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.