Grief, Love and Remembrance

Oldlamplighter
(My mother passed away Jan. 28 after years of struggling with dementia and diabetes.  She was 96.)

“Goooood morning!  Time to wake up, sleepy head.” 

I always reluctantly headed for Mom’s bedroom to get her up after I had finished my breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, juice and coffee, and had glanced at the headlines In the paper.  I didn’t want to disturb her.  I also procrastinated.  The next hour or so would be physically and mentally draining.

Mom generally slept very soundly.  This was when she seemed most peaceful and content.  Right before I woke her for breakfast, (I’d jokingly call it brunch because it was about 1 pm by that time) I’d have to gently nudge her awake.    She’d slowly stir, opening her eyes to see me give her a big smile and hug.  I always tried to be as cheerful as possible.  I genuinely loved this time of day because Mom seemed to know who I was and she’d give me that totally beautiful smile that made me so happy.  

Sometimes I had to work hard to rouse her for the day ahead which meant taking vitals,  washing her some and changing her adult diapers, giving her insulin after checking her blood sugar, and finally, getting her dressed and into the transport chair for the brief trip to her spot on the sofa in the bright, sunlit den.  

“Come on, Ma, time to wake up.  It’s after 11.  You don’t want to stay in bed all day, do you?” 

“Of course not,” she’d reply emphatically.  Then she would often say, “I love you.”

 “I love you, too.”

I could tell she was feeling good when she’d ask what was for breakfast.

It was invariably the same — baby food packets of oatmeal and fruit, juice and coffee after she’d taken her crushed meds in spoonfuls of apple sauce.  But sometimes I’d joke around and tell her we were having bacon , eggs, pancakes, sausage and grits (my unhealthy but delicious dream breakfast), and she’d say, “Oh Boy!”  She always loved breakfast and told us when we were growing up that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.  I believe it.   It’s the meal I enjoy most today, no matter what I’m having.

By that time the caregiver had arrived to help me and sit with Mom for an afternoon shift.  I could then retreat upstairs to read my Bible and devotionals, ponder life and our ongoing predicaments, and think about what errands I’d have to do and where I might go to take a walk.  The time always flew by so fast, and then  it was time for the caregiver to leave.   If I was out somewhere,  I’d hurry home because there was always at least a couple of hours to sit with Mom until the evening caregiver came.

Basically life passed in a blur of rushing to do things, anxiety and worry about Mom and what the evening would hold, and anticipation of the quiet time late at night and well into the next morning when I savored my only true free time, even if it was 2 am.

Little things constantly remind me of Mom, and I can’t bear to throw them away or pack them in boxes.  These include several of her favorite stuffed animals, devotional booklets, pillows, various figurines, and her favorite wooden back scratcher that I bought at Dollar Tree. Mom’s back itched a lot and there was nothing she enjoyed quite so much as having her back scratched.  I knew how to do it just right and she would sigh and say, “Oh, that feels SO good!”  One time after she’d had a good back rub she said, “I think I’m going to be okay now.” 

Some of her things I knew I’d keep were put in boxes during the first week after Mom passed.   This included the blanket that kept her warm the last nights of her life and which one of our very special caregivers had brought her only a couple of months before.  It had bright flowers on it.  I also boxed up some clothes that we want to keep.  We’ll save some of her jewelry, her wedding ring, and a bottle of her favorite perfume, “Knowing.”  I remember she loved to buy that and other cosmetics at Belk’s Department Store in the Mall, and when she couldn’t go anymore she’d send me to get it.  She made sure I came home with the special gift she got with her purchase.  

Looking at photos I’ve taken of Mom sparks intense feelings of grief and loss when I look at them, but also intense love as she looks out in the photos with her beautiful smile.  And I’m not exaggerating.  Her smile was so genuine, so natural and pure that everyone who saw her noticed and commented.  It was incredible.  The glow from that smile could melt your heart.  

My life has changed so much in the past six weeks that I can hardly grasp it, and won’t for a while yet.  I have ambivalent feelings about the word “grief” or “grieving” to describe how I feel in this transition period.  More than anything I’m relieved that Mom’s long ordeal of suffering for years with diabetes and dementia is over.  She’s at peace and In an infinitely better place.  Her memorial service will be a celebration of her life.   Death is not final.  She is in a heavenly realm that is far from this world’s suffering and pain which comes  full force in the final years for so many of us.  

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll never forget one night about a week before she died.  I was in a chair next to her hospital bed.  I read two Bible verses, not thinking she really comprehended anything, and then asked her what I’d just read.  Astonishingly, she repeated them to me verbatim and in a clear voice.  Dementia stole so much from this beautiful soul, but not an ounce of her deep faith in God.

So yes, I grieve as anyone would after experiencing the loss of a parent.   I cared for her for ten years, enduring with her some of the most painful times imaginable.  But I also am grateful and happy that I had a mother who loved her children so much and taught us the most important lessons in life.  That I will celebrate and be thankful for every day for the rest of my life.

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