Their 81-year-old mother suffers from dementia. Every day her five daughters see her slipping away more and more. In the beginning, Mom was brilliant at faking it, compensating her memory loss with skill and grace. But her daughters knew the time would come when she would no longer recognize them. That day came a few days after Christmas.
The youngest sister took their mother to dinner with her in-laws. They were seated next to each other when Mom turned to her daughter and said, “So, remind me, how did we meet?”
Taken aback, the daughter replied, “Mom, you gave birth to me.”
Mom then said hesitantly, “Well, then, why didn’t I raise you?”
“You did, Mom.”
Trying to hide her distress, the daughter excused herself from the table, not wanting her mother to see how upset she was.
Mom followed her into the kitchen.
When they were alone, Mom took her hands. “Don’t cry, please. Are you crying because you think I don’t love you?”
“No,” her daughter said, “I know you love me.”
“Are you crying for me?”
The daughter said nothing.
Mom took her hand and held it tightly.
“This is me getting old. It is neither easy nor pleasant. But if I can get through this, so can you. Please know that I love you. And brace yourself, because this is who I am now.
“It’s not that I don’t love you. I love you absolutely. It’s just that you have slipped from my mind. These things happen. And this thing, this thing will happen again and again, but I love you. I love you so much.
“Honey, I don’t know your name right now, but you must trust that I will always know exactly who you are. So do this for me: Tell me everything. I want to know every last detail – where you were born, where you went to school and college, what you do for a living, if you are married. Do you have children? Come back to the table and sit down next to me and tell me all of it.”
A mother’s love finds its bearings through the haze of dementia and gives her family a way forward. Her love for her daughters enables her to dig deep and find her “brightness.” When we are driven by such love, we’re able to confront who we are, accept our challenges and failings, and find a way to move forward. In her encounter with Jesus, the woman at the well is able to see herself and her life as it is and realize, despite her circumstances, the compassion of God in her midst. The grace to start over again is ours if we are honest enough to confront our lapses of memory and judgment and focus on God’s constant presence and invitation to re-centre our lives in his love and grace.