When you care for someone who is elderly and has dementia, it is easy to become condescending. My mother shook me out of that tendency one recent morning at breakfast.
I sat her down with a nice cup of coffee and her morning meds. I made my own coffee and joined her at the kitchen table. As I began to devour my granola bar and simultaneously read aloud our devotional, I noticed my mother pointing.
“What’s the matter, Mom?“ I asked, wondering why she was stopping me mid-sentence.
“Is that my toast in the oven?” she asked politely.
Yes. I had begun to eat my own breakfast and forgotten to give my mom her food.
I apologized and she said, “That’s ok, honey. We all forget sometimes.”
My 89-year-old mother has no short-term memory, but she does remember to be kind.
Am I that patient with her? I hope so. I pray so.
Mom came to live with us last November. I retired from my much-loved job in Children’s Ministry so that I could bring her home from assisted living. The pandemic and its isolating protocols had turned her once-lovely apartment into a prison. We wanted Mom home with us so that we could see her, hug her and return her to her place as heart and soul of our extended family.
Friends often ask what life is like for me now. They know that I once led and attended meetings, made big decisions, traveled to conferences, planned the details of large events, and enjoyed the fellowship of church coworkers and families. I admit, I do miss the community and the very clear sense of purpose that working in ministry brings.
And, I also admit that being with my mom can be challenging. The role reversal that is now our norm hurts me each and every day. And because she can’t remember the past, our once cozy and comfortable conversations have become something else altogether. Observing and living with the profound changes in my mom is disheartening.
Yet, when my friends ask, “Are you glad that you left ministry and brought your mom home?” I do not equivocate. I am glad.
I seem to repeat that same thing to each person who asks. “I am learning so much from my mom,” I tell them. And I mean it.
My mom’s body is constantly wracked with pain from severe scoliosis. Each step down the hallway with her walker causes the pain to increase. Yet, she determinedly gets up each morning, puts on her clothes and finishes her morning ritual with a dab of lipstick.
And as I mentioned, my mother’s once-sharp mind no longer functions well. She can’t remember her grandchildren or great-grandchildren, but when she sees them, she beams with joy. “I love them so much,” she tells me. She is not sure who they are, but that doesn’t stop her love!
On occasion, when the timing seems right, I talk openly with my mom about her dementia. I recently asked her what it felt like to have a failing memory. “Well,” she said with a peaceful smile, “I feel the same. My brain doesn’t work, but that’s just the way it is.”
One topic of conversation that comes up frequently is the topic of heaven. My mother often tells me that she cannot wait to see Jesus’ face. This proclamation is almost always followed by an expression of gratitude for the wonderful life that she has been able to live. I find that remarkable because I know that my mom endured a painful childhood, a difficult marriage, two bouts of cancer, a stroke and other multiple traumas.
I am a grandmother of four, yet I am still learning from my mother and her unwavering faith. Each day she displays an attitude of determination, love, gratitude and acceptance of God’s plan. As I watch her in admiration, I am reminded of the old phrase, “More is caught than taught.”
My mother seldom quotes from the Bible. She never really has. But she is teaching me.
She has simply led, and is still leading, a life-filled with hope in Christ. She is in decline, but not in despair.
I am learning.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.