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.