It's been awhile since I've updated anyone on my mom. She remains basically in the same condition. There was some hope that she would regain some memory as she continued to recover after her stroke. Unfortunately, there has been little change. As I like to say: crazy as a bat, happy as a clam!
I mean no disrespect. In all that has happened, the saving grace is that she is usually quite content and happy with her present circumstance. Sure, Bill Clinton still visits a lot . . . and may be my new daddy . . . but she's usually smiling and has a rich life she has filled in where her memory fails her.
With as busy as the year has been, I have been rolling with it. It is what it is. I cannot change what has happened, so there really is no good that comes from dwelling on what isn't. Except that what isn't here anymore hits you in the face every time we see what is. It is new mom versus the memory of old mom. Those memories are still hard, especially when I still have sell her house and go through all the things she has collected over the decades of her life.
Life isn't business as usual. You can't simply sweep someone under the rug. There is a process to the grief that comes from losing someone even while they are still living. She is still my mom, but she is not the mom I have known and loved for forty years of my life. In order to truly give honor to the woman she has become, it is necessary for me to grieve who she was. Mom, my mom, is gone. The one who sewed my clothes, who fed the masses, who waited up for me during my college years and talked into the wee hours of the morning - that mom no longer exists. I cannot say for certain if those memories still remain with "new mom." Threads of her certainly do. She still has a feisty spirit - some things just do not change!
As I avoid cleaning out her house, sifting through the memories of days long past, I find that grieving her as I knew her is inevitable. It is not only unavoidable, but it is necessary. I miss the mom who would stay up late with me when I came home from college. I miss the mom who would gladly go hunting for a good bargain. I miss the mom who could whip up some comfort food when I was sick or just a little blue.
In some ways, her widow's grief stole her from me years ago. Now that loss just seems more final and irreversible. There was always hope of healing and restoration of her spirit when depression stole her spunk and laughter. The damage from the stroke seems to have left its permanent mark, though. This is the first year she didn't call me on my birthday. Part of her remembered somewhere deep down that it was someone's birthday, but she couldn't remember.
Josiah is the first grandchild she hasn't finished a blanket for, though God in his infinite mercy lit a fire under her tush to begin it early enough that I found it mostly done when she was in the hospital. Yet, when she holds him there is momentary joy, but she will never truly know him as she does the other two. There is a grief that goes with that.
It seems wrong on the surface to say we grieve someone who is very much alive, especially in the Church. It could seem as though we are not upholding the value of her life as she struggles through the path dementia has set out for her. That just isn't the case though. It is entirely possible to love and value someone, while grieving what you knew.
I remember when I was pregnant with Gianna, there were some soft markers for Downs Syndrome found during our 20 week ultrasound. Like a good crazy pregnant woman, I went online. While I learned that those soft markers were actually not markers for Asian women (hello?), I also came across a blog post from a mom of a special needs child. She gave me the freedom to grieve the child I expected. In fact, and this was what was revolutionary to me, she shared that it helped her to love the child she had more to be able to fully grieve and let go of the one she thought she would have.
I recently read Kimberly Williams Paisley's new book, Where the Light Gets In: Losing My Mother Only to Find Her Again. She shares her journey with her mom who is suffering from a rare form of aggressive dementia. In her story, I could relate to that feeling of not knowing my mother anymore, of being reluctant to visit because she just wasn't my mom. In the great words of C.S. Lewis, I found myself saying, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one."
Friends, especially Church friends - the struggles in life can't always be tied up with a nice and neat theological bow. While we know that every life has dignity and is worth living, that dementia doesn't steal someone's importance, or a special needs diagnosis doesn't invalidate someone's worth, as those who love and live these stories, sometimes we need to cry. We need to grieve what we knew, what we expected, what we longed for to make room for the beauty God is creating in the suffering He leads us through.
Sometimes, it just sucks, even if it will be okay in the end. Sometimes we just need someone to cry out to God with us - to scream our WHY? - without it meaning that we have lost sight of His goodness. Sometimes we need you to remind us of His goodness when the darkness threatens to overpower us. We know it cannot, but sometimes the emotion of the moment can choke out the memory of the promise of God's eternal goodness. He is always good, but life is not always fair. And sometimes - just sometimes even when you are well beyond your youth and adolescence - you need to throw a temper tantrum and declare that the cards you are dealt stink. It doesn't make God any less good or God, and it doesn't make the one we are grieving, even though they may still be living, any less beautiful or worthy. It simply makes us human and makes greater room for them in our hearts.