It has been a busy fall semester, and it isn’t even half over. My calendar is full of things like Homecoming and Family Weekend at the college where I serve. Last weekend I helped lead a wedding and a funeral, one right after the other. There are two more weddings in the next few weeks. There are so many big things on my calendar. There are so many significant events to celebrate and appreciate.
In addition to these notable events, there are many ordinary appointments that also fill my calendar… meetings, standing appointments, regular obligations. They are often not worth mentioning when I recount my day’s activities to a friend. Among my daily tasks: I try to visit mom at the assisted living home where she lives. It takes time, but she lives very near to my home. And it’s a pleasant environment when I stop by. I’ve never walked in and found her sad or upset. She’s a people person and she is still very much enjoying the people around her (other residents and staff.) I know someday, as her cognitive abilities decline, it’s likely that she’s going to be less engaged, more confused, less at peace in the moment. But for now, she’s usually sitting in the living room with other residents looking pleasant and engaged or enjoying the fresh air of the courtyard. When I walk through the door, she jumps to her feet, bounces up and down, and makes the motions of a cheerleader. My walking in the door is a big event to mom each day. (I confess it makes me smile every time, even though it’s as predictable as can be.)
Her enthusiastic greeting is a daily perspective shifter for me. I don’t think that mom can recall the details of most of the major events of her life: high school graduation, marriage, building a home, even the birth of her children. But she celebrates jubilantly at the simple opening of a door and my stepping into the room. It’s nothing. It’s a simple daily occurrence, but to a person with a dementia, an unexpected visit is something big, something to celebrate.
Focusing on living in the present, not longing for the “special events” or “big events” of the past (or the future), is not a new insight. You’ll hear this message preached from the pulpit, published in the self-help section, and sung by the superstars. But no matter how common the wisdom is, I can’t help but notice how much planning and resources and emphasis goes into the “big events” and how easily I think of things like my daily visits to mom as “not so special.” We know better, but we get drawn into the “big events” and fail to focus on the beauty of the ordinary.
I invite you this week to cherish and appreciate a personal interaction that may not seem “special” at all. Pause and give thanks. Notice the details. Appreciate the moment. Wonder about the other person’s story. Perhaps it’s the smile of the clerk at the supermarket tomorrow afternoon. Maybe it’s the hug of a child. It could be as simple as a telephone call from a relative or the generosity of a stranger holding a door open for you. Slow down… pause and notice. I promise that your day will be richer, your connection to creation deeper.
Mom may have dementia. She may not know what state we live in. She may have forgotten her favorite foods. She has trouble buttoning a shirt or jacket. But she’s still my mom… and she’s still teaching me things.
One thought on ““…still teaching me things!””
Thank you for this moving reflection on your visits with your mother and so sensitively affirming the gifts of people with dementia. “But she’s still my mom…and she’s still teaching me things.”