When There Are No Easy Answers

Dementia is a strange process. My mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but who knows exactly what kind of dementia she suffers with? On the way home from our quite wonderful worship service today, I said to my husband that I needed to be with my mom today — wonderful family events have filled our days during this graduation season and my time with her has not been quite as frequent as usual. And the sermon was on the centrality of the cross to our faith, with an emphasis on the power of self-denial (not self-abnegation or self-abuse). We were reminded, with great care and attention, that the centrality of our call to follow in the footsteps of Jesus from day to day is to, ‘pick up our cross.’

As self-serving as this may sound, I know what my cross looks like these days.

A quiet afternoon at home today would have been nice after our hectic week. A nap would have been nice. It is possible I was not in the best shape to spend three hours caring for my mother this afternoon. In truth, it is more than possible. 

As usual, I called her unit and told them I would be there at a certain time, could she please be ready? When I arrived, she knew someone was coming to get her, she knew that I was important, but she didn’t quite understand who I was or why I should come to take her out.

I do this, on average, every 3-4 days. Not daily, not yet . . . maybe never. But often and regularly. Each time, it is brand new to her.

These are the regular questions during the first five to ten minutes we are together . . . every single time:

“Where are we going?”
“Should I bring this (pointing to her walker)?”
“What a nice car! It rides so smoothly! Sure is a good thing I’m not driving — look at all those cars!”
“Now, who are you again?”
You’re my daughter?” 
“Oh, my goodness! How smart of me!”

We drove around and around the parking garage at the mall, searching for a place to put the car that wasn’t too far away from an elevator. She kept asking questions the entire time, a litany that went around and around the same territory.

Finally, a spot opened! In we went, out came the walker, out came my mama. Slowly we made our way across the row of cars to the large, very slow elevator, taking it up to the ground level and walking across the breezeway to California Pizza Kitchen.

After safely ensconcing both of us in the booth, I began to peruse the menu, trying to decide what to get for the two of us. We usually go out for lunch during the week and the CPK menu changes on the weekends. While I searched, my mother kept talking. Some of it was routine, some of it was convoluted, some of it made no sense. 

“Mom,” I said carefully and clearly. “Please do not worry so much. Let’s just stop and look around this lovely place and be glad we are here together, okay?”

She took a breath, I went back to the menu. Then she started in again. At a loss for what to do next, I picked up my cellphone, holding it in front of my face and I started taking pictures of her lovely, expressive face, wondering how to deflect this almost frantic routine. 

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“I don’t have any money. I can’t find it. I’m feeling a little confused, I guess.”

“What are you confused about, Mom?”

“Well, I think I need to find something to do, something that’s helpful.”

“What are you thinking about doing?”

“Well, I was thinking about where I go to get this done (pointing to her hair), and wondering what I might be able to do to help her up there.” (The beauty parlor is across the driveway and upstairs from where she spends her days.)

“Well, Mom, you’ve worked hard all your life. Maybe it’s time to just enjoy your life.”

“How do you know about my life?”

“Well, because I’ve known you my whole life.”

“Are you related to me?”

“Yes, Mom. We are family.”

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I then went back to reading the menu, looking somewhat frantically for the waitress to ask a question and then, hopefully, to order for us both.

She continued to talk.

“So, in some way we are related. So would it be all right if I asked you about that and we kept talking about it?”

I did not immediately reply.

“I take it from your silence that you’re not interested in a relationship with me?”

I looked up suddenly, momentarily a little confused myself! “Yes, Mom, I’m very interested in a relationship with you! That’s why I come and see you every few days, that’s why we go out to lunch together.”

“You come to see me every few days? Me? Are you sure it’s me you see?”

“Yes, Mom, I’m sure it’s you.”

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“Well, why can’t I remember that?”

“Because remembering is hard for you now, Mom.”

“I better get to the doctor!”

“We’ve been to the doctor, Mom. We’ve been to lots of doctors. I’ve taken you to doctors for the last eight years or so.”

You have? Why would you do that?”

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“Because I love you and because you wanted to find out what was wrong with your memory.”

Then, out of the blue, “I really need to go the bathroom.” So I got up, helped her to get up and we headed down the ramp just behind our table. Just then, the waitress arrived (thank goodness!) so I asked a question, got the answer I needed and quickly ordered.

Mission accomplished, we were back in our places in ten minutes.

