She is not the same person I once knew. My mother — the strong, outspoken, active woman who raised three children. Often harsh in her strict disciplinary practices, she was just as hard on herself.
But it was resilience that moved her from childhood poverty to a successful nursing career, a happy marriage and a fulfilling life.
Until the Long Goodbye struck and Alzheimer’s changed her personality.
I do not remember many smiles on my mother’s face. But now, she sits in a wheelchair with a constant grin, revealing the gaps where teeth once anchored.
She knows no one, so every greeting is new. She bears no burdens, because she prepared well. Others handle all the stresses of life. A Bible rests on her lap, but she cannot locate her favorite verses.
She is deaf, so communication is handled with a white board. But she cannot respond. No longer writes even the simplest of sentences. She answers “Yes” or “No” to written questions.
Yet her smile remains. Her visage content. One day just like the next.
In Prayer in the Night, author Tish Harrison Warren admits that some seasons in life might include a variety of afflictions — Alzheimer’s being one of them.
Warren notes that Jesus cared about those who bore chronic pain and constant affliction. He healed some. Left others to return to the leper colony, the sick bed, the beggar’s spot near busy markets.
Warren surmises that God Himself “Suffers with the alcoholic, the homeless kid, the Alzheimer’s patient, the bipolar client in a manic spell.”
God sits with us in our pain, understands our need for companionship and offers His hand of comfort as we struggle.
Perhaps my mother smiles within her shadows because she feels One beside her. Maybe she even sees her Savior on a spiritual level the afflicted ones know so well.
Perhaps her contentment comes from knowing He counts down her days and will never leave her. Maybe the personality change is more of a deeper level of partnership — of two souls acquainted with grief and the sorrows of life yet looking forward to a better place.
Within that possibility, I find hope as I stare at the pictures of this unknown woman — this version of the mother I once knew.
Perhaps in a strange way, this is her best season, her days of intimate knowing and divine purpose. Her night that will lead to a brighter day.
©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved
For essays about caregiving, check out Sometimes They Forget: Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey.