Thursday, July 6, 2017

All She Needs is a Smile

My mother was suffering from a cold when I visited her yesterday. She said she had been weak for days and was having difficulty breathing. Despite her illness, she was calm and relaxed. We sat and talked about her mother and some of the people in the home with her.

A man strolled his wife's wheelchair to a nearby table so he could feed her strawberry cream pie. He knows me from earlier interactions. I would bring a chair over for him to sit next to his wife, or I'd offer him desserts when I get up to get one for my mother. He is a former construction manager and he has been active all his life.

His wife's illness has thrown his world upside down. They been married for 60+ years and he said he remained faithful to his vows of "in sickness or in health." She has been in the nursing home for eight years, three years in the memory care unit. He visits often, probably daily.

He told me about the small events he started to notice about her dementia even before she was diagnosed. He was very patient with her, but he realized something was wrong when she could no longer order a meal from a menu. Overnight, he did a 360 in his work schedule so he could tend to her. It gave him time to reflect on how well he was a father to their children. He provided for them, cared for them, but his regret is that he did not spend more time with them.

My regret is that I did not ask him about his name. I also did not tell him I would be gone for the next month. He was so effusive in telling me his story, but when his wife finished the pie, he got up to take her for a stroll. He is carrying quite a burden and his burden is weighing heavy on his shoulders.

A heavy burden falls on his daughters. They realize their mother has dementia, so did her mother, and likewise her mother, and her mother before her. The daughters have great sadness that this is in their future and they are approaching their 60's. Their mother showed evidence in her early 70's. Poor, dear souls.

My mother enjoyed some Ensure for her dessert because she wanted something to share with me.

Then we prayed and I read some Scripture to her. I felt like I was doing missionary work. I read a passage about Bartimaeus and she had a number of questions, but then I read the Beatitudes and she said, "I really like that. That makes me feel good."

So we read a few passages and she listened intently. I wondered why we do not read books to our parents the way they did to us when we were children. I'll have to try that when I return. Reading Scripture to her was like reading it to someone for the first time. There was intrigue, curiosity, the centrality of the person of Jesus, and lots of questions and facial expressions.

The other gift to her was just to spend some time in silence. We sometimes think we have to fill up the time, but my mother was not asking for conversation.

My mother was restful though, and after some silence, she was waving to a non-verbal woman who gets shunned by everyone else. The woman has a beautiful smile, but she annoys some people because she wheels her wheelchair back and forth. They say unkind things to her, so my mother makes a point of reaching out to her and bringing a smile to her face.

She asked, "Why are people mean? She is a kind woman and does no harm to anyone. Why do they treat her like that? All she needs is a smile."

Then a staff member came over to take my mother to the toilet, and my mother asked her, "She is a nice person, and people treat her badly. Can you make sure she is treated nicely?" She replied, "That is why we put her near you. You accept her and you make her smile. You are a nice lady."

(I leave for Creighton University on Saturday and I will not see my mother for a month's time. I'll check in periodically, but I will miss her and the fine people at the center with her.)

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