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The questions began once again, heading in slightly different directions:

“I’m a Christian – are you a Christian?” (This particular topic was brand-new this week.)

“Yes, Mom, I am a Christian.”

“Well, that’s good. You know I used to be quite a spiritual person. And I think I need to be spending more of my time praying.”

“Well, praying is one of the best things you can do with your time these days, Mom.”

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“You called me, “Mom.” Why did you call me that?”

“Because  you are my mom, and I am your daughter.”

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“I’m your mom? Did I give birth to you? Did I take good care of you?”

“Yes, Mom. You have birth to me and you took very good care of me.”

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You’re really my daughter? Why, that’s wonderful news!!”

 

Yes, Mom. I am really, truly, forever your daughter. No matter how many times in thirty minutes I have to tell you that truth.

I am your girl.

You are my mama.

And I am exhausted.

 

When I brought her back to her room, I remembered to check her closet for the personal supplies that I provide for her care. She was out of everything. So a trip to CVS was in order, requiring a careful shuffling through my collection of coupons and discounts. I loaded my car, returned to the facility and a volunteer, seeing me fully loaded, pushed in the code required to open the door to her unit. 

As soon as that door opened, I saw my mama rushing (and I do mean rushing, moving faster than she ever does when we are together) toward the door, shouting, with a frown on her face: “Leave that door open! I’m going out!”

Ah, no, Mom. You are not going out. As much as you might like to go out, it is not to be. 

There were no jokes today. No threads of hymns, no singing. Confusion reigned completely this time. 

On my return visit, she did not see me. She did not know me at all. I was simply the one who opened the door and she wanted OUT.

I find myself praying that the way out will come near, near, near.

And in the middle of that prayer, heading my little Honda home, with tears building behind my eyes, I remembered the rest of this morning’s sermon: “Get thee behind me, Satan,” Jesus said to Peter. “Get thee behind me.” 

‘Behind me.’

Oh, Lord. Help me to place myself behind you. Not leap ahead into the future, not try to force anything by the (oh-so-limited!) power of my will. Not second-guess, not over-worry, not even ask ‘why?’ 

My mother is who she is. She is where she is. And despite all evidence to the contrary, I will choose to believe that she, too, is safely behind Jesus, following in the only way she can — blindly, gropingly, feebly . . . but . . . oh, so faithfully. 

Help me, Lord, to honor who she is right now, incessant questions, confusion, frailty — all of it — who she is right now. Help me, Lord.

 

Looking at the Whole Truth

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“Oh, Diana,” friends tell me, looking into my eyes with tenderness and concern. “You are so lucky to have your mom still with you!”

I offer a small smile, nod my head and reply, “Yes, I know that I am.”

And I do know that. I do. But there is also this other truth, ever-present and insistent. The hard, hard truth that the lovely old woman inhabiting my mother’s body is not at all the mother I have known for most of my life. She is beautiful to see, kind to everyone around her, breaks into old hymns multiple times an hour, and loves to visit the outside world.

But she is not my mother. At least, not in the ways that I wish she could be.

That woman, that mama, has been slip-sliding away for nearly a decade now, steadily losing pieces of herself. And as she drifts further and further from me, I feel as though there are large chunks of me fading into the ether right along with her. Huge chunks of my own history are gone forever, never to be found again. 

I miss my mother. I miss being known by her. I miss sharing history with her, I miss swapping stories, wrestling with hard truths, reading books, going to the movies, taking trips, making fudge, having her give me driving directions, watching her interact with my children and grandchildren, marveling at her insight into people and situations, laughing at her ribald jokes. 

She is here with me in physical form, and for that I give thanks. But she is not here in any of the ways that make her my mother. She is a beautiful, loving, sometimes forlorn, and very old woman. On July 6th, she will be 95, a fact that startles her every time I tell her. Last week, she turned to me and asked, “I wonder who I am?” 

I wonder who I am! 

Ah, Mom. I wonder, too.

 

As I stood under the shower’s spray this morning, I offered small prayers of thanksgiving:

     “Thank you, Lord, for hot water and plenty of it.”
     “Thank you, Lord, for my good husband and his careful attention to our finances.”
     “And thank you, Lord, for my sweet mama . . .”

And with those words, I found myself sobbing. Not gentle tears these, but hard-wrought, heart-felt, gut-wrenching sobs. “Where is this coming from?” I wondered. Most of the time, the tears are far away these days, leading me to believe that I have come to some place of peace and acceptance about the way things are. But today’s meltdown reminds me that below the surface, my own emotions about mom’s situation are deeply unsettled.

