Yesterday I took a nap.
I woke to my outraged son, wanting to know why I hadn’t answered my phone.
It seems that while I was sleeping, my 89-year-old Mama took off. She wandered the neighborhood until a wonderful neighbor took her in. The only thing Mama could get straight enough to tell her was my phone number.
But I was asleep. The phone was on the bed beside me. Just in case. I vaguely remember dreaming about the phone ringing. But it didn’t wake me. All my life, I’ve slept deep. I guess yesterday, I was sleeping really deep.
Somehow — I’m not sure how — the neighbor managed to contact one of my sons at work. He left his job and — in his own words — drove like the proverbial bat to get to Amah.
Amah, meanwhile, was fine. She was having a chirpy little old lady good time, visiting with the neighbors.
It turns out that Mama has been traveling the neighborhood at night. She’s been getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning and going to neighbor’s houses and getting them up to chat. They bring her home and we don’t know anything about it.
This is my nightmare scenario so far as Mama is concerned. If she starts wandering — and it appears she’s well into her wandering phase — I don’t know how to take care of her.
We’re reconfiguring things as I write. She’s getting a gps necklace. And we’re putting alarms on all the doors alert the police and should even get me awake and moving. We’re also reconfiguring the front door and garage doors so she can’t get out at night. She can go into the back yard all she wants. But not out the front.
I’m also going to sell some property to get the money to hire people to babysit with her when I have to be gone in the evenings. She goes to adult day care — a heaven-sent program that saves lives and money by allowing families to keep their elderly and disabled family members at home and still hold down jobs — during the day. A family member is with her most of the rest of the time.
But, we need someone to babysit once in a while, too. It’s the easiest baby sitting in the world; just dial up the sports channel, get Mama a diet Coke and make sure she doesn’t wander out the front door.
I can’t tell you how much I love Mama. We all do. The whole family is 100% involved in taking care of her. I am not some martyr for Mama who is doing all this alone. My sons do an enormous amount of the Amah care, and they do it cheerfully, lovingly and without complaint. My husband gets into it too.
Mama is a family project of love.
I hope that God gives us many more years with her. I’ve prayed at times when she was sick, asking for more time. But that is in His hands. My main prayer, which I pray fervently and often, is that Mama will be happy and not suffer. I trust her life to God. I know where she’s going when it’s time.
About a week ago, while we were out on Mama’s daily drive and ice cream run, she told me that she loved her “job” (adult day care) and that she enjoyed our drives so much. She took a few laps on her ice cream cone, then smiled. “I’m very happy,” she said.
That’s everything I ever wanted.
My mother always was one to sweat the little things.
Maybe that’s why I’m so blithe and indifferent to details. Mama always took care of them for me.
The difference — and it is rather stark — between her crossing of every t and dotting of every i before dementia and her going over and over and over and over the same thing 20 times in 20 minutes after dementia is my sanity.
It’s especially tiring when I’m tired to begin with. And it’s especially overwhelming when I’m tired to begin with and she piles on by going in a circle from one little thing to the next and back again.
So it was yesterday. I had a pause and could take her to lunch. I picked her up at her day care, and we were off. We have a thing we do with lunches and such. I give her money. She puts it in her purse, and then, when we get to the restaurant, she proudly (and with no memory that I gave her the money in the first place) buys my lunch for me. Mama loves to treat me by taking me out to lunch. She gets a big kick out the whole thing, and frankly, so do I.
The trouble was that yesterday she kept going into worry wart mode because she couldn’t find the $40 I’d given her. Every few minutes, she would open her purse and begin searching for it. She had folded the bills into a lump the size of a postage stamp and tucked it behind the photos in her billfold (she’s big on hiding things) and that meant they weren’t in the folding money slot when she looked for them.
She would become upset, and I would pull the car over, take her billfold and show her where she’d hidden her money. She would nod sagely and say “Ohhhh, that’s where it is.” Five minutes later, she’d start looking again. I don’t remember how many times I pulled the car over and showed her that money.
