I’ll never get used to it. The smell. The sights. The elderly all in one place. I press the code to enter the secure entrance and walk down the familiar hall, hand and hand with my husband. Arlene’s room is on the left. She lights up when she sees us. But it’s the same with all who enter her room. We might as well be the attendants. It’s obvious she’s forgotten our names. So we remind her once again of who we are. Conversation does not come easily.
I sit there holding her hand, remembering the old Arlene. Full of life. Positive. Compassionate. Everyone’s best friend. Age has stolen her from us. And I have to admit it makes us sad.
I first met Arlene when I was in college. She told her son he ought to take me out. So that’s how it all started. It’s kind of nice when your boyfriend’s mom really likes you. And she was like my best friend throughout our married life. We talked about everything. I shared secrets with her. Several friends told me they envied our relationship. I was blessed.
Arlene was a school teacher who spent summers with children of migrant workers. She loved her students but never let them get by with anything. She was one tough cookie when it came to education.
Never one to let poor grammar slide, Arlene was a walking dictionary. It didn’t matter who you were or how important your position, Arlene made it her business to educate the world. And was loved for it.
I can still picture her in the kitchen dolled up in her Sunday best. Prancing around the kitchen in her high heel shoes, she looked like Betty Crocker preparing a feast. She actually whistled her way through each day. With a song in her heart, her joy was contagious. I truly believe there was never a more beloved pastor’s wife on the East coast. She was interested in people and had a positive influence on all who knew her.
Today Arlene struggles to remember any of these things. We repeatedly remind her she was a school teacher and pastor’s wife. That she has two sons and three grandsons. And that the three young ones standing in her room share her name. We have to refresh her memory every time we visit. And we leave a little sadder that there’s little recognition of any of us.
But recently God gave us a gift. We got a few glimpses of the real Arlene. It was on her 94th birthday. Unaware of the importance of this day, she sat there wide-eyed as we repeatedly wished her a happy birthday. Each time, it was like she never heard it before. When we asked her how old she was, she didn’t know. When we told her she was 94, she responded with her famous expression, “holy cow; that’s old.” She said the cutest things as all nine of us surrounded her. Laughter was in the room. Our interaction with her broke through the confusion. In a moment of time, she realized who we were. A lightbulb came on, and she looked at us with new eyes. “F a m i l y.” She slowly pronounced the word as if it was unfamiliar on her tongue. Yes, Yes, Arlene, we’re your family! It was music to our souls. Soon more memories resurfaced…”I took care of you,” she proclaimed with wide-eyed recognition of our younger son. As she stared at him with a twinkle in her eye, she began to tease him. Just like old times. The old Arlene was back. “I hope you’re taking good care of that pretty girl there.” Yes, Grandma, I am! More smiles. Our hearts were full.
I sure am grateful for what God gave us that day. It’s never easy when your loved one looks at you with empty eyes. I’m sure many of you know just what I mean. But this is what helps me the most when I am sad. Arlene may not remember who we are, but we sure remember who she is. And that’s priceless!
Her children arise and call her blessed…
a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her the reward she has earned.