This I Believe

Matt - Grapevine, Texas
Entered on February 15, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50


“Pull over God, I want to drive,” I said.

God just turned and looked at me with one of those looks only He can give and said, “You can’t reach the pedals.”

“I don’t care,” I said. “I wanna drive. After all, it is my life.”

God rolled his eyes. “Ok, ok, give it a try,” he said.

I sat in the driver’s seat for a while trying to stretch my legs as far as they could go, but of course I knew he was right. I couldn’t reach the pedals. I couldn’t even see over the dashboard.

It seems like I have been repeating this same scenario my whole life: trying to control things that are out of my reach and fooling myself into thinking that I can see the road ahead.

I guess since it appears that I can influence some things—small things, I should be able to affect the outcome of at least some of the major events in life. Why not? I want the pencil moved; I move it. I want the channel changed; I click it. It was up to me whether I finished college, went to the job interview, or got married. “Look at me God, I’m driving!” I shouted.

We put my mom in a nursing home on a Friday. She had gone from forgetting meaningless conversations to forgetting who my dad was and where she lived. Over the several years I watched her degenerate mentally and physically I told myself that I was prepared for the inevitable. Once Alzheimer’s was the diagnosis, I knew how it would end. No one makes any miraculous recoveries from Alzheimer’s. We had plenty of time to say “I love you” and did so often. Since I already knew the outcome, I would be strong I told myself. Eventually, I scouted out the nursing home, completed all the paperwork, and helped get her settled in the room in which she would eventually die. After almost every visit, I pestered the nurses for copies of reports showing what her meds were. I made recommendations and demands, trying to maintain some illusion of control.

More memory loss was followed by a broken hip, a fall out of a wheelchair, increased medication, a loss of appetite, and eventually an inability to swallow. She transformed from an alert but confused person who looked much younger than her age to a bedridden shell of a woman, her face frozen in a pained expression with eyes closed and mouth agape trying to breathe air into a shockingly thin body that was shutting down. She looked 150 years old. Hospice nurses who specialize in making the dying as comfortable as possible began visiting every day. I damn sure wasn’t driving now.

“God, are you watching where you’re going?” I asked. “I can see why people fight wars, and to a lesser extent why volcanoes and other stuff like that have to run their course sometimes killing people in the way, but this is my mom! Any chance we could…uh…work something out?”

He gave me another one of those looks.

“Yeah, I know,” I said, “God doesn’t make deals.”

As I sat beside her, I would take her clinched fists in my hands and try to ease them open. I knew she wasn’t going to use those hands ever again, but I didn’t like seeing those contractures. Each time I left the nursing home, it took me a long time to get the smell of the place out of my nostrils.

My mom died on a Thursday. A day or two before that, my sister had confided in me that she felt more lost than she ever had in her entire life. I didn’t have any wisdom to offer, but I thought about it and remembered the times I have felt completely lost and without direction. I think we feel lost because we assume that we should know where we are going and when we are going to get there. But life just isn’t like that.

Part of me wanted to criticize God’s reckless driving for getting us here to this point, but I knew it was hard to offer meaningful critique when I couldn’t see and didn’t know where we were going. I don’t know why she had to die like that, but I do think that people who are that precious to us are not put on this earth so that we will feel despair at their passing, but so that we will learn how to love.

“All right,” I said. “You’re the only one in this vehicle who knows where we’re supposed to be going. Take me where you want me to go, and I’ll do my best to be a good passenger and have a nice time along the way.”

I realize that we can’t alter the fact that people we love have to die. All we can do is to love them while they are here and decide how we say goodbye to them.

My mom was buried on a Saturday. It was a simple funeral, the kind she would have wanted.