Sometimes God Sends a Friend to Make It All Good
Driving is not my love language. I do not “speak” driving, but I understand when someone speaks it to me.
Most recently, my friend Kathy spoke in that language, and it meant the world to me. This post is about friends who help us to be the person we’d like to be, told through my experiences with both failure and grace.
For background, let me provide you a post I wrote in November but never published:
November 2018: Failure
Thanksgiving was not what I thought it would be. My son-in-law made the turkey. He and my daughter hosted the meal at their house. While I made the majority of side dishes, I had no turkey to time. No house to clean.
Surrounded by loved ones, I filled my belly and my heart. And I was thankful. But today I feel surprisingly empty.
I miss my mother. She’s less than three hours away, but I can’t reach her. I couldn’t reach her even if I made the drive. She has Alzheimer’s disease.
She has no idea who I am. The last time we visited together, my sister and I used that to our advantage. We had arrived to move her from a single room to a double. It was an effort to reduce the monthly costs of keeping her in a memory care facility so we could stretch the money set aside for her care.
Since she didn’t recognize us, Trish and I were able to slip past her, enter her room, go through all her belongings and remove everything she would no longer need — nearly everything except her clothes and bedding.
Then we spent time with a woman who looked like my mother but wasn’t.
On a normal day, I am too busy to miss my mother, who has the dubious celebrity of being the longest living patient at the memory care facility where she resides.
I am living in the workaday world, typically gone for 12-13 hours each workday, and moving so much to complete tasks on the weekend that my Fitbit never has to remind me to move each hour.
“How was your weekend?” is the typical greeting I receive each Monday when I return to work.
“Not long enough!” is my reply. Because it never is. I leave behind a remnant of unfinished household tasks to return to work, where I complete different tasks, trying to get the work done by Friday at 5. So I can return home for a weekend of chores and more. Busy weekdays. Busy weekends. Busy, too busy.
But the day after Thanksgiving, because I wasn’t at the store or shopping online, I slowed down and felt. And got into a funk because of it. My husband tried to get me out of it until I finally surprised both of us.
“I am not who I thought I would be!” I nearly shouted my frustration. “I never thought I’d be the person who would put her mother in a nursing home and not even go visit at Thanksgiving.”
As I burst into tears, my husband pulled me to himself and let me sob into his shoulder.
“I had no idea that was what was bothering you,” he said.
How could he? I barely knew myself. All I knew was that I’d become increasingly unhappy with the daughter I had become. I kept envisioning my mother, alone, without a single visitor this holiday season.
I wasn’t in the habit of spending Thanksgiving with my mother. Since I had married 24 years ago, I’d largely spent the holiday at my home. The last time I’d been with my mother on the actual holiday was the year my father was in Hospice care, and even then we’d left her home that morning to cook Thanksgiving elsewhere.
What bothered me this year was that my sister, who had lived near my mother’s facility, wasn’t there for her either. She and her husband had moved to the great white north of Massachusetts. Typically, they’d have visited her, perhaps shared a holiday meal when the facility featured the occasional family night.
Did it matter, really, that my mother was alone for the holiday? She has Alzheimer’s. A holiday was just another day to remember nothing. To her, I could be a staff member at the facility or another patient. Or some imaginary character or remembered person from her past. I could pay someone to visit my mother and it would have the same — or no — impact.
B.F.B.A. (Before Full-Blown Alzheimer’s)
Years ago, when the Alzheimer’s hadn’t claimed my mother completely, I would visit with her, have a delightful time taking her to lunch or shopping, feel we had really connected. And then I’d drive home and dutifully call to let her know I’d made it safely — and she would ask, “When are you going to come see me?” as if I hadn’t been there at all.
My husband, who works in nursing homes, said my visits still meant something to the staff, if not to my mother. The staff would remember that my mom had people who loved her and visited. The next time I sent a gift to my mother, I packaged a box of caramel brownies as a gift to the staff.
What Lovely Is Not
Lovely didn’t mean that my mother wouldn’t smell of urine when we visited or wouldn’t wander the hallways alone, pulling at the railings to propel her wheelchair, bruising and tearing her skin. Lovely didn’t mean she wouldn’t eat with her hands because she didn’t know how to use a fork anymore. Or that she wouldn’t babble incoherently or look at me with blank eyes that see but don’t comprehend.
Lovely meant beautifully decorated, a capable staff, a homey feel, quality care — and, maybe, a little less guilt in abandoning my mother in a place she selected herself.
I always thought I’d be like my friend Pam. She remained in our hometown, and her children grew up with their grandparents a fixture in their lives. When Pam’s father died, her mother sold her home and now moves from state to state, living with her daughter and two sons, alternatively, staying a portion of every year in each of their homes.
I left for college and never returned to my hometown except for visits with my family and friends. When I married a widower with four children and then added one more, those visits became less frequent. Once my mother moved into a facility, I stayed with my sister. Once my sister moved, I didn’t visit at all.
Back to the Present: Grace
I never finished that post. I didn’t know what to say. Why didn’t I visit? Why didn’t I make the drive? I can make all kinds of excuses — including the ones I made above — and claim that my car wasn’t dependable, but in reality I hate driving. If I could walk to work, I would. Locally, I’m fine. Long-distance, I’m fine — but I’m anxious as I anticipate driving, and visiting a person who won’t remember the visit isn’t especially motivating, especially if it meant a long round trip journey in one day.
