|My Blessed Mother Mary at 100|
Memory loss comes and goes. One moment she made no sense but then her brain somehow inventively found another way to connect the neurons and she not only made sense but made abstract enlightened sense. We laughed and talked and I learned I could figure out what she was saying even when no one else could. It was like being in a private club with only the two of us as members using a secret language. I learned that a pokey thing was a fork, that gender was interchangeable and that holding a baby doll was comforting for her. She taught the doll how to drink from a straw and in doing so she remembered how to drink herself. One day after the two of us had played with her doll she smiled at me and said "I'm not sure how this works because she isn't really real, you know". I loved those times with her. I learned to redefine what a good visit was and how to do for her what she had done for me for so many years....ask questions, listen and make her feel like she mattered.
My mother could recite any recipe in detail. For years she sent everyone she knew a birthday card. Once you were on her list you could count on a card every single year with a handwritten note even if you had been her garbageman, the Safeway store clerk or met her fishing on her riverbank 20 years ago. She knew how to grow a garden and how to preserve every vegetable in Josephine County. She knew how to make cheese from milk she got from a real cow and how to make mayonnaise using a fresh egg . She knew how to feed a family all winter on fryers she raised from chicks earlier that spring. Most of all she knew how to care about you and make you feel valued. All of that gradually changed.
There were times I wanted my mother back so bad I could barely breathe. Sometimes I could hardly face visiting her. After all, I wanted to remember her the way she was, not experience her the way she was now. But I forced myself to stay present no matter how much it hurt. I made myself be with her, learn her language and I worked to make her feel like she was contributing to every conversation even when it made no sense. For all of my discomfort and self absorbed pain, I learned that this was just another component of our relationship like a fractal. Oddly the pattern was the same as it had been.
|Broccoli from my garden showing fractal pattern|
At the end of one especially happy visit filled with laughter and stories of our lives together, my own mother asked me how my mother was. Even though my heart squeezed tight with grief for a moment, I told her about herself...that my mother had broken a hip and was now using a walker but she was getting better. I told her I often visited my mother and always brought a bouquet of flowers from my garden. For a confused moment my mother looked at me and then gave me the warmest loving smile and said "Oh, that's right. You're the one who brings me flowers." That was good enough.
|The Infant of Prague from Chris Hart Studio|
As I painted this particular statue with a green robe, I thought about the life and hope I shared with my mother even with dementia. The Infant statue served as a reminder of Jesus as a real human being, here on earth. I thought about the fact that my mother was still a real human being even with her dementia here on earth. I could not begin to understand the greater plan the Almighty might have for us but I could understand the value of sitting with someone who didn't always remember my name. She may not recognize me but she recognized love. She may not have been able to say "I love you" but she could nod when I said "I love you and you love me". She may not have known how to hold a pokey thing but she knew how to hold my hand. She may not have remembered the names of the flowers but she knew the meaning of the bouquet. That is life, love and hope during Ordinary Time.