I stood in front of the greeting card display a couple weeks ago, locating the various categories of Valentine cards that pertained to me. Husband….sons…..daughter…..friends…..special ones. I paused at the “mother” category, and then skipped over it as I continued my search for just the right card for each person on my list. Sometimes it takes forever to find just the right sentiment, and today was one of those days. I decided on several cards, but there were still some unchecked names on my list. “Well, I would just have to go to another store and see what choices they offered,” I thought as I went on my way.
I later made a new list in my “brain notebook” that sits in my cool ThirtyOne notebook holder. It’s the notepad that’s just like the one Mom used…..the one she called her “brain”……..with all of her lists and her scribbled notes. Just like Mom. Like my mother used to be. And there she was, once again, in my life and in my memories……although she is still living, but not like we all knew her.
My new list consisted of items that I hadn’t been able to find on this day of shopping, and among them were three Valentine cards yet to be chosen. As I looked at those names, I knew that one was missing, and I felt guilty. My mother was not on that list. I had overlooked that section earlier that day, on purpose. Why get a card for my mother? She is now deeply affected by Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know any of us. She doesn’t even know that she has children at all.
Not only that hard fact, but my mother doesn’t know what Valentine’s Day is all about. It wouldn’t affect her one bit to not receive a card, and it wouldn’t affect her one bit TO receive a card. And further, my mother doesn’t even know what a card is or what it is for. It’s all tragic and sad and completely impossible to believe that this is true of my mom.
My mother was beautiful, and she was gifted in so many ways. She was an extremely hard worker, and organized to the max. She even washed her dishes a certain way, and taught her four daughters to do the same. I thought of this fact one night last November when our dishwasher sat broken and useless in its place in our kitchen. I filled the kitchen sink with hot, soapy water and began to place the dishes down in the suds. I smiled as I thought of how Mom taught us to wash the dishes in a certain order and even to put them in a particular place in the sink. Obsessive? Maybe. But it makes sense, the way she taught us, and I thought as I washed my dishes that night…..in my mother’s order……that I bet each of my sisters would load their dirty dishes into their sinks exactly the way that I was placing mine that night.
My mother’s teaching and her influence go far beyond how to load the kitchen sink, certainly, but it’s in those practical ways that I find myself often drawn to her. One of our favorite stories about Mom that make my family laugh is the one about the time that Mom and Dad had all of us over for dinner when we were visiting. Mom had cooked beef in gravy with rice on the side. She set the line up as a buffet, and she watched carefully as either Bethany or Martha….don’t remember which……put their rice on the plate and then put the meat on their plate separately from the rice. Mom pulled herself up to all of her maybe 5’2” frame and announced loudly, “The meat goes ON the rice!” We all wanted to burst out laughing, and we did roll our eyes when she wasn’t watching……but we all loved her for it. That was Mom. “The meat goes ON the rice!” is now one of our favorite sayings.
Now Mom doesn’t even know what rice is…..or meat…..and often doesn’t know what to do with the meat and the rice that might be on her plate. Jan sent us a video last night of a recent visit with Mom. She wasn’t sure that we would want to see it, but we told her yes……please send it and let us see our little mother. It was heart wrenching and sad to see her so completely unaware of anything and anybody. To see her showing fear, shaking and scared. Our mother is gone. The woman who bore us and raised us, and instilled in us so many amazing values that were her own, is now gone. But her body is here, and she is loved by all of us……and excellently cared for by Bob and Jan, and John and Jeanie.
It’s all we can do…..love her and care for her and definitely to pray for her. And for me personally, to buy her that card. Yes, I added her name to my list and I went to the “Mother” section of the Valentine cards. I found just the right card, surprisingly enough…..one that talked about what my mother had done, not what she was doing now. And what she HAS done is plenty! All of her children and grandchildren are reaping the benefits and blessings of all that my mother HAS done in her life well lived.
I really know that I sent her that card, not for her, but for me. I needed to remind myself of all that my wonderful little mother was, and of all that she is still doing in my life today. In that way, I honor her, though she is unaware of that.
Remember now: The drinking glasses are washed first, then the plates and the silverware…..with the silverware in front and the plates behind them….
And the meat goes ON the rice, for crying out loud!