My mom just turned 93 on Saturday (on John Paul II’s feast!). While her physical health is excellent for her age, time and dementia have ravaged her memory. She can still name all ten of her children (of whom I am the youngest), but doesn’t know any of us, nor does she recognize or retain that knowledge when we identify ourselves. On the surface, one may think her days of instructing me are long past. But that is far from truth.
Mom doesn’t know us, or anyone. She has no reason to treat anyone with kindness or compassion, either in return for what they have shown to her, or in anticipation of what they might do for her. She can’t retain the information to make that connection. Yet, she treats everyone with utmost dignity and respect. She radiates gentleness. Yes, the higher mental faculties are gone from her mind. But her soul still has the capacity to love.
She reminds me, still, that we all can show love, regardless of our situation or our abilities.
Mom can’t say the Rosary anymore, though in her way she still prays it. It’s always been a staple of her prayer life. Until the last year or so, she would spend hours each day meditating on the 20 sacred mysteries, blessed beads in hand. Time has taken that from her, but cannot take her prayer-warrior spirit. She still clings to her rosary, still speaks God’s blessings to all she encounters, and still speaks of Heaven as her ultimate home. Though her mind can’t pray in the sense we know, her heart still prays ever so loudly.
She teaches me, still, that prayer comes from the heart, not the head.
Mom always put others first. She lived her life putting the interests of her husband and her children above her own. She served. She served the Lord, she served her family, and she served her community. She can’t do that anymore. My father has been gone for nearly three years. Mom hasn’t the ability to help cook, or clean, or do anything of practical help. But she still asks what she can do. She still wants to serve. She tries to give her food to others, because she thinks they need it more than she does. She still talks about the countless funeral dinners and bazaars and Altar Society functions for which she provided meals, and wishes she still could.
She shows me, even now, that it’s the heart of a servant that serves, not the abilities.
Mom believed in the sanctity of life, all life, at all stages and all circumstances. She faithfully professed and lived the teachings of the Church in all matters. She still does. She can no longer understand and follow the prayers of the Mass, and she cannot hear most of what is said during the service. But she still knows the value of the Blessed Sacrament, of Holy Communion. She still shows a holy reverence for it, and always wants to make sure she has fasted for at least an hour prior to receiving Our Lord, though she has no way of remembering this.
Thus, she still teaches me, it is not our intellectualization of the Sacraments that matter, it is the presence of Christ in them.
Yes, Mom is infirm. She cannot be of any practical use to anyone. She is what many in our society today would consider worthless. She cannot understand a TV commercial, or buy anything online, or even go through the checkout line at a grocery store. When human life is valued by the revenue it can generate, she doesn’t even register. At her advanced age, she cannot go on adventurous voyages, sit through a movie, or read an article. She raised 10 children, and rarely had the chance to travel or pursue extravagance. When human life is measured by the quality of its experiences, hers would receive a failing grade by most secular yardsticks. And while I think she is beautiful, her physical appearance at nearly 93, by objective standards, would not impress. She will never grace the front of a magazine or turn the heads of marketers. When human life is valued by outward physical appearance, she won’t receive a second look.
But Mom never taught us to value life, any human life, by those things. Money, physical beauty, and fame are not the measure of a life, she would say. No, it is what is in the soul that counts. It is the relationship with the Lord. And now, after all these years, in the twilight of her life, she still teaches me this lesson.
And what we all see is pure and beautiful. It is the radiance of Christ, gentle and loving.
She still shows me that anyone, everyone, can have this gift, regardless of their position in life.
Thank you Mom.
More to read: In Praise of the Inefficient Care of Persons