My only brother arrives today and I will be glad to see him and his wife. But we four aging children must have a difficult conversation this afternoon. We have a scheduled meeting with the finance guy at Mom’s care facility, that place where she is safe, well-cared for, loved. The cost of her care is climbing while her small investment account is diminishing, so we’re looking for answers today. How can we best manage her care? Will she be alright?

The better, and I hope bigger, part of me is not worried about this, trusting that there will be enough, that God will provide a way for this daughter, this faithful Jesus-follower, this disciple. But I found myself crying out to the God we both love this morning, asking how long? and, are you there? and, why? 

No answers appeared in the shampoo bubbles. Not one. Nothing but the strong sense that the invitation continues to be this one: trust meTrust that I see your mama, that I love her, that she is safe. Trust that your own love and care for her are enough, that you are doing the best you can, that she has not been abandoned. Trust that there will be enough.

Enough.

And so I will choose to do so. We four will be as careful, mindful and loving as we possibly can. And God will carry us through. 

In the meantime, I will call to mind that image I was given over four years ago now* — that image of my small mama, held safe within the immense sacred heart of Jesus Christ, the One who was present before the universe was breathed into existence, the One who sees each of us with eyes of love and concern, the One who is the only place of true safety any of us will ever experience.

I am trusting that that image will carry me through whatever lies ahead.

 

*I wrote a lengthy post with lots of photos about how that image was given to me here.

 

And Then . . . There Is Light

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And it looks like music and laughter.

My mama’s neurologist has slowly been re-introducing her to Aricept since the new year. Initially, her caregivers and I were not at all sure about this. She was easily frightened, tearful and terribly, terribly confused for several weeks. At the same time, we also began to notice slight cognitive improvements here and there. So we hung in there, letting her hole-y brain slowly catch on to the new med.

I am so glad we did.

About two weeks ago, we began to see noticeable signs of improvement and my mom became a much happier and more restful person to be with, generally happy to be alive, delighted to see the sunshine, enjoying the taste of good food.

And she started to sing again. Praises be.
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When I arrived to pick her up for lunch today, she was seated in her chair in the corner, with sunlight streaming through the window behind her. On her lap was one of her small menagerie of stuffed animals, this one a teddy bear, and she was speak-singing something to him.

“Hi, Mom! How are you today? Watcha doing?” I sang to her from the doorway.

“Oh, I’m just telling my friend here about the cross, that old rugged cross.”

“Great idea,” said I, “no better thing to talk about.”

And she began to sing in her quavery alto a few lines from that old hymn.

As we drove south through the hazy sunlight, she sang it off and on, until I found one on YouTube and played it for her to sing along with on my iPhone. I sang in my own quavery alto (!!), and she was delighted.

The lines of that old hymn kept reoccurring to her throughout our lunch on the wharf, showing up whenever the space between us was not filled with conversation. It has always pleased and astonished me that so many old song lyrics are still in there, somehow conserved through all the jumbled mess of her synapses. I am so pleased to hear them again. So pleased.

Always when we meet, it is happening-for-the-first-time-all-over-again. Always, she is delighted to take an adventure outside. Always, she loves driving in the car. 

Always.

There is seldom any memory of our many previous visits to the same place, especially as we are on our way. “We come out here every few days, Mom,” I tell her with a smile. 

“Are you sure it was me you took?” she asks sincerely.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I tell her. 

“Oh, well,” she says, “My brain is kinda weird, isn’t it?”

“Yup, Mama, it is. It is.”

Today there was a large cruise ship in port. This always means many, MANY more people in the waterfront area, and more people in all the local restaurants. The wait staff at our favorite place to sit and savor the view was hard-pressed to keep up with today’s onslaught. And while we were looking out the window, talking about how many children I have and how old they are (at least five times in the space of fifteen minutes), this sweet and funny thing happened:

The words to that old hymn came out of my mama’s mouth, though this time they were spoken rather than sung. That, in itself, is a small miracle, as the tune is usually required to spark that space in her diminishing memory bank. 

“So I’ll cling to that old rugged cross,” she said.

Pause.

“And exchange it some day for a crown.”

Pause.

“And sometime in between there, it would be really good if I could have a little something to eat!”

