God’s help for wholeness.
by Janice Hughes
Mother stopped laughing and placed her bingo card on the table. “Who are you?” she asked as her eyes studied my face.
I answered and waited for a glimmer of recognition from this woman who had given me life. There was none. In her soft, sweet voice, she replied, “No, I never had a daughter named Janice.”
I wanted to scream, “Remember! Remember! I broke the glass on your favorite table. I hid in the treetops and laughed while you looked for me. I was the first to embrace you after Daddy died.”
I fought to keep from grabbing her and yelling, “Look at me! You combed my hair and read Bible stories to me. You sewed dresses for me and trimmed them with lace. You taught me to pray. How could you ever forget me?”
Friends and family came to visit, unaware that the burial of our relationship had occurred days earlier. To an outsider, everything looked normal.
Somehow I made it through the days until time to return to my own home. I cried nearly every stretch of the 900-mile journey.
Phone conversations confirmed that I was locked out of my mother’s mind. Once, she said, “I don’t understand all that I know about you.” I didn’t understand her either. Now 31 years old, I was devastated.
I retreated inward and kept the sorrow to myself. I felt responsible for my mother’s condition and searched my memory for what I had done to cause Mother to forget me.
The fact that she remembered my three sisters added to my agony. My feelings changed to anger, resentment, and bitterness. The frustration of this living death created deep scars.
One morning after my husband left for work, I slumped amid the clutter of dirty dishes and examined my weary mind and emotions. I felt like a crumpled paper napkin. Finally, I reached across the table for my faded green Living Bible.
Clear, crisp tape bound it together and signaled the search for answers. I had read this book often, but at that moment I didn’t believe it would make any difference in my dilemma. Yet a lifetime of habit drew my fingers across its pages.
These words blazed before me:
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9).
I grabbed onto those words and whispered them over and over. When Mother died three years later, I didn’t cry; I had moved through all the stages of grief over losing her. But the hurt and confusion from her illness lingered long after the funeral.
Healing for my damaged emotions took second place to other things. I had major surgery three months after Mother’s funeral. My nine-month-old son began to walk. My husband and I sold our home and moved into an apartment while we waited for our new house to be finished. Meanwhile, I could barely make it through each day.
Whenever I could, I slipped outdoors to rest and meditate. Hearing birds sing and seeing squirrels romp over wisteria vines soothed my troubled spirit. Working in my flower garden and walking in the woods near my home brought me close to God.
As seasons changed and life inched forward, the grip of grief and pain begin to ease. Watching a yellow cat raise a litter of kittens in my neighbor’s yard caused me to see beyond Mother’s illness and remember her love.
I felt her kiss on my seven-year-old face as I awoke from three hours of knee surgery. I shivered at the sting of a peach tree switch on my legs after I had disobeyed her. I listened to her alto voice sing “The Old Rugged Cross” as she washed dishes. I tasted her delicious lemon cake and savored her attention as she watched me eat it. I saw the pride in her face when I put my college diploma in her hands.
I felt her blessing when she whispered, “Don’t ever forget. God has a special plan for you.” I marveled at her strength to smile eight months after Daddy died, and her rejoicing with me as I married a man she had met only once. I wept at the memory of laying my three-month-old son in her arms for the first time.
Memory after memory marched through my mind, causing me to realize that I had held my pain close and guarded it like a treasure. Slowly I began to open my heart and give God my hurt feelings. I forgave Mother for the pain she had unknowingly and unintentionally caused me.
The final step in my journey of recovery came the morning I realized that Mother’s memory loss had not changed one single act of her love. Nothing could erase moments I had spent with her during her good years. I saw that she had given me her best gifts. She had taught me to seek God and to love others with an unselfish love. Even her painful illness had not altered the Christlike example she had displayed for me.
As I watched my son, now a preschooler, play in the sandbox with his friends, I knew that Mother’s lasting legacy to me was the set of values she had instilled in me — the same ones I was teaching my child.
Nearly five years after my mother’s death, I emerged from my outdoor sanctuary experiencing the same freedom as the monarch I saw dancing on the red geraniums. The pain was gone; my healing was complete.
About the Author
Janice Hughes has been writing for over 20 years, with work published in Decision, Home Life, Today’s Christian Woman, War Cry, and Women Alive. She is also a women’s conference speaker with Scarlet Thread Ministries. Janice lives in Paducah, KY.