Here but not here

Recently my family had to make the difficult decision to place our Mother who is 93 in an assisted living facility in Spartanburg County South Carolina. This particular facility is sponsored by the South Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. It is very up to date with a caring staff and a very costly monthly fee.

Both as a family and individually we are learning the hard way what it means to be elderly and affected by dementia in America. Mum’s dementia is not Alzheimer’s and the deterioration at least in her case is not as rapid as this well known disease but it is progressive and is easily intensified by infection or vitamin deficiencies. Sometimes as I sit and chat with her I know she is there but she is not at the same time. She has a look in her eyes I have never seen before and it is a far way seemingly at time almost hollow appearing gaze which breaks my heart each time I see it. She knows that she will never go home again and that this facility which is beginning to adapt to is now her home and will remain so until she “passes into Glory”.

Our conversations are mostly one sided with her being the chief contributor. They are what I call “circular conversations” that have no real beginning and no actual end. Her hearing is very poor which only adds to the circular repetition and insures the same limited range of subject matter. Mostly I sit and say yessam or noam which is the old Southern English form of yes mam and no mam. She smiles a great deal and always has. She compliments and thanks the facility personnel and she has become one of their favorites becuase she is sincere in her compliments and her thanks. Mom has always done this so you know much of who she is, is, and has not been taken from her.

My sister came today and took her to church. Yet our mother who taught Sunday School for over 30 years did not remember Holy Communion. Even though she was repeatedly told this was Christmas Communion she could not hold to that fact for more than a second or two. She could not remember her two grand children’s name nor could she recall the great grand children’s name yet she knew their faces.

She talks about her cousin/friend Mattie a person as far as we know never existed in her childhood. She speaks with pride about riding a horse so that she could take her Papa’s heard to the creek to drink but Grandfather never had a heard and only a horse for his buggy. But we never ever argue with her or attempt to correct her memory nor should we.

Sometimes she speaks of going back home a home her and Dad built with money they made working in textile plants that were very difficult places to earn a living. But her and Dad paid for that house and fed and clothed three children after burying the eldest whom she now can barely remember but one she devotedly loved.

Now because the U S values the rich and penalizes the poor she will have to spend every dime she earned and every dime she so wanted to leave her children to pay for her care. If she lives she will have to go in debt the government in order to have her care continue! This should be a national disgrace!!!

She is in the “dementia wing” of the facility where the majority of the “residents” are incapable of communication except in a most severely limited fashion. Yet Mum speaks to them and has imaginary conversations with some of them.

We are having to sale her house and are in the process of keeping items that different ones want to keep and donating her furniture and much of clothing to charitable organizations. Each time I go to her house and see the articles and things and symbols of a lifetime disappearing I almost weep. It feels like all is left is to bury Mother.

All we really have in this life is our souls and part of our souls is our memories. It is particularly cruel when that is taken away but we can have assurance and hope that such robbery is brief and the treasure will be returned. It may be “on the other side” but nonetheless it will be returned.

Pray for all who are sailing the last voyage and pray for those who love them. Pray for yourselves also for none of us know what ship awaits us in the fading tide of our years.


Rev Andrew Gentry


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