By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published March 17, 2016
This was the first time I would be visiting her alone, and I felt apprehensive as I pulled into the parking lot of the nursing home.
You see, my mother-in-law—aka Mom—has dementia, so the family decided not to tell her about the death of her older son—my husband. In the six months that have passed since then, I wasn’t up to visiting her, but now it was time.
“What if she asks me point blank where Jef is?” I worried.
She looked happy to see me, and invited me to sit beside her. Although she struggles with words and sometimes says things that are nonsensical, she still loves to hear stories, so I regaled her with a childhood memory.
A friend persuaded me to join the 4-H Club, which I did reluctantly, and then learned such fascinating things as how to hem a dish towel, set a table—and craft a hideous, elastic-waisted skirt that made me look like an elephant.
At this, she laughed and then chimed in with a memory about being in the Girl Scouts: “I hated it!”
Her hair has turned snowy white, and I contrasted that mentally with a memory of the day when Jef brought me home to meet her and his sister, Lisa.
Mom then had curly auburn hair, cut short and stylish, and she was sporting gypsy-style earrings and fire engine red lipstick.
Her roots, I knew, were in the Deep South, and since I’m an Italian-American born in New York, I wondered if she would take to me. As it turned out, despite my distinct lack of a Southern drawl, I evidently made a decent impression because she later told Jef that if he didn’t marry me, she and Lisa would.
My thoughts returned to the present moment as I asked her to remove her eyeglasses and carefully polished them for her. Then I rummaged in the bedside table and found a headband decked out with a large purple flower.
As I was putting it on her, the phone rang, and I showed her how to answer it while reflecting that she is becoming increasingly like a child.
That insight brought to mind Jesus’ words, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Maybe in her own way, Mom is already there, closer to God than she has ever been.
She listened to my brother-in-law on the phone for a while and then suddenly said something that made my heart drop: “Lorraine and Jef are here.”
After the phone call, though, she didn’t mention him again, nor did she ask about his whereabouts—because I guess from her perspective, he wasn’t missing.
As I left that day, I was grateful my prayer had been answered—and I felt that, in some mystical way, my husband had a hand in it.
After all, on the topic of the Communion of Saints, the catechism states, “All … who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together.”
And when St. Dominic was dying, he said to his brothers, “Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.”
Later, I turned Mom’s remark over in my heart like a jewel God had sent me. And I realized that in some way inexplicable to reason—but fully in tune with the Communion of Saints—she had been exactly right. Because I wasn’t really alone when I visited her that day.
Artwork (“Healing”) by Jef Murray. Readers may contact Lorraine at email@example.com.