“I want you to kill me if I ever lose my mind,” my mother once said to me. “I want to die if I ever have to go into a nursing home.”
Often, when I visited my mother in the dementia care unit of the nursing home, during the years when she was moving through the stages of Alzheimer’s, those words haunted me. At the time she had spoken them, one of her dear friends was gripped with forgetfulness and odd behaviors. My mother never wanted to act in such an embarrassing and child like way: she never wanted to be out of control. She believed she would rather be dead.
As her mind began deserting her, my mother gradually moved to a deeper, more open and intuitive corner of life. I saw the light in my mother’s eyes when my father walked into her room in the nursing home, this man of her heart for so many years. She remembered that center of her heart. I saw a smile open her face when I approached her. Even though she had forgotten my name, she knew I was a nice person, someone she loved. She remembered to love. I heard her laughter when I stared right at her, screwed up my mouth and made funny faces. She remembered to laugh.
Though I could not discuss my children or my work with my mother, I could gaze into her eyes. My mother would look back at me, her face pure and transparent.
Though we could not reminisce about our lives together, I could sit beside her, my hand on her arm, my shoulder nestled next to hers, closer than I had ever sat when she was “in control” of her life, our connection deep and satisfying in its silence.
Though she could not remember how to rise up out of a car, I could kneel beside her on the hot asphalt of the parking lot, swinging her hands in a silly carefree way that made her laugh. My mother, the woman who had officially “lost her mind” looked right at me and said, “It’s wonderful. Isn’t it wonderful?” She showed me the wonder that went beyond the rational mind, the wonder that is the essence of profound spirituality.
This I believe: we don’t know what we will come to define as wonderful. We don’t know what the flood will sweep away and what treasures will emerge. And if we are able to look beyond what is lost, we can take these treasures into our souls and hearts. This I believe: the gifts are right there, if only we can recognize them.
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