remembering the past

This last weekend mom entered a stage the hospice nurse referred to as “terminal restlessness.” She is often anxious, kicking off her covers and trying to get out of bed. She has short periods of clarity and longer ones of confusion. And even longer ones of sleep.

She isn’t the only one who is tired. We’ve hired some help and started taking breaks, leaving the house when we can. Other times we rest while the aide reads to her or watches her sleep. Medicines have to be adjusted. New rhythms adopted.

But for mom, part of this seems to be about revisiting the past. My grandfather bought a cow dip for his farm, apparently. I remember the farm, 150 acres near Marco Island, but I never saw a cow there. When we lived there for a few months while I was in junior high, it was acres and acres of watermelon.

There’s lots of childhood stuff here (hers not mine). When she was a girl her dad, Jack Prince, owned the pharmacy, the grocery store, the liquor store, the restaurant and the taxi company in Naples, Florida—so much of this is tangled and forgotten, bubbling to the edge of her consciousness, manifested in fragments of thought and whorls of emotion.

And there are the Everglades, rides in air boats and swamp buggies, deep in the cool dark dampness of the river of grass. She tries to make me see, but I can’t. And there is of course the endless beach. I remember her taking me to ride on the back of sea turtles, returning to the gulf after laying their eggs along the shore. I remember the sacrifices she made to take us to a cottage on Fort Myers beach each summer.

But what does she remember? Emotions are a roller coaster, as she exhausts herself in the work of sorting out the stuff we can only sense. And there are cryptic sentences, repeated endlessly, stuffed with pronouns that have no antecedent and verbs that have no object.

In her clear moments we cannot revisit these mysteries. They are lost to her as well, and I get the sense I never knew her at all. What troubles her in the night? Who are these people she calls by name? What visions haunt her and which ones bring her joy?

At 14 she drove a cab barefoot along 5th Avenue. At 18 she was the swamp buggy queen, and got to kiss the winning driver when he climbed out of the mud. For 50 years she was a pastor’s wife, teaching Sunday School to teens and women and leaving secret notes in their Bibles. At 74 she is dying in my living room, remembering it all. Or none of it.

Memories slip into the past, harder for her to grasp and impossible for me to capture. They are wrinkles in her brain, terrors in her past, stars in her crown. We wait, hoping new meds will give her rest.

And trusting God to give her peace.

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About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

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