We have started a new tradition at my house! Since my mother came down with a very aggressive, yet un-diagnosed, disease that acts a whole lot like Alzheimer’s on steroids, Mom and Dad have been coming over every night for dinner. It is my way of giving Dad a break to read or take a nap – both of which he usually does in my back porch swing while I spend time with Mom. And this way, I can also make sure they are getting at least one meal a day that doesn’t come from a fast food restaurant.
At first, I would try to have dinner ready when they got here so I could spend all of my energy trying to entertain her. But that took time away from getting my book finished and after a few days, I realized entertaining her was impossible. And when she began to repeatedly apologize for coming over and bothering us, I realized this worry of inconveniencing me was causing her a lot of stress. After she had said it 5 times in less than two minutes, I realized I needed to figure something else out.
So next, I decided to wait until my parents got here to start cooking. That way, she could sit at the kitchen bar and watch me cook. It would give me something to do while dad rested. I could put in a full day on the book, maybe generate some conversation with mom about the cooking, and still get dinner ready. But that worked no better and she apologized and worried over burdening me just as much.
Then I discovered that she wanted to help me. For the last week or so, when they get here, I take her shopping for whatever groceries we need for dinner. When we get home, I put her to work in the kitchen. I have to show her how to use the vegetable peeler almost every day. She can’t remember where the silverware is stored or the plates. But she really wants to work. And once she gets started, her mind seems to rest and all sorts of memories come back to her.
She doesn’t always recognize my dad any more. And for weeks now, she hasn’t recognized her own home. But after we got dinner ready yesterday, she went over to dad obviously knowing who he was and hugged him saying, “I love you.” He kissed her on the forehead and it was all any of us could do to keep from weeping.
I now realize that despite her disease, she needs purpose – not entertainment. She needs to serve others. Isn’t that just what followers of Christ are meant to do? Since I put her to work, she has stopped constantly apologizing. We all make such a big deal over how much she helps me and how easy she makes cleaning up. She is contributing again. And it really makes her happy.
When we sit down at dinner, she tells us about her life. She likes the memories of her father teaching Sunday School the best. We hear about that a lot. He taught the teenagers and they came home for dinner with him every Sunday after church. Her mother couldn’t go to church on Sunday mornings, because she had to get lunch ready for all those teenagers, but she could go to church on Sunday nights. My mom had a horse she rode to Lake Junaluska every day after school. She learned to drive by taking her father’s jeep across a creek to an island where she could practice. And she misses her mom – a lot.
April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.