When visiting Mother at the care center where she lived for eight years, we routinely ate lunch at the facility’s Bistro downstairs. But a few weeks after she moved to skilled nursing last November, the trip to the Bistro became too much for her. So, we ate with the skilled nursing residents in their now Mother’s dining room.
The first time we lunched together there, I observed how the staff seated the residents at the dining room’s five tables. There was the “feeding table” for residents who required assistance with eating, the “sleeping table” for wheelchair-bound residents dozing over their stuffed animals, the “silent-men table”—self-explanatory—the “chatty table” for residents with ailments that did not include the inability to socialize, and the “marginal table,” for people like Mother.
That day, I had brought my flute to play Christmas carols for her. Before lunch, the activities director met me in the hall and asked me to play for all the residents in the dining room. So, after I finished eating, I set up my music stand and played a range of both popular and sacred carols. Some at the “chatty table” sang along.
In the middle of “Joy to the World,” a quarrel broke out at the now, “not-so-silent-men” table. “He looked at me funny,” said one of the men. “And he crossed over onto my side.” The man drew an invisible line on the tablecloth with his finger. When the staff tried to calm him, he shouted, “No, I won’t be quiet. I can say anything I want.”
I kept playing. As the sounds of “peace on earth” and anything but filled the room, I thought, if this isn’t the both-and of our humanity, I don’t know what is.
Glancing at Mother across the room, I saw she had fallen asleep. My heart sank. I prayed, “Lord, please let her go before she graduates to the sleeping or feeding tables.” Later, on the drive home, I realized my prayer was for me—what I wanted—not what might happen. If that isn’t the both-and of my humanity, I don’t know what is.
Thereafter, my prayer went like this: “Lord, help me abide with Mother, help me stay in her story.”
Now for the part about Mother’s love for chocolate.
When I arrived at lunchtime the following week, Mother was sitting in a wheelchair at the “feeding table.” Okay, I thought, here we go. I greeted her with a kiss, which she didn’t acknowledge. Okay, I thought, this too. Mother was fine with me sitting next to her, but I could have been anyone.
I noticed she only used her right hand when spreading out her napkin on the tablecloth. In fact, throughout the meal, she didn’t move her left arm at all. I immediately thought of my father who had lost the use of his left arm due to a stroke. Uh-oh, I thought, we’ve got trouble.
Mother ate very little, even with my assistance. Then, at the end of the meal, she reached her right hand under the table, hooked it under her left arm, and pulled her left hand into sight. In her left hand, she clutched a fun-sized bag of M&M’s and a Reese’s peanut butter cup in a death grip. Mother had played Bingo that morning, and by gum she wasn’t going to let go of her chocolate.
I laughed at myself as I wheeled her back to her room. After I promised to place the treats within reach on her end table, she relinquished the chocolate and used both hands—and my assistance—to transfer to her lift chair.
Mother settled back then looked at me and said, “Oh, when did you come in? I didn’t hear you. So good to see you.”
“Good to see you, too, Mother.” I saw love in my mother’s face and the sweet chocolate that sustained her on the end table. If that isn’t both grace and mercy, I don’t know what is.
This post on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B163yNu_WNM&feature=youtu.be