend toward over-simplifications, trying as we might to make our lives easier, simpler, more streamlined. I love this idea of charity in the last sentence. We tend to think of charitable acts and they certainly make our lives more difficult, when we sacrifice a Saturday morning helping someone move, or pull over to help someone stranded on the side of the road rather than continuing on in our journey.

But it also shows true charity to be willing to think of ideas that we do not have to think. Be willing to show true empathy for an individual whose worldview is drastically different than our own, driven as they often are by unique life-experiences far different than anything we’ve had to endure.

Last April, I was interested in General Conference, a bi-annual gathering of our major church leaders who present several talks over the the course of a weekend. This past conference was interesting because of its emphasis on strengthening the family unit, here, here, and here.

In the first Boyd K. Packer says:

The commandment to multiply and replenish the earth has never been rescinded. It is essential to the plan of redemption and is the source of human happiness. Through the righteous exercise of this power, we may come close to our Father in Heaven and experience a fulness of joy, even godhood. The power of procreation is not an incidental part of the plan; it is the plan of happiness; it is the key to happiness.

And so goes the central theme of his talk – that everything, all joy and happiness is contingent on how we use or abuse our sacred powers of creation and this, then, becomes an explanation about why chastity is such a central concern within the church I belong.

To his credit, Elder Packer gives a list of some of the worthy exceptions and he also describes the atoning power of Christ to heal from the consequences of sinful indiscretions.
Elder Perry has similar sentiments:

The entire theology of our restored gospel centers on families and on the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.

We also believe that strong traditional families are not only the basic units of a stable society, a stable economy, and a stable culture of values—but that they are also the basic units of eternity and of the kingdom and government of God.

And finally Elder Christofferson:

A family built on the marriage of a man and woman supplies the best setting for God’s plan to thrive—the setting for the birth of children, who come in purity and innocence from God, and the environment for the learning and preparation they will need for a successful mortal life and eternal life in the world to come.

And in his talk, Elder Christofferson makes one notable addition to Elder Packer’s list of exceptions, those who experience “same-sex attraction”.

To declare the fundamental truths relative to marriage and family is not to overlook or diminish the sacrifices and successes of those for whom the ideal is not a present reality. Some of you are denied the blessing of marriage for reasons including a lack of viable prospects, same-sex attraction, physical or mental impairments, or simply a fear of failure that, for the moment at least, overshadows faith. Or you may have married, but that marriage ended, and you are left to manage alone what two together can barely sustain. Some of you who are married cannot bear children despite overwhelming desires and pleading prayers.

My church does place a special emphasis on marriage and family and children, for good reason. It’s within marriage and family, it seems, that life’s greatest joys and life’s toughest challenges are often experienced. It’s such a privilege and such an advantage to have had a childhood blessed with parents who are carefully attentive, watchful and loving, and a horrible tragedy when one suffers childhood without such blessings.

There are enormous pressures to delay childbearing and marriage. Nearly half of all children in the English speaking world will not be living with one of their biological parents by the time they reach 16 years old. So much that is evil in the world today and in our history is evil directed at families. No one describes slavery as bluntly as Ta-Nehisi Coates who writes that the deepest darkest evil of slavery is what it did to black families:

Very few of them run because of slavery, itself. In the main, it is not simply the thievery of their labor, the lack of civil rights, or even the floggings that compel them.  It is their status as property, the utter inability to construct a secure family due to the threat of rape or sale. It is the making of “barbarous havoc” upon the household. The Underground Railroad springs not simply from the immorality of labor-theft, but from the immorality familiocide.

I think also of the families ripped apart or the young men who are rendered incapable of starting a family because of our mass incarceration policies. I think of the families ripped apart when undocumented fathers and husbands are deported while wives and children are left behind. We over-enforce our laws and destroy families.

The pressure on families are real and the benefits of having in-tact families on children outcomes are well-documented. It’s been in society’s best interest to promote, support and even incentivize the formation of family units giving children the best chance at good lives. The church ups the ante here with the introduction of eternal marriage to its theology and tying marriage, family and children to salvation.

