Susan from Illinois

I Choose Joy
By Susan

Not knowing her future forces us to live and find Joy in the present.

Mother will be 93 in January. Her majestic face is strengthened by high, chiseled cheekbones and deeply set eyes that bestow upon her an enviable, timeless beauty. My mom, my role model, my spiritual guide, is losing her memory and the ability to process some kinds of information. It’s the “A” word. Watching her memory decline while helping her maintain her dignity and as much independence as possible has been difficult. I have transitioned through several phases including disbelief and denial, but I recently I have decided to support my mother in a joyous way. So many of my friends have lost their mothers, I am grateful. Mother’s memory loss is forcing me, the family project manager and perpetual list maker, who often lives in and for the future, to cherish the precious moments we share in the present.

As if losing her memory were not enough, mom is experiencing cataracts that have claimed much of her eyesight. For several months now she sees mostly light, shadows and shapes. Her life has shrunk as the former hospice volunteer requires assistance to navigate the world outside of her home. Now her life revolves around doctor’s appointments, televised church services, hanging out once a week with their bowling group and running errands that I could either automate or do for them.

Independence is as necessary as oxygen to my mother, and yet she has accepted her health challenges with a grace summoned from decades of spiritual discipline. Hard core positive thinker that she is, when asked how she feels, she confidently affirms “I am excellent!” In other words, “The Devil IS a Liar!”

I enjoy my role as her driver because in the privacy of my car we have the best conversations! She is still sharp witted and a front seat copilot. In one moment she hisses at the traffic
offenders and in the next she gives me the most insightful advice. Of course, she does not recall our conversation, but I do and that’s what’s important!

Sometimes after we have spent much of the day together, mom telephones me in the evening. The call always starts with, “I hadn’t heard from you in a few days and I just wanted to touch bases with you.” Huh?

While the calls initially upset me, they have forced me to face the reality that my fiercely independent mother is losing her memory. And lately, at the end of a long day, the warmth of my mom’s voice feels like a homemade comforter tossed loosely around my shoulders. Her calls bring me joy and remind me that no matter how old I think I am, I’m still one of her little girls. “Thank you for everything. I love you,” is how she ends the calls. For me it’s a blessing and a benediction; making up every bit of impatience I have felt for the task of answering the same questions over and over again with the same positive energy as if I were responding for the first time!

A couple of weeks ago I took mom to a spa for a manicure and pedicure. She took me close to the edge, fussing about still being able to cut and polish her own toenails! Seriously mother, you don’t see well enough to use sharp instruments! I was finally able to get her situated in the spa after promising that if she hated it, once they soaked her feet and clipped her toenails we’d leave. However, ten minutes into the foot soaking, hot towels and foot massaging she broke into a broad smile exclaiming, “My feet are sooo happy!” As we sat together reveling in our pedicures she graciously conceded that Miss Micki was doing a really good job. Joy!

My sister Yvonne lives in St. Louis and we spend hours strategizing about ways to help mom and her equally independent husband remain in their own home. Sometimes the sheer effort required in these conversations is overwhelming, yet we approach each day with love and a prayer for the grace to deal from our hearts and to find Joy in every opportunity to enhance mom’s life.

Each time I leave mom as she closes the door behind me she chants…the light of God surrounds you; the love of God enfolds you; the power of God protects you; the presence of God watches over you; wherever you are, God is!

How can that not bring me Joy?

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