I tell you, I guffawed. And so did she. What a delightful moment that was. A brilliant flash of the mom I have known most of my life — quick witted, deadpan delivery, followed by riotous laughter.

That was much more satisfying to me than any single piece of the meal we enjoyed together today.

With the possible exception of a phenomenal scoop of vanilla ice cream which we shared, courtesy of the kitchen, in apology for the extended wait time today.

Now that, my friends, is a very good day. Very good, indeed.

The Mystery Remains


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Once again, I am overwhelmed by your response to a post about my journey with my mom. It never ceases to amaze me how great an epidemic this is in our land, how many people are walking this hard, painful road through the death-by-inches and loss of self that is dementia. Thank you for your kind words and your stories — they mean the world to me, and to everyone who reads through that long comment thread.

This week has been one of gradual healing, slowly regained mobility and living right smack dab in the middle of deep wells of gratitude. I’ve spelled out a few reasons why in today’s newsletter (you can subscribe at the bottom of this post if you’d like), but I will just say here that the human body is both fragile and miraculously resilient and I am celebrating the gift of my own body in ways I never have before.

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I have abused this vessel for many years, in many ways: too many calories, too little exercise, too much stress. Slowly, slowly, I am learning to appreciate how very well it has served me over my life and I am living more fully in it than ever before. That is no small gift for a little girl who hated her height/skin/hair/self and always felt awkward and clumsy. 

The bruises from my time with mom on Mother’s Day are healing as well. I dropped off some supplies two days later and as she saw me, her eyes welled with tears and she said, with great hesitation,”Are you still mad at me?”

I almost wept again.

Somewhere in the confusing tunnels of her brain, she knows that she has upset me. And she is sorry for it.

I am sorry, too.

A trusted friend and counselor said to me this morning, “You know, Diana, your letting go of that Coumadin is a strong metaphor for the way in which you must let go of everything else that makes you bleed.”

Everything else that makes me bleed.

Well, wow.

Exactly.

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I must continue to learn how to let go of these old wounds, to offer them to my Savior as a means of grace, to say ‘thank you’ for the good gifts first and forever, to release my mother’s ultimate care and safety to Another.

I am not now, never have been, and never can be responsible for her health and happiness. That is the lie that she and I have believed for far too long and it must be jettisoned. It must be.

We cannot, any of us, be ‘the answer’ for another human person. It is not possible, nor is it desirable. We can be instruments for healing, we can be companions on the way, we can laugh and cry and worry and wonder with one another. But we cannot, we must not, we dare not ever try to fix one another.

We don’t have that power. Thank God.

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There is only one source of Healing in this universe, and it pours out on us all day after day, in mess after mess, through trial after trial. It shows up in medicine, psychology, friendship, good marriages, good parenting, healthy politics (is there such a thing?). But the Source is the same. Everything  that is good and right in this universe comes from God alone.

Not me.

Not you.

Through me, hopefully, yes. And through you, too.

But we do not have to generate it, invent it, or even package it. We simply have to allow it. That is all. 

So I am learning again to say, “YES.” With as much of me as I now know, I say, “Yes.” 

And I say, “Thank you.”

Missing Her, Missing Me

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Would it have been better not to try?
Outings are rare and exhausting for me these days,
but this is Mother’s Day, right?
And she is my mom,
my much-loved mom,
my disappearing mom,
losing pieces of herself from minute to minute.

I’ve been at home since the scary thing,
going out only for lab results,

a few groceries here and there.
My husband got the flu very late last week,
something neither of us needs me to deal with,
so we’re both on meds and holding our own.

Maybe I should have just called it a day
and talked to her on the phone.

But she misses me when I’m not there,
even though she has no idea how time passes,
cannot remember that I have been injured,
and doesn’t always know who I am.

She knows that she loves me. That I’m ‘wonderful,’
that I’m important to her.

So I went.
I stayed home from church to do it.
I carried a lovely big hydrangea,
a pretty new scarf.
My brother sent chocolate covered
strawberries, which we enjoyed after
the meal.

After lunch,
I scurried around her room, 

making space for the flowers,
tucking the scarf in a very confused-
looking drawer.

And then we sat down for a visit.

Oh, it was a strange one,
one that stirred deep things in me,
including anger and tears.
Both of those have been lying around,
latent, contained,
for a long while now.
But occasionally, when ignited,
they flare and wound.

