Since my visit with my mother in November, I’ve been preparing for today’s visit with a little less anxiety and a little more peace and joy. It helped that I had a wonderful “lunch reunion” with three old friends from high school first, because we each shared a little bit about our journeys with our aging parents… one who lost her father to Alzheimer’s, and another whose mother AND mother-in-law have just moved in with she and her husband. A terrible consequence of my self-focused anxiety is that I rarely think about how universal our experience is. Thanks to Kit, Sharon and Sandra, (in photo with me at lunch) I arrived at Lakeland Nursing Home with an even greater sense of peace.
Of course I never know, each time I drive down here, if Mom is still going to know me or not, and thankfully, she recognized me today. (She no longer recognizes any of my children’s names or pictures in photographs, and even gets a vague, far-away look when I talk about Daddy.) But today I gave out homemade fudge (Mom’s recipe) to all the folks at the nursing home who take care of Mom, and then found her sitting in her wheel chair in the hall near one of the nurses’ stations. Her face lit up when she saw me.
I was feeling guilty (a recurring bad daughter theme) because the home was having a door decorating contest and I hadn’t done anything for her door, so I was thrilled to find this joyful snowman décor done by the activities director with help from Mom!
But later, when we were sitting in the lobby, I asked her if the new slipper-boots were comfortable and she said, “Yes. You know, a boy in one of the classes gave me these boots. I don’t remember his name, or when he gave them to me, but I said sure I’d love to have them.” This was about 15 minutes after I gave them to her. I wonder if she was thinking of one of the students she taught 50 years ago.
I just smiled and said, “I’m so glad you like them!”
We held hands and watched the sunset in the midst of the tall pine trees outside the lobby windows, which are about 20 feet tall. For a while we didn’t speak at all, which is very unusual for Mom and me. Twice she just looked and me and said, “I love you.” And more than once she said, “I really like it here.” And then she looked out the window at the trees and said, “You know, I feel so small. And when I think about dying, I think I’ll be okay if I can go to a small place.”
“You mean, like Heaven?” I asked. “You know Dad is there, waiting for us to join him some day. But I don’t think of Heaven as being a small place, do you?”
She was quiet for a minute, then struggled with her words, and finally said, “well, I think my part of it will be small, and I’ll be happy there.”
Her words reminded me of a sad but powerful conversation a friend told me about last night. The precious 28-year-old daughter of some friends of ours was in the hospital as a result of seizures she had during the day yesterday. Sara has always been one of God’s “innocents,” and she told the people with her at the hospital, “I’ll be happy to go to Heaven because I won’t have Down’s Syndrome there.” And then she died of a pulmonary embolism. Sara’s parents are dear friends of mine from Jackson, and today I’m thinking about how happy she is in Heaven, although I know her family is missing her so much. Sara fought a hard battle, psychologically and spiritually, and in her shadow I’m feeling pretty small. Her funeral will be Monday night at St. Peter Orthodox Church here in Madison, where my Goddaughter, Mary Allison Callaway’s funeral was held eleven years ago. May her memory be eternal.