Hindsight truly is 20-19, isn’t it? I see crystal clearly now many ways mom used to make light of her declining memory and, in advance, start preparing me and the rest of us for where we are now. I can’t say with 100% confidence that she was consciously doing this, but she sure was subconsciously and/or the Lord was working through her to prepare us..
Just a couple examples:
She showed me over and over again her baptism picture. For you who didn’t know, mom became a Christian around but after the time of her original diagnosis several years ago. I always enjoyed hearing the story of her childhood with pastors for grandparents and her later realization that one isn’t born being a Christian nor does going to church make you a Christian. In the last several years I had certainly heard the baptism story enough times to have it memorized. She loved to show us and other folks how pretty the setting was and how light reflected off of the river area in such a pretty way. We don’t have to wonder whether she was born-again.
She used to joke during my calls during the awkward silence parts when we ran out of stuff to talk about, saying playfully not unlike a teenager “When you get bored, just hang up” or “When the music stops, hang up”. She was preparing me to let go someday with awkward humor…the same way I prepare for anything stressful…with inappropriately-timed humor. You should hear me at a funeral…Wakka Wakka!
She would retell the same stories over and over again. I completely realize that that was the Alzheimer’s “kicking in” to cause her to repeat the stories, but the specific stories she remembered told some tales. She told happy, empowering stories such as the one where she was the first girl to climb the gym rope to the ceiling at her school. She told tragic ones like how she was kept from going to the big dance because her dad wouldn’t buy her a new dress…but she followed up with something like “He was a hard man, but he did his best” so that we remembered both sides. Similarly, she told the story of cleaning poop out of the barn and doing it badly, then getting chased up a tree by her dad to avoid being spanked badly. It didn’t have a redeeming end to the story. It did however, in context, remind us that forgiveness is a crucial part of our spiritual walk as she forgave him for being a very hard father and took care of him until the day he died. She told other stories like how she started smoking nearly six decades ago and why she stopped 25 years ago.
Lots of stories, lots of angles. Every story seemed to have a purpose in some way or another although many were sad and may have only been purposeful to her.
So, what do I leave you with as advice whether or not you are entering this bumpy journey? If you have living parents/grandparents/great-grandparents, write down the stories! Probe deeper. Ask questions. Try to understand. When they are gone, the stories die with them if there was nobody listening. I can tell you some the stories of the Sweet 17, but it is “too late” to tell most of them or to verify they are true. Film your loved ones telling the stories. Post the stories for others to hear if your loved one doesn’t mind. Stories are a precious resource for these cohorts. They haven’t posted every single meal they have consumed their whole lives like younger folks have. Don’t let them takes these stories to the grave!
Update: Mom did fine yesterday although she was more tired than normal. Upon further reflection about my lamenting yesterday, I figure mom had trouble recognizing me yesterday because I shaved off my beard. I have been clean-shaven 95% of my life, but the last month I have had a beard. Mom is not a fan of change (!!!) and grabs whatever she can find to cling onto memory-wise. I regret shaving it now. I will just keep it shaven and try to rebuild that memory through visits and our normal techniques since it takes a while to grow back. No sense changing again. Sigh……