Mama’s Smile

My daughter came home this morning from getting my mama up out of bed, bathed, and fed. (Dad pays her to be a care giver which is a huge blessing to us all.) She came in laughing and said, “Do you know what your mother said to me today?”

“No. What?”

“She said, ‘Go to h—.'”

“What?! I’m sorry. You know Grandma would never say that for real.”

“And she said, ‘I hate you.'”

“Oh, I’m sorry. You know she doesn’t mean that either. She would have never said anything like that when she was healthy.”

“I know,” Annie said. “I’m just tattling on her. Grandma also said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And I said, “Be nice.” And she said, ‘Okay.’ And then things went pretty well!”

And I think about a talk I just had with my youngest twenty-something son who recently moved in with my parents. It’s a comfort to know he’s sleeping there at night and available to help if needed. But yesterday he told me, “Yeah, it’s kind of hard to wake up hearing Grandma shouting, ‘I hate you! I hate you!’ and to go to sleep hearing her shouting, ‘I hate you! I hate you!’ I’ve never heard so much hate in my life.”

And I tried to explain again how she doesn’t mean it. It’s not her. It’s not anything I EVER heard her say when her mind was strong. She didn’t allow us kids to say we hated anyone and never said it herself. I told him that she’s confused and something is bothering her and it’s her way of crying– like a baby crying out when it has needs. She can’t explain what’s wrong anymore, so she shouts out harsh words.

But my heart hurts for her. I try singing to her. I try talking to her. I try holding her hand. We change her, feed her, give her something to drink. We give her Tylenol in case something is hurting that she can’t tell us about. We’ve even recently started giving her a mild anti-depressant.

And I’ve gotten used to the harsh words. They rarely phase me these days.

But what I struggle with more is another new loss on this Alzheimer’s journey.

Mama doesn’t smile anymore.

I don’t think I’ve seen her smile for a few months. And I’ve tried all my ways of connecting with her.

I sing our songs and she looks at me blankly. I tell her who I am and she looks at me blankly. I tell her I love her and she looks at me blankly.

Her eyes don’t sparkle anymore.

And I miss her beautiful smile.

And I remember the past few years when I’d say, “I’m Cheryl, Mama. It’s me.” And sometimes Mama’s eyes would light up and she’d smile and say, “Oh…Cheryl Lynn?”And I would feel remembered.

What a treasure it would be to hear that one more time. Or to see her smile again with shining eyes.

But I still cherish the little love pats. As I feed Mama, she often reaches out and very softly pats my arm. And sometimes she stares at my face and reaches out and strokes my cheek or whole face. And I feel seen for that moment. And maybe something in her is trying to communicate love.

And I wish somehow I could gather Mama in my arms and hug and kiss away her hurt and confusion–as she did for me when I was a child. When just her presence could make everything better. 

And I wonder more often why God allows dementia and Alzheimer’s. And I don’t know the answer.

But I do know that He is with us always. And that He gives strength and grace one day at a time. One hour at a time. One moment at a time.

And I know that the end of the story is good. Because Mama trusted in Jesus when her mind was healthy and gave her heart to Him. I know that He has her. Always.

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NKJV)

And I can picture Jesus gathering Mama in His arms and hugging away all the pain and hurt. And I know that just His presence will make everything better. And someday I will see Mama’s beautiful smile again.










Learning Sweet Silence

Sometimes it’s better to not say much. Talking with Mama seems to agitate her more often than not these days.

I’ll ask her, “How are you today, Mom?”
And she will shout back with attitude, “OKAY!”

So I’m learning to not ask many questions. And I’m trying to talk less. And I’m learning to just sit close to Mama and see what she wants to do with our visit.

I’m finding out sometimes she has questions of her own. Like the other day she abruptly asks, “How old are you?”
“I’m fifty-five.”
“Oh, my goodness!” Mama says. (My thoughts exactly!)
“I’m Sherry.”
“Sherry Lynn,” Mama quietly mumbles. And I rejoice at this connection.

Mama cuddles up next to me and puts her head on my shoulder. She grows still and dozes off. She is content. And so am I.

And though I love the power of questions and words and stories, sometimes silence is more comforting. Sometimes just being together, leaning on each other, is the best kind of communication.

Sunny Days

I’ve been sick and haven’t been to see my folks for a week.  But I’ve had times in the week when I’ve felt well enough to scan some slides, and so memories of childhood have been peeking at me…making me smile…reminding me of sunny days…

I saw pictures of Mama laughing with her babies and cuddling them. I saw her at her sewing machine creating things. I saw her providing picnics and birthday parties. I saw her smiling and beautiful. I saw her alert and intelligent looking, loving and blessing her family.

Dad is blind and can’t see the pictures obviously, but he loves to hear about the slides and the memories. So I called him and tried to describe them to him. And while I was talking Mama was hollering near the phone on the other end.

She was sitting next to Dad and almost drowning me out, shouting, “Mama! I want Mama! Raymon, where are you?” And in-between shouts, she’d say quiet, irrelevant things like, “I guess so. Okay. Where is it?”

She kept repeating the irrational shouting and talking during our whole conversation. It doesn’t surprise me. It’s just the way she is now. We will check and make sure she’s dry. We’ll offer her a snack or drink, in case something is bothering her that she can’t communicate. But often, we never figure out why she’s agitated.

I’m used to her acting like this, but it stood out to me this week. It stood out to me in sharp contrast to the pictures I was looking at. The photos are a fresh reminder of the mama that was. And I’m struck by how blessed we were and how much I took for granted.

And I wish I could run back into one of those photos—like an “Our Town” moment—and give Mom a big hug. And I’d tell her how amazing and beautiful she is and how blessed I am to have her as my mom. I would thank her for sewing and cooking and caring and listening. I would tell her how sorry I was for all the times I didn’t appreciate her or was rude.

I would sit at dinner and relish every bite of her cooking. I would ask her to look in my eyes and say my name and I’d know that she knew me. And I’d know that she knew I was her daughter and she was my mom. I would ask her stories of her childhood and record them. I would ask her for stories of my childhood and do the same.

And I choke up thinking about this all. And then I think, I don’t need an “Our Town” moment. Because I will have heaven for eternity.  And all who know Jesus will be restored. And the glory of God will be our light and give us the sunniest days ever.