I sat by her bed and held her hand. Mother smiled and said how proud she was to see me. I told her how glad I was to see her, too. Then she looked off and was quiet a while, as if in another place. Looking back at me, she told me again how glad she was that I had come, saying she didn’t know when she had last seen me. Mother no longer has a concept of time and she doesn’t remember when any of us have visited or if we have visited. She asked about my husband and then remembered he had died and said how sorry she was. She asked about my daughter, calling her by my name, but I knew who she meant. Then we would begin the same conversation all over again. Mother’s dementia doesn’t allow her to hold on to what she has just said or heard.
She gazed out the window and said how pretty the dogwood trees were. But there were no dogwoods in view. I supposed someone had wheeled her to a window to see them and she was remembering. Mother always loved the outdoors; it was her favorite place to be. She was a natural gardener and roses were her favorite things to nurture in the soil. Most all of her rose bushes were produced by the way she learned from her mother: Cut off a length of stem from the variety of rose you want, bury it in an inch or two of dirt, give it some water, turn a canning jar over it, and wait for it to push through the ground. It worked for her every time.
Mother looked up at me and said I was pretty. I told her that her nurse exclaimed she knew who I was the minute she saw me, because I looked just like my mother. She said she had never heard that before, but it made her smile. I’m so grateful for her smiles.
Mother asked when she could go home and I told her as soon as she was well. She nodded her head, then talked again about the pretty dogwoods.
Mother’s feet and ankles were terribly swollen. Her right foot remained heavily bandaged due to a wound resistant to healing. An infection developed after Mother nicked herself with scissors shortly before her hip fracture and while she was still semi-independent. She was wearing TEDS (tight-fitting socks) to reduce the swelling in her feet and legs and decided she didn’t want to wear the TEDS anymore so she took her scissors, cut them off, and told no one. By the time it was noticed, infection had set in. Mother eats very little now and doesn’t get the protein she needs for healing, even with supplemental nutrition. She says she just isn’t hungry.
Much of the time, Mother thinks she is at her grandparents. She also believes the furniture in her room belongs to her Grandpa and he is letting “all these people” use his furniture, so we talk about how nice that is of him.
She isn’t up for long visits anymore. She signals that by mentioning that I shouldn’t stay too long, that I should get back to my home. After the third time of saying it, I ask if she is tired and she says she is, so I know I need to leave and let her rest — which means sleep. She tells me again how glad she is I came and I assure her I will be back very soon.
Mother is 93 now. She and Daddy married at 15 and 18 and I loved to hear Mother tell about how they started out, living in a house that you could see daylight through the walls – but they were happy.
Just like her mother before her, my mother was an outstanding cook. We enjoyed freshly made bread three meals a day. Her yeast rolls would practically float off the plate and I was never able to duplicate her light hand with her biscuits that were tender perfection. We ate vegetables and fruits from the labor of her hands in the backyard garden. Her desserts were a work of art, and again like her mother, there was fresh dessert every day. I would be hard pressed to declare a favorite, but the hot plum cobblers served up at noon, the biscuit puddings made from the leftover morning biscuits, and her special apple roll baked in sweetened milk and spiced with cinnamon are immediate recalls. I know my love for baking was passed on from my mother and grandmother, however I use recipes where they created by a handful of this and a pinch of that. Those who say baking is a formula that must be accurately measured just didn’t taste the wares of Dulcie Spencer and Louise Spencer Luffman.
Mother was always happiest when she could be outside working, and it was that love for the outdoors that led to her loss of independence. One morning while raking leaves in the backyard, Mother decided to move the picnic table. A bone in her back gave way and that led to hospital and rehab stays. Mother’s dementia worsened significantly due to unfamiliar places and we were told she could not return home to live alone. So she went from a rehab facility to an assisted living residence, a decision Mother vehemently opposed. We did everything we could to make it homelike for her, but nothing made up for the loss of her independence.
It is hard to see Mother like she is now. She says she doesn’t have any pain, but she is frail and 23 pounds lighter since the hip surgery in January. The hands that turned out delectable breads and pastries now have a slight tremor. The woman who loved working and staying busy now spends her days in bed or a wheelchair. She lost more memory with the surgery, but maybe there is a positive side to that, as she seems more content in the nursing home than in assisted living. The nursing home staff provides her with a lot of kind, personal attention and maybe that fits with the childlike state her mind is often in.
The years have passed so quickly. It seems strange to find myself in the reversal of the parent/child role. I look through old photos and see the march of time. I am particularly drawn to Mother’s pictures in her 20s; the carefree look of youth, the excitement of having her own family. It would be easy to cry for the loss of that beautiful woman, the mother who doctored scraped knees and put into form every dress design I could imagine. But she seems to be pretty much at peace with how things are and that is a tremendous blessing.
I know the story of Mother’s salvation and I know her place is secured in heaven. When the time comes to wave goodbye on this side, many loved ones will be waving hello on that other shore. And the best part of all is this: We know there will be One with arms opened wide to receive His children. Mother will make it safely home to the arms of God. And in view of that, we will have peace with a temporary farewell. Parting will only be for a moment; goodbye will only be “goodbye for now.”
Thank you, Father, for your amazing grace that gives victory over death. Thank you for your Son Jesus that declared that victory. We gratefully bow our knee and confess with gratitude that Jesus Christ is Lord. We shout hallelujah to our risen King!