Today is absolutely glorious. I look out my window at leafy tree branches swaying in the breeze as birds take flight under a crystal blue sky dotted by cotton puff clouds. Days like this can take my breath away as I exclaim praises to the God of creation, whose deft hand is so visible in the glories of nature.
Then I get on the phone with Mom. She had been living independently ever since Dad died, with six of my nine siblings who live near her stopping in several times a week to visit or take her out. But now her dementia has progressed too far for her to live alone and none of us kids can take her into our homes for 24/7 care. We moved her into a wonderful, compassionate, bright and newly-opened memory care facility, with no change in the family visiting and outing schedule.
Now, though, she cannot leave the unit without having someone sign her out, she cannot drive, she has no stove or microwave, and she feels trapped. Worst of all, she doesn’t understand. She knows she isn’t as sharp as she used to be, but asserts there is nothing wrong with her that wouldn’t be cured if she could just get back to her own apartment and resume her independent life. She feels betrayed and abandoned, convinced we just don’t want to bother with her and so we’re inventing a scenario of incapacity to cruelly deprive her of the life she loves. She feels that her future is gone, awash in a world she no longer controls or has any say in. It is so hard to listen to her complain and weep, to empathize with kindness, and yet to know there is no other option. Gradually, this intelligent, capable, highly respected woman is losing the capacity for recent memory, rational thought, and planning ahead, and it will only get worse from here. As I hang up the phone, I am bereft of glory, my wonder at creation replaced with wondering where God is in this situation. Intellectually and by faith I know God is there, but where is that deft hand for Mom?
I sometimes speculate that this process will eventually be easier for Mom than it is for us. She is regressing, becoming younger and simpler over time as the complexities of life elude her. I suspect that over time she will revert to a child-like faith, relying on the God of love that she knows and feels all around her. Even at times when her eyes reveal the frightened child inside, one of her mantras has always been, “Jesus, I trust in you.” Increasingly, that will become the central core of her life, as she lets go of the expectations and responsibilities of this world and sinks into the divine embrace, until the time when she fully enters into and becomes one with it.
It is harder for us who love Mom and see her personhood diminishing inch by inch before our eyes. We long for what was, for the person and the parent we know her to be. We grieve mightily over the ravages of this disease, shedding many tears and hugs together. Underlying the difficulties, though, perhaps I can learn important lessons from Mom.
Can I see the world and people with fresh eyes every day, open to discovery of something I hadn’t noticed before instead of thinking “Been-there-done-that?”
Can I gracefully accept my own diminishments as I age?
Can I accept what is and who Mom is becoming? In the process, can I broaden to release any expectations, control, and desires for other people to be the way I want them to be, more consciously and gently inviting who they are to emerge?
Can I allow the tears and grief while also reinforcing my trust in the divine embrace that holds me, too?
Can I learn to increasingly let go of the Mom I want so I can treasure the Mom I have, until the final letting go of her physical form?
Can I sometimes “regress”, leaving behind my informed theological understandings to recognize and accept the underlying, simple ways that God is truly present?
In my reverie, my gaze returns to the outside world. I think about the fact that trees make no demands of God. Clouds do not require explanation of where the wind blows them. Birds build nests that get destroyed, and set out to build again. All of creation lives, ages, and eventually dies as one small part of the grander scheme of life. All are beloved of God. All are precious, no matter their capacity. All deserve respect and care. All seasons and times have their place.
I pray that God will continue to work in me to expand my heart, consciousness, and faith. I don’t think I’m there yet. I still want to hang on, to retain some control, to “fix” things, and to make Mom happy. I can too easily lose sight of the divine presence when I don’t feel it or when yet another loss faces me. But I want to reach the point at which no matter what happens with Mom, and no matter where I am in the world, I can join Jacob in declaring, “Truly, the LORD is in this spot, although I did not know it!” I pray that your eyes, too, may be ever opened to the deft and ever-present hand of our God.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.