Nita Gilger served for 25 years at University Christian Church in Fort Worth, Texas as an educator and associate minister for children and families. She has taught in the early childhood program at Texas Christian University. After serving on the mission field in West Africa and traveling widely around the world as an educator and minister, Nita now lives with her husband on a large ranch in West Texas where they serve as ranch care takers/managers.
Once after my mom’s Alzheimer’s had become more pronounced, I shared some of my honest feelings with a very kind nurse. I confessed that I really wondered if it was worth it to come so often to see her. Sometimes I would walk out the door to get a cup of coffee, come back in and it was like I had never been there. What difference did it make? I shared how difficult it was for me to know how to be present during these days of my mom’s long goodbye. And I’ll never forget what she told me. She said, “Remember this: their minds and memory may go, but the thing that never leaves is emotion. They will always know they are loved. They can feel it, even if they cannot respond to you very well. So, just keep on loving her.”
When I shared how guilty I felt that I couldn’t be with mom on Christmas Day, the nurse told me a story. She shared how they had loaded up the bus with all their memory care patients to take them out to see Christmas lights. That takes lots of work, including all the effort required to move all the wheelchairs onto the little shuttle bus. But as they rode and looked at the lights, they all sang Christmas carols. It was a magical time. Music seems to reach into the deep recesses of memory as nothing else can.
Later that evening, after the residents had returned to the memory care unit, the nurse said to the residents, “Now wasn’t that just wonderful? We had such a good time seeing Christmas lights and singing together.” They all looked at her with blank stares and said. “What? We didn’t see any lights.”
She laughed, took me in her arms and said, “You see Nita, here’s what I do. I know that for those few moments on the bus, I brought them joy. It doesn’t matter if they remember because they felt loved and cared for. I have learned to live for the moments and I want you to try to do that, too. If you can’t be here on Christmas morning, just know that all the moments you have given and will give your mom are all she needs. She is loved.”
I am here now in this moment and for this moment I will love. As we live in every moment, in the moment, we may find the valuable gift that each moment holds. The challenge is to learn how to live life fully in the in-between, the undefined liminal space where heartache and uncertainty can send us spinning. We need to remember the lessons of such time and space, namely, that when we feel the most untethered we need to trust that true growth arrives during those very hours, days, months and years suspended between here and there.
Thank you for that wonderful story. When I worked in a psychiatric unit for seniors my main goal for each day, other than giving meds, was to make my patients feel safe, heard, & hopefully some smiles. They are still just like all of us, we want to be safe, heard, and loved unconditionally. I do the same caring for my own parents. When there are tense times at home I try to remember to take some deep breaths & “be” in that moment with them as I put myself in their place. When I do, both of our irritation… immediately de-escalates & I can see the relief, love, & respect in their eyes.
Visited my husband, Jim, today where he lives in a memory care community. I found him in his room and he told me all about his recent trips and visits on his “bisjet”. What trips he’s taking! A former Air Force fighter pilot and aero engineer, he lives in the sky. When I got ready to leave I told him I loved him. He broke into a huge smile and said “that’s what I like to hear!”
Many visits aren’t as happy and loving, but today was a magic memory. I treasure these moments.
Thank you for your wonderful posting on your journey with your mother.
My mother has recently been diagnosed with early onset of Al’s or Alzheimer’s. She is very present most of the times…this is yes…the long good bye. She so enjoys my new relationships and feels the joy and energy of new found love. She wants to hear every detail, as we women so often do.
Hi Angela, This journey with my mom had many wonderful times among the difficult ones. Even though I do not know you , I send you love and light as you walk with your mom in the coming days. God bless. Nita Gilger
I lost my husband last July 1 after living with memory loss for approx.
7’years. For your sake and your a mom, educate yourself!
Attend lectures, check in with local Alzheimers Assn. And learn all YOU CAN to help your Mom.
❤️ And be grateful for all the memories.