by: Mary Ingram Stasko
I strolled up to the counter and I began to browse at the items displayed on the table. The lobby of the convention center was large and crowded and the air was filled with the excited chatter of jubilant participants. It was intermission at a women’s conference. As I began leafing through pages of one of the books for sale, I became acutely aware of the conversation next to me.
“It’s not her spirit or her soul that has Alzheimer’s,” the woman professed to her friend. “It’s her mind. She’s still in there, connected to you through God’s love.” The crowd seemed to grow still. It was as if everyone in the room had vanished except for these two complete strangers and me. My mind began to take me back to a painful and unforgettable day, not so long before when my dad, sister, and I had taken my mother to live in an Alzheimer’s health care facility. She had been diagnosed with the debilitating illness several years before and the time had abruptly come when my father could no longer care for her at home.
On the day she was to leave their home, my dad spoke to my mom. Through tearful eyes and with a broken voice, he told her that he couldn’t care for her any longer and he would be taking her to a place where someone else could. She listened within her child-like state as he spoke gently to her. “I love you with all my heart and I always will,” he said.
The night before, as cautioned by the facilities director, my dad slipped off her wedding rings, a symbol of their fifty-seven years together, as she slept in their bed for probably the last time. The burden of it all lay heavy on his heart as he held her hands and cried.
Earlier that morning, my sister and I bought our mom a new hairbrush and other items needed for her care. We thoughtfully chose the perfect brush and we carefully picked the laundry basket we believed she would like best. We decided on a soft-bristled brush and a bamboo basket. The basket was pink with a bow around it’s top. In the days when color mattered to her, mom liked the color pink, I remembered. We stood in the check-out line at the store. As I put her things in front of the cashier, I wondered how my mom might have felt many years before when she bought similar items for me as I prepared to leave home to attend college.
Sometime during the afternoon of that unforgettably sad day, we entered the corridor of the nursing home with my mother for the very first time. Mom made us smile through our tears as she stopped to check her reflection in the glass of a picture hanging on the wall. Like a schoolgirl primping before a date, she straightened her hair and checked her eyes and face.
“She is connected to you through God’s love,” the woman standing next to me at the conference had said to her friend. Those words penetrated the parts of my heart and soul that knew only the sorrow of watching my mother live her life in reverse as Alzheimer’s Disease mercilessly stole away everything she had once known including the memory and recognition of those she loved.
As I began to slowly emerge from the reminiscence of my past, the lobby seemed to return to life and I noticed the two women walking away. There were thousands of people throughout the convention center talking to each other. I stared in awe as I wondered how I ended up at this particular table, at this exact time, next to these two women having a conversation that seemed precisely meant for me to hear. I knew it wasn’t by chance. It was something much greater.
I gazed around the lobby with heart wrenching memories still lingering in my mind. I made my way through the masses back to my seat as the lights dimmed and the music began. I recalled many visits with my mom as I sat and listened to the music. They were marked with the devastation of her not knowing me, her own daughter. I’d felt so selfish thinking about my own grief when she was the one who suffered from the disease. I thought again about the words I had just heard…You are connected through God’s love…I began to realize that not even Alzheimer’s Disease can erase a love so powerful.
And isn’t God’s love about giving? Some of my despondence about her not remembering was the absence of what she had always given to me. Her smile, her arms reaching out to hug me, her voice saying, “I love you.” None of which she had the ability to offer any longer.
God’s love is about giving, I affirmed to myself, and I will give love to her as she had always given to me. While I was a helpless infant, a rebellious teenager, or a wife and busy mother of two with a demanding career, she never stopped giving, I thought. Now, when I feel like staying away because the sorrow of her decline is too great, I’ll go with love and compassion and I’ll find the courage to endure the vacancy in her eyes as they move past me without any recollection.
The music was loud and people all around were singing and clapping to the beat. I looked out among the crowd as I began to think of what I know about God’s love. It is kind and powerful. It is filled with grace and forgiveness. God’s love radiates goodness and endures all circumstances. It knows no barriers. God’s love never fails.
I realized something inside me was beginning to change. In a place in my heart where there had been no room for accepting the fate which had befallen my mother, I now found hope. I felt profoundly grateful for the two strangers who had touched my life. I thought of my mom as I embraced the gift I had been given that day. “We are connected through God’s love,” I believed.