My husband’s Mama, Mary Weaver, passed away the other day. Peacefully in her sleep, not unexpectedly. At 87, her once decisive mind succumbed to dementia’s darkness, and a faulty liver could function no more. Her health and quality of life had been declining for some time now, and it was just a matter of time. This is what happens with old age, and it sucks.
Reflecting on our many visits together at her facility in a small, rural town in Pennsylvania before she died, it’s not so much what we did together I miss so much.
It’s what we didn’t do:
- We didn’t look at our phones.
- We didn’t watch TV. Even if it was on. We didn’t turn it off, as its purpose at this stage of life is sadly that of surrogate companion when family isn’t around. But when we were together, we paid it no mind.
- We didn’t interrupt her. Or ask for clarity around an intermittent phrase hijacked by dementia.
- We didn’t look at the time. Time with her, and each other, was never long enough.
- We didn’t let go of her hand.
- We didn’t stop her from spoiling her dinner with afternoon peppermint patties and cupcakes we occasionally smuggled in. Loving staff looked the other way.
- We didn’t fill natural silence with artificial chatter.
- We didn’t keep her inside – regardless the wheelchair – when a sunny day and nearby horses in the pastoral setting beckoned.
I met Greg’s Mama six years ago, when she was still relatively independent and perfectly capable of blaring the horn in her white Camry at the rude guy that cut her off in traffic. Don’t mess with this 4’11” pistol. When able to pry the keys away, my husband would drive us through Lancaster County as Mama would share a lifetime of knowledge growing up amongst the Amish: “it’s Sunday, Shannon. The couples in the open carriage buggies are courting. Closed buggies mean they are married.” She was known and trusted in this closed community, and rewarded with access to their delicious pot pies that we later enjoyed together in her small apartment.
Moving her into the assisted living facility was a major life adjustment that took some time to adapt to, but she did, winning the hearts of several staff members with her feisty conviction and grateful heart. I witnessed on almost every visit at least one interchange of ‘backatcha’ wit from Mama to anyone who tested her. Topped off with a loving smile of course.
I’m sad she’s gone. And memories of spending time with her keep poking my heart and spewing out tears. But I’m also learning from my time with her how much fuller life can be when we put aside the crap that sabotages honest human connection:
- Pathological distraction.
- Interaction through devices, at the expense of those right in front of you.
- Inflating the value of a bullshit work deadline over spending time with an older family member.
- Fear of being surrounded by physical and mental decline.
Our visits with Mama didn’t always end on a joyful note. Some days she felt tired and resigned, or greeted us with tears and feelings of abandonment. But we always, always, held each other close, prayed together, and felt a palpable sensation of love that carried us through until we met again a week later. I painted her nails. Greg combed her hair. We giggled at memories she shared of Greg as a precocious little boy. I can feel her hands now, and miss her firm grip.
Sweet Mama we love you. And I’m so grateful you left me with a lesson on what not to do in order to live a love-filled life.