Mom – the Nurse

She accidentally became a nurse. Her life’s ambition and the prophecy from her high school yearbook stated that she would someday become a famous writer, weaving thousands of words into paragraphs and books.

But World War II interrupted everyone’s plans, so she signed up to become an army nurse. The only way she could afford an education was to let Uncle Sam do it for her.

Ancestry.com lists her as Arlene Renken Ediger, a nurse in the Army Cadet Corps from 1942-1948, but since 1950—I have known her only as Mom. Arlene Renken - nurse

The war ended before her nursing class shipped overseas, but she continued to work as a registered nurse, supplementing her husband’s farm income and taking care of her three children. Her 3-11 shift at the hospital worked well for our family while Dad drove us home on the school bus, made supper and helped us figure out our math homework.

Although I remember her white uniform, starched and ironed so that not even a hint of a wrinkle showed, it was her hat that signaled she was ready for work. Neatly bobby-pinned to her hair, she proudly wore her hat and made sure that any stains were successfully bleached out. Even the bobby pins were painted white. She never understood how modern-day nurses sacrificed their hats nor how they substituted those colorful scrubs for the white dress uniform, white support hose and white rubber-soled shoes.

“A nurse has to look the part,” she said. “Professional…always.” Even jewelry was forbidden, so she surreptitiously wore a tiny cross underneath her uniform to remind herself that as she served others, she also served Christ.

Her nurse’s training also bled into our chores at home. When changing the beds, she made perfect hospital corners. She taught us to do the same. Our bed sheets were so tight, quarters bounced off them like hailstones during an Oklahoma storm. I was in my fifties before I dared to leave my bed unmade.

It seems now a cruel twist of fate that Mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She can no longer handle a syringe, and she mixes up her own medicines. She forgets to eat and recently, we had to take away car privileges.

The doctor helped us confirm the “no driving” rule. He wrote a prescription that stated, “Arlene can no longer drive.” That finally convinced her. When she reads the script, she obeys because that’s what nurses do. They follow doctors’ orders.

Mom may live with Alzheimer’s for many years. We take it one day at a time, knowing it is a losing battle. She will eventually forget who we are and even her memories of nursing will one day disappear. Over time, she may forget how to speak and how to smile.

But I’ll always remember her in that crisp white uniform, on her way out the door to take care of someone who was sick.

Alzheimer Shadows

She devoted the major part of 15 years caring for my dad. As he slipped into the silent world of dementia, Mom sat on his lap and spoonfed him. She sipped from their joint coffee cup, then shared some of the brew with the love of her life. Every day, every 36-hour day, she fed him, turned him, bathed him and asked God to heal him. Then her prayer concluded with one Selah, “Oh, God. Please don’t let me get Alzheimer’s.”

Five years after we buried Dad, her memory started to slip. We noticed it in segments – the same questions asked over and over, the loss of time and space, the forgetting of familiar faces. Incredibly, the diagnosis hounded us. How could it be that both parents were afflicted with diseases of the mind? Was it the farm chemicals we used to ensure a harvest year after year? Was it nutrition – too many carbs and not enough fresh veggies? Or was it just the roll of the die and some part of God’s plan for the genetics of our family?

I’ve wondered if King David’s parents disappeared into the shadows. Psalm 27:10 records a sad lament from the sensitive heart of this giant-killer, “Although my father and my mother have forsaken me, yet the Lord will take me up (adopt me as his child).”

Forsaken, forgotten, cached back in time to some memory before the present. That is the scrapbook my mother now lives. We children who swelled her belly and slithered from her womb try to help, but she sees us as the enemy. She doesn’t understand that we want to help her by taking away the car keys and the wallet, by limiting her trusting heart that opens the door to every stranger.

This woman who read voraciously, worked long hours as a nurse and balanced her checkbook to the penny now forgets when I call. She throws away my notes, then tells the neighbors I no longer care. She has forsaken me, just as my father did – though neither of them wanted to.

As I watch Mom disappear into this horrendous valley, my only comfort is that Jesus understands. He was forsaken, too, one horrible moment on the cross. His father God turned away from the sin that surrounded the beloved son; my sin, your sin, the world’s sin. Christ knew what it felt like to be rejected and forgotten – if only for a period of time. He understands how I feel at the gradual loss of my mother – this wretched forsaking.

The only respite for my soul is knowing that Christ never forgets who I am.