Before this stage of the disease,
my mother could often wield her
tongue as a weapon,
implying things with her wry,
sarcastic humor,
startlingly able to make me feel guilty
with just a word or two.

(Why do mothers have such power?
Do I?
Oh, I hope not,
I try not.)

She is restless.
My mother has always been restless.
She would like to move somewhere else,
and who can blame her?
She wants to go back to where she was
before we brought here her,
that fine place south of here,
that place where they would
have locked her into a small unit, 
with no single rooms,
her friends unable to visit easily.

Back then, she and I decided to move her
nearer to me.
And most of the time,
that is reason enough for her.

And I should know by now.
I should know to just 
nod my head and say,
“It’s nice to dream, 
isn’t it, Mom?”

But somedays, I don’t seem to be able to do that.
I want her to understand,
to know why she’s here,
why she needs to be here,
why we’re out of options.

So I told her.
Again.
“Your brain isn’t working like it used to, Mom.
And I am so, so sorry. But this is a good place,
a place where they take care of you well,
and I am so near to you now!”

And then, out of the blue,
this line . . . 

“Well,
I’m just sorry you don’t think

I’m worthwhile.”

And I lost it.

“What?? What did I possibly
say to make you think that?”

“Oh, you didn’t say anything.
I can just tell.”

How could she possibly tell?
She can’t tell the time, the date,
the place, the people.

But this, she could tell?

And then it came,
lancing through me,
soul and sinew:

“You never invited me to your home.”

I threw back at her the myriad times
she has been in our home,
the birthday parties over the years,
the long weekends,
the train trips,
the Christmas Eve services since
she’s moved here.

But I knew.
I knew what she meant.
She meant I never invited her to live here,
to be cared for here.

The very thing she told me
over
and over
and over again that she never wanted

to do.
Ever.

Truth be told, I know myself and our relationship well
enough to know that we would not survive it.

And yet, I carry it with me.
The guilt, the wondering, the heaviness.
To hear her say it literally knocked the
wind right out of me.

Lord, have mercy.
Give me grace to release all of this,
the anger, the guilt, the wondering,
the fear.

All of it.

It does me no good,
and it surely doesn’t help her.

I want to love her without reservation,
and to know she is safe in you.
I don’t want to wallow, waffle or wonder.
I want to feel anchored,
loving, loved.

So this is what I will choose to
remember from our time together today.
Walking from the dining room to her room,
she began to hum under her breath.
‘What ya singing, Mom?” I asked.
“When we walk with the Lord. . .” 
she replied.

And so we sang.
We sang loudly as I moved around her room.
First verse and chorus of that old chestnut,
the one that sums it all up.
Do you know the one?

It’s called, “Trust and Obey.”

Yes, yes.
That is what I will choose to remember
from this Mother’s day celebration.

Please, God.

Only that.

After the Tears


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We are moving to the midpoint of Holy Week and I am feeling the loneliness of this season. The empty tomb awaits us, the glorious garden story, the triumph of Love over death.

But right now?

It’s dark in this heart of mine. Not without hope, no, never that. But dark, nonetheless. As I do every evening, I spoke with my aging mother on the phone tonight. Very briefly, as she cannot tolerate more than about 2-3 minutes without being overcome by confusion. As I said good night to her, the tears pricked.

Those tears.

I find them behind my eyes a lot these days. Watching a valiant, loved mother lose herself, piece by piece, is a painful and difficult process. There are days when it feels never-ending, when there is yet another jagged piece of reality thrust in both our faces.

I listened to an interview on the PBS Newshour tonight, a conversation with an author who tweeted his way through his mother’s death a year ago. He has now written a book about that journey and it sounds intriguing.

But as he talked, I realized that his journey was very different from the one I take with my mother. He lost his mother over a few days in the ICU, with her fully awake and cognizant until the very end. I have been losing mine for the last six years, watching her slowly unravel and as she herself put it last week, ‘losing pieces of myself’ from minute to minute.

Yes, the tears are ever-present in our journey. I find myself saying, “I am so sorry, Mom,” repeatedly. And there is a lot of repeating going on in our conversations now. In our regular 90-minute lunch together, I will tell her at least ten times that I am her daughter and she is my mother. Each time, she is delighted to say, “I never knew that.” I also recount each of the places she has lived in her long life, tell her that she was married for 63 years. “I was? I was married? Is he alive?” “No, Mom, he died ten years ago.” “Oh, no! Did I take good care of him?” “Oh, yes, Mom, you took such good care of him.” “Well, at least I did that right.”

