She Is Not There

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On an ordinary September afternoon in 1996, I said to my mother, “You are slurring your words,” when she made a second attempt to respond to my greeting when I returned home from work.

My mother had suffered a stroke on the left side of the brain. Admitted to the hospital, she was placed in a bed in a room that was not her own and was surrounded by strangers. Her speech, though halting and imprecise, returned, and, thankfully, she recognized me. However, two days after her admittance and during my visit, a second and more damaging stroke followed. Like a large, demonic eraser, it rubbed out what remained of her speech, her ability to walk, and the aspects of her personality I had known and loved. She was now aphasic, wheelchair-bound, and cognitively impaired.

Once it was determined that my mother would need 24-hour care, I placed her in a nursing home about an hour away from our residence. The care was excellent, and the facility’s programs kept the residents engaged. By reserving an ambuIette, I was able occasionally to bring her home for brief visits. We watched TV, ate ice cream, and, at visit’s end, always said the Lord’s Prayer, the words of which, mysteriously, she could say. Yet despite such comforting moments, I knew that the day of the upturned green mattress was approaching. When a resident died, the bed linens were removed, and the dark green mattress was turned up. I dreaded when it would be my mother’s bed’s turn.

Mom held on until the Wednesday of Holy Week in 2002. After far-flung relatives arrived, her funeral took place on a gray morning a few days later.

With his words and his life, Christ taught that we must all take up our cross and carry it. The six-year journey my mother and I walked on our via dolorosa ended in the funeral home’s small chapel, where family and friends came to bid her farewell. Like Christ’s, ours was also a walk of sorrow and love. As my closest friend said as we stood over the open casket and looked upon my mother’s lifeless face, “You know that she’s not there.” I was still in Good Friday, but she already saw that Easter’s stone had rolled away.

— Pamela A. Lewis

Photo: Mª África, CC BY-SA 2.0, Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

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