Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Deep Sadness: Losing Her, Piece by Piece

Joining with Bonnie after several weeks away. This post may not read like it is exactly in tune with the topic for the week - which is prayer. But please believe me when I tell you, that this experience is one of the deepest prayer times of my life. I find myself begging the Lord for mercy, for clarity, for charity, for patience, for faith-amidst-the-questions, for a deepening of love even as there is a lessening of the woman we once knew. At any rate, I offer it because I must - every word poured out like a prayer.
She is sitting in an over-stuffed chair in the hallway, her walker in front of her. Across from her, a group from her living unit are in rows, listening to a woman about my age (which, believe me, is YOUNG in this crowd) read the daily newspaper.

Her eyes are vacant as she scans the room, turning her head as we walk in. She stares at me for a good minute, not a hint of recognition in her gaze. This is a first. I point to the man next to me, who is her son, and she begins to sense that we might be somehow connected to her. She is confused as we stand beside her, asking if she'd like to walk down to her room so that we can visit a little while. She makes no effort to stand, unusual for her.

We've been gone for two weeks. Her daughter, who sees her several times a week when she is in town, is also gone, caring for her newest grandbaby in Montana. She has not seen family since September 25th. And that time line is just long enough to cause a memory gap. 

As we move slowly down the hallway and turn into her room, I turn on the light and open the drapes. She prefers the room dark and spends many hours in bed each day, fully dressed, sometimes with a nightgown over her clothes. As we enter the room, I can see that she has recently left that bed and it is now 4:00 p.m., with dinner to come in 45 minutes. 

We check the calendar for the week and notice that there was a pianist visiting during the last hour. We ask about it. "She was terrible," she says. Then she waves toward the large print crossword puzzle book and says, "I did a few more of those." 

"Good for you!" we both exclaim, eager to grab any snippet that might lead to actual conversation. But this line yields no fish today. Instead, we hear about the large poster on the wall.


It is a family picture taken in 1988, the year after our eldest daughter was married. She recites what she remembers of the story line we've told her many times: 

"It's so sad - that one over there, he died. And that little girl in front, she just had a baby." 

The references are to our son-in-law and our niece. She does not know their names. She does not know that she is in that picture. She does not know who anyone else is in the picture, nor is she interested. 

There is a silence that grows increasingly heavy. We ask her if she wants to join the Bingo group. "Oh, they don't play it like they used to! It's all just a big bin and they tumble all around. What good is that to anyone?" 

So, Bingo is out. 

We attempt a few other conversational trails, failing each time and eventually, after about 30 minutes, say that it's time for us to go. 

She remains seated on the end of her bed. Again, no movement to get up. This is a first experience for us and we are both emotionally and physically distressed by this turn of events. Eventually, with coaxing, she rises and moves slowly back to the hallway. 

An aide comes out and greets Mom cheerfully. "Did you see that woman who played the piano?" I hear her ask, crossly. "And did you see the way she was dressed?" My husband and I look at each other across the top of her head, widening our eyes and just slightly shrugging our shoulders. Who is this person?? 

This, this is my second mother. This is the woman who cared for my children at a moment's notice, who found us our first house, who taught Bible studies, who mentored younger women, who laughed loudly and loved life. This is the woman who made delicious meals, who always had an empty seat - or three - at her dining room table, who knew what her gifts were - and what they weren't. This is the woman who quietly made a break from her very conservative church upbringing by refusing to be baptized until she was 34 years old. Because when she was young, to be baptized meant letting your hair grow long and wearing a bonnet over it at all times. She never let that hair grow! 

This is the woman who grew anything - gardenias, violets, ferns, spider plant - anything in a pot thrived under her watchful eye and green thumb. This is the woman who came to UCLA and invited me to tea when it began to look like I 'might be the one' for her son. This is the woman who folded me into her family with love and grace and who adored my children and my nephews and niece. This is the woman who was the 'glue' in her family, the one who maintained contact with all manner of kin, both far and near. This is the woman who quietly gave her life away to her family, to her faith, to her Lord. This is my mother-in-law, a pillar of the earth, a saint of the Lord, a gift of grace in my life. 

And I miss her so much. Oh, how I miss her. 

Even though she's still here. 

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
My soon-to-be 96-year-old mother-in-law at my mom's 90th birthday party last June. With my husband's amazing sister.