For the last few years of her life, my mother suffered from a form of Alzheimer's Disease that slowly took away her memory and her ability to communicate. I saw her for the last time about six months before she died. For several years she had been living in a care facility located in a private home on a country road outside Florence, Alabama. Every time we visited her, once or twice a year, she had slipped away just a little bit more. But (and this very important to me) my mother never failed to recognize me. She knew I was Ray, her second son, and even when I teased her and try to make her think I was Andy or Alan or Ron, she was never fooled. And she never lost her sense of humor.
We would sit and talk about this and that. The conversations didn't go anywhere because I would tell her something and she would forget it, then she would laugh and I would laugh, and all would be well.
Marlene and I had made a trip to Alabama, partly to see my mother and partly to visit my older brother Andy and his family. When we got to the home where she was staying, they said she had been doing pretty well, meaning that she could still walk a little bit with assistance and she seemed to enjoy being there. So we talked. I told her that I was a pastor in Chicago and that made her very happy. She remembered going to a nursing school in Chicago in the early 1940s. I made some corny jokes and she laughed and I could tell she was glad I had come to see her. Then I mentioned again that I was a pastor, and she was surprised, as if she had never heard the news before. She made a joke about being forgetful and I joked that I was really Alan, but she laughed because she always knew who I was.
And so it went for about 25 minutes. We updated her on what our boys were doing. She listened with great interest and expressed great pleasure even though she wouldn't clearly remember it five minutes later. But it didn't matter, and it doesn't matter, not then and not now. The memory is sweet in my mind.
Finally the time came to go. As I had always done, I asked if I could pray for her. "Of course you can," she said, bowing her head. I prayed a brief prayer, asking God to bless her. When I said Amen, without missing a beat my mother looked up and said, "And now Ray Pritchard will do a dance for us." So I stood up and did a little jig for my mother while she laughed and clapped her hands. I bent over to hug her, gave her a kiss, and told her, "I love you." "And I love you," she replied. Off we went. The last time I saw her she was smiling.
Six months later she slipped away quietly and quickly in the middle of the night. Rest well, Mom. I'm not much of a dancer, but you smiled when I tried, and that makes me happy today.
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