The Truest Advent

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I sit and watch the light play across the beautiful angles of her face. Even at 95, those cheekbones are breathtaking. She is tired today, battling a mild infection, with little to no appetite and even less energy. The sharp angle of the winter sun is unexpectedly flattering as it gently flickers through the window, and I draw a sharp breath as those too-familiar tears begin to form behind my eyelids. 

“Oh, Mama! I love you so. Please, Lord, let her go to sleep and wake up in the New Creation. Enough, okay? Enough.”

But who really knows how much is enough? I don’t have any special insights, only my own bedraggled emotions and growing fatigue. To me, it feels like it is time. Time to be released from this ‘body of dust,’ time to rest from the struggle, time to breathe in and never breathe out again.

We did not go out to lunch today; we barely made it from the dining room to her own sweet space, with its lounge chair in the corner, by the window. “My arms!” she cried softly as we walked. “They ache.”

Truth be told, everything aches. Every cell in her body.

As she slept in that chair, I moved my hand slightly, the one that she was clasping with both of hers. She roused a bit, turning to look in my direction.

“Oh, Mama! Thank you for being such a good, good mother,” I cried.

She didn’t understand me, so I said it again, more slowly, more loudly. She smiled slightly and said a simple, “Thank you.” Somehow her half-sleepy state made the usual questioning unnecessary. There were no confused looks, no puzzled frowns. None of this response: “I’m your mother?? Really??” 

None today. None at all.

One week ago, that’s all I heard. I came home shaking my head at my husband. “I don’t know how much more of this repetition I can navigate! We spent our entire 90 minutes together today asking and attempting to answer the same 5-6 questions — over and over and over again. Oh, Lord, give me patience!”

He and I were getting ready to leave town the next morning, our annual anniversary getaway to parts north. We both needed it — time and space to savor an ocean view, good food prepared by someone else, and quiet time together — no expectations, no obligations, no schedule. And it was good. Very, very good.

They called me from the dementia unit as we were driving home yesterday. “She has a UTI and a low-grade fever. Is it all right with you if we put her on antibiotics?” 

Yes, it was all right with me. UTIs make dementia much worse and increase confusion and disorientation. She doesn’t need any escalation of those symptoms and neither do I. But this time around, the infection plus the added medication led to extreme exhaustion — one more sign of decline, diminishment. 

And yet, as painful as it is to watch that happen, this time I will admit that my primary response is relief and gratitude. She is heading in one direction only; and today’s exhaustion underlined that truth for me. My mother is very old. She is very frail. She is extraordinarily confused.

She is also beautiful, grateful, loves people (even when she hasn’t a clue who they are), sings the old songs and hymns with a higher degree of accuracy than her illness might lead you to expect, and generally enjoys her life. It is not up to me when that life will end on this side of the mysterious veil that separates us from the eternal.

There are, however, some decisions that are up to me. When and how to treat illness, for one. I think I know what I will and will not allow — mom and I discussed it all, long before dementia took over — but until illness or accident happens, I suppose it’s all pretty hypothetical.

So, in addition to those prayers for patience, I also pray for wisdom, grace, kindness and insight as my mother moves ever closer to the end of her long and remarkable life. I will miss her presence in my life more than I can adequately put into words, more than language will allow.

 

Then again, I have been missing her for a very long time.

“Oh for grace to trust him more!”

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Comments

  1. You miss her now. You’ll miss her then. I’m grateful for your example of love and devotion, of your faithfulness to the know God knows the answers to the whys. Big hug from me across the miles…

  2. Oh what a difficult journey. Of course you are emotionally and physically exhausted, and of course, it IS enough! You know of course, that it was enough for the day, and hopefully you will find some rest both physically and mentally as God gears you up for His enough tomorrow. You are honoring both the Lord and your mom, and my, what a living example to your children and grandchildren of unconditional love – and that love is action, not emotion. You will all be in my prayers. For a peaceful transfer in God’s timeframe and for peace as you walk through each day before and later.

  3. Oh, Diana. I had tears all through this. Your mama *is* so beautiful, and it’s obvious that how she lived her life is serving her now. Remind me to sing more now so I can sing later. I wish I could come and sit with you, sit with her. Praying for her, that when her time comes, in God’s time, it will be easy and gentle and she will just slip into his arms. Praying always for you as you live this good-bye.

    You are a good, good daughter. And I love you.

    • Thank you, dear Sandy — for the kind words, the affirmation, the prayers. Praying your Christmas gathering is the best yet!!

  4. Linda Chontos says:

    Sending you love and a gentle hug, Diana. It’s so hard when we only have this frame of reference, but we know their days are in His hands. And He loves so well. Praying He will give you all you need at just the right time.
    Have a wonderful Christmas. May His peace and love fill you full to overflowing.

    • Thanks so much, Linda. I am trusting that God will indeed give us both exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. Have a blessed Christmas, my friend!

