Every once in a while I like to peruse my journal and share with my readers an excerpt about the Alzheimer’s road on which my mother and I travel. Sometimes the road is a dark alley, a place I am unable to see much beauty. On a day two years ago, I found myself in such an alley. I was busy at work and a good kind of tired from the typical crazy start to a semester. Yet there were some decisions needing to be made for Mom. I was feeling the weight of what needed to be said. Mom’s care wasn’t up to what it should be.
Truth had to be spoken. Being an advocate is an honor and it is a VERY tough job. Reluctantly I drove over to her assisted living center. I entered upon a scene, one in which I was able to observe my mother from afar. It was a scenario that I later learned, made my mother gag. I don’t think it will turn your stomach. It didn’t mine. Instead, on this dark alley kind of day, my heart was turned, not my stomach. It was turned towards love, towards beauty; the kind of beauty that strengthened me to be a good advocate.
Journal Entry: February 28, 2013
When I arrived, my mother was sitting at her usual table in the dining room at the assisted living center. I decided to watch from afar. I sensed there was something I was not to disturb. With Mom, was Marilyn and Leena. Ester was already ambulating towards the front porch where Mom would soon join her for their afternoon smoke. But for now, my mother remained sitting at the table next to Marilyn and Leena.
Leena’s shaky 92 year old hands were making it difficult for her to transfer the pumpkin cake from the plate to her mouth. Marilyn spoke harsh words, “I’m outta here. Can’t handle this.” And so Marilyn left, her disgust and disdain lingering in the air, leaving my mother and Leena alone at the table.
I marveled that my mother chose to remain. She saw to the success that Leena deserved. My heart turned towards love as Mom held Leena’s plate steady, talking cheerfully about the moist cake and its flavor. On some level I didn’t know this Mom.
In the car afterwards, Mom said, “Sometimes I gag watching Leena eat. But I like her. She is so funny and cracks the best jokes.”
“She is so funny and cracks the best jokes.” This mother I know.
Remaining and helping her friend eat cake? This mother I am getting to know.
The beauty and gift of Alzheimer’s is that I am seeing my mother in ways my younger self didn’t allow.
End Of Journal Entry
And now, two years later, I feel even more heavily the weight and weariness of this disease. Just a month after this entry my mother fell and broke her hip. That was hard for her and me. And she has recovered. I truly am grateful for this. Yet the recovery was hard for her. And for me? Well, it is hard to describe. This journey is impossibly long and very slow. I still have dark alley days. They come hard and fast. You see, I don’t have just my mother’s life, I have my own. And my own includes its own trials (and joys) beyond the experience of Alzheimer’s.
This looking back on my journal somehow helps. I read about her life, my life with her. And I read about my life, the one she knows nothing about. There is so much light and joy and good. And there are also shadows and sorrow and bad. But here’s the deal. There are gifts to see in the shadows. There are.
Although the three women mentioned in my journal entry have all died, my mother still lives. There is always more for us to receive. I wholeheartedly believe that God is benevolent. But if I find myself defining what his benevolence must look like, I will perish from not seeing. I need to check my expectations EVERY day. An unmet expectation often leads to hard felt impatience.
Perhaps Mom and I are becoming more rooted and established in love (Ephesians 3:17) for the sake of Christ, for the sake of others. Perhaps. And perhaps this will be the greatest gift of all. Perhaps this is the gift to expect, the one for which I must wait.