Do you remember when I was two months old, I suddenly refused to drink your milk? You had no idea why, but you continued to try to nurse me. I insistently continued to refuse. You gave up, disappointed. But you continued to compassionately care for me. Even though there wasn’t extra money, you found a creative way to get me nutritious milk. It was from that experience you taught me that life is full of disappointments, but also creative ways of overcoming those difficulties.
Do you remember when I was barely able to toddle around the front yard, you gave me my very first memory: Swinging back and forth on a wooden slab of a tree swing, with you in front of me, you pushing me back, and waiting with a kiss on my cheek every swing forward? I learned the value of unconditional love.
Do you remember when I was a little girl, still with my baby curls, you would take a break from all of your housework, and sit and color The Bear Family Coloring Book with me at the dining room table? We would pick out fresh pages in which there was no coloring on either side, so we could each color one half of the spread. I would always give you the prettiest blue from my crayon box, because that was your favorite. I learned the joy of companionship in the little things.
Do you remember when I was a child, we were separated all day from each other by school and work? You would be exhausted from your medical transcriptionist job. But you were never too tired to come to my room and read me a Bible story (if you asked me to choose, I always picked Daniel in the Lions' Den) and say my prayers with me. It was then that I learned the importance of faith in God and consistency in devotions.
Do you remember when I was in grade school and I got parts in a few plays, like Little House on the Prairie, Snow White, and The Wizard of Oz? You committed to make costumes for me and coach me with my lines, over and over again, even when you had them memorized and could have played the part for me! I learned the value of support, encouragement, and hard work.
Do you remember when I was carving my entry for the Pine Car Derby? I came home that terrible night from Lutheran Girl Pioneers. I could hear Dad on the phone in the background. You were taxed with the horrific task of explaining the tragic death of Aunt Rose and cousins Theresa, Tina, and Timothy in the car accident. It was then that I learned that it is okay to cry and cling and hurt, all while fully trusting in Jesus.
Do you remember that special promise you made me before I started my first cycle? You promised I could choose something exceptional to plan and look forward to, when the time came. And when it did, you delivered the anticipated helicopter ride at the county fair. I learned the value of life changes, for better and for worse.
I’ll never forget the night you lost your temper and scared me terribly because of your depression. Nor will I ever forget how you handled it afterward, sitting on my bed with me as I completed my science fair project, apologizing profusely and telling me how sorry you were. It was then that I learned the value of admitting my own fears and mistakes and humbly asking for forgiveness.
Do you remember the day before I started freshmen year? You drove away crying from the boarding high school campus, devastated to be leaving me, all because you thought it was the best way for me to have a Christian education. Then, I learned that it can be okay to have a broken heart for a higher purpose.
Do you remember when I was home for summer break from school, and had looked forward for weeks to going to a Rebecca St. James concert with one of my few close friends? When she ditched me a few short hours before the show, you not only canceled your own country music concert with your friends (including losing the money from the cost of the non-refundable ticket) so you could comfort me. You even came up with the idea of attending my own concert with me, and never once complained! We waved our hands and praised "Our God Is an Awesome God" under a starry sky. I learned the value of sacrifice for those you love.
Do you remember the day I was dressed in white from veil to heel (and you were pretty in pink)? You hugged me with tears in your eyes and, lips quivering, said that Ryan was a good man, a blessing from the Lord, and now you would entrust my care to Him. I learned the value of letting go and giving control to God.
Do you remember the day when I became a mother? You were there, a silent observer in a sterile background, when Grace took her first breath (after 43 hours of being shy)! Oh how glad I am that you were there, though I hadn’t expected you and didn’t think I wanted you there! After seeing the astonishment in your eyes from this unique experience (that has not been erased from your memory, as so many things now have) I truly learned the value of all life.
Do you remember when I was healing after the birth? You were invaluable in caring for both mother and child, even though I had previously said that I didn’t think you would be needed afterward. How wrong I was! It was then that I learned that my perceptions are often wrong, and so much good can come out of an unexpected situation.
Do you remember when we shared a pew and an embrace and a tissue box and sang “I’m But a Stranger Here” and “In the Garden” at the funerals of both your mother and father, within days of one another? As I held your orphaned hand, with the same lines and pattern that I had memorized long ago, I noticed that it had suddenly become like the hand of my own grandmother that I had once held and memorized decades earlier, a hand I could no longer hold.
Now, my own age is older than the age you were during most of my childhood memories. I myself have become a mother and am teaching my children these same generational lessons, lessons that are taught with much more than words, without even knowing I am teaching them. Just like you taught me, whether or not you remember. And now, you, my own mother, have truly showed me your humble vulnerability and need. You have asked me to be your mother. It is one of the most profound paradoxes known to mankind. But it isn’t some abstract philosophical paradox. It is mine.
Your dementia has left you a widow and orphan in many ways. But the Lord sets the lonely in families. Now, you will be part of my family again as we welcome you to our home, with my husband, and children, and me. I am scared of this unknown. What will it be like to be a mother to you? What does motherhood even mean?
And then, I remember.
I remember what you yourself taught me through your example: Motherhood is compassion, and disappointment, and creatively overcoming difficulties. Motherhood is unconditional love and the joy of companionship in the little things. Motherhood should be demonstrating faith in God and consistency in devotions. Motherhood is support, encouragement, and hard work. It is okay to cry and cling and hurt, all while fully trusting in Jesus. Motherhood is valuing life changes, for better and for worse. Motherhood is admitting my own fears and mistakes and humbly asking for forgiveness. It can be okay to have a broken heart for a higher purpose. Motherhood is sacrifice and letting go and giving control to God. Motherhood is valuing all life. Motherhood is learning that my perceptions are often wrong, and so much good can come out of an unexpected situation.
You often forget, and perhaps you will forget more and more. But now, it is my turn to do for you as you have so graciously done for me, with the help of our awesome God. Now, I will creatively feed you nutritious food, and I will kiss your cheek (and perhaps it will be your last memory). I will sit with you to color, in the same Bear Family coloring book that I have saved all these years, and hand you the prettiest blue from my own babies' crayon box because it gives you joy from companionship. I will read God’s Word with you and pray and sing hymns (and will remind you of your confirmation verse “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life)”. I will give you support and encouragement as you do your hard work of remembering. Together, we will cry and cling and hurt over your memory loss, all while fully trusting in Jesus. We will go through this life change together, for better and for worse. I’ll probably lose my temper, and will need to humbly ask for your forgiveness. It’s okay for us both to have a broken heart over your disability. Now, I will ditch my own plans—to sacrifice for you. I will let go, and give my life to God to care for you, because this is so obviously what He wants for our family. I can be all of this to you because God's strength is made perfect in weakness. In His wisdom, He has purposed from all eternity that He would give me you for my mother to teach me to be a mother, so I could be a mother for you.
During these hard, but happy years, I will often hold your hand that I had memorized long ago. Everyday, it will become a little bit more like the hand of your own mother. Someday, I will let go of your hand, and your care, and I will give you back to God in eternity. And my heart will be broken. And my children will hold my orphaned hand, which looks more like their grandmother’s every day, and together we will cry and cling and hurt, all while fully trusting in Jesus. But that time is not yet. And I can go on, both now and then, because of the promise that Jesus is preparing a place for us, all of us. Someday, my own hand will join yours and Grandma’s in Heaven in the holed-hands of of our all-knowing, all-loving Savior, who will whisper to us both, "Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your Master's happiness!" And finally, there will be no more tears, and no more forgetting.
Marie's mother lived with her family from April through June of 2012, April through June of 2014, and September through November of 2016. She now resides in her Heavenly home with her Savior.