We had a fun lunch, talking about how good broccoli and cheese soup is and visiting with the waitress who goes to our church. When we got back to the car, she wanted me to take her to buy a Coke at a drive in. We headed for the drive-in and she started the “I’ve lost my money” thing again.
I pulled over a couple of times and showed her where her money was. Then, after we paid for the Cokes and were driving away, she did it one. more. time.
Before I could zip my lip, I said, “Mama, will you puleez stop it?”
I didn’t yell. I didn’t raise my voice or grit my teeth. It was plaintive rather than angry. I think that was what got her attention. The sound of distress in my voice triggered her Mama gene. She put the purse away and started talking about something else.
Which almost immediately moved into a lament over the fact that she doesn’t have a car anymore; which went rather quickly to her standard tale about how I have “stolen” her car and she wishes she hadn’t let me do that to her.
After she finally wore that out, we had a nice talk about my piano lessons. She’s fascinated with my piano lessons, and seems to believe that I’m headed for a career as a concert pianist. That’s standard Mama, by the way. Everything I do has always been the best thing anyone ever did in the whole history of the world.
We drove past part of the tornado damage from last spring, and she talked for a while about that.
Then, we parked the car so I could return a book to the library. She picked up the book I’d been reading (American Prometheus) and looked at the photo of Robert Oppenheimer on its cover. My mother, who can’t remember where she put money in her own billfold five minutes ago, looked at that photo and said,
“He developed the bomb for this country. He saved the lives of a lot of boys who would have died invading Japan.”
She paused, flipped open the book and looked at the photos. “Our government was really dirty to him, accused him of being a traitor, and after what he had done for us.”
She closed the book and looked at me with eyes that belonged to the mother I used to know. “I wrote a letter protesting that,” she said. “They were only after him because he told the truth about how dangerous those bombs were.”
All I know about Robert Oppenheimer is what I read in this one book and sketchy facts about the Manhattan Project. I know of his famous comment, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” when the first atomic bomb was exploded at Trinity site. He’s a feature of history to me.
I never knew my mother had an opinion about Robert Oppenheimer. I certainly never knew she wrote a letter to her Congressman protesting his treatment by our government.
I took the book and returned it to the library. When I got back to the car, the mental door had closed and Mama returned to chiding me for stealing her car.
But for that brief moment, the photo of a long-dead scientist cracked open the doorway into who she had been as an adult and let me see a brief glimpse of a bit of the hidden things of her life that I never knew.
This is Robert Oppenheimer, discussing his memory of the first atomic explosion.
My kids adore their grandmother.
The word “dote” wouldn’t be too strong to describe their attitude toward her. It’s a mutual doting. She tells me constantly how “brilliant, sweet, generous and good” they are. They, in turn, seem to not mind one bit doing the yeoman labors of making sure she takes her medicine, gets her meals and is constantly looked after.
Caring for an elderly parent is not all that difficult when the grandkids stop their rounds of work, dates and classwork to take on far more than their fair share of the tending. It amuses me no end that the first person they introduce their girls to is my mother. She always knows all about their date lives, while I am usually far behind on the information curve.
They feel so strongly about their grandmother, that when I tried to take on more of her care — in the mistaken idea that I was lifting a burden off them — they protested loud and long.
I felt much the same about my own grandmother. Grandparents are a healthy relief from the intensity of the parent-child relationship. They give a safe place for kids to spread their wings in the relatively low-key and tolerant atmosphere of adoring grandparents. I remember once my mother told me “we don’t do homework at my house,” when I asked her to make sure the boys did some sort of schoolwork that needed doing at the time. I don’t remember if my lower jaw hit the floor or not, but I do remember the amusement I felt when she said that.
I had the urge to tap her on the forehead and ask, “Mama, are you in there?”
This clearly was not the same woman who had raised me.
And, of course, that was true. She wasn’t the same woman who had raised me. At that point, I was the one on the hot seat. I was the parent with the task of shaping these babies of mine into responsible, productive adults who could earn their living and found families of their own one day.