Oh, sweet Mama — you did so many things right! So many.There is so little left, your story has become so very small.

Some days I wonder if there is any evidence of Easter in this sad story we tell together. Is there hope? Is there resurrection? 

The answer is ‘yes’ — and I find Resurrection Hope by looking in two directions: directly out at who she is right now, and forward, to what she will be once the dying has stopped.

Right now, my mother is beautiful. She smiles at everyone, she says ‘thank you,’ over and over again. She tells me I am a wonderful person and that she is so glad to be with me. She cheerily greets all who pass us on our slow progression from car to restaurant, from hallway to recliner chair. She finds delight in the beauty she can see — the sunlight on her back, the distant view of the ocean, any small child she sees on our weekly outing. These things are lovely to watch.

The pieces of my mother that remain fairly shimmer with kindness, joy, hope, light. All of her life, Mom earnestly sought the face of God. And now that Face shines out of her eyes, sparkles in her smile, and echoes in her diminishing vocabulary. These lovely things are the seeds of resurrection. Such beautiful seeds — these are what I see when I look at the now.

And when I look ahead? What I see there is restoration, relief, refreshment, reunion. She talks about it from time to time, always with wonder in her voice, and I find myself occasionally praying for her release, hoping that she will fall asleep in her cozy bed, pictures of her family lining the walls, and wake up walking the streets of heaven, hand-in-hand with my dad.

I used to feel vaguely guilty about such prayers but I no longer do. I offer them with deep thanksgiving for who she was, and yes, for who she is. Even in this terrible time of losing and failing, my mother fairly radiates Easter Hope. 

So, I’ll take her a lily on Sunday. I’ll kiss her on the cheek, give her a big bear hug and I’ll wish her a Happy Easter. And then, I’ll drive south with my husband, south to younger family, vibrant family, family she made possible, family she loved and who love her still. 

And I will carry in my body and in my spirit the seeds of resurrection that my mother has planted deep in me, seeds of promise, of beauty, of hope.

Happy Easter, Mom. I love you.

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My Mom and Me — a Repost for makesyoumom.com

My friend, Laura Brown, has a wonderful new website dedicated to stories/poems/reflections about mothers and mothering. I’m honored that she chose an older post of mine to feature there today. You can read the entire piece by clicking here.

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My mother, in her heyday, was truly a larger-than-life person.

That hat, for instance.

And the gigantic bow atop my head.
She started those bows when I could barely hold my head up,
ostensibly to announce to the world that this was a female child.
Apparently my baldness led many to believe I was a boy,
and my mom was having none of that!

I was a much-wanted child, long-awaited, and adored by my dad.
My relationship with my mom was more complicated,
very different from the easy, quiet companionship I enjoyed with my father.
Part of that is because my mother was a flaming extrovert –
easily the most socially gifted person I’ve ever known.
My father was quiet, reserved, careful.
Mom was glamorous, dramatic, a loud laugher and a loud crier.
She was also an extraordinarily creative homemaker and hostess,
usually operating on the slimmest of budgets.
She set beautiful tables, told wonderful stories,
often acting out each part,
and she brought light and laughter wherever people gathered.

She was also deeply insecure, believing herself to be
intellectually inferior to my dad and to most of her friends.
She had a mother-in-law who was sharp-tongued and judgmental
and a father who belittled and verbally abused her.

So when I was growing up, she depended on me to be
an emotional sounding board and a hands-on helper
with all things domestic.
For most of my growing-up years, she was my very best friend.
I idolized her and thought she was the smartest
and most beautiful woman I knew
and I tried to please her in every way I could.

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My mother loved me and, most of the time, she also liked me.
She struggled to understand me, however.
In some ways we are similar,
sharing 
a lot of the same interests
and laughing 
at the same jokes.

But in other ways, we are most definitely not alike,
and during those early years,
I intuited that it was not okay to step outside the box she drew,
the box of acceptable behavior and language,
of dreams and goals . . .

You can read the rest of this piece, and lots of other really fine writing, over at www.makesyoumom.com Clicking on this line will take you directly my post — but be sure to look around. It’s a grand place.

“Praying and Believing” — a re-post for Michelle DeRusha

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I am not writing online about my journey with my mom these days. I’m trying to gather it all into something approaching a book, so after the new year, much of my time and energy will be devoted to that particular kind of gathering. 

