Sitting in the all-too-familiar hospital waiting room I begin to miss my precious mother. The memories of our beautiful life together seem to sweep over me, faster than I can absorb them. I miss everything about her—her sassy, self-confident spirit; her dedicated love and faith; and her intense independence. Sometimes I wonder when I will meet her . . . again.
The waiting room was almost empty; only a few patients were left. I looked across the open area at the chairs spaced the appropriate social distance apart. Everything is so isolated. From the other side of the room an elderly woman gently sashayed across the waiting area toward me. She had a very pleasant smile on her face. Oblivious to the six-feet-apart mandate, she pulled a chair right up to mine.
“This is a real fun place to be, huh?” she said with a mischievous grin.
“Yes, I suppose it is,” I replied, a bit amused at her sarcasm.
The woman looked kind and maybe just a little lonely. Leaning in to kindle our growing friendship, she asked. “Do you live around here?”
“Well, yes. As it happens, I was born in this town and grew up just a few miles from this hospital. Although now I live about an hour away.”
“Oh, maybe I know your parents! This used to be such a small town, and it seemed like everyone knew everyone! Did you go to church here too?” she asked the questions faster than I could answer them, but she seemed so delighted to have someone to talk to, and I was enjoying the impromptu interview.
“Yes,” I said with a grin. “My family and I were members of the Seventh-day Adventist church on Center Street. We went there every Sabbath. My dad was an elder, and my mom taught my Sabbath School class.”
“You’re an Adventist? Well, isn’t it a small world! I’m an Adventist too! It’s been a while since I’ve been able to go to church, and I really miss it. I think I miss the mission stories most. I wonder what it would be like to be brave enough to be a missionary?” she asked, as her eyes drifted into a dreamlike curiosity.
“We went on a mission trip a few years ago—my husband and I, our three kids, my niece . . .” I paused a moment, then continued. “And their grandmother too. It was such an amazing blessing. And although it was sometimes a bit scary, it was mostly wonderful! We met the most beautiful people there, and we saw elephants, crocodiles, and giraffes. We even all held hands and tried to group-hug a baobab tree. But the most amazing thing was watching my mom stand up in front of so many eager young hearts to tell them the story of Jesus. My mother has always had a connection with children, and she led an amazing children’s ministry there.” I could hardly hold in my enthusiasm as I shared this wonderful memory.
Now feeling a lump in my throat and not wanting to make an emotional scene, I decided to force myself to try to talk less and listen more. We sat together quietly for a few moments. Then looking over at a mother with a young daughter sitting a few chairs away, the silvered-hair woman smiled. She watched as the little girl caressed her baby doll and quietly sang it a lullaby.
“That sure is a sweet little girl you have there!” she said, hoping to strike up a conversation with the girl’s mother. But before the mother could respond, the nurse called their name and they hustled through the door.
The woman sighed as she glanced around the room again, her gaze landing back on me. “So, did you say you have children?”
Smiling, I answered. “Yes, a boy and two girls! They are very sweet kids! I had many health problems, and the doctors told me I probably would never be able to have children. I fell into a dark and hopeless depression. But my mother earnestly prayed over my pregnancies, and God blessed me with three of the loveliest babies! My mother had faith and courage for me when I didn’t have it for myself. She’s the bravest woman I know.” My voice cracked again as I became overwhelmed with the memory of the conviction of those prayers.
Completely unaware of my emotional distress, the woman noticed that the little girl had left her doll behind in the chair. She shuffled over to pick it up. Pulling it up close to her and holding it tenderly, she gently brushed its yarn hair with her fingers, all the while whispering words of reassurance to it.
“There, there, sh-sh-sh. Your momma will be right back.”
I watched as she spoke to the doll—like she herself was a little girl again. It was sweet, and I imagined what she would have looked like as a child.
“This is a special baby doll; it’s handmade!” she said, as her finger traced the skillful details. “I wonder what talented person made this. She’s such a pretty baby!”
“Handmade dolls are special; so much work goes into them. I remember helping my mom make dolls when I was younger,” I said. “She must have made hundreds of them over the years. She hand stitched each one, painted their faces, and even sewed their dresses too. She sold them to pay our church school tuition. It was so much work, but my mother has always been very dedicated!”
“She sounds like she must be a very nice person!” the woman said, only half paying attention because she was so enraptured with the doll.
“She’s the nicest person I know!”
Turning her head a bit to one side and looking at me through squinted eyes, she asked, “Now, what did you say your name is?”
“My name is Michele.”
“You know what? I think I may have had a “Michele” one time?” Her eyes went dark with confusion as she tried to find a misplaced memory.
“Yes, Mom, you did,” I said, trying to get her to look full in my face. I leaned forward and looked up into her beautiful eyes, “I’m your Michele. I’m your daughter. You are my momma.”
Tears were streaming down my face as I tried to screw on a smile.
“You are my daughter?” she asked in utter confusion and disbelief. Then suddenly beautiful joy burst onto her face. “You are my daughter!”
“Yes, Mamma; I’m yours!” I whisper, as uncontrollable tears now flow down both our faces.
“Well, isn’t that something! It’s like we just met! Now sit right here and tell me all about yourself.”
Dementia and Love
Dementia is a terrible thief. Going through this journey with my mother hasn’t been easy, but there’s some beauty in the pain. Every day we get to meet each other again. Our memories are no longer ancient history but surprisingly fresh and revitalized as I help her fill in the gaps of our wonderful life together. We help each other recall the details of the truly blessed life we’ve shared.
There’s no rhyme or reason as to what she does or doesn’t remember, and her abilities change from day to day. The thing that’s always constant, though, is her love. It’s never diminished because her love isn’t labeled or named or numbered or dated. No, her love for her family will never go away; it cannot be forgotten. It’s poured into our hearts every time we remember these moments together.