I’ve put this column off long enough. I started to write it on Mother’s Day, but I couldn’t do it. Maybe I’m in denial. Perhaps if I don’t write about it things will improve. But I know that is not true. Things are not improving, they are getting worse. My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. I can’t say this with 100% certainty, neither can a doctor. It is only after death that Alzheimer’s can irrefutably be diagnosed. But it really doesn’t matter what you call it---my mother is slipping away.
When I moved to North Carolina to attend seminary 41 years ago, I became a permanent Tar Heel. My Alabama home is a ten hour drive away. With the exception of occasional visits, our primary contact has been the phone. I would faithfully call my mother every Sunday afternoon. She would update me on family news and tell me who had died in the community. We would compare notes about our church services. (She doesn’t like the new music they sing in her church.) She would tell me about a television show she enjoyed watching. And we would talk again the next Sunday.
It was just a few years ago that my mother retired from the furniture business. When I first moved to Lexington she was still coming to the Furniture Market once a year. Her health finally prevented her from coming to the market and then she started having problems at her store. There were times she couldn’t remember how to transfer a call. She was forgetting things and she was tired all the time. We finally convinced her to retire but she wasn’t happy about it.
I started to call her more often. She was having issues walking and fell more than once. Her mind was playing tricks on her. One night she kept calling my brother, who lived about 30 miles away, to tell him she couldn’t get the children who were playing in the yard to come in and it was raining. She was so persistent he finally drove to the house. There were no children. But Mother had been standing in the rain calling for them to come in.
After she fell one night and spent all night on the floor, we knew we needed to do something. We found her a very nice assisted living center. She adjusted fairly well and because she was getting three meals a day and taking her medications as prescribed, she improved physically and mentally. I would now call her 3 or 4 times a week. She seemed satisfied and we would sometimes talk for 15 or 20 minutes. We were planning to have a family reunion this summer, but it would not happen.
My mother is in a nursing home now. She can’t walk; she can’t even get up out of the bed by herself. She has to have assistance eating. She doesn’t know how to answer the phone anymore. She is slipping away into a foreign world that we cannot enter.
Over 20 years ago I told a narrative story one Sunday of a lady who had Alzheimer’s. The story was fictitious, but it was much more powerful than I anticipated. It affected a few people so deeply that they had to leave the sanctuary. These were family members who had a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
Even though I have had many church members and friends who have been down this painful path, I could only sympathize with them until now. Now I am walking with them and the pain is much greater than I imagined.
In my story the woman with Alzheimer’s was slipping away to a happy place in her past. She was surrounded by family and friends, sitting on the front porch of her childhood home. She was comforted by their presence.
My mother was an orphan. She didn’t have a happy childhood. But as she slips away from us I hope she is going to a place of joy and comfort where she is surrounded by love. That is our hope, is it not? Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house where there are many rooms. The greatest promise is: “Where I am, there you will be also.” Wherever this foreign world of Alzheimer’s is, my prayer is that my mother will not be alone and that she will be comforted. I have to believe that this promise is true.