My mother had done her time in the parental labor yard, and now she was deep into that other role of Grandparent. It was not her job to make sure they did their homework, and she wasn’t going to do it. Her job was to adore them and give them the unalloyed love and adoration that only a grandparent can.
Judging by their attitude today, when she’s a little bit dotty and a whole lot in need of unalloyed love and adoration herself, she did well.
Pope Francis spoke of this beautiful and unique contribution that grandparents make to the welfare of their grandchildren yesterday, on the feast of Joachim and Anna, who were Jesus’ grandparents. We often think of Joseph, Mary and Jesus as a totally isolated unit. But in truth, they existed within a community of relations and kinsmen, as do people in the Middle East, even today.
Scriptures mention this in the story of Jesus getting separated from Mary and Joseph when He stayed back to teach at the Temple when He was 12. There are oblique mentions of it later in His life when the Scriptures reference His mother’s relations, as well as His “brothers,” which is to say His kinsmen. Again, even today in the Middle East, people call their kinsmen, including cousins and more distant relations, “brothers.”
We don’t have specific information about how Joachim and Anna lived out their grandparent role in Jesus’ life, but since God had chosen to be born to this particular girl who was part of this particular family, I think it’s a good guess that they did it well. After all, these were the people who raised Our Lady. That’s a powerful testament to their child-rearing abilities.
Pope Francis emphasized on the flight from Rome to Rio earlier this week that the elderly are as important to the future of the Church as the young. There is a symmetry to life and this Latin American pope seems well aware of it. Traditional families, based on a mother and a father, and backed up with the loving help and support of the generation before them, are the best, most stable and healthy way to nurture and guide children from birth to adulthood.
People who grow up in this environment have learned the value of all people at various stages of life by seeing that value acted out in their own families. They’ve learned love by being loved. They acquired stability by growing up in stable homes. They’ve been supported, first by their parents and then by their grandparents who could pitch in and broaden their experiences and also fill the gaps in their experience that parents could not reach.
I had many of the most profoundly shaping conversations of my childhood with my grandmother. She had time to just sit and listen to my childish rambles that my mother and father did not. She was removed from the pressures of getting it all done and could give me her undivided attention for hours at a time. I basked and flowered in the soft sunlight of this attention.
My mother did the same thing for my kids. And now, just as I adored my grandmother, they adore her.
My youngest son drives a pick-up that sits high off the ground. When he wants to take his 88-year-old Amah out for a spin, he picks her up like she weighs no more than a potato chip and lifts her onto the seat. Then, off they go on a ramble.
She invariably comes back all aglow, telling me “that boy is the sweetest thing.”
I was setting up some work on my house yesterday. The lady who took my order was here for a while, measuring and writing down the particulars. I got calls from my kids who were at work and my mother who was at adult day care all through my discussion with this lady. I didn’t think anything about it. They call me all the time.
But as we were winding up our discussion the lady taking the order said, “Do you know how blessed you are?”
I said yes. And I do know. But it was lovely to have her remind me.
The generations, young to old, are good. The Holy Father is right: We should cherish the elderly, for they are vital to us and our well-being.
Pope Francis engaged in a brief chat with journalists while in flight from Rome to Rio.
The Holy Father was en route to World Youth Day 2013, which is being held in Rio de Janeiro this week.
He brought up several things in his conversation. One of them is that the economic problems around the world leave many young people without the opportunity to find jobs.
This is at a period in their lives when their energies and passions are highest. That they can’t use them to make a living for themselves is both a waste for society as a whole and a danger to it.
My grandmother used to say “idle hands are the devil’s playground.” I apply that saying to this problem of global unemployment of such a great number of vigorous young people with the realization that all this energy and passion can become explosive and destructive if it’s not channeled properly.
That makes the job of families and the Church even more important. Our basic values are what drive our actions. Hopefully, there are enough young people in today’s world with the right values to make something positive and productive of this enforced idleness due to unemployment.
