One of the most important memories I have from my childhood occurred when I was about ten years old. One day I was climbing a small tree by my house and found a robin’s nest, inhabited by three bright blue eggs but no mother bird anywhere. My childhood curiosity overcame the warnings from my conscience to leave it alone. I wanted to hold the eggs and warm them, keeping them safe and seeing the little birds inside. Putting too much pressure on the eggs as I held them, the fragile shells broke just as my mother happened by and realized what I had done. She disciplined me very harshly but also taught me the importance of letting nature take its course, without interference from me.
Forty years later I realized the importance of that lesson. For almost ten years my mother’s dementia has stolen her memory and made her completely dependent on others for care. Is my mother suffering? I don’t know. I can’t ask her and she can’t tell me. Am I suffering? Absolutely. It has been exquisitely painful to spend years watching her mind be slowly taken away from her. Yet I believe that her sufferings have been bestowed by God for a reason known only to him. I don’t want her to die but what I do want is to be patient and trust in God’s plan for her in spite of my pain.
My mother got married, raised a family and baked a mean apple pie. She hung out the laundry on freezing cold winter mornings so that by lunch time the towels hung like stiff rectangles off the washline. She never read a book, played cards, did a crossword puzzle or knitted anything because she was too busy caring for her family. She hand-fed peanuts to the squirrels in our yard and, for years, walked several miles a day in all weather.
Taking care of five children and her husband was God’s plan for her then – encountering the mystery of memory loss is his plan for her now. Even though I look into her distant eyes and realize she has no idea I am the little girl who broke the robin’s eggs, I still want to be there for her hoping that my presence will reach beyond the fog into her heart of hearts…to remind her this is all for a purpose. More than ever I believe that the lesson she taught me – to never interfere with God’s plan for his creatures – is an echo from her heart to mine.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.