This rhetoric makes it extremely difficult to reconcile those who struggle to live up to this ideal. But there are exceptions, significant exceptions. I just finished reading, No More Goodbyes by Carol Lynn Pearson. She has such a remarkable story. A Mormon artist and writer who married a gay man. That marriage ended in divorce, but they remained friends. He eventually suffers from AIDS, and she, by his side, provides nurturing and support as he eventually passes on.

In this book, written much later in 2006, she describes her experiences since, fellowshipping and assisting so many people struggling with being gay in the Mormon church. Chapter after chapter she gives them space to share their stories. She concludes it this way:

“I know the human family, and I say with Anne Frank, ‘I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.’ I know the Mormon heart. It is a good and great heart. It is a heart that opens wide whenever a need is seen.”

Love is the first law of heaven and it’s the foundation of all other commandments. If we’re not motivated by love in all that we do, pure love and goodness, something is wrong. And that’s why it’s a challenge when a gay person comes out in a Mormon family. They are forced to reconcile a Mormon theology that at the moment leaves little room to understand or make sense and room for a gay person,  and the deeper commandment to love everyone. Too many people choose their over simplified, limited understanding of the theology over pure and unconditional love and acceptance.

One thing I know, with God nobody is excluded. God remembers everyone no matter how marginalized they may feel. It’s our duty to feel the same. Our love must be a “Rube Goldberg Machine”, models of inelegance, making our lives difficult for the people we did not have to (but must) help.

The Book of Mormon Made Harder, Nephi’s Prayers

The Tree-of-lifeopening chapters of the Book of Mormon are told through the eyes of Nephi, the son of the prophet and spiritual leader, Lehi. Take note of this. Nephi is just an ordinary member of the family, a younger son. Lehi feels compelled to prophecy and preach and has these amazing visions. In 1 Nephi chapter 8, Lehi has a vision of the tree of life. He describes it with little interpretation other than to use it as a way to implore his two oldest sons to shape up and partake of the fruit.

Nephi responds in the way typical of him. He wanted to have the same experiences. He knew this was possible because his prayers have been answered before. He already had a deep relationship with the divine. He describes it this way:

For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.

Compare that experience with Lehi’s experience in the very first chapter of the Book of Mormon:

 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.

Or with Nephi in the second chapter:

16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.

In chapter 11, Nephi was more experienced, he had greater faith, his heart was already softened. Unlike in chapter 2, Nephi was already converted. He believed, he was ready. And he was blessed with a transcendent experience, carried away to a high mountaintop, away from  everything and everyone.

Lehi’s experience was darker, scarier maybe? Lehi quaked and trembled, he was visited by fire.

Faulconer asks whether or not Lehi is visited by a different being in chapter 1 then Nephi is in chapter 11. I think so. Faulconer also wonders what pondering something in your heart means and how is that different than pondering in your mind.

I’m actually amazed at these experiences. Again, Nephi is called to nothing. He is a son of a prophet but not the prophet. He is the follower in this little church. But in many ways, he goes beyond his father. His experience of the tree of life is more expansive, with greater explanation. I think this teaches me that these kinds of experiences are available to me as well, but there are conditions. We must act as Nephi acted. We must cry, have desire, ponder vigorously, strive.

But I think heavenly manifestations are beside the point. We don’t need angels from heaven to visit us. Adam Miller in a recent article put it this way:

I’m not denying that these supernatural things are real or that people don’t have the kind of direct contact with supernatural things that I never have. I’m just saying that they’ve never happened to me and that, at best, I can only speak about them in the third person on the basis of what others say.

But I don’t think that this is a disaster. And I don’t think it means that Mormonism doesn’t work. In fact, Mormonism seems to be working pretty well in transforming me in all kinds of ways that I find to be difficult and uncomfortable and extremely valuable.

But this transformation has also been profoundly ordinary and it has revolved around God trying to get me to stop speculating about other worlds and far off places and supernatural events and to, instead, pay attention to what’s happening right now, in this world, right in front of my own eyes.

This transformation has revolved around God trying to get me to pay attention to and care for the kinds of things that are so near and obvious that I’m prone to overlook them — the kinds of things that manifest God’s grace concretely at work in the world.

