Originally posted on July 26, 2014
My husband teases me that I should own stock in Hallmark. I admit it. I’m a definite schmaltz. I love going to my local Hallmark shop and finding just the right card for a special event in the life of someone I care about. Cards for anniversaries, milestone birthdays, first homes, new babies abound. And yes, there are sympathy cards for life’s biggest and most inevitable losses—the deaths of our loved ones.
The thing is, though, that a lot of mini-deaths take place along the path to our ultimate demise. And for a lot of them, there’s no card section to pore through. I’m not going to find a card to send to my ninety-something mom that says, “Gee, sorry, about your dementia.” And if there were one, I don’t think she’d appreciate receiving it. She knows perfectly well her short term memory has taken a hike, and she hates living in that nether-world where she can’t retrieve what happened earlier in her day, let alone what she talked about two minutes ago. Friends tell me it will be easier once she’s no longer aware of what she’s lost cognitively. Somehow, that doesn’t feel all that comforting.
Perhaps my own grief is more intense right now than it will be when my mom actually dies. It’s not fun to see your mother know she’s losing it, or to lose her by inches. I miss our daily chats about our favorite authors, politics, and what’s happening in the grandchildren’s lives. I miss her, and I know my mom misses who she used to be.
It’s made me reflective about how much in life we simply can’t control, including how well our minds will hold up in our later years. My mother did all the recommended things to age well—she exercised, read voraciously, did crossword puzzles, was active in her church, had strong social connections—but for whatever reason, parts of her brain simply wore out.
Nothing, including our brains, lasts forever. Our only choice is to savor all the tiny moments of wonder and goodness and kindness we encounter in the world while we’re still lucky enough to be aware of them. These last weeks, as my sisters and I helped our mom make a move to assisted living, we met so many wonderful people and experienced moments of grace—the kindness and loving care of Tina, our mom’s caregiver; visits from dear church friends who knitted her a shawl to take to her new home in Boston; and longtime neighbors and friends who dropped by to let her know she’d made a difference in their lives.
Many years ago, my mom said to me: “Every night before I go to sleep, I ask myself if I did anything that day to make someone else’s life better. If I did, then I know it’s been a good day.” We were blessed to meet people who’d had very good days indeed.
Fortunately, there’s a card for that. Hallmark has lots of them. They all say: “Thank you.”