Three weeks ago, the first reading for the Sunday mass was Proverbs 31: 10-31, sometimes known as the “Ode to a Worthy Wife,” it describes a woman who is more valuable than pearls; lucky the one who entrusts their heart to her. The same weekend the gospel was the “Parable of the Talents.” I suspect the gospel was the focus of most homilists, as it was the focus of my homily. But the passage from Proverbs did not go unnoticed by me. The reading reminded me of my mom.
The days are coming, and perhaps will soon be upon my sisters and I, when we have to make the decision to place our mom in a memory care unit. We are not the first family, nor will we be the last to face such choices. Families face similar difficult choices in many different ways, not just with parents, but with spouses and children. In whatever form, such hard choices come, they are moments that call for reflection, prayer, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
It does not seem that long ago that a conversation with one of my sisters began, “There’s something wrong with mom. She is more forgetful, and it is getting worse.” I could not see it as readily as my sister who lived down the street from mom; I visited mom over near Mt. Dora every other week. I only noticed her trouble with recalling names, but then she has always had a little trouble there. She could tell you the person’s life story in detail, but the name was just a little slow in coming. Eventually we all began to notice even the details were no longer available for recall. Eventually, other events began to occur.
One Thursday morning, while staying over, mom came into the spare bedroom. “You have to help me, the school bus is coming soon, and I don’t know what to wear.” It is 5:30 in the morning. My 90 year-old mom is a little lost in time. “Sure… I can help…but you know its Saturday, right? There is no school today. So why don’t you go back to bed.” When improvisational skills in conversation are increasingly necessary, you know things are changing.
That’s a picture of mom at age 24. Mom increasingly spends time thinking she is a young woman growing up in Utah. We went through a period when she wondered why we children (not that she recognized us as such – I mean, she was only 20 years old!) would not take her to see her mom, dad, and siblings. Her parents passed years ago. There is only one sister alive and Aunt Carol is just about 20 years younger than mom. Mom had already left home when Carol was born. Mom does not remember her sister Carol. She does not remember her husband, my father. She no longer remembers many things.
Someone described this as the stages of death by memory. I think we have passed the denial stage and realize that our mom, a worthy woman, is beginning to pass away. It is not an easy journey to walk with mom and my sisters, but at least I know the things that lie ahead. As a priest, I have already walked parts of this road with other families. Still…
And we wait. Advent is a time very suited for waiting. During the celebration of Mass, after the Lord’s Prayer, we hear “. . . as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” This prayer reminds us that during Advent, we wait in joy, in hope, and in anticipation of all the wonderful celebrations we are about to experience – Christmas, the coming of Christ into our lives in new ways, the return of Christ in glory at the end of time. As the Church, we wait during Advent and look forward to celebrating the fact that God loves us so much that he sent his Son into the world to save us. This waiting is far from empty; rather, it is full of the hope that God promises us as we prepare for Christ.
We all choose how we wait. This Advent I will try to wait in joyful Hope and to journey with a woman who spent many years journeying with her family. And I will pray that all you find joyful Hope in your Advent journey.