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Eric Witherspoon brought this First Word to the meeting on Mother's Day, 2005

Losing my Mom

I'm losing my mother...

She could once dance jubilantly; and she could sing beautifully, performing with the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Opera and actually auditioning for the NY Met when she was a young woman. She had a rapier wit; was a complete hit with all my friends from junior high thru high school. My friends liked coming to our house 'cuz my mother made them feel welcome, spoke to them and interacted with them on their level, and fed my Jewish friends ham sandwiches. When I was two, and my mother a very young mother, she gave up a good portion of her life to care for me when I was paralyzed with polio, spending countless hours in the hospital and with physical therapists and praying for me. She called me 'Crip' as a joke just to make sure I never felt sorry for myself. She sewed special Halloween costumes that covered my body braces. She taught me how to type when I was home sick with the flu; she edited all my papers, helped me with college applications. She instilled a love for reading, music, art, conversation, satire, sarcasm. My mother was and is a wonderful woman of faith. For a time, she tried desperately to instill in me that one quality all mothers strive for in their sons: guilt. And then graciously gave up when I refused to succumb after age 17. I can't remember a time when my mother wasn't actively involved in my spiritual life, from reading me Bible stories to teaching me things of the Lord to being involved with youth groups to leading the youth choirs at the churches we attended growing up. She supported, along with my Dad, missionaries, teachers, and students all over the world, not only in prayer and finances, but in opening her home to many, many people while on furlough or simply those in need of a place to stay for a time.

And now, I'm losing her to that long, long slow demise of Alzheimer's.

'What'd you have for lunch, Mom?' (only 20 minutes earlier) "I don't know"

'Did Dad come up for his visit this morning?' "I don't remember."

'Has Evelyn played her violin recently?' "Yes, No, I don't know."

But behind that loss that may seem so awful, so incomprehensible to us, there are glimmers of memory, of hope, of life. When she hears certain hymns, she lights up. When we sing Christmas carols or Easter songs, she knows all the words and sings along, even tho' she can't remember what she just read 5 minutes ago. There is a quiet peace, a stillness, a one-with-the-momentness that, turbo controller freak that I am, I just can't understand. I want the woman back with whom I could talk to about anything; that could keep a running commentary on Julia Child's French Chef and do a perfect imitation of her; the one that always asked, whenever I drove her crazy, "Where did I fail, Lord, where did I fail?" while throwing her hands into the air in mock horror and resignation. But that part of her is gone, lost in the crazy synapses of her brain and neurological system. And yet, somewhere in that maze of haywire wiring, I honestly believe she's contentedly waiting for her Lord to return, for God to gently scoop her up and take her to her new home, knowing full well that she is loved by her family and by her God, to whom she always gave praise and honor. You know, I can't say my mom loved me unconditionally ...I mean, c'mon people, look at me. Could anybody love this unconditionally? And you haven't met my two sisters either! We like to talk about it, but I don't think any human is capable of loving unconditionally; it's just not within our finite capacity, even tho' we may pretend it is. My mom showed her love by sometimes needling me, cajoling, canoodling, pleading, plain ol' loving,' showing disappointment, making my paths rocky at times, making everything smooth going at other times; standing up for me, defending me, even when she may have disagreed with my actions at the time. I know we're supposed to believe that God loves us unconditionally, and let me hasten to add, I'm sure he does... but, I think my mom reflected God's love in the variety of ways she expressed it. God, too, gently needles us, draws us to himself, chides us, whatever; he's even referred to as a mother hen protecting her chicks, and in that way, I think we're all called to be mothers at times to others.

I don't want to lose my mind or my health, heaven forbid, none of us do, but in many ways I'd like to be like my mom when I grow old, content in the knowledge that God was really quite fond of her.