Mom’s Unchanging Smile

One of her long-time friends visited Mom in the assisted living facility. This was a friend who attended church with us and served with Mom on several committees.

When her friend entered the room, Mom looked up and smiled – as if she remembered the years of service together, the sharing of Mennonite foods and the fellowship in a crowded sanctuary.

The smile remained fixed even as Mom’s eyes registered surprise.old woman

The three of us chatted about the weather. Mom repeated the same phrase several times, “So cold now. The ice…that’s what you have to be careful of.”

The friend and I reminisced about another friend who had recently graduated to heaven. We talked about family and generations of connections, the folks who traveled a distance for the funeral, the nice service, the beautiful music.

Mom’s smile remained in the same upturned pose. She seemed a world away.

The friend asked about Mom’s activities. “Do you like the food here?”

“Oh, yes. Wonderful food. I think I’m getting fat.”

We all laughed. My slender mother has never struggled with her weight. Her only weight gains over the years were the pregnancies of her three children and even then, she gained a mere eight pounds.

Mom’s smile widened. She seemed to enjoy the echoes of our laughter even though she may not have comprehended the humor. It’s odd how a smile conveys a compliant spirit even as memory hides behind walls of dementia-covered plaque.

Then a break in the conversation – one of those lulls where no one knows what to say because every appropriate subject has been covered.

Mom filled in the gaps with the same statement as before. “The ice…you have to be careful of ice.”

The friend reached for her coat and found her gloves tucked into her pockets. She hugged Mom good-bye, then hugged me. Her whisper touched my cheek with the slight smell of peppermint gum. “I’ll pray for your mother, for all of you. Alzheimer’s is a such a terrible disease.”

“Thank you. We appreciate that.”

As she left, Mom’s smile began to fade as her eyes widened. “Who was that?” she asked.

“Your friend from church. You used to be in the same Sunday School class. You met every week and served in the women’s ministry. She was a good friend.”

“I see,” said Mom, but her eyes registered no remembrance.

Then she turned toward the winter-frosted window and smiled.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” –


5 Ways to Approach Mother’s Day – Part 2

The Woman who has Lost a Child

After those six infertile years, I suddenly found myself gloriously, miraculously pregnant. I bought tiny baby clothes at garage sales and fixed up the nursery. My husband wallpapered some Disney characters on a yellow background. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs danced around the border of the room. We bought a crib and my brother repaired it to make sure the individual slats were close enough to prevent injury. An antique walnut rocker waited in the middle of the nursery, ready to rock my precious child.

Every night I prayed for my baby. So it seemed the utmost cruelty after three months when that tiny life slithered out of my womb. The spirit of my baby boy, Ryan, floated immediately to heaven. My empty arms ached. The crib stood empty. My heart broke into a million pieces.

Two years later, another pregnancy surprised everyone. I fought the morning sickness but also welcomed it. This child represented God’s makeup plan for the first loss. Again I prayed and thanked God every day. Then my little girl, Rachel, joined her brother in heaven. Again, empty arms reminded me that Mother’s Day represented a cruel joke.

How should we approach this holiday with mothers who have lost a child? Whether through miscarriage, SIDS or some other tragedy – mothers’ hearts bleed each time a child’s voice is silenced.

  • Think before you speak. The mother who has lost a child is going through the grief process. She wants to hear about your growing family, but not yet. Do not, under any circumstances, repeat a Bible verse you think this woman needs to hear. Let sympathy be your first response and silence be your watchword.
  • Wrap this woman in your arms and weep with her. A comforting hug is a thousand times better than empty words.
  • Send a sympathy card on the due date or the birthday of that child. Even now, decades later, I remember the dates when my babies traveled to heaven.
  • Send flowers. Especially with a miscarriage, no funeral and no cemetery plot offers closure. After we lost Ryan, someone gave me potted mums and again, another mum plant after Rachel died. I planted those flowers in the yard. Every year when the mums bloomed, I thought about my children. Even now, whenever I move to a new house, I buy mums and plant them as a living memorial. Whenever I prune them back or cut blooms to take inside, I ask God to take special care of my babies until I join them in heaven.
  • Bake a nice casserole and wrap it with prayer. Especially with a miscarriage, nobody offers a funeral dinner. That mother still needs to eat, and no woman wants to cook while she grieves.

After you’ve done all or any of the above, go home and hug your children.