As best as I can tell, though, this is exactly what God wants. If I’m ever going to learn to see him, it will be by learning to see his hand at work in the air I breath and grass I mow. It will be by learning to see his eyes shining out from my child’s face. It will be by reading a book and hearing it read in his voice.

So, out answers to our prayers most likely will not come in this way, although they might. But even if they did, it would be beside the point. Does it matter how our answers come? Does it matter how our experiences with God are manifest? What matters is that they do come. But like Nephi, we need to seek and we need to listen. The answer to our prayer might come during sacrament meeting through a talk given by a barely audible youth speaker, who stands with trembling hands and reads her talk. Our answers just might be in there. Or at work, our answers might come indirectly from a colleague in a meeting. Or my neighbor may have the answer in their head if I only had the guts to come over and talk.

Really there are a multitude of ways, answers to prayers come, solutions to problems arrive in our lap. I am surrounded by angels. I need to pay attention.

The Book of Mormon Made Harder, Faith

I began well, when my daughter turned twelve, she transitioned from the LDS primary program into Young Women’s, this meant a journey to begin working on her personal progress award. I wanted to earn it with her. I was amazed with the program actually in much of the same way and for many of the same reasons I’m amazed with the scouting program. It’s pretty demanding. The program is divided into values, and the young woman is supposed to work through each value until completion. The first value is faith. It started well, I could guide her through the reading assignments and basically talk her through the questions. For each component, though, she’s supposed to compose her own Family Home Evening lesson and summarize how she’s internalizing it. This is the part that’s difficult. I’m finding that I, myself, really don’t understand what it means to have faith. How can I teach it to my twelve year old daughter?

Looking back, I think I’ve really struggled with this principle all along. One quick diversion, I’m a little than a bit more haunted by Blanches last, most famous line, in The Glass Menagerie

I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.

To an extent, I can relate to this. I’ve had a lifetime struggling with self-doubt, never confident in my own ability to pull anything together, or in my ability, when faced with an emergency, to step up and be the one solve the problem. I have, rather, assumed others around me knew more, were more talented, more capable. For the most part, they seemed more confident than I felt. But I’ve also, to be honest, have had a lifetime struggling with doubt in other people, worried about being taking advantage of, being discarded, being let down.

When you doubt yourself, sometimes you depend far more than you should on the kindness of strangers. For me, though, I’ve depended a lot on the kindness of my God. Prayer has always been an important component of my life. As I’ve worried about life’s uncertainties, God’s grace has always given me enough of a foundation to move forward in my usual cautious, tepid way.

In his book, Faulconer asks the reader to consider 1 Nephi 7:12 here:
 12 Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.

In this verse, Nephi conflates having “faith in him” with being “faithful to him”. I think there is a lot of truth to both. And I think having faith can be directed in a lot of directions: faith in myself, faith in others, faith in God, faith in my church. Each of these is a different manifestation of faith. Faulconer also points the reader to the marriage analogy often used to describe one’s relationship to Christ. Being faithful in a marriage makes perfect sense and I think being faithful is different fundamentally to being obedient. I am faithful to my wife, but that means something fundamentally deeper than being obedient to her. Similarly I strive to be faithful to God and to my church.

I love the marriage analogy, being married to my church or to my God reminds me to be faithful to it, to be loyal and to expect loyalty, to sustain it, and to expect to be sustained by it even if I don’t always agree or understand. There may be pain, but I stick with it through the pain. This is easier with God than with an institutional church, run by flawed human beings but I think it can apply to both.

I love Elder Uchtdorf’s talk inviting people to “Come Join With Us“. In this talk he says:

And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.

I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.

In the title page of the Book of Mormon we read, “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.”6

Having faith that others will come through for us is difficult because they will at times let me down. People are imperfect, any organization run by people is flawed, even churches. God is perfect, but his ways are not our ways, and we don’t always understand or our channel to Him may feel muddled and unclear. Our own ears may not be tuned properly to hear what’s being said.

I think being faithful is easier. Sticking with it. Staying firm. Even when I falter, I don’t have to stray. Because I’m married. I made promises and commitments. I am sustained by these relationships. I need to do my part to sustain and support these relationships as well.