On this recent return to my hometown, I had daily visits with my Mom in the assisted living facility where she resides. As Mom's Alzheimer's often has her repeating herself during each visit, I often allow myself to be distracted...by her TV or my phone or whatever. It feels rude of me...after all, in her mind, fractured as it is, she is telling me her tale for the first time. The fact is, as I've said before, this is the reality for me these days. Mom, nearly 88 and battling said Alzheimer's, managed to teach me a bit of a lesson about these days of distraction.
On my Wednesday morning visit, I rushed in and chatted with Mom for awhile. After a bit, I wheeled her down to the dining room and bid my farewell for the day. She asked, "aren't you going to eat with me?" I replied that I had to head back to her home in SM to do some yard and garden work and will return to see her the next day. She resignedly looked up at me and said, "you're always on the run....even when you're just sitting still; you're always going. If you're not careful, life will pass you by and you'll be sitting here like me wondering how it could have gone by so fast." She then told me she loved me and said "Slow. Down." I watched her wheel herself to her assigned spot; already lost in thought.
I drove back to SM, her comments echoing around my brain. Mom was heavy on my mind. I felt guilty for not sitting down to a meal with her. I thought back to my childhood, as I so often do these days. If I was eating a meal by myself in those days; Mom occasionally let me bring a comic book or magazine to read. If it were a shared mealtime, then forget it....we talked; praising or complaining or dissecting our day or maybe just listening to each other. Often it involved Mom telling Dad to stop eating so fast or he would choke, which he miraculously never did. Whatever it was, even if it was in its most nonsensical form with Mom nagging, Dad chewing with his mouth open and me rolling my eyes; we still CONNECTED. As husband to wife, son to parents, or just as human beings, we connected. These days, when Keith and I share a meal at home, its with plates in our laps, while tapping away on dueling laptops. The TV hums on in the background and our smartphones sit ever ready at arm's length. Every once in a while, we pause the DVR to tell of a highlight of that particular day, only to return to our media saturation. K and I have no lack of communication but is it wise to be spending so much time online as opposed to real time connecting? I know...I've kvetched about this before and yet the song remains the same. When the lesson comes from your Mom, though, especially one who spent decades as a Sunday School teacher, it tends to resonate a bit more, it seems.
I arrived back at my parent's home where my sister Shirley is currently residing. She has cooked us lunch and set up our parent's dining room table in charming fall fashion. We dined on Shirley's signature spicy baked beans and habanero pickles and had Amish Country pumpkin cookies for dessert. I was eating in the same chair in the same spot I sat since I was a child and my mind became even more awash of all of the meals we shared around that table as a family. My mind continued to reel as we retired to the backyard to prune trees and pull weeds. From their dinner table to their gardens...their touch is evident everywhere. I thought about all the people Dad connected with; sharing the bounty of his vegetable garden with neighbor and stranger alike.
After stopping at the cemetery to clean up Dad and Mona's graves, Kristy, Keith and I went back to Marietta to shop a bit, including our standard trip to local gourmet pasta den Rossi Pasta. We also delighted in new culinary hotspot A Cook's Shop. This kitchen store is a fabulous coup for downtown Marietta....from the killer gadgets to the awesome exhibition kitchen, its a wow. Through it all, though, my mind was heavy with Mom. So, after a little Kristy cajoling, we were off to have dinner with Mom.
Mom was pleasantly surprised to see us as we sat with her in the facility dining room. I literally had to physically restrain myself from using my cell....I obviously have work to do. Mom retold her favorite story of the week during dinner: the wonderful recent day when her beloved Sunday School class came to visit. She must have told me that story at least ten times last week and every time she lit up like a birthday candle. Her ego has gotten quite the boost lately as Emeritus also named her Resident Of The Month. The visit from her former Sunday School class, though, is what truly had her jazzed. I realized, after all these years, what I should have years ago...my Mom's most treasured role, even over that of wife and mother, was as a teacher. Don't get me wrong...she was a great wife and mother and was proud of being both. Mom truly relished teaching, though. She didn't hold a teaching job in the traditional sense like Kaki's mom, but she taught every age group in her days as a Sunday School teacher. Between the Bethel Series and her decades as a Sunday School teacher, she truly knew of the Bible and how best to speak from and of the Good Book. This teaching role, as teaching does for so many great people in my life, instilled Mom with a sense of pride and achievement that nothing else could touch. That visit from Mom's old Sunday School class did more for her ego than anything I could ever do...including the surprise dinner visit.
In the end, my favorite Sunday School teacher was still teaching. Teaching me, as a matter of fact, with her steadfast reminder to me to stop and smell the dad-blasted roses, already, and how the simple sharing of a meal is an excellent way to do just that. Mom was, as she so often was, right as rain. Thanks for the lesson once again, Mom. You're still a wonderful teacher.