Another comment that the Holy Father made that resonates with me is that he balanced statement that the young are the future with a statement that the elderly are also the future as they are the repository of the accumulated wisdom of having experienced life and living. I am so glad the Holy Father said this. It is a truth that we often lose in our focus on the next new thing,
Every person, at every stage of life, not only has intrinsic value from God, they have gifts that are specific to their stage of life to give to society at large. Those who fail in this, such as destructive or violent people, are failing to be what God intended them to be when He created them.
When we fail to honor and value the wisdom of our elderly people, we are depriving ourselves of needful help and stability in our lives and our society.
Young people, the Holy Father said, “belong to a family, to a country, to a culture and a faith.” They represent the future of a people “because they have the energy;” but Pope Francis added, “the future is also the elderly because they are the custodians of the ‘wisdom of life’, the history, the home and the family.” A people has no future – he continued – if it goes ahead without the strength of its youth and the elderly.
The Pope reflected on the global economic crisis and the possibility that young people may find themselves out of work. “We have the risk of having a generation that did not have work” said the Pope. And from work he noted, one derives “the dignity of the person” – “from earning his bread.”
“Young people today are in crisis,” he said, “and we are used to this disposable culture: it happens all too often to the elderly.” But young jobless people are also getting caught up in this disposable culture. What we need today he said, is a “culture of inclusion, a culture of encounter.” And this invitation to reporters: “I ask you to help me”- concluded the Pope – and work for the good of the society of young people and the elderly.”
Israeli grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are beginning to have their own arms tattooed with the same number that their grandparents had put on them in the concentration camps. This is an interesting way to memorialize what happened to their grandparents. I would guess that it also eases whatever remaining shame these Holocaust survivors may feel.
It seems especially poignant to me since we live in a time when whole sections of our population are being marginalized and reduced to non-human status. I am thinking specifically of the unborn, especially unborn children who have disabilities, and people who are feeble with age and injury whose lives we have begun to think of as so burdensome to the rest of us that they should be given the “right” to self-euthanize.
The article, which was published on the German website DW, says in part:
Soon, there will no longer be any living Holocaust survivors. But in Israel, some of their grandchildren are choosing to have themselves tattooed with the concentration camp ID numbers on their grandparents’ arms.
Holocaust survivors are disappearing and, with them, the memory of what they went through.
But some of their children and grandchildren have found a way to preserve the past – by tattooing on their arms the very numbers the Nazis inscribed on their victims. The crude mark that had been a concrete and painful reminder of the Holocaust has turned into a strong symbol of solidarity for some of the survivors’ family members.
Arik Diamant, a 33-year-old from the Israeli city of Herzliya, came up with the idea four years ago to duplicate his late grandfather Yosef Diamant’s Auschwitz identification number on his own arm.
“I went to my father and told him I wanted to tattoo my grandfather’s number,” Diamant told DW. “But I said I would do it after he passed away. My father told me right away that there was no reason to wait and that we could go and ask grandpa right now what he thought about it.”
Diamant didn’t wait. One Friday night, after the weekly dinner he and his family ate with his grandfather, he delicately brought up the idea.
“I told him that if it bothered him at all, I wouldn’t do it. At first, he was really shocked and asked me why I would want to do something like that,” remembered Diamant. “But then he stopped me and said, ‘When you have a grandchild and he asks you what it is, will you tell him about me?’”
Diamant’s story has been worked into a documentary film to be released soon: “Numbers,” produced by Uriel Sinai and Dana Doron.
Ayal Gelles’ arm on the right and his grandfather Avraham Nachshon’s on the left
Ideology of numbers
Diamant is one of a growing number of young Israeli Jews who are deciding to preserve their grandparents’ stories in this way. About three years ago, Ayal Gelles, a 28-year-old from Tel Aviv, tattooed the number of his grandfather, Avraham Nachshon, during a trip to South America. Gelles said he had thought it over for a while – but it was a cow that sealed his decision.
