My father warned me. My mother warned me. My uncle even warned me.
The Alzheimer’s is very advanced now, they said. She’s extremely ill; hospice has been called. We just want you to know she may not recognize you or respond.
But as my twin and I quickly prepared to board a red-eye flight to Florida, I almost smiled at their warnings. While it might break my heart to see my aunt in such a state, I would not be the least bit afraid or fazed by a lack of response.
My daughter has taught me well: when the tongue is bound and eyes don’t seem to see and ears don’t seem to hear, love translates.
Autism mamas know the power of connection, we look for it in unlikely places. We know to cherish it, celebrate it, no matter how small.
As soon as we got there I plopped down on the bed beside her just like a little girl again. I didn’t need her to accept me or recognize me. This good, good woman who’d raised my father during hard times and loved all of us children like a fierce mother hen. I had a lifetime of memories and so much adoration and gratitude spilling over.
And she who had been largely unresponsive the day before looked at me straight on and found words. Above the hiss of the oxygen pump, I heard her whisper her familiar salutation, sweet Southern drawl:
In my world we’ve been working on greetings for years. “Hi” is an embrace, one of the best words.
Her room was filled with visitors. My sister and I only had the day and we never left that room. My aunt seemed to have moments of clarity when she was with us and then she would slip away. My sister reluctantly went to the bathroom while I spoke with my father on the phone and others in the room chatted. When my twin emerged from the bathroom, my aunt suddenly roused and stared at her, a wide smile on her face. “Ooooohhh!!!” she exclaimed in joy and recognition.
Every brief smile, every feisty word (she called my father and uncle “bigheads”) we treasured.
Of course I thought of my girl. The similarities between autism and Alzheimer’s. I thought again of the way God longs to connect/talk with us like autism mamas do with their children. I thought of what in life is truly important and all that is unnecessary. I thought of the time I’ve spent on missing what I’m missing and wringing my hands over little things, really, and counting losses. When the challenge remains: to count blessings instead. To still feel grace falling down like rain in a room with loved ones staring death in the face. To rejoice in the gift of a greeting even if it never comes again.
These connections, brilliant and unexpected are like hand-delivered gifts signed Love, God. They keep us going from strength to strength.
For my family, I want us to keep learning to trust Him and thank Him no matter.
See you soon, Aunt Sparky, in a place where there are no goodbyes, only hi’s.