Opportunity, schedules, finances and stamina collided recently and I was able to journey down to California to visit with my aging mother. I say visit very loosely, as she is in what is likely a late state of Alzheimer’s disease.
My mom is 76 years- old and spends her days in a wheelchair parked at a kitchen table with two other ladies in a similar state. Bunny & Joan. Mom plays with the fuzzy edges of the place mat and mumbles to herself and nods in polite agreement.
As much as I tried to ready myself to see her in this diminished condition, all I could do for the first few minutes was hold her and cry. As I held her, the memories of Mom as a vibrant, brilliant, feisty, loud and laughter-filled woman rushed back. But here I held a shell. It was as if I was on a beach and held a modest little seashell up to my ear to hear the roaring ocean it came from. But here was my mom – what was left of her.
I gently urged my children to hug their Tutu, this stranger, and to give her a kiss on the cheek. They did, but then they were at a loss as to what to do with this nice old lady with languid eyes who looked at them with no recognition. I let them go play and began telling her who I was (nothing) and who they were (nada). She smiled a wan grin typical of a polite southern belle who has endured boring conversations before and had rehearsed this kind nod & smile routine to a tee. That was still fully intact!
After being sad and frustrated, I tried a little something that my sister had let me know she liked. I sang “How Great Thou Art” and she just squeezed and squeezed my hand. Somewhere deep inside her rang the bells of sweet recognition of this great old hymn that we had sung together and apart so many times. My mom might be gone, but what little of her is left here loves the Lord. Sweet silence followed. In the storm of emotion that dominated our trip, the feeling of gratitude for the grace, kindness, patience & goodness of my mom’s caretakers took my breath away. My sister dutifully visits and lights up the room with excitement, love and McDonalds apple pies for the girls. We don’t think mom really recognizes her either, but regardless of that, it’s not about us as her kids. It’s about honoring her as our mom and taking care of her while she’s still here. Through her, God is teaching us to love when the recipient of the love is oblivious, like a baby. It’s like her tending to us when we were babies – totally unaware but utterly dependent. I also see it as a model of how our Father’s love is directed at us without our realizing just how deep, enduring and unbreakable it is. Life’s circles take my breath away.
She always said that it was her job to teach us until she drew her last breath. I had no idea how much she meant it until now, and neither did she. Amazing grace…