Gelles says that that the same day he got the tattoo he also became a vegan after reading a book by Charles Peterson, who writes that, for animals, every day is like a day in the Treblinka concentration camp. Gelles sees the story of the meat industry as a reflection of the Holocaust: a story of superiority and subordination, of one being above all else. And that triggered him to get the tattoo.(Read more here.)
Blessed John Paul II is one of my favorite thinkers. He said quite a few things which I think are worth pondering in light of Tuesday’s election. I’ve listed some of them below for your prayerful reflection.
Have a blessed Sunday.
The Value of Human Beings and Human Life
“The commandment you shall not kill even in its more positive aspects of respecting, loving, and promoting human life, is binding on every individual human being.”~Evangelium Vitae-Gospel of Life Pope John Paul II-1995
“While it is true that the taking of life not yet born or in it’s final stages is sometimes marked by a mistaken sense of altruism and human compassion it cannot be denied that such a culture of death, taken as a whole, betrays a completely individualistic concept of freedom, which ends up by becoming the freedom of ” the strong” against the weak who have no choice but to submit”.~Evangelium Vitae
“Man’s life comes from God: it is his image and imprint, as sharing in his breath of life. God therefore is the sole Lord of this life: Man cannot do with it as he wills.”~Evangelium Vitae
‘The Gospel of life must be proclaimed and human life defended in all places and all times.”~Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics- National Conference of Catholic Bishops (United States) 1998
The Family and Same-Sex Marriage
“It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this [gay marriage] is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”
“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
“Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family – a domestic church. ”
“The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.”
“The family, as the fundamental and essential educating community, is the privileged means for transmitting the religious and cultural values which help the person to acquire his or her own identity. Founded on love and open to the gift of life, the family contains in itself the very future of society; its most special task is to contribute effectively to a future of peace.”
“The cemetery of the victims of human cruelty in our century is extended to include yet another vast cemetery, that of the unborn.”
“Finally, true freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with licence to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace. There are many examples of this mistaken idea of freedom, such as the elimination of human life by legalized or generally accepted abortion.”
“Abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, for example, risk reducing the human person to a mere object: life and death to order, as it were!”
“Euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.” ~Evangelium Vitae, 1995
“Similarly, euthanasia and assisted suicide are never acceptable acts of mercy. They always gravely exploit the suffering and desperate, extinguishing life in the name of the “quality of life” itself.”~Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics-National Conference of Catholic Bishops(United States)-1998
“Those who advocate euthanasia have capitalized on people’s confusion, ambivalence and even fear about the use of modern life-prolonging technologies. Being able to choose the time and manner of one’s death, without regard to what is chosen is presented as the ultimate freedom.”~Statement on Euthanasia- National Conference of Catholic Bishops (United States) 1991
“The sickness of a family member, friend or neighbor is a call to Christians to demonstrate true compassion, that gentle and persevering sharing in another’s pain.”~Ad Limina Apostolorum to Bishops of the United States-John Paul II -
“Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power … Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development.”
“The distinctive mark of the Christian, today more than ever, must be love for the poor, the weak, the suffering.”
“I cannot fail to note once again that the poor constitute the modern challenge, especially for the well-off of our planet, where millions of people live in inhuman conditions and many are literally dying of hunger. It is not possible to announce God the Father to these brothers and sisters without taking on the responsibility of building a more just society in the name of Christ.”
“Hence in every case, a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the economic system… It is not the only means of checking, but it is a particuarly important one and in a sense the key means.”
“Wages must enable the worker and his family to have access to a truly human standard of living in the material, social, cultural and spiritual orders. It is the dignity of the person which constitutes the criterion for judging work, not the other way around.”
Walking the Talk
“When freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women, when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it turns against humanity and society.”
“True holiness does not mean a flight from the world; rather, it lies in the effort to incarnate the Gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement.”
“The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person.”
“Precisely in an age when the inviolable rights of the person are solemnly proclaimed and the value of life is publicly affirmed, the very right to life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death.”~Evangelium Vitae
“Forgiveness is above all a personal choice, a decision of the heart to go against the natural instinct to pay back evil with evil.”