Loss and Grief

My Mom

The last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom. I live in the same city as my parents and usually see them a couple times per week, but most of the time I don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on what’s happening.

My mother has dementia. We’ve known that for more than half a decade. My dad retired earlier than he would have otherwise to take care of her; my mom stopped driving; my parents moved in with my sister and her family for more support; my mom stopped being able to prepare her own food.

I’ve had to redefine quality time with her – to relinquish any expectations. Our conversations generally involve me asking her a few questions which don’t require much more than a yes or no. Usually it’s better to ask about her experience and how she felt than details of what happened in the events of her day. I’ve found that my mom does most well socially when the environment is calm and not much is expected of her – simply presence and sometimes silliness.

I’ve been missing my mom as she once was. That of course gets mixed in with missing my grandparents and others I’ve lost too – especially my mom’s dad and my dad’s mom. All our grief seems interconnected.

Americans seem to do grief pretty poorly. We’re a solution oriented culture, and there is no solution to loss. Nothing’s going to turn back time and bring our loved ones back or undo our past traumas. My mom’s disease only moves in one direction; each time a part of her goes, it doesn’t return. They’re wounds that never fully heal. They just stop stinging as sharply or as often as we keep going.

I’m writing this on the evening of the celebration of All Saints’ Day in the liturgical calendar. It’s a time each year to remember and grieve those we’ve lost. It’s a somber day, something we need pretty desperately especially with this recent news of an attack on a Texas church. We need to learn to mourn well.

On Saturday, the whole family was at my sister’s house to celebrate my dad’s birthday. People started leaving in the early evening. I noticed that Mom was pretty tired and retreated to her room on the lower level. I followed her and we sat for a while. We talked briefly about how it’s exhausting for her not to have her brain work like it used to. She cried a bit. Then she got out her markers and colored.

She had a few books on the table alongside her coloring books and markers. I asked her about one – a children’s book by Brennan Manning called The Boy Who Cried Abba. She didn’t think she had read it. I asked her if she’d like me to read it to her. Yes.

The book is about a little boy named Willie Juan who lost his parents, who looks kinda funny, who can’t walk that well, who gets picked on. Willie Juan has one person in his life he can count on – his grandmother. But then he makes a friend in a medicine man who is rather obviously Jesus.

The medicine man tells Willie Juan that very few will ever know him like Willie Juan because most people have never had to be dependent or vulnerable because most have not known what it’s like to be an outsider. He tells Willie Juan that in his father’s eyes – Abba’s eyes – the losers are really the winners.

I had to stop reading because I could no longer speak. My mom was Willie Juan. I kept thinking about how scared she must be, how dependent she is on everyone around her, how tired she must be just in trying to figure out what’s going on around her.

I’m not sure she knew why I was crying. She didn’t react much. She thought it was a sweet story. By this point my dad was in the room too. He knew. I finished the book after getting a drink of water.

I often don’t know what I believe about God or reality or what happens after we die. I’ve mostly stopped fretting about the specifics of the questions and just let my experience of beauty and grace be what it is.

My mom feels safe and usually happy when I spend time with her; she even laughs when I’m not even telling a joke – when I’m just looking at her with a silly face. Not many children get to be a comforter to their parents. That’s grace. God is near to the weak, and that’s enough. Love matters, and that’s enough. I hope you too can mourn and grieve what you’ve lost. I hope you find grace there too.



One comment

  1. Donna Johnson · · Reply

    Hello Jonathan,
    Deb and Phil have been dear, dear friends to us ever since we met when your dad when he was Pastor at Risen Savior in Indian Creek, Il. They have been back to Illinois/WI to see us a few times in the recent years. I always talk to Deb about the fun we had, especially at the women’s retreats and Christmas Dinners. Deb is my husband’s “BFF” and cigar smoking partner, as they joke. Then, of course, we always have a good laugh about playing musical chairs-and by the way I was the winner, not her. She was such a terrific storyteller-about Jesus, about the Bible, about the Holy Spirit in her life. During our visits, she always speaks of your (now much larger) family with such love and real heart in her words. She loves you all so much and she FEELS it. She feels it.
    I love your words. I love your parents. I don’t see her every day like the family does, so it is easy for me to dismiss this grief. So, I will put my grief aside, for now, I am not only good at musical chairs, I am good at denial. Our love and prayers continue for the Esalas, a true and wonderful example of deep, deep, love. I am thankful to God we met them at that very first worship service at Risen Savior.
    Donna Johnson >

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