“Hello, hello!” Mother greets me with a wave of the arm and a wide grin. She monitors the front door from her favorite chair in the family room. “That’s my Patty Ann. That’s my baby.” She introduces me to the other residents of the board-and-care home. She looks puzzled for a moment, striving to remember. “I found her out on the street as a little bitty baby and brought her home and she’s been mine ever since.” Before my daily visit is over, I will not only be a foundling, I will be reintroduced as her sister and again as her friend. Mother has dementia.
Her doctor is there to follow-up on a recent hospitalization. While there, both the hospital’s nurse and the internist recommended hospice care. It would mean, if she became ill again, she would not receive the ordinary care she needed to recover.
When I asked the nurse why, she explained as though I were a bit dense. “She’s 91 years-old with dementia.”
Now Mother is home and I ask her doctor the same question. “She looks good,” he says as we confer in the living room. “I don’t see the need for hospice. She isn’t physically there yet.” He hesitates, then says, “They just see an old woman who’s lost her mind. They don’t see value in her life.”
Value in her life? Many times I ask myself and God, that same question. What is the point of her long life? Why is she still here?
I hear her voice in the family room. She lives in a home with five other ladies, all with memory problems. I hear them laugh and giggle. They are always busy; they talk and sing, do crafts, eat, nap.
I go where they are gathered. They are in full make-up and have put on all their costume jewelry.
“Oh, hello!” Mother waves. “I was beginning to think you’d forgotten me. I haven’t seen you in weeks and weeks.”
I give her a kiss on the cheek. “What’s with being all dressed up? You all look so pretty.”
Mother has a wicked twinkle in her eye. “Well, you know, we are all single ladies here.” She looks pointedly at each resident, who nod in turn. “And you never know when an eligible man will come around.” They all laugh and hoot until tears roll down their cheeks.
I laugh and cry, too.
In that moment I realize how her fragile, confused life really does have value. Yes, she sometimes feels pain and confusion; in return she gives back joy and affection. If she were gone, she would leave a vacuum. It may not be a life by many standards, but it is her life.
I believe in life, and a life well lived, no matter the circumstance, is a life with value.
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