Monday, February 18, 2008
A THOUSAND GOODBYES
Sometimes when I visit her I get a glimpse of yesterday in her eyes. There's that spark of recognition, tiny and short-lived. She tries to talk, but all that comes out is gibberish -- like, "I wonder wh--we--ah--caaaan--my--yes!"
I nod my head and say, "Yes, that's right. And Kendra's baby is due in late June. I'm going to be a grandma again. Can you believe it? Me--a grandma?"
She nods and smiles. "Yes!"
"Krissi's due any day, you know! Won't that be something? Can you believe how many great grandchildren you will have when this is all done? I mean, well, it's -- really something to think about, isn't it."
She stares at me as if I'm the one missing a few cells upstairs.
"It's a sunny day today, see?" I point at the window where the last rays of a rare February sun are coming to rest on the windowpane beside her bed, but her eyes don't follow my finger. Instead, she looks across the room at nothing - NOTHING. What does she see? And what is happening inside that head of white hair, that hair so thin, short, and styled in the most practical way, yet nothing like she would have worn it if SHE'D styled it herself.
Oh, dear Jesus, I'd give anything to watch her comb her hair again.
For no reason that I know of, a sob rolls out of her, but when I look close I don't see tears, just fear and confusion. She gives me the forlornest look. Lord, what can I do for her? I kneel at her bed and sing, "Amazing Grace...how sweet the sound." And then I whisper, "Jesus loves you, did you know that?" She listens, staring, wordless, of course.
I take her hand and rub it gently. We sit like that for several minutes. She closes her eyes, drifting off again. I stare at the wall beside her bed, then at the dresser piled with books she used to read, greeting cards from well-wishers, her beloved, cherished Bible, a stuffed animal dressed in clothes that used to make her smile.
I look out the window where the snow falls, pure and weightless.
In the other room, four or five residents lie in their recliners with the TV tuned to the cooking channel. The show host is explaining how to make the world's best spaghetti. I picture some of the residents, all ladies, staring blankly at the screen, afghans tugged snugly up to their chins, and others sleeping, mouths wide open to the elements. In the summer, one might worry about catching a fly or two, but not in February. Tillie, the resident bassett hound, stretches out in the middle of the room sleeping her life away. If you take Tillie's age and multiply it by seven, well, Tillie is the oldest resident.
I look at her again, her facial skin wrinkled, yet still smooth and clear. Her fingers are cool in my hand, thin, bony fingers, fingers that once spanned an octave with ease as they tripped across the ivory keys and played the finest melodies. Not just the printed notes, mind you, but with all the improvising in between.
Lord, I'd give anything to hear her play again.
She moans a bit and squirms under the beautiful white, furry throw I gave her for Christmas. But her eyes remain closed. She doesn't know I'm kneeling at her bedside, doesn't remember that I just sang Amazing Grace to her, or that I told her Jesus loves her. Sometimes I fear she's forgotten who Jesus even is, although I have no fears that He's forgotten her.
I bend over and place a kiss on her forehead. "Bye," I whisper. It must be the thousandth goodbye since we learned she has Alzheimer's, and with every goodbye I wonder--is this the last one?
Mom's going to be 95 this May. For 95 years, she's affected lives with her smile, her Godly outlook, her tender, soothing touches, her helpful, joyful, giving spirit. I know one of these days God will stand at the foot of her bed and say, "Come on, my sweet Dorothy, they've had you long enough. Time to come home to Me now," but until then, I will hold her hand and cherish her presence--talk to her unhearing ears--look in her unseeing eyes...
And hope for a thousand more goodbyes.
February 18, 2008