Again, I am not the person I thought I would be. But my friend Kathy helped me edge closer to being that person.
Kathy to the Rescue!
When my mother was placed in Hospice care, I knew I had one, final opportunity to drive down to see her. The thought of that drive — in a car I didn’t trust, with the emotion I knew I’d experience, a lethal combination — was too much for me. Yet, I wanted to go.
In a tear-filled moment in the locker room, I told my friend Kathy about my mother.
“Are you going to go see her?” she asked.
“I don’t know!” I cried and spilled out my dilemma.
“I’ll drive you,” she said, surprising me.
“Oh, no! I could never ask you to do that.”
“You’re not asking,” she responded. “I’m offering.”
And so we made plans.
My Last Visit
A few days later, we left her house and headed south to see my mother. Along the highway, Kathy and I talked and shared our stories. She “met” my family through my words; I met her family too. She especially wanted to know about my mother.
By the time we arrived at my mom’s facility, Kathy had a good grasp on my life history and easily recognized my family members, who ended up joining us in my mother’s room.
She shot photos of me and my family at my mother’s bedside. She chatted easily with my family members while I said my goodbye to the beloved woman who’d raised me and would soon go to her eternal reward.
The visit was unremarkable in that it, like myself, didn’t live up to my expectations. I had envisioned a dramatic moment in which my mother heard my voice and either awakened or died after I said my goodbye. She did neither, though she did seem to reach for my hand.
Dramatic or not, it was closure.
After the Visit
We left when the aide came to feed my mother and drove to feed ourselves at a little vegan restaurant very near to where my father had owned a delicatessen near the beach when I was a little girl. Along the route, Kathy listened to my memories and appreciated the tour of my childhood. It was a healing time.
The hours-long ride back home sped past as we conversed; we shared our joys, our sorrows, our deepest thoughts and dreams, and by the time we arrived, Kathy was my adopted sister, a dear friend, not just a workout partner I knew casually. She was a fabulous friend whose love language was quality time and driving. I needed both. Kathy was thrilled with the opportunity.
It was the last time I saw my mother, captured in photos by Kathy, but the day wasn’t drowned in sorrow. Yes, I shed tears. Yes, it was a hard goodbye. But the day was colored by us sharing our own delightful and difficult memories — and by creating our own. Overall, it was a beautiful day.
The End Result
The following Monday, Kathy and I, as usual, did the aqua HIIT (high-intensity interval training) class at the gym. We decided to pray for a different individuals in each other’s family (silently) as we did each high-intensity exercise.
During the 10-second break between intervals, we’d declare who was next on the prayer list — and what joy it was to “know” Kathy’s family members enough to pray for them. What joy to have her suggest prayers for my family members! It was one result of our adventure to see my mom.
The second was less joyful. After our trip, Kathy’s mother — who lives even farther south than my mom — started having some health issues. Since Kathy’s children are grown and located all over the country, she had no concrete ties to this area.
She made the decision to relocate to be with her mother.
Kathy is the person I thought I’d be. She sold her business and most of her belongings to live with her mother, to keep her happy and healthy and in her own home as she ages.
I applaud her on many counts. She is honoring and actively loving her mother; in my opinion, she is doing the right thing. But I miss her terribly.
An Odd Condolence
My mom recently died, as you may know if you read my blog regularly, and when I posted that news on Facebook (via a link to my blog post giving a scathing review of Alzheimer’s and expressing my grief), a number of friends reached out with words that touched my heart. One sentence in the outpouring of condolences stood out:
Especially the sentence, “I pray that the Accuser will be silent at this time.”
A friend who is now going through a similar experience with her relative wrote that sentiment.
I am not the person, certainly not the daughter that I thought I would be, as I expressed in that November entry I had never posted until now. It would be easy for me to feel guilty. I obviously did then. The Accuser could thrust my failure at me because I did not do what I imagined I would do.
My Facebook friend’s prayers are working. Even though I am not the person, the daughter, I thought I’d be, my friend Kathy helped make up for my lack. Plus I know that “all things work together for good” for those who are called by God; I am His, and He can make even my failings good. The Accuser has no ammo.
I did what I could do, perhaps not all I could have made myself do. My mother lacked for nothing. My sister made sure of that; family members who lived in the area made did their part as well.
If your love language is driving and you’ve got some quality time to share, express it. I don’t have a need at the moment, but maybe someone else does.
If you’re more like me than my friend Kathy at the moment, meaning you’re disappointed in who you’ve become, admit it to God. (He knows anyway!) I cling to the promise that when I’m weak, He is strong:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.2 Corinthians 12: 9-10
And I fully believe that the One who sees the end from the beginning knows well my weaknesses and my desire to be better, and where those weaknesses might injure another, He is quite capable to intervene — perhaps by sending a friend to help.
I saw in my church bulletin last week that my church does a service on Sunday afternoons at a memory care facility here in town. It just so happens that it has the same name, same appearance, and is owned by the same company that owns my mom’s former memory care facility.
And nothing but local driving and a willing heart required.
It’s my turn to be the friend.