Madeline was not the only senior in the locker room this morning. A water exercise class is offered, appealing to these older woman in their one-piece bathing suits and rubberized bathing caps. Most come wearing their suits underneath their clothes, making changing an easy task. Such was the case with Madeline. But as the other ladies vacated the locker room for the soothing waters, Madeline remained. When I first noticed her, she was standing beside me and gazing into the mirror. She had taken off her blouse, suit beneath, but had yet to remove her pants, shoes and socks. I heard her speak and turned to answer. But she was not addressing me. She spoke softly to the image in front of her. She seemed perplexed, worried even, and soon turned and approached the lockers. She spoke again to someone I could not see, this time timidly stepping around the corner. Then she was back in front of the mirror having another conversation with her own reflection.
My mild amusement turned to sadness when I realized that she was disoriented and confused. By now, she carried with her her bag and winter coat. Dazed, she seemed ready to cry. I approached. "May I help you?" Still confused, I led her to locker #97. "How about we put your things in here? I'll be happy to help you get undressed and out to the pool." She seemed relieved. But as I looked into her eyes I glimpsed her melancholy. Our gazes locked and Madeline's wiry arms embraced me for a moment and held on tight.
"Thank you. Oh, thank you." She spoke hesitantly, as if wanting to recall just the right words. With that, she paddled down the hallway and joined the others in the pool.
On my way out, I expressed my concern for Madeline to the desk clerk. "Yes, she is in the early stages of Alzheimers. Her husband brings her." Satisfied that he would be told of her confusion (and that her clothes were in locker #97), I left. But she did not leave me. Madeline has been on my mind all day. I hope she makes it safely home.
Now I think of my mother-in-law. She just stopped breathing. Then she was gone. No fanfare. No choir’s anthem. No sobbing and wailing. No visible opening of Heaven’s gates. Sometime in the moments when her husband left her side to relax in the tub, she quietly slipped away from human life and into eternal life.
It was not unexpected that we received the call a year and a half ago from Gary’s father. Her mind and body, overtaken by Alzheimer’s disease, refused to eat and drink for two weeks. In a near coma, she wasted away until her heart refused to pump and her lungs could not draw another breath. When we arrived at Dad’s home, we listened to the story of Mom’s last moments before plunging into cleaning the house, anticipating visiting friends and relatives. Several friends came bearing lunch and dinner, a welcome break from our task. The last to arrive were gentlemen from Dad’s Sunday School class, one of whom had been widowed six months prior. As we stood in a circle of prayer before they left, Jim prayed, “Thank you, Father, that Pat made it safely home.”
Safely home, I mused. I felt my eyes blur with tears.
As a mother, I can relate to that concept. I lay in bed waiting for my sons to arrive home. When the door opens and they return my greeting, I relax. They are safely home. So many things could have happened on their travels. And yet, God was gracious to grant them traveling mercy despite the potential hazards.
God never promised a way home devoid of difficulty. Clearly, Mom’s path was long and arduous. She never would have picked this path for herself; a slow and ugly loss of memory and function. But again, God’s numbering of her days led her—and us to this point.
God’s way is perfect and beyond understanding. I trust that Madeline will be comforted in her journey and arrive safely home.