  5. Pamela Green says:

    You have been a loving compassionate daughter and aunt Ruth has been a loving faithful Mother. She has also been a loving caring Aunt and I have missed her very much. It will be very hard to say goodbye to the last of our parents generation. But you know I don’t feel so very far behind them and oh how I look forward to our new life with no more pain or sadness , just praise, glory and joy at the feet of our Savior.

    Love you Diana

  6. LW Lindquist says:

    Much love to you, Diana. And to your beautiful mother.

  7. Such a hard time especially in this season. Love to you, my friend.

    • It’s hard in any season, Karen. But you’re right. Christmas evokes particular sadness. Every year, I send a Christmas card in my mother’s name to a list of about 40 friends and family. I include the latest, best photo and a brief message from us both. Then I take whatever cards I receive in return into her room and read them to her. I did that today. She has no idea who these people are, but she loved hearing all the notes that people wrote. Several of them, however, assumed that she would be with our family on Christmas Day. That is no longer possible. She cannot be away from her residential facility for that long, and she cannot stand the noise and confusion of a large family gathering. It’s been two years since she could do that. That piece is hard for me, I will admit. Really hard.

  8. Janet Macy says:

    Diana,

    This gave me tears. My siblings and I just traveled this twisted road. Dad died this year. I called him every day and I yearn to tell him that I love him, one more time. I was so blessed to have just retired from nursing when my parents became ill and their health started declining. Even thro his dementia, my Dad kept his sense of humor. I would call, he couldn’t say my name, but knew I was his child.

    Mom died 11 months earlier after a stroke. She contracted Influenza A in 2014. The strain that was not covered by the vaccine that year. I know some might not understand this, but you will. I had prayed that she not have to stay in a nursing home for long. She didn’t. The Influenza took her. She was ready, she wanted to go and it was such a relief for her to be released from her severely debilitated body.

    They were 93 & 94. Heaven rejoiced when they entered the gates of heaven.

    I would fly back for 3 to 6 weeks at a time (for 2-1/2 years) so they could stay in their home as long as possible. Between my brother & sister we kept them in their home for 2 extra years. You are right, it is exhausting. The 3 of us gladly provided care in exchange for all the years they had invested in us.

    What a blessing to hold them when they needed held. Sing when they wanted to sing. Read scripture when they wanted.

    I’ll be praying for you.

    • Oh, Janet! Your story brought tears to my eyes! How lovely that you could keep them living independently for as long as you did, and I thank you for the sacrifice you and your siblings made to make that happen. It’s not easy to do those things, and for some of us, it’s not possible. Mom has been a widow for almost 12 years now, and four years ago, it became necessary to move her closer to us. I have never regretted that, and I value the time I can spend with her. But it’s never been particularly easy. Then again, I’m sure I was not a particularly easy child to raise, either!

  9. It’s like reading about my grandma. It was so hard. I can’t imagine how much harder it is with your mama’s being the one. I love you and pray for you.

  10. Karin Fendick says:

    All I can send is love and prayers and my nod that says “I know. Too well I know” and I join in the lament as if I could carry some of this burden for you. Love you dear friend, reaching across these many miles

    • Ah, Karin. Thank you. So many know this journey, don’t they? I am so delighted to follow your work in Zambia — your magazine was wonderful! Enjoy South Africa!

  11. Ro elliott says:

    Oh Diana… so beautifully haunting … my mom doesn’t have dementia but she is 92… my Dad has been gone a year… many times my last prayer at night … Lord could you take her in her sleep tonight… I can only imagine how dementia and the length of your journey deepens the cry of this prayer!!! You have walked this journey with much love and Grace… and you will have a gift … one of no regret… when she her’s these words … well done my good and faithful servant… enter into your rest… these will be spoken over you as well… on earth as it is in Heaven … blessings and Grace … Mery Christmas

  12. Oh, my beautiful friend. Such a long and bittersweet road you’re on. You are a wonderful daughter. May our kind and compassionate Father continue to meet you at every turn–astonishing you with His love and grace for these days. Merry Christmas, Diana! Christ has come…and He’s coming again. Sending much love.

  13. Feeling every word of this in my bones.

  14. I can’t imagine having a better daughter for our mother or a better sister for me. Thank you for the decisions you have made and the steadfast commitment you continue to show to our rapidly fading mom Have no doubts about the work you put in and the wisdom you exhibit. And thank you for filling in all the gaps caused by my inability to be there. Early Jan. now looks very possible.

  15. Bev MacMahon says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I am a caregiver for my 90 yr old mother and can truly relate to what you are going through. I realized some time ago that I have already lost the relationship that I so valued with my mother for my entire life. I ask God to increase my patience when Mother just doesn’t get or remember what I’ve said and for the grace to let her go when God calls her home.

    • Oh, Bev, my hat is off to you for doing this on your own. I am grateful every day for my mom’s caregivers and her beautiful facility. I could not do this 24/7. Many blessings to you as you do this heart-rending work.