It was a sunny, April day in 2007. I was 7 months pregnant with our third daughter, Lucy. Katie was 3, Julia was 18 months. Mom and Dad called me on speaker phone to confirm what we had been suspecting for years. The diagnosis was in fact, early on-set Alzheimer’s.
This crazy-amazing, crazy-painful thing happens when you become a parent. And I suspect it happens not just for those who become parents, but simply anyone who passes into the chamber of adulthood. (The two happened for my simultaneously. I gave birth to Katie at the wee age of 21. God bless her.) Through the lens of adulthood, through the lens of parenthood, we are able to more clearly see the stories of our very own parents. Therefore, a seemingly crystal-clear view of our own childhood. Crazy-amazing. Crazy-painful.
Just as I was beginning to get my feet under me as a mama, I desperately needed to walk back THROUGH my childhood, not AROUND my childhood with my mom. I had so many things to ask her, to apologize for (mainly for stealing all her sane brain cells) and honestly, I needed to express to her some wounds I had been carrying for far too long. And at the end of the day, I wanted to sit at her wise feet and ask, “How did you do it?!”
Alzheimer’s does not always smile a friendly smile on rehashing the tricky road of hurt. Alzheimer’s steals the ability to navigate such bumpy waters and emerge healed. Bottom line, any of the complicated matters my heart needed to discuss with my mom, would only hurt her with an everlasting, earthly hurt. On this side of glory, she would never be able to emotionally heal and process from ANY critique or questioning. The disease held her mind in captivity.
And so as an individual soul, whatever frustrations I had, whatever cracks I needed her balm to heal, I had to find that peace and forgiveness by never uttering a word to her, but by transforming those wounds into energy to serve her and love her well until her very.last.breath.
As a daughter who now stands on this side of losing a parent, from a place of much humility and tender thought, I have some advice for parents with grown children, and for grown children with parents.
Parents of Grown Children,
We need you say 3 things to us before you die. And we might need you to say them to us more than once.
I am 12 years in to this parenting gig, and I am overwhelmed at the number of times I have ALREADY wounded my children’s hearts. It is VERY sobering to realize that the decisions I am making on their behalf, decisions I have ALREADY made on their behalf, will live on in them forever.
Parents, say you are sorry.
Grown Children, forgive your parents before they ask for it.
It is healthy and good to walk through our childhood. It is good to name the things our parents did well and pass them on to the next generation. It is also healing to name the things that they got wrong, process it deeply and purely; grow from it, heal from it, but you MUST NOT camp there.
My mom spent a lot of her final days and years apologizing, but the painful kind of apologizing. The kind of apologizing you wanted to plug your ears and wish away. It was awful to hear her apologize for things she had no control of, “I’m sorry I fell. I’m sorry I forgot. I’m sorry I spilled. I’m sorry I misspoke. I’m sorry I wet myself. I’m sorry I’m confused. I’m sorry I’m such an inconvenience.” My heart would break each time. And with each apology, as a family, we attempted to meet them with, “It’s ok, Mama. It’s ok. You don’t have to apologize. It’s ok!”
Grown children, regardless of the pain inflicted, forgive your parents. FORGIVE.YOUR.PARENTS. They are broken vessels living every day with a bit of sovereign grace to see them through. I do not know your pain, nor do I pretend to understand it, but I know the forever mark they will leave on your mind and in your heart. And when they are gone, telling them they are forgiven is no longer an option.
Parents, tell your children that you are proud of them!
Grown Children, be willing to admit in your heart of hearts, how desperately you need to hear these words.
She smoothed the table cloth over and over again. She was nervous and was trying to busy herself with a task. I was cleaning up lunch, and because her ability to move was limited she could only watch me. I cannot imagine how that broke her. The Mama, the matriarch, the one who spent her life busying herself in the kitchen, could only sit helplessly and watch. She apologized, “I’m sorry I can’t help! Let me do the dishes. Find me the broom and I’ll sweep”, she rocked forward trying to sweep crumbs into her soft palm. “It’s ok Mama, you have cleaned up more meals than my brain can imagine. Just sit there and talk to me.” She sniffed back tears. “You’re such a great mom, Sara Suzanne!” she whispered, barely audible to my ears. My throat clogged with ugly tears, “I learned from best,” I choked out.
You cannot imagine the life-gift written on my heart when Mama would compliment me. For every crappy mom day I have, her words of encouragement remain and pull me through.
Parents, tell your children you love them!
Children, take every opportunity to do the same.
She said it constantly. Coming and going, calling and hanging up, sitting, sleeping, eating, walking. A brief pause, turn of her head and gentle, “I love you!”
The disease made it urgent.
The disease made it more beautiful every time she said it.
The disease made the words stick and linger.
The disease made it flow more often and more importantly.
Alzheimer’s took her brain, but never her love.
Her hands were the softest I had ever held. Her chest rose and fell rapidly. Death was approaching and our time with her was ending. I nestled my nose along her frail and cold cheek and wrote on her heart the very thought that I wanted her to take into eternity, “I will love you for always!”
Isn’t it time for you to lay your weapons down?
Isn’t it time to apologize for hurt you’ve caused?
Isn’t it time to forgive?
Isn’t it time to say something kind, something life-giving?
Isn’t it time to receive such life?
Isn’t it time to say, ‘I love you?”
It is. I just know it is!
Now go…you might not have tomorrow!