I bit my lip as I watched my mother stumble clumsily. Her coordination was such that if no one was nearby, she was most likely to sit down, not on the chair, but rather go crashing to the floor. It was heart-breaking to watch this woman whose mind had always been so alert, as she groped for words.
She had been a librarian and a voracious reader. Not only was she able to read in English, but Spanish as well. As the days and weeks wore on, her attention span shortened as did her vocabulary. Many of her bodily functions were no longer under her control as the unusually kind assistants ministered to her needs. She had recently been put in the nursing home on the premises of the life care community where she and her second husband lived.
It was over his protests. He felt he could take care of her. After all, he had taken care of his first wife for probably 25-30 of their over 50 years of marriage as she gradually was incapacitated by multiple sclerosis. It was one of the reasons I was there. I was her power of attorney for medical decisions.
As her children lived states, even countries away, it was difficult to be so far away and not be able to monitor her situation. Her husband was mostly oblivious to the seriousness of her condition.
We (her children) had been watching from afar as our mother was slowly failing. We all lived at least states away. One sister lived in the Netherlands! It was difficult to get home to see her. But when she remarried, they preferred to live in FL rather than near one of her children. It was understandable while they were healthy. However, it was difficult once she began having issues with her health. He was unable to admit to any health issues.
We had been watching as she changed gradually over time. This was an intelligent, independent woman who had been a voracious reader, hospitable hostess, bilingual former missionary and career librarian. She had been a widow for many years before she was remarried to a dear family friend. They did well for a few years. Eventually, they moved to a life-care community where she had many friends from the past. Because they differed on many views on medical treatment, I was her medical power of attorney. It was a difficult position, especially from the distance I lived.
Soon she began to have some gradual health issues. They seemed minor at first.
At first, she had trouble managing the checkbook, a responsibility she had carried for the family for about 60 years. My brother took that load. He was also their power of attorney and executor of their estate.
Then she started tripping and falling. Her healthfood-loving, anti-medical establishment husband was sure that the solution to her problem was that she just needed to pick up her feet when she walked. However, this was becoming increasingly impossible for her.
I went to visit her to see how she was. On my visit I saw quite a change from my last visit the year before. I walked into her room. I saw a woman with a nearly vacant look in her eyes and almost no expression. Her gray hair was cut in a straight, easy care, low fashion haircut.
She didn’t seem to care how she looked or what she did. This was not like my mother. She had always had opinions, about everything! I didn’t remember seeing her in a passive mode… ever. Now she was barely mobile. She couldn’t stand and worse, she didn’t have the awareness of where she was in space so she could sit back down and accurately land where she needed to.
From a safety perspective, she was an accident waiting to happen. Her husband was unwilling to listen to the advice given by the medical people in the retirement community. He thought they were being overly cautious. My assessment was that he was seriously into denial regarding her condition.
It was almost Christmas. Their community was presenting Handel’s Messiah.
It was near Christmas. Their community was presenting Messiah in a concert. I asked her if she wanted to go. She did. So I helped her into the wheelchair and into the car. I drove the short distance to the concert area where the close parking was mostly taken. We got out of the car and had the wheelchair but we had some steps to go up which were a HUGE challenge. Once we were at the top of the steps, I helped her into the wheelchair and we went inside to the concert.
Her legs weren’t very flexible, so this process took longer than it should have. By this time, I was sweating profusely in the cold night. She was oblivious to my nervousness regarding her safety.
We sat down in the back row of the crowded auditorium as the words were being sung,
”And the glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. And all flesh shall see it together.”
Of course, they went on later to sing Hallelujah Chorus. I realized that night that it would be the last time I would be going to a concert with my mother, a music major in college.
The music was beautiful but the reality of her situation weighed on me as I sadly realized that the next time she would be singing with any real understanding was going to be in the presence of Christ. Yes, it would be wonderful for her but we were going to lose her…and already had to a large degree.
She didn’t die until a couple of years later, but that is one sweet memory I have with her before she was completely gone in her mind. It is a treasure.
What sweet memories do you have with a loved one you have given care to in some way?
This Christmas, try to find some ways to make sweet memories with your loved one. It may be looking over photographs from the past and sipping your favorite hot drink. It may be driving to look at Christmas lights nearby or simply watching a Christmas concert on TV together. Don’t allow this Christmas to pass without continuing to make sweet memories with them even if their memory is going or gone. It may be more for you than for them. But it will help in the days ahead.