By Bobby Neal Winters
Two years ago we moved Momma into a nursing home. She didn’t want to go. She kept asking, hinting, yearning to go home. It was heart-breaking for her to ask but it was more heart-breaking when she stopped. She’s lost names, she’s lost people, and then she lost home.
We climb the mountain on faith, then we see the valley to the other side, but when we climb down the hill we do it on faith again. We can’t remember what we saw, but there is no other direction do go but toward the valley.
Momma taught us, me and my brother, about Jesus. The first song I remember was “Jesus Loves Me.” It is not a masterpiece of music; it is not a marvel of the poet’s art. I’ve not used it as a foundation to learn a great deal about either. But Momma did teach us to have a foundation of love. If my brother and I ever met Jesus, it was not through the dulcet tones of a musical instrument or through the effort of any preacher, but through the love of a mother.
We went to see her for Thanksgiving. She is going through a time of changes and with dementia there is only one direction of change. We know it’s coming; there is only a question of when. God gives us ambiguity as a mercy.
As we entered the door to her room, I could tell she was happy to see us. She doesn’t know our names; at least she can’t say. And I can’t say that she knows who we are. But she looks out and there is love in her face.
“How pretty,” she says, looking at my daughters and wife. “I love you.”
I sat by her side and held her hand. It’s warm now. When she could still string sentences together, she would complain about being cold. Now the ambient temperature of the room is about 85 degrees and she’s covered with a blanket, and her hand is warm.
“Has the preacher been by?” I ask. I don’t know why. Her look is blank.
“Father was here,” she said. This is followed by a series of words, none connecting to the one before it and no grammar to hold it to gather. My brother and I are confused because she never called her father “Father.” He was always--always--Daddy.
“Jesus came,” she added with the same stream of nonsense.
Then she looked around the room again, at my brother, my wife, my daughters, my daughters, my son-in-law, and me.
“I love you,” she said.
“They are good people here,” she said. “They help me.”
She’s talking about her nurses. They feed her and change her.
“Jesus came,” she said.
I take my hand and pull her hair back from her forehead. It’s pure white, like snow.
“I love you,” she said.
This is the woman who dressed me in paisley with a bow-tie and shiny, black dress-shoes and then left black marks on the sidewalk as she dragged me into church. He is the woman I stood beside as we sang hymns: “Oh! precious is the flow /That makes me white as snow / No other fount I know / Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
God breathed the world into being. He created it with the Word. He knows us as we actually are. His word for me is the very thing that I am. We use words to create things, to claim things, to control things. But often those same words we claim things with are barriers to them.
Momma has lost her words for us. All that is left is the love. It will be left with us when she meets Jesus face-to-face.
(Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University.)