Monday, July 17, 2017
When the priest asked what my best memory of my mother was recently at the blessing service for her at the funeral home, it didn't take me long to recall one for it was recent.
What does one say to a lifetime of love and memories? How can a person choose their absolute best moment or moments with a beloved parent that they are saying goodbye to?
Like snippets of a movie, years worth of laughter, tears, joy and fears played before me. I remembered Mom standing by during my surgery for scoliosis as a teen, even though she'd been a nervous type but she remained steadfast and my rock of strength.
When divorce reared its ugly head in my early twenties, my mother was there to rescue me. When fat, ugly tears fell from my eyes and the lies kept surfacing that I wasn't good enough for him and never would be, Mom helped me feel worthy again.
Moments of giggling together like school girls, though she was my parent, surfaced and drew me in once again and I warmed from the glow. Times of celebration and holidays, the birth of my son, her first grandchild. So many wonderful memories.
But when asked the question by the priest, I almost immediately responded: "Being caregiver for my mother with her journey of dementia." Father Carr almost fell from his chair. "Really?" he asked.
Why are those the dearest memories my brother and I hold now? The answer is simple. We got to experience unconditional love given back to a woman who had once loved us the same way. This woman had given her all many times for us.
When a parent has Alzheimer's or dementia -related issues, it is never easy. You wonder if you are the one losing your mind at first. For the questions begin--oh so many questions. Things are forgotten, appointments are missed, and everything seems upside down.
Then the anger sets in. And for all of us, it is a time of great guilt. When you find yourself snapping at your elderly parent and watch the hurt in their eyes, the words practically hanging in the air, you wish you could pull them back, place them into a locked box never to surface again. But they do. Just when you feel strong, confident and a little cocky, a challenge arises and you fail. You ask forgiveness and you fail again. The maddening cycle--the new normal. Why oh why couldn't they have kept their wits about them to the end?
But then you see them in the most innocent of ways: thinning hair, gummy, lost-tooth smiles. Skin stretched too tightly over prominent bones. You hear whispered words and the innocence of a child, and you realize in their mind, that is where they are. You see fears of showering, falling, even eating foods they once loved. It's all this and more, and you fall deeply in love with your aging parent more than you ever did before. They rely on you, they trust you, and you begin to know that you will never betray that trust.
You also see wise, knowing eyes and the laugh- lined wrinkles around them from years of laughter. You hold onto a hand that worked hard at putting food on the table. You lay your head against their frail chest and listen to the beating of their good heart--wondering just how long it will continue. . .
You look at them and see inner beauty shining. No longer a body with a soul, they are now becoming a soul with a body. True loveliness as God intended, no longer superficiality.
There are treats they love, brought to them and watching their eyes light up. Sometimes there are favorite places to drive to. There are songs to be shared--ones they once sang to you as a lullaby. It's all this and so much more. Mostly it's giving of yourself. Giving selflessly and totally, turning your emotions and your loved one totally over to God. Knowing He adores them and you, and that we are the apple of His eye. He has all of our best interest at the center of His heart. Even if He chooses to take them home, how can we question that glorious time?
Yes, this time can be our best moments, our best memories. With God it is truly possible. Forgiveness, mercy, grace. . . all ours for the taking.
Friday, July 7, 2017
I received a phone call this morning. Your mother is being sent to the emergency room. She's throwing up blood, and it doesn't look good.
With legs that felt like iron weights, and hands that shook so bad, I had to hold them against myself, I walked into the emergency room not knowing what to expect. There I heard words from the doctor that didn't come completely as a shock. We recommend hospice care for your mother. She's so frail now, and perhaps it would be best for her just to be kept comfortable.
Every child of an aging parent asks themselves if they are doing the right thing. Are our decisions what our parents would want? Some of us are fortunate that our families have spoke freely about such things. Therefore when the time comes, we know immediately what must be done.
Others of us have spoken in deeper terms though. We've had the distinct honor to talk of things on a more spiritual level. We know that our loved ones are believers and even look forward to their next journey.
There is so much more than our eyes can see. So much more than we hear or feel. I am learning this now as my mom slips farther from us into sickness and Alzheimer's. It's not always about "crazy talk." I recently read a book that showed me that end of life and hospice produces some of the most beautiful messages from our suffering loved ones. It mentioned that we should pay close attention to what is being said as they transition from this world to the next.
When my father was in the hospital last year, there were several odd things we heard from him. And now I'm noticing that very thing with my mother. She's been talking more to someone that my brother and I don't see. Though I strain to hear her words, it's in a whisper quiet voice that perhaps I'm not meant to hear. She reached up once as if grasping someone by the hand. She has petted animals that aren't there. Today she said she saw a Bible, but when we pressed a little to see if someone was holding or reading it, she said no.
When my husband's uncle was in hospice care at his nursing home a few years ago, I remembered something powerful about that. The chaplain that was there at his side, said the most beautiful thing. He mentioned that Hubert was between this world and the next. Upon hearing that, the room almost seemed to change for me. I felt a Holy Presence surrounding us, and it was as if Jim's uncle was becoming more spirit than flesh at that time.
Also at my father's bedside on his last day, and I haven't told many people this, I sensed the presence of four strong angels surrounding him. One was at the head of the bed, one at the foot, and one on either side. There were a few of our dear friends and family members with us, but I distinctly saw with my heart and soul that Dad was surrounded by holy warriors ready to bring him home.
I don't speak about my belief freely. But during a time such as this in my family's life, more than ever, I feel the need to share things that I feel God has shown us and hoping it may also comfort anyone else who is going through this.
My mother is becoming that lovely spirit now. And I know where she is going, for she visited there once before. She'd felt a love like no other during a cardiac arrest in her earlier years. A love that surrounded her and permeated her very being. She often said she did not fear death after that.
Though my heart is heavy, and it's almost like deja vu from last summer, I feel how I did with my father--ready to let go, to picture Mom free from her suffering; dancing with Dad, feeling God's warmth and love, and reuniting with so many loved ones who have been gone for such a long time. For my mom lost so many people in her life, and I know they are there, ready and waiting with opened arms to greet her.
God, help us to see with the eyes of faith, not our limited vision. Help us to know just how wide and deep Your love really is. Help us to be able to let go and give all to You.