“I cried myself to sleep last night.”
My wife sent me that text one morning. This is an alarming text to get from your wife. Immediately, I started wondering what I had done wrong. When she finally explained, she told me that she was missing the “I didn’t want anything” calls.
For years, my wife’s mom had the habit of randomly checking in with us. Just like tens of millions of other moms living far away from their kids and their grandkids. Knowing that there was rarely any purpose for her calls, I confess that many times we would see her name flash on the caller ID and we’d respond with an exaggerated eye roll. Life is busy. schedules are hectic. Do we really have time for this call right now? Sometimes life wasn’t hectic at all. Sometimes we were just wasting time watching tv, and the calls felt like work intruding on our down time.
It became a bit of a running joke in our house. Tara’s mom always seemed to begin her phone conversations with “I didn’t want anything.” Really she did though. She wanted to hear from us. She wanted a connection even if she really didn’t have anything to say.
About two years ago, her mom had a stroke and never fully recovered. Her memory got worse and worse. She lost her ability to take care of herself, and Tara’s dad, despite his best efforts, couldn’t provide her the care she needed. Mere days before COVID hit, we had to put Tara’s mom in a nursing home. Over the agonizing months of isolation, we slowly lost more and more of her, or, she lost more and more of us. The staff at the home took wonderful care of her, and her physical health initially rebounded. But the “I didn’t want anything” calls became just a memory. For a while, before she went into the nursing home, we were able to reminisce about more distant memories even as her short term memory was fading, but her struggles would leave her exasperated, confused, and often angry. It eventually became a good day when she could remember Tara’s name, and her grandchildren became unrecognizable to her.
Ailments of the memory are unbelievably cruel. Physically you remain you, but it is impossible to not think that what is essentially you has been lost. Dementia makes us strangers in each other’s eyes. Without permission. And without the ability to arrest the inevitable decline.
Donna lost her fight and finished her race on Sunday night. The other day Tara was trying to remember the last cogent conversation she had with her mom. It broke her heart that she couldn’t remember. Did I mention that ailments of the memory are unbelievably cruel? We will now say goodbye to Donna, but the reality is that we have been saying goodbye for some time. I wish I had something uplifting or sentimental to share. Some things resist easy sentiment. We hope in Jesus and we rest in his promises. I was reflecting on Psalm 115:12 this afternoon which says simply that “the Lord has remembered us; he will bless us.” I am thankful for a God who continues to know and remember us even when we have lost the ability to even know ourselves, but nevertheless, it’s hard on us mere mortals.
I don’t know if I really wanted anything with this post. I’m not sure of the point other than the therapy of writing. It is good, I think, for us to have moments of not really wanting anything. Our lives are full of wants pressing urgently upon our time. Sometimes this urgency is real. Often it’s imagined. It is a precious good, these moments of not really wanting anything other than the need for closeness and time spent with each other. Choose to honor those sacred moments of not really wanting anything.