Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An Unexpected Gift

Yesterday was my bi-monthly visit with my mother at Lakeland Nursing Home in Jackson, Mississippi. If you’re new to my blog, Mom is 81 and has Alzheimer’s. For links to past blog posts about Mom, click here. But my most recent post about mom is here.

As I drove down to visit her, I received a phone call from a dear friend in Memphis. Her mother had fallen and was in the hospital. Another friend’s mother had also fallen, a few days ago, and is now staying with her daughter and family as they decide if she can return to her home, assisted living, or other options. And yet a third friend emailed me with news of her father’s recent diagnosis with cancer. This business of getting old is complicated, I think, by two things in particular, and probably a whole slew of things in general. The specific things I’m thinking of now are:

1. People are living longer, due to medical advances, and
2. Families don’t stay together as much as they once did. And other cultures continue to have extended families living under one roof, while we Americans want “our space” and to live our lives unhindered by the burden of 24/7 care of aging parents. (I do have several friends who have their elderly parents living with them. They are better people than I could ever be.)

Anyway, when I visited with Mom on Monday, she did recognize me. “This is my little girl!” she told the ladies in the wheelchairs on either side of her in the hall.

“Oh, she looks just like you!” one of them said, and I thanked her. I think my mother is beautiful.

After our usual interaction about practical matters, which are completely lost
on her now (I washed and ironed two of your blouses, Mom, and I’m putting them in your closet now. Where is my closet? Be sure you don’t lose them, etc.) I wheeled Mom up to the front lobby where we could visit and share a piece of coffee cake from Starbucks.

I entered her world, as I always do, and complimented her, again, for her landscaping work on the patio (which of course she had nothing to do with) and showed her (again) photographs of her great-granddaughter, Grace, whom she can’t fathom, as she struggles to remember even her grandchildren at this point. She can no longer form complete sentences, but speaks in fragments, sometimes apologizing that she can’t remember a word, a person, a place…

But suddenly, she smiles at me and says, “I love your hair!”

“Really? I haven’t had it this short in years. I’m glad you like it.”

“It’s very flattering.”

Smile. “Thank you, Mom. I really like yours long, in a ponytail, like you wore it when you were young."

This conversation is repeated 3-4 times, which didn’t bother me at all. I could have listened to her praise and compliments all day. They were rare for most of my life. And even though she was talking about something as mundane as a haircut, coming from someone who, when she was “in her right mind,” usually criticized me for being fat, having bad hair, etc., this was like oil being poured out on a wound. At age 58, I was finally receiving praise and approval from my mother.

If this sounds silly to you, you might as well just quit reading this blog post now. Just move along. There’s nothing to see here. But if this strikes a chord with you, please keep reading, because it gets better.

As I was about to leave, the sky was getting dark and it began to rain.

“Mom, it’s going to be thunder storming, and I need to drive back to Memphis, so I’d better leave soon.”

Mom’s smile faded, and she reached out, grabbed my hand, held it tightly, closed her eyes and prayed:

“Oh, Lord, we ask you to protect Susan as she drives. Take care of her and keep her safe….” She went on and on, for several sentences, speaking with complete clarity.

Tears ran down my face as I listened to my mother, who usually can’t speak a complete sentence, pray with such beauty and ease. I don’t remember my mother ever praying for me, with me, like that. Ever. All the years of verbal and emotional abuse that I suffered from her seemed to melt. Forgiveness gushed from my soul as I listened to her prayer.

When she finished, she opened her eyes, smiled, and kissed me on the lips.

I drove home to Memphis through the rain with no difficulties, and with an unusual peace. When I told my husband the story on the phone tonight, I said, “her prayer reminded me of my father, who was a teacher and prayed eloquently.”

“She was replaying the tape of your father’s prayers,” my husband offered. And I wept at his words, picturing my parents, doing their daily devotionals together every morning. Dad was eloquent. As an elder in their Presbyterian Church, he preached many sermons during interims when they didn’t have a pastor. And he led evangelism seminars and taught Sunday School classes. And of course I thought that some day when my mind is struggling to hold on, that my own dear husband’s prayers will be my salvation.

For all the dysfunction of my family of origin, today I am thankful for this unexpected gift of prayer from my mother’s lips. Alzheimer’s might be taking her mind, but God still has her heart, as broken and wounded as it is. I pray that He will protect her soul in the coming months and years that she might have left on this earth, and sustain the peace and forgiveness that I experienced today, by His grace.


Hannah Thomas said...

That's awesome! I'm so glad she was able to hand you this gift in prayer.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is your true Mom and all the other years were just her trying to keep her head above the water. I too am very happy you have these new memories to write about, I think a book about you Mom would be nice and spice it up with yu=ou running daddy.
forgive me
Sr. T

Charlotte said...

Oh, Susan, I'm so glad your mom had the moment of clarity to pray for you. Your story brought tears to my eyes.

Mimi said...

That's so beautiful, Susan. Sniff, sniff, I'm teary.

Ali said...

Susan, I actually got tears in my eyes reading this post today. Your willingness to share your feelings and your struggles is so wonderful and refreshing; you get what life is all about! I am so glad that you found peace with your mother in prayer. We all need that validation from our parents even though we think we are "beyond it."

james said...

seems the Holy Spirit can connect the heart and mind,even to the suffering body/soul,to bring healing/love to ones that missed the connection that was always there but not delivered or accepted in a coherent way. great loving/forgiveness post...seems the visit was meant to heal both of you..Glory to God for All Things

Meribeth said...

SuSu, Thank you so much for all of the posts in which you have shared your relationship with your mother. I was reminded of those posts when my mother fell last week and lost the memory of the last 5 years or so. Fortunately, it was a temporary side effect of a severe concussion, but for that Sunday morning and afternoon I wondered what it would be like to have our relationship forever changed. It was a great blessing to draw on your experiences that you have shared.
Thank you.

Alexandra said...

God's timing is so perfect. Such a gift as you could never have imagined. The best kind. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

Susan Cushman said...

I received this lovely email and asked the author's permission to post it as a comment here:

Hi Susan,

Just another southern gal( Alabama) who wants to let you know how I look forward to your blog each week. As a former teacher and "frustrated" writer I relish and learn from your great diligence at living....with all its aspects.

Having lost my mom this past year, I particularly related to your account of the visit with your own mother this week. How wonderful that you can share and cherish special moments of clarity with this lovely lady. Life does move so swiftly and with its own agenda.

Best wishes and happy writing,

Lynn Thomason

Anonymous said...

So beautiful, Susan. A truly awesome gift.