Friday, April 18, 2008


The word of the day is Alzheimers. Not a happy word, of course, but one that figures largely in my life these days. My mom has it. "A little bit of Alzheimers," she's likely to say. But her little bit looms larger and larger over what once was a fairly substantial brain--a brain that taught school for over 30 years, that had a whole lot of education, and could pretty well bury itself in books, anytime, anywhere. The holes in that brain have begun to make it look less like dotted Swiss fabric, tiny and almost cute, and more like Swiss chess, with holes large enough that the mustard squirts onto your shirt.

Conversations with her have also become a bit like having mustard squirted on your shirt--you just never know what unexpected thing is going to come from it. People say to me, 'that must be so hard,' with a sad tone in their voice. Other people say, 'Well, if you don't laugh, you'll cry,' when I tell them some of Mom's more absurd moments (like this week when she told me that she'd never helped dad with the building projects he'd been so fond of because she was so busy cleaning the house. Mom housecleaning?). But here's the truth for me (and my siblings, if I may be so bold as to speak for them), this is hard for her, not for us. See, Mom was a hard person for me--hard as a mom, hard as a person. She was always hard. Not all Alzheimers stories are about losing easy, beloved parents, and grieving that loss. Sometimes they're about having to cope with losing difficult, 'is she crazy?--if she's not, I am'--parents. And yet, we still lose them. We still face the same issues.

She believes we don't call her--and believe me, we call her.
She believes things about herself that just aren't true, were never true--and now she's revising even the oldest of the stories, and we just listen. I just listen. I have been committed to telling her the truth for all of my adult life, even when it made her extremely uncomfortable (and trust me, it did) and now I can't. The time for truth-telling has past with her. And I have to lift my hands away from it and say, 'okay then.'
She believes that she is completely, totally loved. Finally she believes this. For years she didn't but now she does. And this gets to me. Though I have reasons--legitimate reasons--to feel some things I feel about my mother, in the end, I am called to love, and to the extent that I have failed to love her, I have failed to love. Period. It doesn't matter what she has done to me, I have also failed her. And I regret that. My prayer has been--continues to be--that before Mom dies, I will love her. That she will be loved as she wants to be loved, as she now believes she is loved.

Alzheimers has been redemptive in that way for me. I do love her more now. Thankfully. I couldn't have written this a few years ago. No possible way--Mom and love in the same paragraph? No way, no how. But God uses what He will. Mom has asked many times why this had to happen to her--this Alzheimers--and I would never dream of telling her. But I know the answer. So I could learn to love you, Mom.

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