My connection to my mother is deep and important and our time together is complicated, lovely, difficult and an ongoing part of my daily life. She is still a heroine to me, even in the throes of dementia. Why? Because what remains of my mother is beautiful. Quite stunning, actually. And that is a gift. Yes, I wish she had her memory. Yes, I wish we could enjoy the kinds of deep conversation and belly laughter that we once did. But as we walk this path, I am struck by the ferociously glorious light that shines out of her face and her spirit. 

As I said, what remains is beautiful.

So when my friend, Michelle DeRusha, wrote and asked if she could re-post my contribution to her “Faith Heroine” series, I said yes. Because sometimes it’s good to remember what was.

You can find that piece by clicking here.

We Are What We Do — SheLoves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m over at SheLoves today, with a small story celebrating how well my parents did marriage. You can begin the piece here and then just click here to read the rest . . . .
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All my life, my parents lived out what it means to be married well. Each of them came from homes that were dysfunctional in different ways and they worked hard to create a life that made space for one another, and for each of their three children. They provided room to grow and flourish, to laugh and cry, to ask questions and to live without finding all the answers, a space in which to live out the faith that brought them together and kept them together.

They were, however, very different people. My mother was (and is, even in her increasing confusion) highly social, quick to speak, and emotionally more volatile. Dad was quiet, almost to the point of shyness, very slow to speak and he usually kept his emotions to himself So, of course, they adored each other! And they brought out the best in one another, too. Most of the time.

No marriage is perfect and theirs certainly was not. But they worked at it, with a deep sense of commitment and a daily decision to hang in there, even when things got difficult. I will be forever grateful that theirs was the home into which I was born and that theirs was the marriage I got to see up-close-and-personal during the twenty years I lived with them.

I don’t use words like ‘devotion’ very often. Something about it feels old-fashioned, maybe? But as I think back on their 63 years together, that is the word that rises to the top: they were devoted to one another. In many ways, I think they saved one another. I know my father felt that way about my mom’s vivacity, her beautiful laugh and her sharp sense of humor. And my mother was astounded by dad’s deep intelligence, his musical skills and his genuine kindness. Somehow, they filled the holes in one another’s personality and together, they built something beautiful.

My father has been gone for almost ten years now, and when she remembers that she was married, my mother misses him very much. In fact, I would say that she never quite got over his death.

The last three years of dad’s life were difficult, and as he spiraled downhill from Parkinson’s disease and chronic atherosclerosis, I watched as my mother tenderly cared for him. Yes, she was impatient at times and she was exhausted most of the time. But she completely embraced her role as caregiver, helping dad to bathe, change clothes, eat. It was both painful and beautiful to watch.

They lived about three hours away from us during those years and I drove down as often as I could to visit. Ten days before he died, my father had to be taken to the nursing facility at their retirement community and I stopped by to see him on the way home from a pastor’s conference. If there is one thing making pastoral calls helps to teach you, it is what death looks like. When I walked in that door, I knew he was not long for this earth. . .

Please join the conversation over at SheLoves today . . . 

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Bright Spots

 

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I try to take my mom out to lunch about once each week. She lives ten minutes from us, in a lovely dementia care assisted living unit that is part of a much larger, 3-stage retirement community.

I pick her up, find her pink sun visor, and we begin our S L O W walk outside, up the elevator and down the long, covered, outdoor corridor to the new Life Center building.

Inside is a wonderful cafe, with a brick oven for fresh pizza, and a nice selection of sandwiches and salads. Her favorites are the cheeseburger and cheese pizza. Sometimes a hot dog.

These lunchtimes are a very mixed experience. It’s lovely to just sit with her in the outdoor, covered patio. We enjoy the food and each other’s company. But when she tries to make conversation, it can get dicey. She finds it harder and harder to tell me what she’s thinking. And she knows it. Sometimes when she’s struggling — and there is no way I can help her as I don’t know where she’s headed — I find my eyes wandering.

And these bright pink geraniums on a nearby second-story balcony are often what I choose to focus on. Why? Because they’re bright and beautiful, a reminder that life is good and rich as well as difficult and painful. 

Somehow, they always make me feel better. Then I can give Mom my full attention, tell her how sorry I am that it’s such a struggle for her, and together, we find our way to another quiet space. 

Where do you need a spot of brightness in your life these days?

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