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.