This past Saturday, I decided to make some Christmas cookies. I knew right away the ones that I wanted to make as I pulled out my recipes. There it was……Mary’s Sugar Cookies……….a family favorite for many, many years. I was trying to remember where the recipe had come from. I knew that Mom had gotten it from a friend when we kids were little. I still use the original recipe that I copied from her file before Gary and I got married. But there is no record about where Mom got the recipe. Was it from Rose Stepp, who used to give Mom and us four girls perms at her house? Or was it from Mary Underwood, another good family friend of Mom’s when we were growing up?
As I was getting everything ready to make the cookies, a thought crossed my mind. A very natural thought…….one that I have thought hundreds and hundreds of times over the years. “I’ll just ask Mom where she got the recipe,” I thought. But just as quickly as that thought occurred, I had a second thought……..a very sad realization. I can’t ask Mom where the recipe came from because she won’t remember. And if she did give me a name I would honestly not know if she was correct.
It seems like a small thing – the fact that she most likely wouldn’t even remember Mary’s Sugar Cookies, much less where they came from. But this inability to solve my cookie question is only the tip of the iceberg for Mom. Her Alzheimer’s has taken such a toll on her memory now that it’s really shocking to talk to John and Jan about how she’s doing. It’s also very telling to talk to Mom on the phone, and to realize that she doesn’t know who I am…….and even when I say that I’m Patty as we first start talking, I know right away that she probably doesn’t even know that Patty is her daughter.
It’s been totally surprising, too, to hear about how she doesn’t know John. He and I talked yesterday, and the things he told me were so sad. We thought that she would remember John for a lot longer. He’s her only son, and he’s also her pastor. But she is always surprised that the man in the pulpit is her son, and she talks about how she had no idea that John the pastor is John her son.
Perhaps most stunning of all, though, is that she doesn’t seem to recognize Dad as she looks at pictures of him. Mom will point to pictures of her and Dad, and then refer to him as her father. She did recently, with John, point to her wedding picture and refer to Dad as her husband……but not as Jack. She rarely if ever talks about him anymore. We just shake our heads in disbelief. I’ve never known another couple as devoted to each other as Mom and Dad were. They were inseparable during their retirement years. But now this awful Alzheimer’s has taken him out of her mind, it seems.
Maybe, though, in some ways that lack of memory is a blessing for Mom. Tomorrow marks five years since Dad went to heaven. I was with them the month before he died. I saw Mom’s total commitment to him as he declined. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to make his days more tolerable. At night he would lie in his hospital bed and she would be lying in their bed beside him with her hand through the rails, holding his feeble hand as they fell asleep. She cleaned him and nursed him as best she could and made sure he was warm and comfortable and happy. She was getting very confused at that point, and Dad knew it. He was so worried about her, but we assured him that she would be fine. I think he needed to know that before he was ready to leave.
Nearly every night during that month, Mom and I would ask Dad what he wanted to eat for supper. She and I cooked a main meal for lunch, so supper was lighter. And nearly every night he would think for a few seconds, then smile his incredible sweet smile, and softly and slowly tell us that he wanted scrambled eggs. But he wanted Mom’s scrambled eggs, made by her hands. I have the plastic cooking fork that she used for those eggs. The thoughts of those nights, watching Dad slowly and contentedly eat Mom’s scrambled eggs, washed over me the other day when I scrambled some eggs…….and knew they were not nearly as good as Mom’s. Or as Mom’s used to be, for I doubt that now she could scramble an egg at all.
It’s truly a blessing that Dad isn’t here to see her like this. We kids don’t know if he could have survived the sadness. He was so dependent on her, and so we see God’s mercy in taking him on first. Just like we can also see God’s mercy in the fact that Mom isn’t grieving his death or missing him daily like she used to do.
But we’ll remember him for her, especially tomorrow. And we’ll remember their love for each other, for each of us kids, and for the Lord. We have so much for which to be thankful that even through some tears we can smile and even laugh at the memories. Christmas was their favorite time of year, so now in some ways it’s bittersweet. Yet Dad is so very happy in heaven, and Mom will one day join him there.
We have hope through it all. Hope! That’s a wonderful word that carries wonderful promise. Dad’s death wasn’t the end and Mom’s Alzheimer’s is not the end. We have eternity to anticipate, where nothing will ever be forgotten again.
I can find out where that cookie recipe came from, too.